Thirsty Thursday: New Idria Adventure

Rambler: Beth with some photo contributions from Terry
Drink at Hand: Rail to Rail Chardonnay

Thirsty Thursday here again. Time to pour something yummy and make those weekend plans. This week's post is an interesting one. Its the story of a trip we took about a month ago, but had to keep the story in quarantine until we were sure we weren't going to suffer any ill effects...and on that note, I'll dive right in.

About a year ago, we took a little afternoon road trip through rural Monterey and San Benito Counties. It was a gorgeous drive with some interesting photo opportunities. So when we still had a day left on a Borrow Lenses super awesome camera rental for a wedding we shot on New Year's Eve, we decided to go explore that loop again, only this time I pulled out my trusty (so I thought) DeLorme California Gazetteer. I found a new "red" road, so I was sure we had a fail-proof route through the rural backcountry of San Benito County. I mean, most of the paved roads that I knew of were red on that map, so I figured we were safe. Off we went!

Red Barn
Ellie Off Roads
Pine Cone
Pine Cone Road
Big View
Ellie Cruising
Death Tree
No Trespass
Worried T
Main Street
Old Truck
Four Sunset
Sunset Road
Crazy Sky

The day started off pretty typical with barns and fences and stuff. We headed into the Clear Creek Management Area, which had signs that said "Emergency Closure" but we never found an actual closed sign or a gate stopping us, so we just kept going. Soon we found ourselves driving through this odd lunar-esque landscape, which it turns out was an abandoned asbestos mine. Awesome (sarcastic tone there). At this point we were on this crazy double track fire road with no room to turn around, so we just kept following the road up and up and up. So much for that nice "red road" in the gazetteer. Terry noted that there were a lot of pine cones, as he said, "just chillin'" along the road. I don't know what else a pine cone does after it falls from a tree...perhaps Terry was inhaling too much asbestos dust. We popped over the top of the Diablo Mountain Range with a sweet view across the Central Valley to the Sierra (tough to see, but they were out there). We'd already made it this far, so why not keep going down our "red road"? Besides, according to the signs, there was a little town called New Idria just ahead. So down we went. The road quickly became more "intense". While the drive up the west side of this 4x4 park had been relatively straightforward, the east side descent was a 4x4 death road...barely wide enough for Ellie with big rocks, 1,000' drop-offs, and mud holes. While Ellie is equipped with 4-wheel drive, I would call her a 4x4. It just kept getting worse. The concerns about inhaling asbestos and dying quickly faded as we plowed on down this death road. My favorite part was the double track with the ditch down the middle. Terry had to get out and guide me. No idea how he snapped a photo of me smiling at this point. Every time we made it through some sketchy section, something more ridiculously loomed around the next corner. Then we saw this tree. We stopped and snapped photos and said, wow, that's a cool tree. How does it even hold itself up? Little did we know that as we rounded that corner we would say the same thing about our car! Just around that corner was a sharp little turn where most of the trail had washed down a 500' ravine, leaving me to drive at a ridiculously scary angle above the drop-off. I think there are permanent finger dents in the steering wheel and a wrinkle in the driver's side seat upholstery from puckering. I'm not even exaggerating. Death Road. We finally made it on down the Death Road to the town of New Idria. I was more than ready for a break. As it turns out, New Idria is a ghost town at the site of an abandoned mercury mine. Just to recap, the road trip had now visited an abandoned asbestos mine and an abandoned mercury mine. Awesome (there's that sarcastic tone again). Given my obsession with photographing old, rundown buildings, I was pretty excited about our little mining town find and quickly found my groove snapping photos of the weird stuff you find left behind in a ghost town. The town had a creepy sort of quiet quality to it. Just as I was snapping that last photo of the random 1970s cancer book (weird, right?), Terry calls out to me in a very concerned, very worried voice. "Hey hon, I don't think we should be here. We need to go now!" I'm thinking to myself, huh? Terry always wants to push the the limits of not trespassing to questionable levels. I was confused as to why he thought we suddenly need to leave the public road from which we were taking photos right this minute. Keep in mind that Terry speaks absolutely no Spanish, other than "pelota aqui por favor" which he had to know while playing soccer around here. He saw this sign in Spanish. He figured the words "virus mortal de Hanta", "mortalidad del 50%", and "no anti-virus" couldn't be good. Then we found the English version. While neither of us knew what the hell the Hanta virus was, we decided we should move along and Google it later. So we trudged back to the car, across a creek with water of a very strange shade of reddish-orange, and headed out of the death town. Fitting that the death road would end at the death ghost town. (Side note: later that night we we got home we Googled the crap out of Hanta virus and New Idria mine. The virus is deadly, transmitted through rodent feces, and rarely reported in the US while the New Idria mine is on the EPA's top 10 list of most dangerous post-industrial environmental disaster areas...awesome). Fortunately the road turned back to pavement and wandered through some pretty pastured hillsides...what we expected to see along the entirety of our trip through San Benito County. Lots of cows, an encounter with a local, and not a single other car for miles and miles. The sun was quickly bringing the day to an end, and we figured we were out of luck for finding a good sunset spot. Then out of no where the sky suddenly turned unbelievably colorful--pinks and oranges that we rarely see at sunset. Unique cloud formations. We pulled over and started shooting. Now it was dark and we were still 2 hours from home. We headed home and monitored ourselves for signs of Hanta for the next few weeks. We survived the death adventure! Unfortunately, this was one of those "get out there and do something" adventures that I can't really recommend to anyone, but we did get a couple of cool photos out of it...and one crazy story!