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  • Writer's pictureJason Sheck

The Many Bridges of the Feather River Canyon

Last fall we were anxious to find areas to hike outside of the Tahoe basin, areas where the wildfire smoke wouldn't be so bad? To do so, we made our way up to Lassen Volcanic National Park. On the drive north from Quincy was I intrigued by the Feather River Canyon as we briefly passed through it. I thought to myself, "we should come back here in the spring to see it when the water is flowing." Well, I was mostly right. We ended up having a less-than-average winter in terms of snow so the water moving down the river wasn't quite as wild as you could tell it had been in years past. In addition to a wimpy winter, PG&E has controls (i.e. dams, reservoirs, power stations, etc.) all up and down the river which essentially limits how much water is moving down stream at any given time. Even so, it's a very scenic river and I'd recommend travelling through here to anyone looking for a fun afternoon in Northern California.

What did I learn?

I've known for some time that hydroelectric power is an unfavored version of renewable energy in some peoples' eyes because of its impact on the environment. The Feather River Canyon is probably an example what those folks are referring to, but overall, the energy infrastructure in the canyon doesn't detract from the beauty in any meaningful way, after all, there are roads and railroads in the canyon too.

Easily the most modern bridge we crossed on our route today...they got more interesting after this point..

The East Branch of the North Fork of the Feather River, we stopped at a fun little spot along the way and crawled our way down from the road to the river.

Looking west, the snowcapped mountains seemed worth a shot. Along the southern (left side of screen) embankment you can see the shelf for the railroad that required almost as many bridges as the road did. Later in the day we actually saw a train working its way up the canyon.

Pretty modern for this route...built in 1934. I tried to keep the power lines out of most of my pictures but the fingerprints of PG&E's hydroelectric system are all over this area.

The train bridge passing over the road. This areas was surrounded by private property so we couldn't get the perfect top-down view that we wanted. These are referred to as the "Tobin Bridges".

We kept working our way west and came to Belden, CA. One our way back we actually ended up eating lunch here at a fun little place that was unfortunately run down and unkept. As I studied the area for our drive I learned there is some connection between the San Francisco rave scene and this down. I didn't care enough to look into it any further.

The Belden Bridge. If you look close, you can see a swanky Belden Town sign on top that was probably a lot of fun to see lit up. In the background you can see a component of PG&E's hydroelectric power system. The pipeline (possibly call a "Penstock" but don't quote me on that) is moving water down to a generator at the bottom of the foothill. Out of view is the power plant and step-up transformer connecting the power to the overhead lines.

Just another lovely Feather River view.

The Lego bridge I discuss in more detail below...

This bridge wasn't anything to look at but it was some kind of modular construction. It was constructed of what were essentially erector set Legos that connected to one-another with the joint shown below. It was sturdy and made for semis to cross - but almost seems too simple to work. I hadn't seen this type of bridge construction before.

A fun little seasonal water fall that Bri said had an amazing aroma associated with it.

The Pulga Bridges. This is one of the major reasons why we came down the Feather River this spring. It's an incredible sight to see in person, the canyon walls are steep and unforgiving at this point and the bridges are amazing in how the road towers over the railroad.

One our way back toward Quincy was took Caribou Road near Belden, CA up to Butt Valley Reservoir. About a third of the road was paved, a third was a rocky shelf road with amazing views of valley behind us, and a third was well-maintained dirt road.

All long the east side of the reservoir.

A junction, somewhere between the PG&E Caribou Power Plant and Butt Valley Reservoir. The roughest, and most scenic portion of the road was between the power plan and the reservoir. There are some beautiful PG&E-owned campgrounds (open to the public) along this road.

A shot of the road surface along the reservoir. The logging traffic during the wet winter months left ruts that were starting to smooth out.

This was our last stop on the way home. The "Keddie Wye" is a world-renowned railroad structure on HWY 70 between Indian Falls, CA and Quincy, CA. Wyes are common, but bridges that are wyes, not so much.

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