Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Visits to Canyon Creek and Giant Gap

[written May 30, 2007]

Over the Memorial Day weekend I took a tour of the Gold Run Diggings with Rick Creelman and Gay Wiseman. We drove down Garrett Road to the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) gate, a massive gate which serves to keep cars out of the Diggings, and to allow numerous Off-Highway Vehicles (OHVs) into the Diggings. Congress created the special Gold Run Addition to the North Fork American Wild & Scenic River (W&SR) in 1978. Their intent was that this remarkable area of old gold mines and historic trails should become a "portal" for public access to the W&SR. The Gold Run Addition was an addition to the W&SR "corridor" and thus would be closed to motorized vehicles and mining claims. Congress directed that all private inholdings in the Addition be purchased.

The BLM has had twenty-nine years to make the Addition a portal to the W&SR, twenty-nine years to purchase the private inholdings, twenty-nine years to close this part of the Diggings to motorized uses, and twenty-nine years to close these public lands to mining claims.

But not one of these goals has been met. Only one of the several historic trails in the area is unaffected by private lands, but even this one trail, the Pickering Bar Trail, does not have so much as one sign marking its location. Meanwhile, the OHVs have discovered the Pickering, and have transformed the upper end of the trail into an OHV road. "Quads," the four-wheeled OHVs, can drive quite a ways down the old foot trail.

And at least one of the mining claimants has exploiteded his privileged access to the public lands in the Diggings to steal tons of petrified wood, using a backhoe and a dump truck to remove pieces weighing in the hundreds of pounds, including the largest single chunk of petrified wood exposed in the Diggings, a tree trunk about sixteen feet long and three feet in diameter.

Rick and Gay and I followed the OHV trail past the gate. Ordinarily, I would write, "we followed the historic wagon road along the rim of the North Fork canyon, a road which dates back to the 1850s." But now it is just an OHV trail, which forks into more and more and more OHV trails. We passed the OHV road which was once known as the Pickering Bar Trail. Thankfully, so many Knobcone pines have toppled over the old road just beyond this new OHV-road-once-known-as-the-Pickering-Bar-Trail, the no OHVs can pass, for the moment, so at last we were able to enjoy a simple ancient road winding through the sunny manzanita. We reached the Secret World and used a faint and secret path to enter that World and eventually, to cross Indiana Ravine and visit the Stone Cabin.

From the Cabin we climbed out of the World on the east, picked up the Indiana Hill Ditch, built in 1852, and followed this charming avenue, through an arched grotto of manzanita, onto open slopes which offered fine views of the North Fork canyon, of Giant Gap to the east, Pickering Bar and the Diving Board Ridge to the west, and Canyon Creek plunging fifteen hundred feet to the North Fork directly below us.

Slowly picking our way along the tiny dry canal, we reached the Old Wagon Road and followed it down to the Canyon Creek Trail and thence the huge tunnel from the Diggings. From an 1874 book I extract the following:

"The Gold Run Ditch & Mining Company, of Gold Run, in this county, is engaged in an important undertaking, having for its object the "bottoming" (developing with a deep tunnel) of the deep placers of Gold Run district. Mr. H.H. Brown, the superintendent, communicates the following facts:

'We commenced constructing our bedrock tunnel in September, 1872, and made but slow progress until last August, when we put in two Burleigh drills, run by compressed air, and are now (December, 1873) making three and one-half feet in twenty-four hours in the hardest kind of rock, using XX Hercules powder as an explosive. The object of this tunnel is to furnish an outlet to all of the mines in Gold Run district east of the Central Pacific Railroad. The tunnel to reach the Blue Lead or channel will be 2,200 feet long, 12 feet wide and 9 feet high. We intend to put in two five-foot flumes. We shall tap the Blue Lead 70 feet below any point reached before, and 270 feet below any point where washing has been done. About 500 feet from the lower end of the main tunnel we are going to run a branch, diverging to the left, 7 feet wide and 7 feet high, to reach the celebrated Indiana Hill claims, which our company now owns. This branch will be 1,135 feet log, and will tap that claim 247 feet below any point that has now been worked off. We expect to complete the entire work within two years, at a cost of not less than $100,000.'"

I first visited this section of Canyon Creek, where cascades surge over water-polished bedrock, in 1976, by following the "branch" tunnel mentioned above all the way through from the Diggings.

Rick and Gay and I enjoyed the cold air flowing out of the tunnel, and then continued down the Canyon Creek Trail across the little bridge to Waterfall View. We found an astounding bloom in progress: Bush Monkeyflower and Brodiaea were at the very peak, and Mock Orange was just beginning. There were thousands of flowers.

We did not wish to follow the trail any lower, instead returning to the Diggings via the main Canyon Creek Trail, and to Garrett Road via the Paleobotanist Trail. We found a cute little Ringneck snake on the road, and managed to irritate it to the extent that it twisted its tiny tail into a kind of knot. When fully-grown this species only gets about fifteen inches long. Ours was about twelve inches.

Such was a nice five-mile loop through parts of the Diggings and Canyon Creek.

Yesterday Catherine O'Riley and I returned to the Canyon Creek Trail for a long ramble. On the way in to the trailhead we found two men in a pickup truck, who were on their way in to The Cave, as they called it, and one spoke of bringing his family in for a visit. I hope they know how to avoid poison oak.

Catherine and I made short work out of reaching Waterfall View, shed some clothes, and continued down and down to the HOUT. The bloom, which I expected to wither and decrease as we reached lower, hotter, drier elevations, if anything increased; it was all late-season stuff, the wonderful monkeyflowers, Brodiaea, tall larkspur, Lotus, Mock Orange, and Bi-Lobed Clarkia, all were present in the thousands. I was surprised. This has been such a dry spring I didn't expect such an exuberant bloom.

The flowers followed us onto the HOUT (High Old Upriver Trail), which took us east on an intricate path, through groves of Canyon Live Oaks, through heavy old brush, and across cliffs and rockslides, on and on and on, in the full heat of the sun, until we stopped to rest on a mossy ledge within Giant Gap. Here I discovered I could actually lie down at full length, inches from a 300-foot cliff, on moss so thick it was a perfect bed. I went to sleep. Catherine, in contrast, hiked another quarter-mile to Onion Point.

I awoke, she returned, we started back out, but, somewhat chastened by the glaring sun, we dropped to the clear cold river and splashed around for an hour, never really swimming, but getting wet, getting cool. The westering sun at last left the HOUT, which was our signal to resume the march, and the timing was perfect, so that even on the Canyon Creek Trail we enjoyed shade for the entire climb up and out. We reached the top around seven in the evening.

It was another very nice day in the North Fork.

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