Wednesday, April 21, 2004

East Green Valley

Near Alta and Dutch Flat is one of the most scenic reaches of the North Fork American canyon, spanning Euchre Bar, Green Valley and Giant Gap. In 1866 the Central Pacific Railroad reached Alta, and the huge Chinese work force pushed rapidly upcountry towards Cisco. The original line of the railroad, as envisioned by Theodore Judah, would have entered the Bear River canyon near Alta, and followed it up to Yuba Gap. However, survey crews, in 1865, were able to improve upon Judah's route, by turning across Canyon Creek and through Hogback Gap into the main North Fork canyon, thence bearing northeast past Blue Canyon to Emigrant Gap.

Thus America at large became acquainted with the American River Canyon, with Green Valley, with Giant Gap (only the North Fork, historically, was called "the" American River Canyon). The view across Green Valley and through Giant Gap was celebrated as the very best of the scenery along the entire 3000 miles of the Pacific Railroad.

Americans in the Eastern states had been hearing about the wild and deep canyons of the Sierra for two decades, since the Gold Rush. Sensible folk realized that the 49ers, like other humans, were given to exaggeration; the canyons were not that deep, not that steep, not that wild. But to ride the train into California, to break free of the snowsheds, at Blue Canyon, to reach the promontory at Casa Loma, then called Green Bluffs, was to see Giant Gap. And to see Giant Gap was to realize that, if anything, the 49ers had understated the case for Sierran canyons. The guidebooks to California lavished praise upon this view; famed landscape artist Thomas Moran executed a fine etching of Green Valley and Giant Gap; and the awesome scene even inspired a brief effort to rename that amazing gorge "Jehovah Gap."

So. Has Placer County acted to preserve the historic, God-given scenic grandeur of Green Valley and Giant Gap? No, of course not. For there are "parcels" of land here, and in Placer County, the parcel trumps everything else. We might as well change the name to Parcel County. It is more fitting. Today's gold is in the form of 'view parcels', where one can build a house which does not merely enjoy, but dominates the scenery. Witness the houses recently built out towards Lovers Leap, where with chainsaw and bulldozer the vegetation has been stripped down to the dirt, well down below the canyon rim, so that the egomaniacs there can see the North Fork itself from their living rooms.

Thus those of us who hike in Green Valley, especially in the eastern area, must walk about with our eyes downcast, for if we raise them to the canyon rim, we must see, we cannot escape, the vulture-houses feasting on Placer County's, California's, and America's heritage.

I myself find that if I stop to rest and enjoy the view, a carefully chosen tree can block my view of the vulture-houses, but allows me, just barely, to see Lovers Leap.

The main northside Green Valley Trail drops off the canyon rim from Moody Ridge, near Hogback Gap. However, another trail forks away west from the Euchre Bar Trail, into the east end of Green Valley. This trail is a little difficult to find and follow, and does not always match up well, on the ground, with its depiction on the USGS 7.5 minute Dutch Flat quadrangle. Just where the main Euchre Bar Trail leaves the ridge-crest for the sequence of switchbacks dropping away east, this "East Green Valley Trail" (EGVT) drops away west, also in switchbacks, at first.

After crossing a small ravine, the EGVT levels out and bears roughly south, seeming to exploit the line of an old mining ditch, perhaps, and then bends more westerly into a pass or saddle, between the main canyon wall and an oak-crowned little peak I call East Knoll--for it stands at the very eastern end of Green Valley.

There is a lot happening, geologically, in the area of the East Knoll. Green Valley is the result, as it were, of the North Fork crossing the weak serpentine of the Melones Fault Zone. The relative weakness of the serpentine is expressed in the relative wideness of the canyon. Giant Gap, in contrast, a narrow gorge, is incised into the much tougher and more massive metavolcanics of the Calaveras Complex. That's on the west. On the east the Melones serpentine is in faulted contact with the Shoo Fly Complex, rather old metasediments. However (isn't there always a "however"?), there are some exotic, mysterious rocks thinly sandwiched between the Melones serpentine and the Shoo Fly. I have seen these mapped as Mesozoic in age, that is, younger than everything else in the vicinity, so far as bedrock goes. A thin body of limestone is involved in this Mesozoic screen separating the serpentine and the Shoo Fly. This can be seen plunging in light gray cliffs to the North Fork, at the very east end of Green Valley. With a little daring one can follow the line of the Green Valley Blue Gravel ditch out onto these cliffs, and be rewarded by one of the greatest views to be found in this great canyon.

Just keep your eyes down.

When one combines fault zones with bodies of granite, even miles distant, quartz veins are common. An entire system of gold-bearing quartz veins striking parallel to the Melones Fault penetrates the Shoo Fly east of Green Valley (the Rawhide Mine and Pioneer Mine exploit these veins, along with many other old mines). And, when one adds limestone to the mix, conditions for gold deposition become even more favorable.

This is the most likely reason why a patented mining claim follows that little strip of limestone, from the river, up and over the summit of East Knoll.

By the way, once a claim has been patented, it becomes fully private property, and can be mined, or not mined, it can be sold, or bought, a house built, or whatever.

There are a number of such old patented mining claims in Green Valley, most having to do with the remarkable Ice Age (Pleistocene) bodies of gold-bearing glacial outwash sediments. Once they were ordinary mining claims. Then they were patented

And now, they are parcels. And in Placer County, the parcel trumps everything else. Does a historic public trail cross a parcel? Never mind, no matter: close the trail, gate it, put up "No Trespassing" signs, build a subdivision.

Well. I digress. Last Sunday Catherine O'Riley and I dropped down the Euchre Bar Trail and peeled away west on the EGVT into the east end of Green Valley. We reached the saddle beside East Knoll and stopped to rest and explore. A scrap of garbage lured me into a lovely little glade in an open forest of Kellogg's Black Oak, just east of the saddle. Then more garbage caught my eye.

We walked down to investigate.

What we found was puzzling. A bunch of brand-new gear had been abandoned. Camp chairs, tarps, a Coleman lantern, gas bottles, tools, and really all kinds of weird junk. Apparently it had all been packed into two rather large plastic bins, but one bin had contained some kind of food, and a bear had ripped it open and scattered stuff all over. It looked as tho it had been there a year, more or less. A fire-ring of boulders was nearby.

Among the debris were four "No Trespassing" signs and orange survey tape. And later, a reasonably careful plotting of the outlines of the East Knoll limestone parcel on the Dutch Flat quadrangle topo map revealed that the garbage site is on that parcel. I conclude that the garbage (camping gear) had been left there by the owner of the East Knoll parcel.

I had heard, a year or two ago, from a contact at Tahoe National Forest (TNF) who has been involved in land acquisition efforts over recent years in the North Fork, that this parcel had been the subject of inquiries by the (new?) owner, who wished to bulldoze a road down to East Knoll, from Iron Point. My TNF friend didn't seem to think there was much prospect of the road ever being built.

Now that I have seen the camp, the garbage, the "No Trespassing" signs, I wonder. After all, like the BLM, TNF is essentially required by law to grant access across its (our) lands to private property.

So, it seems progress is afoot at East Knoll. There is a parcel there, so it is time to ruin some more of our heritage. A few short years ago, TNF made a rather weak effort to purchase the private parcels in Green Valley. A fund of money (well over $100,000, as I recall), left over from other land acquisitions, allowed TNF to make the attempt.

However, not one parcel was acquired.

Catherine and I climbed to the summit of East Knoll, and enjoyed some really spectacular views over Green Valley into Giant Gap. I found a tree which hid the vulture-houses well enough, at one overlook spot, and kept my eyes averted elsewhere. Then we dropped into Green Valley on the sometimes confusing trails (for there are two separate trails from the saddle), and hit the line of the Green Valley Blue Gravel ditch. We turned right and followed the brushy ditch west, most of the way across eastern Green Valley, eventually being forced down onto the High East Trail, itself badly overgrown, which we followed to Joe Steiner's grave, and visited the meadow, with its wonderful Western Azalea bushes just breaking into bloom, fragrant large white flowers in the hundreds, and the hotel site, just above the river. This area is within several private parcels, again, old patented mining claims. From there we followed another trail, past a major garbage dump, back up to the main Green Valley Trail, and slogged on up to Moody Ridge, where we drove back to Iron Point and got Catherine's car.

Despite the vulture-houses on Moody Ridge (and the new vulture-house, directly above Iron Point), we should not give up on Green Valley and Giant Gap and one of the most scenic parts of the North Fork. Everything I have seen over the past thirty years or so in this part of the Sierra suggests that land acquisition, by the BLM and by TNF, is crucial to the future of our canyons and our historic trails.

There are some who seem to think we should be ashamed to ask Congress for more money, so that TNF and the BLM might pursue land acquisitions from willing sellers; that we should reassure Congressman Doolittle and Senators Boxer and Feinstein that the end is near, so far as purchases in the North Fork American goes.

No, no, no!

I say we need a lot more money and a lot more land acquisition. Every last little parcel in the canyon, not to speak of the entire 640-acre sections owned by lumber companies, ought to be purchased, if at all possible.

We are constantly being overtaken by events, to the great and lasting deteriment to one of the most beautiful and wild places in California, the American River Canyon. These purchases could have been made for pennies on the dollar when the North Fork was designated a Wild & Scenic River. Well, that was then. That was 1978. Right now, on what should be an emergency basis, TNF should be trying to get the Rawhide Mine, and the lands at Lost Camp, and the parcels in Green Valley, and the parcels along the canyon rim just east of the top of the Mumford Bar Trail, and the lumber company sections at Sugar Pine Point and Wildcat Point and--but don't even get me started on all that.

Well, I have burdened you all with too many words. The main gist of it is that, of course, the Sky is Falling, and Progress is reaching East Knoll.

And, if you haven't written Doolittle, Boxer, and Feinstein to ask for LWCF funds for the North Fork *and* for the North Fork of the North Fork (Rawhide Mine, Lost Camp, etc.), please do so. Beg a ton of money, and beg for it sooner rather than later.

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