Monday, February 27, 2006

Blocked Trail at Donner Lake

Over a period of some fifteen years, a portion of the Dutch Flat Donner Lake Wagon Road, in use as a foot trail, has been blocked, where it enters the property of one Frank Cadjew, between Donner Lake and Donner Pass. Recently I read in the Grass Valley Union that two of the Nevada County Supervisors favored abandoning the public easement on the old road, and relocating the "stock trail" (for that is how it was described). I wrote a letter to the Union, suggesting that the trail, in its historic alignment, be left open. Then, a man named Rick Martel, who is involved in the fight to keep this historic trail open, asked me to write a letter for the Sierra Sun.

Which follows.

Editor of the Sun:

With regard to Supervisor Owens' "'Whoa' on the stock trail," I am pleased that he values historical integrity. This "stock trail" is also the historic Dutch Flat Donner Lake Wagon Road, dating to 1864. Several of the first businesses at Donner Lake and Truckee were owned by Dutch Flat men, including my relatives, the Towle brothers, who sawed lumber for the CPRR snowsheds.

Almost all the historic public trails in this part of the Sierra saw plenty of sheep and cattle; but there was much recreational use as well, from the Gold Rush forward. Think of author Alonzo Delano and actress Lola Montez, visiting the local high country, in 1853. Think of painter Gilbert Munger, on the North Fork American below Old Soda Springs, in 1872.

A wonderful network of trails existed here, trails, and old wagon roads, before Tahoe National Forest came into existence, in 1905. Naturally, these old trails became Forest trails, and were patrolled and maintained by Forest rangers.

Unfortunately, unrestrained timber harvests have ruined many of these historic trails. Others have been gated closed, or blocked in some way, or blazoned with "no trespassing" signs. At the bottom line, we have done a terrible job of preserving the fine old trails bequeathed to us by our parents and grandparents. It is a terrible, terrible thing to lose public trails, to lose The Commons and our access to The Commons!

What about the Big Granite Trail? What about the Sugar Pine Point Trail? The Big Valley Trail, Mears Meadow Trail, Monumental Creek Trail, Big Bend-Devils Peak Trail, Long Valley Trail?

Ruined, ruined, ruined, ruined.

I do not know all the facts in this Donner Lake case, but I would beg Mr. Cadjew to remove his signs and barricades, and accept, please accept, that his property is encumbered with an historic public trail, the Dutch Flat Donner Lake Wagon Road.


Russell Towle

Friday, February 24, 2006

Near Giant Gap


Kathie Schmiechen, a firefighter who once worked for Friends of the River, stood rigidly on the High Old Upriver Trail, or HOUT, one arm raised high and arrow-straight, with palm held flat, in what could only have been some ancient Roman military hand-signal, meaning, I suppose, "Halt!"

In just such posture some antique Roman captain bestrode a bridge, and raised his arm in silent warning to the hoarsely screaming hordes of wildings: "Advance at your peril!"

I halted. I listened.

A chirp--or it may have been a cheep; or a quizzical buzzing, rhythmically repeated; or some friendly, dispersed tittering, away in the sun-sparked Canyon Live Oaks; or a mosquito-bill-thin shrieking buzz, pitched almost above the human ear; or a restless mumbled clucking, away in the manzanita and silktassel.

"A Ruby-Crowned Kinglet," Kathie exclaimed, happy, confident. Then her arm dropped, her gaze turned inward, and a frown creased her brow. "Or it may have been a Wrentit."

There were birds about. Many birds. The sun was shining, the grass was greening, butterflies were flying, flowers blooming, a river always roaring, and snow-flecked cliffs rose two thousand feet above us, across the North Fork, near Giant Gap.

Ed Pandolfino had been teaching Kathie Schmiechen to recognize birds by their songs and calls. I went hiking with Ed once, in the old forests of Duncan Canyon, an upper tributary of the Middle Fork American, and was astounded by his ability to recognize birds by sound alone.

Kathie arrived soon after ten in the morning for a visit to Canyon Creek. My old friend John Davenport, of Gold Run, had stopped by to say hello, as I sat by a picnic table in the Tesoro gas station parking lot, looking at a piece of Bigleaf Maple burl I have been polishing for days on end. The bird's-eye grain is spectacular. John asked me about the big blasted cut in the bedrock near The Oxbow, on Canyon Creek, right by where The Old Wagon Road makes a switchback, and turns downcanyon for its final approach to the twelve-foot by nine-foot tunnel of the Gold Run Ditch & Mining Company.

This 1873-era "drain tunnel" was critical to the continuation of hydraulic mining at Gold Run; only by means of this tunnel could the deeper and richer gravels be worked. Millions of cubic yards of tailings flowed through the giant tunnel, all lined with sluice boxes, a swiftly flowing muddy mess of clay and sand and hundred-pound boulders, and gold, and mercury.

Tons of mercury.

Then the tailings entered the sluice boxes of the Canyon Creek Placer Mine, and continued all the way down to the North Fork in the sluices, interrupted only by the many waterfalls, and at last were discharged into the North Fork proper, so clogging the mighty stream that one could drive a wagon right over the tailings, up the river from Mineral Bar, below Colfax, to Canyon Creek, below Gold Run, a distance of over ten miles.

I told John that the big blasted cut in the bedrock (a volume of approximately 40 feet wide by 100 feet long by ten feet depth), by the Oxbow, was made to accommodate giant sluice boxes, allowing the tailings to follow a straighter, more direct course down Canyon Creek, and also allowing the tailings to make a kind of waterfall fifteen or twenty feet high, which sudden fall served well to smash up the cemented gravel from the Diggings, and release its gold.

Kathie and I advanced into the Diggings and parked near the Canyon Creek Trail. Soon enough we were striding along the Indiana Hill Ditch, which coincides with a small length of the trail. The ditch was finished on September 13, 1852, and delivering water from Canyon Creek itself to the new "diggings" at the head of Indiana Ravine, all staked off into small claims during 1851, and only worked to a limited extent until the ditch arrived, in 1852.

The ditch traverses shady north-facing slopes in Potato Ravine, where the somewhat reclusive shrub called California Hazelnut grows, along with other very mesic-adapted woody plants like Pacific Dogwood, Thimbleberry, Wood Rose, and Huckleberry.

For a while, there, Kathie and I were on BLM land; we had crossed the 800-acres-now-for-sale to get to the trail, and would re-enter the 800 acres almost immediately, in the form of the Canyon Creek Placer Mine, a patented claim; for all the 800 acres is made from old patented mining claims.

The BLM lands are areas never patented.

We found the creek low enough to jump, down by the bridge site, and were soon passing the lovely purple Brewer's Rock Cress and yellow Biscuit Root at Gorge Point, soon, I say, although in point of fact Kathie made her ancient Roman military command many times, as we advanced down the trail.

Eventually, then, we found ourselves at the base of the Big Waterfall, which may be 150 feet high, and which bursts into view from the peculiar Inner Gorge as tho from a cave in the cliffs, a surging mass of whitewater.

The sun was very bright, and the air temperature was climbing into the sixties at the least. Near the Big Waterfall, it was cooler, tho, with droplets of spray wafting a hundred yards down the canyon, conveying a sharper coldness, in tiny dots, to our faces and arms.

It felt good.

We ambled down to the lawnlike flowered Terraces, with the old cook-stove the miners who tended the sluice boxes once used, lying in pieces, then along Lower Terraces Trail back to the main trail, then east on the HOUT.

We crossed Bogus Gully and turned the corner on Bogus Spur to the fine overlook spot, where we had our lunch and admired Sarah Orange-Tip butterflies, among others.

Kathie and I both had things to take care of later in the afternoon, so an early retreat was called, and we made a slow slog up the steeps of the Canyon Creek Trail, visiting the Six-Inch Trail and the Blasted Digger Trail, along the way up and up and up and out.

It was another great day in the great canyon.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Tahoe National Forest; For Sale?

It seems that Tahoe National Forest is up for sale ... see

for a list of parcels (warning: web page takes a while to load).

I've been writing another letter, about our old trails, to Governor Schwarzenegger, Senators Feinstein and Boxer, Congressman Doolittle, and the Supervisors of Placer and El Dorado counties. It is one of those too-long letters I mistakenly imagine will help inform my representatives.

So many subjects arise: the history of the trails; the history of Tahoe National Forest (TNF); "Gion vs. the City of Santa Cruz," and the whole body of case law and common law which tells us that, yes, these same old trails are in fact "public" trails, whether crossing public, or private, lands; and more.

The capstone to this legal issue is that TNF took the time and trouble (1946-50) to secure deeded easements on the very historic trails they would abandon to the logging bulldozers a few years later.

But how can I properly tell the Governor and others, that current TNF employees have not only never set foot on these trails, they likely have not even heard of them?

Hence when Placer County decided to allow residential uses on a 40-acre parcel directly above Iron Point and the Euchre Bar Trail, which parcel had enjoyed a special non-residential "Forest Production" zoning, and thus lower taxes, for decades, and which parcel is surrounded on three sides by TNF lands, I thought to myself, "Tahoe National Forest should take a stand on this; TNF should object, in writing, to the Placer County Supervisors."

A noble thought. The truth, tho, is that just then a new District Ranger had been put in charge of the Nevada City Ranger District. Her name was Vivian Kee. I called her up and tried to describe the situation to her; but I failed. Vivian Kee had never set foot on the Euchre Bar Trail, never heard of it, in fact, and she had never seen the North Fork American River, for District Ranger Kee came to TNF from outside the area.

This is quite common. The people in charge of our pubic lands often have no personal knowledge of those lands. They execute their "Forest Plan" according to a certain body of environmental law. Their job requires much tedious sitting-in-front-of-computers. This shows they are professionals; this, and their cozy, benefit-laden salaries.

When you call a TNF employee on the telephone, and speak with them at length, as I have many many times, you will likely think, "Here is a hard-working and intelligent person."

You will think kindly of the TNF employee. You may even imagine that your unique knowledge, acquired through four decades of Sierran exploration and study, can be of use to TNF.

For instance, when TNF changed its Ranger Districts recently, and the Foresthill District took over some of the old Nevada City District, to the north, I was pleased. My experience was that the TNF people over in Foresthill knew the local area better than most TNF employees. I think kindly of TNF folk at Foresthill.

A year ago, while trying to talk with a TNF employee at Foresthill about some issue, but finding as so often happens, that she was out of the office, I asked what had taken her out in "the field" that day, and learned she was over here in my area, visiting TNF lands near Dutch Flat and Alta.

Now, I have been trying to talk to TNF about their lands and trails near Dutch Flat and Alta, since about 1978.

In 1984 I met with TNF employees concerning the freshly-closed Smarts Crossing Road, a historic road leading down to and once, across, Bear River, where an exceptional cliff-bound pool has offered swimming and diving to generations of locals. There are parcels of TNF land scattered here and there in that area, and I wanted TNF to take a stand, and declare that the road was a public road leading to public lands, and could not be closed.

Well. I found that TNF had decided not to ever protect the public's right to any road or trail. There was one exception; they helped Bohemia Lumber Company keep an old road open, back behind Anderson Peak.

The exception which proves the rule?

At any rate, last year, when I found that a TNF employee was actually visiting these lands-near-Dutch-Flat, I was pleased and intrigued

I called back, and offered to guide her around that area. How many times I have offered to show TNF employees this or that trail, or beautiful place, or archeological site! But they usually refuse, and she refused me this time, too.

Parenthetically, I had also called up and talked with TNF employees about the nearby Mule Springs area, over on Lowell Hill Ridge, in Nevada County, back in the 1980s and 1990s. I had expressed my concern for the area, and its unusual historical and archeological resources, being on the line of that prehistoric trans-Sierran trail we now know as the Donner Trail. The wet meadow, with its archeological importance, was being rutted and ruined by OHVs.

I found that TNF "cared about" historic Mule Springs, but "didn't have enough money" to protect the site.

Now, it looks as though Tahoe National Forest has decided to sell off these very same lands, to help fund the so-called Secure Rural Schools program, intended to disburse revenues to those counties which once enjoyed revenue streams from Forest timber harvests.

These lands include a parcel directly on the old road to Lost Camp and the China Trail, where I have urged TNF for many years to purchase the private lands at the trailhead.

I wrote them and called them and as usual, asked them to come take a look at the China Trail, at Lost Camp, and so on.

They never did. It's been about ten years, now. I guess I shouldn't hold my breath?

Last year, I spoke with new American River District Ranger Jan Cutts about the China Trail and Lost Camp and the Rawhide Mine and Sawtooth Ridge and so on, and she assured me that she wished to get out and hike around and get to know her new District; for like Ranger Kee, Ranger Cutts had no personal knowledge of this area, the area she is entrusted with.

Well, it's only been a year with Cutts, maybe I really *should* hold my breath.

I like Jan Cutts.

I remember when I met her out at Iron Point last year; I had complained that the complete lack of TNF maintenance on the Euchre Bar Trail had led to much erosion, as the "water bars" which divert runoff from the trail, were all broken.

I brought my gloves, my mattock, my shovel, and loppers, for I wish to popularize a new notion: just get the job done, baby.

I showed my tools to Ranger Cutts, thanked her for her interest in the Euchre Bar Trail, and suggested we walk on down the trail and fix it, right then and there.

Of course, she refused. One does not go to college and prepare oneself to sit in front of a computer and be "professional," just to dirty one's hands.

Supposedly, in a week or so, there will be maps on the main Forest Service website, showing these TNF parcels proposed for sale. However, I was able to identify them all easily enough using their already-published legal descriptions, of the sort, "T16N R10E Section 26," etc. etc.

The couple-dozen parcels in question are disjunct from the main mass of TNF lands, interfingering with private lands and sometimes, BLM lands. They are up to about 320 acres in size, but most are much smaller.

In a way, these parcels are on the cutting edge; they are in those western Forest boundary areas, just exactly where we've been discovering, to our horror, that what we had always thought was The Commons, is often actually private property. This is exactly where we ought to hold the line and fight the good fight against further suburbanization; this is where TNF should be trying to purchase the private lands to protect the Commons, not auctioning public lands so as to further hurt and reduce the Commons.

It seems that some kind of public comment period on the TNF land sale will open, soon.

I will keep you informed.

Friday, February 10, 2006

The Quintessential Ford of Canyon Creek

Such amazingly warm weather demands descent into a happy and impossible dream, a land of high waterfalls and deep and darkly-echoing chasms, of mossy cliffs kissed by the sun into an early bloom of many flowers, and rainbows glowing in feathered sheets of spray, and then, miraculously, tremendously, the 2500-feet-deep American River Canyon itself, and Giant Gap.

It is Placer County's Yosemite.

Strangely, to visit Canyon Creek, near Gold Run, and to hike the Canyon Creek Trail (CCT), is to trespass; there is a long narrow mining claim, the Canyon Creek Placer Mine, seventy-two acres and a mile long, and it contains about 90% of the CCT.

It is all within the special "Gold Run Addition" to the North Fork American Wild & Scenic River (W&SR), as enacted by Congress in 1978; and within the very text of the legislation, the Department of the Interior is directed to acquire the private inholdings, within this very, very special Gold Run Addition.

For most of the lands in this northward extension of the W&SR "corridor" (ordinarily only a quarter-mile to either side of the river) are owned by the Bureau of Land Management, or rather, by We the People, and the BLM administers the W&SR program in this part of the North Fork, and manages rather large holdings, in the general area.

So. Most of the lands in the Addition were already BLM, in 1978; but there were some critical private inholdings, as for instance, the Canyon Creek Placer Mine.

To this day none of the inholdings have been acquired.

I can't go in to all this now. Whenever I trespass my way in across the private inholdings and down the trail, I am stricken with dread at the thought it could all so easily be utterly closed off, gated every which way, "no trespassing" signs everywhere, even houses built atop Indiana Hill, or in Potato Ravine, near the trailhead.

I can't refrain from sharing one last little detail about this almost-abortive Gold Run Addition to the North Fork American W&SR: the Addition came into being, I was told, because some wealthy landowners in the upper North Fork canyon, called The Cedars, did not want W&SR designation on the couple-few miles of river which cross their lands. The Cedars had already closed the historic public trail from Old Soda Springs, down the North Fork to Heath Springs, and points west. They wanted a purely private paradise.

So an alternative was conceived, in which We the People would trade away W&SR designation on that precious reach above Heath Falls, but We the People would be compensated for our loss, by the Gold Run Addition.

The Addition would become a "portal" to the North Fork American W&SR. For after all, what good is a Wild & Scenic River if no one can see it or get to it?

Three different historic trails dropped to the North Fork from the Addition: the Canyon Creek Trail, the Pickering Bar Trail, and the Fords Bar Trail. Their status is as follows:

1. CCT: quasi-open, not signed, not on the maps, but one must trespass to reach the trailhead or use the trail itself.

2. Pickering Bar Trail: open, not signed, parking area not signed, not on the maps. Is being abused by OHV use in its upper quarter-mile.

3. Ford Bar Trail: gated closed with fences and "no trespassing" signs in 1985, Placer County approved a subdivision at the trailhead, which in turn led to the closure (2005) of another public trail, the Paleobotanist Trail.

The bottom line is that the Gold Run Addition has yet to become any kind of "portal" to the North Fork; instead, public access has been degraded or lost in the decades since W&SR designation, not enhanced. Not only that, but to confine our acquisition objectives to those portions of the 800 acres within the boundaries of the Addition, would leave access to the Canyon Creek Trail at the mercy of whoever ended up owning the rest of the 800 acres; so I have always considered, now more than ever, that the entire 800 acres, with its two miles of Canyon Creek, and its dozens of historic hydraulic mines, should become public property, and be administered as open space, as a primitive area, entirely closed to OHV use, but open to equestrian, bicycle, and foot uses, wherever appropriate.

Yeek. I could go on and on. It is such a complex issue. There is mercury contamination in Canyon Creek and in the Diggings. There is looting of scarce petrified wood and of archeological sites on BLM lands and private lands in the Diggings. There is, suddenly, much increased OHV use. Oh dear what a mess!

But on such a warm and sunny day as February 9th, 2006, all this must be set aside for a visit to Canyon Creek. There was no bridge, not since December 31st, 2005. So Catherine O'Riley and I hoped to just jump the damn thing.

Well. No chance of that. Canyon Creek was in a fine frenzy of surging white water and thundering falls and cascades. It would be quite hazardous to fall into one of the frothing narrows, trying to jump from, and then land upon, wet sloping rocks.

At the bridge site we futzed around in the bright sunshine, considering this bad place to jump, that bad place to jump, this bad place to ford, then that, and even looking at the sluice iron and wondering, if some strangely twisted piece of it could be wedged across the creek, so that, so that, ... .

But no.

So we wandered downstream, not so easy a thing, as a kind of gorge pinches in, and one must climb above. But we found an old trail, choked with brush, and forced our way along a couple hundred yards, and then over some impressive sloping ledges, and finally, as tho planned, we were led right down to the creek, at the one, and the only, easy ford.

It so happens we were only yards above the first big waterfall met, as one goes down Canyon Creek, about forty feet high, and often split into multiple parallel falls when the water is high. There is a strange little side-fall we call The Leaper, which jets from a secret channel up and across a narrow chasm, slapping loudly against the cliff. It was nice to tiptoe carefully over the fantastical water-polished metavolcanics at the top of the falls, over a breadth of brink of perhaps fifteen yards.

We then waded across the creek, knee-deep in fast water, and found the little track which climbs up to the CCT, and finally, finally, were on our way again.

At this point we were still a thousand feet above the North Fork. Below, the trail steepens and is often cut directly into cliffs, an ancient trail, with much in the way of dry-laid stone walls, now so over-knit by moss, that one can scarcely imagine they were built by humans. We began to see Biscuit Root, and Brewer's Rock Cress, in bloom, and soon many California Milkmaids, and Waterfall False Buttercups, and another lovely little early-bloomer whose name slips my mind every single year, but eventually, I remember it.

Give me a few days, I'll think of it.

Yeek! Growing old!

Dropping down a cross-country route through a cliffy area, we reached the base of the Big Waterfall, putting on a spectacular show, whipping up curtains of mist, and spawning a great rainbow. It is about 150 feet high. The cliffs overhang drastically all around this waterfall, and it is quite a hazardous spot, as one often sees giant razor-sharp shards of smashed metavolcanic rock, littering the massive water-polished bedrock along the creek, having fallen down the cliffs above.

And the CCT is directly above, a few hundred feet up. Any rock dislodged along that part of the trail could kill someone down by the Big Waterfall.

There are many hazards in Canyon Creek.

Another old trail leads away from the Big Waterfall, a tiny thread wandering along sun-blasted mossy cliffs, with a sinfully deep chasm just a step to one side; and down at The Terraces, where the miners who worked the giant sluice boxes and undercurrents of Canyon Creek lived and cooked, we had our lunch, grateful for the shade of stunted Canyon Live Oaks.

It must have been over seventy degrees.

What with a late start, and all the confusion of crossing the creek, our original idea, to streak away east on the High Old Upriver Trail or HOUT (rhymes with "shout"), into Giant Gap, was abandoned in favor of a simple trip to the river itself. So on down the trail we marched, with wonderful views, now, into the North Fork Canyon, and the Pinnacles, up in Giant Gap, and of course blade-like Diving Board Ridge, looming over us, to the west, and then, some last waterfalls, thundering, misty, awesome in themselves, and at last there it was.

There is a *ton* of water in the North Fork right now, running high, fast, clear except for very much white water, and about bank-to-bank. There is really no chance to follow along the banks of the river. It would be too dangerous. It would be deadly to fall in.

There are vestiges of glacial outwash sediments across the North Fork from the confluence of Canyon Creek, clinging to the canyon wall just above the scour-line of our modern "Holocene" (last 10,000 years) flood events, said scour-line recently refreshed, when on January 1, 2006, the North Fork came up over 50,000 cubic feet per second, at Auburn.

We admired it all thoroughly and then took a tour on the Low Upriver Trail, which offers views of Lovers Leap and then The Pinnacles, in turn. Retracing our steps, we climbed up the CCT a little ways, and then cut away to get a view of a certain waterfall.

Here we passed some bedrock outcrops which had been rounded and drilled with potholes over 100,000 years ago, at a guess, since we were fully 100 feet above creek level. This amounts to saying that Canyon Creek has incised its bed here at a rate of one foot per one thousand years. This should be about right, since we know that, in the main North Fork, at Sawtooth Ridge, the river has incised ~2500 feet in 3.82 million years (ridge-crest basalt dated in 2004 at U. Reno), which works out to about eight inches per one thousand years.

And we should imagine that Canyon Creek is cutting down more quickly than the North Fork, because its gradient is so very much steeper. Clearly other variables are at work, such as sediment load, and flow volume, as well as gradient. But "100,000 years" seems like an adequate first approximation to the age of these relict potholes, so high above Canyon Creek.

They may be older.

We found and explored a number of little side trails in that area, so scenic by virtue of the rather tall and classically-formed waterfall close by, at the head of a broad valley-gorge, dominated by large sloping planar areas of bedrock. We found an old miners' camping-terrace, which unfortunately had been used some years ago, and there are some backpack loads of garbage which need hauling, up and out; we filled our packs with what we could.

An amazing spot, that terrace-of-the-garbage. It is really Waterfall Terrace, because of the view of the "classic" waterfall, nearby. That is a great swimming-hole, at the base of that fall, I can tell you.

On an oddly warm winter day in Canyon Creek, what with a trail which tends towards steepness, there is a certain subtlety of timing. Diving Board Ridge, to the west, casts its afternoon shadow over the east canyon wall of south-flowing Canyon Creek; and as the afternoon wanes, the shadow climbs higher.

So if one climbs up and out too soon one is in direct sun the whole way.

But if one waits a little, one can stay just within the shadow the whole way up the trail, only rarely breaking free into direct sun.

We waited. At just the right time we continued our climb.

I had related to Catherine, a month or two ago, the remarkable myth found at the very end of Plato's "Republic," in which one learns, among many other things, of the Music of the Spheres.

It so happens that very much of my life in recent decades has been devoted to geometry. Yet, living in the hinterlands, I have no one with whom to discuss this geometry. Alway, tho, I seek ways to trick the conversation onto my subject. It occurred to me that Plato himself could serve that purpose, now.

"In Plato's 'Timaeus'," I began, "Socrates and Timaeus and others are, you know, having a dialogue--"

"About what?" she queried, with eagle eye.

"I don't know, about the Nature of Things. And Timaeus represented the Pythagorean philosophy. And he began talking about the old idea, of the Four Elements, Earth, Air, Fire, and Water. Right?"

"Yes; the Four Elements."

"OK. And then Timaeus started talking about these certain right triangles--and how they could be fused together to build up equilateral triangles, or squares. Right?


And I went on to describe how Timaeus constructs those certain things, those polyhedra, which, due to this very dialogue, have ever since been called the Five Platonic Solids: the Cube, Octahedron, Tetrahedron, and Icosahedron.

The Cube is bounded by squares, and the others, by equilateral triangles.

Oh yeah, and the fifth one, the Pentagonal Dodecahedron, which is bounded by twelve regular pentagons.

And Timaeus said that there were the four Elements, yes, but that each Element had an "essence" which was its ideal form, as it were.

Four Elements, four Essences.

To the four Elements, Timaeus assigned four of the five Platonic Solids, as follows:

1. Earth->Cube.
2. Air->Octahedron.
3. Fire->Tetrahedron.
4. Water->Icosahedron.

These ideal forms, then, the only convex regular polyhedra, corresponded, as Timaeus would have it, to the four ideal Essences.

But wait. What about the fifth Platonic Solid, the Pentagonal Dodecahedron?

Since there is no fifth Element, it must correspond, says Timaeus, to The Universe, and to the Sphere of the Fixed Stars. Or if there were a fifth Element, it would be "ether," hence our word, ethereal.

So the Pentagonal Dodecahedron has a very, very special status. And to its ideal form, there corresponds an ideal essence.

It is the Fifth Essence.

The "quintessence."

So if you have ever wondered about the etymology of "quintessence," well, it's all Plato's fault!

For more see

Wednesday, February 8, 2006

Meadow Lake

Away north of Cisco Grove, north of Red Mountain, north of Fordyce Creek, northeast of Old Man Mountain, is Meadow Lake, where a town exploded into existence in the 1860s, seven thousand feet above the sea. The Sierra crest is a few miles east, with Mt. Lola the highest point, while a few miles west are the nearly-as-high peaks of metamorphic rock, such as Grouse Ridge, and the Black Buttes.

I shall let Stephen Powers describe Meadow Lake and environs, below, in his 1874 article, "The City of a Day," from Bret Harte's "Overland Monthly." First, however, I will provide a diffuse and somewhat tangential introduction.

I like Stephen Powers. He is most famous for his 1877 book, "Tribes of California," commissioned by John Wesley Powell, after reading Powers' articles in the Overland Monthly. 'Tribes' first appeared as Volume Three of "Contributions to North American Ethnology," published by the Government Printing Office. Now, if you are any kind of student of California history, you *must* read 'Tribes'; there is no getting around it; you could collate the remarks from Gold Rush diaries and newspapers and gather every last little thing written about the native Californians, and still not come close to equaling 'Tribes'.

Not until Alfred Kroeber, at UC Berkeley, in the early 20th century, was another serious attempt at a statewide ethnology made. By that time very many of the California Indians had died. But in 1877, a quarter of the pre-Gold-Rush population, perhaps, remained.

In the preface to his "Handbook of the California Indians," Kroeber wrote,

"I should not close without expressing my sincere appreciation of my one predecessor in this field, the late Stephen Powers, well known for his classic 'Tribes of California,' one of the most remarkable reports ever printed by any government. Powers was a journalist by profession and it is true that his ethnology is often of the crudest. Probably the majority of his statements are inaccurate, many are misleading, and a very fair proportion are without any foundation or positively erroneous. He possessed, however, an astoundingly quick and vivid sympathy, a power of observation as keen as it was untrained, and an invariably spirited gift of portrayal that rises at times into the realm of the sheerly fascinating. Anthropologically his great service lies in the fact that with all the looseness of his data and method he was able to a greater degree than anyone before or after him to seize and fix the salient qualities of the mentality of the people he described. The ethnologist may therefore by turns writhe and smile as he fingers Powers's pages, but for the broad outlines of the culture of the California Indian, for its values with all their high lights and shadows, he can still do no better than consult the book. With all its flimsy texture and slovenly edges, it will always remain the best introduction to the subject."

So, by all means, read "Tribes of California." Interestingly, Powers gathered various myths from the tribes, and even transcribed some of their songs, and arranged them for guitar.

I know very little about Powers the man, save that he was born in 1840, died in 1904, attended university in Germany, and made his living as a journalist. I only became aware of his other writings recently. I have read, for instance, his interesting essay about the history of the German school fraternities. He seems to have been quite the hiker; he walked across the United States from coast to coast, in 1868.

He lived among the California Indians in 1871 and 1872.

It seems likely that Powers and John Muir were acquainted, but despite having read all the major biographies of Muir (more than thirty years ago), I can't recall whether he knew Powers. They both arrived in California in 1868. They both fell under its spell.

Think of Johnny Muir, back in Wisconsin, his Calvinist father sitting comfortably in the parlor, studying his Bible, while ten-year-old Johnny was staggering along behind a yoke of oxen, plowing the south forty. The child loved machines. He carved alarm clocks out of wood! He loved to read, but his father regarded anything but the Bible a waste of time. Johnny had too many chores to allow him to go to school. The chores began at five a.m. and ended after dark. He asked if he could get up early, to read. His father reluctantly consented. So Johhny Muir used his wooden alarm clocks to wake himself at two in the morning. And he read and read and read.

Later, the far-flung neighbors of the Muirs assembled en masse, and confronted the Bible-loving father. They insisted that Muir be allowed to go away to college. They offered to pay for it all. The father reluctantly consented, and off went Muir to university, with his latest wooden alarm clock attached to a hand-carved bed and a hand-carved desk, so that the bed would spring up and flip him onto his feet at five a.m., and a particular book would be drawn down from the desk's shelf, and opened on the desk's surface, so his studies could begin.

Muir came to California, Muir fell under California's powerful spell. But he was one of so many! Powers was another; but consider the case of one Ellsworth Burr Boust, of Virginia.

He was born about 1830. Having completed preparatory school, his wealthy parents gave him a year-long tour, by yacht, of the Mediterranean. Upon his return, he enlisted as a teenager in the U.S. Army and fought in the Mexican war, receiving honors. When gold was discovered, he set out from Alabama for California via the Santa Fe Trail.

That is, by the time he was eighteen years old, Boust was a war veteran and a 49er.

He is found in the special 1852 census at Auburn, occupation, gambler. But soon he would be a Placer County deputy sheriff, and then began a long career in journalism, publishing newspapers at Yankee Jims, Iowa Hill, Dutch Flat, Meadow Lake, and Santa Barbara.

Boust married one Martha Elizabeth Ferguson, in Iowa Hill, 1859. He printed up their marriage announcements on his own press, and sprinkled gold dust over the paper, so that it was pressed into the very fabric of the paper, forever.

I should know, because I've talked with the woman who inherited one of those marriage announcements. Her name is Wadyne Lindbergh, and she is a granddaughter of Ellsworth and Martha. It is very unusual for a grandchild of a 49er to be alive today. Wadyne is fairly old. Her mother was unusually old when Wadyne was born, and her mother was also the youngest of Martha Elizabeth Boust's eight children.

Martha was quite an extraordinary woman, like Ellsworth, a 49er, although she was but seven years old then, as she crouched in the perpetual rain in the jungles of Panama, while her father slowly, slowly died. It took several weeks. You can find many articles, and some poems, written by Martha Elizabeth Boust in the pages of the Dutch Flat Enquirer. She was passionate and intelligent and a very good writer.

The Bousts were friends with Mark Twain, and entertained him on several occasions in their Dutch Flat home, on Sacramento Street. Supposedly Martha would not tolerate Twain's cigars inside the house, and would always rebuke him for putting his feet up on her furniture.

When the great fever of a brand new gold rush struck at Meadow Lake, and a town was a-buildin', Boust moved an extra press from Dutch Flat up to Meadow Lake and began publishing the "Meadow Lake Sun." It is one of my unachieved goals to read through every issue of the Sun, which can be found on microfilm at the State Library, in Sacramento.

Also involved with the Sun was one W.B. Lyon, who married one of Martha's sisters. I regard it as likely that Lyon Peak, on the upper Foresthill Divide, above Old Soda Springs, was named for this man, who, after Meadow Lake, seems to have owned a hotel at Lake Tahoe.

Working for Boust and Lyon on the Meadow Lake Sun was one G.A. Brier, reporter, and certainly an acquaintance of Stephen Powers. His house at Meadow Lake had a "seedy appearance traditional to Bohemians."

What are Bohemians? Well, of course, there is such a thing as Bohemia, itself, in Europe; but we should begin, perhaps, by considering, what is a hippy, and what is a beatnik, and then ask ourselves, what did they call hippies, and beatniks, in olden times?

They called them Bohemians.

California had its fair share of Bohemians. I would count Powers as one of them. Think of his truest successor, or spiritual heir, in Indian studies, Jaime de Angulo. Now there is a California Bohemian! Jaime de Angulo, who "rolled in ditches drunk, with shamans." Jaime de Angulo, who had a ranch in Big Sur on 1905. Who spoke many a California Indian language, and taught at Berkeley so many years. Who was took part in the maiden broadcast of KPFA in 1948.

And so also was poet Joaquin Miller a Bohemian, living like a lord at his hilltop ranch above Oakland, now and then visiting London and throwing the literary elite into a massive tizzy withs his red shirts and high rough boots. He loved to play the California Gold Miner.

Now, hippies used drugs; beatniks uses drugs; Bohemians also used drugs, and one of the strange little twists of California history is that, if you were a teenager, say, in the 1860s, or 1870s, 1880s, 1890s--a teenager, I say, and thus inclined to engage in a rebellion of the sons against the fathers, as Freud describes--you would adventure into the heart of this or that Chinatown, it hardly mattered which, but the bigger the better, and frequent their stores, their gambling halls, their brothels, their opium dens.

And, of course, one would smoke the opium.

Old newspaper articles describe all this. I find it fascinating. The hide-bound conservatives of old Dutch Flat watched in utter horror, as their teenaged children hung out in Chinatown day after day, drinking cheap liquor, smoking cheap cigars, and one could only guess at whatever other horrors took place.

I do not say that Stephen Powers was this kind of Bohemian, but I do believe I detect a resonance.

Powers has a vast vocabulary and is not at all above coining words at need, or constructing adjectives no one else ever imagined, like "vealy," meaning, like veal, in other words, immature. I am fairly sure that some confusion will arise. A dictionary could be useful. Then there are the antiquated usages, like calling skis, snow-shoes. What we would call snowshoes were called Canadian snowshoes, and what we would call skis were called Norwegian snowshoes, away back when.

One can drive to the site of Meadow Lake in the summer or early fall, coming down from the north, from the old Henness Pass road (itself best reached by driving north from Truckee on Highway 89). The lake is there, the granite dam Powers describes, is there, but of the town there is nothing. Near the townsite are ancient Indian petroglyphs. Out in the glaciated rocky terrain are the mines, sometimes marked by masses of reddish ore.

Without further ado, then, here is Stephen Powers article about Meadow Lake.

A City of a Day.

Meadow Lake is one of the strangest cities of America-one of the strangest in the world. It is the Californian Pompeii, the years of whose antiquity one can reckon on the fingers of one's hands; whose entombing lava is the summit snow-storm, which sometimes buries it twenty-five feet deep on the level; and whose annual exhumation is wrought by the summer sun. Of all the eloquent and melancholy monuments of the "Dead-work" with which California and Nevada are so thickly strewed-work consecrated with human toil, human heroism and suffering, on which money, talent, and dauntless energy were so prodigally expended, and which all went for nothing-this is the most striking. This abandoned and desolate city, standing in the far solitudes of the summits of the Sierra Nevada, presents a spectacle sadder than Goldsmith's "Deserted Village," because not redeemed liked that by the softening touch of tender associations, or mellow, pensive landscapes.

The proper and perhaps more appropriate name for this elevated locality is Excelsior, probably so called in allusion to Longfellow's well-known poem. Until 1858, nothing had been done in the way of prospecting the region, or of turning it to account in developing the mineral riches in the mountains lower down. Now and then a traveler or a solitary tourist, more adventurous than others, had passed over the Donner Lake or Henness Pass road, and brought to the dwellers in the sweltering lowlands of the Sacramento Valley almost incredible accounts of the rich natural meadows near the summit; of the vast forests of gigantic trees, the sparkling, ice-cold streams, and the awful desolation which reigned unbroken amid the bare, bristling crags of syenite and granite. But men were content to remain below to long as no more brilliant inducements allured them, for in their minds this region was inseparably associated with a winter of almost polar rigor, stretching through seven or eight months of the year. Nor did they forget that somewhere thereabout occurred the fearful tragedy of Donner Lake, in 1846, when eighty-two immigrants were snow-bound at Starvation Camp, and remained a greater portion of the winter, until they were reduced to the awful extremity of cannibalism, and thirty-six died the most horrible of deaths.

Who but the California prospector, braving the wrath of the elements in his insatiable thirst for the precious metal, would ever have penetrated this fatal region? Yet even he did not come seeking gold directly, but only the water wherewith to extract it from placers lower down in the mountains. In 1858, the great South Yuba Canal Company constructed a dam 1,150 feet long, forty-two feet high, and at the apex fifteen feet wide, across a small stream tributary to Yuba River. This immense structure is built entirely of solid granite, without a particle of wood or cement entering into its composition. Thus was created an artificial lake or reservoir two miles long north and south, from 300 yards to three-quarters of a mile wide, and from ten to thirty feet in depth. This is Meadow Lake, from which this city of a day derives its appellation. In this reservoir, 7,000 feet above the sea, and a number of others in the vicinity, there accumulates a vast quantity of clear, cold water, which is conveyed down in flumes and ditches to a hundred towns and mining-camps, cheering the hearts of the dwellers in the thirsty, sweltering foot-hills, and washing out every year, many hundreds of thousands of dollars in gold. True, those lakes destroyed a beautiful and fertile body of grass, which flourished thick as a fleece, affording a grateful refuge to the flocks and herds coming up here in summer from the arid plains below; but the gold washed out is worth more than the cattle on many hills.

But the making of these great constructions, although it required the presence for many months of scores of men practiced in gold-hunting, resulted in no discoveries. Unconscious and unsuspecting, they trod hither and thither, they worked, they slept, they lived for years directly over ledges which have since been proved to contain fabulous riches. One reason for this was the fact that, unlike auriferous ledges elsewhere in the State, those of Meadow Lake do not crop out above the surface conspicuously; another was, that a great portion of the country-rock is granite, and it had been hitherto a favorite theory of Californians that gold never occurs in granite. And the theorists were as obstinate in their beliefs as was that old Cornishman of Grass Valley who persisted in declaring "Gold never cut grass-gold never cut grass," even after they had shown him the richest ledges, studded with free gold, protruding above the surface. So it fell out that, after all these wise doctors, these surveyors, engineers, and experts had come, and seen, and gone, it was reserved for a man as little learned in the arcana of geology as Marshall was in 1848 to stumble upon the great revelation.

In the year 1860, one Henry Hartley, an Englishman, with a hereditary tendency to consumption, and the love of bold adventure so characteristic of his nation, wandered into these savage upper solitudes of the Sierra. He came simply in pursuit of health, and to trap the game which abounds here, when the snows of winter begin to prevail. That he had no thought of gold-hunting is shown by the fact that he abode here for three years, an absolute hermits, before he chanced upon any indications. Whenever not cooped up in his cabin, he trapped and skinned the fur-bearing animals, gliding about from one of his traps to another on his snow-shoes; and in the spring he descended into the Sacramento Valley with his hoard of peltries, sold them, lingered through the summer, and returned with supplies to his mountain fastness upon the approach of the November snow-storms. In 1863, in the month of June, when the earth was uncovered-perhaps he may never have seen it bared before-he noticed several ledges about a half-mile distant from the present site of Meadow Lake. He stooped down in surprise, almost incredulous, and beating with one stone upon another he hammered several to fragments, and shelled out a number of small, bright, yellow chispas. In the ensuing August, he returned to the spot in company with two acquaintances, to whom he had imparted his discovery, and they satisfied themselves abundantly of the richness of the find. In September they formed a company called the Excelsior Company, and staked off 2,000 feet on each of two parallel lodes, which they named Union No. 1 and No. 2.

The quartz which they found was stained on the surface a dark reddish-brown or chocolate, resulting from the decomposed pyrites with which it was highly charged. In many places the disintegrated sulphurets of the vein were resplendent with free gold, rich and yellow. These three men pounded up the stones and rudely assayed them with pan and horn spoon-the prospector's vade mecum-until the richness of their discovery grew in their minds to a great and splendid certainty.

Yet progress was slow at first. The Excelsior Company was the only one organized in 1863; then came on the long, dreary winter, during which nothing was done or attempted. In the summer of 1864 the California Company was organized, staked off 1,700 feet on each of four ledges, and named them California, Knickerbocker, Indian Boy, and Indian Queen. But it was not until the summer of 1865 that the few adventurous spirits succeeded in attracting public attention to the new Dorado. The great war was over in the East, and men's minds felt relieved. The first impulse proceeded from Virginia City, Nevada. Wonderful rumors began to reach that city, of ledges which towered aloft in mid-air on the summit of the Sierra Nevada, and bloomed with golden blossoms like a cactus. Eight thousand feet above the sea, in a region where flowers failed the eye, Mother Earth had tricked out the granite with yellow posies more beautiful than any ever compassed by Parisian art. The imaginations of men were fired. The seed fell on ready soil, for the great Comstock Lode of Virginia City, richer than gorgeous Mexico, was then thought to be a failure; rich Montana was far away; many-ca–oned Idaho was cursed with arctic cold; Humboldt, and Reese River, and Esmeralda were proved and branded frauds. Here, then, was a new and most timely outlet to the multitude of impecunious and adventurous souls, so long cabined, cribbed, confined to worked-out diggings. Surely, good Dame Fortune had heard their prayers, and granted them this new world to conquer.

From June until Autumn they came. By hundreds and hundreds they were thronging over the arid alkaline roads from Washoe to Meadow Lake; some with a piece of bacon a-shoulder, and more with none. Miners old and grizzly of hair, who should have known better, with pick, pan, and horn; miners young and foolish, with sixty pounds of blankets and grub a-lugging. Israelites with packs of pins and needles, sardines, tobacco, and pipes. Coaches packed within and without with eager, excited men. Painted courtesans with the rest, refusing no bottle or cigar when offered by "the boys." Traders with wagons full of cheap goods; pale-faced, exquisite gentlemen-knights of the strap and the pasteboard; adventurers without a dollar; discounting the future for a breakfast, which they always contrived to get.

At first this had been supposed to lie within the boundary of Nevada, but a survey showed it to be in California. In July, 1865, a public meeting was called-the first ever held on top of the mountains-the mining laws of Nevada County, California, were adopted by proclamation, the county recorder's office designated as the proper place for the entry of titles, transfers, etc., and the name Meadow Lake formally given to the town, previously called Excelsior and Summit City. Then, with a cheer for everybody, these swift legislators hastened away over the hills and mountains to locate their claims and record the same. In a few weeks there grew up a perfect forest of stakes, like a newly-planted vineyard, containing notices written with a remarkable and very impartial variety of orthographies. Everything was claimed, staked, and recorded-bowlders, ledges of poor granite, hillocks, hills, gulches. An acquaintance of mine who was there soon afterward and explored this rare field of botany, culling a specimen or two of the blossoms, preserved this:

"NOTIS.-we the Undersigned Clame this Ground and intend to wirk it

It is said that during the summer of 1865 alone about 1,200 locations were made and recorded, covering in the aggregate more than 1,200,000 feet of the supposed auriferous ledges. They were registered on the books under glittering names, as Shooting Star, Montreal, Mohawk, Mayflower, Golden Eagle, Potosi, Phoenix, etc. Meadow Lake was surveyed and laid out as a town, covering a plat of 160 acres. It contained spacious streets, eighty feet wide, with the blocks divided into lots of sixty feet frontage and eighty feet in depth; and midway through the blocks ran broad, healthy alley-ways, sixteen feet wide. These streets were so designated, as so often in California and Nevada, where the people have no time to think of names, A, B, C one way, and 1, 2, 3 the other. In the northern portion of this mushroom city was reserved a fine piece of ground for that indispensable requisite of every California city, the plaza.

In consideration of the extreme youth of the city, lots were held reasonably; the California Company offered them "for the small consideration of $25 gold coin of the United States," on condition that the same should be inclosed and improved. With the close of the fall of 1865 the new city contained about 150 houses completed, and a number of others in course of construction. Among these were three commodious hotels, crowded day and night to repletion; stores, wholesale and retail, in numbers; butcher-shops, green-stores, saloons, and gambling-hells innumerable. It is supposed that over 3,000 people visited the place between June and October of that year, which months indicate pretty nearly the limits of the business season in that elevated locality. This was a very large number, considering the altitude and remoteness of the region.

There came now a temporary lull, as the autumn drew on apace. After all the locations had been made, the names all handsomely written down in the recorder's books, and the fees paid therefore; after all the speeches had been made and the bumpers drained; after all the singing and dancing was done and overdone, then the people began to try to think what to do next. Some of them hammered out specimens from their ledges, collected quills and bottles full of dust, and compared notes. Of course, there were no mills erected yet. In order to extract gold in the old pioneer fashion of California, one must have water which he can bring to bear upon it; but there they were on the top of the world. They were up too high; there was where the water started from. They began to look a little blank. To occupy their leisure time before the snows should begin to fall, they would go out and move their stakes a little, then come in and talk the matter over again. There were no capitalists among them yet to erect mills. They said to one another, "Well, what's going to be done up here?" Besides that, the question of supplies was getting urgent. It is an expensive business for 2,000 or 3,000 men to go up on a mountain and bring up provisions to eat there. It would be a great deal more economical to eat them at the bottom. They began to look a little foolish. One by one they quietly stole away, after performing the little work required to hold their claims under the liberal mining laws of California, and went back down to Virginia City, to Sacramento, to San Francisco, to spend the winter among the cautious capitalists of those wealthy cities, in presenting the merits of their discoveries and securing funds with which to develop them. Before the November snow-storms set in on the mountains the throngs of restless adventurers had gone like summer birds, seeking a more genial clime. Only about 200 persons, including several families, remained behind, determined to spend the winter in watching their claims against intruders, and be ready to take the tide of fortune at its flood in the ensuing spring.

The winter of 1865-6 was one of unusual duration and severity. The first snow fell on September 24th. Then all was quiet until November, when those violent winds from the south-west, which are always the storm-winds of California, came moaning up over the mountains, bringing vast masses of dun and wooly clouds, the sure precursors of rain on the plains and snow on the mountains-for the clouds do not trifle in this land of the sun, but mean business when they do come. All through the long month of November, with scarcely the cessation of a day, the "beautiful snow" sifted down on Meadow Lake. On the summit the falling snow fills all the wide chambers of the air like frozen fog, so that a man cannot see a rod before him. From New Year's Day on, as often happens in the Pacific Coast climate, the sky was comparatively clear and calm-the interval between the early and the latter rains-and the thermometer, which seldom ranged low, sometimes for days together kept so well up that fire was unnecessary during the daytime. It is well known that the climate on the western slope of the Sierra is milder than that on the eastern slope at an equal altitude, for the soft mild winds blowing off the great Japanese warm stream in the Pacific, and flying high over the Coast Range and the Sacramento Valley, touch the tips of the mountains with balmy influences. But March came in with a leonine roar like November, and all through March, April, and May, with few intermissions, the snow came down again and again; the narrow mountain trails were obliterated, and only the unintermitting passage of horses and oxen to and fro kept open the highways, treading down the snow. From the 20th of May until the 1st of June there was one incessant snow-storm, day and night. The wide plains and the beautiful valleys below, lying rich and mellow in the sun, were in the full verdure of spring by the middle of March; but how different here, where the great pines and larches, with their heads lifted among the clouds, shook their glittering panoply of icicles and sleet-drops as an Indian girl her beadery. On the mountains of California, winter yields his dominion almost in a week to summer, and it seemed as if, before handing over his sceptre now, he determined to assert himself in one last great effort to retain his empire.

Early in May, despite the snow-storms, the second rush set in strongly toward Excelsior, and it seemed as though there was a good probability that some aspiring youth might even yet justify the original name. In two months, May and June, over 4,000 people arrived! Every sleeping-place was full even to overflowing. Twenty, thirty, forty persons were sometimes crowded together in a vile room, very appropriately called a "corral." Men who happened to be belated walked the streets all night, or lay on benches as if they were able to resist a low temperature; in the morning paid $1 for a biscuit, a cup of muddy coffee, and a leathery mustang steak; then perhaps slept an hour or two on the sunny side of a house. For a lot sixty by eighty feet on any of the principal streets, $1,500 to $2,500 was asked, and not infrequently paid, in gold coin. A small structure on C Street, eighteen by twenty-four feet, rented for $200 a month. The possessor of a few corner lots counted himself a millionaire, and condescendingly hobnobbed with the San Franciscan who owned only a few blocks of brick buildings within a stone's-throw of the Bank of California.

Four saw-mills had been running at the top of their capacity all the spring, and as soon as the weather permitted some 400 or 500 buildings were knocked together with amazing rapidity, making about 650 in all in the city. A thin shell of boards, with "rustic" outside, paper inside, and a ceiling of "white domestic"-it is astonishing how little it takes to make a comfortable house in California.

But it is more astonishing how great and complete was the infatuation of the people. A young acquaintance of mine who was there explained thus: "I never should have gone into the thing if I had not seen the oldest and best merchants in the State of Nevada-men in whose judgement I had perfect confidence, who had often been in the forefront of excitements like this, and who ought to have been able to judge whether the town had any substance to it or not-going up in to their ears, investing for all they were worth. When I saw such men putting all their capital to the touch, I thought it was safe enough for me to follow."

In June, 1866, a stock board of thirty-nine members was established! In view of the fact that there was not a solitary mine which had yet a more substantial existence than the name engrossed on the recorder's books-not even a ledge sunk upon and its proportions developed-this transaction was as refreshing to men's heated brows as a Sierra breeze. Day after day, with countenances as solemn and as placid as a ham of bacon, these valuable members of society assembled together, and the secretary sonorously called "U.S. Grant," "Comet," Confidence," "Mohawk and Montreal," "Enterprise," and the rest of the long list, and not a soul responded. Except for the pompous braying of that official, there reigned the silence of the grave. Like Cicero's priests of Rome, when they were behind the curtain, they looked in one another's faces and laughed. This stock board was the laughing-stock-which was the only actual stock dealt in-of the whole district. It was regarded by everybody in Meadow Lake as a very broad and attenuated farce. A few sober and sensible men of the town regretted these proceedings of unmitigated fatuity, for they knew well, what the others could hardly have been ignorant of, that they would bring the new district into contempt, and confirm even greenhorns in the belief that the whole matter was intended for a swindle. It is difficult to explain or understand this thing, except as a piece of that reckless gayety and bravado with which Californians seek to smooth over a rough place and escape from a bad situation. For even this early it is highly probable that there had begun t dawn on many souls a great and bright light, and that they were beginning already to meditate on the sweet uses of adversity. For a graceful and masterly retreat from an "almighty sell," commend me of all men to a Californian.

And what was the trouble? Simply this: there was plenty of gold there, but they couldn't get it out. There seems to be some substance, unknown to metallurgists, which is so combined with the sulphurets that it is impossible to separate it and reduce the precious metal to a form of availability. I repeat, that the amount of gold known to exist in the Meadow Lake district is very large, rendering its quartz almost unprecedentedly rich; but it is all as yet effectually locked up from the hand of man. The sulphurets show a value of about sixty dollars a ton, which is a good average. Then there is free gold besides. It would be vain and useless to enumerate all the tests and processes which the eager and disappointed gold-hunters have tried in vain. The ordinary amalgamation process with quicksilver was defeated by the unknown substance above mentioned. The Plattner chlorination process, so successful in the great quartz-mines of Grass Valley, is here of no avail. All European methods tried have failed utterly, which is one illustration of the uselessness of attempting to apply old-world rules here in general. And in their despair the baffled miners even tried a process which some charlatan or old wife had invented in a dream, and which was known as the Burns process; but that was as useless as the others. After all these ways had been tried over and over, to no purpose, there were cavilers who sneered at science and said there was no gold in the rocks. But it is generally agreed that there is gold there, plenty of it; only, as Mr. Pickwick would say, it is not gold as gold.

And so all the dreams and the black art, the science, the metallurgy, and the blow-pipe, were set at naught. One after another, as they abandoned hope, the discomfited gold-seekers abandoned Meadow Lake and went down the mountain. More than $2,000,000 had been poured into that bottomless abyss of California known as "dead-work," to pay for mills, roads, buildings, mining, etc., not including those intangible and unknowable expenses inevitably connected with such a scheme as this-say $3,000,000 in all. Eight quartz-mills had been constructed, carrying in the aggregate seventy-two stamps; and of all these only the U.S. Grant had yielded anything-about $100,000-or say one dollar for every thirty expended.

What a world of work was here done in vain! Besides this town of 650 houses, which was more handsome and substantial than is the wont of mountain mining towns; and the eight quartz-mills, with their ponderous machinery, there were built the neighboring villages of Ossaville, Carlyle, Paris, and Mendoza, all of which together contained about a hundred houses more. Nearly a hundred miles of stage roads were constructed; stations and stables built along them at regular intervals; wells dug; four saw-mills erected; forests leveled widely around and converted into lumber; lines of stages established; caravans of huge mountain freight-wagons set in motion; and all the thousand-and-one appliances of civilized life provided. All this and ten thousand other things, done in one brief summit summer, give us an idea of the prodigious energy of the gold-hunter, which goes a long way toward covering up his follies and his crimes.

As the winter of 1866-67 drew on, there was a greater hegira than the winter before, and it was final. All the miserable riff-raff, the indolent, worthless, and profligate adventurers, who have no capital, no industry, no brains, and who expect to make their living by fleecing honest men; all the gamblers and the harlots; the old prospectors, weather-beaten and grizzled; the young greenhorns, out at the elbows, out at the purse, without the means to procure a meal of victuals; all the lily-livered counter-jumpers, measurers of tape and wearers of cheap jewelry; all the sutlers, thieves, pickpockets, and roughs, were gone. There was a mighty purging and cleaning of the mountain tops before they were given back as clean and wholesome granite to the pure embrace of the snow. There lingered behind only a few hard-headed and obstinate men, who clung desperately to the last straw of hope; or men of sensitive minds, who dreaded to go back to be "gaffed" by the ridicule of skeptical capitalists of San Francisco, whose money-bags they sought in vain to open for their schemes. The great and soothing solitude of nature fell like a balm upon some wounded spirits, in which bitterly rankled the memory of defeat.

As was befitting this brief act of melodrama, the winter of 1866-67 surpassed even the preceding in the severity and continuance of its tempestuous storms. Fiercely the snow whirled in the howling winds for weeks and weeks together, until it heaped up a depth of twenty-five feet on a level, burying the unsightly and abortionate works of man out of view.

Of late, a considerable portion of the city has been burned down, but when I was there in the summer of 1872 it was comparatively perfect-not as a ruin, but as a deserted city, a standing monument of human folly; and I prefer to speak of it as it was then. In the summer of 1873, for a time there were ten inhabitants, but the only population that can be counted upon as permanent is Henry Hartley, the eccentric and adventurous Englishman who brought the place first before the public eye. In the season succeeding my visit, a resident of Grass Valley had the curiosity to visit the place in the dead of winter, a feat which he could accomplish only with snow-shoes. On these great runners, twelve or fifteen feet long, he scaled the savage summits of the Sierra, descending into the valley where lies Meadow Lake. glided through the empty streets on a level with the second-story windows, and hove-to before one of the commodious hotels. Peering through the chamber windows, he beheld sleeping apartments comfortably furnished: chairs, wash-stands, mirrors, and beds smoothed down with clean linen and heavy comforters, pillows nicely tucked and puffed by the chambermaid's hands for the guests that never came-all inviting to luxurious repose. He was tempted to go in and take a cozy sleep after his hard climb over the mountains, but the sepulchral solitude chilled his heart and blood. It was like the things beheld by divers who go down into the waters of the sea, and look through port-holes of sunken argosies into luxuriously upholstered rooms, where the green waters flow undisturbed, and the sea-weed creeps through the eyeless sockets of the skeletons. Not a living soul did he behold.

Here, just across the street from the room of the stock board above mentioned, is the handsomely furnished office of a stock-broker. If his vaults were plethoric with coin-and it is extremely doubtful if they ever were-they could scarcely be safer in the whole world, for old Boreas locks them fast and sure with snow. No burglars need be dreaded here. How strange and sad it seems, as we walk along these silent streets, to see the signs swing and hear them mournfully creak in the breeze. But all the trades-people are gone, all, all, gone. And here is the office of the Meadow Lake Sun book and job printing establishment. On the bulletin-board facing the street we read, in display-type, "Briefs and transcripts executed neatly, promptly, and handsomely, in accordance with the new rules of the Supreme Court, at the most reasonable rates. Stock-books furnished to order." A melancholy sarcasm in that last sentence-melancholy because he writers of it were in first-rate earnest, whatever others may have been. The Meadow Lake Sun shines no more; doubtless it would shine, but there are none to illuminate. And here, on C Street, was the residence of G.A. Brier, reporter of the Sun, a building with the dilapidated and seedy appearance traditional to Bohemians. Here was the wholesale liquor-store of M. Flood & Co., on B Street between First and Second.

A great many of the flimsy roofs of great superficies are utterly broken down to the ground by the enormous masses of snow, which falls in this region to the aggregate depth of thirty or forty feet a year. In the town of Truckee, the roofs are sloped up sharp, like that ancient gothic of nature, the yellow pine; but here that precaution appears to have been neglected. Notwithstanding that, and notwithstanding their frailness, many have stood stoutly up through all the storms. Here, by the edge of the lake, the timbers and boards of the snow-crushed houses lie sprawling in the water, which gently laps and wimples among them. Now and then a sudden flow of wind flaps the end of some loosened weather-board, which clacks to and fro against the house with a mournful and desolate sound, more blood-chilling than the silence. All through the heart of the deserted city broods the stillness of the tomb.

The one solitary inhabitant, Hartley, in his long winter sojourn, can move about only on his snow-shoes or Norwegian skates, so common in this alpine portion of the State, consisting of two narrow boards about fifteen feet in length, and slightly turned up at the ends. With his guiding-pole poised in his hands, striking first on this side, then on that, he attains a speed incredible to the dwellers in the valleys. His flight down the mountain side is like the eagle's when it stoops upon the hare. The straggling squads of trees on the slope appear to be flying in his face. They flee by him, like frightened deer, in long, black lines. Before him there is a point where they seem to open ranks to let him pass; behind him they leap together as the waters close over the diver. While the minute-hand of a watch creeps over a single space, he has sped from the mountain top to the valley, shoots like a falling star through the silent street of Meadow Lake, and slims across the lake. Swifter than the wild mountain sheep is this hunter, and he disputes its reign over solitude.

Two miles away to the south, the Old Man lifts his granite face, and looks down with sad and solemn mien on the swift mutations of human fortune. Pinnacles, chimneys, needles of splintered syenite, racked and battered crags, yawning abysses, shattered precipices, all tell their story of the vast forces of the earth so wildly and wantonly expended; beneath them, and all around, the abandoned ruins speak eloquently of the Cyclopean energy of man, so sadly and so prodigally wasted. The grayish coloring of the Sierra summits imparts to the scenery an aspect of hoary and ancient desolation, and thus redeems these mushroom wrecks with an appearance of being the remains of some by-gone age.

Tuesday, February 7, 2006

New York Canyon

Check out my friend Tom McGuire's write-up of our visit to New York Canyon last June, with some nice photos of the 500-foot waterfall there, at

Visit to Canyon Creek

Late this morning, on impulse, I threw some things in my pack and drove to the Canyon Creek Trail in the Gold Run Diggings. The little bridge across the creek is gone, ripped away in the flood event of the beginning of the year. It should be replaced, and The Inimitable Julie, as well as Catherine O'Riley, have advocated immediate action.

So, one of the things in my pack was my 25-foot tape measure. I recalled the old bridge as about twelve feet long; but my recollections have become suspect, and it seemed good to measure the chasm once again.

When building a bridge one seeks a narrow crossing-point. Then the bridge will be as short as possible. Hence, in terrain like this, one seeks an "inner gorge," a place of exposed bedrock where the channel has narrowed.

This is just the case at the Canyon Creek bridge site. Except during floods, the creek is confined within rock walls six feet apart.

However, the old bridge, built in 1998, was not twelve, but a little less than fourteen feet long, I determined once I arrived. It had been made using two 2X6 joists, with 2X6 blocking a foot long nailed between them every 32 inches, and a deck of three 2X6s laid lengthwise, parallel to the joists, attached to both blocking and joists using deck screws. One end was trapped rigidly within a gap in the bedrock, the other end rested on sloping smooth rock; gravity held it in place; had it been anchored, there is a chance it might have survived this last flood. For it was a sturdy little thing. No railing; that lack spooked a number of people.

It was a glorious day, incredibly warm. Canyon Creek was loud, boisterous, surging clear green water with long stretches of frothing white rapids. I had hoped to jump the creek and continue down the trail, but no, it is still too high.

So I walked around and looked at the bridge site from many angles. Of course one wants a bridge which stands high enough not to be ripped out every ten years. But the higher one places the bridge deck, the longer the bridge becomes.

I determined that by raising the level of the bridge about five to six feet, its length would grow to slightly over 20 feet.

Some homemade, arched, glue-laminated beams might serve. Then, blocking as before, and a bridge deck as before. But now the bridge would stand fifteen feet above the creek, not eight feet, and a railing would become essential, and the bridge deck must be widened to at least two feet.

I saw that bobcats, or a bobcat, had been frequenting the area, pooping here there and everywhere on the water-carved and polished bedrock. Only the most prominent and conspicuous spots will do.

The rock here seems to be some metamorphosed volcanic mudflows and ashflows (perhaps; it would take a real petrologist with a microscope to be sure). It is mapped as part of the late Paleozoic Calaveras Complex. The original strata are now tipped up near vertical. The rock seems quite siliceous and takes a high polish; it is various light colors, greys and tans, and makes a kind of fairyland of sculptured rock blades, rounded under the grinding impacts of a thousand floods. There are gigantic bolts and iron pins sprouting from the rocks, which once anchored the broad sluice boxes of the Canyon Creek Placer Mine, in the 1870s and early 1880s.

Broad? Eight feet broad. And the "undercurrents," a special type of sluice box used much in Canyon Creek, were fifteen or twenty feet wide.

The wooden sluice boxes were lined with narrow-gauge railroad track running lengthwise, and many pieces of this "sluice iron" are now embedded in the boulder-bars along the creek. Some have been bent into giant horseshoes six feet across, by some rending flood of years gone by. Some have been worn into slender threads of iron--or could it be steel?--during their time in the sluice boxes.

So the sluice iron itself is rather sculptural in character. Only rarely are the pieces of worn railroad track straight. Only rarely can one tell that they are in fact pieces of railroad track.

I have always thought that a bridge, or at least its structural members, might be made from this sluice iron. I have all kinds of ideas about making trusses and so on. A welding torch, a drill, some half-inch bolts and so on, and voila!

But my "ideas" usually involve long pieces of almost-straight sluice iron, which I would bend into slight curves or tight zig-zags (then the curves would bound the zig-zag, welded or bolted at points of contact). Twenty feet long, say. And there really aren't any of those. There are quite a few, though, over ten feet in length.

After an hour or so I strolled back up the trail. What a beautiful creek, what a beautiful day.