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Surprise Valley -- A Land of Contrasts and Extremes

By Jean Bilodeaux
Travelers crossing the high desert plateau south of Lakeview, Oregon, or east of Alturas, Calif., become lulled by the miles of sagebrush and rolling hills. Many are not prepared for what awaits them as they crest Cedar Pass on Hwy. 299 and descend into Surprise Valley.

Surprise Valley from Warner Mountains, Jean Bilodeaux
The earth drops dramatically for nearly a mile straight down, while snow covered mountain peaks tower above.

The area has been described as a "Little Switzerland," and as contrary as it may seem, it is also referred to as "California's Outback." It is a land of contrasts and extremes.

Snow covered peaks in the West, desert in the East. Ice cold trout streams contrast with cauldrons of boiling water gushing from the bowels of the earth. Petrified forests still stand in canyons so inaccessible that few venture into them. Camel bones lie scattered on the valley floor. Remnants of obsidian litter the surface used by Native Americans nearly 12,000 years ago. Rock hounds search out the creek beds for petrified wood. The valley is beautiful, the scenery pristine and majestic. It is a land of geological extremes.

Covered Wagons entering Suprise Valley, Jean Bilodeaux
In the mid-1800s settlers traveling the Lassen Applegate Trail in their covered wagons crossed this valley. After hundreds of miles of scorching desert, the lush green grass, plentiful water and shady canyons were a pleasant surprise.

Fort Bidwell -- By 1865, Fort Bidwell, a military post was established in the north end of the valley. Gold was discovered in the nearby mountains. Pioneers settled in the area. The Native American drums can still be heard echoing through the evening air when the annual Pow Wow is held. The  Native American community is active and continues to develop a positive presence in the town. A stone schoolhouse built in 1917 still overlooks the town. Well maintained graveled roads provide access to hunting, fishing and exploring in the mountains and the desert.

Lake City -- South of Fort Bidwell, the Lassen-Applegate Trail crosses the Warner Mountains at Fandango Pass. The wagon tracks can still be seen in places. An old Flouring Mill still stands at the wooded outskirts of Lake City. A small community nestled against the Warner Mountains, Lake City was the first organized community in Surprise Valley. A dirt road provides access to the Warner Mountains.

Cressler Bonner Trading Post, Cedarville, CA, Jean Bilodeaux

Cedarville -- A massive brick building, the Cressler Bonner Trading Post, dominates the Main Street of Cedarville, just as it did in the late 1800s. Thousands of head of cattle are still driven down Main Street each Spring and Fall, as cattle are moved to their grazing allotments in Nevada. Cedarville has all the basic facilities, an elementary and high school, a hospital and medical clinic as well as several government agencies. Main Street resembles an old western town except there’s a predominance of original buildings rich in history. Some of the first buildings in the area have been relocated to a ‘town’ on the fairgrounds.

Eagleville -- A quaint village rich in history, where bald eagles can be seen circling high in the sky each spring. The area is noted for its hot springs, which are available, with permission, for use by the general public. South of town there is a road into the Warner Mountains with excellent fishing, hunting, camping, and incredible sightseeing for all who desire adventure. A pool hall in Eagleville still houses a massive pool table brought around the Horn and into the valley by horse drawn wagon. The hospital and schools are geothermally heated. 

Deer watches Canada Geese, Surprise Valley, CA, Jean Bilodeaux
Wild horses, antelope, deer, and mountain lions are just a few of the wild  animals seen roaming the land.

This is a land rich in historical contrast. Surprise Valley is a place that appeals to those favoring the independent lifestyle.  Many people feel psychically drawn to the area. An eclectic mixture of people live here, ranchers who have never left their farms, Native Americans who treasure the old ways, and  businessmen who commute to work in other countries. It has become a microcosm of the world.  It is a land of cultural extremes.


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