Traveling by car is by far and away my favorite way to relax. I know, given the current cost of fuel – rising by the minute – it’s not always the most cost efficient. But I love “motoring meditation” – an expression I coined some years ago. Most recently a friend asked, “What is your favorite way to relax?” I didn’t hesitate when responding, “Driving.”
Driving! I am free to wander down whatever road my heart desires. I have crisscrossed more than 100,000 California miles. Some of the miles are just living life day-to-day, but many more in pursuit of that next great road trip. When each trip begins, the process is always the same: Get out the road atlas!
What a concept! No GPS. No MapQuest. No tripadvisor or Google maps. Just good old-fashioned lines on paper in the form of a California road atlas. Thomas Bros. California Road Atlas & Driving Guide, to be exact.
This Thomas Bros. Map is a dear friend – tried, true, and trustworthy and a long-standing traveling companion. I have two just in case! Both are old and worn. The pages are tattered and some have separated from their spiral binding. My fingerprints and DNA are embedded on every page from years of tracing and retracing routes taken and taken again. So far, not one page has been lost.
Every road traveled is highlighted – yellow, orange, green, blue – sometimes in pen when highlighters can’t be found. Some roads highlighted multiple times. Notes jotted in margins and on front and back covers. Each trip, out comes the atlas. Eyes and hands trace the route or routes – looking for roads not taken and sights not seen. Many new roads have been built since 1993 when Thomas Bros and I became good friends, but I am loyal. This atlas is a journal of so many wonderful adventures it can never be replaced. In fact, preserving it has become essential.
My latest road trip began as every trip does, with Thomas Bros. I was heading for Plumas County and Drakesbad Guest Ranch in Lassen Volcanic National Park. I had been near this region and the gateway to Drakesbad at Chester/Lake Almanor, but never actually at the gates of LVNP or traveling the winding road to Drakesbad. So the atlas was a must. I don’t know about GPS and frankly, don’t care to. And I know MapQuest can’t be trusted. I asked for advice from friends living in Plumas or very familiar with the county. Responses were not forthcoming….what’s up with that?
The folks at Drakesbad recommended the straight-shot up I-5 to Red Bluff and then across on Hwy. 36. This seemed a bit out-of-the-way but I understand the rationale that you can drive like a bat out of Hell up the interstate with average speeds well above the posted 70mph. So good ol’ Thomas came to the rescue. After hemming and hawing over different routes, I decided for I-5/Red Bluff going and Hwy 32/Chico on the return. I had traveled parts of both routes, but there would be new roads and vistas coming and going. It was the right choice!
I was correct about the I-5 approach. It is longer. And the speeds are aggressive. But leaving the Interstate at Red Bluff it isn’t long before the left turn onto Hwy. 36. Wow! The views, the solitude, the meditation – it’s all worth it. And I might have missed this if I’d opted to divert at Orland.
Coming home I chose Hwy. 32 out of Chester. Everyone mentioned that this road is narrow and a bit squirrely…did I want to reconsider? Heck no! That’s just my kind of road. Especially in my faithful Subaru Legacy circa 1994. In this California Travel Insider’s opinion, I hit the Mother Lode driving Hwy. 32. It may very well be my favorite California road. Winding through Deer Creek Canyon, the sun glinted through the lush tree canopy. Late September, the fall colors were just starting to peak through. Talk about meditation!!! There were few other cars going my way and I was left alone in true motoring bliss.
The one regret is not stopping at Deer Creek Falls, but that gives me one more reason to return. It’s always nice to leave some stone unturned. And one more place for Thomas B. and me to visit.
Drive on with the help of: