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US 395, Part 15: Sierra and Lassen Counties (California State Line to Susanville)

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And here we are again in California, where US 395's mighty freeway alignment will trail off into expressway and then back into one-lane-per-direction.

Upon entering the state (as we saw in the last part), US 395 enters Sierra county, a brief routing lasting only a few miles. Sierra county, incorporated 1850, is one of California's least populated at 3,500 [2000], and was named for the Sierra Nevada mountain chain. Most of this has been realigned along expressway.

[Peter Lassen] Shortly afterwards, we cross into Lassen county, named for Peter Lassen, an early explorer and settler of the region. There is a nice story about this in the Lassen County Almanac, but I'll attempt to summarize; in so many words, his notable explorations were borne out of an attempt to find a Sierra crossing more favourable to his purposes than the Donner Pass to the south (where US 40, and now I-80 runs today). Born in 1800 in Farum, Denmark, Lassen emigrated to the United States to escape poverty in 1831 and arrived in California in the early 1840s where he resided near Sutter's fort and ranchland in what is now the Sacramento area. Eventually discovering the country surrounding the confluence of the Sacramento River and Deer Creek, Lassen obtained Mexican citizenship and took possession of some 22,000 acres, establishing his Bosquejo Ranch and Benton City in 1845. Lassen then sought settlers for his new territory. Much like the ambitions of John Sutter, Lassen's idea was to create a new inland territory which he would oversee and control, and for this purpose he needed people to live in and develop the land he now possessed. Accomplishing this would require designation of a new crossing that would, naturally, take the settlers through his lands and thus was the Fandango Pass born. Primarily in Modoc county, we will see more of this in Part 17.

Lassen's machinations, like many others', would be undone by the California gold rush of 1848. When gold was found at Sutter's mill by James Marshall near Coloma, most of his settlers bailed out to prospect and strike it rich. A series of bad land deals and financial problems ensued, forcing Lassen to sell off his holdings and relocate east to what was then Plumas county. As were many others, he was fascinated by the Gold Lake myth, and started exploring the region to find it. Gold Lake was a creation of likely charlatan Robert Stoddard, a local miner who had caught gold fever all the way across the country in Philadelphia and, in return for a solid meal, told all who would listen in Downie's Flat about a lake in the mountains with veritable clods of gold at the bottom -- and produced several water-worn nuggets to prove it. His tall tale ended up taking on a life of its own; in 1850, he recruited 24 miners to go back with him to "find it" and ended up being followed by several hundred. Threatened to produce the lake or hang from a tree, Stoddard disappeared that night and left the miners in the lurch, and he was never seen again. Ironically, Stoddard had marooned the miners in some of the richest gold-bearing land for miles around.

The attempts of Peter Lassen to find Stoddard's confabulatory lake led him into the Honey Lake valley, near modern-day Susanville. While he never found Gold Lake, he did find gold, and became a permanent resident the same year Stoddard fled into the darkness. By now an "elder statesman" of sorts, it was logical that he would become President and Surveyor of the new Nataqua Territory that encompassed the valley (more on that in Part 16). He would remain in the region for the rest of his life except for the event that would end it. In 1859, Lassen would arrange a prospecting party to the Black Rock silver strikes in Nevada. Critically, Lassen split the party in two and traveled with the first, which also arrived first and awoke on 26 April 1859 to gunfire. Only Lemericus Wyatt survived the apparent massacre of Lassen's party (Lassen, Wyatt and a third, Edward Clapper). Wyatt stated, and it cannot be disproven, that Lassen and Clapper were killed by Paiute Indian attackers; Wyatt's story, being the only eyewitness, remains the official explanation of Lassen's death. That said, there are also some who believe that Wyatt himself murdered his traveling companions, and the issue remains an open one to this day.

A particular irony about all the things in California named after Lassen is that virtually none are actually in the county he eventually inhabited and now bears his name. Of Lassen Peak, Lassen Creek, Lassen Butte, Lassen View and Mount Lassen, they are all in Plumas county, except for the Creek which is in Modoc; Lassen's original ranch, today's town of Vina, is in Tehama county, and Lassen Meadows is in Nevada!

US 395 through this portion of Lassen county is primarily one-lane-per-direction with occasional passing lanes. US 395's portions of expressway, however, are largely behind it in California from this point on. Much of its course, except for some bypassed sections (particularly in Doyle and Sierra county), is the same as its ancestral alignment.

In highway history, this Part shows the junction of US 395 and CA 70. This junction is approximately the diversion from US 395 of Alternate US 40 (see Part 13) towards US 99 in Central California. ALT US 40 existed on this routing between 1955 and 1964, when US 40 was decommissioned in California.

The entire routing of US 395 in northern California was originally signed as CA 7 in 1934 during the initial signage of state highways, the same as its southern section down to the US 6 split (Part 2). As in Part 1, I will parenthetically mention the former Legislative Route Numbers composing this routing of US 395, keeping in mind that modern US 395 may only follow them approximately. See Part 1 before you read this for a little background. Our component LRNs from here to the Oregon border are LRN 29 (Nevada state line to Johnstonville, 1919) and LRN 73 (Termo to Oregon state line, 1931). There appears to be no known LRN for the alignment from Johnstonville to Termo; it is unclear to me what the LRN might have been, and Dan Faigin's US 395 entry lists no LRN for this alignment either.


Ah, crap. Billy, get the dog back in the truck -- we'll have to kick him out in Nevada instead! (Just north of the state line.)

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From this point all the way to the Oregon state line (at the end of Part 17), there are two parallel sets of postmiles we will encounter: first, the usual Caltrans postmiles with county, alignment endorsement and milepoint, and then this second parallel set which seem to be erected by the constituent counties and are self-documented as "CM" (we'll see this in Part 16), so we will use the same abbreviation to refer to a milepoint indicated by this second type. Interestingly, they also keep track of the distance in kilometres ("KP").

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US 395 in Sierra county is a simple expressway; it is not true freeway as there are some at-grade crossings including Long Valley Rd (Part 14) right at the state line. This was built in 1976; old US 395 (and until 1964, ALT US 40) was originally routed along what is now a badly maintained frontage road to the west labeled as Scott Rd on some maps. We will not do much more than mention it as we come across it, owing to the fact it is now discontinuous and the exact old alignment is therefore difficult to traverse accurately. Because of this shift, the entire (short) course of US 395 in Sierra county and part of Lassen appears on realigned mileage.

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Lassen county line. Note that US 395 only ran for three short miles in Sierra county (the final PM count is 3.12 miles [realigned]).

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Advance signage for CA 70, the inheritor of Alternate US 40 and before that old CA 24, the only exit along this alignment and in the present day the only numbered official freeway interchange US 395 has in California. Because of the 1976 realignment, this is not the exact point of the old US 40A/US 395 junction; that point is about two miles west.

Note that this interchange is numbered as Exit 8. This is a little bit of a problem as US 395 has already traveled approximately 360 miles in California to this point, so there is the possibility of a duplicated exit number if US 395 in San Bernardino county (Part 1) ever gets upgraded to freeway in the future.

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Despite the county change, the CM posts still track the cumulative mileage. This is probably because of the short routing in Sierra county.

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Jct CA 70.

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[Hallelujah Junction in 1953 (with CA 24), 36K.] Detour: CA 70 (Former ALT US 40, Former CA 24)

If we exit and head west, we come to the original Hallelujah Junction, which was approximately here at Scott Rd and CA 70. That junction is depicted in the 1953 picture at right (click for a 36K enlargment), when the route was still CA 24, not US 40A. Note the enlargement of the 24 shield, showing the older designation, and a faintly horned shield (the halftone pattern makes this tricky to make out) in the background that is US 395 itself. Beckwourth's original trail (Part 13) mostly follows Alternate US 40; it is approximated by Scott Rd/old US 395 to this point (the former US 40A and US 395 junction), then CA 70 west to Beckwourth, his former ranch and trading post. At Beckwourth, the old trail proceeds north along and across modern Lake Davis (thus partially underwater) to Spring Garden. At Spring Garden, the trail rejoins old ALT US 40 and continues over the Oroville-Quincy Hwy to Bidwell's Bar, now under Lake Oroville itself, and then south along US 40A (CA 70) into Marysville where the trail concluded.

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And that's why we're not driving much of this.

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Despite the sign, we will see this road again as we get a little closer to Doyle.

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Returning to US 395, with a weirdly proportioned "9" in the button copy shield. There's lots of old button copy and enamel signage here, so we'll do some sign pr0n on our way in.

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Advance signage for the end junction (with an END Scenic Byway marker).

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Overheads for US 395.

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Looking back, with signage for Quincy. As mentioned in Part 13, old Alternate US 40 does not follow modern CA 70 completely. Old ALT US 40 and CA 70 run together west through the Beckwourth Pass, then through Beckwourth and Portola to Quincy. At this point, old US 40A proceeds along the alignment of the former Oroville-Quincy Highway into Oroville along and across Lake Oroville, partially CA 162 today, while CA 70 takes a bypassed alignment further west along the valley of the Feather River's north fork. In Oroville, the two travel together into Marysville, and then to old US 99 south of Nicolaus to meet old US 40 in Sacramento.

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END CA 70 at modern Hallelujah Jct.

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The only freeway entrance assemblies for US 395 in the entire state as we rejoin the highway.

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End Detour

Despite their presence, US 395 immediately degrades to one-lane-per-direction after Hallelujah Junction.

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"Daytime Headlight Section," which seems a bit better than "Daylight Headlight Section" (Part 1).

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The road is not what I would call terrifically well maintained, but adequate. The rolling hills and valley aspect is very typical of this portion.

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Distance signage.

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Some fascinating splashes of red oxidized colour in the hills ascending the Doyle Grade.

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Continuing NB US 395.

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Crossing Long Valley Creek (PM R15.87), one of the feeders to Lassen's Honey Lake.

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It's not too picturesque though.

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If you looked sharp at the last picture (go back to it if you didn't), there is a little ill-maintained road winding its way along the west side of the creek up to the stop sign shown here, just past the Long Valley Creek bridge. This is the end of Scott Rd, old US 395.

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Interestingly, even the CM posts will sometimes show realignment endorsements. Naturally, this means we're still on shifted miles. Although Constantia Rd to the west is a tempting suspect, this particular alignment was already in service as early as 1948, meaning the marked realignment must have occurred to this straighter routing.

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A view of the gently forested range out the driver's window.

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Turnoff for Doyle, a small town with a population of 1,175 [2000] named for regional settlers John and Stephen Doyle.

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Doyle Loop turnoff, an original alignment of US 395 through Doyle's "downtown." We turn right to traverse it.

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[Doyle limits, early 1950s, 59K.] Fork 1: Doyle Loop - Old US 395 (LasCo 361)

Doyle Loop is also signed as LasCo 361. This is the first sign we present here demonstrating Lassen county's secondary county routes. Although many counties and states have secondary county route systems, Lassen actually signs theirs (in addition to having regular primary county routes signed with the MUTCD pentagon). There are numerous routes in this unique system and we will encounter quite a few of them.

Compare this view with the Jervie Eastman postcard on the right (with an enlargement of the old Division of Highways municipal limit marker); click for a 59K larger view.

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BLM turnoff for the Fort Sage Mountains.

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That road is itself another secondary route, LasCo 322. Note how the road name is given as well (Hackstaff Road) which is typical convention. Roughly at this point Doyle Loop changes names to Doyle Drive.

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Old "downtown" Doyle.

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Curving back to the main highway.

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Junction modern US 395.

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Fork 2: Modern US 395

Just after the Doyle Loop separation, we pass by another secondary route, the old Doyle Grade into the mining region (LasCo 331).

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Looking east towards the Doyle Loop and Doyle Dr, passing by on modern US 395.

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The end of Doyle Dr, merging our two forks -- just in time for the next one, which is ...

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Fork 1: Old Highway 395 "Old Hwy Route 29" (LasCo 342)

Another notable Lassen county secondary route (to us, at least) is this old alignment of US 395 which is even signed in the field as Old Highway. We turn left onto it from NB US 395.

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LasCo 342 shield and road name. "Check Headlights" reminds you that you just came off a daytime headlight section, something you don't find on many headlights-required alignments in California.

[Old signage for LasCo 342.] Note the name "Old Highway Route 29." If you go back to the blurb in the beginning, you'll find LRN 29, which was the legislative route number for this portion of US 395. This is an odd thing to find in the field in the modern day, and even odder when you consider that the sign is on obviously new screened aluminum -- recall that Caltrans has not used LRNs since 1964! (See the glossary entry on the California Great Renumbering if you don't understand the significance.) The original legend was simply Old Highway, as shown in the clip from my 2005 image at right, so I can only conclude there is probably a lonely roadgeek slaving in secret somewhere in the bowels of the Lassen county public works department.

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Looking down old route "29."

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The county routes also carry (at intervals) their own postmiles designating them as county routes, the county route number, and the milepoint -- compare with the county route postmiles along BR 395 in Ridgecrest (Part 2). A painstaking search did not turn up any Caltrans-issue postmiles, however, but we would not expect any if the alignment were indeed dated prior to 1964. The count seems to go north to south, so this is past the two-mile point.

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NB LasCo 342 Old Highway through the western portion of Doyle.

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Eventually, what little habitation there is will filter out on the north end of town.

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LasCo 342 then executes a sharp right to rejoin the highway. There are some small snippets of alignment that NAVTEQ also tags as Old Highway along Bernice Ln (ahead), but these are largely discontinuous, so we will stick to what is signed for our purposes here.

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Another county route postmile as we approach mainline US 395, at PM 0.5.

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End LasCo 342.

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Fork 2: Modern US 395

Modern US 395 in Doyle. The exact date of construction is unclear, but must be pre-1964 as the postmiles actually show non-realigned miles (one to be shown momentarily).

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Distance signage leaving Doyle.

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PM 26.0. Note how this is not realigned.

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Northern junction LasCo 342, where our forks will merge and leave town.

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First junction with a primary country route (LasCo A26) in Lassen county; note that it uses the MUTCD pentagon, same as everywhere else. This is the turnoff to Herlong and the Sierra Army Depot, a major site for military ground systems deployment and development. Herlong is a small community (928 [2000]) along the eastern Sierra Nevada on the edge of Honey Lake. Established in 1942 to provide support for the Army Depot, it was named for Capt. Henry Walter Herlong, the first U.S. Army Ordnance officer to die in the line of duty during World War II; Herlong perished in an airplane accident in LaGrange, Georgia in 1941. A 1500-bed medium security federal prison was established nearby in 2005.

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NB US 395.

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A little ways down is another one (LasCo A25). Both go to Herlong.

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Continuing NB US 395 to Milford.

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PM 39.0. Still original miles.

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A view of Honey Lake to the east, mostly dry in the modern day although there is sometimes some small amount of water in it.

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End daylight headlight section as we reach Milford.

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Milford, barely 70 inhabitants.

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That's about all there is to Milford. There is a small deviation on the NAVTEQ plot which may be possibly old highway and is in fact signed as Milford Old Hwy Rd, but this is not marked from US 395 (see Google Maps).

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Continuing NB US 395.

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Turning away a bit from the mountains into the Honey Lake valley proper.

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Approaching the rest area on this segment.

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Exiting for something that generally must be done at least once between Reno and Oregon.

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I have to say, this is one of the nicest Caltrans rest stops I have ever been in. No graffiti, nice restrooms, pretty country.

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Some of the idyllic homes around this area.

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Overlooking the lake bed from the rest area.

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PM 51.

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Junction LasCo A3.

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This does not go all the way to Lakeview, OR as the distance signage might imply; it just hooks up with US 395 outside of Susanville in Standish (Part 16). This is part of what used to be Buntingville, named for settler A.J. Bunting who opened a trading post here in 1878, but little remains of the original settlement.

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Just past A3 is the turn-off for Janesville. Janesville was established in 1857 by settler Malcolm Bankhead who put up a small log house and established a smithy, naming the settlement for his wife. The original course of US 395 through Janesville was bypassed sometime in the 1950s, but of course we will take a look.

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Fork 1: Old US 395 in Janesville

Immediately after the left turn we come up to LasCo 208, the Janesville Grade, which leads into some beautiful mountain country.

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However, we turn right onto Main St to parallel mainline US 395 instead.

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This appears to have been a county road once upon a time (235?), based on this crushed postmile nearby. However, I was not able to find any others along the route.

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Be nice to bicyclists. The Second Amendment applies to them too.

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NB Main St (old US 395).

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Janesville post office.

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"Downtown."

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The local high school and elementary school, replacing the little white schoolhouse which was present during the early part of the 20th century.

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More vet shops for Dad's benefit. This section of Main St is also signed as Janesville Cutoff Rd.

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As we turn back to US 395, Main St will curve off towards the highway and intersect it. Old US 395 continues a little ways past here as Conrad Ln.

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Some of the centre striping is faintly visible as we pull up short of the highway beside us.

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Fork 2: Modern US 395

Rewinding back to the main highway, we bypass Janesville on the eastern side, where a few shops and services have moved out to the newer road.

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Coming down the hill, where Main St connects up on the left hand side and our two forks join.

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Curving down out of the Honey Lake Valley towards Susanville.

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The ascent is not steep, but the routing is a bit twisty.

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Finally straightening out around PM 59.0, still on 'original' miles, with the Susanville municipal airport visible in the distance.

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Junction CA 36 outside of Susanville. Compare this view with when this intersection was built in 1964 (36K).

Continue to Part 16

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