Saturday, March 2, 2013

EAST SIDE OF THE RIVER


Not on California State Route 45

The Sacramento River is a silent, strong workhorse.  The river sources itself off the flanks of Mount Shasta, way up north in Siskiyou County.  It collects minerals and vegetable matter and, not withstanding the recent appearance of Shasta Dam, transports its load south to deposit throughout the broad Sacramento Valley.  The rich loam on the valley floor provides the best growing anywhere in the world.

Roads in the valley are generally straight, providing no real challenge for the motorcycle rider.  The exceptions are those routes that trace the river’s banks or levees.  State Route 45’s seventy miles between Knight’s Landing and Hamilton City (and some neighboring secondary roads) offer a pleasing respite from I-5 or SR 99 with sweeping turns and nice views of the workhorse.           

Such then, was my plan.  Except that I started on those secondary roads and never actually got to 45.


The Knight’s Landing Bridge is a rather unadorned crossing of the Sacramento River.  The bridge’s spray painted label looks as if it were an afterthought.  Walking across the span, one is afforded a nice view up the river.  Just below, a resident lives in a houseboat that rises and falls with the rhythms of the river.  Not bad. 

Immediately across the bridge, Cranmore Road heads west and follows the river’s winding levee.   

A once-near-classic Cris-Craft, having seen far better days, serves as the landmark for the turn.

Cranmore Road is not well maintained.  The pavement is rough enough to not invite spirited use of the throttle.  But that’s okay.  Views along the languid river are beautiful.

It is said that in Africa, toward the end of their lives, elephants find special places to greet eternity.  Elephant graveyards, they’re known as.  

In America, the same might be said for Studebakers.  This is the second of such hollowed places I’ve run across in my travels.

Much has been done to contain and control the Sacramento River.  No longer does it flood the valley in winter spreading new nutrients to the deep fertile loam.  Levees can only contain so much, so at various places, weirs are constructed allowing water to flow into by-passes, thus relieving pressure down stream.

At Tisdale, excess water flows into the Sutter by-pass.  When not in use, the facility serves as a launching point for folks who’d rather not work today.


State Route 20 crosses the river at Meridian – a town located where the Mount Diablo Meridian bisects the Sacramento.  The bridge is an elegant little suspension span that pivots to allow channel traffic to pass.

Throughout the journey, if the paved road isn’t riding atop the levee, little gravel access roads tempt the passer-by. 


 In the shadows of the Sutter Buttes…

…one finds many implement graveyards scattered here and there…

…and barns of many different construction materials like this corrugated metal building just waiting for the next big wind to blow it into the river.

But, with all that old stuff, it is interesting to find modern big-scale farming deploying some land for solar power collection.  I passed three of these solar farms this day.

Llano Seco is one of the few remaining properties secured during the days of the Mexican Land Grants.  170 years ago, these grants were enticements for folks to settle the California interior – perhaps to prevent an influx of Americans that might ultimately overthrow the Mexican powers-that-be.  (Apparently nobody told Capt. John C. Fremont or James Marshall over in Coloma.)

Once rich wheat, then rice acreage, much of it serves as a haven along the Pacific Coast flyway.


I spent twenty-eight years growing up in Chico living along Chico Creek, but I’d never made it out to its confluence with the river.  Until today. 

Looking east, the creek is the placid little stream I remember wading in and building dams across. 

Where it joins the river it is a mud flat thick with cattails.  Once known as the “Wash Out,” it was a great place for high schoolers to enjoy some clandestine beer on a Saturday night.

Up stream of this confluence, the river appears wide and lazy, but tossing an errant stick into it, one soon becomes aware of its swift and unrelenting flow.


Crossing the river wasn't always so easy or convenient.  As recently as the 1960s, cable ferries at Ord Bend and Princeton shuttled farm vehicles and residents from one side to the other.  Dad used to drive us out to the river in the old '54 Ford wagon just to ride ‘em.  

I stumbled across the remains of the Princeton Ferry rusting and rotting just above stream level.  And atop the levee just behind the hulk?  That's State Route 45: the road not taken this day.

Between Chico and Hamilton City, the narrow, steel trussed Gianella Bridge carried traffic for decades.  While working for a local route delivery company in the 70s, a colleague named Mark Stoy (for the purposes of this story) had the Westside route.  Daily he’d steer a big old Ford bobtail across the bridge and about twice a month, he’d return to the warehouse missing a mirror having clipped it on the side of the bridge, or worse, on some unsuspecting on-coming vehicle.  All of which prompted the boss to say: “If you’re on the Gianella Bridge and you see Stoy coming from the other direction, the safest thing to do is jump off.”

The old bridge is now gone and here is the replacement:

Next trip:  Looks as if I’ll need to rocket up to Hamilton City planning to take a day exploring the west side of the river on and off SR 45.


Today’s Route:  Carry a good local map – don’t rely on GPS!  I-5 to Woodland; north on SR 113 to Knight’s Landing; cross river: left on Cranmore Road (landmark: busted up Cris-Craft).  Follow Cranmore Road through Kirkville, and Cranmore (see if you can find either of these places) always bearing west toward river.  Short of Grimes, right on S Meridian Rd; cross under bridge at Meridian, continue north on N Meridian, becoming Butte Slough Road and leading to Colusa.  North on River Road to Princeton area.  Left on Rd XX – crummy pavement, broken glass, loop west, north and then east on Rd 69 to Afton Rd.  North on Afton Rd; Cross SR 162; north, then east to Seven Mile Lane; north (left) on Seven Mile; west on Ord Ferry; North on River Road; left to continue on River Road at Chico River Road (don’t be confused); North to SR 32; cross River at Gianella. 
            Return:  West on 32 to Hamilton City; south on 45 to Knight’s Landing; OR east on 32 to Chico; south on SR 99.

© 2013
Church of the Open Road Press

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