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   descent from California Quarry
Monday, May 16 2005
The other day one of my clients told me that if I was willing to clamber up steep banks, there is lots of free bluestone to be had at California Quarry in Woodstock. Most of the easy pickings, the low hanging bluestone fruit if you will, have already been taken.
Today I had an emergency housecall with one of my fairly regular clients, who happens to live on California Quarry Road. So after I was done I decided to head up to the end of the road to see what the quarry was like.
The most striking thing about the upper part of California Quarry Road is how incredibly steep it is. My truck labored to climb the long stretches between the switchbacks and I wondered vaguely if I was doing it an injury to be pushing it so hard. Despite the formidable grade, though, every so often there'd be a house. And it wouldn't be just some rinky dink little thing, it would always be a million dollar mansion with lavish groundskeeping cowering behind an ADT Home Security sign. Most of the houses were done in a modern variant of the Swiss chalet vernacular, with huge windows looking down upon the incredible landscape below. Interestingly, though, nobody actually seemed to be occupying any of these houses. More on that in a moment.
I drove upward until the road became rough and I worried it might really break my truck, whose members are all pretty deeply rusted. At that point I climbed out and inspected the bluestone, which lay in jumbled piles on either side of the road. I wasn't actually at the quarry itself yet; I think the bluestone I was finding had come from the roadcut itself. No matter; there was a lot of good quality stuff here. I gathered as much as I thought my truck could safely haul and then slowly headed back down the mountain.
Interestingly, I noticed that the rock here on the shoulder of this mountain (which is called Overlook Mountain) contained layers of strata familiar from various parts of Dug Hill Road, along with one layer that was completely unfamiliar. The bluestone was much like the bluestone on Dug Hill Road, and it was in proximity to a fine-grained brittle stone with the iridescent sheen, also familiar from Dug Hill Road. The strata I didn't recognize contained a crumbly brick-red rock that lacked obvious internal structure. All the rock here, like the rock on Dug Hill Road, appeared to be lying completely flat. The chief difference was the elevation; here it was 1600 feet above sea level while on Dug Hill Road it was about 650 feet above sea level. I wondered if perhaps the rocks at the two locations were part of the same geologic formation, one that subtly rises towards the north by 1000 feet over the course of 15 miles.
The problem with my pickup in a situation like this is that it has an automatic transmission and thus slowing the vehicles descent using engine compression (as opposed to brakes) is not as easy or as controllable as it is with a manual transmission. I could use the esoteric low-range positions of the automatic control and the four wheel drive configurations, but I'm not especially familiar with how they work. The upshot of all this was that I ended up using my brakes a lot during the descent, though not as much as someone less familiar with the dangers of brake overuse. As I approached the bottom and the road started leveling out, I started using my brakes more aggressively. But at one point I went to push the brakes and the pedal went all the way to the floor without any effect at all. Then I smelled the smell of burning brake pads. The energy release of all that bluestone coming down off the mountain was manifesting as friction-destroying heat in my braking system. It was a scary experience, but it would have been terrifying had it happened higher on the mountain. I considered pulling over and letting my brakes cool down, but then I discovered that the L setting of the automatic transmission (coupled with "H4-L" on the four wheel drive control) was a low enough setting that the truck could be coasted very slowly even down steep grades.
This got me to thinking: what about the people who actually have houses high on California Quarry Road? Do they have to replace their brakes every couple of months? Or do they master the art of judicious shifting and minimal brake use? (This is a skill that is observably rare in this area, at least among the people I find myself following on its highways.) Perhaps the reason I didn't seen anyone occupying those fancy chalets was that, after the honeymoon periods their construction, their owners decided they didn't enjoy taking the risks necessary to drive there and (most crucially) back.

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