Saturday, May 14, 2011


A GRAND THING ABOUT SPRING is that it rolls itself out slowly. About a month back, the dogwood in my side yard bloomed and faded. The grasses in my region have dried and the dog picks up nasty stickers while on walks. But at just under 3000 feet, the hillsides are green and the annuals still topped with purple or blue or bright yellow blossoms. It is predicted to be in the mid-70s today. I can catch up with spring by just heading up the hill. What better day to find and follow the Yuba River and see what’s going on in Downieville?

This May, sadly, not so much. The rivers were up but business seems down. The grocery is closed, although the sign mentions something about being in escrow. The Gallows eatery also closed but with no such sign. An ad in the window of the offices of Sierra County Realty shows that the Grubstake, a world class restaurant with living quarter upstairs was being marketed for what seemed an unreasonably low price. At least for “world class.” But, the hardware store is open as is the St Charles Saloon. And the Mountain Messenger – California’s oldest weekly newspaper (Mark Twain wrote here) – still publishes that which is fit to print and then some.

I hiked over toward the courthouse and the original gallows, then back toward town. Built at the confluence of the North Yuba and Downie Rivers, the County Seat of Sierra County enjoys a the constant musical background that can only be provided by free flowing river water. Unfortunately, an early afternoon hunger gnawed at my belly.

A mile west of town, the Coyoteville Café was open. I recalled that, in the past, it was the one place I could depend on not to be open. Today, a trio of dual sport motorcycles, including a KLR, was parked outside. Good enough for me.

I entered, sat at the counter and ordered: “I’ll try the chili burger and fries.”
“No fries.” The proprietress, cook, waitress, bottle-washer looked sheepishly resigned.
“I’ll try the chili burger.”
“It’s award winning chili!”
“Really? Yuba Pass cook off?” (The annual anybody who is anybody social event in Sierra County.)
“Yeah, but only fourth place this year.”
“Judges from the east side this time?”

BACK IN TOWN in the window of the realty office, next to the Grubstake ad, is a flyer for a place up in Cal Ida City. I’d driven past Cal-Ida Road many times but never have I tarried up that way. Today there could be no excuse. Only about eight miles west of Downieville, Cal-Ida Road twists and scales the north slope of the Yuba River canyon.

A sign over a wooden ditch intrigued me. The "domestic drinking water" supply source proved simply to be the end of the wooden structure positioned into a natural pond at the top of this little waterfall on Fiddle Creek.

Please click on this photo to enlarge.
The flume heads south along the canyon wall at a slope gentler than the gradient of the creek. The planks atop the flume are 2x6 laid there not to walk on but to keep debris out of the water supply. About a mile back down the road is a single cabin and a small campground, both of which I assume are quenched by this century-old engineering marvel.

This one, too.
There are no wide spots on the narrow, albeit paved, Cal-Ida Road. Through a break in the trees - and after about three or four healthy switchbacks - here is a view of state route 49. It lies a few hundred yards distant and far below the way the crow my might fly, but a good four and a half miles via the approved, county maintained route.

And this one.
 On the canyon walls are laces of white dogwood looking much like holiday lights strung against the deep forest green of the oaks and fir.

Cal Ida, in its most recent iteration, was a mill site. The area is graded flat and remnants of the concrete work supporting the long-gone lumber mill still poke out of the ground. A few cabins are dotted around the area with a modern home, having been constructed in 2009 the centerpiece of “town.” The whole area is privately owned and, as noted earlier, for sale. I didn’t pause for pictures because it felt I might be invading the property owner’s privacy snapping pixels here and there. However, a nice “virtual tour” of the town site is available from Sierra Realty at Look for the “virtual tour” button and enjoy a five minute display of the property and the historic buildings that go along with. Basically, that’s Cal Ida.

Brandy City lies two miles beyond Cal Ida. The map shows a nest of roads along this ridge top, all of which seem to lead back to here. It seems building thoroughfares into and out of the tributary canyons of the Sierra come at a steep price. I look at my gas gauge, then longingly at the map, shrug, and turn for home, adding yet another place name to my evolving bucket list.

THE LITTLE HEAD-CLEARING RESPITE up through the Yuba proved to be especially rewarding: a new stretch of road led to a new old locale. Temperature seventy degrees. Clear skies. Sweeping turns. Views. And, Whoa! The chili on the burger at the Coyoteville Café is really good. Certainly better than fourth place.

© 2011
Church of the Open Road Press

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