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?
Monday, November 9, 2015
SUMMITING CISCO BUTTE
Courtesy: T R Stewart
In the comic thriller, The Curious
Demise of Pug LeBreaux, protagonists Stephen and Jane Meyer hopscotch from
public to private to public land while climbing Cisco Butte near Interstate 80.
A helicopter pilot (hopefully
played by Tommy Lee Jones in the movie) has spotted them traversing real estate
supposedly closed off to the public.He sets down and they are immediately detained.
Brother Tim and I decided to test the premise of the novel
by scaling that same basaltic dome.Having examined a few sources, we found – as did Stephen and Jane – that
a marked route to the summit crossed sections printed in white (privately held)
and sections printed in green (public) on the map.A long time ago, I recall that someone in a gray-green
uniform, wearing a badge representing either state or federal authorities quietly
confided to me: “As long as you stay on the marked roadway, you should be okay.” [Stephen Meyer had heard the same thing
I’d heard regarding access.Apparently the fellow in the helicopter and the folks he worked for, had
A brief stop at the gate to a nationally franchised private
campground, and checking with the “ranger” there, told us something a bit
different.“If it was before the
end of October, I could have you pay a fee and you could head through the
campground, but we’re closed right now, ‘cept for members.”Then he added, “The guy who owns the
property on t’other side is kinda nasty, so you prob’ly wouldn’t be able to get
up there anyway.”
With a degree of dejection similar to Arlo Guthrie looking
for another place to dump his half a ton of Thanksgiving garbage some
fifty-plus years ago, we sought an alternate trailhead.We came to the side of a side road where
a steep and rocky Jeep trail…
…noted on the USGS map, seemed to lead us in the right
direction.Coincidentally, the map
also indicated that on top of Cisco Butte, along with a couple of microwave
towers, there was an historic airway beacon.
The Sierra Nevada is checkerboarded
with square miles (or sections) of both private and public land.This circumstance dates back to the
construction of the Central Pacific Railroad when, as incentive toward its
construction, the government offered a square mile on alternating sides of the
right-of-way to be used for the procurement of materials necessary to build the
line: timber and ballast.
(c) Howell North Books
Through a bit of skullduggery, the railroad men were able to
claim more than one section for each mile of track laid.The result is that sites for towns and
private campgrounds, grazing land and hydroelectric facilities would ultimately
be sold to folks, enriching the coffers of the Southern (nee: Central)
Pacific.Those of us who like to
explore the mountains would ultimately need to be cognizant of where we set
We heeded this sign.
On the Tahoe National Forest map,
the entirety of Cisco Butte’s summit is within a green-tinted (public) section.Signs on either side of the Jeep trail
indicate that the land through which we were crossing was not.Still, if we didn’t stray, we’d be
Our forestlands are crisscrossed with once-graded roadways.
Some lead to forgotten somewheres like gold mines, cattle camps, timber yarding
areas or pioneer graves.Others
provide access to power lines for inspection and service.It turns out, that “kinda nasty guy”
owning property up this way might well be named “Pacific Gas and Electric.”(I don’t know, but because I enjoy heat
and light now and then, I kind of like PG&E.)
Using the GPS feature of Brother Tim’s Smarter-than-I-phone,
we were able to wind about two miles through forest floors,
lakes and ponds, and across stretches of granite to intersect with the road
that had run through the closed-for-winter campground.
The last half-mile spirals to the top of the black basaltic
bluff past a facility maintained by a multi-national telecommunications
provider, a solar powered weather station and…
…finally, to a pair of towers sporting those elliptical
antennas that allow calls to travel from point A to point X without wires.It’s pretty clear why “they” don’t want
a bunch of yahoos traipsing around these parts.
Atop the butte, the view is 360
degrees.Such is generally the
case where an airmail beacon was placed in the 1920s or 30s.
Those beacons were planted on huge concrete arrows so that
airmail pilots could navigate west to east and back again.They still exist in Nevada and
eastward.However, in California,
at the dawn of World War II, they were obliterated.
This was done to prevent an
overzealous Japanese pilot from wandering into our country’s midsection to,
perhaps, strafe Salt Lake City or Omaha or Dubuque.Our hiking companion sits atop the beacon’s arrow’s
From our vantage point at 6600 feet, we see the freeway
running east and west to our north while a recently snow capped Sierra crest
gleams in the low November sun.
(c) Howell North Books
The Union Pacific now owns the old trans-Sierra route.As we reach the summit, a trio of monster
locomotives tugs a mile and a half of freight cars through a century-old
snowshed.The roar of their
engines echoes throughout the canyons and hillsides as they have echoed for
over 100 years.
Courtesty T R Stewart
While enjoying the sandwich I packed, I gaze west and, over
the interceding ridges and lakes, enjoy a view of the far-off Sacramento
Valley, all the while, hoping that some Tommy Lee Jones look-alike doesn’t spot
me from the air.
Notes and Resources:
The Arlo Guthrie reference regards his counter-culture epic “Alice’s
Restaurant Massacree.” (Warner Bros., 1967) Folks of a certain age will recall.
Special Note:The Church of the Open Road in no way
suggests, sanctions or encourages trespass onto private property.The Church believes the property rights
deserve and demand our respect.Therefore,
on the off chance that the long ago advice received relative to crossing
through private property on an established road is bogus, the Church will
forego specific directions to this locale.Savvy readers can look it up, anyway.