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Answering the call of the mountains

While most of the mountain trips I have written about for Oregon Outdoors have involved backpacking trips into remote and pristine wilderness areas, occasionally there is something to be said for the comparative luxury of car camping.

When I want to sleep in the high country without carrying my gear on my back, my most frequent go-to location is Wrangle Camp near Red Mountain in the Siskiyous.

Wrangle Camp is a largely forgotten gem of the Forest Service campground network and a throwback to an older and simpler style of camping. You won’t find RVs or campground hosts there. Surrounded by old-growth, Shasta red fir forests and corn lily meadows, a handful of tent sites provide a few scattered picnic tables, fire rings and an outhouse.

In the 1930s, young men in the Civilian Conservation Corps built a sturdy shelter boasting a massive stone fireplace. It is one of the few intact Depression-era Forest Service structures in the region that is still open to the public.

Several of the Wrangle campsites offer magnificent views of both sunrise and sunset on Red Mountain. Red Mountain is aptly named. The mountain’s peridotite soils contain heavy metals that support the unique plant communities that thrive on the Mars-like, rust-colored rocks. Red Mountain is renowned by local hikers for its stunning bear grass bloom in spring that blankets entire hillsides with fields of giant, white, puffball flowers.

By early June, my trusty dog Zola and I are inevitably chomping at the bit to visit the mountains. So we often arrive a little before the snow is gone and the roads are clear. This year was no exception, and our initial trip to Wrangle Camp involved carrying our gear in over snowfields rather than true car camping — a modest entry price for access to a beautiful campsite next to a majestic mountain.

While outdoor enthusiasts have treasured Wrangle Camp for nearly a century, in recent years this special place has faced some threats and challenges. Especially troubling has been the recent destruction of meadows adjacent to the camp by four-wheel drive “mudders” who apparently take great pleasure in destroying pubic lands.

KS Wild, the group I work for, is working with the Northwest Youth Corps and the Forest Service to rebuild a rustic protective fence around the Wrangle Camp wildflower meadow and to monitor and restore the unique natural and historical values of the area.

After lugging in camping gear, food and water to my favorite tent spot, we were serenaded by the yipping song of an enthusiastic coyote who seemed as impressed with the glowing Red Mountain sunset as we were. The best was yet to come though. My long-time hiking buddy Susan Jane wisely suggested rising early for a sunrise summit of Red Mountain. So with the morning birds chirping, and the night air still crisp and cold, we headed up the mountain.

Small things like words and photographs cannot truly capture big things like the subtle melding and shifting of soft colors as the sun comes up over a landscape that includes the Klamath River Watershed, the Applegate Valley, and the snowy peaks of Mount Shasta and Mount McLoughlin. Watching the morning sun shine through thousands of translucent white wildflower petals is a joy that knows no language.

John Muir comes the closest to describing the irresistible allure of mountain hikes, mountain camps, as well as mountain sunrises and sunsets in his deceptively simply prose, “the mountains are calling, and I must go.”

When the mountains call to you, consider a trip to Wrangle Camp and Red Mountain.

George Sexton is conservation director for the Klamath Siskyiou Wildlands Center in Ashland.

Zola checks out a field of bear grass near Wrangle Camp in the Siskiyou Mountains. Photo by George Sexton