Friday, December 17, 2004

Return to Canyon Creek

Yesterday morning I met Catherine O'Riley, at last returned from Europe and Jordan, and Patrick Kavanaugh, for a visit to Canyon Creek. This was Patrick's first experience of this remarkable place, so we decided upon the Grand Tour. However, these short days, so close to the Solstice, tend to reduce the scope of what may be done in the way of hiking, and we really only touched a few of the high points. It was to be, then, only the Semi-Grand Tour.

Under this winter fair-weather regime which brings day after day of fog to the Central Valley, and nothing but sun to the Sierra, we of course had nothing but sun. We stopped to see the giant drain tunnel of the Gold Run Ditch & Mining Co., nine feet high, twelve feet wide, which carried tailings from the hydraulic mines to Canyon Creek. We stopped at Waterfall View. The Leaper has now stopped its leaping, as less water flows in Canyon Creek than did a week ago, following the last storm.

Down the steepening trail past Gorge Point, we took the Six Inch Trail, one of the old sluice-box-access trails from mining days, into the Inner Gorge. To my astonishment, we scared off a passel of pigeons from the most recondite part of the chasm below. It is difficult to describe this twisting inner gorge, with its hidden waterfalls and polished rock sides. It makes a corkscrew plunging descent to the top of the Big Waterfall, where Canyon Creek leaps boldly into space, after being trapped in the dark caves of the gorge above.

An off-trail shortcut brought us to the creek just below the Big Waterfall, only just being touched by the morning sun. Then down the little waterfall trail to The Terraces, where the men who tended the sluice boxes which once lined Canyon Creek had their main camp. I had mentioned finding the Brewer's Rock Cress in bloom at Lovers Leap, and had carefully examined the cliffs at Gorge Point, where this species first blooms along the main trail. Nothing. I reminded Catherine of the yet-earlier-blooming species, the California Milkmaid, of the genus Cardamine, also in the Mustard Family, which we have often seen in flower at the Terraces in January, even early January.

So we kept our eyes peeled in case some further freak of nature might occur. We saw young Milkmaids, but no blooms. Leaving our packs at the Terraces, we took the side trail to the creek, crossed easily, and had a look at the three waterfalls directly below the Terraces.

Upon our return I noticed, right beside our packs, several Milkmaids in full bloom, and many about to bloom. So, a new record: the spring bloom in Canyon Creek has now been seen to begin as early as December 16!

Lower Terraces Trail took us back to the Canyon Creek Trail just above the hidden High Old Upriver Trail or HOUT, and we decided to ramble the HOUT on up the canyon, which was quite nice, in the full sun of the early afternoon. We walked beyond Bogus Spur to the fork in the trail where one can either keep to the HOUT or drop down to the river just west of Big West Spur. We chose the river, and had a long break beside the sparkling clear stream, so embossed with sunshine downstream, so bright, one could scarcely look at it. Just upstream, the river emerged from the shadows of Giant Gap, and a cool breeze wafted over us, heavy cold air flowing down the canyon, near river level.

This reversal of the usual fair-weather regime of (warm) up-canyon anabatic winds during the day, and (cold) down-canyon katabatic winds during the night, is interesting. I wondered whether this katabatic river of cold air, at midday, was continuous, all the way down the canyon, or just an artifact of the shadowed gorge upstream.

Whatever the case, it was pleasant to leave the cold air near the river, and make a scramble up the sunny slopes of Big West Spur to regain the HOUT. Just above the river of cold air lies much warmer air. It was likely all of seventy degrees at the HOUT, and probably below sixty degrees at the river. A classic temperature inversion (for usually air is colder with increasing elevation).

Then followed the long and intricate and delightful walk back west. When we reached the Canyon Creek Trail all was in the shadow of Diving Board Ridge. A slow slog up the steep trail brought us to the trailhead at about 4:15.

It was a perfect day in the great canyon of the North Fork.

Monday, December 13, 2004

A Walk on the Wild Side

I visited Lovers Leap with a few friends on Sunday. South of Dutch Flat and Alta on Moody Ridge, this tremendous cliff rises nearly 2400' above the North Fork American, at Giant Gap. The main mass of Moody Ridge trends northeast-southwest, dividing Canyon Creek from the North Fork, parallel to both--tho Canyon Creek bends south to join the North Fork, around the southwest end of Moody Ridge. And from the main mass of the ridge, with its nearly level cap of volcanic mudflow, a lobe of highlands extends south.

At the very southern tip of this lobe is Lovers Leap. Access is had from I-80 at the Alta exit. On the south side of the freeway take the frontage road, Casa Loma, east, turning right on Moody Ridge road, and then in a mile or so, left on Lovers Leap road, until it ends at a turn-around, elevation 4139'. A trail leads south down to the overlook. We instead turned aside to visit "Lazy Man's Lovers Leap," an east-facing clifftop near the turn-around. Snow peaks from near Bowman Lake on the north, to the Crystal Range on the south, were in view, along with the main North Fork canyon, leading up past Snow Mountain to Tinkers Knob.

Parenthetically, there are several "Lovers Leaps" in California, and no fewer than eight in Missouri. All kinds of crazy romantic legends are attached to these many Leaps; some say such fables go back at the least to Sappho, a poetess of ancient Greece.

A patch of public, BLM lands barely includes the rim of the canyon here, and for a half mile west. The usual contrast between a repeatedly-logged forest of smaller trees (private), and an unlogged forest of larger trees (BLM), is seen along the boundary.

The BLM built an ugly little concrete block building near the turn-around a few years ago. It houses a radio repeater, and some solar panels are mounted on a mast above the building. Perversely, the panels aim north, away from the sun. For some reason, a large Incense Cedar was felled just above the building, which now is much more visible than it had been.

High clouds covered most of the sky and a weak sunshine sometimes filtered through. I had hoped for full sun, for the complex architecture of Giant Gap needs shadows to evoke its stunning relief.

Our goal was to explore cliffy regions to the west of the Leap itself.

When seen in profile from the east or west, the great rock blade of Lovers Leap shows two large "steps" high on the blade, but below the overlook. First we aimed for the Upper Step. I knew that it was well-guarded by brush, and in years past had worked out the very best sequence of gaps in the brush and rocky ledges, to approach Upper Step from the west. Confidently I led us into the wrong gaps through the brush, and over the wrong ledges. We did eventually arrive. In the shade of the far-flung clouds a cool breeze made us shiver. A distinct edge could be seen bounding the cloud mass perhaps a hundred miles west. It could be hoped that the clouds would move to the east, as is their wont, and, in an hour or two, the unmasked sun would warm up our world of cliffs.

We could look right down on the white fog filling the Sacramento Valley and the Delta, an unusually deep fog ocean, lapping well up into the Sierra foothills, with only the very highest ridge crests peeking out, in the Coast Range north of San Francisco. Even Mt. Diablo, usually standing well above the winter fog across the Delta, was hidden.

A strange slot-like cave may be reached with all due difficulty by descending an impossibly steep and cliff-bound ravine to the west, and then circling around the base of a gigantic rock blade. One can see this cave from the Pinnacles, across the canyon. Then again, from the ravine itself, a deep crack in the cliff can be entered, and once with a friend I went deeply west inside the cliff, and reached another crack which led south and dropped into a series of narrow caves, before exiting to the south. In search of crack and cave we wandered west along the mossy ledges.

Entering the ravine high, we found ourselves on a steeply-plunging bear trail. Our local Black Bears take on some surprisingly steep terrain. Perhaps the exertion loosens their mighty bowels, for bear poop was abundant.

The ravine drops so steeply that out-and-out rock climbing is sometimes required. Cliffs pinch in on both sides. We were sheltered from the wind down there, and then the cloud mass did in fact drift past, and the pure sun warmed the cliffs rapidly. To my amazement we found the Brewer's Rock Cress, Arabis breweri, in bloom. I often see this species begin bloom in February, on the warmest cliffs along the Canyon Creek Trail. And once upon one sunny day, on January 1st, 1976, I found it in bloom on Lovers Leap itself, after driving miles through deep snow.

I remember crouching over the purple flowers, on the very edge of the eery precipice, with my old friend Greg Troll. "It's clearly in the Mustard Family," I was exclaiming, "but is it an Arabis, or a Draba?" And exactly then a diminutive Asian goddess leaped down from the rocks above to join us, a bright young sprite who knew wildflowers well; and she shared in our exclamations and wonderings. And that was Fate, and another story altogether.

And now, on December 12th? Brewer's Rock Cress? That's verging upon a Freak of Nature. The deep purple flowers were clearly brand new, not any kind of hold-over from the summer season. In fact, these Rock Cress flowers rather quickly set seed and drop away, after blooming.

Well. Microclimate is everything. And these past few days have been unusually warm, here in the Sierra.

Read, by the way, William H. Brewer's "Up and Down California in 1860-64," a true classic of the Golden State.

I never could find my mysterious crack cave. We lost a few hundred feet of elevation before following the bear trail right around the base of the rock blade, to a point below the main cave. An overhanging cliff rises on the west side of the thing, rather unsettling in appearance. A steep climb leads to the cave itself. We considered the matter carefully and decided that we could see it well enough from a distance.

The climb up and out was much easier, tho we had to pause for rest after especially steep sections. Hmmm. Come to think of it, they were all steep. We had great views into Giant Gap, with portions of the river visible, and could see Big West Spur, Bogus Spur, and the Diving Board, among the many many interlacing spur ridges flanking the canyon. Soon we were back at Upper Step and, after regrouping, and snacking, we headed west for what has been called Little Lovers Leap.

We noticed that quite a lot of firewood had been cut along the steep "fire road" leading west on BLM lands. As the road leveled out and bent north into Lovers Leap Ravine, we heard a chainsaw and found two men with a pickup truck gathering more firewood. They seemed to be taking only dead and down wood.

Dropping due west into Lovers Leap Ravine, we found the main bear trail down in its shaded forest depths, crossed the brook, and climbed though a stand of tall Ponderosa Pines, Douglas Fir, and Sugar Pine, to an old mining ditch. Following this south, we soon reach Little Lovers Leap, where little terraces had been blasted from the cliffs to allow for a wooden flume.

More fine views. The day was waning. Ron and I followed the ditch west, until we reached the end of the BLM lands and the first of about ten parcels of private property scattered along the canyon rim to the west, to Bogus Point and beyond.

This ditch would make for an especially fine trail, leading right along the canyon rim in Giant Gap itself. The trail could connect Lovers Leap to Canyon Creek. For many years I have proposed that efforts be made by the BLM to purchase all the private parcels along the rim above Giant Gap, in order to protect the viewshed, and to build the trail. This would take a ton of money and several minor miracles. Far more likely, a series of houses will be built, each arrogating its million-dollar-view.

The world-class, irreplaceable beauty of Giant Gap will be bent to the purposes of a subdivision. This, it has always seemed, is Placer County's vision for our future.

Regrouping once again, we admired the fog down in the valley, slowly gilding under the westering sun, the fog surface ruffled into waves here and there, as southwest winds drove it into the foothills. We then re-crossed Lovers Leap Ravine and slowly climbed to our vehicles, at the turn-around. Vagrant shafts of golden light lit up the leaf-strewn forest floor in patches of flame.

It seems to me that the BLM ought to carefully gate both roads (LL road and the western fire road) north of the turn-around, so that visitor parking is held farther back from the Leap, by a hundred yards or so. There's getting to be a bit too much firewood cutting, and too many OHVs are driving right down the foot trail from the turn-around. This is such a special place.

It was an especially fine day, high on the cliffs above Giant Gap.

Saturday, December 11, 2004

Visit to the HOUT

Stormy weather, cold weather, and an episode of geometry have kept me off the trails in recent weeks.

Yesterday I broke away for a visit to the High Old Upriver Trail (HOUT), which leads away east into the fabled Giant Gap, from the Canyon Creek Trail, south of Gold Run. A warm air mass had drifted into California from the Pacific, chasing away the frost, and a gentle and genial sun blessed the Sierra.

At 10:00 a.m. I left the trailhead in Potato Ravine, swung out of the ravine on the Indiana Hill Ditch (1852) into the very canyon of Canyon Creek, and suddenly heard its rushing waters below. The waterfalls would be in good form. Down to the Old Wagon Road, past the great tunnel of the Gold Run Ditch & Mining Co. (1873), thence south along the often mossy and ferny east-facing slopes above the creek I strode, neither hurrying nor dawdling, and reached the tiny bridge at 10:16.

Is the word "bear" cognate with "berry"? The dung of foxes and bears was often seen along the trail, always full of berries, mostly manzanita from the looks of it. A bobcat had left its own messy contribution near the bridge.

For the entire hike I was as often in shadow as sun, and in these short days, with the sun passing so low in the southern sky, parts of any canyon in the Sierra will never even be touched by the day star. In such places everything remained wet, despite thirty-six hours without rain. To touch a bush or a young Douglas Fir was to unleash a miniature storm of droplets. My boots were soon wet, but with remarkable forethought I wore thick wool socks and never much noticed.

The creek was at only a moderate flow. I had hoped for more. Still, it made a long succession of cascades and low falls even above the bridge, and below, its rough voice suddenly deepened into the thunder of larger waterfalls amid cliff-bound chasms. In fact, as one walks the Canyon Creek Trail, the cliffs beside the trail sometimes reflect the hissings and roarings so well one might imagine creeks on both sides.

The Leaper, a waterfall which manages to arc upwards into space before crashing into a cliff and falling forty feet into a hidden pool, was in good form. At low flows it dries up, being fed through a polished trough in the bedrock well to one side of a larger, perennial waterfall.

The fall rains have already spurred new growth, new grasses and young sword ferns, the tiny beginnings of what will be Larkspurs, tall and brash, in six months. The Goldback Fern is common all along here, and over the dry summer months it curls up, revealing the light golden undersides of its fronds, and seems dead. But when water is plenty the fronds uncurl, and so they were yesterday, peeking out from rocky niches everywhere.

The awesome Inner Gorge of Canyon Creek took form below me, and as the trail increasingly was hewn from the cliffs themselves, and that strange and wonderful twisting chasm with its hidden waterfalls appeared, those pure white racing pigeons which began roosting near the Big Waterfall last winter flocked into view. They flew vigorously in large circles. There seem to be seven of them now, where only five were ever seen last winter, and now two darker pigeons had joined them. Native Band-Tails? I could not tell.

The pigeons landed on a sunny and noble rock directly above the chasm, directly across from Gorge Point. Suddenly the North Fork canyon lay before me, and I could look across to the vicinity of Roach Hill and Iowa Hill. Now I had nothing but sun, the sweater came off, and down and down steeply the trail led, past the two side trails to the Terraces, to the unmarked and almost invisible HOUT. It was 10:35.

This trail follows the line of the Giant Gap Survey. In the late 1890s a scheme was floated to make the North Fork American the principal water supply for the city of San Francisco. Men were hired to eke out the line of a large ditch leading through Giant Gap from Green Valley; not to actually build it, but to "break grade" and set the stage for the main work. This seems to have been done to show The World at large, and the San Francisco Board of Supervisors in particular, that the principals of the project meant real business. So the line of the thing was surveyed and marked and a tenuous trail constructed, with little ledges blasted out of cliffs here and there, and two hefty tunnels were driven though giant rock blades in the very heart of Giant Gap. Well. One of these two never quite penetrated its blade.

The amount of work done was quite respectable, but the Supervisors never bit, and the ditch was never built. Yet enough work was done that, simply to gain access to the more recondite and difficult areas in Giant Gap, the line of the Survey was made a trail in its own right.

Not much of a trail, not then and certainly not now. The wooden bridges and catwalks they used to span difficult areas have long since been erased by wildfires. Still, one can follow the thing readily enough, and although it does not hew perfectly to the line of the ditch, and has any number of awkward sections, in the larger view of things it amounts to an almost level trail leading into Giant Gap. Near Canyon Creek it stands about 300 feet above the North Fork.

This was high enough to be in the sun and above the chilly shadows which hugged the river below. The North Fork was rather large for this time of year, and boiled and roared in many reaches of white water. It even had a slightly muddy cast to it, quite a rarity, except during heavy rainfall events.

I did not anticipate that the HOUT itself could lie in shadow, even so close to the solstice. Yet soon enough I passed from the warm and bright to the cold and dark. This eroded my desire to wander very far. Passing Bogus Spur, a half-mile east, I had fine views of Lovers Leap and the Pinnacles, framing Giant Gap, but could also see that much of the HOUT might remain dark and chilly for a good while. Sunshine lit up the slopes a few dozen yards above me.

I made some minor explorations and found a sunny spot to have my lunch, a single scrawny sandwich, before retreating to Canyon Creek. I visited the Terraces, one of the camps constructed by the miners who tended the huge sluice boxes in Canyon Creek, in the hydraulic mining era, pleasant little lawns hemmed by massive stone walls, and then continued up the Big Waterfall Trail, the most well-built of all old trails giving direct access to the sluice boxes.

The Big Waterfall was lovely, as always, and a fragment of rainbow glinted in the spray, near a hundred feet above the base of the fall, the rainbow proportionately high above me, as the sun lay low, behind me. I saw two pure white pigeons perched on the cliffs beside the falls.

A steep trailless climb led me back to the Canyon Creek Trail, where I rested in the sunshine and gazed around at the awesome cliffs and canyons. The pigeons suddenly appeared, flying with great strength and purpose, circling, climbing, circling, climbing, then shooting into the chasm below me.

"Ah ha," mused I, "their old perch lost its sun, hence they must needs climb higher, and escape the gloom building below. Now they surely roost in the sun, all warm and safe from The Shadow."

However, continuing up the steep trail, I soon saw them, not in the sun at all, but clinging to a cliff within the all-dark Inner Gorge. Who can predict what pleases a pigeon? It seems that I can't, at any rate.

So I left the pigeons and the waterfalls and chasms for the easier upper reaches of the trail, and soon enough was at my car. It was only 2:45. I was in good time to pick up the kids from school and bus.

During most of the day I had worried about how this most beautiful of all local trails can ever be brought into public ownership, as Congress directed in 1978. I remembered with pleasure so many wonderful hikes in the trail, often in the company of Catherine O' Riley. Would it all, in the end, be so much trespassing? For after all, most of the trail is on private property. The property is for sale. Signs could go up any day of the week, forbidding access.

But to sift through and record the gist of a pretty day's discontented musings would add several thousand words to my story. I only know that a way must be found to buy the Gold Run lands now for sale.

It was an especially nice day in the North Fork and along Canyon Creek.

Monday, November 29, 2004

Euchre Bar Trail, New Damage

Tom Martin of Alta wrote:

"I hiked to Euchre Bar Trail from Green Valley on November 26 and noticed
tractor-like tracks similar to those tracks observed earlier in the year.
By the time I reached the old Cosby (sp) residence, the noise from the
vehicles became quite noticeable. I stood on the concrete apron and watched
two ATVs pass. It appeared that the vehicles had 2005 tags.

"I followed their tracks across the bridge to the trail leading to Dorer
Ranch. They had turned around where the old downed log is located near the
summit of the first rise.

"I went back to the residence site to eat lunch where I met a couple hiking
down from Iron Point. When I asked if they had seen two ATVs, they answered
that a pickup pulling a trailer with two ATVs passed them at the second
railroad crossing.

"The ATVs displaced several large boulders at several switchbacks."

This makes the second time, at least, in 2004, when OHV's of some sort have damaged the Euchre Bar Trail. The first time they seemed to have entered by going around the Dorer Ranch gate, at the head of the Euchre Bar Trail on the Foresthill side of things. This time they went in directly from Iron Point. Some kind of special barrier should be erected each trailhead.

If anyone else knows of OHV incursions on foot trails I would be very glad to hear about it.

Although CDF promised, on November 3, to send me the timber harvest plans for the area out by Four Horse Flat (near Loch Leven lakes), where recent damage to the Big Granite Trail occurred (thanks to Tom Martin and Julie)--no documents have been received. The public comment period will probably be over before I even see these documents, at this rate.

Oh well, I'll get on the phone and try to bust the documents loose, somehow.

Monday, November 22, 2004

Placer Land Trust

Recently I learned that the Placer Land Trust (PLT) has become involved in efforts to acquire private inholdings in and around the North Fork canyon. They are looking at parcels between Secret Ravine on the west (near the base of the Stevens Trail), and Green Valley on the east (near the base of the Green Valley Trail).

In this they seem to be allied with the American River Conservancy in its "Giant Gap Project." Lands purchased would go to the BLM, which administers the North Fork American Wild & Scenic River from Green Valley to the Colfax-Iowa Hill bridge.

The desired parcels include some, but not all, of the 800 acres currently for sale in the Gold Run Diggings. I consider acquisition of these lands to be of the very highest priority; they contain much of the Canyon Creek Trail and the Paleobotanist Trail, as well as the historic hydraulic mine pit of the Gold Run Ditch & Mining Company. I only wish the scope were broadened to encompass all the 800 acres.

The PLT's homepage is at

and may I suggest, they are worthy of our support, and can accept tax-deductible donations. Information may be obtained by emailing

With regard to the PLT's work in the North Fork, the Sacramento Bee reports as follows:

Trust receives donation

By Art Campos -- Bee Staff Writer
Published 2:15 am PST Thursday, November 18, 2004

The United Auburn Indian Community has donated $50,000 to Placer Land
Trust, a nonprofit agency that is raising money to buy and preserve 630 acres
of wildland within the North Fork American scenic corridor.

The tribe, which owns and operates Thunder Valley Casino, presented the
check Saturday in a ceremony at Beermann's restaurant in Lincoln.

The UAIC established the Community Giving Program as a philanthropic branch
of its tribal government. It provides up to $1 million annually to nonprofit
groups that support education, health, arts, the environment, community
development and social services.

Friday, November 19, 2004

Fords Bar Trail, Big Granite Trail

The Fords Bar Trail and Blue Wing Trail, together, form the historic trail from Gold Run to Iowa Hill. A toll bridge, or several generations of toll bridges, stood at the crossing of the North Fork. The older bridge belonged to someone named Ford, a more recent bridge, to someone named Warner. This much can be deduced from various old maps, including the 1866 General Land Office map for Township 15 North, Range 10 East.

At some early time, possibly in the 1860s, the upper part of the Fords Bar Trail became a wagon road. Road or trail, it forked away from today's Garrett Road in Section 9 of T15N R10E. Garrett Road is labeled "Road to the Mines" on the 1866 GLO map, and then as now it leads eventually to the head of Indiana Ravine, where the very first claims were staked in what would become the Gold Run Diggings, in 1851.

Counted with the Canyon Creek and Pickering Bar trails, the Fords Bar Trail (FBT) is one of three trails giving access to the North Fork from the "Gold Run Addition" to the North Fork American Wild & Scenic River (W&SR). However, the FBT lies just to the west of the W&SR boundary. Around 1985 the FBT was closed by the landowner. The land at the junction of the FBT and Garrett was subdivided into four ten-acre parcels.

Recently, the person owning the 10-acre parcel closest to Garrett blocked the two roads leading into BLM lands atop The Bluffs, a lovely patch of forest with a parking area, where the so-called Paleobotanist Trail begins. This trail leads east across the Diggings to the Canyon Creek Trail. Here we are presented with the rare case of one private parcel blocking public access to two old trails.

In conversations with Chuck Grant of Placer County's Dept. of Public Works, about the historic Smarts Crossing Road, recently gated closed by PG&E, I mentioned the successful lawsuit brought by local residents in 1984, to show that the road is in fact a public road. Edward M. Stadum was our lead attorney in that suit, a very considerable public service, as he worked for free. Chuck said, in effect, "I don't care about the lawsuit: Placer County spent money on the road in the 1930s, as I found on our old "Maintained Mileage" maps, hence it is a County road, and can't be closed."

So I asked Chuck to check his old Maintained Mileage maps for any reference to the Fords Bar Trail. He found none, but didn't seem to understand that the FBT forks away from Garrett Road. Chuck did mention that I might look in the old Minutes of the Board of Supervisors (BOS), which could record County expenditures on the FBT.

I thought I knew where to start, for, in the January 11, 1895 edition of the "Colfax Sentinel" is an article entitled "Gold Run Items." In this article it states, "There is a movement afoot among the citizens of this place [Gold Run] and Iowa Hill to petition the Board of Supervisors to construct a bridge across the American River at Ford's Bar."

Now, Ron Gould and Bob & Judy Suter and I have been hoping to find some way to restore public access to the Fords Bar Trail. For my own part I would be content if foot, equestrian, and mountain bike access were restored: I really don't care very much about being able to drive a car on the old FBT road. At any rate, Ron took on the job of reading through the BOS Minutes for 1895 and 1896, down at the County Archives at DeWitt, in Auburn.

He found nothing about the FBT, but did find that it was a commonplace for County residents to petition the BOS to fix or improve this or that road. And, by chance as it were, Ron found a record of an expenditure of $75 on the Big Granite Trail, in 1896.

Hence, if Chuck Grant is to be believed, which seems only reasonable, the Big Granite Trail has been a public, County trail since at least 1896. Originally, it led from Cisco, on the railroad (not quite the same thing as Cisco Grove, but near), south and east across the North Fork, on a bridge, to the La Trinidad Mine in Sailor Canyon. And thence to Sailor Flat on the Foresthill Divide.

Ed Stadum advises me that these kinds of old records could prove very important in establishing the public's rights to use our old historic trails. I would like to look over the old BOS Minutes, and I wonder whether records of expenditures by Tahoe National Forest on this or that trail might have a similar legal force, as does an expenditure by Placer County.

So far as recent damage to the Big Granite Trail, I have not yet received the Timber Harvest Plan for CHY lands in the area, nor the "Ten Percent Exemption" document for SPI lands near the trail. So I have nothing new.

Wednesday, November 10, 2004

Blasted Settlement Conference

As someone who loves hiking, it is strange to be fighting the construction of a trail. Placer County has approved a 12.6-mile multi-use trail up the North Fork canyon, from the Confluence, below Auburn, up to Ponderosa Bridge. I joined with several others to file suit against The County, to force an Environmental Impact Report (EIR) on this trail.

The County named this proposed new trail the "North Fork American River Trail," which has the unfortunate acronym, NFART. NFART is meant to accomodate hikers, equestrians, and mountain bikers. It is to be a minimum of four feet wide. In effect, a new road would be built up the canyon.

The County avoided doing an EIR, by performing a "Mitigated Negative Declaration," which is much less costly. In the MND, The County asserts there will be no significant adverse impacts, and that the inevitable mobilization of sediments consequent upon making a bench cut in the canyon wall, miles in length, can be "mitigated," softened, offset, rendered insignificant.

For many reasons I oppose this new trail, but near the top of my list is that it is, in fact, Phase One of the proposed Capital-to-Capital Trail (CCT), which would link Sacramento to Carson City. In Placer County, major construction of the CCT was split into three "phases," Phase One being from The Confluence to Ponderosa Bridge.

The CA Dept. of Parks advised The County that it should break the CCT into parts and pretend that Phase One was a "stand-alone" trail project. The County acted swiftly to establish this pretense, and suddenly the proposed trail was no longer called Phase One of the CCT, but rather, NFART. Even tho The County is still pursuing the larger goal of the CCT, everyone swears up and down that NFART is a "stand alone" project.

When the BOS approved NFART, we filed suit. Since our suit is based upon CEQA (the California Environmental Quality Act), a mandatory "settlement conference" occurs between the parties, before trial. We had our Settlement Conference with Placer County yesterday. I was unable to stay for the entire meeting, but my sense was that we were not close to a settlement.

I had expected The County to offer to certify (somehow) that NFART is indeed a stand-alone project, and would never be extended farther up the canyon. However, they refused to do so. Apparently there is no kind of contract which could be entered into, such that future Boards of Supervisors could not act to extend NFART.

Hence, as many of us have feared, "stand-alone" NFART remains an arrow pointed right up the North Fork canyon.

The County also flatly refused to remove mountain bikes from the equation. It is bicycle use which forces the proposed four-foot width of the blasted trail. If NFART were to be a foot trail, it could be made much smaller, much narrower, much less vegetation would be cut out, and it would have very very much less impact upon the North Fork canyon. Even a combined foot and equestrian trail might be OK.

Perhaps a settlement dialogue can be maintained with The County for a time, but prospects seem slim for a compromise which satisfies either us or The County.

Such is the news about our lawsuit.

Sunday, November 7, 2004

New Trail News

Almost every day for weeks now I have been occupied with various trails issues. I have had many telephone conversations, and much email correspondence, with employees of Tahoe National Forest (TNF), the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), Placer County, PG&E, and the California Department of Forestry (CDF).

A few significant changes have occurred in trails issues recently outlined to this email list.

1. Thanks to Matt Bailey and Jim Johnson, Placer County went to PG&E and insisted that the new gate on the Smarts Crossing Road be removed. Well--not quite removed--PG&E agreed to "open" the gate. I am not aware that PG&E has actually done so, yet.

2. The two old roads converging into one road leading to BLM lands at The Bluffs, south of Garrett Road near Gold Run, remain blocked. A narrow strip of private property separates (public) Garrett Road with its 60-foot-wide easement from the BLM lands. Ron Gould obtained a copy of the parcel map, and we have had some difficulty ascertaining the exact line of the BLM boundary. At first the BLM offered to put a BLM surveyor on the problem, then they decided not to do so. The BLM says it will make no effort to protect the public's rights of access to The Bluffs on these two old roads. A possibility exists of creating a new road, entirely on BLM land. The Bluffs is the trailhead for the famed Paleobotanist Trail, which leads in turn to the Canyon Creek Trail.

3. The damage to the Big Granite Trail, up in the Loch Leven Lakes/Four Horse Flat area, was a result of either CHY logging operations, or SPI logging operations, or both, or even neither, inasmuch as SPI has an easement across CHY lands near where the damage occurred, and may be simply exercising that easement, and constructing a road. We know CHY's Timber Harvest Plan code number and also, the "10% exemption" harvest document's code number, filed by SPI. CDF will send me the two documents, with a bill. The area is covered by snow now.

4. An archeologist named John Betts contacted me, interested in the Big Granite Trail issue. We had a long conversation about CDF and old trails. He is quite familiar with CDF's process of evaluating Timber Harvest Plans. John said that it is vital that those of us who care about old trails make our views known to CDF, especially when some particular THP threatens a trail. He cited our meager success at Lost Camp as an example of what we should do (there, we managed to change a THP slightly to protect the China Trail). John's basic message is that CDF, and the "Registered Professional Forests" (RPFs) who prepare THPs, often have no idea these trails even exist. If we, The Public, inform them about the old trails, then, and only then, something can be done to protect them.

5. Rich Johnson of TNF says that although TNF would like to acquire much private land up by the Big Granite Trail, that looks to be something which might maybe possibly happen in the distant future. Funds for such acquisitions have been coming from the Land & Water Conservation Act monies, which the Federal government receives from taxes on offshore oil wells, and disburses for environmental uses of various types. We need to convince our elected representatives, such as Feinstein, Boxer, and Doolittle, that TNF needs much more money, to make land acquisitions, not just around the Big Granite Trail, but at Lost Camp, Sawtooth Ridge, Snow Mountain, Wildcat Point, the Rawhide Mine, Green Valley, etc.

6. How could so many squatters' camps accumulate tons of garbage right next to one of the most popular trails in TNF, the Euchre Bar Trail? How could this same trail have essentially no water bars, to protect it from erosion? Because TNF has no rangers to patrol this trail or scarcely any other trail, and TNF has no trail crews to maintain this or scarcely any other trail. The reason there are no rangers and no trail crews is that there is no budget for such employees. There is money, however, for OHV trails. Very much of what TNF does for trails nowadays is done for OHV users. The solution, according to one TNF source, is to lobby Congress to more fully fund our National Forests.

I myself am a little dubious about this funding issue. I have found, if one complains to the California Highway Patrol about speeding big rig trucks on Highway 80, that the reason the CHP cannot slow down the trucks is that they "do not have the budget" to do so.

7. So far as OHV use on TNF lands generally, TNF has started a formal study. TNF is mapping all OHV trails, official and unofficial, and once they are mapped, TNF will issue an Interim Order confining OHV travel to these existing routes. A series of hearings (some of which are beginning very soon, in Nevada City and Truckee), and a painstaking environmental study, will lead to a Preliminary Decision, which in turn will be followed by a Final Decision, in 2007. It is to be expected that OHV users will make their views and wishes known. We can too. Send an email containing your email and regular postal mailing address to TNF's


and ask to be added to the OHV Study electronic database.

For my part I want TNF to reduce the areas open to OHVs. I want foot trails, not motorcycle trails. In particular I want our historic trails protected from further damage, and in many cases, restored, since not a few of these old trails have been obliterated by logging. I want wild areas to remain wild, and partially wild areas to become more wild. To do this I recommend some road closures. This goes somewhat beyond the strict confines of OHV use, since a road closure includes any kind of jeep or SUV or automobile use. For instance, I want the Sawtooth Ridge road closed from about Helester Point to its southwest end. I want the road out to Big Valley Bluff from Forest Road 19 closed about a quarter-mile or so north of the Bluff. I want the last half-mile of the Wildcat Point road closed. I want the Sugar Pine Point road closed well north of the Point, perhaps at Pelham Flat. I want the Lost Camp road closed just beyond Lost Camp, near the head of the China Trail.

The longer closures, as at Sawtooth Ridge, might occur in stages.

And I want the trail across Duncan Canyon closed to all OHVs.

Sunday, October 31, 2004

Halloween Garbage Party

Ten in the morning of Halloween Day, Gay and I met Tom and Barbara Molloy, Dave Lawler, and Patrick Kavanaugh at Iron Point, for an expedition into the great canyon to clean up one of the nastiest garbage sites I have ever seen.

On the road to Iron Point, I saw the new house under construction on the 40-acre parcel above Iron Point. This parcel had had non-residential "Forest Production" zoning, which, under California law, is designed both to preserve open space and recreational opportunities for the general public, while affording the private land owner with property tax relief. The parcel is surrounded on three sides by Tahoe National Forest (TNF) lands, and touches the top of the Euchre Bar Trail, one of the most popular trails in TNF, giving access to the North Fork American Wild & Scenic River.

A prospective purchaser of the parcel applied for a Special Use Permit to construct a 2000-square-foot house on a manzanita-clad ridge crest overlooking the canyon and trailhead back in 2001, as I recall. She said she needed a house to "manage the timber" on the 40 acres. The Planning Department approved the permit. I was one of several people who wrote letters to oppose the Special Use Permit, and we expended $500 to appeal the decision. Our appeal was heard by the Planning Commission, who ruled in our favor, and withdrew the permit. The prospective purchaser hired an attorney, completed her purchase of the 40 acres, and appealed to the Board of Supervisors.

The BOS overturned the Planning Commission decision, and allowed the residential construction on the non-residential-zoned parcel. They were all in favor of it, more or less saying, "You want to bulldoze down the manzanita and plant pine trees on the steep slopes above Iron Point, and build a house overlooking the American River Canyon, a house visible from miles around? That's wonderful!"

It is the stated aim of the BOS to rename Placer County "Parcel County." In this I jest, of course, but only weakly.

The day was bright and clear and cool, and I myself had a sweater on as we started down the Euchre Bar Trail. Dave set a fast pace and I babbled about the strange distribution pattern of that strange conifer, Torreya californica, the California Nutmeg, or Stinking Yew, as we hiked along. This sharp-needled tree with its one-seeded, olive-like fruits, not held in cones at all, is found most typically in shady, cool, moist canyons, but, oddly, can also be seen on sun-blasted rocky slopes with thin soils, growing amidst Canyon Live Oaks and scrubby Bay Laurels. The genus Torreya dates from at least the Jurassic, was once widespread, and is now reduced to but a few species in small enclaves, scattered here and there around the world.

I noted that TNF does not maintain this popular trail, and that no water bars keep water from following the trail, and that this fall's storms have done more damage than I have seen in any one year since 1976. I suspect that illegal use of the trail by a gang of motorcyclists, over this past summer, exacerbated the lack of water bars, their tires cutting the trailbed. For a hundred yards at a time, or two hundred, or more, storm runoff follows right down the center of the trail, curving around switchbacks.

Hounds bayed across the canyon, as tho a bear had been treed; we could hear them most of the way down the trail. They seemed to be directly across the river from the base of the trail. They howled as we arrived, and howled as we left. Their owners were no doubt slamming down Budweisers up on Elliot Ranch Road, 2000 feet above the river and a mile or so south.

Perhaps a hundred yards past the old house site near the bottom of the trail, we broke hard left on a faint trail which leads onto an old mining ditch. This ditch took its waters from the North Fork of the North Fork, and seems to have served only the small hydraulic diggings at Euchre Bar itself. For many decades it has served as a trail leading up into the North Fork of the North Fork (NFNFAR), which joins the main North Fork just upstream from the Euchre Bar Trail.

In about a half mile we reached the garbage site. Here it seems that a cabin had been built, a hundred years ago or more, right in the line of the ditch; portions of its dry-laid stone fireplace and other stone work remain. Various lengths of black plastic pipe were scattered about. We had already accumulated a wheelbarrow, a foam mattress, and sundry other garbage before even reaching The Site.

The Site is on old terraces, likely built a century-and-a-half ago directly above a gravel bar beside the NFNFAR. Two motorcycles, various engines, parts of gold dredges, white PVC pipe and black plastic pipe, and an almost incredible amount of just plain junk, trash, garbage, littered a broad area.

A strange sort of basin or pool lined with rotting tarps had been made on the edge of the river; Patrick said it looked like a meth lab operation, tho I myself can't say why that would be. The tarps were anchored with many heavy boulders which had to be rolled aside before the slimy dripping shreds could be pulled free. That was quite a job in itself.

The five of us set to work and gathered the gigantic mess into a few main piles on the old terraces, which stand above high water levels, bagging up the small stuff. We worked hard for about four hours before wending our way slowly up and out of the tremendous canyon, quite lovely in the slanting golden rays of afternoon light. The NFNFAR had quite a respectable flow; we never even saw the main North Fork. The renowned Steve Hunter and a friend happened by on the old ditch trail, peered down at our ant-like industry, and passed by, wise enough to stay clear of a ton of nasty work.

The aim of all this was to ready the garbage for removal by a helicopter. We made a good job of it, but the very process of loading the helicopter's cargo net will itself be strenuous and time-consuming. One the miserable mess is gone, innumerable fragments of plastic, odd beer cans, pieces of rotten tarp, etc., can be gleaned from the forest floor and packed out.

I stayed behind for a time, tying off some of the garbage bags, discovering another foam mattress and carrying it up to our piles on the terraces, picking up beer cans from a thicket of poison oak. As I left, I met Steve and his friend Dan, who had been fly fishing and releasing their catch, up and down the NFNFAR. We chatted for a while before they went their way and I went mine.

The North Fork of the North Fork American well deserves Wild & Scenic River designation. A mile upstream from The Site is the old Rawhide Mine, where a small patch of private property blocks access to a historic public trail climbing to the crest of Sawtooth Ridge. Tahoe National Forest should purchase the Rawhide Mine, and clean up its own particular gigantic mess of garbage, which as it is now, is washed down the river during flood events. The NFNFAR is littered with Rawhide garbage all the way down to the North Fork, and, I would imagine, the main river has its own portion of junk washed down from this same source. So. Let's encourage TNF to buy the Rawhide, clean up the giant mess, and open up the old trail.

We reached the top of the trail around four o'clock. It had been a rather fine day down in the great canyon, as usual. I hope that somehow funds can be found to get a helicopter in there soon. The Site is a very pretty place, or will be, once the garbage is gone.

Thursday, October 28, 2004

Halloween Garbage Cleanup Planned at Euchre Bar

Noted geologist Dave Lawler and I are planning to visit Euchre Bar this Sunday, and work on cleaning up a nasty garbage site near there, on the North Fork of the North Fork. All are welcome. Gloves, garbage bags, and light twine or rope might be useful. The aim is mainly to get the garbage into one central location, from which, with any luck, it can be removed by helicopter.

The plan as I understand it is to meet at the trailhead parking area at 10:00 a.m. this Sunday the 31st. From I-80 eastbound, take the Alta exit, turn right and immediately left onto the frontage road, and in ~one mile turn right onto Casa Loma Road, follow it across railroad tracks, then in another mile or so cross the tracks again on a graveled road; follow this less than a mile to the parking area. Call me with any questions.

The garbage is said to be doubly haunted, by the ghosts of the ghosts of the Maidu Indians. Perhaps we will soothe the angry spirits.

Tuesday, October 19, 2004

Trail News

It seems as though our old trails are constantly under attack and that if they are on public land, they are neglected, sometimes casually erased by logging, and if there is but one speck of private land involved, they are erased by logging or they are closed.

Recently the historic Smarts Crossing Road, off Drum Powerhouse Road near Dutch Flat and Alta, was gated closed by PG&E. Smarts Crossing is a lovely pool on the Bear River, where a bridge once stood, the road continuing north up to the Liberty Hill Mine and Lowell Hill Road. The bridge seems to have washed out in the 1930s. Since then the road has only given access to this wonderful pool on the river.

The road was gated closed, in 1984 I think, and several local residents banded together and with a ton of pro bono help from sympathetic attorneys, went to court and established that the old road is in fact a public road. The gate was removed.

Then six or seven weeks ago a new gate appeared. PG&E owns lands near the top of the road. PG&E was worried that sudden releases of water from Drum Powerhouse could endanger visitors to Smarts Crossing. Their main concern was camping. Interestingly, they did not post "no trespassing" signs, only "no camping" signs.

Placer County Counsel is meeting with PG&E this morning, and my instinct is that this new gate will come down. Matt Bailey of Dutch Flat apparently lit a fire under Placer County on this issue. Thanks, Matt!

More recently, the roads giving access from Garrett Road, south of Gold Run, to The Bluffs, on BLM land west of the Gold Run Diggings, have been blocked with large tree trunks, and "no trespassing" signs were nailed up, which would have one think that the BLM land is private land. However, only a narrow strip along that part of Garrett Road is private. The two blocked roads converge a hundred yards in or so, and lead to a parking area. The tree trunks seem to have been placed right on the private/BLM line. One tree trunk barrier is about fifteen feet from the edge of Garrett, the other, about sixty feet. It looks as though the same private parcel which contains the historic road to Fords Bar, on the North Fork, must be the parcel which includes the first few yards of these old roads.

The Fords Bar Road has been closed to the public since about 1985. Now these other roads have been closed, too. These roads give access to the ridiculously-named Paleobotanist Trail, which leads north from The Bluffs and down into the Diggings, breaking east to the head of the Canyon Creek Trail.

However, although both the Paleobotanist and Canyon Creek trails cross BLM lands, they also both cross private lands to the east of Garrett Road, private lands which are now for sale.

The roughly 800 acres now for sale in the Gold Run Diggings and along Canyon Creek are partly within the "Gold Run Addition" to the North Fork American Wild & Scenic River, as enacted by Congress in 1978. Congress intended that the private lands within the Gold Run Addition be acquired by the BLM, if willing sellers could be found.

Now that the owners are in fact willing sellers, the BLM has no money.

I myself wish the BLM to purchase *all* the 800 acres. Failing that, acquisitions must go far enough north to pick up the line of the Paleobotanist Trail.

But again, BLM has no money. Writing to our representatives seems to have had no effect. Talking to Placer County seems to have had no effect. This Gold Run acquisition project would seem to be an ideal candidate for the Placer Legacy. But the Placer County BOS recently voted to expend $200,000 in Placer Legacy funds on building a brand new bike trail up the North Fork canyon.

I have joined with others (we call ourselves "Friends of the North Fork") in a lawsuit to stop construction of this new bike trail, from The Confluence, 12.6 miles up to Ponderosa Bridge. We will at the least force an EIR on this new trail. I feel strange opposing a trail--I love trails!--but, oh well--that's another subject.

The old trails, the old roads, are being lost. Some people have been fighting the good fight to protect these old trails. I think of Evan Jones, for instance. And Jay Shuttleworth and his remarkable work on behalf of the Stevens Trail, near Colfax and Iowa Hill.

Such is some trail news.

Monday, October 18, 2004

Visit to Green Valley

Saturday morning I set off down the Green Valley Trail near Alta. The canyon was full of smoke from the recent fires, and the sun seemed sickly and cold. Some friends, including Steve Hunter and Jerry Rein, were camping at the Old Hotel site. I imagined a leisurely cup of coffee with them, before they began their fly fishing, and I would cross the river to take a look around the Hayden Hill Mine.

Green Valley is an exceptionally wide part of the North Fork canyon, just upstream from exceptionally narrow Giant Gap. I have often written of this contrast, which reflects the weakness of the serpentine of the Melones Fault Zone (Green Valley), and the massive durability of metavolcanic rocks of the Calaveras Complex (Giant Gap). Green Valley is like a broad amphitheater, Giant Gap, a narrow gorge.

In Green Valley are many deposits of "glacial outwash," bouldery sediments from the North Fork glacier, upstream. The outwash bears gold and was mined every which way a century and more past.

Rivers and streams carry sediment. From an abstract standpoint, imagine a long wooden trough, V-shaped, sloping gently from one end to the other. Let the trough carry a fixed amount of water, from the upper end to the lower end, where it spills freely away. Now steadily pour a small amount of sand into the upper end, such that the water in the trough carries it away. Very well. Increase the amount of sand. At some point, as the amount of sand added is increased, while the amount of water and the gentle slope of the trough remain fixed, some of the sand will start to "stick" in the trough. As more and more sand is added, a kind of narrow flood-plain will form in the bottom of the trough. The sediment load has exceeded the ability of the fixed amount of water to transport it.

However, if the supply of sand is cut off, while the water continues to flow as before, it will strip away the sand flood-plain, cutting the sand back down to the bottom of the trough.

This is essentially what happened, on the grand scale, in the Sierra. The glaciers in the upper reaches of our canyons drastically increased the sediment load delivered to the rivers downstream. Narrow, canyon-trapped floodplains developed. Then the glaciers melted away, sediment load returned to "normal," and the rivers cut through these outwash deposits, back down to bedrock.

When such an outwash plain forms in a narrow gorge, often little if anything is left for us to see, after the river has cut back down to bedrock. Such is the case in Giant Gap. But when the canyon is wider, vestiges of the outwash plain survive. The 49ers called such vestiges "bars," as, for instance, Pickering Bar, Euchre Bar, Humbug Bar, Fords Bar. Often some part of the original, roughly flat top of the outwash plain survives intact. Geologists call these "outwash terraces."

Only the most extreme flood events touch these vestiges, these bars, these outwash terraces, nowadays. It is interesting that the January 1997 flood event managed to nick most all of them, leaving fresh cross-sections exposed, where the layers of boulders and fine sediments can be observed directly.

And when the canyon is exceptionally wide, many vestiges of the outwash plain will survive. Such is the case in Green Valley.

There have been multiple episodes of glaciation within the past million years or so. The most recent ended only about 12,000 years ago. The geologists call this the "Tioga" glaciation, in the Sierra. Before the Tioga there were the "Tahoe" episodes, at roughly 65,000 and 130,000 years. Quite notable, too, was the Sherwin glaciation, about 750,000 years ago. Then there was the McGee Creek, at 1.3 million years; and near Mammoth, on the Sierra crest, there is a body of glacial "till" beneath a lava flow dated to 2.9 million years.

Now, one glaciation can do a good job of erasing the signs of another, older glaciation. Hence the record is fragmentary and challenging to interpret. It so happens that the Tioga glaciation was slightly less extensive than the earlier Tahoe glaciations, hence the Tioga could not erase all Tahoe deposits. The east side of the Sierra, where a much drier climate obtains, has many well-preserved glacial moraines of both Tioga and Tahoe ages.

The west side has relatively few well-preserved moraines, and much much more vegetation covering the landscape. The steep-walled canyons are not well-suited to preserving outwash terraces. Green Valley is an exception. It seems a certainty that outwash of Tioga, Tahoe, and even Sherwin glaciations is preserved. I would like to see a major study undertaken, of these glacial deposits in Green Valley.

The highest, and presumably oldest, outwash terrace in Green Valley is at the Hayden Hill Mine, on the south side of the river. The terrace top is fully 600 feet above the North Fork. A relict channel beside the Hayden terrace has a bedrock floor about 400 feet above the North Fork. I aimed to visit the Hayden terrace on Saturday.

So I dropped down the trail, losing 2100' of elevation, took the East Trail, passed Joe Steiner's grave, and met the Hunter party at the Hotel site. They were just on the point of leaving for a visit to Giant Gap, a mile west, so there was no coffee, but we stood around and chatted for a while. Steve has been exploring our canyons since he was a boy in the early 1950s. He knows them like few if any others. I told them I aimed to find a trail coming off the Hayden terrace, which I had walked in 1978, finishing that hike at a dead run, chased by yellowjackets, and figuring myself safe at the river, had been stung violently on an extremely tender part of my anatomy. A hornet trapped inside one's shorts is not a nice thing.

So they went west and I went south, crossing the river. The dimness of the day had kept the boulders wet at the one almost easy crossing point, so I took off my shoes and waded the cold river. I was surprised by thigh-deep water; water never looks as deep as it really is.

Across from the Hotel site is a line of low cliffs, with a gravel bar at their base. Atop these cliffs some large rounded boulders are perched, in the six-foot-diameter range. These are far too large to be transported by water alone, but, within a slurry of glacial outwash, they weigh much less. I scouted along, looking for my 1978 trail, and found it at the east end of the bar. It doesn't look like a trail at all, except by comparison with the cliffs near it. Ascending, I reached a terrace area about 60 to 100 feet above the river. Game trails and old human trails crisscrossed the area, and scouting east, I found a human trail crossing a deep "sluice cut" in the serpentine bedrock. I was almost directly across the river from the drain tunnel in the low cliffs a couple hundred yards east of the Hotel, which served the Green Valley Blue Gravel Mine. They were mining relict channels of the North Fork, set well back from the river.

I found an old, possibly Depression-era claim marker, a hand-hewn six-by-six set into a mound of boulders, beside the sluice cut. The cut undoubtedly dates from at least as far back as the 1870s. It was about ten feet across and twenty feet deep, blasted out of solid rock. Above it was one obviously mined-out basin, scarcely a hundred feet across.

At the base of the outwash terrace sediments is the serpentine bedrock. Mining always involved an effort, in such situations, to wash down to, and "clean," the bedrock. One would sluice off the terrace gravels, perhaps using a four-inch canvas hose and iron nozzle, and then carefully dig every last shred of loose material from the bedrock beneath, prying the rocks apart to get into crevices, where nuggets would be trapped. The coarse gold was always concentrated on the bedrock beneath the terrace sediments.

Crossing the sluice cut on a faint trail, I followed it east until it merged with a broad trail dropping back to river level, to a point a little upstream from White Boulders, where a few huge white boulders of some siliceous rock are scattered in the river, beside a large outcrop of the same material. This is some kind of exotic rock trapped right in the middle of the Melones Fault Zone serpentine. Boulders from this one outcrop are scattered down the river almost all the way to Giant Gap. I lopped along a little ways, but my aim was high not low, so I retreated and looked for the continuation of the broad trail, west and higher. I found it easily enough, but it split into multiple lines, and I chose the steepest.

Soon I saw trash, then, an almost brand new, tan-colored five-gallon propane bottle. I have learned that such propane bottles are a fixture of Mexican marijuana growers' camps. Knowing nothing good lay ahead, I continued up into a maelstrom of garbage, plastic tortilla bags and empty cans of hot sauce, another propane bottle and a Coleman stove, and no fewer than six sleeping bags. A pair of pants was draped across a tree, with some socks. A jumble of plastic sheeting, clothes, food wrappers, etc. etc. Pine needles covered parts of the many sleeping bags, suggesting an occupation date of summer 2002 or summer 2003.

The growers had hacked little trails into the hillside, some of which seemed to coincide with old-time miners trails. Occasionally a path would break out east to the edge of a large ragged serpentine cliff rising 400 feet or so from the river. I had great views east to the East Knoll of Green Valley, where a flume line was blasted into cliffs, and to Sawtooth Ridge, etc. Around 400 feet above the river, an old miners trail led out across the steep ground above the cliffs, and I followed it, lopping. The very east edge of the north-south running serpentine belt crossing Green Valley is the main trace of the Melones Fault itself; rock to the east is at first a melange of metasediments with some limy sediments and even marble, but quickly goes to another north-south faulted contact with the (metasedimentary) Shoo Fly Complex, running many miles up the canyon to the east.

I was looking across a narrow ravine cut into the ragged cliffs to the fault zone itself, where the vegetation abruptly changes. Many plants do not tolerate serpentine soils well, notably Ponderosa Pine and Kellogg's Black Oak. A sharp boundary is presented at the fault, with a Black Oak grove above to the east, and a naked cliff of serpentine dotted with Digger Pine and Canyon Live Oak to the west.

As the trail entered the ravine, it dropped and became indistinct. A deer or two had used it recently, I merely followed them. The human trail reappeared as the ravine was finally met, just below the main drain tunnel of the Hayden Hill Mine.

The tunnel, about six feet square, was mostly blocked by a cave-in at the entrance. Some White Alders and Pacific Dogwoods and Douglas Fir grew in the vicinity of the trail crossing, suggesting nearly year-around water at the surface.

East of the ravine the trail climbed steep slopes where it often disappeared altogether. I was having my doubts that this was any kind of old human trail, when I reached a sharp crest of serpentine within feet of the fault zone. An out-an-out cliff was descended by the trail, down an easy gully, after which the trail then continued nearly level and well-defined, into the more luxuriant forest east of the fault.

This high old trail is not shown on the modern USGS 7.5 minute Dutch Flat quadrangle. Another trail, which does not exist, is shown running roughly parallel, but down at river level, not 350-400 feet above.

When my high trail started dropping, I retreated to the ravine and the drain tunnel, which I had visited a few times over the past thirty years. Above lay the hidden valley of the Hayden Hill Mine, where hydraulic mining methods were used on the deep terrace deposits within and flanking a relict channel of the North Fork. This mine was active in the 1870s at least, perhaps earlier and later. There is a persistent rumor, which I have never been able to verify, that some kind of large slide buried "twenty" Chinese miners, and their sluice box, "way back when."

I decided to climb right to the top of the knoll to the west, a nice outwash terrace with acres of Black Oak forest enjoying the non-serpentine soils on its flat top. I passed two sluice cuts, each dumping into the ravine, each heading into small mined-out basins on the edge of the oak forest. Some grand old manzanita bushes grew near these sluice cuts. A miners trail was then struck leading up to the top of the knoll, 600 feet above the river. This is marked "Snakehead Point" on the Dutch Flat quadrangle.

There I stopped to take photographs. There is a nice view looking west through Giant Gap to Big West Spur and Bogus Spur, west of Lovers Leap. The Pinnacles were mostly all hidden behind the main spur of Giant Gap Ridge. To the east, some of the high red mining scars visible from Lovers Leap and Casa Loma were in plain view, showing stratified layers of glacial outwash not less than 700 feet above river level.

It may well be that these high outwash deposits are quite old, even Sherwin in age, 750,000 years.

The cellar of a long-vanished house is nestled among the oaks atop the knoll, with a fine view west into Giant Gap. There are some huge oaks atop that knoll. Hundreds of small Ponderosa Pine and Douglas Fir grow beneath the tall oaks. A cool wildfire would set things right, killing these small conifers.

Steep hydraulic banks face south and east into the hidden valley.

I dropped off the ridge on the southwest corner, down an old road of sorts, with some interesting mining equipment scattered along the way, including a massive trolley, perhaps for moving boulders. In a short distance the more northerly of two huge high tailings piles is met, a stack of boulders 200 feet high. It was interesting how many granite boulders were in the mix. These are common in the more recent outwash in Green Valley, and come from much higher in the canyon, perhaps the Loch Leven Lakes area, or Palisade Creek. They look quite sound and unweathered.

Could they be younger than Sherwin, so sound and unweathered?

I boulder-hopped down the steep pile quite cautiously; many boulders weighing in the hundreds of pounds rock back and forth on this dangerous mass. At the base I was not far from a stream, gurgling along, which heads up in the Black Oak forest above the fault zone to the southeast. A broad ditch left the stream to the north, and, following it, I remembered walking it in years past. It was once a well-used human trail, now heavily used by game. I lopped along, noting that I was some 200 feet above the river, in a fine grove of Ponderosa Pine growing in outwash-derived soils. Nearing the river, and the ridge-line of the marijuana growers' camp, the ditch ended, roughly directly above the deep sluice cut across from White Boulders. I followed game trails down to the lowest terrace, and then picked my way down the cliff trail to the river itself.

The smoke had slowly thinned and a brighter light and a stronger warmth suffused the canyon. The rocks at the almost easy crossing were dry, and I hopped across. No one was at the Hunter camp at the Hotel site. I rested for half an hour, and then made the slow sweaty slog up the Green Valley Trail.

It had been a fine day in the great old canyon, marred by the discovery of yet another horrible garbage site in Green Valley. It would take many backpack loads to haul this one site's garbage up and out. Maybe we should gather it all to the Hotel site, and get a TNF helicopter in there.

Wednesday, October 13, 2004

Trout Fishing in the Royal Gorge

I received a kind and interesting letter from one A.J.M., recounting experiences in the Royal Gorge, decades ago. The trail he describes is unmarked and gets very little use. I call it the Wabena Trail. Out of curiosity, I Googled Arnold Gamble and found he was killed in a shootout in 1963; a tragic end for one who knew and loved the North Fork.

The rattlesnakes remain.

While surfing the net I stumbled across your web site and the fascinating narrative and pictures which resurrected some of my fondest memories. It has been almost 53 years since I first traveled the Lost Emigrant Mine trail across Wabena Creek to the floor of the Royal Gorge of the American. I was introduced to this area by Arnold Gamble, who worked with my dad on the Sacramento Police Department. This is where I learned to fly fish and Arnold is the man who taught me. I was fifteen years old at the time of my first visit and subsequently went back there several times with friends and also on my own. Rattlesnakes were everywhere down near the river. I remember that we ran into fifteen to twenty on that first trip, so constant vigilance was the order of the day. Because of an earlier experience (Arnold reportedly found a rattler coiled on his bed roll when he returned to camp) we slept on hammocks. In those days we weren't very conservation-conscious, so they were all dispatched to snake heaven. Later, I learned to give them a wide berth and they would go their way and I would go mine. Fishing was outstanding for many years. During those early years, I never ran into anybody in the area. However, sometime after 1962 (I was in the military from 1958 to early 1962) I ran into a party bricklayers who were on strike and decided to spend their time fishing. They had also brushed the trail from the top all the way down to the bottom. They had spent a week on the river, and were on their way out when we came across them. My partner and I still caught plenty of fish.

My last trip down to the Gorge was some time in 1969. As we were descending along the trail we could hear the steady drone of a gas engine which grew louder as we got near the bottom. When we came out on the river, there were two guys operating a "Bazooka" dredge looking for gold in the crevices and sand at the bottom of the river. If you have never seen one of these things all it is a big suction device that sucks the sand and small rock up through a nozzle and over a catch basin with riffles and out the other side. The gold is collected on the catch basin. Sort of a mechanized sluice box. We proceeded on up the river and made camp on our usual sandbar. By the way, several years before my trip with Arnold, he had been down there and nailed a double spring, steel trap to a tree. It was still there in 1969. I wonder if it is still there? To go on, no sooner had we made camp then bunch of hikers (all the way from little kids to an elderly lady), about an eleven in all, came walking by on their way up the canyon. They were going to take a trail up and out the other side. I didn't even know there was such a trail. They must have found it because I never saw them again. By this time we were getting mighty discouraged and completely flabbergasted that this piece of heaven had been discovered. This wasn't the final shock however, because while fishing, we ran across two professors from UC Davis that we knew through our work, also fishing the river. They provided us with the explanation for the traffic. It seems that the Sierra Club in their infinite wisdom, had published an article about the area and told the readership to visit the area because it would soon all be under water when a proposed dam was built. We continued to fish, but it took a lot more work to limit out.

That was my last trip to the Royal Gorge. My friend and colleague went a couple of more times, but it was ruined for me. I would rather remember it as it was. That is why I really appreciated your description of the area. It sounded like it has returned to its pristine beauty and of course, the dam was never constructed. There use to be a mine shaft (which we called the Lost Emigrant Mine) right where the trail crossed over Wabena Creek. There were also cables stretching from the ridge near where the car was parked all the way down to this mine shaft. There were also large kettle-like metal gondolas which were used (not very successfully as I understand it) to haul the ore to the top for transport to a stamp mill. These metal gondolas were strewn about the side of the hill. Are these still there? Also, the trail down to Wabena Creek was a series of switchbacks originally constructed to accommodate the mules used initially and maybe later on to haul out the ore. When the price control was taken off of gold, and it jumped from $34 to $234 an ounce, there was some talk of reopening this mine. I think some surveying for a road was actualy done. Again, it apparently was all talk. That is enough for now.

Action Alert

The good John Moore of the Sierra Club, whose sustained efforts over many years have forwarded land acquisitions by Tahoe National Forest (TNF) in and near the North Fork American River, asked that I forward this "action alert" from the Trust for Public Land, to all of you.

Briefly, the "old railroad lands" which mostly passed to Sierra Pacific Industries (the notorious lumber company) have been all-too-slowly purchased by TNF. I wish to see TNF expand the scope, and increase the pace, of these acquisitions. Maybe the historic Big Granite Trail wouldn't be getting ruined, right now, if we all had been more diligent in letting our representatives know that our Placer County wildlands are very important.

I suggest that you use the links at the bottom of this action alert to send emails to Senators Boxer and Feinstein, "to support the $1.5 million funding level for the Sierra Nevada Inholdings program in the final Interior Appropriations bill and thank them for their continued strong support for this important project."



Congress is nearing completion of the FY 2005 federal budget and final
decisions on spending levels for next year will be made in the next few

The Senate recently recommended $1.5 million for the Sierra Nevada
Inholdings program. It is very important that you continue to urge your
Senators to support the $1.5 million funding level for the Sierra Nevada
Inholdings program in the final Interior Appropriations bill and thank
them for their continued strong support for this important project.

It is critical that this funding level be included in the final
appropriations bill, or the opportunity to preserve this critical land
may be lost!


The Sierra Nevada Inholdings program is a high priority for the Forest
Service because it aims to consolidate checkerboard lands within the
national forests of the central Sierra, as well as to protect river
canyons and watersheds in the region. Lands available for acquisition in
FY 2005 within the Sierra Nevada Inholdings program include 580 acres
along the North Fork American River and 773 acres of the Barker Pass
property, both of which are within the Tahoe NF. The North Fork’s steep
gorges and exciting rapids attract river rafters from around the
country, while hikers and backpackers are drawn to the challenging
trails and outstanding camping opportunities in surrounding forest
lands. At Barker Pass, a nearby Pacific Crest National Scenic Trail
trailhead is a popular access point into the high Sierra from Lake
Tahoe. Because of its accessibility and beautiful views, hikers, fishers
and campers- frequently use the area.


Before Congress completes its work on next year’s conservation funding,
please contact Senators Feinstein and Boxer. Thank them again and
encourage them to maintain the Senate’s $1.5 million recommendation for
the Sierra Nevada Inholdings program funded through the Land and Water
Conservation Fund in the final FY 2005 Interior Appropriations bill.

(NOTE: There is a significant delay in the delivery of letters to
Members of Congress due to security concerns. Instead, we strongly
encourage you to fax, call, or electronically contact your Member of
Congress in order to ensure prompt receipt. For online contact, please
go to the congressional websites listed below and follow instructions
for constituent contact.)

The Honorable Dianne Feinstein The Honorable Barbara Boxer
U.S. Senate U.S. Senate
Washington, D.C. 20510 Washington, D.C. 20510
Phone: 202 224-3841 Phone: 202 224-3553
Fax: 202 228-3954 Fax: 415 956-6701
Email: Email:

Saturday, October 9, 2004

Sawtalian Trail V

Friday Ron Gould and I drove up to Emigrant Gap, out Forest Road 19 past Texas Hill and Burnett Canyon to Sawtooth Ridge, and parked on the edge of the North Fork canyon at an ugly log deck area, where, by all considerations of old maps, i.e., the Waldemar Lindgren Colfax Folio, and topography, i.e., the modern Westville quadrangle, the head of the lost Sawtalian Trail must be. We were in the SW 1/4 of Section 29, T16N, R12E, quite near surveyed elevation 5076'.

Our best efforts to transfer the line of the Sawtalian from Lindgren's map to the Westville quadrangle had suggested that we hew rather to the east, at the very top, than a little west, where years ago Tom Molloy and I discovered what surely seemed to be an old human trail, dropping into a magical grove of Kelloggs Black Oak and ancient Ponderosa Pine. This grove occupies a broad bench or terrace in glacial till, much like what one sees on the south side of the North Fork, along the main Italian Bar Trail, but here, at least, graced by many exotic boulders of granite, dragged down the North Fork canyon from many miles east. The bench is about 300 feet below the rim of the canyon, where we'd parked.

So we hewed to the east. Descending rough steep ground with no hint of an old trail, we reached the more eastern continuation of that same bench, and, bearing west, but giving up elevation southwards towards the river, we scouted back and forth, in search of the Sawtalian.

We left the lovely bench with its magical grove for steep slopes below, without glacial till, cloaked in Canyon Live Oak and some Douglas Fir with a somewhat unusual proportion of Torreya californica, California Nutmeg. All this area had burned in the Helicopter Fire, when nearby Section 31 had been logged, by Sierra Pacific Industries, as I would think. There were stumps scattered all across this steep terrain. We found the going quite tough. Often we spread apart to cover more ground, occasionally getting beyond shouting distance, but always reconvening every once in a while. There was never any good news to report. A game trail or two, but no old human trail.

After a descent of 1500 feet over this difficult ground, Ron was to the east, I was to the west, and tracts of Ceanothus, Deerbrush, began to cover large areas, all having seeded in or stump-sprouted after the Helicopter Fire. These brush groves were close to impassable, so my route, at least, became governed by gaps in the Ceanothus. The best gaps lead me gradually onto a small ridge, where, to my delight, a faint trail appeared, better by far than anything I had seen. I shouted out to Ron and heard a faint reply in the distance, east, and we managed to agree to meet at a flat bench visible a few hundred feet below.

At this bench we had lunch and scouted widely for some sign of the trail. GPS showed that we were near to our plotted route of the Sawtalian, in fact, the ridge I had followed was directly on this plotted route. So that was satisfying. However, the combination of helicopter logging on the bench, and fire-fighting efforts, made it quite difficult to read the terrain. For instance, the firefighters had made many small fire lines, chopping into the ground with their Pulaskis, tools which are like giant hoes and rakes combined. These fire lines looked much like faint trails. So we wandered about and scouted up and down and every which way. Our elevation at this particular bench was 3200'. South and slightly east we could see yet another bench, and I was gratified, on one of my explorations, to see the very "trough trail" I had found last Wednesday, near a ferny ravine, in the NW 1/4 of the SE 1/4 of Section 31. This is on yet another bench, slightly lower than the one we could easily see below us to the southeast.

Reluctant to give up any more elevation, tho, we decided to check out the Ridge Trail, and ended up following it all the way to the top, reaching the Magical Grove on the Upper Bench exactly where the "faint human trail" leading west and south from Point 5076 had always seemed to mysteriously end.

We were satisfied that we had, indeed, found the old Sawtalian Trail. It is much much less well-defined than the Sawbug Trail, a few miles west. This makes sense on several counts. The Sawbug is closer to sources of supplies, for instance, Dutch Flat, or Foresthill. The Sawbug had the benefit of a bridge across the North Fork, at Humbug Bar. And the Sawbug follows an easier grade than the Sawtalian. This all combines to explain why the Sawbug shows often amazingly large dry-laid stone walls, while the Sawtalian has essentially no rock work at all, and, even worse, on the ridge-crest part of its course--the "main" part of the Sawtalian--shows no sign of ever having been a "constructed" trail in any way shape or form.

As Ron remarked, the Sawtalian is kind of like a country road to the Sawbug's highway.

So. A two-thousand-foot climb brought us to Ron's truck around 4:30 p.m. On the way out we stopped at the easternmost, highest sawtooth of Sawtooth Ridge, and crossed ugly bulldozer-ravaged White Fir forest to the south-facing, North Fork side of the ridge, where truly wonderful views are had of the upper canyon. There was Big Valley Bluff, Snow Mountain, and even Tinkers Knob, on the left; and the Tadpole Canyon cliffs, Wildcat Point, Wabena Point, and Lyon and Needle peaks on the right. We could also see Duncan Peak itself, and the north end of the Mildred Ridge, near Picayune Valley.

A trail, routed near the top of these open, south-facing slopes, would provide an alternate to following the Sawtooth Road itself, east and west along the ridge. And such a trail would offer some of the best views in all Placer County.

I saw it remarked, on a rafting web site, that some people think of the North Fork American as the most beautiful river *in the world*. This seems to be carrying the point a little far, but I'm not the one to argue with them. It is beautiful, quite exceptionally so; its canyon is beautiful, beyond any of my words. Wild & Scenic River status is all very nice, but it seems far from enough. I have advocated Wilderness designation for the North Fork American "roadless area" since 1976. This would be a good thing. This would respect the truly exceptional qualities of this great river and great canyon.

But even this would fall short of what really must be done. When, in the year 2004, bulldozers can casually obliterate one of the most historic trails leading into the great canyon--the Big Granite Trail--when egomaniacs can build houses beside Giant Gap and, again, use bulldozers to clear all vegetation below them, for their million-dollar views--these are just a couple of the attacks on our heritage, on the North Fork, which should tell us, beyond any doubt, that the time is already long past when the stewards of our public lands, Tahoe National Forest and the Bureau of Land Management, should be working feverishly, constantly, to acquire the private inholdings in the region surrounding the North Fork.

For it is not just the wild and roadless areas, mainly within the great canyon, which we ought to protect, but regions flanking this wild "core" area--regions like the Gold Run Diggings, Sawtooth Ridge, the North Fork of the North Fork, Lost Camp, Big Valley, Sugar Pine Point, Big and Little Granite creeks, Snow Mountain, Devils Peak, Palisade Creek--just to name a few.

Later we visited Texas Hill, where some old patented mining claims are nestled within TNF lands. Apparently the owner recently convinced TNF that the historic public roads which cross his property should be closed to The Public, and remain open only to him. We walked around, and saw some of the hard-rock gold mining activity near I.T. Coffin's Texas Hill cabin site, and saw the new little cabin and trailer which has so inspired Tahoe National Forest to block our old public roads. We had some amazing views to the west, of Giant Gap, the Pinnacle Ridge, and Lovers Leap, in the sunset hour. We also got all too good a look at a clearcut on very steep ground flanking the East Fork (of the North Fork of the North Fork), in Section 17, T16N R12E.

It was yet another very nice day in the great canyon.

Thursday, October 7, 2004

Italian Bar and the Sawtalian Trail

Wednesday morning I dropped off my kids at their schools in Alta and Colfax, and took curvaceous Yankee Jims Road across the North Fork to Foresthill. Turning left, I drove up the Foresthill-Soda Springs Road, past China Wall, to the road left to Humbug Ridge and the head of the Italian Bar Trail. Three miles on this moderately rough road brought me to the trailhead. It was 9:37 a.m.

This area is shown on the USGS 7.5 minute Westville quadrangle.

My objective was to find and follow, if possible, the "Sawtalian" trail, on the north side of the canyon, which left the crest of Sawtooth Ridge at a little over 5000' elevation, and dropped south and west to a crossing of the North Fork at 2300', near Italian Bar. This trail is only depicted on a couple of the old maps in my possession, notably, the ca. 1900 USGS "Colfax Folio" of Waldemar Lindgren. This is a topographic map, made without the benefit of aerial photographs, but is quite interesting in that it shows several trails which have fallen out of use and are, as it were, lost, and forgotten.

Perversely, it omits some important trails which existed at that time, such as "the" Italian Bar Trail (IBT). Lindgren also leaves out much of the Sawtooth Trail itself, which led down the length of Sawtooth Ridge. This Sawtooth Ridge forms a part of the divide between the main North Fork and its principal tributary, the North Fork of the North Fork. Rather than having a flat crest, as do so many of the ridges in middle elevations, it has a succession of knolls and saddles. I attribute this to the glaciers which repeatedly flowed down both canyons, attacking the ridge from either side.

Around ten years ago I published the diary of Isaac Tibbetts Coffin, a gold miner and photographer who lived most of his life in Dutch Flat, where he died, in 1903. Forty years before, he lived in Burnett Canyon, near Texas Hill, quite near the Sawtooth Ridge. From his cabin he could take the Burnett Canyon Trail south to Sawtooth, and continue south on the Sawtalian Trail to the North Fork American. The south-facing slopes of Sawtooth often remain free of snow, in stark contrast to Burnett Canyon. He might have, say, six feet of hard-packed snow on the ground at his cabin in Burnett Canyon, and yet find none at all along the Sawtalian Trail.

In the Sierra, microclimate counts for a lot.

Now, I.T. Coffin used the Sawtooth Trail, and also what I have named the Sawbug Trail, which also drops from Sawtooth Ridge, a few miles west, to Humbug Bar; another "lost" trail. A series of seven explorations over recent years finally succeeded in tracing the line of the Sawbug. The main problems proved to be at either end, both near the river, and near the crest of Sawtooth. The main central reach of the trail was easily followed, if one could only get on the thing.

A maze of bear trails and old old miners' "use" trails had complicated the issue, on the Sawbug.

Yesterday's reconnaissance might be called "Sawtalian IV" since it was the fourth effort to find and follow this lost trail. The first three attempts involved driving out to Sawtooth Ridge to a point just south of the Burnett Canyon Trail, and scouting down the steep slopes just below the rim of the North Fork canyon. A trail was found, which seemed to end in a pleasant grove of Kelloggs Black Oak and Ponderosa Pine.

The discovery of the Sawbug Trail had at the last hinged upon following it up from the river. It was reasonable to hope the same approach would work on the Sawtalian Trail. So I set off down the IBT at 9:37 a.m. I had left my loppers at home, and I almost never hike without loppers. "It is a Forest Service trail," I reasoned, "it will not need lopping; and once I cross the river, I should save my strength for scrambling up and down and every which way, rather than spend it all lopping bear trails which turn out to lead nowhere."

How wise.

Immediately, I mean, in about ten steps, I wished I had my loppers. Deerbrush overhung the trail, small Douglas Fir trees were smothering it altogether in many places, and there was no sign that Tahoe National Forest (TNF) had lifted a finger to maintain the trail in the last twenty years. Someone had lopped a few branches here and there, possibly this May or June, judging by the cuts, which were just beginning to brown and check, but this trail is in rather serious trouble. How many young Douglas Fir should be removed? Only about a thousand. Of these, perhaps a hundred are large enough to need a saw. The rest could be lopped.

Then there are the small Black Oak and Canyon Live Oak which have stump-sprouted from trees TNF cut near the trail, twenty-some years ago. There are some dozens of these often multi-trunked small oaks which need cut.

The trail starts at around 5000' and at first follows a road, though much overgrown. In about 200-250 yards a vehicular closure sign is reached, and another quarter mile brings one to the end of the road, and the beginning of the foot trail proper. A small wooden sign on a large tree reads "Italian Bar Tr."

A stand of heavy timber flanks this uppermost part of the IBT, much Ponderosa (and Jeffrey?) Pine, Douglas Fir, and Sugar Pine, with some White Fir and Incense Cedar. The 1960 Volcano Fire roared through here, and scorch marks are still visible, running thirty feet up the uphill sides of many of the larger trees. There seems to be a lot of soil moisture and groundwater, and Pacific Dogwood makes a common understory tree. There are almost always "perched" water tables associated with the flat-lying strata of andesitic mudflow and rhyolite ash which cap these flat-topped ridges. The "bedrock" beneath these "young volcanics" is here the Shoo Fly Complex, very old, ~400 million years, metasedimentary rocks, sometimes slate, often metasandstone, sometimes chert.

At the beginning of the foot trail proper one drops below the "young volcanics" into the Shoo Fly. However, almost immediately some vaguely sedimentary deposits begin to appear, often associated with terraces or benches on the canyon wall. I interpret these benches as pockets of glacial till, left by the North Fork glacier. Some or all the benches may even be blurred lateral moraines. I looked almost in vain for "exotic" rocks, that is, non-Shoo-Fly-rocks, which would have helped my theory along, showing that the benches were made from rocky debris carried miles down the North Fork. The best exotics, for my purposes, would have been granite boulders. The only exotics I found were boulders of andesite. While I was sure these had indeed been dropped there by the North Fork glacier, it was troubling that directly above, on the rim of the canyon, was a large area of andesitic mudflow, full of just such boulders.

Between the benches the trail steepened. I had fine views (all about to be erased by the growth of thousands of young Douglas Fir) east and up the canyon to Big Valley Bluff and Snow Mountain, even to the Sierra Crest, where Anderson Peak and Tinkers Knob were visible for a while, before I dropped too low.

A motorcycle had descended the trail for the better part of a mile, scoring it deeply in several places, until finally a large fallen tree had blocked further progress. So. Maybe a lack of trail maintenance is not always a bad thing.

Across the canyon I could see parts of Sawtooth Ridge, especially the area scorched by a wildfire, started when a logging helicopter crashed, some years ago. However, the forest cover was too thick for me to see the area across the canyon where I would be looking for the lost Sawtalian Trail. For those of you with access to the Westville quadrangle, immediately south of Willmont Saddle, in Section 31, note a large area of relatively gentle topography, with more widely-spaced contour lines, south and east of the "31" labeling Section 31. This is where I expected to find the Sawtalian. The upper end of the Sawtalian I imagine to be quite close to the surveyed elevation of 5076', south of the Burnett Canyon Trail, on the rim of the North Fork canyon. The Sawtalian's crossing of the river I imagine to be near the "R" or the "I" of the word "AMERICAN" in Section 31.

I base this upon repeated attempts to make the topography of Lindgren's 1900 map, and the Westville quadrangle, agree. I use Adobe Photoshop to copy a patch of a scan of Lindgren's map, and then paste this patch onto my high-res scan of the Westville quadrangle. In Photoshop one can adjust the transparency of the pasted image, so that the underlying Westville quadrangle shows through. Then it remains to scale the pasted, semi-transparent patch of Lindgren's map, until the best fit is obtained between the two. For instance, one can make the two North Fork American's coincide on the south, and make the two Burnett Canyon Trails coincide on the north.

Then it is an easy matter to trace the line of the Sawtalian onto the Westville quadrangle.

I was always in shade on these north-facing slopes while descending the trail. Around the 3200' contour the trail passes a huge Ponderosa Pine on one of the best of all the benches, breaking a little west before plunging south to the Marrs Mine and the river. This Big Pine Bench actually has a little ridge paralleling the main canyon, which maybe just maybe might be a much-blurred moraine crest.

About this elevation one suddenly begins to encounter the odd little California Nutmeg, Torreya californica, with their spiky sharp needles and sharp unpleasant scent. These conifers are in the Yew family.

Dropping towards 400 feet above the river, I began to hear the North Fork, speaking in the muted tones of Fall. I noticed a parallel trail line above me and scrambled up for a look. Strangely, it was broader than the main trail, and had what the main trail mainly lacked, dry-laid stone retaining walls. However, it soon seemed to end.

Later I decided it may have been made to facilitate the skidding of equipment down to the Marrs Mine.

Dropping back down to the main trail, I hit an old human trail running along level, more faintly to the west, but quite broad and plain to the east. It was about 300 feet above the river. Since I needed to go down the canyon nearly half a mile in any case, I followed the faint trail west. It soon degenerated into what seemed to be multiple strands of bear trails, but these would then recombine and once again I felt sure it was an old human trail.

After a time, tho, I lost the thing, probably by staying low when it climbed high. I followed a steep bear trail down, noting its recent use, the soft soils torn up and heaved into heaps by the great weight of the bear, before, to my surprise, I met still another faint human trail. This angled gently down to the river and, perhaps unsurprisingly, put me exactly where I wanted to be, at the imagined, the purported, crossing of the river on the Sawtalian Trail.

The river itself was in shadow, but just across and above the cliffs, to the north, the sun shone brightly.

After a brief rest, I photographed a low waterfall a little ways downstream, where the river enters an inner gorge of polished Shoo Fly strata. The waterfall, four or five feet high, spoke rather loudly. The rocks were striped and potholed and oddly sculptured. A very pretty place.

It was easy to cross the river, and I began looking for some sign of the Sawtalian. The January 1997 flood event had carved the banks back. Just downstream, cliffs dropped to the river; just upstream, cliffs dropped to the river. I was in the only possible place to climb up and out of the gorge "easily." This meant that whatever trail I might find would, at the least, also be a game trail.

I saw a faint line and scrambled up. With some imagination it could be thought of as an old human trail. It climbed to the west, but first I followed it down and east, and immediately came to a certain ravine, critical to the route of the Sawtalian. Lindgren showed the Sawtalian breaking west down low, and crossing to the west side of this very ravine.

So I turned back west on my little shred of a path and made an easy climb to about 100 feet above the waterfall area.

The relatively east slopes indicated on the Westville quadrangle were all around me. I began zig-zagging up and east. Open forest alternated with curious meadowy areas dominated by a kind of bunch grass. Unfortunately, the helicopter logging which had started the fire some years ago, had involved these very slopes. Slash covered the ground in places. There were many stumps and fallen trees and trees they had cut but left to rot.

All this was well within the North Fork American Wild & Scenic River "corridor." I believe that most of this logging if not all occurred on Sierra Pacific Industries (SPI) lands in Section 31, an odd-numbered "railroad" section. Taking a guess, the logging took place around 1990, or a few years later.

The logging slash and fallen trees tended to obscure anything in the way of old human trails, but abundant bear trails led around and over the obstacles, so I continued zig-zagging back and forth while slowly climbing and making east. I reached the first, westerly branch of the "critical ravine," and found water flowing, in fact, there was a gigantic patch of gigantic Giant Chain Ferns all along the ravine, acres of ferns, in full sun, I can't say I've ever seen so many in one place. This species of fern *only* grows where there is year-around water at the surface.

I had my choice among many bear trails crossing the World of Ferns, and chose one of the shorter crossings, partly on a fallen tree. Scouting up and to the east, zigging and zagging back and forth, I saw nothing to hang my hat on. So far, no Sawtalian.

I came to the eastern branch of the ravine. While this too had water and ferns, it was dominated by great masses of California Grape. They spread across the floor of the ravine, and climbed every tree near the ravine, completely encasing many of the smaller trees. I called this the World of Grapes. Again the bears led the way across. Climbing the far side, I found more of the same kind of terrain: open sunny bunchgrass meadows, intertwined with open forest stands of Canyon Live Oak and Ponderosa Pine. I suspect that the meadows and the springs alike are associated with deposits of glacial till, like the benches I had seen along the Italian Bar Trail. Closer to the river itself, these sedimentary deposits are glacial outwash. The best way to tell outwash from till is that outwash is stratified, it is layered; till is not. But to tell if till is till or not, one must see a cross-section of the deposit. Roadcuts make good cross-sections, but no roads were present here.

I am really just relying on instinct when I say that the bunchgrass meadows and springs are related to deposits of glacial till.

At any rate, zigzagging and climbing and making east, I hit a smaller ravine, with its own small patch of chain ferns, mixed with blackberry vines and grapes. As I tried a likely bear trail into this area, and began to get a little tangled up in vines and a little scratched by thorns, I suddenly noticed I was on the line of a trail-like depression in the ground. Just the sort of thing which might develop by leading strings of mules across soft soils over the course of a few decades.

Since I was already about 400 feet or so above the river, and had the 2700-foot climb ahead of me, back to the car, and since the thorns were a nuisance, I turned back west and followed my shallow groove.

It led to a very easy crossing of the World of Grapes, higher than I had crossed it, and continued down and west on a very gentle line. I am almost sure that it is, in fact, the Sawtalian Trail. However, it became hard to follow. Logging slash and fallen trees forced me off its line, but I found it again, easily enough, at first. I even found some rock-work along the thing. Then I seemed to lose it. In a way, it was because the terrain was too open, to gentle, too easy. If topography does not force one particular trail line, stock and hikers may well wander a little, and the trail becomes less well-defined.

Perhaps that was the case. Following it down and west, I crossed the World of Ferns, again more easily than I had on the way in, and higher, too, and then, just when I figured I had lost the trail altogether, I came to a fine figure of a pear tree, near some hard-rock mining prospects, and a possible collapsed tunnel.

This was somewhat encouraging. If one were to live year-around down by Italian Bar, one would be up there in the bunchgrass meadows, and the springs, where the sun shines, for, even this early in the fall, the river itself gets little to no sun, and the southside, north-facing slopes, about none at all. It seems to me that if there is a pear tree, there is likely a cabin site. I didn't see one, but I didn't look.

Soon thereafter I hit a little old mining ditch and followed it west, into yet another ravine. Scouting further west yet, I found nothing, so I retreated east, and reached the place where I had first climbed up from the river on a faint old human trail. This trail made an especially easy crossing of the Critical Ravine, and an easy descent the last few yards to the North Fork, which easy route I had missed earlier.

At the river, I rested, ate lunch, and then followed along upstream to the Marrs Mine, with its stamp mill, tunnels, rock-crusher, and shafts. There is also a nasty pile of garbage near the stamp mill, several tarps disintegrating into tiny shreds of plastic, some aluminum chairs, a blanket, etc. etc. Looks like about four to six backpack loads.

Before climbing up and out of the river, I saw that, on the north side, a faint trail led up to a patch of forest in a deposit of glacial outwash. I crossed over and explored up there for fifteen minutes or so, finding several old human trails, all in active use by bears. Both here and up above in the bunchgrass meadows area I saw signs of mining, not on a large scale, but gullies from ground-sluicing, piles of boulders, and small mining ditches here and there.

Finally it was time to start up the Italian Bar Trail. Along the way I paused to examine the east-bearing side trail roughly 400 feet above the river, and followed it about a quarter-mile, before it began to climb. Its junction with the main IBT is marked with unusual blazes, on two Douglas Fir trees, in the form of a cross. Another cross blaze is found a little ways along this trail, to the east.

Retreating, there was nothing to do but slog on up and up and up. I more fully appreciated how steep the IBT is in many places, how few the switchbacks. I saw two old "small i" blazes of the sort made by TNF rangers in the olden days, on the downhill sides of large trees beside the trail. At about 4:30 p.m. I reached the car, pretty well soaked with sweat.

All in all it was a very nice day in the North Fork canyon, and although I cannot say with certainty that I found any part of the Sawtalian Trail, I did find several old human trail segments on the north side of the river, which make a good fit with what is depicted in Waldermar Lindgren's 1900-era topographic map.

More exploration is needed.

In the Big Picture, there once was a rich complex of trails threading all through Tahoe National Forest, many dating back to the Gold Rush. Gradually, roads penetrated the region, and more and more of the trails fell out of use. After World War Two many more roads were constructed, and logging took places in areas which had been pristine.

Thus over time, official TNF maps have shown fewer and fewer trails, and more and more roads. I believe that, in some areas, we should turn the clock back.

Sawtooth Ridge lies between two very wild canyons, the main North Fork, and the North Fork of the North Fork. Clearcuts have marred parts of the ridge, and a road has replaced much of the old Sawtooth Trail. Clearcuts heal over time, and over time a road degenerates into a trail, perfectly well-suited for equestrians and mountain bikes.

Various spurs trails lead away into the canyons on either side. Considering how rare our wildlands have become, I believe that very much of Sawtooth Ridge should be closed to motor vehicles, surely everything west of Helester Point, or possibly everything west of the Sawtalian Trail. The Sawbug Trail, Sawtalian Trail, Government Springs Trail, Rawhide Mine Trail, and still other trails which have lapsed into complete disuse and obscurity, should be re-opened, for hikers to enjoy new and varied perspectives, new routes in and out of the wild canyons.

We really should aim for the next ridge and canyon north to be included in the mix: Blue Canyon, and the "Lost Camp" ridge dividing it from the North Fork of the North Fork, are also very wild and beautiful. There once was a trail descending the length of the Lost Camp Ridge, to the Rawhide Mine. This should be re-opened for hikers. There should be a vehicular closure at Lost Camp itself. Every effort should be made for TNF to acquire the private inholdings in this region, beginning with Lost Camp, the Rawhide Mine, and the Sawtooth Ridge.