Monday, March 29, 2004

Ultima Humbug

Catherine O'Riley and I met Sunday morning for an expedition to Euchre Bar and beyond, to Humbug Canyon. High clouds filtered the sun at first, but the day had started mild and promised to ripen into warmness, which it did. The clouds soon cleared to a spotless blue.

We expected to find the inimitable Julie on what she had called the High Ditch Trail, and noted her truck near the trailhead. For those unfamiliar with the area, the Euchre Bar Trail descends about 1800' to the North Fork, from the vicinity of Iron Point, roughly, east of Dutch Flat and Alta. From the eastbound I-80 Alta exit, turn right and immediately left onto the frontage road (named Casa Loma Road), and in something like a mile, hang a right, leaving the frontage road, and crossing Canyon Creek on a narrow bridge. This is still Casa Loma Road. Pursuing a twisted course, it crosses the railroad and passes very recent, and, I think very regrettable subdivisions and developments, before entering TNF lands in a grove of tall old pines, and then suddenly breaking out into full view of the canyon. Giant Gap is to the west, the Sierra Crest to the east, Green Valley directly below. A spring issues into a metal trough, and once TNF's "Casa Loma" campground was here.

This is also the site of one of the more significant, and yet most distrupted and disturbed, Indian sites in the area. With its tremendous views and year-around, all-day exposure to the sun, it is a classic. It has been routinely dug and looted by artifact hunters for many decades. The site extends over a large area, and may even be taken to include a generalized zone of heavy use and occupation which runs west onto Moody Ridge. A complex of springs and associated meadows, related to a layer of rhyolite volcanic ash, runs all along the rim of the North Fork canyon here. The railroad rounds a long curve, cut into the serpentine bedrock, below the spring; this is famous Eureka Cut, the subject of many old photographs taken during and just after the construction of the Central Pacific Railroad, in the 1860s. Why "Eureka"? What was found, with such fervor, as Archimedes once found the principle of specific gravity? Gold? No.

Giant Gap and Green Valley were found, in a word, a few words, what would be known as the Great American Canyon. To call the view of Giant Gap awe-inspiring understates the case. For a time in the 1860s there was a movement to change the name to Jehovah Gap, and so one sometimes sees the old photos labeled.

A friend of mine, well-acquainted with the basics of local archeology, agrees that the flakes of stone marking the Indian site here exhibit enough in the way of fine-grained quasi-basaltic rock, to justify at least the tentative hypothesis, that occupation here may date back all the way to Martis Complex times, 1500 to 4500 years ago. The many flakes of chert also found at Casa Loma speak to more recent, Nisenan Maidu occupation, as well.

At any rate, we cruised past without stopping, crossed the tracks again to the south, losing the pavement in the process, and wound on down to Iron Point. Those who have been on this email list for a few years will recall an issue which reared its ugly head, involving a certain 40-acre parcel directly above Iron Point and the Euchre Bar trailhead. This parcel is flanked by TNF lands on three sides, and runs from Iron Point on the south, to the railroad, on the north. To reduce property taxes, the owner had it enrolled in the special, non-residential Timber Production Zone zoning, back in the 1970s. Although obstensibly this required a formal timber management plan, Placer County never requires any actual plan or actual work in such cases.

A woman from the Bay Area began negotiating the purchase of this 40-acre parcel a few years ago, contingent upon obtaining a Special Use Permit from Placer County to build a residence commanding the widest possible view of this so remarkable canyon, directly above the historic scenic overlook of Iron Point, and the Euchre Bar Trail. She needed a house in order to "manage the timber." Right.

Briefly, she was at first granted the permit; for why would Placer County refuse residential development, on a parcel with non-residential zoning, within one of the greatest canyons of California? Several of us decided to appeal the decision to the Planning Commission, requiring a filing fee of several hundred dollars. We appealed, then, and won: the Commission denied the Special Use Permit. The viewmonger appealed *that* decision to the Board of Supervisors, who calmly overturned the appeal and approved the permit.

Thus far no house has appeared on the sun-scalded, fire-swept ridges above Iron Point, but the oh-so-wonderful Timber Management has begun. The elfin manzanita which occupied these steep, almost soil-less slopes has all been ground down to the ground; a fence is a-building along the road, right at the fork to Iron Point, and "No Trespassing" signs warn us all away.

An request to Tahoe National Forest to take an interest in this issue met with some sympathy from the Forest Supervisor, Steve Eubanks, who at first agreed, in principle, that this 40-acre parcel might well be included among the land acquisition targets in the North Fork canyon--as well it might, considering its proximity to the historic scenic overlook of Iron Point, and to the historic and very popular Euchre Bar Trail, which begins there. However, TNF quickly retreated into a hands-off stance.

So, it was somewhat shocking to see the fence and the shredded manzanita and the no trespassing signs. Business as usual in Parcel County. We parked and set off down the trail.

Euchre Bar is just below the confluence of the main North Fork and its largest tributary, the North Fork of the North Fork. A bridge, in various incarnations, has spanned the river here for over one hundred years. The trail at first follows a ridge south, then drops away east onto one face of the ridge, and makes long switchbacks through a forest dominated by oaks, to the river. A trail forks away west to Green Valley at the top of this east-facing switchback sequence, but is faint and difficult to follow.

Near the river one passes an old house site, with a cellar and some remnants of stone and concrete work near its entrance. I believe a man named Ford lived there, around one hundred years ago. An inscription in concrete, at the entrance, may be read with some patience; as I recall, it reads "Enter Friend" and below, "Euchre Bar."

Euchre is the name of a card game popular with the 49ers.

From the house-site down to the bridge one passes a number of mining areas, in patches of glacial outwash which assume almost Green Valleyean proportions. An acquaintance hailed me, returning to the trail from one of these mining areas. Mike Perry had joined us last year for a romp down the Canyon Creek Trail. He had dropped down to Euchre Bar just for the morning. After a chat we bade him goodbye, crossed the bridge, pausing a little for photographs, and climbed to what I figured to be the High Ditch Trail, where Julie would be found.

This ditch leads up to the confluence and well beyond; it drew from the North Fork, and took its waters down the canyon to the Green Valley Blue Gravel mine. It crossed the North Fork on a flume right in the gorge between Euchre Bar and Green Valley. It is this ditch which inspired the HOUT, that is, the Giant Gap Survey, the 1890s scheme to deliver North Fork water to San Francisco. So in a way, we were on the HOUT.

We followed the old ditch-line upstream. For the most part is just a bench cut blasted out of the solid rock, sometimes on steep cliffs. The cut supported a wooden flume. We passed the confluence and soon reached an especially cliffy area where no bench cut was even attempted; they must have grappled the flume to the cliff using cables, and supported it by heavy timbers springing from tiny notches in the rock. These east-facing slopes are all green with moss and rife with springs, while directly across the North Fork are the sun-blasted, dry, mossless steeps of Sawtooth Ridge.

We retreated to the confluence and admired the roaring, brawling white water of the North Fork of the North Fork. The North Fork itself, although carrying more water, seems to carry less, as it quietly turns the corner in a deep green pool. Where was Julie? Probably long gone, in her usual hurry to reach ever-more-distant points. After a time we shouldered our packs, retreated to the main trail, and headed for Humbug Canyon.

The trail holds a nearly level line, a couple hundred feet above the North Fork, occasionally bucking up higher as a zone of more resistant rock has made for a higher cliff than usual, flanking the river. The rock is all the ancient metamorphosed sediments of the Shoo Fly Complex, fully 400 million years old, turned up on edge, and threaded with quartz veins. There are many many hard-rock mines and prospects in this area, and many, too, are the little patches of glacial outwash sediments which were worked off to varying degrees. Something like two miles brings one to Humbug Canyon, where the trail suddenly widens into a faint road. The old Dorer Ranch is just above. We stopped there, having seen only one down-crushed Shooting Star, of the early-blooming species called Mosquito Bills, to indicate that anyone at all had preceded us on the trail.

Lunch was in progress when Julie strode swiftly into view, coming down the trail from points beyond. It developed that she had meant a different High Ditch Trail than I had thought, on the south side of the river; she had gone there, duly worked away lopping brush from the canal berm, as planned, looked for us, waited for us, finally figuring we had cruelly left her behind for the glories of Ultima Humbug. So she whipped on up there, passing us while we were at the confluence, below the trail. She had crushed the Shooting Stars.

So we all rested and ate and, as Julie had a schedule to adhere to, more or less hurried back to Euchre Bar so that she could show us her High Ditch Trail, before leaving us in the dust in a pure gallop up the Euchre Bar Trail.

At the house-site she led us on a trail which contoured through a hollow and then dropped to the line of the ditch. A much more direct trail, tho overgrown, connects this ditch to the Euchre Bar Trail, just a little ways below the house site. The reason she calls it the High Ditch is that, much lower and near the river, the line of yet another old ditch can be seen from the bridge, leading up towards the confluence. This "Low Ditch" may record an effort to turn the whole North Fork from its bed, in order to work down to the bedrock floor of the channel, where the coarse gold lives. Its line seems too low to be of much use for working the glacial outwash terraces of Euchre Bar.

The High Ditch, tho, is high enough to supply water for mining the outwash terraces, and that is undoubtedly its purpose. Some little hydraulic mining occurred here in the 1860s and 1870s, and this High Ditch must have provided the water, which it took from the North Fork of the North Fork, well upstream.

The thing is rather large, for an in-canyon ditch, built to mine sediments of rather limited quantities. We followed it along for a quarter-mile. It is quite a lovely thing, and has clearly been heavily used as a trail, over the long years since it carried any water. The gradient of the North Fork of the North Fork is notably steeper than that of the main river, and the level of the ditch seemed to be rather quickly converging upon that of the river below. We wondered whether it might extend up to the Rawhide Mine itself. Julie pointed out a ridge another quarter-mile ahead, where the ditch was still well above the river.

We decided it would be a good thing to return to this High Ditch Trail next Saturday, and see about following it right up to its beginning. Those interested in joining us should contact me. While not as bad as the Green Valley Trail, the Euchre Bar Trail is strenuous, and there is a tremendous amount of poison oak over all that area. To follow the High Ditch Trail will require some scrambling, some lopping, maybe some crawling.

Julie sped off up the trail. Catherine and I made a slow slog of the long climb, slow but steady, and paused at the top of the switchbacks to scout the line of the trail west into Green Valley. This trail needs some work. Its few switchbacks have almost melted into the steep slopes, making its course almost impossible to see and follow.

Soon we were at the Land Rover and heading home, after another great day on the North Fork.

Thursday, March 25, 2004

LWCF funds, North Fork

Letters of support for continued LWCF funding for land acquisitions in the North Fork canyon are needed. Below, my letter to Congressman John Doolittle. I sent the same letter, only changing the address and salutation etc. as needed, to Senators Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein (each addressed U.S. Senate, Washington, D.C. 20510). The letter is short, and might have been shorter--or longer--but for all its faults I think it is "good enough."

Both Senators, and probably Congressman Doolittle, have email forms for sending letters electronically, on their web sites, if anyone prefers that method. Google their homepages, go there, and click the email link.

March 25, 2004

Congressman John Doolittle
U.S. House of Representatives
Washington, D.C. 20515

re: LWCF funds, North Fork of the American River

Dear Congressman Doolittle:

Please support LWCF funding for Tahoe National Forest's land acquisition efforts in the great canyon of the North Fork American River.

I have hiked this canyon and climbed the peaks surrounding it since 1972. Close to Interstate Highway 80, it is strangely and wonderfully wild and pristine. Its great depth, over 3000 feet for many miles, has protected it from development, from roads, and from logging. Of course it is a Wild & Scenic River, but for my part, I think we should create a North Fork American National Park, from the Sierra Crest near Squaw Valley, all the way down to Colfax.

Due to President Lincoln's railroad land grants, in the 1860s, there are substantial private inholdings within the North Fork canyon. These have largely passed into the ownership of Sierra Pacific Industries, famous for clearcutting. Tahoe National Forest should be applauded for its efforts to protect this remarkable canyon, and be encouraged to continue, and to increase its efforts.

It would be nearly impossible to exaggerate the pressures for development here in Placer County. The parcel of canyon land owned by XYZ lumber company today, may be subdivided into "view" parcels tomorrow. Drastic adverse impacts on some of the most beautiful scenery in California have already occurred. Further land acquisition by Tahoe National Forest will help avert such tragedies, as well as preserve historic public trails in this area, which have routinely suffered closure and obliteration.

Please, Congressman Doolittle, continue to support LWCF funding for the North Fork. We received this precious heritage from our parents; let us bequeath it intact to our children.


Russell Towle
Box 141
Dutch Flat, CA 95714

Thank you all for your consideration of this very important matter.

If only we could secure some LWCF funding for the BLM!

Tuesday, March 23, 2004

LWCF and the North Fork: letters needed!

There are letters to write.

Over several years Tahoe National Forest (TNF) has been engaged in acquiring private inholdings in and around the Wild & Scenic River "corridor" of the North Fork American River. Land and Water Conservation Act funds (LWCF) have been used to purchase these lands, principally from Sierra Pacific Industries (SPI), a lumber company famed for clearcutting.

Unfortunately, TNF did not receive any LWCF funds for FY 2004. There is competition for these funds between many projects scattered across the United States. To help TNF secure these funds for FY 2005, letters to our representatives in Congress are needed. These letters may be short or long, but one way or another they must ask for LWCF funds for land acquisition in the North Fork American. Addresses are below.

John Moore of the Sierra Club has been working on this project for quite a few years now. He asked that I send the following along to all of you; it may help to write your letters. John and I differ, apparently, on what the scope of future TNF land acquisitions should be; below he writes "The 10-year campaign to buy the North Fork American lands can be finished this year if public support is strong enough." I myself think it is very far from finished. Howsoever, one step at a time, and thank goodness for John Moore!


Acquiring private lands along the North Fork American Wild River is an
essential first step to keep the Wild River pristine and a potential

Only two large parcels along the Wild River in Tahoe NF are still
privately owned: Government Spring and section 21 at the bottom of Big
Granite Creek (1120 acres altogether). The price: $825,000.

The Government Spring parcel is part of the scenic view from the
Mumford Bar Trail at the river. Acquiring the Big Granite parcel is
important because the Big Granite watershed contributes a large volume
of pure water to the North Fork.

The 10-year campaign to buy the North Fork American lands can be
finished this year if public support is strong enough.

Your letters supporting the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF)
appropriation to buy the North Fork American lands should be sent to
Congressman Doolittle (U.S. House of Representatives, Washington DC
20515) and to Senators Feinstein and Boxer (U.S. Senate, Washington DC

Some reasons for acquiring the Wild River lands worth mentioning in
your letter:

The North Fork is a truly Wild River in a pristine, deep, rugged canyon.

The River supports an excellent trout fishery managed as a Wild Trout

The canyon provides habitat for numerous large mammals, including black
bear and mountain lion, and 150 species of birds, including falcons,
golden eagles, and goshawks.

The canyon offers solitude and outstanding recreational opportunities
for strenuous hikers and fishermen (mention your own experiences!).

Logging or residential development of the private lands would gravely
damage the pristine canyon.

Environmentalists and the Forest Service are also asking for funds to
buy other Sierra Nevada Inholdings. The other inholdings are (1) lands
in the Middle Fork American canyon downstream from French Meadows and
(2) lands at Barker Pass on the west rim of the Lake Tahoe Basin. I
urge you to support LWCF appropriations for all these Sierra Nevada

North Fork American would have first priority for the appropriated

Briefly, the Middle Fork American canyon is wild, deep, and pristine,
like the North Fork canyon, and provides similar wildlife habitat and
fishing and other recreational opportunities. The lands at Barker Pass
are near the Pacific Crest Trail and adjacent to the Granite Chief
Wilderness. These lands are suitable for construction of second homes,
which would significantly degrade the viewshed from the Trail and the
experiences of wilderness users.

If you want more information, contact John Moore at (916)731-7153 or

Thank you all for your consideration of this matter!

Sunday, March 21, 2004

Green Valley & The Survey

Saturday morning I met Tom McGuire at the Monte Vista Inn, Dutch Flat exit, I-80, and after a drive of a few miles we set off down the Green Valley Trail towards certain large bags of garbage, away down, and down and down, in the North Fork canyon.

It was Tom's first visit to Green Valley. He is more familiar with the upper canyon, between Mumford Bar and the Royal Gorge, usually entering on the Sailor Flat Trail and camping at Big Granite Creek. In that area the American River Canyon is over 3000 feet deep, and since Green Valley is a scant 2000 to 2400 feet deep, Tom was full of optimism and even a little scorn, for the good old Green Valley Trail.

"This is easy," he kept on remarking as we descended, "strenuous, on the way back up, yes--but not 'overly' strenuous, or 'very' strenuous--it is just plain strenuous, without any need for a qualifier."

Tom, you see, is a writer. If a word has a qualifier, needs a qualifier, or doesn't need a qualifier, he will be quick to take note. He is a tall rugged man in the prime of life.

We took the High West Trail and paused to look at the garbage we would be carrying up the hill and all too soon. We contoured over to the Pyramid Ridge, where the forest of Ponderosa Pine with its understory of Canyon Live Oak gives way to ancient manzanita on the sun-scorched ridge. We then struck south along the crest, winding through groves of manzanita, and enjoying ever better views of Giant Gap, until we reached The Pyramid.

Tom had approached Giant Gap from the west on the HOUT last year, and was awed all over again by those plunging cliffs and monumental pinnacles. We decided to follow the trail on down to the Green Valley Blue Gravel hydraulic mine, where a suspension bridge once crossed, connecting to the Green Valley Trail climbing away south from the river, and to the Gold Ring Mine. From trail's end we would boulder-hop down the North Fork and scramble to the HOUT and to the East Tunnel.

A pair of hawks of uncertain species sailed past us, and landed in some trees. Soon some kayakers appeared, who said they'd been (inadvertently) chasing the hawks downstream. Ouzels were zooming up and down the river and chattering their songs. The river was high and cold and clear and very fast, higher than it had been last Sunday. We made it on down to the faint little trail which climbs, in most ridiculous, meandering fashion, to the HOUT, and soon were striding along the sheer cliffs on that impossible threadlike path. In the late 1890s one E.L. Dunn had tried to sell the idea of using the North Fork as *the* principal water supply for San Francisco, and had hired on men to survey the line of a canal from Green Valley to Canyon Creek, right through Giant Gap. They blasted out many a ledge from the cliffs, and drove two large tunnels, but never succeeded in building one continuous trail through this astounding gorge.

And San Francisco never bought Dunn's idea.

Still, remnants are everywhere, narrow terraces often lush with grasses and flowers and moss. At East Tunnel we decided to forge ahead to the Giant Overhang, and so, we retreated east a hundred yards or so and dropped down the steep slopes, following an intricate course I'd hiked several times in the past, but which is easily lost. However, we found the way, and climbed steeply back up to the HOUT, which reappears just about where East Tunnel would have broken back out to the cliff-face. There are especially fine views east into Green Valley here, and a few yards west, the Giant Overhang has truly magnificent views of The Pinnacles. Here one is fully within Giant Gap. Another hundred yards or so west is one of the worst obstacles along the HOUT, the traverse of a broad, water-polished cliff. We stopped there. The cliff is mostly dry after this warm weather, and one could follow the HOUT right through Giant Gap in these conditions.

With some fairly serious rock-climbing here and there.

A Golden Eagle soared by a few hundred feet above us. At the Giant Overhang we admired some moss-gardens where water seeped from wells hidden within Lovers Leap; Waterfall False Buttercup was in full bloom, here. After a good long break we started back to Green Valley. Tom paused to swim in the icy river, while I made for the shade at the great pool at the end of the trail. When Tom approached, he hailed me back across the sunny boulders to see a snake. It was a rather large snake, somewhat resembling a rattler, but a bit more greenish; we could not see its tail. I found a long stick and teased it a little; it coiled upon itself and slithered quickly into its hidden galleries beneath the huge boulders. As it did so, we saw its tail; it was a Gopher Snake.

Gopher Snakes will imitate rattlesnakes, coiling and vibrating their tail; in dry grass, a rattling sound is made. Their markings are similar to those of rattlesnakes.

After a time we started up. The day was quite warm, perhaps in the upper 80s. It is a climb of near 400 feet to the garbage, where we took another long rest, and then we each lashed on a large bag, and started up again.

In the first few steps Tom's endearing enthusiasm broke forth, not for the first time that day, for Giant Gap is a miracle, and so is the rest of the great canyon, and neither Tom nor I know why there should not be a North Fork American National Park, but at any rate, here was Tom again, "This is easy! Russell, this is really easy! I don't know if I have even twenty-five pounds on my back! Oh, well, maybe thirty pounds--but, what a nice trail!"

I laughed and replied that he had taken scarcely ten steps, if that, since we shouldered our packs; we were still refreshed: heart rate, normal; breathing, easy; body, cool.

So up and up and up and up we wound along, stopping at The Anvil, and at a number of other nice places, the Echo Tree, and so on, and with its usual heartless inevitability the trail more or less wrecked us. We sweated, we staggered, and Tom began to mutter all kinds of qualifiers, none at all kind, about the Green Valley Trail.

Finally, a mile or so after one might well have hoped, we reached the top and could rest the good rest.

It was another great day in the North Fork canyon.

Monday, March 15, 2004

Garbage Hike an Unmitigated Success!

Catherine & Julie & Mike & I started down the Green Valley Trail around 9:30 a.m., in full sun, with some of dawn's coolness remaining. The amazing warm weather has spurred manzanita and bay laurel alike into full bloom, and sweet smells wafted around us on the long descent. Many tiny white and pink bell-like flowers of manzanita lay scattered on the trail; Catherine called it a "hail of flowers."

The High West Trail: crossing the dry creek, over a little pass, and down through an open forest of Ponderosa Pine and Canyon Live Oak, to an anonymous spot marked by many fallen pine trunks--there we stopped while I scouted for the trail to High Pyramid Camp and our garbage.

Having found the faint trail and made a dash to the garbage itself, I lopped my way back to the others and we ambled over to our work. The site had seemingly been a marijuana grower's camp, back in the 1980s.

A multitude of plastic sheets and tarps had slowly disintegrated in the sun, and scraps and pieces of plastic were spread maddeningly wide, while coffee cups had been left high in the branches of manzanita bushes, and odds and ends were all around in the heavy brush. The sun beat down and we worked up a bit of a sweat filling six garbage bags.

Then we lopped our way south to The Pyramid, a brushy knoll with tremendous views of Giant Gap, Lovers Leap, the Pinnacles, and even the river itself. The Pyramid knoll is about 470 feet higher than the river and is set well back, at least a quarter-mile, away to the north. Legend has it that this serpentine knoll, so carefully placed to receive the last light of day streaming through Giant Gap at the winter solstice, is an Ancient Alien Pyramid, and we joked about being beamed up, or down, or possibly sideways through Time Itself.

We hauled the garbage back to the High West Trail and proceeded towards the river, pausing at the spring and wooden trough, where water had ceased flowing through the old iron pipe, and I mucked around trying to open it up again for a few minutes. Then we made good time on the last section of trail, passed the old bridge site (I have photographs of that precarious suspension bridge, taken around 1935-40), and reached the sandy beach at High West Trail's end. A large pool extends down the river here, with Lovers Leap rising quite impressively, 2300' above us, to the west.

After a lunch break, and Mike's daring sort-of swim in the icy river, running high and fast from snow-melt, we boulder-hopped down the river to the faint trail which climbs to the line of the HOUT. The High Old Upriver Trail ("upriver" with respect to Canyon Creek) represents the line of survey and preliminary blasting work for a canal, proposed to carry water from the North Fork American to San Francisco, in the late 1890s. Here the HOUT is around 150 feet, to 200 feet, above the river.

Down here, where the weak and sheared serpentine gives way to the massive metavolcanics of the Calaveras Complex, the HOUT suddenly becomes very well-defined, cut directly into the sides of sheer cliffs, often overhung with Canyon Live Oaks, so that mounds of dead dry leaves cover the cliff-trail over some of its scariest parts. A bit nerve-wracking! We did not shy from the danger but slipped along past Lovers Leap's East Ravine, which heads up right at the overlook itself, and soon reached the dark maw of East Tunnel.

It is a shame East Tunnel was never driven all the way through its rock spur, it could only have fallen a few yards short, and would connect through to a nifty ledge, running along almost perfectly level, as the HOUT so often does. But the tunnel ends in a blank wall lost in the deep darkness, and one must drop well down below to find a way to climb back up and regain the HOUT.

On the steep slopes near the HOUT one finds a sudden almost abundance of the California Nutmeg, or Stinking Yew, Torreya californica. This tree looks a bit like a Douglas Fir but has larger needles, quite stiff and sharp, which, if bruised, give a rather pungent smell. I suspect the determining factor in its presence here, as at Pickering Bar, in the first 200 feet above the river, is the cold air which sinks into the canyon and intensifies, at night, through all the year except during strong storms. For then the air is mixed too well by the storm winds to stratify into a temperature inversion, in which cold air sinks beneath warm air.

One often sees a river of fog flowing down the North Fork, at dawn, after a storm has passed. This fog marks the river of cold air which likewise flows down the canyon. And the Torreyas seem to prefer just that zone of canyon wall which is always within the fog river, and always within the cold air.

These Torreyas usually do not get very big; a Torreya even two feet in trunk diameter is a rarety in the Sierra, tho a little commoner in the outer Coast Ranges.

The sun was lowering as we started back to the end of the High West Trail, almost a mile east. It's mostly a long river-side boulder-hop, sometimes complicated by native grape vines trailing over the boulders, or by vicious masses of long-fingered poison oak grasping at any and all bare skin. Julie forged ahead and, I suppose, ran right up the trail with a giant garbage bag on her back, reaching the top at 4:30. Catherine stepped out 'right smartly', but Mike and I held a slower pace; we were all finally up top at the stroke of seven, in near complete darkness. It's nice to take it slow coming up and out of Green Valley. There are wonderful views all along the trail, and many boulders to rest on.

Such was another great day in the great canyon.

Monday, March 8, 2004

Green Valley Garbage Hike

Hi all,

The plan is to hike down (and down and down and down) into fabled Green Valley on the North Fork American next Sunday, March 14, probably meeting in front of the Alta Store at 9:00 a.m., tho we may bump that up to 10 a.m. if anyone says the later time would be better. Ticks, poison oak, and maybe even mosquitos, if this warm weather continues, along with 2000' of elevation gain over about three miles, coming out, should be expected. That is, strenuous, and full of hazards. And what's more, there may be an optional "adventure hike" to the East Tunnel (on the HOUT) at the Green Valley entrance to Giant Gap, involving all kinds of derring-do like hopping from boulder to boulder, climbing steep slopes, and so on.

Rain would cancel.

Yesterday my wife Gay and I met Catherine O'Riley, Julie, and Eric & Paula Peach for a hike down the Canyon Creek Trail to the HOUT, and then east up the HOUT into Giant Gap, to Onion Point. We hoped to sneak into the Gold Run Diggings and drive to the CCT, but the Secret Route was under the waters of a pond, and our whole adventure might have been reduced to extricating one or more 4WDs from a submerged mining pit, so we drove out Garrett Road to The Bluffs and followed the Paleobotanist Trail east across the Diggings to the CCT.

We reached the CCT at 10:00 a.m. and passed the Great Tunnel of the Gold Run Ditch & Mining Co. (1873) at 10:15. From there I lost track of time. Canyon Creek was medium low in flow, but the falls looked good, The Leaper was leaping, and many more flowers were out. The Western False Rue Anemone, Isopyrum occidentale, was widespread and common: California Milkmaids were in various stages of bloom, from youth to old age, the latter signaled by the high proportion of seed-pods to flowers, Brewers Rock Cress, Biscuit Root, a few Blue Dicks here and there, and several little guys that I peer at and wonder, "what could that tiny flower be?"

Eric and Julie and I visited the Big Waterfall, using a fiendish shortcut, and then dropped back out to the CCT by way of the old miners' terraces, where a wood stove is in pieces, and many flowers bloom. We hit the HOUT with all due verve and panache and soon caught up the rest of our party, who seemed to have mounted a protest against the strenuous demands of the trail, and had settled into an all-out rest. We left them to their food and drink and strode quickly towards Giant Gap. Julie, the smallest of our group, did the fastest striding, and soon left Eric and me behind.

I will not describe every step of the hike, but it was wonderful, sky blue, sun warm, the temperature in the middle 70s, the North Fork roaring clear and blue-green or snowy in its white water rapids below us, the views ever-changing, until at last we wound in and out of the ragged rock spurs at the base of Big West Spur and entered the heart of Giant Gap.

It is like a cathedral, and seen from afar it looms with spires and buttresses, and they slowly draw closer and closer as one traverses a canyon architecture already extreme. Then one passes Big West Spur and enters the cathedral proper, through an elfin oak forest with blushing milkmaids silently cheering. An opening in the gnarled little trees gives onto a clifftop perch with a fine view of Lovers Leap and the Pinnacles rising over 2000' on either side of the gorge, the river a few hundred feet below, roaring with rapids. Lovers Leap Ravine is traced by its waterfalls, and Onion Point is seen to be close at hand.

A few of us went on to Onion Point, others decided to rest at the overlook. We all met up later at one of the sunny angles on Big West Spur and made the two-miles-or-so hike west to the CCT and then up the often-steep trail, Julie as usual forging ahead and finally just leaving the rest of us to our own devices. Leg cramps slowed one of our party but eventually we were on the PBT, winding through the Diggings; The Bluffs drew near, forced us to climb one last climb, and at sunset we reached our vehicles. About eight miles, round trip, with only 1800' of elevation gain, had more or less ruined us all.

Except Julie.

Another great day in the great canyon.

Thursday, March 4, 2004

Trails, public access, legal issues

Quite a number of historic trails have been lost to public use here in Placer County. A variety of causes can be identified. For instance, not a few trails have been casually obliterated during timber harvests. At least as often, a trail has been blocked by a gate and 'no trespassing" signs, as, for instance, in the upper North Fork, the Heath Springs Trail has been arrogated to private use by a group or club known as The Cedars. Or, right here in the Gold Run area, the Fords Bar Trail has been closed to the public for about fifteen years. In this case Placer County signed off on a subdivision at the trailhead, and where the Fords Bar access road forked away from Garrett Road, a county road sign now marks it as "Knobcone Road," an apparent attempt to disguise its true name and history.

Now, one trail connects to another, quite often, and here in Placer County we once had a rich complex of interconnecting trails. Those who used and loved these trails felt a crisis had been reached at least as early as 1953, when a Placer County Board of Supervisors Ordinance was passed which declared all trails depicted on official United States Geological Survey maps of lands in the county, to be public trails. The ordinance provided misdemeanor-type penalties for closing or obstructing any such trail, and specified sixty particular trails to be public trails, without, however, limiting the definition of a public trail to those particular sixty.

The Fords Bar Trail was one of the sixty, but the upper Heath Springs trail, leading down the river from The Cedars was not. Parenthetically, the continuation of the Heath Springs Trail west into Palisade Creek *was* one of the sixty trails specified. I suspect that Cedars members strenuously objected to the inclusion of the Heath Springs Trail in the list, and managed to get it removed; but I do not know that.

Public access to historic trails is quite a difficult issue. It raises controversy. It is nothing at all new. For instance, in 1850, I believe, the nascent legislature of California provided that all "emigrant trails"--such as the Donner Trail, or one of its branches, the Old Emigrant Road leading through Dutch Flat--were public roads. We would probably be safe in imagining that problems had arisen even then--an emigrant road was gated closed, or someone decided to charge a toll for its use. So the legislature acted on behalf of the public.

Somewhat similarly, Congress enacted Revised Statute 2477, as I recall, in the 1860s, and perhaps "revised" it in 1872. This provided in the most general terms for public access across public lands. It was intended in part to provide for *continued* public use of roads and trails across lands which had been Federal lands but which passed into private hands, either through railroad land grants, or patented mining claims, or homesteading. Hence to this day when the public tries to assert its right to use some old trail, R.S. 2477 may at times come into play.

More recently, as California's population grew and spread ever more widely across what had been open space, both historic trails and rough ad hoc paths to our beaches were closed to the public, up and down our coast. It has long been the sense of our lawmakers that the beaches themselves are public lands; usually the boundary is taken to be the "mean high tide line," which can be difficult to define. But as more and more of these beach trails were gated closed, or houses were built right over the trails, the issue of public access *across private lands to public lands* (the beaches) heated up. The public began to go to court.

One case in particular, Gion vs. the City of Santa Cruz, 1970 (as I recall), led to a better definition of old common-law concepts: prescriptive rights, implied dedication, and adverse use. That is--and I suspect the legal history of the notion might be traced back to the Romans, for that matter--the public, or even an individual, can be considered to have acquired a right to use such-and-such road or trail across private property, by using that trail "adversely." It is not required that the trail first be used, say, when the property in question was public land; the use may well have begun when the property was private--but the essential ideas, as I understand them, are that the use was considerable, and that it occurred for a period of at least five years, and that the owner knew about the use and did nothing to stop it. There results an "implied dedication" of that road or trail to the public.

Suppose the owner of the property claims that he did not know of the use, and therefore, the use was not adverse. In such a case the courts may appeal to old (or new) maps. If the trail is depicted on, say, the official USGS map of the area, the courts tend to rule, as I understand it, anyway, that the owner *ought to have known* that there was adverse use.

Sometimes one hears that "adverse use" must be even more extreme to really establish its legal standing, i.e., if the owner puts a gate up, that gate is torn down.

At any rate, one can imagine a lot of problematic gray areas around this whole concept of prescriptive rights and adverse use; and Gion vs. the City of Santa Cruz helped clarify those problems.

Around the same time as this famous case, the California Coastal Commission was formed, in an effort to keep our coastline from being literally lined with houses. Part of the work of this Commission has been to protect public access to the beaches, across private lands. At any one time the Commission is studying various trails to see whether they fall within the scope of prescriptive rights and implied dedication, as set forth in Gion vs. the City of Santa Cruz.

The legal concept that our beaches are inalienable public lands is echoed in the idea that "navigable rivers" are also inalienably public. Some number of cases have gone to trial involving public access to a river, or perhaps more specifically, public use of a river's banks as well as its waters, cases which have appealed to this "navigable river" concept.

Here in Placer County, there was apparently quite an outcry against the 1953 BOS ordinance. I have not researched this supposed outcry, made, presumably, by property owners. In 1954 the BOS repealed the 1953 ordinance and enacted a new ordinance which specifies no one trail, mentions no maps, and provides only that all public trails and roads shall remain open to the public. In effect, the burden of proof was placed on the public itself. The gates remained closed, the no trespassing signs remained in place.

One might well think that the public agencies (Tahoe National Forest, and the Bureau of Land Management) which manage public lands in Placer County would aggressively defend the public's rights to use the historic trail complex. At one time, TNF did work to protect public access. That was several decades ago. Times changed, and today TNF staff do not even realize that their predecessors placed trail signs, maintained trails, and even interceded when some private property owner gated a road or trail closed. Recent decades have seen, in stark contrast, TNF signing off on timber harvests which obliterate the historic trails, and sitting on their hands waiting for The Public to defend its rights.

Locally, in the early 1980s a historic road to the Bear River near Dutch Flat was gated closed. At the river is a lovely pool for swimming. The place is called Smarts Crossing; there once was a bridge across the river there, and the road climbed to Liberty Hill, on the north canyon rim. With the pro bono help of several attorneys, most notably Ed Stadum, local residents filed suit to establish the public's right to use the road to Smarts Crossing. They won the case in Superior Court, Hon. James Garbolino presiding. A combination of old maps and testimony by people who had used the road over the course of many years decided the issue.

Still more recently, a canal in the Nevada City area with a nice berm, long used by hikers, was gated closed. An ad hoc group called Friends of the Trails formed and went to court in 1997 to defend the public's rights to use that canal berm; and they won.

Consider the (upper, more easterly) Heath Springs Trail, which leads down the North Fork from The Cedars, to Heath Springs, and then continues beyond into the basin of Palisade Creek (we could call these two segments of one trail the "eastern" and "western" Heath Springs Trail). There it (the Western HST) joins the Palisade Creek Trail and one may continue west on the Long Valley Trail (or one could; there have been recent timber harvests in Long Valley, and this old trail may have been obliterated). These trails are depicted on current USGS 7.5 minute topographic maps, specifically, the Royal Gorge, Soda Springs, and Norden quadrangles. It is very likely that they are shown on many older USGS maps, and the Heath Springs Trail in particular is depicted on TNF maps dating from 1928, 1939, and 1962 (and likely other editions of TNF maps as well).

There are a number of old magazine and newspaper articles and even one diary which describe public use of trails in this area, without ever mentioning the Eastern or Western Heath Springs Trail by name. I guess, but do not know, that use of these trails continued unopposed by the Cedars down to at least the 1930s, if not later. I suppose we would have some trouble finding anyone alive able to testify to the public's use of the Eastern HST in the 1930s. It is not impossible, just unlikely. There may be TNF records pertaining to this trail which would serve to demonstrate that it indeed was, as one would surely think to look at the maps, part of the TNF trail system.

The 1997 Friends of the Trails case went to the California Court of Appeal, Third Apellate District, which filed its opinion upholding the public's right to hike on the canal berm on February 28, 2000. Within this document the Court discusses Gion vs. the City of Santa Cruz in detail, and the concepts of adverse use, implied dedication, and prescriptive rights. One footnote, perhaps bearing upon the Heath Springs Trail, is as follows:

"We caution that the court's comment concerning an occasional hiker on
isolated property should not be construed as suggesting that any instance of
recurrent "public" passage over private property could qualify as adverse
use for purposes of implied dedication. The use must be substantial,
diverse, and sufficient, considering all the circumstances, to convey to the
owner notice that the public is using the passage as if it had a right so to
do. Thus, e.g., a long history of continued passage by a diverse group of
occasional hikers across a well defined privately owned trail segment
leading to a network of trails, say on a pubic wilderness area, might

The significant thing here is use of a privately-owned trail segment "leading to a network of trails." That is the case with the Eastern HST. It is just one of the facts which The Cedars must regret, for it is only natural for sane and sensible judges to give more recognition of public rights, when a trail, on private property, actually goes through to public lands and connects to other trails which are unequivocally public. Thus The Cedars' Ted Beedy was quite insistent, in correspondence with me, that the Heath Springs Trail did not go through to Palisade Creek until the late 1970s. However, the old maps prove him wrong.

The Placer County trail complex is in tatters, partly ruined by logging and the road-building which enabled logging, partly ruined by gates and "no trespassing" signs. Were it not for Harry Mayo's Rawhide Mine and The Cedars, one could walk from Alta to Squaw Valley, paralleling the North Fork of the American. In 1870 I.T. Coffin of Dutch Flat hiked from Old Soda Springs to Blue Canyon along much of this route, and almost certainly used the Eastern and Western Heath Springs trails--for there is pretty much no alternative. His description of that hike is threadbare and without detail. He records camping in Big Granite Creek canyon, then known simply as Granite Canyon, the first night out. The Long Valley Trail leads over a pass from Palisade Creek into the basin of Big Granite Creek, just north of Snow Mountain. And the Heath Springs Trail is the most direct way to get from Old Soda Springs to the Long Valley Trail. I am certain I.T. Coffin used this route.

Such, then, is a little background about our historic trails, and the problems we confront in using them, and the legal remedies which exist.

In some cases I believe that land acquisition is the best answer. Take the Rawhide Mine, just east of Alta, at the confluence of Blue Canyon and the North Fork of the North Fork, where all kinds of "no trespassing" signs and gates block the public from using the historic trail which leads through the private property to other trails on TNF lands. The crucial 80 acres which has pinched off our access is for sale, right now. Obviously (I think), TNF should buy it. But money is a problem. TNF did not even get the FY2004 Land & Water Conservation Act funds for its long-planned acquisitions of old railroads lands (now owned by Sierra Pacific Industries, a lumber company) farther up the North Fork.

What will happen? Probably someone will buy the Mayo/Rawhide property and a whole new crop of "no trespassing" signs will be nailed up beside the old signs.

In other cases, like The Cedars, land acquisition would not be the answer. To protect our right to hike the Heath Springs Trail we would have to go to court. I believe we would prevail. And I can imagine some compromises which might conceivably be made, which would on the one hand allow public use of the trail, and on the other hand, work to protect The Cedars' privacy.

These are difficult issues. If we care about the future of the North Fork, we've got our work more than cut out for us.

Monday, March 1, 2004

Visit to Pickering Bar

Today it is snowing (but not sticking; it is 38 degrees here). Yesterday, however, was a bright and dark and dry gem, and an early conference with Catherine O'Riley led to an expedition to the North Fork. My son Greg came along. We intended a quick in-and-out and met at Gold Run at eleven o'clock. A towering cumulus cloud adorned with wispy cirriform layers caused a brief photographic detour, then we were off on Garrett Road to the BLM gate.

A half-dozen of young men were there, wrestling with their unbelievably small kayaks and gear, and we paused to chat. They were about to drag their boats down the Pickering Bar Trail (PBT) and paddle down to Yankee Jims bridge.

I looked around in vain for a certain august legal personage and/or any members of the NFARA board who reside in this area. These people seem to live in and around Dutch Flat as tho it already were Orange County. One of the most amazing canyons in California is in their own back yard, yet they are never there. Sometimes I wonder whether they are afraid of the great canyon and its deep-plunging cliffs, in the way it is said that wealthy Europeans of the Middle Ages feared the Alps, and would have themselves led through the scary passes with their eyes blindfolded, safe from the sight of wilderness.

I ask these people again and again to come take a look at the Canyon Creek Trail, and the North Fork, but they are invariably Busy. It is quite an important thing to be Busy, as I am made well aware, and as is completely understood, in Orange County.

Soon we were all on the march, although straggling behind and forging ahead seemed the order of the day. We paused to enjoy the view of Giant Gap from near the head of the PBT. As Ron Gould remarked recently, this view is much like Thomas Moran's etching of Giant Gap, but in reverse, a mirror image as it were; for Moran's view was from the railroad above Iron Point, looking west, but the top-of-the-PBT view looks east. The unusual cliffs of Lovers Leap and The Pinnacles at once define Giant Gap itself, and frame more distant subjects: Green Valley, Sawtooth Ridge, and then the snowy summits of Quartz Mountain and Monumental Ridge make up the very background.

We sailed on down the trail, Greg and Catherine chattering away while I held my peace and communed with the manzanita and buckbrush, using my loppers. There are quite a number of excellent canyon views from the PBT itself, one of the first met on the descent being an open rocky area I call Chert Point. They day had started cloudy, turned sunny, clouded over again, and now the sun had returned, and now we had to stop and strip away layers of clothing. Half-way down this steep steep trail indicates a rest in any case, and while we rested, most of the kayakers passed us, dragging their boats right over the ground. A certain amount of erosion ensues from this dragging, but not too much. If boats were dragged every day or even every weekend, we might have to worry, or even worse, do something, cut some water bars into the trail, perhaps.

Rested, we dropped down and down and down and then took the old mining ditch west to Sheldon Terrace. This old ditch drew from Sheldon Ravine and supplied water for mining the smallish glacial outwash terrace below us on the north side of the river. Sheldon Terrace was lush and green, the 100-foot waterfall was pretty, and near the falls were many masses of Waterfall False Buttercup (Kumlienia hystricula) in full bloom. We rested and explored and then retreated to the main trail, noting in passing a smallish side trail down and east which is undoubtedly an old human trail and looks to provide a short-cut to the PBT.

Or maybe a long-cut, for the one objection I have to the PBT is that it is altogether too steep. It actually could be that this cryptic little side trail would make a better trail than the PBT itself, merely by following a gentler line.

Near the river the PBT leaves the ridge--let's call it Sheldon Spur--which it had hewed to, and strikes east, and leads you to the river directly across from Pickering Bar. However, trails fork sharply away to the west from this east-trending part of the PBT. These west-aiming trails converge into one main West Trail which crosses the little outwash terrace mined using the Sheldon Terrace waters; the remains of a stone cabin are passed, handsomely mossy, but also sprouting broomy clumps of poison oak, and then the trail breaks out of the forested area and a really fine view downstream opens up. The trail makes a tortuous and brief descent of a cliffy area to another, lower outwash terrace, where some fine camping areas are found, on a sandy flat.

We enjoyed an hour or so down there, on a kind of sunny bouldery beach. Our kayaker friends were all suited up and were carefully evaluating some rapids where the North Fork splits around a large boulder. For a long time they walked up and down the bouldery area and looked and looked and looked and then, ever so gradually, one after another got into his kayak and floated down to a stop *just above the rapids*, disembarked, and, from mass of bedrock across the river, continued studying. For most of the time that Catherine and Greg and I were there, the kayakers were slowly, ever so slowly working themselves up to that fever pitch of readiness which would actually send them into that horrendous maelstrom of whitewater. When they finally did paddle through, even then, it was a long and drawn-out process, one by one, slowly but still-more-slowly.

Finally they were gone. A war between sun and shadow had gone on all day, and now the sun failed us, and shadows chilled us, and we were in no way on schedule for anything like the quick in and out planned. Time stretched away before us, hours and hours of it, yet, at some point, we had to climb up and out of that canyon. So we let the shadows chase us from the river and started up that horribly steep trail.

It is good to rest often on horribly steep trails, and we did so, well, fairly often, pausing to photograph Giant Gap. At one of our first rest-stops, our view east to the Gap was blocked by masses of trees, including one grand old Canyon Live Oak; even so, looking through its branches, we could see that something very dark was out there.

Was it the impending storm, which rumor had would hit the Sierra first? We were again blessed by sun, yet, whatever lay almost hidden behind that screen of trees, was not so blessed. We climbed higher, and a most remarkable view broke out before us: all the near parts of the canyon in full sun, but the main framing cliffs of Giant Gap, Lovers Leap, and the Pinnacles, all in shadow, and all that is beyond them dark and brooding as well. "It looks like Mordor," Catherine exclaimed, and yes, the gigantic cliffs with their strangely alpine forms looked even more otherworldly than usual. We rested and watched while small patches of sunshine found their way in to that sharp-etched, dark gorge. It was the very essence of chiaroscuro.

Then it was up and up and up and up. It took a little less than an hour and a half to reach our car, at the BLM gate, from the river. It was another great day, but especially great, in the North Fork canyon.