April 21 (1978, 1982, 2001, 2004, 2005, 2006)
The Sky is Falling

4/21/78 ~ morning. skies clear above; a river of fog in the canyon. at sunrise the top of the fog river was about 3000' elev.; now, an hour later, it has shrunk to about 2400'.

yesterday afternoon, seeing more light in the canyon than i had all day, and knowing the storm was supposed to be breaking up, i hiked out to lovers leap, and decided to hike down to the spur of cliffs that overhang the keyhole. when i got there, the light had left the canyon and a chill wind swept over the rocks. wavering strands of hail, being blown sideways upcanyon faster than they fell towards the ground, curtained the far wall of the canyon in the vicinity of the pinnacles and giant gap ridge. to the west, the sacramento valley was clearly seen, mostly sunny, with the rivers and flooded fields silvery streaks and splotches. the coast ranges were in view as well. but as i huddled in the lee of a rock blade at the top of the cliff, a thunderstorm made its appearance about five miles downcanyon, and slowly moved towards me. meanwhile, to the east a hole in the cloud cover brightly illuminated the clouds over green valley and the sawtooth ridge, and the light consequently was much stronger from that direction, illuminating the pinnacles in a way that is usually seen only in the morning. ...

i watched the storm advancing up the canyon from the west, and wondered if i shouldn't retreat so as not to get soaked. i could see that it was hailing heavily beneath the black clouds. as it reached an area about a mile and a half downcanyon from me, and as a few particles of hail wavered down from the sky, i saw a lightning bolt hit the side of the canyon, and that got me very excited. i climbed up the cliff above me a little ways to a slightly less exposed position, and soon it was hailing intensely. the wavering curtains were well displayed, and thunder was rolling up and down the canyon; i saw no more cloud-to-ground strikes, but many flashes lit the black clouds above. after about fifteen minutes the storm passed me by, and once again patches of light entered giant gap. the pinnacles were lit up briefly a couple of times and their shadows on the canyon wall beside them made a perfect match of their shapes as perceived from my vantage point; the whole looking kind of like a leaf of darkness on the golden canyon wall. crummy sketch above […]

[Russell Towle's journal]

4/21/82 an April morning. Sun, warmth, birds in song.”

[Russell Towle's journal]

April 21, 2001

East Green Valley
[North Fork Trails blogpost, April 21, 2004:
http://northforktrails.blogspot.com/2004/04/east-green-valley.html ]

Photos are from a different visit to Green Valley, 3 years prior, April 21, 2001.
Near Alta and Dutch Flat is one of the most scenic reaches of the North Fork American canyon, spanning Euchre Bar, Green Valley and Giant Gap. In 1866 the Central Pacific Railroad reached Alta, and the huge Chinese work force pushed rapidly upcountry towards Cisco. The original line of the railroad, as envisioned by Theodore Judah, would have entered the Bear River canyon near Alta, and followed it up to Yuba Gap. However, survey crews, in 1865, were able to improve upon Judah's route, by turning across Canyon Creek and through Hogback Gap into the main North Fork canyon, thence bearing northeast past Blue Canyon to Emigrant Gap.

Thus America at large became acquainted with the American River Canyon, with Green Valley, with Giant Gap (only the North Fork, historically, was called "the" American River Canyon). The view across Green Valley and through Giant Gap was celebrated as the very best of the scenery along the entire 3000 miles of the Pacific Railroad.

Americans in the Eastern states had been hearing about the wild and deep canyons of the Sierra for two decades, since the Gold Rush. Sensible folk realized that the 49ers, like other humans, were given to exaggeration; the canyons were not that deep, not that steep, not that wild. But to ride the train into California, to break free of the snowsheds, at Blue Canyon, to reach the promontory at Casa Loma, then called Green Bluffs, was to see Giant Gap. And to see Giant Gap was to realize that, if anything, the 49ers had understated the case for Sierran canyons. The guidebooks to California lavished praise upon this view; famed landscape artist Thomas Moran executed a fine etching of Green Valley and Giant Gap; and the awesome scene even inspired a brief effort to rename that amazing gorge "Jehovah Gap."

So. Has Placer County acted to preserve the historic, God-given scenic grandeur of Green Valley and Giant Gap? No, of course not. For there are "parcels" of land here, and in Placer County, the parcel trumps everything else. We might as well change the name to Parcel County. It is more fitting. Today's gold is in the form of 'view parcels', where one can build a house which does not merely enjoy, but dominates the scenery. Witness the houses recently built out towards Lovers Leap, where with chainsaw and bulldozer the vegetation has been stripped down to the dirt, well down below the canyon rim, so that the egomaniacs there can see the North Fork itself from their living rooms.

Thus those of us who hike in Green Valley, especially in the eastern area, must walk about with our eyes downcast, for if we raise them to the canyon rim, we must see, we cannot escape, the vulture-houses feasting on Placer County's, California's, and America's heritage.

I myself find that if I stop to rest and enjoy the view, a carefully chosen tree can block my view of the vulture-houses, but allows me, just barely, to see Lovers Leap.

The main northside Green Valley Trail drops off the canyon rim from Moody Ridge, near Hogback Gap. However, another trail forks away west from the Euchre Bar Trail, into the east end of Green Valley. This trail is a little difficult to find and follow, and does not always match up well, on the ground, with its depiction on the USGS 7.5 minute Dutch Flat quadrangle. Just where the main Euchre Bar Trail leaves the ridge-crest for the sequence of switchbacks dropping away east, this "East Green Valley Trail" (EGVT) drops away west, also in switchbacks, at first.

After crossing a small ravine, the EGVT levels out and bears roughly south, seeming to exploit the line of an old mining ditch, perhaps, and then bends more westerly into a pass or saddle, between the main canyon wall and an oak-crowned little peak I call East Knoll—for it stands at the very eastern end of Green Valley.

There is a lot happening, geologically, in the area of the East Knoll. Green Valley is the result, as it were, of the North Fork crossing the weak serpentine of the Melones Fault Zone. The relative weakness of the serpentine is expressed in the relative wideness of the canyon. Giant Gap, in contrast, a narrow gorge, is incised into the much tougher and more massive metavolcanics of the Calaveras Complex. That's on the west.

On the east the Melones serpentine is in faulted contact with the Shoo Fly Complex, rather old metasediments. However (isn't there always a "however"?), there are some exotic, mysterious rocks thinly sandwiched between the Melones serpentine and the Shoo Fly. I have seen these mapped as Mesozoic in age, that is, younger than everything else in the vicinity, so far as bedrock goes. A thin body of limestone is involved in this Mesozoic screen separating the serpentine and the Shoo Fly. This can be seen plunging in light gray cliffs to the North Fork, at the very east end of Green Valley. With a little daring one can follow the line of the Green Valley Blue Gravel ditch out onto these cliffs, and be rewarded by one of the greatest views to be found in this great canyon.

Just keep your eyes down.

When one combines fault zones with bodies of granite, even miles distant, quartz veins are common. An entire system of gold-bearing quartz veins striking parallel to the Melones Fault penetrates the Shoo Fly east of Green Valley (the Rawhide Mine and Pioneer Mine exploit these veins, along with many other old mines). And, when one adds limestone to the mix, conditions for gold deposition become even more favorable.

This is the most likely reason why a patented mining claim follows that little strip of limestone, from the river, up and over the summit of East Knoll.

By the way, once a claim has been patented, it becomes fully private property, and can be mined, or not mined, it can be sold, or bought, a house built, or whatever.

There are a number of such old patented mining claims in Green Valley, most having to do with the remarkable Ice Age (Pleistocene) bodies of gold-bearing glacial outwash sediments. Once they were ordinary mining claims. Then they were patented.

And now, they are parcels. And in Placer County, the parcel trumps everything else. Does a historic public trail cross a parcel? Never mind, no matter: close the trail, gate it, put up "No Trespassing" signs, build a subdivision.

Well. I digress. Last Sunday Catherine O'Riley and I dropped down the Euchre Bar Trail and peeled away west on the EGVT into the east end of Green Valley. We reached the saddle beside East Knoll and stopped to rest and explore. A scrap of garbage lured me into a lovely little glade in an open forest of Kellogg's Black Oak, just east of the saddle. Then more garbage caught my eye.

We walked down to investigate.

What we found was puzzling. A bunch of brand-new gear had been abandoned. Camp chairs, tarps, a Coleman lantern, gas bottles, tools, and really all kinds of weird junk. Apparently it had all been packed into two rather large plastic bins, but one bin had contained some kind of food, and a bear had ripped it open and scattered stuff all over. It looked as tho it had been there a year, more or less. A fire-ring of boulders was nearby.

Among the debris were four "No Trespassing" signs and orange survey tape. And later, a reasonably careful plotting of the outlines of the East Knoll limestone parcel on the Dutch Flat quadrangle topo map revealed that the garbage site is on that parcel. I conclude that the garbage (camping gear) had been left there by the owner of the East Knoll parcel.

I had heard, a year or two ago, from a contact at Tahoe National Forest (TNF) who has been involved in land acquisition efforts over recent years in the North Fork, that this parcel had been the subject of inquiries by the (new?) owner, who wished to bulldoze a road down to East Knoll, from Iron Point. My TNF friend didn't seem to think there was much prospect of the road ever being built.

Now that I have seen the camp, the garbage, the "No Trespassing" signs, I wonder. After all, like the BLM, TNF is essentially required by law to grant access across its (our) lands to private property.

So, it seems progress is afoot at East Knoll. There is a parcel there, so it is time to ruin some more of our heritage. A few short years ago, TNF made a rather weak effort to purchase the private parcels in Green Valley. A fund of money (well over $100,000, as I recall), left over from other land acquisitions, allowed TNF to make the attempt.

However, not one parcel was acquired.

Catherine and I climbed to the summit of East Knoll, and enjoyed some really spectacular views over Green Valley into Giant Gap. I found a tree which hid the vulture-houses well enough, at one overlook spot, and kept my eyes averted elsewhere. Then we dropped into Green Valley on the sometimes confusing trails (for there are two separate trails from the saddle), and hit the line of the Green Valley Blue Gravel ditch. We turned right and followed the brushy ditch west, most of the way across eastern Green Valley, eventually being forced down onto the High East Trail, itself badly overgrown, which we followed to Joe Steiner's grave, and visited the meadow, with its wonderful Western Azalea bushes just breaking into bloom, fragrant large white flowers in the hundreds, and the hotel site, just above the river. This area is within several private parcels, again, old patented mining claims. From there we followed another trail, past a major garbage dump, back up to the main Green Valley Trail, and slogged on up to Moody Ridge, where we drove back to Iron Point and got Catherine's car.

Despite the vulture-houses on Moody Ridge (and the new vulture-house, directly above Iron Point), we should not give up on Green Valley and Giant Gap and one of the most scenic parts of the North Fork. Everything I have seen over the past thirty years or so in this part of the Sierra suggests that land acquisition, by the BLM and by TNF, is crucial to the future of our canyons and our historic trails.

There are some who seem to think we should be ashamed to ask Congress for more money, so that TNF and the BLM might pursue land acquisitions from willing sellers; that we should reassure Congressman Doolittle and Senators Boxer and Feinstein that the end is near, so far as purchases in the North Fork American goes.

No, no, no!

I say we need a lot more money and a lot more land acquisition. Every last little parcel in the canyon, not to speak of the entire 640-acre sections owned by lumber companies, ought to be purchased, if at all possible.

We are constantly being overtaken by events, to the great and lasting deteriment to one of the most beautiful and wild places in California, the American River Canyon. These purchases could have been made for pennies on the dollar when the North Fork was designated a Wild & Scenic River. Well, that was then. That was 1978. Right now, on what should be an emergency basis, TNF should be trying to get the Rawhide Mine, and the lands at Lost Camp, and the parcels in Green Valley, and the parcels along the canyon rim just east of the top of the Mumford Bar Trail, and the lumber company sections at Sugar Pine Point and Wildcat Point and—but don't even get me started on all that.

Well, I have burdened you all with too many words. The main gist of it is that, of course, the Sky is Falling, and Progress is reaching East Knoll.

And, if you haven't written Doolittle, Boxer, and Feinstein to ask for LWCF funds for the North Fork and for the North Fork of the North Fork (Rawhide Mine, Lost Camp, etc.), please do so. Beg a ton of money, and beg for it sooner rather than later.

To: Jan Cutts
From: Russell Towle
Subject: OHV damage, American River Ranger District
Cc: Steven_T_Eubanks
Bcc: North_Fork_Trails

April 21, 2005

Jan S. Cutts
District Ranger, American River Ranger District
22830 Foresthill Road
Foresthill, CA 95631

Dear Ms. Cutts,

Congratulations on your appointment as District Ranger at Foresthill! I was acquainted with your predecessor, Rich Johnson, who did an admirable job forwarding crucial land acquisitions along the North Fork of the American River.

In conversations with Rich, I came to gradually understand that there is no money for hiking trails in Tahoe National Forest (TNF), only for OHV trails. OHV trails are funded by the "Green Sticker" program.

That is, I was originally mystified that popular hiking trails, in what is now known as the American River Ranger District, are quite typically overgrown, lack water bars, and generally speaking, are unmaintained.

But Rich set me straight.

Add to this that, as a citizen who wishes to help TNF maintain its trails and the wild and beautiful places accessed by these trails, I had occasion over a period of years to alert TNF personnel to accumulations of garbage at several locations. My friends and I went beyond merely complaining, and lashed giant bags of garbage to our backs, and hauled them up and out of the North Fork canyon, and paid for their disposal ourselves.

But, here again, when obscenely horrible garbage sites, beyond any reasonable amount of backpacking up and out, load by load, were brought to TNF's attention, I found that there is no budget, no money, for bringing in helicopters to clean up these gargantuan messes.

Nor, apparently, is there any money for TNF rangers to evict squatters from TNF lands.

Rich advised patience: perhaps, in some future fiscal year, money could be found.

However, I have had a brilliant idea. Since some portion of the garbage, and some portion of the squatters' camps, and some portion of the damage to our historic trails, can be unequivocally attributed to OHV use, it seems to me only fair that Green Sticker funds be allocated to mitigate these impacts.

And by "mitigate" I mean, patrol and maintain the trails, enforce the OHV closures, clean up the garbage to the last bit of plastic and the last Budweiser can, and evict the squatters.

Here is a partial list of trails impacted by OHV use within the past year:

1. Euchre Bar Trail, all the way from Iron Point to the Dorer Ranch.
2. Sailor Flat Trail.
3. Italian Bar Trail.
4. Green Valley Trail, south side.

Hence all these deserve Green Sticker money for maintenance and enforcement of OHV closures.

The squatters' camp a little ways up the North Fork of the North Fork (NFNFAR), above Euchre Bar, was accessed by motorcycle for many years. Hence the eviction and cleanup deserve Green Sticker money. This camp is about 100' above the river, and directly above the popular Ditch Trail, but not visible from that trail.

The worst of all garbage sites known to me, a little farther up the NFNFAR from the squatters' camp, has pieces of broken motorcycles in the garbage. Hence it deserves Green Sticker money.

The other worst TNF garbage sites known to me, are on both sides of the North Fork in Green Valley. Both call for helicopter removal. Neither shows any evidence of OHV use. However, since Green Valley is in close proximity to Euchre Bar, where OHV use is directly tied to squatters' camps, and to huge accumulations of garbage, and since there is OHV damage to the Green Valley Trail, it only makes sense to use Green Sticker funds to clean up the Green Valley sites also.

One of the most awesome of all scenic overlooks on the North Fork is Big Valley Bluff, east of Emigrant Gap. This 3500-foot cliff was almost pristine a few short years ago. Then the OHVs and 4X4s started roaming around over hill and dale. An absolute all-embracing vehicle closure should be enforced at Big Valley Bluff, stopping all motorized uses somewhat more than 1/4 mile north of the Bluff. Here again, Green Sticker money should be used to pay for the closure, and its enforcement.

Finally, since for some reason TNF has seen fit to encourage OHV use on the Foresthill Divide, as a direct result, where I live, near Alta, I hear motorcycles and quads revving up their engines and racing around more and more each year, from a distance of about four miles. In 2000 I heard their engines on about 20 days. In 2004 this noise pollution afflicted my residence on about 100 days.

I would guess that most of what my family and I hear comes from Elliot Ranch Road and Giant Gap Ridge, and I would hope that very little comes from the historic Green Valley Trail.

Here I suggest that all OHVs be kept away from the rim of the North Fork canyon, and that the closure and its enforcement be paid for using Green Sticker funds.

Well, that's all for now. What do you think?

I have copied this letter to Supervisor Eubanks, and blind-copied it to about 100 people interested in protecting the North Fork American, the river, the canyon, the scenery, and the foot trails alike.

With thanks for your consideration of these matters,


Russell Towle

April 21, 2006
Poison Oak, in bloom
(Toxicodendron diversilobum)

April 20 (1978, 1983, 1988, 2005, 2006)
Mineral Rights = Damage Rights?

4/20/78 ~ morning. it is snowing, barely.…

~ afternoon. the clouds are breaking up, patches of light in the canyons, thunder, hail, golden eagle, sparrowhawk out and about. i'm tempted to go to lovers leap.”

[Russell Towle's journal]

4/20/83 A cloudy sunset hour.… Storms predicted into the middle of next week. Snow level to drop to 2000'.”

[Russell Towle's journal]

4/20/88 Stormy weather! Inches of rain, of much-needed rain! Stormy moods as well.”

[Russell Towle's journal]

Return to the HOUT
[North Fork Trails blogpost, April 20, 2005:
http://northforktrails.blogspot.com/2005/04/return-to-hout.html ]
Tuesday morning Jerry Rein and Catherine O'Riley and I walked down the Canyon Creek Trail (CCT), on our way to the High Old Upriver Trail or HOUT, where a tremendous bloom is in progress.

We noted very very many OHV tracks in the Gold Run Diggings, not only on the main road, but also wandering across hill and dale.

The increase in OHV use at Gold Run has itself been increasing. Five years ago there was essentially zero OHV use. On the BLM lands in the southern reaches of the Diggings, the main problem at that time was mining claims.

Having filed a claim, a claimant obtained a key to the BLM gate at the end of Garrett Road. Then it became time to use backhoe and bulldozer to make test pits and roads, suddenly disturbing the historic character of mines which had remained almost untouched since the 1880s.

That is, the people like you and me who might have used the gated road to drive to, say, the head of the Pickering Bar Trail, and who would not have damaged one iota of history, were barred from using this ancient road (depicted on the 1866 GLO map of the area).

But the people who explicitly intended to tear up the Diggings every which way had keys to the gate.

One such used his key, his backhoe, and his dump truck, to steal the last significant accumulation of Eocene-age petrified wood in that southern area. This was done about six years ago as I recall, and two or three years after I walked the Diggings with BLM personnel, pointing out the petrified wood, and asking that it be protected.

For the pretty petrified wood had already been looted from the old hydraulic mines everywhere in this part of the Sierra, and only a little remained. Elsewhere in the United States such petrified wood might have inspired creation of a State Park.

I believe that some part of the OHV use now occurring involves continued theft of petrified wood. I heard from a friend, earlier this year, that a group of people, apparently on foot, were gathering petrified wood in the southern Diggings.

The gate at the end of Garrett is probably a good thing. But mining claims and OHVs are bad things. Not everywhere bad; but there, at Gold Run, yes: bad.


At a certain point, well down the CCT, a fallen Canyon Live Oak has blocked the trail for many years. I seem to recall that it was there, lying across a switchback, in 1977. Recently this fairly large trunk broke a few feet above the root mass, and yesterday we had the pleasure and excitement of clearing it from the trail. It took some huffing and puffing, and when our perfectly coordinated efforts managed to roll the root mass over, it never stopped, but crashed directly down the slope and disappeared from view, breaking up into smaller chunks along the way.

Good thing no one was below us!

We cleared the remaining debris from the trail and felt quite gratified at a job well done.

Very pretty clouds graced the sky and sometimes shaded us as we marched upcanyon and marveled at the flowers. Since my previous visit last Friday, many many more Bush Monkeyflowers have started to bloom. I expect these very remarkable bushes will hit full bloom within a couple-few weeks, at least down around the 2000' contour and below. At Lovers Leap, 4000', this same species usually waits until the end of May to max out.

Bush Monkeyflower
(Diplacus aurantiacus)
And when maxed out, one single bush can bear a couple hundred blooms, large, almost orchid-like, or more closely resembling snapdragons, in a salmon pink hue.

There are tens of thousands of these small bushes in Giant Gap and Canyon Creek.

We wandered a mile or so up the canyon, and watched the pretty clouds scoot by, heading south. Then certain clouds to the west began to look somewhat fuzzy and flared and we knew that rain showers must be falling from them. As the afternoon wore on, a compact mass of dark clouds formed to the west, and the showers became more visible.

On our way out the HOUT, raindrops kissed us every few minutes, but never enough to even begin to dampen clothes or hair. Yet on the CCT, plants were all wet from rain, and we saw that the showers hadn't missed us by much.

It was so very pleasant to hike the HOUT on a perfect spring day.

We were treated to a bird's-eye view of a bird, while on the HOUT near the Blue Lupine Bear Bed. Bears seem to like good scenic overlooks, and the Blue Lupine Bear Bed is a perfect example. A Great Blue Heron flew along the roaring river below, and with Jerry's binoculars we got a pretty good look at the thing, so tall and slender, patiently waiting on the rocks at river's edge for a chance to snag a fish with its long sharp beak.

Such was a fine day in the one and only American River Canyon.

Thunderstorm in the North Fork Canyon
April 20, 2006