Monday, February 28, 2005

Damage to Big Granite Trail: update

Last fall word came in from Tom Martin of Alta that the historic Big Granite Trail (BGT) had suffered new and additional damage from logging operations.

The BGT originally connected Cisco on the north to the North Fork American River on the south, and beyond to the La Trinidad Mine in Sailor Canyon. See the Cisco Grove and Duncan Peak USGS 7.5-minute map quadrangles.

The more northern parts of the BGT became roads long ago, for instance "The Grade" is what a local's local calls the road from Cisco Grove up to Huysink Lake. This road shows on a map from 1902. Currently one accesses the BGT by driving past Huysink towards Pelham Flat. An unmarked road left leads to the trail. Descending, one enters Four Horse Flat, where the original line of the BGT was destroyed by logging, some ten or fifteen years ago.

It is in this same area where new damage occurred last fall. The snow fell before I had a chance to get in there. Two lumber companies own land there, intermeshed with Tahoe National Forest (TNF) lands: Sierra Pacific Industries (SPI; famous for clearcuts) and another outfit called CHY. It turns out both have timber harvest plans, either approved (SPI) or pending approval (CHY) in the area. I was unable to determine "who done it."

I obtained the CHY and SPI harvest plans from the CA Department of Forestry (CDF), and wrote a letter to Deputy Chief Bill Schultz, complaining of the damage to a truly great and wondrous historic trail. This trail makes, I'd say, the very most scenic entrance into the North Fork canyon of all the old trails.

Now, it is remarkable and horrible that, in a frenzy of timber harvests in the 1960s, very many of our historic trails were ruined, utterly obliterated. What I find strange is that the process continues to this very day.

I copied my CDF letter to Governor Schwarzenegger, for I have a feeling, an odd feeling, that almost nobody in our State or our County governments has the slightest inkling that these historic public trails are being ripped up by bulldozers.

Today I received a letter from Dale Geldert, Director of CDF, in which he writes "Governor Schwarzenegger has asked us to respond to your letter regarding harvesting practices and protection of historic trails in the North Fork of the American River." Geldert goes on to remark that the CHY harvest plan is still under review and that no decision will be made until the snow melts and on-the-ground inspections can be made by CDF personnel.

I also learn, from John Betts, an archeologist who has worked hard to preserve and document petroglyphs in the Sierra, and who once worked for CDF, that CDF almost never hears from people who care about historic trails. It is so far off CDF radar that one might lose hope; but John says what is really needed is people like us making comments on timber harvest plans, and demanding the old trails be protected. John says CDF almost never hears about these trails, and often does not know they exist.

We wrote letters to CDF about such a trail at Lost Camp (south of Blue Canyon) not too long ago. The historic China Trail was actually marked as a skid trail, in the Siller Bros. Lumber Company harvest plan, that is, bulldozers were *supposed* to use the old trail to drag logs up to a landing. But our letters forced a small change, protecting the China Trail.

We couldn't stop the timber harvest at Lost Camp, but we did change the plan and protect the China Trail from what might have been very significant damage.

Such is some news about the recent damage to the Big Granite Trail. The public comment period will, it seems, remain open on the CHY harvest plan, at least until next June, when the snow will be gone, and the on-the-ground inspections can go forward.

CDF Contact Info

Henry Calanchini reminds me that I often neglect to provide contact info; for instance, if it is important to let CDF know we care about historic trails, then let's have an address!

OK. So far as CDF, here's what I've got, excerpted from the snail mail letter I sent last December:

December 15, 2004

William Schultz
6105 Airport Road
Redding, CA 96002

re: Timber Harvest Plan 2-04-169-PLA; damage to historic trails

Dear Mr. Schultz,

Please keep the public comment period open for THP 2-04-169-PLA; I had much difficulty in obtaining a copy, and although my telephone calls to CDF began in October, I did not get a copy until around December 10.

In the very same area is SPI's current "10% Exemption" harvest plan, 2-04EX-1061-3-PLA. I refer mainly to the basins of Big Valley and Little Granite Creek, south-flowing tributaries of the North Fork American River.

Please note that Foresthill District Ranger Richard Johnson of Tahoe National Forest tells me that TNF has contacted both CHY and SPI about further TNF land acquisitions in this area, including all of the CHY and SPI holdings in the basins of Big Valley and Little Granite Creek. I strongly support these acquisitions, which have been progressing slowly for years.

I had wrongly imagined that the devastation already caused by SPI and CHY harvests in the area was finished, and that TNF would be able to buy these lands before any further damage occurred.

[the rest omitted)


Russell Towle

Saturday, February 26, 2005

Big West Spur

Giant Gap forms one of the most beautiful scenes in California. It was the subject of an etching by 19th-century landscape artist Thomas Moran. For a time in the 1860s there was a movement to rename it "Jehovah Gap," for such is the awe inspired by the place.

Except where invaded by granitic plutons, the bedrock of this part of the Sierra is metamorphic, sometimes referred to as the Western Metamorphic Belt, which in turn is divided into Western, Central, and Eastern belts. These "belts" are formed by one or more distinct formations, generally exposed as long linear masses, striking north, in slight contrast to the overall strike of the Sierra crest, to the northwest. A system of steep, largely inactive faults parallels and divides these belts.

For instance, here the Eastern Belt is made of the metasedimentary early-Paleozoic Shoo Fly Complex, plus those younger formations to its east, such as the Sailor Canyon and Tuttle Lake formations. The Eastern Belt is divided from the Central Belt by the serpentines and peridotites of the Melones Fault Zone, also called the Feather River Peridotite. In this area the Central Belt is composed largely by the late-Paleozoic Calaveras Complex. This "complex" has not been successfully divided into distinct formations, but here at least it shows an eastern metavolcanic series, and a western metasedimentary series.

The Calaveras rocks were once roughly flat-lying, but are now tipped up on edge. Even the volcanics seem to have been deposited in layers, which is clearly true of the metasediments. The shear conditions under which metamorphism occurred were such that a fabric or grain was imparted to the rock; and this fabric itself is mainly parallel to the bedding planes, of both the volcanics and the sediments.

The volcanics of the Calaveras frame Giant Gap. Despite the bedding planes and the metamorphic fabric, these rocks are quite massive and resistant to erosion. They are in faulted contact with the serpentines of the Melones Fault Zone to the east, and in the contact zone, Calaveras rocks show some evidence of crushing and fracturing. However, some of the most massive and resistant parts of these metavolcanics are immediately west of this fault, forming Giant Gap Ridge, The Pinnacles, and the Eminence, on the south wall of the canyon, and Red Ridge, Lovers Leap, and Big West Spur on the north.

Friday morning I met Catherine O'Riley for a walk on the HOUT. This High Old Upriver Trail forks away from the Canyon Creek Trail well down towards the river, and actually leads up the canyon into Giant Gap. In places it is quite hard to follow, it is really not much of a trail.

We parked along Garrett and crossed the Diggings to the east, picking up the Canyon Creek Trail in Potato Ravine and making good time on the downhill. Flowers began to appear at the bridge (Biscuit Root), and I was not too surprised to find the smaller of the two Canyon Creek Larkspurs already in bloom, right below Gorge Point, along with False Rue Anemone. Then there was Buckbrush, and Manroot, and Brewer's Rock Cress, and Brewer's Monkeyflower, this last quite a little jewel, with its rich magenta petals and golden throat-streaks. Overall we must have seen over a dozen different species in bloom. California Milkmaids were especially nice, on the steep east side of Big West Spur, where the HOUT plunges through an elfin forest of dwarf Canyon Live Oak.

The pattern of recent days was repeated: clear skies early, a few little puffballs late in the morning, and then cumulus clouds every which way, rapidly growing into thunderstorms, but not so closely packed as to exclude all sunlight.

In other words, it was spectacularly beautiful. As the clouds grew taller, breezes stirred and freshened into a steady west wind, which brought the ghosts of the Valley fog into the Sierra, in the form of a milky humid air-mass which threw a bit of chill over everything.

This mixture of billowing clouds and misty air made for an ethereal atmosphere not dissimilar from one of Moran's paintings. The views of the great cliffs and spires of Giant Gap was greatly enhanced by intricately-shaped patches of startlingly deep blue sky and brilliant white clouds, while below, at our level, the mist began to hide more distant parts of the canyon altogether.

We were out on Big West Spur, where the HOUT winds in and out of a series of rock-blades and ravines about 400 feet above the river, in extremely steep terrain, pretty much cliff upon cliff and rock upon rock. The wind began to chill us, so we moved from a rock-blade to a ravine, and that little bit of shelter was just enough. The force of the wind was broken, the force of the sun, repaired.

After resting and exploring and taking pictures of the Milkmaids and the sparkling clear river, rich in rapids and deep emerald pools, we decided to climb to the "first summit" of Big West Spur, where the ridge almost levels out, like the Diving Board, a mile or so to the west.

Near the summit we reached a rock tower with great views both up and down the canyon. Climbing higher, we visited a series of incredible viewpoints, and as we were also going north, it happened that we had a better and better view through Giant Gap into Green Valley. There was the Pyramid, there, Hayden Knoll, there, Sawtooth Ridge, and beyond Sawtooth, a line of storm clouds, with rain streaking to the ground, below.

It was a wonderful chiaroscuro scene, with bright and dark clouds, bright and dark cliffs, and we took many photographs. It is really one of the best of all vantage points on Giant Gap. To my amazement, we could see one of the two tunnels on the line of the HOUT, the West Tunnel, in Tunnel Gully, below Lovers Leap.

Eventually we had to leave, and made a slow yet steady march up and out of the great canyon, strangely moved by what we had seen. It was a truly great day in the North Fork.

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Conversation on Diving Board Ridge

Wednesday dawned clear and promised nothing but sun, so I felt restless, while working at my computer, and gradually inched towards outright escape. One friend was recuperating from back surgery, and needed to hike for his health. Yet another friend was visiting Dutch Flat from Germany, and had expressed interest in seeing this--this what-you-may-call-it--this "Diving Board Ridge," upon which I had bestowed such extravagant praise, and over which I had lavished such impeccable prose.

Considering these facts, it seemed proper to make some telephone calls, for business must be done, and soon enough I was throwing a sandwich and a camera in my pack, and out the door I sallied, into freedom. And sunshine.

At the Gold Run exit of eastbound I-80 I lay in wait, hard against the massive stone monument, built by the Lord Sholto Chapter of the high and puissant E Clampus Vitus in 1984; built to bear the bronze tablet naming Gold Run a State Historical Landmark. The bronze was originally installed in 1950, but construction of I-80 forced its removal to this new place.

They arrived, and Alex and I piled into Ed and Ingrid's SUV to make the two miles drive south on Garrett Road, to the BLM gate, and parking.

Recently I have heard yet again from someone who innocently drove out Garrett, hoping to hike on the public lands there, lands administered by the BLM; and Garrett passes entirely onto BLM lands, without any sign that a boundary has been crossed (tho suddenly, the trees are much larger); and that person drove until Garrett seems to dwindle into a private driveway, with a home quite near.

And that person was sure he was trespassing, and gave up, and turned around. Not the first time I have heard of just this thing.

Here, towards the end of Garrett, you are still on BLM lands, but it sure doesn't look that way. Immediately past the house, the road bends east and loses all surfacing; no pavement, no gravel. And a hundred yards along is the huge green BLM gate.

This road shows on the 1866 General Land Office map as connecting the town of Gold Run to a certain section corner in Indiana Ravine, on the edge of the North Fork canyon; and it is labeled "Road to the Mines."

The road stays just south of the gold-bearing Eocene gravels of the Gold Run Diggings proper. One could walk this road without ever realizing that a wilderness of raw gravel ridges and boulders and hollows and hills of every type, lay a stone's throw away, over a band of manzanita. From here, the Diggings extend about two miles north to I-80.

We followed this Road to the Mines along the rim of the canyon, bearing generally east, but winding back and forth wildly, through groves of Whiteleaf Manzanita and Knobcone Pine, past the Pickering Bar Trail (unmarked, in a flat, breaking south into heavy manzanita, between two tall pines), to the overlook nearby.

An amazing view of Giant Gap opens from here, framing parts of Green Valley and the Sawtooth Ridge and the even more distant snow peaks, in the background. Truly amazing.

Continuing down the road, we were all hemmed in and overhung by manzanita. The road ends in what used to be a turn-around, but now is half-covered by a fallen Kellogg's Black Oak. I remember driving my VW Bug down here, several times, in the late 1970s. I would follow the little track down to the little ravine, cross, and then explore the Secret World.

This can be quite an adventure, for the Secret World has, well, many secrets. It is a smallish world, I mean, a smallish hydraulic mining pit, closed off on three sides, west, north, and east, to the rest of the Diggings and the rest of the World, by high banks and cliffs of gravel. To the south it opens into the North Fork canyon, and Indiana Ravine plunges over the edge, into a long series of waterfalls, reaching the river at Pickering Bar.

If one bears south upon entering the Secret World from the west, via the tributary ravine at the end of the road, you will find some awesome sluice cuts in the solid rock, places where narrow grooves were hacked and blasted to a depth of twenty feet. A patient exploration of these deep miniature canyons will lead one up and out on the east, into big boulder piles, and quite near to the site of the stamp mill which earned this place its name, the "Mill Claim" on the ancient maps, from the 1860s and 1870s.

For, the deep gravels could be very strongly cemented, and yet quite rich in gold. So they had to be smashed up fine, before running them into a sluice box.

Or, if one bears north on entering the Secret World, one can visit the Stone Cabin, built by gold miner Byron Emric in the 1930s or so. Or one can wend away north to the Great Wall of the Ultimate End, the Ultima Thule, as it were, of the Secret World, where a mine tunnel gives easy access through a high gravel ridge, into the main Diggings.

No, it's quite the special place. Take nothing but photos, leave nothing but footprints, and as few of those as can be managed.

We followed a loopy path to the Stone Cabin and on across boulder piles dating from the Chinese era of mining here, when the era of drift mining had ended, the stamp mill, likely hauled away, and all that remained was for Tia Sing and his gang of coolies to turn the water over the old drifting ground, and wash it all down to bedrock, and then clean that bedrock with a patience and a care which eked out steady, and possibly good, rewards.

Since the Mill Claim is described in operation by newspapers of the 1870s, and hydraulic mining at Gold Run stopped in 1882, Tia Sing and his men likely made the Secret World around 1880.

To clean the exposed bedrock floor of the Eocene river meant moving all those boulders which had once been in the sediments, but were too large for the sluice boxes, and were piled to this side and that as occasion demanded, until all the ground had been gone over with a fine-toothed comb. If the bedrock was rotten, it would be pickaxed and blasted up, and the debris carefully scraped up and carried to the upper end of the nearest sluice box.

It seems Tia Sing had a derrick, for there are some huge boulders in the Secret World, piled high.

Climbing the east wall of the World near Stone Cabin, we struck a certain secret trail across the Diggings and filed through a pass to the Indiana Hill Ditch, completed on September 13, 1852. Later, one Osmyn Harkness came into sole possession of the IHD; he also owned mines at Gold Run and Lost Camp. It is Osmyn Harkness's old patented hydraulic claim at Lost Camp (1872) which eventually fell into the hands of Siller Brothers Lumber Company. That is, in consequence of Osmyn Harkness's noble efforts, in the 1870s, to tear the living hell out of the land and pollute Blue Canyon and the North Fork with mercury and mud, Siller has now won approval for a drastic timber harvest over 560 acres of ridge and canyon.

Our secret trail crossed the IHD and plunged into the North Fork canyon. The roar of the river could be heard, far below. Winding through live oak woods, always descending, we intersected the old Lumber Slide, after which Trail never strayed far from Slide.

The Slide was used to drag big bundles of sawed lumber down the ridge-crest, and working the stuff all the way down into Canyon Creek and Indiana Ravine, to the east and west. Both these ravines carried tailings in quantity, and were worked as "tailings claims," all fitted with big sluice boxes, at least, between waterfalls. One can still see many of the monstrous iron pins and bolts set in the bedrock beside Canyon Creek; cables once connected the sluice boxes to these bolts and pins, and kept the boxes from breaking up or being swept away, under the tremendous mass and force of the streaming mine tailings.

Great views are had of the Big Waterfall in Canyon Creek, from along the Diving Board Trail.

After passing some impressive rock retaining walls, we reached the Diving Board itself. The ridge profile flattens to level, and a cute little flat spreads across the summit, all sheltered by Canyon Live Oaks, with overlooks nearby, one facing east, the other, west. We admired the views very much; they are extraordinary. One is so central to the axis of the canyon, when perched upon that promontory, that great distances unfold within its vista. Lovers Leap and the Pinnacles are silhouetted against the sky, and we watched cloud shadows chase across the ruddy cliffs and spires.

We had the time, over at sunny West Overlook, to indulge in sophisticated conversation, of the sort ordinary folk could never hope to understand, or how much less, attain to themselves. For instance: I suggested that, if one needed a sweater repaired, and one was mad at the sweater-repair person, one might well exclaim, "Darn it, darn it!"

My "Darn it, darn it" was swiftly and unanimously classified as the lowest form of all that which might imagine itself to be humor, but which could not now, nor ever in any future, any planet, nor even any galaxy, actually be counted as humor, at least, not by a sane and sentient being.

Well. I'm not so sure. I think it's funny.

Then Alex launched into a passionate exposition, or it might, I think, have been a diatribe, and his subject was 1919, and Versailles, and Lloyd George, and President Wilson's Fourteen Points of Light.

The fates of nations were being decided for once and for all, it seems, and Alex was building, building; building in intensity, and in fervor and intelligence, until, almost gasping, or even stuttering, under the burden of the Terrible Truths which sprang so relentlessly into his mind's eye, he deduced there could be but one way to "clearly clarify" the problem.

This brought a series of objections and raised eyebrows and remonstrances into play. If we were to allow Alex to "clearly clarify" any problem whatsoever, we must perforce allow Russell to say "Darn it, darn it" whenever he wished. And this was no easy thing to allow.

We had already strayed into a similar area, trying to compose a limerick about limericks.

So it was a very nice day, and we were really tremendously inspired by our own stimulating conversation. We could and did listen to ourselves well-nigh all day long.

Eventually we climbed back up the trail, and out and around and through the Diggings on a new and different line, and at last reached Ingrid's SUV. We were in good time; I would not be late picking up my son from school.

But the SUV's battery was dead, and no amount of clear clarification or darned darnings could restore it to life. That required the husky little Toyota 4WD and jumper cables of John Davenport, who lives in an old hydraulic mining reservoir, a couple hundred yards away.

So all was well and it was another great day in the North Fork. The tiny puffball clouds of morning had grown into many immensely tall and unbalanced giants of the afternoon, giants which put miles of land into shade at a time. These too-tall clouds were utterly and spectacularly beautiful. Finally they grew into so many Frankensteinian laboratories, so many dark hearts wrapped in brilliant white, where monsters were made all in secret, amid thunders and lightnings of every kind.

Of course, one never actually *sees* the monsters hammered out in those secret sky-factories; they are, after all, secret.

It's enough just to know they're there.

Sunday, February 20, 2005

Lake Clementine

On Saturday Catherine O'Riley and I took advantage of a spot of sun and a break in the weather to explore the North Fork canyon in the vicinity of Lake Clementine.

There one can find the flagged route of Placer County's proposed and approved "North Fork American River Trail" (acronym, NFART, which we will shorten to the more graceful NFT, for North Fork Trail), which would run up the canyon from The Confluence to Ponderosa Bridge.

With others (Friends of the North Fork, or, just "Friends") I have filed suit against Placer County to block construction of this trail, and force an Environmental Impact Report (EIR) on the project.

The NFT would be a multi-use trail, four feet wide, with vegetation cleared to allow equestrian use, along with bicycling and hiking. In places it would swell to nine feet wide, for "passing lanes."

With so many historic trails in and around the North Fork canyon already closed or at risk of being closed, I am not much of a fan of building new trails. Take care of our old trails, first, and then let's see where we stand.

There is a bit of a complicated history at work in all this, for the NFT is actually Phase One of Rex Bloomfield's Capital-to-Capital Trail (CCT), which was originally projected to directly parallel the North Fork American, from Auburn, all the way upstream to the headwaters, along Sierra crest.

There the CCT would cross into Squaw Valley and connect across to the Tahoe Rim Trail and thence to Carson City, somehow.

The CCT would be five feet wide and would largely have to be constructed from scratch. As the County began to advance this project, a brochure was made promoting the idea, with a photograph of a waterfall in the Royal Gorge, on the cover. The Secretary of the CA Resources Agency, under Gray Davis, saw this brochure, and approved, in principle, a $1.4 million State grant.

In the Auburn area, the North Fork canyon is within the Auburn State Recreation Area (ASRA), which is administered by CA State Parks. CA Parks advised the County that the CCT would force them into a gigantic and expensive and unwieldy EIR; better to take the CCT a step at a time, and, for instance, treat Phase One, from The Confluence up to Ponderosa, as a "stand-alone" project.

To think was to act, and the County proposed the NFT as a stand-alone project. A Trail Advisory Group (TAG) was constituted from local citizens. Eric Peach of PARC and Terry Davis of the Sierra Club were, it seems, the only members of the TAG who expressed any opposition to this huge new multi-use trail. They lobbied successfully for a higher trail alignment, well back from the river itself. Greg Wells, retired head ranger of ASRA, duly flagged this new, "high" route.

Two principles seem to have guided the placement of the flags (little strips of yellow surveyor's tape, tied to bushes):

1. The NFT should be as level as possible, and follow a contour about 200 feet higher than river elevation.

2. If the NFT nears an old mining ditch, it should avoid it, and pass below it if possible.

Add to these the practical principle (3) that, should the NFT near a traveled road, with motor vehicle traffic, it should avoid that road, rather than follow it.

Also, please note that, if one holds the trail to a given elevation, following a contour line as it were, one might possibly closely parallel a road or existing mining ditch, and be unable to take advantage of these existing "bench cuts" in the canyon wall, and be forced to make a brand new bench cut, four feet wide.

The TAG approved the high trail line of the NFT and the County prepared a "Mitigated Negative Declaration of Environmental Impact" for the project in May 2004. This was approved by the Supervisors and $200,000 of Placer Legacy money was directed to be spent on the NFT, with hopes of obtaining the $1.4 million from the State.

Within 30 days, Friends filed a CEQA-type suit to force an EIR on the NFT.

At this stage in our proceedings it is very important that members of Friends be well-acquainted with the route of the NFT and with possible alternatives. We might possibly find a way to settle with the County, and agree upon an alternate route of some sort. Studying both the NFT and the multiple possible alternate routes is a tall order for 12.6 miles of canyon, much of which is very remarkably wild and beautiful, for all its proximity to centers of population. And, it is not always easy to find and follow the flagged route of the NFT.

Finally please note that it is impossible to exorcise the spectre of the bad old CCT, hanging over all this NFT business. The NFT is in fact Phase One of the CCT, and to reduce environmental hassles, the County pretends it is not Phase One.

So. Catherine and I stopped at the Foresthill Bridge and took photos of the south canyon wall, where the NFT would follow the line of an Old Wagon Road, climbing slowly up the North Fork towards Lake Clementine.

Crossing over the highest bridge in California, we drove up to Lower Lake Clementine Road and followed it down to North Fork Dam. This was built around 1939, to impound future hydraulic mine tailings (it never served its purpose; another story). It diverts no water, the entire flow of the North Fork spills right over the top of the spillway, at elevation 715'; while the 600-foot contour bumps into the base of the dam.

Thus there is a sort of Niagara Falls there, 115' high, boiling up clouds of spray, just thundering along, day and night. It is quite a remarkable place and I have always thought some sort of nice stone overlook terrace should be built, facing the falls.

We admired the falls for a time before turning to business. The Old Wagon Road joins Lower Clementine at a certain hairpin curve, low down towards the dam. The task was to find the flagged route above, or up the canyon, from this point.

A few minutes' scouting revealed yellow ribbons, neatly splitting the gap between the upper and lower legs of the hairpin switchback.

We noted that, while the trail might have availed itself of one of the existing roads above or below, there is some traffic on the narrow winding way, and it would be better not to mix equestrians and bicyclists and hikers, with cars and trucks.

On the other hand, Lower Clementine is already much used by bicyclists, without any apparent problem; we saw several, on a day which threatened rain.

After getting a feel for this area, and for the flagged route, we drove back up top to the Foresthill Road, parked in the area set aside for an existing multi-use trail, and walked down what I call Middle Clementine Road. This is gated closed to motor vehicles, and is seldom used by bicyclists.

We had fine views across the canyon to the cave-ridden marble eminence called Lime Rock or Robbers Roost, with its old quarry-era access-road contouring along the canyon wall beside it. Unfortunately, a large house now glorifies its owner on the hilltop directly above, almost dominating the viewshed, considering that all eyes are drawn to the Roost.

Middle Clem road has quite a gentle gradient at first, and winds gently through oak woodlands with a startlingly large number of Madrone trees in the mix. A brushy knoll rises to the west, showing a mixture of Chamise and Manzanita. Across the canyon to the north another large patch of Chamise is visible, in direct contradiction to the rumor that the northernmost stand of Chamise in the Sierra is right there on the Foresthill Divide.

And now I hear of Chamise in the South Yuba.

Middle Clem steepens and at a hairpin turn left we saw a faint road right. Another couple hundred yards brought us to the intersection between the flagged route of the NFT and Middle Clem Road.

This is quite low, not far above the reservoir. The road itself has quite a gentle grade there, and we could not see why a brand new trail should be cut from the canyon wall, in that area; this road has no traffic. So use it.

We retraced our steps up to the hairpin and investigated the side road. It broke away east and immediately ended at a ravine, with a pretty little stream gurgling along down below. It was easy to pick one's way down and across and back up the far side, where the road reappeared.

Bears often step in the same old spots again and again and make a curious kind of dimpled trail, the dimples six or eight inches across and sometimes inches deep. A very faint dimpled bear trail led down this road. The sign of bobcat and fox was abundant.

The narrow road led down the ravine, and was soon joined by the flagged route. Then it flattened out altogether, and by all my experience of such things, this meant that it almost certainly had been cut into an old mining ditch.

In years past people had kept this old ditch-road lopped open, as a foot trail, but it is now overgrown again. We were not high above the river, in fact, GPS put us consistently on the 800' contour, 85' above the lake, while on the line of the ditch.

In something like half a mile, the bulldozed road=line left the ditch, dropping towards reservoir level. The ditch continued right along, now undisturbed and visibly an old mining ditch. At this point the flagged route suddenly left the line of the ditch and climbed above, slowly.

I knew that the NFT was intended to avoid old mining ditches; here it had followed the line of one, for half a mile; but now that it became obvious that it was, not just a road, but a ditch, the flagging split away high.

We stayed with the ditch, for if it continued, there could be no reason not to align the NFT directly upon it; the bench cut needed for a trail is already there, for goodness' sake. We had to find out.

Flowers were in bloom in many places: Houndstongues, Shooting Stars, and quite a few others; a species of Indian Paintbrush; Madrone and Bay Laurel; the day had a spring-like feel despite the clouds and occasional showers.

After another, more awkward ravine crossing, we followed the ditch into an open grassy glade of Black Oak and Ponderosa Pine. The flagged route had climbed high enough, now, that we could not see it. Below us we could see the boat camping area and its picnic tables and tall Cottonwood trees. From somewhere in the lake a raucous honking dialogue was held in echoing tones by water birds of some sort. The mossy old ditch makes for a magical trail and the canyon is a magical place, even there, even where quenched by a reservoir. The honking birds seemed to speak to this. And, being this low to the river, no more houses gloried over us. It seemed utterly wild.

The ditch became blurred as it crossed this glade, and just beyond, narrowed to a single trail, a foot wide if that; and then there was no trace, just a big patch of steep, rocky terrain which the ditch had crossed in a wooden flume. Game trails threaded everywhere, and seemed for a time to openly avoid the ideal level line of the ditch, carrying us too low or too high by turns.

If there was a way to make money from poison oak ...

At last the trail re-formed almost magically, game threads coalescing into one beaten track, a foot wide, on the one true ideal line of the ditch, that is, at or very near the 800' contour.

Here we stopped. We did not know exactly how close we were to Upper Clementine Road; if we broke through, we could climb it to Foresthill Road and follow that back down the two miles to our car. The showers had been increasing. We decided to return the way we came. Out of curiosity we climbed to the line of the flagged NFT, and reassured ourselves that it was, indeed, a scant 100 feet or so above the line of the ditch.

Later, with the map in hand (actually, on computer), I would realize we had walked within a half-mile of Upper Clem.

The walk back out was delightful, tho high on Middle Clem it began to really rain, and we arrived at the car a little on the wet side of things.

Such were a few hours in the North Fork along Lake Clementine, trying to make sense out of the County's harebrained scheme to build a road up twelve miles of canyon.

Tuesday, February 8, 2005

Ponderosa Bridge

With several others I am pursuing a lawsuit to stop construction of Placer County's proposed North Fork Trail (NFT), from The Confluence, below Auburn, upstream to Ponderosa Bridge. The NFT is actually Phase One of ex-Supervisor Rex Bloomfield's Capital-to-Capital Trail (CCT). The CCT was envisioned to follow the North Fork all the way up from Auburn, crossing the Sierra crest into Squaw Valley, thence on the Tahoe Rim Trail towards Carson City, Nevada.

The CCT was planned to be a five-foot-wide multi-use trail, suitable for horses and mountain bikes at the same time, and hikers, as well. The County went to the State for money; and the State said, "Best divide and conquer. The CCT will be hard to sell. Better to build the first phase of the CCT, and swear up and down it is a stand-alone project, thus avoiding environmental hassles."

Thus the NFT, a multi-use trail up 12.6 miles of the North Fork canyon. It's not built yet.

A Trail Advisory Group (TAG) was constituted to advise the County on matters of route and design. A route was flagged, which only one member of the TAG ever walked. The TAG said, "Build the NFT here," without ever even walking the proposed route themselves!

Well. At any rate. Over the past year I have made several explorations of this part of the canyon. It is remarkably wild and beautiful, for all its proximity to Auburn.

This morning I met Michael Garabedian, who is leading the charge against the NFT, at 9:00 a.m. at the Ponderosa Bridge, the upstream terminus of the NFT. We planned to hike downstream on "use" trails paralleling the North Fork. We sometimes hope that we can persuade the County to settle for a foot trail over (at least) the six miles or so between Upper Lake Clementine and Ponderosa Bridge. So, we aimed to see just how hard or easy it might be to locate a foot trail in this reach of the canyon.

Rain the night before had left everything wet, and the sun would not clear the canyon rim for hours, so it was somewhat dark and dank and cold as we set out, following the south side of the river downstream. A "use" trail leads down a long gravel bar and past huge piles of boulders, dredge spoils from a huge floating dredge used there in the 1920s, and after half a mile, bedrock flank the river, and further progress is impeded.

Here a short, invisible trail leads through poison oak up to an old mining ditch. This is followed for perhaps half a mile, and when directly opposite Codfish Canyon, one leaves the ditch on an old miners' trail, and passing an old mining camp from a century ago, reaches the river just downstream from the bad bedrock.

Here another long gravel bar is followed, also studded with dredge spoils. Then rocks break out again along the river, and a faint trail can again be found climbing up and over the hazardous terrain.

Well. It is perhaps not so hazardous. In the summer, when the rocks are dry, one could scamper like a monkey every which way. Today, with the river running high and cold and fast, the rocks, wet, mossy, and slippery, you would be taking your life in your hands.

So a "high trail" is often needed when going up- or downstream, on the North Fork. At the end of the second gravel bar is just such a trail. It is narrow, but I take it to be an old human trail. Of course, in situations like this, almost all kinds of game face the same choices: stay close to the river and risk your life, or climb up and over the rocks, safely away from the river. So bear and deer and bobcats and foxes and so on all use this same old trail.

It is its continuity which gives it away as an old human trail.

Passing a rock blade, the trail drops to yet another long gravel bar. One can either follow the gravel bar downstream, or stay on the faint old trail in the woods just above. In another quarter-mile one is forced down to the gravel bar in any case. Then, the bar ends, and yet another high trail climbs up into the woods to pass a rocky area. Here the big spur ridge dropping to the river from south to north, about half a mile upstream from Upper Clementine, is finally met. It has a gravel bar at its very toe. However, one must climb into the woods to avoid steep terrain along the river, and sure enough, an old human trail is fairly easily found and followed.

Michael and I were amazed that such an easy ad hoc trail leads so very far downstream from Ponderosa Bridge. In it current condition it is not easy to follow in places; but one could have a passable foot trail with very very little effort and expense; for it is essentially already there.

As we followed the ancient trail through the woods, a forest of much Interior Live Oak, Buckeye, Big Leaf Maple, and some Digger Pine, Douglas Fir, and Ponderosa Pine, we reached the very spine and axis of this spur-from-the-south. And exactly at this point the shrub Chamise (Adenostoma fasciculatum) makes an appearance. My "Sierra Nevada Natural History" calls this the commonest shrub species in Sierran foothills chaparral. However, that is all to the south; this is the northernmost natural stand of Chamise, and Michael and I were within a few yards of the northernmost edge of the northernmost stand: for it stops at the river, not crossing to the north bank; and it also stops exactly on the crest of this particular spur ridge; so let us call this ridge "Chamise Ridge." I wonder what the exact climatic parameters are, which govern the distribution of Chamise, and why that exact spot was the northern boundary.

It was past noon and I had to be in Alta to pick up my kids from school. So I left and Michael stayed. The map suggests that the same pattern may persist all the way to Upper Clementine, of long gravel bars separated by rocky or steep terrain where old "use" trails dating to the mining days lead one to the next bar.

I climbed up Chamise Ridge until nearly 300 feet above the river, and found a nice knoll with a tower of chert standing twenty, twenty-five feet high on top. So this I call Chert Knoll. Here too the Chamise holds to the downstream side of the ridge crest, the boundary almost ruler straight. A faint fire trail was bulldozed down here, by the looks of things.

I had hoped to find another old human trail in the pass south of Chert Knoll, but no, or rather, I found any number of game trails which sometimes looked all too human. After flailing around like that for a while, I pushed back upstream.

I found several species of flowers in bloom or very nearly so. One, with bright red flowers not yet open, had somewhat triangular leaves, coarsely but not sharply toothed, in a rosette at the base; and each leaf had a thin pelt of white hairs, perhaps 1/32" long. A single flower stalk rose a few inches from each rosette. I have no idea.

At one lovely terrace I found a well, dug a century or more ago, lined with stones around the top. Just below, a long row of large boulders evoked at least the notion of a mining ditch. At another place I found a spring in the woods, the water just flowing instantly from the ground, all dry slopes above, but many maples around the spring.

I must have been about four trail miles downstream, for it took a couple hours to reach Ponderosa Bridge, without wasting much of any time.

I am amazed that this four-miles-at-least-long trail is not in constant use. It is mostly level, never far from the river, and is in what can only be the prettiest and wildest part of the North Fork canyon between Ponderosa and the Confluence.

But the canyon was deserted. We had to whole thing to ourselves.

Clouds thickened and thinned and the sun was never very strong, but it was quite a nice hike, quite a nice day on the North Fork.

Monday, February 7, 2005

BLM Planning Process

The Folsom Area Bureau of Land Management (BLM) is engaged in revising its management plan. Below please find a letter to

John Scull

with regard to this plan, in which I used a "comment form" devised by the BLM.

I hope all of you will send similar letters (emails). The BLM needs to hear from us! Please copy me if possible.

Dear Mr. Scull,

I have heard that Folsom BLM will be forming a new Resource Management Plan for the lands it administers. I wish to make some comments and suggestions, in this email, and will use your "Comment Form" as a template. I understand that I should limit myself to one topic per Comment Form; so here is one topic.

I also wish to be added to your mailing list.

Here then, are my comments:

(***begin Comment Form***)

Topic/Issue: North Fork American River

Watershed: American

I think the BLM ought to:

The BLM ought to protect the wildness, beauty, and public access to the North Fork American Wild & Scenic River, including the entire canyon and canyon rim. Use land acquisition as a principal tool. That is, continue the BLM's past efforts to purchase private inholdings in the North Fork canyon, but expand the scope of these efforts, and increase the pace of the acquisitions.

In particular, in 1978 Congress created the Gold Run Addition (GRA) to the NF W&SR. The BLM was ordered to pursue land acquisitions in the GRA. No lands have been purchased. Private lands within the GRA are currently for sale, making some 250 acres, part of 800 acres which extend through the Diggings, north, to I-80.

The BLM ought to *buy all 800 acres for sale at Gold Run*.
The BLM ought to *close BLM lands in and around the GRA to mineral entry and quiet all existing claims*. That would include the 800 acres mentioned above.
The BLM ought to *post an OHV closure on the GRA*.
The BLM ought to *restore public access, if only by foot, horse, and bicycle, to the Fords Bar Trail at Gold Run*.
The BLM ought to *restore public access to the Paleobotanist Trail, near Garrett Road, within the GRA*.
The BLM ought to *seek to acquire every private parcel on both canyon rims, from Lovers Leap on the east to (at least) Secret Canyon on the west, to protect the viewshed, maintain open space, and preserve public access to old trails and scenic overlooks*.
The BLM ought to *acquire private inholdings on the Blue Wing Trail, northeast of Iowa Hill*.
The BLM ought to *employ a full-time resident Ranger at Gold Run*.
The BLM ought to *perform a Wilderness Study on the North Fork canyon from Green Valley on the east to Fords Bar on the west, and seek Wilderness designation*.
The BLM ought to *close the Truro Mine Road to motorized access*. This road could be used as a mountain bike trail.
The BLM ought to *restore public access to the Roach Hill Road, through to Giant Gap Ridge, if only by foot, horse, and bicycle*.


The North Fork American River is quite rarely wild and beautiful, and should stay that way for the enjoyment of future generations. Already a W&SR, it could well become a National Park. Folsom BLM has done some wonderful things to preserve the North Fork, and should do more. It was frankly realized in the W&SR studies of the 1970s that the North Fork is in a rapidly growing area, and that special care would be needed to preserve the viewshed and protect public access. What was true then is only so much more true now, with millions and millions more people in California. There was urgency then, there should be even more urgency, now. Public access to our historic trails is a critical part of the future of the North Fork. Scenic values are exceptional and irreplaceable. Wild lands and open spaces are of great importance to our quality of life in California.

Optional (in order to be added to the BLM mailing list):

Russell Towle
P.O. Box 141
Dutch Flat, CA 95714

(***end Comment Form***)

Thanks for your consideration of these matters.



Russell Towle

Thursday, February 3, 2005

In Search of Garbage

Wednesday morning I met Catherine O'Riley for a ramble down to Euchre Bar, in search of garbage. With quite a few others we have been cleaning up garbage sites scattered up and down the North Fork American between Euchre Bar on the east and Canyon Creek on the west. Rumor had it that one of the larger sites lay hidden near Euchre Bar, and, as hope is entertained that a helicopter can be found soon to haul it all away, we needed to find and evaluate the thing.

The Euchre Bar Trail (EBT) is one of the more popular trails in Tahoe National Forest (TNF), within the Foresthill Ranger District. Despite its popularity, TNF does not regularly maintain the EBT, nor do TNF rangers ever patrol the area, except, perhaps, once in a blue moon. Hence miners and squatters and marijuana growers of every stripe have a free rein down there, and some of the more horrendous piles of garbage I have ever seen, grow unchecked from year to year, with new ones developing almost every year.

TNF is sympathetic to the problem and they cite budget constraints in excusing the complete absence of rangers and complete lack of trail maintenance. They do have time and money to manage an extensive OHV trail system over on the Foresthill Divide, near Sugar Pine Reservoir, China Wall, and Humbug Canyon, etc. The roar of these motorcycles and OHVs can be heard every summer and fall weekend, from all the way across the North Fork canyon, miles to the north. But that is only parenthetic.

From the Alta exit on I-80 one takes Casa Loma Road east and south to the trailhead at Iron Point. We continued past, driving down the Rawhide Mine Road to the locked gate, and then walking down the Lucky 3 Claim road to the North Fork of the North Fork American River (NFNFAR). Our destination was not far from the EBT itself, but approaching from this side, we had less than 1000 feet of elevation loss/gain, versus around 1800 feet on the EBT.

Incidentally, it would be wonderful if TNF could purchase the 40-acre parcel of the Lucky 3 Claim. The road-trail from dropping to the NFNFAR is of great recreational value. Of course, as often mentioned here, the Rawhide itself seems to be for sale, and like the Lucky 3, governs, as it were, public access to important trails, such as the Rawtooth, from the mine, up to the crest of Sawtooth Ridge. It too should be purchased by TNF.

The river was in shadow, running high and fast and cold, and The Sidewalks, lovely polished plane surfaces of Shoo Fly Complex metasediments, were all wet with dew and slippery. We picked our way downstream, around a rocky point, to the big mining ditch, and followed the Ditch Trail down to River Camp, the garbage site a few of us worked on last Halloween, preparing it for the helicopter. Then as now shade enveloped all, and a damp chill settled quickly into us. We noted that all the garbage bags we had used had developed holes, as tho clawed by bears, but the garbage has not yet been scattered at all.

Continuing southwest along the Ditch Trail, into the sunshine again, we looked for a trail climbing up and westward. Neither of us had ever seen this site before. We tried on one promising trail and wound along higher and higher, eventually striking an even better trail, which then seemed to end. However, above us we glimpsed some sort of flat or bench on the canyon wall, and investigating, found a lovely grove of Canyon Live Oak with talus fields lapping into the area from above. Here some 5-gallon plastic buckets and other marijuana cultivation paraphernalia appeared, and an odd old steel wire ran far up the steep slopes above us.

We retreated to the Ditch Trail, followed it farther down towards the Confluence of the NFNFAR and main North Fork, and found "the" trail to the garbage site.

The trail climbs steeply to a little flat 100 feet above the Ditch Trail, quite near the Confluence. Here we found a cubical cabin, perhaps eight feet on a side, all tightly wrapped in tarps. A faint odor of wood smoke told us someone had been there that very morning. A large pile of garbage, covered in still other tarps, was ten feet away from the cabin. The general appearance of the area was fairly neat.

A trail led away south and west towards the EBT, which could only have been a quarter-mile away, and would intersect it, I am sure, at the old cabin site on the EBT itself.

So, we found our garbage, with a squatter thrown in for good measure. This complicates the matter.

All in all, it was a pleasant hike, on a remarkably warm day for early February.