Thursday, December 18, 2003

Motorcycles on Stevens Trail

Mike Powell sent this about motorcycles on the Stevens Trail:

Hi Russell,

Please pass this on to the keepers of the Stevens Trail as you see

Last Saturday I decided to solo hike for a few hours mid afternoon on
the Stevens trail. (Note the parking lot had two cars parked when I
arrived. The weather was a bit rainy.)

As I approached the section of the trail which connects to the multiple
use roads, I encounter two guys riding their dirt bikes up the
non-motorized section of the trail toward the trail head.

I stood in the middle of the trail and motioned them to stop which they
did. I proceeded politely explain that they were on a posted
non-motorized historic trail and provide additional detail about the
section of trail which crosses BLM multiple use area. I also told them
the trail section which leaves the road and drops down to the river is
non-motorized as well. They were polite as well and claimed to have
missed the trail signs which clearly state the trail is designated for
non-motorized use. They turned around and took off and I assumed they

As I left the road section and started down the train toward the river,
I noticed that someone has removed the signage which depicts the trail
for non-motorized use and I also noticed two sets of fresh motorcycle
tracks heading down the I approached the fork in the trail
which splits to an upper and lower trail across the creek, I noticed the
tracks led down the trail recommended for bicycles and then back out
where the motorcyclist then took the upper trail. I decided to walk the
upper trail in hopes of having another discussion about their use of
motorcycles on a trail which is clearly marked at the fork. Already
small dirt sections of the trail were being chewed up by spinning

As I was not carrying my pistol this trip and before the second
confrontation, I took out my cell phone turned it on and checked and
verified cell coverage incase a call to 911 was needed. I also took out
my collapsible hike poles and extended both poles to full length...

Before long I heard the distinct sounds of 2cycle engines revving and
getting closer. The dirt bikers had reached the steep section of steps
on the upper trail and had turned back.

Again I stood my ground in the middle of the trail and decided my verbal
and physical demeanor would be that of crazed and red-faced bulging-eyed
Maori drill sergeant. The exchanges started to get a little heated but
at some point they must have figured that not only was I right but I was
really crazy so they piped down said they were sorry...I stepped aside
and let them pass and continued with my walk...

Since I used to ride a dirt bike years ago I can fully understand how
you can miss a trail sign when you are going 20-40 MPM in an area where
you are not familiar or have taken the time to know where OHV uses is
permitted or not. I believe the Stevens trail signs with the
non-motorized indicators are at best minimal and could be improved. I am
a welder and will be happy volunteer material and time to create some
heavy-duty steel and destruction-resistant signs that could be used to
clearly designate the trail as non-motorized.


Mike Powell

Well, this list includes the BLM people at Folsom. Better signage sounds like a good thing. And more Maori drill sergeants.

Thanks Mike!

Friday, December 5, 2003

The Stevens Trail

Some remarks about the Stevens Trail, where complaints by an adjacent property owner, Mike Viscia, have led the BLM to consider closing the existing parking area. Apparently Mr. Viscia's complaints have centered upon overflow parking along the road itself, where he has placed many "no trespassing" and "no parking" signs.

The Stevens Trail was constructed, as I recall, in the 1870s, and connected Colfax to Iowa Hill, crossing the North Fork American on a suspension bridge near the confluence of Secret Ravine. It is not depicted on the current USGS 7.5 minute Colfax Quadrangle, but is depicted on many older maps. It is one of the sixty-odd Placer County trails declared to be public trails in the famous 1953 BOS ordinance.

It has become one of the BLM's most popular and heavily-used trails. After winding gently in and out and up and down, it drops a mite more steeply just below Cape Horn itself, crosses Robbers Ravine, and soon thereafter flattens to an almost level grade, and parallels the river a couple hundred feet above, over the last mile and some to Secret Ravine.

Access to the trail is had on the frontage road southeast of I-80. In something like half a mile from the Colfax overpass, one reaches the end of the road, with the parking area on the left--the freeway side--and the Viscia driveway bending right. The parking area is almost 150 feet long, about 50 feet wide, is graveled, and is supplied with garbage cans. It is neatly kept. Signs indicate the trailhead, and inform one that overflow parking is available along the freeway side of the road.

That overflow parking could ever be necessary testifies to the high level of use of this trail. This morning, at 8:00 a.m., in a light rain, nobody was there. Mr. Viscia had, I was told, blocked one of the two accesses to the parking area with a berm. I was just photographing the berm, made from several dump-truck loads of boulders and dirt, when a car approached the Viscia driveway, and stopped as if to investigate me. I pointed my camera at the car and it left, entering the driveway.

On my 1900-era topographic map of this area, a road is shown leading from Colfax to the trail. At that time, both the Central Pacific and the Nevada County Narrow Gauge tracks used the same low pass to exit Colfax, and this Stevens Trail Road shared that pass, at first closely paralleling the narrow-gauge railroad. The road then dropped a little more steeply into the headwaters of Slaughter Ravine, diverging from the tracks, and ended almost due west from another little pass, which the trail crosses into the Burnt Flat area.

Now the old road is used as the trail, and is posted with a sign, denying use to motor vehicles.

It would be quite difficult, but not quite impossible, to expand the parking area.

After obtaining GPS coordinates, and taking a look around the parking area, and the first portion of the trail, and the overflow parking area, and gazing out into the fog-shrouded canyon, I left and drove across the overpass into Colfax, taking Highway 174 north, but passing the turn left to Grass Valley, continuing on what is called Rollins Lake Road, but which is in fact old Highway 40.

Shortly thereafter Norton Grade forks right. This is the old wagon road to Dutch Flat. I followed Norton Grade for perhaps two tenths of a mile, and turned right again on Carpenter Road. This crosses the railroad tracks immediately, and in something like one-quarter mile, passes beneath I-80, and a sign then reads "End County Maintained Road." Just beyond a paved fork right leads around some curves and down to the de facto Shooting Range.

The pavement ends here and a large heavy-duty gate stands open. Perhaps the gate marks the BLM property boundary. The shooting area was as usual littered with garbage. It is a large bulldozed flat below the railroad, and is almost paved with bullet shells. Television sets and computer monitors and all kinds of appliances are bought there for the joy of pumping bullets into them. Beer bottles are shot by the dozen. It is a bit of a nightmare. The road actually continues, and with a high-clearance vehicle, one can drive south to where the Stevens Trail comes in, and then to the east, right over the little pass and down to Burnt Flat.

The BLM, due to the complaints of Mr. Viscia, is considering re-locating the Stevens Trail parking area to the Shooting Range, and (of course) closing the area to use of firearms. I find that, as the crow flies, it is a marginally shorter distance from the Shooting Area to the intersection of the road-south and the Stevens Trail, than from the existing parking area, to that same point.

I obtained GPS coordinates for the shooting range, and left. Norton Grade, Carpenter Road, the road to the Shooting Range, and that road continuation south, and then across the pass into Burnt Flat, are all depicted on the USGS Colfax Quadrangle.

Such, then, is some information bearing upon the Stevens Trail parking problem.

I can send a cropped portion of the Colfax Quadrangle, as a JPEG file 388K in size, to whomever may be interested, with the trail roughly drawn in, and the parking area and Shooting Range labeled. I also have a cropped portion of my old 1900-era map (128K) showing the old Stevens Trail Road and the trail itself, if anyone would like to see it.

Tuesday, November 25, 2003

Pickering Bar Trail

Yesterday I joined Ron Gould for a hike on the Pickering Bar Trail, near Gold Run. From the Gold Run exit on I-80, south side, we drove west on Magra Road and then almost immediately turned south on Garrett Road, which parallels the Diggings for a mile and some before reaching the rim of the North Fork Canyon. There it bears east and a large BLM gate blocks further travel, except by foot or OHV.

There are no signs indicating that this is public (BLM) land, nor that a trail to the river exists nearby. In fact, on the last stretch of the road before it bends east to the gate, on has the distinct sense that one is trespassing, for the road also gives access to private property, and one sign boldly proclaims "No River Access."

I had never obtained GPS coordinates for the Pickering Bar Trail. Until a few years ago, one could drive to the trailhead, but now the gate must stand for the head of the trail, so I switched my little Garmin unit on right there, and, in the open, manzanita-cloaked terrain, soon obtained excellent satellite coverage. Off we went, loppers in hand.

It was a cool but sunny morning, just a few wisps of cirrus cloud here and there, and, with the sun angle so low now, near the solstice, much of the great canyon was in shadow, and was a vast blue depth beside us, only half-seen through a screen of trees and bushes. The road is ancient, in California terms, already existing at the time of the 1866 General Land Office map, when the section lines were laid out. It is marked as "Road to the Mines" on that map, and is shown terminating at the Secret World, at the head of Indiana Ravine, which is the very site of the discovery of gold at Gold Run. This is where the road ends to this day. It is becoming badly blocked up with fallen Knobcone Pines, which seeded in thickly after the 1960 wildfire, and now die in their dozens and topple over in windstorms. The storms hit hard along the rim of the North Fork canyon.

There have been many fires in this area, many fires raging up the canyon wall, as evidenced by the gigantic expanses of manzanita (all the White Manzanita, Arctostaphylos viscida), the preponderance of Sugar Pine over Ponderosa Pine, and the high incidence of Knobcone Pine. The road winds in and out of various ravines all tributary to Sheldon Ravine, and in a quarter-mile one passes a road left into the Diggings, close, but screened from view by manzanita all along the way. After another turn in and out of a ravine, the road levels and a bad old bunch of hefty Knobcones bars the way. The OHV users have cut a side trail around the fallen trees, and in another fifty yards one reaches the trailhead, a large sunny flat becoming choked with a million young manzanita bushes, seeded after semi-recent bulldozer activity, by the looks of things. The trail leads away to the south, past two middling large pines, and over the first several hundred yards, follows a bulldozed fire trail right down the spine of a ridge. This would seem to have obliterated the original trail, which may have followed a gentler line, winding back and forth across the slope, rather than straight down the ridge-crest.

The Pickering Bar Trail not depicted on the USGS 7.5 minute Dutch Flat quadrangle. If you have that map, note the words "Sheldon Ravine," on the north side of the river, and west of Pickering Bar itself. The old trailhead on the road is near the southern end of the 3000-foot contour, and the trail drops away south right through the word "Sheldon."

At about 2750' elevation, just after leaving all traces of the bulldozed fire trail behind and entering upon the Pickering Bar Trail proper, one reaches a rocky outcrop of chert, laced with quartz veins. A truly marvelous view of the canyon is had from here. One might well hike the Pickering Bar Trail just to reach this one viewpoint. It might be called Chert Point. Quartz crystals sparkle in the sun. One can see from Iowa Hill on the west to and through Giant Gap on the east, and beyond to Sawtooth Ridge, and Monumental Ridge, with its snow.

Continuing down the very steep trail, at about the 2640' elevation, a faint trail leads away west. Others like it are in the area, but are blocked by brush; this side trail is open, and in a short distance one reaches Sheldon Ravine, a narrow slot cut in parallel to the strike of the vaguely slaty bedrock, which here I take to be part of the metasedimentary portion of the Calaveras Complex, a Paleozoic "terrane" accreted to North American long ago. The strata are near-vertical and strike south. A faint game trail which might just be a human trail continues west across the ravine; we did not explore it.

Sheldon Ravine might have had its own "tailings claims" once upon a time, with sluice boxes set to extract gold which escaped the sluice boxes of the hydraulic mines in the Diggings, above. We saw tailings lodged in the bed of the creek (now dry), which the signature rounded white quartz cobbles which betray their origin in the Eocene-age river gravels of the Ancestral Yuba, which flowed north here, from Iowa Hill to the south, through Gold Run to Dutch Flat, and then on to Little York and You Bet, etc. etc.

The trail is relentlessly steep and often hemmed in by heavy brush. We lopped hundreds and hundreds of branches. Around the 1800-foot contour, we saw still another faint trail leading away into Sheldon Ravine, and explored a little ways. There had been many such trails along the way, just barely too well-defined to pass as game trails. Ron then spotted a mining ditch below us, and he made for it directly, while I returned to the main trail to see if it cut the ditch-line. I had no memory of a ditch this high above the river. But, there it was, except, it seemed the ditch came from Sheldon Ravine and ended on the spine of the ridge, where it had been turned into some minor penstock of iron or canvas; a shallow gully went straight on down, and I recalled the last time I had hiked the trail, I had interpreted this shallow gully as the trace of a lumber slide, similar to the one over on Diving Board Ridge, across Indiana Ravine to the east.

The ditch was almost impossible to discern, from the trail itself, partly because rather large bushes nearly covered it. I forced a way through this snarl of Buckbrush and Toyon and Manzanita with my loppers and on the far side found a lovely broad terrace, winding away through the brushy forest, and mostly open and clear. It followed a much steeper line than most ditches, but was, unequivocally, a ditch. It had a bit of dry-laid stone wall bolstering it in many places, often all but hidden within masses of moss. I caught up with Ron and we slowly worked our way in to Sheldon Ravine. The last fifty yards were really beautiful; the ditch was formed a broad grassy terrace atop a cliff perhaps a hundred feet high, where quite a nice waterfall will form later in the winter. There was a faint suggestion of a trail continuing west across the ravine, but we did not explore it.

We returned to the main trail slowly, putting the finishing touches on our lopping job, and soon reached the place where the main trail bends sharply left, really more north than east, about 300 feet above the river, which hits the 1440' contour at Pickering Bar. Various trails lead away to the right, southwest, let us say, as one descends the main trail. I have followed a couple of these. One leads to the Flat of the Chinese Coin, as described by Mike Case recently here. Along this part of the trail, one suddenly begins to see the California Nutmeg, a strange conifer in the Yew family, with brash sharp needles about two inches long, and single seeds which resemble huge green olives. It might easily be mistaken for a fir.

The main trail becomes narrower and fainter and finally takes a drastic plunge right down to the river, where, just as we had seen high above in Sheldon Ravine, the river runs parallel to the strike of the bedrock. Some rather fantastically eroded sections of bedrock flank the river here, while across the river rises Pickering Bar, a large glacial outwash terrace. We were right across the river from the "B" in the words "Pickering Bar" on the Dutch Flat quadrangle.

After a lunch break, we lost our precious sun, but explored a bit before hitting the trail for the long slog out. Goodness gracious, that is a steep trail. It is probably not much more than a mile in length, from the old trailhead down to the river, but seems longer, and however long or short it may be, it is strenuous.

Reaching the top, we followed the old road for a ways, and then struck north into the Diggings, through one of the precious few gaps in the wall of manzanita. As soon as we entered the sacred precincts we heard voices, and after some wandering, caught glimpses of people over on the Bluffs, apparently hanging from ropes, and having a wonderful time, doing what, we had no idea.

We slowly approached. I wanted to show Ron the place where the last big log of petrified wood had been, before being stolen by a mining claimant, and as it happened, the rope-swinging cliff-climbing party had left their packs there. They were over on a sort of Macchu-Picchu-looking spire of sediments, near a secret trail up to Garrett Road. Ron and I turned to leave, and just then the distant cliff dwellers set up an even louder hue and cry, and we began to hear my name, "Russell Towle," and that hardly seemed likely. So we stopped and finally I shouted, "Who are you?" and it turned out to be my old friend Alex Henderson, now a fireman in Sacramento but for many years a resident of Dutch Flat. He had brought his children and a niece and nephew to the Diggings to explore and mess around on crumbling epic clifflets using ropes.

After a time they scrambled down into the Diggings and hiked over to us, and we had a pleasant chat before returning to the road and the trucks. Alex et. al. had actually ventured a little ways down the Pickering trail, earlier, and saw they were on my track by the lopped branches, but had been scared from following further when the trail steepened so badly, below Chert Point. So they entered the Diggings and swung around on ropes.

It had been a wonderfully sunny day, perfect hiking weather, great views, the river itself as beautiful as always--I got some nice photos of the sunny bluffs of Pickering Bar, reflected in the quiet low water of Fall. Water Ouzels and Canyon Wrens were much in evidence, down there.

And such was a great day in the great canyon. I especially liked finding the old mining ditch, now just a perfect terrace for resting and dreaming and taking the sun, and soon to be adorned with its own high waterfall.

Sunday, November 23, 2003

Mike & Jason V

Part Five of the Adventures of Mike and Jason:

In part 4 my son Jason and I had just spent a harrowing night hunkered down under an 8 x 10 plastic tarp on a sand bar at Pickering Bar, while the heavens opened up on us. We awoke to a soggy and foggy morning punctuated with torrential downpours about every half hour. Eventually moving up into Joe the Troll's old camp, we made the best of the day and attempted to dry out our gear.

August 23, 2002. Knowing that we had to dry out our wet soggy gear, we un-strung our rafts and used the line for a clothes line. There were plenty of trees and bushes close at hand for the clothes line, and camp looked a lot like a laundry center too cheap to use dryers! It took a long time for our bags to dry because of the lack of sunshine and dampness. It was noticeably cooler out too. We cooked a late breakfast under our tarp and enjoyed every last bite. All of Joe's trash was really getting to us, so we gathered it all up and piled it in one neat pile then covered it with some black plastic that was lying around. It looked much better and controlled the smell too. We found a lawn rake leaning up against a tree and raked down the camp, removing the last small bits of trash. Now it almost looked like a clean, comfortable camp. After our meal and cleaning up camp, we both began to feel the effects of the lack of sleep we had not got during the night. Sometime around 10 a.m. it quit raining and we used the opportunity to grab a much needed nap.

Waking up a couple hours later we were surprised to see the sun shining. With nothing else to do, we decided to go exploring around Pickering Bar. Grabbing our camera gear and prospecting bags, we explored the tailing piles. It was just amazing how much work went into moving all that stone! What wouldn't we have given to have slipped back in time for just an hour to see this place during its heyday! We found several places at the back of the tailing piles where the large rocks and boulders gave way to very small sized gravel, and we suspected bedrock wasn't far down. If only we'd have brought a shovel. We even found a couple areas where old cabins once stood, their locations given away by the profusion of old square nails lying around. Exploring further up river, we came to the north end of Pickering Bar and found an excellent trail leading up river in what we figured was a slight N.E. direction. It was quite evident that at one time the trail had been well used and maintained. Or maybe it was once a ditch bringing water to the miners of this bar, and had been converted to a trail later on. Following it a little ways above the tailing piles, we found a spur trail leading up hill, yet back down river. Pretty soon we came to a large flat area with scrub Oak growing around the edges. Someone had been cutting the large Manzinita bushes down, and we wondered why. Dozens of the beautiful bushes lay where someone had chopped them down. On the east edge of the clearing was a blue tarp tied up in a tree covering someone's camp. Again we had found an abandoned camp where someone had left quickly and left most their gear! Investigating, we found lots of trash under the tarp. Nearby was a large hole someone had went to a lot of effort to dig. It was probably 8 feet across and 6 feet deep, and it was evident it had once been much deeper. In the bottom lay old trash, so we took 10 minutes and packed all the trash from the abandoned camp and put it in this hole. While picking up the trash Jason found a bronze U.S. Marine corps emblem that had once adorned an officers hat. We wondered how a Marine could have went off and left such a mess! This flat area consisted of perhaps 2 acres and would sure have made a nice place for a home if properly manicured. We wondered how it came to be. Continuing up river a ways at that elevation without finding much new, we dropped back down to the trail and followed it back to the tailing piles. It was then that we noticed a man in a yellow inflatable canoe lining it down the river. He was having a terrible time standing on the slippery rocks and was making very slow time. We figured we would catch up to him later and say hello.

Dropping back down to the river, we found the place where we had spent an enjoyable afternoon last year sluicing for gold. We broke out our pans and sieve and started removing some larger stones, scraping off the surface dirt under them. Putting this through our sieves, we each panned about 10 pans. By then the afternoon sun was getting real warm, and we decided we were rich enough! We had got quite a little color, but it was all fine gold, and nothing bigger than a mustard seed. Last year the wind had come up very strong while we sluiced here, and when we had got back to our camp a couple hours later, we had found it blown over a 50 foot area! Now, arriving back at camp up in the tailing piles, everything was still intact. It was late afternoon now, and we were feeling pretty scraggily. So, gathering up our shaving kits, shampoo, and towels, we went down to the river and got cleaned up. It had been hot earlier exploring up river and we were pretty sweaty. While cleaning up in the river I notice a line of small blisters on my right arm. Poison Oak! Silently I prayed I had just brushed up against a bush somewhere, and it wasn't from my previous puncture wound when I had jabbed a Poison Oak stick into my leg in Green Valley. Arriving back in camp we changed into clean, dry clothes and it felt so good! We felt much better. All of our gear had dried quite nicely after the sun came out, and we set to work re-stowing everything in the water proof bags. Taking the line down from the trees, we re-strung our rafts and blew them up solid. We wanted to get as ready as possible to shove off down river the next day as early as we could.

It was getting to be late afternoon now, and we again decided to explore the tailing piles. There is just something about tailing piles that draws me, a sort of doorway or connection with the past, and I find it difficult to pass any of them up. Walking among them I feel welcomed by the old miners who made them, and more at home than in a big city. This time we were exploring along the edge of them, by the river. Almost directly across the river from camp there was a small flat area about 25 feet up the bank, and it looked suspicisiouly like a former cabin site. So, crossing the river we climbed up to it. Surely enough, there was still some sign of rock work on both sides, and several very old pieces of green colored glass. Scraping around on the ground with our feet, we soon found several old square nails. While scraping the ground for treasures, I suddenly un-covered a small round coin with a square hole cut into the center of it. I showed Jason and we both agreed it was probably an old Chinese coin. We were both on our hands and knees intently looking for more of them when Jason said, "Dad, do you feel that?" Suddenly a wave of cold air enveloped me. It was much colder than anything we'd experienced on the trip either this year or last year. It was almost like we had just stepped into a walk-in freezer. We could actually see our breaths! We looked at each other and both said at the same time, "lets get out of here!" Not wasting any time we both headed for the river! We hadn't gone 5 feet down the bank when we entered into normal temperatures once again. Continuing on up the bluff on "our" side of the river, we stopped and looked back at where we had just been, trying to figure out what had just happened. It was then that I remembered something that Joe had told us last year. He said that several times he had seen a person standing in a flat area across the river, wearing a long coat coming down to his knees, and a large pointed hat. Joe had shouted hello at this fellow each time he saw him, but never had received an answer back. Then he said that just as fast as this stranger had appeared, he would also be gone just as fast. Joe was sure he was a Chinese ghost. When I mentioned this to Jason, he too remembered Joe telling us the story. We both wondered if we had just encountered this fellow! Needless to say, we stayed on our own side of the river, and just for good measure I threw the coin I had found back across the river. I'm sure it landed very close to the flat area where I had found it, and we had no further encounters with the "cold", although both of us, I'm sure, slept with one eye open that night! Remembering the movie about the Blair witch, I was glad I had "given" the coin back!

It was getting dark now, and we cooked our supper of Mountain House freeze dried meals. The bats were flitting around as we went down to the river to pump us a couple bottles of water for the night to mix with Tang. We both kept a close eye on the flat area across the river just above us as we got our water, but all was calm and the air warm. Arriving back in camp, we both realized we were pretty beat, and didn't take too long in getting into our warm dry sleeping bags. The stars were out and we saw several good meteors, as well as the normal airplanes and satellites. No talking that night, just normal sleep with no rain, hail, thunder, lightning, or animals running over us.

August 24, 2003 . We were up early with the sun just coming over the canyon rim. We wasted no time in getting breakfast over with, and then started packing our gear down to the river. Loading our rafts and tying everything down, we shoved off with the morning mists hanging lightly over the river. Coming to the first bend, we found where the man was camping who was lining the canoe we had seen the day before. He heard us going by, and crawled out of his small tent and talked with us for about 15 minutes. He seemed nice enough, but we were very cramped for time now, and said a polite good bye and pushed on down river. One bend later we were surprised to see him again, and he passed us in his fast canoe. He was riding in it and scraping over quite a few rocks. Jason and I both hoped he had plenty of patch gear with him! And later we would find where indeed, he had to patch his canoe, by the discarded patch kit wrappers. We wished him good luck, and he was gone. I have since wondered if this man was a BLM employee patrolling the river. Last year we had heard that they patrol the river in kayaks, and this inflatable canoe was pretty close to a kayak. Laying half on our rafts and running with our feet, or "boogying" as Jason called it, we made good time. Before we knew it we were approaching the Truro mine. This year there were no miners working the bedrock just above there. Last year we had both punctured our rafts on the sharp pieces of bedrock they were dis-lodging and throwing into the river. Beaching our rafts, we climbed up the cliff to the Apple trees and gathered 20 or 30 of the better ones. Then we hiked up the trail and filled a couple bottles with black berries. Jason wanted to hike up the road a little ways to some strange trees we had encountered there last year. They had a strange green round fruit growing on them, about the size of oranges. They were hard, green, and didn't look at all appetizing. We never did find out what kind of tree they were, but this year Jason took several of the fruit with him, intending on trying to be successful in growing one. We took pictures of the giant Oak tree growing there and shoved off down the river once again. This time we swam through the deep pool there, towing our rafts as we went, then continued "boogying" down the river as fast as we could go. No time for fishing now, only photography. We were now in the realm of the bass anyway, as last year we didn't catch a trout down river from Pickering Bar, only those pesky bass.

Not far below Truro we stopped at a place where on the north side of the river at a sharp bend, there were ample tailing piles on the hill at several different elevations. While exploring them, we found the track of some large animal in the sand. These tracks were bigger than a Fox or Coyote, and I thought Wolf. Then we realized they were not dog tracks, they were cat! We had found where a mountain lion had prowled the night before! I got several good pictures of them with my shoe in the picture for comparison. We had encountered plenty of Bear sign on the trip also, especially in the meadow where Joe Steiner's grave was, as well as several other places, but this was the first mountain lion tracks we had ever seen. There are no mountain lions in Alaska, and I wasn't surprised it took me a while to recognize them.

On and on we went, around bend after bend, until we came to another very large tailing pile area. It was on a very sharp bend in the river, and there was a road coming down to the river at this point. Just down river about 200 yards there was also a cable strung across the river, still high in the air. It was here last year that we had discovered a mine leading through solid bedrock to an ancient channel. We wanted to explore it again, and beached our rafts. Grabbing our LED lamps, we went into the mine. At the back of this mine, we had discovered last year that it went straight up perhaps 20 feet to a second level where it branched left and right, and the remains of an old wooden ladder was still evident. There were also intact but rusted ore cart rails still visible. We made our way to the back of the mine, intent on somehow getting up into the second level where it branched left and right. But to our dismay we found the back of the mine had caved in since last year. We were very let down, but took several pictures in there anyway, including one of a friendly little bat hanging upside down. Jason had wanted to camp in this area last year, but I had had a very bad feeling about this area and we had pushed on. This year however we both really wanted to camp here, but as constrained for time as we were now, and it still being only early afternoon, we pushed on. A little ways down river we came to the gravel bar where Jason had pulled the nose ring out of his raft last year. We both were a lot more careful here this year! Soon we came to where we had camped last year, about a mile below the mine. We briefly stopped, silently saluted ourselves for being so vigilant even finishing the trip last year, and continued on down river. It was another one of those gorgeous days on the American river, and we were very thankful that we had seemingly left the thunder and lightning behind.

Eventually about sundown, we came to a large gravel bar on the east side of the river, and found a spot smooth enough to make camp for the night. The sun had just set and we were both pretty tired. On the edge of the gravel bar by the hillside, there was an old sign nailed to a pine tree stating that 20 or so years ago this had been someone's mining claim, and no one was to trespass. We leveled off a spot and threw out our tarp and bags, and then I set up my chair and plopped down. I cooked supper sitting there with my little Svea stove that I've carried with me for over 30 years now. It felt so good to sit! We had situated our sleeping bags by a large boulder about 4 feet in diameter, and after supper we laid down to watch the bats and stars. For some reason something told me to get me LED lamp and look around. Turning it on and looking around the base of the boulder, I was horrified to see an army of small ants! They were in a line about 1/4 inch wide, but stretched as far as we could see down the gravel bar! They were coming out from under the rock. Quickly we moved our bags well away from them, and hoped they would keep their distance. Just for good measure, we set an empty can of sardines near their hole, hoping to attract them to the can instead of us. It seemed to work, because they left us alone the rest of the night. Again, as we drifted off to sleep, we both wondered aloud what had really happened up at Pickering Bar at that old cabin site. Pretty soon sleep overtook us and we rested peacefully until morning.

August 25, 2003. We had overslept! Suddenly the sunshine was hitting our sleeping bags turning them into ovens. Quickly we were up and around, and discovered it had dewed out heavily during the night and our bags were wet. After breakfast we packed up our gear, and by that time our bags were dry. As we packed our gear to the rafts and tied it down, Jason found a rock about a foot around. He said it was called "Mariposite", and that it was valuable. To me it looked like multi colored marble. He really wanted to take it with him, but it must have weighed 40 lbs! Try as we might, we could not break a piece of it off, even though we tried very hard. It was so hard that it broke every rock that we threw it against. Reluctantly we had to leave it there.

Today we knew that we would have to travel through Secret Gorge, a part of the river that had gave us real problems last year. But we had new hope now, especially because Giant Gap had been so easy this year. Maybe Secret Gorge would be fun this year too. We started down river half riding, half pushing our rafts, enjoying the beautiful country side. We passed small tailing piles hidden in the brush at almost every bend, but just couldn't take the time out to explore them. We took many pictures this day, and saw some of the most beautiful places God ever made! Soon we came to an area of river that had a white sandy bottom, which made the crystal clear water even more beautiful. A couple more bends and we were at the big log jam just above Secret Gorge. Here we beached our rafts and climbed over the log jam and took pictures of each other on the giant logs. What a flood it must have been to pile these huge logs 30 feet above the river! While walking back to the rafts I spotted a tin can that hadn't been opened. The label was gone, and we both wondered what was in it. We both secretly hoped it was peaches, but it turned out to be stewed tomatoes that had gone sour. What a let down! Continuing on down river, we almost immediately came to the entrance of Secret Gorge. In "boogying" fashion, we entered it hoping for the best.

We hadn't remembered Secret Gorge being this beautiful. Last year we had entered it at around 3 p.m. and had a terrible time lining our water burdened rafts down the non-stop rapids. We hadn't found a camping place until almost dark, on a small gravel bar not 8 x 10 feet square. Now we were thoroughly enjoying ourselves, savoring every bit of scenery we could. Where last year we tripped and slipped over what seemed like miles of boulders, now we were skimming over them holding onto our rafts, with our legs dangling as high in the water as possible behind them. Although we did wish for some kind of leg pads! We hit quite a few shallow boulders with our legs and wound up very bruised, but happy. Soon we came to the place where we had been forced to camp last year due to the lack of daylight. Now it seemed a cheerful place, but our gravel bar was completely gone. Good thing we hadn't planned on camping here this year! At this particular camp last year we were kept awake a good portion of the night by the sound of what we were sure was the old time miners. Just after we had laid down on our bags, we had heard what sounded like rocks rolling down a wooden plank. With our poor flash lights we had searched for the source of the sound, but hadn't found it. As the night wore on, more and more rocks rolled down this plank, accompanied by the sounds of metal clunking off rocks, and low mumblings of men talking. It didn't take us long to figure out that there must have been mining activity here in the past, and we were hearing the miners shoveling paydirt into their sluice boxes, keeping the larger rocks scurrying through them with their shovels. It continued until around 2 or 3 a.m. before all became silent.

Continuing on down the river, we marveled at the scenery. We came to the huge quartz vein crossing the canyon that we had seen last year, but hadn't had time to spend much time at because it was almost dark. Now we stopped and explored the area, and took quite a few pictures. I pried a small piece of the vein loose for my wife. When she had seen the pictures of this vein last year, she had asked that I get her a piece of it this year. Now that piece lies on her desk, nicely cut and polished. Soon we came to the end of the gorge, as we could tell the country was becoming wider. We came to a deep hole with 15 foot cliffs, and stopped for an hour and dove off the rocks. We got pictures of each other diving and swimming, and we had a blast acting like we were kids again. About 1/3 mile further we came to Secret Ravine, and stopped to explore a little. The Apple tree there didn't have apples this year, and we were glad we had picked plenty at Truro. We picked a few black berries, hiked up the Stevens trail a little ways, then explored the other side of the river. We found where the old suspension bridge used to cross and followed the trail a ways, but was surprised that it didn't continue down river, only up river. Jason found a nice large quartz crystal here, among the many quartz veins. I would like to find some information on Secret Ravine, as it seemed there had been plenty of past activity here.

Now it was about 3:30 p.m. and I was beginning to tire out. Jason wanted to explore more around Secret Ravine, but I wanted to get to the camp site that we had stayed in last year about a 1/2 mile down river. We had just met a man about 200 yards up river who hadn't seemed friendly, and I wanted to be away from him. He had this look in his eyes of contempt when he saw us, even though we had been friendly and said hello. So, continuing on down to the bottom of the pool that extends down river from Secret Ravine, we fought a head wind and arrived at our old camp site about sundown. It was on the south side of the river, up on an elevated gravel bar on bedrock about 15 feet above the river. A lone pine tree stood there, friendly and inviting. We made camp under it and I set up my chair and cooked supper, sitting under Gods special creation. This year no one was on the trail, and we felt alone and happy. This was also the first place where I could get cell phone coverage, and I called my wife in Alaska just to let her know we were alive and well. She was happy we were having such a good time, and wished us Godspeed on down the river. We tried a little fishing, but the bass here were very fat and large and definitely weren't the least bit interested in our lures. Last year at this camp we had been sitting on our bags cooking supper, when a skunk had approached me to within about 2 feet before realizing I was me, and made a hasty retreat. No skunks this year, thank heavens! The bats came out, then the stars, then sleep. This was another of those special camps where you experience it once, then dream about coming back. It was hard to believe I was actually here again. If only we could find a way to make time linger a little longer! Here, we knew we only had 1 more full day on the river left with each other, and was kind of sad. But we were still having fun and the time of our lives, and were determined not to let the end of the trip get us down pre-maturely.

August 26, 2003 The morning dawned bright and cheery. The sun rose directly up river and I got a fantastic shot of the sunrise over the river. This was our last full day on the river, and we knew we didn't have to hurry as much now. We could make it to the bridge in time without any difficulty now, and would take the time to enjoy the pleasures of the river today. Cooking breakfast sitting in my chair, we discovered how many hash brown potatoes come in one serving. Thinking that one serving would feed one person, I cooked two packages. Big mistake! We had enough hash brown potatoes to feed all the people coming down the Stevens trail! We tried feeding them to the bass but they wouldn't eat them. The only thing that kind of put a damper on my morning was that pesky poison oak on my arm; it was spreading fast! It had even spread to my right leg, and I knew I was in for a good bout with it. After camp was broke and the gear tied down on the rafts, I set up my camera on self timer and took a photo standing in the river with our rafts in front of us. It was a classic photo. Going down river to the first set of rapids, we beached the rafts and explored the area. We found a very old rusty centrifugal water pump, and an old steam engine lying in the water. Jason panned gold here for awhile, and I took pictures. Here the bedrock had changed to a jet black color, and was very smooth. In a lot of places you could see pyrite crystals in it. Here we also found an old mine shaft and took pictures looking into it. Leisurely continuing down river we enjoyed the day. We swam a lot, took a lot of pictures, explored a little, and watched the Stevens trail climb the hill higher and higher the farther down river we went. Finally it disappeared and we knew we were getting close to the bridge. Last year we encountered many people in the stretch of river 2 miles above the bridge, but this year there was none.

We found our old camping place about a 1/3 mile above the bridge again, and settled in about 3:30 p.m. The sun was still up and we lingered and swam in the river in front of camp. Several years ago Jason had found a nice gold nugget at this place, and we were swimming with our face masks trying to locate another one. The bass were friendly and we almost had to push them out of the way several times. We cooked supper after it had got dark, and really enjoyed our last night on the river. Before going to bed we brought the rafts up from the river and put them in camp, just for safe measure. After all, we were very near a public campground and who knew who was there. We were nestled down among giant Pine Trees, and felt very secure in our camp. We talked and talked before going to sleep, and watched the bats fly within a few feet of us with our LED lamps. Before we knew it we were asleep.

August 27, 2003 In un-believing horror I awoke to rain in the face! Not again!!! What's with California this year, I thought. Yelling at Jason, we quickly inverted the plastic tarp and once again crawled into a hot, steamy, damp environment. The rain lasted until daylight, when it quit and the wind started. It blew hard enough to really bend those giant Pine Trees towering over us, and lasted a couple hours. Finally we gave up and got up. Without getting breakfast we packed things into our bags like we had hiked down the Euchre Bar trail in. Instead of floating on down to the campground and then re-packing everything, we had started packing up the night before. Now the wind was gusting severely, and all of a sudden it picked up Jason's raft and flung it against a thorn bush even though it had almost 15 lbs. of rocks in it. Ofcourse, the raft promptly deflated, becoming the only casualty of the trip. Soon we were ready to start the hike to the campground, and started in that direction. Almost immediately we started sweating, and it got worse. The worse part of the river definitely has to be the rapids directly above Mineral Bar campground, a section called "the boils". Here we had to pick our way between and under house sized boulders for probably 500 feet. In some places we had to jump 6 feet down, and the trail completely disappeared. Soon though we made it to the campground, although very tired and sweaty and looking like a couple of bums I'm sure. As we walked through the campground with our 65 lb. packs, we got some pretty severe stares. Then we came to the camp hosts trailer and as we approached, the host and his girlfriend recognized us from last year and welcomed us with, "hello again strangers, long time no see". We had a good visit with them for a half hour, then excused ourselves and went down to the river and got cleaned up, shaved, and changed into nicer clothes for the flight home. Our ride was supposed to arrive about 1 p.m., but showed up at 12:45 p.m. They called their business "Foothills Flyer", and the driver, Nick, was very friendly. They pick up people all along interstate 80 and provide transportation to the Sacramento airport. We sadly looked back at the river as we crossed the bridge, and wondered if we'd ever make the trip again. We got to Sacramento an hour later, and another hour later I boarded my flight back to Alaska.

I don't know if I'll be able to do the trip again next year, due to my job schedule. Working 2 weeks on and 2 weeks off, means I have to be away from my wife for 6 weeks in order to make this 2 week trip, because I work 300 miles away from home. Driving this distance is a real challenge every 2 weeks, especially in the winter. But Jason and I will figure out something to do. A trip that looks interesting is floating the south fork of the Yuba river from where it starts on upper interstate 80 down to the town of Washington. Jason and I drove through that beautiful little town in 1996 and sort of fell in love with it. Anyone have any information on that section of river? As a side note, after I arrived back in Alaska my poison oak became severe and I had to go to the doctor with it. The doctor agreed that it was probably the puncture would that started it, and said I was lucky because usually in cases like that people wind up in the hospital completely covered from head to toe with the stuff! An injection of prednizone cured it in less than a week. I wound up with over 500 excellent pictures of our journey this year, and coupled with what I took last year have almost 700 pictures of the river between Euchre Bar and Mineral Bar campground.

Jason and I had a very good time this year, and were thankful it was easier than last year. Again, after the trip was over we felt a good sense of accomplishment and pride, in that we had made it with so few problems. Aside from the weather, it was a perfect trip. But the trip last year was a bigger challenge, and somehow I don't think I'll ever be able to top it for learning about ourselves, and what we're capable of when the chips are down. God guided us through both trips with a heavy hand, and many answers to prayer. To Him I give the credit and praise. Where ever Jason and I go next year, I'll drop a note and let you know how it was.

Take care everyone, and God bless.

Mike Case

Saturday, November 22, 2003

North Fork News

Some minor news, or lack of news:

So far as the Siller Bros.' timber harvest at Lost Camp, I have not heard a word, either from CDF, or from Siller Bros. themselves. Quite a number of people wrote letters to CDF criticizing the proposed harvest. I believe that CDF is still reviewing the timber harvest plan, and that technically the publc comment period remains open. For those new to this subject, briefly, Lost Camp is an old gold mining town near Blue Canyon. One of the nicer trails in Placer County descends to the North Fork of the North Fork American from Lost Camp. The upland areas around the townsite have already been logged, but under the current plan, will be logged even more intensively, several thousand feet of new roads will be constructed, and rarely huge old trees down in the canyons, which have escpaed every previous timber harvest due to the steep slopes, will meet their dooms.

Tahoe National Forest Forest Supervisor Steven Eubanks responded to my letter of October 29, which asked that a vehicle closure be imposed upon the road leading to Big Valley Bluff, a 3500-foot cliff looming over the upper North Fork. His letter was polite but entirely non-commital, and he said that no TNF personnel can even look at the site until the snow melts, next spring. He mentioned that the Big Valley Bluff area, as of 10/1/03, passed under the management of the Foresthill Ranger District, along with all TNF lands south of I-80 and west of the Truckee RD boundary near Devils Peak. It so happens that I had emailed the text of my letter to Eubanks to Rich Johnson, District Ranger of this Foresthill Ranger District. Rich, at least, seemed receptive to the idea of a vehicle closure.

Last Tuesday, the North Fork American River Alliance (NFARA) met at the Dutch Flat Community Club to consider various business. The Board of Directors remain somewhat undecided about whether to incorporate as a "voting" or "non-voting" type of non-profit. Jim Ricker got us signed up to receive a copy of the Memorandum of Understanding Placer County is formulating with regard to the proposed Capital-to-Capital Trail; so NFARA can sign the MOU, without committing ourselves to any one trail alignment whatsoever, and be more or less formally "in the loop" of future decision-making processes.

Bob and Judy Suter reported that yet another blow is about to be struck against the historic Fords Bar Trail, which led from Gold Run to Iowa Hill. The trail was suddenly closed to the public about 20 years ago, and the land near the top of the trail was subdivided. Use of the trail has been limited to a few local insiders, as it were, but now even that is threatened, as one more house is about to be built on the trail. Bob and Judy suggested that perhaps an alternate trail route can be negotiated with the property owners. It would be very nice if this trail could be opened to the public once again, at least for foot and equestrian uses.

Our own Larry Hillberg of Colfax will be honored by the Placer County Board of Supervisors for helping some hikers stricken with heat stroke on the Stevens Trail last summer. I wonder if the Supes know that Larry hauled load after load after load after load of garbage miles up the Stevens Trail, from a squatter's camp on the North Fork, this spring. He more than deserves some recognition for that, too.

Such is some news.

Wednesday, November 19, 2003

Mike and Jason IV

Here is the next part of Mike's and Jason's adventure on the North Fork, from Euchre Bar down to Mineral Bar:

August 19th, 2003 Well, today was the day. Back into Giant Gap once again. Neither Jason or I had voiced our opinion out loud to each other, but now I found myself telling him that I really was not looking forward to re-doing Giant Gap. To my surprise Jason responded that neither was he. So, when camp was broke, breakfast cooked and ate, and our rafts loaded and the gear tied down, we sat down and discussed our options. We could spend the next 7 days exploring Green Valley to our hearts desire then climb back out on the Euchre Bar trail. Or we could go back to Euchre Bar and explore up river for a few days. But, after discussing it for perhaps a half hour, we decided to push on down river. After all, we had been having extremely good luck so far. There were no holes in the rafts yet, we had made speedy progress on the two days we had traveled, and the river seemed to be slightly higher than last year making travel a little easier. One thing that had been bothering me the whole trip however was a premonition I had been plagued with for several months - that something was going to happen on 8-19. 8-19 of when I didn't know and I didn't know if it was an hour or date. And here it was, 8-19 and we were diving into the depths of Giant Gap once again. Talking about tempting fate! Before we shoved off down river we asked God for protection during this day, to protect our loved ones, and to prove my premonition wrong.

At 9 a.m. we took our lines and headed into the great chasm. Within five minutes we came to the large log wedged up against the house sized boulder and carried our fully loaded rafts around the end of it. It was our first portage of the day. Last year this log still had all of its bark, but now it was mostly bare. We also noticed that where it was touching the boulder that the log was worn almost in half. Not too many more years and it will break in two. Minutes later we passed the mine and stamp mill, and silently saluted those old miners and all their hard work. We both agreed that we'd like to dig out all the silt in there, they couldn't have got ALL the gold! Pushing on down river, a few minutes later we came to the pinnacle of rock officially marking the entrance to Giant Gap. With most of the deep pools still in the morning shade, we were glad we had chosen to wear our wet suits. Last year we stumbled, tumbled, and slipped over the slippery rocks and made very slow progress, but now with our rafts riding high and dry and the wet suits protecting us from the cold, we found ourselves skimming over the slippery boulders and making great time. Instead of spending all our time lining the rafts, we half rode and half walked. Standing at the rear of the raft, we'd lean forward and grab the ore locks with our hands, then run. Sort of like the Flintstones in their primitive cars. We found it worked great and alleviated a lot of slipping on the rocks and needless lining.

Soon we realized that we were having fun, and Giant Gap was not near the challenge to us that it had been last year. We found many places where we stopped and panned for gold through out the day, fished in many places, and took dozens of pictures. Soon we came to a lovely waterfall on the left side, and took a break beside it. Up until this point I had not done much gold panning, just being with Jason and taking pictures seemed to satisfy me. As I was sitting there eating my snack, I began looking at the bedrock around me when something caught my eye. It was small bright stone, and definitely not like all the others. Leaning over to it and inspecting it closer, I realized it was a small gold nugget tightly wedged into a crevice. It was right at water line and I moved some rocks from around it and attempted to remove it. But it was stuck solid, and I had to end up breaking the bedrock immediately around it to free the nugget from its prison. It was the biggest nugget I had ever found outside of Alaska, and I guessed it would weigh in around 1.5 dwt. (when I got home I weighed it, and it was 1.7 dwt.) So, we spent another hour panning the cracks in the bedrock there, but found only small flakes and mostly dust after that.

Pushing on down river, the day went quickly. We passed many lovely pools, and lots of fantastic bedrock formations. We panned at several more locations and had a blast in spite of our worries. We began to wonder why on earth we had had such a difficult time through here last year? The stair stepped mountain on the south rim got closer and closer, and pretty soon we were beside it. At one point the cliff on the north side came directly down to the river from perhaps 1500 feet above. Soon the sun was setting behind the western rim, and we were traveling in the shade. The day had gone extremely fast. Suddenly, emerging from a pool between two house sized boulders we recognized our first camp site where we had spent our first night in Giant Gap last year. We really weren't ready to call it quits for the day yet, but we decided to anyway. We called this place "camp solitude" last year because it was so deep in the canyon you felt totally cut off and alone in the world. We had been fatigued and beat by the time we got here last year, we were VERY thankful for this camp site, which was only a small gravel bar island about 8 X 12 feet. It was still here, and had even grown a little over the winter. We leveled off the top and made camp. It felt good to get out of our wet suits and into dry clothes. Breaking out my chair, I sat there in solitude with my son, finding it hard to believe we were actually back here! I had thought about this place so much over the winter and stared at the picture dozens of times. Now we were back. If only I could make time slow down somehow, I thought. We swam in the pool and got cleaned up, really appreciating the bio-degradable shampoo my wife had so thoughtfully provided us with. Soon daylight was beginning to fade and the bats appeared. We knew it was time to get us something to eat, and once again freeze dried food tasted very good! This particular camp in the depths of Giant Gap was my very favorite of the trip. I guess there was little else to do there and it gave me time to relax and reflect on many things. I'll try and attach a picture of this camp. It had been a good day, we had lots of fun without stress, we made excellent time, and only had to portage our gear 3 times all day. Even portaging our gear was fun today, compared to last year when every portage seemed like a major undertaking and consumed valuable time we didn't think we had. Soon the stars came out, and snuggling down in my sleeping bag I soon became drowsy and said goodnight to the world while a little waterfall across the river provided the music that led to a deep and peaceful sleep.

August 20, 2003 We were up early and cooked us a hearty breakfast once again. We had a very good night and slept comfortably. Last year at this campsite the wind had blown 15 - 20 mph all night, Jason had got cold. It was here that we had realized the rest of the trip would be with leaking, heavy, water filled rafts and wet gear, as our patch dope had got wet and had become useless. What a difference learning from our mistakes last year was making! We made good time through out the day stopping many times to take pictures and pan for gold and fish. This was also Jason's birthday and he turned 27 today in Giant Gap. Last year he had turned 26 at Pickering Bar. I had several small gifts in my bag that I had been saving, and gave them to him after embarrassing him severely with my rendition of "Happy birthday to you" with my ridiculous echoes bouncing off the canyon walls. The gift he appreciated the most was the 20 power jewelers loupe that I had got him, and he used it to look at every piece of gold he found during the rest of the trip. Quite often I'd hear, "hey Dad, look, this piece has mercury on it, or this piece has some quartz in it!" The day went quickly and before we knew it the sun was dipping behind the canyon rim once again. We were in the lower half of the Gap now, and the country was becoming more open and less constricting. We passed our old camp site from last year (day 2 in the Gap) and stopped there for a break. The same sand bar was still there. Now we had traveled farther today than we did last year due to our speedier method of traveling - Jason called it "boogying". Leaning over the rafts and hanging onto the ore locks and running was certainly safer and faster. We knew Pickering Bar wasn't far. Today we had to portage only twice, and nothing had got wet yet on the whole trip. Coming to a large, wide, open gravel bar about an hour later, we leveled off the top and made camp. The evening passed as quickly as the day had, and before I knew it the stars had tumbled out, supper was over, and we were laying there watching satellites and meteors with our field glasses. The day had passed very quickly. Then we both realized something at about the same time - we were actually enjoying Giant Gap and wanting to come back next year too!

August 21, 2003 Jason, get up quick, its raining! It was barely light out and the large rain drops were falling fast. In no time our bags and gear would be soaked! Scrambling, we quickly stowed everything in our water proof bags and took the 8 x 10 plastic tarp we had been sleeping on and put it over our bags and carefully crawled in. The rain sounded heavy on the tarp, and we couldn't believe it was actually raining! I mean, it just doesn't rain in California in August, does it? It hadn't last year and we didn't bring a tent. No sooner had we got into our bags and the rain quit. Laying there for a few minutes it quickly got hot and sweaty under the plastic tarp. So, we got up well before sunrise and cooked breakfast under an overcast sky. What a change from yesterday! Not knowing what lay in store for us weather wise for the rest of the day, we stowed everything extra careful and both wore our wet suits, as it was definitely cooler out. Even though they were only shorty wet suits, they sure helped keep us warmer. We soon shoved off down river, making excellent time. The day remained fairly heavily overcast but it didn't rain anymore. We had some long and tedious portages today, but they all went fast and smoothly except one. In one particular place the river squeezed between ten foot boulders, and the only place to float our rafts was a narrow chute about 2 feet wide and 8 feet long. Rather than portage around it, we chose to up end the rafts and float them through on their sides. I went first with Jason watching, and everything went well. At the end of the chute there were some rapids emptying into a deep pool. Letting my raft float into the pool by itself I threw the line aboard and then watched in horror as on the very last roller the raft flipped neatly upside down! Jason saw it and was laughing hysterically. The only thing I could think of was my expensive cameras and ran and dove headlong into the pool and towed my upside down raft to shore. Righting it I discovered everything was still tied down intact, and nothing had got wet. Then it was Jason's turn. He got his raft through the chute OK, then yelled, "hey Dad, this is how you do it, you keep the line in your hand to control the raft down the rapids, see? Then promptly in the same exact place where my raft had flipped, Jason's did the same thing!. Standing on a huge boulder watching the drama play out, I laughed hysterically as Jason swam out to retrieve his raft also. Again nothing got wet, and we considered ourselves lucky. Before we knew it we came to the pool where last year we had met a homeless miner who had saw my bottle of strawberry cool aid in the bottom of my raft and demanded to buy it for a dollar. I gave him the cool aid since he seemed rather crazed, and we left pronto. We knew this to be about 3/4 of a mile above Pickering Bar. It was here that we experienced the longest portage of the trip. It was over large boulders that we had to jump from top to top on, and was around 200 feet long. It was here that I spotted something yellow caught high in a willow bush, and went over to see what it was. It turned out to be a very expensive water proof bag full of something. I untangled it from its willow prison, and took it back to where Jason was to see what was in it. We were thinking maybe camera gear, or small cooking stoves, or maybe a GPS. But when we opened it a stench emerged that almost made us sick. Someone had lost their lunch bag probably several months back! Oh well.....

Continuing on down river, we soon came to Pickering Bar. Now last year we had met this character there who called himself "Joe the Troll". He had seemed harmless enough at the time and even invited us up to his well established camp in the tailing piles under an oak tree in the middle of Pickering Bar for a cup of coffee. He had talked our ear off for over an hour and even showed us where to pan for gold, and a good place to camp. But we were thankful when he finally went back to his own camp and left us alone. He seemed friendly enough the next day too and even let us use some of his mining gear, such as 5 gallon buckets and shovels. But our initial encounter with him as we arrived at Pickering was an eye opener, as he accused us of being BLM people and was quite irate. It took us several minutes to convince him we were not employed by that organization. He then made a threat that if we were indeed BLM and got him kicked out of there, that he'd "get us". Well, as luck would have it, sometime last fall I was contacted by BLM and questioned about this Joe character. I don't have a clue as to how they got my name or phone number, but I answered their questions as honestly as I could, and with as short of answers as possible. They called back a couple weeks later and told me that they had kicked Joe out, and that at that time (late October) he was over in Reno in a homeless shelter. This was quite surprising to me, because when they called the first tiime they had said they had given Joe permission to stay there, and were giving him the privilege of being the "camp host" of Pickering Bar. With this weighing on our minds, we approached Pickering Bar quietly. Not knowing if he was still there, we lined our rafts to the lower end of Pickering and set up camp, keeping a close watch on the tailing piles above for any sign of him. After a while it made me angry that here we were, on the trip of our lives and afraid of some small mouthy guy who called himself a miner, and we were sneaking around. In frustration with the way we had been acting, I told Jason that we were marching up to his camp and confronting him. I was going to get this over with one way or another! But, arriving at his camp, we found it empty and abandoned. There was trash and camping gear strewn every where, and it was quite evident that he had just pulled up stakes and left all his trash and a lot of his gear. It was a sickening sight to behold and smelled terrible. Sadly we walked back to our camp and got supper. How could anyone just walk off and leave that much trash in such a beautiful place? Soon we tired, and situated our bags. Atleast we could see the stars now, and the overcast day seemed to be coming to and end. Intently, we listened for the ghostly music that we had heard here so plainly last year, but heard only small sporadic bits and pieces. This is where last year, Jason had been down at the river pumping us some drinking water just before bedtime, and had been startled out of his wits by someone or something playing a fiddle right behind him. He had come running wild eyed back into camp asking if I had heard that fiddle. When I said no he just couldn't believe it. Silently we went to sleep, hoping for a prettier day tomorrow.

Suddenly about 2 hours later I was awakened by a bright flash of light! Someone with a flash light, I thought? Then I heard the thunder. Storm clouds had moved in once again, and now it was beginning to thunder and lightning. With ominous feelings we went back to sleep, only to be awakened a little while later by heavy rain hitting us in the face. Quickly we put the plastic tarp over our bags, rocked down the edges, and crawled into our bags quite soggy. The thunder and lightening increased in frequency, and it flashed at 2 to 10 second intervals the rest of the night. The thunder was the loudest I've ever heard! It would rain for about 20 minutes, then stop for maybe a half hour, then rain harder. It was so hot, sweaty, wet, sandy, and muggy under that tarp we couldn't stand it! It had to be the worst night I've ever spent anywhere! We had just thrown back the tarp when it quit raining once to get some cool fresh air, and was just beginning to doze off in the thunder and lightning when we were suddenly and without warning plastered with hail stones! They were big enough to hurt when they hit! Diving back under the tarp I screamed at Jason to put his pillow over his head. It was so loud we could hardly hear each other screaming. Our bodies were being pummeled, but at least our heads were safe. A couple minutes later it quit hailing and started raining harder than ever! I reached down and got my LED lamp to survey the damage. To my horror, the ground was covered with hail, and it looked like it had snowed! Some of them were 3/4" in diameter, but the rain drops were so big the hail stones were being tossed around on the ground! Now it had quit raining again and we were getting some fresh air after the hail storm. Here came the rain again, and we again dive under the tarp. It went like that most the night, right up until daylight. One time we had just thrown the tarp back to breath fresh air, and I had turned over on my stomach and stretched out. I was just dozing off when something landed on my back! Quickly sitting up and grabbing a rock, I shined my light around and saw nothing. Then I noticed tracks, and realized that a small fox or coyote had ran right over me! What a night!!! Wearily we arose and greeted the day at first light.

August 22nd, 2003 Fog! Pickering bar was shrouded in fog. It was still raining quite heavy about every half hour, and we looked forward with little anticipation to this day. At least the hail had all melted. We knew we had to have to have shelter. So, between rain storms we quickly grabbed our bags and gear and headed up for Joe's old camp. Atleast up there we could tie our tarp up in the tree and get under it. We really couldn't afford to spend another day lounging on the river time wise, as we had already spent all 4 extra days we had in the Green Valley and the Euchre Bar area. But we felt we must, and made camp as best as we could. What would this day bring? With only 3 travel days left, we wondered if we could make it all the way down to the bridge at Mineral Bar campground in time! According to our maps, Pickering bar was only about the half way point of our trip. Joe's camp had turned into a muddy mess, but we managed to get our tarp tied up, and even found one that Joe had left, and used it too. We found another piece of plastic that we washed off in the river and used it to put our bags on. Pretty soon we had a fairly comfortable camp, and set to work drying out our gear. What a night!

Well, I'll finish up this story with the next part, in a few days.

Best Regards,

Mike Case

Friday, November 14, 2003

Mike and Jason III

Part three of Mike and Jason:

August 18th, 2003 We were up about the time the sun broke over the horizon, and quickly broke camp. By that time it was very hot and we were already sweating. Taking a quick plunge into the river to cool off, we loaded our rafts and towed them across the river into some shade for the day. Here we cooked a hearty breakfast of pancakes and bacon, savoring the unbelievable scenery. Setting in my chair relaxing after the meal, I took several photos of the serpentine cliffs behind camp, and of Lovers Leap almost directly above us.

Getting ready for the day, we packed 2 bottles each of tang, our panning gear, our snake bite kit, and all of our photographic equipment in our day packs, and set off back up river. In about 200 yards, we came to the deep pool with the rope swings hanging over it. Well, it was such a hot morning and beautiful day, we just couldn't resist. Spending a half hour, we took pictures of each other swinging out over the deep water like a couple kids, having the time of our lives. Directly up the hill from this pool about 40 feet stood a large Fir tree. We climbed up to it and saw where a cable had once been tied around it. We wondered what it could have been used for. Exploring a little further around the tree we found the cable, stretching down stream where it had been strewn in floods. From this tree we discovered the end of the trail we had followed the day before in various places. Following it up river, we quickly arrived at the tailing piles we hadn't had time to explore yesterday. Climbing amongst them, we found where numerous cabins had once stood. The trail wound among them, but we chose to explore the more interesting places off the trail. We found where many mines had been, as the rock work at their entrances was still very neatly stacked. There were high cliffs of gravel and stones that had once been worked with hydraulic monitors, and once again - we were amazed at how much work the old timers had done. We got some good pictures, explored many small gullies which we guessed once had held sluice boxes to catch the gravel being washed down from the high banks. It was hot, the brush was extremely thick in places, and there was a lot of poison oak, but we didn't care. We finally worked our way up river far enough to see the straight stretch where Joes grave was, and turned around and started back. The trail was good and actually went through most of the interesting points along the way. It would be interesting to know how long it has been in existence, whether it was used by the old timers or of a more recent construction. Following the trail on the way back to camp, we saw a very narrow and deep gully we had missed, and turned off the trail to explore it. It was very evident that at one time gravel had been purposely washed through it. Coming to the end we saw that it led up to the high gravel cliffs we had already explored, and we turned to leave, going back down the gully. It was at this point that I did the most stupid thing of the trip. Turning very quickly to exit the gully, instead of being careful, I ran directly into a sharp stick on a bush, and it went into my leg deeply and broke off. We walked back out to the trail, and I sat down and pulled the stick out. Blood ran immediately all the way down to my shoes and socks, and turned the white sock red. Eventually I managed to get it stopped and put a make shift bandage on it, and continued on our way. But soon curiosity got the best of me, and we retraced our steps back to the bush. Sure enough, my worst fears were confirmed - it was a poison oak bush! Being very susceptible to it, I wondered what was going to happen but was determined not to let it ruin the trip, and we continued on. At least my bloody noses seemed to be over!

Arriving back at camp we got a snack, then hiked down the river to an old mine we had found last year. It was only about 200 yards from camp, and we were there in no time. Now last year, this mine was the only place on the trip that spooked us. We were exploring the interior room of the mine, where the miners had penetrated the ancient channel and branched left and right. It was then that we heard a rustling sound, like canvass swishing together on itself. Look as we might, we couldn't locate where it was. It reminded us of someone walking who was wearing heavy denim pants, and hearing the denim swish together as they walked. Then the low tones of voices started, mostly mumbling tones that we couldn't make out, but definitely people talking. We had heard ghostly music every night up until this point but never felt scared or threatened. Infact we sort of felt welcomed by them. But in this mine it was different. Then the swishing sounds moved from the room to the tunnel that led out! It was then we knew we'd better get out of there. It was very nerve wracking actually approaching and walking through the sounds, as they were blocking our way out. But we made it out OK, and figured we had just aggravated some spirits for some reason. Probably for trespassing in their mine! This year, I came prepared with a small pocket tape recorder. I had it with me now and was going to try to talk to these spirits and get some sounds on tape. Entering the mine with our LED headlamps on, we made it to the rear, where it branched left and right. We wondered how deep the river silt was in there, as in most places the ceiling was only 3 to 4 feet high. Turning on the tape recorder I invited what ever spirits were there to say hello, but no one spoke up. Nothing super-natural here this trip! It didn't surprise us however, because up until this point on our current trip, we hadn't heard much of the ghostly music at all like last year, only occasional bits and pieces. We did manage to get a couple good pictures of the interior and also a good shot of a small red and black salamander living in there. Exiting the mine and looking down river from the mine entrance, we could see the pinnacle of rock officially marking the entrance to Giant Gap. On the way back to camp we photographed each other standing on the huge log spanning the river. It was here we found a family river otters living under the huge boulder that the log was jammed up against. They were lots of fun to watch.

Heading back to camp, we spent the remainder of the day fishing, gold panning, taking pictures, and fretting about having to go through Giant Gap again! Jason had brought several of the disposable underwater cameras, and we had fun taking pictures of each other under water. We also got some great shots of trout. I got a great shot of Jason sitting chest deep in the river panning gold, its a classic! The afternoon turned to evening, our bat friends came out and got rid of the mosquitoes for us, and we cooked supper. Relaxing beside the river in my chair after our meal, I enjoyed the fish jumping, the sun quickly fading on the easterly hills, the warm air, but mostly I enjoyed being there with my son. We don't get to see each other that often, and it was a real privilege to be there with him. We lay on our bags talking, and enjoyed a mini meteor shower. It was awesome! Tomorrow we would get packed up early and dive into the depths of Giant Gap, once again........

Wednesday, November 12, 2003

Visit to Gold Run Diggings

Tuesday morning I met Ron Gould for a tour of some of the more interesting parts of the Gold Run Diggings: the Secret World, and the southern part of the Indiana Hill Ditch. In recent weeks I had been doing a lot of concrete work and no hiking at all. In the course of all this I managed to severely tweak my back; there appears to be a limit, which was drastically exceeded, to the number of ninety-pound sacks of concrete mix I should sling around on any one day. The result was that I was tottering around like a truly ancient one.

Still, the day was fine and sunny, and we found a way (thanks RC!) to drive into the Diggings, and ended up at the gigantic pit of the Gold Run Ditch & Mining Co., marked on the 7.5 minute USGS Dutch Flat quadrangle as the Stewart Gravel Mine.

James Stewart the Younger owned most of the Diggings for many years. His father, James Stewart the Elder, had been a hydraulic mining superintendent in the olden days. The younger Stewart was a friend of Jack London and Franklin Delano Roosevelt. It is said that London used to stay at Stewart's house in the Diggings, and did some writing there. His short story, "The All-Gold Canyon," may have been written at Gold Run.

We parked where the road was cut through by the January 1997 flood event, which here was amplified by the failure of a small dam up near Garrett Road. Facing south, we had The Bluffs on our right (west), and Indiana Hill on our left (east). The high ground to either side is BLM land, while the floor of the pit is part of the 800 acres now for sale. Nearby was the more northerly of the two shafts, each leading to a tunnel, which two tunnels join beneath Indiana Hill, and continue east as one huge tunnel, twelve feet wide by nine feet high, before breaking out at Canyon Creek. This shaft and tunnel complex was made in 1873-74 by the GRD&MC.

Walking south through the pit, we marveled at its depth--all of 400 feet--and the millions of cubic yards washed away by the water cannons, through the long sluice boxes, and away into Canyon Creek and the North Fork American. In 1881 California brought suit against the GRD&MC, arguing that the tailings were raising the bed of the American River far downstream, and placing Sacramento and other communities at risk of severe floods. The State prevailed, and Judge Temple handed down an injunction, that no tailings be discharged into Canyon Creek or the North Fork.

It so happens that 45 volumes of testimony were written out in longhand during this trial, and that microfilm of all this can be examined in the Auburn Library (ask at the Reference desk). I have pored through something like a quarter of this mass of material, for the defense explored, in considerable detail, the history of mining in the Gold Run area.

For instance, testimony was taken that, in 1881, between three and five thousand cubic yards of tailings per day were run through the tunnels into Canyon Creek. These tailings went through more sluice boxes fitted into the creek itself, before finally being let free into the North Fork. In 1881 one could drive a wagon right up the tailings from Mineral Bar, below Colfax, to Canyon Creek.

The North Fork has long since ripped all these tailings out and away and downstream. Only insignificant vestiges remain in this reach of the North Fork. Lower down, where the river's gradient begins to flatten, a little more of this mining debris has been preserved. In stark contrast, portions of the Bear River remain buried by tailings to this day, partly because the Bear has a smaller basin, and smaller flows, than the North Fork. It also had more hydraulic mines, and received more tailings, than the North Fork.

Climbing a little above the floor of the pit on the south, we entered a tall tunnel driven through the gravel, and walked through into the Secret World. This relatively small hydraulic mining pit lies at the head of Indiana Ravine, and is surrounded by high banks on three sides, while opening into the North Fork canyon to the south. This, as testimony in the 1881 trial brought out, was exactly where the gold in these "high gravels" at Gold Run was first discovered. Claims were filed, the Indiana Hill Mining District was constituted, and in September of 1852, the Indiana Hill Ditch was completed, bringing water from Canyon Creek a couple of miles south to the head of Indiana Ravine.

In the Secret World is a small stone cabin, built I believe by one Byron Emric, maybe in the 1930s. He used clay for mortar, and gleaned some corrugated sheet iron for a roof. Unfortunately, the cabin was vandalized in 1998, and appears to have been struck again in 2003. A large part of the wall around the door has now collapsed.

The deepest part of the old river channel passed through here, and the gravels were so rich they justified drift mining, until, sometime in the late 1870s or early 1880s, the ground was leased to a Chinese company headed by one Tia Sing, and they used hydraulic mining methods to create the pit, working down to bedrock, and stacking boulders in huge piles, in order to "clean" the bedrock of its golden treasure.

We picked our way across some of these boulder-piles left by Tia Sing's men, and climbed out of the pit on the east, where we passed a monstrous mossy dry-laid stone wall, and entered the small reservoir at the end of the Indiana Hill Ditch. We exited the tiny reservoir basin on the south, and followed the ditch itself around the end of the Indiana Hill ridge, at first right on the rim of the main North Fork canyon, but passing gradually into the valley of Canyon Creek. Some very nice views of Giant Gap, Iowa Hill, Roach Hill, and even some snow peaks, are had from this ditch. It is oft-infested with ancient huge bushes, so that one is forced off the berm and down the hill again and again.

At a sunny opening we stopped for a snack, with the uppermost of the big waterfalls of Canyon Creek directly below us, out of sight, but audibly roaring right along. Some hawks could be seen enjoying the sunny day, out in the main canyon.

Continuing, we reached the Old Wagon Road, which was made by the GRD&MC in 1873 to facilitate construction of the great tunnels. It crosses the Indiana Hill ridge in a low pass at the head of Judd Ravine, and descends steeply to Canyon Creek and the tunnel outlet. The uppermost part is blocked by brush, but from the ditch down it is open enough to walk. We followed it down to the creek, and enjoyed some more sunshine at the U-Bend or Oxbow, where the miners blasted out a huge channel for their sluice boxes, and made some terraces.

Then it was up and out on the Canyon Creek Trail, through Potato Ravine Pass to the Diggings, where a few yards down the Main Diggings Road brought us to Ron's truck.

It was a very pleasant hike, of a couple miles perhaps, first south along one side of Indiana Hill, then north along the other side.

Tuesday, November 11, 2003

Visit to Heath Springs

Tho pressed by a ton of work around the home front, on Friday I contrived to escape for an adventure on the upper North Fork, with Michael Joyce of Dutch Flat. We planned to visit Heath Springs. These mineral springs are along an old trail which parallels the North Fork closely for a few miles, beginning at The Cedars, on the east

The Cedars is a private club comprising some twenty-five families which dates back to around 1905, and has large land holdings in the upper North Fork. I am ignorant of the details concerning how The Cedars acquired these lands. The usual checkerboard pattern of ownership, in which the odd-numbered sections had been granted to the Central Pacific Railroad, but the even-numbered sections remain public land, does not obtain near The Cedars. To the east, the Chickering family own very much land around the Old Soda Springs, that meadowy wonderland of petroglyphs, cascades, springs, and rich forests, all hemmed around by high peaks. The Chickering lands include the site of the old Soda Springs Hotel, and Mark Hopkins' log cabin still stands nearby.

What we now call Soda Springs was just the train stop where visitors would change to stage coaches for the ten-mile drive down into the upper basin of the North Fork, to the hotel.

Of course, Mark Hopkins was one of the Big Four, along with Stanford, Huntington, and hard-driving Charles Crocker, who built the CPRR. And the power of these railroad men grew and grew until the reins of government were firmly in their too-capable hands. Finally, in an effort to give the people of California a chance to wrest political power away from the railroad men and their cronies, the device of a recall election was added to our state constitution. Ergo Arnold.

I don't know how or even if the political power invested in the heirs of Mark Hopkins and the wealthy families who began The Cedars acted to consolidate and expand their land holdings in the upper North Fork. It happened. The Cedars, Chickerings, and a few other private parties in the area comprise the North Fork Association. Altogether, the NFA holds some eight or ten thousand acres. The old stage road from the CPRR down to the North Fork is now part of the Soda Springs-Foresthill Road. This road makes for one of the prettiest drives in California, but the upper twenty-five miles is unpaved, rough, bouldery, and often dusty. A high-clearance vehicle helps. It is slow going, slow, but pretty.

Now, the old public trails which thread the upper North Fork perforce cross the private lands of the North Fork Association. A hundred years ago there was no question that these trails were indeed public trails, and as recently as 1962, the trail from The Cedars down the river to Heath Springs is depicted on official Tahoe National Forest (TNF) maps. It also shows, as one would expect, on older TNF maps. But at some point, The Cedars determined that they wanted no strangers in their private paradise, and closed the public trail to the public. Here again I am ignorant of the details. I have heard of some kind of "deal" struck with TNF, in which the North Fork Association formally conceded the public's right to use the public trail up the river--the Painted Rock Trail--and over the crest into Squaw Valley, and in exchange, TNF conceded The Cedars' right to close the public trail down the river.

Thus as one drives down the rough old stage road into the wondrous upper basin of the North Fork, one begins to see "No Trespassing" signs everywhere, special, expensive, custom-made signs, nailed to the trunks of giant trees. If one ventures away from the road, still more custom signs, signs which befit the wealth of the North Fork Association, are found, in the most obscure and outlandish places. I wouldn't doubt but that there are literally hundreds of these signs up there.

Now, Michael and I were determined to hike the old public trail down to Heath Springs, and I saw on my TNF map that, where the road crosses Onion Creek, there was some public land. We parked there and followed a logging road down the creek. From the well-rotted appearance of the stumps it seems this harvest occurred some forty years ago.

In this part of the Sierra the rocks are divided into the younger "Superjacent" and the old "Subjacent" series. The Superjacent series includes all the relatively young volcanics, such as comprise most all the high peaks encircling the upper North Fork. These form roughly horizontal layers of (from lowest to highest, oldest to youngest) rhyolite ash, welded rhyolite tuffs, andesitic mudflows, and basaltic and andesitic-basaltic lava flows, capping some of the summits, such as Needles Peak. The oldest rhyolites date to near 30 million years ago while the youngest basalts date to as little as three million years. Add to these Superjacent rocks very much in the way of glacial till, occasional moraines, and locally large glacial outwash terraces. Beneath the oldest of the young volcanics is an old river channel, probably at least 55 million years old; but I am unaware of where, if anywhere, these river gravels are exposed in the upper North Fork. Very much of the lower ground is covered in glacial till.

For instance, where Michael and I began walking, there is a great thickness of glacial till. Onion Creek itself had subsided beneath the surface of this unsorted (unstratified) mass of boulders, cobbles, and sandy sediments, deposited during the last, "Tioga" glaciation, which ended ~12,000 years ago. As we walked downstream, it emerged at the surface, and soon the creek plunged abruptly into a little gorge, where rocks of the Subjacent Series are exposed.

The Subjacent Series comprises the vastly-older metamorphic rocks and granitic plutons which are exposed in all the canyons in this part of the Sierra, and over broad areas of the upland regions around the canyons. The young Subjacent volcanics etc. are mostly confined to the ridge crests between canyons, and to the Sierra Crest itself. Generally, the granites are younger, having welled up in enormous bubbles--plutons--into the older metamorphic rocks. And these older metamorphic rocks are everywhere turned up on edge, that is, whether originally sediments or igneous rocks, they have been rotated almost ninety degrees to the east.

I should mention that this complex arrangement of granitic plutons intruding metamorphic rocks has been exhumed from great depth and miles of its thickness had already been stripped away before the so-called "Ancestral Sierra" developed its system of sluggish, sediment-laden rivers more than 50 million years ago. The vestiges of these old rivers are the loci of our hydraulic mines, as at Malakoff, Dutch Flat, Gold Run, Lost Camp and Iowa Hill.

Michael and I might have stayed high and tried to avoid the gorge, but it looked brushy, so we dropped down a very steep gully to the creek. Here the fine-grained metamorphic rocks betrayed the proximity of a granite pluton, being seamed with dikes of granite, and in places, so throughly cooked that the metamorphic rock was re-crystallized into a granitic texture.

It was quite the pretty place, with cliffs rising a hundred feet high to either side of the creek, which formed a succession of deep pools and cascades. We were almost immediately confronted with some real rock-climbing, in order to follow the creek. Bears had abjured these steep rocks and waded right up the creek itself; we could see their footprints underwater, in a bed of silt. We slowly picked our way across the cliff, and found easier going below, a natural ramp of rock leading past a waterfall and a longer, deeper pool. Small trout darted about.

Soon we reached an interesting body of limestone. The strata were not so vertical as usual, tipped up scarcely 70 degrees, if that, from the horizontal. The limestone was metamorphosed into marble, of variegated colors, nicely polished near the creek, and rife with solution pockets, miniature caves and hollows with little arches. This rock would make some fine ornamental marble if quarried and polished. I saw no fossils. Presumably it is Paleozoic in age, say, 200 million years, but I do not know to what formation this rock might be assigned. At one point the strata of marble were cut by a dike of some dark brown igneous rock, very fine-grained to almost glassy, but with a hackly fracture, very old, metamorphosed right along with the marble it intruded.

We skirted along past the pretty marble for a couple hundred yards. Enormous boulders of granite increasingly littered the creek, quarried out by the glacier from somewhere higher to the east, and dropped here when the ice finally melted. Then we entered a sort of floodplain of glacial outwash, and Onion Creek subsided beneath the surface again. No more bedrock was exposed.

As we approached the North Fork, we reached the trail, and headed west, down the canyon. The trail climbs from Onion Creek to a gigantic glacial outwash terrace about 150' above the river. Glacial outwash is simply the sediment carried down by a valley glacier, the same as would be deposited in a ridge-like moraine or left scattered across large areas as glacial till. It differs from till and moraines in being sorted, not unsorted, that is, the boulders, sand, cobbles, silt, are at least weakly stratified, showing that they were laid down by water. Glacial outwash forms floodplains downstream from a valley glacier. Often, after the glacier has melted and is no longer delivering such an overabundance of sediment, the river will cut through the floodplain to bedrock, leaving terrace-like remnants on one or both sides of the valley.

Such was the case here. A rich forest of White Fir and Jeffrey Pine occupied the outwash terrace. Across the river, on slopes with a northern exposure, hence, colder, we say many tall Red Firs. There are quite abrupt and extreme variations in microclimate in these deep canyons.

We crossed Serena Creek, which drains Ice Lakes, up near the town of Soda Springs. Mark Twain himself named these two lakes Serena and Dulzura, hence, Serena Creek. Continuing west and down the canyon, more in the way of bedrock appeared, and much less in the way of outwash or till. The trail began to buck up and down quite a bit. We saw places where stone steps had been carefully built over a century ago, and where the cliffs had been drilled and blasted to make the trail. Few blazes were seen on the big trees, but ridiculously many "No Trespassing" signs. The bedrock was all metamorphic, the strata nearly vertical and striking north-south across the course of the river, and I was at a loss as to just what kind of rock it was. It may have been fine-grained metavolcanic rocks, say, beds of volcanic ash and debris flows laid down underwater, in the ocean, near some volcanic islands.

Kelloggs Black Oaks and Canyon Live Oaks began to appear, and Douglas Fir instead of White Fir. These harbingers of lower elevations were accompanied by a number of Western Juniper, trees one associates with the high country. We were dropping towards 5000' elevation across these sunny treeless cliffs interspersed with small forested bodies of glacial till, when a remarkable gorge and waterfall came into view on the North Fork, below us. This is Heath Falls. It had been all of fifteen years since I had been here. An impossibly deep and narrow pool is bound tightly by vertical cliffs, the pool perhaps two hundred feet long, and a waterfall plunging fifty feet or so into its upper end.

We took a quick look from near the trail and then pushed west to Heath Springs. Here the main trail climbs to a pass only a few hundred feet above, crosses a forested flat with gigantic, humongous, ancient Ponderosa Pines etc., and joins the Palisade Creek Trail. We had passed some springs, but I suspected that the true Heath Springs were still west, so we cast about in the forest until we found a faint old human trail leading west, and followed it to some sunny ledges where a small body of granite had intruded the metamorphic rocks.

Here we lunched and enjoyed fine views of the canyon walls, soaring 2000' above us. There was no sign of springs farther west, where a deep gorge separates Heath Falls from Palisade Creek, about a mile downstream, or less. We concluded that the springs we'd passed were "the" Heath Springs, and followed out faint old trail back to them.

These mineral springs are cold, rich in iron, and much frequented by bears, who wallow in the pools. We started back up the trail, but took a side trip to visit Heath Falls.

Gaining the cliffs directly above the long narrow pool, we saw that it is actually two pools, with a small waterfall between them. They are both very deep, the entire flow of the North Fork being so tightly bound between the cliffs, that it scours them out very efficiently. The river's inner gorge follows a sharply-bending zigzag course, and just upstream from the main waterfall is another high waterfall, perhaps thirty feet, which drops into its own deep, cliff-bound pool. These pools and waterfalls are very wild and lovely. The usual "No Trespassing" signs are nailed to the trees above the gorge.

There is little more to report from our adventure, except, we decided to try to find a logging road up and out near Onion Creek, so as to avoid the Marble Gorge. So, while on the great outwash terrace, we struck away to the north, and eventually, after some fairly intense bushwhacking, and some steep climbs, did indeed find a logging road, and followed it all the way to the last switchback on the old stage road, before the crossing of Onion Creek. We sauntered down the road to the car, and drove back to Dutch Flat, and dragged some folding chairs up to the railroad tracks, and drank a beer, and watched the sun set over the foothills south of Grass Valley. It had been another great day on the North Fork.