I don't take as many pictures as I used to just a year or two ago.
Part of the reason for that is that I have this awesomely wonderful (or blissfully dumb, selflessly masochistic, or insanely psychotic- take your pick) boyfriend who genuinely seems to like me and that makes me want to spend as much of my free time with him. I told him last weekend that I really felt the urge to go take pictures- (the weekend before had gorgeously unpredictable weather: beautiful, dark, angry skies, and when clear, big fluffy white clouds on blue sky)- but specifically something broken down, abandoned, in disrepair- although I didn't know what or where exactly. I wasted all Saturday in indecision. Sunday, I was determined not to waste another perfectly good picture taking day; I would just get in my car and drive until I found something. This is something I am prone to do alone; I've never taken anyone with me on a "Let's just see..." photo expedition/potential waste of time + gas. This could have been an embarrassing disaster.
We eat lunch and he says to me, "Let's go find you something abandoned to take pictures of." (Love. This guy.)
I drive out of town down a highway I've only been on once before. We stop at a cemetery I knew was along the way. It was 3 o'clock in the afternoon and the sun was too harsh. Aside from seeing birds eating chicken left on a fresh grave, (avian cannibalism?), there wasn't anything "new" of interest to photograph there. Being a cemetery- "life" moves at a glacial pace, thank goodness- and besides the birds fly away whenever I attempt to close in on them, so we get in the car and drive further.
I pass one sign that says "Ione". Skip it. I mention to the wonderful man riding shotgun, "The haunted app on my phone says there's something haunted there. A couple of things. I can't remember what."
We were just getting to the oak woodland, rolling hills part of the journey. The landscape itself starts to get interesting as we finally gain the slightest bit of elevation out of the valley. The second sign I come upon for Ione, blinker goes on. I'm throwing "oak landscape scenery" to the wind; we're going right.
I still can't remember...what was it that's supposed to be so haunted in Ione? Whatever, doesn't matter. Old gold rush towns usually have old buildings falling apart somewhere, maybe an old cemetery with broken stones. That's good enough for me. Let's explore.
I'm cautious, driving through an area I'm thoroughly unfamiliar with, watching the road. We come to a fork in the road. I ask, "Left or right?" He says, "Right", I feel "Left", but go right anyway.
The town is a literal "blink and you miss it." After three seconds we realize we were now leaving the town we just entered and we see razor wire, sniper towers, official looking signs. Hey, a prison! Mule Creek! A big, scary place full of big, scary people! A Manson family member is in there!
I decide to turn back around and go "right" after all when I see a historic marker. Hey, I love these things; I've got to pull over and read the plaque on the big rock. It says, "Preston Castle, the Preston School of Industry."
"THAT'S IT!!! THAT'S THE HUGE HAUNTED THING IN IONE!"
I look around dumbly. It can't be Mule Creek Prison. What the...?
I look up.
Hey, that looks like a castle on a hill. That's got to be it, right?
(Poor honey. He's a trooper.)
We drive back about 500 yards to the driveway. "No Trespassing Signs" are on one entrance but not the other... I see a loophole.
Drive in 100 feet, jump out of the car, take pictures. Drive another 50 feet, jump out of the car, take pictures. Drive to the top of the hill to the old guard station. Drat! Fence! No trespassing sign. Hmmm...probably just a helpful suggestion?
I leave the car running and the poor boyfriend as I run along the fence and take more pictures. I'll just be a minute. I'm always just a minute. Okay, one more second...just a couple of pictures...
I'm a fiend. This is my heroin.
Poor boyfriend turns the car around as a car drives by and the driver shoots him a look. Dang. I should really get back there...just a couple more pictures, but I just found this really nice gap in the fence... Okay, okay, okay...
Get back in the car...drive 50 feet again, start taking pictures of something I just took pictures of 15 minutes earlier... Poor honey...okay, okay, okay...
We take a needless drive-by loop on the way out to look at the smaller houses at the base of Preston Castle because I'm still more curious. Some of these are occupied. Some have elements of kids about- big plastic push cars, toys in the road. I see a guy come outside and drag a garden hose across his yard.
As we drive out of town, the ominous and awesome presence of this castle is so obvious from every direction. We can't help but feel it stare us down as we drive away.
I am pleased. I went in search of an abandoned building, and I accidentally found the most gigantic Romanesque Revivalist fortress right in my backyard! I can't believe our luck.
Curious, I have to find the website listed on a sign I saw there. The sign promised tours and events like weddings and reunions (who would want a wedding at a former juvenile prison; exposed beams, holes in the edifice, screen windows flapping in the wind?), so I doubted it was a current sign. I was so happy to be wrong: double lucky day!
"Hey! Tour season starts NEXT SATURDAY! Want to go back and take the tour? It's only $10."
The awesome boyfriend enthusiastically agrees.
I scroll down. "Holy mackerel! We can spend the night there for $100! Next open night is June, the week of my birthday."
His eyes widen, "That's cool! I'd do it. How 'bout you?"
I did mention I love this man, right?
In short- we're going back on Saturday for the official tour and we'll determine at that time if we want- or if we will be able- to spend the night here.
Coming up on the castle:
Old guard station:
These guys, turkey vultures, were EVERYWHERE. I think they get
a good wind up there or smell prison food cooking next door, who knows?
The anachronistic barbecue outside was annoying me as it was not
easy to avoid getting it in the shot.
"No Smoking" sign and in the window appear to be T-shirts on display.
"Merle Haggard was here" in adult XXL perhaps?
Barbed wire, can't resist. I thought I was taking these in color because
the sky was so blue, but no. Vintage by accident rather than by design.
What's with the rope, chain, or Christmas lights hanging out of the
round center window?
Guard station again.
I don't know if these are still in use or if there is ghost mail to be picked up, but some of the former facility workers used to live in the homes below the Castle and some appear to be inhabited by families.
Another huge, grand building on the property. I don't know
what it is, but it appears to be getting renovated as well.
I'll ask on Saturday.
I listened to a podcast on Monday that had interviewed someone from
the Preston Castle Foundation. She said guards would live in these houses
during the week as there were only two dirt roads into Ione "back in the
day" and drive home to Sacramento on the weekends. Or else, if they
planned to move their families with them, they would stay in these houses
temporarily as they searched for homes to rent in town. Ione being the size of a dot, few rentals or properties were available at any given time.
I REALLY want to know why this one is marked uninhabitable.
Next week: I go inside the fence!