Monday, June 28, 2004

Visit to Canyon Creek; Capital-to-Capital Trail

Sunday morning I met Michael Garabedian at the Monte Vista Inn for a hike on the Canyon Creek Trail. Mike is quite an interesting man, a great lover of the North Fork. He contacted me a few weeks ago about fighting the proposed Capital-to-Capital Trail, of which more later, but what I found so unusual is that, over a period of several years, he has been exploring the North Fork more or less inch by inch, starting on the main American River, in Sacramento!!! He has worked his way all the way up to Pickering Bar, near Gold Run. He is aiming for the Sierra crest.

Canyon Creek is a mere skip and a jump upstream from Pickering Bar. In fact, a faint Gold Rush-era trail connects the two.

We used a secret route into the Diggings to reach the trailhead, from which it is a scant one and a half miles to the river. Parenthetically, I called one of the owners of the 800-acres-now-for-sale a week ago, and learned that there is no news, no escrow, no counter-counter-offer from the interested party. I dare to hope that no news is good news.

Canyon Creek has subsided to summer flows, but is still quite pretty. Recently the trail was posted to a major trails/hiking website, quite regrettably, I think, and many more people are using it. The narrow trail-bed, almost unmaintained for a century, cannot withstand this heavier use. I saw many places where heavy-footed hikers had broken down the outside edge of the trail, erasing the tiny path altogether; and as I hiked, I fumed, imagining great louts staggering along, Budweisers in hand, with all the grace and coordination of broken backhoes, ponderously operating their drunken legs by pulling levers more or less at random, and ruining the old old trail.

The flowers have almost gone now, even the Mustang Mint, the Monardella, withering in the summer heat. We paused fairly often to enjoy the views, and Mike was suitably impressed by the Inner Gorge, where waterfalls are hidden within twisting shadowy stone caverns, and where the trail, high above, was hewn from the very cliffs. Nearing the North Fork, we stopped at the fine overlook, with its strange little Indian grinding rock, and its view up the canyon into Giant Gap. Then we made for the river, and crossed Canyon Creek itself to a shady spot alongside the deep pool, at the base of the last waterfall.

I was surprised to find the Water Ouzel nest active there. The nest has been there for years. The parents--ouzels are somewhat wren-like, almost robin-sized grey birds, which forage for food underwater, plunging directly into rapids--the parents were making constant trips out to the North Fork for food, then back to the nest, beside the waterfall. A loud cheeping from their babies would erupt every time, and almost instantly the parent would zoom back to the river.

We rested and I swam the cool pool before starting back up the trail in the early afternoon heat. High pressure had eased into such a position as to set up an offshore wind aloft, which damped down the usual up-canyon wind to a near dead calm. The heat was intense, the sun glared down, and the trail seemed steeper than usual. We plodded along and took many breaks in the shade of the gnarled Canyon Live Oaks.

Back on top, we faced the difficult choice of whether to attend a wine-tasting, in Squires Canyon, or not. There would be interesting people, fine wine, food, and shade. On the other hand, more prudently, we could just go home, and rest the good rest. But--Michael is intent upon stopping the blasted Capital-to-Capital-Trail--a lawsuit may be required--and some good advice on this matter could be had, at the wine-tasting. So we gritted our teeth and chose to taste fine wine.

This proved to be quite a nice thing to do. Ed Stadum was hosting, the personable Bob Pfister was present, along with other conneisseurs of fine wines, and the legendary Bill Newsom sat in a place of high honor, with fifteen bottles of Zinfandel making a kind of forest before him; and this forest of Zinfandel was quite varied in taste and bouquet. One had to try small glasses of nearly every kind there was. The conneisseurs argued over the ordering of the wines; which was best, which second best, third, fourth, fifth.

Placer County has chosen to push the Capital-to-Capital Trail up the North Fork canyon bit by bit. What they call "Phase One" goes from the Confluence, below Auburn, up to Ponderosa Bridge, below Weimar. The County prepared a "Mitigated Negative Declaration" (in essence, "there are no negative environmental impacts") for this roughly 12-mile segment, and insisted that it is a "stand-alone" project. This just plain smells to high heaven to me; it reeks of politics and of making an end run around any honest environmental study of the blasted C-to-C Trail. However, I have been quite surprised that what *I* consider to be the leadership on environmental issues, in Placer County, namely, PARC and the Placer Group of the Mother Lode Chapter of the Sierra Club, seem strangely willing to just go along with this five-foot-wide highway for mountain bikes, running up the North Fork canyon.

I suppose I am weak-minded. If Eric Peach and Terry Davis say, "It's not so bad; it's OK," I begin to believe them. I myself virtually never hike in that part of the canyon, so, who am I to say, "build no trail"? But the thing just rankles me. I'm glad that Michael Garabedian has the courage and simple good sense to stand up and say, "This trail is a mistake; this is too wild of a canyon, too precious a solitude, to build a mountain bike highway into it."

We tasted fine wine and found good advice and good encouragement for Michael's idea that a lawsuit may be necessary to halt Phase One of the C-to-C Trail, and forcing a full Environmental Impact Study of the entire trail, rather than allowing this "negative declaration" to stand its craven stance.

The Supervisors did not "certify" the Negative Declaration last Tuesday; Michael attended the hearing, and reports that County Counsel found reason to suspect that the Negative Declaration does not really meet adequate legal standards. There remains a window of opportunity to comment on this trail, a window extending to the next Supervisor's hearing, July 13, and during this time, comments can be submitted which will have legal standing, later, in a court of law. I will write more about this soon.

There is some chance the project will come to a halt without any litigation at all.

Wednesday, June 23, 2004

The Blackhawk Mine, etc.

Among the documents I photographed at TNF headquarters last Friday was a mineral plat depicting the Blackhawk Mine, on the south slope of Sawtooth Ridge and bordering the North Fork American between Euchre Bar and Humbug Canyon.

This mine is marked on the USGS 7.5 minute Westville quadrangle, but in the wrong location, approximately one-half mile too far east, quite near Humbug Bar, which last is on the north side of the river and very slightly downstream from where Humbug Canyon joins the North Fork.

There are quite a number of hard-rock gold mines in this part of the North Fork canyon: the Pioneer, the Southern Cross, the Blackhawk, the American Eagle, the Gem, the Dorer--and the list goes on. In the broad geological context, the North Fork canyon, here, is deeply incised into metasediments of the Shoo Fly Complex; this "complex" of various discrete formations (which have gradually come into better focus as more and more mapping is done, over recent decades) is quite old, in the range of 400 million years, and consists of originally flat-lying beds of oceanic sediments which have been rotated almost 90 degrees. Shoo Fly strata are close to vertical and strike roughly north-south, that is, fixing our attention on one stratum and tracing its course for a good distance, we would find it running north and south.

The Complex is around ten miles thick. It is exposed in the North Fork from near the east end of Green Valley, on the west, all the way up to New York Canyon, on the east.

This is the broad picture. In finer detail the Shoo Fly has endured various phases of deformation, internal faulting and folding and so on, and apparently it was the very last such phase--the so-called "Nevadan Orogeny"--which imparted the overall rotation-to-vertical to the (already deformed) strata-at-large.

So the Complex is complex. Nevertheless, broadly, its strata are tipped up on edge and strike north. And, more or less along strike is a system of gold-bearing quartz veins, all roughly parallel; and it is these veins, found from near Euchre Bar on the west to near Italian Bar on the east, which were claimed and mined way back when. The Rawhide Mine, across Sawtooth Ridge in the canyon of the North Fork of the North Fork, is on this same quartz vein family.

The veins are much younger than the Shoo Fly, and are probably to be associated with one or more of the closest bodies of granodiorite, such as the one near Loch Leven Lakes, or the one near Lake Spaulding.

I really know very little about these old mines. Some had their own stamp mills for crushing ore. There are tunnels and shafts and ore carts and all kinds of strange old machinery, some incredibly massive and heavy. In some cases this heavy equipment must have been skidded right down the side of the canyon. In other cases, wagon roads may have been constructed to at least bring the equipment closer to its final destination, before skidding was resorted to.

Some of this amazing machinery can be seen between Euchre Bar and Humbug Canyon. Adding to the confusion already alluded to, as to the location of the Blackhawk, I have been told that one notable mass of machinery, on the north bank of the river about a quarter-mile downstream from Humbug Canyon, is part of the Blackhawk. Here a broad cut for a flume was made from Humbug Bar downstream, to what appears to be a gigantic electrical generator and turbine. The turbine (?) has fallen from its original position, and a massive pipe now runs down into the river itself, suggesting that it was used as a pump.

However, this is not the site of the Blackhawk, either. It is not impossible that it generated power for the Blackhawk. I do not know.

The mineral plat I photographed is titled "PLAT of the claim of The Heirs of Joshua N. Pedler, known as the Black Hawk Consolidated Quartz Mines, in Humbug Mining District, Placer County, California."

Joshua Pedler had a ranch near Alta, I believe.

The map is very neatly drawn, and shows three contiguous ~600' by ~1500' claims running from the North Fork 4500' to the north by northwest, up the side of Sawtooth Ridge. Some tunnels and shafts are marked. Just west of the lower claim, and near the river, is a black square marked "Claimant's House." Just east of this same lower claim, and near the river, is a dotted line marked "Trail."

Now, this trail has long been of interest to me; for various old maps show a trail running along the north bank of the North Fork, both up- and downstream from Humbug Bar. Last summer I explored the upstream trail, which is more in the way of an old wagon road than a trail, and leads to various mines.

The mineral plat seems to absolutely settle the issue of the location of the Blackhawk. The southeastern corner of the southern claim is about 1200 feet west of the line dividing sections 3 and 4, T15N R11E; that is, the claims are well within Section 4. Several other claims nearby are also noted on the map: the Southern Cross, directly across the North Fork to the south; the Poole, east of the Southern Cross; and the Campbell, east of the Blackhawk, north of the river.

Consulting the Westville quadrangle, and plotting the boundaries of the three Blackhawk claims thereupon, we see that the southernmost part of the Blackhawk is exactly where a certain trail meets the river, which originates on the crest of Sawtooth Ridge, 2000' above and to the north. This trail seems to be a wagon road--or perhaps it is considerably younger, dating from the late 1940s--I do not know--but I remember hearing, or reading, back in the 1970s, that it is a "jeep trail" and that one can drive down to the river, at the Blackhawk Mine. Perhaps it originated as a skid trail for the Blackhawk stamp mill.

At any rate, this trail is in accord with the mineral plat.

I decided to see for myself, and on Monday I hit the Euchre Bar Trail at about 8:30 a.m. and was past the bridge and on the trail to Humbug Canyon by 9:00 a.m. The trail climbs quite a bit higher, east of the bridge, than the map would have it, but then drops back closer to river level and is in good accord with the map the rest of the way to Humbug Canyon. I saw much evidence of the horde of motorcyclists who apparently entered the canyon by way of the Dorer Ranch Road in Humbug Canyon, and rode across the bridge and up to Iron Point. This was about two weeks ago. In some places the trail was fairly well torn up and damaged. About a mile east of the bridge I saw mining equipment across the river, and knew I was close to the jeep trail, which is shown, on the Westville quad, crossing the river. I saw no very obvious trail descending to the river and did some minor thrashing through the brush to gain some rocky clifflets. I picked my way down and came across a new (to me) batch of heavy equipment, presumably from the Southern Cross: a stamp mill, all in pieces, with a concrete foundation. Most notable was an enormous cam-shaft, perhaps sixteen feet long, which raised the individual stamps and let them fall so ponderously to crush the quartz. Attached to this shaft was a big brute of a cast iron box which must weigh more than a ton in its own right. The cams were nearly two feet long.

This site is so close to the river as to have been overswept in the January 1997 flood event. A Great Blue Heron flapped slowly away downstream as I reached the river itself.

Nearby an easy ford presented itself. I took off my shoes, put on some thongs, and waded through the cool clear river, a little over knee-deep, and with a respectable current tugging at me. On the far side, shoes back on, I picked my way upstream to the site of the Blackhawk stamp mill, also in pieces, and climbed up in search of the "Claimant's House" and the "Trail."

I reached a faint wagon road and turned at first back downstream, to the west, to see how far it might continue, but it seemed to fade away at once, so turning back east, I passed a meadowy opening with some old corrugated sheet metal fragments, possibly the house site, and immediately reached the base of the jeep trail. To my surprise, fresh tracks, of a small jeep, were on the trail. I imagine they were made Saturday or Sunday. The jeep turned east, but could not go very far, as a springy area around a mine tunnel had nurtured a mass of vegetation which blocked up the little road.

I pulled my loppers out and hacked a bit of a path through. Almost at once I was on, not a road, but a trail, "the" trail in fact which shows on the mineral plat, and on some other old maps. So I sailed merrily along, perhaps 80 feet above the river, in fact, at much the same elevation as the main Euchre-Humbug Trail on the south side. I was on the sunny, south-facing north side, and the contrast between the two trails is considerable. There was much less vegetation on my sun-baked slopes, and much better views of the river and the canyon.

It is an excellent trail, a little sketchy in places, much overgrown in many places, but with an almost level line. I saw signs of recent light lopping--perhaps Evan Jones, or Tom Martin--and signs of older, more ambitious lopping, from perhaps twenty years ago. Following along, I came to one spot where it is cut right into cliffs on a tiny promontory, and to widen the trail at this critical spot, some fine dry-laid stone retaining walls had been raised, in an almost perfect geometric arc around the point of the cliff, with what resembled huge, massive flagstones of slaty Shoo Fly rock defining the arc.

Quite charming, and quite a nice view.

There are several especially fine pools for swimming between Euchre Bar and Humbug Canyon. Some have sandy areas good for camping close by.

As I neared Humbug Bar the signs of recent light lopping ended. The trail was badly blocked up with vegetation in several places. At last it seemed to want to drop towards river level. I was beside a rather large hydraulic mine pit, some acres in extent, in a goodly deposit of glacial outwash sediments. The best part of this pit is set well back from the river and I do not recall ever seeing it before.

Scouting higher, I found a human trail continuing east, above the pit, and lopped along for a ways. Then this became rather sketchy. I crossed a small ravine onto a ridge studded with large old Ponderosa Pines and Douglas Firs. The 1960 Volcano Fire had, it seems, crossed the North Fork on to Sawtooth Ridge, and some effort had been made to create a fire line here. However, the flames climbed right up and over the summit of Sawtooth, into the North Fork of the North Fork canyon.

At any rate, brush had grown in after the 1960 fire, and then had died. So the going got tough. Meanwhile, it was midday and I was fairly well exhausted from hiking and lopping and scouting up and down and sideways in this brushy sunny forest. A welter of bear trails criss-crossed the forest, with one fine bear bed at the base of a large pine, well-marked with piles of poop. Some of these bear trails looked like old human trails. But no good continuation east of "the" trail was found, and I fell a little short of reaching the bridge site at Humbug Bar.

I retreated to where I'd left my pack, at the mining pit, and took the lower trail into the pit, which I explored, and then left the pit for the river.

I followed the broad-cut-in-solid-rock which leads downstream to the aforementioned turbine and generator, forded the river again, and made a short steep scramble up to the main Euchre-Humbug Trail. I had intended to return home by noon, and here it was, already past noon, miles from the car, and at the bottom of the great and beautiful canyon. Well. There are many worse things. I hustled, almost Julie-like, back to the bridge, and on up the Euchre Bar Trail to my car, and home.

The jeep tracks I saw told me that certain trees down across the Sawtooth Ridge road must have been cut through; for the jeep trail down to the Blackhawk is found at the very western end of the Sawtooth road. At this same point, a foot trail forks away north, down to the Rawhide Mine. Ron Gould and I had tried to get out there last year, but had been stopped by the fallen trees. Since it seemed the road was now open, I called him, and we were able to get away yesterday, and drive out there.

From Emigrant Gap we took Forest Road 19 to Texas Hill, then looped around the head of Burnett Canyon onto Sawtooth Ridge. As one nears Helester Point, the site of an old TNF fire lookout tower, the roads get worse, and one passes through several rather horrible clearcuts on Sierra Pacific Industries lands. I would like to see TNF purchase these lands., and de-emphasize timber production, and manage the more southwestern part of Sawtooth Ridge as wildlands, with a motorized vehicle closure somewhere near Helester Point.

We continued roughly west on what counts as a jeep trail. The Sawtooth road follows, in many places, the line of the older Sawtooth Trail. One can still find the old blazes TNF rangers made in trees along the trail, many decades ago. They are usually all healed over by fresh bark and can hardly be recognized. Some are on large pines, some on oaks.

There are several small bodies of glacial till high on Sawtooth Ridge, west of Helester Point. These have a reddened, weathered appearance and I imagine them to be older than the last, "Tioga" episode of glaciation. Perhaps they are Tahoe I or Tahoe II tills, from about 120,000 or 65,000 years ago, respectively.

There are also patches of glacially-planed and polished Shoo Fly metasediments, high on the ridge, near the road. It is against my usual thinking to imagine that such glacially-smoothed surfaces could persist for "65,000" years, or still less for "120,000" years. Possibly they were buried beneath till until relatively recently.

We drove right through the deep pass where some old maps record a trail down to Humbug Bar, and climbed up and over one of the higher "teeth" of Sawtooth Ridge, over 4200' elevation, and where the 1960 Volcano Fire had severely scalded the ridge, leaving a welter of forty-year-old Knobcone Pines, many dying, falling every which way like jackstraws. A very few large trees had survived the fire and bore blazes marking the old trail. There is also much manzanita out there, often crowding the road.

We drove through the next pass, then across the next tooth, and then down again to the ultimate pass just before the ultimate, most-western tooth, which rises steeply 2000 feet from the confluence of the main North Fork and the North Fork of the North Fork. The Blackhawk trail doubles back to the east here, dropping off the ridge crest, while the Rawhide Trail is lost in a sea of manzanita. We began scouting for the Rawhide Trail, and Ron quickly found the vehicle closure sign placed by TNF, likely in 1978, marking the Blackhawk Trail as closed to motorcycles and jeeps. Someone had heaved it well off the road into the manzanita.

I had scouted for the Rawhide Trail there a couple of years ago, without success. Ron picked it up in about ten minutes, and followed it back to the road. It was right where the map showed it to be, yet the manzanita had totally overwhelmed it.

Ron also found a neat little TNF sign, just off the end of the Sawtooth Road on the south, which read "American River, 2; Blackhawk Mine, 3; Rawhide Mine, 2." So, the Forest Service had apparently followed the error on the Westville quadrangle, placing the Blackhawk up at Humbug Bar, rather than right at the base of the jeep trail.

This Rawhide Mine Trail is quite an important trail, as I have often mentioned, for it is the "missing link" in what would otherwise be a continuous trail (or series of trails), from Iron Point to Loch Leven Lakes. From the lakes one can easily cross Big Granite Creek to the Devils Peak area, and from there it is easy going east to Serene Lakes and Donner Pass.

The reason the Rawhide Trail is a "missing" link is that, for some decades, the current owner of the mine buildings at the confluence of Blue Canyon and the North Fork of the North Fork, has blocked public access across the two bridges there. Once across the NFNFAR one is on TNF lands, in fact, the mine itself and many other buildings are on TNF lands.

The Rawhide property, as I hear, is now for sale. We must find a way to get this measly little 80 acres or whatever in TNF ownership.

The sign Ron found is quite interesting, for it shows that this trail was once a formal part of the TNF trail system. This is also suggested by its presence on old TNF maps.

It would seem that TNF "gave up" on this trail not too long after the 1960 fire, for, as Ron and I traced the old trail through the masses of manzanita, we found many signs that it had been maintained and the brush cut back, but the cuts were old cuts, down with a chainsaw, and I would not doubt but that they dated to some time after 1960, but before 1970.

We had one pair of loppers and took turns, until sweat was streaming into our eyes; then we'd change over. It was pretty rough going. At last we reached a large pine which had survived the 1960 fire and held a classic "small i" blaze. Soon thereafter we left the sunny manzanita for the shadier north slopes of Sawtooth. The trail had held a level line through the manzanita, but now began its descent to the Rawhide. We followed it one down for a quarter-mile, through some minor switchbacks which do not show on the map, but GPS tracking showed, later, that the trail's course is almost exactly what is depicted on the Westville quad.

We did not come even close to properly clearing the trail, but left it in such a condition that one does not often have to crawl.

I had imagined an attempt to drive the Blackhawk jeep trail, but the tracks of the jeep left no doubt it had been a small vehicle, no pickup truck or SUV in the modern pattern, but an out-and-out CJ-type rig. So we felt apprehension over following what could only be a very very steep road, with few chances to turn around.

Instead, we drove back east to the low pass where the old Humbug Bar Trail drops off Sawtooth Ridge to the south, and explored to the north, in search of the Golden West Quartz Mine, the mineral plat of which records a trail dropping to a bridge on the North Fork of the North Fork. However, we had ruined ourselves on the Rawhide Trail, and even a descent to the top of the claim, at about 2800' elevation, was beyond us. We scouted west until we gained the ridglet embraced by the claim, but then just followed it up, looking for what we presumed would be a human trail leading back up to the pass.

We eventually did find this old trail; found it, and lost it, found it again, lost it again, and then found it yet again and followed it quite neatly into the pass where we'd parked. This is undoubtedly the trail used to access the Golden West.

The Golden West was claimed by one Reuben H. Lloyd. One of the quirks of modern life is the Internet. I Googled Reuben H. Lloyd and found him to be a prominent attorney in San Francisco, a hundred years ago, more or less. Lloyd seems to have been a bit of a character; well--he served on the Golden Gate Park Commission, and, presumably because he was an old-time resident--wait--start at the beginning.

In the 1860s, in San Francisco, was a man who declared himself Emperor of the Pacific, or at least, of San Francisco: we know him as Emperor Norton. And Emperor Norton had two dogs, Bummer and Lazarus. These dogs could fight other dogs, and catch rats, in a most admirable and exceptional manner. And Norton and his dogs would march into just about any saloon or restaurant and expect to be served, gratis, being Emperor, you know.

Well. Time passed. Bummer and Lazarus died. They were duly skinned and stuffed and placed reverently on display in certain saloons. More time passed. As these stuffed dogs represented such an important part of the local history, it was decided to formally present them to the City.

And who accepted this precious gift, on behalf of San Francisco?

Reuben H. Lloyd.

At any rate, such were two interesting days in and around the great canyon.

One final note: Ron and I were shocked to see real estate "For Sale" signs out on Sawtooth Ridge. They appear to be in the west one-half of Section 30, T16N, R12E. I would like to see TNF purchase these lands, yesterday if not before. For, despite the rather horrible industrial timber management (mismanagement?) which has scarred too much of Sawtooth Ridge already, I value it very much as a wild place, where people do *not* live. The "For Sale" sign cannot but evoke visions of 40-acre "view" parcels. You know the rest.

Saturday, June 19, 2004

Green Valley Blue Gravel Placer Mine

Recently I wrote of having corrected an error concerning the courses of two major mining ditches in Green Valley, on the North Fork American south of Alta and Dutch Flat. I had mistakenly identified a certain high ditch in the center and west of GV as the "Green Valley Blue Gravel Mine" ditch, and, knowing this certain ditch to run west to some hydraulic diggings, at the very west end of Green Valley, across the river from the Gold Rin Mine, I had named those diggings the GVBGM.

But I was wrong. The GVBGM ditch cuts across some remarkable limestone (really, marble) cliffs at the very east end of GV, and terminates near GV's center. A good part of my mistake derived from the impenetrable brush on both ditches, in the middle of GV; one simply could not reasonably follow either one. Only repeated efforts over the last year finally corrected my mistake and properly distinguished between these two, separate ditches.

Green Valley is quite an interesting place. The canyon widens here, in the weak serpentine of the Melones Fault Zone, which zone makes a long linear belt running north and south across all the major canyons in this part of the Sierra. It is sometimes called the Feather River Peridotite, because it cuts across most all the Feather River country, as well as the forks of the Yuba and American rivers. Whether serpentine or its close relative, peridotite, the rock is exceedingly rich in iron and magnesium and poor in quartz, and probably represents a cross-section of ocean-floor basalt, welded to North American during plate subduction, some 150 to 200 million years ago. Like most of the metamorphic rock in the Sierra, this presumed slab of ocean floor is turned up on edge.

At any rate, the canyon widens, and in Green Valley there are extensive deposits of glacial outwash sediments. Contrary to usual thinking, these sediments are gold-bearing. And they were mined like crazy in the olden days. In fact, the sediments, geologically, very young, as little as 12,000 years old, perhaps as much as 800,000 years old in the highest deposits--the sediments are so voluminous as to have merited hydraulic mining.

When I realized this, in 1976, I found it so extraordinary that I set out to contact "real" geologists, so that such an extraordinary thing--hydraulic mines in Ice Age gravels--could be studied properly. Since then, I have gradually come to realize that the phenomenon of hydraulic mining in Pleistocene glacial outwash is not at all unheard of in the Sierra, or elsewhere. Still, these outwash deposits merit a close study.

Green Valley is directly upstream from Giant Gap, a narrow gorge about 2200 feet deep; there are no glacial outwash deposits worth mentioning in Giant Gap, for, how could they cling to the sheer cliffs? The contrast between the two parts of the North Fork canyon is extreme, and extremely attractive. In Green Valley, the great sediment load during times of glaciation overwhelmed the North Fork's ability to transport those sediments; hence a kind of sinuous narrow floodplain of glacial outwash developed, within the canyon; and in Green Valley, the floodplain broadened, to a width of half a mile or so, and the river meandered back and forth across it. Then the glaciers would melt away, the sediment load would return to normal, and the meandering North Fork would cut down through these outwash deposits to the underlying serpentine bedrock.

Hence there are multiple relict channels in Green Valley, and bedrock knolls which were once half-encircled by meanders.

The history of Green Valley has proved elusive, especially the early history, during the Gold Rush itself, and in 1851 and 1852, when fully 2000 people were reported to reside there. Dutch Flat did not exceed Green Valley in population until 1854. Of this early history of Green Valley, I have found almost nothing. Of course there are mines every which way down there, tunnels, shafts, sluice cuts, old camps and cabin sites. And there are old ditches and old trails, often so overgrown with brush as to be impassable.

Gradually I have been GPSing the courses of trails and ditches in GV.

Yesterday, I visited the Tahoe National Forest headquarters in Nevada City, having obtained permission to photograph material in their old "General Land Office" map binders. These huge binders weigh perhaps fifty pounds, and contain, not only the old GLO maps, as old as 1866, which are the first good maps made by the government in this area, but also the various "mineral plats" of patented mining claims.

I was lucky enough to find the plats for the Green Valley Blue Gravel Gold Placer Mining Claim (what a mouthful!), as well as its neighbor to the west, the Williams Placer Mine, both patented, it seems, in 1874. Both mines involve glacial outwash sediments and relict channels.

The old newspapers sometimes call this "Williams Placer Mine" the "Opel and Williams" mine; for, associated with William R. Williams was one George Opel. And later, around 1896, the Opel claim(s) were purchased by a group of investors including the Dunckhorsts; and still later, around 1920, the Dunckhorsts hired one Joe Steiner as their caretaker, in Green Valley. And when one walks down the Green Valley Trail, one usually takes the east fork, near the bottom of the trail, and ends up passing Joe Steiner's grave, at the head of a wet meadow which drops down to a terrace above the river, where a hotel once stood.

From my friends Bernie and Harriet Denton, who spent their summers in GV, as children, in the 1930s and 1940s, I have numerous photographs of GV, and of Joe Steiner, whom they called "Uncle Joe."

The Dentons stayed there with their (real) Uncle Karl, a schoolteacher from Sacramento who had somehow fallen in love with Green Valley. He had a claim at the east end of Green Valley, and a small cabin, with a stone oven. The cabin is long gone, but the oven can still be seen.

Well. I wish I could learn more about the *early* history of GV. Perhaps a concerted effort at those major libraries with collections devoted to California history--the Bancroft, the Huntington, and the CA State Library--would turn up some good stuff.

Someday, maybe.

The very well-drawn plat of the GVBGM shows two ravines crossing the 76-acre claim, Casa Loma Ravine on the west, and Iron Point Ravine on the east. The claim has over a quarter-mile of river frontage, and runs up north away from the river to the line of the High Ditch (the ditch I mistakenly supposed to be a continuation of the GVBGM ditch, which I correctly understood to cross the marble cliffs). Meanwhile, the GVBGM ditch itself runs along about half-way between the river and the High Ditch, and terminates within the claim boundaries.

So, the boundaries of some claims in Green Valley have come into sharper focus.

Thursday, June 17, 2004

Visit to the NFNFAR

Yesterday Ron Gould and I visited the North Fork of the North Fork American (NFNFAR). Leaving I-80 at the Blue Canyon exit, we followed the road down towards the tiny settlement until a road forked left near some houses. This quickly loses its pavement and becomes rather raw and dusty; in a quarter-mile a fork is reached, and the right hand leads down to a crossing of the railroad. An almost immediate right turn follows; this is the road to Lost Camp, a hydraulic mining town which flourished briefly in the late 1850s.

For a number of years I have urged Tahoe National Forest (TNF) to try to acquire the private lands at Lost Camp. Old patented mining claims span about 590 acres of ridge and canyon, with many old mines, ditches, cabin sites, and trails. Chief among these last is the China Trail, which leads from Lost Camp down to the NFNFAR. This lovely old trail, graded for mules, once crossed the NFNFAR and climbed Sawtooth Ridge to meet other trails, such as the Burnett Canyon Trail, and the main Sawtooth Trail. However, timber harvests over the past fifty years have made for a welter of roads, log landings, and skid trails along the north slopes of Sawtooth Ridge, and that part of the China Trail has been obliterated.

However, TNF has (as of yet) expressed no interest in Lost Camp or the China Trail, which was once a formal part of the TNF trail system. Those were the good old days. And now, a major timber harvest, verging upon a clearcut, has been approved for Lost Camp, including helicopter logging in Blue Canyon, Texas Canyon, and Fulda Canyon, where the logger's axe has never rung, and giant trees stood safe for centuries. The uplands between these canyons have been logged before, in places, several times over. But the canyons were always too deep and too steep for timber harvests.

The logging has not started, yet. I'm afraid it will be rather drastic in its impact upon the whole area, and upon Lost Camp in particular.

What remains of the China Trail is very nice: a somewhat short trail, little more than a mile long, which switches back and forth within the shelter of a rich forest, down to the river. The forest mixes Canyon Live Oak with Douglas Fir and occasional Ponderosa and Sugar pines. As one descends, the interesting California Nutmeg, Torreya californica, appears. This usually small conifer can easily be mistaken for a fir or a Douglas Fir; it has exceptionally stout, sharp, large needles, and a strong smell, if its needles are bruised.

The NFNFAR has a much smaller flow than the North Fork proper, but for all that is not crossed easily. Well--it can be forded in many places--and boulders sometimes align to offer a series of hops, hops which grade into serious jumps of six feet or more. Our plan was to follow the river downstream, towards a cliffy area we had spied from Sawtooth Ridge last year. Those cliffs promised a gorge, and deep pools.

The route downstream involves crossing the river several times. In the upper reach, near the China Trail, we were amazed by the clumps of Indian Rhubarb, preternatural plants from outer space, which have round, coarsely-toothed leaves fully two feet in diameter, atop raspy stalks three or four feet high. They grow in clumps, from reddish, sinuous rootstocks, a couple of inches in diameter, which cling to the water-scoured rocks at river level, like masses of intertwined snakes.

Large masses of Creek Dogwood lined the banks in places, with some White Alders and willows, and an almost surprisingly uniform forest of Canyon Live Oak and Douglas Fir rising up and up and up on both sides of the canyon. Incense Cedar was present in small numbers, and Torreya (we saw some nearly two feet in diameter, giants in their terms), and more rarely, Ponderosa and Sugar pines. Bigleaf Maples and California Bay Laurel were also present. Springs broke from the bedrock above the river in places, supporting lush eruptions of Giant Chain Ferns, largest of native ferns, with fronds upwards of six feet high, growing in large clumps of many erect fronds.

Tiger Swallowtail butterflies were hovering over the river, all along the way.

Soon the character of the river changed, with gigantic boulders clogging the channel. All the boulders were of purely local origins, the Shoo Fly Complex metasediments into which the canyon is incised, strata tipped up on edge, mainly metasandstone, with some slate, much in the way of slaty structure everywhere, and occasional small folds in evidence.

The river often runs at right angles with the strike of the near-vertical strata, and small variations in the hardness or the massiveness of the rock have lead to attractively ribbed clifflets, bordering the channel in many places.

The gradient of the river steepened considerably, with many small waterfalls among the giant boulders. At one point there was a lovely round pool below a waterfall, twenty feet across, with an active Ouzel nest under an overhang, eight feet above the water. Around a mile down, a castle or pinnacle of stone rears two hundred feet or so from the river; on old winch is bolted to a tree, and a large engine is nearby, and various cables snake along both banks. Gold mining, from the 1960s, or somewhat earlier.

Continuing down, the going got a bit tougher, the boulders, larger yet, and we reached and followed the river around the base of a huge castle-like cliff, absolutely dwarfing the castle upstream. We could see downstream along the west base of the castle. More huge boulders, more steep gradient. The day had grown hot and every scrap of shade was precious. We decided to call a halt and head back up the river.

Steve Hunter, who has been exploring these canyons for fifty years, tells me that we stopped just short of a large mining camp with the remains of several cabins, which dates, he thinks, to the 1960s.

In the afternoon sun, the hopping of a thousand boulders, all tending uphill, was real work, and when at last we turned a corner into shade, beside a long, long, very deep pool, we stopped to swim. This pool is the site of a major camp along the river, on the south bank, where slaty slabs of Shoo Fly have been stacked into an elaborate fireplace surrounded by massive thrones. Seating for seven, at least. Somewhat minor garbage was scattered about; a thing like a tent, and a zippered bag, and some bottles.

After swimming we lazed around and I took photographs of the long pool. I had just put my camera away when Ron exclaimed, "Look! An otter is swimming right towards us!" And so it was, its wet sleek head barely out of the water. As I fumbled my camera back out of my pack, it reached a narrow slate rib jutting into the pool fifty feet away, and rose half out of the water to peer at us. I took numerous photographs, but in my haste, had the camera set incorrectly, and none of the photos came out. It looks as though my shutter speed had fallen below 1/60th of a second, *and* I had inadvertently activated the digital zoom, which I hate and never use unless by mistake.

Well. It was great to see the otter. It messed around the lower end of the pool for perhaps fifteen minutes, occasionally swimming back to its safe little slate rib to peer at us, then turning back to its diving and circling farther down. Finally it dove, and we saw it no more.

The hike up the trail was slow but relatively easy. It had been a great day on the NFNFAR.

Tuesday, June 15, 2004

Green Valley's Ditches

On Sunday I GPSed the courses of the two largest ditches in Green Valley: the High Ditch (HD), which traverses all of Green Valley, from east to west; and the Green Valley Blue Gravel Mine Ditch (GVBGMD), which begins on the North Fork upstream from Euchre Bar, crosses the river about midway between Euchre Bar and Green Valley, and ends in the center of Green Valley.

I found that the High Ditch holds an elevation of about 2100 feet, or a little less, and the GVBGMD comes in at about 1960 feet, or a little more or less, at its terminus, in the center of Green Valley.

Tom Martin of Alta tells me that the High Ditch is called the McCaffery Ditch, and that it took its water from the North Fork of the North Fork (NFNFAR). He cited Gene Markley as the source for this information. I called Gene and asked him about it. He said that he learned the name from Matt Bailey; and suddenly I understood the origin of that name. It appears on the earliest official map of this area, the 1866 General Land Office map of Township 15 North, Range 11 East (a "township," in the surveying sense, meaning a six-by-six block of thirty-six "sections," each section nominally a square mile--and here in Northern California, the numbering of townships is referenced to Mt. Diablo as the local "origin" of coordinates--that is, we here, near Green Valley, are in the 15th township north of Mt. Diablo, and the 11th township east of Mt. Diablo. The northeast corner of the township is thus 90 miles north, and 66 miles east, of Mt. Diablo. By the Theorem of Pythagoras (combined with the Flat Earth of Ptolemy), that means that Mt. Diablo is about 111 miles from where Casa Loma Road crosses the railroad tracks.)

At any rate. On this 1866 map, along the east boundary, in Green Valley, is a little black square with the words "Mchaffey's House and Garden." It is easy to see how "Mchaffey" could become "McCaffery." This surname is usually spelled 'McHaffey'; let us imagine that the surveyors, in 1866, mistakenly used a small 'h', and correct their error. And, the High Ditch terminates not far from the McHaffey house site, today, marked by much Vinca and some cellar holes and fruit trees. It is close to the Pyramid, in the west part of Green Valley, and right on the West Trail.

However, the High Ditch existed to serve the hydraulic mine(s) at the west end of Green Valley, not McHaffey's garden. Perhaps McHaffey himself was the owner of one or more of the mines there; perhaps he built the ditch, or hired it done; it would have been quite costly. But, I do not know that. For now I reject the "McHaffey" name in favor of the generic and descriptive "High Ditch." Perhaps it could be called the Pyramid Ditch.

But, what of this business about the High Ditch originating on the North Fork of the North Fork? It turns out that Gene Markley himself had made the same mistake I had, in mistaking the High Ditch for the ditch which is cut into the marble cliffs at the east end of Green Valley.

I knew that this marble-cliff ditch is the GVBGMD, but (like Gene) I *had* thought it was the same ditch which crosses all Green Valley to end near the Pyramid--near the McHaffey house site. It is not. The High Ditch originates within Green Valley itself, at the very east end, drawing water from what I call Iron Point Ravine, and probably also taking water from the other ravines along its way west--Casa Loma, Moonshine, and Ginseng ravines (my names). If one scouts past the source of the High Ditch, across Iron Point Ravine to the south and east, there is no trace of any continuation.

But, even the GVBGMD did not originate on the NFNFAR. Instead, it drew from the main North Fork, well above the confluence with the NFNFAR, and crossed the North Fork about .35 mile downstream from the Euchre Bar bridge. Today, only a cable crosses the river at that point. One can easily find and follow the line of the GVBGMD on the south side of the NF at Euchre Bar, either east or west, upstream or down; follow it west and downstream, and it mysteriously ends, near the cable.

Similarly, one can scramble out along the marble cliffs at the east end of Green Valley, and follow the GVBGMD upstream, to where, again, it mysteriously ends, near the cable. I figured out about twenty years ago that it must have crossed the North Fork on a flume, near the cable. And this was confirmed by an 1876 newspaper article from the Dutch Flat Forum, which describes operations of the GVBGM, and the ditch, and the flume.

Let me quote from that article about the GVBGM: first, an inexact reference to the cost of the ditch:

"Ten men are employed who work the claim night and day, and, having a strata of gravel which prospects well, it is thought that it will pay expenses this run. The disbursements of this Co. since active measures were taken to construct a canal, up to the present time, has been between $60,000 and $70,000, while the receipts have been but $1800."

And next, the description of the flume across the North Fork:

"Another important and interesting item which has not been mentioned, is the trestle-work erected on the bridge to convey the water to a corresponding height on the opposite side of the river. The height of the bridge as before mentioned is 62 ft. from the bed of the river, and the trestle-work is 73 ft. up to the bed of the flume, making in all 139 ft. to the top of the flume. The American River at this point on its bed is about 40 ft. wide, and when its rushing waters are at their height and come plunging through this narrow gorge, it forms a scene, when viewed from a central position over the river, which would well repay those who admire the grandeur of nature together with the remarkable achievements of science and art."

It is true that the GVBGM has almost the perfect elevation to be the downstream continuation of the large mining ditch which indubitably does come down the NFNFAR to Euchre Bar. However, I believe that ditch served the minor hydraulic mines at Euchre Bar itself. There is certainly no sign of its continuation downstream, on the south side of the river, west of the Euchre Bar mines. I've been over those steep rubbly slopes twice, searching for it, years ago.

It is also possible, however, that the bridge mentioned in the 1876 article was the Euchre Bar bridge itself. Then the ditch coming down the NFNFAR might have been led across here, from the north side to the south side--only to cross again, .35 mile downstream. I regard this as highly unlikely.

While raising these kinds of points in my conversation with Gene, he eventually conceded that, yes, the ditch cut into the marble cliffs does not go through to Euchre Bar on the south side of the river; he recalled that there was a section one always had to just scramble, along the river itself.

All this just goes to show that it can be hard to figure out the origins and courses of old mining ditches, especially when one, like the GVBGMD, does something really strange--cross the North Fork itself, on a flume the newspaper article declares to be "139 feet" above the river. Suppose the flume was four feet high; then the bottom of the flume would have been 135 feet above the North Fork.

The crossing point is about 3/4 of the distance between where the 1840-foot contour crosses the North Fork, just above the marble cliffs, where Sugarloaf Ravine meets the river, and where the 1880-foot contour crosses. Hence we could take the elevation of the river at the crossing to be 1870 feet. Add 135 feet--and one arrives at 2005 feet for the elevation of the ditch at the crossing.

This is in good accord with my GPSed elevations for the GVBGMD to the west--it came in at 2000 feet at the marble cliffs, and around 1960 to 1980 feet at its terminus. However, I have found that, when near cliffs, GPS data is not to be trusted. Cliffs reflect the satellite signals and wreak havoc on the GPS unit's calculation of position. Trees also cause problems. And then, when one gets home, and hooks the GPS unit up to the computer, and downloads the waypoint and track data to a properly-georeferenced topographic map, using just the right "geoid" or map datum, one often finds that the elevations one recorded on the ground, do not match up well with contour lines on the map. For instance, at the terminus of the GVBGM, in the center of Green Valley, I was getting consistent readings of about 1985 feet; but, plotted on the map, the terminus came in below the 1960-foot contour.

I believe there is a goodly amount of inaccuracy in topographic maps, in the positions of the contour lines. The Dutch Flat quadrangle's rendering of the trails in Green Valley is simply terrible. Combine the built-in inaccuracies of the map with the inevitable inaccuracies of GPS and one is left having to make rather arbitrary decisions. For instance, in a best-possible drawing of the High Ditch on the Dutch Flat quadrangle, one might simply choose to use an elevation of 2100 feet, which is half-way between the 2080- and 2120-foot contours. A refinement might be to give the line of the ditch a gentle grade, of perhaps 10 to 20 feet per mile, from east to west.

Aerial photos would help resolve these kinds of mapping problems.

I can send a fairly large (~300K) map showing my GPS track records for the two ditches, and a photograph (~80K) of the GVBGM crossing the marble cliffs, to anyone interested.

The next-largest ditch in Green Valley is on the south side of the river, at about 2200' elevation; it drew from Giant Gap Ravine and McIntyre Ravine and delivered water to the Hayden Hill Mine. I have not GPSed this ditch, yet, but I have hiked it.

There are many many smaller ditches in Green Valley.

Thursday, June 10, 2004

Visit to Canyon Creek; the HOUT

Yesterday I met Catherine O'Riley for a hike on our beloved Canyon Creek Trail. After the thunderstorms and rain of the day before, Wednesday dawned cool under a general overcast, but by ten in the morning the clouds had parted into fair-weather cumulus, of which there were many, but all in all giving much more sun than shadow. It was in fact *the* perfect spring day.

We were delayed for a time while I learned the bad news about the family Subaru from Randy of Dutch Flat Motors. A rather modest dent would require some thousands to repair; and worse, Randy was not equipped to do the work. Randy is a jovial man, on the large side, now favoring hoggish Harley Davidsons, but once upon a time a racing bicyclist, who competed in the 1972 Olympics, at Munich.

We used our usual secret road into the Diggings and drove a mile or so to the trailhead in Potato Ravine. The Gold Run Diggings is a vast complex of hydraulic mines, once an irregular tiling of dozens of discrete claims, but over time some 800 acres fell into the ownership of one James Stewart, a friend of Jack London and Franklin Delano Roosevelt; except that a number of worked-out claims in the southern part of the Diggings had lapsed back into public lands, now managed by the BLM. For years many of us have urged the BLM to try to purchase ever so much of the 800 acres as possible; for a number of important trails, historical sites, and paleobotanical resources span the irregular boundary between private and public lands, there to the south.

In recognition of this most-remarkable part of the Diggings, when Congress designated the North Fork American a Wild & Scenic River, in 1978, they created a special "Gold Run Addition" to the W&SR corridor, which extends fully a mile north of the river, well into the Diggings. The BLM was directed to acquire the private inholdings within this special area; but the owners were not willing sellers, and nothing could be done.

The 800 acres has been for sale for the last few years. Time for the BLM and act, swiftly, decisively! But no. There is no money. Land trades have become difficult to execute. And now we learn that a credible offer has been received on the 800 acres, by someone desiring a "private reserve," and the owners have made a counter-offer. I have been afraid to call the one owner with whom I am acquainted, for fear that disaster has already struck, and the sale is in escrow.

We set off down the trail, winding out of Potato Ravine on the Indiana Hill Ditch (which, in testimony recorded during the 1881 trial, State of California vs. the Gold Run Ditch & Mining Company, we learn was completed on September 13, 1852), and then dropping away south and east to closely parallel Canyon Creek. For a time we were on BLM lands, then crossing onto a part of the 800 acres, which runs right down to the North Fork itself. We made rapid progress down the trail, across the little bridge, stopping briefly at the first large waterfall, and enjoying the late-season wildflowers.

Notable among these were the Two-Lobed Clarkia, Harvest Brodiaea, a species of Lotus, a species of Madia, and the very last of the Bush Monkeyflower. The bloom this warm and dry spring has been pushed forward nearly a month, so many species which would still make a fine display, have already shed their flowers and set seed.

We passed the Rock Slide and were on the steep slopes above the Big Waterfall when a family of Canyon Wrens caught our eye. They were foraging for insects among a jumble of rocks, not singing at all, but busily poking into every tiny cave and crevice. These birds are a rusty brown with a creamy breast, pert wren trails, and a curved beak. Their wild lilting descending sequence of notes is a classic ornament on cliffs and in canyons, in the Sierra and elsewhere.

Then to our amazement one of the mysterious white racing pigeons which had taken up residence near the Big Waterfall, winter-before-last, soared into view, disappearing towards the waterfall, then circling back and sweeping away south into the main North Fork.

We decided to break away east on the HOUT (High Old Upriver Trail), a strangely level thread of a path which can be followed miles up the canyon into the heart of Giant Gap. It is a relict of the Giant Gap Survey, a scheme of a hundred years past to divert waters of the North Fork for San Francisco's water supply. The schemers put men at work to rough in the line of the proposed canal, and they dutifully blasted out narrow ledges from the cliffs, and drove a couple of tunnels through the flaring rock spurs below Lovers Leap.

The clouds had gradually increased in size and their shadows drifted across the cliffs all around us. The views east, of Lovers Leap and the Pinnacles, which opened occasionally to our admiring eyes, were made even more dramatic and lovely by the fluffy clouds. These clouds seemed to swell higher before our eyes, and for most of the day, we felt a kind of restless excitement, at the prospect that a fully-blown thunderstorm might develop. To which we only said, bring it on!

At a certain point, nearly a mile east from the CCT, a fork is reached, where one can either hew to the line of the Survey (the HOUT), or drop away east and down to the North Fork, just shy of massive Big West Spur, which might be more esthetically named Castle Spur, in honor of a fine large conical mass of bare rock adorning its summit, a thousand feet above the river. The river makes a funny kind of square turn around the base of this spur ridge before turning again to bear nearly west to Canyon Creek. A large expanse of large boulders occupies the outside of this last big bend in the river; all the boulders look to derive from the steep slopes in the immediate area, being various types of metavolcanic rock of the late-Paleozoic Calaveras Complex.

We took a long lunch break here amid the boulders, which at the base of the little trail contain some level pockets of sand. The river was sparkling clear, moderately cold, and moving along quite nicely. Across from us and a ways upstream, a gigantic boulder reared up ten or fifteen feet above the water, and a little clump of moss caught my eye. I pointed it out to Catherine, remarking it looked much like what I had thought to be an extraordinary Water Ouzel nest, on a mid-river boulder, up in the Royal Gorge. These ouzels a like large grey wrens and dive right into the river, foraging for insects etc. underwater. They zoom up and down the river itself, a foot or so above the water, and have a rippling, chattering, random song which hardly sounds like a song at all. John Muir's favorite bird. And they nest, almost always, in the spray of waterfalls, making a hollow ball of moss and such, which a downward-sloping entrance, often impossible to see unless the birds are actually going in our out.

That's a water ouzel's nest. But I had seen that one rarely strange nest in the Royal Gorge, like some kind of miniature wigwam, perched atop a boulder. Here, perhaps, another, and I might have to stop thinking of such an ouzel nest as so rare or unusual. We went to investigate, hopping from boulder to boulder to boulder to a last boulder almost at mid-stream, only forty or fifty feet from the Big Boulder. The truth could not be denied. It was an ouzel nest, the rock near the entrance streaked with white excrement. The entrance was plain to see, opening to the west, downstream. The nest was about six feet above the water, on a ledge.

Swallows were zooming around, but there were no ouzels visiting the nest. The young must have been already fledged, several weeks ago perhaps. After a time we started back.

I placed my right foot on a polished little boss of stone and with my usual casual expertise made a leap to the next boulder. Then, with all the grace of a ballet dancer, I slipped and turned, in slow motion as it seemed, and made what amounted to a swan dive right into the North Fork. I remember seeing a boulder underwater as my face slammed down, and darting my hands down to break my fall. Boulders to either side bruised my hips as I plunged fully and completely into the river, but I kept my face safe. It was complete submersion, a total soaking from head to toe.

Standing up, the bruises almost incapacitated me; it felt as though I had pulled the muscles; I could really barely stand, and made a slow and awkward business of climbing out of the water.

After a minute I could move again, and used much more caution than usual in hopping back to the main boulder-field and our sand hollow.

I had a long-sleeved shirt to change into and just wore my blue jeans dry. Actually, they're still drying, right outside on my porch.

After a time we decided to follow an old miners' trail up the river to the first square corner of the base of Big West Spur. As we hopped along, I tested my bruises and kept up a decent pace and felt reassured that I was, after all, OK. Then a holler was heard. I looked back; no Catherine. What; a rattlesnake? A strange flower, a rare frog? What could make her holler like that? I retreated a dozen yards and she came in view, dripping water.

It was a double baptism, then, into the North Fork; except, Catherine had not equalled my own total submersion, only managing a modest three-quarters. We can now justly claim admission into the ranks of those hardy souls who swim the North Fork in spring.

So we squished along in our wet shoes and reached our square corner, a ways up above the river on a cliff, admiring the narrow gorge there, and the deep pools, and remembering a few years past when we had scrambled and swum Giant Gap, with Chris Schiller, and had finally left the swimming behind, at just this point, just this sunny bar of rounded boulders, a hundred feet below us.

Eventually it was time to start back, and we took it pretty easy, as is best after all, reaching Catherine's truck around six p.m.

Such was another fine day on the North Fork.

Wednesday, June 9, 2004

Green Valley, etc.

I have been busy with mathematics and home improvement for weeks now, with little time for hiking. I did manage to join Ron Gould and Catherine O'Riley for explorations in Green Valley, two weeks ago, and find myself embarassed to report that my understanding of the ditches and mines in that remarkable area was seriously flawed.

Green Valley is on the main North Fork, about a mile down from Euchre Bar, and a mile up from Giant Gap. The canyon runs about 2400 feet deep here, but is mostly notable for its unusual width. This width can be ascribed to the weak serpentine of the Melones Fault Zone, in a linear mass trending north and south, athwart the canyon. And this width has allowed great masses of young Pleistocene (Ice Age) sediments to accumulate on both sides of the river. The sediments contain gold; and there is many a mine in Green Valley.

To work these mines, sometimes set well away from the river, water was needed, and ditches were dug. There are many mines and many ditches. At the east end of Green Valley, a ledge was blasted from steep cliffs to support a wooden flume, over a part of the course of the Green Valley Blue Gravel Mine ditch. This ditch took its water from the North Fork itself, well upstream from Euchre Bar. It crossed the river between Euchre Bar and Green Valley, in the lovely gorge there, on a trestle stated, in 1876, to be 139 feet high.

So far so good. But I took it into my mind many years ago that one certain ditch, often horribly overgrown with ancient brush, and which traverses Green Valley from the east to the west, was this same GVBGM ditch. And, since this ditch did lead to the westernmost part of Green Valley, near the Pyramid, where a large hydraulic mine flanks the river, I assumed that this was the GVBGM.

I even stubbornly misread the old newspaper articles to force them to agree with this fixed idea. But as Ron and Catherine and I forced our way east on what I had always thought to be this GVBGM ditch, and passed the center of Green Valley, into the eastern region, we kept on expecting to find traces of Ron's earlier path, from last year, when he blazed a trail along the GVBGM ditch from the east, going west.

I was in the lead, and found some cut branches. "Here it is!" I exclaimed. "Here's the spot you reached last year!"

Ron arrived, and said he didn't recall ever seeing this part of the ditch. Yet someone had worked hard on clearing the brush. In a few yards we had the answer, as a vast area of garbage came into view, the remains of a marijuana growers' camp. It may have been in use last summer. A couple hundred yards farther along this same high ditch, another, similar camp befouled the landscape.

I would guess that something like many dozens of backpack loads would be required to remove the garbage from these two sites. These are new to me; there are several other garbage sites in Green Valley, closer to the river, which I had hoped to clean up this year if possible. Now the task seems insurmountable.

Ron astutely realized we were far to high above the river to be on the line of the ditch-cut-into-the-cliffs-at-the-east-end, which is certainly the GVBGM ditch. Hence the true GVBGM ditch must be below us. We followed a faint trail down through meadowy areas hemmed around by brush, where a fascinating accumulation of large boulders of rhyolite volcanic ash is found. These boulders are no part of the Pleistocene glacial outwash sediments in Green Valley, but suggest something like a landslide deposit, originating up on the canyon rim, where the "Valley Springs" rhyolite ash beds have their proper place. The landslide might have happened a hundred thousand years ago; the boulders are deeply weathered to a brownish color, rather than the raw creamy white one sees in roadcuts, etc. (for instance, see the railroad cuts a few hundred yards east of Alta, for an excellent exposure of this Valley Springs rhyolite ash).

So. We dropped down through the meadows and found the *true* GVBGM ditch, fully 150 feet in elevation below the higher ditch. I should have realized the high ditch was way too high. At any rate, we followed the GVBGM ditch west, and found that it ended near the center of Green Valley, in a tiny reservoir, from which its water was disbursed to the mine itself, down below us and out of sight.

Thus, in accord with the old newspaper articles which I had so strenuously misread for so long, the GVBGM is in the center of Green Valley, not at the west end.

We then explored some old trails in the area, including one I call the High East Trail, which was always hard to follow, even back in 1976, and now is badly covered in brush, towards the east end of Green Valley. We scouted around without success for its continuation east, then turned west, where it is relatively open, and followed it back to its junction with the main East Trail, near Joe Steiner's grave.

Then it was a long slog up the long trail. Another fine fine day in the North Fork canyon, one in which, strangely, we never reached to river itself, but wandered through vast areas of brush, rife with old trails and old ditches and new marijuana growers' camps.

I wish they'd just legalize the stuff. We'd have no more of these obscene garbage dumps.

On another front, I hear that quite a crowd of dirt bikers rode the Euchre Bar Trail last weekend, and tore it up a bit. It might be that Tahoe National Forest needs better signs indicating the OHV closure on that trail.