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Enjoy Magazine

Mighty Fortress

05/27/2014 12:00AM ● By Gary VanDeWalker
By: Gary Vandewalker
Photos: Taryn Burkleo

In the moonlight, two kayakers glide through the water, cutting through the mirrored surface of Castle Lake. Above, a late spring storm has created a snowy shawl over the ridge. Granite cliffs slip like two hands underneath the lake, as if holding the water above the valley. Across the lake, the silver ribbon of Castle Lake Creek dips and descends to Lake Siskiyou, pouring into Box Canyon to become the Sacramento River.
Castle Lake is atop a seven-mile road, beginning at Lake Siskiyou in Mount Shasta. The path twists and turns through stands of oak, changing to a thick conifer forest. Three miles below is Ney Springs, where in the 1800s a resort beckoned travelers to its mineral springs. From there, a short trail leads to Faery Falls, where Ney Springs Creek drops 60 feet into a clear pool. The road continues onto a circular parking lot beside the lake.

The early summer presents bouquets of wildflowers. A watchful eye can see osprey circling, looking for the trout that come too close to the surface. On a quiet day,
the bears, deer and otters play here. In the early evening, frogs serenade whomever will listen.

Young fishermen stand along the shore, guided by fathers and grandfathers who fished here as boys. Some were here only months ago, fishing the middle of the lake through holes cut in the ice. Hikers move along the half-mile shore trail, leading to the granite headwall of the southern shore.  Gaggles of children swim to a rock poking up from the bottom, taking a moment to sit and warm on the sun-baked surface.

Carved by a glacier, there is an enchanting environment here. Both recreation and science enjoy these waters. The Castle Lake Limnological Research Station is here. Administered by UC Davis, the station studies freshwater habitat, providing research and education. The 110-foot depth of the southern end provides a world to be studied and enjoyed. Hikers begin here, following trails to Little Castle Lake and Heart Lake. Others pass through on the Pacific Crest Trail, one-half mile away.

Rainbow trout are planted here by the California Department of Fish and Game. Fish are not native to the lake, but were introduced in the 1930s for sport fishing.  Brook trout make a home here now, reproducing on their own, whereas the smaller Golden Shiner have populated the lake as the result of anglers leaving bait fish in the waters. 

Nearby, Battle Rock witnessed the last fight between Native Americans and settlers, where the Native Americans used only bows and arrows for weapons. It was here that poet Joaquin Miller was injured and later wrote of the incident in The Battle of Castle Crags.

The early morning sun peeks over the shoulder of Mt. Shasta, lighting the granite face here and falling down until it touches and warms the waters below. The valley holds onto night awhile longer, while the lake comes alive, waiting for those still asleep to come and play.