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Surprise Valley Barrel Springs Backcountry Byway
Northeast Corner of California

Bureau of Land Management
Management Unit:
Surprise Field Office
602 Cressler Street
Cedarville CA 96104
(530) 279-6101

  • Wildlife Viewing Area
  • Interpretive Auto Trail
  • Gas Station
This distinctive 93-mile driving tour takes the traveler through a wide variety of natural settings and points of interest. The Byway forms a loop that begins and ends in Cedarville, California and takes a minimum of three hours without stops. But travelers will be greatly tempted to stop at the many points of interest along the highway.

Historic buldings, pre-historic sites, an 1849 emigrant trail, wildilfe, geology, fossils, hot springs, campgrounds and the vastness of the area will all perk up a visitor's interests. It takes you through a ranching valley, juniper/aspen highlands, and sagebrush steppe. It is a journey not soon forgotten.

The 93-mile route begins and ends in Cedarville. There are some wonderful wildlife viewing opportunities along the byway. Herds of mule deer wander into the fields of Surprise Valley every morning and evening. Stop and listen to the tall sandhill cranes. In early summer thousands of shorebirds will be found on the intermittent lakes. Pronghorn antelope have been known to race beside vehicles in the outback. The outback camper can listen for the coyotes. All of the byway is raptor country with eagles, hawks, kestrels and falcons everywhere.

Driving east from Cedarville the road crosses the causeway over intermittent Middle Lake and them climbs gradually out of the valley to 49 Canyon. Through this pituresque canyon the byway follows the historic California Emigrant Trail. In 1849, this was the principal route of the California Gold Rush. From the eastern end of 49 Canyon the vista extends far out into the Great Basin. The Emigrant Trail from here through the desert to the Humboldt River was a terrible segment in the long journey of the pioneers. The diaries of the emigrants are filled with stories of their struggle and anguish experienced in this land.

The abandoned homesteads in the lonely valleys of the Outback tell another part of the story of western history. The weathered wood frame buildings were built during the last great homesteading era. More land was settled in this country in 1910 than any other year in American history. The pioneers held high hopes but there was a reason this was the last land left to be claimed. In 1920 the inevitable cycle of change came to the West and wet years turned dry.

When the Calvary post of Fort Bidwell was established in 1865 this country was deep in the wilderness. Life for the troopers here was hard and dangerous with little glory or reward. Sergeant Frank Lewis was an outstanding soldier and well-liked by his men. Perhaps he made their lives a little better. But Lewis was very tormented within and shortly after Christmas in 1877 he shot himself in front of bystanders. He died of the stone steps of the Fort Bidwell store which still stands on Bridge Street. The emotions of the troopers were reflected in their action of raising money to buy a tombstone befitting the man. On it they had inscribed a message. You can read what their thoughts wee from that long ago era by going to the calvary section of the Fort Bidwell Cemetary on the hill overlooking the town.

Fandango Pass is one of the legendary places in California history. The 49'ers viewed this site as the pass over the Sierras into California. If they could claim this pass, they had made it. Multiple teams of animals had to be hitched to wagons in order to climb straight up the steep slope. Some will find it hard to believe that the heavy wagons could have made it up here. More than one wagon broke free to go crashing back down the mountain. The road to the top takes only a few minutes and offers a beautiful view.

The settlements in the Surprise Valley were the first in Modoc County and every village in the valley contains buildings form those early years. The drug store and two-story Cressler-Bonner building on Main Street in Cedarville are still in use and look just as they did in the last century. The La

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