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Searching for the secrets of the Sacramento River

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HAMILTON CITY, Calif. - A U.C. Santa Cruz art professor and self-described historian and adventurer and a former student are traveling a 250-mile stretch of the Sacramento River to discover the unknown history of the body of water that stretches through 19 counties from Northern California to the San Francisco Bay.

Wes Modes, who is joined by his partner -- a woman who refers to herself as Benzy -- are floating in a 1940s style shanty boat that he himself built.

The boat is a replica of the kind used decades ago by people who lived along the river more than 70 years ago. "It was the perfect way for people to live on the river," said Modes. "You could build them super cheap out of found materials, and take them down river where work was better or where weather was better." They began Saturday in Red Bluff, stopped off in Hamilton City Thursday for gas and supplies, and plan to reach the San Francisco Bay in 30 days.

The trip will span 250 miles during which they will interview and document stories of town folk and their ancestors.

"I think it's worth remembering that this area has been settled for tens of thousands of years and some of the people I talk to are hopefully the tribes that live near Colusa along the river," said Modes.

The two have documented other stories along the northern part of the Mississippi and Tennessee Rivers. On July 19-22 Modes and Benzy will be at the river's edge in Old Sacramento to take part in the city's museum exhibit titled "A Secret History of American River People."

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