Wednesday, January 29, 2014
TO THE GEYSERS
Geysers Road – Sonoma County, CA
It was the 19th of January. Temps were predicted to touch 70. We’d gone oh-for-the-month on rainfall and none was on the horizon. I was in my new digs in Northern Sonoma County. Mama was visiting the grandkids and the BMW lay fallow in the garage. A frequently passed sign on US 101 says “The Geysers – 17.” I liked Yellowstone’s Old Faithful as well as the next guy so I figured it was time to see California’s take on the theme.
Geysers Road forms a short but entertaining jog from State Route 128 east of Healdsburg into a remote reach of the Coast Range, then back along twisting stream drainage to meet up with 101 at Cloverdale. Cautionary signs warn us that road conditions are variable which we come to learn means some stretches of gravel, some stretches of blacktop crumbling and falling down the hillside and some stretches as smooth as something you’d hope to encounter on track day.
Leaving 128 northeast of Jimtown, Geysers Road quickly affords a panoramic view of the Alexander Valley. Vineyards creep down the hillside, blocks of each producing unique fruit prized by skilled area winemakers. (My daughter’s one of ‘em.)
Reaching a summit, the road dips into a dry little valley, climbs out the other side and dances for a few miles along the side and top of a ridge. This day, the winter grass has, for lack of rainfall, failed to sprout. The scenery looks more like October than three weeks into the New Year.
Fourteen miles on, Geysers Road tees. To the right it’s Geysers Road. To the left, it’s Geysers Road. What we’ve just been on is Geysers Road. A directional sign tells us that “The Geysers” is two miles east. Right I go anticipating plumes of steam reaching like misty fingers into an unseasonably blue sky.
A geyser is a geothermal phenomenon that occurs when moisture from the surface sinks into the substrata and follows underground routes to cracks in the earth’s crust. The water follows those cracks until it makes contact with a molten mass not too far below the oaks and chemise we’ve been riding through. Vaporized, it rockets up through the vents and would form one of those steamy plumes, except…
…Except that we’ve figured out how to capture this energy, cap it, pipe it, turn turbines with it and power 60% of the electrical needs of the California coast from the Bay to the Oregon border. A snapshot from a stopping point shows pipelines and metal buildings, locked gates and power lines but no graceful mists shooting into the air and dissipating on the mountain breezes. No national park here. Still, it’s all pretty amazing.
And, as if to prove that the journey is often better than the destination, Geysers Road swings west following Big Sulphur Creek back to 101. Here’s where most of those variable conditions come into play. A gentle hand on the throttle is advised as the gravel portions can sneak up on the rider and while they’ve learn to harness steam just up the road, they haven’t yet mastered “guardrail.”
A few miles west, a wide spot affords a place to view what another passer-by claimed was an abandoned quicksilver (mercury) mine. A tall tank of what appears to be clear redwood stands akilter like a latter day Pisan tower.
A series of rusted up and down pipes were a “separator,” the fellow says. I couldn’t recall enough chemistry to remember what was being separated from what. I suspect it had something to do with those little liquid chromium colored balls we shouldn’t have played with as kids. I do know that there are quicksilver mines up along SR 20 so his guess made sense to me.
Further west, tiny, gated roads snake off to the left and right, each following the contour of this tributary or that one to another mining site or another geothermal well.
An historic bridge awaits us at the bottom: built in 1909 and moved here from somewhere back in ’37. The embossing on the steel tells us it came from Philadelphia. I consider its rugged trip from there to the middle of nowhere.
A few miles further and we reached 101. It’ll be ten minutes to home. Mom’s not back from the grandkids and I’ll wish I taken a bit longer journey this warm January day.
Today’s Route: US 101 north from Santa Rosa. At Healdsburg, west on Alexander Valley Road. Left on 128. Left (which will appear straight) on Geysers Road. Return: West on Geysers Road. Right on River Road to US 101 north of Cloverdale.
Church of the Open Road Press