Friday, August 22, 2014

One Size Fits All: The Bizz Johnson Trail and the Susan River

Date: April 25, 2014
Place: Susanville, California
Susanville Trailhead address: 601 Richmond Rd. Susanville
Our hike started at: 200 Miller Rd. Susanville
Length: The full trail is 25.4 miles long. We hiked 3 miles in and out.
Difficulty: easy

We cut our visit to South Warner Wilderness short because of the weather forecast. We had originally planned to return to Redding, but the forecast there was also nit very hiking-friendly, so we decided to alter course and took south on CA-395 to Susanville.
As we were nearing our destination Papa Quail suddenly exclaimed and asked that I pull over. I did, and he jumped out of the car with his camera. There, in the weeds along the road were a few yellow-headed blackbirds: certainly a bird worth pulling over for!
Yellow-headed Blackbird
The next day we started with visits to the Lassen National Forest and the BLM offices to inquire about hiking trails in the area. In both places we were referred to a single trail - the Bizz Johnson Trail. Any attempt to get information about other hiking options in the close vicinity were merely shrugged off.
So we went for a hike on the Bizz Johnson Trail.

The Bizz Johnson Trail used to be a railroad that was established at 1914 for the logging industry. When it was decommissioned on 1978 the tracks were removed and the road was converted for recreational use.
The trailhead in Susanville it at the old train station. There's a visitor center there and the lovely attendant recommended that we start our hike at a different spot - about half a mile down the trail. "This way," she said, "you'll get out of the urban setting and out to nature quicker." We took her advice and drove to the Miller Rd. trail entrance and started walking.
Mule-ear, near the trail.
It was bitterly cold. The temperatures might have been higher, but I felt much colder than I was during our camping at the Stough Reservoir. I had my wool poncho wrapped around me with the camera dangling over it. At least it wasn't raining. Yet.
Near Susanville the trail follows along the Susan River, crossing it on a few low bridges.
The river water, although not all too high, wasn't very low either and it was flowing mildly.
Atop the bridge over the Susan River
Along the Susan River, the deciduous trees were well underway with their spring budding. The bright-green, fresh foliage stood sharply against the dark evergreens further up the hill.

The Susan River
As always, I was looking for the blossoms.
Starry False Lily of the Valley (Maianthemum stellatum)
And Papa Quail, he was after the birds. 
Hermit Thrush
There were more birds than blossoms, all right, but the birds didn't stay put as nicely as the plants ...
A Steller's Jay contemplating a selfie
The Susan River carves itself inside a wide canyon of dark, volcanic rock.
Hardy conifers dig their roots deep into the cracks of the rock, hastening the weathering process.

It only takes a little nook with a bit of soil to start a tree that digs into the sheer rock. I am always amazed to see these trees that grow straight from the wall face.

A pine tree near the Susan River
We were slowly warming up with the walk, so I took off my poncho. Soon after, in a nearly perfect timing, it started to drizzle, so I donned it again to protect the camera.
Sedge patch, bent by the flow
One of the more festive birds we encountered at the Susan River were wood ducks in mating colors. We have good photos of these beauties from the Sepulveda Reserve in Van Nuys. The Susanville ducks, however, were so skittish that we couldn't get any decent photo of them, despite the fact that we saw several couples throughout our hike.
I took comfort in photographing these impressive galls:
Common Sagebrush (Artemisia tridentata) with galls of sponge gall midge

My big treat of that day was this flower: the Woollypod Milkvetch. It stood out with its shiny purple flowers in the background of underfoot pebbles.
Woollypod Milkvetch (Astragalus purshii)
But the big treat for Papa Quail was the red-breasted sapsucker. He was looking for an opportunity to observe and photograph this bird for quite some time and even scheduled a summer camping trip for us at the Calaveras Big Trees State Park, where they are known to nest.
But then we saw them, right by the Bizz Johnson Trail. More than one, in fact. And they gave Papa Quail plenty of kodak moments.
Red Breasted Sapsucker
I was ready to keep on going, but after a mile and a half Papa Quail reminded me that we were planning to arrive at Redding that evening, so we turned around and started walking back.
Mahala Mat (Ceanothus protratus), being true to its name.
And it was all in good time, because the rain suddenly intensified. We hurried along the trail and made it back to the car.
A Spotted Towhee in the bushes along the Bizz Johnson Trail
And it was on that moment that the downpour really begun. We drove back to town for lunch and started west on CA-44 just as the rain turned into snow.

Susanville might have just that one trail, but it's a worthy trail. I will definitely go back there to do the other 23 miles at some point :-)

Many thanks to members of the California Native Plants Society for their help in identifying the Artemisia and galls species!


  1. Amazing place snd river and the birds are so nice especially the Hermit Thrush photo
    nice job mamma and papa, I smiled when you mentioned the wood ducks in the Sepulveda :)

    1. Thank you :-) It was only a small sampling of that long trail but I do plan to do the rest of it at some point, hiking or biking.

  2. You were lucky to miss the rain :-)

    The trail is nice and the trees growing from the rocks are impressive, but I enjoyed the most the yellow headed blackbird picture :-)

    1. Oh, we didn't miss the rain ... but we did manage to get to the car without getting completely soaked. The blackbird was indeed worthy of a pullover :-)

  3. lovely!
    I remember we saw the Yellow-headed Blackbird in Mono Lake, back in 2009...
    I enjoyed your trip very much, that sapsucker is lovely indeed, and the views are wonderful!

    1. ועוד משהו - ארטימיסיה בעברית זו לענה, ידידתך מהמדבר

    2. Thank you I'm glad we chose to go there instead of driving to Redding the night before and spending a rainy day in some museum as was the alternative we considered.

  4. Replies
    1. It is a gorgeous place! Shouldn't be missed :-)