Tuesday, October 10, 2017


Ishi Country to Hope Valley

Here is the precept this series of three posts will set out to prove: California’s state route 89 is among the most beautiful highway routes in the entire country. 

Fifty-five years ago, Dad was hot on the trail of Ishi, considered the last of the unsullied native North Americans.  Ishi lived in the wilds of both Deer Creek and Mill Creek avoiding contact with the white settlers whose presence caused the demise not only of his Yahi (or Southern Yana) clan, but of all of the continent’s Indian population.  Just a hop, ski and a jump from our home in Chico, Dad would pore over maps and Al and Theodora Kroeber’s work and the journals of emigrants from a hundred years before, trying to discern where and how Ishi and his brethren lived; then with his kids, Dad would strike out into the wilderness to show us where it all happened. 

The one thing I remember is that one summer day, we stopped in at the Mill Creek Lodge where he bought me a root beer popsicle from the freezer on their porch.  Since that day, I’ve always wanted to spend the night in one of their rustic cabins.    This trip, we did.  Recently purchased by a couple of young partners, this off-the-beaten-path hide-away is worthy of a night or two. http://millcreekresort.net/

Highway 89 aligns with State Route 36 in these environs, and our day’s tour would find us motoring east to Lake Almanor, a lovely reservoir that now fills the Almanor Basin. http://www.lakealmanorarea.com/ I’d served at the principal for the little elementary school in Chester some twenty-five years ago, and my own pig-headedness prompted my unceremonious departure from that lovely place. Had I possessed the necessary maturity and professionalism, I’da likely stayed for a career.

Still, Almanor holds a favored spot in my heart for it’s high country surroundings, it’s history of both lumbering and mining, it’s limitless recreational opportunities, it’s clean air and the cleansing nature of it’s night skies.

After breakfast at Anna’s, my favored spot for a slice of Greenville life, and whizzing through Crescent Mills, we veered into the gravel parking area marked by a brown Forest Service sign. 

Countless times I passed a trailhead that I wouldn’t visit until this trip down 89.  Edward, the lab-mix was more than ready to stretch for a bit, and, perhaps lift a leg, were a black oak or digger pine available for the purpose.

The waterfall on Indian Creek dumps into a delightful pool that, I’m sure, come summertime, is thick with folks enjoying the cool waters.

This day, we receive a glimpse of the fall colors to come.

Above the opposite bank, an historic rail line shooting up toward Fall River Mills now supports both the BNSF and the UP.  I can hear the baleful whistle and the low rumble of truck on track echoing through the canyon.

Not far below is the picturesque Keddie Wye, an engineering marvel on the old Feather River Route from early in the 20th century. http://www.american-rails.com/keddie-wye.html

CA 70 follows the Feather River Canyon between Oroville and Quincy.  In itself, Highway 70 is a classic route.  Dad thought he’d teach me how to drive on, until he realized I couldn’t keep his beloved Toyota FJ-40 centered in 70’s winding lanes.

State Route 89 joins this road at the Greenville Wye, heading east through the Plumas County Seat and past several tiny one-time bergs.  Along the way, we pass a unique 360-degree loop engineered by the Western Pacific to raise the rail line on a two percent gradient necessary to make the line from Reno out to Quincy, thence down to Oroville, a reality.  Another engineering marvel.  Can’t really see it from the road, although it does show up on the Subie’s GPS map in the dash.

At Blairsden, 89 breaks south through the historic lumber town of Graeagle – now given over to second homes and golf courses – with a cool general store and fine little café and a string of galleries and shops occupying repurposed 100-year-old company town houses.

South of Graeagle we depart 89, foregoing a trip through Calpine, to enjoy the pristine pools of the Lakes Basin, ringed in lofty granite. http://www.lakesbasin.com/ Gold Lake, itself, is a treasure and the Sierra Buttes are as stunning as any peaks in the range, except few people visit.  That said, the rustic lodges that dot the region are often booked a year in advance.

A previous hike to the lookout atop the Sierra Buttes is recounted here: http://thechurchoftheopenroad.blogspot.com/2011/08/nice-ride-nice-hike-sierra-buttes.html The hike is a dandy and the view a great reward.

In order to rejoin CA 89, we bear east at Bassett’s junction on CA 49 and cross Yuba Pass.

Just over the summit is a view spot filled this day with road repair equipment. 

Normally one gets a stunning view of the Sierra Valley with its pasture lands rimmed in worn, rolling ridges.

Reconnecting with our route, we pass this classic road sign…

…and get a taste of an old west that may still be alive.

Perhaps the most taxing length of State Route 89 is the section that runs through Truckee, down past Squaw Valley and along the west side of Lake Tahoe.  Even on a mid-week day in October, the traffic is heavy and, in some place stop-n-go. 

Truckee’s historic downtown has not been so touristified that it isn’t still a delight – just ask Paul McCartney who has been known to stand in with the band at the corner tavern.  Sadly, we’ve always missed these occasions. 

The UP’s California Zephyr runs on these tracks – although it used to run up the Feather River – and taking this train from Roseville over Donner for an overnight in Truckee is a delight.

Squaw, too, with its history of hosting the 1960 winter games is worth a gander.

We didn’t stop until we arrived at Tahoe’s classic view of Valhalla, the tiny island in the middle of Emerald Bay. 

Cut the population and traffic by 90 percent, and the property costs by about five times that, and I’d consider moving here.

The evening of the second day found us at the incomparable Sorensen’s Resort http://www.sorensensresort.com/ in Hope Valley.  A low October setting sun set the aspen leaves aflame…

… the cozy accommodations…

… and a chill we’d anticipate in the morning.  Glad I packed wool.

More on that in our final installment.


Next:  Autumn on 89, Part 3: Into the Rain Shadow

© 2017
Church of the Open Road Press

1 comment:

  1. Another beautiful day on the road. And of course the pictures are always lovely.

    That Keddie Wye is quite something. Thank you for the link.