Saturday, February 28, 2004

Snow, Flowers, and Waterfalls

Friday I dropped my son at school and left Alta for Gold Run, Garrett Road, and the Paleobotanist Trail. I hoped that an early start would save me from that second snowfall which is typical at these elevations; first, a storm loads up the forest with masses of snow, then, as soon as the sun shines, often, say, the next day, all that tree-snow comes whomping down in a soggy, dripping mess.

An accident seemed to have blocked the eastbound freeway near the Dutch Flat exit, and a long line of cars and trucks was rapidly getting longer.

A few inches of snow covered the ground in that fine forest atop the Bluffs, and the trees dripped, but did not snow-whomp. It was interesting to see the Diggings in snow. There were occasional glimpses of the North Fork canyon to the south and east, fog swirling here and there, and snow near the canyon rim. I hastened along the winding trail towards Canyon Creek. It had come up big, raging in fact, on Wednesday, when the North Fork itself had topped 4000 cubic feet per second at the North Fork Dam (Lake Clementine), below Auburn. I wanted to visit the waterfalls, since I have yet to photograph them when the creek is really big.

In coldish weather an interesting phenomenon may be observed in the Diggings. A little down the Main Diggings Road from its crossing by the Paleobotanist Trail, an old mine shaft plunges a hundred feet or so to meet a long tunnel. The shaft is the historic "49" shaft, and the tunnel has been called "the gravel tunnel." The tunnel was driven in 1874, and follows the bedrock floor of the ancient river channel north. The shaft, tho, seems to be that very one sunk in 1861, on the banks of Potato Ravine, which established the depth to bedrock beneath the channel. At that time the shaft was 250 feet deep. Subsequent mining stripped away 150 feet of gravel, so now it is only 100 feet deep. And it connects to a roughly horizontal tunnel.

The "interesting phenomenon" is that fog rises from the shaft on cold mornings, when the rest of the Diggings is clear. It is as tho--as tho--as tho some tribe of Indian spirits has set up camp deep within the earth, and the smoke of their secret fire escapes up the 49 shaft. Now, fog forms whenever the air falls below the dew point, which point depends upon two variables, temperature and humidity. Given such-and-such a temperature, increasing humidity could drop the air below the dew point; or, given such-and-such a humidity, decreasing temperature could do the same. A few feet below ground, the temperature of the earth is about 57 degrees Fahrenheit. Now, colder air is denser and heavier, warmer air is less-dense and lighter. Fog rises from the 49 shaft when air temperatures at the surface are (how much?) colder than 57 degrees, which is a commonplace there in the winter, since the shaft is really within the huge mining pit below the Bluffs. Cold air sinks into this pit at night, and can't readily escape. Let us say that there is little or no wind and air temperatures in the pit are in the thirties. This is much less than 57 degrees, the aforementioned earth-temperature; hence (somewhat moist) air within the tunnel and shaft is warmed by the 57-degree gravels at depth, and this relatively warm air rises, and, reaching the surface at the top of the shaft, is instantly chilled below the dew point.

I noted a small column of fog rising from the shaft as I hurried along; the Indian spirits were awake; soon I was at the snowy head of the Canyon Creek Trail, and set off towards the waterfalls and the North Fork. I was a little disappointed when I reached that part of the trail where, suddenly, Canyon Creek is directly below, and as I listened to the loud voices of the many cascades and low falls in that area, I realized that, yes, it was big; but not raging big. Perhaps the lower temperatures and snowfall had slowed the runoff.

The snow steadily thinned as I dropped lower. There was a constant dripping from the trees as it melted. The little bridge had a thin layer of almost transparent, wet snow, but thereafter there was hardly any. The creek was indeed bigger than it had been on my previous visit. Some very fine views open up just after crossing the little bridge, and one can see that strange little fall, the Leaper, which rises in an arc before free-falling down a slot-like embayment in the cliff. Now it roared out of its narrow channel and slammed into the wall of the embayment with a loud cracking thunder.

Right beside it is the main waterfall, the first big waterfall as one descends Canyon Creek. There is quite a fine view of it from the trail: I call that place Waterfall View. I have a photograph of this waterfall taken ca. 1875, when the creek was lined with giant sluice boxes, and water from Bear River, the South Yuba, and the North Fork of the North Fork was used in the hydraulic mines of Gold Run and perforce flowed into Canyon Creek. The creek was perpetually big, back then. Thousands of "miners inches" of water were used in the mines, brought by long canals from the higher country. One miners inch is something like seventeen thousand gallons per day.

These "upper falls" were nice and big, but not exceptionally so; I photographed them and hustled down the trail. I should say that at the very instant of dropping my son at school I learned that it was a minimum day; I would have to be back to pick him up at noon, not at 2:30, as I had imagined. So haste was in order.

I had forgotten to bring a watch, but knew from past experience that it takes about thirty-five minutes to reach the little bridge from the Bluffs.

Not raging, but very impressive. More and more waterfalls appeared along the way, in new shapes and louder voices. In places the trail is cut into cliffs, and it is interesting to hear the sounds of the falls reflected from the cliffs as one passes. The Inner Gorge was spectacular and, as usual, somewhat frightening; the trail passes above it on a ledge blasted from a cliff, and one peers a hundred, two hundred feet down into a most remarkable chasm, twisted, narrow beyond belief, rife with hidden waterfalls of great power, and essentially inaccessible.

Gorge Point was passed, with its same Brewer's Rock Cress and Biscuit Root. Suddenly the North Fork canyon is in full view, and the Big Waterfall roars away below, out of sight. Since time was short I took the steep short-cut down. The Big Waterfall, around 120 feet high, was still in the shadow of its awesome gorge. As I neared the viewpoint below the falls, where the trail coming up from the Terraces ends, I noticed many Birdsfoot ferns. These are smallish ferns with narrow leaflets, a ghostly light grey in color, adapted to dry conditions, such as cliffs baked beneath full sun. There is much in the way of varied microclimate along Canyon Creek, and I have identified eleven different species of fern growing there.

Spray billowed out from the falls and chilled me, so I took my photographs and hurried down to the Terraces. The fog and low clouds were thinning and I enjoyed sunshine, and stopped to photograph the narrow trail, all covered in a turf of grasses and sedges and moss, gleaming in the sun, still wet from the storm. At the Terraces I turned onto the Lower Terraces Trail back to the CCT, and was striding along when a voice called out, "Hey Russell!" And there was Ron Gould, a couple hundred feet above me on the main trail.

We continued on down to the river, pausing to photograph one of the larger waterfalls, another one which develops a double path when flows are high, and therefore looks strange and unfamiliar. Then down the last few hundred yards to the last big waterfall, at the river itself, also doubling and even tripling its path, booming, spray rising.

The North Fork was surging along quite rapidly, fairly well bank-full, still over 3000 cfs, as I was to learn later on the Internet. Ron and I took the Low Old Upriver Trail to some great viewpoints, where one can see, first, Lovers Leap, all snowy and still partly hidden in fog, with Bogus Spur and by all rights the HOUT (tho we couldn't see a sign of it) in the middle ground; and then, around a few corners, the Pinnacles and the Eminence came into view. It was great to see the Leap and the Pinnacles so well frosted in snow. We photographed them, and then returned to the last and lowest waterfall, and took more pictures.

All too soon I had to start up the trail. Ron stayed to visit the Big Waterfall at his leisure, but I walked on up and out without a break, and reached the Bluffs just before noon, only a few minutes late. However, the freeway traffic had been detoured onto the back roads, and it took a long time to reach the school in Alta. All was well, however, my son was waiting patiently in the chill shadowed snow in front of the school, and home we went. It had been another wonderful visit to Canyon Creek and the North Fork.

There are some very useful and interesting internet sites I would like to mention.

For those interested in wildflowers, there is

which has many thousands of photographs of California wildflowers. I have contributed several photos to this collaborative web site. It represents the best of the internet, in which not only does the site share its information with us, but can share we with it, in that we can provide photographs and descriptions to it. Note that one can browse wildflower species either by scientific name or common name. To see photographs of Brewer's Rock Cress or of Biscuit Root, for instance, one would click on the letter "B" of the common names list.

A long list of flowers whose common names begin with "B" appears. Click on any one of these, and a page full of photograph thumbnails appears. Click on any one of *these* to see detailed information about where and when that particular picture was taken. From there, one can access quite a number of other sources of information about that one species.

To get up-to-the-minute information about the flow of the North Fork below Auburn, go to

This website is automatically updated, what, less than hourly, from the sensors at North Fork Dam. One can choose to view streamflow over longer periods of time if one wishes, and even graph the data.

Finally, for those interested in California history, the Library of Congress has an amazing collection of books online, the text having been scanned and OCR'd, so that it is a *searchable database*. There are many Gold Rush diaries in this collection. Suppose, knowing that Gold Run was once called Cold Springs, one searches for Cold Springs. If any one of the Gold Rush diaries mentions Cold Springs, you will find it, and, moreover, be able to ink directly to that part of that diary. Of course there were many places called Cold Springs in those days, so some caution must be used (and what temperature is the usual cold spring? Yes, of course: 57 degrees).

Go to

where the main search page is found for this collection. You can search through bibliographic records or the text (of the entire collection) itself. I almost always search the text. You do not need to enclose multiple words in quotes, as when using Google.

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