Exploring the Car Graveyard of Mt. Shasta

Even though the cars couldn’t have been more than 100 years old, the way trees grew through them and natural debris buried them gave the illusion of antiquity.

By Ryan Loughrey

Walking through the car graveyard felt like walking through an ancient time. Even though the cars couldn’t have been more than 100 years old, the way trees grew through them and natural debris buried them gave the illusion of antiquity. I expected to find this appliance and car dump and be filled with anger at past humans for so carelessly getting rid of their waste, and indeed those feelings lingered, but I was still caught up with the notion this was something unique.

It is roughly a 20 minute hike out of Mt. Shasta. Before driving out over Box Canyon Dam, a small trail cuts off to the left and follows the Box Canyon arm of the Sacramento River. You can hike down to the river, and be afforded a view of a fertile canyon with steep rocky walls on either side. Or, you can follow the trail along the upper lip of the canyon, which will take you through the car and appliance dump, and eventually to several rocky outcroppings with a view over the canyon.

For this trip, I took the latter as I’d never done it before. The trail is about a mile-long and relatively level the entire time. At one point, there was a bridge north of the trail, and it took me a second to realize that this was a path for golf carts for the adjacent golf course. There isn’t much tree cover around this stretch, and so it does get quite hot in the sun. After a short while, I came to a more forested part of the trail, and then came to the car and appliance graveyard.

It seems that this collection of car and truck pieces, rusted barrels, and washing machines was simply pushed off the edge of the slope, and so far I haven’t found an official statement for a reason. It seemed like it would be the perfect hangout for Rufio and The Lost Boys, or could be a suitable setting for one who has travelled to the future, only to find that all that is left of civilization is rusted out hunks of metal ravaged by nature.

A small network of trails wind up and around the different vehicles. I followed one that seemed to parallel the main trail, and my secondary trail turned into a tertiary trail, and soon disappeared altogether. I knew that I was above the main trail, so attempted to cut down through the pine-needle laden forest and through the innumerable spider webs. If I was lost, it was only for a moment. I came to another trail, and stopped to see what looked like a cadillac that still had some of the original door liner. I learned that stopping was unwise, for this car had been claimed by red ants that covered the car and I soon learned they were fierce biters. I would try to flick them off, and found that they were stuck in me, their pincers lodged in my skin. It was clear this was their  kingdom (or since they are ants, perhaps a queendom?) and I was the intruder.

After swiping my legs clean, I followed the trail out of the graveyard. I knew the canyon was next to me, and every so often would get a glimpse of the windy Sacramento. The trail ends at a series of rocky outcroppings, and the first offers the best view. After doing some rock scrambling, I stood above the trees, above the canyon, and indeed even above a vulture that seemed to be circling something below. Nestled in the cracks of the rocks were small patches of pink and purple flowers that seemed to have the best view. After relaxing in the sun for a little, I headed back down the trail.

I should note that I did see a wild orchid along the side of the trail, and it took all of my power not to pluck it. Of course it would make a fine souvenir, but I figured by leaving it more people could enjoy it’s beauty. On my way back, I only spotted one other couple on the trail. They seemed dressed to be doing a photo shoot, and I imagined that the sunny day and rocky canyon would make for some prime photos.

I’ve been to many stretches of the Sacramento River, but this part was new. The hike itself is relatively easy, and offers an odd juxtaposition of decaying cars less than a mile from pristine grasses of a well cared for golf course. It offers nice views of the Box Canyon, and is easy to find.

Directions from Mt. Shasta City

Head south on W. A Barr Road. Before crossing over Box Canyon Dam, there is a parking area on the right. The trailhead is across the road, on the river side of the dam.

Active NorCal

Telling the Stories of Northern California


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