Thursday, October 27, 2011


California State Route 32

ON AN UNBOOKED WEDNESDAY in October, I braved the forty-degree morning and ventured up Highway 32 in search of the colors of fall. Highway 32 between Chico and its “T” at Highway 36 proved to be my growing up playground – as a kid and as an adult. Deer Creek ran full, but the flood was of memories.

ONCE UPON A LONG TIME AGO, a fire lookout stood at a point known as Windy Cut. Dad and brother and I would find this a perfect locale for "relief" after a day traipsing around Ishi's habitat with Dad in the lead, telling stories and convincing us we were not lost. Great memories.

It was here, in about 1995, that I took a nap after a final visit with Dad at the Twin Pines convalescent hospital down in Chico. Turns out, as I rested, he crossed over.  I always stop at the Windy Cut when taking Highway 32 - if only for that relief and to remember.

THE STEEL BRIDGE across Deer Creek is the halfway point between Chester, where I lived for a time, serving as Principal of the Elementary School, and Chico, where I grew up to the extent I grew up. This picture, taken in 2011, could have been taken in 1955. A fishing trail follows the north west side of the creek downstream into the Ishi Wilderness area.

Many family hikes traced the edge of Deer Creek having found parking at the bridge. Sometimes with friends. Sometimes, just us. Dad would tell stories of the Yahi Indians and of Ishi, then thought to be their lone descendant, who swam in these waters and speared salmon. I often thought of myself standing on a rock with a hand-hewn spear tipped with obsidian and harvesting a rich pink specimen. My brother suggested I’d probably starve first.

When I was a kid, Mom referred to this as Wild Rhubarb. Not ever wanting to question her, I have not looked this up in Sierra Nevada Natural History, the Church of the Open Road’s primary “Bible” for all things natural. If anyone does and finds out something different, let me know. That way I can be exposed to the truth and still be free of questioning Mom.

Backlit, this black oak leaf captivates.

AT DEER CREEK MEADOWS, just southwest of 32's T with 36, the Lassen Trail still exists. I stumbled across it this day and thought that soon, I'm going to ride that cut-off from stem to stern. Peter Lassen’s road started out past the Black Rock Desert in Nevada, crossing into California at Fandango Pass, thence traversing the barren Modoc Plateau. Bearing south, Uncle Pete found the headwaters of Deer Creek and followed it west, more or less, to the valley floor. This length of graded gravel certainly looks inviting.

More info on the Lassen Trail.

In late October, the bucolic Deer Creek Meadows rest parched and browning, only a few weeks shy of being blanketed by next winter's snow. The sky has a misty, high-country autumn tint. The air is flavored by pinewood fire smoke from the great rock fireplace of a nearby lodge. And a creek runs through it.

ONE EXPLORATION OF THE RUGGED LAND of the Yahi ended up, somehow in the “town” of Mill Creek. Perhaps Dad saw the sign on Highway 36 and wondered what was down there. That happened all the time. I was in the back seat of his 1950 Willy’s Jeepster and all I recall was an immediate and rather abrupt turn at the great white barn.

Fifty years ago, we came to a little resort that, I discovered, still stands today. Hidden behind the lattice at the right-hand end of the porch is an ice cream cooler that beheld a delight on a stick: vanilla ice cream on the inside and frozen root beer on the outside. I think Dad paid fifteen cents for it. Maybe only a dime. Never the less, as a nine-year-old, I knew what heaven tasted like.

This day, the Mill Creek Resort closed at 1:00 PM. It was 1:10 when I arrived.

I would have been disappointed that the little inn was closed – and was – until, rounding a bend on state route 172, the light played perfectly against the golden leaves of another black oak. I realized that this was one of many good days of riding I've enjoyed this season. The root beer ice cream pop would just have to wait. Perhaps another fifty years.


I took this only because it appeared to be a government sign not destroyed by someone with a six-shooter - rather destroyed by Mother Nature who may well believe that the whole planet should be considered a preserve.

It’s tough to disagree with Mother Nature. Probably bad policy, too.

© 2011
Church of the Open Road Press


  1. ...just like I'm there. Here's the missing photo:

    You can find the missing photo here:

  2. From a Pashnit Reader:

    Isn't the Mill Creek "loop" wonderful? Did you go to the west end at Mineral? In early October, the aspens along the meadow there hadn't turned yet, but I thought that it would be really nice when they did.

    I'd forgotten all about those root-beer/vanilla ice creams - mmmmmm.

  3. I didn't make the entire loop. It seems that just past Mineral Summit, the road was closed as local ranchers used the right-of-way to round-up cattle in the summer pasture. The cattle drive was taking place on the road and I slipped and slid through more than a little "BS" until it was clear I wouldn't make it through all the way to Mineral this day.

    Here, and I thought I'd given up dealing with BS when I retired...

  4. One of my favorite places, the meadow in Mill Creek. The motel and store were for sale a few months back. Ah, to dream.