Tuesday, November 11, 2003

Mike and Jason II

Here is the second part of Mike and Jason's 2003 trip on the North Fork. Enjoy!

Hi all, here is part 2 of my son Jason and I's trip down the North Fork of the American river in August of this year. First I'd like to apologize for the format of part 1 sent last week. When it left my computer it was divided into paragraphs, parts were underlined, and it was made as easy to read as possible. But for some reason most the punctuation disappeared into the mists of computer land by the time you received it. I know its hard to read with every sentence jumbled together, not knowing where paragraphs start or end, and I do apologize.

August 16th, 2003 We were up early and had breakfast cooked by sunrise. We had learned earlier how quickly it got hot after the sun came over the canyon rim. Today we were going to explore the upper part of Green Valley. Last year we had wanted to investigate the area, but we really didn't have the time. This year with 2 extra days we felt we could relax a little more. We left our camp at the head of Green Valley by the lovely translucent green pool, and walked down river across the large boulder strewn gravel bar. We were intending on eventually investigating what looked like a trail cut out of solid cliff face across the river and perhaps 150' up the mountain >from our camp. We had just came to lower end of the gravel bar when we saw some likely looking bedrock and tried some gold panning. Sure enough, there were several nice sized flakes smiling at us from the bottom of our pans when we were finished! From this vantage point across the river, we saw what looked like rock work up on the bank on down the river perhaps 100 yards away. Heading in that direction we climbed the 40' bank and sure enough, there was the final resting place of an old cabin. Rock work hemmed it in on 3 sides, and it was evident no one had lived there for many, many years. There were pieces of heavy piping lying around, then we saw something in the brush next to the cabin which amazed us. It was a very old, small building perhaps 3' wide, 4' long, and about 3' high. It was made from concrete and the walls were atleast 4" thick. An old cast iron door weighing at least 200 lbs. still swung freely. We came to the conclusion it must have been some kind of smelter or furnace, and we just couldn't get over how good of condition it was still in.

Finding a small trail trending down river, we followed it a short distance, avoiding the poison oak. It brought us to the bottom of a deep gully, and there before us was a small Choke Cherry tree, loaded with ripe Choke Cherries. As a youngster growing up in Southern Oregon I used to pick and sell them, but my son Jason had never seen one before. I knew I could have a little fun here, and ate a couple in front of him praising them for their flavor. "mmm, better than black cherries", I said. Jason then took several and started chewing, and the look on his face was priceless! Spitting them out he muttered something about weird Dads as he headed down to the river to rinse out his mouth. It was here also that I got the best wild flower shot of the trip. In the dry sandy area at the bottom of the bank, there were several thistle bushes of some kind growing with large beautiful yellow flowers. After photographing them we followed the trail down river a little ways farther without finding anything too interesting, then headed inland, north, away from the river to try and find that trail we had seen from camp. We were both dressed in only shorts, a tee shirt, and good hiking tennis shoes, and were about to find out just how difficult the brush was to penetrate. The farther we got from the river, the thicker it got. Manzinita, thorny buck brush, poison oak, and regular oak tore at our skin and clothes. Jason was all for giving up and heading back to the river, but I really wanted to see that trail. So we pushed on through the brush, sometimes having to crawl on all fours, and eventually came out of it into a very large open area under large Oak trees. We were following a dry stream bed and it was evident people had once mined and lived there. We found several old dumps with bottles, old mining gear, and a nice marked trail leading up and presumably out of Green Valley. It was marked with red ribbon every 300' or so. Following this until we tired, we re-traced our steps coming to where the dumps were, and it was here that I noticed a faint trail leading across the slope in the direction of camp. Following it for a short distance, it rapidly turned into a large ditch that once brought water for mining to the area we had just explored. Following it toward camp, we were amazed to see how large this ditch once had been. In places it was 4' deep and 6' wide. It was here that I experienced the only let down of the day - a bad bloody nose. I come from a very wet climate on the Alaska coast, and here the weather was hot and dry, making me very susceptible to bloody noses. But it ended and we went on. Quickly the slope dropped away from us and we found ourselves over a 150' above the river. The giant oaks growing there almost overwhelmed us, and we got several good pictures of them. Then we saw our camp below us, across the river, and our rafts hid under the trees for protection >from the hot sun. Now the ditch disappeared, and it turned into a good trail perhaps 4' to 6' wide in places. The trail now was blasted out of the solid cliff face, and just ahead was the part I really wanted to explore. It went across a smooth, whitish granite face just ahead, and it looked like it was still in good enough shape to cross. But, at that point Jason refused to go any farther. It was a vertical 150' drop into the river from there, and the trail was dangerously narrow in places. So he sat down in a wide place and enjoyed the sunshine, while I explored a little further. I soon came to a gully with a little water coming down it, and lots of slippery mud. It was quite evident that there had once been a wooden walk way here, and not wanting to tempt death any farther than I already had, I retraced my steps to where Jason was. Looking at the trail ahead across the cliff face with field glasses, I saw where in at least 2 places it looked unfinished and impassable. So we took pictures of each other with that elusive trail in the background, looking up the gorge we had came down the day before, and started back towards camp. Not far down the trail we saw a smaller trail heading down hill. Not wanting to repeat the buck brush experience, we decided to follow it. And wouldn't you know, it led almost directly back to camp! Someone had been down there recently with loppers and red flagging and had marked this trail pretty well.

Arriving back in camp around sundown, we swam, bathed, played in the river, gold panned, fished, and thoroughly enjoyed the afternoon and evening. Soon the bats were back out eating our enemies the mosquitoes, and the little hummingbirds re-appeared. It had been quite an eventful day, and we were so glad we had taken the time to explore the area. We found a lot, but we knew there was so much more out there we would never know about. So much history and so little time to explore it. As we lay on our bags watching the stars, we were content, yet looking forward to exploring the rest of Green Valley the next day.

August 17th, 2003 The morning dawned bright and warm. We were up early, had breakfast cooked and ate, the rafts loaded, and were on our way down the river having the time of our lives. We quickly passed the Choke Cherry tree at the first bend below camp, and then came to a straight stretch in the river maybe 1/3 mile long. The trail we had followed along the river the morning before was evident in places help up by rock work, and it beckoned. But we kept to the river, and soon came to the second bend below camp where the river turned 90 degrees and headed due south. At this turn, Jason saw a mine tunnel about 30' above the river on the north bank that we hadn't saw last year. Beaching our rafts and grabbing our cameras, we crossed the river and climbed up to it, forgetting our flash lights. Standing there in the tunnel entrance we could hear water falling in the distance, and something just told us to stay out of it. So we carefully climbed back down to the river after taking pictures, and climbed the high embankment to explore the tailing piles and trail back up river. At the top we found the trail, supported by rock work in many places, to be an excellent trail. Following it up river about 200 yards, we came to a dry stream gully entering the river beside a large bedrock abutment. Here we found the perfect camping place, if only the stream had water in it. Resting here, and nursing another bloody nose, we went back to the area above the mine tunnel and found another old cabin site. There were square nails everywhere, green glazed window glass, rusty cans, piping, and we even found an old blue and white porcelain cup broke into several pieces. Looking but not taking, we marveled at how the old timers got everything down there! There were huge tailing piles behind the mine, and a stream that still had some water flowing. Following the stream back towards the river, we were shocked to see that the whole stream suddenly disappeared down a black hole perhaps 5' wide. Throwing a couple stones down it, we heard deep toned splashes, indicating there was a deep pool at the bottom. We were sure this was the other end of the mine tunnel we had just been standing in minutes before, and we climbed down to it, and took several flash pictures straight down it. It would have been a good system for getting rid of unwanted tailings from their sluice boxes directly into the river, and was quite ingenious. As it turned out, the hole was only about 20' deep, and the pool of water was perhaps 4' deep. After I had enhanced the digital pictures of it when I got home, the interior of the hole was quite evident.

From this point the river turned south and flowed perhaps 1/2 mile due south. Arriving back at our rafts we continued on down the river. Not far down river, maybe 150 yards, we saw a large, rock worked embankment on the north side of the river, and beached our rafts once again. Climbing up to it, we found it to be 100' long and in some places 12' high. Someone had went to a lot of work building this one! Arriving at the top, we were surprised to find that it was marshy and muddy on top. A stream came off the hill above, and flooded the whole flat area on top of this rock work. On the down stream end of this flat area, we found a pipe with ice cold water running out of it beside a large boulder covered in Lady Bugs! I'll bet there were 10,000 Lady Bugs there! Exploring up behind the marshy area, we found a beautiful marshy meadow with lots of Black Berries, an Apple tree, and 2 Pear trees. I picked 3 apples and 2 pears for treats later on in the trip. There was a very faint trail leading up this meadow, and following it we came to some very large Fir trees. In this area we found the most memorable place of the trip. Hidden in the underbrush and poison oak was a small white marble grave stone, reading "IN MEMORY, JOE STEINER of SWITZERLAND, 1869 - 1949" On his grave were several mining implements such as a gold pan, pick head, and a pry bar. Almost emotionally overcome by this find, we felt bad that Joe had been forgotten, that his grave was overgrown, and all that he had done in Green Valley would probably never be known. Before leaving we cut the poison oak and brush away from his grave, re-piled the stones and replaced the mining tools under his gold pan. Finally, we had come almost face to face with a person that helped make history in Green Valley. What an adventurous life he must have lived! Leaving Joes grave, we found a good trail leading up the Fir covered mountain. We guessed this must be another trail leading out of Green Valley. Following it maybe 200 yards, we returned to the Lady Bug rock and quenched our thirsts. If I could live anywhere in the world, it would be right here in Joes little meadow. Looking across the river from there, we saw another rock wall maybe 4' high and extending as far down river as we could see. We just had to explore it! Crossing the river we climbed up a very steep slide area to the wall, perhaps 80' above the river. At one time it had been a very good wall, and it was easy to tell that someone had put many hours into its construction. Exploring the area we found the wall was about 600' long, and once again had a large flat area behind it maybe 150' wide. We guessed it had been constructed to hold tailings >from mines up above, from going into the river after they had outlawed the hydraulic mines from dumping their tailings directly into the rivers. At any rate, it had lovely pine trees and manzinita bushes growing in it. This would make a great park if somehow they could get water up there, plant grass, and put up some picnic tables. But then again, that would bring too many people into this almost sacred area. It was while climbing up to this wall that we saw the only snake of the trip, other than small water snakes. He was lying in the shade on a rock all stretched out, and was perhaps 5' long. It was colored like an ordinary water snake, but was larger that any water snake I've ever seen. As I touched him on the nose gently with a stick, he suddenly came alive and left the country in a big hurry!

Looking across the river to the north again, we saw more rock work about 100 yards down from Joes meadow. Re-crossing the river, we climbed up to it and discovered it was the entrance to an old mine. The mine itself had been purposely covered over, but the V shaped rock work leading to it was still very evident. Inspecting the covered over mine closer, I saw a rusty pipe just inside. Pulling it out I found I was holding an old sledge hammer. It was an ax on one end and a hammer on the other, and must have weighed 20 lbs. After photographing it, we put it back exactly like we had found it. We then walked the trail back up to Joes meadow and found where his house must have been, as there were large holes dug with trash in them. Most of the trash however looked recent, and certainly was deposited since 1949. Turning around we explored the trail down to the next bend finding several more covered over mines, with impressive rock work.

Returning to our rafts, we continued lining them on down the river. It was getting to be afternoon and the sun was starting to get low. Knowing we had to push on if we wanted to get to the same camp site that we had stayed in last year, we hurried. Passing lucious black berry patches, we stopped occasionally to eat our fill. At one of these patches we were intently stuffing our faces, when I looked down to check on the rafts. Seeing mine but not Jasons, I quickly looked down river to see his raft perhaps 300' away disappearing around a bend! Non-chelantly I said, "hey Jason, where's your raft?" Frantically looking around, he spotted it just disappearing around the bend and took off after it at a sprint, well....as fast as a person can sprint over slippery 2 foot boulders! I caught up with him a 1/2 hour later and gave him a bad time about it, and we both had a good laugh. A little farther down river we heard the distinct sound of an engine, something like a ATV or 4 wheeler. Then it stopped. Kind of puzzled we continued lining our rafts in the beautiful afternoon sunshine. A little ways farther we came to a man fly fishing. After talking for a few minutes I asked how he had got there. He told us that he had ridden his 4 wheeler down some trail on the south side of the river. The trail was somewhere near the end of the 1/2 mile straight stretch of the river that went due south >from the mine we had found, and 3 bends down from our camp at the head of Green Valley. We never could find that one on the map. The next two hours were fairly uneventful. We continued lining our rafts, and finally came to our camp we had last year just as the sun dipped behind Lovers Leap. Camp hadn't changed that much since last year, and we quickly made camp and got cleaned up in the river before the evening chill arrived. Our camp was at the bottom of a serpentine cliff, just 300' above a very large log wedged across the whole river and jammed up against a house sized boulder. We had explored a lot of area today, had saw a lot of history, and we were kind of tired. Cooking supper that evening we both reflected on how much the valley must have changed from what Joe Steiner must have known, and we wished we knew only a tenth of what he did about this area. Catching and releasing a few trout, I relaxed as Jason panned for gold, and the evening set in over us. Soon our bat friends were back darting here and there, the fish were jumping in the river just in front of our camp, and the stars came tumbling out. We were as content as any father and son have ever been! My chair I had back packed down Euchre Bar trail was proving itself to be worth its weight in gold, also. Once again, it had been an excellent day of rafting. Still not one hole had punctured our rafts, and they rode high and slid along easily compared to trying to line the heavy water filled rafts last year. What a trip this was turning out to be!

Talking while we were laying on our bags after supper, we decided to spend one more day in Green Valley before plunging into the depths of Giant Gap. There were lots of tailing piles we had passed this afternoon we hadn't had time to explore, and we really wanted to see them. Besides, neither one of us, as it turned out, were particularly excited about re-entering Giant Gap, after the horrific problems we had encountered in there last year. Yes, one more day in heavenly Green Valley.........

I'll try and have part 3 out in a couple days.

Best regards.......Mike Case

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