Category Archives: Historical Landmarks

“Stop! Stop! Stop!”

On January 22, 2011, I needed to go to San Carlos to try on a rain jacket. It was a nice day. Thus, Gail and I decided to take the tandem along and ride Old La Honda Road. During this ride, we had a surprise.

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I don’t really want to spend much time discussing the rain jacket. Randonneurs USA offered to sell its members an RUSA-branded Shower Pass rain jacket at a good discount. There had been some differences of opinion about the sizing of these jackets. The local REI didn’t have one and the San Carlos store did. Ergo, I needed to go to San Carlos (about 50 miles from home) to try on a rain jacket. I tried on both options from RUSA and ordered one (the Elite 2.0). It should arrive any day now. I sure wish that I had had it on the Worker’s ride prior to the San Francisco Randonneurs‘ Russian River 300k. Enough of that…

Since I had to drive over to San Carlos, Gail and I decided to bring along the tandem and get in a ride. Gail is coming off of surgery to repair a torn meniscus, so she is taking things easy. Thus, we decided to do some climbing from Palo Alto, up Old La Honda Road to Skyline Blvd. and then back down. A quick 20 miles. Piece of cake.

Since the roads in the South Bay are a bit of a mystery to me, I suggested parking at Stanford Shopping Center and riding from there. This would be great: we could ride straight up to Old La Honda Road, get done with the climbing, return to the car, and then have a fine meal.

Of course, there was a bit of a problem. I had managed to forget that we need several feet of open space on the starboard side of the Forester to get the tandem off the top of the car. Why? To get the tandem off of the car, the entire quick release mechanism that holds the front fork to the Yakima Sidewinder rack pivots (along with the tandem), which allows one person to take the tandem off the roof. Brilliant design. However, since the tandem swings to the side as the quick release mechanism pivots, you need about 1.5 parking spaces to get the tandem off the roof. So, we had to circle around the lot a bit to find just the right parking spot. This took longer than expected since the place was mobbed with shoppers.

After a bruising December, which was filled with massive rain storms and cold weather, January was unseasonably warm. Today was no exception:  it was in the 70s. However, having lived in the SF Bay Area for most of my life, I knew that warm weather on the east side of the Coastal Range was no guarantee that it would be warm on Skyline Blvd.  Thus, even though almost all other riders were wearing short sleeves, we dutifully packed our jackets and arm warmers into the rack bag.

We headed toward the hills up Sand Hill Road. The ride to Old La Honda Road goes over a couple of hills and has some extended gradual climbs. We puttered along, getting used to riding the tandem again and enjoying the beautiful weather. There were a ton of other riders out that day, doing the same. Life was good.

I had ridden Old La Honda Road earlier in the year as part of the Santa Cruz Randonneurs’ Central Coast 1000k brevet. Thus, I sort of knew what we were in for. The hill isn’t killer steep but it is a good climb to Skyline Blvd. When we finally turned the corner onto Old La Honda Road, the temperature seemed to drop by about 10 degrees and the road kicked up. We thought about donning our jackets but decided to climb a bit and then decide. A good choice.

Old La Honda Road is just plain beautiful. It winds its way up the eastern slope of the Coastal Range through the redwoods. The road surface was perfect until near the top. There was very little traffic. We were in no hurry. Thus, even though neither Gail nor I had been riding much, the climb was a joy. Slow, to be sure, but still great fun.

When we finally reached Skyline Blvd., we made a right and headed down to Sky Londa for a break. I had floated the idea of eating at Alice’s Restaurant in Sky Londa. However, when we finally arrived, it was about 4 pm, sunset was in about an hour, and we didn’t have any lights, so we grabbed a bite to eat from the market and headed down Highway 84.

This was the first time I had ridden eastbound down Highway 84, so I asked an experienced-looking rider about what to expect. “As long as you can keep up with traffic, it is no problem.” In other words, we would likely be flying down the hill.

Off we went. The descent was fine. The traffic was generally well-behaved, the road surface was acceptable, the curves in general were reasonable, and I was able to keep our speed at a reasonable level, so there was no crying or begging from the stoker to slow down. We whipped a hard right onto Portola Road and continued the descent back toward Sand Hill Road.

All of the sudden, I hear Gail screaming “Stop! Stop! Stop!” It didn’t seem like she had fallen off of the bike and was being dragged down the road by her foot. Had the rack bag flown off? Expecting the worst, I jammed on the brakes and yelled “What the hell is going on?” Gail said “Look! Look! A Historic Marker!”

Sure enough, as I looked in my Take-a-Look, there it was: an official California Historical Marker. It hadn’t even crossed our minds that we might see one of these things on this ride. But, there it was: Historical Marker # 478: Site of San Mateo County’s First Sawmill. We made a totally illegal and dangerous U-turn and headed back up the hill to the Marker to check it out.

According to the Historical Marker, about 300 feet south of the monument, on the banks of the Alambique Creek, stood San Mateo County’s first sawmill, built by Charles Brown in 1847. About the same time, Dennis Martin was building a second mill, also run by waterpower, on San Francisquito Creek. These mills were similar to the famous Sutter’s Mill at Coloma, site of James Marshall’s 1848 gold discovery.

I had to hand it to Gail: she really did have a good eye for these things, since we were riding pretty fast when we passed the Historical Landmark. After some photos, we continued on our way back to Stanford Shopping Center.

Once we got home, we realized that there were a bunch of Historical Landmarks near our route. Looks like we will be heading back over there soon.


A Quick One Without A Tandem

On July 25, Gail and I decided to visit Angel Island. It had been a long time since we had been there and, lo and behold, there it was a Historical Landmark! So, off we went. If you just want to see the photos, click here or just watch the slide show below.

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This is about as nice a day trip as you can find in the SF Bay Area. To get to Angel Island, you need to either hop on the Angel Island Ferry ferry from Tiburon or the Blue and Gold Fleet ferry from San Francisco, use a private boat, or swim. Unless you are swimming, you have great views of San Francisco and Marin on the way to the island.

The last time we went to Angel Island, we took Avery and Risa along. While there, we visited the U.S. Immigration Station, a National Historic Landmark, which had just re-opened for visitors. We also walked around the perimeter of the island on the walking/biking path and climbed to the highest point on the island, Mt. Livermore, too.

This time, we were not going to be nearly as ambitious. Gail and I decided that we would wear bicycle-related garb but not bring along the tandem. This would allow us to get in a nice walk. We also decided to let the day unfold without any definite plans.

After driving to Tiburon, we boarded the ferry for the short ride across Racoon Strait to Hospital Cove on Angel Island. The line for the ferry had quite a few day trippers like us. There were lots of people with bicycles, ranging from roadies wearing lycra and wielding spiffy road machines to kids on Costco specials. There were even mountain bikers, ready for an off-road adventure. When we saw how many people had their bicycles, we felt a twinge of guilt for not bringing along the tandem.

There were also people going over for some sort of camping adventure, since Angel Island is a California State Park. These folks were armed to bear, with wheeled carriers loaded to the max with coolers, sleeping bags, tents, food, and just about everything else a person might want for camping. Usually, one member of the party was designated as the mule and was responsible for hauling this load, while others shouted encouragement and insults.

After we got off the ferry, we grabbed a map and started searching for the Historical Landmark. As we walked along Hospital Cove, we noticed there were a few eateries and drinking establishments that served local fare (grilled or fresh oysters, sandwiches, and local beers). It was tempting but we knew that if we sat down and had a snack, we might not even make it to the Landmark, let alone take a hike, so we pushed on.

So what is the deal with Angel Island (California Historical Landmark # 529)? In 1775, the packet San Carlos, first known Spanish ship to enter San Francisco Bay, anchored in Hospital Cove. While here, the commander, Lieut. Juan Manual de Ayala, directed the first survey of the bay. This island, which Ayala named Isla de los Angeles, has been a Mexican rancho, a U.S. military post, a bay defense site, and a quarantine and immigration station.

After Gail and I found the Historical Landmark, we decided to walk up to the ring road and hike the perimeter of the island. The weather was cool and breezy, which made the walking just great. It was a little hazy, so views of San Francisco were not as spectacular as they might otherwise have been. However, the ring road had a few reasonable hills, restrooms along the way, and great opportunities for people-watching.

The ring road is the main highway of Angel Island. Thus, there are lots of people using lots of different means for getting around the island. Of course, there are lots of people that just walk. We saw some runners out for a jog. For those that are not so keen on walking, there is a tram that will haul you around the island and give you on a guided tour. Both road and mountain bicycles can ride on the ring road. Because there are a couple of short but steep hills, some riders decide to walk up the hills (the park recommends walking your bikes down the hills…we didn’t see anyone doing that!). For the hipsters, one can even rent a Segway (even though you have to ride with a group).

Along the way, you can stop off and see the remnants of the old military base (the island still has a Coast Guard station, which is off-limits to civilians). A number of the buildings have been renovated, while others remain in their decaying state, being battered by salt air, wind, and the other elements. It is sort of stunning to see the hulking remains of some of these base infrastructure, such as a rock crushing machine. Nowhere is this contrast more evident than on the eastern side of the island, where some buildings were converted into an event center while others are gutted shells. Gail thought that one could make a good business out of renovating some of these buildings and renting them out as lodging. I decided to keep my mouth shut.

Since we were walking around the island in a counter-clockwise direction, just about the last thing that we saw before we returned to Hospital Cove was the refurbished U.S. Immigration Station. We didn’t go into this National Historic Landmark on this trip (since we were hungry and wanted to get to the oysters and beer). However, one should certainly visit this area, which is akin to Ellis Island in New York.

After we returned to Hospital Cove, we settled in for some brew, oysters, and a sandwich. Prices were reasonable, the food was great, and there was even a folk singer strumming her guitar and belting out a few covers.

Once done with our dining, we got in the long line to wait for the ferry back to Tiburon. Had we been a little more conscious of the time, we could have been on the ferry without the wait but the weather was nice, the crowds were fun to watch, we were a bit tipsy from the beer, and so the wait was no big deal.

Definitely visit Angel Island.

Berkeley: City of Hidden Historical Markers!

It was July 5 and I needed to go to my mom’s house in Castro Valley. Gail was free so we decided to hop on the tandem and pedal over. Since it had been a few weeks since our last Landmark adventure, we dug out the book, IDed some of the Landmarks in Berkeley and Oakland that we had missed to date, and took off (of course, going on a ride like this is never a “decide and ride” event: the departure was fraught with clothing and food choices, bike prep, sunscreen, and myriad other tasks). (Want to just look at the pictures? Click here.)

Since the main purpose of the ride was to actually get to my mother’s house in a reasonable amount of time, we designed a route that would hit the maximum number of Landmarks with the least amount of veering off-course. Thus, we were going to ride up toward the University of California, hit a couple of Landmarks in the general vicinity, and then head toward Oakland, and San Leandro. After meeting with Mom, we could visit Castro Valley’s only officially-designated Historical Landmark before hopping on BART for the return home.

Our first stop would be an easy one: the University of California, Berkeley Campus (Historical Landmark #946).  According to our “California Historical Landmark” book: “These landmarks form the historic core of the first University of California campus, opened in 1873: Founders’ Rock, University House, Faculty Club and Glade, Hearst Greek Theater, Hearst Memorial Mining Building, Doe Library, Sather Tower and Esplanade, Sather Gate and Bridge, Hearst Gymnasium, California, Durant, Wellman, Hilgard, Giannini, Wheeler, North Gate, and South Halls.”

In my misspent youth, I had attended college at UC, we had lived in Berkeley for a number of years, and I also had a great innate sense of direction. I even knew where a number of the buildings mentioned in the description quoted above were found on campus. However, we assumed that there was only ONE official Marker, not a bunch of them scattered all over the campus. Thus, we searched high and low around “University Avenue, Berkeley” looking for the thing. We even asked a couple of UC police officers where we might find the Marker (they didn’t even know such a thing existed…so much for the observation abilities of UCB’s finest). Gail seemed to recall a marker of some variety in a redwood grove but that was not the OFFICIAL Marker. We even tried the UC information building, with no joy (since the place was shut down for the July 4th holiday). We are going to have to go back to the campus with the list of official buildings and see if the State actually sprung for more than one Marker. However, that was for another day. Mom was waiting, so off we went, without finding the Marker. Once again, we were starting off one of these trips without anything to show for our first visit.

Fortunately, we were in the dumps for only a few minutes, since our next destination, the Berkeley City Club, was only a few blocks away and I was certain that it had a Marker. The Berkeley City Club was organized by women in 1927, to contribute to social, civic, and cultural progress. The building, constructed in 1929, is one of the outstanding works of noted California architect Julia Morgan, whose interpretation of Moorish and Gothic elements created a landmark of California design.

This place is just lovely from the outside. It stands on the north side of Durant Avenue, the sun was shining on it, and the building was looking great. Upon closer examination, we could see that it was getting a little worn in places. I had attended meetings in this building and the interior was a little faded but still grand. No matter: this building truly looks like a Historical Landmark. Also, the Marker was right on the façade, so no need for any hunting to find the thing. Definitely visit this place and then follow up your visit with a trip to Yogurt Park, which is just up Durant Ave. from the City Club!

Our next stop, Piedmont Way (Historical Landmark #986), was a surprise to us. Piedmont Way was conceived in 1865 by Fredrick Law Olmsted, America’s foremost landscape architect. As the centerpiece of a gracious residential community close beside the College of California, Olmsted envisioned a roadway that would follow the natural contours of the land and be sheltered from sun and wind by “an overarching bowery of foliage.” This curvilinear, tree-lined parkway was Olmsted’s first residential street design. it has served as the model for similar parkways across the nation.

Anyone that has lived in or around Berkeley for any length of time knows this road. It runs across the top of the campus, past fraternity and sorority houses, the International House, Hearst Greek Theater, Memorial Stadium, and other landmarks. The architecture along the road varies from Julia Morgan wood-singled structures to ghastly apartment buildings, which presumably replaced the old grand houses that originally graced the road. There is a circle at Channing Way, where frat boys play frisbee on warm spring days. The smell of beer is evident, especially on a weekend day. Trees provide plenty of shade on the days where the sun pokes through our omnipresent marine layer. Plants and flowers are everywhere. The only thing that this street seems to be missing is the OFFICIAL HISTORICAL MARKER! We rode up and down the street a few times, with Gail looking for the Marker and me trying to avoid getting run down by motorists gawking at the sights. We even drove down the non-curvilinear part of Piedmont Ave., looking for the thing. No luck.

However, don’t let the lack of a Marker deter you from visiting this beautiful street. Walking is probably the best way to get to see the great houses, the use of native plants, the way that the curves tend to calm traffic, and the overall coolness of having a street follow the contour of the land. Not to be missed.

Batting a cool .333, we headed out of Berkeley, toward Oakland, San Leandro, and our rendezvous with Mom.

“I think that Google Maps for bicycles isn’t quite ready for prime time”

On June 20, it was time to hit the road again and see some Historical Landmarks. Since our last adventure, I had ridden the San Francisco Randonneurs’ Davis Night Ride (a 200 km brevet from Hercules to Davis and back that starts at 8 pm and ended for me at about 7:45 am the next morning). I was so excited about riding to Davis (and after we had so much fun in Solano County visiting Benicia and Fairfield), Gail and I wanted to visit the two Historical Landmarks that were in Solano County but most remote from our house. Also, Gail wanted to ride Pleasants Valley Road. Finally, I wanted to get her on the Capitol Corridor trains. To meet all of those constraints, we decided to drive to Fairfield, ride to Vacaville and Winters (to see Landmarks), continue on to Davis, and then take the train back to Fairfield.

At first, we thought we should take the train from Richmond to Fairfield. However, that was going to take some extra time and we were having trouble getting going, so we decided to make the quick drive from Richmond to the Amtrak station in Fairfield, which is where we would start our ride. Easy, right? I swear, we must have driven around Fairfield for 45 minutes, trying to find the Amtrak station. Our first mistake was to think that the Amtrak station was somewhat near Fairfield’s downtown. After getting off I-80 at the sign pointing toward downtown Fairfield, we were treated to a long drive down W. Texas Street, through and past downtown, before we stopped at a gas station to look at the map. Way too far. No problem…just turn around and head back, since we must have missed the signs pointing toward the Amtrak station. After making a U-turn, we headed back into downtown Fairfield. No signs to Amtrak.

I could see the tracks. I KNEW that the station had to be around here somewhere. We took the bicycle directions I had printed for the ride and tried to reverse-engineer the directions to Amtrak. It looked like we had it until we hit the road that forced us to get onto CA Highway 12, which was NOT where we wanted to go. We went down one exit, turned around, and headed back toward Fairfield. We finally saw it: a sign indicating that we were heading toward the Amtrak station! After some bobbing and weaving around the ramps of Highway 12, we finally pulled into the Amtrak parking lot. Now THAT was 1.5 hours well-spent!

After unloading the tandem, we headed out of the parking lot, trying to follow the directions that I had printed from Google Maps. Before I start on the rant, let me say that I LOVE Google Maps. It is the mapping program that I ALWAYS turn to. Google added a feature to Google Maps that seemed great: it would find a route for bicycles! Since Gail and I were going to be on a bicycle, we thought that we should give this feature a try.

The directions out of the train station to get to W. Texas St. (which was where we had been driving about 30 minutes previously) were incomprehensible. There were no street names in some cases (even though the directions indicated that we should turn). I guess if I had a military-quality GPS system, we might have been able to determine when we had traveled 255 feet. However, since my Ciclosport HAC-4 only measured in tenths of miles (and I was trying to avoid getting hit by Sunday morning drivers or running into curbs), I must have missed one or more of the turn. I finally said that we HAD to go over this pedestrian bridge to get across the railroad tracks and get to W. Texas St. Thus, for the next 30 minutes or so, we were riding based on my excellent innate sense of direction, the sun, and dumb luck.

After winding around in a few subdivisions of Fairfield, we finally came across one of the roads on the directions from Google Maps. I thought that this was a good sign. However, after following the directions for about a mile, we were told to turn right and then make a left turn in 39 feet (again, with no road named). We went into Capricorn Circle, looped around it once, and popped back out where we had started. No bike path. No way to get out of the circle (unless we were to get off the tandem, walk up to one of the houses, open a gate, and walk through their yard, and then hopped over their back fence). Since there was no mention of such antics, I wasn’t quite ready to face a trespassing  rap in Solano County, so we headed back out of the circle, with a single question on our minds: where in the hell do we go?

It wasn’t hard to know the general direction of travel that we should to take. We should be heading toward Peña Adobe, which is on the other side of the hills from Fairfield. We could see the hills. Google Maps said that there was a route that would go over the hills (rather than taking the route that I was familiar with, which went on frontage roads west of I-80). However, every time we tried to cut through a subdivision, we would hit a dead-end (at the edge of the subdivision…there wouldn’t be a road out the “back way”, which meant we had to go back out of the subdivision and try again). Finally, we found the road that was supposed to take us to the mystery shortcut over the hill to (aptly named Paradise Valley Road). We were home free!

Not so fast, cowboy! Paradise Valley dead-ended at a construction site. No way through. So, make a U-turn, go back down the hill, and head east on Manual Compos Parkway, where, to our surprise, we found yet another Paradise Valley Road! Feeling like there couldn’t be more than two of these, we turned and headed toward the hills, Lagoon Valley, and our first Historical Landmark.

We wound around a bit until we were on the road that was supposed to go over the hill, which happened to be named, you guessed it, PARADISE VALLEY ROAD!!! We went up what appeared to be a driveway until we arrived at a very serious-looking locked gate with “NO TRESPASSING” plastered all over it. The gate wasn’t all that tall and I think that we might have been able to get the tandem and our bodies over it. However, Gail was not going to have any of that nonsense. So, back down the hill. However, now where? We knew that we had to get over those hills. We saw a woman sitting in her car and I rolled up next to her and asked how we could get to Lagoon Valley. She guffawed a couple of times and said that she too had tried the Paradise Valley Road route (based on Google Maps) and had the same result as we had just had. She told us how to get back to W. Texas St., which would turn into N. Texas St., which would take us across I-80 and to the ONLY ROUTE FROM FAIRFIELD TO VACAVILLE. As we rolled off, I said to Gail “I think that Google Maps for bicycles isn’t quite ready for prime time.”

After 2.5 hours and about 10 miles, we were still in Fairfield. We finally found N. Texas St. and were heading toward I-80 when we realized that we were starving. After a Pollo Loco stop, we finally got across I-80 to Lyon Road. Finally, I had some idea where we were.

From there, it was a quick ride to Peña Adobe, which is the site of the Vaca-Peña Adobe (Historical Landmark #534). This is the site of the 10-square-league Rancho Los Putos that Governor Pio Pico granted to Juan Felipe Peña and Manuel Cabeza Vaca in 1845. The Peña Adobe, erected here in 1843, is still owned by the descendants of their families (as of 1955). The nearby town of Vacaville was established in 1851 on land that Vaca sold to William McDaniel.

The adobe was closed to visitors (which, unfortunately, seems to be a common trait among the Historical Landmarks). It took some hunting around but we finally found the Marker. There were a bunch of other monuments, plaques, and other items commemorating the place as a spot of historic significance. Aside from the plaques, there was some fairly neat antique farm implements. Also, the adobe had a pretty big selection of religious statuary and other stuff. Families were having picnics under the trees. Lagoon Valley was a stone’s throw away. This is also the starting point for the Knoxville Double Century, which is put on by the Quack Cyclists, who are widely acknowledged as the best organizers of double century rides in California. All told, it is a pretty nice spot, as long as you don’t rely on the Google Maps directions for bicycles to get there.

According to our book, the next Historical Landmark was somewhere outside of Winters. This meant that we could ride up Pleasants Valley Road to get there. This would be a treat. Pleasants Valley Road is an amazing combination of farmland, rolling hills, and ranches with a public road running through the middle. There is usually very little traffic, the rolling hills aren’t too tall, and it is just downright pretty. Gail had never ridden through here, although she did pick me up along this road one afternoon when I did a loop from Fairfield to Napa, Lake Berryessa, and Pleasants Valley. That day, the sun was out and the fields were an emerald green. Because of the late rains this spring, I suspected that the fields might be just as great today, which they were.

After riding most of Pleasants Valley Road, we turned onto Putah Creek Road, which goes to Winters and then continues onward in the general direction of Davis. When you start at Pleasants Valley Road, Putah Creek Road is just a blast, as it gently rolls down toward the Central Valley next to Putah Creek. We were zipping along at a pretty good clip, enjoying the views of Lake Solano and various orchards when Gail yelled “STOP! STOP!”

I jammed on the brakes, thinking that she had fallen off the back of the tandem. Nothing that dire had happened. Instead, she had called on just as she saw the unannounced Historical Marker on the side of the road! What the hell was this? Why, it was the University of California Experimental Farm, Wolfskill Grant (Historical Landmark #804). In 1842, John R. Wolfskill arrived here, laden with fruit seeds and cuttings. A true horticulturist, he became the father of the fruit industry in this region. In 1937 his daughter, Mrs. Frances Wolfskill Taylor Wilson, bequeathed 107.28 acres to the University of California for an experimental farm. The university’s research at this portion of Rancho Rio de los Putos has enriched the state’s horticultural industry.

We weren’t able to see very much here. There is a pretty high chain link fence that keeps unwanted visitors out of the Experimental Farm. Perhaps that is why the state decided to not put any sort of sign announcing the Historical Landmark on this road. Had my sharp-eyed bride not seen this, we would have been in Winters, scratching our heads and wondering how we had missed this piece of California history. Although I am a big fan of agriculture, I don’t think I would drive all the way out here just to visit this site. However, when you toss in Pleasants Valley Road, warm sunshine, a good tailwind, and the prospect of food in Winters and a train ride, that tipped the scales and made the ride worthwhile.

After the Experimental Farm, we rode into Winters and had some food at Steady Eddy’s. This place is a staple for Grizzly Peak Cyclist rides from Berkeley to Davis. It is obviously a standard stopping point for other riders too, since it has a couple of well-used bicycle racks in front, so that riders can get their food and keep an eye on their bicycles. Winters itself is a very cute town, with a small central square and a nice main street. After eating, we rode up and down a bit, checking the place out. It looked like there were some good eateries there. Those would have to wait for another day.

As we headed south out of Winters and back toward Putah Creek Road, we rode over the J. Robert Chapman Memorial Bridge, which used to be a railroad bridge back in the day but has since been converted into a pedestrian/bicycle bridge over Putah Creek. The City of Winters took this hulking, dilapidated bridge and renovated it, which makes crossing Putah Creek much nicer. Don’t miss this if you visit Winters.

Turning left onto Putah Creek Road again, we continued our gradual downhill ride toward Davis. Along the way we saw a large steel bicycle statue on the side of the road in honor of the Davis Bike Club and the Davis Race Team, which hold their annual Putah Creek Time Trial along this road. As we continued along, we somehow managed to sneak up on a couple engaged in a little illicit sexual activity on the side of the road by an orchard. Man, did they jump when we rode past! There was also a big lavender farm that was made you want to stop and just breath deeply because of the scent of the lavender.

After a few more miles and a couple of turns, we finally got onto Russell Blvd., which is the main bike route into Davis from the west. Even though there was a very official-looking bicycle path next to the road, I wanted to ride in the road. We went along for a bit and then Gail expressed her displeasure with my choice, saying that the bike path was there to be used and that she thought the locals would be unhappy if we were in the road, even though there was a fine shoulder and almost no traffic. After a little back and forth, I turned onto the bike path. The path, while separate from traffic, didn’t insulate you from cars, since riders still had to deal with cross streets. Also, for some reason, the bike path changed sides of the road a couple of times, which would have required crossing Russell. At that point, I said “No mas!” and we rode on the road the rest of the way into Davis.

We had some time before the train was departing, so we tooled around Davis a bit. The students were gone, making the town look like all college towns during the summer: sleepy and catching their breath. We had a frozen yogurt and then headed over to the Amtrak station to get tickets and wait for the Capitol Corridor. The warm weather and the sweets in the yogurt caught up with me and I was soon snoring on a park bench while Gail got the tickets.

When the train arrived, we dragged the bicycle onboard, put it in the bike rack, and found seats in the upstairs passenger compartment. We tore along through the Central Valley and in no time at all were in Fairfield.

After getting off the train, we noticed that there was an It’s It outlet next to the train station. $1 for an It’s It? I was there! That alone might be reason enough to start a bicycle ride in Fairfield.

Lessons learned:

  1. When Google Maps says to turn but there isn’t a street name, it seems that they are recommending that you turn onto a sidewalk. Perhaps a little note somewhere explaining this convention might be helpful.
  2. Google Maps doesn’t appear to distinguish between public and private roads, at least with regards to their bicycle maps.
  3. Although an adventure is a good thing now and again, always keep track of where you are so that you can find your way out.
  4. I can’t think of a nicer road to ride than Pleasants Valley Road, especially during the daylight hours.
  5. Having a sharp-eyed stoker can save a lot of backtracking when trying to find something.

If you want to see the rest of our photos from this adventure, click here.

“So big, come twice!”

Gail and I rode to Benicia on May 16, 2010 to visit the numerous Historical Landmarks in this small town that is important in California’s history. (If you want to read about our trip, click here.) However, because there were so bloody many places to visit (and we started the day out with a quick ride out to Fairfield), we threw over visiting some of the Landmarks in town for Starbucks and ice cream.  We couldn’t let that stand. Now was the time to see the others.

Since we were already in a visiting frenzy, after seeing several Historical Landmarks in Livermore, we decided that we should just get in the car and drive to Benicia. I know that many of our loyal followers (you are out there, aren’t you?) seem to think that we had planned to ride our tandem to visit all of the Historical Landmarks in California. While this might be a noble goal for some, we take a less dogmatic approach to this adventure. Ride if it makes sense. Drive if it makes sense. Why, we might even FLY if it makes sense. So, today, we were driving.

I am telling you all this even though we could have pretended to have ridden to Benicia from Livermore, into a stiff headwind, with smiles on our faces and determination in our hearts. After all, as the photos below demonstrate, we were wearing bicycling garb. In fact, we even had our tandem with us. A less honest adventurer might have taken the tandem off of the top of the car, wheeled it in front of the Landmarks, snapped some photos, and nobody would be the wiser. In fact, one member of our team even suggested something akin to that. However, we decided that we didn’t want to deceive you, our fair readers (or reader…thanks, Mom). Also, that damned tandem is HEAVY, so getting it off of the rack is a pain. So we just visited the places sans tandem, with me making a clean breast of it in this post.

We had left four Historical Landmarks unvisited our last trip. Our first stop was Saint Paul’s Episcopal Church (Historical Landmark #862). Designed in 1859 by Lt. Julian McAllister and built by shipwrights of the Pacific Mail and Steamship Company, St. Paul’s is an outstanding example of early California Gothic ecclesiastical architecture. Notable for its fine craftsmanship, this building has continuously served the Episcopal Church since its consecration by the Rt. Rev. William Ingraham Kip in 1860.

This place is very interesting. In addition to being a great-looking church, it had a labyrinth! Not some cheesy little maze cast into the concrete in front of the place but a full-fledged labyrinth with a brick path and gravel where one is not supposed to walk, right next to the sanctuary. I don’t know the reason that the church fathers (and mothers) decided to put this beauty next to the church but, to be brutally honest (which our readers know is our hallmark here at, it seems a little un-Episcopal to have people wandering around in this maze, eyes down, meditating on the world around us. Not that that is a bad thing. It just seems a little out-of-place. That is just one man’s opinion.

And another thing: What exactly is a Rt. Reverend, anyway? The guy that consecrated this church had that title and I have been wondering about that. If you are not a Rt. Rev., does that mean that you are a Wrong Rev.? If you are not a part of the solution, are you a part of the problem? Comments from readers in the know would be appreciated.

Bottom line: this church is one that you should visit. Great architecture. A bitchin’ labyrinth. And, to top it off, it even had an official California Historical Landmark Marker! How can you lose?

Next on the agenda was a place that I had been looking forward to for quite some time: the First Building Erected in California by Masonic Lodge for Use as a Hall (Historical Landmark #174). This is the first Masonic hall built in California. It was begun in the summer of 1850, occupied by the lodge October 14, 1850, and formally dedicated December 27, 1850. This building served as the Masonic Temple for Benicia Lodge No. 5 until 1888, when the new temple was occupied. Used as a boys’ club prior to World War I and by the American Legion shortly after the war, it was reacquired by Benicia Lodge #5 in 1950.

Why, you might ask, was I so interested in seeing this place? Well, there is some backstory. When I was growing up, my father, William H. Monsen, had been an active member of the Masons, the Shriners, and heaven only knows what other types of fraternal organizations. He was, in fact, the Worshipful Master of Castro Valley Masonic Lodge #551 in either the late 1960s or the early 1970s. My uncle, Frank Diehl, was also the Worshipful Master of the same lodge. As spawn of a member of the Lodge that was progressing toward becoming Worshipful Master, our family (i.e., Mom and the 6 kids), got to attend numerous annual Installations, where new officers of the Lodge were installed. I made the mistake of bringing my girlfriend at the time and another friend to one of these events. When the antics started (e.g.., men prancing about in tuxedos with while wearing white loin clothes bearing obscure inscriptions, a dude wielding a sword, people walking solemnly from stations in the east to stations in the west, etc.), it was all Colleen and Jim could do to keep from howling out in shock and amazement. I had seen the scene before, so I was a little numbed and ready for it. The others were not. At one point, they had to put their heads between their legs to keep from bursting out laughing when the assembled mass celebrated the new officers with a “powerful battery of 3 by 3” (i.e., clap 3 times in a diagonal motion with your right hand above your left, 3 more times with your left hand above your right, and then 3 more times with your right hand above your left.)

As you can see, Freemasonry had a major influence on me as a youth and now it was time to visit where it all started in the Golden State. The building itself wasn’t ornate or mysterious in any way. It was nicely painted and had that weird symbol of Freemasonry (the divider and square with a capital “G” in the middle) on the front. However, there were not events happening when we were there, so Gail didn’t get to see any of the Freemason hijinx. Even so, it is worth a trip to see this place, especially since it is smack dab in the middle of downtown Benicia and you would have to work pretty hard to NOT see it.

Even though I wanted to hang out for a while longer at the Masonic Hall, Gail wanted to keep the show on the road, as it were. So, we were now off to our next Landmark: the Site of the First Protestant Church (Historical Landmark #174). On April 15, 1849, the Reverend Sylvester Woodbridge, Jr., organized the first Presbyterian Church of Benicia, the first Protestant church established in California with an ordained resident pastor. The church was disbanded in 1875.

I had not mapped out our route for these Landmarks and, as a result, we had to do some cruising around downtown to even find the park where the alleged Historical Landmark was to be found. It turns out that the book said that the marker was on K St. Unfortunately, as noted previously, the city fathers, using great vision and foresight, had given directions to each street (e.g., East K St., West K. St.) but didn’t bother to have just plain old K St. Thus, we had to do some amount of driving around before we found Benicia City Park, which is the location of this Landmark. When we finally found the park, there were the remnants of some sort of arts and crafts faire going on. We figured that we, in our bicycling duds, didn’t look any stranger than the locals with painted faces and native garb, so we plunged right in and found that Marker!

It is a little hard to get totally worked up about this kind of Historical Landmark, since there were no remnants of the church at the site. The park was pleasant enough. The funnel cakes certainly smelled good. So, on balance, if you can find the park, it is worth a brief visit. Oh, you can also walk your dog in the park.

One more to go. Even though Gail was grumbling about wanting to get some food, wanting to change her clothes, and just generally wanting to go home, I wanted to find that last Historical Landmark. I just knew it had to be close and so Gail gave in, we got back in the car, and started driving the mean streets of Benicia, in search of “City park, Military W St between 1st and 2nd Sts.”

Now, if you are puzzled by that last phrase in quotations, imagine our surprise when we found out that that was the address of our last goal: the Benicia Seminary (Historical Landmark #795). Remember my rant about how the streets in Benicia have directions? Well, it isn’t just the lettered streets that have directions: it is the numbered streets, too! However, the “directions” have to do not with the direction that the street is running (since the “letters” and the “numbers” cross, as happens in many cities, such as Hayward). The “direction” has to do with whether the street or road is on the east or the west side of 1st Street! I didn’t realize that until I started writing this post. It still doesn’t make any sense to me but at least I now know why the streets and avenues are named as they are.

We drove around the park where we had just been (which was bordered by Military W), thinking that there had to be another park. Perhaps it was between E. 1st and E. 2nd? No park there. So, finally it dawned on us that the “City park” in the address was the park that we had just been in! Luckily, nobody had taken our previous parking space, we parked, and set out looking for the Historical Landmark.

We were pretty keen on finding this one. Founded in 1852 as the Young Ladies’ Seminary of Benicia, Mills College was acquired from Mary Atkins by Cyrus and Susan Mills in 1865 and moved to its present site in Oakland in 1871. It was chartered as a college by the State of California in 1885. So, not only were we looking for a seminary, we were looking for the original home of Mills College! With that in mind, we started wandering around the park, looking for a Marker. Because the arts and crafts fair was still going on, we had the sick feeling that the Marker might be located inside (or under) one of the booths, which would have meant that we were going to have to ask each and every vendor to allow us to check out the grass under their booth. Gail was not happy about this. She was not happy that we were still wandering around after several hours of hunting Historical Landmarks. She wanted this day to be DONE and quickly, thank you very much! I, on the other hand, was being the persistent Norseman that my father was and was going to keep looking for that stupid Marker until we had searched the entire park or we died trying. It looked like a blow-up was imminent when, to our amazement, we found the Marker! Sweet Mary and Joseph, were we happy. Let’s take a photo and get out of here.I took out the camera, started to line up the shot, when the camera shut down.

Huh? Had I pushed the on-off button by mistake? I turned the camera on again, started to frame the shot, and the camera shut down again. The batteries were dying! We weren’t going to get the shot, which meant that we would either have to come back to Benicia (not an altogether bad option) or somehow get the photo before the camera shut down again. We framed the shot, turned on the camera, and pushed the shutter button. The camera shut down. We tried it again. The camera shut down.

At that point, we had no idea if the camera had taken the picture or not and we couldn’t even preview the photos, since the battery was so dead. We would have to wait until we got home and recharged the battery before we would know if we had got the shot. (As you can see, we did, in fact, get the picture, to the great relief of all involved).

As noted above, there isn’t anything in this park (other than the Historic Marker) that demonstrates that Mills College had once been here. However, it is pretty cool to know that it had been here, right next to the first Protestant Church. So, for that reason alone, stop by and visit. Just remember to charge your camera’s battery before you go.

If you want to see all of our photos from the events of the day, click here.

Livermore and the Haden Sisters

On June 6, Gail and I decided to visit the Historical Landmarks in Livermore. To liven up the event, we asked Read Phillips and Catharine Ratto to join us. For those that don’t know, Read and Catharine are twin sisters and have more energy, chutzpah, and joie de vivre than any two people I can think of. Spending time with them is always a treat.

We started the ride at Casa Real, which is one of Read’s event centers in Pleasanton (the other is the Palm Event Center, just down Vineyard Road). As Gail and I pulled into the parking lot with our tandem on the roof of the Subaru Forester, we got a couple of curious looks from the folks preparing Casa Real for the activities of the day (a blow-out wedding). However, since we were going to meet up with the Big Boss in a few minutes, we just kept driving and didn’t return the stares.

Read and Catharine arrived together. After greetings (we hadn’t seen Catharine in quite a while) and a little chatting, I said that it was time to get going. We could yak on the road. With full water bottles (it was supposed to be a scorcher in Livermore that day), we rolled out onto Vineyard and headed toward Livermore.

I had mapped out a route for the day, riding in a clockwise direction and hitting the northern-most Landmark first and then working our way back to the south. There were two historic wineries on the agenda and I had it in my mind that we might stop and do a little sampling. Not more than 2 minutes after we started, Read suggested an alternate plan: it the wineries to the south first and then she and Catharine would split off while Gail and I visited the last of the Landmarks. Read had the local knowledge, so we changed plans on the fly.

In preparation for our Trek Travel trip to Vermont with Read and her husband, George, we had done a ride from Pleasanton to Livermore. Our route today would cover some of those same roads. As we headed southeast toward the hills of Livermore, we jumped onto a nice bike path through the Sycamore Grove Park. The bike path dumped us off almost directly in front of our first destination of the day: The Cresta Blanca Winery (Historical Landmark # 586). At this site, Charles A. Wetmore planted his vineyard in 1882. The Cresta Blanca wine he made from its fruit won for California the first International Award, the highest honor at the 189 Paris Exposition, first bringing assurance to California wine growers that they could grow wines comparable to the finest in the world.

Interestingly, the Historical Landmark is located in the midst of the Wente Event Center, which is a competitor of Read’s businesses. As we rode into the entrance, the fellas directing traffic were not totally sure that they should let us in. However, after we explained the situation, they let us pass and told us in general terms where to find the Marker. It took some looking but after some scouting around and asking, we were pointed toward the Historical Marker. Unfortunately, there was a wedding going on at the same time that we were there and the lovely bride and her new hubby were standing next to the Marker while cooling their heels, waiting to make their grand entrance into the wedding reception. I was going to stomp over and ask them to take a photo of me next to the Marker but cooler heads prevailed. After they made their entrance, we all went over and took some photos. Of course, we also had to do a little mugging for the camera, creating a scene of great hilarity for all. The grounds are very pretty, nicely shaded, and out of the wind. We didn’t sample any wine and we didn’t get any appetizers from the wedding, so I can’t comment on the food or wine, although I am certain that it doesn’t stand up to Read’s places.

The wind was coming up as we rolled off toward the next stop. Fortunately, Read knew all of the roads in the area, so she directed us to some great shortcuts that I had never even thought to try. Along the way, we passed Ravenswood Historical Site, which is where Marie and Doug held their wedding reception.

It is a good thing we had Read with us, since my map with directions was now useless because we were riding in exactly the opposite direction from what I had planned. As we rode down some narrow country lanes, Read pointed out some of the great, small wineries in the area. She seems to know everyone in the Tri-Valley (which is where Livermore is located). The grape vines were just starting to get leaves, making the fields lovely.

As we rode, Gail commented that the area was really lovely but there didn’t seem to be any place to stay (e.g., no bed-and-breakfasts in the vineyards). She even speculated that she and I could open up such a place. Being a small business person, I wasn’t quite as optimistic about such a plan and told Gail that running a B&B would be tough. At that, Gail dropped the bomb of the day: She said that running a B&B wasn’t rocket science! When she said this, I just about steered the bicycle into a ditch! Having an expert on the hospitality industry on our riding team (i.e., Read), I had to ask her opinion about Gail’s cavalier attitude about running a hotel/restaurant. As expected, Read wasn’t too thrilled that Gail had basically said that anyone could do what Read does for a living. She wasn’t ready to drop her gloves and go at Gail but she seemed a little shocked. I had to stifle a laugh as Gail tried to smooth things over.

Fortunately for us, we arrived at the next stop: the Concannon Vineyard (Historical Landmark #641). At this vineyard, in 1883, James Concannon founded the Concannon Vineyard. The quality it achieved in sacramental and commercial wines helped establish Livermore Valley as one of America’s select wine-growing districts. Grape cuttings from this vineyard were introduced to Mexico betweeh 1889 and 1904 for the improvement of its commercial viticulture.

Unlike the Cresta Blanca winery, this place was out in the middle of the Livermore Valley on Tesla Road, which has pretty fast traffic. After a couple of false starts, we managed to get into the driveway and rolled around to the back, where we expected to find the Historical Marker. It wasn’t obvious where it was, so we leaned our bicycles against the wall and went into the tasting room. Now we were talking! However, rather than sampling the wine, we just asked about the location of the Marker. As we started to leave, there was some sort of altercation between the hostess and one or more members of our group, where the hostess made some sort of crack about “…if we weren’t going to taste some wine, then what were we doing there?” I didn’t hear this myself but Catharine, Read, and Gail were floored (it wasn’t a cat fight but it sure seemed like some words were going to be exchanged). Evidently, Concannon is no longer a family-owned winery, having been purchased by a large conglomerate.  Perhaps that was what caused the hostess to diss us. Regardless, it didn’t make us want to come back and try their wines in the future.

We left the tasting room and found the Marker, took some snaps, and hit the road. The place wasn’t even that pretty.

Next stop was almost directly across Tesla Road, which meant that we had to cross the speeding traffic again. Accomplishing that, we rolled into the Wente Bros. Winery (Historical Landmark #957). At this location, the first Wente vineyard of 47 acres was established by C. H. Wente in 1883. In 1935, his sons, Ernest and Herman, introduced California’s first varietal wine label, Sauvignon Blanc. The efforts of the Wente family have helped establish the Livermore Valley as one of the premier wine-growing areas of California. In their centennial year, Wente the oldest continuously operating, family-owned winery in California.

Unlike the event center at Cresta Blanca (which was also a Wente enterprise), this location was more industrial. It has a tasting room but the focus of this place appeared to be production and distribution of wine. Read explained how Livermore could well have been as famous as the Napa Valley except that there was no one driving force to push it in that direction. As a result, there are some good wineries but it is not the destination that Napa has become (although Gail has plans to change all that!)

We stood around for a while, chatting and catching up with Catharine about her sons (who went to elementary and middle school with Avery and Risa). Her sons are spread all over the west: Anthony is working for a farm labor contractor in Arizona and California, Andrew just moved to Oregon, and Robbie is living la vida loca in the mountains of Colorado, working at a golf course in the summer and at a ski resort in the winter. They all are healthy and happy, as are Catharine and Ron.

The Hayden Sisters had to hit the road to get to an event, so they headed back to Casa Real and Gail and I took off for the last stop of the day. Since we had lost our guide, we were on our own in trying to find this place. Trying to read directions in reverse is tough but we ultimately found the Livermore Memorial Monument (Historical Landmark # 241). Robert Livermore, first settler of Livermore Valley, was born in England in 1799. He arrived in Monterey in 1822 and married Josefa Higuera y Fuentes in 1830. On his Rancho las Positas, where he settled in 1835, “Next to the mission fathers, he was the first man to engage himself in the culture of grapes, fruit, and grain.” He died in 1858. The Livermore hacienda was a short distance north of the location of the Historical Marker.

There really isn’t much to see here. The Marker is on the edge of Portola Park, which is surrounded on two sides by fast roads and on the third side by an auto repair shop…it is an urban park. It didn’t look like many people actually used the park but at least it was clean and the grass was green.

After checking out this spot, it was time for lunch. Gail and I headed to First Street, where we had some yogurt and a most excellent burrito. After lunch, we rode into a stiff head wind back to Casa Real and loaded the tandem onto the car, getting ready to head home.

While we were driving out of Livermore, we decided that we had some unfinished business in Benicia, so we headed north on I-680 to see some more landmarks. More on that later

First Foray into the Foothills and Gold Country

On May 30-31, Gail and I visited our friends George and Read at their cabin in Miwok Village, which is a little bedroom suburb of Twain Harte on Highway 108 in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountains. Even though we weren’t going to bring our tandem, we knew that we were going to drive past some Historical Landmarks. Thus, we decided that we would pick off a couple of the buggers while on the road.

The whole trip came up suddenly. We had asked George and Read if they wanted to take a bicycle ride with us in Livermore over the Memorial Day weekend and see some Landmarks. George said that they were going to their cabin and he invited us to come up and hang out. Since Gail had never been to the cabin, we grabbed Pella (our black lab), shoved some clothes in the back of Gail’s Honda Insight and balled the jack to the east through Castro Valley, Tracy, Escalon, Oakdale, Sonora, and up Highway 108 to their cabin. After we arrived, we hung out with George, Read and Hayden (their big Aussie mix), took a couple of nice walks, ate some good food (including one of Gail’s famous fruit crisps), drank some very nice local wines, and retold some pretty funny stories about George and Jim’s fabled backpacking trip to Denali, how Gail and I got engaged, and my exploits on the SF Randonneurs’ 600 km brevet.

As we were getting ready to head back home, George pointed out that there was a Historical Landmark just down Highway 108 from Miwok Village. I also consulted our official list of Historical Landmarks and identified a couple between the cabin and home. With list in hand (but without a map of any sort), we said our goodbyes and headed off to find these places.

George was right: there was an Historical Marker on the south side of Highway 108 in Sugar Pine. The marker for the Sonora-Mono Road (Historical Landmark #422) was in front of the fire station in town. After Gail made a couple of illegal U-turns and decided that it was best if we didn’t park directly in front of the fire station, we got out and walked over to the marker.

Jedediah Smith is reputed to have been the first white man to cross over or near Sonora Pass in 1827. A portion of the Sonora-Mono Road was built by Tuolumne County Water Company in 1852 and a toll gate, fine hotel, and stables were located near this spot in the 1850s. Surveyed to Bridgeport, Mono County in 1860, the road was completed in 1864, when a six-horse team took three weeks for the round trip between Sonora and Bridgeport.

The folks that established the Sonora-Mono Road must have wanted to get to Bridgeport pretty darn badly, since it is one hell of a climb over very steep mountains to get over the Sierra at this point. Tioga Pass (to the south in Yosemite National Park) is a much simpler passage than the road over Sonora Pass. Perhaps the developers of the road felt that they would make a killing on the tolls. If the Sonora-Mono Road is now Highway 108, which goes over the Sierra at Sonora Pass, then I think that the backers of the toll road enterprise didn’t do adequate market research prior to funding this effort, given the number of cars that actually go over Sonora Pass today. However, the drive is worth it, since the scenery is magnificent. Bring motion sickness remedies if winding roads get to you. There is also great hiking from trailheads on Highway 108. I participated in one such epic adventure with George, Ron, Read, Jim, and whole bunch of others back in 2003, where George, Ron, and I hiked from Leavitt Lake almost to the northern boundary of Yosemite and back. The documentary evidence is here.

We headed west on Highway 108 and ultimately pulled into the town of Sonora. This town is very cute, with lots of shops and excitement on the main drag. However, we were not looking for a bar or shopping: we wanted to find St. James Episcopal Church (Historical Landmark #139). At the end of the main road through town, we saw a church spire and, sure enough, that was the place. The seventh parish of the Protestant Episcopal Church in  California, St. James is the oldest Episcopal Church building in the state. The first services were held in the church on October 4, 1859, and it was consecrated by Rt. Rev. Wm. Ingraham Kip in 1870.

We weren’t the only people visiting the church: there were others snapping photos and poking around. Getting out of the car, we realized that the temperature was really coming up. However, the inside of the church was a refuge from the heat. Once inside, we were able to get a good view of the church’s great stained glass windows. From the outside, they weren’t very visible because of the wire mesh and chicken wire that was covering them to protect the windows from vandalism. Not surprisingly, the church had a bell tower. The surprising fact was that the rope from the church bell was hanging down in the stairwell to the choir loft. I suggested that the church fathers had left the rope there for the righteous to pull; Gail didn’t think that was such a good idea.

The church is a quick visit and has some nice buildings nearby. The “marker” is nothing but a metal sign, so don’t spend much time trying to find anything else…we tried and failed. Never the less, it was worth the stop.

After getting back on Highway 108, we visited historic Jamestown (Historical Landmark #431). As a kid, I used to get driven past Jamestown by my parents, Boy Scout leaders, and church chaperons as we headed to the mountains for snow play at Calaveras Big Trees State Park, skiing at Dodge Ridge, or backpacking in the Sierra. As I grew older, we never stopped here either, since we always had a more grand destination. Today was the day to see what this town was all about.

James Woods first discovered gold in Tuolumne County west of this town, on Woods Creek, shortly before the town was founded by Colonel George James on August 8, 1848. Large quantities of gold were recovered from the stream. The town became known as gateway to the Mother Lode and the southern mines.

The town itself was a smaller version of Sonora: a main street with a bunch of renovated old buildings, a fair number of tourists wandering around in a daze from the heat, and some locals trying to hawk antiques, ice cream, and other must-have items. Because of the holiday, the town was having stagecoach rides. We spent some time trying to find the marker but ultimately only found a plaque placed by E Clampus Vitus (which may well have been standing in as the locally-placed substitute for the “official” marker). We asked a grizzled local in cowpoke garb if he knew where we might find the marker but we must not have been very clear since he directed us to go back to Sonora. The town had some good coffee, ice cream, and looked like one could spend some time poking around in the antique shops if that sort of thing turned you on.

After a few missteps trying to get out of town, we finally got back on Highway 108 and headed toward Knights Ferry (Historical Landmark #347). On more than one occasion (in fact, once was when Nick and I were riding our bicycles down from the prior incarnation of George and Read’s cabin after a boys weekend of hiking, drinking, and general merriment with George, Jim, and Scow), I had stopped at these markers, which are located directly on Highway 108. Thus, this wasn’t my first visit to this Landmark. However, in order to be complete, we decided to check out not just the Historical Landmark but the town, too.

Once called Dentville, this picturesque mining center and trading post was founded in 1849. An early ferry carried Argonauts on their way to the southern mines. The rare wooden covered bridge, reportedly designed by U. S. Grant, brother-in-law of the Dent brothers, and the old flour mill were built there in 1854. The town served as the county seat from 1862 to 1872.

Turning off of Highway 108, you go past a restaurant/bar and a couple of other assorted businesses as you head down toward the Stanislaus River. At the river itself, there are various concessionaires that will rent you innertubes, kayaks, and other watercraft for use in the river. Crossing the bridge, you enter Knight’s Ferry proper, which has a couple of bars, a grocery, a restaurant, and a nice little park with yet another commemorative plaque, where you can get access to the river. Pella and I hiked down to the water and she jumped right in, swimming around with the boaters. It took some cajoling on my part to get her to come back out but finally she got bored of swimming and strolled over, only to shake off while standing next to me. Since it was hot, I didn’t even mind so much that I was now about as wet as the dog.

We didn’t see the wooden bridge but supposedly it is there and is 330 feet long (which makes it the longest covered wooden bridge west of the Mississippi). We will have to see that next time. However, in the past I have eaten at the restaurant/bar near Highway 108 and the food was certainly OK. The town itself isn’t as quaint as Jamestown or Sonora. However, one can see the importance of this place, since it is a logical place for a crossing of the Stanislaus River. Also, it looked like folks were having a good time in the watercraft on the river, which was pretty calm in this stretch. This is a good place to stop on the way to or from other foothill spots.

It was getting late, Gail wanted to get on the road, and I was pretty beat from the festivities with George and Read, so we herded Pella into the back of the car, hopped in, and headed back to Richmond. There are a TON of other Historical Landmarks in this area, so we will certainly be back again.

If you want to see more photos from this adventure, click here.