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.

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