I recently took a trip around a fairly large swath of southern Oregon and northern California in the western USA. The landscape was not simply incredibly rich in natural beauty, but stunning in its wide variety. One of my favorite photography subjects are waterfalls and this geographic region is home to some of the most spectacular falls you’ll find anywhere. When I was trying to put a short descriptive label on this part of the country, I was a bit stymied until a local told me I was talking about the State of Jefferson. Say what? I’ve got a pretty decent grasp of geography and have visited 47 of the official 50 United States, but never heard of this one. It turns out there’s a story and some history behind this that revealed itself with a little digging. Apparently we came pretty close to actually having a 51st state until the attack on Pearl Harbor also destroyed that movement.
I’m not going to dive into the deep end of the historical pool here, but I will give you the quick and dirty version. In 1941, led by Gilford Gable, the mayor of Port Orford, Oregon, there was a movement by several counties in the southern Oregon – northern California area to carve out a separate state to be called Jefferson, after the country’s third president. The movement gained national media attention through an armed road blockade and proclamation of secession. They even elected a provisional Governor, John C. Childs of Yreka (the proposed capital). The death of mayor Gable on December 02, 1941 and the subsequent attack on Pearl Harbor December 7th put a swift end to this movement as the country unified behind its defense at the onset of World War II. There was another round of secessionist votes in 1992, where all but Humboldt county in California voted in favor of the new state, but the bill never left committee. So while you can in fact, tour everything (and more) that I describe here, you’ll have to visit two states instead of one.
Even though my tour only covered relatively small sections of each state, it’s still a pretty large chunk of land with tons of things I wanted to see. I stayed with friends in Grants Pass, Oregon and used its central location as a base of operations for several days. That plan worked out well too. From there I first went east to Crater Lake with stops along the way for visits to some magnificent places in or around Prospect State Park along Hwy 62. Mill Creek Falls drops 173 feet while nearby Barr Creek Falls descends a total 240 feet through three tiers. Access from a small parking area to view points across the canyon at roughly the same height as the falls can be made via wide, well-marked paths. Avenue of the Boulders near the northeast end of the park is also a beautiful spot, although a little longer hike.
Going east from there, I stopped in at famed Crater Lake for my first ever visit and it did not disappoint. This is a popular spot and can get pretty busy in the summer. Access is limited or non-existent in winter months and snow stays late into the spring/summer, so the tourist season is packed into a pretty short window. Formed from a collapsed volcano 7,700 years ago, Crater Lake is nearly 2,000 feet deep in places. I returned to Grants Pass via a slightly more northerly route along Hwy 138 that took me through Umpqua National Forest and along the river of the same name. Diamond Lake, Mt. Thielsen, Mt. Bailey, Tokatee Falls and numerous other spots dot the landscape all the way back to where the highway joins back up with I-5 at Roseburg.
Next foray was south to Mount Shasta in northern California. Ashland, Oregon is a cute little town on I-5 between Grants Pass and Mount Shasta and definitely worth a prolonged stop if your schedule permits. It’s also home to the famous Shakespeare Festival, running since 1935. Mount Shasta is gorgeous and its namesake town is a wonderful place to explore. Just south of there is the hidden town of Dunsmuir just off the freeway. Great food and drink to be had here and they have a wonderful little park and botanical garden right on the Sacramento River that I just loved. If you’re willing to risk a mile or two walk down, or beside the train tracks (technically trespassing and not allowed) you’ll be rewarded by the hidden gem of Mossbrae Falls that seems almost like a curtain when the fading light hits it. This is a popular spot with locals on weekends. Food and beer at the Dunsmuir Brewery Works was excellent and their outdoor patio was perfect for a sunny day meal.
Heading southwest from Grants Pass on Hwy 199, you’ll end up in the spectacular Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park just before you hit the California Coast. This is a most magical place and especially so if you can time your arrival for a more quiet weekday a little off peak tourist season. Just wander slowly through these magnificent forest giants and feel the energy and history surround you. Meditate quietly by the side of small creek. Like many places where the main attraction are larger or more sweeping in scale, some of my favorite experiences have been the small hidden treasures so easily overlooked. There are sublime gems such as flowers, fungus, insects and other fauna everywhere along the forest floor and elsewhere beneath the towering forest canopy here. Don’t forget to look down too. By the way, a brief stop at She She’s Drive-In at the minuscule town of Gasquet along Hwy 199 for ice cream or a snack is a great treat.
So while you can’t visit the “almost” state of Jefferson, you can still see it all by combining parts of Oregon and California. There are of course, many other places I didn’t mention in this article, but the fun is in the exploration and your own journey of discovery. This should get you started however. Please feel free to share your discoveries and experiences, or whatever you find out there in the comments section below. Enjoy!!