As mentioned in recent articles, the extreme wildfire season of 2020 cut my northern California tour short. The same can be said about my 2021 travel plans as well, because this year's California forest fires were even worse. Basically, the original 2020 plan was to do a big trees tour of California from the coastal redwoods near the Oregon Border all the way south to Sequoia National Park, then take a break before starting a winter season desert destination photography mission. Due to the smokey conditions, I found myself hunkering down in the desert far earlier than expected. In fact, the trip into northern California instantly shifted to evacuation mode at the first sign of wildfire smoke as I scurried a loaded Jeep through the National Forest back roads to get out of the state. Part of the escape route paralleled the Salmon River through the Klamath National Forest, which oddly enough is the home of the historic Sawyers Bar Hotshot Firefighters.
When traveling from the west, Sawyers Bar Road runs through the mountains along the Salmon River in a region where the slopes are nearly vertical and the views from the road shoulder go straight down to the river way down below. This one lane dirt road with two way traffic is rough and very narrow. There are only a few vehicle turnouts because there is little room to work with on the steep slopes, so if a forestry truck comes barreling down in the opposite direction, a motorist's driving in reverse skills will be put to the test. The dirt road section of Sawyers Bar Road definitely is not for the faint hearted and the best approach is to move fairly quickly just to get through the lengthy one lane section in one piece.
Upon arrival at the Sawyers Bar community, one of the first buildings that will come into view is a historic deep woods Catholic church, which is where the prayers cast during the perilous dirt road journey are answered. Sawyers Bar actually originated as a California gold rush camp way back in 1850 and the old church is one of the oldest surviving structures. As the very productive local mining operations progressed and the population grew in this region, the importance of forest fire fighting came into light. After the gold rush boom played out, Sawyers Bar went through a phase of abandonment, but the community never completely dissolved. Eventually Sawyers Bar became a key link in the forestry management system and it is now one of the oldest hotshot firefighter villages in this nation.
There are a lot of old historic buildings in Sawyers Bar and plenty of information awaits at the Klamath National Forest Fire Station, so a trip to this destination is well worth it, even though the dirt road is so perilous. For those who may want to explore this area to the fullest extent, the Idlewild Campground is located on the paved section of road east of Sawyers Bar, which is a nice convenience. Idlewild is a cozy spot that offers hiking and biking trails through the tall tree forest and there are Salmon River access points nearby. The deer in this deep forest are almost magical in the way they can quickly appear and hide just as fast between the big trees while only providing a fleeting glimpse, so be sure to keep the eyes pealed when passing through. Briefly passing through in a hurry to escape the 2020 wildfires is exactly what I ended up doing and my planned campout at Idlewild was cancelled due to arriving so early in the day. Such is life during the wildfire season, because it is always best to get out of the way of the firefighters that have an overwhelming job to do.
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