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.

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