Thursday, November 20, 2014


The Church received the following grammar related question from a correspondent:

I have a question that would not bother many people, but it is this: “Those” and “These.” It seems that in the past, people would say something like “I will take three of those.” Now it is “I will take three of those ones.” These ones, those ones, would anyone but I wonder?

The Church would opine that “these ones” and “those ones” are symptoms of an individual suffering from LGS – Lazy Grammar Syndrome.  Adding “ones” to these or those seems like a redundancy.  Further, unless one is talking about place value in the realm of mathematics – “what number is in the ones column?” or is playing the card game “Go Fish,” there is no use for the word “ones.”  [Outside of a card game, “Hmmm… Looks like Wild Bill Hickok drew some Aces and some Eights,” I’m not sure when you’d put an “s” after a word representing a numeral.  Someone correct me please.]

“These” and “those” imply a gesture or the requirement of an additional clue in the context of the text or conversation.  “I’d like these apples (perhaps closer in physical proximity to the speaker) and those oranges (perhaps across the aisle)” might serve as an example.  Wouldn’t it be clearer to express, “I’ll take these apples and those three oranges.”?

There are many examples of LGS in modern speech.  Reversal of I (the personal pronoun) and me (the object of a preposition) bugs the Church no little bit.  This one grates: “Charley is walking to the store with Max and I.”  The same goes for “we” and “us.”  Other gripes?  Fragments masquerading as sentences.  And sentences beginning in “and.”

LGS should not be confused with LDS (Lazy Diction Syndrome) a spoken language issue – not LDS, the religious affiliation – wherein people mispronounce words.  Walter Cronkite was death on this practice and used the second month as his prime example: “It’s Feb-RU-ary, not Feb-EWE-ary.”  How may of us get that one wrong?  Although the late Norm Crosby made a career out of “misrenouncing” words, the rest of us would sound much more intelligent were we to avoid such malapropisms. 

What the Church finds most irritating however is LFS – please employ context clues to figure this one out – which involves the overuse of a certain profanity.  Most everyone knows that the “f-word” can be used in all seven parts of speech, but, sadly, some folks set out to prove that within about every three minutes of conversation.  Folks suffering from LFS, because it is such a preventable condition, routinely dishearten the Church.

People will argue that if the communication takes place, then the proper use of grammar is not important.  I would disagree even to the extent of suggesting that these ones (oops!) suffer from a little bit different but equally virulent strain of LFS.

Years ago, an aging (and pretty cranky) junior high English teacher complained to me, her site administrator, that the practice of decent English is lost upon our young people.  I told her I would address this within the hour.  She returned to class and I set to creating a poster with Tempera paints.  Allowing only a few minutes for it to dry, I entered her room with an eight-foot ladder, a staple gun and the fresh poster.  Amid her lecture, I set of the ladder in the front of her room climbed it high, and stapled the poster where she could not bring it down. 

The text of the poster? 

“If it sounds right, it ARE right.”

I’m not sure if that solved her problem.  I didn’t get to work there much longer.

© 2014
Church of the Open Road Press

Wednesday, November 12, 2014


Exploring NE California’s High Lonesome
Part 3 of 3

Every road trip contains a narrative or two: a story about the history of an area or sweep of the pavement or the emotions associated with traveling through space and time on two (or more) wheels.  Some photographs may enhance the narrative.  Some don’t fit into the storyline, but you find yourself with them anyway.

Here are photos captured in the latest trip to Northeastern California, as well as a few shots of the area from earlier trips.

This old barn is Chester, California.  It has graced the margin of Lake Almanor since before there was a Lake Almanor.  

I never took a picture of the ol’ gal when I lived in that neck of the woods twenty years back.

In Adin, California, an old saddle deteriorates on a fence rail behind the General Store.  Here it rested four years ago.

Here it is in early November of 2014.

From across CA 139, Adin’s Main Street, a buck watches intently hoping that thing I have in my hand only shoots pictures.
No this is NOT yard statuary.

Niles is a big name in Alturas.  I’ll have to do some research as to why.  They’ve named a hotel, a café and the picture show after Mr. Niles.  The art deco style neon sign that lit the street in 2009…

Still does in 2014.

I’m a sucker for old doors that may no longer be in use, frequently wondering where they once led…

I’m a sucker for old trucks, too.  I think this WWII era Dodge Power Wagon could tell a few tales to one of those new-fangled Dodge Rams the boys up this way seem to be so enamored with.

"Yeah, well, back in MY day..."

The family’s been visiting Mount Lassen and environs for over 50 years…

"Dad."  Photo by Dr. Wes Dempsey, circa 1966
After the first snowfall in November she looked particularly pristine.

Viewed from the Antelope Mtn. Lookout northwest of Susanville.

Years ago, I was exploring the Lassen Cut-Off from the old Applegate Trail.  Lassen guided immigrants who’d started on the Oregon Trail but who were bound for California.  About 10:00 AM one June morning, west of Fandango Pass, this barn caught my eye.

Last week, here’s how the old girl looked at dusk.

One never knows what one might find that will set the mind to imagining…

What detail might be overlooked by the hurried…

Carving in west-facing facet of Von Schmidt marker post.
That’s why we need to heed the road sign that points to the road less traveled…

Delighting in what we might discover over the next rise…

Or around the next bend.

© 2104
Church of the Open Road Press

Monday, November 10, 2014


Exploring NE California’s High Lonesome
Part 2 of 3

There is no discernable trail leading up the north-facing slope of Twelve Mile Creek.  A fire had run through these parts at one time: probably many times. An invasive field of sage blankets the hillside.  The fragrant growth is replacing a forest of charred, downed juniper, members of which now lay as random as Pik-Up-Stix, waiting for nature to take its appointed course.  The sage somehow roots itself to this rocky, ashen ground, becoming a thickly barbed tangle.  Even if you could see where your next step would light, it’d be treacherous.

“Great way to keep Oregonians from invading California,” my partner, Stewart, opines.

“Probably the other way around,” I reply.

We were approaching California’s border from the north seeking A W Von Schmidt’s 1872 handiwork: a monument placed at the exact point where the Golden State, Oregon and Nevada met: 42 degrees north latitude, 120 degrees west longitude. 

Except that’s not where A W put it.

The drive out of Fort Bidwell this November afternoon is glorious.  Fall colors paint themselves across the high desert landscape.   

The first dusting of snow frosts the area’s higher promontories.  A clear view south over the Surprise Valley offers a window into life 120 years back.  From this distance, not much has changed.

A dozen or so miles north-northeast on Modoc County Road 1, we are welcomed to Oregon by the good folks at the Twelve Mile Creek Ranch.   

A few hundred yards back, a gated road heads east, probably to our goal.  But it was gated.

Google Earth informs us that another road, one with county demarcation, heads to the south and east about a mile or so in to Oregon.  There being no gate, we opt for this route.  At the crest of the ridge we park.   

We’ll hoof it to the bottom on the road and figure things out from there, including crossing Twelve Mile Creek.

Allexey W. Von Schmidt was a San Francisco-based civil engineer who’d been instrumental in developing that city’s cable car system.  In 1872, as disputes arose between Nevadans and Californians about the location of their common boundary, Von Schmidt applied for and was granted the contract to survey the state’s frontier.  Using a compass, a sextant and some simple dead reckoning, Von Schmidt and his crew were charged with erecting cast iron and stone markers about one mile apart up the length of the state.

Not so many were actually footed and fewer remain today.

Wading, clawing and climbing through the tangle of dead juniper and sage, Stewart approaches the rim of the cliff.  “Hey,” he says.  “There’s a fence up here, right along the bluff.”

I’m down slope and on a different trajectory about 100 feet away.  “I’ll bet that’s the state line.”

“What if it’s just a fence between ranches?”

I scramble up and see the barbless wire fence.  It runs what appears to be east-west.  “What if?”

While Stewart roughs it over the boulders on the edge, I make my way to the mesa top where the going is much less challenging.  “The fence, it kinds just drops off,” he reports, standing where the bluff’s edge curls slightly southward through a thicket of living junipers.

I’d hiked a few yards and spy another fence or identical construction, this one running north-south.  Following it northward about 125 feet, I re-find the bluff.  Stewart joins me.  At our feet lay a tumble of cracked basaltic chunks some as small as basketballs, some as large as up-ended boxcars.  One boxcar piece has a mysterious red lichen splotch slapped on one of its weathered corners.  Other area lichens are yellow or green or white. 

Several hundred rugged feet below flows Twelve Mile Creek.

While Stewart investigates the rim, I trace back the fence.  About seventy-five paces south, a pyramid of lava boulders support an ancient juniper staff.  “Stewart!” I yell.

GPS is a great thing if you have satellite access, and Stewart does.  His iPhone 6 (yep, the new one) can pinpoint on a USGS topo map exactly where we might be standing at any given moment.  But, in this instance, we appear not on any of the four quadrangles that are supposed to come together at this point.  Warning, a box reads, maps may be misaligned.  A Will Robinson fate (from the old “Lost in Space” Sci-Fi series of the sixties) tries to descend upon us, except that we know where we are, don’t we?

It turns out that Von Schmidt did a pretty remarkable job placing markers along the state’s border.  He even attempted to retrace his steps and correct a few that were out of kilter. 

This one, we figure was placed exactly where AW wanted to put it: close to 42 degrees north latitude, but not exact.  Why?  Because 42 degrees is about 250 feet north of the monument over the cusp of the canyon’s wall, right where that red “lichen” was slapped on the corner of a boxcar sized boulder.  The 42 degrees at the top of the California quads correspond with Von Schmidt’s work.  The space in the middle?  Lost, Will Robinson.  (Just my theory.)

After a few minutes of celebratory back-slapping, we take heed of a rapidly setting November sun, knowing it wouldn’t do well to traverse the juniper-sage obstacle course at dusk.  Before leaving, we find a red can – about the same color as the lichen – tucked among the rocks in Von Schmidt’s pyramid.

Inside, a spiral bound notebook contains the names of others who’d found this place.  With the accompanying pen, we sign in.   

Then, flipping though the pages, an entry catches our eye.  In August of 2007, two very special visitors had dropped by, paying homage to the work of their great-great grandfather.

We break down off the bluff and recross Twelve Mile Creek, each harboring our own thoughts about history and geography, time and people.  It is said that if on any day you are awe struck or amazed by something, that’s a good day.  This one qualified.


Resource:  A nice source of further information on the Von Schmidt Survey of 1872 comes from Sierra College Press.  Access it at:

© 2014
Church of the Open Road Press

Saturday, November 8, 2014


Exploring NE California’s High Lonesome
Part 1 of 3

There’s a place in the Golden State that is not of the Golden State.  It is a region where the summer’s air is clear and sweet and the winters come with teeth in them.  Traffic might consist of an F-350 towing a gooseneck stock trailer.  Heavy traffic would be two of ‘em.

The people who live in these parts must be rugged.  They must be self-reliant.  They must care for the land – for that’s their wellspring – and for one another. 

The Barrel Springs Back Country Byway offers a glorious tour with windows into both our recent and prehistoric pasts.  It begins up in Modoc County at Cedarville, California.  The Bureau of Land Management in offers a self-guiding booklet highlighting details one would surely drive right past.

Heading east on CA 299 we are well warned of those circumstances the locals must take for granted.  They carry fuel.  And, quite probably, blankets.

This being November, at 4650 feet, Cedarville and the Surprise Valley have been kissed by frost.  Yellow leaves on the town’s windbreak trees contrast with the deep browns of the basaltic cliffs.

The area’s geologic history is a story of volcanism whose chapters will continue to be written long after time ends.  To the south of the state route in the middle of a dry alkali lake, a thermal creates steam accented by the low mid-autumn sun.

Over a crest, the pavement ends, as does the State of California.

Although the rough topography does not.  The great basin and range of the United States’ west begins in this region, hummocking the landscape from here to Colorado.  Nevada route 8A proves quite serviceable.

The 49ers hopscotched over these parts in their press westward.  Volcanic mud cones may have sparked curiosity, but the sourdoughs had more important things on their mind.

The map provided in the guide is sketchy and doesn’t correspond too well with either those provided by AAA or the USGS.  Signs along the way confirm that we’re not lost.  Knowing that we were on the road to Vya – listed as a ghost town – and that it was only two miles further – was exciting.  We looked forward to getting out and exploring the ruins.

Within that short stretch a billboard – a billboard out here?!? – advertises vacationing in what didn’t exactly look like the garden spot of the entire west.

Turns out the “ghost town” consists of a few buildings paired on either side of the road and all on private property – that of the B&B folks.  But decay has been arrested.   

The Far Western Anthropological Reach Group offer s a very nice booklet about the site, noting that it was located in what would become the dry farming area known as Long Valley.  Fremont (1843-44) had been through here on his way to wrest Monterey from the Californios; Later, Lassen used the area for his cut-off.

This day, the only resident that wasn’t bovine in nature patiently watched as we passed by beneath him.

Not listed in the ghost town category, however, are many, many homesteads, cabins and barns – some long abandoned – but each standing for more than a century against the area’s elements.

A rustic post hewn of juniper holds the barbed wire that keeps us from getting too close.

The route, now Nevada 34, rises out of Long Valley then into and out of Mosquito Valley.  We pass Barrel Springs without knowing it and find ourselves on Barrel Springs Road.

The guidebook suggests we should get our and explore at Rock Creek: two hundred yards upstream and check out the low lava cliff.

Pointilated into the rock is an image.  The technique is the same as had been seen in the Nine-Mile Canyon area of eastern Utah.

Over the course of several hundred feet, more than a handful of petroglyphs have been etched into the basalt.

Curiously, none are more than about four feet above the grade.  In the eight to ten thousand years since these were rendered, perhaps a bit of the soluble surface has eroded and deposited itself at the base of the little cliffs.  Or perhaps, when Rock Creek rages, the immediate landscape changes.

Signs of leaching are present where water has filtered into and out of a crack in the rock.  Mineral residue covers some of the art.

Beyond Rock Creek, Barrel Springs Road reenters California remaining graded gravel almost all the way in to Fort Bidwell.  Heading south on Modoc County Road 1, we pass through Lake City and return to Cedarville.  

Over the course of about six hours we have toured from Cedarville’s present day (about 1950) all the way back to well before man ever kept track of something as superfluous as time.   

The experience prompts a great deal of respect for those who braved the harshness of this place opening the west to our tender feet, and to those who reside in this subtle place, possessing the mettle to make a go of it and the heart to embrace its beauty.


Resources:  Here further information about this scenic tour from the BLM:  and their guidebook:

For a little bit about the Surprise Valley, from the local Chamber of Commerce:

For more information about the Far Western Anthropological Research Group, check out: 

© 2014
Church of the Open Road Press