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

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