Monday, March 7, 2005

Visit to Canyon Creek

Near Gold Run, Canyon Creek turns to the south and enters the North Fork canyon in a long series of waterfalls. Sunday I met several friends for a walk down the Canyon Creek Trail (CCT). There were ten of us altogether. We left our cars at the Gold Run exit and sneaked through the defunct gas station to a road leading into the Diggings. A walk of half a mile or so brought us to the CCT trailhead in Potato Ravine.

A man named -- -- contacted me several years ago, seeking information about waterfalls in the North Fork. He was developing a website about waterfalls. I made the mistake of telling him about the CCT, for, despite my request that he not publicize it, he put up pictures and maps on his website. Then he went further, and put the pictures and maps on a major trails website. Suddenly large numbers of people were wandering around out on Garrett Road, trying to find the way to the CCT.

I do not know whether this led directly to the recent closure of the old road from Garrett to The Bluffs and the Paleobotanist Trail.

The CCT is fragile. It has not been adequately maintained for over a century. I absolutely believe in public access to this fine yet fragile trail. I myself have led many many people in there. I myself have a map of the trail on my website. But one has to worm one's way into my North Fork American web pages to find it. My idea was, only someone who actually cared about the North Fork would find it; and that kind of person is welcome, and needed.

I write about the CCT to this email list all the time. So, I'm not keeping any secrets. But I maintain the notion that the people on this email list care about the North Fork, and that some kind of positive action on some issue or another, Canyon Creek, for instance, could result.

For if we don't succeed in finding a way for the BLM to buy the private lands now for sale in the Gold Run Diggings, including about 90% of the CCT itself, well, history shows that our access could be lost, or at least, broken and restricted. As has just happened, by the blockage of the Paleobotanist Trail.

I have worked on the CCT for over twenty years. Most of my work has involved cutting brush from the trail. I built a bridge where the CCT crosses Canyon Creek, six years ago or so, and then rebuilt it, a couple years back. Many many parts of the trail need work. It cannot well tolerate much use. It will be damaged further. It has been damaged further, already, by the increased use since -- -- publicized it.

As our group filed down into the canyon, the young folks, ages 13 to 20, dashed ahead, running down the trail. Being young, they did not have the sense to keep their feet on the narrow path. The edge of the trail was broken down in places.

Now, I have carried a shovel in there many times, and have restored, with extreme care and delicacy, several hundred feet of the trail, where bushes once forced animals and humans alike downslope. I made a tiny bench cut in such places, in keeping with the overall narrowness of the trail, merely restoring its proper line. I tried to do it in such a way that no one would even realize the work had been done. But there are many many problem areas which remain.

After we reached the great drain tunnel of the Gold Run Ditch & Mining Co., 1873, where three to five thousand cubic yards of Diggings gravel per day once flowed through the giant sluice boxes into Canyon Creek and into the creek's own giant sluice boxes, a few of us old folk took the lead and left the youngsters behind.

I noted footprints less than two days old on the trail, Vibram-soled prints unlike those made by me and Catherine and Alex near a week ago. Here again, one problem area on the trail had been broken down further by a careless hiker. This will about force me to restore this segment of the trail.

Now, I actually like trail work. I wouldn't mind making a complete fix of the CCT. It's going to require backpacking quite a few 50-pound sacks of mortar and concrete all the way down to the rockslide below Gorge Point. Then the stone steps can be built which will fix this dangerous reach of the trail. And before that is done, the deep gaps near the tunnel should be fixed. In fact, I have nurtured a vague and pleasant fantasy that, once the BLM buys the CCT parcel, they will let me repair the trail. Not to make it a highway; just to fix the bad spots and prevent further damage from occurring. Some hundreds of hours of work would be needed. I already have done a hundred or so hours of work on the thing, not counting the lopping which I do on a routine basis.

Perhaps it is not strange that I have developed a proprietary attitude towards the CCT. I have hiked it since 1976. I have literally bloodied myself working on it. I carried the lumber for the bridge over a mile on my shoulder, both times. It took several trips.

Oh well.

Sunday was a blessing of a day, warm and sunny. We straggled down the trail and some of us made it all the way to the North Fork. We had worked up a sweat just going down the trail, and at the Last Waterfall, beside the river, butterflies of several species landed on our heads and hands, to delicately sip our sweat.

A Great Blue Heron suddenly winged past, heading down the river, and I said, "Just wait; some kayakers or rafters will not be far behind." For the kayaks scare up ducks and herons and hawks and eagles and the birds usually go down the river to escape. Sure enough, five kayaks soon appeared. They stopped at Canyon Creek for a break, on their way to Mineral Bar from Euchre Bar.

We made a nice slow climb up and out in the afternoon sun. At the bridge, a cute couple was met, hiking down the trail with backpacks. Well, the man, a tall young fellow, had a tall backpack. I did not recognize them and gently asked how they had learned about the trail.

"I found out about it on the internet, on a waterfalls website," the tall young man replied.

They looked like good people, and I have no fear that they will leave garbage along the trail. It is likely enough that they will damage the trail a little, just as our party had. It is a fragile trail.

When we reached our cars, around four or five in the afternoon, I-80 westbound was at a near standstill. Perhaps there had been a wreck on Three Mile Grade, a few miles west. The traffic was backed up all the way up to the Alta exit, a few miles east, and beyond. What a nightmare.

It was a lovely day on the Canyon Creek Trail.

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