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Jobst Brandt

Paicines-Idria-Paicines ride

On Sunday, 27 April 2003, Ray Hosler, Brian Cox and I drove south from Palo Alto to Hollister and
down HWY25 to the Paicines grocery store (680ft), to start our ride. We headed south on HWY25,
appropriately named the "Airline Highway" past The Pinnacles State Park and to the junction with
Coalinga Rd.

Although the sky was not cloudy, a thin haze muted the sun so that our shadows looked more like
those of vampires (transparent) and the profuse but sensitive California poppies remained mostly
closed. The road gradually climbs from Paicines along the west side of an agricultural valley, the
San Andreas Rift Zone, of lush greenery and wildflowers, including All colors of Lupine, Owls
Clover, Paintbrush, Buttercups, California Poppies and orange Sanddune Wallflower.

We first passed finely manicured vineyards with vines so perfectly trimmed on support wires, it
seemed like computer art, all vines being nearly identical and in the same stage of growth. High
deer fences kept browsing wildlife from pruning the crop. Clusters of bee hives with two or more
honey supers were in the fields every few miles. Where these bees were collecting honey was not
apparent from the crops we saw, this being primarily grassland.

We passed herds of grazing cattle, some entirely bulls others mostly cows, but to our surprise about
a mile and a half past San Benito, we saw six Prong Horned Antelope off by themselves foraging in
rich green grass in a large dry lake. A farmer told us they had been imported many years ago and
have survived poaching until now. The road, although not open range, has many cattle guards that
oddly are announced by "One Lane Bridge" signs. Later in the ride we were surprised to see such a
sign actually followed by a one lane bridge. Besides wildflowers we saw Magpies, Acorn Woodpeckers,
Orioles, Meadowlarks, Bluebirds, Kestrels, Red-tailed Hawks, Turkey Vultures, and many Kingbirds in
the Panoche Valley.

On two occasions, as we continued up Rabbit Valley, all part of the San Andreas rift zone, we
noticed sets of zig-zag ladder-like cracks running diagonally at about 15 degrees across the road,
from earthquake shear. At the next junction we turned southeast onto Coalinga road and headed into
the hills crossing a divide at 2115ft from which we descended into Lorenzo Vasquez Canyon (2000ft).
We climbed up this narrow lush green canyon finally making a few steep hairpin turns to cross
another divide at 2907ft before descending to Hernandez Reservoir, whose waters were so low that we
saw only a green grassy expanse where its upper end (2400ft) should have been. Meanwhile the sky
became bright blue as we rolled into the valley.

A mile or so farther, we crossed the San Benito river through one of the many well paved concrete
fords on Clear Creek County Rd109 that heads east into Clear Creek off road vehicle area. Although
the fords are paved, the road is not and it is about as rough as unpaved mining roads can get except
that the rock is not loose. The road climbs in fits and jerks to a junction at 3400ft from which it
climbs steeply to the summit above Idria. We met a couple of MTB riders dashing down to their truck
who had some rude things to yell about roadies as they went by. Other than that, we saw no bikies.

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 in Idria, San Benito County, the original
Idria 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 greyish brown gravel, but they are fairly solid, so
much so that motorcycle tracks going straight up in M/C 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 4400ft summit where Roads head north and south
while the main route, down to 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 tough in
the other direction, the road being steeper and looser and with tighter curves. The view into San
Carlos Creek is striking for the steep canyon and its depth, with mine tailings here and there. The
first view of the Idria is shocking. The rusting hulk of a factory and all the buildings in town
along with a huge junk yard of 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 1850.

We descended into town skirting a second gate to get on the paved main street of Idria (2500ft)
County Rd119. The boarding hose and general store looked untouched for more than forty years, the
pavement likewise. Lack of heavy traffic the weathered and rough pavement 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 town.

A gradual descent on Idria Road took us to the Vallecitos valley along Tres Pinos Creek at about
1600ft. We realized that the weather forecast for southerly winds did not come true as we rode into
the usual northwest wind blowing directly at us. Over here, summer had already set in with dry grass
but at least the air was cool. The road climbs ever so gradually to 2000ft through a broad valley
with sparse vegetation. That doesn't seem to bother cattle ranchers whose herds roam these grazed
off fields.

Besides Aermotor windmills 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 finally got a tailwind and could sit up no hands coasting down to the
Panoche valley (1200ft). The road turns west and climbs gradually past the Panoche School and on to
Llanda (1420ft) where we stopped at the first opportunity to get food and drink. Because we were
prepared to do this ride without finding a store, we didn't need much but it was nice to sit on the
bench and drink a cold drink with the stuff we brought.

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 wind, 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 to the main
valley. These were opportunities to check whether there was and short hill sprint left in the legs.
We did alright and rolled into Paicines at about
18:30 for a drive home. As we drove north we could see rain coming in from the coast with the first
showers as we reaches San Jose.

This was an interesting ride, that for me was mainly the Clear Creek and Idria experience. The total
of 7620ft of climbing in 112mi does not reveal the effort.

Jobst Brandt [email protected] Palo Alto CA
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