A bike ride like no other has become a thing of the past, at least for a while, as government officials wrangle over whether or not asbestos in the Clear Creek Management Area is hazardous to humans.
The closure, announced Thursday, caught Jobst Brandt and friends by surprise on Sunday, May 4, as they rolled up to Clear Creek Road (see photo). A BLM ranger blocked the road and turned back the usual crowd of four-wheel off-road vehicles that frequent the area on weekends.
Jobst and I rode started riding here in 2003, after Bruce Hildenbrand told us about the 116-mile loop that goes through the shuttered mining town of New Idria. The miners were after mercury, not asbestos. The ride has a lot going for it – a long climb on a dirt road to 4,450 feet, spectacular vistas that look more like Nevada than Northern California, and no traffic.
The ride starts in Paicines, about 10 miles south of Holister, heads south on Highway 25 past the Pinnacles and then goes inland over one low range of hills on Coalinga Road. We’ve also taken Old Hernandez Road.
Once on Clear Creek Road, the climb begins, and doesn’t end for another 10 miles or so, followed by a harrowing descent on dirt to New Idria. From here, the pavement picks up, or what passes for pavement. It’s patch-quilt at best. The ride through Panoche Valley is an experience you won’t soon forget. Talk about desolate.
For now, the road is closed. I think the closure is nonsense. The asbestos poisoning that happened in a Montana mine, and the resulting lawsuit, has different circumstances compared to what’s going on in the recreation area.
Off-road vehicles kick up dust, but that’s why the area has been closed during the summer. We never saw much dust when we rode through in the spring.