Thursday, September 29, 2005

Return to Sawtooth Ridge

Wednesday I was joined by Alex Henderson for a quick trip to Sawtooth Ridge, in search of more fragments of the South China Trail.

I.T. Coffin only called this the "trail to Lost Camp" (from Texas Hill via Burnett Canyon), but does mention Chinese from Dutch Flat in the area in 1863, looking to buy mining claims. Sometimes people call it the China Bar Trail, so perhaps the minor gravel bars at the crossing of the NFNFAR were in fact worked by Chinese, which would be in accord with the general trend, back then.

Of course there's nothing too quick about driving out Forest Road 19 ten miles from Emigrant Gap, taking the fork right onto gravel roads at Texas Hill, winding along beside Burnett Canyon, reaching Sawtooth Ridge, and then finally passing the old Burnett Canyon Trail and Sawtalian Trail and dropping into Willmont Saddle, and then climbing back up to the major fork where Old Sawtooth Road stays high, New Sawtooth Road stays low, and "Bob" has boldly placed four "No Trespassing" signs, bracketing both roads.

Wednesday the drive was slower than usual. A TNF "fuel load reduction" harvest was under way, and trees were being felled above Forest Road 19, near Fulda Flat. We were stopped by a flagman and waited nearly half an hour before being let through. Quite a crew of Mexican workers chattered away in Spanish beside the road. Sierra Pacific Industries (SPI) has the actually logging contract for TNF, and these were SPI employees.

Alex and I took New Sawtooth Road at the "no Trespassing" fork west of Willmont Saddle and stopped at a certain side road dropping away north. Our first foray was non-China-Trail, dropping down to a certain ridge and knoll in SPI Section 25, which cap the cliffs which had stopped my eastward progress when criss-crossing the heavily logged slopes in search of blazes, on Monday.

To the west we could see the China Trail Ridge. Both Knoll Ridge and China Ridge are spur ridges dropping north into the NFNFAR from Sawtooth. Both ridges exhibit quartz veins, repeating a pattern I have often seen in Shoo Fly rocks in this area: concentrations of quartz veins make for more resistant rock, which becomes ridges, following the overall north-south strike of the Shoo Fly strata. When down on the east-west-flowing streams, these same quartz vein areas are the sites of waterfalls and cascades.

Between Knoll Ridge and China Ridge is a "bedrock low" of the pre-volcanic landscape, where I had seen the mine and mudflow cliffs, on Monday. This marks an old valley which once ran roughly north-south, across the present line of Sawtooth Ridge. The basalt flow is associated with this valley but would seem to be off-axis. More study is needed.

We also had a fine view of Giant Gap and could see Diving Board Ridge west of Canyon Creek, and the remarkable view area near the head of the Pickering Bar Trail. With binoculars I could even pick out a little section of the HOUT, on the east side of Big West Spur, in Giant Gap.

Well below us to the west we saw a bit of Rattlesnake Point, which is just west of the China Trail.

We satisfied our curiosity about Knoll Ridge and climbed back up to the road and drove a little west to China Ridge, parked again, and started up towards the crest of Sawtooth, past the blaze I found on Monday.

Here again the old theme was repeated: a bulldozer skid trail had been put directly on the old trail, and the larger trees which would have held blazes were now stumps. However, I trusted to the general trend for trails to follow ridge crests, and was a little surprised to find one intact stretch of trail, thirty yards long, in this heavily logged area.

Thirty yards out of five hundred yards is pretty pathetic.

Alex picked up an old old cowbell at one point, which I took to mean, "Yes, this is the China Trail."

As we climbed higher, we passed out of SPI Section 25 into TNF Section 30, and immediately the logging eased off to insignificance, blazes appeared.

The grade lessened and we walked through a pretty patch of mixed coniferous forest past more and more blazes and an old sign on a tree (the sign itself fallen away and not to be found, but the strips of wood which backed it still nailed to the trunk), and in a few steps we were at Old Sawtooth Road on the very crest of the road.

There I found an old TNF signpost, a four-by-four, on its side, its two-by-six sign boards missing. They would have read something like "NFNFAR, 2; Lost Camp, 4" (miles).

There is a bit of a wide spot on the road there with some new and old fire-rings in the vicinity. I had taken note of this spot on Monday, as I climbed up out of the grassy Mudflow Barrens from the south, to this point. Now I realize that this wide spot was the parking area for the Sawtooth end of the China Trail.

So a little more of the South China Trail has been found. It is one of way too many of our historic trails ruined by logging in recent decades. In the Sawtooth Ridge area alone, a rich complex of trails has degenerated into nothing. And where there was pristine forest there is a welter of logging roads and skid trails.

Here is a partial list of these old trails, with some notes as to their fates:

1. Sawtooth Trail: gradually became a road. Extended west to Helester Point by 1939, extended further west to the Rawhide Trail probably around 1960, tho the 1962 TNF map still shows that section as trail.

2. Government Springs Trail. Upper end obliterated by logging in the 1990s; signs marking trail blasted away by shotguns; private property owners gated road leading to trail in 1992 or so. Otherwise, in reasonable shape, except not maintained at all by TNF.

3. Burnett Canyon Trail. Upper parts of trail on both sides of Burnett Canyon obliterated by logging. Middle part still OK but unmaintained.

4. Sawtooth-Italian Trail (Sawtalian). Abandoned. Upper end obliterated by logging. Lower end obscured by helicopter logging in the 1990s.

5. (South) China Trail. Obliterated by logging in the 1960s and then again in the 1990s. Trail No. 50 in the 1953 Placer County Trails Ordinance; there described as trending southeast from the crossing of the NFNFAR, climbing to Old Sawtooth Road, and following Sawtooth Ridge southwest to a junction with the Pioneer Mine Trail, on the main North Fork; whether by way of the Sawbug Trail, or the Blackhawk Mine Trail, is not stated.

6. Sawtooth-Humbug Trail (Sawbug). Abandoned. Upper end obliterated by mining and then by non-use in the early 20th century.

7. Blackhawk Trail. Still occasionally used.

8. Rawhide Trail. Abandoned. Blocked, since about 1979, at the crossing of the NFNFAR, by new owner of the mine, Harry Mayo. Badly overgrown in places.

Alex and I drove back out the long and winding roads and reached Alta in time for me to pick up my kids from the school bus.

No comments: