Monday, October 11, 2010


[October 2003] IN QUINCY, CALIFORNIA, where the old Western Auto store used to be, the Oroville-Quincy Highway heads out of town following Spanish Creek a little ways and then cuts over the ridge to Haskins Valley and Bucks Lake. Bucks is a gorgeous high mountain PG&E reservoir that we used to frequent when I was a kid. A family in the neighborhood had a chalet up there.

Their son, two years my senior, told me that three workers died in the construction of the dam. As an eight-year-old, I pictured their bodies in suspended animation in the rock and concrete. I never wanted to set foot on the dam itself. It gave me the creeps. All dams do. To this very day.

The Oro-Quincy Highway is the back way home from Bucks Lake, the alternative to Highway 70. It twists around ridge ends, crosses logged clearings and splices stands of Doug Fir and Ponderosa Pine. Within twenty minutes, one descends several ten- to thirteen-percent grades from high, white granite to thick, oaky mixed woodlands and chaparral. The highway winds down past Lake Madrone, to Berry Creek, and past the turn off to Feather Falls.

Continuing down the hill toward the Sacramento Valley, the route crosses Lake Oroville on a new suspension bridge almost directly above where California’s first suspension bridge originally spanned the Feather at Bidwell’s Bar, the ancient seat of Butte County. The historic old bridge was moved to be the centerpiece of Oroville Lake’s interpretive center. It warrants a visit.

BACK IN THAT HIGHER COUNTRY, a piece of granite (or basalt or some mixture thereof) is nestled in the waist-deep manzanita. About the size of a small house, it looks as if it were carved into the shape of a frog poised and ready to jump about twelve-and-a-half miles to the ridge on the other side of the Middle Fork of the Feather.

Forty years ago, in our 1954 Ford Ranchwagon, we were rattling our way to the friend’s family cabin on Bucks Lake up the “graded” (read: “horribly unpaved”) Oroville-Quincy Highway when we found this formation.

“Looks just like a frog,” my brother Bill exclaimed.

Dad stopped. We got out and crawled all over it. Chafed our bare knees and wore raw the heels of our hands on that rough, crystalline granite. Then we stood. In the distance were mountain peaks and dainty lakes that would fascinate us for a lifetime. As kids, we could see forever. Hell, we could touch forever from the top of that rock if we just closed our eyes and imagined. I didn’t however. I didn’t want to lose my balance, fall off the rock and end up like those guys inside the dam.

SINCE THEN, THANKS TO THE U S FOREST SERVICE, the road has been nicely paved, but the manzanita hasn’t added more than another six inches: the growing season so short that the pines and firs haven’t yet made root-hold.

This October day, the sky was bright blue. The air cool enough to moisten the nose and stab the lung a little bit, but sweet as only true mountain climes afford. The morning chill had melted so I could switch off the heated handgrips. My black leather jacket absorbed some sunshine. A young bald eagle circled overhead.

Aspens told me that the first frost had occurred – but everything else told me it wasn’t winter yet.

And the Great Frog Rock? Well, it is made of rock.

DAD HAD STOPPED. So could I. Again I would chafe the heels of both hands.

From atop Frog Rock there were 360 degrees of ridges, forests and granite outcrops. I could see and feel forever – touching distant peaks I’d now climbed and dainty lakes I’d now paddled.

Forty years vanished.

A journey on the road is not always of the road.

© 2003, 2010
Church of the Open Road Press


  1. Another wonderful story of life and riding
    thanks for you effort

  2. ORO-QUINCY HIGHWAY is my fav. ride

  3. Six or seven years ago, I was riding this route when I was delayed by road construction between Berry Creek and Mountain House.

    "We're improvin' the road by takin' out about 75 curves over the next four and a half miles," the flagman grinned.

    I didn't agree that taking out the twisties was an improvement.