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Blue Highways: Keddie, California

Unfolding the Map

Click on Thumbnail for MapTrailing along with William Least Heat-Moon, we stop with him at a spring near Keddie, California.  It is nice to dump our city water and drink deeply.  It is deeply satisfying to stroll in the dappled sunshine underneath the trees.  To see approximately where we are located, click on the map thumbnail at right.

Book Quote

"North of Keddie, the road passed a spring spilling from the side of a broken cliff.  I emptied my jugs of city water and filed them with purity from the rocks and drank a pint to clear the pipes, then walked up into the trees to dispel the jounce of miles.  The sun, breaking through now and then, cast long slopes of light down the mists, and for a time, the vapors of humbug evaporated."

Blue Highways: Part 5, Chapter 11

Old Keddie Resort gas station. Photo by Chanel M. at Flickr. Click on photo to go to site.Keddie, California

When I mapped this site I really couldn't guess where, north of Keddie, LHM would have stopped.  So, instead of trying to mark the exact site, I just put a marker in Keddie since it is the nearest place that he mentions.  The next series of posts and their corresponding map points will have some guesswork involved - for instance, where he turns around on Lassen Peak, and where exactly he stops along Hat Creek, so please bear with me.  If you happen to be a really hardcore Blue Highways fan and have found these spots AND have recorded the coordinates, feel free to send them to me if you'd like to improve my accuracy.

Two things capture me in LHM's quote, above.  First, he writes about the glories of a spring rushing from a cliff by the side of the road. Elsewhere in this blog I've written about rivers, oceans, and how water is so important to me personally.  However, most of my experience with water has been with those two manifestations of this resource.  Springs, however, were not something that I was familiar with.  I remember seeing one spring as a teenager.  We own some property out in the wilderness, and our neighbor, a German who was extremely industrious, ran a pipeline three miles to a spring halfway up the side of a mountain and used gravity flow to bring the water down to his house where it turned a Pelton Wheel, therefore providing his home with both clean water and electricity.  After that, I don't think I saw a spring until I was well into adulthood.  At least, I don't remember any other encounters.

After leaving home, I lived mostly in cities, and my experience with water was either on rivers or by lakes.  I love lakes and rivers, really any bodies of water.  But I experienced the power of the simple spring on trips into Big Bend National Park when we'd drive there from San Antonio for long weekends.  A hike with my wife along the Mule Ears trail brought us to a spring, and in the middle of the desert the spring was surrounded by an explosion of life.  The spring provided water for plants and animals.  Plants provided shelter and food for animals and insects, which in turn provided food for other animals.  In the silence of the desert, suddenly there was noise - bees buzzing and birds chirping.  It was astounding what a little bit of water could do.  On another trip, I hiked out to a large cottonwood in the middle of the desert, and found that it grew on top of another spring.  Again, the amazing proliferation of life around this little bit of water was incredible.  Underneath the boughs of the cottonwood animals and insects went about their daily routines.  The tree dripped water.  Just feet away was the sun-blasted desert, where water was scarce and succulent plants had to store it within their bodies.  But within a 25 foot radius, somewhat abundant water changed everything.

On a hike in the Sandias, we went looking for a spring and found one at the head of a rushing rill of a river during a particularly wet year.  A spring is deceptively simple.  Water flows from below the ground into a pool, where it begins its journey downhill to wherever it ends up.  However, a spring never ceases to remind one of how important water is to life.  It used to be that a spring meant purity.  But now, because of agriculture and farming, springs have become as polluted anything else in our environment.  One must purify water even from springs bubbling out of the ground before it can be drunk, lest one get giardia or some other nasty gut parasite.

The second thing that strikes me about this passage is that LHM walks up beneath the trees to stretch and clear his lungs and head.  Nothing puts me in a better mood, reflective but not melancholy, than being under trees.  The sunlight, pushing through the leaf cover of the trees, dapples on the ground creating interplays of light and shadow as the leaves move to a slight breeze.  The air is cool because trees create their own small ecosystems and environments.  For me, the feeling is one of peace and opens up the mind to oneness with the world and a reflective but positive look at past and potentialities.  There are two scenarios for me which would constitute heaven - eternity next to an ocean shore, or eternity in the dappled sunlight beneath trees.

Musical Interlude

A spring is a great example of the circle of life in motion, so today's musical interlude is Circle of Life by Robin Spielberg.


If you want to know more about Keddie

There isn't much on Keddie as it is a small place.  Unfortunately, it seems to be known more for a gruesome multiple murder, committed after LHM passed through, than anything else - though it also is along the historic Western Pacific train line.

Steam Train Stop at Keddie (video)
Wikipedia: Keddie
Wikipedia: Keddie Murders

Next up: Lassen Peak, California

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Reader Comments (2)

"North of Keddie" cannot be more vague. Most of 70/89 'north of Keddie' was dynamited out of the mountainside, so finding a likely spot to match WLHM's spring depends on the degree of poetic license one is willing to accept. The best stretch of road to match his description begins between Old Keddie and Keddie, and ends roughly 5.5 miles north, just after 70 branches off to the north, heading towards Indian Falls (and SR 39 beyond).

Finding areas that a vehicle can pull over near an obvious water source poses a problem. Also, in late April, when he was traveling the area, it's not easy to distinguish spring runoff from a bonafide spring. All things considered, here's the few spots I believe may fit WLHM's scenario:

A> 'Old' Keddie is half a mile south of Keddie where the murders occurred in April of 1981. Neither were (or are) well-marked. Just north of Old Keddie is Butterfly Valley Rd, where Butterfly Creek can clearly be seen from the main road. 40° 0'24.68"N 120°57'44.14"W

B> Just north of Keddie, near the famous Keddie Wye (which I believe WLHM would have mentioned, had this been the locale), is a popular turnout that has several runoff spots on the west side of the road, and a nearby access road going up that side of the mountain. 40° 1'10.08"N 120°57'38.22"W

C> Further north is an old spring-fed stone fountain, which hardly matches his description, but is clearly visible. I believe the stone fountain was there in 78, but am not 100% certain. Currently considered not potable, 35 years ago is another matter entirely. 40° 2'25.20"N 120°58'10.89"W

D> Right past where 70/89 separates into individual routes is a small turnout on the left (north) side of the road, just before a popular turnout to the south (right) side, where people park in warm weather to take advantage of the falls and pools a short distance below the road. 40° 2'22.90"N 120°59'3.54"W

North of that, the terrain flattens out considerably, leaving few spots that remotely resemble the description in the book.

May 7, 2014 | Unregistered Commenterdmac

if you read my original post, you find none of my scenarios matches WLHM whatsoever. Did he ever do this road trip? I think logical minds shows he is full of bull. I've read the book and find many falsehoods. It's great fiction for the misinformed. Not a great book.

August 12, 2014 | Unregistered Commenterdmac

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