Sunday, June 11, 2006

Visit to Canyon Creek

A couple weeks back I was contacted by forester and botanist Ron Lane, who wrote that he had read about Gold Run's Paleobotanist Trail on my website, had driven out Garrett Road to the right spot, and had been met by a log blocking the road, and a "No Trespassing" sign.

Welcome to Placer County, Ron!

I explained that the hundreds of acres of public, BLM-administered land, next to Garrett Road, was separated from Garrett itself, right there, by a fifteen-foot-wide strip of private property. The (absentee) owner, who is also blocking the Fords Bar Trail, the historic trail from Gold Run to Iowa Hill, placed the sign in such a way so that We the People will think our own public lands belong to him!

This did not sit well with Ron. I was intrigued; a relative stranger to this area, concerned that public access to public land was being lost? So I suggested he contact the BLM at Folsom, and let me know what he found.

Any botanist who lifts a finger to protect public access to public lands is ipso facto high on my List of Favorite People. So I told Ron I would be very pleased to guide him to the Canyon Creek Trail itself, which, in a way, is just the continuation of the Paleobotanist Trail, from the Diggings down Canyon Creek to the North Fork American. And so it fell out, and a couple weeks back he and his wife, Chris, and I walked down to the river and, well, they were properly impressed.

For something extremely special is going on there. Great beauty and drama inhere in the landscape, of cliff upon cliff, gorge upon gorge, canyon upon canyon. And waterfall upon waterfall.

Through the miracles of black powder and primitive rock drills, the trail was hewn from the cliffs themselves, and the effect is dizzying and exhilarating.

Ron was only just getting started. When he learned that this incredible trail is now for sale, and that Congress had told the BLM to purchase these lands, back in 1978, but nothing had been done--for nothing, then, could be done--when he learned these things, he started making a ton of telephone calls and was rather quickly up to speed on the complicated issues at work here.

There is mercury contaminating the property, for just one thing, and the BLM cannot accept title to contaminated ground, even were someone to give it to them outright. So some sort of cleanup will likely be needed.

Whether the cleanup will be at all effective in stopping the flow of mercury down Canyon Creek into the North Fork, is much less certain. Miillions could be spent to little purpose.

Ron then proceeded to invite a number of knowledgeable and important people, to visit this extraordinary place. I was to tag along and be the guide, more or less.

Fewer people showed up than we'd hoped, but Skip Mills of State Parks, and a retired entomologist, Glen, joined Ron and Chris and I for a brief tour of the Diggings proper, and then a descent of the Canyon Creek Trail.

All went well, and we were treated to a very nice display of wildflowers, for the Bush Monkeyflower was still near the peak of bloom, but many many Larkspurs and Two-Lobed Clarkia's had arrived on the scene; these last have four petals of a light purple, and grow by the thousands along the trail. Astounding!

Glen was able to identify quite a number of insects working the flowers, and had a sure knowledge of the native butterflies. I learned that our Sierran Blues feed on Incense Cedar needles in their larval stage, which seems passing strange. He astounded me, down at the Last Waterfall, at the North Fork itself; for we were sitting on steep rocks, above the pool below the falls, and I spotted some Blues about fifteen feet below us. They were sipping from a little seep of water dribbling from a crack in the polished bedrock.

Glen calmly opened his pack and withdrew--a butterfly net!

As usual, my mouth was working about a mile a minute, chattering about this or that, about wanting to wander the Amazon and net giant blue butterflies, when a child, as I recall, but at any rate, seconds after removing his net and unfolding it, he was getting a specimen bottle from his pack.

"This is one of the species my son has been studying," he remarked, as he reached into his net and gently moved the Blue into the bottle.

"Huh? What!! How--how could you have--how did you do that?" I stammered, for it literally was impossible that, sitting still beside me, he could have already netted a Blue.

But there it was!

So, how?

"Oh, I saw one flying right at me, and just turned my net," he explained.

Oh. OK.

It was sheer magic!

I rattled on and on about the Big Granite Trail and how my friends Ron Gould and Catherine O'Riley were, at that moment, sitting at a booth down at the Confluence Festival, signing up who knows how many volunteers, to repair the Big Granite Trail, away up by the Loch Leven lakes. My monologue eventually degenerated into a bitter recital of what I imagine to be the failings of Tahoe National Forest. I can get kind of carried away at such times. I am just looking for someone to blame. It's not productive.

What happened to the Big Granite Trail, happened elsewhere: all the old historic trails, shown on map after official map of Tahoe National Forest, over decade after decade after decade, had been wantonly destroyed by logging, mainly on the "old railroad lands," the alternate square miles given to the Central Pacific Railroad, in the 1860s.

All of them? All the old trails, destroyed?

No, no, not quite. But the Big Valley Trail, the Big Bend-Devils Peak Trail, the Snow Mountain Trail, the Long Valley Trail, the Big Granite Trail, the Cherry Point Trail, the Monumental Creek Trail, the China Trail (south), the Lola Montez Trail (north), and, well, unfortunately, the list goes on: these were all more or less wrecked by logging.

And not at all long ago!

And we have not even reached those trails blocked by gates and "no trespassing" signs, illegally blocked, if one comes right down to it, such as the Heath Springs Trail, which is just the downstream continuation of the Painted Rock Trail. Yes. That private club known as "The Cedars" is responsible for that closure.

But I digress.

Occasionally, Skip got a word in edgewise. He had brought some excellent maps along, showing all the parcels in the Diggings, and on Canyon Creek; and that impressed me from the start, and later, listening to him, I felt that he had cut to the heart of the matter and touched upon just what I myself have been avoiding.

For he suggested, and it is much more than right, it is certain, that I, we, whoever loves that Canyon Creek Trail, and the Gold Run Diggings, ought to be wooing Bruce Kranz, Placer County Supervisor for District Five (which extends from Meadow Vista on the west, to Lake Tahoe on the east--it's huge, District Five)--yes, wooing him, begging him, beseeching him, and most importantly, winning him over, to the idea of land acquisitions at Gold Run, and acquainting him with the history, and the recreational potential, and the trails, and really, all of it.

And that is exactly what I have been putting off. I dread wooing Bruce Kranz. But it is past time to be getting down to business. To imagine that this whole process, of rescuing the Gold Run Diggings and the Canyon Creek Trail from private development, and managing the area for open space, for wildlands, for hiking and equestrian and bicycling uses (but *not* OHV uses), well, it just seems that we must have the County Supervisor on board.

Kranz has a background in State Parks, and may be fairly receptive to all this.

Eventually we straggled slowly back up the trail in the afternoon sun--there was no getting around it--and drove back to the freeway and our cars.

It had been a wonderful day in Canyon Creek and on the North Fork, which, by the way, is running high and fast and cold and clear as can be, it is quite the pretty picture these days.

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