Wednesday, March 7, 2012


Bear Creek Road (Western Colusa County)
Second in a series of, hopefully, only three…

I GUESS IF IT WERE ABOUT 120 YEARS BACK, I’da rode me a horse. Something about a stretch of road where you can’t discern the plume of dust from the last participant sets the mind to wanderin’.

North of the little canyon Bear Creek has cut through the mountains, an expanse of grazing territory occupies a valley floor that is measured in square miles, not acres. The compact gravel road upon which I am travelling is merely an engineered rise, perhaps four to ten feet above what must become a bit boggy in the rainy season. Fences parallel my route, but many of the cattle pay little heed to fences. More than once, tooling along at 30 miles per hour, I scare up a calf or a yearling that has discovered the greener grass in on the road-side of the barbed wire.

The nearest neighbors are two or three miles apart. A civil distance. Tiny two-rut paths lead to ranch-steads set well back from the road. Steel cattle guards keep the livestock in – or are supposed to.

On this valley floor, the road is straight until it makes a right-angle turn, then it is straight again. Miles grind by under the Metzeler Tourances. With the ESA suspension set for gravel, that 30-mile per hour rate is easy to maintain.  I did, however, pause to take a portrait of this hulk from yesteryear sitting just on the otherside of a barbed wire fence - recalling that, back on SR 16, another old truck had captured my attention.  We don't build 'em like this anymore. 

A CLUMP OF WILLOWS (maybe elms) is ahead to the north. Here there is a substantial building – relic though it may be – standing at a crossroad. Left would take me to Bartlett Springs and on over to Clear Lake. Right will take me to Leesville. The hostelry there long since converted back to a ranch house. The jog north will route me through Lodoga.

None of these three bergs is much more than a collection of fencing, a cattle chute, an Aero-Motor wind machine for sucking water from the aquifer, some barns and outbuildings and, generally, a nicely shaded old house with an inviting front porch. Ahhh… For a fine cigar or maybe a favorite pipe and a shot or two of whiskey at the end of a long day, feet propped up on a railing.

I OPT FOR LEESVILLE. The road here east was once paved. Its patchwork repair prompts me to drive on for the cattle trail paralleling the shoulder rather than to rattle and bang over a surface that reminds me of a large-scale replica of Manuel Noriega’s sad complexion. No taut-sprung hot-rod sport bikes here, thank you very much. 

The road takes to climbing a ridge for a few hundred yards. Then the bottom drops out. The view off to the east is of the grand daddy of all California Valleys – the Sacramento. I’m gazing at it from, perhaps, 1800 feet above its floor. From this point, I can trace the route of the river that formed it, clearly pick out the four peaks that form the Sutter Buttes and see all the way across to the Sierra. (But I didn’t get a picture.)

From here, the road engages in a miniature impression of the famed Stelvio, corkscrewing downward – although on seriously rucka-chucky pavement – into the drainage of Calvin’s Creek. Not a bad valley in its own right. It picks up a the stream course passes another “development” and wiggles east out of the Coast Ranges’ dry foothills.

Once to the valley floor, I race between almond (rhymes with “salmon”) orchards in fresh blossom and find my way to State Route 20, Williams, and I-5. Had I been on that horse, my ninety-minute adventure would have taken three days and I’da needed to carry some water and a bedroll.


TODAY’S ROUTE: State Route 16 from Woodland to 20; left. Almost immediate right onto Bear Valley Road. Compacted gravel. Continue north where Brum Road heads east to Bartlett Springs – the road becomes what they call pavement in these parts. East on Leesville Road about a mile; then wind south over Windy Point (view) bending eastward to connect with State Route 20. Reserve for another day Lodoga Road north to Stonyford and Elk Creek. Always good to have something new on your bucket list.

© 2012
Church of the Open Road Press


  1. "But I didn't get a picture"......argh!!

  2. Mea Culpa! I kept thinkin' there'd be a better shot just up the road, around the bend, or, well, down the road. Shame on me! The weather was perfect- better than it will be on whatever day I return to pick up the missed photo.