We like California.
We either grew up here, or went to school here, or for whatever reason, think it's a pretty cool state and place to be (JShufelt can go cry and drink his
rain-infused pee Oregonian beer). But aside from rather opaque terms like "Norcal" and "Socal" and "Tahoe," very few Berkeley students I know seem to have much of a sense of place when it comes to California. Mike Mohamed's hometown is Brawley, CA. Off the top of your head can you tell me anything about Brawley, other than that it sounds like a good place to walk into a saloon and punch people for no reason? When you're driving south on 5 and you look west from Kettleman City, do you wonder what is beyond those hills? Are there In n Outs out there, too?
We all see references to California dozens of times a day in the news, on sweatshirts, on uniforms, but what is the place behind the word? WHERE do we really live? I decided to find out, county by county.
San Benito County
Population: 52,234 (.74 Sold-Out Memorial Stadiums)
Highpoint: San Benito Mountain, elevation 5,241 (17.07 Sather Towers)
Location (Berkeley terms): Between Norcal and Socal.
Major Landmarks: Pinnacles National Monument
University of California Affiliations: The Parkfield-Hollister Electromagnetic Monitoring Array, which seeks to connect the interrelated geomagnetic properties of electromagnetic impulses, small plate movements, huge earthquakes, and, (duh), BART. (?!)
Most Overrated Attributes: Has anyone from Abercrombie and Fitch actually been to Hollister? This is what it looks like:
Nothing says "My Ass Smells of Agriculture" like Hollister Booty Shorts
Anyway, as we all know from our elementary school history class, the discovery of gold spurred the development of California. Miners came by the thousands, swung their pickaxes and swished their pans and eventually came up with pounds and pounds of gold nuggets, which they would, if Scrooge McDuck is any indication (and he is), fashion into coins and use as swimming pools. Their joy was short-lived, however, when they found out that in 1850 Cash4Gold hadn’t even been invented yet. So they dropped everything, built some railroads, shot some movies, etched some nanodoped silicon wafers and badabing badabang here we are today.
Now I know your first question, is, of course, "why won’t you shut up?" To which I will respond only: "Nam." Next question. "But how did they get those nuggets? It isn’t like gold was just lying all over the ground." You’re absolutely right. However, gold, really, is not particularly difficult to mine, provided you have some water, the ability to crush ore-bearing composite and one key ingredient: Mercury. Here is where San Benito County shines.
You see, in the last 40 million years or so, Plate Tectonics became too friendly with The Maharg and developed a drinking problem, which resulted in widespread Mineral Vomiting, to use the technical geological term. A few huge earthquakes and the San Andreas fault later, and the rocky esophagus of San Benito County is a smorgasbord of carcinogenic minerals found in high concentrations, including the creatively-named and rare Benitoite, serpentinite, mercury, and naturally occurring short-fiber asbestos. (Fun Fact: the Clear Creek Management Area, which I would later visit, recommends you not visit from May to November as dust storms can raise the airborne asbestos levels to greater than that which the EPA recommends.)
The New Idria Mine (located in—get this—New Idria) was the second largest mercury mine in the US, with only its cousin to the north in today’s Almaden Quicksilver County Park producing more tonnage. Previously, mercury had to be shipped from huge mines in
Moria, by dwarves Europe, by ship, which was time consuming and costly and Sauron always managed to take a cut, that shit. In any case, the relatively close source of mercury made large mining operations vastly more efficient and thus spurred California’s growth immensely. I thought I’d check it out.
My day began early and heavy on the caffeine. I was bound for the ghosttown trailhead of Idria, California, which is named for Idria, Slovenia. Whia ia pria unoriginia ifia yia aia mia. As I drove east on 580 towards the 5, I was struck by how different this was from the usual trip east: no heat, no smog, no Friday afternoon traffic, no mayhem. I’ve been on the same road dozens of times but it felt like a completely different place this time around. 120 miles away, the Sierras were very clearly visible as the sun rose behind them, which means if I had a powerful enough laser and a mirror I could communicate with someone in Nevada without the use of electricity. Or something.
Who DOESN'T want to contact Vegas by Laser?
After exiting the 5 at Panoche Road, traces of civilization started to fade. In my neighborhood, most people have clubs on their cars to protect their property. These folks have wire and some uncut wood to protect theirs. Also, I got to wondering how this road might have been before they filled in the potholes.
Moral of the Story: Protect YOUR Car with Wire and Uncut Wood
A little later on, we passed a one-room schoolhouse. I did not know these existed outside Little House on the Prairie series. Then I realized for the past hour I had passed a whole series of little houses on a prairie.
UC Little Panoche Valley. Majors Offered: Desolation and Loneliness. And MCB if you're Asian.
Soon thereafter, I turned onto New Idria road, and with it, the end of the line in terms of American land-use: Built-up cities, suburbs, exurbs, rural agricultural communities, rangelands, the desolate and the forgotten, the militant property protectors and anti-government,
It says: "Ask About Our Libertarian Discount." Also note the website is an offshoot of www.garlic.com.
Praise be to Bak Bak I asked the GTI salesman about its stream-fording capabilities.
Naturally, after encountering this sign, I expected the road to improve rapidly, now that we were no longer under the cruel thumb of the Soviet USSA and her evil big gubmint road building subsidies and private citizens could be relied upon to upkeep infrastructure at the right price. To my great astonishment, the road didn’t so much improve rapidly as it did degrade completely. Which meant, to my delight, we had arrived in New Idria.
I was all set to explore the buildings, but all of them had signs warning of something called Hanta Virus. I had read about this in a book before, and as I recalled correctly, it’s kind of like having the flu, except then your organs fail and you die. Just then I realized it was getting kind of late, so I boldly rolled up the windows and kept driving.
But not before I mailed my taxes…
Neither rain nor sleet nor Hanta Virus
And played some ball to warm up for my hike:
This is what happens to hoops Dennis Rodman doesn't like.
Shortly after town, the road ushered me up into a canyon. I did an awesome Austin Powers 36-point turn on what little road there was left, parked, and was off. The weather was perfect: 60s, bright sun. The 4x4 trail wound up and out of the canyon, past some very popular OHV areas (you could tell by the proliferation of tire tracks, crushed beer cans, and spent shotgun shells), and by a small, mineral-blue man made lake (with a lovely vacation house and
Interestingly enough, though the lake was completely devoid of cover, usually a prerequisite for bass and sunfish, I saw fish swimming in the lake. I went down to investigate and noticed they were goldfish. Really.
Maybe when you flush them down the toilet, this is where they end up...
As we marched onward atop an empty ridge, I noticed how little plant life there was in some places. In the Bay Area, even seemingly barren hills have a grassy cover. But when I looked closely at the soil, it was evident that _nothing_ was growing, not even lichen. On top of that, it was very clear that no one had been here in a while; even the main jeep road I was on was free of tire tracks, and the ground was very soft, like walking on shag carpet. I left moon style footprints.
The ground may have felt like shagpile, but that doesn't mean I like orgies.
So lets recap up to this point: I had just driven past an hour of fences made before the invention of the saw, through the Disunited Unstates of Freedom Libertaria and Fuck You, through an abandoned mercury mining town condemned to die by some kind of plague, came across a crystal clear blue lake filled with goldfish, and was currently walking on poisoned soil that felt like cotton balls. I thought things couldn’t get eerier. They did.
But before so, the business of the entire trip had to be conducted: attaining the highpoint of San Benito County. I hiked onward and upward, past obvious remains of mines and hillsides that were completely denuded of cover. Finally, after 7 or so miles, we reached the top of San Benito Mountain. I checked out the register (basically a long term sign-in sheet found on many summits), read through some of the more interesting entries:
What up its a beautiful place here. even though all the fuckin Biking and old Mining is Ruining This place into a wasteland bestroying [sic] more vegetation intel [sic] Theres none. left and we have huge Asbestos and Acyli clouds over the valley: improve the Air a little bit Dawg There go visit Indra [sic] its a creepy place where people never come Back Because Theres a Crazy Cannibal who lives there With a machete Dont go in the house’s hell Kill ya.
Admired the view…
Hey Maw! Git off the dang roof!
And added my own entry:
I left the summit for another rather barren ridge road leading to San Carlos Peak. We noticed these very odd structures across the canyon. What they were or why they were there will remain a mystery. We just assumed the most logical reason, anyway: this is where Dennis Rodman's alien craft landed.
I can only guess that his ship rebounded after hitting the dirt for the first time.
After another two miles or so, we climbed a short way up the SW nose of San Carlos Peak to the summit. It was highly nondescript, with shrubs and a squarish outbuilding of sorts. The view to the valley was muted by haze, but we could still see the Sierras off in the distance. Here’s where things got more interesting. Instead of descending the SW nose, we chose a more direct route off the NW slopes. This involved a lot of skidding and butt-skiing on slopes, but as we descended the flanks, we came across a flat area at the end of a road, and in the middle was this:
Much as with the Detroit Lions, there is no light at the end of this tunnel.
Up to this point, all the old mine adits and prospects I had encountered on the hike had been filled in. In fact, every mine I have ever come across in my many years of hiking has been filled in or otherwise destroyed. The local mines had all shut down when commodity prices went belly up in the early 70s, so nothing had been in use for 30+ years. To find an open shaft like this is highly unusual, rare, and dangerous (mix OHVers, beer, shotgun shells, and a deep hole that was likely full of carbon monoxide and orcs…) But I was getting ahead of myself, right? It was probably only 20 or 30 feet deep; I’m sure they’d filled in the rest of the shaft. There was only one good way to find out (<--watch with sound).
Think about how fast a rock falls. Even though we threw in multiple rocks and they likely hit against the ladder, there is clearly rockfall for 21 seconds, and possibly until 31 seconds (we heard a distinct "ping" at 31 seconds; either another rock had broken loose from the sides, or the mine shaft bent lower down, encountering more metal. My friend and I were stunned and a little freaked out. When you’re literally hundreds of miles from real civilization and you come across a hole that we estimated to be 300-500 feet deep into the heart of a land itself that has largely been abandoned and forgotten, with a hundred pitch-black sub-shafts and adits that lead to nowhere, a very primal fear of the unknown creeps into the back of your brain. We threw some more rocks down and then bravely got the fuck out of there before the skeleton army (or worse, Nestor) came out of the shaft and made us part of the undead (or worse, made use read Bruinsnation).
The rest of the hike was largely uneventful, except we found evidence that Nuss from CougCenter had been tracking us the whole time:
Either him or Samantha. She sleeps with EVERYBODY.
And some very, very distinct contrail shadows:
Somewhere, up in the stratosphere, someone is wondering what the deal is with airplane peanuts.
And before long we were back at the vehicle.
It was white when I left.
And so there I had it. Fourteen miles, 6 hours, 4000 feet, some goldfish, virii, soil poison, libertarians, bball hoops, stick fences, Laura Ingallses, and a giant hole leading to the very bowels of hell later, and we were back at the car, with only the drive home and the scenery of rural CA to pass by.
One highpoint down, 54 to go.