Tuesday, October 28, 2003

Big Valley Bluff

Big Valley Bluff is one of the premier scenic overlooks in Placer County, a 3600-foot cliff on the north rim of the North Fork American canyon, east of Emigrant Gap. I wrote the following letter to Forest Supervisor Steve Eubanks of Tahoe National Forest, advocating a road and vehicles closure near the Bluff:

October 28, 2003

Steven Eubanks
Forest Supervisor, Tahoe National Forest
631 Coyote Street
Nevada City, CA 95959

re: Big Valley Bluff

Dear Supervisor Eubanks,

Recently I visited Big Valley Bluff, in the Nevada City Ranger District, a cliff on the north rim of the canyon of the North Fork American River. This is a very remarkable and beautiful place. The views of the North Fork canyon often make me wonder why there is no North Fork American National Park.

The elevation of the storm-swept summit is around 6400 feet. Sparse Jeffrey Pine, Western White Pine and Sugar Pine grow in the summit area, along with the odd stunted Douglas Fir and the somewhat unusual Common Juniper. This juniper is a ground-hugging shrub, and although I have found it on several rocky, sunny cliffs in the North Fork canyon, it is sufficiently uncommon that two friends, connoisseurs of our native plants, had never, over the course of decades, seen it.

I have noticed, in recent years, a great increase in 4WD and OHV activity around Big Valley Bluff. People drive up onto the summit area and have created a number of ad hoc roads. They build large fire rings and scatter beer bottles and other trash. The great beauty of this place, and the rare wildness of the North Fork canyon, suggest that Big Valley Bluff deserves special care.

Hence once again I suggest that a road and vehicle closure be applied to Big Valley Bluff. I believe all vehicular traffic-cars, trucks, SUVs, and OHVs-should be stopped at least one-quarter mile north of the old TNF lookout site. And, since Big Valley Bluff is so highly visible, from such long distances, a parking area should be chosen such that existing tree cover will tend to hide parked vehicles, and reduce or eliminate the sparkle of chrome and windshields.

A certain saddle or pass on the Big Valley Bluff ridge, near the center of the southwest one-quarter of Section 24, T16N R12E, and near the word "Valley" of "Big Valley Bluff" on the USGS 7.5 mnute Duncan Peak quadrangle, might be the best place to effect a vehicle closure, and make a parking area.

Sincerely yours,

Russell Towle

Wednesday, October 22, 2003

Big Valley Canyon

From a particular clifftop perch below the East Summit of Big Valley Bluff, one can see the remarkable gorge of the lower, southern reaches of Big Valley Creek, as it enters the tremendous depths--here, around 3500 feet--of the North Fork canyon. The bare rocky canyon walls rise thousands of feet, and an inner gorge is often incised within the main gorge. Here are many waterfalls, seldom if ever visited by humans.

On Monday Ron Gould and I drove up I-80, took the Yuba Gap exit, bore right at the first fork, passing an obscure petroglyph site along the line of the Donner Trail, beside a long wet meadow, and then took the left turn onto Forest Road 19. Lake Valley Reservoir was on our right as we slowly climbed eastward to another left on Forest Road 38, which leads in past Huysink Lake (named after outdoorsman Bernard Huysink of Dutch Flat) and the popular Salmon Lake Trail, on past the unmarked Big Granite Trail, and beyond to Pelham Flat and Sugar Pine Point. Just past the wet meadow of Pelham Flat, a road breaks away right and winds down into Big Valley.

The USGS 7.5 minute "Cisco Grove" and "Duncan Peak" topographic maps cover this area, but do not show the more recent logging roads, such as the above road into Big Valley.

The old Big Valley Trail used to cross the valley here, on an east-west line, from Mears Meadow, atop Monumental Ridge on the west, to Pelham Flat, atop the Sugar Pine Point ridge on the east. At Pelham Flat the Big Valley Trail met the Sugar Pine Point Trail. Both trails have been obliterated by logging within the past 30 years.

We wound down the narrow road, hemmed in by thick brush, over slopes of glacial till, and forests of Red Fir gradually changing into the White Fir, Incense Cedar, and both Lodgepole and Jeffrey Pine which dominate Big Valley itself. All along the way we saw golden Aspens, and then down near the creek, golden Cottonwoods trees. Fall is here.

Big Valley Creek heads at Huysink Lake and runs south some five miles to the North Fork. It is incised into a variety of different metamorphic rocks, including the Sailor Canyon Formation, in the upper reaches around Huysink Lake, and rocks of the Taylorsville Sequence etc. in its middle reaches, until finally it enters the metasandstones, slates and cherts of the Shoo Fly Complex, in the lower reaches.

Big Valley is named for a large, mostly forested flat in the middle area, with scattered meadows, and only one bedrock outcrop of note, a glaciated mass of Triassic conglomerate on the west side of the creek. Flat-lying, light-colored, clay-like glacial sediments exposed in the creek suggest that this large flat may be a silted-in glacial lake. Another model might be a large glacial outwash plain.

Unlike Little and Big Granite creeks, immediately to the east, also running south to the North Fork, and of equal lengths, Big Valley has not one shred of granite in its upper reaches. The metamorphic rocks, most resembling steeply-dipping slate, are far more easily cut by glaciers and streams alike; for the granite is more "massive," with widely-spaced joint planes, and tends more to being rounded and smoothed by glaciers, rather than quarried away wholesale.

To the north, the shallow upper canyon of the South Yuba could not hold its own due portion of ice, and over a long succession of glaciations, glaciers swept right over the divide, into the drastically deeper North Fork canyon. Here again we see the contrast between granite (Yuba) and metamorphic rocks (North Fork). A deep pass at Huysink Lake marks the path of especially large volumes of ice flowing south through Big Valley. Even in the last, "Tioga" glaciation, which ended around 12,000 years ago, the ice was deep enough to fill Big Valley to the brim and even cover the ridges to either side.

It has become an article of geomorphological faith that glaciers carve "U-shaped" valleys, while rivers carve "V-shaped" valleys. Big Valley seems very U-shaped in its middle reaches, around the large flat; but the actual bedrock profile of the valley there is buried beneath thick glacial sediments, so who can say what its "true" profile is? Yosemite Valley presents a similar case. It is often described as U-shaped, but the bedrock floor of Yosemite is lost beneath deep glacial sediments. In both cases the bedrock profile may be more V-shaped than we might like, were we trying to apply our articles of faith.

And in the lower reaches of Big Valley, one sees a plain old V-shaped canyon, a gorge, really, despite the fact that here, if anything, the glaciers were thicker and bore down more heavily upon the rock, than to the north and upstream. Similarly, the main North Fork canyon, as it passes Big Valley Bluff, is rather distinctly V-shaped, even though its valley glacier was at least three thousand feet deep at this point.

So at any rate Ron and I parked and first scouted west across the flat to a fossil site I have never been able to find, with brachiopods and crinoidal debris. Once again I managed to not-find the fossils, although Ron spotted some patterned, limy rock which had a large number of blurred, indistinct egg-shaped masses within it. Perhaps these were the fossils.

We broke away to the south, crossed the dry bed of the creek, and soon struck one of the larger meadows. This wet meadow was crossed by some amazing bear trails, beaten wide and deep into the lush grasses, and, following one of these, we came to a perfect bear wallow, a hole in the meadow some five feet long by three feet wide, brimming with water, and showing signs of having been used only that morning. Bear trails converged upon the wallow from all sides. We held a southerly course and soon passed from the main flat of Big Valley into the rocky open slopes of the gorge, marked as "Big Valley Canyon" on the topographic maps. Suddenly the creek held water, suddenly the bedrock was exposed everywhere.

We picked our way along mild cliffs and through brushy areas, while the canyon plunged ever more steeply. The day was warm and bright, the sky a deep clear blue. Forest and meadow had been replaced by cliffs and scattered Jeffrey Pines and Western Junipers. Nearly a mile south from Big Valley we hit the first major inner gorge. This gorge-within-a-gorge was in the hundreds of feet deep, and contained a series of pools and waterfalls. By my reckoning we were far enough south to be in the Sierra Buttes Formation, which has an upper and lower member, and it seemed we were at the contact between the two, for the thinner, more slaty strata of the upper member suddenly graded into an alternating series of more massive debris-flow breccias interleaved with slaty zones. All was as usual tipped right up on edge, and in this case, the upper member was to the north, the lower member to the south. These rocks are submarine volcanics and volcaniclastic rocks, Paleozoic in age, but much younger than the Shoo Fly, a little farther south. They are intermittently exposed from north of their namesake, the Sierra Buttes, south to at least Picayune Valley. They are part of what David Harwood of the USGS dubbed the "Taylorsville Sequence," which lies to the east of the Shoo Fly Complex in the Northern Sierra.

We picked our way down cliffs to some pools below a waterfall, with rather astounding and even frightening cliffs rising hundreds of a feet above us, frightening, because massive overhangs held thousands of tons poised in the air as it were, directly above us. Some very nice breccia was exposed along the creek, dark slaty angular raisins in a pudding of gray volcanic ash.

After a lunch break, we left our packs and dropped down the inner gorge. We were a little uncertain about the first little cliff. I should say that these canyons in the Northern Sierra, whether little or big, are dangerous places. I used to think of the High Sierra, with its peaks rising twelve, thirteen, fourteen thousand feet above sea level, and its monstrous cliffs, as the truly dangerous part of the Sierra. I have since come to realize that our local river canyons, here in the north, offer every bit as much danger. So we approached this little forty- or fifty-foot step in the gorge with all due caution.

Picking my way down the almost vertical rock face, I saw, but could scarcely believe I saw, bear poop on a ledge. I pointed it out to Ron and we had a bit of a laugh over the bowel-moving tensions of climbing sheer cliffs. Once again I am reminded of how very well these bears do in the most extreme terrain. Ron and I had seen bear sign all the way through Giant Gap earlier this year, on the high old discontinuous Giant Gap Survey trail.

We saw trout swarming in some of the pools, and were intrigued by signs that the bear or bears had waded all through these trout pools. Do they fish? Maybe.

Turning a corner in the gorge, we passed into a narrow band of igneous intrusive rock, a long thin body of fine-grained gabbro which strikes across the canyon. Here the creek had cut a fine broad avenue floored by solid rock, oh, thirty feet wide, and hundreds of feet long, a plane surface sloping south, and we walked along this steep mountain sidewalk until suddenly another waterfall was met, this one at least fifty feet high, and the cliffs beside it looked quite challenging. We had only just then passed from the thin gabbro body into the first fault-bounded slices of the Shoo Fly Complex, here, thin masses of the Duncan Chert.

We had great views south to the East Summit of Big Valley Bluff on the right, and to the low pass on the Foresthill Divide, across the main North Fork, where the Beacroft Trail heads up. We were not quite far enough south in Big Valley Canyon to look back north and see some rather remarkable cliffs and spires of the Duncan Chert I had noted the other day, and had hoped to visit; but the gorge below us to the south looked quite challenging, quite difficult, and to reach the next relatively level and passable reach of Big Valley Canyon would mean a circuitous passage over the cliffs to the left, and a descent of another couple hundred feet.

We decided we had come far enough. Another mile and a half of gorge lay between us and the North Fork, and that last bit looks rather drastically steep. I still doubt that anyone has ever followed the creek itself all the way down; it would require rappelling again and again and again, over the waterfalls.

On our way back up and out I got creative and tried to forge a new route, the result being that I found myself almost trapped within a patch of sunny, hot, impenetrable brush. I had to struggle uphill against the grain of the stubborn bushes. Every once in a while I saw places where bears had busted out a little opening, but these openings always closed down again, and it was back to acrobatics, huffing, puffing, sweating, cursing, and all the while Ron was strolling merrily along up the bouldery creek below me.

That hundred yards of brush sapped my strength. I was more or less ruined. However, we were not far from Big Valley itself, and a little higher we discovered remnants of yet another old trail, which is shown on a 1939 Tahoe National Forest map, and which ran down the length of Big Valley, to the beginning of the gorge. This old trail made for easy going, and soon we reached the truck. I was a wreck.

It was a very interesting day, in a very beautiful place. The land acquisition efforts by Tahoe National Forest in this area should be continued. In particular, the private lands at Pelham Flat; Section 7, within Big Valley itself; Section 17, which includes Sugar Pine Point; and other lands near the head of the Big Granite Trail, all ought to be purchased from the lumber companies, if possible.

This lovely part of the Placer County high country has been fairly heavily impacted by logging.

In particular, the old-growth Incense Cedar of Big Valley must have made an amazing forest. However, I believe the wild and scenic and recreational values are more than enough to justify further land acquisitions in this area.

Wednesday, October 15, 2003

Visit to Big Valley Bluff

Wednesday I met Julie Carville and Karen Callahan at the Dutch Flat exit on I-80, and we drove up to Emigrant Gap, and in Forest Road 19 to Big Valley Bluff.

Julie Carville is a botanist and author who has written books about the wildflowers of the Tahoe area; see "Lingering in Tahoe's Wild Gardens," in which she describes many hikes and many flowers. Karen Callahan is a botanist active in our local Redbud Chapter of the California Native Plant Society.

Big Valley Bluff is a cliff of Shoo Fly Complex metasediments rearing 3500 feet above the North Fork of the American River, east of Emigrant Gap. This monstrous mass of rock presents an almost El-Capitan-like appearance as seen from up and down the canyon; the views *of* Big Valley Bluff are very fine; but the views *from* Big Valley Bluff are truly exceptional.

I remember it was Matt Bailey of Dutch Flat who told me about the Bluff, lo these twenty-five years ago. Matt and others, such as Gene Markley and Eric Gerstung, worked long and hard to obtain Wild & Scenic River designation for the North Fork.

So we drove out Forest Road 19, in part at least called the Texas Hill Road, out beyond the pretty East Fork of the North Fork of the North Fork American River with its multitudes of giant Indian Rhubarbs, out beyond the pavement and past the road right to Sawtooth Ridge and Helester Point and the elusive Sawbug Trail, and kicking up dust, some few more miles to the road right to the Bluff.

The Bluff projects far into the canyon and a road follows along the top of the ridge to where the World suddenly ends and the Yosemite-like vastness of the "upper middle" North Fork canyon break into view. A Forest Service lookout tower once stood on the very edge of the cliff; only some large concrete piers remain.

Snow Mountain looms to the east, standing all of 4500 feet above the river; its monstrous mass hides Tinkers Knob and Anderson Peak, yet farther east on the Sierra crest; but also in view, peak-wise, from north to south, are Red Mountain, Mt. Lola, Basin Peak, Castle Peak, Devils Peak, Mt. Lyon, Needle Peak, Squaw Peak, Little Needle Peak, Mt. Mildred, and summits of the Crystal Range, far to the southeast.

In clear weather over one hundred miles of the Coast Range is in view to the west. It was hazy while we were there.

Within the main theater of the canyon one sees Wabena Point, where petroglyphs are inscribed high above the waterfalls of the Royal Gorge, and Wildcat Point, an enormous glacially-truncated spur; Cherry and Sugar Pine points share the north wall of the canyon with the Bluff; Sawtooth Ridge winds away to the west; and one sees portions of many side-canyons, including Big Valley, Little and Big Granite creeks on the north, Wabena, Wildcat, Sailor, New York and Tadpole canyons on the south.

Directly across the canyon from Big Valley Bluff one sees the pass of the Beacroft Trail, the Iowa Hill Canal, and the unnamed eminences of sheer rock between Tadpole and New York canyons.

Three thousand feet below, the American River Trail can be seen from some vantage points, threading high above the river.

So the Bluff has a phenomenal view. I had enticed the botanists there with promises of Juniperus communis, or Common Juniper, which is a ground-hugging sub-shrub of a conifer. It is "common" because it is found all around the Northern Hemisphere, in the higher elevations and latitudes. And it is common within the North Fork, seeming firmly wedded to rocky, sunny, storm-battered knolls and cliffs.

The main summit of the Bluff is around 6500' in elevation. Storm-twisted Jeffrey and Sugar pines are scattered widely about, with low masses of Huckleberry Oak and manzanita, and much in the way of raw rocky areas, and weirdly-shaped pillars of rock rising along the verges of the cliffs. The humble junipers, not even a foot high, sprawl over the rocky ground here and there.

There are interesting ecotones and gradations and discontinuities of microclimate at Big Valley Bluff. For instance, it is warmer along the edge of the cliffs. Not only Jeffrey and Sugar pines, but storm- and elevation-stunted Douglas Fir are found. A short distance north is the broad summit of the spur ridge leading south to the Bluff; and by its broadness, and its gentle slopes, it is less able to shed heavy cold air. Here the contrast between warmer, western exposures, and cooler, eastern exposures, is evidenced by Western White Pines east of the crest, and Sugar Pines to the warmer west.

I am concerned about 4WD activity out at Big Valley Bluff. Over the past ten years jeeps trails have proliferated and spread, and huge fire-rings have been built, and the usual beer bottles and cans scattered about. I think Tahoe National Forest ought to enforce a vehicle closure somewhere along the access road to the north, perhaps a quarter-mile north from the old lookout tower site. Let people walk in from there. For there is something quite extraordinary about Big Valley Bluff, and its storm-beaten almost elfin forest, and its awesome views, its hawks and eagles and falcons, its lowly little junipers.

One wonders why the North Fork canyon is not a National Park.

I wrote a letter to Forest Supervisor Steve Eubanks some years ago urging a vehicle closure. Perhaps it is time for a more concerted effort.

We wandered up along the crest of the cliffs and then down to the East Summit of Big Valley Bluff. Around 1987 I tried but failed to get Tahoe National Forest to deny permission to Sierra Pacific Industries to build a road across TNF lands down to SPI lands (old railroad lands) at the East Summit. I have been scared to go down there and see the stumps and skid trails and log landings and roads since then. Julie and Karen and I walked through the logged area, which was not so drastically torn up as I feared, and lunched on East Summit, with more marvelous views down into the great canyon.

Later we meandered farther down the ridge, to a cliff which offered the best views I have ever had of the lower reaches of Big Valley itself.

Heading at Huysink Lake, Big Valley runs due south some several miles to the North Fork. Ice spilling south over the divide from the South Yuba Icefield deepened Big Valley far beyond any proportion to its length or basinal area. As the valley approaches the North Fork, it steepens dreadfully and narrows into a gorge, with some unknown number of waterfalls hidden within shady chasms, and every sign that it is totally impassable. No one walks down Big Valley to the North Fork. With a long rope and nerves of steel one might rappel down the waterfalls and win through.

I could see the dark slots of inner gorges, and ragged cliffs and pinnacles painted with lichen, and flocks of Band-Tailed pigeons zooming around far below me. I felt confident that I could advance another mile south within Big Valley, from my previous most-southerly point limit of exploration. It looked exceptionally wild and pristine and cliffy. Just my kind of place, really.

We walked slowly back to the main summit and the car and drove back out, stopping at Onion Valley, a large meadow of glacial origins with a weak moraine on its west side. Almost all its lush complex of flowers had died away, but along a shallow stream-course we found some unusual flowers of the Broom-Rape family, probably in the genus Orobanche, flowers none of us had ever seen. These Orobanche are root-parisitic on various plants, and have no leaves and no chlorophyll. So--once again--out came the cameras, the hand lens, the manuals, and we botanized long enough to make me slightly late in picking up my daughter Janet from the school bus stop at Alta.

All was well despite my tardiness and it was a fine fine day in the upper middle North Fork.

Tuesday, October 14, 2003

Sawtooth Ridge

It being Columbus Day, Ron Gould and I decided to Discover America, at least, that part of it comprising Sawtooth Ridge, which divides the main North Fork American on the south, from the North Fork of the North Fork (NFNFAR), on the north. The crest of this ridge ripples high and low in a succession of peaks and passes. On some old maps it is named Texas Ridge, and I.T. Coffin, a Dutch Flat gold miner and photographer who once live at Burnett Canyon and Texas Hill, calls it the "Camel Humpbacked Ridge" in his 1863 diary. Also living at Burnett Canyon at that time was one E.B. "Tex" Smithwick and his wife; I have suspected, never knowing for sure, that Tex Smithwick himself might have lent his nickname to Texas Hill, Texas Diggings, and Texas Ridge.

Howsoever, Sawtooth Ridge trends roughly east and west, running higher on the east, the summits verging upon 5500', and lower on the west, the very last knoll just clearing 4000' in elevation. The slopes on the North Fork side are south-facing and sunny, much more rocky and open and given to brush and Canyon Live Oak, while on the north-facing, north side of the ridge, there is more in the way of coniferous forest. In the olden days a trail led along the ridge crest, avoiding the very summits where possible, and just nicking the passes. Several trails dropped away from this main trail south into the vastness of the North Fork canyon--to Mumford Bar, Italian Bar, and Humbug Bar--, and others dropped away north into the narrower confines of the North Fork of the North Fork, to China Bar and the Rawhide Mine.

Only the Mumford Bar and Rawhide trails show on our modern USGS 7.5 minute Westville quadrangle.

A Tahoe National Forest lookout tower once stood at Helester Point, 4930', midway along the length of the ridge. Gradually roads penetrated west along Sawtooth Ridge, probably reaching Helester Point by the early 1900s. From there, a jeep trail of likely more recent vintage continues west down the ridge. The checkerboard pattern of land ownership, dating back to President Lincoln's land grants to the Central Pacific Railroad, are much in force in that area. Around 1985 a corporate takeover attempt scared Southern Pacific (the successor of the CPRR) into selling its vast land holdings in Tahoe National Forest. A lumber company, Sierra Pacific Industries (SPI), ended up with the most of these lands.

The steep north slopes of Sawtooth, then, already networked by logging roads and skid trails to the utter obliteration of the China Bar Trail, have in recent years been the target of SPI clearcuts. Some of these are highly visible from the scenic overlook called Iron Point, or from the line of the railroad near Blue Canyon, and from many places. They are on extremely steep slopes. SPI used herbicides to kill the natural groves of Kelloggs Black Oak and Canyon Live Oak interspersed with the Ponderosa Pine and Douglas Fir timber on these slopes, and replanted to a pure coniferous stand. I don't like this industrial approach to timber "management." I believe that Tahoe National Forest ought to be trying to purchase these SPI lands on Sawtooth Ridge, along with the Siller Brothers property at Lost Camp, and other SPI lands along the Lost Camp Ridge.

Whether it is clearcutting or ordinary, selective-harvest tractor-logging, old foot trails tend to be obliterated by timber harvests. Again and again I see every vestige of some historic trail erased, hidden forever under a welter of skid trails and log decks. Nobody looks out after these trails, which once comprised a vast network. One might well think that in this day and age, Tahoe National Forest and CDF would declare, "Enough is enough! More than half of the old trails are ruined, but no more! Harvest your timber, yes, but leave the trails intact!" One would be wrong.

But I digress.

Ron and I drove up I-80 to Emigrant Gap and caught Forest Road 19 out to Texas Hill, continuing east up Burnett Canyon, past the old Towle sawmill site, past the tiny thread of I.T. Coffin's old mining ditch, first below, then above the road, until almost insensibly we reached Sawtooth Ridge, and the road curved to the west, around the head of Burnett Canyon.

We passed the obliterated beginning of the Burnett Canyon Trail, and swung around the headwaters of Wilmont Ravine, where I.T. Coffin's oft-drunken partner, Tommy Williams, once washed a 20-ounce gold nugget out of the creek. We reached one of Sawtooth's passes near here, where old maps show a trail descending to Italian Bar, almost, as it were, the direct continuation of the Burnett Canyon Trail. I.T. Coffin used this Italian Bar trail from time to time. The top has been erased by logging, but Ron and I picked it up within a couple hundred yards of the pass, and followed it down into a mixed grove of large Ponderosa Pine and Kelloggs Black Oak, where the slopes eased a bit. We saw no very clear continuation, and since we were really more concerned with the trail down to Humbug Bar, another "lost" trail, we climbed back up to the pass and drove west.

Within a maze of logging roads on very steep slopes, where the roadcuts sometimes rise thirty feet high--apparently we can afford to just throw away topsoil and subsoil alike, in order to harvest timber--we bumped along in Ron's trusty old Toyota 4WD pickup, looking for one certain left turn which would put us on the old jeep trail west of Helester Point. We took a guess and found ourselves bucking up and over high waterbars within one of the major SPI clearcuts in Section 35, T16N R11E. Then we plunged down into a swale, and although still within SPI land, we had reached an area so lightly timbered that it had suffered relatively little.

At a certain point a large oak blocked the narrow road, but we managed to pull it aside, and continued west to one of the most pronounced passes on Sawtooth Ridge. We were now on TNF land, in the very northeast part of Section 3, T15N R11E; it was so nice to see an unlogged part of the ridge. Here the ~1900 Colfax Folio topographic map shows a trail dropping down to the North Fork at Humbug Bar, where a bridge once spanned the river. We parked and Ron immediately spotted old blazes on some oaks, and then another on a large pine just above us. The oak blazes were just where the Humbug Trail (I also call it the Sawbug Trail, because it runs from Sawtooth Ridge down to Humbug Bar) forks away from the equally-old Sawtooth Ridge Trail. Further explorations showed that we had stumbled upon a section of the original Sawtooth Trail which is now distinct from the road--for this old road, or jeep trail, had been, in many areas, cut directly into the line of the original trail.

Tom Molloy and I had found the upper end of the Sawbug Trail last fall, but had lost the line of the thing as it dropped away south and west into the steeps of the North Fork canyon. Ron and I worked hard on clearing fallen Knobcone Pine trunks and other obstacles from the well-defined uppermost section of the trail. These Knobcones are fire-adapted pines, members of the Closed-Cone group of the genus Pinus. The gigantic Volcano Fire of ~1960 had swept across the Foresthill Divide, down through Humbug Canyon, and right across the North Fork and up onto Sawtooth Ridge. These pines had seeded in thickly after the fire, and fought one another for sun, and those which lost the battle had died and fallen across the trail, in dozens. So Ron and I had our work cut out for us.

Eventually, we left the snarled mass of dead Knobcones for a more open forest of scattered large Ponderosa Pines, Kelloggs Black Oak, and Canyon Live Oak. A deep layer of leaves and pine needles covered the ground. Bears and other game had often used the old human trail above us, but here, on gentle slopes, in an open forest, the paths of animals were not tightly constrained, and soon we had really nothing to go by--not a blaze, not a suspiciously well-defined game trail, not anything.

We zigged and zagged down past some old prospect pits, with chunks of quartz lying about. The gold-bearing quartz veins here are allied to those worked so heavily down below us in the North Fork canyon, as for instance at the Dorer Mine, the Central Mine, the American Eagle Mine, the Gem Mine, etc. etc. A trail appeared, and we followed it west to one of the larger prospect pits, where it seems to end.

Once again a variety of factors conspired to make it seem more reasonable to search out the line of the Sawbug from Humbug Bar going up, rather than from Sawtooth down. The slopes where the trail disappeared were steep, and only getting steeper, below us. Then again, this last portion of "the trail" might well have had only to do with the mining prospects, not the Sawbug itself. The Sawbug itself may have dropped away into the great canyon a smidgin to the east, and then passed to the west far below us.

So, we retreated up to the truck and explored the vicinity of the pass. I followed the faint trace of the Sawtooth Trail up moderately steep slopes to the west, and had the satisfaction of finding another ancient blaze, on a huge Sugar Pine, and just above, a well-defined section of the trail itself. I eventually rejoined the road, and saw a large oak down.

Regrouping, we drove west, but were soon stopped by the large fallen oak. There was no pulling this aside. So we walked another half-mile along the meandering little road, and found some more very old blazes along the way, showing that here at least the road had been cut right into the line of the original trail.

The sun was lowering, and we retreated to the truck and started back out.

Sawtooth Ridge is interesting from the standpoint of geomorphology, and the evolution of the landscape of the North Fork. Its geology is part of this story.

Especially here in the Northern Sierra, the major canyons are young, freshly-incised, and steep-walled. A long series of volcanic eruptions, commencing around thirty million years ago, had buried the Ancestral Sierra beneath a plateau composed of rhyolite ash below, and andesitic mudflows above. Finally, and apparently very locally, basaltic lavas flowed down minor valleys eroded into this plateau. These youngest of the volcanics date from as much as seven to as little as three million years in age, and we may place the beginning of the incision of the North Fork canyon to the time of these youngest flows. One tiny remnant of basalt caps one of the knolls along Sawtooth Ridge, just east of Helester Point. Suppose it is "five million years old." Then the North Fork canyon is also five million years old, and here it has cut down nearly three thousand feet in that five million years.

The idea here is that the basalt atop Sawtooth was following the lowest, deepest valley available at the time, say, five million years ago. Which is as much as to say that the North Fork canyon did not exist at that time. The Sawtooth basalt followed and filled some minor valley in the plateau.

The generalized volcanic plateau sloped to the southwest. It was thickest near the crest, and thinned westward. The Sierra began to tilt up en masse several million years ago and this uplift increased the gradient of the plateau, sloping down to the southwest. Almost simultaneously the climate cooled and a long series of glaciations began. The steepened gradient and the glaciations combined to make for rapid downward incision of the new canyons. As they deepened, they widened. And we are at just that stage in the deepening and widening, which continues to this day, in which the main ridges between the canyons still hold remnants of the volcanic plateau.

Hence the flat-topped ridges of the middle elevations of the Northern Sierra.

But Sawtooth Ridge is not flat-topped. It does have some few tiny vestiges of the volcanic plateau on some of its knolls. Other knolls are "bedrock" of the Subjacent Series, here, metasediments of the Shoo Fly Complex, all the way to the top, for instance, Helester Point is a bedrock knoll.

We can ascribe this peak-and-pass topography to the near proximity of two canyons, the main North Fork and the North Fork of the North Fork. In their deepening and widening they have managed to erode intervening Sawtooth Ridge below the level of the plateau. In a sense Sawtooth offers a preview of what the more common flat-topped ridges will look like in another million years or so.

However, the extent to which glaciation may have figured into all this is not well known. It is clear that the very last "Tioga" ice extended well down Fulda Canyon, down the main North Fork of the North Fork, down the East Fork of the North Fork of the North Fork, and down the North Fork itself. But exactly how far? This remains to be established. My own guess is that the Tioga-age North Fork glacier, which melted back up the canyon some 12,000 years ago, came down at least to Mumford Bar. And I guess that Fulda and NFNFAR ice came down at least to the Gorge of Many Gorges, just upstream from the China Bar Trail.

On Sawtooth Ridge itself, right up along the crest, are minor bodies of much older glacial till. These till bodies--the largest being just west of Helester Point--show that during one of the earlier episodes of glaciation, perhaps Tahoe I or Tahoe II (ca. 130,000 and 65,000 years before the present, respectively), ice in both the main North Fork and in the NFNFAR came up at least as high as Sawtooth's low passes, and likely right over the top of everything, all peaks, all knolls. In fact, the passes are places where, as the ice began to recede and its surface lowered in elevation, ice probably flowed right through, probably from the main North Fork into the NFNFAR.

I have found patches of old till almost all the way down Sawtooth Ridge, to a point directly above Humbug Bar, and all of 2000' above the North Fork. It is almost impossible to avoid the conclusion that glacial ice reached down the North Fork to Euchre Bar and perhaps even Green Valley itself, these places being a scant two to three miles down the canyon from the last till on Sawtooth's crest.

On the other hand, temperate-latitude glaciers such as these are well known to have steeply-plunging termini. It is within the range of possibility that the ice never reached Euchre Bar itself. This is another open question which begs serious study.

Together with these visibly old till bodies on Sawtooth--visibly-old, because of the redness of the fine silts, and the punky rottenness of some of the boulders--there are other signs of glaciation along the ridge crest: planed-off patches of Shoo Fly slates, not bearing any striae, but on the other hand, such flat surfaces are not to be expected in this region of near-vertical strata of rather friable, easily-splitting rock.

As we drove back out, we took the higher, older road, much the nicer route by the way, and no longer blocked by a huge pine log, as Terry Davis and I had found it several years ago. Ron and I stopped at Helester Point and enjoyed the views, up to Snow Mountain, Tinkers Knob, Lyon and Needle peaks, and Little Bald Mountain. Some rocky crags on the verge of the North Fork canyon, just east of Tadpole Canyon, caught our eye; they look like they would offer some especially fine views. They are near, but above, the eastern terminus of the old Iowa Hill Canal, the line of which we could see, faintly, up near the Beacroft Trail.

We could also see more to the north, to Bowman Mountain, Grouse Ridge, and the Black Buttes.

All along Sawtooth Ridge one is treated to views into either the North Fork or the NFNFAR, and we would sometimes stop and scan the terrain with binoculars and sort out which canyon was which: there lies Fulda; there is where the NFNFAR drops in waterfalls into the Gorge of Many Gorges; there is Texas Canyon; there are the cliffs of the Railroad Tracks in Space Mine; and so on.

After reaching Texas Hill, we drove out past some rather major hard-rock diggings with large piles of angular quartz, presumably unprocessed ore, in search of still other hard-rock workings, where I.T. Coffin had one of his two cabins, and where he would use the blacksmith shop to "put steel" into crowbars and other mining tools. However, I misremembered the roads, and we missed these other diggings, and found ourselves instead on a road which drops into lower Burnett Canyon. So we gave it up and hit the homeward trail.

Such was a day in a wild and beautiful area, much scarred by logging, and most notoriously and terribly scarred by recent clearcuts. I would like to see this area treated much more gently; I would like to see We the People purchase the private inholdings; I would like to see timber harvests done in the snow, so that the land underneath is left untouched, not churned up into a miasma of sickening skid trails and roads. I would like to see the NFNFAR get Wild & Scenic River designation. There are limits, or there should be limits, on which areas are suitable for timber harvests. To my way of thinking these limits have already long been exceeded on much of Sawtooth Ridge and, for that matter, over across the NFNFAR on the Lost Camp Ridge.

There are limits, or there should be limits, on the proliferation of roads. To my way of thinking there are already far too many roads.

So, looking towards the future, I can imagine a Sawtooth Ridge in which much less timber is harvested, and many roads are closed. Let Helester Point be the most-westerly part of the ridge open to vehicular use, and let the jeep trail to the west lapse back into a foot trail. Not an OHV trail, a foot trail, a foot and equestrian and mountain bike trail, let's say. Let the timber harvests continue in selected areas on the higher parts of the north side of Sawtooth, but none at all on the south, North Fork side. But for God's sake, let the timber harvests take place only in the snow, or using such methods as do not tear up the slopes. And have a care for the old trails.

Wednesday, October 8, 2003

Historical Notes

It will sometimes happen that an eye-witness account of events in 1867 sheds precious light upon the history of Dutch Flat and the Tahoe Sierra. I speak of a time when the railroad had not yet passed the summit of the Sierra, Andrew Johnson was President, and a whole new world was rising from the ashes of the Civil War.

Ah, history. How exciting the good old days, how dull our modern sphere.


It was toward the close of a bright October day. The last rays of the
setting sun were reflected from one of those sylvan lakes peculiar to the
Sierras of California. On the right the curling smoke of an Indian village
rose between the columns of the lofty pines, while to the left the log
cottage of Judge Tompkins, embowered in buckeyes, completed the enchanting

Although the exterior of the cottage was humble and unpretentious, and in
keeping with the wildness of the landscape, its interior gave evidence of
the cultivation and refinement of its inmates. An aquarium, containing
goldfishes, stood on a marble centre-table at one end of the apartment,
while a magnificent grand piano occupied the other. The door was covered
with a yielding tapestry carpet, and the walls were adorned with paintings
from the pencils of Van Dyke, Rubens, Tintoretto, Michael Angelo, and the
productions of the more modem Turner, Kensett, Church, and Bierstadt.
Although Judge Tompkins had chosen the frontiers of civilization as his
home, it was impossible for him to entirely forego the habits and tastes of
his former life. He was seated in a luxurious armchair, writing at a
mahogany escritoire, while his daughter, a lovely young girl of seventeen
summers, plied her crotchet-needle on an ottoman beside him. A bright fire
of pine logs flickered and flamed on the ample hearth.

Genevra Octavia Tompkins was Judge Tompkins's only child. Her mother had
long since died on the Plains. Reared in affluence, no pains had been spared
with the daughter's education. She was a graduate of one of the principal
seminaries, and spoke French with a perfect Benicia accent. Peerlessly
beautiful, she was dressed in a white moirŽ antique robe trimmed with tulle.
That simple rosebud, with which most heroines exclusively decorate their
hair, was all she wore in her raven locks.

The Judge was the first to break the silence.

"Genevra, the logs which compose yonder fire seem to have been incautiously
chosen. The sibilation produced by the sap, which exudes copiously
therefrom, is not conducive to composition."

"True, father, but I thought it would be preferable to the constant
crepitation which is apt to attend the combustion of more seasoned ligneous

The Judge looked admiringly at the intellectual features of the graceful
girl, and half forgot the slight annoyances of the green wood in the musical
accents of his daughter. He was smoothing her hair tenderly, when the shadow
of a tall figure, which suddenly darkened the doorway, caused him to look


It needed but a glance at the new-comer to detect at once the form and
features of the haughty aborigine, -- the untaught and untrammeled son of
the forest. Over one shoulder a blanket, negligently but gracefully thrown,
disclosed a bare and powerful breast, decorated with a quantity of
three-cent postage-stamps which he had despoiled from an Overland Mail stage
a few weeks previous. A cast-off beaver of Judge Tompkins's, adorned by a
simple feather, covered his erect head, from beneath which his straight
locks descended. His right hand hung lightly by his side, while his left was
engaged in holding on a pair of pantaloons, which the lawless grace and
freedom of his lower limbs evidently could not brook.

"Why," said the Indian, in a low sweet tone, -- "why does the Pale Face
still follow the track of the Red Man? Why does he pursue him, even as O-kee-chow,
the wild cat, chases Ka-ka, the skunk? Why are the feet of Sorrel-top,
the white chief, among the acorns of Muck-a-Muck, the mountain forest? Why,"
he repeated, quietly but firmly abstracting a silver spoon from the table,
-- "why do you seek to drive him from the wigwams of his fathers? His
brothers are already gone to the happy hunting-grounds. Will the Pale Face
seek him there?" And, averting his face from the Judge, he hastily slipped a
silver cake-basket beneath his blanket, to conceal his emotion.

"Muck-a-Muck has spoken," said Genevra softly. "Let him now listen. Are the
acorns of the mountain sweeter than the esculent and nutritious bean of the
Pale Face miner? Does my brother prize the edible qualities of the snail
above that of the crisp and oleaginous bacon? Delicious are the grasshoppers
that sport on the hillside, -- are they better than the dried apples of the
Pale Faces? Pleasant is the gurgle of the torrent, Kish-Kish, but is it
better than the cluck-cluck of old Bourbon from the old stone bottle?"

"Ugh!" said the Indian, -- "ugh! good. The White Rabbit is wise. Her words
fall as the snow on Tootoonolo, and the rocky heart of Muck-a-Muck is
hidden. What says my brother the Gray Gopher of Dutch Flat?"

"She has spoken, Muck-a-Muck," said the Judge, gazing fondly on his
daughter. "It is well. Our treaty is concluded. No, thank you, -- you need
not dance the Dance of Snow-shoes, or the Moccasin Dance, the Dance of Green
Corn, or the Treaty Dance. I would be alone. A strange sadness overpowers

"I go," said the Indian. "Tell your great chief in Washington, the Sachem
Andy, that the Red Man is retiring before the footsteps of the adventurous
pioneer. Inform him, if you please, that westward the star of empire takes
its way, that the chiefs of the Pi-Ute nation are for Reconstruction to a
man, and that Klamath will poll a heavy Republican vote in the fall."

And folding his blanket more tightly around him, Muck-a-Muck withdrew.


Genevra Tompkins stood at the door of the log-cabin, looking after the
retreating Overland Mail stage which conveyed her father to Virginia City.
"He may never return again," sighed the young girl, as she glanced at the
frightfully rolling vehicle and wildly careering horses, -- "at least, with
unbroken bones. Should he meet with an accident! I mind me now a fearful
legend, familiar to my childhood. Can it be that the drivers on this line
are privately instructed to dispatch all passengers maimed by accident, to
prevent tedious litigation? No, no. But why this weight upon my heart?"

She seated herself at the piano and lightly passed her hand over the keys.
Then, in a clear mezzo-soprano voice, she sang the first verse of one of the
most popular Irish ballads:--

"O Arrah ma dheelish, the distant dudheen
Lies soft in the moonlight, ma bouchal vourneen:
The springing gossoons on the heather are still,
And the caubeens and colleens are heard on the hill."

But as the ravishing notes of her sweet voice died upon the air, her hands
sank listlessly to her side. Music could not chase away the mysterious
shadow from her heart. Again she rose. Putting on a white crape bonnet, and
carefully drawing a pair of lemon-colored gloves over her taper fingers, she
seized her parasol and plunged into the depths of the pine forest.


Genevra had not proceeded many miles before a weariness seized upon her
fragile limbs, and she would fain seat herself upon the trunk of a prostrate
pine, which she previously dusted with her handkerchief. The sun was just
sinking below the horizon, and the scene was one of gorgeous and sylvan
beauty. "How beautiful is nature!" murmured the innocent girl, as, reclining
gracefully against the root of the tree, she gathered up her skirts and tied
a handkerchief around her throat. But a low growl interrupted her
meditation. Starting to her feet, her eyes met a sight which froze her blood
with terror.

The only outlet to the forest was the narrow path, barely wide enough for a
single person, hemmed in by trees and rocks, which she had just traversed.
Down this path, in Indian file, came a monstrous grizzly, closely followed
by a Californian lion, a wild cat, and a buffalo, the rear being brought up
by a wild Spanish bull. The mouths of the three first animals were distended
with frightful significance, the horns of the last were lowered as
ominously. As Genevra was preparing to faint, she heard a low voice behind

"Eternally dog-gone my skin ef this ain't the puttiest chance yet!"

At the same moment, a long, shining barrel dropped lightly from behind her,
and rested over her shoulder.

Genevra shuddered.

"Dern ye -- don't move!"

Genevra became motionless.

The crack of a rifle rang through the woods. Three frightful yells were
heard, and two sullen roars. Five animals bounded into the air and five
lifeless bodies lay upon the plain. The well-aimed bullet had done its work.
Entering the open throat of the grizzly it had traversed his body only to
enter the throat of the California lion, and in like manner the catamount,
until it passed through into the respective foreheads of the bull and the
buffalo, and finally fell flattened from the rocky hillside.

Genevra turned quickly. "My preserver!" she shrieked, and fell into the arms
of Natty Bumpo, the celebrated Pike Ranger of Donner Lake.


The moon rose cheerfully above Donner Lake. On its placid bosom a dug-out
canoe glided rapidly, containing Natty Bumpo and Genevra Tompkins.

Both were silent. The same thought possessed each, and perhaps there was
sweet companionship even in the unbroken quiet. Genevra bit the handle of
her parasol, and blushed. Natty Bumpo took a fresh chew of tobacco. At
length Genevra said, as if in half-spoken reverie:--

"The soft shining of the moon and the peaceful ripple of the waves seem to
say to us various things of an instructive and moral tendency."

"You may bet yer pile on that, miss," said her companion gravely. "It's all
the preachin' and psalm-singin' I've heern since I was a boy."

"Noble being!" said Miss Tompkins to herself, glancing at the stately Pike
as he bent over his paddle to conceal his emotion. "Reared in this wild
seclusion, yet he has become penetrated with visible consciousness of a
Great First Cause," Then, collecting herself, she said aloud: "Me-thinks 't
were pleasant to glide ever thus down the stream of life, hand in hand with
the one being whom the soul claims as its affinity. But what am I saying?"
-- and the delicate-minded girl hid her face in her hands.

A long silence ensued, which was at length broken by her companion.

"Ef you mean you're on the marry," he said thoughtfully, "I ain't in no wise

"My husband!" faltered the blushing girl; and she fell into his arms.

In ten minutes more the loving couple had landed at Judge Tompkins's.


A year has passed away. Natty Bumpo was returning from Gold Hill, where he
had been to purchase provisions. On his way to Donner Lake rumors of an
Indian uprising met his ears. "Dern their pesky skins, ef they dare to touch
my Jenny," he muttered between his clenched teeth.

It was dark when he reached the borders of the lake. Around a glittering
fire he dimly discerned dusky figures dancing. They were in war paint.
Conspicuous among them was the renowned Muck-a-Muck. But why did the fingers
of Natty Bumpo tighten convulsively around his rifle?

The chief held in his hand long tufts of raven hair. The heart of the
pioneer sickened as he recognized the clustering curls of Genevra. In a
moment his rifle was at his shoulder, and with a sharp "ping" Muck-a-Muck
leaped into the air a corpse. To knock out the brains of the remaining
savages, tear the tresses from the stiffening hand of Muck-a-Muck, and dash
rapidly forward to the cottage of Judge Tompkins, was the work of a moment.

He burst open the door. Why did he stand transfixed with open mouth and
distended eyeballs? Was the sight too horrible to be borne? On the contrary,
before him, in her peerless beauty, stood Genevra Tompkins, leaning on her
father's arm.

"Ye'r not scalped, then!" gasped her lover.

"No. I have no hesitation in saying that I am not; but why this abruptness?"
responded Genevra.

Bumpo could not speak, but frantically produced the silken tresses. Genevra
turned her face aside.

"Why, that's her waterfall!" said the Judge.

Bumpo sank fainting to the door.

The famous Pike chieftain never recovered from the deceit, and refused to
marry Genevra, who died, twenty years afterwards, of a broken heart. Judge
Tompkins lost his fortune in Wild Cat. The stage passes twice a week the
deserted cottage at Donner Lake. Thus was the death of Muck-a-Muck avenged.


Russell Towle

P.S. Oh, wait.

I just found out, the above is one of Bret Harte's Condensed Novels.

Sorry for the confusion,


Tuesday, October 7, 2003

Visit to Meadow Lake

On Monday Ron Gould and I made a visit to Meadow Lake, the site of a gold-mining boom town of the middle 1860s. This lake stands high on the divide between the South and Middle Yuba at nearly 7000' elevation. A low dam of dressed granite was made late in the 1850s to impound water for hydraulic mining, and the lake trends nearly north and south, draining south to Fordyce Creek, a major tributary of the South Yuba.

Nothing is left of the town, with its many buildings, saloons, hotels, stores and houses. Several wagon roads led to Meadow Lake, one from near what would be known as Cisco. The story of this town makes a fascinating chapter in local history. The gold is found in heavily mineralized areas which to my eye seem unusual, since they do not seem to be dominated by quartz. The gold proved too difficult to refine away from its binding mineral matrix, the boom ended abruptly, dozens of claims and thousands of stock certificates became instantly worthless, a fire swept off most of the buildings, and now, nothing. Just high rocky ridges, and high forested ridges, and sloping dry meadows, and a top-of-the-world feeling, with the granite massif of Old Man Mountain rising to the southwest.

Driving up Highway 80 eastbound, one gains several fine views of this same Old Man Mountain, a sort of grey half-dome-looking-thing. A glimpse near Nyack is followed by more sustained and closer views at Yuba Gap and just beyond. Like Red Mountain, Grouse Ridge, Black Buttes, Snow Mountain, and Black Mountain, Old Man Mountain is a "bedrock high," a topographically high part of the old, ancestral, pre-volcanic Sierra. Now that the glaciers have ripped up and torn away so much of the great plateau of andesitic mudflow and rhyolite ash, these old mountains have been redefined and reexposed. They are found in a rough line parallel to the Sierra crest, about five to ten miles southwest. Some stood too high to ever have been buried by the young volcanics, others were so buried, but only shallowly.

At any rate, Ron and I drove up to Highway 20, dodged a few miles down towards Nevada City, and picked up the Pacific Turnpike, one of the old wagon roads to Virginia City. One branch of this road began in Dutch Flat, another, in Nevada City. It crossed the Sierra at Henness Pass. We drove north across the South Yuba and, passing the side roads to Grouse Ridge etc., paused a minute at Windy Point, above a major tributary of the South Yuba called Canyon Creek. Here a trail drops away into the heavily-glaciated canyon and proceeds down towards the Yuba, near the town of Washington. We scouted around for the trailhead, and saw something which looked probable, tho unsigned and unmarked in any way. This trails runs along the base of the canyon for maybe seven miles before climbing to Windy Point.

Just east we passed Bowman Lake, an old hydraulic mining reservoir revamped by PG&E. This was once a huge meadow. In a few miles we turned south onto a road which climbs past Tollhouse Lake to finally reach Meadow Lake. Here some signs inform one of the town's history. One is a polished rock slab placed by the Clampers, a joking take-off on fraternal organizations like the Masons and Odd Fellows, dating nearly to the Gold Rush.

We had two main objectives: to find and explore a trail leading north from Meadow Lake down into the headwaters basin of the Middle Yuba, near Moscove Meadow; and to visit some petroglyphs just southwest of Meadow Lake.

Ron had seen this trail on several old maps. It is not shown on modern maps. By correlating the old maps to one another and then to the modern topographic map, we felt we had a good sense of its course. We had visions of some fine old path winding through ancient forest with ancient blazes cut into the trunks of the gigantic trees.

At the north end of Meadow Lake the dividing ridge separating the South and Middle Yuba has been torn down by the glaciers into a low pass. It looks much as though ice from the Fordyce basin, to the south, spilled north through the pass into the Middle Yuba. Here a topographic low in the pre-volcanic topography had accumulated especially thick sequences of andesitic mudflows, on the order of 1000' or more. All of the ridges nearby, and the pass itself, were carved from these mudflows or lahars.

As we approached the probably trailhead, in the very axis of the pass, we saw a road leading north into the Middle Yuba. We parked and scouted widely for blazes or any sign whatever of our trail; I went east, Ron west. We found nothing certain, except skid trails, stumps, log decks, roads, and OHV tracks.

Undaunted, we descended a couple hundred feet to a lower level. The nearly flat-lying strata of volcanics often find topographic expression in broad terraces. Again we scouted high and low and every which way. Rich forests of Red Fir, Western White Pine, and occasional Lodgepole Pine were interspersed with sloping dry meadows, with a precious few late-season wildflowers still gleaming with color here and there. I saw some asters and some Mustang Mint in bloom. Troops of birds threaded through the forest. Once again we found nothing of our old trail.

A still lower terrace level seemed to express the presence of a layer of welded rhyolite ash, probably the same "pink welded tuff" one sees exposed at many places in the upper North Fork American.

Eventually, we drove on down the road to Moscove Meadow, explored various side roads, and returned back up to the pass. We were struck by the almost universal extent of timber harvests in the area. Often many large trees remained, to the point one might well expect vestiges of a trail to persist; but the logging had been done with bulldozers swarming everywhere, plowing up the forest floor into grooves and ridges, and despite our best efforts, we never found even one blaze, or one scant inch of the trail itself. By constantly comparing our maps with the topography, we at last concluded that there was a good chance the main road had been cut directly into the line of the old trail. We had to leave it at that.

Returning to Meadow Lake, we parked near the southwest corner and followed an old trail through the woods, past several mining prospect pits, to an exposure of glaciated fine-grained granitoid rock threaded through with a million tiny dikes and veins of lighter rock, perhaps aplite. A small woodland pond nestled nearby, and Hartley Butte reared up darkly to the east. On this expanse of polished and striated rock are the petroglyphs. Here and there patches of a dark, almost black "varnish" had developed somehow on the smooth surfaces, and many of the petroglyphs were cut into these dark areas.

There were a wide variety of designs spread across a broad area. I was struck by the seeming absence of the "bear footprint" motif, and yet in general, the petroglyphs looked distinctly akin to those found elsewhere in the upper Yuba and American basins, a style which has been called "Sierran Abstract." These carvings are thought to date back before the advent of the bow and arrow, to between 1500 and 4500 years ago.

The Meadow Lake site is one of the largest, in terms of number of designs and areal extent. One projecting boss of rock was covered with circles and concentric circles. At other places, strict geometric patterns of triangles or ladder-like objects are found, or closely-spaced sets of curving lines, or star motifs. There is one design which looks as tho it was meant to depict a rattlesnake.

We spent a couple of hours wandering around the site, and resting on the sun-warmed rocks, until the sun lowered and the breezes began to bite shrewdly cold. We left via a road leading east and then north, to Webber Lake and a paved road breaking east to Highway 89. We had rejoined the line of the Pacific Turnpike. It had been a very nice day in the local high country. A longish drive took us to Truckee and I-80 which we followed west across the Sierra to our homes.