Monday, July 27, 2015


…the Subaru’s third big adventure…

Long-time readers will know that a place called Simpson Camp holds a special place in my childhood heart.  On my to-do list has been to share this distant locale with my wife of nearly thirty years.  Recently, taking the long way home, I did just that.

State Route 162 heads west out of Willows to the defunct lumber berg of Elk Creek.  The store there burned a year ago, but the gent who owns the place has been visiting daily cleaning up with the dream of reopening the place, or so reports the matron running the town’s café/gas station/inn.  The old guy was a much younger guy 40 years ago when he frequented the wholesale house of my employ to pick up salables for his remote grocery.  I was disappointed that I couldn’t drop in for a Coke and some Corn Nuts.

Grindstone Canyon is a long and deep valley carved by its namesake creek.  Fires regularly race through this barren, rocky and dry landscape, usually with little impact other than to refresh the scant soils.

Back in ’53, however, efforts to quell one had devastating results for one nearly forgotten crew.

Up the road we pause to let Edward out of his Subaru to stretch his legs…

…little knowing that coiled and lurking in the grass would be…

It’s a long forty miles from Willows up a windy CA162.  The pavement ends at Alder Springs where the route enters the Mendocino National Forest and is known as Forest Road 7.  Much more nicely graded than I recall, the Subaru Forester seems to relish the gravel and the curves.

Most folks who fly through Glenn County on I-5 must think the parish is little more than a string of impoverished towns in the bottomlands along the west side Sacramento River.  But on its path to Mendocino Pass, SR162/FR7 climbs to over 6500 feet passing through forests and meadows rivaling those in the Sierra. 

After some connoitering and reconnoitering, we found the spur road that leads to Simpson Camp.  Fifty years ago, Dad’s hiking buddy, Zibe Simpson, marked the turn-off with a red bandana tied to a roadside shrub.

The last time I’d visited the area in 2010, the road into the site was eroded and impassable.  Knowing this, we parked the Sube at the top of the ridge and walked down the glade. 

Down the hill quite a distance, a copse of firs juts into the meadow.  The sight of this stand brought a familiar stir to my innards.  

 We hiked through knee-high mule’s ear... 

...successors of the very one’s Zibe’s boxer, Jovanna lazed in back in the 60s…

…until we came upon a handcrafted sign nailed high in a fir.  (I know the story behind that sign.)

This was where we’d camped some 50 years earlier, although the official Forest Service sign had been removed, according to the ranger in Covelo, “to not attract folks who might damage the archaeological remnants.”   

I remember that Zibe showed us where to find arrowheads.  I remember that there used to be an old Wedgewood stove standing beneath these trees.

Looking from under the shade of the firs, I found where our old Coleman canvas tent had been erected…

…and the ring of stone that once confined a campfire that held off the gathering dusk… 

…a fire around which Zibe Simpson told stories of running sheep up this way in the summer months, herding them with Model A Fords and picking off coyotes intent on thinning the flock.

I remember falling asleep, fifty years ago, with a cool evening breeze washing over my face, dreaming of tending sheep on this pleasant hillside thinking no place on earth could be better.

Not much is left of Simpson Camp: just the fire ring, Zibe’s hand-made replacement sign and the memories. 

After an hour or so of exploration, my wife and I (with Edward the lab-mix), hiked back up the hill.  I’m not sure she came away knowing what all of my excitement was about, but a part of me was reminded that few places on earth could be better.

© 2015
Church of the Open Road Press


  1. My father logged up that way on the weekends to supplement his income...I rode shotgun. It was in 59 or 60...I was 5 or 6. Dad would stop his logging truck and get me a Grape Nehi in Elk Creek. We lived in Willows. My family still lives in the area. P.S. My mom shot her first deer in Grindstone Canyon in 1961. My dad drug that thing out of the canyon...he was so proud of my mom.

    1. Do you recall the name of the company that ran the mill in Elk Creek back then? I think they also ran a mill in Corning...

    2. I think at the time it was a family owned business and the family lived in the Sacramento area...sometime in the late 60's early 70's I think it was purchased by Sierra Pacific...lots of small mills were purchased by them and Georgia-Pacific.