Northern California: Grapes to Gold and Back Again, Part II
In Part I, I crawled out of the lap of luxury atop a frozen wave of lava rock to find the State of Jefferson, a little bit of lumber, history, and plenty of snow. Part II swings me west toward the California coastline and then back south into wine country.
Launching the second half of my search for independence begins in the volcanic highlands of Yreka, CA. From the downtown area, Route 263 north connects with the Klamath River and parallels the State of Jefferson Scenic Byway, also known as Route 96. Taking that west to the sea leads through lush mountain forests and dozens of state historic sites.
Running along the Klamath River, I’m riding backward through time, through the Klamath and Six Rivers National Forests (rumored home of Bigfoot), numerous gold-rush towns, and local neighborhoods of the State of Jefferson. A movement began here when basic road maintenance was ignored by lawmakers, and a group of citizens made the decision to secede. In November, 1941, the population of 11,707 became the newly formed State of Jefferson. Citizens took to blocking off their roads at gunpoint once a week. This practice continued until December, when the United States was attacked at Pearl Harbor. In one fell swoop, the secession ended.
It’s a remote and beautiful 70-mile ride from the 5 Freeway back to Happy Camp, a small town with very few amenities, the most important of which is on the east end of town—the first gas pump I’d seen in a while. As the southern terminus of the nationally recognized Bigfoot Scenic Byway, Happy Camp is also a popular jumping-off point for whitewater rafting on the Klamath, mountain biking, and Bigfoot spotting! An 18-foot metal sculpture of the infamous Sasquatch marks the entrance to that byway, which heads north toward the Oregon border.
Continuing west, more isolation and solitude abound. Route 96 takes me to Somes Bar, CA, and the favorite fishin’ hole of President Herbert Hoover. Getting there, however, means enduring 100-degree air temps, tar snakes, and the bumpiest, concrete-patched asphalt road ever to be considered pavement.
Motorcycle & Gear
2011 Harley-Davidson Road Glide
Helmet: Harley-Davidson Modular Helmet with Retractable Sun Shield
Jacket: Harley-Davidson FXRG Perforated Leather
Boots: Harley-Davidson FXRG GORE-TEX
Gloves: Tour Master
Luggage: Nothing additional, hard bags on the bike
The junction of the Klamath and the Salmon Rivers is rich in salmon as well as being an escape from the rest of the world. President Hoover (dubbed the fishing president), built a camp along the nearby Wooley Creek in 1927. His appreciation for one of the last great pieces of unspoiled land, and his efforts to designate nearly a quarter of a million acres of this rugged landscape, resulted in what is known today as the Marble Mountain Wilderness. Fed by pristine mountain springs above, Wooley Creek is now a popular rafting route for the most daring and adventurous paddlers, with Class IV-V rapids.
People of the Place Where the Trails Return
Thirty-five miles along Route 96 lies the Hoopa Indian Reservation (the largest in California). Bisected north to south by the Trinity River, the reservation is home to roughly 3,000 Athabascan-speaking natives. Long before any Europeans trekked westward in search of their share of the golden goose, Native American Indian tribes roamed these hills and lived in peace and harmony with the world around them.
Although their lands and lifestyles have become rather constrained and regulated over the past 150 years, those on the Hoopa Reservation still live on the very same land that their ancestors settled. The 144-square mile plot of land, allocated to the Hoopa by President US Grant, contains approximately 15 beautifully placid miles of the State of Jefferson Scenic Byway. Today the Hoopa retain a strong tribal identity and continue to practice many traditional customs such as hunting, fishing, acorn gathering, basket and bread making, as well as their annual ritual dances.
Ten miles south of Hoopa, I connect with State Route 299 in Willow Creek. Turning west along the Trinity Highway, I experience a massive drop in elevation and temperature–along with a glorious forest-green, pine-scented ride that opens to big vistas, roadside viewpoints, and passing lanes. By the time the mountains hit the seashore, I have ridden nearly 40 miles to the 101 Freeway. From here, I swing south, pass through Arcata, and round the bay to complete my third day in the saddle. Eureka, CA, is home to hundreds of artists and numerous city murals. With more than 300 miles of twisty roadways between here and San Francisco, the next few days takes my breath away.