We'll head 'em off at the pass? I hate that phrase!
Oct 2, 2008
|Thursday 2nd October
A good day. A very good - and tiring - day.
Leaving Jackson after a free breakfast at the Holiday Inn (awful - even though it was free, I nearly asked for my money back!) first stop was a quick detour up Hwy88 to the old town of Volcano and the Indian Grinding Rock state park.
Volcano is a little town just north of Pine Grove and is named for its setting in a bowl-shaped valley which early miners thought was caused by a volcano. The spot was discovered in 1848 by Colonel Stevenson's men, who mined Soldiers Gulch in 1849 and prospered during the gold rush. By 1853 there were 11 stores, 6 hotels, 3 bakeries, and 3 saloons. During the Civil War, Volcano's gold served the Union and the cannon "Old Abe" which survives today, was used (in threat only) to quell rebel sympathizers in what is recognised as the 'most westerly skirmish' of the war.
Today, Volcano is quaint, run-down, sleepy - and any other cliche you can apply to a place that has long since had its day. Nice to look at however!
Just down the road is the Chaw'se Indian Grinding Rock State Historic Park. The park is named after an outcropping of marble-ised limestone with some 1,185 mortar holes which were created by Miwok Indians over the last 2,000 years up to the early 20th Century.
Chaw’se is the Miwok word for grinding rock. Upon this rock, they ground the acorns of the Valley Oak tree into meal, slowly forming the cup shaped depressions in the stone that can still be seen today. Along with the mortar holes, the main grinding rock within the park also features a number of decorative carvings (petroglyphs) - some of which are thought to as much as three thousand years old - sadly they are almost impossible to see these days.
A small (but informative) museum and some outdoor exhibits make this a diverting hour or so - more intersting is the fact that the Miwok Native Americans still use the state park for many ceremonial events and functions through the year, and a small village is still maintained.
Leaving the park I headed back to Hwy49 and south as far as San Andreas and the smaller Angel's Camp, where I turned east on Hwy 4. About eight miles along was my scheduled lunch stop - the town of Murphys (no apostrophe!).
Now Murphys is what you get if you maintain and improve an old mining town (just make sure you leave the highway and see the old town Main Street, which runs parallel). The street is shaded by Locust trees and well-renovated monumental buildings. However, rather than the quirky antique/nik-nak nature of many converted old towns around here, Murphys has a wide range of independent stores, bars and restaurants, as well as realtors and lawyers. There's cash in them thar hills!
Murphys also has a reputation as a bit of a gourmet escape-hole - and the home-made Quesidilla I had for lunch at the delightful 'Grounds' restaurant was probably the best lunch I've had so far on this trip. Murphys is a lovely town - highly recommended for a stop. If it wasn't only about 1pm, I would have thought about staying here for a night.
Bt not to be - leaving Murphys and continuing east on Hwy4 and it was on towards the Pacific Grade Summit and Ebbetts Pass. Here's the plain facts from Wikipedia:
Ebbetts Pass, named after "Major" John Ebbetts, (elev. 8,730 ft) is a high mountain pass through the Sierra Nevada range in Alpine County, California. Ebbetts is the eastern of two passes in the area traversed by Hwy4. The western pass is the Pacific Grade Summit (elev. 8,050 ft).
John Ebbetts traversed the pass in April 1851 with a large train of mules. He hoped it would make a suitable route for the transcontinental railroad, as he noted little snow at the time. However, this was likely an anomaly, as the current highway is generally closed from November through May due to snow accumulation.
He later surveyed near the pass for a possible railroad route, but found it unsuitable. He intended to return to the pass itself to survey it for a road but was killed in the explosion of the steamboat Secretary on San Pablo Bay in 1854 before he could do so. While the pass was referred to by his name earlier, it was not until 1893, when the U.S. Geological Survey surveyed the Markleeville quadrangle, that the pass was officially named after him.
The route was used only occasionally until silver was discovered east of the Sierra, and merchants in Murphys had a road constructed to Markleeville to more easily transport supplies over the pass to the miners.
Today, most people who take Hwy4 go as far as Bear Vallet ski resort, meaning that the remainder of the Hwy (including Pacific Grade Summit and Ebbetts Pass) is one of the least traveled passes in the Sierra Nevada.
An extensive section of highway over the pass is less than two lanes with no dividing line. It has very steep sections with hairpin corners. It is rarely used by commercial traffic and is not recommended for vehicles towing long trailers.
Which is good, 'cos it means I pretty much had the whole road to myself!
What can I say to do this justice. "Wow" would be a good start. The views take your breath away (although that could well be the altitude - at 8,000+ feet the air is noticeably thinner and roadside warnings reinforce the point).
Once again, it was fascinating to see the effect of altitude on the temperature. Again, it was blue skies and sunshine all day and at Murphys (el 2,000ft) the temperature was in the low 70s. By the time I hit 5,000ft, it was down to 65 and at Bear Valley (around 6,800ft) it was 59 degrees.
By the time I reached the vista point at Pacific Grade Summit (8,050ft) it was 53 and Ebbetts Pass (8,730ft) was 51 degrees. Cool! Literally!
Lots of photo opps, lots of concentrating on navigating the twists, turns and gradients, meant that descending the other side towards the California/Nevada state line (again) the focus was on finding a place to stop. After a 30-mile slog through some pretty uninspiring flat-lands, I ended up in Gardnerville, realising I was only about 20 miles away from South Lake Tahoe, where I stayed two nights ago!
For the second night I ventured a 'walk-in' and wasn't disappointed. The difference is this one isn't a chain hotel - tonight I am staying in the 'Historian Inn' which is your classic independent motel, with an apartment around a central parking concourse, rather than a room in a hotel. At $79, the room is clean, big and absolutely fine! I'm beginning to get the hang of this.
Watched the last half hour of the Vice Presidential debate over my Kentucky Fried Chicken dinner (I know!).
Tomorrow it's back west across the Sonora Pass - at over 9,000 feet it'll be the highest I've yet been and should gve great views of northern Yosemite. Which is my destination for the weekend.
Meanwhile, it's only half past nine, but I'm fer me bed. Night all!