It started when Brian’s dad, after years of owning 1.5 acres of land in Alturas, decided to give it to us. We think he may have bought the land after seeing an ad on TV and, having only visited once, didn’t have much to say about it. Except that it was now ours. So for a couple years, we just paid the property taxes and occasionally looked up Alturas online, finding, every time, no matter how we reconfigured the route, it was still as remote and mysterious as ever.
And even in this age of Google maps, we still had a hard time getting a visual. When we looked up the address, all we could see were the tops of trees, which only made me more obsessed. Did we have neighbors? Was there water somewhere? Or an abandoned cabin?
So with the 3-day weekend coming up, we decided to finally go see our land. Since there is no direct way to get to Alturas, we split up the trip by spending a night at the Mercantile Inn in McCloud, a charming former mill town at the base of Mount Shasta.
The thing about McCloud, which I almost hesitate to mention because so few people seem to know about it, is that it is full of relics of a once-booming timber industry: huge, empty warehouses; near-buried train tracks; leaning wooden shacks everywhere; piles of scrap metal pulled from the plant.
I am a jumble of emotions about this: I am glad that they’re not chopping down forests; I am sad that McCloud’s economy currently relies on the whims of tourism and the weather (so this year’s lack of snow and last summer’s fires were devastating); but I am in heaven tromping around old buildings and documenting a place that once had a heyday. What I find truly amazing is that except for a few beer cans and graffiti tags here and there, the ruins are relatively untouched.
For now. A little research tells me that the site of the California Cedar Products operation is pretty hot real estate and the focus of lots of potential development ideas: Nestle had planned to open a bottling plant, residents and environmentalists discouraged it, and now it’s up for sale again. I have a feeling McCloud won’t stay sleepy forever.
That morning we took full advantage of the abandoned property, snapping furiously and waiting for a local resident or security guard to shoo us away. None arrived.