TRAIN TOUR in the
the Sierra Nevada Range
Who had a train table when you were a kid? Ours was a 4x8 sheet of plywood my dad hauled up to the huge bedroom my two older brothers and I shared in our 1850s farmhouse. He attached hinges to it and attached it to the wall, so it could fold up and out of the way. Train tracks were then screwed down to the plywood sheet and roads painted on by hand. In the middle, he cut a trapdoor that we could shimmy up through and manipulate our trains and the many Hot Wheels sprinkled about. Always into woodworking, he built all sorts of toy buildings for our Hot Wheels, a service garage, a house, a train station, and we played for hours on that train table with our trains and Hot Wheels.
Pashnit Motorcycle Tours is headed to the mountains on this all-new tour, but along the way, we’ll check out one of the largest train museums west of the Mississippi. Top that Pashnit Guy. Fine. We’re also going to have a stopover at a Railroad Resort with a night spent in a converted caboose and dine in a rail car surrounded by train cars and memorabilia.
This tour begins in Nevada City in the heart of Gold Rush country; after local streams & rivers were panned out, spider holes were dug into the hillsides by the hundreds. All in search of that colorful metal which was later discovered embedded in quartz rock.
At the end of a dead-end road at 3200 feet is North Bloomfield, a preserved gold rush town. To reach the gold, miners blasted hillsides away, literally, with high-pressure water lines. The result created a bare canyon, 7000 feet wide and 600 feet deep. They got the gold, millions of dollars' worth, but all that sediment & debris washed into the Yuba River System, settling out in the Central Valley below.
By the late 1860s, sediment became so deep in area rivers, ships could no longer navigate the rivers in the Sacramento Valley. Downstream orchards, grain fields and entire towns were buried under 25 feet of mud & easily flooded during seasonal rains. Wooden towns simply floated away, along with livestock, the picket fence & even the wood pile out back. Steam locomotive lights were brought to the mine site and used to illuminate the monitors at night, allowing the mine to work 24 hours a day, washing away the mountainside.
Tired of the flooding, farmers organized to fight against the hydraulic mining companies. By 1880, even San Francisco Bay began to fill up with silt. Hydraulic mining ended up being the first ecological lawsuit ever filed against mining companies responsible for creating the disaster. Hydraulic mining was finally outlawed in 1884, yet the scar is still etched into the surrounding hillsides around North Bloomfield.
Yuba Pass climbs a mountain finger and then drops back down the other side into the canyon below. Then again. Next finger. Thank you, Sir, may I have another? You may! The elevation climbs into the Tahoe National Forest on our way to Downieville. But behave yourself, the gallows are still there.
The group will ride past the towns of Allegheny, Pike City and Forest City. It has been estimated that the county as a whole produced some two hundred million dollars' worth of gold. Of that, ninety million dollars came from the nearby Allegheny area.
It's also worth mentioning that a vast majority of the millions of dollars of hard rock gold is still there, it's simply too expensive to extract from the ground.
Downieville comes into view as we continue higher up Highway 49. The town is tiny now, but at one time was the 5th largest city in all of California. It almost became the Capitol of California, losing only by one vote.
A few miles away is Sierra City at 4100 feet, a mere 325 people claiming this as home. In 1869, a nugget of over 1,800 troy ounces was found here. One might easily assume the gold has all played out, but a gold nugget weighing over 1,500 troy ounces was found in the Monumental Mine in 1960. That's a gold nugget weighing 123 lbs.
And at the top of the hill lies Sierra Buttes with jagged peaks dominating the range. This high Sierra area is known as the "Lakes Basin," a collection of some fifty lakes cradled on the northeast of the towering Sierra Buttes. The largest of them, Gold Lake, was named in 1850 when a miner claimed he had found a lake whose shores were studded with gold nuggets. The usual rush ensued, although no gold was found on its shores, but the name stuck.
Western Pacific Railroad Museum
Our destination is a Western Pacific Railroad Museum in Portola, destined to awake your inner child, we’ll get a chance to check out the rolling stock and locomotives that span the 37-acre site.
The Western Pacific Railroad Museum isn't just a museum of train rolling stock, it's still a working rail facility. This 37-acre site includes a 16,000 square foot diesel shop in active use from 1954 until 1974 and 2-1/2 miles of track.
The Western Pacific Railroad Museum at Portola is home to one of the largest fleets of preserved, historic diesel locomotives in North America. Locomotives ranging in size from a 44-ton switching locomotive to the 270 ton UP 6946 Centennial, the largest diesel locomotive ever built, are here to view.
The museum is located at an elevation of 4800 feet, which means a display of MOW cars - rotary snowblowers built into locomotives. The Western Pacific Railroad Museum features maintenance equipment of various sizes and vintages, from small speeder cars to a 250-ton capacity wrecking crane still in working order and currently in use. The collection of train cars at the 37-acre site is also full of Boxcars, tank cars, baggage cars, gondolas, reefers, passenger cars, flatcars, hoppers and cabooses
Speaking of cabooses, how’d you like to spend the night in one? Read on.
There’s a universal truth to every rider we've ever met. Show us a mountainous ridgeline, slap down a paved ribbon of black across its spine, and we'll deliver you a bucket of smiles. Not too complicated. The road climbs up into the High Sierra. No towns, few people, and not much of anything up here. Everyone has since gone home and left us some fantastic riding.
The region is volcanic in origin and Mount Lassen dominates the region with a dormant volcanic peak of 8000 ft. The sides of the mountain are still steaming with mud pots and hot springs. The peak officially starts the Cascade Range, which extends to Mt Shasta to the north and on into Oregon.
In May 1915, a powerful explosive eruption at Lassen Peak devastated nearby areas, and it rained volcanic ash as far away as 200 miles to the east. This explosion was the most powerful one in a series of eruptions during 1914 through 1917.
You can even hike to the summit if you're feeling adventurous. And fit. Its volcanic ash on the path. Two steps forward, one step back. Another time...
However, our ride stays below the 5000 ft mark keeps us in the California Foothills, a band of elevation that holds an endless series of twisty roads. All you have to do is connect the dots.
We'll do just that as we make our way north to the tiny hamlet of Fall River Mills. Home to some rather creative steel (pigs really can fly) sculptures and the fascinating Fort Crook and the Round Barn Museum.
Jot Dean Ice Cave
Motorcycles and ice caves, that goes together, right? It can, and it’s one of the coolest things you’ll ever see. The Jot Dean Ice Cave is found in a hollow lava tube alongside the road. Lava Tubes are literal, a hollow tube, filled with lava, albeit 10,000 years ago. What remains, is a formerly volcanic region rife with caves, namely lava tubes. And some, have ice in them year-round even when temps are 100 degrees, ice persists mere feet from the entrance of the lava tube. We can climb down into one of these caves and marvel at the ice in the bottom, temps drop dramatically, and your brain is befuddled as you attempt to process what you’re seeing.
Here's the bad news. The problem with nearby Mount Shasta is there are no paved roads that ply & claw at its sides. At best, we can offer up the ride to the local ski area. While the 400-mile length of Sierra Nevada to the south is crisscrossed with an endless list of dreamy motorcycle roads, here there are simply... none. Mount Shasta, at 14,162 feet, (4248 m) is the tallest volcano in California and the second highest in America.
Mount Shasta is just... there. And what makes it unique of all the peaks in California is it sets on a flat plain. Rising some 2 miles into the sky, it dominates the view from any direction.
On a clear day, it can be seen from 140 miles away in the Central Valley. A mound of earth that contains 85 cubic miles of dirt. And it's beautiful. Spectacular. Even mesmerizing.
Snow covers the peak year-round, and a glacier or two round out the summit. So we'll ride the base, ever in the shadow of this massive rock.
Railroad Park Resort
So, if you scrolled down this far, you may be wondering the reference to cabooses! Over the nearly 20 years of Pashnit Motorcycle Tours, we've visited countless historic sites, museums, mountain tops and national parks across California, Nevada & Oregon.
And if that wasn't enough immersion, we'll head for Dunsmuir & spend the night sleeping in a caboose at the Railroad Park Resort. Together, we’ll have a chance to regale the weekend’s activities, while enjoying your hearty dinner in a train car accompanied by a cool adult beverage.
Have a few extra days? Head due west out to the Pacific Ocean. It's been a great weekend of riding. An intense dose of concentrated sensory overload, of mountains, lean angles and especially, the company. This is a tour for train lovers and riders, combine both of your interests as we immerse ourselves in trains, bikes, curvy roads, and good company.
Tour: Oct 07-09, 2022
Meet: 306 Broad St, Nevada City, California
Arrive: 7:00 AM, Safety Brief 7:30, Depart 8:00 AM
Cost: $440 per rider, $109 Passenger
This tour includes narrow single lane paved mountain roads. The ride includes steep grades to 20% and negotiating tight hair-pin corners. All roads on this tour are paved.
EXPERIENCED RIDERS ONLY:
This tour is not recommended for beginner riders or Very Large Motorcycles. Riders are expected to have at least several years of enthusiastic experience on their motorcycle riding remote challenging paved mountain backroads along with at least 5000+ miles of concurrent recent experience.
This tour is limited by the amount of rooms at our host lodging. We have booked rooms months in advance and our tours sell out by the end of January. Get on our mailing list to be the first to know about new rides. Tours are planned & announced in the late fall of each year.
Book early to ensure a spot on this new ride. Check with us to see if any available spots are open. Some of our rides may have waiting lists to be able to join the group.