Monday, February 27, 2012


QUITE SIMPLY, our democracy doesn't work because we (collectively) don’t pay attention. This makes it really easy for anyone to say anything, and if repeated enough, that anything becomes fact. Here are some examples:

  1. In the run up prior to the 2008 elections – notably the first contest in over 60 years where an incumbent or former president or vice president did not stand on the ticket – oil prices skyrocketed to over $145 per barrel. Gas prices jumped. People paid more money at the pump and had less money for other consumer products.
  2. Coincidentally(?), the US dropped into its greatest recession since the great depression.
  3. Now, preceding another presidential race, the outcome of which may have interesting tax consequences for oil companies, oil prices are again skyrocketing.

The spin:
  1. The Iranians are threatening to close the straits of Hormuz.
  2. The oil companies need to shut down refineries in order to retool for the summer formula.
  3. The administration is not serious about cutting our dependence on foreign oil or it would have okayed the Keystone pipeline carrying Canadian tar sands oil to our gulf for refinement.

The facts as I see ‘em:
  1. Oil companies on the east coast are shuttering refineries because there is a reduced demand for their product.
  2. The US exports record amounts of gasoline offshore.
  3. Keystone? As of Monday, February 27, Canada was still a sovereign (foreign) nation.

Defensible conclusion:
  1. The run up in oil prices can damage a teetering economic recovery while enriching oil companies and speculators.
  2. The price rise can damage the Obama reelection efforts.
  3. The run-up is political and is a cynical stick in the eye to the average American trying to fill his or her tank while strugglingly under-employed.

  1. In 2002, the US engaged in an insurgency in Afghanistan in order to find and kill the Osama bin Laden, the mastermind of the horrific attacks on the World Trade Center.
  2. In 2003, the administration alleged that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction and was plotting to supply terrorists and use them in attacks on the United States. A pre-emptive war ensued with the US in the role of aggressor for the first time in its history. Later the allegation was proven false.
  3. In 2011 Arab nations took it upon themselves to throw off the chains of dictatorship and overthrow their oppressive regimes.
  4. In Libya, NATO elected to provide support to rebels as Gadaffi’s regime brutally murdered it people. As a member of NATO, the US provided tactical and air support.

The spin:
  1. With the decision to support NATO, critics claimed Mr. Obama was engaging in a third war at a time when our troops were beleaguered and our treasury unable to support this third front.

The facts as I see ‘em:
  1. After Mr. Bush admitted that he didn’t spend much time thinking about bin Laden, the Obama administration authorized a mission that removed the leader.
  2. The administration has pulled combat forces from Iraq and has fast-tracked the pull out in Afghanistan.
  3. The overthrow of Gadaffi cost no American lives.

The kicker:
  1. Some of those concerned about Obama’s third front are clamoring for greater US involvement in the Syrian Civil War and a pre-emptive assault on Iran’s nuclear facilities.

Defensible conclusion:
  1. Disengaging militarily in the Middle East and Central Asia will help return the US to its long-held position as a moral world power; ignoring, for the moment, our less-than-upstanding use of economic might.
  2. Eliminating those who would threaten peace, stability and our sovereignty can be accomplished without major military deployments.
  3. Our security can be protected through the judicious use of our intelligence operatives.
  4. Bringing troops home does not determine whether one is soft on defense.
  5. Results determine the ultimate quality of policy.

  1. Decades ago, the solons in Sacramento were considered out of touch and corrupt. The first step in trying to remedy this was the development of a full-time legislature. Being engaged as a full-time employee, it was reasoned, legislators would be less susceptible to pay-offs from industry lobbyists and special interests groups.
  2. When the full-time legislature found itself unable to wrangle with budgetary problems, a proposition passed with a trailer that mandated budgets could only pass with a two-thirds vote of the assembled. Smaller groups of ideologues could stymie the process.
  3. Because of this gridlock, term limits were imposed so that those elected would have to return to “real work” rather than making a career of politics. With each step the ability for legislators to accomplish their tasks moved further and further away.

The spin:
  1. The legislature is corrupt.
  2. We need to let them know they work for us.
  3. They need to quit playing fast and loose with our tax money.
  4. We need to take back California.

The facts as I see ‘em:
  1. The people of California have voiced that they wish their pet program – education, fire protection, police protection, prisons, state parks, aide for dependent children, highways and infrastructure – to continue to be funded. They expect services to be rendered when need arises.
  2. In the next breath they veto any attempts to raise revenues in order to fund those programs.
  3. The term-limited legislature is one of the few venues of employment where with experience comes disqualification.
  4. The two-thirds plurality in order to pass budget offers a diminishing number of ideologues the power to hold hostage the mechanics of state and control the pace of legislative movement.

The defensible conclusion:
  1. The voter-imposed remedies to the failings of the legislature have themselves proven to be failures.
  2. A return to one-man, one-vote majority rule would return the threshold of democratic decision making back to 50%+1.
  3. Electee’s terms should be limited only by the specific will of the electorate.
  4. Such a solution will only work if voter demands the truth from their punditry, pays attention to the deeds of their elected officials and takes appropriate action in the voter’s booth should those elected officials fall short of expectation.
  5. If voters would rather not pay attention to the affairs of state, then the autopilot solutions we have in place should remain (Hell! Let’s make up some more!) and we shouldn’t be surprised about the results.

WE ARE A NATION of individuals who can open the garage door remotely and turn on the television remotely, yet not even remotely be engaged in our representative government. We just expect it to happen. We are happy when we are told to be happy and angry when we are told to be angry. We are, sadly, on autopilot.

This will be remedied when we, as a people, return to the habit – embrace our duty – of paying attention ourselves to the nation’s needs, the government’s actions and the hits and misses that link or separate the two. Then acting accordingly on Election Day.

© 2012
Church of the Open Road Press

Thursday, February 23, 2012


It’s tough to make predictions, especially about the future.
Yogi Berra,
(also attributed to physicist Niels Bohr)

MAYBE A DECADE AGO, an ambitious couple, in love with an out-of-the-way berg called Dutch Flat, settled upon the romantic idea of refurbishing the old hotel there. The massive 150-year-old structure, across from a tiny market, stood through cycle after cycle of boom, bust and decay. The project would not be small, but the results, an amazing transformation. Visitors would wheel up from the city and cross the threshold into an exciting and elegant yesteryear. They would be part of history.

Back those 150 years, four bully entrepreneurs met on the second floor of a house nearby to discuss with a young engineer named Theodore Judah best route for the Central Pacific Railroad to crest the Sierra. Prior to that, there was gold. Prior still, Nisenan Maidu, black bear, cougars and the food chain that supported them; tracks, trails and footprints of each can still be seen today.

DUTCH FLAT is located a couple of miles off Interstate 80, over a ridge that abates the freeway noise. It is an easy blast from Sacramento or the Bay Area up the four-lane.

Old US 40 at Newcastle
A better route involves finding vestiges of the Historic Highway 40 (the same route in some places as the old Lincoln Highway) as it snakes from the valley floor, through towns, former towns and place names like Newcastle, Bowman, Applegate, Cape Horn, Gold Run, Monte Vista and up over the Sierra.

East of Applegate
I took this alternate today enjoying nice pavement with turns first sweeping through pastureland and fruit orchards, then tracing the edges of the Bear River drainage, and finally winding into and out of great, forested stands. Light traffic made it easy for the mind to wander; easy to picture some sourdough knee deep in the Bear shoveling sand into a sluice, easy to see why the Big Four coveted the timber they harvested for ties, easy to see why some left over from the gold rush and the railroad days couldn’t leave. A mid-day February sun sliced through the woodland canopy to warm the front porch of a hundred-year-old home. I pictured myself there.

Storefronts in downtown Colfax on old US 40
Several times I crossed the old CeePee’s route over the mountain. Now double tracked, sometimes I’m crossing the footsteps of the Chinese laborers who blew themselves to smithereens as Charlie Crocker pursued his goal; sometimes, I’m crossing the newer route, the one with the more gradual grade, the one that allows the Union Pacific (nee: Southern Pacific; nee: Central Pacific) uninterrupted, year-round access to points east.

DUTCH FLAT is a colony of cottages. Some are summer homes. Some are full time residences. The town’s exposure is a bit northerly so when the snow level drops to 3500 feet, it nestles around the little village for a bit longer than over on the freeway. Spring comes later than in the valley. Tiny streams lace the town site and a cool morning is perfumed with pinewood smoke from working fireplaces. The vintage homes are in various states of spruced-up-ed-ness. Several capture my imagination and I consider the creative aspects of owning the small white cottage with the deck that reaches over the creek as a studio. I add it to my list of never-to-be and find myself humming something from Man of LaMancha.

Once, walking outside of Dutch Flat, I heard the cry of a General Electric dash-8 as it struggled to pull a string of freight cars up the hill. Its air horn echoed against the mountain a mile and a half away. The echo, it turned out, was another freight, heading down the hill. The distant, rhythmic clatter of their trucks on the rail joints whispered as sweetly as a mountain brook. Far, far superior to the incessant roar of I-80.

MY MISSION TODAY was to check out the Dutch Flat Hotel. A family celebration is being planned for a few months off and, in combination with dinner at the acclaimed Monte Vista Inn; an evening taking over the hotel would be perfect. We’d phoned the hostelry, using both their listed numbers, but had received no call back. This necessitated my early spring drive into the mountains.

I followed Sacramento Street into town. Just past Secord Alley, I turned right onto Main. The restored three story building, resplendent in red, towered over Dutch Flat’s business district: the general store, a real estate office and the post office. The hotel was not open, but it was not closed down. It appeared as if there had been no visitors for quite some time; but peering through the lace curtains the restored wallpaper, antique furnishings and period art still adorned the inside.

I suspected that the ambitious couple dreamt of one day owning a classic B&B, put their heart, soul and sweat into making it a reality, sunk an incredible amount of money into a ground up restoration, and the recession hit. A local, willing to share, shared as much. He informed me that the owners were still around and that, under the right circumstances, they open for parties and events. Then he gave me the secret number.

Still, I couldn’t help believing that Dutch Flat, the little Sierra community that boomed during the gold rush, again with the railroad, yet again as Bay Area folks bought second properties was experiencing one of those busts that naturally falls in between. I felt melacholy for the couple and couldn’t help seeing the wisdom in Yogi Berra’s words about “predictions.”


TODAY’S ROUTE: Taylor Road from Loomis follows the old Route 40. Take it east to Newcastle; merge onto the freeway to jet through Auburn; exit at Bowman and cross under the Interstate. First right is Lake Arthur Road. Follow Historic Highway 40 signs, braid the freeway, and the Union Pacific right of way taking Applegate Road, and the Ponderosa Way to Colfax. Northeast on 174, right on Rollins Lake Road crisscrossing 80 to Gold Run. The route goes by several names through this stretch. Watch for the church to the right on the north side of the freeway; shortly, left cross track, then right onto Lincoln Road. Follow to Monte Vista. Left. Left again on Sacramento Street. Watch for sand on pavement! Wind down the slope and across the tracks into Dutch Flat. Return: Continue east to Alta and Baxter (source of your Arrowhead Springs water.) Join I-80. Head west but get creative figuring out a way to avoid the slab.

ADDITIONAL PICTURES (click on any to enlarge):

Schuyler Colfax and a plaque telling of his visit to the area:

The California Zephyr pulls out of Colfax after a quick stop:

Along Lincoln Road: hydraulic mining was not the exclusive purview of the folks up north along the South Yuba:

Dutch Flat historic marker:

Some vintage Dutch Flat buildings:

Roscoe. When his parents leave for work each day, Roscoe hops the fence and ambles over to the post office. There he welcomes friends and strangers alike. He was kind enough to accompany me as I wandered through town, talked with the locals and snapped a picture or two.


A little more history on Dutch Flat:

The Dutch Flat Hotel’s (former?) website:

Information on old US Highway 40:

© 2012
Church of the Open Road Press

Tuesday, February 21, 2012


HAVING BEEN HIT with a mild mid-winter cold – not one severe enough to preclude me from housework or yard cleanup, but one where the over-the-counter meds made me uncomfortable on the bike, I dabbled in a wholly unproductive pastime: E-bay. A week or so prior, a hike in the hills east of Chico revived early memories of riding a 70s era Honda Trail 90 into and out of chemise and oak covered drainages.

So, I thought I’d look up what might be on the market out there. The Trail 90 weighs a little less than I do now days, and they’re so compact, I’m sure there’d be room in the garage, particularly if we parked my wife’s Civic outside. I chose not to share this plan.

As luck would have it, the little Honda CTs seem to be quite available on the resale market. Listings abounded throughout North America. After only a few hours – okay: about three days – I had distilled the listings into categories based upon distance from home, professed condition, year, and finally color. I’d had two yellow ones, and another yellow one seemed fitting.

MID-ILLNESS, I was called to spend a weekend two-plus hours away with the “kids:” daughter, son-in-law and grandchildren. Hanging with them is fine as long as, in general, I can avoid diaper duty, and specifically this trip: I don’t breathe on anyone. Running errands with son Sam is always a delight affording me an opportunity to learn more about lovely Northern Sonoma County and to talk bikes with this young man, who up until recently, owned a very sweet Bonneville black. “I’ll replace it when the kids are older,” he said. “A wise call,” I responded. My offspring-induced hiatus had lasted 12 years.  It'd been a good call for me, too, at the time.

On the way to return some flooring samples at the home improvement center, we passed through the warehouse district of Santa Rosa. I’d been sharing memories of the little CT and we were jawing about how cheap and dependable they still are. “Think about it,’” Sam said. “Is there any mechanical thing built today that you could expect to still be running forty ears from now?”

I was about to voice the same thing when, in approaching our destination, on the left stood “The Motorcycle Shop.” At first glance it appeared to be a place where kids could buy aftermarket parts to soup up their KTM or GSX-R. But nestled between two minis on the concrete walk leading to the front door was the bike we’d just been pining about. An orange one.

“We gotta stop.”

(c) The Honda CT-90 Page
THE ’74 HAD ABOUT 1160 miles on it. There were rusted spots but the only tweak appeared to be a slightly bent brake pedal – coincidentally, bent almost exactly to the same degree as I’d bent the brake on my ’70. I sat on it. The suspension compressed. I rotated the throttle. Everything felt just like forty years ago. Even me. “You gotta sit on this, Sam!”

Sam did. I showed him how to access the under-seat tank, the button to pull if riding the thing at higher than 4000 feet in elevation, and the little lever than shifted the transmission from high range to low range. He nodded with what I assumed was appreciation.

Michele, the business owner, appeared. She explained that the little Honda was on consignment and that there’d been some interest. Me: “How much is he askin’?” Michele: “$1300.  But you could call him.  He might be flexible.”

My stomach did one of those little flips. That’s little more than a 24,000-mile service on the BMW – with a new tire or two. “I could store it over here where you used to park the Bonne…”

Sam pulled me away.

LATER, GIDDILY, I spilled the find to my wife. She did not act surprised. “No room in the garage,” she said. “I checked once I saw you looking at them on line.”

I looked at her: my eyes must have formed a pair of question marks.

“Yeah. I measured,” she said. “Oh, sure, it’d fit if you folded the handbars around like you can with that lever.” Wow, she really knew something about this model! “But we’re not leaving my car outside in the cold, and unless we do, there won’t be room for another bike and you sleeping on your army cot.”  Then she added:  "Maybe the cat could keep you warm..."


“The Motorcycle Shop” 3383 Airway Drive, Santa Rosa:

The Honda CT-90 Page – A wonderful website for everything Honda CT. Next time you feel too under-the-weather to ride, dabble here:

© 2012
Church of the Open Road Press

Wednesday, February 15, 2012


I AM CURRENTLY READING A NOVEL with a good story line, but one that is hard to read because it is so poorly composed. I’m hanging in there, because I want to see what happens. However, as I read, I’m getting a bit bent out of shape with the author.  I don't like my time consumed wading through poor construction, pedantic rants or typographical errors (for which there is no excuse.)

Not having been published myself, I may have little standing to be critical of someone whose words I am holding in my hands.

With that in mind, I have drafted the following ten rules (give or take) that I will post on the bulletin board in my studio if only as a reminder to myself:

  1. Few nevers exist in good writing. Nothing is absolute.
  2. Get grammar. Get tense. Get modifiers.
  3. Know there, their and they’re; know also to, too, two. Know the word you want to use and spell it properly. Remember that a homophone is not some sort of alternative lifestyle hotline.
  4. Avoid over-use of unique words in close proximity within text: “The angry birds’ angry squawks angered the sleeping giant.”  Using a word like "palpable" more than once in every hundred pages or so (excluding when it comes up in dialog) is probably too frequent.  Using it three times in five pages means someone didn't access their Thesaurus.
  5. Vary sentence length. Long descriptive or technical sentences are best punctuated by short declarative statements. It keeps the reader engaged.
  6. Suspend grammar rules when writing dialogue. People in conversation don’t subscribe to the King’s English. We don’t casually talk as good as we write, except, perhaps when we’re being deposed. Don’t make dialogue sound like a deposition.
  7. Understand that poetry makes prose better: think alliteration, rhythm, cadence. (The last sentence in above tip might be a good example.)
  8. Figure out what “passive voice” means, how it may slow down the pace of the text, when to use and when to avoid it. “Timmy was bitten by Lassie.” vs. “Lassie bit Timmy!”
  9. Use spell check, but don’t depend on it. Most spell checking programs do not harbor many technical terms, nor do they get dialect. When spell check checks, check to make sure it didn’t introduce a new error.
  10. Acronyms confuse readers who are not hip. Assume all readers are not hip. (This is a cogent point for those on the speaking circuit as well.) Similarly: Don’t expect everyone to know your colloquialisms.
  11. A good paragraph has five sentences. A great paragraph has as many sentences as necessary to fully convey the point. Some excellent paragraphs contain only one word.
  12. Oh.
  13. When writing about a current event or composing a technical piece, such as a users manual for the DVD player or a how-to for leadership or administration or boat building or cake baking, report if you must. When writing fiction, don’t.
  14. Typos kill kontent.
  15. Self-publishing is for folks who are smarter than editors. However, too many self-published books prove that too many writers are not smarter than the editor they did not hire.
  16. Reading is a creative act that involves conversing with the author. Successful authors ensure that their writing can hold up their end of the obligation that is inherent in that reader/writer relationship.
  17. Effective writing is focused on truth – that goes for non-fiction and fiction.  Especially fiction.
  18. Finally, avoid writing ten rules for this or ten rules for that. You’ll always either run over or short.

© 2012
Church of the Open Road Press

Tuesday, February 7, 2012


…on the world’s greatest tiddler.

Google Image
ARGUABLY, THE GREATEST TIDDLER of all time was the Honda CT “Trail” 90. Back in the late 60s, I bought one of the little Hondas – well took out a loan from Laurentide because: A Laurentide loan is as near as your phone – so I could access the many dirt roads and rocky paths that lead from Chico, California, into the volcanic hinterlands of the Southern Cascade Mountains. At twenty-four cents per and with a gallon giving me 100 miles, the underseat tank would serve me for well over a week on about a quarter’s worth of regular.

American Honda Corp.
The CT 90 had a centrifugal clutch meaning I didn’t need to coordinate my left hand with either of my feet – just toe the shifter down, again and again to reach top gear and, ultimately about 37 mph.  By throwing a tiny lever on the bottom of the pot-metal engine, the bike four lower gears were accessed enabling the rider to climb a stump if necessary.  What a machine!

Google Image
My high school chum, John, had the 55cc version of this little beast. His machine carried two rear sprockets instead of the lever.  When the going got tough, he'd have to break the chain, pull a half dozen lengths from his pocket, drape the mess over the bigger set of teeth, hook 'em together and then motor on.  Lucky him.

A sunny – or a rainy – Saturday did not go by that we were not gathering mud on the service road paralleling the EsPee Tracks heading north from town, or winding ‘em out up State Route 32 in search of some dirt logging road that would lead to adventure.

[Didn’t have a camera back in those days, so sorry – no pictures other than those I might swipe from Google.]

Friends of Bidwell Park
I WAS REMINDED OF THE TRAIL 90 last weekend when I introduced my 7-year-old granddaughter to a little portion of the rocky road that leads “up past the cross” in Chico’s Upper Bidwell Park. Today, the road is a hiking-with-dogs-off-leash trail that follows a rugged basaltic ridge forming the north rim of the remote area of California’s second largest municipal park. Wildflowers grace patches of spare soil for a few days in the spring.

Kite fanatics find this the perfect launch point in March and April. A clear day offers 60-mile views across the Northern Sacramento Valley to the highest points in the Coast Range. Even today, I can pick out North Yolla Bolly Peak way off in Southern Trinity County, where Dad’s ashes may or may not be less-than-legally scattered.

ONE OF THE GREAT RIDES on the 90 was that old trail when – forty years ago – it was open for us to take vehicles up that way. Buddy John and I donned Army surplus fatigue jackets, put about nineteen cents worth in the tanks, and headed up to the park. The road was dotted puddles of water that couldn’t sink into the solid hard pan and the only flowers showing were tiny yellow things whose genus I cannot recall.

Friends of Bidwell Park
The route past the cross was rough. At some point, some entity attempted to grade a fire path up this way, but the chunky hardened mud would have nothing to do with a ‘dozer blade. Baseball-sized chunks of rock were littered here and there, but the timid suspensions of the little Hondas gamely rose and fell over rough patches that, now, four decades later, seem little changed.

The gradient, however, was quite gradual. The greatest gain in elevation occurs in the first few hundred yards. Beyond this, the road simply follows a rise that was established eons ago when volcanic activity in the region of Honey Lake (Lassen County) spewed viscous lava and steamy mud through the canyons of ancient rivers. In the intervening millennia, the soft ridges, that had once separated these streams, eroded and leaving a resultant negative print of the old landscape. Creeks have rerouted themselves into the new canyons. For millennia, lichens, frost and wind have worked slowly on the hardened flow, but to little avail. Putting along on the 90, I suspected the landscape was little changed from how it “set up” after that last ancient eruption.

A mile or two on, the east running ridge swings southerly for just a bit. A promontory exists. John and I stopped to smoke a Tipperillo – no kidding – and survey the portions of Upper Bidwell that followed Big Chico Creek and rested at our feet. From this point, we identified the Iron Canyon, pointed out the Salmon (swimming) Hole, approximated Devil’s Kitchen, a grand, dark fissure in the basalt, and recounted, like old-timers, our previous explorations of the park on foot. Before continuing, we pivoted the Hondas’ seats back, unscrewed the gas caps and realized that in the hour or so it took us to reach this point, we’d used about a half-inch of gas. Prius owners, take note.
The road dipped from this point a traversed a draw. The steep slope caused a great deal of concern form me, but John reminded me that I could shift the 90 into low range, straddle the low bar and simply walk the thing down if I “wasn’t man enough” to ride down the hill. I wasn’t.

Less than a mile further, we came to the trail’s end. Like the stern of a great sailing ship, the basaltic bluff proved to be a great sweeping curve, doubling back on itself over a precipice that would never be negotiated by the little Hondas. A deer trail ran to the northeast. On this clear winter day, looking off to that northeast, a snow glistening Mount Lassen graced the horizon. With a long enough arm, we both agreed, we could touch it.

Two hours on this road, we’d packed no jerky or Snickers Bars or water. An apple would have been nice to kill the nasty taste of the cigarillos. We connoitered the unexplored regions east of the park, then remounted and tiddled our way back along the north ridge.

American Honda Corp.
THE LITTLE ROAD is now closed to vehicles. While I’m more than thankful for the three or four trips I took up that way, I am grateful that this little realm is left to those who wish to quietly explore on foot or on a mountain bike. Dirt bikers of today, I fear, might race along on their high-tech machines and miss the subtle majesty of the place. Still I would not trade the memory of puttering over that cavity-rattling little road as a seventeen-year old, thinking that this was what “adventure touring” was all about.

Now, I simply look forward to the day that Grammy and I can hike these four miles with a granddaughter or two, point out the Salmon Hole and Devil’s Kitchen and tell the kids some tales.


Friends of Bidwell Park advocates for the preservation and protection of the park. Their website offers a range of pages of history and volunteer activities to support this cause.

The Big Chico Creek Watershed Alliance coordinates community efforts to preserve and protect this vital ecological community as it runs from the peaks of the Cascade through the heart of Chico.

© 2012
Church of the Open Road Press

Friday, February 3, 2012


THE GROUNDHOG having seen his shadow this fair February second, it seemed like a good day to ride. Perhaps, even to find some mud. The little state park called Malakoff Diggin’s on the South Yuba River seemed an appropriate goal. The route would include some nice pavement with gentle curves, some less-nice pavement that twists, a bit of graded gravel and hopefully, a mud puddle or two.

Turning left at the 20/49 split east of Nevada City, I head toward Downieville.  But only momentarily.  50 yards past the turn, a quick right hand turn puts me on Coyote Street. (Landmark: the the Tahoe National Forest Office.) This little used mile-and-a-half jog gains good elevation and entertains with both expanding views and challenging twists before intersecting North Bloomfield Road.

Heading eastward on North Bloomfield, the road is well traveled, very nicely paved and scented with pine fragrance as well as pine smoke from the fireplaces of the locals. Ten miles east, the road narrows as it descends into the rugged canyon of the South Fork of the Yuba.

The bridge at Edwards Crossing is historic and looks rather feeble and it spans by a good height a rather rocky course. I contemplate the useless tread on my Metzelers when traversing damp wooden planks and imagine how much the fall is going to hurt.

The sun has not graced the river bottom in months and the wood plank bridge surface appears to be glazed in ice.  Eeee-Yikes!  I dangerously use my booted feet as “outriggers” – admittedly a stupid thing to do – as I “sliptoe” the bike across.

BEYOND THE CROSSING, North Bloomfield Road turns to nicely graded gravel. Even in the middle of winter, the largest of the puddles is no bigger or deeper than a dinner plate.  This route is not the exclusive purview of those straddling big dual sports.  Even a carefully piloted 'Wing would afford the rider a good time.

Twenty minutes on, I pass the Malakoff Diggin’s sign. The road descends past remains of the hydraulic mining. Great effort was employed to engineer canals or flumes to channel water out of its normal course and capitalize on its erosive power.

Huge nozzles called “monitors” focused powerful streams of water against crumbly hillsides, washing them away and exposing lodes of rich ore. It seems, however, that the things we do upriver have consequences downriver. In 1884, farmers complaining of silt flooded fields in the Sacramento Valley sued in Federal Court to stop the practice. Excellent decision that it was – Good call, Judge Sawyer! – this would prove to be the first death knell of the town I was about to enter. Perhaps it was one of the earliest tough choices the Courts would need to make when asked to adjudicate questions pitting commerce against environmental concerns.

NORTH BLOOMFIELD used to be known as Humbug Town. But in the gold era, the name Humbug was about as common as the bedbugs that camped with the miners. The name changed to Bloomfield, probably because the large swaths of spring flowers in the flats along Humbug Creek. Later, “North” was added because a Bloomfield already existed over in Sonoma County. Similarly, this is why the local Columbia became North Columbia – blame Tuolumne County – and, in Butte County, Hilltown became Helltown.

Several 130-year-old storefronts and residences have been restored and are maintained at North Bloomfield. The park includes a restored schoolhouse, a church and attendant cemetery, several camping facilities, expansive picnic grounds, and a few rustic 1850s replica cabins that can be rented for an evening. Trails are well groomed, avenues are wide enough to easily imagine a grand Fourth of July parade and celebration a century or so back.

A pleasant mid-winter afternoon was thus spent in this lovely monument to California’s mining heritage. Sadly, Malakoff Diggins and North Bloomfield – part of the South Yuba River State Park complex – are on California’s shortsighted chopping block.

Should we not muster the wisdom and the will to preserve this special place, I fear Humbug’s second death knell may be its last.

TODAY’S ROUTE: State Route 49 north from Auburn to Grass Valley/Nevada City; Left at the 20/49 split east of NC; Immediate right on Coyote St for 1.5 miles of elevation gain and rich twisties; Right on North Bloomfield Road; Continue east 17 miles crossing the South Yuba at Edwards – road unpaved beyond bridge; Bear right at Lake City; Descend into state park. Return: Continue east; Quick left onto Derbec Rd; Bear right to Cruson Grade; Bear left onto Tyler Foote Road; Follow Tyler Foote through North Columbia enjoying a dozen miles of nice pavement and sweepers; Left on SR 49 back to GV/NC.


Malakoff Diggins State Park: and and

And of the grass roots effort to forestall the closures:


Always beware of gravel where primitive driveways abut your paved route!

Never rely upon my “Today’s Route” directions exclusively. Roads get pretty squirrelly in these parts. Carry a good map or two.


Another view of the Edwards Crossing of the South Yuba.

A foundation and, across the street, the General Mercantile.

A peek through the window at the General Mercantile.

A derelict Pelton Wheel.  This was the instrument that, more than anything else, industrialized the extraction of gold.  Invented just over the hill in North Columbia (or some claim North San Juan), it was the tool that, by force of harnessed water, powered the great stamp mills whose reports still echo through the hills.  If you listen hard enough.  (Prob'ly oughta close your eyes, too.)


The standoff:

And the question confronting Californians right now.  Either:


Finally:  The Edwards Crossing of the South Yuba is in the most remote and wild of places.  Who’d ever think that way out here, you’d run across someone who’d say, “Hey.  Is that you, fill in your name?”  But here it happened.

More than ten years ago, the woman who snapped this picture served with me on the Board of a Foundation intent on establishing a Native American Interpretive Museum 75 miles away in Roseville.  Today, she was out hiking with a buddy.  Small world indeed.

© 2012
Church of the Open Road Press