Friday, August 16, 2019


…a glorious childhood haunt…

I wasn’t expected to show up.  Barbara was the last of the three great moms who cared for a bevy of neighborhood youngsters – myself included – in 1960s Chico.  The memorial gathering for her was to be held some four and a half hours away from Cloverdale.  But it was a summer weekend; Enrico, the Yamaha was due for a road trip; and the canyons and ridges, rocky outcrops and pristine lakes of Plumas County are to travel what whipped cream and a cherry is to a sundae. 

California’s highway 70 traces the rugged Feather River Canyon between Oroville and Quincy.  Pioneered by James Beckworth in the mid-1800s, it is the lowest of the Sierran crossings, though the last to see a railroad.  The highway and the old Western Pacific swap sides of the canyon as both routes pass small hydro facilities, historic whistle-stops and bergs all under gleaming granite cliffs and cool pine forests.

Bucks Lake, itself, is a high-country reservoir dotted with forest service cabins – a little known playground for residents of the northern Sacramento Valley and beyond.  

Kayaks and canoes co-exist with jet skis and fisher-boats while bald eagles and osprey circle above and black bear roam in the woods.  

The road I remember as graded dirt is now long-ago paved. Camping and day-use spots are abundant. The dam I once crossed on foot is now gated off.  I park nearby and walk back to the cabin I’d last visited decades ago.

Barbara, the neighborhood mom, had battled dementia for quite some time, but family made efforts to see that she would spend weekends at “the lake” almost until the end.  It was her happiest place.  

Looking out a picture window, I recalled splashing on the beach, the smell of Sea-n-Ski, sandwiches wrapped in wax paper washed down with Cragmont sodas, and my failure to master the sport of water skiing.  Barbara was laughing and splashing and skiing right along with all the kids.  Happiest place, indeed.

My return home would be a different route.  East of Quincy, a the LaPorte Road winds from Route 70, crossing a diminished Middle Fork of the Feather then climbs Buzzard Roost and Gibsonville Ridges, past the alpine head waters of the South Fork. Each turn offers another breathtaking view.  

August-spring wildflowers carpet the high, cool meadows and it feels as if I am riding through the ground floor of heaven.  

Further west, the LaPorte Road routes past historic mining and lumbering villages – some little more than place names.  Sixty miles on, I am driving through the dry, 95-degree grazing land of the Yuba foothills outside of Marysville, wishing I were back at Bucks Lake reveling in the cool breeze rising off the water.

The day before, when I had entered the cabin, I worried that I wouldn’t be able to identify the neighbor-kid-now-cabin-owner I hadn’t seen in perhaps forty years.  He stood and called me by name.  “Greg,” I said, a bit breathless from climbing the granite stairs to the house, “this still is among the most beautiful places in the world.”  Greg took my shoulders, turned me around to look out that picture window with the stunning view of water and forestlands crowned with fair-weather clouds.  Then he pointed to the hand painted sign above.  It read: “Welcome to the most beautiful place in all the world.” 

© 2019
Church of the Open Road Press

Thursday, August 8, 2019


A tribute to teachers

Last February, while visiting New York, I slipped into a souvenir shop and picked up a Mets t-shirt off the sale table.  The other day, I was wearing it on the trail out behind our house when an on-coming hiker said, “Hey, we beat you guys last night.”

I looked down at the logo.  “I’m not… I’m… Well, I used to be…”

In 1960s Chico, everyone was either a Giants fan or a Dodgers fan.  I didn’t want to be an everybody, so when, in 1962, New York was granted an expansion franchise, I decided I’d pull for the new New York Metropolitans. Their uniforms were old school and even recalled the two teams that had departed five years before: blue coming from the old Brooklyn Dodgers and orange from the Giants.  

Fast forward seven years and I’m a senior in high school laboring all the while with cellar dwelling Mets.  Only once in their entire existence had they not finished last in National League East.  Occasionally, I’d wear a blue and orange sweater my mother had knitted – one with the word “Mets” scripted on the front and back, only backwards on the back so I could see it when I backed up to a mirror.  I suspect that my choice of this attire had much to do with my lack of dating prowess as a teen.

During that senior year, a young Mr. Ken Miller, was my Civics teacher (they taught Civics back then – and they still do, Frank Zappa).  Mr. Miller had, at one time, roomed with Tug McGraw.  Country heart-throb Tim, Tug’s son, probably hadn’t been born yet when Ken and Tug played for the Buffalo Bisons, the Mets’ AAA affiliate.  (Or maybe it was the Binghamton Mets in AA.) Tug, with his tick-tock wind-up would become a go-to reliever with a team former manager Casey Stengel called “Amazing.” 

Ken would go on to teach high school civics.

In late September, the Mets were locked in a grueling – and, yes, Amazing! – divisional race with their rivals the Chicago Cubs who had been in first place for 156 games.  With a week left to go, the Mets were a few games out of first but within striking distance and the Cubs’ gas tank was near empty.  That week, each day before first period, I snuck into Mr. Miller’s classroom and chalked a headline onto the board.  The next morning, whatever comment I written the day before would be dutifully erased by the night custodian.  The last Friday before the end of the season, I pulled on my sweater, snuck into the room and wrote: “Mets Cop 1st from Fading Cubs!” Mr. Miller looked from his desk – surprising me – and said, “Well, if it isn’t Mr. Met.”  Then he walked over to the board and scribbled the word “save” next to my headline. 

It was a good long time before that corner of the chalk board was erased.  Certainly, it was up there the night Tug McGraw and a bunch of Ken Miller’s former pals whooped it up on the pitcher’s mount at Shea after a decisive and historic game 5.  

I shipped the sweater off to the Mets organization because I knew I didn’t need it any longer, though I didn’t tell Mom. Tug McGraw went on to pitch for the Phillies and Ken, I think, moved from the classroom into administration.  

Since my encounter on the trail, I’ve thought about the ’69 Mets some, but I’ve thought a lot more about Ken Miller and the countless other Chico teachers who, in spite of my geekiness, helped me to become.

And as my teacher buddies enter the 2019-20 school year, I, again, offer my admiration and encouragement to the many who, like Ken Miller, will help our young people to become.

© 2019
Church of the Open Road Press

Tuesday, August 6, 2019


This one is not to be missed!

The task was daunting.  Ride my Yamaha Super Tenere from California to Red Lodge, Montana, cross the glorious Beartooth Pass and return home all within seven days.  Or…

...Rocky Mountain Motos is a new (circa 2019) Red Lodge outfit that rents motorcycles – but not Harleys or BMWs or any of a number of other major makes.  No, owner Richard Barnett has a half dozen new Royal Enfield Himalayans to let at a very reasonable price.  Intrigued, I e-mailed: “Would a 24.5 horsepower mount haul my 220+ pound carcass over an 11,000-foot pass?”  

“You’d be amazed.”

We’ll see.

Beartooth Pass is recognized as one of America’s great scenic motor-routes.  Having done it once on a GSA, I was eager accompany my riding buddy on his first ascent.  I picked up the black RE and took an orientation spin up out Montana Route 78 toward Roscoe.  Finding a graded, gravel secondary road, I tooled over washboards mightily impressed  with how effectively those bumps were absorbed by the little machine’s suspension.

Regaining pavement as I circled back toward Red Lodge, I opened the throttle and easily achieved 65+ miles per hour.  Then came a rise in the pavement.  Here I discovered that 410cc Royal Enfield will go 65 mph and it will go uphill, but it won’t necessarily do both at the same time.  At least, not when carting me around.  The true test would be tomorrow.

Montana Route 212 out of Red Lodge is a predominately uphill run for about 35 miles.  But it is not an autobahn speed route.  Guide books tell us to plan on at least three hours for the 63 miles from Red Lodge to Cooke City near Yellowstone’s northern gate.  I did some mental math.  I’ll do fine on the Himalayan.

The highway quickly climbs out of Rock Creek Canyon.  Looking west, the “U” shape of the valley below and sharp, saw-toothed aretes on the horizon verify the canyon’s rugged history of glaciation.  Carving the switchbacks up this canyon wall using only 1936 era prowess… er… dynamite, must have been a monumental effort.

Pausing at a viewpoint/rest stop about 18 miles in, I encounter my first “issue” with the Royal Enfield: everybody wants to ask me about it!  Even those on big V-twin cruisers.  I tell ‘em it’s a rental but that I’m really smitten with it.  

Then, just before I thumb the starter, I warn the crowd to stand back because “this thing’s gonna make a little noise.”  They cautiously back away as the motor putters to life.

The highway leads us through several forest zones from cottonwoods and oaks at the bottom to alpine meadows carpeted with July-spring wildflowers and blotched with snow.  From top of the Beartooth Plateau strings of paternoster lakes reveal where glaciers crept down the mountain pushing debris, then melted back, only to push down again, though not as far.  Four, five and even six icy ponds may be found in any of the canyons carved into the plateau.  

At the summit, a marvelous skyscape of fair-weather clouds is almost close enough to touch and although this isn’t Iowa (apologies to ‘Field of Dreams’ fans) it does feel a lot like heaven.

West of Beartooth rest the Absaroka Mountains, a collection of volcanic peaks and fields that invite further exploration.  At our feet, the highway (now in Wyoming) lays before us like a ribbon just torn from a holiday present, twisting past outcrops and shallow lakes and acres of green meadow grass that may never see summer.

Automobiles snake along, motorcycle rumbles are lifted by the breeze and every half-mile or so, there’s a turn out for pictures.

Lunch would be in Cooke City where I come across that same group of bikers from two hours before.  Sheetmetal workers, it turns out, from New Jersey and Pennsylvania.  Their boss, himself a rider, organizes an annual trip, stuffs a dozen motorcycles and a bunch of gear into the company semi and leads the group to someplace challenging and beautiful for a week.  I wanna work for that guy.

We have a choice for our return: take the Chief Joseph highway, Wyoming 296 to Cody and loop back to Red Lodge or retrace our steps over the pass.  Given that every road driven the other direction is a different experience, we head back over the pass.

The long descent from the summit is a relaxed unfolding of light and shadow, rock and wildflower and waves from oncoming riders.  The Royal Enfield hums along and I realize I’m having just as great an adventure on this little machine as I had on the big BMW years ago.

Pausing for a second time at the rest area, and again getting caught up in conversation, I find myself with two wishes: One, that this ride could go on forever and two, that a Royal Enfield Himalayan might one day end up in my garage.

Had I been amazed?

Boy Howdy!


Note:  Rocky Mountain Motos is run by enthusiast Richard Barnett.  Each in his collection of Royal Enfields runs flawlessly and possess all the power, nimbleness and durability needed to explore this section of the Rockies with confidence. Richard knows the area and can point customers in the right direction.  (There may be no wrong direction, come to think of it). If one is pressed for time – or even if one is not – the Himalayan experience is too good to pass up.  Check Rocky Mountain Motos out at

© 2019
Church of the Open Road Press

Monday, July 15, 2019


A tale of either or

My transgression this day would be nothing compared to those visited upon this place a century and a half ago. The Bloody Rock trail is closed: I hiked on it anyway.

The Eel River commands the third largest river drainage in all of California.  Several Native American groups called specific tracts of this remote, beautiful and largely overlooked region of the Coast Range home.  Skirmishes and scuffles broke out from time to time, but rarely, historians report, were casualties massive.  Issues related to territory developed only after European settlers found value in grasses for grazing cattle and sheep; and that damned gold a bit further north.

A trail guide informs me that the Bloody Rock trail is a 2.4-mile path linking the parking spot on 20N01 to a wide and cool Eel River.  

Initially, the trail is a poorly used slit in a huge field of knee-high wild oat – it’s officially closed, after all.  The seeds and stickers of these grasses lodge in my long pants.  

Into and out of a stream course, I venture into the northern-most scar of last year’s Ranch Fire – the largest, acreage-wise, in California history.  While I’m seeing the footprints of other transgressors who ignored the trail closure, I’m not seeing the outcrop.  I’d read that the rock itself is a mere .5 mile from the trail head. Some 45 minutes on and descending to where I could hear the rapids of the Eel, I realized I’d missed a stitch along the way.  

Mounting a hill, off-trail, I gain a view of the river canyon and see a rock outcropping, but at only about 20 of 30 feet in height – a jumper might end up with some bruises or broken a leg – it doesn’t look like my quarry.  

Backtracking, I figure I’ll need to engage in further book-learning and come back another time.  Cresting a rise and looking through the scorched brush and naked oaks, a basaltic monolith appears to jut out from the edge of the ridge a few hundred yards west.  I clamber off-trail to get a better view: Aha! Bloody Rock, just as it appeared in some old-time photos.

There’s a rugged little stream course between me and the rock; along with a field choked with wild oat and dense with spiny thickets eager to rip at my clothing and flesh.  The fire-scarred ground beneath my feet is pocked with holes in which once grew oaks and digger pines; their stumps reduced to ash even well below the surface.  Each hole is an ankle waiting to be twisted and I’ve only got two ankles.  I’m hiking alone and it’s a mile back to the Subaru. This is why the Forest Service wisely closed the area.

Enough people died in these parts, I reckon, and after a couple of snapshots, I resume the trail and find my way back to the road. Any spur leading to the top of Bloody Rock must have been obscured with weeds, thus invisible to passers-by such as myself.  My exploration was not a failure, this day, but it wasn’t a great success, either. I’ll return some spring when the trail is open, the grass green and the temps more moderate.

The story of Bloody Rock is this: In the fall or winter of 1859, deep in Eel River territory, a group of Yuki – self-exiled from the Round Valley Reservation – tried to befriend and enlist their ancestral foes, the Pomo, in common cause against what was perceived to be a bigger threat: the influx of whites.  The Pomo rebuffed the offer and, in turn, shared their chumaia (enemies’) plans with the European settlers.  The Americans sought to quell this insurrection and, according to Stephen Powers (1873?), chased the band the over the hills and through the Eel’s canyon, killing many.  A group of 30 or 40 (some say about 65) took refuge atop a basaltic promontory overlooking the river.  A dozen or so settlers cut off the Yuki’s retreat and… 

“…Hemmed in on one side, headed off on another, half-crazed by sleepless nights and days of terror, the fleeing ‘savages’ did a thing that was little short of madness…”. They were offered three alternatives: “Either continue to fight and be picked off one by one, continue to truce, return to Round Valley and perish from hunger, or lock hands and leap down off the bowlder [sic]”

“They advanced to the brow of the mighty bowlder, joined hands together, then commenced their death song…” ultimately, “with one sharp cry of strong and grim human suffering,” leapt down to their death.

Source: Stephen A Powers, The Tribes of California
originally published 1876 (?), page 138.
Quoted in: Frank Baumgardner Killing for Land in Early California
Algora Publishing, 2006, page 259-60;
 (out of print, but available to the persistent)

While websites such as Find a Grave suggest that “many years later the bones of the Indians were still in evidence at the bottom of Bloody Rock,” some others – archeologists and paleontologists – report that no such remains were ever found.  It is known that none of these Yuki ever returned to the reservation at Round Valley leading to one of two conclusions. Either:

a)   The Natives chose the course of the “noble savage” [that term from Powers] and engaged in mass suicide, or
b)  The people were coaxed down from the rock and executed at various, undisclosed locations throughout the wilds of the Eel.

The former offers good theater; the latter, an example of how a culture of superior weaponry and technology can overwhelm and eradicate a culture with lesser tools. *  


The Church of the Open Road discourages folks from hiking on closed trails.  I shouldn’t have engaged in this activity.

Although I chose to take the Subaru, the Mendocino National Forest maintains miles of delightful dual-sport and/or adventure touring roads: nicely graded, wide, gorgeous views and little traveled.  Next time I’m bringing Enrico, the Yamaha.

Here is a link to a Bloody Rock Trail guide:  Their “getting there” tab serves as my “Today’s Route.”

Here is a link to the “Find a Grave” listing of Bloody Rock:

*  This little journey prompted me to ask myself: As human history repeats and repeats itself, is it any wonder that countries like Iran and North Korea seek membership in the club of nations armed with nuclear weaponry?

© 2019
Church of the Open Road Press

Tuesday, July 9, 2019


every road leads somewhere and
every somewhere has a story

I’d never been to Hyampom  before, never driven the busted, winding pavement that would take me past Underwood Mountain to the town.  Or had I?

“Every old road, every set of ruts that clears a ridge, everyone of ‘em goes somewhere,” says a travelling buddy.  After hearing that about a decade ago, a sometimes pastime of mine is to find a place name on a map, research a little about the spot, then take the road that takes me there.

Hyampom, according to Gudde’s California Place Names, may be from the Wintu meaning ‘slippery place.’  Located on Hayfork Creek in Trinity County, it is represented by bold print and a fairly big dot in DeLorme’s California Atlas and Gazetteer.  I decided to pay a visit.

Highway 299 runs east-west from Arcata, north of Eureka, through Redding and out to Alturas paralleling the state’s northern border.  It is a luscious ride with sweeping curves, forever vistas, tall timber, tumbling rivers and lots of climate zones.  In a matter of hours one can drive from ocean fog across ice-carved granite passes and into arid high deserts dotted with irrigated pastures or grain fields.  The last few times I’ve gone Redding to Eureka, the route has been choked with wildfire smoke and related emergency service vehicles.  Not so this day.  Late June morning mists carried from the coast into the nearest redwoods.  Up a rise and into the sun, the fog looks like a blanket of fleece extending out over the Pacific.  

My turnoff is just east of Burnt Ranch.  Underwood Mountain Road (FR 60) follows a stream through some broadleaf riparian forest before climbing across the shoulder of a repeatedly burn scarred Underwood Mountain. 

The road is as potholed as it is paved.  Little used, in my 70-minute drive, I made way for a caravan of three dump truck doubles and only one other vehicle, making dodging the major of the potholes a bit less sporting but far safer.

Once over the top, I wound down and around catching glimpses of the valley that would be home to Hyampom.  I looked forward to a walk around.  At the wye, a sign pointed me to town and to the airport; the other direction would take me to Hayfork.  The road traced the edge of the valley.  Over a rise, a grand barn stood presiding over a cattle-dotted pasture.  Another could be seen in the distance. I motored past a rustic general store and an auto repair shop decorated with junked versions of the cars I grew up with.  

The place looked a lot like Iowa Hill – a berg on a similar road back in Placer County’s Sierra.  Actually, it looked like a lot of other places I’d visited as a result of my map-quest pastime.

I parked in front of the one-room schoolhouse turned antique emporium not open this day.  Outside of an offended Steller’s jay and some soughing pines, the place was as quiet as ten thousand yesterdays.  Ranching seemed to be the Hyampom’s economic base, although rusted teepee burner evidenced a mill that once serviced the local forest lands.  The airstrip was in better condition than the one up on US 395 in Wagontire, OR, and looked quite similar to the landing strip at Dinsmore down on CA 36 – a town different only because it had active gas pumps in front of its general store.  I thought about ambling back toward the car “dealership” but always feel sorta rude about taking pictures of folks’ private spaces or businesses, especially if I wasn’t in the market for what they had on hand; and I didn’t think I’d have any use for that rusty – no, make that patinaed – ’64 Fairlane or any of its stablemates.

No one was on the street as I noodled the big Yamaha back through town. No one to wave at.  No one to ask directions from in an effort to start a conversation.  

At the wye, I headed east on the county road wondering where the Wintu slippery spot might have been.  I didn’t pass any graveyard.  If I had, I’da paid some respect to the lumbermen, ranchers, farm hands and business people who once contributed to a thriving Hyampom.  So many stories can be extracted from a cemetery. The road east pointed toward Hayfork a town designated by the same size print on the map, but one with a grocery store, gas station, downtown, senior center, eateries and traffic.

Courtesy: Trinity County Road Dept.
On the way, I came to a roadwork delay.  The only one in line, I chatted with the young man holding the stop sign. The conversation went something like this, as I recall:

“Business is pretty slow today?” I asked.  “Is it ever not slow?” he said with a laugh.  “You from around here?” I asked.  “Yep.”

When the one-room school closed, he told me, students were bussed to Hayfork, 22 miles away. “If this here road washed out or there was a landslide, we didn’t have to go to school,” he said.  

“So,” I said, “you’re doing this for the kids of Hyampom, right?” “Nope.  I’m just doin’ it for the money.  Mom sold the ranch after Dad passed.”  Then he added: “Sometimes I do have to apologize to the school kids.”   

From the saddle of the Yamaha, I glanced at the pastoral scene in my rearview mirror.  Placid stretches of Hayfork Creek laid across a green valley floor.  A kid might learn more about physics by skipping stones across one of those pools or tossing a lariat over the head of a bawling calf than he or she’d get from several pages of text and theorems, I thought. This wasn’t a bad place to play hooky.  

I couldn't suppress my chuckle.

So, this’ll have to serve as my Hyampom moment: Me, a former school principal, yukkin’ it up with long-time resident: one who’s content to see local scholars miss a day or two of school.  

I drove away reminded that all of those little spots on the map – whether it be Iowa Hill, Wagontire, Dinsmore or now Hyampom – all of those little spots have stories.  When tip-toeing along some decrepit secondary road in the middle of no-where, if we’re lucky, along with a great ride, we might, in a moment, get a piece of one of those stories. 



The Trinity region is located in the distant northwest corner of California. Remote springs to mind whenever traveling any secondary road in the area.  Fuel up before leaving CA 299 and if you find more fuel somewhere along the way, fuel up again.  The cell phone becomes a paperweight in these parts.

A problem with Erwin Gudde’s California Place Names (University of California Press, 40th Edition © 1998) is that once you look up a place name on a page, there’ll be another place name you’ll look up that will link to another and another.  With this book you run the risk of blowing out your bucket list.

© 2019
Church of the Open Road Press