Sunday, February 1, 2004

Visit to Green Valley; field trips afoot

Saturday morning, on the last day of January, 2004, Catherine O'Riley, Joe Varady, and I met to make a visit to Green Valley. High clouds obscured the sun and a chill inspired us all to wear our long sleeves on the downward reach of the old trail.

Green Valley was one of the great Gold Rush mining camps of the upper North Fork, perhaps *the* great mining camp of them all, as its population is set at fully 2000 people by multiple sources from the 1850s. It was a distinct Mining District, and had its own Recorder, and even after most of the people left, significant mining continued down into the 20th century itself.

There was never a road. Trails graded for loaded mules led down from both sides of the canyon. It is a descent of something more than 2000 feet in elevation, from over 4000 feet on the canyon rim, to the river, at 1800 feet. There were stores; a hotel; undoubtedly, gambling halls or dens, be they in tents or log cabins. The Chinese were active in Green Valley for decades, and in 1854 the whites resolved to expel these Celestials, these Sons of the Flowery Kingdom, for they had made the great mistake to striking it silly rich. The China Claim, as it was called, yielded full $100,000 of the royal metal in the summer of 1853. It was a river claim.

A broad belt of serpentine extends far to the north and south from where it has been cut by the North Fork, at Green Valley. This is the serpentine of the Melones Fault Zone, one of the principal old faults of the Sierra, and poorly understood by geologists. A long narrow belt of ultramafic rock, often altered to serpentine, lies along the Zone, striking north-south. It is sometimes called the Feather River Peridotite. It is weaker than the rocks east or west of the Zone, this ultramafic rock. All the various main canyons cross it, and usually its relative weakness, as a rock, is revealed in the relative wideness of the canyons which cut it. And so in Green Valley, where the North Fork canyon is about three miles across, over the serpentine, but only one mile across, and half a mile deep, in the massive Calaveras Complex rocks of Giant Gap, just to the west.

Serpentine is somewhat poisonous to plants, and some species will simply not tolerate it. For instance, Ponderosa Pine and Kelloggs Black Oak both stay rather strictly away from the serpentine. Hence if you see either of these species in Green Valley, you know that, whatever parent material the soils there have developed from, it is likely *not* serpentine. This is especially true of the north, south-facing side of the canyon, where soils tend to be thin and poorly-developed.

In Green Valley there is a conspicuous forest of Ponderosa Pine which runs up to around 2200' in elevation, and at the Hayden Hill Mine there is a knoll capped with Kelloggs Black Oak, at 2400'. These groves mark the presence of extensive deposits of glacial outwash sediments. The outwash deposits were mined heavily, and there are several to many more or less small hydraulic mines in Green Valley. Some have drain tunnels.

As we entered the pine forest at 2200', we took the West Trail and then immediately stayed right again on the High West Trail. This leads to the river at the site of a suspension bridge, right below the high banks of the Green Valley Blue Gravel Mine. We, however, struck off into the woods to visit The Pyramid, a serpentine knoll rising above the west end of Green Valley, elevation 2277', and blessed with good sun and great views.

There is one easy way to gain the ridge the knoll lives on, but I always forget this easy way, and end up thrashing through the brush. So it was this time. Eventually it will become fixed in my mind that just exactly where some marijuana growers left a horrible pile of garbage, years and years ago, one can walk quite easily over to the High West Trail.

We took the way-less-traveled and fought with massive old bushes until at last the summit was reached and a welcome patch of sun bade us rest. The day had improved tremendously, the clouds were mostly all gone, and the great winter view of Giant Gap, so full of shadows, lay before us. The Pinnacles seemed adorned with a cluster of starry wisps of cirrus clouds, a complex of comets which paused their headlong rush to stop and examine these strange blades and spires of rock.

I told the story of Dr. Wallace Halsey, and the Christian Brotherhood, and the idea that aliens--yes, aliens, my friends!--aliens had again and again visited Earth and instructed the poor humans, and taught us to build pyramids, and did all this long ago, long before our archeologists would dare to guess; and that there are two and only two Ancient Pyramids in California; and one pyramid is in the Owens Valley, as is only right; and the other ... the other, is in Green Valley. This knoll was pointed out to me, by a member of the Brotherhood, many years ago, as the Pyramid itself.

It is true that the sun-setting light of the winter solstice just kisses this knoll, but to my eye it is a natural artifact of the bedrock topography of Green Valley, a knoll among several knolls, which all seem to hint at long-vanished meanders of the North Fork, when the glacial outwash sediments had built up into a floodplain.

We then explored around the summit area and found signs that a trail had been cleared through heavy brush to the place a *very* long time ago (the aliens, again?), andt the trail even seemed to continue down to the south. We dared not follow it, for my experience has been that brush of an even denser weave and tangle awaits in that direction. Instead, we retreated north, took the easy way to the High West Trail, and soon enough were at the river, the cold cold water surging along in the shade, and Lovers Leap all full of sun rising 2400' above us, just to the west.

On the way up and out we visited Pyramid Camp, which has its own intricately routed little side trail, and is on the flat surface of a glacial outwash terrace, about 200' above the river, near The Pyramid. Here too a giant mass of garbage needs to be gathered up and hauled away. The camp is quite near the top of the hydraulic mining banks, and in several places very good views can be had of the river, the canyon, Giant Gap, and Lovers Leap.

The sun was lowering and so we began the long slog up and out, reaching the canyon rim just before sunset. It takes wisely slow hikers about an hour and a half to climb out of Green Valley, with a couple rests along the way.

Catherine O'Riley and I propose that we-all make a series of cleanup trips to Green Valley. There are four main garbage sites I know of. Two are near the Pyramid, one is near the hotel site in central Green Valley, and the fourth is somewhat farther east.

There is quite a bit of trail work which might be done, too. It is a strenuous hike, in and out of the deep canyon, and carrying garbage up that long trail makes it that much worse.

Saturdays are probably best for suiting the maximal number of schedules. I am of a mind to say, rain cancels. Next Saturday is out, or already scheduled, in that BLM archeologist James Barnes is coming up to Gold Run to take a look at the deteriorating Little Stone Cabin in the Secret World mining pit. Those interested in seeing the Secret World, and possibly, visiting the Diving Board, with its great views of Canyon Creek, Giant Gap, and Pickering Bar, should meet at the Gold Run exit off eastbound I-80, 10:00 a.m., February 7th. At the exit's stop sign, make a hard right onto Magra Road and park immediately on the right, near the historical monument.

The hike to the Secret World is easy; the Diving Board is difficult.

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