June 16 (1979, 1986, 2002, 1866)
‘Soda Spring Valley’

6/16/79 late afternoon. high clouds mellow the light, strong breezes stir the trees. a sense of nostalgia and heartache make up my mood. [today] i saw some wrentits quite clearly for the first time in my life. just a week ago i commented to a friend that i was frustrated that i had never in all my hiking seen a wrentit.

[Russell Towle's journal]

A little about the Wrentit, from Wikipedia:
“The Wrentit is a small, 15 cm (6 in) bird with uniform dull olive, brown, or grayish plumage. It has short wings and a long tail often held high (hence the comparison to wrens). It has a short bill and a pale iris. Given its retiring nature and loud voice, the Wrentit is more likely to be detected by its call than by sight. The distinct sound that it makes is similar to the sound of a ping-pong ball falling on the table.”

[http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wrentit ]
A link to hear the Wrentit song:

June 16, Monday morning, 1986 [...]

Good news at the post office on Saturday: a letter from Dean Swickard at the BLM office in Folsom, in response to my letter to Kevin Clarke of June 3, in which I gave Clarke the background on the recent efforts to protect Lovers Leap and the story of the illegal land subdivisions on Moody Ridge, the precise zoning, etc., including the written accounts of Giant Gap I've collected (Dutch Flat Forum, 1877; California: An Intimate Guide, 1935). Anyway: Mr. Swickard, who heads up the Folsom office, wrote a very nice letter wherein he told me that Clarke wished to reschedule a visit to the Leap with me, and that Willy Carol the arborist had called, and that he himself (Swickard) wished to visit in July and meet with some of the people interested in saving the Leap. He wrote that “letters such as yours inspire us to redouble our efforts to protect…” Really quite gratifying and encouraging.

[Russell Towle's journal]

Digital File "Notes", in a folder with the raw images taken on this date

“Sugar Pine Point, June 16, 2002
John Krogsrud, Ernie Riley, Bill & Karen Callahan
Walked to Bear Wallow, Indian Camp, Bear Den, Little Slate Ridge, Triassic Cliffs.

  • Spotted Coralroot [no photo];
  • Sugar Stick:
    [Or "Candy Stick". See more photos of this plant here, in which the origin of the name is obvious. ]

  • Lewisia triphylla (on road approaching SPP) [no photo];
  • Lewisia kelloggii:

  • and various Viola:”

[Russell Towle's field notes]

A historical document from 1866 regarding:

“Soda Spring Valley”
at the head of the
North Fork of the American River
Placer Herald
June 16, 1866
Soda Spring Valley, Placer County

Eds. Placer Herald:

Dear Sir;

Having observed that you manifest considerable interest in the mining enterprises of this County, by devoting a column of your paper weekly in its behalf, I would offer a few mineralogical suggestions, which perhaps may be of some benefit to the Gold and Silver quartz seekers of this vicinity.

The above mentioned mining district was discovered some two years since, by J.N. Smith, an old resident of this county, whose geological investigations for several years have been confined to this District. Soda Spring Valley is located at the head of the North Fork of the American River, 6 miles south of the Dutch Flat Wagon Road, 10 miles west of Lake Tahoe, and 15 miles southeasterly from Meadow Lake. In natural beauty, picturesque scenery, and romantic landscapes this valley prominently stands out unique and wonderful in all the features that compose it. Your scribe, with a party of mineralists, who are now sojourners in this enchanted Valley, recently crossed the snow belt of the Sierra Nevada Mountains; leaving the Dutch Flat road at Tinker’s Hotel, after three days of recruiting and procuring a sufficient amount of forage for our trip, we embarked on our pedal expedition via the trail. Two miles nearly over three feet of snow, brought us over the snow limit to the Summit which divides the waters of the South Yuba and the North Fork of the American. From this position the traveler could look downward into the valley of the American river, clothed as it is in its emerald robe, which contrasted strongly with the chilly regions of the country we had just traversed.

On our descent towards the river we crossed several small meadows, not exceeding in area 100 or 200 acres, which looked like oases growing amid the gigantic fir trees that surrounded them. These little plains were carpeted with rich verdure, the genuine grass which time and sun mature into legitimate hay. These meadows offer rich pasturage for the stock during the dry season, which is driven up from the valleys below, and herded during the months of July and August. We were soon in the valley of the American River about one mile below our point of destination. Taking up the stream, half an hour’s walk brought the balmy air of Soda Valley to our nostrils. We were in the valley of our Golden anticipations, surrounded by lofty mountain peaks at the North, triumphant piles of granite lifted in grand proportions at the South, and at the East rising in snow covered majesty were the skyward peaks of the Sierras, until our vision became confused by distance. Vegetable creation was spread out profusely at our feet—flowers that baffle description—innumerable mountain violets opened their variegated petals to bid us welcome to the haunts of their retirement. Notwithstanding a year had rolled off a cycle into the abyss of eternity since our last visit here, yet all was familiar as if it were but yesterday we had visited this enchanted ground. The boisterous cataract in the river opposite our camp, still tumbles its volumes of protoxid of hydrogen down the granite stairway of fifty feet—rolling off Sacramento-ward in color resembling lacteal very much.

People may speculate upon the grandeur of Niagara. Excursionists and adventurers may descend upon the unparalleled magnificence of Yosemite. Philosophers and clerical dignitaries may expatiate upon the precipitate waters of the various localities of the world; which fill the mind of man with wonder and kindle a flame of vivid fancy in the furnace of the dullest imagination—which causes the most skeptic to quake at the unmistakable evidences of a Divinity. But the ceaseless overpowering water avalanche at our side is sufficient to enliven the most inveterate infidel to lift his soul in reverence to him “Who made the world and heaped the waters far above the loftiest mountains.”

We come now to the vast mineral resources of this District which are as yet undeveloped. But little, since its discovery, has been done, but sufficient labor to hold valid the titles of the claimants. Judging from the rock, which is merely croppings we would not hesitate to say that our candid opinion is that Soda Springs, as a mining District will rank foremost in richness of rock, facilities for crushing, and convenience for working. Water privileges are remarkably fair; the gigantic timber surrounding the valley, will be a great inducement for capitalists, and the apparent inexhaustibility of the lodes, all conspire to offer unexceptionable inducements to men who are interested in quartz. Several parties on prospecting tours, visited Soda Spring Valley within the past few days, from Meadow Lake, Lake Mountain City and Virginia City, pronouncing the prospects far better than at Meadow Lake or the above mentioned mining districts, judging from the returns. The most prominent ledges are the Granite, the American, Pittsburg and the Cataract. The Silver Dip and Golden Dip Deerlick ledges, discovered a few days since, are very rich in appearance, specimens of which can be seen at Tinker’s Hotel. Messrs. Webber, Smith, Benedict, & Co., have just completed their block house 26 by 18 feet. Several companies are busy now doing necessary work, prospecting, etc. Several tons of rock are being taken to Summit City or Meadow Lake by parties, intended to be crushed. A wagon route is surveyed and work commenced, running from the valley north, intersecting the Dutch Flat road at Tinker’s on the Central Pacific Railroad.

Yours auriferously,

June 15 (2001, 2003, 2004)
"Gnarled Interwoven Masses of Brush Ahead, Behind, Left, and Right"

Date: Fri, 15 Jun 2001 14:05:00 -0800
To: North_Fork_Trails
From: Russell Towle
Subject: Canyon Creek reprised

Hi all,

This morning Tom McDonnell (of Dutch Flat), my son Greg, and I hiked down Canyon Creek Trail to the river. [...]

The wildflower bloom is pretty much over, some Harvest Brodiaea, some Monardella, musky-scented Toyon bushes are now in bloom, and a few of the last larkspurs are on their last legs. We visited the Big Waterfall and The Terraces on the way down.

It was hot and we swam a little in the North Fork which, while not icy, is somewhat shockingly cold.

The Water Ouzel nest at the last waterfall, by the river, is active again this year, but in a slightly different location, closer to the fall, in a crevice. We watched the ouzels feeding their young. Actually, we could hear the babies raising a big ruckus whenever the parents came in. The nest is too deep in the crevice to see easily.

Then it was up and out—hot, steep, resting in the shade. Saw gold prospectors—Don Robinson was one—in the creek above the bridge a ways. They enjoyed seeing the Big Tunnel. Reported only fine gold.

A good hike tho a little brief.

Date: Sun, 15 Jun 2003 10:26:59 -0800
To: North Fork Trails
From: Russell Towle
Subject: New York Canyon V

Hi all,

The well-guarded 567-foot waterfall on the East Branch of New York Canyon, already surrounded by caveats ("Beware of Cliff" and "Warning: Rattlesnakes Present" and "Gnarled Interwoven Masses of Brush Ahead, Behind, Left, and Right"), also exhibits one rather absolute and unyielding inverse ratio.

The closer one can drive to the giant waterfall, the less the water that is falling.

The word went out that Foresthill Road was open to Robinson Flat, so Ron Gould, Michael Joyce and I loaded a chainsaw and our packs into Ron's 4WD truck and aimed to drive down the Sailor Flat jeep trail. This all worked out admirably well. A few stops to cut through fallen trees, and we reached the 5200' contour, parked, and headed west through the forest. Near the jeep trail, gigantic Sugar Pine and Douglas Fir and Incense Cedar towered over a near-thicket of smaller trees and brush. We wandered a bit at first, in search of a good game trail, and then settled into a long traverse to the west. Occasionally one thread of trail would unravel into many, but merely holding a level line was enough to put us right again.

Suddenly we were shocked to see masses of reddish-gold fur on the ground, with a few flies scampering and flitting among the—carnage? What had happened here? Had some part of a bear been dragged here by a mountain lion? No bones were near. No bits of flesh. Michael wondered if a bear might have rubbed off the masses of fur against the little oak nearby, in some kind of shedding, molting event. However, the flies seemed to argue against that hypothesis. A mystery.

Without further incident we reached a nasty ocean of imbricate oak and cherry bushes, all shingling over one another after decades of heavy snow. At the edge of this brushy sea we found a prospect pit, in rock of the Sailor Canyon Formation, Jurassic-age metasediments which sometimes have fossil ammonites. We forged on, our loppers set to full power, and carved a somewhat intricate swath towards low cliffs ahead.

As it happened, we had chosen an excellent line, somewhat higher than I had followed with Gus, a week ago. Nearing the cliffs, the tracks of a bear appeared, and we began to see an easy route to the summit. Bears choose well. We gained the crest, took a short break, and followed a zig-zag course down the rocky summit of the ridge, before veering more to the west and down to the East Branch. Over this area brush was easily avoided. Thousands of Mariposa Lilies and other flowers grew in the sunny openings.

To the north we could see Snow Mountain, and to the northwest its long southwest spur dropping to the confluence of Big Granite Creek and the North Fork, with Cherry Point rising beyond, and part of the Sugar Pine Point ridge also in view, still farther to the west.
We had lunch near the head of a series of waterfalls, about a quarter-mile south and upstream from the big falls. Ron Gould and I had discussed in detail a certain little knoll near the big falls, a knoll which ought to offer a perfect view. From our lunch spot we could see the route which must be followed, crossing the creek to contour along and climb gradually to the west, until the high cliffs near the falls were passed, and a descent might be made. I was worried that we might face some real rock-climbing along the way, but as it turned out, it was far easier than I had dared hope, and soon we were making little zigs and zags down steep but safe slopes, to where the ridge flattened out and then rose abruptly into a little dome of chert of the ancient Shoo Fly Complex.

The views of the Big Falls were wonderful. Hints of rainbow color gleamed in the drifting veils of white spray. On the summit of the knoll, little flats of angular chert pebbles were scattered among the outcrops. Where I threw my pack down, on one such tiny flat, shards of black chert showed that an Indian sat here some centuries ago, crafting arrowheads, at one of the wildest, cliffiest, loveliest spots in the entire upper North Fork.

A strong breeze played across the summit and an attempt to examine my geological map was doomed.

Below the summit some rock ramparts partially encircled the dome and looked to offer special views of their own, so Ron and I scrambled down and made a kind of circumambulation, almost all the way around the dome, a hundred feet or so below the summit. We saw some rather nice falls and pools over in the West Branch. The dome was clearly carved out and scoured by glaciers, but as is so often the case, these metasediments do not hold striae well, and even intact areas of glacial polish were hard to come by.

We must have spent an hour or so there before turning away and climbing slowly up the steep ridge above. Along the way we visited many fine viewpoints, and were fortunate enough to find a Mountain Kingsnake at the edge of a cliff. It was about two feet long. I took several photographs and submitted a couple to the online repository "CalPhotos" (go to http://elib.cs.berkeley.edu/photos/fauna/sci-Reptile.html and click on "Lampropeltis zonata"). These lovely snakes have black and white transverse stripes or bands, with red bands more or less present and visible in the centers of the black bands. Our snake slowly slithered a tortuous course along crevices, trying and failing to find a hole where an escape could be made, but eventually succeeding, disappearing into a mass of moss which concealed some hidden chamber.

Mountain Kingsnake
(Lampropeltis zonata)
The walk out was a lot easier, what with all the lopping we had done, and soon we reached the truck. A hike of perhaps three miles altogether, with a scant six hundred feet of elevation loss and gain, seemed like so much more. We were all scratched and sore and more or less wrecked. Forty-five miles brought us to Auburn, and then it was up I-80 to home and hearth and food and sleep.

Such was a visit to New York Canyon.

Russell Towle

Green Valley's Ditches
[North Fork Trails blogpost, June 15, 2004:
http://northforktrails.blogspot.com/2004/06/green-valleys-ditches.html ]
On Sunday I GPSed the courses of the two largest ditches in Green Valley: the High Ditch (HD), which traverses all of Green Valley, from east to west; and the Green Valley Blue Gravel Mine Ditch (GVBGMD), which begins on the North Fork upstream from Euchre Bar, crosses the river about midway between Euchre Bar and Green Valley, and ends in the center of Green Valley.

I found that the High Ditch holds an elevation of about 2100 feet, or a little less, and the GVBGMD comes in at about 1960 feet, or a little more or less, at its terminus, in the center of Green Valley.

Tom Martin of Alta tells me that the High Ditch is called the McCaffery Ditch, and that it took its water from the North Fork of the North Fork (NFNFAR). He cited Gene Markley as the source for this information. I called Gene and asked him about it. He said that he learned the name from Matt Bailey; and suddenly I understood the origin of that name. It appears on the earliest official map of this area, the 1866 General Land Office map of Township 15 North, Range 11 East (a "township," in the surveying sense, meaning a six-by-six block of thirty-six "sections," each section nominally a square mile—and here in Northern California, the numbering of townships is referenced to Mt. Diablo as the local "origin" of coordinates—that is, we here, near Green Valley, are in the 15th township north of Mt. Diablo, and the 11th township east of Mt. Diablo. The northeast corner of the township is thus 90 miles north, and 66 miles east, of Mt. Diablo. By the Theorem of Pythagoras (combined with the Flat Earth of Ptolemy), that means that Mt. Diablo is about 111 miles from where Casa Loma Road crosses the railroad tracks.)

At any rate. On this 1866 map, along the east boundary, in Green Valley, is a little black square with the words "Mchaffey's House and Garden." It is easy to see how "Mchaffey" could become "McCaffery." This surname is usually spelled 'McHaffey'; let us imagine that the surveyors, in 1866, mistakenly used a small 'h', and correct their error. And, the High Ditch terminates not far from the McHaffey house site, today, marked by much Vinca and some cellar holes and fruit trees. It is close to the Pyramid, in the west part of Green Valley, and right on the West Trail.

However, the High Ditch existed to serve the hydraulic mine(s) at the west end of Green Valley, not McHaffey's garden. Perhaps McHaffey himself was the owner of one or more of the mines there; perhaps he built the ditch, or hired it done; it would have been quite costly. But, I do not know that. For now I reject the "McHaffey" name in favor of the generic and descriptive "High Ditch." Perhaps it could be called the Pyramid Ditch.

But, what of this business about the High Ditch originating on the North Fork of the North Fork? It turns out that Gene Markley himself had made the same mistake I had, in mistaking the High Ditch for the ditch which is cut into the marble cliffs at the east end of Green Valley.

I knew that this marble-cliff ditch is the GVBGMD, but (like Gene) I had thought it was the same ditch which crosses all Green Valley to end near the Pyramid—near the McHaffey house site. It is not. The High Ditch originates within Green Valley itself, at the very east end, drawing water from what I call Iron Point Ravine, and probably also taking water from the other ravines along its way west—Casa Loma, Moonshine, and Ginseng ravines (my names). If one scouts past the source of the High Ditch, across Iron Point Ravine to the south and east, there is no trace of any continuation.

But, even the GVBGMD did not originate on the NFNFAR. Instead, it drew from the main North Fork, well above the confluence with the NFNFAR, and crossed the North Fork about .35 mile downstream from the Euchre Bar bridge. Today, only a cable crosses the river at that point. One can easily find and follow the line of the GVBGMD on the south side of the NF at Euchre Bar, either east or west, upstream or down; follow it west and downstream, and it mysteriously ends, near the cable.

Similarly, one can scramble out along the marble cliffs at the east end of Green Valley, and follow the GVBGMD upstream, to where, again, it mysteriously ends, near the cable. I figured out about twenty years ago that it must have crossed the North Fork on a flume, near the cable. And this was confirmed by an 1876 newspaper article from the Dutch Flat Forum, which describes operations of the GVBGM, and the ditch, and the flume.

Let me quote from that article about the GVBGM: first, an inexact reference to the cost of the ditch:
Ten men are employed who work the claim night and day, and, having a strata of gravel which prospects well, it is thought that it will pay expenses this run. The disbursements of this Co. since active measures were taken to construct a canal, up to the present time, has been between $60,000 and $70,000, while the receipts have been but $1800.
And next, the description of the flume across the North Fork:
Another important and interesting item which has not been mentioned, is the trestle-work erected on the bridge to convey the water to a corresponding height on the opposite side of the river. The height of the bridge as before mentioned is 62 ft. from the bed of the river, and the trestle-work is 73 ft. up to the bed of the flume, making in all 139 ft. to the top of the flume. The American River at this point on its bed is about 40 ft. wide, and when its rushing waters are at their height and come plunging through this narrow gorge, it forms a scene, when viewed from a central position over the river, which would well repay those who admire the grandeur of nature together with the remarkable achievements of science and art.
It is true that the GVBGM has almost the perfect elevation to be the downstream continuation of the large mining ditch which indubitably does come down the NFNFAR to Euchre Bar. However, I believe that ditch served the minor hydraulic mines at Euchre Bar itself. There is certainly no sign of its continuation downstream, on the south side of the river, west of the Euchre Bar mines. I've been over those steep rubbly slopes twice, searching for it, years ago.

It is also possible, however, that the bridge mentioned in the 1876 article was the Euchre Bar bridge itself. Then the ditch coming down the NFNFAR might have been led across here, from the north side to the south side—only to cross again, .35 mile downstream. I regard this as highly unlikely.

While raising these kinds of points in my conversation with Gene, he eventually conceded that, yes, the ditch cut into the marble cliffs does not go through to Euchre Bar on the south side of the river; he recalled that there was a section one always had to just scramble, along the river itself.

All this just goes to show that it can be hard to figure out the origins and courses of old mining ditches, especially when one, like the GVBGMD, does something really strange—cross the North Fork itself, on a flume the newspaper article declares to be "139 feet" above the river. Suppose the flume was four feet high; then the bottom of the flume would have been 135 feet above the North Fork.

The crossing point is about 3/4 of the distance between where the 1840-foot contour crosses the North Fork, just above the marble cliffs, where Sugarloaf Ravine meets the river, and where the 1880-foot contour crosses. Hence we could take the elevation of the river at the crossing to be 1870 feet. Add 135 feet—and one arrives at 2005 feet for the elevation of the ditch at the crossing.

This is in good accord with my GPSed elevations for the GVBGMD to the west—it came in at 2000 feet at the marble cliffs, and around 1960 to 1980 feet at its terminus. However, I have found that, when near cliffs, GPS data is not to be trusted. Cliffs reflect the satellite signals and wreak havoc on the GPS unit's calculation of position. Trees also cause problems. And then, when one gets home, and hooks the GPS unit up to the computer, and downloads the waypoint and track data to a properly-georeferenced topographic map, using just the right "geoid" or map datum, one often finds that the elevations one recorded on the ground, do not match up well with contour lines on the map. For instance, at the terminus of the GVBGM, in the center of Green Valley, I was getting consistent readings of about 1985 feet; but, plotted on the map, the terminus came in below the 1960-foot contour.

I believe there is a goodly amount of inaccuracy in topographic maps, in the positions of the contour lines. The Dutch Flat quadrangle's rendering of the trails in Green Valley is simply terrible. Combine the built-in inaccuracies of the map with the inevitable inaccuracies of GPS and one is left having to make rather arbitrary decisions. For instance, in a best-possible drawing of the High Ditch on the Dutch Flat quadrangle, one might simply choose to use an elevation of 2100 feet, which is half-way between the 2080- and 2120-foot contours. A refinement might be to give the line of the ditch a gentle grade, of perhaps 10 to 20 feet per mile, from east to west.

Aerial photos would help resolve these kinds of mapping problems.

I can send a fairly large (~300K) map showing my GPS track records for the two ditches, and a photograph (~80K) of the GVBGM crossing the marble cliffs, to anyone interested.

The next-largest ditch in Green Valley is on the south side of the river, at about 2200' elevation; it drew from Giant Gap Ravine and McIntyre Ravine and delivered water to the Hayden Hill Mine. I have not GPSed this ditch, yet, but I have hiked it.

There are many many smaller ditches in Green Valley.