The Yreka, California chamber of commerce is not going to tell you about this walk. Usually I walk downtown, where everything is closed, except for the bars. I pass historic buildings, intriguing stores, restaurants, and little parks, all very nice, but I have been staying in Yreka on my trips to and from San Jose for 19 years. It’s halfway and the Best Western always has vacancies, although the prices have doubled.
Tuesday night at dusk, I turned left instead of right to see what lay beyond the freeway. Past three freeway entrance/exits, under the bridge, past a lot of litter, and a deserted-looking train station, I found real life. Houses, school buses, a barking dog, warehouses across the street from new apartments, a YMCA with an exercise trail, and a cemetery, dating back to the mid-1800s.
I know this town has a lot of history. It was big in the gold-mining era, and now the miners’ descendants lie here. Many of the names are Portuguese, like my maternal ancestors. Some of the graves are marked with old white stones so weathered I can’t read the names. Some are not marked at all but are surrounded by iron fences. There are new graves, too, decorated with artificial flowers and flags left over from Memorial Day.
I’m poking around the graves when I see three deer a couple rows over. One seems to be standing guard as the others sniff at the flowers. They watch me, but they don’t run as I move closer, snapping pictures. Finally I get too close and they trot away. I look around at the surrounding yellow hills and wonder what I’ll see next as sunset pinks the clouds. I love the openness of this place, so unlike where I live surrounded by trees. Working my way back to the street, aware that it’s getting dark and I ought to get back to the safety of the motel, I smile at a man and woman walking two little dogs, part of real life on the other side of the freeway.
All these years, and I never thought to look. In the morning, before I got back on the freeway, I drove around Yreka a bit. Great Victorian houses, churches, schools, offices. The Best Western Miners Inn is good, but there’s more to see, just as there is at every freeway exit between here and there.