On December 28, 2011, a lone wolf strolled into California and history. He crossed the border just north of the town of Dorris, CA, on the edge of the Lower Klamath National Wildlife Refuge. In the first of a series, we’ll follow his path step by step through the Golden State, taking a look at some of the amazing scenery along the way. This summer, I began tracing OR-7’s path through Oregon and California on Google Earth, using maps created by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife as a guide. OR-7 traveled through some of the most spectacular country the North State has to offer, from high desert and lava beds, to high peaks, dense forests, and deep canyons. This is my backyard, the places I camped, hiked and fished as a child. The knowledge that Journey may have walked the same woods, trails and paths that I did is a stirring thought. It is my pleasure to take readers along as I retrace his historic path. Please note that I am relying on data originally gleaned from his GPS tracking collar, which broadcasts his location once a day. The maps created by the California DFW are generalized, plotting one point to another. I take this information and combine it with my knowledge of wolf behavior to estimate where he traveled. If I make inferences about his behavior or motivations, it is because I am trying to imagine what a wolf would do in certain situations. It may not be 100% correct, but by overlaying his path on Google Earth, you can really get a sense of the landscape he traveled through.
The Lower Klamath Wildlife Refuge is situated on the border of Oregon and California and is a favorite bird-watching location for many Americans. The refuge’s location on the Pacific Flyway makes it an important stop for migrating waterfowl. A protected area, the refuge was a good choice for OR-7 to enter the Golden State. The majority of the LKWR is wetlands, great for migratory birds, less than optimal for a wolf. OR-7 stuck to the western edge of the refuge, staying west of Sheepy Lake, although he did briefly make a few excursions deeper into the refuge. He didn’t linger in the LKWR for long, and headed out into BLM land heading southeast. He passed close to a few scattered farms, and once skirted a large industrial farm. Following a long ridge known as Big Tableland, he moved in a nearly straight line, covering 31 miles from December 28 to December 31. He passed near Mount Dome, an impressive shield volcano overlooking the Lava Beds National Monument. Leaving farmland behind, he traveled through BLM managed land and Forest Service land, entering the Modoc National Forest. On January 1, his signal indicated that he had skirted the southwest corner of Lava Beds National Monument.
Lava Beds NM is one of the gems of California, a preserved record of the North State’s volcanic past. Here, lava tubes and caves can be explored, cinder cones rise from the landscape, and basalt lava flows transform the high desert into a bizarre moonscape. Much of the monument is high desert country, a familiar biome to OR-7, after crossing central Oregon. Lava Beds National Monument is located in Siskiyou County, California, north of Tionesta. It is accessible from HWY 139 and 161.
The land that became the Lava Beds monument was long home to the Modoc people. Rock art and petroglyphs abound, and during one of the darkest era’s of American history, Captain Jack, leader of the remnants of the Modoc tribe, famously stood off the U.S. Army by taking shelter in the lava tubes here. 150 men, women and children endured the severe Modoc winter in what is now known as Captain Jack’s Stronghold, a natural lava fortress. Wolves would have found ample prey, mule deer and elk, and myriad smaller prey including marmots and pika. OR-7 did not linger, however, and after passing near (or even climbing) Cinder Butte, he moved on, pressing ever south.
From Lava Beds, OR-7 encountered yet another volcanic wonder of California: Glass Mountain. Glass Mountain and its sister peak, Little Glass Mountain, are side vents of the larger Medicine Lake volcano. Glass Mountain and Little Glass mountain are steep-sided obsidian flows, nearly treeless and spectacularly stamped onto the landscape. OR-7 may have passed very close to this place, although the steep, jumbled obsidian makes for tough travel and wolves generally take the easier route to conserve energy. Glass Mountain and Medicine Lake are public land administered by the Forest Service. Campgrounds at Medicine Lake offer camping, accessible from Forest Service Road 43N53, which connects to Tionesta Road.
From Glass Mountain, he followed a line of peaks south by southeast, passing Lyon’s Peak, Black Mountain and Border Mountain. He seemed to stick to the high country, letting the natural contours of the land direct his movements. These mountains overlook a the Burnt Lava Flow, a veritable sea of bare, un-vegetated lava. At Border Mountain, he turned southwest for the first time since entering California. He traversed the gently rolling, timbered lava flows and climbed the cinder cone Round Mountain to Indian Spring Mountain, where he turned east again rather than cross the immense, nearly bare lava flow to the west. He headed southeast along the White Horse Mountains, and then turned southwest, crossing the lava flow and entering Shasta County just north of Timbered Crater. OR-7 passed through this landscape in the middle of winter. Cloaked in snow, this country would have looked far different from the way most people see it. Humans are generally a summer visitor here. Wolves are perfectly adapted for winter conditions, with thick fur and wide, webbed paws for traveling over snow.
In the next post in the series, we’ll take a look at OR-7’s travels through Shasta and Lassen Counties during January, 2012.