Monday, August 22, 2005

TNF Centennial; Iowa Hill Canal

Saturday morning I drove up past Foresthill to Robinson Flat, up in the Red Fir forest at about 7000' elevation, for the Centennial Celebration hosted by the American River Ranger District. Tahoe National Forest came into being in 1905, although parts of it existed previously as the Tahoe Forest Reserve, and the Yuba Forest Reserve.

At Robinson Flat--often named "Robertson Flat" on old maps--a TNF Guard Station was established in 1911, and several small buildings were erected.

At any rate, it seemed a good opportunity to meet TNF employees and others interested in local history, so I made the long drive. I observed many ancient cars, Model A's and I don't know what--roadsters, all kinds of automotive beasts--slowly chugging up the Foresthill Road, and guessed that they too were aiming for Robinson Flat.

A young man in a giant new pickup truck, pulling a trailer loaded with OHVs, passed me along the way, doing seventy miles an hour or more; but I caught up to him in the Foresthill 25-mile-per-hour zone, and then again at Baker Ranch, where he mercilessly tailgated someone who didn't drive as fast as he wished, for miles. He turned off at the China Wall OHV staging area.

At the Flat I found quite a lot of people, and yes, many fine old cars, and many TNF employees. Chairs had been set out, and an attentive audience listened to speeches by various people, the Master of Ceremony being Forest Supervisor Steve Eubanks.

There were some very interesting speeches on local history. Tilly Tillotson charmed everyone with her description of skiing up to the nearby family gold mine in the 1930s, two people on each pair of long wooden skis; and a young woman whose name I didn't catch read a wonderful missive from her grandfather, who was away fly-fishing, and who as Game Warden had often stayed at the Robinson Guard Station in the 1940s.

The new District Ranger, Jan Cutts, finished up the formalities by cutting a ribbon with giant scissors, and everyone dispersed to sample the free hot dogs and soda etc., and visit the many booths displaying information. I wandered about, and talked with many people, introducing myself to Mr. Eubanks and to our new Placer County District Five Supervisor, Bruce Kranz, with whom I engaged in a friendly debate about logging and fire protection.

My old friend Tim Fagan was there, with his ca. 1930 Model A, unique in that its paint job is unrestored; all the others gleamed with perfect new paint jobs, but Tim's was dull and blotchy. It is rather nice really, and attracts a lot of attention on that count alone, from his fellow enthusiasts.

I had a chance to talk with Mo Tebbe and Ed Moore of the Foresthill ranger station; quite pleasant. Ed brought out a fine-looking horse set up with packs, a Palomino I think, a spectacular animal.

After a couple hours at the Flat, I left for the Beacroft Trail and the Iowa Hill Canal (IHC).

Here, both the 1947 and 1962 TNF maps show that the section of the IHC east of the top of the Beacroft was a TNF trail, as far as the eastern terminus of the (unfinished) canal. I had made several explorations of this old Canal Trail this spring; it offers wonderful, dramatic, stupendous views of the North Fork canyon, and runs along at about 5400' elevation.

I found two cars parked at the Beacroft trailhead. It was quite warm as I shouldered my pack and set off, loppers in hand. I had explored the IHC East (of the Beacroft); it remained to explore the IHC West. I followed the Beacroft over the pass and down a ways, noting the old TNF "small i" blazes on trees along the trail, and reached a certain level bench cut, just a little ways into the North Fork canyon, where I hung a left.

This bench cut, to the east, is fifty to one hundred feet lower than the line of the IHC, and I had interpreted it, a few months ago, as the basis for a high wooden flume. As I have previously written, there is a confusing situation there, where the IHC crosses the Beacroft; for another mining ditch, the Secret Canyon Canal, joins the IHC from the south, and as one descends the Beacroft, this is the only mining ditch one actually sees. By the topographic map, one *expects* to see the IHC; but no.

I followed along the bench cut, then, to the west, and noted scant remnants of flume timbers, with square nails jutting out, and, passing a brushy section, soon found myself on the berm of the Iowa Hill Canal.

So, to add one more twist to the canal quandary, it turns out that the IHC did not hold its grade across the Beacroft, but dropped fifty to one hundred feet just to the east. The bench cut did not support a "high wooden flume," but rather, a "low wooden flume," built right on the grade of the cut.

I found remarkably easy going on the berm of this gigantic old mining ditch, and much in the way of bear sign and bear footprints--for they step in the same spots time after time, and a series of little hollows results. It is quite curious. In this case, whenever a mass of brush blocked the berm, the bears would either drop into the bed of the canal, or drop to the outside of the berm, to pass the obstruction, and they had beaten quite a trail into the ground. It really looked like a human trail, except that it was too often blocked by low branches.

I found many of the Bush Chinquapin in full seed, unusual spiky spiny golden masses, and also some Tanbark Oak, in its shrubby form. This species makes for a tall tree in the Coast Range and also in more northern parts of the Sierra, but at this latitude is often just a shrub.

Continuing west, I passed only a few difficult sections, and for the most part had very easy going in fairly heavy timber. Large Sugar Pines, Douglas Fir, and White Fir dominated at first; then the slope exposure changed from north to northwest, and this subtle difference brought Ponderosa Pine, Incense Cedar, and Kellogg's Black Oak into the mix.

Fire suppression, tho, has allowed a vigorous understory of White Fir to grow up around these old-time trees, as is so common in so many areas, and in places there was almost a monoculture of White Fir.

Where the IHC East offers incredibly fine views of the North Fork canyon, the IHC West is much more forested, and only occasionally could I see across to Big Valley Bluff, Sugar Pine Point, and so on. I did get a nice look up Big Granite Canyon from one point along the canal, with Castle Peak in the background, seemingly forming its headwaters, tho actually in the South Yuba basin to the north.

As I have often written in the past, so far as glaciers go, Castle Peak, in a sense, really was at the "headwaters" of Big Granite Creek, since so much Yuba ice flowed south into the North Fork, right over the dividing ridge, which was worn down so low that very often one sees right out of the North Fork basin to peaks in the Yuba.

In the forested sections of the IHC West there was very little brush. I sailed right along for more than a mile, I'd guess, noting along the way that I had passed from the bedrock--Shoo Fly Complex metasediments--into glacial till and volcanic mudflow, signaling a "bedrock low" in the pre-Tertiary, pre-volcanic "Ancestral Sierra" landscape. I knew that an old river channel had been drift-mined in that general area, but never reached far enough west to see any of that. The tunnels are below the level of the IHC in any case.

I saw absolutely no signs of logging, and no signs of human presence, except for the giant canal itself. The bears themselves had down some lopping, of a sort; they will tear away at young Incense Cedar and other trees on the berm, which if left unmolested will block the path. The bears top these young trees and rip away side branches with their claws.

I saw many larger trees on the berm, mostly Incense Cedar, which the bears had scratched to mark their territories. One such, maybe three feet in diameter, was very heavily scratched, and had two chunks taken out of the bark, right down to the sapwood, one east, one west, and almost but not quite looking like the "small i" blazes of the old-time TNF rangers. This was near a small quasi-meadowy flat below the canal, which flat suggested that another major bear may drop down into the North Fork canyon there; a somewhat unusual case of bear blazes, as it were.

Returning, I reached the Subie and headed west down Foresthill Road. I had been exploring for two hours or so. As I sailed down the Foresthill Divide, yet another young man in a huge new pickup truck, with OHVs in the back, pulled out directly in front of me from Sugar Pine Reservoir road. He hadn't looked back to see if any traffic was about. Following this truck all the way to Foresthill, I considered making a citizen's arrest, for the young fellow was quite drunk, often almost driving off the road into the ditch, just as often straying into the opposite lane, and without rhyme or reason driving now at forty miles per hour, again, at sixty.

As we approached Foresthill he decided sixty was better, but continued swerving around. He pulled far ahead of me in the 25-mile-zone, maintaining a high speed until slowed by traffic ahead, which he mercilessly tailgated, until turning left onto Mosquito Ridge Road.

I took Ponderosa Way back across the North Fork, where I was too late to meet my family for a swim in river. There were more than fifty vehicles parked on both sides of the bridge on this warm summer day. People were just swarming the North Fork! I was amazed. I don't often drive this road on weekends.

Such was a lovely day at Robinson Flat and on the Iowa Hill Canal.

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