Saturday, July 29, 2006

The Salmon-Cherry-Big Granite Loop

We were late. Late, for a very important date.

Catherine O'Riley and I drove up I-80 and then, from Yuba Gap, in past Lake Valley and Huysink Lake to the head of the Big Granite Trail, where we saw Ron Gould had already long since parked and set off hiking, on a roundabout route which would go by way of Salmon Lake to Middle Loch Leven Lake, thence down the Cherry Point Trail to Four Horse Flat, thence back up the Big Granite Trail, so recently restored, to the point of beginning.

Our task was to hurry and hurry and hurry, and thus to catch up with Ron, and his dog Otis, at Middle Loch Leven Lake.

But such tasks bore us and we wandered rather slowly along, pausing to photograph flowers and butterflies and whatnot, so that eventually we just gave up on ever reaching Ron, it being simply impossible he would wait so very long.

We kept on flushing grouse from the forest as we walked, and a sudden scary thundering eggbeater whir of wings would explode into action beside us, and the winged monster would zoom away to some more distant pine. The forest is dominated by Red Fir and Lodgepole Pine, with Jeffrey Pine on the sunny granite outcrops, of which there are many, especially around the Loch Levens.

We met people with dogs on the trail, some unleashed, and it can be a little worrisome when the owner of two large dogs just about goes apoplectic calling them to her, while we walked past. Half Labrador, half pit bull, were they?

Escaping the dogs' dire wrath, we eventually reached Middle Loch Leven, after being convinced we had entered some kind of Twilight Zone in which signs would read, "Middle Loch Leven, .4," then ".3" then ".2" then, unaccountably, "1.4," so we would never ever quite get there.

We did somehow arrive at Middle Loch Leven, and there were Ron and Otis. Catherine and I dropped down into the shade at the foot of the lake and had lunch while Otis amused us by swimming, and then coming over right next to us and shaking the water off.

Then The Duck arrived, and Ron put a firm grip on Otis's collar, as he strained forward, eager to tear the poor little thing, with its so-innocent little quack, its pathetic little quack of hunger, tear it, I say, beak from wing from tail from foot. For the pretty little duck sailed right up to us, quacking softly, and we came to realize it was begging for food. It was in fact a Wise Old Duck of the World, almost the furthest thing from an innocent duck.

Otis could only take so much of this pathetic quacking, and that up-close-and-personal, cute and coy flirtation our precious little duck made into a pure business. Eventually Otis lunged so hard he dragged Ron down and then burst free into the water.

The Duck swam slowly away, with Otis a few feet astern, swimming like a hero.

The Duck ever so calmly led Otis on a merry chase out into deep water a hundred feet from shore, and then back in to us (it could be that food would in fact be thrown, after all; and it never hurts to check); and Otis swam and swam and swam.

Such was lunch, watching the antics of Otis and The Duck. She looked to be a Mallard.

Gathering ourselves, we started down the Cherry Point Trail, surprised by how much use it showed, although, upon reflection, we remembered there had been a search and rescue operation in this area but a few days before. It is quite a nice trail. Where it leaves Middle Loch Leven a Forest Service sign reads "Big Granite Trail 3, North Fork American River 8."

We wound down through forest and sunny openings and past springy areas rife with flowers. The skies were blue, the sun was warm, and a breeze kept things fresh. Eventually we reached the lower section of the Cherry Point Trail, which became a logging road during the 1991 timber harvest by Sierra Pacific Industries, the same harvest which wrecked the Big Granite Trail.

At Four Horse we had a try at following the original line of the Cherry Point Trail across the meadow, from one ancient aspen tree to another, but this is not too easily done. We would like to re-open this historic alignment of the trail.

Only during our climb up and out of Four Horse were we seriously bothered by mosquitos; the sun was lowering in the west as we hurried along through the forest, admiring the great work done on the July 15 work party.

We figure it to be maybe a seven-mile loop. It could be a little rough finding the Big Granite Trail down in Four Horse Flat, but we hope to install a sign or two down there and make it easier.

Such was a fun day in North Fork country.

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