Monday, June 25, 2007

The Pileated Goshawk

[written June 25, 2007]

The "pileus" or liberty cap was the especial badge of emancipation, worn by freed slaves in ancient Rome. It was a floppy affair, somewhat like a broad short sock.

Hence when the cloud-column of a thunderstorm grows high enough, and it is spread out to one side by prevailing winds, this horizontal mass of cloud on top is called the pileus; and the largest of our local woodpeckers, with its distinctive head-crest, is called the Pileated Woodpecker.

The Pileated Woodpecker is a denizen of the deep woods, and chops large and somewhat rectangular holes in the trunks of dead trees, searching out grubs. Their chopping can be heard from a long distance, and if one sees a Pileated in action, well, the chips fly amazingly far and wide. It is a regular brute of a woodpecker.

Renewing our exploration of Elisha L. Bradley's and Melvin S. Gardner's "Placer County Canal," Catherine O'Riley and I paced slowly along the broad berm of the gargantuan mining ditch, through a second-growth forest of Ponderosa Pine, Sugar Pine, Incense Cedar, Douglas Fir, and White Fir, four hundred feet above the waterfalls and cascades of the North Fork of the North Fork of the American River (the NFNFAR). The shadowed forest was full of tall trees; many might mistake such a forest for first-growth. The Canal follows a nearly level course just above 4800 feet in elevation.

We were scratched and bleeding, having just and at long long last escaped the brushy clutches of a Tahoe National Forest clear-cut in Section 18, T16N R12E. For half a mile we had inched through an ocean of sun-scalded Ceanothus. The clearcut looked to be somewhat more than twenty years old; a fine old second-growth forest had been ripped out down to the last twig, and planted to Ponderosa Pine. The young trees were reaching twenty feet in height, but everywhere, from side to side and from stem to stern, there was brush.

The huge gap in the forest did offer views; we could see the canyon of the NFNFAR below us, Scott Hill, on the other side, Sawtooth Ridge, and portions of the Foresthill Divide all the way across the main North Fork of the American, to the south and east. However, since we literally could not see the ground we were walking on, through the densely-woven brush, we had to pay close attention to almost every perilous step, and didn't much enjoy the views.

At last, we regained the shelter of the deep woods, at last we could stride again along the historic Canal, used as a trail for so many decades, until Ronal Reagan became President and the word went down through the Department of Agriculture, to the Forest Service, and finally to Tahoe National Forest, that if you've seen one tree, you've seen them all, so, cut and cut and cut and cut and cut.

During our walk we had talked about the odd fact, that when the General Public drives south on (paved) Forest Road 19, from Highway 80 at Emigrant Gap, they can drive mile after mile, and explore side road after side road, and they will never, ever, see a sign marking a hiking trail.

Well. There is an exception, but this exception proves the rule. If the General Public, driving in this manner, exploring the side roads, happens to reach a certain fork on Sawtooth Ridge, where a sign was shotgunned into oblivion twenty years ago; and if the General Public turns left, and the General Public drives another half-mile, a second shotgunned sign, unreadable, will appear, just where a road left is gated and locked.

This is the historic trail to the North Fork American at Mumford Bar, by way of Government Springs. If one walks down the gated road for another half-mile, one reaches the trail. It was obliterated by logging a decade ago, up there on top, but volunteers have restored its line.

So. That's the exception which proves the rule: the one hiking trail which actually has signs, although they are illegible, and have been illegible, for twenty years.

Well, a reasonable person might wonder, so what? There are no National Forest hiking trails in that area; ergo, no signs.


In the immediate vicinity of Forest Road 19 and its principal fork, Sawtooth Ridge Road, we have these Tahoe National Forest "system" trails, as depicted on old TNF maps:

1. China Trail.
2. Burnett Canyon Trail.
3. Italian Bar Trail.
4. Humbug Canyon Trail.
5. Sawtooth Ridge Trail.
6. Rawhide Mine Trail.
7. Blackhawk Mine Trail.
8. Monumental Creek Trail.
10. Mears Meadow Trail.
11. Big Valley Trail.
12. Government Springs Trail.

Except for #12, all of these trails have either been abandoned outright, or ruined by logging (the more severe method of abandonment).

The Bradley & Gardner does not show as a System Trail on the old maps, but was much used as a trail, from before 1859, down to about 1980.

Then Reagan took office.

So. Catherine and I think it is beyond strange that this lovely area, so accessible from Highway 80, in a part of the Sierra where one might well think that Tahoe National Forest would favor recreation over timber harvests, with the historic trails carefully and lovingly maintained--in this lovely area, instead, the good old trails are abandoned, ruined, and TNF employees are, even as I write this, working hard to plan extensive new harvest activities.

Well, we walked in the cool shade to the giant trees, and we spoke about how the World is Going to Hell in a Handbasket, and suddenly a rhythmic high-pitched squawking rang out, and I saw a ghostly shape flit through the branches, a hundred feet above the ground, in the forest below.

"A Pileated Woodpecker, Catherine," I called out, as the bird continued its complaint, and moved a little down the slope toward the river.

She caught me up and we gazed into the woods below. To my surprise, the Pileated began working back up the hill towards us, and continued its high-pitched yipping. I got my camera ready, and made a little fun, calling it to me, as though calling a dog, "Here, boy, here pilly-pilly-pilly-pilly, here boy," etc. etc.

"It's a large bird," Catherine observed, and I explained, for only an instant The Professor, that the Pileated was the King of Woodpeckers.

The big and kingly bird continued its yipping, and moved higher yet, closer yet. Apparently, it had responded positively to my calling; apparently, it liked us; it clearly wanted to be near us, for it was almost all the way up to the berm, only a few yards away.

Then I realized to my instant horror that that yipping bird was not the King of Woodpeckers, it was not my friend, it did not like me, and that it emphatically did not respond positively to my dog-calling antics.

It was a Goshawk, and we were in a bit of danger so long as we stayed around. We had strayed into its nesting territory, and it was patiently and persistently warning us away. But a Goshawk only has so much patience. Then it attacks. It slashes, it rips, it tears, it claws and it bites. Usually, humans survive that attack. They may have to wear dark veils, over their disfigured faces, for the rest of their lives, but they survive.

So, we hurried away, along the berm, and after a time and over a distance, the angry yipping subsided.

We had begun the day's exploration at high noon, dropping off FR 19 where it crosses the ridge dividing Fulda Creek to the west, from Sailor Ravine to the east. A logging road led down the crest on a gentle grade, and we had some trouble finding the Canal, as the abundance of sunlight along the road had led to a continuous thicket of brush and small trees to either side. We eventually spotted it above us, making the turn into Fulda Canyon, and we look forward to another exploration of that segment of the Canal.

Breaking through the road-thicket, we started walking up the Canal, towards its crossing of Sailor Ravine, and were immediately within shady deep woods of tall trees. Misadventure struck at once, Catherine taking a tumble over a fallen tree, and scratching herself rather royally, so that it looked as though she had been attacked by a bear. There followed some stomach-turning minor surgery, to remove a half-inch splinter buried in her thigh. Then we ambled along the Canal, crossing Sailor Ravine, and passing various short and collapsed wooden flume sections, where nailed timbers and planks have somehow survived intact to this day, from a century ago. Then the Canal turned around Sailor Spur, dividing the Sailor-Fulda basin from the NFNFAR, and we entered Section 18, and the grasping, scratching, sunny ocean of Ceanothus.

Slowly slowly we fought through it. Then again the deep woods, the afternoon light slanting down in gilded shafts, following the very pronounced bear trails along the Canal, with their distinctive permanent footprints (since bears are wont to step again and again and again and again in same exact spot), and then of course we battled the dread Pileated Goshawk, and then, after nearly another mile of deep woods, Forest Road 19 appeared, which we followed back to the car.

The Placer County Canal is a fine old trail. Scarcely twenty years ago, Tahoe National Forest went hog wild and ruined the Canal in at least two areas near Forest Road 19: Area One, a clearcut on the steeps above Monumental Creek, had turned the Canal into a logging road for at least a mile; Area Two, a clearcut in Section 18, had left the Canal mainly intact, but so buried in brush that a hiker has to be more than half-crazy to even try to follow it. To actually succeed in following the wonderful old mining ditch through that clearcut ocean of brush is an exercise in pain and suffering which does not merely border upon dementia, but enters fully into dementia with verve and enthusiasm, steeped and dyed in every shade of irrationality, possessed by every nuance of cross-grained refusal to face Reality.

Catherine and I succeeded--permanently scarred, yes--but we succeeded. The Section 18 clearcut is by far the worst impediment to restoring this notable emblem of Placer County history to what it always was: a level path through the deep woods. Were a path opened through that interwoven tangle of brush in Section 18, one could walk from the East Fork to the Sailor-Fulda Divide, something like five miles, on what I can only describe as one of the finest trails we have in Tahoe National Forest, Bradley & Gardner's Placer County Canal. Along the way, one would see many huge old stone walls, and enjoy some really great forest, and cross several rivers and streams, including the East Fork of the NFNFAR (Azalea Canyon), Monumental Canyon, Onion Valley Creek, the NFNFAR, and Sailor Ravine.

And from there, why not to Fulda? A level trail from Fulda to Azalea Canyon would be quite a nice thing.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Cyclopean Walls

[written June 21, 2007]

With the discovery of a second boiler in the East Fork of the North Fork of the North Fork of the American River, or Azalea Canyon, and this second boiler near, if not next to, lengths of narrow-gauge rail and one lone train wheel, it seemed that the Mystery of the Missing Machine--no, that's not it--The Legend of the Lost Locomotive, might finally be confirmed. Or solved.

But no.

Nothing is confirmed. Nothing is solved. I sent Kyle Wyatt, curator of technology at the California Railroad Museum, photos of each boiler, and awaited his remarks.

He kindly remarked that the boilers did not look like locomotive boilers. So I am left wondering about the Lost Locomotive. There are so many versions of the Legend. One version has scrap metal men cutting a locomotive to pieces back by Onion Valley, in 1941, and hauling the pieces down to the scrap yard in Sacramento. Another version tells that a logging helicopter was seen flying away toward Blue Canyon from the Texas Hill area, a locomotive dangling below.

So far all that can be said with certainty is that there are several boilers left in that general area. Perhaps they were used as stationary engines, powering sawmills, or hoisting logs up inclines.

Today I visited the area with Catherine O'Riley and we walked down Bradley & Gardner's Placer County Canal from a point above the North Fork Campground, to its crossing of the North Fork of the North Fork American, where there are some truly epic stone walls, and some cute little swimming holes which last would appear to be a popular secret, as a beaten path leads rather directly to the deep pools in their bowls of stone. The path follows the Bradley & Gardner itself, from a camping area north of the river.

Continuing along the Canal, we found an old house site, a stone-walled cellar with the remains of a cast iron wood stove scattered nearby, which site could well be "Bradley's Ranch," as depicted on the oldest General Land Office map of that area (ca. 1870). A meadowy flat is just above the Ranch, where stock might have grazed. Bradley's Ranch might, or might not, be synonymous with the "Upper Ditch Camp" mentioned by I.T. Coffin in his Diary (1863; 1870-1903).

Eventually, we reached paved Forest Road 19, and followed it back across the river to our point of beginning. A nice loop, of a mile or so. The stone walls at the river are Cyclopean. Amazing. And we found a chunk of old concrete at the dam site, quite similar to the concrete we found from the similar dam on Monumental Creek, a couple of weeks ago.

Earlier in the day I had located the historic Monumental Canyon Trail again, where it intersects Forest Road 45-2, and I found an old Forest Service "small i" blaze on a tree beside the trail. The trail shows every sign of being a circa-1890 narrow-gauge logging railroad grade, which was later pressed into use as a trail.

It looked as though this Monumental Canyon Trail first intersected, and then coincided with FR 45-2, but there were faint indications that it split away immediately. I myself dropped down from that point on FR 45-2 to the Bradley & Gardner, and followed it down to FR 45, thence around Onion Valley to a point above the North Fork Campground. Along the way, as I neared the meadow at Onion Valley, there approached alongside what could only be the very same old railroad grade which had become the Monumental Canyon Trail, and this Monumental Grade actually crossed the Bradley & Gardner, aiming for the Meadow! Although I found no blazes, in a cursory inspection of trees nearby, I am convinced that the true "beginning" of the historic Monumental Canyon Trail is at Onion Valley Meadow itself.

So, the long-abandoned and much-ruined Monumental Canyon Trail is coming into focus, very gradually. Don't ask me how Tahoe National Forest could just abandon this historic trail; I don't know.

It could be restored for foot use. The Bradley & Gardner also served as a foot trail, for many decades, but the destructive logging of recent times has deterred hikers, and it now becomes overgrown. But it, too, could be restored for foot use. It would make quite a wonderful trail, from its source on the East Fork, in Azalea Canyon, to its westernmost feasible point, which might be Sailor Ravine, or it might be beyond Fulda. It would be especially nice to open it up all the way down to Blue Canyon, and beyond. Near China Ranch, west of Blue Canyon, the Bradley & Gardner was, in later years, led through a tunnel and across Canyon Creek, thence down the ridge to Alta, Dutch Flat, and Gold Run. That is, there was an earlier and a later alignment, between China Ranch and Alta.

I much of a mind that Tahoe National Forest needs to treat this over-logged area with kid gloves, needs to define at the least "recreation corridors" along the rivers and streams, and along all the old ditches and railroad grades, etc. I want to restore the wild and scenic and recreational fabric of that area, not injure it further. The TNF "thinning" projects can cause a lot of ground disturbance and leave hundreds of stumps, giving one the idea one is on some kind of tree farm, and there is a lot of value back in those woods and in those canyons, besides timber.

Below, please find the 1859 newspaper article from Auburn's "Placer Herald" newspaper, quoting from a Sacramento Union article, which last describes the Canal Celebration in Dutch Flat when the long-awaited water of the Canal finally arrived. Enjoy.

[October 15, 1859]
Placer County Canal Celebration

We copy from the Sacramento Union the proceedings of the Canal Celebration at Dutch Flat, on Tuesday. We acknowledge the kind invitation to be present on the occasion, but the unusual change in the affairs of our town [a major fire] in the early part of the week, prevented. Our wishes unite with those of the people of the Dutch Flat Divide in confidently anticipating manifold benefits from the large supply of water they will soon obtain for their mines.

We learn that the Canal is entirely finished, and the water turned in, but it will not reach Dutch Flat for several days, as it requires time to puddle the ditch well. The miners are preparing for the water, and will soon be tearing down the banks with their hydraulic pipes. Hurrah! The good time has almost come!

[Reported for the Sacramento Union.]
The residents of Dutch Flat, and vicinity, met on the morning of October 11th for the purpose of evincing their gratification at the completion of the above very important work, and at the same time tendering a complimentary dinner to E.L. Bradley & Co., the enterprising proprietors. As early as ten o’clock the town began to wear a holiday aspect, and the animated groups of miners, with a sprinkling of crinoline on the balconies, a company of small boys decorated with ribbons drawing the hose carriage adorned with evergreens, flags, and a bell or two, this with the nearly incessant roar of artillery on the anvil principle, with an occasional selection from La Fille du Regiment by the Dutch Flat Brass Band, constituted a very lively and pleasing contrast to the silent ravines, tunnels, rivers and cañons from which the miners had gathered themselves. About the hour of noon the scattered groups formed opposite the Blue Cut Hotel, and, with the “Star Spangled Banner,” in the hands of a stalwart standard-bearer, followed by the Band and the various mining companies with their banners, marched through the town, and by a slght circuit reached a platform and seats in the rear of town erected for the occasion.

Amongst the banners of the numerous mining companies we noticed the following: the Yankee Company—motto, “Take courage, there’s a good time coming.” The Badger Company: “What works long, works well at the last.” The Franklin Company: “Strike, while the iron is hot.” The American Company: “Long may the American River run. Ho! Every one that thirsteth come and drink.” The St. Nicholas Company, with emblem of a beehive: “By industry we thrive.” The Ohio Company, emblem of a shaft and windlass: “First be sure you are right and then go ahead.” The Buckeye Company, emblem a large stag. The Hog-eye Company, emblem a hog: “Root (the emblem) or die.” Also, the Dutch Flat Eureka Company, Boston Company, the Blue Cut Company—motto, “The Old Pioneer,” the Phœnix, and a number of others, whose names, in the long line, we could not catch. On reaching the aforesaid platform, after music by the Band, the meeting was called to order by J.W. Johnston, as the Marshal of the day, and the Orator, Judge Slade, was introduced by the President, H. Davis.
Judge Slade, in a short and eloquent retrospect of the past history of the world, showed the meeting that celebrations of a similar character, on the completion of works of art or utility, were of frequent occurrence in both ancient and modern times, and then passed on to consider the impetus to mining given, in the present age of the world, was secured, in our earlier mining days, through privations, toils, and the aid of the primitive rocker dug from the trunk of a tree; and now, by means of the same stout arms and hearts, but with increased facilities, there followed water on the mountain tops, sluices, comfortable homes, the solace of lovely woman’s society, and the various improved modes of mining introduced by the intelligent miners themselves. He showed, in conclusion, the identity of interests of the various proprietors of mining claims, property holders, storekeepers, and ditch owners, winding up with a most eloquent eulogy (frequently interrupted with applause) on E.L. Bradley & Co., the projectors and indomitable proprietors of the Placer County Canal.

After prolonged cheering, Mr. Bradley was called to the stand, and thanked the meeting for the cordial feeling manifested in the entire demonstration. Colonel Felloes was then called upon, and in a few well chosen sentences, declined making a speech, as dinner was waiting. Captain Pollard followed suit, when the meeting moved to the dinner tables and did ample justice to a capital dinner, provided by Charles Seffens. On the removal of the cloth the following toasts were given by the President and drank with enthusiasm:
The Placer County Canal—We celebrate its completion as a consummation of our most devout wishes, and long deferred hopes of the people of Dutch Flat. May our citizens generally realize their most sanguine anticipations, and be borne onward by its limpid waters to wealth and happiness. Music—Quickstep.
E.L. Bradley & Co.—Our friends and neighbors, to whose enterprise and energy we are indebted for the subject of our present rejoicings and high hopes for the future. May their efforts to advance our combined interests be duly appreciated and prove amply remunerative. Music, “See The Conquering Hero Come.”
The State of California—Our home. May it ever be a sweet home to her people, the “home of the free and the land of the brave,” may the wisest and the best ever control her destinies, and may her progress be onward and upward in all that tends to elevate a State and her people. Music, “Sweet Home.”
The Union of the States—May it forever be preserved, and we here resolve that it must and shall be. Music, “Hail Columbia.”
The Flag of our Union—May the lovers of freedom from every clime and latitude find a home and protection under our ample banner, and the breath of disunion never ruffle its graceful folds. Music, “The Star Spangled Banner.”
The Fair Sex, God Bless Them—Man’s most influential and best friend; beautiful in person, amiable in manners and industrious in habits; whether mothers, wives, sisters or daughters, their claims to our love and protection will ever be our first and last duty. Music, Polka.
The meeting then formed in line, and, preceded by the Band (who gave their services free, and added greatly to the enjoyment by playing well and willingly), returned to town and separated, apparently in the most pleasant frame of mind imaginable.
The whole concluded with a Ball, at which enjoyment seemed to be the order of the night.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

More and More Lost Locomotives

[written June 14, 2007]

Wednesday morning Ron Gould and I drove up to Emigrant Gap on I-80, and then in on Forest Road 19 to Onion Valley (a lush wet glacial meadow just below the 4800' contour), hung a left on Forest Road 45, and very soon went right on 45-2. Our objective was the old Bradley & Gardner Ditch, or Placer County Canal. Following it in and out of Monumental Canyon we would reach the East Fork, and in another mile, the "take," where a small dam once diverted the East Fork into the Canal.

There we would find the old riveted steam engine boiler, twenty feet long and four feet in diameter. I had conjectured that this might be the source of the "Legend of the Lost Locomotive," the abandoned narrow-gauge logging engine supposedly hidden away in that remote, many-ravined East Fork Country.

The East Fork of the North Fork of the North Fork of the American River might better be named Azalea Canyon, for the Western Azalea, a species of rhododendron, is in full bloom along the banks of the creek, the large and graceful white flowers sweetly scenting the air. This shrub seems especially common there.

We parked at the end of Road 45-2 and began our hike.

All went as planned and Ron much admired the admirable old rock walls along the Canal, and the fine view of the Monuments, below, on Monumental Creek.

We reached the "take," and the putative Lost Locomotive. Ron has a keen eye. I had examined every exposed surface for some kind of maker's mark, but I found nothing. Ron immediately saw some tiny letters on two of the riveted iron plates forming the giant cylinder; one set of letters was legible, and read "CH#1," the other, longer set of letters seemed to spell "LOCHAIR" but was very faint, and may have had one letter preceding the "L."

Later, from the internet, Ron learned that "CH#1" means "charcoal hammered number one grade." This was a specialty rolled iron used for boilers.

We paused for lunch at the Lost Locomotive (which may well have been some kind of stationary steam engine, and in any case has no running gear or cab), and discussed its position, really right down in the bed of the Azalea Canyon, inches from the water. On the one hand, it might have rolled down the canyon wall: there was some denting to the cylinder. On the other hand, it might have been carried down Azalea Canyon from somewhere above, in a flood event, such as occurred in January of 1997. There are scratches running lengthwise on the cylinder.

Ron felt that, had the tons of metal been carried down the river, it would show more and deeper scratches. I on the other hand, who started by insisting it must have rolled down from some point above, now began to think that it must have been washed down Azalea Canyon to its current position.

We found a number of pieces of strap iron in and around the creek, which seemed to have nothing to do with our lonely Lost Locomotive, and I speculated that they may have been used to tie together the logs of the vanished diversion dam.

I was wrong, however, as will soon be made clear.

After lunch, we climbed to a century-old narrow-gauge logging railroad grade less than a hundred feet above the Bradley & Gardner, and followed it up the canyon, through occasional patches of thick brush. This old railroad grade bade fair to continue up Azalea Canyon for miles. However, in half a mile it turned into a side canyon and seemed to end altogether.

We could see a strange area of raw dirt across Azalea Canyon, and in the course of scouting the forested slopes in our ravine for any sign of our railroad grade's continuation, we drew nearer, and saw that near the area of raw dirt, some cliffs feel steeply to the river. So we made our way back to the river's edge, and saw immediately that a road descended to the river from the Texas Hill side, ending in a huge turn-around and log deck. A very high bank had been left by the big bench cut. So, there was our raw dirt.

Immediately upstream were the cliffs, and we entered a fascinating little gorge within Azalea Canyon, Shoo Fly Complex metasediments carved into pools and rapids. Smooth and rounded rocks along the stream gave way to ragged cliffs of slate rising hundreds of feet above. It was easy going, with the water so low, to ascend the gorge, and shortly we entered a more typical part of the canyon, with White Alders along the banks, and many boulders of glacial outwash and glacial till in the stream.

We rested. The day was quite warm and the shade was welcome. Looking at our maps, we saw that a certain road descended to the river from the north, only a little ways upstream. Ron began wandering up the creek, and soon a shout brought me scampering along after him. He stood triumphantly over a train wheel, which must have weighed hundreds of pounds, lying beside the creek on a bedrock outcrop. Now we must be within an ace of the road-from-the-north, so we forged on up the stream, finding more strap iron, and then, some narrow-gauge railroad track, and then ...

And then we reached the road-from-the-north, which I saw at once was a century-old railroad grade, unusually steep, but Ron kept on finding new and more exciting bits and pieces of old railroad junk down below, and I rejoined him. A little flat at the base of the old road held a sign on a tree reading "Time Bandit Mining Claim." The miner had found many square nails and spikes and whatnot in the course of suction dredging the creek, and these were in a pile. We saw large pieces of old iron equipment scattered beside the creek nearby, and another old railroad grade seemed to climb steeply away on the Texas Hill side. I followed this up a couple hundred yards, where it became indistinct, but did seem to continue, and then struck directly back down to the stream, crossed, and found myself in a vast springy area with an acre of Lady Ferns putting on new growth in the sunshine. I found a squishy path through the ferns and entered the forest above, immediately striking another old railroad grade, which I followed up the canyon a short distance, before it seemed to end.

Retreating, I began to see more old metal scattered in the woods, and soon found a cabin site, with pieces of an old cast-iron woodstove, and other oddities, scattered about. Ron joined me, and after looking at the antiquities, we saw a Forest Service sign advising that it was a historic site, and artifacts could not be taken.

Walking down the old railroad grade towards the flat with the mining claim sign, we saw some more old metal at the edge of the large springy area, much obscured by alder trees, and walking over, found a second boiler, like the first, about twenty feet long and four feet in diameter. This boiler had various appurtenances bolted on which were missing from the Bradley & Gardner boiler. Nearby were what appeared to be long sections of riveted light sheet iron smokestacks.

We interpreted this second boiler to be a stationary engine used at the base of a steep, tracked, "incline," although in retrospect I suppose it may have powered a sawmill. But we saw no sawdust pile, no artifacts which could only have derived from a mill.

Seeing all this antique logging gear, scarcely half a mile above the Bradley & Gardner boiler, led me to conclude that it had indeed been carried down the river in a flood event.

After exploring the area fairly thoroughly, we debated whether to follow the road-from-the-north up to where the top of the incline must have been, on the ridge dividing Azalea and Monumental canyons, but decided instead to follow back down the East Fork and look for the base of the Texas Hill Incline.

This historic incline connected the East Fork (Azalea Canyon) to the summit of Texas Hill, and thus to the Towle Brothers Lumber Company's "Burnett Canyon" mill, of the 1890s.

On our way back down Azalea Canyon, we saw more and more old strap iron, and soon enough found long pieces, some still nailed to wooden rails. This was a relatively primitive way of moving logs around; instead of laying "real" railroad track, which is expensive, one used wooden beams or logs for rails, and nailed strap iron on top. Then flat-cars, or log-cars, of some kind, could be rolled down these tracks, using oxen or even mules for motive force. It looks very much as if one of the primitive strap-iron railroads followed right down Azalea Canyon, sometimes directly beside the stream itself, sometimes fifty feet above it. We saw hundreds of feet of strap iron before we reached the Bradley & Gardner.

From the Canal, a few yards west of the "take," we followed an old railroad grade down to the stream, and immediately struck a continuation of the strap-iron railroad. As we followed downstream, crossing from side to side to take advantage of forested flat terraces of glacial outwash, so did the strap iron cross back and forth.

Eventually we reached the near vicinity of the Texas Hill Incline, but frustratingly, could not see it. Trees over a hundred feet high have grown up since then.

However, we did find a cable spool, which may be what was sometimes called a "gypsy head," associated with a stationary engine used for yarding logs, at about where we felt the base of the Incline must be.

Proceeding downstream, a much more substantial narrow-gauge railroad grade replaced our fragile strap-iron line, and this led to a crossing of Azalea Canyon exactly at the confluence of Monumental Creek. From there it was a short but not all that easy scramble back up to Road 45-2 and Ron's truck.

Before returning to the freeway and Civilization, we drove up Texas Hill Road past the spring of that name, and found the upper section of the Incline. However, we could not see all the way down into Azalea Canyon. The exact course of the Incline as it nears the stream will be found on some other trip.

Such was a very interesting day in the East Fork Country.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Monumental Explorations

[written June 11, 2007]

The rock walls on the old Bradley & Gardner Ditch, above the Monuments, called me back. Catherine O'Riley and I had traced the line of this mining ditch only to its crossing of Monumental Creek. In recent days a patch of real weather broke upon us, with thunderstorms of sleet and rain. Wednesday afternoon being sunny, I dragged my teenage son, Greg, up to Emigrant Gap, and then six or seven miles in on Forest Road Nineteen. Our objective: the rock walls.

As we neared Emigrant Gap, a curtain of cloud blocked our view of the high country, and we could see sleet wafting down. We drove through that very sleet on The Nineteen, and, passing Onion Valley, hung a left on Forest Road Forty-Five, which climbs into the upper reaches of Monumental Canyon. The sleet turned to snow.

About a mile in, we parked and caught a view of Monumental Canyon, below. We were directly above the Bradley & Gardner "Canal Road," on the margins of a clearcut on steep slopes above the creek. The wet and heavy snow discouraged us from dropping down to the Canal and continuing across Monumental to the rock walls. So we enjoyed the warmth of the car and drove farther up The Forty-Five.

At a certain point, the USGS 7.5 minute topographic map (Blue Canyon quadrangle) shows the old Monumental Creek Trail (MCT) appearing out of nowhere, below The Forty-Five. We parked and walked through our minor blizzard on a gently descending side road, finally leaving the road and blundering down the side of Monumental Canyon in hopes of striking the trail.

We soon found a recent (less than thirty years) logging road, overgrown with brush and small trees, and saw, below it, another small road. Dropping to this smaller road, we saw that it looked quite old, as though it were an old narrow-gauge logging-railroad grade. Following it a little ways, we soon found some of the "small i" Forest Service blazes, and knew we were on the MCT. It was very brushy and we were already soaked. Greg had a crown of white snow on his red hair. We left the MCT and climbed back up to the gently-descending side road, following it east, imagining that soon it must cross the gently-rising MCT. We reached a hunters' camp in a grove of fir, with all manner of logging roads and skid trails in the immediate area, and as I scouted around, I found the MCT, with blazes on the older trees near it.

This was enough. We retreated to the warm car, drove another couple of miles up The Forty-Five, while the forest turned white with snow all around us, and then went back home.

Thursday dawned clear, and stayed clear, and in the early afternoon I suddenly decided to return to Monumental Canyon and visit the rock walls along the Bradley & Gardner. I had described finding the MCT to Ron Gould that morning; Ron and I had followed this trail from the top, on Black Mountain, down, into a grove of ancient Red Fir which had been logged by Sierra Pacific Industries, only a few years ago, and in the course of yarding big logs with bulldozers, they had utterly obliterated the MCT. We had found a few blazes, but the actual bed of the trail was gone. Now another piece of the puzzle had fallen into place. The position of the MCT where Greg and I had found it suggested that, farther west, this same railroad grade would be found between the Bradley & Gardner Ditch, below, and The Forty-Five, above.

Once again I drove to Emigrant Gap and followed The Nineteen to The Forty-Five, and parked about a mile in, near where Black Mountain Road forks away left. I dropped straight down the forested hillside, and sure enough, I found a little old narrow-gauge railroad grade. I saw no blazes. The area had been subjected to a thinning project similar to what is now proposed by Tahoe National Forest for large areas near Monumental Canyon and Texas Hill. The stumps of many small trees jutted from the forest floor, and the old railroad grade had been torn up a little here and there. No blazes, but this was a perfect match for the MCT. Dropping on down to the Canal Road, I followed it northeast into the clearcut, where the road climbs a few feet above the true line of the Canal. It looks as though Tahoe National Forest put their bulldozers on the Bradley & Gardner just for the purposes of this clearcut. I wish they had left the old canal alone. I wish they had not clearcut the steep slopes above the creek.

Did Tahoe National Forest know, when they bulldozed the Bradley & Gardner, when they bulldozed mile after mile of double-wide, freeway-style logging road in the area around the North Fork of the North Fork, and Onion Valley, and Monumental Canyon, that they were bulldozing the uniquely derived recreational territory of the town of Dutch Flat?

What I mean is, since the 1850s the people of Dutch Flat have hiked here, camped here, hunted and fished here. It is a matter of tradition. Begin with the 1850s: vast treasures awaited discovery at Dutch Flat, pending construction of a big ditch carrying lots of water, for hydraulic mining. The line was surveyed: it ran away up past Blue Canyon into the fabled canyons of the North Fork of the North Fork. There, miners lived in remote camps and cabins, receiving their supplies by mule train, from Dutch Flat. Work began on the ditch: it was called Gay's Big Ditch, after a man I take to be one Elkanar Gay. He built a sturdy fort on the sunny slopes above Blue Canyon, Gay's Fort, for which Fort Point on the Central Pacific Railroad was named, although the chances are about nil that any railroad historian knows that tiny fact.

Fort Point is quite close to Horse Cock Ravine, a name which has not survived on modern maps. A certain pillar of andesitic mudflow stood above the tracks, there. It is seen in some of the old railroad photographs.

So, yes, there was a "fort" along the line of Gay's Big Ditch, a fort probably made from thick logs. And ahead, to the east, lay the Complex of Canyons. The ditch would cross all of those canyons, finally reaching the East Fork itself. But the project failed, probably for lack of funds, and it remained for Elisha Bradley and Melvin Gardner, with their Chinese work force, to complete the Placer Canal, in 1859. Dutch Flat held a parade in celebration, with the individual mining companies carrying large banners inscribed with their names, their symbol and motto (if any), and exclamations of confidence and hope burning bright. Then came the speeches, and the tables groaning with food and drink, and then came the dance.

There were reservoirs, and remote ditch camps, and constant inspection and maintenance. This ditch was crucial to the future of Dutch Flat. Finally the mines could be well and truly opened.

But the summers burned hot and dull, then as now. The water in the ditch failed every summer, the mines shut down for their own cycles of maintenance and preparation for the next "season" of work, to begin some time in November, most likely. By then the first of the winter storms should have blanketed the high country in snow, and drenched the lower elevations in rain. But in the summer, and early fall, the people of Dutch Flat found ways to get to higher elevations. A wagon ride up the Old Emigrant Road brought one to Emigrant Gap, to Yuba Gap and popular Crystal Lake, but it also put one within reach of the East Fork.

Work on the Bradley & Gardner predated the Central Pacific's arrival (1866) by ten years or more. It is possible that Forest Road Nineteen actually dates back to the 1850s. The Nineteen stays high within the Complex of Canyons, where glacial till predominates and road-building is easier. The Canal hews to the 4800-foot contour in this country, having a slight grade down to the west, and can't choose to rise high or fall low to avoid a cliff or other obstacle, as a road can choose. This near-level path through the Complex of Canyons means making long turns in and out of each canyon. It makes for a poor trail, at least, for getting to Point B from Point A. For walking in the woods and canyons, it makes a truly great trail.

So, I would suggest that road access from Emigrant Gap may itself date from the 1850s, and in any case, preceded any significant logging in the area. Not until the Central Pacific arrived could the timber be brought to market. And way back in that East Fork country were the various mining camps, including Monumental Camp, and Texas Hill, and Burnett Canyon, and the folk from Dutch Flat would come up and camp and picnic and fish and hunt and hike. Here was the epochal mining ditch which fed the very mines. The Bradley & Gardner.

Both Bradley and Gardner became fabulously wealthy. Eventually they sold out to the Cedar Creek Company, of London. But that's another story.

Onion Valley may have been the site of Monumental Camp, from which a man named Gunnoldson would ski over to Texas Hill, to visit I.T. Coffin. They hiked and skied all the trails. The China Trail, the Sawtooth Trail, the Burnett Canyon Trail, and so on. Later they both moved to Dutch Flat itself. Decades later, about 1915 or 1925, cartoons were drawn of Dutch Flat men camping at Onion Valley, on a hunting trip. Buster Sharon and friends ... Buster Sharon, who had been one of the hard-hitting young men of Dutch Flat in the 1890s, who had killed a tall Swede with a single blow of his fist. The Swede worked as a logger for the Towle Brothers.

The Towle Brothers Lumber Company, of Dutch Flat, had extensive holdings up in the Texas Hill country, and established the Burnett Canyon Mill there, in the 1890s. They had sawed the lumber for the snowsheds of the Central Pacific Railroad, and had been paid, partly, in land. By 1890 they owned 19,000 acres and had thirty-eight miles of narrow-gauge railroad, not counting the temporary tracks which were quickly laid up this or that canyon to bring the logs out, and then as quickly dismantled.

Many Dutch Flat men worked for the Towles. The payroll was in the hundreds. Among these were the Chinese road crew, who laid in the railroad grades and set ties and tracks. There were about fifty in this crew alone.

Hence many Dutch Flat men who might otherwise never have visited Onion Valley and Texas Hill and the East Fork, came to know it through the Towle Brothers. And for many reasons, the gold mining, the construction of the Bradley & Gardner, the Towles, and the sheer magic and beauty of this land of tall trees and sparkling streams and waterfalls and lush meadows, over the decades a special connection arose between Dutch Flat and this East Fork Country.

But then came the bulldozer, and so many, many timber harvests, and so many, many miles of logging roads. The old trails, wrecked; the Bradley & Gardner, wrecked; the soulless calculations of the Forest Service, of how many cubic feet of wood, per acre per year, could be grown, calculations which returned that horrible and equally soulless solution, the clear-cut; and today very extensive "thinning" is proposed, much using ground-based equipment, and while trying to be a reasonable man, I can't help but feel that way more than enough damage has already been done in this area.


Regaining the line of the canal, I followed it up Monumental Creek to the crossing, skipped over the stream boulder-to-boulder, and soon I was sailing along atop the rock walls I had seen from a distance. Numerous small bits of blue flagging had been tied to small trees along the Canal, by Tahoe National Forest employees who were marking it for some reason. They litter the ground in places. Apparently this old ditch needs a lot of flagging.

Logging operations which seemed to be roughly contemporaneous with the clearcut, that is, roughly twenty-five years past, had come all the way down to the line of the Canal from the ridge above. Below the Canal were some huge Douglas Fir and Sugar Pine. This "ridge above" forms the divide between the East Fork of the North Fork of the North Fork (East Fork) and Monumental Creek. The ridge is made of Shoo Fly Complex metasediments in the usual near-vertical strata, like one sees in most of this area, and it seems as though a global westerly flow of the glacier in Monumental Canyon and the nearby East Fork had gone right over the tops of the Monuments, which inhabit a south-flowing section of Monumental Creek. Possibly glacial till had settled in deeply there, beneath the ice, and protected these precarious columns, these unusual rock towers which would have been instantly struck down if the main Monumental glacier had flowed south, along the present creek, rather than west, above it.

At any rate, the Monuments present a bit of a geological mystery. Despite the intense glaciation of this area, rock outcrops are not conspicuous; they exist, but far more commonly, the bedrock is blanketed with glacial till, which today supports the rich forests. This till contains numerous boulders of granite which were ripped from the South Yuba basin, somewhere "up-ice." For here, as in so many other areas, we see that South Yuba ice overflowed to the south, into the North Fork of the American basin.

I followed the Bradley & Gardner past the Monuments, gleaming in the midday sun, and into the East Fork proper.

I had reached this point twenty-five years ago, and found the brush very thick along the Canal, and so I did not follow it then. Today I was not going to be stopped. To my surprise, there was fairly easy going, through the thickets of Huckleberry Oak and Ceanothus and Manzanita, for bears had been using the Canal as a trail, as one often sees. There will often be a gap in the bushes one can sidle through, even though it can't be seen for all the leaves and branches. A closer examination reveals that many branches have been broken off by the bears, who perform their own version of trail maintenance. The bears also rip down small trees along their favorite paths, before they can mature into large trees which block the paths.

From the sunny point between Monumental Canyon and the East Fork, where the brush grew thick, I entered shady woods where I had easy going.

It was exciting to venture into unknown territory. I hoped I had seen the last of the logging, and would find the ancient ditch undisturbed the rest of the way to the "take," higher on the East Fork; but no. The logging of roughly twenty-five years ago had extended all the way down to the line of the Canal, and even below it, into the well-watered heavy timber along the creek, in alluvial terraces of glacial outwash sediments. However, this area must have been logged using helicopters, at least, it was not riven every which way by bulldozer skid trails, and the ditch itself was fairly intact, although often covered in logging slash.

Finally I left the logging behind. The Canal was very close to the East Fork, now; it was very close to the 4840' contour. I reached a bench cut in slaty bedrock directly above the creek, where some tall Douglas Fir had come crashing down along the line of the Canal itself, and--there was no more. I had reached the "take," where doubtless a log dam had been carefully fitted into the bedrock exposed on both sides of the creek, raising the water the ten feet needed to overflow into the ditch.

At just that point, a huge cylinder of riveted sheet iron lay in the creek. "Ah ha," thought I, "they used some hydraulic-mining penstock to convey the waters for the first twenty feet or so, from the dam." I clambered down through the wreckage of the fallen trees to the cylinder, and found it to be the boiler of a steam engine. It measured four feet in diameter, and twenty feet long, and was made from about quarter-inch-thick sheet iron. I could find no maker's mark.

Instantly I recalled the Legend of the Lost Locomotive. Many versions exist. The most common is that one of the Towle Brothers' narrow-gauge locomotives had fallen into a creek, somewhere in the East Fork country. No one knew where it was.

Some claimed that it had been lifted out of the area at long last, around 1990, by a logging helicopter. There are so many rumors, so many versions of the Legend of the Lost Locomotive. I remember one authority on local logging railroads assuring me that the lost locomotive dates from the 1920s, that it was in use by the Smart Lumber Company, of Dutch Flat, that a certain trestle had burned down, trapping it in the remote area, and eventually, it had tumbled into the creek.

Could this boiler be the legendary Lost Locomotive of the East Fork?

Perhaps. But it had not one speck of running gear. It was a boiler for a steam engine, plain and simple. It is slightly dented, as though it could have rolled down the side of the canyon. It must have rolled down; for it is far too heavy to have ever been floated by the East Fork, I should think.

I took some pictures. On the way out, I followed an old logging railroad grade I had spotted above the ditch, and ended up atop the dividing ridge, between Monumental and the East Fork, on more recent logging roads,but the brush became to bad, so I dropped back off the ridge to the Canal, and followed it back in and out of Monumental Canyon, until I could scramble up the steepish slope to my car.

Sunday I joined my sister, Karen, with her husband, Barry, and geologist Dave Lawler, for a return to the Bradley & Gardner, and the East Fork, and the putative Lost Locomotive. Dave and I had explored sections of the Bradley & Gardner further west, in the Complex of Canyons, some ten years ago, covering most of its course between Sailor Ravine and Lost Camp. So this was a return to an old subject of ours. Dave, Barry, and Karen much admired the ancient Canal, and the Monuments, and we found the Western Azalea bushes in full bloom, near the boiler, sweetly scenting the air. Some beautiful clouds, struggling to become thunderstorms, drifted overhead, and for a while a pair of hawks watched us, soaring in circles. I took the chance to explore more of the old logging railroad grade above the boiler. It clearly dates from about a hundred years ago, probably from the era of the Towle Brothers and the Burnett Canyon Mill and the Texas Hill Incline. It continues up the East Fork on a gently rising grade. I followed it for nearly half a mile, before brush closed in tight and stopped me. Soon I hope to follow it farther. On the way out, Barry and Karen and Dave and I saw that this same railroad grade had a spur dropping steeply to the East Fork.

Such have been some recent explorations in the good old East Fork Country.

Friday, June 1, 2007

The North Fork of the East Fork of the ...

[written June 1, 2007]

I joined Catherine O'Riley for an unexpected hike into the wilds of Monumental Creek, or, as we jokingly named it, the North Fork of the East Fork of the North Fork of the North Fork of the American River. The NFEFNFNFAR, as it were.

It is actually called Monumental Creek.

We began by driving up I-80 to the Emigrant Gap exit, and navigating through what little remains of that hamlet to enter upon narrow, paved Forest Road Nineteen.

Since both the Bear and the Yuba rivers are tributaries to the Feather, Emigrant Gap is actually a "gap" or pass on the ridge dividing the American River from the Feather River. Here, in 1849, the trusty wagons which had endured over a thousand miles of plains and mountains and deserts were lowered by ropes into the verdant meadow of Bear Valley, thence to climb from the Bear to the crest of Lowell Hill Ridge, and trundle over hill and dale to the southwest, only a few days' travel, now, from Sutter's Fort and nascent Sacramento City.

When one adopts a long ridge, like the American/Feather Divide, for the purposes of travel, the gaps or passes often constrain the route. Hence at Emigrant Gap we find quite a series of routes converging upon that one point: a trans-Sierran Indian trail, the Donner Trail of 1846-49, the Dutch Flat Donner Lake Wagon Road of 1864, the Central Pacific Railroad of 1866, the Lincoln Highway of ca. 1915, Highway Forty, and now I-80; all these routes meet at Emigrant Gap.

By the 1890s Emigrant Gap had become a major shipping point for lumber. The primeval forests of giant pines were laid low. Much of this early logging was done using logging railroads, narrow-gauge lines carved into the various canyons so as to command the slopes above. The logs were, so often as possible, literally rolled down the hillsides, and on to waiting flat-cars, to be hauled to whichever sawmill.

Then there were the shake-splitters, who felled the giant Sugar Pines, sawed them into short lengths, and used the fro and the mallet to split their thousands of shakes, for roofs.

The early logging was followed by later logging and it never really stopped. Today, Tahoe National Forest's "American River Ranger District" is planning a major forest thinning project in the East Fork of the NFNFAR and Texas Hills area. I received a mailing from TNF notifying me of this "East Fork" project some time ago, and recently spoke with Karen Jones of TNF about what is planned. She told me that there will be a thinning of crowded stands of timber in that area, and that where the terrain permits, ground-based equipment will be used, but where the slopes are steep, helicopter yarding will bring out the thinned trees.

As always in such cases, I remarked upon the importance of protecting the historic trails and archeological sites of the area; I mentioned the Bradley & Gardner Ditch, or Placer County Canal, I mentioned Isaac Tibbetts Coffin, and his cabins at Texas Hill and in Burnett Canyon, and his tiny old mining ditch, and the Burnett Canyon Trail, and eventually Karen Jones lost patience and told me I should take all that up with Nolan Smith, the TNF archeologist overseeing the East Fork project. So, Nolan and I have made plans to visit the area on June 12th.

So much for prologue. Too much. But it bears upon what follows. I should say, tho, that the North Fork of the North Fork has many tributaries, which spread out like the fingers of a hand, and that Forest Road Nineteen, The Nineteen, as it were, winds in and out of several of these many canyons. It is a Complex of Many Canyons, which converge upon a Gorge of Many Gorges. First we crossed Fulda, and a few miles further brought us to the North Fork of the North Fork itself.

The Nineteen rarely drops below 5000' elevation, and rises to over 6000' on Monumental Ridge. It is covered in snow for much of each year. Once giant steam tractors hauled sawed lumber to Emigrant Gap on this road. That was a century or so ago. And decades before then, an army of men had hacked out the Bradley & Gardner Ditch. This ditch supplied water to the mines of Dutch Flat and Gold Run, reaching the former in 1859. Following, very nearly, a contour line, the Bradley & Gardner, or B&G, is all the more twisty and turny than The Nineteen, as it winds in and out of the Complex of Canyons. We first saw the B&G just a couple hundred yards shy of the NFNFAR. I pointed it out to Catherine, and then we crossed the river and parked just outside North Fork Campground, a popular drive-in TNF campground where one pays a fee every night.

Our objective was a beautiful waterfall, a scant quarter-mile or so down the river from the campground. Multiple trails lead down to the waterfall, really two waterfalls, each falling into deep pools ideal for swimming. It is quite a popular place. Nearing the falls, we saw a new OHV trail coming directly down the canyon wall to some toilet paper and miscellaneous garbage scattered above the waterfall.

The falls are spectacular. We clambered around on upturned strata of Shoo Fly Complex early-Paleozic metasedimentary rock, meta-sandstones, slates, etc. The Shoo Fly can vary wildly in a short distance, going from easily-eroded slate to massive and resistant meta-sandstone and chert. The waterfalls likely have to do with a stratum of this meta-sandstone. Downstream, a zone of slate has let the canyon deepen, but here, a resistant stratum has formed a step.

Hence the waterfalls. But as the North Fork of the North Fork proceeds downstream, to the south and west, the canyon steepens into a gorge and it becomes cliff upon cliff, waterfall upon waterfall, pool upon pool, and is pretty much impassable.

We gathered up the garbage as best we could and followed a different trail back up to the campground.

The overall idea of our day was to visit a number of different places, which, unaccountably, Catherine had never seen, to make a number of short hikes. The waterfalls were first. Next to come were the Monuments for which Monumental Creek and Monumental Ridge were named. To visit the Monuments we drove further along The Nineteen, past Onion Valley, to the East Fork, and parked near the entrance to Tunnel Mills Campground, a TNF reservation-only, group-camp area next to the river.

From here, I explained, one could work upstream towards Monumental Creek; a minor logging-railroad grade would provide a route, but eventually, we would reach the creek at the wrong place, and have to climb up in elevation a couple hundred feet, to a still-higher old road, from which we could reach the Monuments. And we would follow this higher road back out, and after a time drop cross-country to The Nineteen.

Just so it happened. We followed the old railroad grade, not far above the sparkling, murmuring East Fork, until at last the grade approached the river itself and we could see that Monumental Creek entered just above. But there is no following Monumental Creek up to the Monuments, from the East Fork: it is guarded by cliffs and waterfalls and deep pools. Years of experience had shown that one should approach the Monuments on the higher road, not on the railroad grade; but again and again I had ignored this wisdom, again and again I had been forced to make the haphazard bushwhack up steep slopes, from the end of the railroad grade. We made the climb, and found ourselves just above the creek and the Monuments. A very steep descent was needed to reach the foaming cascades almost ringing the base of the principal monument, a spire of rock perhaps a hundred feet high.

Here again, as at the North Fork Campground waterfalls, a stratum of quartzite, or chert, or of some resistant Shoo Fly rock, crossed the axis of Monumental Creek. An entire family of monuments rises at this place. It is picturesque and wild. Sharp crags of rock peek from the forest above, and among these crags one can see massive dry-laid stone walls along the line of the Bradley & Gardner Ditch. The principal Monument is crowned with white, quartz in part, but there seems to be a white stain extending down from the narrow flat summit, as tho an eagle nest had perched on that magic eyrie for many a century.

We took our lunch in that exceptional place, and then made the steep climb out, where the "high road" would lead us back west towards The Nineteen, and Catherine's truck. Gaining the road, we decided to follow it farther up Monumental Creek, rather than back towards the truck. Soon the road became overgrown with small trees and brush, but a path had been lopped in recent years, so we had easy going. It was clear that this road had been cut directly into the line of the Bradley & Gardner. We could look across Monumental Canyon to more cliffy terrain to the east, and we saw more and more of these huge old dry-laid stone walls along the Canal. I had only been over to see those walls once, more than twenty years ago.

I expected the Canal Road, then, would soon end, where a high wooden flume once crossed the canyon.

It did not soon end. It went on and on. We may have been the better part of half a mile above the Monuments, before at last the road did end, and yet the ditch continued, and in a couple hundred yards, it reached the creek itself. A small remnant of the concrete dam diverting Monumental Creek itself, into the Bradley & Gardner, was in the creek. The B&G was well-defined to the very crossing, but no sign of it persisted across the creek; it must have been led through a wooden flume, in that immediate area.

It has long been a dream of mine to open the Bradley & Gardner Ditch, the Placer Canal, as a hiking trail, from its source on the East Fork, west to Blue Canyon, at least.

Catherine and I had followed the Canal to Monumental Creek itself. This was enough for one day. We still had to visit Big Valley Bluff, and the sun was lowering. We were well pleased with our exploration, and talked of how excited Ron Gould would be, to see this place.

On our retreat to The Nineteen, we scared up a bear below the Canal Road, and stayed on the road farther than was necessary, eventually dropping to The Nineteen about a half-mile above Catherine's truck.

There were actually several other places, several other short hikes, I had had in mind, but time permitted only a visit to Big Valley Bluff, so we drove on out The Nineteen, crossing the East Fork, climbing Texas Hill, running out of pavement just where one turns right for Sawtooth Ridge, left for The Bluff; we made for The Bluff, and another four or five miles on the now rough and rocky road brought us to the End of the World.

A TNF fire lookout tower once stood here, but only the four cement piers remain.

Big Valley Bluff rises 3500' above the North Fork of the American, and stands directly across the canyon from the Beacroft Trail and Tadpole Canyon. It is an enormous mass of chaotic Shoo Fly Complex rocks, with more than the usual proportion of meta-sandstones and cherts, hence, it is very resistant, and has withstood the almost countless streams of ice which have scoured it, over the past million years or so.

The Bluff commands views which span much of Central California. It was too hazy, while we were there, to see the hundred miles of the Coast Range north of San Francisco, visible from The Bluff. To the south, snow-flecked peaks of the Crystal Range; to the east, the Sierra Crest, and the upper Foresthill Divide peaks, Lyon and Needle; to the north, Castle Peak, Basin Peak, and then closer by, Devils Peak and Snow Mountain.

We could see the Iowa Hill Canal and the Big Brush, the Ocean of Brush, very well, across the canyon.

It is the great canyon which enthralls one, there at The Bluff. I could go on and on, but it would be so much better for you to simply follow Forest Road Nineteen from Emigrant Gap, and in a reasonably high-clearance vehicle, persist and persist. It must be well over ten miles before the short side-road to The Bluff is reached. Go there in the late afternoon, when shadows are lengthening.

We saw a falcon and a hawk, there at The Bluff. I couldn't tell what species they were.

At last we left and made the long drive out to I-80, and thence to our homes. It was an exceptionally nice day in North Fork country, not down in the great canyon itself, for a change, but in its tributaries, and on the canyon rim, at the one, the only, Big Valley Bluff.