Monday, March 5, 2012


California State Route 16

TWO THINGS: Great roads and near year-round riding weather. Finding a new place to ride isn’t easy after one’s been riding a while. Revisiting a great road, however, makes up for it. So many elements are at play while in the saddle: Time of year, time of day, direction of travel, weather. Each of these elements make tomorrow’s ride on yesterday’s road different from the passage before.

State Route 16 through Yolo and Colusa County’s Capay Valley is one of those roads one cannot get too much of. It had been quite a spell since my last trek up this way and the early March weather report called for highs in the mid 70s. Any questions?

As ever, clicking on any picture will expand electrons.
PICKING UP 16 off I-5 north of Woodland, this abandoned farmhouse has always captured my attention. It wasn’t until this trip that I pulled over to take its portrait. Rising out of the valley floor amid row crops, with boarded up windows, the luster of its elegance is long lost. It stands like a haunted monument to the stature of some century-ago landowner. Nearby, someone is living in a mobile.

Across 505 (Winters Cut-off between Interstates 80 and 5) the little town of Esparto provides some commerce at the mouth of the Capay Valley. The train station stands as vacant as that Victorian farmhouse a few miles back, but a new banner suggests restoration might be in its future.

SR 16 is more heavily used this past 15 years since, up in Brooks, the Cache Creek Casino has taken root and flourished. The hamlet of Capay lies along the way. Its Chamber of Commerce sign indicates that there are old time things to do in the area – things folks enjoyed before the gambling and nightclub scene sprouted.

The little valley is home to small farmers – some totally organic – who raise vegetables for local markets as well as almonds and stone fruits for wider distribution. Having traveled Umbria some five years ago, with the exception that oldest buildings here are about a thousand years younger than those in old Italy, the Capay region is quite reminiscent of that temperate Mediterranean area.

Tiny roads lead left and right off the main artery, but most dead end not too far up the eastern or western slope of the ridges that texture the horizon.

The old school stands empty – there is no banner promoting its restoration. Set at a little crossroad, I can only imagine that the community got together and constructed this edifice on a donated corner of farmland. I wondered if the product of this institution graduated prepared for that which they would confront throughout life. Then, peering at the verdant hills and rich farmland concluded that its students did right well here.

The Guinda Store is a must stop. Meat counter. Sundries. Snacks. Local wines. And a pleasant bench upon which to sit and watch the world slowly pass by.

I’d never stopped in Rumsey before although I’d always admired their community hall: neat as a pin, cared for, loved.

A plaque tells the story of the town that once was.

Unlike the Victorian farmhouse, the depot or the old school, this beautiful old building is still finding reason.

Across the way, a local has collected artifacts of the valley’s agricultural heritage and placed them just out of reach on his private corner. I suspect that by judiciously pouring a little low octane into this devil – maybe after changing the spark plugs – she’ll fire up ready to pick up where she left off seventy-five years ago.

Highway 16 rises out of the valley and courses along Cache Creek, then Bear Creek for the rest of its run. The redbud tells us spring is here.

Between the BLM and Colusa County, several primitive camp, picnic, pit toilets and access points dot the route. Good timing if one stopped for too-much-of-a Dr. Pepper back at the Guinda store. Across the way, it looks as if an old cowman’s house has seen far better days.

And the fence board here looks like a huge piece of petrified linguine.

Bear Creek settles into what, for this area, is considered a high mountain meadow. The deep blue water is a mere reflection of a deep blue late-winter sky.

THE COAST RANGES in California are oft overlooked – particularly their eastern flanks. They are overshadowed by the ocean and the redwoods to the west and the snow corniced Sierra far to the east. Highways and lesser roads in this region are delightful to explore and, outside of that stretch up to the Casino, very under-trafficked. It is difficult to imagine a better place for a relaxing traipse into yesteryear.


Local Capay Valley booty
TODAY’S ROUTE: I-80, north on I-5; west on SR 16 past Woodland. SR 16 through Esparto (right turn into town, left out of town at depot), Capay, Brooks, Rumsey; follow Bear Creek to “T” at SR 20. Watch for sand and slide detritus on the pavement as you carefully enjoy sweeping turns along Bear Creek! Return: Either east on 20 to Williams; south on 5; or West on 20 – 675 yards, right on Bear Valley (gravel) Road. Head north. Explore. But carry a good map.

© 2012
Church of the Open Road Press


  1. Wild Goose rider Bill finds this out about that cool old truck:

    Very nice pix here and on blog.

    I had to look up that truck, tho, as while all else here may know about Kleiber trucks, it was a new brand to me. More here:

    Thanks again.

  2. There is a theme of wistful nostalgia in your work. Or maybe I need to ride more.

  3. I live in the Capay valley. I really enjoyed your overview! Sadly, the old white farmhouse has been bulldozed, and only the tree still stands. Years ago, my late wife and I sneaked into this old place to take a look around. It's incredibly creepy. All of the old fixtures and much of the furniture was still there.

    1. Dang! Although I guess it was bound to happen. Thanks for sharing your "adventure" checking out the inside of the old place. I'm not sure my wife would have been brave enough to do that with me.

      And thanks for your kind comments about this post.