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Remembering Weed, California



Having traveled the country for 14 years in a motor home there are many places mentioned in the news Louise and I have visited. They become more than just abstract names of places in the news, they become familiar territory. In the news in the last few weeks, Phoenix, Lake Havasu, Tuscon all had major flooding and damage. We stayed in RV parks and visited friends and relatives in those cities. Today Joshua Tree National Park was in the news with flooding also. We've hiked many miles in Joshua Tree and thoroughly enjoyed the desert scenery and the trails to old gold mines and oases.

Weed, California is in the news today. A ferocious fire has destroyed over 100 buildings in the town. My history with Weed (the town) goes back more than 30 years. Weed is a small town along I-5 in northern California. It is a few miles northwest of Mount Shasta, a beautiful composite volcano. Mount Shasta is in the Cascade Range of volcanoes that include Mount Ranier, Mount Hood and Mount St. Helens among others. The whole range is active though the activity at any one volcano may be hundreds or thousands of years between major eruptions. Active in this sense is a geological term more than a human term. Still any one of these volcanoes could have a significant eruption at any time.

I mention that because it was the framework for my first encounter with Weed (yes, still the town). We (my first wife and I) were on summer vacation with our two pre-teen children, We had been to Crater Lake which is a caldera from a collapsed Cascade volcano. These were our tent camping days and grocery stops were frequent. The whole family, our camping equipment and clothes fit into our Chevrolet station wagon so the quantity of groceries was pretty slim, a small ice chest and a box of what we needed for the next two or three days. So we pulled off I-80 at Weed and found a grocery.

After a swing through the store we lined up at the cash register to pay for our food. When it came time to pay for the groceries I wrote a check (remember those days?) and was asked for my identification. I dutifully produced my Missouri drivers license. The clerk, a young woman, took a look at the license and noted that it was from Missouri. She looked at me and asked, "How do you live there with all those tornadoes?" I told her it really wasn't that bad, we had never been affected by one. She said, "I could never live there." I shrugged it off and we loaded our tucker (an Australian term I learned this year meaning grubstake or food) into the station wagon. Then we were off to return to I-80.

As I pulled onto the entrance ramp to the highway I looked at the road ahead and there straight ahead was Mount Shasta with the cinder cone Shastina on its northwest flank. So here we are in the shadow of an active volcano and the clerk is worried about the danger of tornadoes. I had to laugh at that. For years I incorporated this story into my Earth Science classes. The 8th graders always laughed when I mentioned Weed, I can't imagine why. I used the story to help them understand that almost anywhere you live you will find some danger from nature. In some places it is tornadoes, other places have floods, earthquakes and tsunami's are common in still other places. You might wonder why anyone would live near a volcano but people do that also. It is just one more of natures dangers.

Fast forward to 2002, the first summer of our RV travels. We started in southern California in the early spring. We visited deserts, Joshua Tree, Death Valley, and others. We tromped our way among the trees of Sequoia and Yosemite National Parks. Further north we stopped to explore Mount Lassen, the most recent active volcano in the US (before Mount St. Helens) and yes, a Cascade Volcano also. Traveling further north we pulled into Weed and found a very pleasant RV park there as our base to explore Mount Shasta. I am a volcano junkie, I love to explore volcanoes of all kinds. We stayed there for a week, partly to just rest and partly to do some climbing on Mount Shasta. We found many interesting hikes to other areas nearby and enjoyed the entire area very much. We've stayed there again and explored the area since.

So Weed, California has for me many pleasant memories. It is a town that has been in my lexicon and in my memory for almost half my lifetime. A sleepy little town along a major highway. Now Weed is a smoky disaster area. We'll make a swing by Weed on our trip this year. I hope that the RV park is still there and that we'll be able to find a place to stay for at least one night. I'm sure there will be sadness to see an old friend in its despair. Perhaps we can lend some support to those by our presence.

Travel makes life so much more vivid. These aren't just names in the news, they are places. Places with personality; parks, homes, forests, bike trails, mountains and people. When you know them, the news is so much more than just a story. Now Weed, in the shadow of the mighty Mount Shasta, has fallen victim to a forest fire. Mother Nature is beautiful but very dangerous.


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