What is it about these river roads that always seems to lead me to some place new and full of magic? Sometimes it’s just a particularly stunning sunset or a grove of fruit trees. Other times, it’s an entire city, shabby and almost forgotten. I drive these roads, winding with the curve of the river, watching the Sandhill cranes fly home for the evening and the old fisherman sitting on the porches of their houseboats at the banks.
Sometimes I fall into the trap of every other twentysomething who lives in this area. So little to do. So few perspectives. So few opportunities. Miles of fields, upon fields. Sometimes, we feel stuck here, in a seemingly forsaken valley between cities to the east and the west that tease us oh-so-loudly with their culture, charming neighborhoods, interesting people, art films, bars and restaurants, bookstores (oh, bookstores, how I miss you), museums and restaurants that are actually open after 9 p.m. and on weekends.
But then. Then I drive those river roads. I drive them until something makes me pull over. And I always – always – wonder, would I have found this anywhere else? Maybe so, but it’s the magic of the rivers and the dirt roads and the forgotten that keeps me loving this valley. For now.
And this place, the Old Sugar Mill across a narrow road from the Sacramento River, is one of those places. I’d been once or twice, as a second shooter for a wedding and as a good daughter who sat through a Father’s Day Randy Travis concert with my dad. But I went back again last week . Few people were there. I found out how the mill was moved by train from Utah to here in the 1930s, brick by brick. It produced sugar until a decade or so ago. Now it’s half abandoned sugar mill with secrets and broken concrete. The other half is beautiful winetasting center with eight tasting rooms.
And here is what I saw as I wandered: