The I-5 Trivia Files: Self-Interview

Q. So what’s the topic?

A. I was thinking about driving up Interstate 5 and all those passes you cross.

Q. Yeah?

A. It’s a flat valley drive until you get to Redding. That’s 200 miles from the front door. Then there’s some climbing and lots of twisty parts around Lake Shasta. And then you go up some more, past Dunsmuir.

Q. Dunsmuir?

A. Dunsmuir’s about 50, 55 miles north of Redding. LIttle town on the upper part of the Sacramento River. Popular place during trout season. Elevation up there is about 2,500 feet.

Q. What then?

A. Mount Shasta. You can see the mountain way down in the Valley. Once we saw it clear down by Dunnigan, which is 180 miles down the road from the peak. But when you get into the hilly country around Redding, you lose sight of the mountain until you’re much closer. And then, bang, there it is.

Q. Big.

A. Very big. Very impressive. A 14,000-foot peak standing out there pretty much by itself. Anyway, the highway goes up past the town of Mount Shasta, which sits on the eastern base of the mountain. At about 3,500 feet. Then I-5 goes up crosses Black Butte Summit. About 3,900 feet. That’s the first real pass, maybe 50 miles south of the Oregon border.

Q. Black Butte?

A. It’s a volcanic cone of some kind. Next to Mount Shasta, it’s the most remarkable sight along that part of the road.

Q. OK. You’re still going north. What’s the next pass?

A. Well, the road loses some elevation first. You go through Weed, which is mentioned in passing in “Of Mice and Men,” the Steinbeck story. It’s a place Lenny and George had to leave before they landed in the Salinas Valley, where the story takes place. Then you go through Yreka, which ought to have a bakery because it it did you’d have a good palindrome. The road goes right up after you pass Yreka, up Anderson Grade. There’s a nice view of Shasta to the south, and somebody put a dragon sculpture along the highway there. You climb up to Anderson Grade Summit. Maybe 3,100 feet.

Q. Not a big deal?

A. Well, it’s steep coming up from Yreka, and the road winds, and there are plenty of slower trucks up there, and then the road plunges down toward the Klamath River. There’s an exit right along the Klamath with a rest area. Good place to stop, though I only remember doing it once.

Q. Still in California.

A. For a little while, maybe 10-15 miles. The road goes up and down for a while, you pass a weigh station, and then you start climbing again. The last town in California is called Hilt. Milepost 796, I think. And then you’re on the Oregon border.

Q. How far from home?

A. About 320 miles. That climb that starts in California is the Siskiyou Summit climb. That’s two syllables — SISK-you.The summit is the highest point on I-5, 4,300-some feet. Doesn’t sound that high — all the well-known passes in the Sierra Nevada are in the low 7,000 to 10,000-foot range. But Siskiyou is far enough north and gets enough wet weather in the winter to make it a barrier. I know plenty of people who’ve gotten stopped there during snowstorms. Or at least a couple.

Q. How about you?

A. Never. We always had great luck driving through there in winter. The road always seemed to be dry and clear when we went through on our way up to Eugene.

Q. Where’s the road go next.

A. There’s a steep drop with a couple runaway-truck ramps down to the town of Ashland, where the Shakespeare Festival is. Elevation there is probably 1,500 or 1,800 feet. Then you’re in a valley through Medford, the big town in the region. Then you noodle around through Grants Pass before you come to the three summits.

Q. Three summits?

A. Well, you hit them one right after another. I always tried to keep the order straight. Northbound, I think you hit Sexton Mountain first. Then … Stage Road, I think. And last … Smith Hill. I think the last is the highest, about 2,000 feet. Then there’s a little break crossing a valley, and then you hit a fourth pass, Canyon Creek, which is also not very high but has a long, long descent to Canyonville and then the Seven Feathers Casino.

Q. How many times have you done this drive?

A. Over the last four or five years maybe 20, 25 times. Enough to get to know it. That’s the last named pass that I know of, Canyon Creek. Though there are rivers.

Q. That’s a different species of geographic phenomenon. Which ones?

A. Well, from the south, you’ve got the Sacramento, which you cross and recross half a dozen times from Red Bluff up to Dunsmuir. Then the Shasta, which is a tiny thing, and maybe the Little Shasta. The Klamath. Bear Creek between Ashland and Medford; has enough water running to be called a river. The Rogue. The South Umpqua and the North Umpqua. The Coast Fork of the Willamette, and the southern end of the mainstem Willamette just as you get into Eugene. Maybe other rivers. But a whole bunch of creeks, too. One name that comes to mind: Jumpoff Joe Creek, north of Grants Pass before you go up Sexton Mountain.

Q. Creek names are a whole other subject.

A. True. We’ll get to them later.

Top of Mariposa


At Mariposa and Utah streets, west flank of Potrero Hill. On clear nights, I always want to try and capture the glow that lingers over the peaks to the west after sunset. It’s not to be captured, or not by me, at any rate. The profusion of wires at the corner was a consolation prize and the best I can do by way of marking the day.  

Pandemic, the Game

If you happen to spend time with your adult-age kids, as we occasionally do, they may share some of their enthusiasms with you. Our older son, Eamon, and his wife, Sakura, have become avid fans of the San Jose Earthquakes and taken us to several games. I realize that I like non-American football. I’d be up for seeing some rugby and footy, too.

Our younger son, Thom, is into what I’ll call new-wave board games. Ticket to Ride, a railroad-building game. Carcasonne, a sort of territory-acquisition game. Power Grid, the game of electrical utility domination.

He also introduced us to Pandemic. It’s different from most board games in that players cooperate to head off a series of global disease threats. The game requires consideration of what threats deserve immediate attention and a lot of planning for how to respond. We played the game once. Sadly, we were unable to prevent the world from being overrun by multiple deadly disease outbreaks.

Snow Again


Here’s what that Friday morning snow in Mount Shasta looked like. Not sure when it started, but it was over by 10 a.m. By noon, it was turning into a nice day. I spent the afternoon on a ranch north and east of town, and it was dry and warm there.


Drove up to Mount Shasta last night and didn’t get in until very late. I’m up here to do a radio story on a recent Nature Conservancy land purchase that aims to restore some valuable salmon spawning streams up here. But the news right now, as I look out my window onto Mount Shasta Boulevard, is that there’s a steady and from a lowlander’s perspective pretty heavy snow falling. I don’t think it will last long, but I didn’t really expect to see it. It’s beautiful, and I’m hoping that it won’t get in the way too much of my handling a tape recorder and microphone. Pictures later.

Mixed Marriage, Revisited


I’ve written about this grave before. About five years ago, my dad and I spotted it while visiting the Mother Jones Memorial in a union miners’ cemetery just outside Mount Olive, Illinois. The Cardinals and Cubs logos got our attention, of course. Last week, I stopped there again with my brother Chris and son Liam. After we got done gazing upon Mother Jones’s final resting place, we went across the road to the Kalvin grave. Chris noticed a metal capsule on the back of the stone, which happens to be the side facing the road. It has a hinged cover. Beneath the cover is what I take to be a picture of Steven and Verona, some time during their long marriage and lifelong residence in Mount Olive. A date is noted below: their wedding day. For a little historical baseball perspective, Steven Kalvin was born three years before Wrigley Field opened (and five years before the Cubs made it their home); Verona Kalvin was born the same year the last Yankee Stadium opened. They were married three seasons after the Cubs’ last pennant.

Verona, here’s hoping you don’t have to wait too much longer.


Strange Season

Nearly midnight here in Berkeley, and it’s still pushing 70 degrees. It’s windless, too–dead calm. I’m not preaching climate change this evening. The weather annals show that the week of the 1906 San Francisco Earthquake, which occurred April 18, was hot, too: highs in the 90s in San Jose and Santa Cruz, for instance–records that still stand. (No, I’m not suggesting this is “earthquake weather,” either).

But warm night-time weather is a relative rarity here. And with the stillness, the heat rising from the sidewalks, the little pockets of cool in the low spots where creeks used to run, the clear moonless sky and the smell of jasmine and other flowers filling the dark–it feels like a strange season.

Road Blog: Ode to California

(Upon crossing the Colorado River)

Ah, California!
Your fiscal mess, your taxes, your repossessed homes;
Your Governator, your initiatives and your political schemes;
Your freeways and traffic and drivers yearning to speed;
Your 36 million people and all that they want;
Your deserts, your mountains and valleys and rivers, your dams;
Your stunning weather, your drought and your thirst;
Your condors and salmon and spotted owls, your smog and wildfires;
Your ports, your cities, your suburbs flung every which way;
Your towns: Beverly Hills, Oakland, Weed, and Shafter; Berkeley, Compton, Taft, and Fort Bragg;
Your prisons and prisoners, your guards, your cops;
Your students, your teachers, your school segregation;
Your sunshine and field workers and endless farms;
Your agribusiness, your entrepreneurs, your next big things;
Your visionary schemes and your reluctance to pay.

The limitless dream, the busboy, the kid who can’t read;
The redwood, the dead mill, the air you can’t breathe;
The surf, the oil spill, the guy asleep on the street;
A million reasons to stay and a million to leave.

On the prairie and over the mountains I roam;
Crossing the Colorado, California, I’m home.

Road Blog: Jolly Kone


One more from the road: a drive-in we passed in Wasco, between Highway 99 and Interstate 5 north of Bakersfield. The featured role of pastrami is notable, but pales next to the claim, “The Best Food in Wasco.” I can’t testify one way or the other.  

We pretty much stuck to the route that Google Maps or Mapquest might give you between Barstow and Berkeley: Highway 58 to Bakersfield and Highway 99; then up to Highway 46, through Wasco to I-5. Then all the way up the San Joaquin Valley to I-580, which takes you into Oakland. The route is simple and it is fast, and the traffic in the valley mostly behaved itself. We hit the front door here at about 5 p.m. straight up. Total driving for five days: 2,685 miles. Not a killer, but in a mini-Toyota it was a little bit of a challenge. Now that I think of it, I don’t recall seeing a single Echo on the road between here and Chicago (plenty of Priuses, though).

More tomorrow. I get to sleep at home tonight.

Road Blog: Grants, New Mexico, to Barstow, California


Short one tonight: Mostly Interstate 40 all day, and even through stunning country, that can drain most of the fun out of the trip. Fast, though, and that’s good when you want it.  

Started out in Grants, about 85 miles east of the New Mexico-Arizona line. Instead of getting on the interstate, we looped south and west on a state highway and stopped (not long enough) at the Malpais and El Morro national monuments. We crossed into Arizona without knowing it and cut north a little ways to find I-40 again. Then up through Flagstaff and through a mini-snowstorm and down to the Colorado River and into California. Then tomorrow, across the little patch of desert between us and the Tehachapis, over the mountains and down into the Central Valley. Maybe another little detour or two. We’ll see.

[Above: An ocotillo flowering at a roadside rest area about 30 miles east of Needles, California; below, a sign from the some stop. (Click for larger images.)]