Thursday, November 30, 2023


The Old West lives on in Modoc County, CA’s, remote ranchlands

Main Street, Cedarville, CA, photo courtesy

By Bob Difley

If you are a Californian, you are likely sometimes surprised by the number of RVers that say, “I won’t travel in California – too many cars, too many people.” I imagine they envision all of California looking like Los Angeles County.

“Well,” I ask them, “have you ever been to Modoc County?” Even compared to traditional “Old West” locations like Tombstone in Arizona, Deadwood in South Dakota, Eastern Oregon, or the ranchlands of New Mexico and Texas, Modoc is as “Old West” as you can find.

But I bet even most Californian couldn’t point on a map to Modoc County. It’s tucked into the top northeastern corner of the state. You have probably not even heard of the county seat, Alturas, or other Modoc County towns like Surprise Valley or Cedarville, where you will find a collection of historically significant 1800s buildings that have been relocated here.

To get the feel of Modoc, head north on 395 through cow country, juniper, and grasslands to huge Goose Lake and Alturas at the junction of 395 and SR299. Turn right on 299 over the Warner Range through Fandango Pass that winds along the old settlers’ trail.

Fandango pass was named for a party of settlers that upon reaching the summit mistakenly identified the next range of mountains as the Sierras, therefore thinking they were near the end of their trip. They joyously held a Fandango – a dance celebration – which turned out to be their last, as a roving band of Indians attacked them while they danced and massacred them all.

Most of the county is open space, sparsely populated ranch land, with more cattle than people. The county motto is, “Where the West Still Lives.” The big events are the spring and fall cattle drives and the rodeo. Because of the warm, dry summers, Modoc features good camping, hiking, fishing, and water sports, with clear streams and mountain lakes.

And with most of the county at over 4000 feet, when winter rolls around you can feel the numbing cold right into your bones. But then, if it had the winter weather of Southern California, there would be freeways, traffic jams, billboards, and apartment buildings instead of broad-ranging ranches, cowboys, the Modoc National Forest, and Modoc National Wildlife Refuge – where you will find bald and golden eagles, peregrine falcons, mule deer, elk, wild horses and burros, and pronghorn antelopes – including countless thousands of migrating birds that pass through here on the Pacific Flyway.

If you mosey up to Modoc County, you will soon identify the Modoc Attitude. The residents here like their space, their land, their cows, their mountains, and their sparse population – the whole county is just over 9,000. If you leave your big city ways and big city flash behind, you won’t find a friendlier bunch of folk.

So pull on your boots and tilt that Stetson down over your eyes and come on up. You can always pretend it’s still the 1800s.

You can find Bob Difley’s RVing ebooks on Amazon.



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Carson Axtell (@guest_51649)
4 years ago

Don’t let the word out, but the entire Great Basin and the attached high deserts of eastern Oregon and Washington is vast, open, lonely country scattered with old homestead ruins and prehistoric sites. The reason is because there are so few national parks and monuments contained in the area to attract tourists on their time-constrained vacations — just wide open public lands, silence, roaming herds of open range cattle and wild animals, and widely dispersed small towns to resupply at… Dispersed camping abounds, without any hookups.

Bob (@guest_51527)
4 years ago

Hi Rory – Here is a link to a website that lists campgrounds in Modoc County:
And here is a list of NFS campgrounds.
Here are the Modoc National Forest campgrounds from

Rory R (@guest_51483)
4 years ago

Are there BLM/NFS lands to boondock on in Modoc county? It doesn’t sound like there would be many private RV parks available in the area……

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