You can dip out of the smoke and under the vine maples at Ney Springs Creek near Lake Siskiyou, Calif., for a day of waterfalls and mossy turn-of-the-century ruins.
While this one-mile hike up a poor road near Mount Shasta does not pose a major reason for a 70-mile drive from the Siskiyou Summit, it offers the kind of interlude that outdoors enthusiasts treasure. Perhaps you've just bicycled along the Lake Siskiyou Trail, hiked around Castle Lake, fished in the Sacramento River or simply had daylight to burn on your way home from a trip south of the border. Plan plenty of time to linger on flat rocks below the falls or explore the meager traces of a remote resort that John Ney established here in 1889.
Take the second Mount Shasta City exit at Lake Street and turn right toward the fish hatchery. Your route follows signs to "Lake Sis" with a left on Old Stage Road and a right on W.A. Barr Road. Turn left on Castle Lake Road .3 miles past Box Canyon Dam. Immediately turn left on gravel Ney Springs Road.
Drive past a turn-off for Cantara/Ney Springs at one mile and continue .4 miles to a dirt road that starts uphill to the right just before a gate. You can park in a clearing at the base of the road or drive another tenth of a mile to a small turn-out. High-clearance vehicles may be able to drive further, but the hike gives you more opportunities to look around.
The road hike to the old resort is less than a mile. The leopard lilies that bloomed higher than your head in late June are gone now, but wet spots in the road let you know the springs are nearby.
Look for side trails to the left and right. The right trail leads to an old stone wall with the words "Ney Springs AD 1889" etched above a pipe and a trough. The left-hand trail leads to the remains of a bathhouse — a few concrete steps near the creek, a retaining wall and a pool of cold mineral water.
When Art Bernstein, Grants Pass outdoors writer, visited the springs in 1998, the water was still warm and announced itself with a pungent sulphur smell. A year later, the mineral water had turned cold, probably due to a record snowfall that raised the water table. If you read Bernstein's story "The Power Source," in "Weird Hikes," you may end up sharing his superstition that the cold water doesn't bode well for the Lemurians, mythical protectors of Mount Shasta's power — but that's another story.
You can approach Faery Falls (3,200 feet) from the creek or hike another five minutes up the road to a steep left-hand trail. The falls is particularly dramatic in early spring when a series of cascades end in a luminous 50-foot fan against dark rock. In fall, colorful maples brighten the forest's understory and you can almost imagine when "Aqua de Ney" was bottled for medicinal purposes and John Ney transported adventurous guests to his 50-room resort by horse-drawn carriage for leisurely stays in a wilderness retreat.
Mary Beth Lee is an Ashland writer. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.