Saturday, July 10, 2010

SEARCHING FOR SIMPSON CAMP III - OFF MENDOCINO NATIONAL FOREST HIGHWAY 7

THE ROUTE FROM HEALDSBURG back to Rocklin would have been an easy one. But there was this item in my – what’s the current term? - "Bucket List” that I needed to see about. I headed two hours north on 101 and 162 to Round Valley and Covelo to get some direction from the Ranger.

“Watch for where the property turns private,” she said. “They did a drug sweep up this way about two weeks ago and while everyone they arrested got released, there’s more than a little tension up in the hills theses days.”

“Seems to me if we just legalized the stuff,” I offered.

She nodded. “People dyin’ on the forest over this is just dumb.” She shook her head. “Have a great weekend and be careful.”


I TREKKED EAST on CA 162 - to where it turned into Forest Highway 7. Just past Mendocino Pass, keeping a sharp eye out for little roads that looked as if they might not lead to legitimate operations such as lumbering or cattle or runnin’ sheep.

Forest Highway 7 links CA 162's west end at Covelo with its east end near Willows. It crosses Mendocino Pass about 40 miles east of Covelo. The pass is where Mendocino, Glenn and Tehema Counties all meet up.

West of Mendocino Pass is Round Valley - the terminus of California's own "Trail of Tears." Native Americans from my old stompin’ ground of Chico as well as those from the foothills around Sacramento were marched to Round Valley. Many did not survive. And, just as was done in the Middle East, we "victors" did not understand that peoples of varied cultures don’t necessarily meld together just because we decide to corral them up in the same spot. So, many died after the Trail of Tears forced march as well.

As a kid in the 1960s, the drive from Chico to Simpson Camp seemed interminable. It was only near the top of the Coast Ranges highest ridge that the air became cool and the forest evolved from mixed deciduous to evergreen. One of the great memories of Simpson Camp was the Simpson's venerable boxer, Jovanna, snoozing in the tall Skunk Cabbage (also know as Mule's Ears.) This field was my first clue I might be close.

Although Simpson Camp is no longer listed on the Forest Service Map, the USGS Mendocino Pass quadrangle shows a "campground" in section 17. A nest of roads tangles that section. My initial route took me to Smith Camp. Smith, I remember, had a standing outhouse, which we’d hike east through the woods and use. Several small cabins still stood. A working wood stove warmed each cabin, early on. By our last visit in 1968, Smith Camp had been picked clean.

With the Mendocino Pass Quadrangle in hand, it was the old scientific process of elimination that led me to try this one out. They no longer use wooden engraved signs to mark roads. Now they are stakes with felt pen markings and ribbons. More difficult for frustrated visitors with hunting rifles to hit, I suppose, but also harder to see. It wasn’t until thirty minutes of hiking down these various two-tracks that I realized what the flagged stakes were all about.

"Somewhere off 22N21 or 22N35," I was told, but "there is no longer a sign for the old Simpson Camp," I was told. I finally hiked down this path, leaving the BMW at the top of the hill, only to find...

This ain't the work of the USFS. The official sign is long gone, a copy of which resides with Eleanor Simpson. I have a strong suspicion about who erected this marker once he heard the Forest Service was taking down the signs in order to preserve the area.

Back in the 60s, mom found the innards of a wood stove, all busted apart and took the firebox - converting it to an oven over a fire made of dried widow makers collected from the nearby woods. Mixing up some Bisquik and whatever else you put in Bisquik, the results were golden brown and delicious. This may be the remnant of that old stove.

The two fir saplings between which I hung a duct-white canvass hammock are still standing. But no longer saplings. I regret not getting a picture of them.

Although I thought it began much later, Zibe Simpson's family began summering sheep in this glade beginning in 1887 - or so says the sign he erected. There's spring water available. Not a bad place to spend June through early October. This July afternoon, the glade is mottled by a thunderhead that developed over only a few minutes time. I remember retreating into an old Coleman tent during a similar event forty years prior; playing cards and getting marshmallow stuck in my hair.

Ellie tells me, that on the occasion of our trips to Simpson Camp on Memorial Days back in the 60s "My heart would sing when Zibe and I saw you and your family coming down the hill." This is the hill.


Then.

And now.

(c) 2010
Church of the Open Road Press

3 comments:

  1. California at it's best. Great memories and the meadow pic at the end reminds of so many Calif scenes of the past that remain. R

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  2. Maria C Powers: That is so cool! You found it!

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  3. Charlotte Simpson ThurmanNovember 20, 2016 at 12:47 PM

    Our family homestead

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