By GLENN GARNETT
Timing is everything. And the citizens of four northern counties in California and Curry county in southwestern Oregon thought it was high time they had a state of their own.
The Jefferson secessionist movement was born in the 1930s from the age-old animosity between rural and city-dwellers, and the citizens of these sparsely-populated corners of two Pacific coast states had tired of empty promises that good roads would be built into these wild wilderness hinterlands to access their ample mineral and timber resources. They were also exercised over taxes, strikes and even slot machines which threatened stud poker as an industry.
The time had come for action and a declaration of statehood was drawn up. A local newspaper held a contest to name the new state and Jefferson, for America’s third president, was selected. A logo - two X’s painted on the bottom of a gold pan, representing being double-crossed by California and Oregon - was conceived, and a judge from Crescent City was elected governor. News of the event competed with the raging war in Europe for space in American newspapers and Hollywood newsreel companies came to capture the torchlight inauguration parade in the capital of Yreka.
The newsreels was set to play in American theatres the week of December 8, 1941. But they never did.
On December 7, the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbour and plans for statehood were replaced by the call to arms. Those roads to timber and mining resources were built, to supply the war effort, and talk of secession faded away. But not completely.
Today, nobody is quite sure how big the state of Jefferson is supposed to be. The spirit has spread in varying degrees to adjacent counties, a combination of rural rebellion and savvy business sense. Like the billboards and bumperstickers say, Jefferson is a State of Mind.
From the windswept Pacific coast shore, through the primeval redwood forests to the raging rivers coursing through the Cascade Mountain range, the region is breathtaking mix of natural wonders and a terrific playground for hikers, bikers, rafters, surfers, fishermen, beachcombers, campers and just about anybody who wants to get away from it all.
We approached from the south, driving up the Coastline Highway from San Francisco and enjoyed the breathtaking views on our trek up a treacherously narrow, weaving, switch-back filled Route 1 northward along the coast and around every inlet and river.
We stopped and watched snoozing seals and skittering sandpipers on the tidal flats, took in the , some with old clapboard homes perched precariously near the edge, craggy offshore rocks and quaint little villages filled with boutiques and antique. The road at last turned eastward and into the magnificent redwood forests of northern California.
John Steinbeck wrote that redwoods, once seen, "leave a mark or create a vision that stays with you always - from them comes silence and awe." As we walked among them in several groves along the 31-mile long "Avenue of the Giants", we could only echo Steinbeck’s emotion. It ‘s one thing to walk among the ruins of civilizations gone millennia ago amidst noisy shutterbugs and souvenir hawking vendors - it is another to touch the tallest and oldest living things in creation in a peaceful green gallery and feel time itself.
There are a number of state parks in northern California dedicated to the preservation of these amazing trees and the habitat they tower over. For that we have to thank visionary conservationists in the early years of the last century, who feared the complete devastation of these forests at the hands of greedy logging companies. They also honor President Teddy Roosevelt, an early champion of conservation, who said he felt "most emphatically that we should not turn a tree that was old when the first Egyptian conqueror penetrated to the valley of the Euphrates...into shingles."
It’s almost impossible to grasp the immensity of these trees - only when we stood behind the fallen giants and pose next to these Saturn-rocket sized logs, most covered in moss and ferns, did we get a sense of scale. We happened upon the "Dyerville Giant", a 362-foot "champion" coast redwood that fell ten years ago after reaching for the sky for perhaps 1600 years. When it fell, a resident a mile away thought a train wreck had occurred and a truck 50-feet away was covered in mud from the impact. The fallen tree is two-feet taller than Niagara Falls and weighs about a million pounds, and will be here for many hundreds of years fulfilling its new role as a forest feeder.
Another amazing attribute of these trees are their resilience. We saw a number of them that faced fire, flood, insect infestation and clumsy attacks from amateur woodsmen and they remained vertical.
Continuing north on U.S. 101 we returned to the Pacific shore and pass through mill towns like Eureka and watched the heavy rollers crash into the broad sandy beaches of a continuous string of state and national parks. We came to Crescent City in the upper left-hand corner of the state and dropped into the Ocean World aquarium. Though it pales in comparison to the Monterrey Bay aquarium 300 miles to the south, it offers an interesting view of the aquatic life offshore in the shallows and kelp forests, from the creepy looking wolf eel to the graceful bat ray. After dining at a seafood restaurant overlooking the harbour, we got a close-up look at lazy sea lions sunning themselves on a pier.
We also visited the beautiful 150-year-old Battery Point lighthouse, crossing a rocky isthmus at low tide and climbing up to its beacon tower for a magnificent vista of the city, sea and shore. The lighthouse’s two-foot thick granite walls have taken everything the Pacific could throw at it, including 20-foot tsunami waves triggered by the Alaskan earthquake in 1964 which killed 11 and wiped out most of the oceanside community. Much of the lighthouse remains as it was in the late 19th and early 20th century and is surrounded by a lush carpet of purple heather and wildflowers.
From there we headed northeast on U.S. 199 into Oregon, with our first destination the Oregon Caves National Monument. Discovered by a man looking for his lost dog in 1874, the half-mile cave route became a tourist attraction in no time (its waters purported to have amazing medicinal benefits) before becoming a national monument in 1909. Over the years they blasted new tunnels to connect systems into an interesting route taking you down over 200 feet and over an hour to traverse. U.S. Park Ranger Molly showed us various formations like soda straws, clay worms, cave ghosts and moonmilk caused by thousands of years of water dripping from the ceilings of these caverns. The most interesting of these formations were the so-called "banana grove drapery" which looks like something out of the Aliens movies.
From there we ventured into the Cascade Mountains and white water country. We followed the course of the Rogue River, which disappeared in places through lava tubes, and over a series of narrow waterfalls. We moved on into higher country still to the rim of the extinct volcano called Mount Mazama. Some 7,700 years ago this volcano had a series of eruptions that rained ash over eight present-day states and three Canadian provinces, with about 5,000 square miles of adjacent territory buried in six inches of ash.
Today the circular cone is filled with Crater Lake, about six-miles in diameter and at 1,932 feet the deepest lake in the U.S. and the seventh-deepest in the world. It is an awe-inspiring sight with the deepest blue waters we’ve ever seen, surrounded by snow-capped mountains through most of the year and virtually unmarred by any sight of human construct save for the buildings of the Crater Lake village.
Further to the north are a spectacular range of mountain peaks with funky names the Sisters and Three Fingered Jack. All are jagged-top mounts, uneroded geological babies, most featuring world-class ski hills.
By now we’d wandered away from the mythical state of Jefferson, looking forward to challenging one of Oregon’s numerous whitewater rivers.
But that’s another story…