Friday, February 3, 2012


THE GROUNDHOG having seen his shadow this fair February second, it seemed like a good day to ride. Perhaps, even to find some mud. The little state park called Malakoff Diggin’s on the South Yuba River seemed an appropriate goal. The route would include some nice pavement with gentle curves, some less-nice pavement that twists, a bit of graded gravel and hopefully, a mud puddle or two.

Turning left at the 20/49 split east of Nevada City, I head toward Downieville.  But only momentarily.  50 yards past the turn, a quick right hand turn puts me on Coyote Street. (Landmark: the the Tahoe National Forest Office.) This little used mile-and-a-half jog gains good elevation and entertains with both expanding views and challenging twists before intersecting North Bloomfield Road.

Heading eastward on North Bloomfield, the road is well traveled, very nicely paved and scented with pine fragrance as well as pine smoke from the fireplaces of the locals. Ten miles east, the road narrows as it descends into the rugged canyon of the South Fork of the Yuba.

The bridge at Edwards Crossing is historic and looks rather feeble and it spans by a good height a rather rocky course. I contemplate the useless tread on my Metzelers when traversing damp wooden planks and imagine how much the fall is going to hurt.

The sun has not graced the river bottom in months and the wood plank bridge surface appears to be glazed in ice.  Eeee-Yikes!  I dangerously use my booted feet as “outriggers” – admittedly a stupid thing to do – as I “sliptoe” the bike across.

BEYOND THE CROSSING, North Bloomfield Road turns to nicely graded gravel. Even in the middle of winter, the largest of the puddles is no bigger or deeper than a dinner plate.  This route is not the exclusive purview of those straddling big dual sports.  Even a carefully piloted 'Wing would afford the rider a good time.

Twenty minutes on, I pass the Malakoff Diggin’s sign. The road descends past remains of the hydraulic mining. Great effort was employed to engineer canals or flumes to channel water out of its normal course and capitalize on its erosive power.

Huge nozzles called “monitors” focused powerful streams of water against crumbly hillsides, washing them away and exposing lodes of rich ore. It seems, however, that the things we do upriver have consequences downriver. In 1884, farmers complaining of silt flooded fields in the Sacramento Valley sued in Federal Court to stop the practice. Excellent decision that it was – Good call, Judge Sawyer! – this would prove to be the first death knell of the town I was about to enter. Perhaps it was one of the earliest tough choices the Courts would need to make when asked to adjudicate questions pitting commerce against environmental concerns.

NORTH BLOOMFIELD used to be known as Humbug Town. But in the gold era, the name Humbug was about as common as the bedbugs that camped with the miners. The name changed to Bloomfield, probably because the large swaths of spring flowers in the flats along Humbug Creek. Later, “North” was added because a Bloomfield already existed over in Sonoma County. Similarly, this is why the local Columbia became North Columbia – blame Tuolumne County – and, in Butte County, Hilltown became Helltown.

Several 130-year-old storefronts and residences have been restored and are maintained at North Bloomfield. The park includes a restored schoolhouse, a church and attendant cemetery, several camping facilities, expansive picnic grounds, and a few rustic 1850s replica cabins that can be rented for an evening. Trails are well groomed, avenues are wide enough to easily imagine a grand Fourth of July parade and celebration a century or so back.

A pleasant mid-winter afternoon was thus spent in this lovely monument to California’s mining heritage. Sadly, Malakoff Diggins and North Bloomfield – part of the South Yuba River State Park complex – are on California’s shortsighted chopping block.

Should we not muster the wisdom and the will to preserve this special place, I fear Humbug’s second death knell may be its last.

TODAY’S ROUTE: State Route 49 north from Auburn to Grass Valley/Nevada City; Left at the 20/49 split east of NC; Immediate right on Coyote St for 1.5 miles of elevation gain and rich twisties; Right on North Bloomfield Road; Continue east 17 miles crossing the South Yuba at Edwards – road unpaved beyond bridge; Bear right at Lake City; Descend into state park. Return: Continue east; Quick left onto Derbec Rd; Bear right to Cruson Grade; Bear left onto Tyler Foote Road; Follow Tyler Foote through North Columbia enjoying a dozen miles of nice pavement and sweepers; Left on SR 49 back to GV/NC.


Malakoff Diggins State Park: and and

And of the grass roots effort to forestall the closures:


Always beware of gravel where primitive driveways abut your paved route!

Never rely upon my “Today’s Route” directions exclusively. Roads get pretty squirrelly in these parts. Carry a good map or two.


Another view of the Edwards Crossing of the South Yuba.

A foundation and, across the street, the General Mercantile.

A peek through the window at the General Mercantile.

A derelict Pelton Wheel.  This was the instrument that, more than anything else, industrialized the extraction of gold.  Invented just over the hill in North Columbia (or some claim North San Juan), it was the tool that, by force of harnessed water, powered the great stamp mills whose reports still echo through the hills.  If you listen hard enough.  (Prob'ly oughta close your eyes, too.)


The standoff:

And the question confronting Californians right now.  Either:


Finally:  The Edwards Crossing of the South Yuba is in the most remote and wild of places.  Who’d ever think that way out here, you’d run across someone who’d say, “Hey.  Is that you, fill in your name?”  But here it happened.

More than ten years ago, the woman who snapped this picture served with me on the Board of a Foundation intent on establishing a Native American Interpretive Museum 75 miles away in Roseville.  Today, she was out hiking with a buddy.  Small world indeed.

© 2012
Church of the Open Road Press


  1. Nice post Mr Brilliant. That road was the chosen route to travel back in the mid 50ts for the mill workers from Grass Valley and Nevada City. What was known as Tyler rd. at that time wasn't paved and a mass of washboard, so it was a shorter route to get to Grizzly Creek, Bakers or Dodges sawmills located very close to North Columbia. Papa-Ken on Pashnit.

  2. Right on Papa Ken.

    At some point up that way, especially if returning through North Columbia, one ends up on Tyler Foote Road. I've explored that route before and find it really reaches into some remote canyons in the Yuba River Complex.

    Also, from North Bloomfield, one can head south through Relief Hill to Washington and back up to State Route 20 (dirt until Washington - paved thereafter); or continue east to the high country berg of Graniteville: year round population: 7.

    Lots, lots lots to explore up thataway.