Sunday Drive Over Skaggs Springs Road

by Katy Tahja, January 12, 2017

My husband an I are firm believes in the old fashioned concept of a “Sunday Drive.” We find a road we’ve never been on, make sure it is traversable given weather conditions, pack snacks and maps, gas up the rig and take off for a mini adventure.

This time we chose the Skaggs Springs-Stewart Point Road west out of Geyserville. I had been over part of the road almost 50 years ago to go skinny-dipping in the ruins of the Skaggs Springs resort warm water pools in the dark of night. That location is now buried under the waters of Lake Sonoma.

Skaggs Springs Resort, nine miles west of Highway 101, began as an attraction in the 1850’s with waters from five springs directed into bathhouses and pools. Hot springs and mineral springs resorts were big business for Sonoma County back then. By the 1870’s Skaggs Springs Resort was welcoming 300 guests a day arriving by stagecoach.

By the 1890’s the resort had a stage line over what had been an Indian trail to the coast (today’s Skaggs Springs-Stewart Point Road) and offered excursions to the seashore. By 1912 motor stages replaced stagecoaches bringing customers from the train station in Geyserville to the springs. The Great Depression of the 1930’s and auto-cars lead to the resorts closure in 1942 and the hotel burned in the 1950’s.

After decades of political contention the Warm Springs Dam was built in 1983 for $330 million and the resort ruins vanished under the waters of the lake. I like to envision the hot springs waters surfacing to this day to create little warm spots on the bottom of Lake Sonoma. Today there is a visitor center, marina, campground, hiking trails and a fish hatchery to explore in this area.

Continuing west it is about 35 miles to Stewart’s Point. The country is oak woodland with wildflowers like mustard and vinca blooming very early. There are the ubiquitous vineyards, ranches, cattle guards on the road, and remains of old homesteads. I often wonder why settlers would choose to live so far from anyplace? Perhaps land was cheaper the farther you were from civilization.

Stopping by the side of the road in one spot we found an old picket fence, remains of a cabin, and about six different kinds of ivy someone planted a long time ago. From the top of the Salmon Mountains to Bartlett Springs I have discovered ornamental plants that have refuse to die even after a century of neglect. I picked a few sprigs of variegated ivy to bring home and try to root.

Our map had three place names on the whole road…Las Lomas, Soda Springs, and Shingle Mill. The only one we could find was Las Lomas, a 723-acre ranch with roads, structures, power, promising “Trophy Black-Tail Deer and Wild Pig Hunting” and a $4.5 million sale price due to its vineyard potential.

Back on the road…believe it or not there is actually something famous along this road if you are into historic bridges. I accept for a given fact that there is a website for any given interest group and researching this mini-expedition I found www.historicbridges.com.

Haut Bridge is just off the Skaggs Springs-Stewart Point Road on the turn-off to Annapolis and it’s a type of Phoenix Iron Truss design 134’ long and 13’ wide, one main span, and was common in the east but rare in the American west. It was built before 1909, moved in 1937 and on a scale of 1 to 10 it rates a 9 in local and national significance. To me it was just a pretty old bridge.

We let ourselves skip the last few miles down into Stewart’s Point and took off to Annapolis to the north. Much of our trip had been along the banks of the Gualala River. Annapolis was more vineyards and pretty ridge tops until the road dropped to Sea Ranch and Highway 1. We came home after a good lunch at the Chowder House on the Point Arena Pier and an interlude with maps.

Now I have to say something about maps…I LOVE maps….I’m a map junkie…I admit it. And if you want a really GOOD map you get the one the local realtors have made because real estate agents want you to be able to find the properties they are selling. On my map I notice the notation of Refuse Road for the Annapolis Road because it leads to the waste transfer station five miles away. Who would want their address to be something like 537 Refuse Road?

Then I started looking at the place names and got lost in the world of cartography. I started making notes and as a retired librarian would do, alphabetized and categorized them. So here’s what I learned about Mendocino County place names…

For animals there have been places named after abalone, bear, buck (and buckhorn and doe), camel, cow (and curly cow), elk. Grizzly, horse (and little horse), rattlesnake, skunk and wildcat. For trees and bushes there are locations with acorn, alder, berry (and blueberry), brush, cherry, chinquapin, cypress, elm, fern, fir, huckleberry, laurel, madrone, manzanita, maple, oak, pepperwood, pine, redwood spruce and trillium.

Eagle, goose, pelican, raven and white hawk are place names for birds…then there’s bee, fly, frog, leech, salmon and whale names. Nationalities on the land include Dutch, German, Indian, Irish, Islam, and Spanish. You can find cold creek, dusty creek, deephole creek, dry creek, hellhole creek, lost man creek, and more.

My favorites are the odd-ball place names…how about Abalobadia Creek, or Irmulco (first two letters from each word of Irvine Muir Lumber Company.) There’s Nameless Lane and Granny’s Lane. For serious map lovers might I suggest a book I got for Christmas, ”Cartographic Treasures of the Newberry Library.” This library in Chicago has 300,000 maps from 1452 to present day. I’ve been there and it’s a wonderland of maps…but then again I’ve now been over Skaggs Springs –Stewarts Point Road and it was pretty wonderful too.

2 Responses to Sunday Drive Over Skaggs Springs Road

  1. Keith Bramstedt Reply

    January 12, 2017 at 12:53 pm

    I’ve been on Stewarts Point–Skaggs Springs Rd a few times. The first time was in about 1990. It feels like going back in time on that road to a time before California was heavily urbanized.
    I like maps, too. I’m afraid with GPS and maps on Smartphones the American masses will lose interest in hard copy maps, as well as map skills. “Just be an automaton and follow the GPS’s directions.” My friend I take drives with (like Stewarts Point–Skaggs Springs Rd) used to have a large AAA map collection of northern California maps, but he gave them away or tossed them because he uses maps on his Smartphone now.

  2. Derek Hoyle Reply

    January 16, 2017 at 3:55 am

    Skaggs Springs-Stewart Point Road traverses one of the most beautiful and unspoiled sections of California.
    I drove it twice a week for many months, back in the early 90’s, while helping my brother build his house in Healdsburg.
    At the time, I lived North of Anchor Bay, just off Iverson Road, so I know that road very well, and at all times of the year it’s just a stunning drive.
    Good job finding the ghost town, I found one other, just ruins, but the third is lost to history as far as I can tell, even after searching quite a bit.
    And that stylishly cool iron bridge was originally a railroad bridge, before being decommissioned, disassembled and shipped to that remote area and reassembled as a highway bridge, just amazing work for the times.
    If you would have turned right over the Wheatfield Fork of the Gualala River crossing the other cool bridge on to Annapolis Road, you would have passed through Hollow Tree.
    I never was able to find a hollow tree there, but there’s another strange place name for you, none the less.
    And you forgot to mention the nifty little curved concrete bridge, which is rare in California.
    There are two more curved concrete bridges on Annapolis Road, at the confluence of the South Fork and Wheatfield Forks of the Gualala River.
    Yeah, it’s a great scenic road, especially when the flowers are blooming, thanks for writing this.

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