Friday, August 22, 2003

Burnett Canyon & the NFNFAR

Ron Gould and I drove up to Emigrant Gap and in on Forest Road 19 to the end of the pavement and hung a right onto Texas Hill Road. At the fork one stays left to Sawtooth Ridge and right to Texas Hill and the Burnett Canyon Trail.

This trail no longer shows on the "Big" TNF map and for good reason: it has been obliterated by logging, entirely on TNF lands in sections 20 and 29, T16N R12E, at both the north and south ends of the old trail.

Ron and I decided to check on the north-side trail. The trail crosses Burnett Canyon--a fairly major tributary of the NFNFAR-- on a nearly north-south line. Here gold miner/photographer Isaac Tibbetts Coffin resided from 1858 to 1864, in two cabins, one near the trail on the north side of Burnett Canyon, the other, to the west and north at Texas Hill, where a lode claim, tunnel, and blacksmith shop were located. Coffin and friends dug a ditch several miles long which winds down Burnett Canyon, high above the creek, in fact, the road on to Sawtooth Ridge crosses this little ditch.

We followed the ridge down to the south through an area which had seen two or three selective harvests, going back to the Towle Bros. lumber company, around 1900, and then the entire ridge-crest had been swept over by an army of bulldozers and other equipment in a classic "fuel load reduction" project. Every last little trace of the trail is gone. Well, on the way out, we did see one line of boulders, maybe ten feet long or so, red with age, suggesting the line of the trail.

Eventually we reached the edge of the "inner gorge" of Burnett Canyon. Here an old narrow-gauge railroad roadbed likely dating to the Towle Bros. contoured along. Below the railroad line there was no fuel load reduction, and suddenly the old trail appeared. It had survived at least two selective cuts on these steeper slopes, apparently without difficulty. Old blazes scarred many trees, and we even saw signs that TNF had maintained the trail, in the olden days of perhaps thirty years past, before timber harvests won out over nearly every other use of the Forest.

We dropped on down to the creek in light rain showers and admired the huge masses of gigantic-leaved Indian Rhubarb. The trail was easily seen across the creek, climbing up the far side, to where it was obliterated by a clearcut.

We struggled back up the steep trail to the fuel load reduction zone and found that we could actually follow the trail a full 100 feet north, before it disappeared beneath the general welter of the fuel reduction. When we at last topped out on the road, we stumbled upon the line of Coffin's ditch, just above, and figure that this was exactly where the Burnett Canyon Trail met the ditch. Coffin likely followed the ditch itself west to the Texas Hill cabin, whenever he went there from Burnett Canyon.

We drove on out to Sawtooth Ridge, far far out on the maze of logging roads, into the clearcuts in Section 35 near Helester Point, and were at last stopped by a fallen tree, and walked the rest of the way to there the steep descent to the NFNFAR is made. The day was cloudy and cool, but muggy, and we broke a good sweat picking our way down the steeps. At the river, we hustled on down to the Rawhide Dam, and then on beyond to the cabin site, and the wagon road. While lopping away in a snarl of deerbrush and small Douglas Fir, I was about to clear a mass of dead branches caught in the Douglas Fir I was lopping, when I realized in an instant of pure terror that my loppers were one inch from the head of a rattlesnake, a large snake which made the better part of the "dead branches" I was about to attack. The snake was moving its head and staring right at me. In the space of about one-tenth of a second this all dawned upon me and with a screech I jumped back a foot or two, and then, the enormity of it taking hold, I screamed profanities and made an all-out Superman-like dive into a mass of rotten oak branches another six feet back, right at Ron's feet. I smashed the dead branches with a satisfying crunch even as I examined them for the likelihood of still more vicious snakes.

The rattler stayed put and never rattled, except for the whisper, the ghost of a rattle, which sounded more like someone shuffling cards in the next room, or rather less than that. We duly photographed the healthy thing, partly wrapped around the little Douglas Fir at about two feet above the ground.

After that, there was a great swim in a large pool, no more lopping by the way, and then the long intricate scramble up the beautiful river, and the insanely steep climb up "the gully" to our logging road, 800 feet above the river, and then at last the truck, and the long long drive out. We were back down to Dutch Flat a little after sunset.

It is quite a shame that the North Fork of the North Fork never got Wild & Scenic River designation. Ron and I saw trees at river level marked with blue spray paint, and a lot of fresh flagging along the logging road above, so, there's every sign that the timber harvest on the SPI lands in Section 35 are not over let. And I am puzzled that they are allowed to log right down to the river. That area will be helicopter-yarded, so, that may be what allows them to do what is ordinarily not permitted, i.e., to harvest trees right from the banks of streams and rivers.

Maybe we should fire some letters off to William Schultz at CDF, asking that there be a buffer zone of no harvest, along this lovely river.

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