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California State Route 70; the Feather River Highway

After crossing California State Route 49 over Yuba Pass I took CA 89 north to CA 70 to take the Feather River Highway back to the Central Valley.






CA 70 is a 178.5 mile state highway which starts at US 395 near the Nevada State Line and travels west through the Feather River Canyon to CA 99, I took the route from CA 89 in Plumas County west to CA 99 in Butte County.  CA 89 multiplexes CA 70 west through Quincy to the North Feather River where it splits north towards Lassen Volcanic National Park.  CA 70/89 follows the Middle Fork River until it cuts northwest towards Quincy.





Quincy is only 11 miles west of Spring Garden.


CA 70/89 crosses this WWII era highway bridge over Estray Creek, this is just the first of many historic bridges.





CA 70/89 crosses through East Quincy on Main Street before entering Quincy to the west.  CA 70 West/CA 89 North splits onto Lawrence Street while CA 70 East/CA 89 South is over on Main Street.  Quincy is the County Seat of Plumas County and dates back to the Gold Rush Era having been founded in 1858.




The one-way split in CA 70/89 rejoins at Crescent Street and exits Quincy.




Trucks are advised of the length limits on CA 70 through the Feather River Canyon only 10 miles to the west.





CA 70/89 soon meets the North Fork Feather River and the Western Pacific Railroad Feather River Route.  CA 89 soon splits north towards Lassen Volcanic National Park.







CA 70 follows the North Fork Feather River through the Feather River Canyon.  Following the discovery of the 5,221 foot Beckwourth Pass in 1850 there was considerable interest having a Trans-Continental Railroad line routed through the shallow grades of the Feather River Canyon.  A route through the Feather River Canyon was found in the 1860s which led to the founding of the Oroville and Virginia Railroad Company.  Political pressure by the Central Pacific Railroad which had the first Trans-Continental Railroad routed over Donner Pass largely contributed to all rail construction in the Feather River Canyon shuttering by 1869.

Work on the Feather River Route didn't continue until 1906 when the concept was picked up by the Western Pacific Railroad.  The Feather River Route was completed by 1909 and had an average grade of only 1% which was far more shallow the Donner Pass route.  The Feather River Canyon was later found to be suitable for highway traffic, but I'll get to that later in the blog.

CA 70 is a visual feast that features the Feather River Route traversing the Feather River Canyon next to the highway.  The amount of engineering that went into the design of both CA 70 and the Feather River Route is on full display which makes the drive incredibly unique.  Westbound there are several long draw looks at both the Feather River Route and CA 70.













At this ledge there is a historic marker for the community called Rich Bar.






Rich Bar was an a mining camp from 1850 which was founded off a gold claim in the North Fork Feather River.  There aren't any ruins to be seen but there is a wide vista of the Feather River Canyon.





Oroville is listed as 53 miles to the west of Rich Bar.





The Howell's Bridge is one of many original bridges to the Feather River Highway.  The route was largely constructed in the 1930s.






The next historic bridge on CA 70 westbound is the Belden Town Bridge which dates from 1912.  Belden is on the opposite side of the North Fork Feather River and dates back likely 1909.






West of the Belden Town Bridge CA 70 runs alongside the Rock Creek Reservoir.





The next significant bridge crossing is the Tobin Bridges.  The Feather River Route crosses over CA 70 as both routes jump banks of the North Fork Feather River.  The highway Tobin Bridge dates back to 1936.







The wooden Rock Crest Camp Bride is directly west of the Tobin Bridges.






The Storrie Bridge is next westbound and displays another 1936 date of construction.










From the Storrie Bridge the guide sign lists Oroville as 40 miles away.





CA 70 next crosses under the Pacific Gas & Electricity Rock Creek Powerhouse.







The Rock Creek Bridge is crossed next on CA 70 westbound and displays another 1936 construction date.






CA 70 crosses through two tunnels above a small reservoir.  The first tunnel didn't display a name but the second one is called the Grizzly Dome Tunnel and has a 1936 construction date placard.






CA 70 crosses the Butte County Line.





CA 70 crosses through a third tunnel on the Butte County side of the highway.





At the Pulga maintenance yard Oroville is listed 28 miles away.


The Pulga Highway Bridge is the last major crossing over the North Fork Feather River.  The Feather River Route is below the highway bridge on a rail bridge of the same name.  The Pulga Bridge is a great place to watch trains come and go through the Feather River Canyon.  I saw this particular train up river in Plumas County and waited for it to cross at the Pulga Bridge.











West of the Pulga Bridge CA 70 begins to climb out of the Feather River Canyon.  The Feather River Route can be seen far below.






The Feather River Highway originally would have used what is now Dark Canyon Road.  Lake Oroville necessitated a shift to a new alignment to the west which has a four-lane section descending to the Central Valley.  There is a wide vista overlooking the Central Valley as CA 70 descends out of the Sierras.






CA 70 crosses over Lake Oroville before dropping back to two lanes.  Lake Oroville was heavily damaged the prior winter and was lowered due to a heavily eroded spillway.





CA 70 has a junction with CA 191 at Clark Road.  CA 191 continues north to Paradise and actually has a hanging end with no other state route connections.





CA 70 continues to a junction with CA 149.  I took CA 70 south to CA 162 in Oroville, the highway meets CA 99 south of Marysville at the southern terminus.  CA 70 has a junction with CA 20 and the north segment of CA 65 in Marysville.





The 1936 highway bridge dates probably give it away but that was the year that the Feather River Highway was completed.  The original designation of the completed Feather River Highway was CA 24.  The completed route can be seen on the 1936 state highway map and CA 24 can be seen on the 1938 state highway map.

1936 State Highway Map

1938 State Highway Map

The Feather River Highway was originally an extension of Legislative Route 21 which was legislatively extended from Oroville to Quincy in 1919.  The Feather River Highway was meant to replace the Oroville-Quincy Highway which was the temporary routing of LRN 21 and apparently once LRN 30.  The history of LRN 21 can be found on CAhighways.org.

CAhighways.org on LRN 21

On the 1935 California Division of Highway Maps of Butte and Plumas Counties the incomplete Feather River Highway can be seen along with LRN 30 still under state maintenance on Oroville-Quincy Highway.  The 1935 Butte County Map also displays the original alignment of the Feather River Highway.  The original alignment of the Feather River Highway used Oroville Dam Boulevard/Signed County Route B2 approximately the site of Oroville Dam.  From Oroville Dam the Feather River Highway crossed the North Fork Feather River and used Dark Canyon Road to the current alignment of CA 70.

1935 Butte County Map

1935 Plumas County Map 

In 1955 the Feather River Highway was renumbered as US 40A and really honestly it is kind of the perfect alternate to even Donner Summit, much less Donner Pass.  The change from CA 24 to US 40A can been on the following two maps.

1954 State Highway Map

1955 State Highway Map

By 1958 the newly adopted planned alignment of US 40A out of Oroville appears to the west of the highway to make way for the Oroville Dam project.

1958 State Highway Map

By 1963 US 40A is shifted onto the new aligment modern of the Feather River Highway.

1963 State Highway Map

By 1965 State Highway Maps show the Feather River Highway renumbered to CA 70.

1965 State Highway Map

On the 1967 state highway map Oroville Lake appears as the project was nearing completion, the reservoir was completed in 1968.

1967 State Highway Map

After reaching Oroville I actually checked Oroville Dam Boulevard but access was cut off to the dam due to the spillway repair project.


The Oroville Dam Visitor Center tower high above Lake Oroville was still open which offered a long view at the low levels of the reservoir.


Suffice to say the water levels were finally to a safe limit.  During the winter the water level was lapping over the main spillway and was threatening to take out the emergency spillway.  Had the emergency spillway failed the reservoir would have partially breached which would have flooded Oroville and the communities down river.



Ironically the Oroville-Quincy Highway would partially become a state highway again as CA 162.  The new Bidwell Bar Bridge was constructed in 1965 to replace an earlier span which was due to be flooded over by the rising waters of Lake Oroville.  By 1970 CA 162 was extended over Bidwell Bar Bridge on the Oroville-Quincy Highway.  The change can be seen on the 1975 State Highway Map and more details about CA 162 can be found on CAhighways.org.

1975 State Highway Map

CAhighways.org on CA 162

When the 1965 Bidwell Bar Bridge was completed it had a 627 foot clearance over the waters below which was the highest in the world at the time for a suspension bridge.  Even with the waters low in Lake Oroville the clearance above the water is nowhere near the 627 feet now.




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