Editor’s note: Longtime Del Norte County resident Chuck Blackburn’s column appears every fourth Thursday.
Back in the 1960s my father and I loved to spend a day cutting firewood. One of our favorite places was in the mountains surrounding Big Flat.
South Fork Road provides a wonderful drive of 15 miles from Second Bridge to the valley just past Hurdy Gurdy Bridge. Most of our woodcutting on Forest Service land was done on French Hill Road, Ship Mountain Road or the GO Road (Gasquet-Orleans Road). These great woodcutting adventures really introduced me to this unique area.
This must have grabbed me as I purchased four acres of land in 1977 after my dad’s death. I started construction of a small cabin in 1978 as a retreat for my family, Dort, Char, Danny, Lynn and Angie. It was a challenge to build a steep-roofed cabin with a loft as my first adventure in construction. Thanks to Bill Hartwick and to Dale and Doug Roberts for the assistance then. That started a love of this place, which has now extended out to a full-time home of 28 years.
The small cabin now is a large home of 2,700 square feet along with additional property, including an upper cabin. We now enjoy about 13 acres of land with a gazebo overlooking the river and a unique private beach in paradise.
A recent weekend provided Missy and I with what this place is all about. On a Saturday we took our dogs, Tyee and Molly, down to our gazebo to enjoy the sounds of the South Fork of the Smith and to experience the great fall colors. Missy always comments about the sounds of the river. The Smith River is so pristine and unique. As we sat looking up the South Fork, we enjoyed sips of our drinks and our Rumiano cheese and crackers.
We looked upriver toward Jones Creek where a quiet section of river carried many colored leaves in various patterns slowly down the stream. We watched as additional leaves fell individually and in bunches joining their compatriots already on the surface of the water. What was interesting was that a slight breeze was blowing upriver and was keeping the leaves from entering a fast riffle below.
All of a sudden five fish-eating Merganser ducks came swimming down into the long stretch of quiet water. They were diving and feeding on steelhead fingerlings in the river. Although they were all at least a fourth of a mile upstream, we could vividly follow their path. As we watched, the wind let up and the long lines of leaves and the Mergansers floated down over the riffle. The ducks seemed to be having fun sailing along with the leaves while enjoying their tasty adventure floating toward us.
We also enjoy the mountains to our eastern side of the valley. Ship Mountain is at about 5,400 feet and always stands out with its three peaks. The new Forest Service Lookout is spectacular with its 360-degree view of the valley below, the coast and Preston Peak and other 7,000-foot-plus mountains to the northeast. Thanks, John, for hosting us at the lookout last year and your educational info about sighting fires.
Muslatt Mountain is south of Ship Mountain and below a craggy cliff below its summit is Muslatt Lake, a small pristine lake that is spring-fed. A lot of people do not know that it is there. Be careful though, as poison oak abounds on its eastern side.
On a Sunday afternoon we again took our dogs, food and beverages down the path past the gazebo and onto the river bar where we have our chairs for comfort. Our black lab, Molly, in her younger days, would beat us down the path and jump into the river. Today at 12 years old, she is more content with an occasional wade into the water and lying on the beach, enjoying our company. Tyee, our “wolf dog,” does still enjoy wading to cool off but isn’t much into swimming, much like me. I have never adapted to the cool water of the South Fork.
The water is crystal clear and colorful pebbles abound on the bottom of the stream. You can pick up occasional young steelhead fingerlings tooling around the shallows looking for food. I know that in the deeper holes up and down river from us are nice sea run cutthroat trout sitting and waiting for dusk or dawn to munch on those very fingerlings or anything else coming by their sanctuary. I caught a cutthroat years ago here that had a fingerling in its throat and partly digested remains in its stomach.
It’s also interesting to see the landscape of trees surrounding
the canyon and river. The madrones stand out and are Missy’s favorite. I’m also amazed to see the amount of tall firs that are missing tops. The great Aleutian storms that we get take their toll. As you drive over French Hill Road to Gasquet or Ship Mountain Road across to Bear Basin Butte to Highway 199, you can see the distorted condition of the trees in the upper elevations because of these tremendous winds.
Missy and I love Big Flat, as do our neighbors. Generating your own electricity, cell phones with antennas on the vehicles and a mailbox 15 miles away is our price to pay for this beautiful experience. The beauty, the solitude and privacy is what we are all about. Each day is a whole new adventure. By the way, I have our seven cords of wood in the shed for the winter to feed our original “two guys” wood stove.
Welcome to Big Flat.
Chuck Blackburn can be reached at 954-7121.