Thursday, April 13, 2006

The Booth Trail

This morning son Greg and I met Ron G. at Colfax and drove across the North Fork at Mineral bar, to Iowa Hill.

From the 1861 "Directory of Placer County" I find that Booth Garrett, miner, and
Booth R. J. miner, were Iowa Hill residents.

A few dozen yards east of the store is an old hydraulic mining reservoir, with an open area just south of the road and above the reservoir, where we parked. The Stevens Trail leads away west from the store; but we were in search of the Booth Trail, which Ron had heard mention of; supposedly one merely dropped down a certain driveway north, and soon peeled away east into the woods.

We followed these vague directions, and found a welter of game trails leading every which way. We maintained a course north towards the river, hoping we would strike something unequivocal.

But no.

After a time, scouting west, I struck an especially strong bit of trail, and hollered to Ron and Greg. The thing dropped us gently down into the canyon before disappearing amid more game trails. In such cases one makes a choice, and it well may be wrong. One missed switchback is enough. Dropping lower, we struck an amazingly broad trail, four feet wide, often chopped out of rocky, steep, and difficult terrain.

This was a Giant Trail.

But this too came to an abrupt end.

So we scattered widely across the canyon wall, out of hearing of one another, searching for The Booth, but without result. Always we let ourselves drop towards the river.

It was all Canyon Live Oak, Douglas Fir, and Poison Oak, And ticks. Hungry ticks.

And Houndstongues, with their pretty forget-me-not flowers.

Suddenly, the Giant Trail reappeared, and we followed it to the river itself, crossing a small ravine along the way. Soon we reached some grassy glacial outwash terraces, sixty feet above the river, and a big pile of garbage, and a well-traveled trail leading away up the canyon wall above.

This was the True Booth Trail. We had been always too far west, and had inadvertently discovered other old trails.

We dropped to the river and ate lunch under blue skies, with temperatures warm enough to make us choose shade over sun. The North Fork was running quite high and fast, and its water was somewhat cloudy, not muddy by any means, but not clear.

Quite a number of Black Locust trees grew on the bouldery gravel bar there; so I dubbed the place Locust Bar, tho it may be known as Booth Bar.

The river switches back and forth quite sharply in this reach of the canyon, never straightened by glaciers, and embraced by each sharp bend are glacial outwash terraces; many were mined into oblivion, and all one sees are boulder fields and boulder piles and time-softened scars from mining.

The outsides of each bend are scoured free of glacio-fluvial sediments and show large expanses of bedrock.

At Locust Bar, on the north side of the river, a relict bedrock channel is seen, with a funny island of bedrock rising high between it and the main North Fork. It looks to have been mined very thoroughly, a process of years I imagine.

We explored downstream, and then upstream, finding a nice little trail contouring along fifty feet above river level. We lopped brush and poison oak and kept on until we reached that very chasm-ravine Ron and Catherine and Gay and I had visited last spring, when following a trail downstream from Fords Bar.

Hence it is actually possible to follow the river on a trail from Locust Bar up to Pickering Bar, and from there, if one fords the river, one can continue to Canyon Creek. So there is quite a nice long stretch of river paralleled by trails.

Returning, we split up, Ron taking the True Booth, Greg and I returning to the Giant Trail, where I expected to connect up all the dots and find one grand continuous trail.

But no. The Lower Giant Trail led us, eventually, to a ravine west, which heads up near the store, so I will dub it Town Ravine. This ravine makes one long series of waterfalls all the way down to the North Fork. The polished bedrock is often delicately fluted and mossed, and enormous colonies of Giant Chain Ferns adorned the creek and the cliffs. These ferns are like the White Alder and California Ginseng: they will only gorw where there is year-around water at the surface.

Town Ravine had clearly been used as a "tailings claim," and was fitted with sluice boxes, just as were Canyon Creek and Indiana Ravine, near Gold Run.

So, Greg and I scouted higher off trail, and eventually hit the Upper Giant, and followed this up and to the west again, to the very same Town Ravine.

More pretty waterfalls, more ferns and moss.

Here a faint game trail switched back and climbed higher. As we neared the canyon rim, the slopes moderated, soils sweetened, and Ponderosa Pines appeared. There were at least two lumber slides grooving the forest floor, by which lumber was slid down to the sluice boxes in Town Ravine.

Manzanita appeared and yet we dared to climb right through an extensive patch, which turned out nicely, as we found another trail, broad and amazingly well-defined, although overhung with manzanita a century old. This led us directly to the house at the bottom of the aforementioned driveway, with a sign naming the place "Perry's Point of Pines."

A house and driveway block three historic trails at once; the Stevens Trail, the Booth Trail, and the Giant Trails Complex of trails.

Reminds me of Gold Run, where a recent absentee owner blocks two old trails: the Fords Bar, and the Paleobotanist.

Fortunately, Jay Shuttleworth took the Iowa Hill problem in hand several years ago, and managed, thank goodness, to negotiate an easement from the store owners, which allows public access to the Stevens Trail. But the Booth, the Blue Wing, the Giant Trails Complex, these all are more or less still at risk from further development.

A stone monument with bronze tablet, placed by E Clampus Vitus (Lord Sholto Douglas chapter), near the store, inaccurately reviews the history of the Stevens Trail.

It implies that the Stevens Trail preceded the first wagon road to Iowa Hill; this is false, for the first wagon road, crossing at Mineral Bar, was built in 1855, years before the Stevens Trail was built, and replaced, as I understand it, a still-earlier mule trail, also crossing at Mineral Bar, said trail still visible on the slopes above the road, as seen from the Colfax side of the canyon, looking across to the Iowa Hill side. On this older trail, which connected Illinoistown to Iowa Hill, there once were "saddle trains," wherein one paid a fee to ride a mule from here to there. This was a commonplace in the old days, before the advance of civilization brought actual wagon roads and stagecoaches.

In American English usage of those times, "road" could freely mean, "trail," or "wagon road," or even "railroad."

From the Placer Herald of June 10, 1855, I have:

"From Illinoistown the road to the Hill crosses the river at Mineral Bar, on the North Fork of the American River. At the present time, Mr. Rice has a number of hands engaged in cutting a wagon road to connect the two towns, which will be completed in about two months, and so much improved as to admit of pack mules traveling it in the next fortnight. The mountain on the east side of the river is very abrupt, but it is thought that by running the road along its side a very good grade can be had."

The passage does not mention the pre-existing mule trail, which also crossed the North Fork at Mineral Bar.; and "running a road along its side," means, "without switchbacks."

Yet switchbacks can be seen on the line of the old mule trail on the east side of the NF.

The passage projects completion of the road to August 10, 1855, and its use by mule trains to June 24, 1855.

And finally, in pictures taken from the wagon road, Iowa Hill side of the NF, ca. 1866, by Eadward Muybridge, showing the covered bridge at Mineral Bar (Rice's Bridge, I believe), one can see, on the Colfax side of the NF, the wagon road, and above it (following an un-wagon-like grade) a strange sub-parallel bench cut, which I take to be the "pre-existing mule trail," the mule trail which predated the August 1855 wagon road, and fell entirely out of use after the wagon road's construction.

The present road to Iowa Hill from Colfax follows, very closely, the original wagon road's alignment. One can sometimes see abandoned sections closely paralleling the current road. It is possible that some of these improvements upon the original alignment were made a century ago or more.

I do not recall the source for my assertion that there actually was a pre-existing mule trail, from Illinoistown to Iowa Hill, crossing at Mineral Bar. I have read many diaries and old newspapers and whatnot, bearing upon Iowa Hill. It boomed in 1854, but busted in 1859-60, when we find many Iowa Hill residents moving to Dutch Flat, people like Ellsworth Burr Boust and his wife Martha Elizabeth [Ferguson] Boust, or Aaron Ferguson, or Dr. Daniel Strong, or E.B. Lyon.

Yes, Dutch Flat and Iowa Hill were kindred towns, both hydraulic mining towns, full of saloons and hurdy-gurdy girls and hotels and dancehalls and opera houses, bowling alleys and everything; both had large Chinese quarters; both were situated daringly high in elevation, where storms beat fiercely and snow falls deeply.

It was another great day in the great canyon. Must have been nearly, if not over, seventy degrees, down by the river. Felt strangely hot!

No comments: