Summer Staycation part 3: Cornwall Hills

Taking the scenic route through Oregon Jack Valley and up to the summit of Cornwall.

The water tower at Yuck Lake

With an elevation of 6,600 feet, Cornwall Mountain is the highest peak overlooking Ashcroft and area, and its face still shows scars from the 2003 wildfire that swept across it. The mountain—as well as the range that surrounds it—was named after brothers Henry and Clement Cornwall, who established the roadhouse at what’s now Ashcroft Manor in 1862.

Travel south from Ashcroft along Hwy. 1 about 7.5 km to Hat Creek Road. The road—the lower part of which is suitable for most vehicles in summer, although those wanting to go to the summit of Cornwall might want a 4-wheel-drive vehicle—makes a hairpin turn and starts up through grassland towards the tree line. Before gaining the trees, however, look for a narrow dirt road on the left and turn down it. After a short distance it you will see, to the east, a large bowl-shaped depression ringed by hills, with a crumbled wooden structure lying at the bottom on the left hand side.

This was once a lake, known locally as Yuck Lake, and was created when the Ashcroft Ranch diverted Oregon Jack Creek into the natural depression, which was further hollowed out and deepened by machinery, then dammed, before being turned into a lake to provide irrigation for the ranch lands below it. The wooden beams and supports, which collapsed several years ago, were once a tower that supported an irrigation pipe leading from the lake, which was some 25 feet deep, and proved popular with swimmers attracted to the lake during the hot days of summer. The original name was to have been Yook Lake, but the young daughters of Alan Cameron, owner of the Ashcroft Ranch at the time, pronounced it Yuck, and the name stuck.

Back on Hat Creek Road you soon come to the tree line, where the devastation wrought by the 2003 fire is evident. The road makes a swing around the bluffs that overlook Young’s Flats, probably named after early settlers who had a farm near Venables Valley, not far from this spot. In May 1913 Mrs. Young left her farmhouse and did not return, and for several days search parties scoured the area without success. It was not until November of that year that the unfortunate Mrs. Young’s body was found, wedged under a tree in a small creek near her farmhouse. The stone foundation of a farmhouse can still be seen there, and lilac and apple trees give evidence that the area was once settled. The land belongs to the Ashcroft Ranch, and while a road leads down to it, it is gated at the lower end.

The third property on the left, as one heads west, is the Wunday Ranch, where Thelma Haddock—one-time Ashcroft school bus driver—once lived and kept horses. The ranch house on the property is said to be haunted, with more than one person attesting to strange and inexplicable phenomena in and around the house. After her death Thelma’s ashes were scattered in the field behind the house, so perhaps she’s still there, keeping an eye on the place she loved in life.

Opposite the Wunday is a narrow dirt road, the right-hand branch of which leads to a log cabin built by a prospector named Bowes around 1935. In the 1930s a sawmill was located in the area, and produced the logs from which Bowes built his cabin; the old logging road can clearly be seen in satellite imagery. Another sawmill, operated by the Bewza family for a few years in the early 1950s, can be accessed from a rough trail leading off to the left opposite Robert Pasco’s property, just above the Wunday, with the remains of still another sawmill beyond that.

For those willing to go off-road—either on foot, horseback, or ATV—the entire area shows evidence of previous settlement. While most of the cabins and mills date back no more than a hundred years or so, there are many places where history from several thousand years ago is visible. Nowhere is this more apparent than at the dramatic Three Sisters rockshelter site, along the northeastern side of the large limestone bluff which is the northernmost of the Three Sisters rock formation. Hat Creek Road makes a sharp swing to the right at the point where one can access the rockshelter, via a clearly defined trail to the left of the road.

The site, which is never exposed to direct sunlight, is near what was a well-used historic and prehistoric trail linking Oregon Jack and Hat Creek valleys. The shelter is noted for its dramatic pictographs in red and orange, suggesting that the site was an important one to the Nlaka’pamux people; in his history of the Thompson Indians, James Teit notes that such places were of considerable spiritual importance. The site was probably not used in winter, but would have been a refreshing place to retreat during the summer months. Other, smaller rockshelters with pictographs are located in the area, along the route of the prehistoric trail.

Continuing along Hat Creek Road you have a choice: left or right? Left will take you to Hat Creek Valley, from whence you can travel back via Hwy. 99; but we will continue right, past the Three Sisters Forest Recreation site with its one camping area and an outhouse in a rustic setting. The road continues to twist and turn through trees until at last you arrive in an alpine meadow that looks straight out of the opening scene of The Sound of Music. You have reached the summit of Cornwall, and ahead of you is a fire lookout tower—unmanned since the 1990s, but still open to visitors—which commands spectacular views in all directions (on a clear day you can see as far south as Mt. Baker), and is well worth the journey. Those who prefer armchair travelling can view Graham Rainey’s photos of the summit and the view from it at www.rainey.ca/photos/cornwall/index.htm.

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