Wednesday, September 17, 2014


…from the Pre- to Recent History tour of Central Nevada and Utah

There was a time in our not-too-distant past when a railroad was the ideal means to get people and stuff wherever the people or the stuff needed to be.  After the rails tied our coasts together in 1869 until about the beginning of the Second World War, hiring cheap labor to grade a roadbed, toss down some ties and hammer steel ribbons into place proved to be both economical and efficient.  Good for the country and really good for the merchant/banker/capitalists who fronted the operations. 

Once the initial line of Union/Central Pacific was complete, short lines spurred off in all directions linking timber, minerals, cattle, produce and people to the main line.  Other routes simply started some somewhere and ended somewhere else, never quite hooking into the cross-country right-of-way.

Perhaps that was the case with the Tonopah and Tidewater.

Tonopah, Nevada, to the casual passer-through, appears to be just a threadbare small town at the intersection of two desolate US highways out in the middle of a barren collection of rock outcrops, dried lake beds and sage.  Back in its hey-day, however, when early mineral extraction drove the economy, rails were necessary to move ore to mill.

Dad was a desert rat.  High Schooling in Barstow, California, after an unsuccessful half semester at the University of California, Berkeley he took a job laying steel on an extension of the Tonopah and Tidewater Railroad.  “Tampin’ ties on the T ‘n’ T,” as he called it. 

“I never belonged at Cal,” he said.  “I was just a kid from the desert who didn’t know much of anything.”

The year was roughly 1938.  Dad and a gang of others were employed to hammer spikes into wooden ties advancing the rail line toward its goal.  Until the war came along.

One day, the gang boss called a halt and soon, the newly laid rails were pulled and shipped out on the diminishing line.  The war effort.  Munitions.  It was as if the railroad was a serpent that had to devour itself.

What is left is a graded right-of-way – one that, 80 years later – is slowly dissolving into the desert floor.
 Although there appears to be nothing left – you have to look hard to even spot the raised gradient – along its path one can find, rusted cans, flinders of wooden ties, iron scraps and spikes – feebly rusting spikes – half buried in a busted gravel ballast…

…spikes possibly driven by my old man.



Information on the Tonopah and Tidewater may be located at:

When in Tonopah, consider, as did Jack Dempsey and Teddy Roosevelt, staying at the historic Mizpah Hotel. While you’re at it, enjoy a little Cline Cellars (Sonoma County, CA) wine with dinner.

© 2014
Church of the Open Road Press

Tuesday, September 16, 2014


There’s a group of folks who take three weeks out of each year to tour some part of the world on motorcycles.  What do these folks have in common?  They all own and ride fifty-year-old Moto Guzzi Falcones.

Manufactured in Mandello del Lario, near Lake Como, from 1950 until 1967, the Falcone carries a half-liter displacement single cylinder four-stroke motor set in a duplex cradle frame.  A big motorcycle for its day, the bike was favored by the military and traffic police, as well as riders wanting a powerful sporting ride.  Dressed primarily in red on the fenders and tanks and accented with chrome where possible, these motorcycles provide further evidence that Italians are masters at marrying function with form.  They are gorgeous.  And at five-plus decades of age, they’re still running.

Annually, this group picks some place on the planet, packs their beloved Guzzis into a shipping container and heads out for the better part of a month. 

This year’s tour was slated for California.  The Church of the Open Road was called upon to offer route suggestions for the northern part of the state.  (Apparently somebody reads this blog.  Shouldn’t they have something better to do with their time?) 

The group’s travels began in the Bay Area.  They headed north along the Marin and Sonoma Coast turning inland to experience the Dry Creek Valley wine region.  From there, they would wind through the Coast Range, scoot across the Sacramento Valley and explore the Gold Country foothills of the Sierra Nevada.  Yosemite, Sequoia and Death Valley rounded out much of the itinerary.

The “church” was privileged to join the group for some wine tasting at the Fritz Winery on Dutcher Creek Road near Cloverdale.  Fritz hosts Jeremy and Melissa kindly reserved parking for the squadron of fiery red Italian motorcycles which arrived fashionably about 20 minutes before closing.   

The staff graciously stayed late pouring outstanding examples of Dry Creek appellation wines to an eager and grateful crowd.

Later, up the road a short piece, while many rested in the spa or with a beer, unwinding from a 150-mile day, a seventy-five year-old Italian participant performed maintenance and repairs; loosening the bead on a flat tire by hand, repairing the tube without removing the wheel and putting the whole thing in readiness for the next day’s ride.  (Regrettably, the patch failed, but oh well.) 

Next he diagnosed a problem with a magneto prompting me to wonder how many modern mechanics even know what a magneto is. This is the guy you want on your next cross-country tour.

The following evening found the group dining on smoked tri-tip and ranch style baked beans in “the church’s” back yard.  In the gathering dusk, discussions around the day’s adventure crossing the Coast Range and the Sacramento Valley were accompanied by broad grins and gliding hand gestures.  The evening ended with handshakes, hugs and even kisses from a couple of the Italian wives who’d accompanied their husbands.

The love of the open road and laughter, it seems, sounds the same whether expressed in English or Italian.


Reference:  The absolute bible on the Moto Guzzi motorcycle heritage and line up is Mario Colombo’s Moto Guzzi – the Complete History from 1921.  Giorgio Nada Editore. 2007.  $65.00.  Nicely illustrated and easily referenced.  Order from your local bookseller.

Note:  Check out the Fritz Winery when in the Dry Creek / Cloverdale area: Tell ‘em the Church of the Open Road sent you, okay?

© 2014
Church of the Open Road

Saturday, August 23, 2014


Common “Church of the Open Road” Question:
Where do you suppose that goes?

Best Possible Answer:
I don’t know.  Let’s find out.

We knew we wanted to get to the high country.  We just didn’t know quite where.  We perused one of the Church of the Open Road’s bibles:  DeLorme’s California Atlas and Gazetteer, but with an overwhelming number of options, we simply drove.

Let’s find a lookout, came the suggestion.  There’re always good views from lookouts.  Duh.

Grouse Ridge is a lesser-traveled area in the Tahoe National Forest.  The lookout perched there affords a 360 degree panorama that includes the Coast Range and Sutter Buttes to the west, the Sierra Buttes to the north, the Crystal Range rimming Lake Tahoe to the south east and ridge upon ridge of rugged granite and basalt in between.

Dotted here and there like remnants of God’s tears are tiny puddles, pools and lakes.  You see thousands of them as you fly east out of Sacramento on your way to Chicago or Denver.

Walking down from the trailhead – the problem with any trailhead at the top of a mountain is that you know it will be an arduous up hill getting back to the vehicle – a careful survey through the twisted pines, one sees a blue diamond here and a turquoise one there.

A trail forks off to the right.  Where do you suppose that goes?  I don’t know.  Let’s find out.

Ten minutes on, we arrive a jewel surrounded by granite but curiously sporting a bathtub ring. 

Circling, we find that someone, at some time, felt that industry downstream would be enhanced by governing the flow of water out of this lake.  A dam was constructed.

By regulating the flow, the hydraulic miners of the 1870s could use the power of falling water to blast the overburden off the gold deposits on the Yuba drainage year round. 

Wading through pine mat Manzanita and scaling some granite slopes we come to a view of the Sierra’s crest, but at our feet lay another lake.  Tiptoeing down to it, we circle to where its outlet courses through broken rock and duff.  A few yards further down stream: another pool.

Geographers call these paternoster lakes.  As glaciers scoured round-bottomed canyons, they pushed in front of them cubic yards of rock and dirt and overburden.  When the weather warmed, the ice retreated.  At the endpoint of its descent, the stuff pushed ahead of the ice formed a dam or a terminal moraine behind which a pond formed.  As the cycle repeated, if the ice didn’t flow quite as far down the course, another moraine was formed upstream from the first.  And, along with it, another little lake.  

The high Sierra is ribboned with these strings of lakes.  Some have, by this time some 10,000 years hence, silted in to form meadows, which, in late August, are quite dry. 

Some still rest as clear, cold opalescent gems inviting a wade or a swim.  Each makes a delightful end point for a day hike or an overnighter.

Over any granite rise, as we boulder hop here and there, we might find another little lake and several of her sisters.

Intersecting an established trail, we follow it easterly about three high-country miles to a named lake.
Pines and Manzanita take roothold wherever possible along the shore. 

Granite forming the opposite side thrusts upward. Chunks broken free had tumbled down the steep embankment showing us that nature wasn't quite finished forming the Sierra.

We wore ourselves out this day.  We wore out the dogs, too.  That last two hundred yards up to the parking area damned near did us in.  But in the sound night’s sleep that followed, a videotape of what heaven must be like played in an endless loop.

Today’s Route: 

From Sacramento east on I-80; West on CA 20; Right turn onto Bowman Lake Road.  (Check out the Sierra Discovery Trail about a mile in.)  After eight miles, right on Grouse Ridge Road; Six miles of quite passable dirt to parking area.  Return:  Retrace route to CA 20 then west to Nevada City/Grass Valley, Auburn and I-80.


Sierra Nevada Natural History by Tracy Storer and Robert Usinger.  (I’m on my third or fourth copy.)  University of California Press.

DeLorme’s California Atlas and Gazetteer.  Complete set of topographic maps for the entire state.  DeLorme has a volume for most states.

© 2014
Church of the Open Road Press

Friday, August 15, 2014

“Lincoln on Leadership” – A Review

 Our cause must be entrusted to, and conducted by its own undoubted friends – whose hands are free, whose hearts are in the work – who care for the result.
- Remarks from “House Divided” Speech 1858

Educators, in many surveys, are described as people who are non-risk takers, who seek to please; compliant and sensitive to others.  Collectively, these and other common traits serve the purpose of moving most kids through their educational years with some balance of empathy and rigor.  It is often assumed that educational leaders, mainly coming from the ranks of educators in general, possess those same characteristics.  Arguably then, tough decisions that arise for all leaders appear tougher when viewed through the complex lenses of the teacher-turned-leader.

As a by-product of a recent visit to Lincoln’s boyhood home, I picked up and read “Lincoln on Leadership,” by Donald T. Phillips subtitled “Executive Strategies for Tough Times.” If ever a leader were ever confronted with monumental crises, it would be our sixteenth president.

Phillips discusses the circumstances from which many of Lincoln’s most time-honored writings grew and concludes chapters with principles Lincoln employed as he brought the nation back from its most critical hours and days:

·      If subordinates can stand it, so can you.  Set the example.
·      Invest time and money in better understanding the ins and outs of human nature.
·      When you extinguish hope, you create desperation.
·      The organization will take on the personality of its top leader.
·      Truth is the best vindication against slander.
·      When you are in deep distress and cannot restrain some expression of it, sit down, and write out a harsh letter venting your anger.  But don’t send it.

Whether a leader finds him or herself in the role of turning around General Motors, crafting a plan for intervention in Syria or Iraq, or achieving consensus with a group of primary teachers, the issue always gets down to people hearing, understanding, assisting and clearing the way for other people.  Too frequently, we find ourselves learning techniques about leadership only from a small wedge of individuals who come from our own field, thus missing out on the wisdom afforded by those with a perspective of greater, or at least, different challenges.

Reflecting on my own career, I suppose I inherently got some of Lincoln’s teachings right, but there are a hell of a lot I wish I’d have understood at critical moments.  Phillips's book, at times, provided a less than comfortable mirror for me.

Teacher/leader buddies: this nicely proportioned volume comes highly recommended.  This is published by an imprint of Hachette Book Group, so don’t expect to find it on Amazon.  Instead, see your local bookseller.


“Lincoln on Leadership: Executive Strategies for Tough Times.”  Donald T. Phillips.  Business Plus.  1992.  $15.

© 2014
Church of the Open Road Press

Tuesday, August 12, 2014


The grin felt welded into my jaw.  Muscles there ached, but I couldn’t release the smile.  I walked through the bowels of Wrigley feeling like a dope.  A dope with a big, beaming, uncontrollable grin.
Here was Grover Cleveland Alexander throwing junk.  And Tinkers and Evers and Chance completing yet another impossible double play.  Here was Ernie Banks yelling, “Let’s play two!”  And the curse of the Billy goat.  Here was a bespectacled Harry Carey leaning out of the pressbox and singing the Anthem during the seventh inning stretch.  And the Bartman incident.

“The Friendly Confines” turned 100 this year.  And thus far, never has a baseball championship been gained here.  Yet all of this is forgotten as one enters the stadium teeming with like-minded fans each imbued with short or, perhaps more accurately, forgiving memories.

I once was Mets fan.  It was because they were loveable losers.  Sure, it was easy to like the Dodgers or the Giants or the Yankees.  They were always in the thick of it, winning a pennant or ensuring that their rival did not.  But the Mets?  It was not until their seventh season that they turned in a winning record, and in their eighth, they went all the way.  In the process, they overtook these very Cubs during the last week of the season to win by only a game or two.  I was a senior in high school and no longer such a loser.  (Actually, I still was, but quite a number of blue and orange ball caps sprouted up on campus in October of 1969.)

I should have turned my attention to the Chicago northsiders right there and then.

Wrigley Field is the second oldest ball stadium still in use by major leaguers.  The oldest is in Boston.  Both are cathedrals.  And just as cathedrals in Siena and Milan and Rome are decorated with timeless frescos harbor centuries-old pipe organs calling us to bow down and revere, the soundtrack at Wrigley is organ music and the only true lyric is baseball.

Climbing the stairs and looking out on the hallowed ground, my jaw clamps tighter and my eyes wet.  Here is where the real believers worship – in spite of all evidence to the contrary.  Blue-hatted fans are friendly.  Their expectations are realistic.  Two weeks into any given season, they are heard to sigh and suggest, “Well, there’s always next year.”

Over the right field ivy-covered wall, bleachers perch atop apartment buildings on the other side of Waveland Avenue.  Even though tonight was not to be a sell out, souls dotted those seats a full eighth of a mile distant from home plate.  Believers.

A beer.  A dog.  Some chatter with fans in the row of seats behind us.  We all stood when former Cubs pitcher Milt Pappas (1970-73) led “Take Me Out to the Ballgame.”  Believers.

How the game was played didn’t matter.  Just as what might have been preached at the Sistine Chapel last Sunday didn’t really matter.  All that mattered was here we were: in a cathedral called Wrigley, surrounded by – shrouded in – baseball history. 

On this, my first and, perhaps, only, visit to Wrigley Field, the hometown boys won.  Yep.  I guess I shoulda turned by attention to the lowly Cubs back in 1970.  I’m sure their history would be different.  I’m a believer.



© 2014
Church of the Open Road Press

Monday, August 11, 2014


A great road trip is a marriage of adventure, scenery, history and reflection coupled with good meals, sweeping curves and a visit to a local bookstore.

Travelling Kentucky’s Bourbon Trail found us in the boyhood country of Abraham Lincoln. Local history tells us that Thomas Lincoln owned farmland near Sinking Springs, where the future president would be born.  But records of the day were scant and the old man lost that property in a dispute with someone else.

Young Abe’s early home on the banks of Knob Creek reinforced those log cabin notions we grew up with.   

Scanning the pastoral draw, the National Park Service docent reports that Lincoln nearly drown in a swollen Knob Creek and that Lincoln’s infant brother Thomas was born there and died within days of his birth.

The pleasant mid-summer weather that greets us, opined the docent, belies the wicked winters that are common to the region.  One can only imagine the family of Thomas Lincoln huddled in the tiny cabin against the ice storm, praying the stores of firewood, grain and dried meats would last until the thaw.

Back at Sinking Spring, a memorial constructed on the site of Lincoln’s birthplace reminds us that from the humblest of beginnings, great individuals emerge.  The Park Service maintains Sinking Spring and the surrounding grounds.  Constructed inside a marble building similar to the memorial in DC is a replica of Lincoln’s cabin-of-birth. 

The memorial was commissioned on the hundredth anniversary of Abraham Lincoln’s birth, with signatories to the project including Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft and Samuel Clemens.  The associated visitor’s center captures not only the essence of his frontier childhood but also the heart of his strength and character. 

Having assumed leadership roles during my education career, I could not avoid picking up Donald Phillips book “Lincoln on Leadership.”  A brilliantly readable text, Phillips provides context to some of Lincoln’s most sublime statements, ending each chapter with principles the President employed as he guided a tenuous ship of state through the most uncharted of waters.  His ability to translate a global picture into words easily consumed by the intended audience proved to be Lincoln’s essential gift to our fractured nation. 

We think of our times as tough.  But when we honestly reflect on the era in which Mr. Lincoln was raised and the issues with which he had to find resolution, we can’t help but regard our times as posh, in comparison, and our self-created issues and imminently solvable: if only we lifted the level of discourse to the heights touched by the young boy from Kentucky who nearly drowned in Knob Creek.


“Lincoln on Leadership.”  Donald T. Phillips.  Business Press (a Hachette imprint – so don’t try finding it on Amazon.) 1992.  $15.

© 2014
Church of the Open Road Press

Friday, August 8, 2014


Oh!  What I didn’t know about Kentucky!  What I didn’t know about Bourbon!

Annually, my wife and I get together with another couple intent upon exploring some area of the country we’ve never visited.  This year it was to be Kentucky.  “The Bourbon Trail is down that way,” said my buddy’s spouse, “and I know how much you guys like your whiskey.”

“Yeah,” I thought to myself, “but the south in the summer simply swelters, and no amount of hootch…” 

The origins of Bourbon predate the 18th amendment and the results survived it.  Unlike what I’d been told, Bourbon is not a product exclusive to the state, but it must contain a predetermined amount of a specific grain and must be aged for a predetermined minimum amount of time.  The grain is corn.  The time is four years.  But, the longer the aging, the more enchanting the result.

Now, my dad’s favorite Bourbon was Jim Beam.  He’d pedal home from the post office and pour a shot or two over ice and add an equal amount of Seven-Up.  In homage to Dad, we visited the James Beam American Stillhouse.  There, we rediscovered something we probably already knew: Distillers create many labels each made distinctive by the grain involved, the distillation process of which there are many, the charring of the barrel’s insides and amount of time in the barrel.  My go to, Knob Creek, is a Beam product.  So are some of the better brands I’ve squirreled away to mate with the appropriate cigar:  Bookers, Bakers and Basil Hayden. 

Owned by the multi-national Suntory LTD and based in Clermont, the grounds are lovely; the facility, massive; the tasting, mechanized; but the product is engaging.  Take notes.

We home-based in Bardstown, KY.  Nearby is the Willett Distillery, a much smaller operation that Mr. Beam’s.  A one-hour tour is conducted by an individual who has worked pretty much all aspects of the process, except for horsing full kegs from the distillery to the rickhouse.  Full, they weigh just a bit too much for her to push around. 

Willett employs about forty folks full-time and the overriding impression one gets is that these individual are all part of a family.  Production is a fraction of that of area competitors but the tour convinces one of the hand-made, craftsman-like efforts taken in order to ensure a unique and savory product. 

Again, Willett produces several labels including Willett Rye, a bottle of which I have in the cabinet, and Old Bardstown, a copy of which I bought when I realized we’d be home-basing in that town. 

High end (for me) and exquisite is their Pot Still Reserve.  Packaged in a French manufactured bottle shaped like the old pot still we’d toured past, this Bourbon is aged in charred barrels to citrus and honey noted perfection.  A shard of ice releases a rainbow of aromas and flavors.  Upon return to California, I hunted one down and have locked it away.

Bardstown was recently voted the most beautiful small town in all of American.  Perhaps by Bardstownians?  But an argument can be made that this little berg is hard to beat.  Bardstown boasts a quaint downtown mixing taverns and tourist shops with those day-to-day essential stores that keep the locals from straying too far for commerce. 

Dinner at the Rickhouse proved to be the best meal on the weeklong trip and two nights at the Beautiful Dreamer Bed and Breakfast could only have been improved upon had there been four nights.  Best accommodation we’ve enjoyed in years.  Across the street, at the Old Kentucky Home State Park, check out the live, open-air theatre production of Stephen Foster’s life and legacy.

Just as the fruit growing areas of Placer County, CA has its farm trail, and the wine growing regions of California, their wine trails, over the past five or six years, the whiskieteers of Kentucky’s nectar (or their marketers) have devised a route that passes travelers through hollows and pastures, over limestone enriched cricks and to distilleries both historic and modern.  Each has a pleasant setting.  Each invites pause and tasting.  Each raises Kentucky from my unjustified and negatively predisposed position of well-it's-just-the-south to a new and positive damn-this-is-good! 

I have resolved to examine my other negative predispositions – of which I have many – thanks to Kentucky.



Bourbon Trail Details: This site may be more marketing than substance – and, once in the area, be sure to check out those distilleries not listed.  This site does provide a nice overview of the history and process.

Bardstown Tourist Info:

The Rickhouse Restaurant: Be sure to engage in a flight of whiskeys as part of your experience!

Beautiful Dreamer Bed and Breakfast: The breakfasts provided by Dan and Lynell are beyond description.  Stay here!

© 2014
Church of the Open Road Press