Saturday, January 24, 2004

Visit To Canyon Creek

Friday dawned cold, and high cirrus clouds filtered the sun for several hours, so that warming was slow. NFARA's own Secretary, Catherine O'Riley, suffered a broken clavicle last summer, a break which excited many remarks from her doctors, such as "I've never seen one that bad," etc. etc. (horrors!), and after five months of recuperation, she at last felt ready to take on her beloved Canyon Creek Trail. At ten in the morning I met her at the Monte Vista, and we snuck into the Gold Run Diggings, and parked at the trailhead.

We found that the miners' garbage from the Tunnel area had indeed been removed entirely. Many thanks to Julie, and to Tom Faust for taking that on! Catherine and I spent ten minutes cleaning up more garbage from around the Tunnel Terrace, where the steam engine once chugged away, compressing air for the drilling machine which bored the gigantic hole. The thing--the Tunnel--is fully twelve feet wide and nine feet high, for the last 400 feet before it breaks out above Canyon Creek. Made in 1873, by the Gold Run Ditch & Mining Co., this tunnel allowed the hydraulic mines to continue working down through the gravels, all the way to the bedrock floor of the ancient river channel.

The clouds thinned, the day warmed, and soon we were swinging along right smartly, down past the First Big Waterfall, Spike Point, the Inner Gorge and the Rockslide, and took the Upper Terraces Trail to where the California Milkmaids are already in bloom, in that sweet spot of microclimate around the Terraces. I have seen this species of the Mustard Family in bloom there as early as January 6th.

The Terraces seem to have been constructed for camping and cooking in support of sluice box operations in Canyon Creek. The last two miles of the creek was fitted with multiple giant sluice boxes over the two decades or less of the peak of hydraulic mining. These needed constant attendance, repair, and guarding. Work was done in two twelve-hour shifts. Mercury by the ton was thrown in to catch the fine gold, and special sluice boxes called "undercurrents" were set up in many places.

We dawdled around on the tiny lawns of the Terraces, enjoying bright sunshine that finally felt really warm, and admiring the flowers. Waterfalls crashed and hissed unseen below us. After a good break, we hit the HOUT, the High Old Upriver Trail, and followed it east on its strangely level line about a mile towards Giant Gap. The great cliffs and pinnacles drew nearer and nearer; winding in and out of ravines on the HOUT, the view constantly changed.

We stopped at Bogus Gully, although I skipped ahead just a couple hundred yards, as Ron Gould and I, while on the Diving Board, a week ago, had been scanning those very slopes rather closely with binoculars, and had been surprised that so little of the HOUT could be seen. However, the sun angle at that time was as if calculated to hide the HOUT. While on one of the best-defined level benches east of Bogus Gully, exactly where we had tried and failed to pick the thing out, I saw that there is an absolutely unobstructed view back to the Diving Board. So, it was the lighting. Had we been on the Board soon after dawn, the HOUT would have been easily seen. In the early afternoon, with the sun behind is, no shadows were visible to help eke out the trail.

Catherine had chores in town, so we wandered slowly up and out, taking the side trail to the Blasted Digger Overlook, and reaching her truck around four o'clock.

It was another wonderful day in Canyon Creek and the North Fork. Of course, we were trespassing nearly every step of the way, which should remind us that somehow, some way, we must find the money for the BLM to just buy the Gold Run Diggings.

It won't be easy.

No comments: