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hwy. 108 east

March 26, 2011

Just north of Modesto, California, there is a highway headed east. It goes for quite awhile I do not know quite where it ends, because I have never driven its entire length. Never felt the need to. I did drive it quite aways.

It starts out in the agricultural land of the central valley, and for many miles it’s a fairly straight road through farmlands.. mostly almond orchards and a few vineyards here and there.

The highway passes through one small town, and then some more farmland, and a medium sized town.

A strange thing about these two places the highway winds through. I don’t know if there is such a thing as ley lines.. intersecting lines of energy.. sort of like the lines of energy in the human body that acupuncturists use to place their needles.. the lines in which the chi flows through body. Maybe that is what ley lines are.. or maybe they are places where the distance between our dimension and another or more than one other is thin, and things get weird?

I don’t know. But I always feel otherwordly and strange when in these two towns.

There is some farmland in between them… the road starts to wind a bit, gets a bit more interesting. Some curves and small changes in elevation.

Once through the second town (the first one is called Riverbank, the second is called Oakdale), and leaving the outskirts of it, I feel better. That twilight zone feeling gone, and I can breath easier. A feeling of gentle exhilaration, because there isn’t another town for awhile. I pass through open land.

Entering some hill country.. dry volcanic formations, not high like mountains, but still possessing beauty. The road curves some more, and the speed limit is higher.

Pretty soon there is turn off one can take to a very small village called Knight’s Ferry, which is a lovely place along the Stanislaus river. Very few people live in the area, and it is pleasant to drive through, day or night. I’ve been there a few times before. Once to see the salmon run, a few other times to walk along the river bank, see the historical sights.. Knight’s Ferry marks the beginning of the motherlode area.. where the prospectors flooded to in 1849. Knights Ferry is the beginning of gold country.

The last time I was in that area, it was after 10 at night. Some nights, I’ve just felt like riding.

Most places I am scared to drive though.. hated the central valley traffic, both surface streets and freeway, only loved the back country roads. Through the green agricultural land and the dry open land past it, and then the more verdant hills above that..the foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountains.

Passing Knights Ferry, more turns and better and better views as the elevation changes.. rises a bit, then drops, a few hairpin turns and curves, line of sight very limited, so must take the driving easy. This is not a road to be in a hurry, nor is it a good road to travel on weekends during the summertime. There are many turn offs for lakes and reservoirs along the way, and boating and swimming are all quite popular in the summer, and 108 can get quite busy. I almost always avoiding traveling it during these times.

Eventually the road leads up into the foothills.. lots more trees, very pretty area.. into the foothill communities.. first to another village called James Town, which is also located along the river, and is a railroad junction.

Just past Jamestown, there is the city of Sonora, one of my favorite places to be.

Sonora is a charming foothill/mountain town.. just below the snow line (most of the time). Many quaint shops and restaurants. Sonora is also home of the Motherlode County Fairgrounds, where I have gone once for a winter holiday fair and twice for the fantastic Celtic Faire.

The fairgrounds are in a valley, with tree-covered hills close by on several sides. The air is cleaner up there, and the place feels magical.

Sonora can be quite busy. The town is arranged in sort of an L shape around the hills, and the main roads can be very busy. Besides the shops, fairgrounds, and restaurants, there are several small theaters where plays are performed. Several theater companies in the area.

Turning off 108 and heading a little ways north out of Sonora, there is a historical town called Columbia. There is a small theme park area there.. made to look like the town did during the 1800’s.. old timey shops, people dressed in costume.

When I was a child, I saw the devil there, or so I thought.

My parents drove up with my brother and I to take in the sites and experience Columbia village. I was walking away from the car, and a man dressed up as that classical western villain.. the psychotic man with the black handlebar mustache and black top hat who ties maidens to train tracks. This man was dressed that way to a T. He scared me badly, even though he didn’t mean to. I think he was even apologetic… felt bad for scaring me, after seeing my reaction. I still feel a little ill thinking about that man.

Never did get up to old town Columbia village as an adult, perhaps in part because of that memory? It’s too bad really.. nice area.. it’s a California State Park, or something like that.. might not even be open anymore, what with California’s terribly troubled budget.

If you travel north just a tiny bit past Sonora, and turn East, and travel into the forests for 8-10 miles and make a few turns, you can find Columbia College. It is a two year community college with a beautiful campus, the buildings centered around a pond and located on hills. Right in nature, that campus, and if you go there, you will certainly get some exercise!

Headed back to Sonora, you can pick up 108 again, if you want, and head up into the mountains, but I never had need to do that by myself. I’d been up into the mountains in both summer and winter before, and liked the lower foothill areas of Sonora and Columbia better, as well as a town aways west in the hills, called Tuolome, where I have only been to once.

The last time I traveled highway 108 east, it was late at night.

I’d finished watching a movie in Modesto.. had gone by myself.. and didn’t feel like heading home. It was a beautiful night, with just a slight chill in the air and a definite breeze.

I decided to head out of town north to where I could turn onto 108.

I thought I might just stop in Oakdale.. the drive to that city being nice enough.. but just kept going.

It was close to midnight when I got to Sonora. I drove and drove through that area for hours. Exploring. Felt late at night was a good time to check out the town, see where the roads went.. saw almost no traffic, except for a sheriff, who I think was suspicious of me.. followed me at a distance for awhile.

One of the reasons I drove through the town several times was that I was looking for an open all night restaurant. I was hungry! But even their Denny’s closed at 10. Not sure if it always did, or if they were short staff, or it was time for a more thorough than usual cleaning of the diner. But regardless, it was closed. So I kept driving.

I took roads I had never been on, and ended up out in the dark on rural roads which traveled I knew not how far. It was lovely at night out there, but a tad spooky, so I decided to turn back. Drove through the town again.. never seen it in late night hours before.

After more driving through different parts of town, I gave up on finding anything open, and headed down to the fairgrounds.

When I’d been to the Celtic Faire the second time, I found some parking up a small road across the main road from the fair grounds. I was told there was parking up there.

Turns out there’s a small medical facility… too big to be called a clinic, too small to be called a hospital, as well as a church campus, some other buildings with functions I could not identify, an assisted living center, and a small apartment complex. And some good parking spots.

Just right near this area where I left the car is a small but nice bubbling creek that runs right by the apartment complex, heads downhill a little and through a small park, where there is a baseball diamond and some faded bleachers.

It was close to 2 am when I parked by the creek, and walked through the ball field, and said on the bleachers for a little while, and drank in the night air for a short time.

I then turned the car around, headed down the hill, down 108, this time headed west, and returned home at around 4 am. This was my last trip down highway 108.

I moved out of California in December. Don’t know when I will be back, if I ever return to that state at all. But, if I do, I would like to drive hwy. 108 east again sometime. But if I do, I just might want to stay up there in those hills, find a little house there and settle down.

still very much miss that road, and the places it goes to. The the little villages, the hills, the trees the air.. the feel of it all. It’s not really something I can put into words.. you’ll have to head out there, and drive that road yourself. Then, you will know what I mean.

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