Wednesday, January 29, 2014


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.

© 2014
Church of the Open Road Press

Monday, January 27, 2014

Review: "The Sense of an Ending"

It seems I’m always a bit late to the party when it comes to the work of compelling authors (or just entertaining storytellers.)  As a teacher, school principal and curriculum director, I used gallons of ink and reams of paper promoting literacy to the parents of my students.  “Get ‘em to read and they’ll be more successful in school!” I’d repeat and repeat and repeat.  But, it seems, I spent very little time actually reading stuff myself.  Thus, the Julian Barneses of the world have been out there writing for decades and I randomly stumble across their work while killing time in a bookstore. 

Better late than never.

“The Sense of an Ending” shares the story of an about-my-age Brit named Anthony.  He finds himself reflecting on a long-ago past prompted by the late mother of a nearly forgotten flame who has remembered him in her will.  Starting with prep school chums (whose names, if changed, could have been high school pals of mine), through the failed flings, affairs and tragedies of youth (who hasn’t experienced ‘em?), Barnes gives us Tony looking into a mirror of personal history fractured by time.  Tony has lived a take-pains-to-harm-no-one type of life, apparently, we find out – actually, devastatingly, he finds out – not so successfully.

I finished “Ending” wondering whether all mirrors to the past are similarly fractured or just Tony’s mirror and my own.


“The Sense of an Ending” by Julian Barnes.  Vintage Books. 2011.  $15.00.  See your local, independent book seller.

© 2014
Church of the Open Road Press

Tuesday, January 7, 2014


A month or so ago, while exploring the basin of a nearly empty reservoir, I stumbled across a “find.”  A chunk of yellow or ponderosa pine log, perhaps eight to ten feet long, had migrated from somewhere upstream and nestled on the shore.   

Then the shore receded.  The low foothills in the region of this find never supported conifers of this type, so I wondered from where it might have migrated.

I walked up to the log for a closer look.  Catching my interest was a rusted rectangle of tin attached to the log.  With the low late-autumn sun casting just the right light, I could see holes neatly punched into the metal forming letters that spelled out “Red Rock Mine.”

A scan through my collection of maps and a quick search on the web indicated that no “Red Rock” mine was listed in the watershed, however a “Redstone” claim had been laid upstream quite a ways.

Curiosity taking hold, I contacted an official in charge of the administration of the reservoir who passed my query onto the state archaeologist.

Today, after the intervening holidays, I received a return call.  The archaeologist proved to be the extremely knowledgeable head of a state department employing, at this time, one person: her.  How gracious that she would find time to return my call!

In the course of our conversation she thanked me for providing the pictures (included with this post) and for my interest in preserving what might be an interesting relic from the past.  She spoke of her growing up in gold country and her knowledge of the mining regions.

She shared some thoughts specific to my theory that the artifact may have tumbled a distance down stream suggesting that many names for mining claims were duplicated throughout the Mother Lode.  She said that aspects from the photographs bear witness to the probable age of the sign and that it may not date back to the earliest of days in the area.

On review of the photographs, it appears she nailed the whole date thing.

Still, the artifact poses some interesting questions.  Where’d it come from?  How’d it get here?  Should it be and how might it be preserved?  Where might one go to trace the historic threads back to its origin?

As a retired school principal, I will be promoting the idea of researching this piece to a couple of schools folks I know.  I see it as a unique opportunity for some hands-on learning involving a multiplicity of curricular areas: history, geography, geology, hydrology, cartography and even government bureaucracy.  Almost makes me wish I were back in the game!

In this post, I have been careful to not reveal the location of the artifact, although frequent readers will undoubtedly figure it out.  So in the strongest terms I would admonish folks that, should they come across the thing, leave it as you find it!  With it now resting on Federal land, one would rightfully have hell to pay should the thing go missing and later be found in their possession.


Further Note:  My conversation with the state archaeologist has prompted me to seek opportunities to volunteer in the location, identification, and preservation of similar finds.  She has provided resources, which I intend to pursue.

© 2014
Church of the Open Road Press

Saturday, January 4, 2014


On the last great day, I walked through a forest with you.
You marveled at the light filtering through the deep, dark trees.
Your feet made no sound on the soft, fragrant duff.

You cuddled me and said some things.
And I thought:  This is great.  I’m on a walk.

On the last great day, we stepped over a tiny brook.
Because the water was clean and cool and pure,
You paused for me to wade and enjoy a refreshing sip.

You cuddled me and said some things.
And I thought:  This is great.  I’m on a walk.

On the last great day, we climbed out of the forest to a grassy hill.
When we got to the top, you wondered at the view.
You talked about seeing forever and you sang some notes.

You cuddled me and said some things.
And I thought:  This is great.  I’m on a walk.

On the last great day, we loaded up to go home.
You lifted me into the way-back because, for some reason, I couldn’t jump in.
But I felt warm and tired and fulfilled all at once.

You cuddled me and said some things.
And I thought:  This is great.  I’m on a ride.

On the last great day, we lay on the floor.
The evening’s darkness slipped in through the window.
You held me close, your hand rising and falling on my restive side.

You cuddled me and said some things and cried.
And I thought:  This is great.  I’m taking a nap.

On that last great day, we climbed a hill –
A second one – a different one.
And before you unhooked my leash and set me on my way,

You cuddled me and said some things.
And I thought:  This is great.

© 2014
Church of the Open Road Press.