World travelers chill out at Mount Shasta
Locals call it the Woodstock of spirituality.
Mount Shasta has long been a mountain of mystery, attracting an assortment of spiritual questers, some of whom now live there along with the Lumerians, Sasquatch and other mythical creatures from the cosmos or denizens of a secret city under the mountain. The believers come by the thousands, searching and exploring the giant peak’s myth and magic.
They come from around the world, from more than 50 countries, to explore the giant peak, 14,180 feet tall, 17 miles across, making it North America’s largest. The Visitor’s Bureau alone logged 25,000 travelers last year. They come from Sacramento, of course, logging a four-hour, 240-mile drive, feeling the temperature drop 40 degrees by the time they reach snow-covered Bunny Flat, 6,950 feet up the south side of Mount Shasta and the highest spot you can drive to until mid-summer when the snow finally melts.
But size alone doesn’t draw the visitors. They come for its depth and calm.
Here you find ex-hippies and men in bright purple sport coats and lilac ties, claiming to have had mystical experiences on the mountain. On any weekend you see the world’s tourists – Japanese, Chinese, Peruvians, Brazilians, Mexicans and Russians, some pouring out of vans and scaling the mountain with snowboards or snowshoes in search of God, St. Germain or beings from another planet or middle earth. Even the water is said to be imbued with healing qualities, perhaps because it’s so pure and fresh. Folks bring their water jars and containers to the sparkling headwaters of the Sacramento River, which are in the town of Shasta at the base of the mountain.
Or they simply find peace. You want to de-stress? Chill out here.
Along with the colorful cast of characters, cool shops offer virtually every sacred talisman, statue, icon or musical instrument from Tibetan brass bowls to Indian flutes, and more crystals than a Korbel factory, ranging in price from a few dollars to upward of $18,000 depending upon size, shape and type of stone. Crystal bowls can fill your body with healing vibrations – the bigger the bowl, the louder the vibe.
“We have so many people coming on their spiritual quest, asking, ‘Where’s the vortex?’ ” said Shahan Jon, a former therapist who runs the Visitor’s Bureau. A vortex is thought to be sacred spot where energy’s either flowing into the earth or projecting out. The Great Pyramids of Egypt, Machu Picchu in Peru, Stonehenge in England, Bali and Mount Shasta are all believed to have vortices.
Politics, jobs and the cares of everyday life melt away the minute you set eyes on Shasta, a mammoth white cathedral that dominates the horizon, cloaked by sometimes spectacular cloud formations swirling over the peak that give rise to UFO sightings.
As you drive toward Shasta, it becomes an apparition – now you see it, now you don’t, as you keep curving toward it – sometimes it appears almost behind you, other times to your right and again, to your left.
Just gazing at Shasta clears your mind. It’s one of the toughest mountains to climb. California Indians rarely go past Panther Meadow, about a 2-mile hike from Bunny Flat, for their spiritual sustenance. Many travelers have tried to summit her and failed.
Naturalist John Muir nearly perished in a freak blizzard on Shasta’s summit in 1875, but that only further seduced him. He found Shasta a constant source of enchantment and energy and kept returning again and again. “When I first caught sight of it,” he wrote, “I was 50 miles away and afoot alone and weary, yet all my blood turned to wine and I have not been weary since …”
For those less-rugged individualists who just seek to elevate their minds, you can commune with nature and your inner deity just by visiting Shasta and her environs. Tucked into a garden on the way up the mountain is the Gateway Peace Garden filled with stone hearts, statutes and thousands of peace “flags,” strips of cloth containing prayers and wishes scrawled in magic markers. The Peace Garden was founded by followers of Amma, “The Hugging Saint,” who tours the world spreading her message of love and ecology.
The Peace Garden’s free, the prayer flags and markers are provided and along with the waves of flags fluttering in the breeze you can catch great vistas of Shasta framing St. Germain, Jesus, Mary and other icons nestled in the shrubbery. Keep your eye out for the ceramic white dove on your left – the Peace Garden, like peace itself, isn’t always easy to find. (You can find it online at gatewaypeacegarden.com.)
Your first stop in Mount Shasta village should be Jon, a former therapist at the Visitor’s Bureau at 300 Pine Street. Their motto: “Have a great escape!” Outside the center are “peace poles” with peace written in 23 languages.
Jon, who grew up in northeastern Iowa and landed here in the summer of 1991, is a worthy guide who’s helped lead tours of Japanese up the mountain. Many Japanese believe Shasta is the sister peak of Mount Fuji, their sacred mountain.
Some of the spiritual guides advertised in local motels and businesses charge $350 to take you on a personal journey of discovery. “But you don’t need to pay” to find clarity and enlightenment, said Jon.
The Wintu and four other major California nations believe their lands all converged at the top of Mount Shasta, home of the great spirit, Jon said.
At Stewart Mineral Springs along a crisp bubbling creek in Weed, a little northwest of the mountain, Indian drummers host a native Spirit of the Wind purification ceremony at their sweat lodge most Saturdays at 1 p.m. As the smell of sage swirls around the sweat lodge, Walking Eagle, a spiritual leader of the Karuk Tribe, welcomes visitors and teaches them the ways of the sweat ceremony. (For more information, call 530-938-2222 or email email@example.com.)
As visitors danced to the beat and songs coming from the native drumming circle, Walking Eagle explained: “Mount Shasta is where the grandfather comes down to the top of the mountain where there are no trees. We’re not supposed to go above the tree line.”
Shasta’s water features are as enticing as the snow-capped peak. Outside of Dunsmuir, not far from William Randolph Hearst’s castle-like family retreat, Wyntoon, you can hike along the McCloud River, a gorgeous aquamarine flow of swirling white water cutting through the forest and boiling over at Lower McCloud Falls. Just sitting along the river and listening the water is a great way to meditate. Mirna Morales of Tijuana visited the McCloud River with five others “to do spiritual healing and meditation work.”
Across Interstate 5, you’ll find Lake Siskiyou, a sprawling reservoir with a beach and campground that also faces Mount Shasta. The trout season opened April 29 and you can try your luck solo or hire guides.
Shasta’s water is considered so special that Crystal Geyser has been fighting for years to open its own bottling plant there. So far, the company has been blocked by a local environmental group called WATER, or We Advocate Thorough Environmental Review, that has successfully pushed for an Environmental Impact Report. Jim Mullins, executive director of the Mount Shasta Chamber of Commerce, supports Crystal Geyser and the jobs its promises to bring. But Mullins doesn’t back the renegade State of Jefferson “because we don’t want to be poor” if the region breaks away from California.
Mullins said his mother had a spiritual connection to the mountain, but added, “she’s not a woo-woo,” a local term for those who believe they’ve experienced something otherworldly.
That is sometimes a fine line here. The town includes an “I Am” Reading Room, where you can learn of the I AM movement, which dates to the 1930s and practices an ascetic lifestyle devoted to the “Ascended Masters” from Jesus Christ to St. Germain, the patron saint of the I AM movement.
Their beliefs are based partly on a mysterious figure known as Count St. Germain (1710-1784) who, according to Wikipedia, “has been variously described as a courtier, adventurer, charlatan, inventor, alchemist, pianist, amateur composer” and was actually Sir Francis Bacon, the English philosopher, scientist and jurist.
Lawrence Gautreaux, a general contractor clad in a brilliant purple sports jacket and lilac tie, explained that ascended masters perfected their humanness and rose to the astral plane “that’s all love, peace and no pushing to get first in line.” Gautreaux said St. Germain, bathed in violet light, first appeared on Mount Shasta in 1933 to Guy Ballard, an engineer who started the I AM movement. It can now be found in 300 temples worldwide.
“There’s a direct connection between God and the mountain – it’s a spiritual Woodstock,” said fellow I AMer John Vios, 71, who just moved here from Brooklyn six months ago.
“This mountain affects the entire planet, it is the cathedral for this time in world history,” he said. “People from every country come here, they’ve dreamt of this mountain and have found a reason to live.”
Nearly every resident of Mount Shasta has a story about a dream or vision they had that inspired them to move here. The intersection of spiritual experience is often Soul Connections, a cool new-age emporium that for 30 years has embodied the nature of Mount Shasta, believed to be home to a range of spiritual entities.
One of the employees, Dee Sponsler, 65, said she moved here nearly 30 years ago from San Diego to experience “life in the slow lane.”
“If you’re sitting at a red light and it turns green, you know you’re in Mount Shasta,” she said, “if the person in the car behind you just waits without honking their horn for you to go.”
Kingston Kane, another Brooklynite who moved here 36 years ago, said he has had more than his share of alien abductions and encounters with Sasquatch, a.k.a. Big Foot. Kane, who worked as a mailman in Florida, said when he first camped on the mountain, he realized he had dreamed of this exact location as a 5-year-old.
Along with devotees of St. Germain, you can find whatever brand of faith works. You can find Buddhists, Hindus, Catholics, Evangelicals and believers in Telos, the Lemurian City under Mount Shasta inhabited by highly advanced beings – survivors of the lost continent of Lemuria. According to legend, they live in a vast dome and maintain a “Silver Fleet” of space ships that some think explains the UFO sightings that are fairly common here.
“I learned when I got here that everybody has their own path,” said Sponsler. “People like to come in here to share their magical experience, sharing photographs of orbs and spacecrafts. I absolutely believe it.” Sponsler said the folks at Soul Connections have heard so many amazing tales “we don’t even get excited over Sasquatch any more.”
Sponsler pulled out a photograph taken at Panther Meadows of a Peruvian Shaman and his friend. The photo shows “what looks like an alien being, and there’s another that blends in with the foliage,” said Sacramento Immigration Attorney Kevin H. Knutson, who took the picture last fall. He said he thought the alien figures “were communing with the Peruvian healer and his friend.”
Knutson said his path to Mount Shasta began in 2015 at a hair salon on Haight Street in San Francisco. “When I left the barbershop, I walked into a wonderful place filled with crystals, called The Love of Ganesha.” After a few visits, Knutson said, “they banished me from their temple and said, ‘You obviously are on a spiritual journey; you need to get up to Mount Shasta and find out what that journey is.’ ”
Knutson, 52, said he had been suffering from a variety of stress-related ailments. “Nothing worked for me,” he said. Shasta’s air and water, he said, cured him.
Whether you just drink Shasta’s sweet mountain water that flows freely from local taps, have your lungs cleansed by alpine air or witness beings from above or below the earth – it’s all a matter of perspective. At Crystal Healing, shop owners Miguel Mesa and Taylor La Combe offered some cosmic truth.
Miguel Mesa said he was living in Pennsylvania “when I had a vision of a man standing on top of a mountain – it turned into a brilliant scene.” He said he finds God “going up the mountain with a flute ... last week we took folks from the Hopi tribe in Arizona, the Q’eros from Peru, and Tibetan followers of the Buddhist lama Rinpoche and played music up there.”
Perhaps the best insight was offered by their 7-year-old daughter Iyah, whose name means “Oh my God” in Chinese. What she loves most about Mount Shasta are mystical creatures. “I’ve seen fairies, gnomes, elves, unicorns ...” Iyah smiled and pounded her right fist against her heart. “Inside here.”
Editor’s note: This story has been corrected to reflect that Machu Picchu is in Peru.