Saturday, December 31, 2005

When Rivers Run Wild

I wish you all the happiest and most enjoyable of New Years.

Recent weeks brought many storms and little hiking. Today I finally broke free and dropped into the North Fork from Garrett Road, at Gold Run. This was a marvelous adventure, and involved getting very wet, and crashing through brush, and tip-toeing over slippery cliffs, and peering through wind-whipped fog at distant and tremendous waterfalls.

Geomorphology has been on my mind, geomorphology, and philosophy. There has been much in the way of heavy labor, leaving me tired: I fall asleep early, arise at two or three in the morning, read and write and play music until just before dawn, and then sleep again, for a final hour or two.

Then there is the Native Hardwoods Project: to gather samples of native hardwoods, section them, and polish them, to become familiar with their grains and colors.

So I have been sawing and sanding and polishing Deerbrush, Ceanothus integerrimus (white sapwood, deep red heartwood, extremely hard, grain like fine mahogany); Bigleaf Maple, Acer macrophyllum (reddish brown, strong medullary ray-flecks in quarter-sawn grain, flame, burl, quilted and spalted grain figuring); and California Bay Laurel, Umbellularia californica (light reddish in color, fine-grained, very hard, takes a high polish).

I have also been re-reading Julius Caesar's "Gallic Wars" in the Latin, with an English translation in parallel on each facing page, which I find needful.

I entertain various ideas and schemes for hikes but nothing develops. (To employ the Caesarean literary device of using the present tense for past action.) With all these warm storms, I have wished to visit the cliffs between New York and Tadpole canyons, with a side trip to a hypothetical cliff-top perch almost a mile east, which could offer a view of the 500-foot waterfall in New York Canyon. I have wished.

So the days go by, working, tiring, sleeping, reading, wishing, and polishing wood.

It is strange how much pleasure can be had from something so simple: polishing wood.

Gradually its colors come alive, as the surface becomes smoother, and smoother; one can see into the grain, into the wood, it is partially transparent; there is a wonderful rippling lustre, called chatoyancy, one sees, by turning the piece this way and that.

This morning I arose at 2:30 and made my first, and soon my second, cups of coffee. Rain had started the 29th and gradually increased in intensity all through Friday the 30th. By nightfall a steady downpour had set in, and at 2:30 in the morning, it continued.

I had been learning to play, by ear, Jobim's "O Nosso Amor," from the movie "Black Orpheus," and hours went by, in part, fruitlessly searching the internet for a MIDI file of this song.

Eventually, I thought to check the internet automated stream gage for the North Fork American at Lake Clementine, near Auburn; the number of cubic feet per second is updated every few minutes, as is the depth of water flowing over the top of the dam.

It was 5:15 in the morning. As I scrolled down the page, I saw first that the depth of water flowing over the top of the dam had reached eight feet.

Eight feet, over a width of perhaps a hundred!

Scrolling down further, the cfs column came into view, and I saw the whole succession, from the morning of the 30th, when the North Fork carried little more than 4000 cfs; sunset on the 30th, it had risen to 6000 cfs; and then--then the wild river ran wild.

Suddenly it was 10,000 cfs, 15,000, 20,000, and at 5:15 a.m., 35,400 cfs!

Now this meant that the night's rainfall had been an epochal event, a real rarity in rainfall intensity and duration. This May 19 I had seen the North Fork at 20,000 cfs, when Ron Gould and I slogged right down the Canyon Creek Trail to the river. It was running grey with sand on that day. And the bridge across Canyon Creek, which I had built in 1998 with the help of John Krogsrud, had only barely escaped being swept away; driftwood was found on the rocks at bridge level, when we crossed.

So. On May 19th, when the North Fork ran at 20,000 cfs, the bridge at Canyon Creek had almost washed away. Now, today, at 5:15 a.m., here was the North Fork, roaring along at 35,000 cfs and climbing. There could be only one conclusion.

The bridge was gone.

And there could be no merry romp down the Canyon Creek Trail to the river.

Nonetheless I shot off an email to Ron and suggested a visit to the river was in order. I turned in for my last hour of sleep and then, soon enough, we were talking on the phone, and Ron had the idea to go to Diving Board Ridge.

This remarkable spur ridge flares from the canyon wall between Indiana Ravine on the west, and Canyon Creek on the east. Its crest plunges steeply and then levels off for a long run to the south, into the canyon depths, but almost a thousand feet above the river; so it puts you in the center of the canyon immediately downstream from the great cliffs of Giant Gap, and within direct view of the largest waterfall on Canyon Creek, a 150-footer which lives in a kind of crater all hemmed around by sheer cliffs.

So, when much water is flowing, a special thunder booms out of this monstrous hollow in the solid rock of the canyon wall. The North Fork, with dozens of times the flow, does not make these kinds of deep booms and thuds. The North Fork does not have the magical resonating chamber of the Big Waterfall.

Of course there is also plenty of sounds in higher frequencies coming from the Big Waterfall, hissings, and sharp slapping sounds.

We drove south on Garrett Road until BLM lands were reached and parked on a side road. The rain had slowed and yet everything was drenched and soggy. I had hardly walked ten yards when the red clay jumped up from the very earth and bit me in the butt, or, I should say, there was a graceful skiing motion on the right foot, followed by a rotation of the torso, and a sudden decrease in elevation, and the Red Badge of Clumsiness adorned my posterior.

We hard scarcely entered the Diggings when Giant Gap burst into view through the trees, adorned with many lacy streaks of white water, waterfalls and cascades filling every ravine and crevice in the rain-dark cliffs. We whooped and hollered a bit but hurried on through the sticky clays and the millions of white quartz cobbles, following an almost strangely circuitous and indirect route, until finally we reached the rim of the North Fork canyon and the Indiana Hill Ditch, constructed in 1852 to supply the new diggings at the head of Indiana Ravine.

Here we passed the tiny trail down to the Diving Board for a quick jaunt up the old canal to an overlook. There was the North Fork, fifteen hundred feet below, churned almost white in a frenzied maelstrom of rushing water, but clearly carrying much sediment. It was also visibly higher than it had been, on May 19th.

We took photographs and admired the fine vistas into Giant Gap, and across Canyon Creek to the Blasted Digger Overlook, before turning back to the Diving Board Trail.

There used to be huge sluice boxes in both Canyon Creek and Indiana Ravine, to trap the fine gold in the tailings from mines far above; sawn lumber had to be delivered, somehow, to these remote and cliff-bound canyons.

So the Diving Board as pressed into service as a lumber slide, of which there are many in the North Fork canyon, tho probably almost always unrecognized. The idea is simple: lash a thousand pounds of lumber into a big bale, tie a mule in front, and start dragging it right down the canyon wall, letting it slide on its own if possible.

Over the course of a very little time, a groove is worn into the canyon wall along the line of the slide.

Now stop using the slide, and let one hundred and twenty-five years pass.

A groove remains. But trees grow from it, and leaves and dirt have washed into it and partly filled it; no, people only rarely recognize the old lumber slides.

In this case, the slide follows the very crest of the ridge, on a gradient too steep for any reasonable trail, yet perforce men had to go down there, and eventually, wrestle the lumber from the ridge-crest down to Canyon Creek or Indiana Ravine. Hence a trail developed, possibly merely from use.

This is the Diving Board Trail.

We hurried down, pausing only to photograph waterfalls and so on, and reached the final level area, with its absolutely superb views both up and down the North Fork canyon.

While gazing up into Giant Gap we saw that even Bogus Gully had become a river in its own right, huge masses of white water leaping briefly into view. If the bridge had not washed out, and if we had hiked east on the HOUT, well, we might have gone no farther than Bogus Gully. Too much water to cross, by the looks of it.

Near The Eminence, a cliff on the south canyon wall, a narrow streak-waterfall dropped two thousand feet from the canyon rim to the river. A half-dozen others graced the cliffs nearby.

Many photos were taken, but a fog began to settle lower from the canyon rim, and strong winds stirred, and rain began to fall. We crossed to the western, windward side of the Diving Board, and were astounded by the North Fork as it swept in tight curves around the spur ridges at Pickering Bar. Big trees were floating down. Boulders the size of small cabins were underwater and throwing giant rooster tails of white water skyward. It was as though geysers were erupting from the river, in many places. The rain intensified, the wind flailed and whipped the trees and us alike, and soon enough we sought the shelter of the Canyon Live Oaks and the lee side of things.

The Big Waterfall was putting on an incredible show, semi-permanent protruberances of whitewater, marking ledges where tons of water were suddenly changing directions, sent flying away from the cliff. So the whole monstrous mass of white water, a hundred and fifty feet high, was indeed monster-like, with groping arms and pointed knees and elbows of froth, always in motion. Above the falls, a dim grotto in the inner gorge was filled with a blue glow, made from the reflection of white water within and out of our view, on the glistening sheer walls of the chasm; and, perhaps like the sky itself, this reflected whitewater was robbed of other colors, leaving blue.

Or perhaps some sort of blue star was being forged right there within the rock-shrounded chasm, only just out of our view, by elves unimaginable, or fairies, or by dragons, the spirits of the waterfall.

Sheets of rain fell; one could actually watch the wind pushing these wavering rain curtains up the canyon. We grew cold, and a sure cure for that is to start walking uphill. So we slowly trudged up the narrow ridge crest in a pouring rain.

At the Indiana Hill Ditch we bent our steps east and then north, finally dropping down through brush and grassy openings to the Canyon Creek Trail. The rain diminished again, but every gopher hole on the mountain had become an artesian well, and really wherever we looked there were springs of water gushing direct from either rock or soil, it made no difference; the whole world was leaking, as it seemed.

We reached the bridge site and saw what we knew we must see: the complete and utter absence of a bridge. Yes, the good old thing is probably in Folsom right now; it will reach the Delta tomorrow, pass the Golden Gate on Tuesday, and then make for Mexico South.

After a time we wandered south towards the first big waterfall, and eventually met a ridge which let us descend to a fine overlook. Canyon Creek was gigantic and muddy and rampant. Quite scary. We stepped rather carefully on those steep rocks perched a hundred feet above the creek.

Then it was time to start up and out. Along the way, I found other overlooks with remarkable views of the Canyon Creek Trail, across the creek to the east.

We marched back through the Diggings in wet clothes but good spirits. During a time of rarely high flows, we had been able to visit the great canyon, in one of its wildest areas.

Friday, December 16, 2005

Letter to CDF re the Big Granite Trail

Hi all,

I finally obtained the Timber Harvest Plans (THPs) for the CHY and SPI lumber companies, in the Big Valley/Little Granite Creek area. Below, my first letter to William Schultz of CDF (the California Dept. of Forestry administers timber harvests on private lands).

This area is where damage recently occurred to the historic Big Granite Trail.

Very many other trails in the area have already been, not just damaged, but obliterated. I consider this intolerable, then and now.

I have my doubts whether the public comment period is even still open for the CHY THP. I am asking that the comment period be extended until next summer. It would not hurt for any of you to send a note to Mr. Schultz, asking that the public comment period for THP 2-04-169 be extended.

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.

Perhaps you will recall that I raised objections to a Siller Brothers THP last year, near Blue Canyon, around the gold mining townsite of Lost Camp. In part, I was concerned about the historic "China Trail," from Lost Camp to the North Fork of the North Fork American River.

Actually, the China Trail crossed that river and climbed to the crest of Sawtooth Ridge, across the canyon from Lost Camp; but the Sawtooth side of the China Trail had already been obliterated by logging. Hence I described the trail as leading to the river.

With regard to THP 2-04-169-PLA, and 2-04EX-1061, once again historic trails figure into my objections. I am quite familiar with the area, having hiked and skied there since 1972. It is an important part of Placer County's "high country." It is threaded through and through with historic trails, many of which have been utterly ruined by logging. Others have become logging roads.

One of the most popular hiking destinations in Tahoe National Forest, the Loch Leven Lakes, including Salmon Lake, is in this same area. The very popular North Fork American Wild & Scenic River is adjacent, to the south. The recreational value of the entire area is enormous.

In October, I heard from two different sources of recent damage to what remains intact of the Big Granite Trail. I was unable to get up there myself to see the damage before snow fell and blocked the roads up.

The Big Granite Trail led from Cisco, on the railroad, past Huysink Lake (named for Bernard Huysinck of Dutch Flat, an avid outdoorsman of the 19th century), into Little Granite Creek at Four Horse Flat, and then down Little and Big Granite Creeks into the North Fork American canyon.

Placer County appears to have expended money maintaining the Big Granite Trail in 1896 (Minutes of the Board of Supervisors, 1896). It is an historic public trail, like the other trails which have been either entirely or partly obliterated, in the same general area: the Big Valley Trail, the Sugar Pine Point Trail, the Cherry Point Trail, the Mears Meadow Trail, the Monumental Creek Trail, the Big Bend-Devils Peak Trail, and the Snow Mountain Trail. These were all once maintained by Tahoe National Forest.

In attempting to discover which lumber company had caused the most recent damage to the Big Granite Trail, I found CHY THP 2-04-169-PLA on your CDF website, and assumed CHY was the culprit. However, I knew that CHY lands bordered SPI lands in the area of most recent damage, that is, around the common line between sections 4 and 9, T16N, R13E. And emails to Jeff Dowling of CDF elicited the information that SPI has an active "10% Exemption" harvest plan in the area, including Section 9.

So I am uncertain which company, CHY or SPI, ran a bulldozer in beside the trail, above and in Four Horse Flat, and, so I hear, caused quite a lot of damage.

SPI seems to have been responsible for most of the destruction of the Sugar Pine Point Trail, although CHY contributed to its ruin in the Pelham Flat area. The more southern part of this trail remains partly intact, as it passes through the south half of Section 17 to its terminus in TNF Section 20. In the Exemption document 2-04EX-1061, there is a map showing this Section 17. Note the pass, on the ridge dividing Big Valley on the west from Little Granite Creek on the east, where roads fork, in the SW 1/4, at the head of a small tributary of Little Granite Creek. The relatively intact part of the Sugar Pine Point Trail parallels the more eastern road, south of the pass. Then, as soon as it crosses into Section 20, it is undamaged.

Incidentally, there is interesting lithic scatter at that very pass, suggesting that it may be on the line of a Native American trail. The lithic scatter has been exposed by construction of a log landing. Not far away, in Section 20, is a more significant prehistoric site associated with the Martis Complex.

There is also an active Northern Goshawk nesting site in Section 20.

SPI and CHY have not touched the land lightly. They have destroyed trails and left scars which will mar the scenery for generations. The great grove of centuries-old Incense Cedars in Big Valley is gone, only a torn-up weedy meadow studded with stumps showing it ever existed. The grove was directly on the line of the Big Granite Trail.

This is an area of great scenery, with many fine overlooks, in direct contrast to assertions made in the CHY THP. I love the view down Big Valley to the American River Canyon, from near Huysink Lake, for instance. There is a very unusual geology in the area, with narrow bands of metamorphic rock (the Taylorsville Sequence), much more broadly exposed in the Feather River country to the north, making their southernmost appearance here. Fossil ammonites are found in the Sailor Canyon Formation near Huysink Lake. The glacial history is also of special interest, as these canyons received overflow from the South Yuba ice field to the north; the North Fork American is anomalously deep, in part, because it robbed the South Yuba of its own Yuba ice, as it were. The Emigrant Gap Mafic Complex, with its quite unusual intrusive rocks, gabbros and dunites, flanks the area on the west.

There are many small ponds and wet meadows in the area. It is a lovely place, which partakes of the special magic of the North Fork American. Tremendous, unconscionable damage has already occurred to the historic trails there. Rather than harvesting more timber, CHY and SPI should mitigate the damage they have already caused.

Of course, CDF presided over these timber harvests.

A good start on CHY's and SPI's mitigation would be to give the lands to Tahoe National Forest, or at the least, agree to sell the lands to TNF at very favorable terms, deferring further harvests until funding becomes available.

Considering CDF's role, let the State of California contribute its millions of dollars to the task of restoring these lands to public ownership and revegetating the roads and skid trails, and restoring the ruined foot trails. President Lincoln was wrong to give these lands to the Central Pacific Railroad. True, the gift helped make Republicans rich, but it is costing all of us of every political party very dearly, in the long haul.

It seems that "10% Exemption" harvests are exempt from both environmental review and public comment. I will remark however, that every piece of land involved in this Exemption harvest is not only known to me personally, it is important to the future of Placer County's and Tahoe National Forest's wildlands. And that includes the SPI parcel(s) out on Sawtooth Ridge, where for years I have advocated restoration of the obliterated Sawtooth Ridge Trail, and acquisition of the private inholdings by Tahoe National Forest.

I have more comments I wish to make on CHY THP 2-04-169, so, in conclusion, please keep the public comment period open. It would be best if the comment period remained open long enough to make a direct examination of the harvest areas, now under snow.

Thanks for your consideration of these matters.


Russell Towle
Box 141
Dutch Flat, CA 95714

cc: Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger

Russell Towle

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

More Cloud Bows

The truly inimitable Julie reports on a recent adventure. As usual the geography is a little, well, vague. There are two trails to Mumford Bar, one from the south, near Westville, on the Foresthill Divide, the other from the north, near Government Springs, on Sawtooth Ridge.

The former is reached via Foresthill, the latter via Emigrant Gap and Forest Road 19, turning left onto the Helester Point Road. Julie went in via Government Springs.

To reach the North Fork is a hike of a few miles. The canyon is 3000 feet deep here and is deepening as one goes east.

She fords the river, and ventures up the American River Trail to the base of the Beacroft Trail, the next trail east, going up the Foresthill Divide from Mumford.

This is a hike of a few miles.

Then she and her friend return.

About cloud bows: the best treatment I have found was in a coffe-table book full of gorgeous color plates titled "Clouds of the World," by an airline pilot who always flew with his camera. This book came out around 1978 or so and is likely long out of print. Essentially, there are many types of ice crystals, in cirrus clouds, and related clouds. Each type has its own peculiar angle of refraction. Hence each type of cloud bow is located a certain angular measure from the sun; we call the line from our eye to the sun, zero degrees, and on the same line, produced behind us to infinity, is the anti-solar point, at 180 degrees. A particular type of cloud bow may be found only at an angular distance of degrees, for instance.

Sun dogs are those commonest cloud bows located on the "ring around the sun," the angular separation of which, I am embarassed to report, I do not recall; it might be 35.26 degrees.

So familiar sounding, the nature mystisism and cloud bows. Now when I see
them, they are still just as magical, but in a different way. Not because
they mean something, but just because they exist and I am lucky enough to
see them sometimes. I saw one yesterday (Tuesday) after a magnificent hike
down Mumford Bar with Kathi. We were in full sun almost all the way down,
and there was no snow in Emigrant Gap. At the river it was cold and shady ,
naturally, and it was painful to cross the water. 34 steps to take and the
pain sets in after 24! We proceeded up past the Mumford cabin, and lunched
at the wonderful roaring and thundering grotto near the bottom of Beacroft.
The day did warm finally in the bottom of the canyon and our crossing on the
ruturn trip was much more pleasant. Then back into the warm sun up the
slope. We decided to top off the day with a visit to Big Valley Bluff, and
that is where we were treated to a sight of the sun dogs. One on either side
of the sun, as it settled into some low clouds. The moon was high and quite
large. The snow on surrounding peaks took on a peculiar steel blue color as
the sunset dwindled to dusk, truly one of the more dramatic sights I've
seen. And sun dogs too! Julie

Quite a nice long walk! Thanks, Julie!

Monday, December 12, 2005

Cloud-bow Over the North Fork

Sunday morning I met Catherine O'Riley and old skiing buddy Kelly Olrich for a visit to Giant Gap, via the spectacular and steep Canyon Creek Trail, and the spectacular yet level HOUT (High Old Upriver Trail; pronounced to rhyme with "shout"). The day had dawned cloudy, and at 8:30 a.m. we shivered a bit in the parking lot of the (I-80) Dutch Flat exit's Tesoro gas station, where volunteers were gathering to search for the body of Christie Wilson. We waited for other possible members of our own party to arrive, and when none did, set off trespassing across the Gold Run Diggings to the trailhead in Potato Ravine.

It is said that a good crop of potatoes was grown in the meadowy headwaters of Potato Ravine, in the year 1849 itself. Hence the name.

Just west of the Diggings rises Cold Springs Hill, which retains a patch of the "Tertiary volcanics" on its crest, roughly horizontal layers of rhyolite ash surmounted by more layers of andesitic mudflow.

Since it is all less than thirty million years old, geologists incline to call it juvenile. It is "young." Beneath these "young volcanics" lies the ancient bedrock. What strata this bedrock has, has been rotated to a near-vertical orientation, with the upturned layers striking north. So the layers of the old rock, below, are at right angles to the layers of the young volcanics, above.

This is called a "profound unconformity." The two sets of strata are entirely disjunct. Sometime in the Jurassic, probably, this ancient bedrock crashed into the west coast of North American, carried on a subducting oceanic plate, and this part of it was scraped off and welded onto the continental margin.

Deep underground. Miles deep. And the strata of the stuff on this oceanic plate were tipped up vertical in the process.

Let a hundred million years of uplift and erosion follow. The somewhat mashed rocks are at last exhumed. A mountain range rises, is eroded into low hills with broad meandering rivers flowing in flat-bottomed valleys.

Then the young volcanics come along and bury it all.

Then the whole Sierra, breaking free from terrain to the east on near-vertical faults, rises, like a trap-door with its hinges buried beneath the abysmally deep sediments of California's Central Valley--and is tilted up into a steeper slope down to the southwest, and here, around these parts, a brand new set of canyons is cut into a kind of hummocky plateau of young volcanics.

The new canyons are about four or five million years old. Basalt on the crest of Sawtooth Ridge has been dated to 3.82 million years. The North Fork canyon has downcut about 2500 feet in that time.

They are not that thick, the young volcanics. And they are not that strong. So it does not take all that long for the brand new rivers to cut down into the ancient bedrock underneath. At first, large remnants of the hummocky plateau of andesitic mudflow remain on the ridges between nascent canyons; on the "interfluves." But as the canyons deepen, they also widen, and these remnants shrink. Smaller. Smaller. Smaller.

Rivers try to cut down to their base level. The North Fork's base level is around 50 feet in elevation, near Sacramento. Hence, with an elevation of 1600' in Giant Gap, the North Fork is in a position to cut much deeper yet. Eventually, in the process sketched above, the canyons would deepen and widen until the patches of mudflow on the interfluves disappeared altogether, and it will then be the ancient bedrock, from river to ridgecrest.

But that is two or three million years from now, and this, this is now. And now, the uplands between canyons still wear vestiges of the andesitic plateau, of the "young volcanics."

We kept our warm clothes on as we strode down the tiny trail, so charming in its passage through that odd mix of Dogwood and Knobcone Pine and California Hazelnut of Potato Ravine, into the Canyon Live Oak and scattered Bay Laurel of Canyon Creek.

As is usual in this part of the Sierra, a widespread understory of shade-tolerant Douglas Fir is growing beneath this elfin oak forest, studded with gnarled giants which have struggled for centuries against blizzards in winter, and an inferno of dry heat in summer--and if no wildfires intervene, the Douglas Fir will win out in the end, with other shade-tolerant, but wildfire-intolerant species, coming to dominate.

A critical point is reached when the young Douglas Fir breach the canopy of the oaks. With full access to sunshine their foliage rapidly thickens and shades a larger and larger area, weakening and slowly killing the oak.

So here as elsewhere in the Sierra we see the principles of forest succession in action, and the old-time Ponderosa Pine-Kellogg's Black Oak forest association of the uplands, and its compeer Canyon Live Oak forest of the canyon walls--both the products of thousands of years of regular wildfires--are being engulfed in shade-tolerant conifers like Douglas Fir, White Fir, and Incense Cedar.

As we dropped lower and Canyon Creek broke into a series of waterfalls, an inner gorge developed and the trail is cut into nearly sheer cliffs. In many places blasting was required. I would not expect that this trail was made early, in the Gold Rush itself, but rather somewhat later, perhaps in the 1860s, when Canyon Creek carried most all the tailings of the Gold Run mines, and was itself fitted with sluice boxes, between the many waterfalls. Then a good trail would have been needed. Many men would have tended these giant sluice boxes, twenty-four hours a day.

We visited those California Milkmaids in bloom at The Terraces, one of the places the miners used to camp.

Around the 1900' contour we broke away east and after a short scramble reached the thread-like HOUT. The river--the North Fork--roared calmly a few hundred feet below.

The HOUT is but the echo of a dream to steal the North Fork and sell its water to San Francisco. A Giant Gap Canal would be the centerpiece of this ambitious project of the late 1890s, with four tunnels. The line was surveyed and an approximation of the grade was nicked into the canyon wall. If necessary, a ledge was blasted from a cliff, along this (roughly) 1900-foot contour. This very grade served as a trail so that the work of surveying and blasting could continue; apparently several men were at work, starting in Green Valley and working west into Giant Gap, and starting at Canyon Creek and working east.

What remains of their efforts is the HOUT. A tiny little thread, with many a dip and a bump, but almost level on average--the Giant Gap Canal would have had a slope of ten feet in one mile--the HOUT must then be like a contour line and follow every twist and turn of ravine and spur ridge.

And there are very very many ravines and spur ridges, large and small, as one walks the HOUT. So it is quite an intricate path.

There are many vistas of Giant Gap to the east, or to the west, a fine series of interlacing spur ridges goes blue into a distance of several miles, near Iowa Hill, as one look down the great canyon.

All was still cloudy and the cliff-burgeoning gorge had narrowed enough so, under winter sun conditions, the sun tracking low across the southern sky, a great shadow not only enveloped the south canyon wall, rising two thousand feet and more from river to canyon rim, but crossed the river and reached up nearly to the HOUT itself, on the north canyon wall.

So a pool of cold air, which has intensified during the night, can be slow to leave the depths of the canyon, with shadows embracing so much area.

On the HOUT, one skims along near the top of the invisible pool of cold air dwelling in the canyon depths. The ins and outs of the canyon rim, across the river to the south, mean that the HOUT is in sun or in shadow.

We saw more flowers in bloom; something of quite aromatic stems, with a small yellow flower; and many buckwheats which have long since finished their ordinary bloom, back in June, say, and have for some reason decided that, with shriveled leaves and brittle stems, they will now, in December, flower yet again--it is quite odd.

Or not. This December buckwheat bloom is much reduced from the summertime masses of tiny flowers. One small flower here, another, there, and over here, three of them at the tip of one thin stalk. The plants look quite dead until one sees the itsy-bitsy flowers. Catherine spotted them.

We reached Big West Spur and turned around onto the west-facing slopes near the Bear Bed, with fine views down to the river below. Two of the drastic 90-degree bends of the North Fork in Giant Gap were in view, and much of the river for a mile down towards Canyon Creek.

But still no sun and the warm clothes were on as we had lunch.

Later, on the way back out, the afternoon sun dropped below the cloud deck and a fine pure light flooded cliffs and pinnacles and for the first time those sharp deep wintry shadows formed, which so well pick out the details of this oddly-sculpted gorge.

A large moon rose over ruddy Eagle Puke Point, the highest of The Pinnacles across from Lovers Leap. Here golden eagles used to roost and regurgitate large pellets of fur and bone, much like owls do.

We took our time. I lagged behind, taking photographs. The scene was magnificent. The sun was near to setting as we neared the Canyon Creek Trail again, and the clouds had thinned to bright patches of cirrus and cirrocumulus, dappling against a deep blue sky. The sun just kissed the canyon rim to the west. Suddenly I realized that a cloud bow had formed, on a patch of cirrus directly above the sun, in the twelve o'clock position were one looking at a clock-face.

It was a smear of color across otherwise white and light grey clouds. Similar to the sun-dogs one sometimes sees at three and nine o'clock on the "ring around the sun," so common in high thin cirrus. In fact, the angular separation of the cloud bow from the sun--which is so crucial to establish, for if one does not know this angle, one cannot tell which of five or ten types of cloud-bow, this one might be--the angular separation seemed "not dissimilar" to the angular separation of the ring-around-the-sun.

At any rate it was quite pretty. People don't often see cloud bows. There was a time, when I was young, when I indulged myself in a kind of nature mysticism; I was always seeing cloud bows, then, and they always had to do with romance.

In my world.

I would be walking to Dutch Flat, my latest piece-of-junk car dead, all obsessed with this or that romance, this or that woman, upset, or in love, or heartbroken perhaps, muttering to myself, "Well, at least I haven't seen a cloud bow, with *her*! She's not like the others, then. No cloud bow, no stupidly thinking, 'She's the One'"--

And then, of course, I would see a cloud bow. Yet another cloud bow. I think of them as rare, but if one is attuned to cloud bows and looks for them, one will see them.

We slogged slowly up the steep trail and reached the truck well after sunset, around 5:15. There was plenty of light, tho, and the waxing moon, nearing the full now, was in close conjunction with what I took to be a planet, maybe Mars or Saturn. Some other planet blazed white to the west, likely Venus.

The moon was like to occult the planet (or star), but I guessed it would not, or much ado would have been made, on television.

It was another great day in the great canyon.

Wednesday, December 7, 2005

Mining History at Gold Run

The 1884 Sawyer Decision more or less ended hydraulic mining in the Sierra.

With respect to the patented claim on Canyon Creek known as the Canyon Creek Placer Mine (CCPM), part of the 800-acres-now-for-sale at Gold Run, we obtain a snapshot of the CCPM in 1867, when the discerning eye of J. Ross Browne was cast over the mines of the area [Resources of the Pacific Slope, 1869, New York, D. Appleton].

At that time the CCPM was owned by "Kinder and White." Soon it would pass to the Gold Run Ditch & Mining Company; much later, it would belong to James Stewart the Younger, the son of the man twice mentioned below, the son whose name is forever attached to the Gold Run Diggings (labeled the "Stewart Gravel Mine" on the USGS Dutch Flat quadrangle). But no one lives forever, and the Stewart lands passed to the Pohleys of Auburn, and thence to a group of investors sometimes called Gold Run Properties.

And now it is all for sale.

Browne's essay would benefit much from a map of the area, and a detailed map of the mines; I have such maps, and know the long-forgotten names of the ravines leading into Canyon Creek across the Gold Run Diggings--from north to south, Rock Creek, Goosling Ravine, Gold Run Ravine, Potato Ravine, and Judd Ravine.

Judd Ravine is crossed by the Canyon Creek Trail just south of the great tunnel of the Gold Run Ditch & Mining Company.

The Blue Lead was the gold-rich stratum of deepest Eocene sediments, lying on the bedrock floor of the ancient river channel. "Lead" is pronounced to rhyme with "feed" or "mead" and is closely related to the word "lode."

So. Here are the Gold Run. Mines, in 1867.

GOLD RUN.-On the Railroad divide, between Bear river and the north fork of the American, the Blue lead appears at Dutch Flat, Gold Run, and Indiana Hill. The width of the lead here is nearly half a mile, and there are 200 or 300 feet of pay gravel, with no overlying barren stratum. Squire's ca–on, which empties into Bear river, separates Dutch Flat from Gold Run. The latter did not obtain a large supply of water until lately, and therefore its best claims have not been exhausted, and it is the most prosperous hydraulic camp in California. Nine thousand inches of water are used here, requiring a payment of $1,000 a day or more in gold. The gravel is peculiarly soft and there is great depth, so that high power is obtained, and more dirt is washed in proportion to the quantity of water used than in any other large hydraulic district.

GRAVEL AT GOLD RUN.-The bed of auriferous gravel at Gold Run is about 350 feet deep, of which only about 150 feet have been worked so far. The sluices are therefore 200 feet above the bed rock. A shaft was sunk 185 feet deep in Potato ravine to the bed rock, and the bottom of that ravine is below the level of most of the sluices. It is to be presumed that the bed rock in that shaft is no lower than elsewhere in the channel. Pay gravel was found all the way down, and it was soft until within six or eight feet of the bottom. This vast bed of gravel two miles long, half a mile wide, and 250 feet deep, cannot be washed away for many years.

OUTLET.-Although the ca–on of the north fork of the American river is at least 2,500 feet deep, yet it is two miles distant from Gold Run, and the tailings must run into Ca–on creek, which near the claims is only 150 or 175 feet below their levels. Several claims have been compelled to stop work because they no longer have any outlet. An outlet must be obtained 200 feet deeper than Ca–on creek, and it must be had without waiting for the gradual washing out of the Blue Lead channel from the ca–on of the north fork of the American river. That outlet will be through a tunnel about a mile long, and from this tunnel shafts will run up to the various claims. It will be very costly, but on the other hand it will yield an immense return.

FACILITIES FOR PIPING.-There is no prettier hydraulic washing than that at Gold Run. The gravel is very soft, it is deep, water is abundant with a high pressure, the claims are large, and there is no superincumbent layer of barren matter. In proportion to the amount of work done fewer men are employed at Gold Run than at any other camp in the State. At Smartsville much time is spent in blasting; at La Porte, in puddling; at Dutch Flat, in attending to large boulders; but none here. Two men are sufficient here to do all the work in a claim that uses 300 inches of water. As an inch of water is equal to a supply of 145 pounds per minute, or 8,700 pounds per hour, or 102,900 pounds (51 tons) in 12 hours, so it follows that 300 inches supplies 15,000 tons in a day; and as the water carries off at least one-tenth-the ordinary calculation is one-fifth-of its bulk of earthy matter, it follows that two men wash 1,500 tons at Gold Run in 12 hours, or 750 tons each. It is a common saying at Dutch Flat that there three pipes are required to break down as much gravel as the water of one can wash away, but in Gold Run one pipe will break down as much as three can wash away. This is an exaggeration when stated as a general principle, though it has been true in some instances.

CA„ON CREEK.-Ca–on creek runs from Gold Run along the eastern border of the Blue Lead 3 1/2 miles down to Indiana Hill, where it empties into the north fork of the American river. This creek furnishes the outlet for many of the claims. The original bed of the creek was in general 350 feet below the surface of the lead, or "gravel range," as it is also called, but the bed has been in some places filled up as much as fifty feet with gravel.

WATER.- Piping was commenced at Indiana Hill on a small scale in 1857, with 400 inches, supplied in the late winter and early spring by a ditch from Ca–on creek. Four years later the Dutch Flat ditch brought to Gold Run 800 inches, which ran for six or seven months, and have since been doubled; and the Bear River ditch brought in 800 more; and in 1864 [1865-RT] the South Yuba ditch brought in 2,500 inches. The demand for water has always exceeded the supply, and as the supply increased so did the amount of work and of production. (Gold Run produced $150,000, in 1865; $300,000 in 1866; and the yield for 1867 is estimated at $500,000. The customary price for water is 12 cents per inch for 12 hours, and 20 cents for 24 hours.)

SQUIRE'S CA„ON CLAIMS. -On the southern lode of Squire's ca–on , in the Gold Run district, are the following claims, commencing at the east: Frost & Co. began work in 1865, wash through an open cut, use 300 inches of water, and usually run in day-time only, though they have run night and day at times. W. H. Kinder began work in 1866, uses 300 inches of water, washes through an open cut, and runs in day-time only. Wentworth & Co. began work in 1866, use 300 inches of water night and day, and wash through an open cut. A. Bell & Co. are running a bed rock tunnel, and have not commenced washing. Wolcott & Co. began work in 1867, and the claim was sold in June for $3,500. They use 300 inches of water in daylight only, and wash through an open cut, but intend to cut a tunnel. The Bailey claim, consisting of 21 claims, each 100 by 200 feet, has not seen opened, and no work is being done. Crader & Co. began in 1867, and use 175 inches day and night.

CA„ON CREEK CLAIMS.-The claims which have their outlet into Ca–on creek are the following, near the head of Squire's ca–on : The Rock Company opened their claim in 1866, and used 250 inches of water, running day and night. They are not piping now, but are preparing to lay a long pipe so as to have a heavy pressure for 1868. Hughes & Co. opened their claim in 1866, but are not at work now. A. S. Benton opened his claim in 1867, and uses 300 inches of water by day light only. The Harkness claim has been worked by sluice and pipe for 10 years, is now taking 650 inches of water day and night, and draining through an open cut. Behind Harkness is the claim of Halsey & Co., 900 feet long by 500 wide, which cannot be worked until an outlet is obtained through the claim in front. A fourth interest was offered for sale in last February for $2,000, but no buyer appeared. It would have found ready sale if there had been an outlet. Next to Harkness, on Ca–on creek, is the claim of Goding & Co., who have worked off the top of their claim as low as they can go, and are now waiting for a deeper outlet. The claim of Benton & Co., adjoining, is in a similar condition. The Bay State claim was opened in 1857, and has been worked steadily since whenever water could be had. In 1866 it used 750 inches day and night; this year it used 350. The profit never has been large, though the gross yield has been $150,000, and the yield for 1866 $37,000. The claim of Abeel is in the same condition as that of Goding.

GOOSLING RAVINE CLAIMS.-Goosling & Co. have been at work since 1854. A ravine runs down through the middle of the claim, and they are piping on each side, using 300 inches day and night on one side, and 300 inches in daytime only on the other. Goosling ravine is in this claim. Prindle & Co. opened their claim in 1864, and used 275 inches of water day and night. Work has been closed for this season because the pipe has advanced to within 50 feet of a ditch, the proprietors of which have warned the claim owners that they will be held responsible for any damage to the ditch. Four ditches cross this claim. The outlet is through Goosling's ravine.. The Uncle Abe claim, behind Goosling, is irregular in shape, but is about 1,000 feet long by 850 feet wide. It was opened in 1867, and in April, May, and June, yielded $12,000. It was sold in May for $6,000. The consumption of water is 275 inches day and night.

LOWER CA„ON CREEK CLAIMS.-The claim of Winters & Co. has been worked three years, and is in the same condition as Goding's. The Bay State No. 2 is unopened. An offer of $3,000 for the claim was refused. The Hall claim was worked for two years, but is idle this season for want of an outlet. The claim of Taylor, Moore & Co. is about 1,000 feet square, was worked on a small scale from 1853 till 1865, and for the last two years has been piping on a large scale. It was sold this year for $11,000. The yield in "a run of 22 days," as a run of 11 days day and night is termed, is usually between $4,000 and $5,000. The Church claim was opened in 1860, and the yield in 1866 was $27,000. Three-fifths of the claim were sold in 1865 for $7,000. Of water, 275 inches are used in the day-time only. The Golden Gate claim began work in 1858, uses 300 inches of water in daytime only, pays well, and is the last claim that tails immediately into Ca–on creek.

GOLD RUN CA„ON.-The Gold Run claim began work in 1859, uses 300 inches of water in the day-time only, has paid well, and tails into Gold Run ca–on, which is on the southern side of the claim. An offer of $10,000 for the claim has been refused. The Fitzpatrick claim, fronting on Gold Run ca–on , has lately been sold for $2,100, and is now preparing to work with 300 inches of water. On the south side of Gold Run ca–on , and opposite to the Fitzpatrick claim, is the Sheldon claim, owned by the Dutch Flat Water Company. It has been worked several years, but is idle now. The Huyck and Hubbard claim, fronting on Gold Run ca–on, has a sluice tunnel, but is waiting for cheaper water, and doing nothing. The Home Ticket has been worked four years, and uses 350 inches in day time. The gross yield in May and June, 1867, was about $100 per day. The Newark was opened in 1863, uses 300 inches in the day-time, and yielded about $75 gross in June, 1867.

POTATO RAVINE.-The following companies tail into Potato ravine, a tributary of Ca–on creek: Baldwin and Bailey have been at work three years, using 275 inches of water in the day-time, and obtaining about $70 gross per day. The Harris claim is large and unopened. The Fitzpatrick claim yields about $75 gross per day, was opened in 1866, and consumes 330 inches of water in day-time. The Cedar Company have 900 by 800 feet, began work in 1861, run 300 inches day and night, and obtain about $230 in 24 hours. The yield in 1866 was $35,000, one-half of it profit. Stewart and Kinder have 500 feet square, fronting on both Ca–on creek and Potato ravine, but are not at work. Along Ca–on creek there is a rim rock, so they will tail into Potato ravine. They refused an offer of $1,500 for the claim. The Judd and Griffin claim, 1,000 feet square, has been worked since 1854, and was sold in 1866 for $3,500. The yield is about $75 per day, with 270 inches running twelve hours out of the twenty-four. To get drainage an open cut was made 600 or 700 feet long in the rim-rock, and in one place 40 feet deep. Huyck and Judd have one of the most profitable claims of the district on the eastern side of Indiana Hill ca–on, which empties into the north fork of the American river. They have been at work since 1854, use 275 inches of water in the day-time, and cleared $7,000 in 1866. The Hoskin claim adjoining is open, but is not worked.

INDIANA CEMENT MILL.-Mallory, Gaylord & Co. are working with an eight stamp cement mill, driven by a hurdygurdy wheel. Their claim is the only one in the district in which the bed-rock has been reached. Their mode of getting out dirt is to cut a tunnel 60 or 70 feet on the bed-rock, let off a blast of 200 kegs of powder, sluice off the top dirt, and run the cement through the mill.

INDIANA CA„ON CLAIMS.-The following claims tail into Indiana Hill ca–on. The Hawkins claim was opened this year, uses 350 inches night and day, and yields $200 in 24 hours. The Brink claim was opened in 1864, but is not worked now on account of disturbance of the telegraph or flume from which the pipe is fed. The yield was about $75 per day, and the quantity of water 300 inches. Work will be resumed next year. Stewart and Prindle opened their claim in 1867, use 200 inches day and night, and take out about $100 per day.

MOODY'S TAIL SLUICE.-In Ca–on creek Moody & Co. have a double tail sluice 2,000 feet long, consisting of two flumes, each eight feet wide and about four feet deep. This sluice cost $25,000. The lower part was carried away in 1862, and the upper part was buried and had to be replaced. The yield was $10,000 in 1865, $7,000 in 1866, and $3,000 in the first half of 1867. An offer of $11,000 for a third interest was refused. The estimated receipts for 1867 are $10,000. Most of the cleaning up is done in September and October, when there is not much water for piping.

KINDER'S TAIL SLUICE.-Kinder and White have a tail sluice in Ca–on creek and claim the creek for a mile and a half below Moody & Co. In the upper part of their claim they have two sluices eight feet wide and 700 feet long. Half of the sluice was sold in 1865 for $3,000, but since then it has become more valuable. The grade is three inches to 12 feet. This sluice was carried away in 1865. The following companies tail into the two tail sluices in Ca–on creek:

Companies Inches
Rock Creek...... 275
Benton & Co.... 350
Harkness......... 600
Bay State......... 350
Bell.................. 300
German........... 600
Uncle Abe....... 275
Taylor & Co..... 400
Church............ 275
Golden Gate..... 3OO
Home Ticket.... 350
Newark............ 300
Bailey & Bro..... 275
Fitzpatrick........ 300
Brogan............. 300

Total 5,250

The Gold Run tail sluice, in Gold Run ca–on , is 1,500 feet long, six feet wide, and yields $6,000 or $7,000 a year. It tails into Ca–on creek. Goosling & Co. have a tail sluice 3,000 feet long in Goosling ravine, and four companies tail into it. Two tail sluices are buried 20 or 30 feet deep in this mine. Huyck and Judd have 1,000 feet of tail sluice in Indiana Hill ca–on.

HOSKINS TAIL SLUICE.-The Hoskins tail sluice is in Indiana Hill ravine, which is so steep that the sluice is in short sections, the longest 24 feet, and between the sections the water pitches down over steep rocks. There are in all fifteen boxes of main tail sluice, six or eight feet wide and two or two and a half feet deep, with a grade of eight inches to 12 feet. Besides the main sluice boxes there are a number of undercurrent boxes, from six to nine feet wide, 14 inches deep, with a grade of 12 or 13 inches to 12 feet. Not more than one-fifth of the matter in the main sluice gets into the undercurrent, passing through a cast grating of white iron, with openings an inch wide, eight inches and a half long, separated by bars an inch and a half thick on top. There are usually from 600 to 1,200 inches of water running in the main sluice and 120 in the undercurrent, which latter catches three times as much gold as the former, because the current is slower and shallower. There are second undercurrents, or secondaries, as they are usually called. Their grade is 14 or 15 inches to the box, their width 30 inches, and their depth 12. They take one-fifteenth of the water of the undercurrent, and catch one-eighth as much gold. They are especially serviceable for catching quicksilver. The spaces in the grating are five inches long and three-eighths of an inch wide. There are three boxes of 12 feet to each undercurrent, and two to each secondary. The undercurrents always pay where the gold is fine, and the secondaries are especially serviceable in steep ca–ons.

Tuesday, December 6, 2005

The Hike of the Seven Sunsets

My old skiing buddy Kelly and I snuck into the Gold Run Diggings this morning under bright sun and deep blue skies, for a visit to Canyon Creek. We were trespassing over the 800-acres-now-for-sale, one of the more important chunks of open space in all Placer County, for so many reasons; but I digress:

This Canyon Creek, one of many of that name in the Sierra, is a tributary of the North Fork American, having the form of a hanging valley, the North Fork having downcut much faster; so that the creek breaks into a long series of waterfalls and a rather incredible inner gorge, as it approaches the river.

All through the winter there is fine hiking in the main canyon, especially on the north (south-facing) canyon wall. But the most all the waterfall section of Canyon Creek, about a mile in length, faces south. So precious hours of winter sun warm the cliffs around the waterfalls.

We drove a mile into the Diggings and turned left on one of many roads, this particular track leading east into Potato Ravine, a tributary of Canyon Creek, where the trail proper begins.

Near the head of Potato Ravine, on Cold Springs Hill to the west, was the trading post established in 1849. At that time, and all through 1850, gold miners were concentrated on the main rivers and their principal tributaries. For instance, we have the diaries, I think, of several miners who worked this part of the North Fork, in 1849, and it is pretty much a certainty that at least the last two miles of Canyon Creek, itself, would have been claimed and worked over, in 1849 and 1850--for all this reach of Canyon Creek would have been enriched, auriferously speaking, by the proximity of the Eocene river channel deposits.

But in 1851, a momentous step was taken: from Pickering Bar, just down from Canyon Creek on the main North Fork, a group of miners, including one Steven Beers, prospected up Indiana Ravine, finding good color all the way to the rim of the canyon, where a stratum of cemented gravel was met, loaded with gold.

They had found the Blue Lead, that famous stratum of deepest Eocene-age river gravel. The rivers of the "ancestral" Sierra meandered over broad floodplains built of sediments hundreds of feet deep. At the very bottom of these fluvial deposits was the (often, cemented) Blue Lead, blue, because those deep gravels have typically been in a "reducing" environment, for many millions of years. So there has not been the oxygen present to make iron in the sediments turn red.

The miners filed claims and soon a rush was on and the Indiana Hill Mining District was organized, in late 1851 or early 1852, this being the original mining district of what would become known as Gold Run. It had its own Recorder and its own mining laws, regulating the size of claims, etc. The Indiana Hill Ditch was completed in September, 1852, bringing water to the site of the discovery, at the head of Indiana Ravine.

The trading post was at Cold Springs Hill, on the sunny, southwest-facing side of things, where the Indians used to camp, and the settlement, dating from 1849, bore the same name until, in 1854, to set themselves apart from a few too many other localities named "Cold Springs" in California, the miners renamed the place Mountain Springs. This lasted until 1861 or so, when a new townsite was laid out, and named Gold Run.

Kelly and I wasted little time following the trail down those first cool and shady east-facing slopes, and over patches of hoarfrost, pausing to visit sunny Oxbow Bend at Canyon Creek, but soon advancing past the great drain tunnel of the Gold Run Ditch & Mining Company, then on down, over the little stick of a bridge, and finally into the full sun of December 5th, 2005.

Our pace slowed in the friendly warmth, and as we dropped deeper and deeper into the canyon, tramping over fresh new green grass, and the main North Fork canyon itself gradually opened to view, I told Kelly how, last December, Ron and Catherine and I had observed what seemed the earliest onset of the "spring" bloom, finding Brewer's Rock Cress at Lovers Leap (4000' elevation!), blooming on December 16, and California Milkmaids, another Mustard Family plant, blooming at The Terraces, at Canyon Creek, a few days later.

I pointed out some Brewer's Rock Cress on the cliffs along the trail--here, at what I call Gorge Point, it usually flowers around February 1st; and down at The Terraces, the Milkmaids often bloom in early January--haltingly I explained these difficult concepts--and then last year--last December--there came the Miracle: these two species broke into bloom far ahead of time

At the Six-Inch Trail, we scared a band of ten pigeons from their roosts in the shadowy thundering secret waterfall chasm nearby; most were the pure-white racing pigeons, which have been seen around there for maybe three or four years, now.

We dropped away west from the steep trail onto much steeper, cliffy terrain with fine little ledges embroidered in coarse club mosses, and picked our way straight down to Canyon Creek, at the base of the Big Waterfall, recently estimated to be ~150 feet high.

There is quite a varied assemblage of shrubs growing on the steep walls of Canyon Creek's gorge, Manzanita (two species), Deerbrush, Buckbrush, Holly-Leafed Redberry, Toyon, California Bay Laurel (shrub form), Silktassel, Mountain Mahogany, and even that rarity, Flowering Ash.

I have identified eleven different fern species along the Canyon Creek Trail.

There are dozens, maybe hundreds, of different species of wildflowers which grow there.

Many are the handsome old Canyon Live Oaks, and the slender-yet-gnarled Digger Pines, but few are the Kellogg's Black Oaks, which like deeper soils. The larger conifers are confined to the uplands, here, but to the west, as the Calaveras Complex grades into metasediments, conifers of several species appear within the canyon, especially on the north-facing, south canyon wall, with its better soil moisture budget.

Broadly, there is a lot of bare rock on the canyon walls in and near Giant Gap, and what forest exists, is dominated by Canyon Live Oak, with a few ghostly Digger Pines sprouting above the matrix of oak.

In the wintertime, one will often see one of these graceful trees flaring an almost incandscent grey in full sun, with blue-shadowed canyon wall a quarter-mile behind the spired trunks. They have perhaps the largest of all pine seeds among Sierran conifers, and were much enjoyed by the Indians. The 49ers called them "Diggers," and the obvious rhyme was no accident. No, the 49ers are not only known for an overabundance of people from Pike County, Missouri, but they were known for an overabundance of Mexican War veterans; and by far the most of those were of the South.

Painting with a broad brush, one remarks, hence Diggers, and the rhyme.

It is true they dug up many edible bulbs, as from the Brodiaeas.

After lunching at the waterfall, inasmuch as the sun was setting already over those giddily steep cliffs seeming to overhang us on the west, so that an instant chill fell upon us, we took Waterfall Trail south to The Terraces, and as I was pointing out The Spot where the so-pretty California Milkmaids were wont to break into earliest bloom, to my amazement, there they were, already in bloom!

On December 5th!

So this is a New Record, marking the onset of the Spring Bloom. It is just a device to separate it from the rest of "the bloom," to call the beginning of the bloom cycle the "spring" bloom. For one species goes to seed while another just begins, until finally you have things like Fleabane and California Fuchsia blooming in October, and in favorable circumstances, even in November. Or even December.

And now, the species which had always pushed the envelope in any case, these Milkmaids, with their early-January bloom at The Terraces, at about 1900' elevation, on a sunny promontory above waterfalls, with monstrous--monstrous!--dry-laid stone walls supporting grassy lawns of a tiny compass--now these Milkmaids throw caution to the wind and begin blooming in early December?

C'est impossible, etc. etc., and enough said, except that now I begin to finally see that, just as the typical rains of October and November will trigger the growth of new grass--so that Spring seems to begin in Fall, here in California--so also The Bloom starts quite early, and, in fact, it is possible that one might find the earliest of the Spring blooms at the same time as the very last of the Fall blooms. Maybe at a lower elevation; maybe, in fact, there is some one latitude, below which the entire year is spanned by flowerings, above which some kind of decent non-blooming interval creeps in, and then increases, going northward.

Suppose this "latitudinal" model is correct. Perhaps then we can at least intuit that, if Cardamine californica can be found in bloom at 1900' elevation, in early December, the climate cannot be too continental, and full of extremes, but must be more maritime, and more comfortable and life-sustaining.

The Terraces is quite the "sweet spot" in the local spectrum of microclimates; this must be why the miners chose it for one of their principal camps.

For, Canyon Creek was operated as a "tailings claim" for many years, and was fitted up with giant sluice boxes and "undercurrents," why, they blasted broad ledges from solid rock, just to make room for their sluice boxes; and the sluice boxes had to be guarded, in any case, so that thieves would not harvest the precious amalgam of mercury and gold--guarded, twenty-four hours in a day; and the sluice boxes, tended, twenty-four hours, per day--so, camps were needed, and The Terraces is but one such camp, for the sluice-box tenders of Canyon Creek.

The Canyon Creek Placer Mine was not only a tailings claim, working over for a second time the Eocene gravel, which had already passed through the sluice boxes of various hydraulic mines; it was a *patented* tailings claim, under the infamous 1872 mining act, hence, it was private property in the fullest sense, and, today, forms 72 acres of the 800-acres-now-for-sale.

There is BLM (Bureau of Land Management) land to either side of the Canyon Creek Placer Mine, to the east, and to the west. Yet the private parcel contains the creek, the waterfalls, The Terraces, the Canyon Creek Trail, the many other side trails--this one parcel of private land governs everything, from a hiking/recreational standpoint.

The Canyon Creek Placer Mine is entirely within the Gold Run Addition to the North Fork American Wild & Scenic River; in 1978, Congress directed the Department of the Interior (by extension, the BLM), to acquire the private inholdings within the special Addition.

But none have been acquired, yet. They are all parts of the 800-acres-now-for-sale.

From The Terraces we explored the creek below and visited a waterfall, with the usual blasted ledge nearby, with giant iron bolts set deeply in the bedrock, to anchor the sluice boxes from the tremendous forces exerted by the tailings, before taking Lower Terraces Trail back to the main CCT, thence on down to the river, where we had nice sun right at the confluence. Actually, it was a day of many short breaks and side trails and explorations, and again and again the sun would set behind some high something, to our west, such as noble Diving Board Ridge, and the shadows would chase us to some other sunny spot, where we would again rest, only to be chased off yet again.

And so it went. Kelly thought we could name our adventure, The Hike of the Seven Sunsets.

Finally, making the main climb up and out, in shade--welcome shade while making a steep climb like that--Kelly spotted a beguiling bear trail, breaking sharply right, to the east, and I remembered some kind of rocky point over that way, commanding an awesome view. So off we went, and soon climbed right up out of the cold shadows into full sunshine, on a broad expanse of bedrock, with great views of Giant Gap and Diving Board Ridge, Roach Hill, Iowa Hill, etc. etc.

From there we decided to brave a cross-country scramble, straight up the narrow spine of rocky ridge dividing Canyon Creek from the North Fork, to another incredible overlook spot we call the Blasted Digger, after a huge old pine struck partly dead by lightning, long ago.

From the Blasted Digger, a faint trail leads back to the main CCT.

It was a climb of five hundred feet, the entire route following a bear trail, and so plain and easy I felt sure it had been the line of the old Indian trail, before the Gold Rush, and possibly also the Gold Rush line of the CCT, before any blasting was done, to carry the trail across the cliffs, on an easier grade. For this ridge route is often very steep.

Our efforts won us another few minutes of sunshine, blessedly warm, on a west-facing cliff of metavolcanic rock; we were well pleased with our shortcut, and when the sun set for the last time, we just started walking, and didn't stop until we reached the Subaru, about twenty minutes later.

So it was another great day in the great canyon. As we left the place, there were long golden beams of light slanting in to gild forests of live oak and pine, and bless ruddy great cliffs of rock, and cast deep blue shadows, growing ever larger and darker.

Saturday, December 3, 2005

What I Should Have Said

I spoke at a PARC get-together last night, before a crowd of maybe forty people, about trails, and the Big Granite Trail, and what happens when a bulldozer skids logs over an ancient footpath, and so on.

I felt I had little time and could not properly develop my subject. But I am not much of a speaker, anyway, perhaps because I never make any notes, and just start flailing about, and hope for the best.

What I should have said is that the magnitude and pervasiveness of the old trails problem has only come into focus for me in recent years; that I am astounded that We the People did not rise up and stop the destruction, decades ago; that I am at fault and PARC is at fault, and of course TNF and the BLM are at fault, and the Placer County Supervisors are at fault ...

For, when I look back at my own efforts, it is as tho I had studied under FEMA, how best to fail; and under the geological Principal of Uniformity, if I myself am a miniature FEMA-in-inaction as it were, then as night must follow day, so also are the other environmentalists. Collectively, we have handled an emergency--the wanton destruction of our trails, our open space, etc.--in a most FEMA-like manner.

Perhaps we were waiting for some other agency, some other environmental organization, to do its simple duty. "Tahoe National Forest will guard the old trails," one thinks, or, "the Sierra Club will step in and fix this," or, "CDF won't let the loggers destroy Lost Camp and the head of the China Trail."

Just as FEMA seems to have waited for other agencies to spring into action and provide leadership, after Hurricane Katrina.

I forgot to mention, to the people of PARC, the historic trails so ruined by logging they cannot be followed, not far from the Big Granite Trail: the Sugar Pine Point Trail, the Big Valley Trail, the Big Bend-Devils Peak Trail, the Monumental Creek Trail, the Mears Meadow Trail, ... ah ... the list goes on.

These are the very trails once used by many hikers and equestrians, through pristine forests and meadows, into steep gorges and canyons, and to various lakes; in Lardner's 1927 history of Placer County, he mentions that at Cisco, the original beginning of the Big Granite Trail, "guides and horses can be found here, for trips further into the mountains."

So. These very ruined trails are the ones that would have been used on those trips "further into the mountains."

Most all the damage there happened within the last three decades.

One might think, "the environmental movement is strong, here in California."

To which I reply, "Yes, we are like FEMA! Wonderfully strong!"

Thursday, December 1, 2005

Equinoctial Storm Hits Gold Run!

I have some diverse material.

Re the "Equinoctial Storms" of diarists I.T. Coffin and Josephine Freeman--rain storms marking the end of the summer dry season, and the beginning of the winter wet season, around the autumnal equinox. OK. I am reminded that Julius Caesar noticed such storms, in Book Five of his De Bello Gallico (Rome, 50 B.C.).

Caesar and his legions had crossed to Britain and subdued the warlike natives, wild Celts, fighting from taloned chariots in blue war paint; the Romans prevailed, hostages were taken, the summer waned, and it was time to return to Gaul. Confronting the passage across the Channel with so many troops, he worried "... , ne anni tempore a navigatione excluderetur, quod aequinoctium suberat, ... ," which I freely translate as "that the time of the year might exclude navigation, because the Equinox was near."

So this business of the Equinoctial Storm has an ancient heritage.

Recently I rec'd a message from friend Tim Lasko that, in attempting to visit Canyon Creek, using the Paleobotanist Trail (PBT) to cross the Gold Run Diggings, he and his friends had found the road into the marvelous pine grove off Garrett Road, where one always parked to use the PBT, blocked by a large log, with a "no trespassing" sign nearby. Tim wrote, "It was my understanding that this was BLM land. Were you aware of this and is this BLM land? I will probably try to locate a BLM office on Monday and give them a call. Any idea who a contact would be?"

To which I replied, more or less, "Hey, don't you ever read my many lengthy emails, I wrote all about the log and the sign and the property line, last winter." And I directed him to Deane Swickard at the Folsom office of the BLM.

Tim called Deane and Deane said he would look into it and get back to Tim.

Apparently, though, in making a number of inquiries about the situation at Gold Run, from many sources, Tim found that the American River Conservancy (ARC) is making an effort to find funding to purchase at least some of the "800 acres now for sale," in the Gold Run Diggings.

I knew of this, and enjoyed a conversation with Alan Ehrgott, who heads up ARC, a few weeks ago. I guess the upshot of all this is that *there is hope for Gold Run*.

Yes, the aggregate mining interests are trying to buy the 800 acres. Yes, the issue of mercury contamination in the old mines clouds everything.

But don't count the ARC out. So, I say, many thanks to Alan Ehrgott and the ARC, and to Deane Swickard and the BLM, for moving forward. I only wish the BLM would set its sights upon the entire 800 acres, not just the southerly portion within the "Gold Run Addition" of the "North Fork American Wild & Scenic River [corridor]."

It could be that the one thing really needed, to go after the more northern part of the 800 acres, is a non-profit environmental organization of some kind, willing to accept title to these particular lands. (For the BLM, currently, does not wish to take title to these more-northern lands.)

To accept title is to accept, possibly, some measure of liability for existing mercury contamination on the property. The remediation of such contamination might be very expensive. Hence there is risk.

I guess that's all I have for now.

Oh yeah. PARC is hosting a get-together event at the Beecher Room of the Auburn Library, beginning 6:30 p.m. Friday, December 2, and I am slated to speak about trails, and show some photos, or something of the sort. It is open to the public. Tom Petersen of Georgetown will also talk about trails,and there will be some discussion, too, about a feared revival of the bad old Auburn Dam project, per the events in New Orleans.