Narratives about motorcycling on Northern California's back roads; Reflections on the history and geography of the North State; Memoirs and early recollections of youthful visits to towns and forests and mountaintops.
Also middle-of-the-road takes on current issues in politics and education. Middle of the road? Isn't that dangerous?
Tuesday, July 31, 2012
BRANSCOMB ROAD DETOUR
Mendocino County, California
My new best friend rides something
called a “Big Dog.” Up until
recently, I always thought a big dog was the Great Dane named “Queenie” that
lived down the street when I was a kid.
No. A Big Dog is a chopper.
“S and S engine?” I asked. I know just enough about choppers to be marginally
conversant. (The same could be
said for my knowledge of the NBA, NFL and husbandry, as well.)
“Yeah,” he said with a grin. The friendship
How fate thrust us together for ten minutes is of no regard,
but this Fort Bragg-based conversation ended with a recommendation that I take
Branscomb Road, north of town, east to 101. “Can’t take it on the Big Dog, it
doesn’t handle the curves all that well, but I've been out there before. A lot.”
On my last trip north of Fort Bragg,
about the time the road winds inland for a 30 mile run over to 101, I found
myself behind an Itasca 32-footer pulling a Macgregor fishing boat. The set up was driven by a fellow who
must have thought “turn out” had something to do with voting and since it
wasn’t an election day, no need for him stop and let folks by.
Coastal Cottage - Mendocino County
This morning on the leg of California 1
between Fort Bragg and Westport, the fog had crept back off the coast offering
views all the way to Asia had the earth been flat. Faint wisps of moisture clung to the highest reaches of the
hills to the east. Westport flanks
SR 1 about 18 miles north. The
quaint village makes me wish I hadn’t tanked up on coffee as a cup of Joe on
the porch of the inn certainly seemed like a good way to knock off a half hour.
The Branscomb Road turn-off lies about two miles north of
town. The road
traces DeHaven Creek for a little bit and then climbs steeply to the top of the
ridge. Pavement is not great as
I’m sure the Mendocino County road crew more eagerly serves larger populations
than those who might live out this way.
At points I find myself dumping the bike into second and even first gear
negotiating the twisting climb through sun-streaked redwood shadows to the
Pacific Ocean on the horizon
A pause affords a final shot
of the Pacific a mile and a half the way the crow flies but about four on the
Once over the summit, the road
widens and the twisties become a bit less radical. Elevation drops rather quickly into the drainage of some
other creek. The floor of the
little valley provides homesteads for tiny farms, small herds and a bit of cash
crop commerce, one might suspect.
The cool moisture of the coast has given way to a warmer clime. It is a pleasant chug through an
environment that appears to have changed little in the past 80 years or
so. Derelict logging equipment can
be seen here and there, encrusted in weeds, portending a story of what must
have been better days for at least one industry.
The little berg of Branscomb proves this point. A relatively modern mill lays
idle. Weeds poke through the paved
drives and parking areas. Large
racks that look like they may have been aluminum once probably sorted or dried
lumber. A few stacks of logs rest
on the other side of the yard.
Clearly they weren’t cut yesterday.
Downtown boasts an all-in-one old time country mercantile,
single pump, post office and, I think, community hall. Across
the way, a park of mobile homes is clustered. The Laytonville Unified School District runs a pre-school
for the tykes of the area, but school-aged youngsters appear to be bussed
A couple of nice looking properties sort for sale signs, but
it is not clear what one might do to make payments on such places. Admiral William Standley Redwood State
Recreation Area is nearby. I
wonder whether, given its locale and small gate, the park will survive the
Thirty minutes further on: Laytonville
and US 101. Laytonville is bigger
than it appears from the highway, but the economic times have not been just to
the community. Nicely paved
streets, cute houses – many well-kept – provide a bit of civilization in this
remote quarter of the redwoods. I
noted that, near the high school, a bus yard is home to dozens of school
buses. From this I assumed that a
yellow bus frequents every little road in the area at least twice a day. Oh! The expense of free education. (In the days before cable and well before satellite TV, I’d applied to
teach in this region. The
superintendent warned me that I’d better like to read a lot.)
Branscomb Road is a nice alternative
to being stuck behind a motor home on State Route 1. Traveling from west to east, one can’t help but be carried
through eras of logging and ranching, booming and busting. At Laytonville you can either head
north to Eureka, south to the city or further east over Forest Road 7 past the fabled
Simpson Camp of yore. When I see
that guy on the Big Dog again, I’ll be sure to thank him for the tip.
Today’s Route: From Fort Bragg, SR 1 north to two
miles beyond Westport. Right on
Branscomb Road, 32 miles. Arrive
at Laytonville and US 101.