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Ishi's rugged wilderness.

Ishi's rugged wilderness

"He was industrious, kindly, obliging, invariablyeven tempered, ready of smile, and thoroughly endeared himself to all with whom he came in contact. With his death the Yahi passed away.'

So anthropologist Alfred Kroeber describedIshi, last of the Yahi Indians. The story is by now well known. Survivors of a tribe decimated by American settlers, Ishi and a handful of other Yahi hid for decades in the Sierra foothills south of Mount Lassen. Theirs was a stealthy existence of refuge found in caves, campfires smothered and trails disguised, and flight from all other human beings.

One by one the small band died, until, in1911, a 50-year-old man was found crouching in a corral near Oroville. Taken under the wing of anthropologist Kroeber, Ishi--the name he took, from the Yahi word for "man'--lived his remaining years in San Francisco, preserving Yahi ways for scientific posterity and gaining the respect Kroeber's words relate.

California has changed much since Ishidied in 1916. Remarkably his home has not, and will not, thanks to the 1984 establishment of the Ishi Wilderness.

Made up of pine, oak, and grass-clad foothillsquite different from most other California wilderness areas, Ishi is especially attractive when higher-elevation wildernesses are impassable--now, and again in autumn and early winter.

Glance at a map of Ishi and you may behard put to understand how anyone could hide here. You are after all within shouting distance of the farmlands of the Sacramento Valley. Elevations range only from 900 to 4,000 feet.

The drive to the 41,840-acre wildernesstells another story. This is up-and-down country, a series of east-west-trending ridges whose vegetation--pines and oaks on the north-facing slopes, chaparral on the sunburnt South--gentles but doesn't erase the general steepness. A volcanic landscape, it's dotted with basalt outcroppings and caves and carved by two creeks whose canyons provide easiest trail access. Allow two days for a visit.

Black rocks, wild horses, and pineries

From Red Bluff, take State Highway 99east 3 miles, then State 36 northeast 30 miles (to about 9 miles beyond Paynes Creek). Turn south on Ponderosa Way. Follow this occasionally confounding dirt road 20 miles, keeping alert at forks for signs to Black Rock Campground and for logging trucks. At last you'll get a dizzying look down into Mill Creek Canyon, the northern boundary of the wilderness.

Black Rock Campground lies next to thebridge over Mill Creek; it has five spaces with firepits and toilets, but no running water. From here you can admire the miniature Gibraltar that is Black Rock, wade in the chill waters of Mill Creek, and fish for rainbow and brown trout. Off-limits are the chinook salmon and steelhead that have helped put Mill and Deer creeks under study for Wild and Scenic River status. (Under the Lassen National Forest draft management plan, Mill Creek is also the heart of a proposed new wilderness upstream from Ishi.)

From Black Rock, you can also hike westthrough the northern portion of Ishi Wilderness. In about 5 miles, two trails branch off to the north and climb to the wilderness boundary. (All north-south trails are steep and somewhat neglected; before setting out on them, check with the Forest Service office) or continue along the creek, then return the way you came.

South of Black Rock, Ponderosa Waygets difficult for cars without high clearance, but it gives broad views of canyons leading west to the Sacramento Valley. Here is the home of the only wild horse herd on the west side of the Sierra. A second natural phenomenon--more easily seen than the horses--is the dense islands of trees called pineries: thick groves of pine and oak, biologically separate from surrounding vegetation, grow on terraces left after the canyon eroded.

In 6 miles, you come to the Lassen trailhead,in 8 to the Moak trailhead; both are ridgetop trails. After 12 miles, you reach Deer Creek. (From here the road becomes still more confusing; plan on driving out the way you came.) You'll find a primitive campsite here, and a trail that runs 2 miles down Deer Creek to another trail running north up the ridge to meet the Moak Trail.

Wilderness permits aren't needed to enterIshi, but it's a good idea to check in with the Forest Service's Almanor District Office for maps and trail information. On State 36 in Chester, it's open from 8:30 to 5 weekdays (and Saturdays starting in late spring); or call (916) 258-2141.

Photo: Boulder strewn and willow shaded, Deer Creek is one of two wild creeks that drain Ishi Wilderness

Photo: Black Rock, a basaltic plug, is volcano-born like much of Ishi Wilderness. High-clearance vehicle makes for easier driving on rough back roads

Photo: Mill Creek edges Black Rock Camground,at wilderness's northern boundary
COPYRIGHT 1987 Sunset Publishing Corp.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1987 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Ishi Wilderness, California
Date:Apr 1, 1987
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