[written April 18, 2007]
Wednesday morning I met Ron and Chris Lane, and Gordon Hinkle of Congressman John Doolittle's office, for a tour of the Gold Run Diggings and the Canyon Creek Trail.
Ron has developed quite an interest in this area; he sees that an irreplaceable resource hangs, so precariously, in the balance, that one of the most beautiful trails in the Sierra is "For Sale," that the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) has had a mandate to purchase critical parcels there, since the creation of the North Fork of the American Wild & Scenic River, in 1978, but that nothing has been purchased; Ron saw these things, and decided to do something positive. So, in a variety of ways, he has worked to bring Gold Run and the Canyon Creek Trail to the attention of the movers and shakers, the decision-makers, the responsible officials, and really, anyone who could help secure this incredibly beautiful and historic area for We the People and our posterity.
I deeply appreciate Ron's efforts.
For my own part, letters about Gold Run to my representatives, mainly to Senators Feinstein and Boxer, have fallen into the typical abyss. The Gold Run situation is complicated by mercury contamination, which derives from its use in the sluice boxes of the hydraulic mines; for mercury amalgamates with fine gold, trapping it. A single large sluice box, of a thousand feet in length, would be "charged" with an entire ton of mercury, and every day another hundred pounds would be poured in, to replace what inevitably washed out of the box with the tailings. This finely-divided atomic mercury made its way down Canyon Creek into the North Fork of the American, down the North Fork to the Sacramento, down the Sacramento to the San Francisco Bay, and on into the ocean. But a large fraction settled out before ever reaching the Pacific. It remains in our waters to this day, and one should not eat very many fish caught in the Bay, for one would poison oneself with mercury.
If it were not for the mercury at Gold Run, the 800 acres of old mining ground now for sale, embracing two miles of Canyon Creek, would have long since been sold. Offers have been made. It is mercury, and a bit of sheer luck, which have averted disaster.
At any rate, under cloudy skies, with the icy remnants of Tuesday evening's violent thunderstorms and ensuing snow lightly frosting the forest, we set out to give Gordon a tour.
We parked at the Gold Run end of things, near one of the gates barring access to the 800 acres, and walked down into the Diggings. We visited Stewart's Pond, where ducks and swallows were happily going about their business, and then continued south on the Main Diggings Road, to the obscure old road leading east to the Canyon Creek Trail.
Gordon is a fellow lover of history, and we talked a little World War Two, and a little Ancient Rome, but mainly we talked Gold Run, and hydraulic mining, and rich strikes, dark tunnels, drift mines, the Chinese, the Anti-Chinese (I was pleased to be able to inform Gordon of one curiosity of California history, stemming from the Constitutional Convention of 1879: the enactment of an official State holiday, "Anti-Chinese Day"), and many such things--sluice boxes, mining ditches, monitors, and the "State of California versus the Gold Run Ditch & Mining Company" (1881).
It was a gorgeous day, with flat-bottomed fair-weather cumulus clouds at first seeming to disperse and admit the glad sun, but too soon they coalesced and darkened, and our five-mile ramble ended under a light snowfall. The usual early-season flowers had arisen along the old trail, species of Larkspur and Poppy, Biscuit-root, Virgin's Bower, and some lovely liliaceous flowers whose name escapes me at this moment..
We dropped down the good old trail past Gorge Point to The Rockslide, where we decided it might be better not to descend all the way to the river, but rather, retreat up to the Old Wagon Road, climb to the Indiana Hill Ditch, and follow the ditch around into the Secret World, exiting the World to the north by the Wagon Wheel Tunnel, thence into the great 400-feet-deep pit of the Gold Run Ditch & Mining Company, and *thence* on the Main Diggings Road to Stewart's Pond and our vehicles.
All this came off without a hitch, and we stopped briefly for lunch at a sunny and propitious spot on the old mining ditch, high above Canyon Creek, with a bit of a view into Giant Gap. The clouds soon cast us into cold cold shade, so we picked ourselves up and kept a-walking.
It was a very nice day, and Gordon seemed to appreciate the beauty of the area, and its history.
Ron and Chris kindly drove me home, where the sleety, hail-like "snow" increased, and they hurried away to the lower elevations.
Such was a very nice day, rambling around the old gold mines and into the wilds of Canyon Creek. We even took Gordon out to the politically-incorrect Blasted Digger, that lightning-struck pine on the rocky ridge east of Canyon Creek, that wondrous spot which offers awesome views into Giant Gap, and even beyond, to the freshly snow-dusted mountains around the head of the North Fork of the North Fork.