Tuesday, August 12, 2008

The Last Post

We have to share some difficult news...

On Thursday evening, August 7, 2008, Russell Towle, author of this blog, died after a tragic car accident on Interstate 80 near Sacramento.

Russell Towle Tribute Weekend
Dutch Flat, California, October 11-12, 2008.
More information, and some photos of Russell are here.

For those who didn't know Russ personally, or who only knew him in one context of his life, his family would like to share a little more about him with readers of this blog.

You already know he was an avid hiker in the Sierra river canyons near our home, and a tireless advocate for the preservation and development of public access to historic trails in the Sierras. Russell was also a brilliant and innovative mathematician, entranced by higher-dimensional forms. He was a computer animator. He was an extremely doting father who enjoyed every single moment of life with his kids. He was a lover of classical Latin literature and Shakespeare, of Tintin comics and Terry Pratchett novels. He was a historian and a writer; a geologist; a linguist; an artist; a builder; a musician with a special love of Brazilian music; a nature lover and photographer. He was a tireless trailblazer, who habitually carried loppers on his hikes, to trim the way and ease the passage of others who would follow.

Russ was self-taught; formal education processes were far too slow for his quick, deep, wide mind.

Follow the links at right to his Geometry blog, and to his YouTube videos. In the "Quintessence" video you can see and hear him talk about a favorite geometrical form in the setting of the small hexagonal cabin he built in 1975 and lived in ever after.

We are all SO blessed to have shared life with him, but no single one of us was really able to appreciate all of his gifts. However, all of us can appreciate the gift that he was able to give to the whole public, the gift that the readers of this blog are already familiar with. Below is a letter we received recently that explains just what we mean.

In love and tremendous grief, Gay, Janet, Greg, and all his family.

In the last two days I have reflected many hours on Russell and our friendship.

I have been hiking the North Fork of the American River canyon for over 55 years. Early on it never occurred to me to do any sort of trail maintenance, I just wanted to access remote fishing locations. Over twenty years ago I started to notice trail undergrowth cut back. First on the Green Valley traail, then the China trail, and the more remote locations like the canal trail between Euchre Bar and the Rawhide Mine. There was a unique trait associated to this work. The small trees and other undergrowth were not cut at ground level, but rather about knee height. One day I came upon a man sitting on a rock smoking a rolled cigarette. Propped against the tree next to him was a short handled compound lopper. He looked a bit rough, so I approached carefully. It was, of course, Russell, and we spent some time talking about the trail system that accesses the North Fork drainage. I was able to share some of my experiences and he seemed very interested. I do not remember telling him my last name or where I lived, however in a couple of days he called me at home.

We began to hike together and he very much impressed me with his absolute passion to protect and make available to future generations the historic trail system of the North Fork. He was literally a walking talking book on many subjects including local history, math, geology, plants, and wildlife. He shared this knowledge in person, in print and on the Internet for all to enjoy. I would learn more from him on one hike than all the books I could read in a year. I began to show him my special secret places like the railroad track in the sky mine. Watching Russell's excitement on discovering something new and unique in "his" canyon was one of my great pleasures.

Russell was determined about clearing trails like nobody I have ever seen. His energy was contagious and many like Ron, Catherine, and myself followed his lead. Sometimes the group was small and the job simple. Other times the group was large and logistics much more complex. I remember such a group clearing the trail from the Dorer Ranch to Sawtooth Ridge one late October day. This trail had not been in use for 75 years and was totally impassable. The operation included a raft to ferry people and supplies across the North Fork, multiple chainsaws, loppers, and one heck of a lot of effort over many hours. Russell was as always out in front directing the operation and the first one to reach the bear bed mine up on the ridge about dusk. He was delighted as only Russell can be about the day's success. It is interesting to note that the Hot Shots fighting the big July fire made use of this cleared trail. Russell also organized trash details to haul garbage left by miners out of the canyon. This was not a fun detail, but once again, following Russell's passionate lead, we filled our backpacks and hiked out. He was truly the custodian of our canyon.

Bodily, Russell is gone, however his spirit will forever remain in those he touched. When I hike the canyons and see the knee-high trademark of Russell's clearing, I will reflect on our long time friendship and his positive effect on the canyon complex and myself. It is said that you only come this way once, so make it count. Russell, our canyon custodian, made it count.

Steve Hunter
August 10, 2008

Saturday, August 2, 2008

After the Inferno: The Iowa Hill Canal

Above: Iowa Hill Canal Trail in grey, Foresthill Road, blue, parking, red.

Above: the Chinese Road

Early Friday morning I drove to Jerry Rein's remarkable solar home,
and we made the long odyssey across the American River Canyon to the Foresthill Divide, crossing the North Fork at Auburn, and then driving many miles to the northeast, past Foresthill, past Baker Ranch, past the sites of Forks House, and Westville, and Secret House, to the head of the Beacroft Trail.

We would visit the uppermost Iowa Hill Canal.

We parked amid more or less dense second-growth coniferous forest,
which had burned hot, let us say, here, and yet over there, a few
yards away, had not burned at all. I had seen, looking south from the
summit of Big Valley Bluff, that the fires had flared violently from
the river itself all the way to the top of the Beacroft Trail. I had
seen that the fire had, at least slightly, crossed the Divide to the
south. And I really thought I had seen that that huge, fire-spawned
brushfield along the Canal, east of Tadpole Canyon, had been erased in an inferno.

Well, appearances oft deceive. "Erased," as it developed, was far too
strong a term. One should not too-quickly pronounce the doom of those sturdy old shrubs of Green Manzanita, Bush Chinquapin, and Huckleberry Oak, those gnarled shrubs which had baffled many a bear for decades on end.

The Foresthill-Soda Springs Road goes back to 1852, when Placer County set out to provide a good route across the Sierra for the immigrants flooding into California from The States, i.e., Back East. "If We Build It, They Will Come," seemed to be the guiding premise of this project, called the Placer County Emigrant Road.

And "they" will spend their money here in Placer County!

The road crossed the Sierra crest at Squaw Valley, although I have
read that it forked above French Meadows, the northern branch entering the upper North Fork American near the Old Soda Springs, also crossing into Squaw Valley. The Placer Emigrant Road never came into use by the emigrants, other much easier routes, such as the road via South Lake Tahoe and Placerville, garnering all the traffic.

A mile or two beyond the head of the Mumford Bar Trail we began to see back-fires set by the firefighters along the north side of the road. Once again I was impressed, even astounded, by how expertly these fires had been managed. Not only were all the larger trees left unharmed, often even young conifers had survived these back-fires. Amazing, I think, that this could be achieved in July! Perhaps it was all done at night.

However, as we neared the low pass east of Whisky Hill where the
Beacroft Trail drops away into the great canyon, directly across from
Big Valley Bluff, we began to see more severely-burned areas. Never,
however, had the fire crossed the Foresthill Road, it seemed. That too was amazing.

The pass at the head of the Beacroft is full of archeology. There is
the trail itself; there is the massive Secret Canyon Ditch, which drew
water from the Middle Fork American side of the Divide, and delivered it, via a tunnel beneath the pass, to the Iowa Hill Canal itself: both ends of the tunnel are now collapsed; and there is a little road crossing the Divide and nearing east, to the beginning of the long flume section of the Canal, leading in and out of Tadpole Canyon, rife with cliffs and precipices.

I call this little road the Chinese Road, on the assumption that
Chinese labor was heavily involved in the construction of the Canal,
in the 1870s. I would guess that these Chinese workers had a camp in
the pass. There are two small basins which hold spring water, possibly intended for the teams of mules hauling the wagon-loads of sawed lumber to the giant flume under construction.

If one parks back to the south and walks in to where the Beacroft
Trail begins, but ignore it and follow a faint road bearing northeast,
one will pass the collapsed tunnel of the Secret Canyon Ditch, and
briefly the Chinese Road disappears. Blundering northeast into dense
forest, one will pick it up again easily enough.

It is this Chinese Road which forms the first part of the Iowa Hill
Canal Trail, as depicted on Tahoe National Forest maps of 1947 and
1962. It is now a long time since this trail has been maintained. Some
sections have been erased in rockslides and avalanches. With various
friends I have been working to restore the trail to a minimal
passability, over recent years. It is really one of the most scenic
and dramatic trails in our entire area. The bench cuts in the sheer
cliffs flanking Tadpole Canyon are quite incredible in and of
themselves. Beyond Tadpole is the Big Brush, and from that ancient
chaparral one gains an exceptional view of the canyon, Big Valley
Bluff, Sugar Pine Point, Cherry Point, and even Snow Mountain.

Jerry and I found that the dense forest along the Chinese Road had
been incinerated, only a few of the oldest Sugar Pines, three feet in
diameter, appearing to have survived with some foliage intact.
Everything smaller had become stark and blackened poles without any
needles or even smaller branches. The road was easier to follow. We
paused at a rock outcrop on the canyon rim for a good view north to
Big Valley Bluff, and observed the broad swaths of burned forest
leading from the river up to the cliffs of the Bluff.

Jerry spotted smoke rising from a blackened Douglas Fir trunk nearby; a rotten area within the trunk was still burning, the smoke escaping lazily from a hole in the trunk, fifty feet above the ground.

Continuing, we followed the Chinese Road as it crossed the Divide and struck more to the east, descending on a gentle grade towards the Canal, which began to appear below us, a truly gargantuan mining ditch.

Every step puffed up a cloud of dust and ashes. Many a rock had rolled
down onto the old road during and since the fire, and occasionally a
blackened trunk had leaned down across it. I lifted a few rocks to the
side and quickly my hands were blackened. My shoes and pants were
blackened. My arms and face were blackened. No human had walked in to the Canal before us, the ashy dust was pristine.

The bedrock here is the early-Paleozoic Shoo Fly Complex of metasedimentary rocks, but it is not often exposed, glacial till
covering much of the area, in a kind of "till shadow" extending down-ice from the higher ridges to the east, between Tadpole Canyon and New York Canyon.

Reaching the Canal, we followed it east towards Tadpole, almost immediately passing some stone walls which facilitated, in some way, the off-loading of the lumber. They were loading docks, as it were. These stone walls, made of carefully-stacked large boulders retrieved from blasting operations along the bench cuts ahead, had suffered some damage in the fire, many boulders showing fresh cracks from the intense heat, and one section having collapsed altogether.

Although the leaves had been scalded off the brush along the Canal,
the skeletons remained. I would say it was easier going than before,
except that very many boulders and rocks of all sizes had rolled down
onto the old Canal Trail. A few of these I moved aside, usually
placing them on the uphill side, so as to dam up the soil already
moving down the slope from above, and soon to descend by the ton, when the fall rains arrive.

Once we reached the precipices close to Tadpole Canyon, the intensity of the fire lessened, as there was much more rock, much less fuel, and whole stretches of the Canal were untouched. At the crossing of Tadpole Canyon tall patches of purple Fireweed were in full bloom. The stream is at a low flow, clear and sparkling through a succession of pools and waterfalls.

Crossing, we entered that little patch of tall conifers immediately to
the east, very badly burned, and then crossed unburned cliffy areas
for couple hundred yards before reaching the first outliers of the Big

The Canal bears north before breaking out of Tadpole Canyon proper
into the main North Fork Canyon and the Big Brush. Here it changes
back from flume to ditch. It became apparent before we even reached that area that the Big Brush had by no means been burnt to the ground. Perhaps the only slight increase in passability is that the "outside-the-berm" path, a concession long long ago forced upon animals and humans alike by thick brush and trees growing from the crest of the ditch's high berm (for the most natural path would be on the berm crest)--the "outside-the-berm" path could now be walked rather easily. The bed of the Canal itself was also much more open than it had been, except it was so deep in soft fluffy ashes that to walk it was to nearly choke to death in clouds of ash-dust.

Soon we reached the edge of that ocean of heavy brush I call The Big
Brush. At exactly this point a faint trail forks away north, directly
down the canyon wall, with some very old blazes on trees just below
the Canal. These trees had been incinerated and only vestiges of their
foliage remained, near the tops, and even these had been cooked in the violent upslope winds of the fire, and left frozen, as it were, permanently bent as though that wind were an eternal and unvarying gale of great force.

I wished to explore down the old trail, always too choked with brush
to follow in years past, while Jerry wished to continue along the
Canal. I told him I would catch him up soon, expecting to take ten
minutes or so to scout the slopes below for this Mystery Trail,
depicted on the 1947 Tahoe National Forest map. It must have once led all the way down to the river, although the map showed it ending half-way down.

So I wound down the slope, picking my way through the skeletons of shrubs, seeing any number of possible trail segments, but no one continuous line presented itself. I scouted back and forth, to the west and to the east, as I dropped hundreds of feet in elevation. Seeing a nice promontory jutting into Tadpole Canyon below and to the west, I dropped down to it, and saw for the first time a waterfall I had often heard, easily a hundred feet high, in its upper, more visible part, and in full flow perhaps merging into a single two-hundred footer.

From the Promontory I broke back east on a contour and reached the faint ridge crest upon which I supposed the trail would most likely be found.

It was interesting to see, scant weeks since the area had burned, that
many of the bushes and small Black Oaks were stump-sprouting, fresh
green foliage pushing up through the grey ashes from the roots and
burls below. The Bush Chinquapin seemed the most eager to sprout,
while the burled Green Manzanita more rarely showed new growth. All in all, maybe one bush in one hundred is already showing new growth sprouting from the roots.

It was also interesting to see an occasional ant. And I saw some few
footprints from deer. As I scouted back and forth on the blackened
brushy slope, I began to see that the inimitable California Ground
Squirrel had at least sometimes survived the inferno, and fresh dirt
was piled outside their burrows, every two hundred yards or so.

Other than that it was a dreadful Desert of Death.

On my putative trail ridge I saw a faint and broad depression which
might have been an old prospect, although in the till blanketing the
area it was not clear what would motivate such a prospect. There were some small outcrops of bedrock nearby, at any rate. I saw no sign of any trail. Continuing on an eastward course, I soon saw some old cans scattered amid the burnt brush.

There were a few rusty condensed-milk cans, and a dozen or more larger cans of a curious construction. They were "double" cans, one can within another, a space of a quarter of an inch or so separating the inner from the outer, and on their bases were embossed these words:


Four dimples on the base marked where the holes were to be punched. Most all the cans had no such holes. Later, back at home, I Googled these double cans, and determined that in the space between inner and outer there would have been some quicklime, and a reservoir of water, which, when combined (by punching the holes to break the internal membrane separating the two), would react to heat the contents of the inner can.

This technology dates back at least to 1900, and quite a few patents
were issued over a period of decades. It was used by the U.S. Army in
WWII and in the Korean War for various types of field rations. Beyond
that, I could learn nothing.

That the cans showed up so close to the possible prospect made me
return west for another look at the latter. The second time around I
descried a faint trail leading right down the ridge. I followed it
down for a dozen yards or so until the blackened brush closed up too
tightly, and was left wondering whether it was or was not the Mystery

Already four hundred feet below the Canal, I hesitated to drop any
lower. The sun was intense and there was no shelter at all. The few
trees were merely black poles casting thin stripes of shade. I
returned to the cans and cast around more widely, without finding
anything, and then struck east through a bad section of brush which
forced me into an intricate series of ups and downs and twists and
turns. A grove of conifers, all burned badly, lay ahead, and in
scanning these very slopes with binoculars from Big Valley Bluff, the
other day, it seemed an area which could have carried the Mystery

However, although the burned grove contained any number of faint
terraces which a good imagination could conjure into a trail, there
was no tell-tale continuity which could settle the issue. Regretfully,
having exceeded my ten minutes by at least thirty more minutes, I
began a hot and dusty climb up through the Big Brush. Even in death
the Big Brush is formidable, and I found myself almost insensibly
pushed back to the faint ridge where I most-expected the Mystery Trail to be. This insensible pushing actually argues well for that ridge being the very line of the Mystery Trail. Sometimes one's feet are better arbiters, of such things as the courses of long-abandoned ancient trails, than one's brain or one's eyes.

Eventually I reached the Canal again, and followed it east. The sun
glared down and I didn't really want to push on through the glare and
the dust to the end of the Canal, almost a mile ahead, but fortunately I had delayed so long in searching for the Mystery Trail, that Jerry was already on the way back, and we met in the middle of that infinity of burned skeletons, and then turned back west and followed the good old Canal back to the Chinese Road, the pass, and the car.

Such was a very interesting day spent high on the walls of the
American River Canyon, within the area most-badly burned by the
"American River Complex" fire of June and July, 2008.

Monday, July 28, 2008

The North Fork Fire

Above: Looking south from Big Valley Bluff to Tadpole Canyon
Photo by Ron Gould

After weeks and weeks of smoke, the fires in and around the American River Canyon are mostly out. Today I joined Ron Gould for a visit to Big Valley Bluff, a grand eminence, the El Capitan of the North Fork, rising 3500 feet from the river, and near the eastern margins of the burned area.

We drove to Emigrant Gap, hung a right, and followed Forest Road 19 south, past the North Fork of the North Fork, past the East Fork of the North Fork of the North Fork, past Texas Hill, where we lost the pavement. Soon thereafter we began seeing evidence of the fire, which had encompassed an area of 20,000 acres.

Apparently Forest Road 19 had been used as a firebreak, and "backfires" had been set on the canyon side of the road. From
bulldozer scars I had seen miles away on Sawtooth Ridge and Humbug Ridge, I feared what I would find along the road to Big Valley Bluff. However, for the most part I was pleasantly surprised. The backfires, in particular, had mostly burned nice and cool, leaving all larger trees alive, and even most smaller trees.

The issue of bulldozer use on the fire has been complicated somewhat by what seems to be something in the way of what Tahoe National Forest terms a "hazard tree removal project," and various bulldozed paths radiated away from the road, and various piles of sawlogs were stacked along the road. There also seemed to be "staging areas" which had been bulldozed clear, here and there. Nothing seemed too extreme or heavy-handed, although I confess to a slow burn of hatred for bulldozers which has been building in my heart for many years. I begin to lament every square foot of forestland which is torn and trampled by the loud and stinking beasts.

Reaching the summit of the Bluff, we finally saw areas which had burned wildly, and it was impressive. In particular, the upper reaches of the Iowa Hill Canal, around Tadpole Canyon and the Beacroft Trail, had been hit hard. The Big Brush, an artifact of a fire decades ago, is gone. Erased. And large areas of forest nearby had been killed.

Also, a good two or three miles of forested canyon flanking the American River Trail had burned, and not in a cool, ground-creeping fire, but in an all-consuming crown fire.

It will be interesting to watch these parts of the canyon regenerate. I have little doubt but that much of the brush will stump-sprout, and by this time next summer there may be a froth of green over some of the burned area.

We hiked down to a certain slaty cliff-top, where I told Ron about the Fluttering Rocks.

It happens that if one is on a high-enough cliff with flat-enough rocks (a thin shard of slate is ideal), and if one throws the flat shard flat and spinning sharply like a Frisbee, far away from the cliff, so it will fall a long way ...

Then it will certainly happen that at first the shard will retain its horizontal orientation; and it will certainly happen that it will
gradually tilt to one side, and begin knifing steeply down in a vertical orientation, ever faster; and once in ten throws, I told Ron, it will happen that, as it knifes down, it will begin to flutter rapidly, a chaotic tumbling motion which beats the air in an audible, rhythmic, whipping susurration, and *it slows down.*

After a time I cast around for a shard of slate and found a perfect piece, three inches in diameter, nearly round in outline, and less than half an inch thick. I gave it a strong toss into the vastness of the canyon, where it could fall free for a thousand feet.

Sure enough, about six hundred feet down, it began fluttering, and slowed down. It is a marvelous thing to see.

While out at the Bluff we saw smoke from the big fire in Mariposa drifting north and seemingly crossing the Sierra crest right at the head of the North Fork. We also saw smoke from the fires farther north in a long white mass along the Coast Range up in Mendocino County. In fact, it was remarkably clear for a summer day, with fires still burning in many places; we could see Mt. Diablo, Mt. St. Helena, and Cobb Mountain, rising above the general line of the Coast Range, the Sutter Buttes, and even parts of the Sacramento Valley floor.

It was quite an interesting visit to Big Valley Bluff, one of the great scenic overlooks in California.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Birthday at Smarts Crossing

My son, Greg, turned seventeen over the weekend, and had a birthday party swim at Smarts Crossing. A merry group of nine young people and one old fogey made the mad drive down the rocky rutted road to a point well above the Bear River. We walked the last few hundred yards. Who can understand the antics of the Younger Generation; who can interpret their slang; who can fathom their music, if it can even be called "music." They vigorously debated an apparently age-old and perpetually captivating question, viz., whether ninjas or pirates would win in a flat-out fight, and made a series of sick jokes about zombie babies.

A monsoonal air mass had spread over the Sierra, and on the one day in the year when one could absolutely count on sun and blazing heat, it was cloudy and sometimes cool, with occasional showers dotting the dust. However, we were all inspired to swim the icy pool. A few of us made the jump from the Twenty-One-Foot Rock. The girls were sweet and lissome, the boys were, well, boisterous. At a certain point the boys thought it worthwhile to carry boulders to the Twenty-One, and topple them into the depths of the pool.

It was a good thing an old fuddy-duddy was present, inasmuch as hundred-pound boulders were deemed inadequate, and the young men were soon collaborating on two-hundred pound boulders, aiming to carry them up a slippery and sloping rock surface to reach the exalted Twenty-One. I had to intercede. One slip and it would be a broken leg, or arm, or foot, or hand. Later I just had to call a halt to the boulder-dropping altogether.

All in all it was a lot of fun to visit the great old swimming hole, enjoyed by generations of folk from Dutch Flat, and probably a favorite swimming and salmon-fishing spot for the native Californians of centuries and millenia past.

There are quite a few obnoxious metal signs nailed up by PG&E, warning of sudden releases of water into the river from Drum Powerhouse, and concluding with the order to "KEEP AWAY."

It is strange that PG&E ignored our beautiful Smarts Crossing for nearly a century, and that only now, in the 21st century, do they assert that the Bear River is no more than their own corporate canal, to be used exactly as they please, the rest of the world be damned.

We ignored the ugly signs. We need to find a way to put the private parcels along the old road into public ownership; Tahoe National Forest would be a good fit, inasmuch as the Crossing is already flanked by Forest parcels.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Of Snakes and Squirrels

I live in an ecotone, a kind of blend between the coniferous forest of the Transition Zone, and the oak woodlands and savannahs of the Upper Sonoran Zone. The "life zones" of Merriam have fallen out of favor in recent decades, but I still find them very apt. Merriam recognized that, as elevation increases, in a mountain range, vegetation changes in very much the same way as if elevation remained constant, but latitude increased. To ascend the Sierra Nevada to the 5,000-foot contour and the realm of the White Fir is much the same as to go north into southern Canada. Merriam did his seminal research near Fort Valley, Arizona, where my grandfather Leland Towle worked as a forest ranger, at the time.

That was almost a century ago. Here, on Moody Ridge, in this ecotone between two different assemblages of vegetation, one sees two different assemblages of animals, also. For instance, both the Scrub Jay of lower elevations, and the Steller Jay of higher elevations, are here.

Today a young squirrel is slowly dying in my yard. It is a California
Ground Squirrel, Citellus beecheyi, and is more closely identified
with the Upper Sonoran life zone of the Scrub Jay, than with the
Transition life zone of the Steller Jay. And, since my yard is on the
cusp between the two zones, there are many Gray Squirrels in the area, as well. And Flying Squirrels, for that matter, although these are rarely seen.

The Ground Squirrel lives up to its name, only rarely venturing into
trees, and when it does, never climbing more than, oh, fifteen or
twenty feet. It will clamber into Ceanothus bushes and harvest the
seeds, storing them in cheek pouches, and then find some conspicuous
perch and slowly work through the seeds it has saved. It is strange
that they like these highly exposed perches, on a large boulder,
perhaps, for they are preyed upon by Golden Eagles.

It may be that another predator worries them much more than mere
eagles. The Western Rattlesnake, Crotalus viridus, is an avid hunter
of the Ground Squirrel. One might almost say, given ground squirrels,
rattlesnakes are sure to follow.

In this little clearing in the woods, in this ecotone, there has
always been a colony of ground squirrels, at least, for the
thirty-three years I have been here, there have been ground squirrels.
They fall victim to foxes, to bobcats, and, although one is extremely
unlikely to actually see it happen, to rattlesnakes.

This summer brought many a baby squirrel into the colony. The colony burrows are scattered over a broad area, and have multiple entrances, and may also be shared between individual squirrel families. It seems there are more squirrels now than ever before. One develops a sense of their lives and habits. I can recognize their metallic "alarm squeak," and sometimes, hearing the squeak, and taking a look around, I will see the fox, or the bobcat, which inspired that squeak.

The squeak is repeated, every second or so, for minutes, sometimes tens of minutes, at a time. It is painful to listen to this squeak. With a roar, and a hurled rock, I will sometimes try to quiet that squeak.

So. There are many squirrels, hence, as night must follow day, there must also be many rattlesnakes.

And there are. Four or five different snakes have visited the yard this summer. The hotter days seem to somehow inspire them to visit. Years ago, when my children were small, I killed rattlesnakes in the yard. In recent years I do not bother them. Live and let live. And yet ... and yet, they are so very hard to see if not moving, and they do not always rattle, and they coil up in places one can't really see well, anyway. It is a bit nerve-wracking. To have four or five different snakes visit, in one summer month, is a first in my several decades here.

I recently learned, on the Internet, that adult ground squirrels are immune to rattlesnake venom, and also, that they will wave their tails back and forth while facing a rattlesnake, and that the temperature of those waving tails increases by some five degrees at the time.

Yesterday I heard a doubled alarm squeak, in the sultry smoky heat of the afternoon, and walked slowly towards the sound, expecting to find a rattlesnake.

Sure enough.

An adult and a juvenile squirrel were atop one of their favorite Ceanothus-seed-eating perches, just above their burrow, both facing a spot a foot and a half away, and every two or three seconds, at exactly the same time, they would rapidly wave their tails, and squeak. It was as if they were telepathically connected. I could not see anything for them to squeak at, and slowly ventured closer.

The young squirrels are much more fearful of humans, than their parents, and they (there turned out to be a second juvenile, perched a few inches below) scampered away once I was within six or eight feet. The adult remained, steadfastly squeaking and waving its tail. Finally I saw the snake. It was occupying a crevice between two boulders, directly above one of the burrow entrances. The head and upper part of the snake's body were already coiled and still, the tail was extended away a foot or so, and was slowly being drawn into the coil.

I kept an eye on that snake as the afternoon dwindled into darkness. It never moved. I saw the adult squirrel enter the burrow, only a foot from the snake. The snake never moved. It seemed to be waiting for the squirrels to forget its presence.

At dawn I returned. The snake had gone. There seemed a peculiar lack of squirrels in the yard. This is common after a fox or bobcat visits.

An hour later I looked around again; an adult ground squirrel was on a large boulder, seemingly surveying its domain. And a few feet away, a juvenile was stretched out on the ground, its eyes open, alive, but hardly able to move. It had been bit by a rattlesnake in its right hindquarters, paralyzing its right hind leg. Over the next hour it painfully dragged itself twenty or thirty feet, downhill, towards one of its family burrows. The adult surveyed its child's progress. But then the venom's force overcame the young squirrel. It stopped moving. Its eyes closed. An hour later, it was dead.

There was absolutely no sign of the snake. All the squirrels entered their burrows and stayed within for hours, in mourning.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Smarts Crossing

The number of historic public trails and roads which have been closed
to the public here in Placer County has grown too long to tell, at
least, in the course of such a count, it degenerates into a repetitive
whine: The Sky is Falling, and what's more, Life is Unfair.

Smarts Crossing is one of these historic public roads. A wagon road
led across the Bear River, from near Dutch Flat to the Liberty Hill
Mine, and Mule Springs, and Lowell Hill; once there was a bridge,
where an inner gorge holds a deep pool in its polished embrace ... one can still find the heavy iron pins set in the rock there, which
anchored the bridge, but some time, in the 1940s, the old bridge
washed way and was never replaced. On the Liberty Hill side, the road fell out of use and became overgrown; but on the Dutch Flat side, it was kept open, decade after decade, by local residents who loved to swim and dive in the long deep pool, and wander and explore up and down the river, and shiver while the hot canyon breezes swiftly dried the icy water from their bodies.

The Crossing derives its name from the Smart family of Dutch Flat, who once had a sawmill over on the Liberty Hill side.

As is usual, a complex of various parcels is crossed by the old road.
There are patches of Tahoe National Forest land in the canyon, around there, and also Bureau of Land Management lands: these are public lands. The road also crosses some PG&E land, land which I hope will become public land, as there is a settlement in the works, linked to the PG&E bankruptcy several years ago, a settlement which will transfer ownership of some thousands of acres of PG&E lands, to Tahoe National Forest.

And there is an ordinary private parcel, of some seventy acres,
through which the old road passes, on its way down to the sparkling
river. In the early 1980s, this parcel was sold, and the new owner was
quick to put up his "no trespassing" signs, quick to throw a gate
across the road, quick to turn people away at gunpoint.

Local residents banded together and filed a class action lawsuit in
the Superior Court in Auburn, maintaining that the Smarts Crossing
Road was a public road, and could not be closed. We could not have
done this without very substantial pro bono legal help, most notably
by Ed Stadum. We won our case. The road was re-opened. The seventy acres was sold, again, to a somewhat notorious real estate developer, which bodes no good, so far as continued public access to the glorious old swimming hole.

A few years ago, a second gate appeared on the road. A group of people at Smarts Crossing had been chased away by a sudden release of water from Drum Poerhouse, five miles up the canyon, and had complained to PG&E. Now, PG&E owns no part of Smarts Crossing itself; their lands lie rather high on the road, near its intersection with Drum Powerhouse Road. Nevertheless, PG&E decided that, in the interest of public safety, they would close the road.

Local residents complained about the closure, the gate, the sign, and
copies of the legal decision by the Superior Court were mailed to
PG&E's legal counsel. Eventually, in a show of compliance, PG&E went so far as to remove the lock. The gate remained, and it remained closed, but it was not locked.

This was not a welcome compromise, but at least public access was retained.

Recently I was informed that the PG&E gate boasted a brand new lock. Xanadu, for so I will style him, sent me a photograph of the lock. I am about paralyzed by anger and bitterness by all these closures of the historic trails and roads. I merely replied, to Xanadu, that, yes, it was indeed a lock. A large lock. My thoughts turned to an honored environmentalist of Dutch Flat, who advised me, years ago, to find a large pipe cutter, and trim the gate off at ground level.

Xanadu now informs me that, strangely, unaccountably, not only has the big lock disappeared, but the entire gate is gone!

Someone's heart is in the right place.

So far as the future, I regard it as essential that the PG&E lands near Smarts Crossing be transferred to Tahoe National Forest, and moreover, that the seventy acres which was involved in the original closure be purchased by Tahoe National Forest. The "recreational values" of that area (how I hate the language of the bureaucrats!) are too important to allow those lands to be given over to residential uses.

There are many many private parcels bordering Tahoe National Forest lands which must be purchased and merged with the Forest, IMHO. Some are entire sections, as at Four Horse Flat, on the Big Granite Trail, or at Wildcat Point, in the Royal Gorge. Some are tiny little parcels, once upon a time, who knows, patented mining claims. And some, as at Lost Camp, will likely require an Act of Congress, to adjust Forest boundaries.

And all this should be done without delay. I can't help but think that the hundreds of billions of dollars spent on our war in Iraq might have been put to much better purposes.

But that is just more whining.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Letter to Tahoe National Forest

Below, a letter to Tahoe National Forest Supervisor Tom Quinn, urging him to take action to re-open the Lost Camp Road, restoring public access to the China Trail. If you wish, you can copy and paste the text below into an email to Supervisor Quinn, at pmahaffey@fs.fed.us, with whatever you might wish to add. The Tahoe needs to take its historic trails much more seriously.

June 19, 2008

Tom Quinn
Forest Supervisor
Tahoe National Forest
631 Coyote Street
Nevada City, CA 95959

re: Lost Camp Road

Dear Supervisor Quinn,

In T16N, R11E the historic road to Lost Camp, giving access to Tahoe National Forest (TNF) lands, and to historic TNF trails, has been gated closed. The gate seems to be in the SE 1/4 of Section 14, the road continuing south into Section 23, which, being an odd-numbered section, one might expect would be one of the old "railroad" sections; but it contains a large patented mining claim (the "Lost Camp Mine"), and apparently was never deeded to the railroad. The Lost Camp Road passes through Section 23 into sections 26, 27, and 34.

Just north of the large patented claim in Section 23, in Section 14, a series of small parcels exist. The owners of these parcels have blocked the historic road with a gate.

The historic trails now blocked include the China Trail, constructed in 1862, leading from Lost Camp to Sawtooth Ridge, crossing the North Fork of the North Fork of the American River, and long maintained by TNF rangers; and the trail leading down the crest of the ridge dividing Blue Canyon from the North Fork of the North Fork of the American River to the Rawhide Mine. Yet other trails are affected by the owners of the small parcels in Section 14, mentioned above, notably, the Bradley & Gardner Ditch, or Placer County Canal, constructed in the 1850s to bring water to the hydraulic mines in Dutch Flat. This old mining ditch, although somewhat damaged by timber harvest activities, makes a wonderful trail, and has been used as such since its construction.

I should say that this is quite a remarkable area. The deep canyon of the North Fork of the North Fork American, and the river itself, are extraordinarily beautiful. If you look at a map, you will notice several tributary streams, all converging: Fulda Creek, Sailor Ravine, the East Fork of the North Fork of the North Fork, Burnett Canyon, and Willmont Ravine. All of these have fine waterfalls. I call this locus of convergence the Gorge of Many Gorges. It is just upstream from the crossing of the North Fork of the North Fork by the China Trail.

Most people, perhaps, who once used the China Trail, were fly fishermen. The tranquil beauty of the deep canyon, the sparkling clarity of the river, the cliffs and tall trees, and the trout, have brought hikers back year after year, decade after decade.

I wish Tahoe National Forest to meet its responsibilities and act quickly to re-open the Lost Camp Road and the China Trail. This road and this trail were among TNF's "system" roads and trails for many decades. This road and this trail are depicted on official TNF maps dating back at least to the 1930s, and are depicted on the General Land Office map of 1872.

The China Trail is a foot trail, despite the recent efforts of loud, lawless, garbage-strewing OHV users to convert it to a motorcycle highway. Since the OHV users have gone so far as to damage the historic China Trail, their use of the area must be curtailed entirely. There should be an OHV closure not only on the China Trail itself, but on the Lost Camp Road south of the railroad tracks.

When Tahoe National Forest was created, over a century ago, it inherited a fine system of trails, many dating back to the Gold Rush. The forest rangers faithfully maintained and blazed these old trails for many decades. For reasons beyond the scope of this letter, those trusty rangers of days gone by were replaced by people who wished to harvest timber, no matter what the cost to trails, to scenery, to recreation, to heritage resources, to wildlife.

That is, we went from a time when TNF actually protected its system of historic trails, to a time when TNF itself ruined many a trail, in the course of timber harvest activities. We went from a time when TNF would promptly intercede to keep one of its historic system trails open to the public, even where it crossed private property, to a time when TNF quietly, secretly, without any public comment, dropped historic roads and trails from its list of "system" roads and trails.

The Lost Camp Road and the China Trail must be re-opened and restored to the public, with an OHV closure on both road and trail.


Russell Towle
P.O. Box 141
Dutch Flat, CA 95714

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Fringed Pinesap

Hi all,

A rare and ghostly flower haunts the deep woods, called Fringed Pinesap.

On the gentle uplands of Moody Ridge, some four thousand feet above sea level, there once grew an open forest of mighty pines and cedars. Then, around 1870, came Progress: those gigantic trees, centuries old, were laid low. A dense forest of young pines rose in its place, almost impenetrable, as is remarked in the field notes of Berkeley zoologist Joseph Grinnell (see http://mvz.berkeley.edu/Grinnell.html), who visited in 1912, collecting specimens for days on end. He stayed at the Pine Mound Inn, one of several hotels in and near Dutch Flat at that time.

Fires swept across Moody Ridge and thinned that dense forest again and again. More logging took place, notably, around 1960 and 1977-78. This last cut was the unkindest, in that every conifer over fifteen inches in diameter was taken, and then, adding insult to injury, the bulldozer-churned forest land was illegally subdivided.

Thirty years later, the signs of logging have softened, but the skid trails of the 1977-78 timber harvest are still plainly visible, as the bulldozers spun their treads deeply into the rich forest soil, casting it to the side, and exposing the clayey subsoil.

Only recently did I finally realize, after a few decades of walking about, that signs of the earliest phase of logging, dating to around 1875, remain visible, in the form of narrow-gauge railroad grades, very carefully located to allow for the easiest yarding of the huge first-growth sawlogs, which would be rolled directly onto the flatcars, and hauled away to the Canyon Creek Mill.

I have cleared debris and small trees from one of these old logging-railroad grades, which winds in and out of a small valley on a line so level one would imagine it an old mining ditch, and it makes for a nice walk. I call it the Railroad Trail. Yesterday, walking along the Railroad Trail amid Incense Cedar and White Fir, Ponderosa Pine and Sugar Pine, I saw what seemed to be the white ghosts of small pine cones thrusting up through the pine needles which deeply cover the forest floor. They were quite intricate, and clearly, without any chlorophyll, being one of those saprophytic plants often placed in the Heath Family, like Pine Drops and Snow Plant. I took some photographs, but was not pleased with my efforts, when I got home to my computer, so today I returned.

In the meantime, I succeeded in identifying these ghostly flowers as Fringed Pinesap, Pleuricospora fimbriolata. It derives all its energy and nutrients from fungal mycelia in coniferous leaf litter. There are quite a few nice photographs of Fringed Pinesap on the internet.

As I neared the Railroad Trail, a loud and sudden flapping of very large wings, very near by, shocked me, and I hastened forward into an opening, expecting to see a Golden Eagle lifting away.

Instead I saw a large dark bird move awkwardly, from one branch to another, in an Incense Cedar. A turkey? I sidled closer, camera raised, hoping for a shot. Many an intervening branch left my subject indistinct. I lost patience and strode closer.

Immediately that first large bird took wing, and a second followed, in a great commotion of flapping. Two turkey vultures. Just as I recognized what they were, a sour smell spoke of Death. I walked towards the tree in which the vultures had roosted, and found a dead Gray Fox stretched long on the pine needles, long and oddly narrow, since most of it had been eaten, and for a radius of twenty feet around the carcass, vulture feathers littered the ground. A cloud of flies hovered above.

Returning to the trail, I was soon in the gentle uplands of the surface of the andesitic mudflow plateau which was once universal, but the larger part of the plateau is gone, carried away bit by bit during in the canyons of our modern rivers, canyons only a few million years old. It is very likely that the canyons of the North Fork American, the Bear, Steephollow, and the South Yuba, are all alike only four million years old.

I revisited the several locations where my Fringed Pinesap pushed up from the forest floor, in clusters of five to ten individual plants, and took a number of photos. These plants never grow very tall, a few inches at best. In years past I have often mistaken them for young Pine Drops, somehow, due to their youth no doubt, not colored red. It is gratifying to recognize at last they are a distinct species.

Above: Pine Drops

Fringed Pinesap and Pine Drops alike are classic residents of the deep pine woods, along with a number of native orchids, such as Rattlesnake Orchid, and other plants either in the Heath Family or closely allied to it, such as Little Prince's Pine, and Wintergreen.

I left the Railroad Trail and struck out through the densely overgrown forest, gathering spider webs in great swaths across face and chest as I pushed through thickets of young cedars and firs, but only found one new cluster of Fringed Pinesap.

A dead fox, ghostly flowers which mimic pine cones, uneasy vultures; it was, all in all, a nice walk. I will post a picture or two on my blog (http://northforktrails.blogspot.com/).


Russell Towle

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Return to Hayden Hill and the Terrace Trail

Apparently spurred in the very midst of a moment, Ron Gould sent me an email at 11:29 P.M. Wednesday, suggesting a visit to far-flung Hayden Hill on Thursday. I did not see his message until 7:30 Thursday morning. The strange and severe tasks, which shall always attend upon writing an article about zonotopal tilings, those tasks drifted, in serried ranks, before my mind's eye. Then I thought of the Terrace Trail. It was essential that Ron see the Terrace Trail. For goodness' sake, it was imperative that I follow that almost-level, bear-stomped track, through the ancient forest west of Hayden Hill. And then ... and then, there was the mysterious Hayden Hill Trail itself, which would seem to descend 2,400' to the North Fork, from a promontory on the canyon rim, off Elliott Ranch Road. That mysterious trail which was depicted on more than one old Tahoe National Forest map, and which I had stumbled upon, unbelieving, full of skepticism, last fall. It was a trail ... no, a lumber slide ... a lumber slide, which had also been used as a trail?

So I gave Ron a call, and managed to meet him in Colfax around nine in the morning, the uncluttered blue of the early morning sky giving some way to an isolated shield of altocumulus clouds, with a few fair-weather cumulus popping up below, showing surprisingly strong vertical development for that early in the day. We set off on the road to Mineral Bar and Iowa Hill, with all its intricate curves, and fantastic views of the North Fork canyon. A nice mix of wildflowers adorned the road's margins, including some Clarkia biloba and Bleeding Hearts. It takes quite a while to snake through Iowa Hill and Monona Flat and at last reach the very head of Indian Canyon, at Giant Gap Ridge, where we hung a left onto essentially unmarked Elliott Ranch Road, bearing right in half a mile, where Giant Gap Road stays left, and soon we were skimming across the head of Giant Gap Ravine, with views north across Green Valley to Moody Ridge. We passed the southern terminus of the Green Valley Trail; once it continued south to Sugar Pine Guard Station, as can been seen on some old maps, and is also evidenced by a photograph in my possession, of the Tahoe National Forest sign which marked the opposite, northern terminus of the Green Valley Trail. The photograph dates to around 1940.

It was quite a nice sign, in the shape of an arrow, and it read, as I recall, "North Fork American River. Little Switzerland. Green Valley 3. Sugar Pine G.S. 7."

It is funny and nice that Green Valley was named "Little Switzerland." Is it only a coincidence that Joe Steiner, who lived for decades in Green Valley, as caretaker of the Dunckhorst mining properties before dying there, in 1948 ... is it only coincidence that he was once described (scrawled on a slip of paper within a Mason jar, atop his grave) as loving Green Valley, because it reminded him of his native Switzerland?

The recent rains had laid the dust well on Elliott Ranch Road, and we soon reached the unmarked road left to the Hayden Hill Trail; I grabbed my loppers and started cutting back some of the many branches which hung into the road, and heaved a few small downed trees aside, as Ron's truck is a delicate, delicate thing, really too pretty, and it would not do to mar that beauty with a scratch. Ah, one could wish for the good old days, when the previous truck was still alive and well; now, there was a real man's truck, a truck which shrugged off the deadly and many-fingered hands of dead manzanita without the slightest whimper, a truck which just kept forging ahead, an almost inexorable truck, as such things go.

Ah, Toyota.

The roadside vegetation opened slightly and I climbed back in. We slowly advanced to the road's terminus, on the promontory, where a hunters' camp reminded me that, so far as I am concerned, hunting could come to a complete end on public lands. Or, do some hunters have a conscience? Do some hunters not leave mountains of garbage behind? Do some hunters not stand around like idiots, firing round after round from their shotguns, for the sake of making noise, and emptying whole boxes of bullets right in their camping area? I began picking up plastic bottles here, beer cans there, but then I saw quite a quantity of garbage fifty yards down the hill, and realized it was beyond me to even consolidate what the deer season of 2007 had inflicted upon this tiny little patch of public land. The garbage from the deer season of 2006 had been bad enough; I had informed Tahoe National Forest of the hunters' mess, but nothing had been done. So, a little job has grown into a big job.

Like very much of the Foresthill Divide, this area is blanketed by thick, quasi-horizontal strata of Mio-Pliocene andesitic mudflows. It might be better to assign all these mudflows to the Miocene. Beneath these ridge-capping andesitic debris flows are older Miocene rhyolite ash flows. Some of these latter were pyroclastic flows, and became welded tuffs, but this far west, more commonly they were reworked and redistributed by water. We can still call them tuff. Rhyolite tuff. While the source of the younger andesitic flows was along the Sierra crest, the source of the older rhyolite ash seems to have been in central Nevada. This fairly recent discovery supports the classic model of Sierran geomorphology, in which the entire range has been recently tilted up, like a trap-door, with the "hinge" buried beneath the young sediments of the Central Valley, and the Sierra crest forming the long high edge of the tilted block. For, those volcanoes in central Nevada could not have delivered such vast volumes of rhyolite ash to the west slope of the Sierra, if the crest had stood as high as it does today. In particular, those pyroclastic flows which gave us the welded tuffs of higher and middle elevations had to be flowing downhill. It appears the crest has been uplifted around 5,000 feet over the past few million years. There, near the sources of the andesitic lahars, the whole volcanic section thickens, and we see mudflows stacked up, 1500' thick and more. Rarely, basalt flows are preserved in valleys within the vast and often chaotic section of mudflows. For, multiple episodes of erosion punctuated the eruptions; the eruptive phases likely have been far outstripped by the erosive phases, in absolute time, in duration. Time enough for canyons or valleys to form in the mudflow land surface. Whatever came next, eruptively, be it more mudflow, or basalt, or volcanic ash, whatever, would tend to fill those nascent valleys. A new mudflow surface is created, and now it endures a prolonged phase of erosion. New valleys are cut, which are in turn filled by the next eruptive sequence ... .

This area was, it seems, burned over in the 1960 "Volcano" fire, which started over in the Middle Fork American side of things, in Volcano Canyon, and then swept north and east on the Foresthill Divide, reaching Humbug Canyon, and Westville, and even crossing the North Fork American to burn parts of Sawtooth Ridge.

Quite a lot of bulldozer activity took place during and just after the Volcano Fire, and the fire breaks and mounds of dirt can be seen to this day. So far as the Promontory goes, it seems the bulldozers made several swaths, perhaps pushing fuels from the top of the promontory down and over the sides. As a result the old trail leading down to Hayden Hill had first been obliterated around 1960. Ron and I just started wandering down the nose of the ridge, bearing north and east, and soon reached an almost level reach of the Promontory Ridge from which we could see down and west to the heavily forested Terrace. The old trail followed this ridge crest north, until it reached the Terrace, and broke west towards Hayden Hill.

However, a ~1980s Tahoe National Forest clearcut, directly along the line of the trail, served to obliterate it just above the Terrace, and the brush-infested plantation of small Ponderosa Pines was too dense to permit trying to stay on the original course, so we peeled away west, dropping into the Terrace Forest, and soon reached the nearly level road which extends far to the east into the Sugarloaf Basin, and west into the headwaters of the east fork of McIntyre Ravine.

Soon we reached a road bulldozed upon the line of the old trail, perhaps during the Volcano Fire and its aftermath, or perhaps during the 1980s clearcut activity. There we found the section corner common to sections 5, 6, 7, and 8 of T15N, R11E. All the townships in T15N in this area reflect the difficulties faced by early surveyors. A township is supposed to be a six-by-six square array of thirty-six one-mile-square sections. However, the townships in T15N all seem to show a northern tier of six sections which are about one mile east and west, but run about two miles north and south. Hence all these townships verge towards forty-two square miles in extent, instead of thirty-six.

At the section corner a modern monument, consisting of a two-inch diameter galvanized pipe with a marked cap, was accompanied by an older monument, a length of ore-cart track driven into the ground, with its own inscrutable markings. Large trees nearby also contained little signs. Below, to the north and west, is an old cabin site, a mining ditch, and some collapsed tunnels. Presumably a bit of Eocene-age river channel is buried beneath the roughly 400-foot-thick section of "young volcanics" in this area. Possibly the ore-cart track marked one corner of a mining claim.

From here the old trail, now an overgrown road, bears west. We followed along, passing the almost invisible fork right to Hayden Hill itself, coinciding with the trail as depicted on the USGS 7.5-minute "Dutch Flat quadrangle, and soon a mining ditch was crossed, the road dropping below the ditch, then rising to coincide with the ditch, thus obliterating it. This ditch drew water from springs to the west, delivering it to the mine site near the section corner. It is near the 3800' contour.

The bulldozed road, thankfully, came to an end. The trail continued, roughly following the line of the ditch, which was not always evident. The deep impressions of bear feet dotted the ground; they like to step in the same spot each time they walk a favorite trail. It is, in its way, a historic trail, one which likely was never drawn on any official map, but which saw use for centuries, for millenia, being after a fashion the "most-natural" and easiest way to traverse these slopes, for all sorts of animals, including humans. If one were walking from Iowa Hill to the Hayden Hill mines, either those up high, by the section corner, or those below, in Green Valley, one might well peel off the canyon rim at the head of McIntyre Ravine, and follow this old Terrace Trail east to Hayden Hill. One would then avoid an unnecessary climb of two hundred feet, to the now garbage-strewn Promontory, where the "official" Hayden Hill Trail begins.

Continuing west, we entered an area of old-growth forest containing some very large trees. There were Douglas Fir in the six- and seven-foot diameter range, and many large pines and cedars. The whole area screamed of abundant ground water, which in turn suggests that the heavily forested Terrace coincides with the rhyolite ash strata. Almost always, these rhyolite ash strata are associated with springs and seeps. Almost always, the strata themselves are not exposed at all, buried beneath deep soils, developed over many millenia. Almost always, a belt of enhanced forest marks these wet slopes.

Here, on the Terrace, about half a mile west of Hayden Hill, the ground water breaks out in big springs, surrounded by heavy timber, with an understory of robust Bigleaf Maples and Pacific Dogwood, but also, notably, quite a few Pacific Yew and sharp-needled California Nutmeg. So it is a rather fascinating area, botanically, and biogeographically. One rarely sees these Pacific Yews, and more rarely yet, yews as large as here on the Terrace. These springs are at the head of the East Fork of McIntyre Ravine, which joins the North Fork American in Green Valley.

Beyond the big springs, with their yews, and masses of delicate Lady Ferns, and bear-churned black mud, the trail continues, but much less distinctly. It is almost a case of too much of a good thing: the Terrace is broad enough, the forest, open enough, that no one particular route much commends itself over another. The game follows many paths. We strolled along, rarely seeing what could convincingly count as the line of a single, distinct, historic human trail. Here as so often elsewhere, modern use by game is enough to blur and disguise historic use by humans.

Finally, the Terrace seemed to pinch out, and we we reached an area where a bulldozed fire break, dating from the Volcano Fire, had been cut from the rim of the canyon on a steeply-descending course, bearing roughly north, right at the base of the rhyolite-enhanced forest, and just above the serpentine-stunted vegetation below us, in McIntyre Ravine. We found a pleasant little outcrop of serpentine which offered a fine view of the Ravine, with Green Valley and Giant Gap shown to good effect, to the north and to the west. The serpentine here is associated with the Melones Fault Zone. It is in faulted contact with the much-older Shoo Fly Complex metasediments to the east, the fault plane being almost vertical, and striking north and south; and it happens that between the serpentine and the Shoo Fly is a thin screen of Mesozoic metasediments and metavolcanics. If we interpret the serpentine as an ophiolite, as a section of ocean-floor basalt added to North American by continental accretion, and tilted up nearly ninety degrees in the process, this screen of Mesozoic rocks dividing the serpentine (metamorphosed basalt) from the Shoo Fly Complex could represent whatever sediments, possibly intercalated with lava flows, which lay on top of that section of ocean floor. These Mesozoic rocks can be seen to good effect along the river, from the east end of Green Valley, where they include some masses of limestone, upstream nearly to Euchre Bar. They are also evident near the head of the Euchre Bar Trail, on the road to Iron Point, and at Iron Point itself.

I would like to learn more about this Mesozoic screen between the Melones serpentine and the Shoo Fly. It is rarely more than a quarter-mile thick. Sometimes it is invaded by masses of serpentine. Were these masses squished into the Mesozoic screen during accretion, during the Nevadan Orogeny, or do they represent flows of basalt intercalated with the sediments cloaking the ocean floor?

Ron and I struck back east along the Terrace, and found a huge and ancient and recently-deceased Ponderosa Pine, over seven feet in diameter at chest height, and swelling larger still as it rose to split into three massive trunks. We paused to take photographs.

Reaching the almost-invisible fork leading north to Hayden Hill itself, we put our loppers to work opening up the old trail, which follows a nearly level ridge-crest for a quarter-mile before reaching the summit. Another old cabin site is marked by a cellar and odds and ends of sheet metal and glass. Perhaps it burned in the Volcano Fire.

Here the USGS map and TNF map both show the end of the trail. But I had found it continuing down the ridge to the north, last fall, and Ron had found old Forest Service maps which showed it dropping all the way to the river. In fact, a TNF map dating to 1909 showed "Hayden Hill" as a mining camp or settlement of some kind, with a little black square, just as it depicted Damascus, Red Point, and Westville. TNF maps from 1924 and 1930 seemed to show the Hayden Hill Trail dropping all the way to the North Fork. It was our job to settle the issue. Did it really exist? Was there yet another old trail into Green Valley, abandoned for many decades?

The trail is completely buried within manzanita near the cabin site, but it was easy to drop into the open forest to the east and, a hundred yards or so north, rejoin the ridge and the trail. Here a fallen pine, much rotted, has a number of two-by-four steps nailed to its side. When it still stood, whoever lived at the cabin might have climbed the tree, for the amazing view of Giant Gap. But it is a little hard to reconcile the fact that these wooden steps, nailed to the tree, show no signs of burning or scorching, whereas all the vegetation nearby seems to reflect, pretty clearly, having endured the Volcano Fire. Many trees lived through the fire, so it burned cool, and thousands of young conifers sprouted up after it. It is not impossible that here, anyway, it was a fire set purposely to limit the spread of the Volcano Fire.

We continued down the ridge. The trail exists, but it does not always make itself obvious. As we descended, in places we could see that there was a lumber slide, where sawed lumber for the sluice boxes at the Hayden Hill Mine had been dragged down, in bundles, from the canyon rim. One sees these lumber slides all over the place. They take the form of a trench running directly down the slope. Usually they are not at all suitable for a trail, being too steep.

At times there were very-well-defined, too-well-defined, game trails, switching back and forth on the slopes near the lumber slide. As we descended the forest changed from Canyon Live Oak on the steeper ground, with its poorer soils, to Kellogg's Black Oaks, on somewhat gentler slopes, with deeper and better soils.

From a discovering-old-trails standpoint, it was frustrating. A lumber slide cannot count as a bona fide trail. The game trails which switched back and forth could count as human trails, but if so, they were suspiciously narrow, suspiciously poorly-defined. And yet, the overall appearance of the slopes suggested a very active movement of soil and rock and debris of all kinds, downslope; if a trail were not used for, say, eighty years, it could be buried outright on such an actively-eroding slope. If only used by game it would shrink to a narrow track.

We reached the top of one of the huge red mining scars above the mine. These were much more visible thirty years ago; small pines and other trees have gradually populated the scars. The scars derive from hydraulic mining over a century ago. I had never been to the top of the scars before. I scanned the red surface closely; already the auriferous gravels at the Hayden Hill Mine counted as the oldest of the glacial outwash deposits left in Green Valley, as the mine is associated with an abandoned channel of the North Fork, the base of which channel is fully four hundred feet above the river, and the tops of the principal outwash terraces flanking this abandoned channel, six hundred feet above the river. I myself guess these terraces to be roughly 750,000 years old, dating from the Sherwin Glaciation. But the Red Scars rise higher yet. Could one find an absolute highest elevation where glacial outwash is preserved, in these scars?

At the top of the scars, the reddish material had the character of being a very weakly stratified deposit of angular chunks of rock, of an entirely local origin, in a matrix of silt and clay. Were it not for the weak stratification, almost invisible, one would be tempted to name it a colluvial deposit, *not* alluvial at all. As it is, it is about as frustrating as the trail-which-is-not-a-trail we had been following: the deposit has rocks deriving only from the slopes immediately above, and all angular: hence colluvium, hence not glacial outwash. But the deposit is weakly stratified! And it is, whatever its origin and significance, lying on top of true glacial outwash deposits, some distance below.

Well. Interesting, anyway. We followed a game trail right through the Western Red Scar basin, and entered another patch of oak forest, with more game trails, of the kind which with enough imagination might be human trails.

So it was with some frustration that we continued down, zigging and zagging widely in hopes of picking up the line of the "true" trail. Whenever we hit a suspiciously-well-defined game trail, we followed it, in hope that it would become even more well-defined, and settle the issue. On just such a trail we found ourselves approaching a terrace, upon which we could see some relics of mining.

This was just the kind of confirmation we had hoped for.

The terrace was formed by glacial outwash cemented into a tough conflomerate, much as one sees elsewhere in Green Valley, but this must count as the very highest patch of cemented outwash I have ever seen. We were roughly at the same elevation as the top of the Hayden Hill Knoll, a remnant of an outwash terrace flanking the mined-out area. Its summit is just above the 2400-foot contour, six hundred feet above the river. We could see the oak-forested Knoll through the trees, to the north. Between us and the Knoll was a deep ravine.

I told Ron of a buried anvil I had once found near the mine, where a series of terraces and trails flanked the diggings, and we dropped lower yet in search of it. We never found my terraces, never found my anvil, but we did reach one of the huge boulder piles. The Hayden Hill Mine had to get these big boulders out of the way, so they built ore-cart runs to dumps, and, my goodness, left piles of big boulders two hundred feet high. Amazing.

It was fairly overgrown down there, and we had done quite a lot of lopping earlier in the day, upon the Terrace Trail, and on the trail out to Hayden Hill. We didn't have it in us to range widely in search of the Lost Anvil of Hayden Hill, a massive thing, by the way, it must be over two hundred pounds. Well. We did range, but we only ranged up. Unfortunately, we entered a steep wet area choked with maple, dogwood, willow, and all of this very intricately intertwined with poison oak. We climbed directly up through this mad tangle for quite a long time, sweating and huffing and puffing, before breaking out into more open oak forest above. Soon we were back up in the Red Scar, and even struck the very same game trail we had used to enter and traverse the scar. I noticed a very few rounded cobbles of chert, of the sort one sees in Eocene-age relict channels, mixed into the angular rocks of the quasi-colluvium. This confirmed my earlier assessment, that the quasi-colluvium was, to some degree, alluvium; it had been, however briefly, transported by water, and had weakly stratified, as a result. We were fifty to a hundred feet below the tip top of this Red Scar, and there were rounded cobbles of chert. Robbed, no doubt, from an Eocene channel to the east, such as Lost Camp. Or, perhaps, upper Humbug Canyon. Or, perhaps, these chert cobbles came from the putative channel high above us, near the section corner. If this last was the case, then perhaps we should say that the sediments near the top of the red scars are not glacial outwash at all, but very slightly reworked colluvium which rested on top of a glacial outwash floodplain.

Whatever the case, the glacio-fluvial sediments around the Hayden Hill Mine will someday be closely investigated, and will provide evidence of rather old glaciations, in this part of the Sierra.

Ron and I made very slow work of climbing up and out of the great canyon. We were thrashed. Our shirts were wet with sweat. As we climbed, we ranged back and forth, hoping for more definitive signs of a discrete Hayden Hill Trail. We followed the lumber slide, and we ranged back and forth near it, and when we finally did reach the top, we were left with the impression that, yes, a trail did exist, and parts of it can still be followed, but it is often indistinct or even missing.

It occurs to me that the Red Scars might have greatly increased in size since the time the trail was in use. They are in part the direct result of hydraulic mining, and also the result of mining away the gold-bearing glacial outwash deposits below, over-steepening the slopes, which have been sliding and failing ever since.

We reached Ron's truck around six in the evening and it felt very good to just sit down.

Such was a nice day exploring parts of the great canyon of the North Fork of the American River.

The view east from the Promontory, with Quartz Mountain (left), Big Valley Bluff (center), and Snow Mountain (right) in the background.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Helicopters in Giant Gap

A year or so ago I found that it was impossible to convince the Placer County Sherif's department that it should avoid Giant Gap with its helicopters, inasmuch as both Peregrine Falcons and Golden Eagles were actively nesting. The Sheriff's department seemed to think I was from Outer Space; what I asked was absurd.

Several times this spring the Sheriff helicopter has flown through Giant Gap.

Yesterday I received an email from Jan Cutts, District Ranger of the American River Ranger District, Tahoe National Forest (TNF), at Foresthill. Jan wrote:

"I want to let you know that in the next day or so there will be a helicopter operating in the North Fork American River drainage east of Giant Gap to remove trash from the Green Valley area. We have worked with our biologist regarding concerns with impacts to the Peregrine falcon in the Giant Gap area, and will be working with the helicopter to keep it as far away from the area as possible."

This was good news. I called Jan immediately and asked, which mess of garbage would they clean up? Were they going after all the garbage sites, or one, or what?

For years I have urged TNF to bring a helicopter in to the Euchre Bar and Green Valley areas, where huge and horrible accumulations of garbage exist, beyond, really, the capacity of hikers to simply carry up and out. I sent maps showing all these locations. My friends and I would volunteer to help pack it up for the helicopter cargo nets. However, there was never enough money in the TNF budget.

Well. Jan replied she did not know just what garbage site was being cleaned up, but that surely, any garbage taken out, whatsoever, was a good thing. I agreed, but wondered whether we could not expand the cleanup to include that especially horrid site, above Euchre Bar, on the North Fork of the North Fork of the American.

She advised me to contact Tom Madrigal of TNF, at the Foresthill office, and I immediately called, and left a message, but did not hear back.

Today, as advertised, a helicopter arrived in Green Valley. They appeared to be working on what I call Mexican Marijuana Growers' Camp #1, along the High Ditch, towards the east end of Green Valley. I could hear the thunder of the helicopter in the distance, grabbed my binoculars, and ran out to a cliff-top from which I can see much of Green Valley.

To my amazement, after spending quite a time in the east end of Green Valley, out of my view, the helicopter rose slowly westward, without any cargo net, and flew right through Giant Gap, perhaps 500 feet above the river, which is about as bad as it can get, so far as the nests of the falcons and eagles.

Needless to say, I was not pleased. I believe it was a National Guard helicopter. I would not be at all surprised if this garbage cleanup occurred under the auspices of the Drug Enforcement Agency, replete with special grants from the Bureau of Homeland Security, or whatever the blasted thing is called. For nothing happens nowadays without grants. Employees of one agency Coordinate Their Efforts with employees of some other agency, and this wonderful "coordination" could only happen thanks to a grant. It is the debacle of Hurricane Katrina, dragged out to an impossible degree, under an infinite recursion.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

The Dialectic of Dialogue

I have been working on geometry projects lately, and haven't been hiking much at all, except here on Moody Ridge, where spring has sprung early, and the rare Phantom Orchids are already in bloom, three weeks ahead of normal, and hungry rattlesnakes roam.

I occasionally receive emails from people seeking information about the North Fork. I am always glad to oblige. At times these exchanges develop a life of their own. A man named Fraser wrote some months ago; he wanted to visit the North Fork, "near Snow Mountain," at the end of April. He asked which trail would be best, and explained he would have his 12-year-old son with him.

I replied that all the trails near Snow Mountain would be blocked with snow, likely until June, but that he could drive up past Foresthill and use the Mumford Bar Trail, possibly hiking over a little snow at first, and once down on the river, follow the North Fork trail up to Sailor Canyon, and even beyond, with all due vigor, prudence, and so on.

Fraser responded to this, quite quickly: he had looked at a map, and thought the Big Granite Trail would work well for him. I was a little taken aback. Hadn't I just told him that it, and all the others up there, would be blocked with snow? I replied at some length, warning him that even if he managed to hike over the snow, or ski, or snowshoe, to get to the trail, it crossed Big Granite Creek along the way, and he would be taking his life in his hands to ford that creek, at the end of April.

Being surprised by his apparent willingness to cross miles of snow to reach one of the toughest trails in the big canyon, I Googled him.

I found he is quite an adventurer, with a lot of wilderness and whitewater experience. So. He was certainly capable. But his son? His son worried me. I suggested that what he envisioned might be a little much, for the son.

He did not deign to respond to my worries. A new idea had possessed him: he would hike over the miles of snow to the Beacroft Trail, or to the Sailor Flat Trail, drop into the canyon, swim across the North Fork, visit Big Granite Creek, and then hike up and out to the north, over more miles of snow, to Big Bend, on the South Yuba.

I was pretty thoroughly shocked. I wrote back, hesitantly, that for my part I would never ever, ever, swim that river at the end of April, and that what he envisioned was a truly major hike, and that I did not think it at all suitable for a twelve-year-old, but that, if he was determined to do it, good camping spots could be found at Bluff Camp, and then, across the river, at the base of Big Granite Creek. Three days would be about the minimum, I suggested.

To my complete astonishment, Fraser replied that he and his son would do it in one day!

By then, I was about six emails, and two thousand words, and one custom map, deep into our dialogue. Whatever wisdom I had to offer seemed to count for nothing. I finally knew when to stop "helping" Fraser.

A few weeks ago I heard from Fraser again. What with the warm dry spring, he had been able to drive almost up to the Beacroft, cross a few patches of snow, and follow the trail down into the canyon. He and his son camped at Bluff Camp, and made a day hike to look at Big Granite Creek the next day. They did not swim the river. The following day they hiked up and out on the Beacroft.

So the bottom line was that, while appearing to ignore my advice, Fraser actually took my advice. I wrote back, congratulating him on a good trip, and asked if he had seen the big waterfall across the North Fork from Bluff Camp.

No reply. Goodness, people are busy, nowadays.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Odds; Ends; A New Old Trail

I am giving up on my ISP, recently purchased by some sleazy outfit in Virginia, and soon my only email address will be russelltowle@gmail.com.

Over recent weeks I have been clearing a beautiful little patch of forest up on Moody Ridge, and burning tons of dead wood in the snow. I walk half a mile or so to the job site, and while walking, I have seen many a mountain lion track, likely all from one and the same lion. I have had a chance to see what tracks look like in soft snow, in hard snow, what they look like after one day, or after four days, and so on.

Yesterday afternoon I was walking home and thought to take a shortcut to avoid some deep snow. I got myself into a real tangle of young conifers and brush and broke through into a small opening. Lion tracks dotted the snow, extremely fresh, retaining every detail. Hours old at best. I quickly scanned the trees above me: no lion. Then I looked down at the snow again and was puzzled to see that the lion had walked in circles. All the tracks looked very fresh. I looked again, up, and all around; nothing, but the forest is so overgrown I couldn't see far in any case. So I blundered along my supposed shortcut. In another few yards a disgusting smell wafted my way, and at first I thought of the gamy smell a bear can have, which I have only smelled a few times in my life. I walked another few paces, the smell ever stronger, and suddenly realized it was the smell of Death. The lion had left its kill somewhere very near, possibly up in a tree. I hastened away.

Recently I was contacted by a nice young man who had tried and failed to find the Green Valley Trail. He had no idea that a public parking area exists, and, while walking in along "Aquila Lane" (the Green Valley Trail road), saw enough in the way of "No Trespassing" and "No Parking" signs to deter him. I reassured him that it was indeed a public trail, and told him about the parking area. Strangely, the parking area, recently constructed by Placer County for the public's use, itself has a "No Trespassing" sign, facing its entrance from Moody Ridge Road.

Last fall I explored the area around Hayden Hill, a high knoll jutting into Green Valley from the south canyon wall (see http://northforktrails.blogspot.com/2007/10/hayden-hill.html). The USGS 7.5 minute "Dutch Flat" quadrangle topographic map shows a trail leading down to Hayden Hill from Elliot Ranch Road, on the canyon rim; but as with so many Tahoe National Forest trails, this trail has been abandoned by the Forest Service, in favor of clearcutting, it seems. The trail is almost impossible to follow in its uppermost section, and impossible to follow, having been utterly erased, within the clearcut. However, one can leave the line of where the trail used to be, and strike out cross-country.

By the way, it is an entirely unacceptable violation of the public's trust for Tahoe National Forest to abandon any historic foot trails; but the Forest has made a regular business out of abandoning historic trails and historic roads. Not only that, these momentous derelictions of duty have been executed without public input or comment of any kind. It has all been done slyly, secretly, and under the table.

My own grandfather, who joined the Forest Service at a time when Teddy Roosevelt had inspired many a young man to join, in order to protect the public trust, in order to protect the public trails, in order to protect the wildlife--my own grandfather would be so shocked and ashamed.

Back to Hayden Hill.There is some really beautiful forest down there, with springs, and some old mine tunnels, and old mining ditches and cabin sites, and to my surprise, at the very summit of Hayden Hill itself, I found traces of an old trail plunging down the ridge-crest into Green Valley. Far below, far far below, is the historic Hayden Hill Mine, a hydraulic mine which worked the very highest and oldest of the glacial outwash sediments in Green Valley. At this mine, according to local legend, a few, or perhaps "twenty" Chinese miners were buried in a horrific landslide, way back when. I have never found any verification of this legend in the old newspapers of Placer County; but I may have missed it.

Today Ron Gould called my attention to a 1930 Tahoe National Forest map which actually shows this "Hayden Hill Trail." It will be interesting to explore it, someday, although it showed every sign of being badly overgrown.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Thrusting Shoo Fly

On YouTube, at


is an animation of a flight up the American River Canyon, using the USGS Digital Elevation Model 30-meter data set, and merging a couple dozen DEM quadrangles to build a landscape spanning Colfax on the west, the Sierra Crest on the east, the San Juan Ridge and Grouse Ridge to the north, and the Middle Fork of the American on the south. The virtual camera follows an almost due east heading from west of Rollins Lake, crossing over Lovers Leap and Green Valley, and flying on up the canyon into the Royal Gorge. The animation finishes with the virtual camera making an orbit of 360 degrees around Snow Mountain.

Thrusting Shoo Fly: on my iMac I can set the screensaver to loop through any folder of images in my iPhoto library. It so happens that right now it loops through a folder of some of my favorite photographs in the North Fork. Here is Giant Gap, from the west, and now from the east; or the 500-foot waterfall in New York Canyon, or Big Valley Bluff at dawn, as seen from the North Fork, a couple miles up the canyon.

And so on. It's not hard to take beautiful photographs in such a beautiful place.

It happens that one of these special photographs shows what I call Bluff Camp, an old mining camp immediately adjacent to the river, set on a cliff-bounded strath terrace bearing a fine grove of Canyon Live Oaks. From the North Fork American River Trail, connecting Sailor Canyon to Mumford Bar, a side trail leads one down a hundred yards, or so, to Bluff Camp. I have camped there many a time. It is half a mile or so east of Tadpole Canyon, and directly below Big Valley Bluff, rising in ragged cliffs all of 3500', across the river to the north.

And the photograph was taken from a point upstream from Bluff Camp; so one sees a part of the encircling cliffs, and a flat area--the strath terrace--perhaps thirty feet above river level. (A "strath terrace" is a glacio-fluvial landform associated with glacial outwash sediments which once occupied the terrace itself; and it was these very sediments which planed down the bedrock, to make the terrace).

It caught my eye, the other day, the Bluff Camp photo, as it filled the screen; I could see an abrupt change in the bedrock, right at the upstream end of the strath terrace. Slowly, dimly, I realized I was seeing a thrust fault. Two disparate bodies of rock had been juxtaposed by faulting.

The bedrock for miles up and down the canyon is composed of metasediments of the early-Paleozoic "Shoo Fly Complex," the oldest rocks in all the Sierra. I have a wonderfully precise geologic map of this part of the North Fork canyon, made by David S. Harwood et. al. of the USGS, in the early 1990s. Harwood shows many thrust faults in the Shoo Fly Complex near Big Valley Bluff, Sugar Pine Point, and New York Canyon. The faults sometimes bring big blocks of chert, hundreds of yards in extent, or more, into contact with slates and other types of rock in the Shoo Fly Complex.

By the way, it is called a "Complex" because it is composed of many distinct formations, spanning many millions of years in time, but all very old. Harwood describes and names four such formations in this particular area. His map does not show the Bluff Camp Thrust, which is probably a sensible choice, for it is likely not very long or large as thrust faults go, and if he were to put every such minor thrust fault on his map, well, there would be room for precious little else.

It has long been considered that the great mashing-together, the epochal juxtaposition of the disparate Sierran metamorphic rocks alongside one another, took place around 145 million years ago, in what was named the "Nevadan Orogeny" (an "orogeny" is a mountain-building). It was this Nevadan Orogeny which acted to rotate all these disparate bodies of metamorphic rock almost 90 degrees to the east, so that what were once flat-lying beds are now almost vertical, or even slightly overturned. And it is considered that the "penetrative fabric" of these disparate metamorphic rocks is mainly due to the Nevadan Orogeny. The compressive and shearing forces which imparted the fabric were fairly well parallel with the current, almost-vertical orientation of the beds. Very likely it all had to do with continental accretion, at a time when Pacific ocean floor was being actively subducted beneath the continental margin, moving from west to east, but also plunging steeply down.

However, in many of these different metamorphic rock formations, whether they be down by Auburn or up at Big Valley Bluff, an experienced eye can detect at least two different episodes of deformation, each leaving its footprint, or imposing its fabric, upon the rocks. There is the later Nevadan Orogeny; and at Bluff Camp, there is a thrust fault vastly older than the Nevadan Orogeny. That is to say, the Shoo Fly was already well-deformed, well-sliced and diced by thrust faults, long before the Nevadan Orogeny.

And Harwood discusses all this in the twelve-page essay which accompanies his map. There are a couple of typographical errors in this essay which play the very devil in understanding the thing.

It is not at all easy to learn to recognize these different rock types. That this is chert, and that is quartzite, may not be discernible except under a microscope. To develop a simple portrait of the bedrock geology, one can read what was written about it a century and more ago. At that time the focus was upon the broad outlines, not the higgley-piggley details. And for a time, the following usage had currency, for instance, in the articles by C.J. Brown of Dutch Flat, published in the Mining & Scientific Press, in 1875.

Brown divides the metamorphic rocks as follows: the Western Slate, the Middle Slate, and the Eastern Slate. Between the Middle Slate and the Eastern Slate, he identifies the long narrow serpentine belt we now name for its associated Melones Fault Zone.

Hence his Eastern Slate corresponds to the Shoo Fly Complex, and those other Paleozoic and Mesozoic rocks which lie on top of the Shoo Fly, and therefore, to the east (the whole shebang, be it remembered, rotating 90 degrees to the east during the Nevadan Orogeny).

Brown's Middle Slate corresponds to the Calaveras Complex, another complex of formations, but late-Paleozoic in age, and he correctly identifies the rock of Giant Gap as metavolcanic--in fact, Brown declares it to be metabasalt; and his Western Slate corresponds to all those metamorphic rocks west of Cape Horn, in which there are several distinct formations, often dominated by metavolcanic rock, but containing some metasediments, too.

So, if we wish to blur our focus and appreciate the broader outlines of local bedrock geology, we might give C.J. Brown's Western/Middle/Serpentine/Eastern model a try.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

The Secret Trails of Green Valley

I was surprised to hear from someone, in response to my "Visit to Green Valley," that she wishes the trails of Green Valley kept a secret. She objects to my mention of hiking on old mining ditches or on this or that old trail; there are, it seems, Nefarious People on this North Fork Trails email list, who, though my malfeasance, now know about the mining ditches and old trails in Green Valley.

Never mind that I have often written about precisely these ditches and trails before.

The Nefarious People, she writes, will tie plastic flagging all along the ditches, all along the trails, spray-painting a boulder now and then for good measure, with artful messages like "Green Valley Blue Gravel Mine Ditch, .25."

Perhaps one spray-painted boulder would warn of rattlesnakes. Another might read, "Euchre Bar, 1 mile, If You Like Jumping on Cliffs and Fording Raging Rivers."

Well, I'm sorry, but it is my philosophy that the old trails of the North Fork need to be known, not unknown. The North Fork of the American River--its wildness, its beautiful scenery, its historic trails and mining ditches and prehistoric sites--deserves every kind of protection and preservation. But this protection and preservation is hardly possible if no one knows the great canyon, and its great old trails.

This email list is all about making this wildness, this beauty, these old trails and ditches, known. In Green Valley, a number of private parcels exist, old patented mining claims, any one of which could on any given day sprout "No Trespassing" signs, or even a cabin. The purchase of these private parcels, and the transfer of the titles to Tahoe National Forest, or to the Bureau of Land Management, depending upon the location of the parcel-- the purchase of these parcels is critical to the future of Green Valley.

So, don't forget, the High Ditch is quite near the 2080' contour, in Green Valley, north of the river. Hike it, and let me know if you like it; it makes for a nearly level walk of a mile or so, from one end of Green Valley to the other. It crosses the East Trail about three hundred yards above Joe Steiner's grave, with another ditch, at that point, closely paralleling it, just above. The Still-Higher Ditch, as it were. But the High Ditch itself is the ticket.

Below, a map of Green Valley, showing some of its trails and ditches--which are also trails.