Sunday, 03 April 2005, Brian Cox, Ray Hosler, John Woodfill, and I
drove south on US101 past Gilroy and took HWY25 to Hollister and on to
the Paicines grocery store (680ft) at the intersection of Panoche Rd.
where we parked the car. We rode south on HWY25, aptly named the
"Airline Highway", and met our first climb at Willow Creek where the
highway, apparently to avoided the San Benito river that over time
seems not to stay in its bed but flows at will across the flat valley.
Past The Pinnacles State Park we turned east to the site of the former
town of San Benito on Old Hernandez Road, a small road with no traffic
that follows the San Benito river and rejoins the main road that
climbs a parallel valley to the west.
Although rain was predicted to the north, we started under cloudy
skies that gradually broke into sunshine as we turned of onto old
Hernandez Road. About half way along this road, we discovered why
there was no traffic as we reached a substantial ford through the
swiftly flowing San Benito River. We carried our bicycles across,
taking various paths in an effort to find the shallowest route noting
that where a car would travel, the water was nearly two feet deep.
This explained the lack of fresh tire tracks and why the road was
firm, smoothly graded, and in excellent condition.
Along the valley, that lies in the San Andreas Rift Zone, were many
colorful wildflowers amidst lush spring greenery, including Owls
Clover, Paintbrush, Buttercups, Larkspur, California Poppies and
orange Western Wallflower, and all colors of Lupine, while Large
stands of rich pink tamarisk lined the river.
As in other areas in the state, there was an amazing area of finely
manicured vineyards with vines perfectly trimmed on support wires. I
can't imagine that there is such high demand that this acreage will be
competitive with established wine growing regions. Large clusters of
bee hives with two or more honey supers stood in the fields every few
miles. Where these bees were collecting honey was not apparent from
the crops we saw, this being primarily grassland.
Besides wildflowers we saw California Quail, Yellow Billed Magpies,
Acorn Woodpeckers, Orioles, Meadowlarks, Horned Larks, Bluebirds,
Kestrels, Red-tailed Hawks, Turkey Vultures, Blue Herons, and many
Western Kingbirds. Besides these many sightings, a Barn Owl sitting
on a roadside fence post, gave us a good look before flying away and a
Golden Eagle circled overhead as it gained altitude until it was
nearly out of sight.
We had encountered many cattle guards that were announced as "One Lane
Bridge", I suppose because they are one lane wide and just "Cattle
Guard" would not convey the one way concept. Later in the ride we
were surprised to see such a sign actually followed by a one lane
bridge. After about 16 miles we were back on pavement and joined
Coalinga Road, where we would have been had we stayed on HWY25. We
continued south along the San Benito River before climbing up Lorenzo
Vasquez Canyon to a small pass at 2907ft from where we descended to
Hernandez Reservoir that, in spite of recent heavy rains was fairly
low with grass growing at its upper end (2400ft).
The sun began to break through as we passed and the site of the former
town of Hernandez (2472ft), where we crossed the San Benito river
through one of the many well paved concrete fords and headed east up
Clear Creek County Rd109. This road runs along the bed of Clear Creek
and crosses it through fords about a dozen times. The creek lives up
to its name and was running swiftly through this canyon that is home
to a large off road vehicle park on it's way to New Idria.
Although most of the dozen or more fords are paved, the road is not
and is about as rough as unpaved mining roads get except that most of
the rock is firmly embedded. The road climbs in fits and jerks with
one longer steep section before leveling off again to moderate
climbing to a junction at 3400ft where it leaves the creek to climb
steeply to the Idria summit. Although many of the motorcycles were
two strokes (not street legal) they, ATV's and truckers were courteous
and shared the narrow road courteously.
The terrain is unusual and striking, with warnings about asbestos in
the soil (and dust) and mercury, which is what was mined at the New
Idria mine of San Benito County, the original Idrija being in Slovenia
where mercury was mined from 1850 to recent times. Some of the slopes
above Clear Creek are barren domes of what looks like grey brown
gravel, but they are fairly solid, so much so that motorcycle tracks
going straight up, in hillclimb fashion, do not leave more than a
trace and these form no gullies from rainwater.
The road gradually levels off as it approaches the 4441ft summit where
Roads head north and south while the main route, down to New Idria, is
open only to motorcycles and bicycles. BLM considers it too hazardous
so it is closed to cars. We rode around the gate and realized that
this would be a tough ride in the other direction, the road being
steeper (up to 20%) and looser, with tighter curves. The view into
San Carlos Creek is striking for the canyon steepness and depth, with
mine tailings here and there. The first view of New Idria is
shocking. The rusting hulk of a Smelter building and all the
buildings in town together with a huge junkyard of cars, trucks, and
mining machinery make this an obvious toxic waste site of grand
proportions, much more so than the New Almaden mines in Santa Clara
County. Almaden is in Spain and also started mercury production in
We descended into the ghost town where we were on the paved main
street of Idria (2500ft) County Rd119. The New Idria mine began
operations in 1854 and closed in 1971. Today the boarding house and
general store look untouched since the mine shut down. With lack of
heavy traffic the weathered and rough pavement of the main street was
without holes. Next to the factory, a large cinnabar-red (Chinese
red) pond drains into Carlos Creek making it a stream of tomato soup
for many miles. Huge piles of cinnabar (mercury sulfide) ore surround
The New Idria road, although paved, has major cessations from earth
movement that give it large unpaved whoop-de-doos after which a
gradual descent along Vallecitos Creek at about 1600ft. Although we
had a tail wind up the west side of the mountain, it didn't hold up.
reversing itself to a zero to 15mph headwind as we turned northwest.
Amazingly, summer had already arrived here before the end of the rainy
season, the pastures turning California brown. The road gradually
climbs to 2000ft through a broad valley with sparse vegetation with
herds of cattle that graze these fields and occasionally wander on the
Besides "The Aermotor Chicago" windmills, mostly no longer in use
dotting the landscape, a few oil wells were slowly pumping their
wealth into tanks not far from the road. Gradually descending along
Griswold Creek, the road turns north into Griswold Canyon where we
rolled into to the Panoche valley (1200ft). The road turns west and
climbs gradually past the Panoche School and on up to Llanda (1420ft)
where we stopped at the Panoche Inn, (open 10AM to 10PM Wed--Sun) for
some food and drink. Above the bar, the owner had a collection of
about 1000 autographed one dollar bills hanging from the ceiling along
of lots of other memorabilia.
A few miles up the road enters Payne Canyon along Panoche Creek and
climbs to Panoche Pass (2100ft), a broad summit in Antelope Valley.
With the light headwind, the descent was hard to detect at first but
it beat climbing into the wind. We were getting into greener
landscape as we rode down along Tres Pinos Creek. The narrows of the
canyon required that the road make a few climbs on the way Paicines.
We did alright and rolled into Paicines at about 18:30 for a drive
home. As huge rain clouds approached from the west. As we drove
north we reached HWY101 as the first drops came down. After Gilroy,
the rain pounded so hard that it crackled on the windshield as the
wipers on high speed tried to give a clear view.
This was an interesting ride, that for me was mainly the Clear Creek
and Idria experience. The total of 7550ft of climbing in 114mi does
not reveal the effort. The Old Hernandez Road was a bit longer (and
wetter) but the climbing was a bit less than our previous loop.
Palo Alto CA
Looks like it was a real good ride. Thanks for taking a few hours to tell us
about it. I'm really not much of a cyclist anymore, but did enjoy the
experience second hand.
You deserve more salutes than you get on this goup, for sure. While it's nice
to read about plans for a multitude of rides from promoters, it's even nicer to
read that somebody actually enjoyed riding.
While this note is nominally a reply to the original sender, it's also intended
for a much wider audience. A good ride is interesting, even if you don't
include precise details.
I think my latest good ride was to 'the beach', maybe a year ago. Twenty miles
one way, fourty round trip. I live in San Diego, California, USA, they got some
decent beaches here. For me, the beach is Pacific Beach. Really nice.
I'm kind of a low income dude, so I have to stay quite a distance from the high
rent areas, called East San Diego. This makes the ride to the beach
interesting, because I have to negotiate some really high traffic areas. Any
day of the week, it's a lot of traffic on some stretches. A lot of auto traffic
going by at speed makes a special challenge. One has to keep a proper attitude
of taking it easy, I don't have to keep up with them. Easier written than done.
So I'm out of the humble abobe, onto Orange Avenue, which I follow a few miles.
It's kind of level mostly, but there are a bunch of traffic lights and stop
signs. I try to establish a 'take it easy' effort level at the start. Usually
there isn't anything very interesting here.
So I cross 30th Street, and hit a few canyons, find out if I can still hit my 28
tooth low gear in front. These canyons are steep! After a few ups and downs, I
come to Park Boulevard. There I go right and after a block do a 160 degree to
the left onto Washington at the light, and the auto traffic gets a little
intense. Washington Street isn't real steep, but the hills are half a mile
long, I get up to 30 mph sometimes, but there are traffic lights and a freeway
intechange. A little bit hairy some days, but motorists are usually very cool,
bicyclists are not uncommon in San Diego, CA.
Down the big canyon side over Route 163 go I, and back up the west side. Not
real steep, I manage with a 40 x 26 and some sweat. I'm approaching 6th Street
at the top, and it's a place of poignant memories for me. Lori used to live
here. But I continue west on Washington. Lots and lots of auto traffic here.
After another mile or two I come to where I need to turn right to get to my
preferred descent of Hillcrest. Goldfinch Street I think it's called, I go a
block or two and take a left. Then I go a few miles through one of the most
exclusive, and lovely, neighborhoods in town, called Mission Hills.
It's generally easy going, very slight descent, until near the circle. There's
a stop sign, and the descent gets really steep after that. Kind of curvy too, I
don't need to wind out my 52 X 13 high gear to scare myself a little. There are
some kind of purple flowers they have planted along side the street in Presdio
Park that are always lovely this time of year.
Down I go, and there is another circle near the bottom of the hill, better have
brakes! Then it's on to Morena Boulevard, Sports Arena Boulevard, and whatever
else, I really don't remember anymore. From here on there is a lot of auto
traffic, a few challenging freeway intersections too. Mostly flat, high gear
Maybe ten miles before the exit to Pacific Beach, and there is one more overpass
to climb, but on the other side it's a long downhill, wind out the 13 tooth and
wish you had a 12. One more light and I'm in the beach area, where things take
sudden turns. I generally go north, but there's lots to look at on the south
I will sometimes go beyond the seawall onto the beach and contemplate. Helps.
The way back has some options, for one I could just reverse course. On the
other hand there are other ways. Maybe go east on Grand Avenue, to Mission Bay
Drive, to Friars Road. That's almost all near level for fifteen miles, a good
chance to check the effort level. Finally comes the killer ascent of the
plateau, at Fairmount Avenue. It's a couple miles, not really steep anywhere,
but I'm going five - ten mph and the autos are going 50 mph past me. A few
tough intersections. Taking it easy isn't always easy!
Once I get up this hill, I'm almost home, and I set my effort level to maximum,
only one more mile! Back on Orange Avenue there are a few stop signs and a
light. Even when I'm going at max, I try to be exemplarily conscientious of
lights and signs.
And finally I'm back home. Sometimes I get a bit too eager, I hit the sack
shortly afterwards. Usually I am still eager, and there is no shortage of
challenges in this fifty year old refugee from the wrecking ball apartment house
I call home. A good ride is good exercise, not too much, leaving oneself
invigorated, not tired! Bit of a tall order sometimes, but such is life, a bit
too much sometimes.
Here in California we just had the wettest rainy season (winter?) in 60 years,
and the greenest spring. It probably won't happen again anytime soon, so get
out there and enjoy it while it's here.
Mike DeMicco <blaster186...@comcast.net>