Thursday, February 19, 2015


How close we are to our distant past…

Jean Baptiste Charbonneau was the child carried by Sacagawea across the span of the continent while accompanying Lewis and Clark in 1804-06.  Captain William Clark is said to have nicknamed him “Pompy” or “Pomp.”  We learned about him as grade school kids, remember?

[Note:  Clicking on any image accompanying this post will enlarge the photo and render most print therein, readable.  It might be worth doing.]

In May, a few years ago, I found myself at Pomp’s resting place at Inskip Ranch on the Owyhee River near Danner, Oregon.  There, he’d fallen from a horse, taken ill and died at age about my current age: 61.  He was en route to the Idaho/Montana gold mines. 

Later that summer, I visited Fort Clatsop, the spot on the Oregon coast where Lewis and Clark’s Corps of Discovery wintered with Sacagawea and her son in 1805.

Curious about the man this child had become, I did what all great students of history do:  I Googled his name.

While crossing the continent to find the Pacific Ocean was a spectacular discovery, what I found was pretty neat as well.  Charbonneau spent about a dozen years rooting for gold at a sinister sounding place called Murderers Bar and clerking at an Auburn  hotel - both within a day’s walk of my suburban Placer County home.

A favorite area walk has been following the grade of the old railroad past the confluence of the north and middle forks of the American River to the Mountain Quarries limestone quarry. 

Along the route, the Mountain Quarries Railroad Bridge, built in 1911, was the longest concrete railroad bridge in the world at the time. 

A mere half-mile beyond, the USGS has located Murderer’s Bar.  The pin is on the south side of the Middle Fork. What may be a rather conflated story about an incident at Murderer’s Bar - perhaps prompting its place name - is shared by the Seaside (OR) Historical Society Museum Locals share that Charbonneau may have established a hostelry or way station here with, perhaps, James Beckwourth. 

Hiking past the quarry and scrambling through thickets and over boulders, a concrete post (probably from the quarrying era) is found here…

...and a bedspring (perhaps from the hostelry?) there…

...but not a lot of flat ground for any type of establishment.  Perhaps it is lost to the slagheap from the limestone quarry. 

Still, I can’t shake the feeling that I am walking in Pomp’s footsteps.  I go home happy.

Months later, I am exploring Mammoth Bar, a spot on the north side of the Middle Fork. 

Annotated photo. Click to enlarge. 
Located in the Auburn State Recreation Area, several old trails and roads once frequented by miners, foresters, squatters and those just passing through are now enjoyed by mountain bikers, equestrians and hikers.  They are well marked. 

Halfway down the paved stretch to Mammoth Bar is a sign indicates a trail leads to Murderers Bar.

The several hundred yard walk is much easier – no thickets or boulders - leading to a sweeping, gradual slope on the depositional side of the river's curve, much more suitable for building a rustic townsite.

A survey of the lay of the land just a few feet about river level indicated crude foundations and a bit of land leveling may have taken place a century or more ago.

Rusted detritus from those earlier days protrude from rocks along the river’s edge. 

The Middle Fork provides a springtime soundtrack is quite pleasant.  The pooling water, on a warmer day – and there are many quite-a-bit warmer days in summer – invites a swim.  Fishing trails lead both up and down stream until blocked by rocky bluffs.

Not a bad place for Pomp to reside for a while, pan for color and help out his fellow Argonauts.  

I clocked the distance from Murderers Bar to home.  Eighteen miles and change. 

On that journey home, the grade-school boy in me realized: I’d hung out where Jean Baptiste Charbonneau had hung out.  I’d walked where he’d walked.  I was only, like, two or three degrees of separation from him, from Lewis and Clark and another degree from Thomas Jefferson!

Then I did something no legitimate seeker of truth might do.  I checked Wikipedia.  Here I discovered that “Charbonneau lived at a site known as Secret Ravine, one of 12 ravines around Auburn.”  Secret Ravine runs just behind our house.

Well hell!  I think.  I probably cross Pompy's footpath just gettin' to the mailbox.


Additional Resources: 

The previous Church of the Open Road entry about Pomp Charbonneau may be found here:

About the life of Pomp Charbonneau and some folk’s belief about his impact on Oregon history, please see:

Under the heading “Who was Jean Baptiste Charbonneau?” the omit specific mention of his time in California’s Gold Country or his life on the American River:

Thankfully, the Placer County Historical Society fills in some gaps with this:
(Note: To navigate the PCHS site, in the left hand column, you'll need to click on the word "Charbonneau.")

Auburn State Recreation Area Trail Information:

© 2015
Church of the Open Road Press

Saturday, January 31, 2015


I’d pulled to the shoulder of a rural road just outside of Nicholas (Sutter Co, CA) to adjust and tighten something on the Guzzi when I heard a car approach but, concentrating on the fix, didn’t look up.  Over an idling motor and through a rolled down window a voice called, “You all right?  Need any help?”

“Nope,” I said, still concentrating.  “Loose part.  It’s Italian.  It’s full of loose parts.”

The voice laughed.  I looked through the window of the way-too-old Crown Vic at the deputy who said, “You be sure to ride safe, okay?”

The Church of the Open Road believes it’s okay to mention nice things about those sworn to uphold our laws and protect our safety.  This was but one example of many. 

What’s your “incident?”

© 2015
Church of the Open Road Press

Tuesday, January 27, 2015


It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble.
It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so.
- Charles F. Kettering

For as long as I have lived in northern California, Interstate 5 has run the length of the state.  I’ve utilized it dozens of times flying toward adventures in the Siskiyous and points north in Oregon and Washington.  Just one exit beyond Red Bluff, after a crossing of the Sacramento River, a posted sign reads William B. Ide State Historic Park.  Racing by time after time, I think to myself, “I’ve gotta stop there and check it out.”

On this day I would.
(c) California State Parks

William B Ide arrived in California in 1845. He proved to be a pivotal figure in the historic “Bear Flag Revolt.”  Our state was once known as Alta California, a Mexican territory.  The Californios of the region became intent of separating from Mexico’s governance due, in part to its distance (Mexico City) and its indifference to the Mexican citizens that lived here.   

A handful of Americans who’d come to settle in the Great Central Valley – Ide among them – traveled to Monterey to embrace the separatists and play roles in establishing California as an independent republic in June 1846.  As a result of a rousing speech he delivered, Ide was declared President of the republic.  That circumstance would stand only until the United States declared war on Mexico in July 1846 – about 22 days.

The history I’d learned and the history I subsequently taught my Fourth Graders fifty miles south in Durham, CA, was that Ide was an up-river settler who became the only President of the California Republic – and that he lived just up the road in Red Bluff.   “You can even visit his house, up there,” I advised my kids, although I’d never visited myself.

On this day I would.

The William B Ide Adobe State Historic Park is located on a bluff overlooking the Sacramento River.  

Listening to the river whisper by, the soft breeze through the oaks and the occasional twitter of some native little brown bird, it is easy to imagine oneself settling in this bucolic piece of heaven about a hundred and seventy years back.  The land was rich and fertile, the river rife with salmon and game roamed within easy range of even the most primitive firearm.  Just add Maureen O’Hara…

I like to drop into the visitor center first, pay my fare and check out any exhibits there in – and thus be better informed about that which I will experience outside.

“I’ve been meaning to come here for about fifty years,” I chatted with the young docent on duty.

“Well it’s good you finally made it, but I’m afraid you’re about eight months late.”  He saw the quizzical look on my face.  “Did you read about us in the paper?”  I shook my head.  “Well, did you happen to get a look at the oak tree?”  Again I shook my head.  “Well go take a look.”

East of the visitor center a about fifty yards stands the trunk of a five hundred year old oak, pared back to about two stories in height.   

A few feet further on, wrapped in industrial grade plastic and surrounded by a temporary fence, is the shell of what once was called the Ide Adobe.  I walked around the building unable to capture a decent shot of what it once was.

“Yep,” the young man said, “Storm blew through last March and most of the tree collapsed on the building.  Wiped out the roof and the floor but the walls seem to be okay.”

Roof Detail from Smokehouse
The State Park System is restoring the adobe, but it will take some time.  My once-again-lesson-learned has to do with putting off those places you’d like to visit for another day.  I’d missed this one by a mere eight months.

A footnote to this whole visit is that Ide probably never lived at the adobe.  He likely lived further down-river as he spent quite a bit of his political career as a bigwig down in “Colusi” County.  There was a river ferry just down stream from the adobe known as Ide’s Crossing.  The state or the locals assumed – according to the docent – that William B Ide had something to do with that enterprise or at least its name.  But no record exists to suggest anything other than simple coincidence regarding the name.  On top of that, no one is quite sure if the photos of Ide are actually photos of Ide.  Pictures of two different men are on display at the park, both purported to be William B Ide.


A stop at the park is well worthwhile, even in its current condition.  It is a pleasant break and a short jaunt off I-5 north of Red Bluff.  California State Park System information on the Ide Adobe may be located at:

© 2015
Church of the Open Road Press

Tuesday, January 20, 2015


The President:  “Sit down, this isn’t going to take long.

“I’m here to report that the state of our union is strong, in spite of us.  Stocks are up.  Unemployment down.  Consumer confidence on the rise.  You’ve seen the figures.  They’re pretty strong and tough to honestly deny.

“Still it is interesting that when this administration, or any other, presents a proposal to change a law or improve a circumstance, the opposition, rather than to look at the proposal’s merits, trots out statements that begin with ‘The American people want…’ A prominent party leader did this just yesterday in response to what he thought I might be speaking about tonight.

“This brings to mind two observations: If the ‘American people’ support some initiative favored by one side or the other, that data is legit.  If someone or something wishes to trump the desires of the people for some mystical motive out there – I can’t imagine what it might be – data is either created or ignored. 


“First, a really simple one:  When 90% of polled Americans say they support increased background checks for those seeking firearm ownership, that fact related to what the American people want doesn’t seem to spur action here in Congress.  We still have no universal background checks and gun violence in this country makes headlines, somewhere, everyday.

“Most recent data gathered from points across the globe indicate that 2014 was the warmest year on record and that, since the dawn of the industrial age, CO2 levels continue to increase.  An overwhelming plurality of the scientific community sees the connection, but members of this body seek the outlier to bolster their non-defensible position.  That’s like going to ninety-nine doctors for a diagnosis and when each says, ‘Yep, it looks like cancer,’ seeking the 100th doctor on the off chance he’ll says it’s not.

“Information supplied just the other day indicates that over 50% of the word’s wealth is held by a mere 80 individuals.  Many, many of them our citizens.  The gap between the richest of the rich and the average Joe plumber is widening to oceanic proportions.  Yet, this body continues to employ discredited economic theory, tosses around unfounded claims about ‘hurting the job creators,’ and turns its back on our country’s history of fairness and equity; all to thwart efforts at improving educational opportunities for citizens and raising wage levels for workers.

“Exploits on the world canvas should inform us about those actions that will be successful and those that will not.  When wielding our ample power results in an alienation of another people or culture or belief system, we risk reaping only hatred, violence and terror.  Yet when an administration employs diplomatic means to seek difficult, long-term solutions to on-going strife, they are labeled as appeasers, weak and worse.

“And we won’t take time here to again cuss and discuss health care – the law passed, marriage equality – the constitution supports it, and a woman’s right to choose – the Supreme Court has spoken.

“The thing is this: 

·      When factual data are ignored for whatever reason, somebody wins.  Just not the American people.
·      When education costs skyrocket and fewer people are able to attain a high school diploma, a bachelors or an advanced degree, somebody wins.  Just not the American people.
·      When wages stagnate to the point that a full time minimum wage worker must rely upon government assistance to feed his or her family, somebody wins.  Just not the American people.
·      When healthcare is denied a segment of our population, somebody wins.  Just not the American people.
·      When we decide our faith is better than theirs, our system is better than theirs, our practice of humanity is better than theirs – when we vilify and dehumanize others – somebody wins.  Just not the American people.
·      When reason, debate and discussion are shouted down, somebody wins.  Just not the American people.

“I can’t speak for the American people, and neither can you, other than I know that the public’s approval rating of the 114th Congress is now down to 16%.  Congress is looked upon as unruly, squabbling third-graders unable to rise above name-calling, finger-pointing and he-said-she-said confrontations.  No derision intended here toward third graders – I was a third grader once; Vice President Biden, a couple of times – but not so long ago, Congress garnered at least a modicum of respect.

“We need to fix that.  We need to change our modes of operation.  We need to reject the lies, the double-talk and the deception.  We need to employ data rather than hyperbole in making our decisions.  We need to revisit our constitutional tenets and historical foundations because those ideals provide a proven pathway forward.  We need to make unpopular choices and use the bully pulpit of our collective offices to educate and inform our electorate about all the weighed options, their truths and their consequences.  We need to embrace a system that recognizes that while our economic fundamentals are good in supporting both entrepreneurs and investors and many workers – there are necessities a society shares that can better be cared for using complementary means.

“The world – the universe in which we exist – is not black and white.  Our job is to find the patterns in the murky shades of gray we face daily and link or relate or just nudge those patterns toward the universal truths and actions that can move the United States forward and return us to the status of world leader we once legitimately enjoyed.

“In short, in order to best serve the American people, in order to re-become that ‘shining city on a hill’ that President Reagan spoke of, we need to get down to the business of the people in a business-like and respectful fashion.  

“If we can’t muster the backbone to do that, perhaps we should simply go home and allow others – others who truly want to do the public good – to take up the cause.

“Thank you and God bless this great land, our citizens and our patriots – except when they face the Seahawks in a couple of weeks.”

Friday, January 16, 2015


… in pictures

January:  Folsom Lake reaches near historic lows affording interesting panoramas…

Click on any of the pictures and they'll all enlarge...
…while exposing remnants of earlier times, and…

…presenting little mysteries that might be solved with some research of a visit with a local historian.

Muddy shoals created by receding water offered shots of shore birds looking for shores.

An impending relocation excited us with new vistas to explore…

… and new weird things to either learn about or act as if we had.

2014 may have proven to be the year of the bird picture.

February:  And we enjoy a favored walk along the American in the rain…

… and check off a bucket list item – that of a coastal posing the Guzzi where former bikes have posed before.

March: That impending move causes us to visit the Sierra – soon to be a day’s drive away – more frequently, while it is still at our doorstep.

Easing that partum anticipation is knowledge that the coast will be closer and its finer points just as fine as the Sierra.

April/May:  The Church of the Open Road goes on hiatus, taking a job as a school principal for a few months.  Probably never again.

Still, weekend walks afford all manner of surprise.

In June, we fulfill a promise to take a short road trip with Granddaughter…

…to see some California missions…

…and the Monterey Bay Aquarium.

Bird 4.

Bird 5.

Summer Months find us entering midwestern states never before visited to catch a ball game…

…and taste some Bourbon and check out the ‘Vette factory (where they don’t allow photographs.)

Birds 6.

Bird 7 (at Avery Pond)

Another quick day hike in the Sierra discovering an historic dam once used to power monitors miles to the west.

This one isn’t a bird.

September: and a group of Italians visit on Classic Guzzis traveling, in part, a route shared by the Church of the Open Road.  We cooked 'em dinner at the house...

They brought along their own mechanic.

A trip to the Basin and Ranges of Nevada and Utah offered a chance to walk along the rail line that Dad helped construct 70 years before…

…hum a few bars from “the Magnificent Seven”…

…wonder at the civilizations that preceded us in this place (Nine Mile Canyon, UT)…

…check a specific spot off the Bucket List…

…find the historic Airway Beacon Arrows Granddad used to rely upon while carrying airmail back in the early 20s…

… and view some generally spectacular regions ribboned by rails.

October:  Engaged in a motorcycle tour of Northern California and Oregon’s volcanic Cascade Mountains, seeing first Shasta…

…then Crater Lake…

…rendezvousing with riding buddy from the north…

…the rugged and unforgiving Sisters of Oregon’s McKenzie Pass route.

November:  A Modoc Plateau trip is scheduled – again with the intent of addressing that bucket list.  Here, a buck poses across from the store in Adin.

A homestead weathers on the historic Barrel Springs Byway.

Bird 8.  A Golden roosts in Vya, NV.

And we achieve our goal of seeing the corner of California and Nevada at the Oregon state line – first marked by Von Schmidt 140 years ago.

December:  We investigate the smaller things closer to home…

…gather in another bird shot…

…and catch the Golden Gate shortly after dusk.

Shots of the Year:  Third runner up, a frog has affixed him or her self (I don’t know where to look to find out which) to the sliding glass door one stormy night at home.

Second runner up:  An art-deco fuel truck rusts outside a remote landing strip in Nevada.

First runner up: Granddaughter Emilia draws a portrait of her “Noma.”

Shot of the Year:  The reflection of Crater Lake’s Phantom Ship is captured in the reflection of the Crater’s far wall.  Photographers tip:  Better to be lucky than good.

© 2015
Church of the Open Road Press.