Although most of the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument is inside Oregon, the Monument’s expansion in 2017 brought the Horseshoe Ranch Wildlife Area in Northern California inside its boundary. Horseshoe Ranch covers about 9,100 acres (3,682 ha) of rolling to steep hills festooned with shrubs, oaks, and conifers surrounding Scotch and Slide Creeks and several of their tributaries. Its northern boundary abuts the Soda Mountain Wilderness. As its name suggests, this wildlife area was a working cattle ranch from 1908 to about 1976.
I first heard mention of this area when the Soda Mountain Wilderness Council offered a hike there in 2018. More recently, I found a track on GaiaGPS which showed a loop route involving Slide Ridge and Slide Creek. This prompted us to go out today and take a closer look at Horseshoe Ranch. Since its on the sunnier, drier, less steep side of the Siskiyou Mountains, it seemed an ideal place for a winter season visit. Note: Even though its now within the Monument, you still need a California Lands Pass to visit Horseshoe Ranch.
We parked at the amenity-free trailhead, then hiked up the narrow canyon carved by Scotch Creek through thick layers of basalt.
After less than a mile, we emerged from the narrow canyon into a wide valley below the confluence of Scotch and Slide Creeks and came to the last remaining ranch structure in the area – the crumbling, but once elaborate, spring house. It looks like someone hauled in bags of cement to repair the house but then abandoned the effort (and the now solidified bags of cement). The house may be a ruin, but the spring is still running. 🙂
From the spring house, we followed some game trails along the south side of Scotch Creek, crossed Slide Creek, and then climbed up on to Slide Ridge.
As we advanced up the ridge, we passed through and around the effects of the 2018 Klamathon Fire. Fire suppression efforts had done a lot of damage in the Soda Mountain Wilderness to the north but down here none were evident. The fire had taken out some trees along the ridge but had spared many in the creek bottoms. Many of the burned oaks were coming back from sprouts. The fire had also eliminated a lot of the brush which, ironically, made it much easier to hike across the landscape. The buckbrush was, however, doing its best to grow right back.
The top of Slide Ridge does a gentle, undulating climb all the way to Pilot Rock. We found a well-defined use trail (with a few discrete cairns) running along the ridge crest – this made the going even easier. Aside from it being a near perfect day for hiking (clear, sunny but cool, no breeze), the view from atop the ridge was spectacular – Pilot Rock to the north, Mount Shasta to the south, Soda Mountain to the east.
It would have been easy to just keep going up the ridge to the Oregon border and beyond, but the days are short and we wanted to see what the canyons are like. Plus the cold pizza in The LovedOne’s pack was calling to us. It should have kept its cheese topping quiet, because we stopped at Point 3363 and ate it. 🍕😋 Then, with one last look at Mount Shasta, we started down a steep slope into the Scotch Creek drainage.
Current maps show an old road running along Scotch Creek between the border and the spring house. Well, maybe it was a simple ranch or wagon road back in the day; now it is a single-track trail with a barely discernible prism until shortly before the spring house. This track is seemingly well used by the deer and horses in the area and likely by hunters during the season. It wasn’t hard to follow as it took us downstream through the forest.
The depths of Scotch Creek had been lightly touched (if at all) by the fire, and feature a rich mix of various tree species. It would be a magical place for Fall color. We had to content ourselves with long colonnades of oaks and the labor-saving acorn storing techniques of the numerous Acorn Woodpeckers flitting about. We also saw a Bobcat – a very rare event.
While we saw a Bobcat, Bald Eagle, numerous Robins, even more Woodpeckers, and a Yellow-crested Kinglet, we also passed several horses. They seemed to us to be too mellow for feral horses but we’ve now been told that’s exactly what they are – feral. Just like the burros in Death Valley.
In short, a wonderful hike. We managed just 6.3 miles (10.6 km) with 980 feet (299 m) of gain on this first go-around. This was only an exploration, but we were both captivated by the terrain and ecology in this area and the possibility of many explorations in the future. Probably not in the summer (too south-facing) or when some of Nature’s little minions (ticks, rattlesnakes, poison oak, etc.) are especially active. But ideal for late Fall, winter, and early Spring hikes. 😁RETURN TO FRONT PAGE