Monday, May 25, 2020


... remembering (and sharing) forgotten histories ...

California’s own “Trail of Tears” crosses Mendocino Pass where Glenn, Tehema and Mendocino Counties come together.  Stretching from embarkation points (like Camp Far West – now inundated – in Yuba County), native peoples from the valley and Sierran foothills – Maidu, Yana, Konkow, Wintu, Nomlaki, among others – were forcibly marched along this route to a reservation in what is now known as Round Valley.  Their story is devastatingly tragic.

Fifty years ago, with an old sheepherder from our neighborhood, Mom and Dad took the family to camp annually at the base of a high-county glade perhaps three miles distant from the pass. Sleeping under billions of stars, for several Memorial Day weekends, we heard the tales from the old sheep man who, as a kid, summered livestock up that way: tales of hustling sheep up the Grindstone Trail using old Model Ts, of mountain lions taking one or two head a week, of Saturday night “hooplas over ta Smith Camp...”

I only found out about the “Trail of Tears” while working on the Maidu Interpretive Center, a first-peoples museum built next to an elementary school where I once served in Roseville.  That discovery prompted me to try to find our old camp spot, which after several attempts, I did.  It turns out: the road to our old stompin’ ground IS the old “California Trail of Tears.”

I have long wanted to take a couple of next generations to that pristine and sacred spot and share some of the old man’s stories (and, now, a few more) with my children and grandchildren.  

Mom died in October of ’17.  On Memorial Day weekend, those newer generations met at the sheep camp to set Mom free and to hear a story or two.  

Returning home, a mark was checked next to an entry on this old man’s bucket list.  A dream had come true.  I hope they’ll visit again...

(c) 2020
Church of the Open Road Press

Wednesday, May 20, 2020


...What has magma done for you lately? ... 

I like riding when the clouds give some texture to the sky.  A day or two after a storm when the white fair-weather cumulus float across a deep azure backdrop.  I like riding all the other times, too, but the clouds were terrific this day.

I hadn’t been out on Enrico, the Yamaha for a while.  Chores.  Priorities.  No destination diners open to eat during the pandemic.  All excuses.  There comes a time, however, when “I gotta keep my skills up” overrides all the other excuses.

That, and those clouds, conspired to get me suited up and in the saddle.

Geysers Road, looping from Cloverdale, tracing Big Sulphur Creek, skirting Geyser Peak and descending into the Alexander Valley near Healdsburg offers a trip through time, history, geology, fire science, crumbling infrastructure and viticulture all in about 35 glorious miles.  Along the way, we glimpse the largest geothermal power facility on the planet.

The route begins northeast of Cloverdale at the Geysers Road exit from US 101.  Winding along a rushing Russian River, we head east at the confluence of Big Sulphur Creek.  

Time and nature have not been kind to this section of off-again, on-again pavement.  Heavy winters, slippery clay soil, rising and falling water flows all wear away at a route that is so little used that maintenance seems always to be relegated to the bottom of the list.

In some stretches the pavement are two-lanes wide and double-lined striped. A hundred yards later, the pavement could be gone, and the route reduced to a narrow strip along an eye-popping canyon wall.

Then back to pastoral hillsides dotted with oaks frequented by crows and scrub jays.

We cross a century-old steel bridge, the likes of which can be found on many lost routes in the west.

Climbing out of a portion of stream valley, we see remnants of mining operations from back when quicksilver was needed in the process of refining gold from its ore.  

Gold, more prevalent in the Sierra; necessary mercury found in and about the Clear Lake region of the Coast Range.

Thirteen miles on, a fork offers the choice of heading to the geothermal facilities.  

Roads spiderweb across the opposite ridge leading to many plants positioned on the opposite ridge.  Pipes and powerlines complete the intricate and curious line drawing.  Access is locked away from us.

CalPine photo

A hundred and forty years back, steam was discovered rising from fractures in the earth. Water, seeping across otherwise impermeable layers of rock, slip into cracks and drizzle onto superheated magma, not far below the surface. A mystic and eerie phenomenon was created, sacred to native Americans and to be exploited by their European followers.

Sonoma County Historical Society Archive photo

A hotel was constructed – which later burned, twice – and water was bottled for its healing properties.

CalPine photo

Now administered by CalPine Corporation, their website (see below) tells the story of what appears to be a model of magma-incited, clean, renewable energy production. 

CalPine graphic

But not perfect energy production.  In October of ’19, during a spate of 100-mile-per-hour gales cresting the ridge, a hot high-tension transmission line arced spawning the devilish Kincaid Fire that, in a matter of hours, raced across the Mayacamas and into stream courses...

...searing all within its path, including Mercuryville (population 2)...

Purloined from somewhere else photo

...and taking with it the sign I remember from a previous ride up this way.

From the eastern flank of Geyser Peak, it is easy to spot the fire, ranch and mineral access roads that web the hillside. One wonders when that first stretch of Geysers Road will be left to crumble to the same state.

The fire blazed hotter and with more ferocity and abandon than a presidential campaign rally, threatening Geyserville – a quaint throw-back farming community in the Alexander Valley, and Healdsburg – the up-scale mecca of shops, tasting rooms and Teslas.  It was only through the heroic actions of legions of firefighters from near and far, that the sleepy bedroom community of Windsor was saved.  More than one fire captain admitted, later, that he didn’t think they could do it.  Living near-by, I’ll never forget the smoke.

Geysers Road on this side of the route provides preferred access to the geothermal plants.  Wider, guard-railed, better paved, it winds through higher pastures which give way to vineyards...

...and superlative views of the verdant Alexander Valley below.  Healdsburg is twenty-five miles from the junction, but it is difficult to not stop and take just one more photo of the developing scene.

Did I mention the clouds?


Resource:  Information, including facility tour info may be accessed at:  Worth a look!

(c) 2020
Church of the Open Road Press

Saturday, May 16, 2020


Has it slipped away?

Over the past fifteen or twenty – maybe thirty – years, the United States of America has lost something intangible but gravely important.  Symptoms of this loss are apparent in the way we view our federal government, our state government, our police forces, the news media, scientists, banks, businesses (especially the big ones), our schools, our faith-based institutions and even our neighbors.  What has been lost?

I’d suggest TRUST:  Trust that our leadership in DC can shepherd us through a pandemic; Trust that our state leaders have our interests as guiding lights; Trust that the police will treat everyone fairly and with respect; Trust that the news media is honest, that schools actually teach, that banks and businesses exist for something besides abject profiteering; Trust that our churches will serve to unite rather than divide us.

Trust is the bedrock upon which all relations are built.  It is something that is earned through honest effort and easily squandered when motives more narrow than “the greater good” come into play.

The demise of the Fairness Doctrine back in 1987, may have laid the groundwork for the mechanisms of distrust.  There are those who profit by marketing distrust; by presenting the un-factual as truth, by acting upon the fears and insecurities of others; by finger-pointing, name-calling, defaming, insulting and more.  They take to our airwaves stoking fear and encouraging disruption.  Advertisers see the market and pay the freight knowing that, regardless of the political bent or honesty of the broadcast, listeners still will need to buy toilet paper, breakfast cereal, pickup trucks, arthritis pain relievers and beer.

Trust can be reinforced when we spend at least as much time honoring, supporting and showing some appreciation for those institutions of government, enterprise, enlightenment and faith, as we do bitching about ‘em.  And when our leaders spend more time criticizing and tearing down those institutions – cultivating seeds of distrust – then we have the wrong leaders.  It feels that way now, doesn’t it?

As this election season heats up, you can be sure we will all be inundated with misinformation aimed at creating or supporting those weeds of distrust.  The best antidote may be simple to express, yet difficult to employ: 

·      Look for facts based upon data.  You might have to dig a little to find that data.  Understand that “without data, all you’ve got is another opinion.”  
·      Set your sights on the greater good which is not always defined as “Are you better off now than you were four years ago?”  The balance in my savings account may have grown in the past four years, but the chuck hole in the middle of Main Street is still gonna knock my wheels out of alignment.  Everybody else’s, too.
·      Be willing to embrace – well, at least listen to – that point of view which challenges your own.  But consider that the ones shouting the most, might very well be shouting because they lack confidence in that which they profess to believe, and they don’t want to be challenged themselves.
·      Whether leaning left or leaning right, cast your vote for, as Adam Schiff recently said, “Right, truth and decency.”  They matter.
·      Finally: TRUST.  Trust that we’re all in this together – even those with whom we might disagree – and that each of us is trying our very best within the limits granted to us by nature and/or nurture.  

There is much good and still much promise in this land.  We must trust in that, and in one-another.

(c) 2020
Church of the Open Road Press

Tuesday, May 5, 2020


I needed cash.  
Fistfuls of it.
"You comin'?"
We saddled up and headed to the bank - well - credit union.
Clouds gathered as we sauntered along.

At the great glass door, we paused.
"You comin' in?"
"Good. Keepin' an eye out?"
"Nope.  Social distancing."

A red bandana draped around my neck.
I pulled the cravat over the bridge of my nose and entered.
Thunder clapped as the door cracked open.
A sudden downpour chorused behind me.

Glancing this way, then that, I advanced on the teller.
I slipped my debit card from its holster and slid it across the counter.
"Cash," I snarled. "Twenties."
Her eyes met mine.
She knew I meant business.

In a twinkling, a wad of (5) twenty dollar bills lay in front of me.
The teller thanked me...
...and called me by name.
So much for the mask, I thought.

Exiting, I found my partner drenched.
"What in the heck happened to you?"
"Raindrops," she said, "fallin' on my head."

As we sauntered home, I wondered:
Would that teller have been so cordial to Butch or Sundance?

(c) 2020
Church of the Open Road Press