Saturday, September 20, 2003

Visit to Fulda Canyon

East of Lost Camp, Texas Canyon descends to the North Fork of the North Fork American River (NFNFAR). Still farther east is Fulda Canyon, with headwaters up above Emigrant Gap. Between Texas and Fulda is what I call Fulda Ridge. To the south and east of Fulda Ridge is that remarkable gorge and complex of canyons, where Fulda, the NFNFAR, the East Fork of the North Fork of the North Fork, Burnett Canyon, and Wilmont Ravine, all converge within a narrow compass of cliffs and many waterfalls.

This makes for one of the strangest topographical features in this part of the Sierra, strange, difficult to get to, wild, strange, and very beautiful. The entire complex of canyons is incised into metasediments of the Shoo Fly Complex, which are all turned up on edge and sometimes folded sharply.

On Friday Ron Gould and I drove up to the Blue Canyon exit on I-80, then south towards Blue Canyon, and east on an unmarked road near houses, just before the railroad is reached. This road-east is being watered for logging trucks, and we followed the wet and freshly-graded dirt down and across the tracks and saw the wetness continue towards Lost Camp itself. So we investigated. Had the Siller Brothers' timber harvest already commenced? But, no. The harvest is apparently on a small SPI parcel farther out on the ridge between Blue Canyon and the NFNFAR. Having found that the great rape of Lost Camp and Fulda Ridge has not started quite yet, we retraced our path and drove out as far as we could on a certain road cut into the line of the old Bradley & Gardner ditch, or Placer County Canal, which was the first big ditch to supply the hydraulic mines of Dutch Flat, arriving there, with bands and parades and speeches and sumptuous repasts, in 1859. Miners marched the streets of Dutch Flat bearing banners aloft upon which were blazoned the heraldry of their individual claims, some with mottos too, like "Root Hog or Die."

We parked at a locked gate in an area where all the large trees had been cut down a year or two ago, and, it would seem, some larger parcel had been subdivided. This is the exact pattern of progress in the middle elevations, the timber regions, of Placer County. Buy the large parcel, cut the timber, subdivide, sell; and then soon after come the gates and the "No Trespassing" signs,

Blithely trespassing beyond the gate, we followed the ditch-road on a meandering course in and out of several ravines at the head of Texas Canyon, until we reached Fulda Ridge. There we dropped away southward.

My 1866 General Land Office map shows a "Trail to Monumental Camp" bearing east from Lost Camp, and an 1862 newspaper article describes this same trail as leading to Onion Valley. Several past efforts to find some shred of the old trail had failed. Ron and I tried yet again, hugging the east side of plateau-like Fulda Ridge as we wandered south through tall pines, cedars, and Douglas Fir. This forest has not long to live. If it is left untouched after the Siller Brothers are through cutting, why, never fear, our grandchildren's grandchildren will live to see something like what is there today.

This pretty patch of forest has already been logged at least twice, the last time forty or fifty years ago, and what with the old roads and skid trails we had little hope of finding our lost trail from Lost Camp to Onion Valley. We did find two small old mining ditches, at around the 4400' contour, and the well-monumented "West Sixteenth Corner" on the line between sections 13 and 24. The lower of the two ditches is the larger and would such a fine trail in its own right. It drew from about a mile up Fulda Canyon, and apparently led to the hardrock mine of the "Railroad Tracks in Space," which Steve Hunter showed me a few weeks ago. I have since discovered that this was called the Red Rock Mine.

After exploring north on the lower ditch, we turned back south and reached a swale with a spring, heavy timber, dogwoods, and an old mining reservoir, and a section of eighth-inch riveted iron pipe, a century or so old. This seemed a likely spot for our lost trail to kiss along the way east to Onion Valley, but we could discover no trace. However, we did find the higher of the two ore-cart-runs, the wide, road-like run, both of which connect the main ore body, on the cliffs to the south, to the ore-processing area, well within shady Fulda Canyon.

We followed the old road with its dry-laid stone walls south to the ore body, where a monstrous quartz vein was stoped out from the ragged sunny cliffs plunging towards the NFNFAR. The vein has the same north-south strike as the strata of the Shoo Fly metasediments, and the same almost vertical dip.

We visited the wonderful Railroad Tracks in Space, where a tremendous view is had of the Gorge of Many Gorges, and then hung from the very railroad tracks while crossing little cliffs to gain the lower ore-cart run. We followed this back north to the ore-processing area, where rather large Douglas Fir, around four feet in diameter, are marked for harvest.

Sorry, our grandchildren's grandchildren will *not* live to see anything like these ancient monsters, after Siller Brothers reap their profits.

Ron and I thrashed north and down to Fulda Creek, arriving between a pair of pretty pools, with much in the way of sculptured rock and little waterfalls, and masses of Five-Finger Ferns, and Indian Rhubarb. After a lunch break we made a scramble down the creek itself to the confluence of Sailor Ravine. Gigantic boulders of the local Shoo Fly were a commonplace, sometimes thirty feet across, and seeming too large, really, for the size of the canyon, but, there they were. We saw ancient Douglas Fir marked for harvest all the way down to Fulda Creek, and on the slopes to the east.

From just below Sailor Ravine we began the climb back up to the flat top of Fulda Ridge, on very steep slopes which seemed to never end. Finally we reached the ore-cart runs and ore body, and from there it is relatively easy going up to the plateau, where we followed a bear trail, with its characteristic deep footmarks, the result of stepping in exactly the same spots over and over again. We followed it north to the Bradley & Gardner Ditch, and then the ditch and ditch-road west, back to Ron's truck.

It was interesting, while crossing a tiny patch of Tahoe National Forest land, to see signs nailed to the trees, warning people not to shoot, and warning that "Dogs Will Bite." These signs are on public land and were placed there by the person who has the cabin down below, and the new gate with the "You Will Be Shot" sign. Log, subdivide, sell, gate, "no trespassing," and now, an added twist, placing signs on public lands.

We never found the least trace of the Trail to Monumental Camp.

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