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California’s Ishi Wilderness

Ishi Wilderness trails run through stream-carved canyons, past stunning vistas, back to gold rush days.

Little Known Fact:?The Ishi Wilderness was named in honor of the last member of the Yahi Yana tribe, which had been wiped out by white settlers.

After negotiating the paved and dirt road from Chico, we headed into Deer Creek Canyon.

We started off hiking through a fire zone, for much of the canyon was charred during the summer of 1990. The aroma of California bay trees, freed by flame and sun, permeated the air along the path. There were volcanic cliffs and lava pillar formations, and Deer Creek wound through the lush canyon floor below. The trail passed beneath a massive face of knobby lava and between two towering lava monuments.

We descended to the creek and looked for a suitable campsite. Because of the dearth of flat ground, the Forest Service doesn’t enforce the rule requiring camping 100 feet from water and trails. A further complication is the veritable jungle on the canyon floor; clearings are scarce except high on dry ridges.

We found a spot off-trail that had been kept brush-free by winter high water. There was enough horizontal space for sleeping, fine sitting rocks, plenty of driftwood, and a waterfall sonata.

The day is different in canyon country. Direct sun leaves the canyon floor by late afternoon, yet darkness doesn’t fall for hours. Rays retreat up south-facing walls until ridge tops are scarlet from the sunset. Then night envelops the abyss.

The history of the Ishi Wilderness Area was recently commemorated by an award-winning documentary film, “Ishi ~ The Last Yahi.” The Yahi Yana tribe occupied the Ishi’s canyons for 3,000 years. Ishi was the last member to emerge from the area in 1911; the rest of his people had been displaced (often killed) by the flood of California-bound settlers. His remaining few years were spent in San Francisco with anthropologists, who recorded the only firsthand knowledge of the Yahi Yana.

The Yahi home exterminated by civilization is now protected from civilization. In 1984, the 41,000-acre area that Ishi once roamed was designated as the Ishi Wilderness.

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