Friday, August 1, 2003

Lost Camp: Good News, Bad News

This morning, early, I made a dash up to Blue Canyon and drove through Lost Camp to the top of the China Trail. There is no obstruction on the road, contrary to the report I received yesterday. So, that's the good news.

The bad news is that many trees are marked for a timber harvest in the vicinity of the townsite, and that some private parcels in the area are "for sale," and that there is no immediate prospect for Tahoe National Forest or the Placer Legacy to step into the breach and try to acquire these private lands, near the townsite and trailhead.

For those who do not know of Lost Camp and the China Trail, well, Lost Camp was a hydraulic mining town established in 1858. It is roughly south of Blue Canyon, and is on top of the ridge dividing Blue Canyon, the stream, from the North Fork of the North Fork. Lost Camp is in Section 23, T16N, R11E. Directions to reach Lost Camp and the China Trail are as follows.

From the Blue Canyon exit on eastbound I-80, set your odometer to zero, and turn sharply right onto a paved road leading back to the west. This is Blue Canyon Road.

In ~.4 miles, pass paved Airport Road on the right, leading to the Blue Canyon airport. Blue Canyon Road descends steadily, crosses the creek, and at ~2.0 miles, a paved road forks left, towards and past some houses. The pavement ends shortly and a dirt road continues. In another ~.5 miles a road forks left; stay to the right. The railroad is reached at approximately 2.9 miles. The road crosses the tracks near where the old Bradley & Gardner Ditch, or Placer County Canal, itself crossed the tracks, on its way to Dutch Flat and Gold Run. This major mining ditch pre-dates the railroad.

Immediately after crossing the tracks, a road forks left, which has been recently widened. Stay right. At ~3.0 miles a log deck is passed and at ~3.1 miles another road forks left--stay right--, while on the right is a small cabin-like structure with "no trespassing" signs. At ~3.5 miles a wrecked car is on the left. Roads fork to left and right, and a group of larger, older Ponderosa Pines is on the right, with a hunters' deer-dressing pipe embedded between two pines. The road to the right leads past the west part of the townsite to the largest hydraulic pit. That to the left leads to the east part of the townsite, where an old orchard still exists.

The main road goes straight. At ~3.6 miles a gulch is crossed and hydraulic mining banks are visible nearby. At ~3.8 miles the main Lost Camp Divide Road breaks away to the right, while the road to the trailhead goes straight. At ~3.9 miles, a small road forks steeply down to the left to the trailhead, which is just out of view. There is a parking area about fifty yards or so back to the north. There are no signs.

This trail descends to the North Fork of the North Fork American, and not too long ago, crossed the river and climbed up Sawtooth Ridge to the south. However, on the Sawtooth Ridge side it has been obliterated by logging. I published the diary of a man named Isaac Tibbetts Coffin who lived over near Texas Hill and Burnett Canyon from 1858 until 1864, and he often used this trail to walk to Dutch Flat, by way of Lost Camp, and also, mule trains used to bring provisions to Texas Hill and Monumental Camp, from Dutch Flat, on this trail.

Coffin always refers to it as the "trail to Lost Camp." I do not know when or why it became known as the China Trail, or the China Bar Trail. Coffin does mention that, in 1864, Chinese miners from Dutch Flat were scouting the entire area, and looking to buy mining claims.

The China Trail begins in the private lands in Section 23 but quickly passes into Tahoe National Forest lands, in Section 24 to the east.

This trail shows on the 1866 General Land Office map, as does the road to Lost Camp. As it descends to the river it roughly parallels a ravine marked "Texas Ca–on" on my 1866 map. This map also shows a trail leading east from Lost Camp, marked as "Trail to Monumental Camp," and another trail leading west, from somewhat south of Lost Camp, into Blue Canyon.

After driving to the trailhead, I turned back, drove to the townsite, parked near the wrecked car and old pines, and tried to find the "Trail to Monumental Camp."

Monumental Camp would seem to have been near the confluence of Monumental Creek and the East Fork of the North Fork of the North Fork. Coffin mentions several residents of Monumental Camp, who would come and visit him at Texas Hill or at his other cabin down in Burnett Canyon.

At any rate, scouting east on the small road, I passed the old orchard and reached the remnants of a cabin. Some mining occurred at Lost Camp during the Depression, but I have been unable to discover anything about this era. The structure I saw probably dates from that time. In the vicinity are a number of old mining ditches, mining reservoirs, and deep gullies left by minor hydraulic mining, of the sort they called "ground sluicing." The area has been logged again and again and no old trees remain which might have held blazes.

Unfortunately, the larger 3rd-growth trees which are there now are all marked with blue spray paint, and all kinds of flagging is scattered through the forest.

I struck the line of one of the many old mining ditches and followed it through a ravine, then saw an old human trail leading down, followed it, struck another ditch, in this case, with flagging marking it as a skid trail, and finally broke out onto an ugly bulldozed skid trail thing, with a bulldozed flat just above me. This I took to be a building site on one of the parcels now for sale. The ditch had been erased, and I was far from my car.

The route I had followed seemed a plausible fit for the Trail to Monumental Camp, but to determine the issue I would have to cross to the ridge between Texas Canyon and Fulda Creek, a ways east, and pick up the trail over there, and follow it back to Lost Camp, if possible.

The China Trail is quite special. A descent of around 1300 feet brings you to the river. Several old camping terraces are in the area. I almost always see tremendous numbers of ladybugs there, in fact, I call it the Ladybug Capital of the Universe. The river is lovely. However, the most wonderful, the most incredible thing, is the gorge which is hidden from view just a little ways upstream.

This is a Gorge of Many Gorges, riddled with waterfalls, a Confluence of Canyons, I don't quite know what to call it, but in a very short distance many streams are joined: Texas Canyon, Fulda Creek, Sailor Ravine and the North Fork of the North Fork itself, which is a hanging valley with respect to the main gorge, said main gorge aligning more closely with the East Fork of the North Fork of the North Fork. And add to all these streams Burnett Canyon and Wilmont Ravine.

The main gorge is awesome, with cliffs of the Shoo Fly Complex metasediments soaring above, in many blocky overhangs, so that, sitting on some outcrop or boulder down on the river, and looking up, I often get dizzy and disoriented. It is fairly difficult to ascend the river into the gorge. Some of the waterfalls, some of the best and highest waterfalls, are just off the main gorge, in the side canyons, and they too are difficult to reach.

It is really one of the most beautiful places in Tahoe National Forest.

We must find a way for Tahoe National Forest to purchase some of these private inholdings. However, TNF does not seem to appreciate the importance of this area, and the China Trail. I cannot help but think that, for the TNF staff in Nevada City, this area is far out of sight, and therefore far out of mind.

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