Saturday, August 28, 2004

Fords Bar Trail, Big Granite Trail

The inimitable Julie wrote:

Hi Russell. What more can you tell us about the Ford's Bar crossing ? Is it an old over grown trail in partial ruin, or is it one people use but you just have to be in the right circles, with regard to private property ? I have afriend who used to drive down to near the river somewhere near the knobcone road section of Garrett road , but he says the road is gated now and he isn't exactly sure which turn it was anyway. Even more interesting though, is a section of trail I found while doing some work for a lady near the end of Garrett. Down in a brushy ravine I came upon a long portion of stacked stone trailway, quite significant in height , stretching for maybe thirty five feet or so and then seeming to disappear into the hillside. Since I was working I didn't get a chance to explore it but wondered if it could be a piece of the Ford's Bar trail ,or an offshoot of it. Any info ? See you later, Julie

OK. This Fords Bar is on the North Fork, roughly south of Gold Run. Julie's friend, who used to drive down to the river "near the Knobcone section of Garrett Road" was using what has become the Fords Bar Trail. I used to drive in there myself. Placer County allowed a subdivision at the junction of this road with Garrett Road, and, perhaps to disguise the true nature of the road, it was named "Knobcone Road" rather than "Fords Bar Road."

Historically, the Fords Bar Trail was the northern part of the trail from Gold run to Iowa Hill. The Blue Wing Trail forms the southern, Iowa Hill side of the trail. It may well date to the early 1850s.

Let us call the road-trail Julie's friend used the "modern route." In its final approach to the river, it drops steeply down the west side of a ridge onto the Bar itself, in the southwest 1/4 of Section 21, Township 15 North, Range 10 East.

However, there are other routes this old trail used to follow, as anyone who studies old maps is forced to conclude. For instance, the 1866 General Land Office map shows the "Trail from Ford's Bar" leaving Garrett (labeled "Road From the Mines") exactly where Knobcone forks away west today. So there at least some of the various routes coincide.

However, the 1866 map shows the Fords Bar Trail dropping down Tommy Cain Ravine (not so labeled on the 1866 map; see the current USGS 7.5 minute Dutch Flat quadrangle) most of the way to the North Fork before curving out of the ravine south and west to the bridge site, labeled "Ford's Bridge," in the southeast 1/4 of Section 21.

This "Tommy Cain Ravine route" could well be the same trail as you describe "in a brushy ravine," Julie. I have never tried to find and follow it. On the other hand, the description you give, "near the end of Garrett," might be too far east to be in the main section of Tommy Cain Ravine.

At any rate. There's the "modern route" and the "Tommy Cain Ravine route" and there may well be others; for at least one old map shows the trail following the crest of a ridge down, where the "modern route"is hewn into the west side of that same ridge. So let's call this the "ridge-crest route."

Also, as Dean Decker of BLM has shown me, on an old mineral plat in his archives, there were two bridges at Fords Bar, back in 1891. One is at the site of the older Fords Bridge shown on the 1866 map, and is labeled "Warner Bridge," and on the Iowa Hill side of the river is a building labeled "Warner Toll House." The trail itself is shown only in the immediate vicinity of the river, and is labeled, "Trail from Gold Run to Iowa Hill." The route of the trail seems to be the "ridge-crest route" but this is not terribly certain.

The other bridge is shown downstream, on this 1891 mineral plat, and would appear to be quite close to Fords Bar itself, whereas Fords Bridge and Warner Bridge were in a little inner gorge section, upstream from the Bar.

Lindgren's ca. 1900 USGS topographic map, in which it is noted that the topography was surveyed in 1887, shows the Fords Bar Trail following the "ridge-crest route." It shows the bridge, toll-house, and the Blue Wing Trail, climbing up the Iowa Hill side.

Meanwhile, a 1928 General Land Office map suggests that, low down, in the main canyon, the trail is following the "ridge-crest route," but that up higher, it crosses Tommy Cain Ravine, rather than circling around closer to the top of the Tommy Cain basin, as the "modern route" does.

Then there are some old Forest Service maps which show this trail. The 1939 map seems to agree fairly well with the 1928 General Land Office map, but does not show the trail connecting to Garrett Road! Another Forest Service map puts a trail to the east of Tommy Cain Ravine, where no other map would have it.

Thus, as Ron Gould writes, "Will the Real Fords Bar Trail Please Step Forward!" There seem to be at least two, maybe three or even four, fairly major variants of its route.

And not one of them is open to the public.

The easiest way to get to this part of the river today is to use the Blue Wing Trail, totally unmarked, over near Iowa Hill. Or still easier, with 4WD one can drive down the Truro Mine Road, a little up the canyon, and then cut over to the Blue Wing Trail near its base.

The Blue Wing Trail is a nice bit of trail. It switches back and forth through forest on north slopes. It is mostly on BLM lands but there are some private parcels at the head of the trail, where logging operations perhaps fifteen or twenty years ago damaged the upper end of the trail. People like Evan Jones have gradually opened a new route to the old trail. I would like to restore the upper part of the old trail itself, which follows a somewhat gentler grade; but it was blocked up by the loggers, who pushed a huge pile of manzanita bushes and dirt over it.

Unless we can find a way to get a public easement across these private parcels, or, much better still, find a way for the BLM to purchase them, we should fully expect that they will become residential parcels, and the Blue Wing Trail will be closed altogether, just as the Fords Bar Trail has been.

Of course, the same fate threatens the Canyon Creek Trail, at Gold Run.

For, after all, once upon a time this was Placer County, but now, it's Parcel County.

I would like to pay a visit to Fords Bar, by way of the Blue Wing Trail, and try to find the lower end of the Tommy Cain route, one of these weekends soon. If anyone is interested let me know.

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