MY SIMPLE GOAL was to revisit the old site of Helltown in Butte Creek Canyon east of Chico. Decades had passed since my last visit to the little cemetery of six graves up that way; and nearly a whole lifetime had passed since Dad introduced it to me back in the early 60s. I liked the spot because, as a nine-year-old, I could now get away with saying “Hell,” but only in the proper context. My idea was to scout the area so I could share it with a following generation of grandchildren – Gracie, Abby and Mia. Perhaps, one of them would catch the magic and fifty years from now share it with some subsequent generation. Not to do this risks little pockets of history – and the lessons attached thereto – being lost for all time.
This first really temperate January day prompted me to grind the BMW to life and head north. Heated grips kept pliable all but the middle fingers on either hand and a cup of coffee at the Cornucopia in Oroville was all that was needed to thaw them out.
Currently, the bridge is open for foot traffic only and fenced at the south end. The site is used for weddings and picnics and glances backward into a simpler past.
Walking the grounds, I returned to my bike to find an area resident parked in the road ogling it from his vintage Chrysler big-car. “How old’s that one?” is how the conversation began. It ended with an admonishment that the Helltown site was behind a locked gate and that it was in opinion of several locals that there might be illicit medicinal herbs being propagated in the area. “Wouldn’t want you to stumble into anything…”
THE ROAD TO HELLTOWN may not be paved with good intentions. Indeed it is blocked just a few yards south of the creek. I saw fewer "Do Not Pass" signs at Checkpoint Charley in 1979 before the wall came down. The historic Helltown cemetery is north of the creek and inaccessible by those who wish to see a few tomorrows. Helltown, as a destination, therefore is a bust. Perhaps “busts” are common aspects of off-the-grid life in the remote reaches of Butte Creek Canyon. I dismounted the motorcycle but decided against snapping any photographs of the pastureland down sloping toward the creek. The multiple "No Trespassing" signs and the collection of derelict automobiles and tin and plywood shanties was a foreboding far cry from my memories of fifty years prior.
THE FIRST EXTENSIVE RIDE of 2011 brought me to this view of the Butte Creek Canyon. Looking westward down the stream course that irrigated the area farms and runs under the historic Covered Bridge, I resolve that I must take the grandkids up here for a little look back at history - even if we can't make it to Helltown.
Church of the Open Road Press
|Helltown, CA Cemetery - circa 1975. Courtesy Patricia Boek|