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

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