Thursday, June 15, 2006

A Distant View

This morning Ron Gould and I drove up to Yuba Gap on I-80 and then in past Lake Valley Reservoir on TNF's Forest Road 19.

Lake Valley is at the head of the North Fork of the North Fork American, and was deeply gouged by ice overflowing from the South Yuba icefield to the north and east. It was once a wet meadow a couple miles long with a small lake at its upper end. Its waters were claimed for hydraulic mining in the 1850s, and brought to Dutch Flat via ditches, being part of the vast Bradley & Gardner water system. To allow for hydraulic mining longer into the summer months, a reservoir was constructed there, early on, perhaps in the 1860s, and then periodically the dam was raised and the reservoir expanded.

As with many such hydraulic mining reservoirs, it passed in later years to PG&E. The dam was raised yet again. Now its waters are diverted to Drum Powerhouse, and discharged into the Bear River.

We wished to find how much snow if any remained on Forest Road 38, which forks left above Lake Valley and winds in to Huysink Lake, named for outdoorsman Bernard Huysinck of Dutch Flat (the "c" was dropped by the mapmakers).

Beyond Huysink, FR38 passes the popular Salmon Lake Trail, and atop the divide between Big Valley on the west and Little Granite Creek on the east, the historic Big Granite Trail, unmarked, forks away left.

It is this trail we will be trying to fix on July 15, with as much help as we can muster. It was first wrecked in 1991, and then wrecked yet again during the fall of 2004. When bulldozers yard (drag) large logs right up the line of a foot trail, a series of trenches and craters often results, and no sign of the old trail remains. Such is the case here. A new trail must be constructed over these damaged intervals.

This old trail drops 3600 feet, over about six miles, to the North Fork American.

Ron and I, however, continued past the Big Granite Trail, well past Pelham Flat, and hung a right to a little pass just north of Sugar Pine Point. I will be leading a California Native Plant Society hike in there this Saturday, meeting at the Yuba Gap exit at 11 a.m. (just south of the freeway itself). There is quite a remarkable patch of old-growth forest there, and some rare plants, like the Wooly Violet.

One of the few surviving fragments of the historic Sugar Pine Point Trail can be found just below the pass on the east, and followed south into the Sacred Forest. The rest of this trail was wrecked by logging.

It takes quite a high-clearance vehicle to navigate these roads, with their many deep water bars cut after the 2004 timber harvest by Sierra Pacific Industries (SPI). I hope we shall have enough of such vehicles on Saturday.

From the little pass we retreated north to the main road, and continued in an easterly direction, gradually bending north before dropping and breaking east again. We were trying to find the road which was cut into Four Horse Flat back in 1991. Eventually we did find it, and we had to walk. Soon we broke out onto the verge of Little Granite Canyon, the creek roaring over beds of granite boulders far below, and Cherry Point almost directly across from us.

Ron spotted a distant waterfall, which we realized must be in Sailor Canyon, miles away across the North Fork to the southeast, and then he caught sight of another one, and we had to dodge back and forth to see between trees, but, lo and behold, there it was: the upper 100 feet of the 500-foot waterfall in New York Canyon.

It was quite a pretty picture, showing off the cliffs near the falls, with the great Southwest Spur of Snow Mountain making a part of the middle ground. We could not see deep enough into New York Canyon to see the Chert Dome. But we could see the line of the Sailor Flat jeep trail, along the ridgecrest east of the falls, and see the Ursine Trail which Tom McGuire and I had used to climb up and out from the Chert Dome, last June.

The falls are still flowing fairly well, tho precious little snow remains at the head of New York Canyon, on Canada Hill, along the Foresthill Divide. We could also see portions of the Iowa Hill Canal, and the Big Brush, across the North Fork near Tadpole Canyon.

We explored just a little farther, satisfying ourselves that that was the road we imagined it to be, and I was intrigued to find glaciated exposures of the "pink welded tuff," a classic high-country component of the "young volcanics," perhaps best exposed at the head of Palisade Creek, near Palisade Lake.

Here the welded tuff was littered with dark inclusions, looking like fragments of slate at times; whether these fragments erupted with the nuee ardente itself, or were later entrained within it, as it spread away from the eruptive center, into lower terrain to the west, I cannot say.

This tuff came from a vanished volcano near Carson City. That these welded tuffs even exist west of the Sierra crest, although originating east of the crest, suggests that the Sierra had not yet uplifted to its present elevation. They are far more given to flowing downhill than to flowing uphill, these white-hot ashflows.

We did not have time to explore further.

It was a nice morning in the North Fork high country. Clouds danced slowly into intricate positions.

We saw many thousands of California Tortoiseshell butterflies.

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