Thursday, October 4, 2007

Hayden Hill

Following the narrow ridge-crest north, zig-zagging just exactly as the local bears zig and zag, through masses of Ceanothus and small conifers, my musings, equally erratic, settled into a kind of coherence: "If the Chinese Historical Society did once visit this obscure and sacred precinct; if the Chinese Historical Society did place a commemorative plaque; if the Chinese Historical Society did annually burn offerings, to settle and reassure the ghosts of their ancestors, here on the very verge of the Great American Canyon, here, so near the summit of Hayden Hill, well, they left remarkably little trace of those visits--in fact, they left no trace--in fact, it would be about a miracle if the Chinese Historical Society ever set foot here--and it becomes a certainty that, when I myself reach the summit, there will be no 'commemorative plaque'."

Hayden Hill is a knoll or minor eminence within the North Fork canyon, above Green Valley. It just kisses the 3800' contour, and thus stands 2000' above the river, and four hundred feet below the canyon rim.

For thirty years I had wished to visit this "Hayden Hill." Far below its summit is the Hayden Hill Mine, that geologically significant hydraulic mine, involving Pleistocene glacial outwash sediments, involving a relict channel of the North Fork, the base of that channel four hundred feet above the modern river, the top of the outwash terrace six hundred feet above the modern river. The significance inheres in these numbers: four hundred feet, six hundred feet, connote great age, and I am tempted, very tempted, to correlate the sediments to the Sherwin Glaciation, of 750,000 years ago. The Sherwin is quite cryptic, its tills and moraines almost entirely erased by subsequent erosion, in fact, were it not for the blind luck that one solitary mass of Sherwin Till was buried, and thus preserved, by the Bishop Tuff, and then exposed in cross-section by a roadcut, near Bishop, along Highway 395, we would find this or that deeply-weathered till, and be able only to say, "Here is something glacial, and something old."

Now at least we can guess that such a till is Sherwin in age. The age of the Sherwin is given by dating the Bishop Tuff; and that tremendous outpouring of volcanic ash, of thirty-five cubic miles of rhyolite ash, took place almost exactly 750,000 years ago.

It verges upon the incredible that a glacial outwash terrace of Sherwin age could be preserved within any one of our Sierran canyons, as our canyons are so raw and so fresh, so rapidly incising, so rapidly eroding.

But that is a part of what makes Green Valley special: it does preserve glacial outwash terraces which are old, quite old. Green Valley is just exactly where the serpentine of the Melones Fault Zone crosses the North Fork, or is crossed by the North Fork, at about a right angle. The weakness of the serpentine has allowed the North Fork canyon to widen into a kind of broad amphitheater. The weakness of the serpentine has meant that this particular reach of the North Fork has always had a flat gradient; when one combines a broad amphitheater with a flat gradient, conditions become ideal for not only the deposition of sediments, but the preservation of sediments.

Of course, Green Valley is also one of two places in California where Aliens From Outer Space built pyramids. The other place is that same Owens Valley where we find the Bishop Tuff burying the Sherwin Till. At least, Dr. Wallace Halsey declared it so. Dr. Halsey believed that Aliens From Outer Space taught we humans to build pyramids, way back when. Dr. Halsey said that the Pyramid of Green Valley was at the Hayden Hill Mine, haunted by the ghosts of Chinese miners buried in a landslide.

I began hearing about the Buried Chinese Miners in 1976. According to legend, their sluice box was buried right along with them. Hence, with enough luck, with enough pluck and perseverance and plain hard work, one could dig down, down and down and down, down through the clay, down through the boulders, through, who knows, the very skeletons of the Chinese Miners, and one would at last find the sluice box, and one would become wealthy.

Many a person assured me of the truth of this legend. Crusty old-timers swore by it. But, over the decades, as I pursued research into the history of this area, and always, especially, the history of Green Valley, I could find no corroboration of the legend. I began to dismiss it as a fiction, as a confusion of myths, or a concatenation of true stories. For it is certainly true that many Chinese mined gold in Green Valley, and it is certainly true that many Chinese died in cave-ins and landslides, in the hydraulic mines of Dutch Flat and Gold Run. The old newspapers of this area can make for depressing reading, as one tragedy after another befell the miners.

Yes, I had pored over these depressing old newspapers, and I had gleaned many an interesting article about the mines of Green Valley, including, specifically, the Hayden Hill Mine.

But I found nary a word about a landslide burying, who knows, some said six, others said twenty, Chinese miners. So. It must be fiction.

Then, a few years back, I walked over to the Gold Ring Mine in Green Valley, and found the ancient and grizzled owners at home and receiving visitors. Al Platz nearly talked my ear off with his stories about Green Valley, and, of course he trotted out the Legend of the Buried Chinese. I bluntly expressed my doubts, my extreme doubts. Al added a new twist to the story, and this new twist was as follows: according to Al, a "Chinese Historical Society" came out here, every year, to a point above the canyon, where they had placed a plaque commemorating the buried miners, and every year, Al said, they would visit the spot, gaze out into the great canyon, and make offerings to their ancestors.

I believe I know the north rim of the canyon, above Green Valley, very well. I have seen no "commemorative plaque." Hence, the plaque must be on the south canyon rim. And where better, where more likely, than that spot labeled "Hayden Hill" on the USGS 7.5-minute Dutch Flat quadrangle?

This added some urgency, then, to my long-cherished agenda to visit Hayden Hill. I had often visited the mine, far below, but never the Hill itself. When an urgency of this magnitude breaks upon me, why, it may be as little as three years before I act!

And so it was that at long long last I threaded my way along the bears' zig-zag path to the summit of Hayden Hill. I found the cellar of the cabin depicted, quite near the summit, on that aforementioned Dutch Flat Quadrangle. The cabin had pretty clearly burned in the 1960 "Volcano" fire, which had charred large parts of the Foresthill Divide, and several square miles within the North Fork canyon, even crossing the river to Sawtooth Ridge. All that remains of the cabin is a hole six feet deep, maybe twelve feet long and eight feet wide. The cellar.

Just beyond the cabin site is the summit of Hayden Hill. Thick manzanita blocked further progress along the crest, so I dropped away west and picked my way through gnarled elfin Canyon Live Oak, until I could climb back up to this summit knoll from the far (north) side. I ensconced myself within the sheltering arms of a multi-trunked Canyon Live Oak and ate my lunch.

There was no commemorative plaque.

I noted that Hayden Hill itself was formed from bedrock of the thin "Mesozoic screen" which separates the (late Paleozoic) serpentine of the Melones Fault Zone from the vastness of the (early Paleozoic) metasediments comprising the Shoo Fly Complex, east of the Melones. The rock appeared to be a dark metavolcanic formation, perhaps quite akin to the lenses of dark metavolcanic rock one sees at and near Iron Point. I was probably about a quarter-mile east of the fault zone.

Although the summit of Hayden Hill, from a topographic standpoint, commands a tremendous view, one can never quite get clear of the oaks. Giant Gap was darkening with afternoon shadows to the west, but I could not really see it. I decided to explore down the steeply-plunging north spur of Hayden Hill, in search of a rocky outcrop, or some kind of break in the forest.

Immediately I saw what seemed an old trail, old and broad. Strangely broad, I would say. This old trail was blocked by fallen pines, well-rotted, presumably killed in the Volcano Fire, and I was pleased and interested to see a series of 2X4's, around four feet long, nailed to the side of one such much-rotted pine trunk. It seems that whoever once lived in the little cabin had himself wished for a better view, and nailed a kind of ladder up the trunk of the nearest tall pine. Only the heartwood core of the pine remains, the outer six inches of trunk having rotted, except exactly at those spots where the ladder rungs were nailed. Big old twenty-penny spikes. So, it is pleasant to imagine that as the storm-wrack cleared, of a winter afternoon, and a golden glow intensified away west, in Giant Gap, the man would scramble up his nailed rungs, and enjoy a view which would have made Ansel Adams jealous.

I explored further down the spur, and my putative trail disappeared, then reappeared, disappeared, then reappeared. So, it is real. Later, in thinking about it, I decided that, rather than a trail, it might more likely be an old "lumber slide," which one occasionally finds scoring the canyon wall. In such places loads of sawed lumber, and other mining equipment, would be skidded directly down the side of the canyon. These lumber slides were usually located along the crests of spur ridges. Inasmuch as this particular spur leads right down to the Hayden Hill Mine, I suppose it was their own particular lumber slide.

Climbing back to the summit, I followed the east side of the ridge, and the old trail/lumber slide, back to the cabin, although manzanita forced me to veer off track a few times.

Next on my list of Things to Do at Hayden Hill was to visit the second cabin depicted on the Dutch Flat quadrangle. The map shows it just at the head of a ravine which passes through the mine far below, call it the Hayden Hill Ravine. It is just east of the Hill and its principal spur. And, at the head of this ravine, the map showed a tunnel.

So I wandered through the heavy timber, soon found one collapsed tunnel, climbed above, and found the other cabin site, like the first cabin site making itself known only by its cellar, and some few scraps of metal scattered about.

I decided to make a more complete exploration, dropped back down, found more collapsed tunnels, in some of which the rhyolite ash stratum was exposed to view, that stratum so typically, almost always, completely hidden, covered in the rich soil which heavy forest will develop, given a few millenia. The rhyolite ash stratum is often the source of perennial springs, and this was exactly the case here.

A tunnel in this stratigraphic position (near the unconformity separating the "Superjacent series" from the "Subjacent series") can be safely considered to have been at the least an attempt to reach a hidden Eocene-age river channel. If they had succeeded, one might expect to see the rounded pebbles of white quartz and blueish chert, in the ravine below the tunnel; but I could see no such pebbles. However, such springs can generate astounding quantities of water during and after big rain events, and all such mining debris might have long since been washed away down the ravine. Aside from a few scraps of strap iron, there was little sign of human activity near the tunnels, and I expect many people would not even recognize them as collapsed tunnels.

A small mining ditch contoured across the gentle slopes just above the level of the tunnels, and I set out west to see where it went. There were four possibilities, so far as the grade of the ditch:

1. Sloping down from west to east.
2. Sloping down from east to west.
3. Sloping down from east and west alike, towards the collapsed tunnels.
4. Sloping down to the east and west alike, away from the collapsed tunnels.

I began to favor (3). The grade of the ditch was far too flat to see at a glance which way it had flowed. If it had flowed away from the tunnels (4), then it would have flowed *to* specific mining sites. So I followed it west.

A road dating from salvage harvests after the Volcano Fire paralleled the ditch, and soon coincided with the ditch. Some hundreds of yards west I found the rounded cobbles and boulders of quartz and chert which can only mean an old river channel is near. So. This supported (4), at least a little, but there was no obvious sign of past mining nearby.

Soon thereafter the road ended, but a fine figure of a trail continued along the same almost level, west-bearing line. It was either an old human trail or the King of All Game Trails. Following it, I entered quite a lovely and special forest. Huge trees were common, some Douglas Fir measuring close to six feet in diameter, with large Ponderosa and Sugar pines in the area, too. The terrain was nearly flat. A rather gigantic terrace had formed, at the base of the strata of andesitic mudflow which composed all the ridge above, and near the top of the rhyolite ash strata beneath the mudflows. This is just where perennial springs are wont to form, and even if there are no springs, there is often a generalized "seep," in which water-loving species of trees and other plants are well-established. The evidence of the top-of-the-rhyolite seep may be as subtle as a roughly horizontal zone on the side of a ridge (high on a canyon wall, say), a zone where Kellogg's Black Oak and Ponderosa Pine are larger than they are either above or below the zone.

That is, upon almost every ridge in the middle elevations of this part of the Sierra, there is a "perched aquifer," a water-bearing zone. Above this zone, horizontal strata of andesitic mudflow; and below, the rhyolite ash, so often weathered into a dense clay-like material, forms an "aquaclude," and inhibits the downward migration of water. Hence springs and seeps pop out at the surface. When one considers that, when undisturbed by roads or logging or anything which could impact the soils, the mudflow above has an almost incredible capacity to absorb rainfall and snowmelt without surface runoff, one can do a little arithmetic, as follows: such-and-such a ridge is capped by andesitic mudflow, and the top of the ridge has an areal extent of, say, 1000 acres. The annual precipitation is 60 inches, or five feet. Hence 5*1000 acre-feet of water are absorbed by the mudflow (an enormous quantity of water!). The water sinks lower, hits the rhyolite ash aquaclude, and migrates horizontally to discharge as springs and seeps.

Hence, if looking at a topographic map, one notes that along the sides of a ridge whose crest is at 4000' elevation, there is a series of springs at, say, 3800' elevation, one is entirely justified in assuming that that ridge is capped by andesitic mudflow, and beneath the mudflow, as always, lies the rhyolite ash. You have, in effect, discovered the top of the rhyolite ash layer. You have also discovered that the mudflow strata are 200 feet thick.

Having so discovered the rhyolite ash, one is also safe in assuming that the bedrock is not far below. These perennial springs are usually less than 100 feet above the unconformity separating the ancient bedrock from the "young volcanics."

Here, there were spectacular springs, huge trees, including somewhat unusually large Bigleaf Maples, a significant concentration of the passing-rare Pacific Yew, and even some Torreya, larger than our usual Torreya. There were Giant Chain Ferns, and White Alders, and many Pacific Dogwoods, all water-loving plants.

The old trail led directly to the largest springs, and then appeared to end. The lovely terrace of tall trees continued right along to the west, and I hope to explore further soon. On this day, I turned back when the trail seemed to end, and found a spring with an ancient iron pipe conducting the water.

Hence I propose that it was indeed Possibility Three, "Sloping down from east and west alike, towards the collapsed tunnels." I propose that this ditch led the waters of distant springs to the Hayden Hill Ravine, and that it may have had mostly to do with delivering more water to the Hayden Hill Mine, sixteen hundred feet below, than with whatever mining operations occurred at the Collapsed Tunnels. Actually, it could have served both purposes without a shred of conflict between the one and the other.

Returning to the cabin site, which happens to be beside a section corner, common to sections 5, 6, 7 and 8 of T15N, R11E, I decided to follow the ditch east. I saw from the little map I had packed along that I would immediately enter the broad basin flanked by the minor summit labeled "Sugarloaf" on the Dutch Flat quadrangle. This basin feeds the high waterfall one can see from Iron Point in the winter and spring. The map showed that my top-of-the-rhyolite-, base-of-the-andesitic-mudflow terrace continued right along, if anything more pronounced and larger than ever. The very same road I was on, there at the section corner, held an almost level line into this "Sugarloaf Basin." I thought to use the road to enter the basin, then drop back to the ditch. This worked out about as planned, except, a Reagan-era Tahoe National Forest clearcut had not only grown a host of young Ponderrosa Pine, it had also been infested with brush, from the increase in sunlight reaching the ground, and the disturbance of the soil, and I was soon forced off the road.

I dropped to the ditch, but it too was within, not the clearcut, but a more generalized harvest area, and so much new light had entered the forest that, between logging slash and brush, I was soon forced off the ditch.

Returning to the road, I found it clear, since it had entered a belt of heavy timber on the Rhyolite Terrace. A little exploration led me into a pesky little patch of private property, possibly a patented mining claim, where I found the detritus of a marijuana growing operation dating several years back.

The sun was lowering, and I made the climb up and out, trying without success to trace the line of the historic trail shown on the Dutch Flat quadrangle, through the TNF clearcut.

What would they say? "Oops, we destroyed another trail, another historic trail."?

Actually, for much of the day I was in a fuming funk about Tahoe National Forest and its timber harvests, nowadays conducted under the guise of "thinning the forest." For, my access to Hayden Hill was via Iowa Hill, via the Giant Gap Road, the Eliot Ranch Road, to a certain obscure side-road damaged by a very recent "thinning" timber harvest. I had seen, from Giant Gap Ridge on the west, to the rim of the canyon directly above Hayden Hill, on the east, a series of these thinning-harvest areas.

And, I found them very upsetting. Bulldozers, or similar heavy equipment, had scrambled and rampaged throughout the forest, raising the deep soils into furrows which will persist for centuries. I guarantee that my children's grandchildren will see those ridges and furrows and heaps of soil, if the land is left untouched until then. How can Tahoe National Forest rationalize scarring the land in this way? It is a crime, it is a kind of terrorism inflicted upon a landscape, upon a heritage and upon a wildlife and a scenery which can by no means speak for themselves, as it were, relying entirely upon us, upon the citizens, to stand up for them.

But we do not so stand up.

Tahoe National Forest no doubt let the thinning contract out to Sierra Pacific Industries, SPI, famous for their clearcuts, and the largest owner of private land in all of California, by far. So, SPI not only gets to inflict a totally corporate model, a totally industrial model, upon its own lands, it gets to industrialize our public lands as well!

I cannot tell you how many times I have seen historic trails absolutely erased, as though they had never existed, by SPI bulldozers. Of course, that has to do with how we manage timber harvests on private lands, and falls under the rules and regulations applied by the California Department of Forestry, or CDF.

That is bad enough. But a historic trail, entirely on our public land, erased by bulldozers? It is worse than an absurdity, and yet, put a Reagan or a Bush into office and you pretty much get what you asked for: the sale of public resources to private interests at bargain-basement prices.

So actually, for much of the day, I was fuming, in a kind of rage. I like to think of myself as a reasonable man. I totally support the harvest of timber on a sustainable basis. But how is it harvested? There is this way, and there is that way. And here, along Eliot Ranch Road, was a travesty. To cap it all off, burn piles a hundred feet long, thirty feet wide, and twenty feet high were seen here, there, and everywhere. Near almost every one of these piles was a sign, nailed high on a tree, reading "Timber Harvest Area. No Firewood Cutting Allowed. Tahoe National Forest."

So. Each pile held dozens of cords of wood. They will be burned to ash in one giant conflagration, but heaven help the citizen who dares to cut a pickup-truck load for himself.

Such was a very nice day near the south rim of the Great American Canyon.

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