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Stop your bike in Duncans Mills

Friday, June 30, 2017   (1 Comments)
Posted by: Bill Reeve, #194988

On August 3rd, 1877, a Wells Fargo stage coach slowed to round a tight corner on the dirt road to Duncans Mills. The horses shook their heads against the reins.

Suddenly, the infamous Black Bart – his face obscured by a cloth bag – appeared out of the forest and stepped into the center of the narrow road. He stood directly in front of the stagecoach. Black Bart leveled his double-barreled, 12-gauge shotgun at the driver and in his deep voice bellowed those famously dreaded words across California in the late 1800s: “Throw down the box!”

The town of Duncans Mills has changed little in size since those rowdy days. The lumber mill is long closed. The surrounding forests stand tall with second-growth redwoods, some growing out of the stumps of the huge trees that were sawn down by hand in the lumber boom of the late 19th century.

The Russian River at Duncans Mills - famous for its smallmouth bass, bluegill, catfish and enormous steelhead.

Duncans Mills is protective of its history. The downtown buildings display historically-correct architecture. The small railroad station and museum is the town’s centerpiece.

Kickstands down at the Duncans Mills railroad station and museum. Downtown is on the right, across highway 116.

The light gauge logging and passenger railroad has long stopped running, but a boxcar and a passenger car, restored in the 1980s, decorate the town.

Restored railroad cars in Duncans Mills.

Located on the Russian River, the quiet little village famous for its fishing is a great destination for additional reasons. Besides the fact that Duncans Mills is a lovely town surrounded by wilderness trails and a spectacular coastline, it is the gateway to some beautiful, and relatively unknown, backcountry roads sure to make motorcyclists smile.

Highway 116 (which runs through town) is a scenic ride, but I recommend that riders find their way to Duncans Mills via the Bohemian Highway. That road better captures the spirit of the Russian River communities.

We stayed a weekend at the picturesque Inn at Duncans Mills, and after hearty breakfasts cooked and served by Jim the proprietor, we endeavored to exhaust ourselves with days of on- and off-road riding.

The centerpiece of a full-day ride is Fish Rock Road, about 15 miles of dirt and gravel that climbs, winds and dips through pine, oak and redwood forests. Fish Rock can be combined with other scenic (and paved) twisty back roads, like Greenwood, Mountain View or Skaggs Springs roads, to make spectacular loops through the coastal range.

Laura on Fish Rock Road.

Another memorable day-long loop from Duncans Mills heads up King Ridge Road. King Ridge Road is a one-lane, rural road that passes along the westernmost crest of the Coast Range, through redwood groves, oak savannas, rolling vineyards and free-range cattle land, all the while presenting views deep into the rugged coastal mountains.

The oak savanna crest of King Ridge Road.

From King Ridge Road, drop down on Tin Barn Road and head for lunch at the family-owned Two Fish Bakery. From the Two Fish, you can return to Duncans Mills on the spectacular coastal highway, but if you enjoy riding off the pavement, take Kruse Road up from Highway 1 to Seaview Road. Kruse Road will provide long views of the rocky coastline as it carries you south to the town of Jenner (and gas). As my wife Laura said, “Kruse Road has just enough roots, ruts and potholes so that you pick a line - if you want.”

Laura in one of King Ridge Road’s redwood groves.

After days of riding, we enjoyed draft beer at the Blue Heron and dinners at the Cape Fear Café, both of which are Duncans Mills anchor businesses. The next time you are in northern California, pull over and put down your kickstand in Duncans Mills.

Black Bart, who never actually loaded his shotgun for any of his robberies out of fear he might accidentally hurt someone, left a poem scrawled on a waybill at the scene of his Duncans Mills stagecoach robbery:

I’ve labored long and hard for bread.
For honor and for riches,
But on my corns too long you’ve tread
You fine haired sons of bitches.

Black Bart, whose real name was Charles E. Boles, eventually robbed 28 Wells Fargo stagecoaches before his capture and internment in San Quentin.

At his release, a reporter asked Black Bart if he would return to stagecoach robbing. Charles said he was through with crime. When asked if he would write any more poems, Black Bart replied, "Young man, didn't you hear me say I would commit no more crimes?"


Ralph L. Meyer says...
Posted Saturday, July 29, 2017
Interesting read, and nice description of the area around Duncans Mills. Thanks for the write up and pictures!

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