Day Ten – Water

Posting on Saturday morning – from Placerville – about Friday, June 9th

Brownsville Oroville Lake and dam – Malakoff Diggins – an Aikido encounter – Placerville

On Friday I drove so many roads I can’t even begin to keep track. I will have to create a Google map when I get home to show you. It was quite a tour. Gorgeous country.

In theory it could’ve taken me about four hours to drive the route I drove, but of course there are stops to be made and photos to be taken, and people to talk to, so it took away bit longer — more like 10 hours. But I saw some amazing things. And most of them were related to water.

Getting a Late Start

I love the idea of getting up early. Getting a good nights rest, waking up at dawn, and enjoying the entire day while the sun is up. I keep meaning to do that – be on the road by six or seven AM. The sun rises about 5:20!

The reality is, though, I’m rarely able to manage that. The root of the problem is getting to sleep the evening before. Someday maybe I will figure it out. Or maybe someday I will just except that I am not a morning person and get over it.

I managed to make myself a cup of the motel’s instant coffee, and reheated the rest of Thursday’s pizza for breakfast. Before leaving the Brownsville Motel I took advantage of their shady picnic table to plot out my routes for the day. Good thing I did, because there was no cell service most of the day on Friday. This big, detailed atlas has been worth its weight in gold.

When I was finally backing out of my parking space about 10 AM, with 4 1/2 hours of daylight wasted, I noticed that the car next to me had a decal conveying how I felt about my late departure.

Lake Oroville and Oroville Dam

My first stop was Lake Oroville. Depending on which source you trust it is currently between 98 and 100% capacity, which is in the neighborhood is 35 million acre feet of water.

I had almost decided to skip it – I mean, it’s a big lake. I had a pretty good idea what it would look like. Was it really worth the extra hour or so of driving to get there? It absolutely was. Not just the size of the lake, although it is a very big lake, but that it is full right up to the tree line. For the sake of comparison, look at the image from the visitor center showing the level of the lake a year or two ago. I’ll look it up on Google satellite view. It looked like the moon when it was so low.

The New Spillway

The new spillway is in use now. The docent at the visitor center said they are releasing 5000 ft.³ per second. It looks incredibly impressive — I wish I could post the slow-motion video I got — but it’s just a trickle compared to what the new spillway can handle – 270,000 ft.³ per second! When it really gets going like that they have to close the road across the valley because the spray is so powerful.

Don’t Go Planting a Lawn, Though

I was really happy to be able to see it in person. It’s reassuring to see roaring rivers and full reservoirs, with more water expected from the snow melt. Now we just have to remember that this is not a permanent state of things. California swings between too much and too little water. The fact that a reservoir is full now doesn’t mean we can waste what we have.

Driving Over Dams

Incidentally, you can drive over the Oroville dam! It won’t get you anywhere – just to the other side, which is more than a mile away. I didn’t do that, although I walked out a little way to see the view. I wanted to get onto the next thing, and basically Oroville dam looks like a constructed hill. It’s not terribly exciting to look at — an earthen dam, albeit with some complicated stuff going on inside, but it looks like a grassy hillside.

New Bullards Bar Reservoir

As it turns out, though, I did drive over another dam that was a lot more impressive looking! The road I took goes over the dam at New Bullards Bar. Now this one looked like a dam, not a hillside! A really impressive dam. The dam is 635 feet tall, with a nearly vertical concrete face. And you have to drive over it, with a 600-some-odd foot drop, straight down!

The pictures don’t really do it justice. You see it come into view through the trees as the road winds around the mountains. My first thought was “ Wow, look at that huge dam!” After a few minutes of admiring it as an interesting piece of the landscape it finally dawned on me that the road I was on was going to go over it. “Oh, hell…”

Thank goodness the designers of the road took mercy on drivers and put up solid walls on each side so you can’t see over the edge. It reminded me of blinders you put on a draft horse, so they can’t see the big scary wagon “chasing“ them down the road. I have about had it with driving along edges on this trip, so I was relieved that this road at least felt safe.

Malakoff Diggins State Historic Park

This visually striking and ecologically significant park preserves a major example of the destruction caused by hydraulic mining. Imagine what happens when you take your ordinary garden hose and nozzle, and blast it at some of the soil in your yard. It’s going to wash away the dirt, leave any rocks,, create a muddy mess, and kill off the plants and creatures that were there. Now picture the same concept, but on a massive scale. The “hoses” are over a foot in diameter, and the “nozzles” look like the guns on warships. Hydraulic mining was so destructive to the environment — destroying farms and towns downstream through flooding — that it was banned in the Sierra Nevada mountains in 1884.

This state park includes an entire valley where hydraulic mining stripped away all the soil in search of gold. There’s also a town, with a school, church, barbershop, etc. The town used to be called Humbug. As luck would have it, they are having their big annual “Humbug Day“ on Saturday, with volunteers in period costume, music, gold panning, demonstrations, etc.. Figures I would be there on Friday… The staff and volunteers were busy getting everything ready.

An Aikido Encounter

Back at the visitor center I stopped in to speak with the Ranger and found a kindred spirit, Sue Finlay. We were talking about my retreat road trip and she asked what kind of martial art I practiced. I’m used to blank stares when I mention Aikido, but Sue lit up! It turns out she used to train with Richard Strozzi Heckler, and was part of Wendy Palmer’s work bringing embodiment and movement aspects of Aikido into prisons. Not only that, she used to have draft horses and ran a carriage business in Nevada City. What a small world!

My Aiki Road Trip 2023

This post is part of a series: My Aiki Road Trip 2023. For about two weeks I’m sharing my adventures and photos on my way to the Aikido at Granlibakken retreat at Lake Tahoe, insights and fun during a week of great Aikido training with dear friends, and the trip back. I’m driving through the Mojave Desert, San Joaquin Valley, California’s Gold Country, and High Sierra, exploring the historic water situation — rivers, reservoirs, dams, flooding, and Tulare Lake, plus gold rush history, and amazing nature and scenery.

At the bottom of each post I include resources for further exploration about each day’s adventures – books, videos, maps, links, images, etc.. For the trip in general, here are more California History Resources for Road Trips.

I mostly posted these from my phone, with limited Internet access. There may be typos and glitches. I’ll come back to fix them later. You can email me at [email protected].

Friday Night in Placerville

In the interest of getting this finished and getting on with things I am leaving out so much good stuff! When I get back I will have to read a few posts to catch up on things I’ve had to skip on the road. The short version is that there was a beautiful drive down Highway 49 to Placerville, where I stayed in a hotel built in the 1800s. Arrived utterly exhausted and had Thai takeout for dinner.

What’s Next?

My plan for Saturday is to drive from Placerville to Jamestown via Highway 49. I don’t have any specific plans, but there are a lot of cute towns between here and there, including the Columbia State Historic Park. Things might be a little busier because it’s the weekend.

In theory it’s less than two hours driving. Let’s see if I can make it there before sunset!

Be sure to check out my post, California History Resources for Road Trips, where I share several excellent books/audiobooks, tours, videos, and websites.

About the Author — Linda Eskin

Linda Eskin began practicing Aikido in 2009, at age 46. From the beginning she was inspired to explore how Aikido is taught and learned. In addition to mentoring adults, and now teaching a weekly Focus on Fundamentals class for students of all ranks, she assisted in the children’s programs for over eight years.

Linda loves Aikido both from the technical perspective, and as a practice of awareness and embodiment. She is completing her forthcoming book, Aikido to Zanshin – 26 Essays on the Martial Art of Peace.

Linda’s passion is encouraging people to begin, and supporting new learners of all ages.

Linda trains with Dave Goldberg Sensei at Aikido of San Diego, in California, and holds the third black belt rank, sandan.

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