Thursday, February 23, 2012


It’s tough to make predictions, especially about the future.
Yogi Berra,
(also attributed to physicist Niels Bohr)

MAYBE A DECADE AGO, an ambitious couple, in love with an out-of-the-way berg called Dutch Flat, settled upon the romantic idea of refurbishing the old hotel there. The massive 150-year-old structure, across from a tiny market, stood through cycle after cycle of boom, bust and decay. The project would not be small, but the results, an amazing transformation. Visitors would wheel up from the city and cross the threshold into an exciting and elegant yesteryear. They would be part of history.

Back those 150 years, four bully entrepreneurs met on the second floor of a house nearby to discuss with a young engineer named Theodore Judah best route for the Central Pacific Railroad to crest the Sierra. Prior to that, there was gold. Prior still, Nisenan Maidu, black bear, cougars and the food chain that supported them; tracks, trails and footprints of each can still be seen today.

DUTCH FLAT is located a couple of miles off Interstate 80, over a ridge that abates the freeway noise. It is an easy blast from Sacramento or the Bay Area up the four-lane.

Old US 40 at Newcastle
A better route involves finding vestiges of the Historic Highway 40 (the same route in some places as the old Lincoln Highway) as it snakes from the valley floor, through towns, former towns and place names like Newcastle, Bowman, Applegate, Cape Horn, Gold Run, Monte Vista and up over the Sierra.

East of Applegate
I took this alternate today enjoying nice pavement with turns first sweeping through pastureland and fruit orchards, then tracing the edges of the Bear River drainage, and finally winding into and out of great, forested stands. Light traffic made it easy for the mind to wander; easy to picture some sourdough knee deep in the Bear shoveling sand into a sluice, easy to see why the Big Four coveted the timber they harvested for ties, easy to see why some left over from the gold rush and the railroad days couldn’t leave. A mid-day February sun sliced through the woodland canopy to warm the front porch of a hundred-year-old home. I pictured myself there.

Storefronts in downtown Colfax on old US 40
Several times I crossed the old CeePee’s route over the mountain. Now double tracked, sometimes I’m crossing the footsteps of the Chinese laborers who blew themselves to smithereens as Charlie Crocker pursued his goal; sometimes, I’m crossing the newer route, the one with the more gradual grade, the one that allows the Union Pacific (nee: Southern Pacific; nee: Central Pacific) uninterrupted, year-round access to points east.

DUTCH FLAT is a colony of cottages. Some are summer homes. Some are full time residences. The town’s exposure is a bit northerly so when the snow level drops to 3500 feet, it nestles around the little village for a bit longer than over on the freeway. Spring comes later than in the valley. Tiny streams lace the town site and a cool morning is perfumed with pinewood smoke from working fireplaces. The vintage homes are in various states of spruced-up-ed-ness. Several capture my imagination and I consider the creative aspects of owning the small white cottage with the deck that reaches over the creek as a studio. I add it to my list of never-to-be and find myself humming something from Man of LaMancha.

Once, walking outside of Dutch Flat, I heard the cry of a General Electric dash-8 as it struggled to pull a string of freight cars up the hill. Its air horn echoed against the mountain a mile and a half away. The echo, it turned out, was another freight, heading down the hill. The distant, rhythmic clatter of their trucks on the rail joints whispered as sweetly as a mountain brook. Far, far superior to the incessant roar of I-80.

MY MISSION TODAY was to check out the Dutch Flat Hotel. A family celebration is being planned for a few months off and, in combination with dinner at the acclaimed Monte Vista Inn; an evening taking over the hotel would be perfect. We’d phoned the hostelry, using both their listed numbers, but had received no call back. This necessitated my early spring drive into the mountains.

I followed Sacramento Street into town. Just past Secord Alley, I turned right onto Main. The restored three story building, resplendent in red, towered over Dutch Flat’s business district: the general store, a real estate office and the post office. The hotel was not open, but it was not closed down. It appeared as if there had been no visitors for quite some time; but peering through the lace curtains the restored wallpaper, antique furnishings and period art still adorned the inside.

I suspected that the ambitious couple dreamt of one day owning a classic B&B, put their heart, soul and sweat into making it a reality, sunk an incredible amount of money into a ground up restoration, and the recession hit. A local, willing to share, shared as much. He informed me that the owners were still around and that, under the right circumstances, they open for parties and events. Then he gave me the secret number.

Still, I couldn’t help believing that Dutch Flat, the little Sierra community that boomed during the gold rush, again with the railroad, yet again as Bay Area folks bought second properties was experiencing one of those busts that naturally falls in between. I felt melacholy for the couple and couldn’t help seeing the wisdom in Yogi Berra’s words about “predictions.”


TODAY’S ROUTE: Taylor Road from Loomis follows the old Route 40. Take it east to Newcastle; merge onto the freeway to jet through Auburn; exit at Bowman and cross under the Interstate. First right is Lake Arthur Road. Follow Historic Highway 40 signs, braid the freeway, and the Union Pacific right of way taking Applegate Road, and the Ponderosa Way to Colfax. Northeast on 174, right on Rollins Lake Road crisscrossing 80 to Gold Run. The route goes by several names through this stretch. Watch for the church to the right on the north side of the freeway; shortly, left cross track, then right onto Lincoln Road. Follow to Monte Vista. Left. Left again on Sacramento Street. Watch for sand on pavement! Wind down the slope and across the tracks into Dutch Flat. Return: Continue east to Alta and Baxter (source of your Arrowhead Springs water.) Join I-80. Head west but get creative figuring out a way to avoid the slab.

ADDITIONAL PICTURES (click on any to enlarge):

Schuyler Colfax and a plaque telling of his visit to the area:

The California Zephyr pulls out of Colfax after a quick stop:

Along Lincoln Road: hydraulic mining was not the exclusive purview of the folks up north along the South Yuba:

Dutch Flat historic marker:

Some vintage Dutch Flat buildings:

Roscoe. When his parents leave for work each day, Roscoe hops the fence and ambles over to the post office. There he welcomes friends and strangers alike. He was kind enough to accompany me as I wandered through town, talked with the locals and snapped a picture or two.


A little more history on Dutch Flat:

The Dutch Flat Hotel’s (former?) website:

Information on old US Highway 40:

© 2012
Church of the Open Road Press


  1. Additional information about the Victory / Lincoln Highway / US 40 corridor from a Pashnit reader:

    The old Hiway is also part of the Old Victory/Lincoln Hwy.

    I love riding that way when I can when coming & going. Our Victory Club does an Annual Ride that usually follows that route. I've done a to of research on the Original Route.

    Old 40 aka Lincoln Victory Hiway ( was the first transcontinental roads.

    "In September 1912 Carl Graham Fisher began promoting the idea of a transcontinental graveled highway, the Coast-to-Coast Rock Highway. By 1928 the Lincoln Highway, as it came to be called, and the parallel Victory Highway, a memorial to those who served in World War I, were marked across Nevada. The images selected for this site document places and activities along the highways in Nevada, eastern California and western Utah, and Reno’s Transcontinental Highways Exposition of 1927 celebrating the completion of the roads."

    Couple of years ago on our ride we encountered The Lincoln Highway Assoc. Transcontinental Ride. I'll have to find the pics but they were great folks & had an large array of vehicles, all vintage from the day. The weather was horrendous at the time.

    Sorry Dave didn't mean to hijack your thread but I'm a bit "Pashnit" bout this particular road! Also keep an eye out for Victory Eagles. We have 3 in Calif!

  2. Pashnit rider "Papa Ken" shares some additional personal history of the old US 40 corridor. I am taking liberties in sharing it here:

    It takes me back a spell to 1949 and some of my logging days. I was hauling logs all over the northern part of California but mainly from just below Donner summit on what was then Hiway 40 to various sawmills in about a hundred mile range. I recall hauling into Berry and Smiths mill located on the southern side of 40 just west of Gold Run.

    Hobe Webster had a logging site not far beyond 20/40 junction going east. It was a small logging show with a double drum jammer to pull the fallen timber up out of the canyons and load them on our logging dollies. He also had an old Oliver Cletrac tractor to skid and pile the logs once they were in the landing.

    As I recall there is a place called Moody Ridge close by on the southern side of 40 that had a forest fire that smoldered for years in the late 40ts and early 50ts. Thanks for all your posts that so many are places locked in my memory.......Ken

  3. Thanks, Ken. I'll have to get on the GS and explore to find some of those old mill sites.

    Moody Ridge, if it's the same one, is now pretty well covered with upscale houses that overlook Folsom Lake from the Granite Bay community. I used to work in school administration in that area; that's a piece of history I wasn't aware of.

    Thanks, as ever, for sharing, Ken.