Saturday, November 20, 2010

Almost Lost in the Sierra's

So I had the map of Nevada County that is presented in the publication, “Nevada County Gold 2009-2010 Official Guide to Nevada County,” in my car as I was heading back from Reno. My intention was take the right hand turn onto “Bowman Lake Road” that the map shows departing in a north direction from Hwy 20 just after the Hwy 20 exit from Hwy 80. The road is shown going by a number of lakes (Spaulding, Fuller and Lindsay) continuing to Bowman Lake where the road turns westerly heading to Graniteville, North Bloomfield, North Columbia before finally intersecting with Hwy 49. The map route is shown below to the far right.(you can click on the images for enlargements)

. I decided to take this route because it seemed ideal for what I wanted which was a scenic drive in route to see the Malakoff Diggins hydraulic mining area. It was also a good route because it would take me towards Double Oak Winery which I include in my book, “Empire Gold: Mines to Wines -- The Past Meets the Present,” that will document the history of winemaking in Nevada County since the Gold Rush days starting back in 1848. I hope to have ready for publication by the summer of 2011.

It was about 9 am as I started up the road and I was thinking about how beautiful a day it was with blue sky and temperature about 60 degrees. The road was narrow but one lane in each direction and it was in great shape.

I came upon this valley near the beginning of the drive.

What I found of particular interest were the loose boulders scattered on the ridge above the tops of the tree line across the canyon.

Pictured below is a magnified photo of the boulder area.

As I drove on I found myself slowly climbing in altitude. What I particularly liked about the road was the mile markers letting me know how far along the road I was since turning off Hwy 20. It was about mile maker #4 that I noticed I was starting to run into patchy snow on the road where it was shady. This snow was from a storm that swept through the area a couple of days before my trip through this area. The snow was acting more like ice than that wonderfully powdery stuff.

I continued climbing and the amount of snow/ice continued to collect on the shadowed turns and dips away from the warming thus melting Sun. But I looked at the map and I was sure that I was okay as I passed the roads that led off towards Fuller then Lindsay Lakes and more. I kept going as I passed the 8, 9 then 10 mile maker but I was still climbing. But now the road became dirt and gravel. Every once in awhile I would run into a pool of melted snow water among the snow ruts and I wondered if I went through it that there would indeed be solid ground underneath or a deep hole? I found both as just about every other time I went through such spots, my car bottomed out hard against the sides of holes in the road.

By my mental calculations I thought for sure by now I would be descending and thus the snow and ice would be decreasing. Not true, in fact the snow and ice was increasing and the height of the middle grove of the snow/ice was reaching the height of trucks and SUV’s with their higher suspension systems. I was getting a little nervous about being out here all alone as I had only seen one truck coming down the road since I left Hwy 20. I thought about those travelers we have all read about who took off on what promised to be a scenic drive only to find themselves lost and/or stranded due to a combination of weather and hazardous road conditions. I imagined myself sliding off the road and falling down the mountainside lost forever until a stray hiker found my car and skeleton inside mauled over by bears, wolfs and big cats.

Now I had just passed another mile maker, #11, and I didn’t like the way the snow/ice were becoming more frequent and piled higher, meaning that very few vehicles were passing through this area. I decided I needed to turn around and get out of potential trouble. But, I couldn’t find an area where I could keep traction of my back tires while I turned the car and moved forward a few feet, then backwards a few feet, and repeating this process while slowing reversing my position on the road.

It was just about the 12 mile marker that I cam upon the sign that indicated that continuing on this Bowman Lake road was not recommended for regular cars or RV’s, but only high clearance vehicles. “Oh fine,” I said to myself, “why wasn’t this sign posted much lower on the road!” In fact it should have been posted at the beginning of the road where it departed from Hwy 20!! Needless to say, I finally found a place where I could turn around and I got the heck out of there as quickly, but safely, as I could.

When I got back home, I decided to look up on the internet the area where I had been driving . I found this web site: . It provides a great description of the lake with it’s waterfalls and the following comments about getting to the lake:

Location: Emigrant Gap, Bowman Lake, Tahoe National Forest, Nevada County…..
Elevation: 5600 ft. (+ 100 ft.) …….
Season: Jun-Sep……
Directions: From Auburn, drive east on I-80 for 40 miles to the Hwy 20 exit to Nevada City. Drive west on Hwy 20 for 4.3 miles to Bowman Lake Rd (Road 18). Turn right and drive about 15 miles to Bowman Lake. The last 5 miles is on a dirt road. At the end of Road 18, continue on the very rough dirt road for 3.2 miles to the east end of the lake, where Jackson Creek dumps into Bowman Lake, just past the campground. Park anywhere along here. High clearance vehicle are highly recommended.

I found many other web sites referring to visits made to the lake and unanimously they pointed out how rough the road was to reach the lake and cautioned those willing to try to only use 4X4 type vehicles.  I guess this drive was my "Hastings Cut Off" like the Donnor Party experienceds!

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