August 19 (1987, 1988, 2004, 2005)
Bracken Ferns at Night ~ Trail Maps and History

8/19/87 last night my light broke, around 9 o'clock. I wandered up to the meadow and made a nest in the tall bracken ferns, made a pillow out of a bundle of ferns, and laid myself down to watch stars. Stars are very beautiful. [...] And bracken ferns have their own and very particular smell. Marring all this was the nearly constant jet traffic, noisy, and the freeway, also noisy, even though nearly a mile away. Still, even without stillness it was nice to be in the meadow at night.”

[Russell Towle's journal]

8/19/88 [...] Yesterday, met with John Corbett of TNF, visited Smart's Crossing, looked at maps, discussed scenarios which might lead to the purchase of the Seely property. John is a wonderful man, some 60 years old, has been with the Tahoe for decades, and is very knowledgeable about the history of land ownership in the region. We had lunch at the Alta store.

Then, stopped by Gay's office, looked over some great photos from the Royal Gorge, played with my zone-stretched-and-truncated 12-starred, photographing it. Then I departed for Nevada City, where I taped a radio show with Don Jacobsen, who hosts an environmental program airing weekly, and then ran into Cherilyn, who likes my Royal Gorge poem, and had me write a “blurb” to accompany it, which ran something like this:
When not earnestly and seriously reflecting upon the vagaries and valencies of those higher-dimensional solids known as ‘measure polytopes,’ Russ Towle (heard recently on Don Jacobsen's Environmental News) searches out Indian petroglyphs, waterfalls, deep pools, towering ouzels… He lives near Dutch Flat.
We walked down to Deer Creek […], saw a water ouzel's nest, found an old building with stone walls hidden in the blackberries, the twilight singing in hushed tones [...] So, anyway, the poem will appear in the next issue of the KVMR newspaper, and the radio show will air this afternoon, again Tuesday morning, and, with only a few spaz-attacks to detract, my mellifluous voice will resound over the infinitude of space, it will reach, uh, Jupiter, in such and such a time, visit certain stars…

[Russell Towle's journal]

Euchre Gorge
[North Fork Trails blogpost, August 19, 2004: ]

More photos from this adventure are posted on August 18.
"Canyon" O'Riley in full canyon-ramble getup
 Son Greg and I met Ron Gould, Catherine O'Riley, and Cindy the Masseuse Wednesday for a hike through Euchre Gorge, between Green Valley on the west and Euchre Bar on the east. From Euchre Bar, we planned to follow the High Ditch Trail up the North Fork of the North Fork to its end, and then rock-hop up the river to the Lucky 3 Claim, and follow the little road up to the Rawhide Mine gate, where we would leave one vehicle; thence back to the top of the Euchre Bar Trail, our point of beginning.

Ron and Catherine and I had made a concerted effort, over the past year, to trace the lines of two of Green Valley's largest mining ditches, through oceans of brush and poison oak. There is a High Ditch, which begins at a minor ravine at the east end of Green Valley, and runs all the way to The Pyramid, at the very west end of Green Valley; so it is roughly a mile in length. The other "big one" is the Green Valley Blue Gravel Mine (GVBGM) ditch, the line of which is cut into cliffs of gray marble at the east end of Green Valley; this ditch took its water from the south bank of the North Fork itself, well upstream from Euchre Bar, and crossed the river on a high wooden flume about half-way between the Bar and Green Valley. Its terminus is in the center of Green Valley.

The High Ditch is up at about 2050' elevation, the GVBGM at about 1950' elevation, while the North Fork itself is crossed by the 1800-foot contour in the middle of Green Valley. The GVBGM ditch is especially notable because it was the kernel of a plan to divert the waters of the North Fork into a canal, to supply the city of San Francisco, in the 1890s. R.L. Dunn, a mining engineer, was one of the principals, and hired on men to rough in the line of the proposed canal through Giant Gap, even driving two tunnels in the massive blades of cliffs below Lovers Leap. The whole project became known as the Giant Gap Survey. We just call it The Survey, and it makes a discontinuous trail all the way from Green Valley on the east, to Canyon Creek on the west, through Giant Gap itself.

We had explored The Survey time and again, and I named it the High Old Upriver Trail or HOUT, inasmuch as we almost always followed it east and upstream from its hidden intersection with the Canyon Creek Trail. But gradually it became clear that this little ledge hacked from the cliffs, with its strangely level course, was in fact that curious footnote to the history of the North Fork, the Giant Gap Survey.

Thus our explorations of the ditches of Green Valley were really a continuation of our earlier intense and recursive reconnaissance of The Survey, in and around Giant Gap. The Green Valley scouting had led us again and again to the Marble Cliffs, where the GVBGM ditch broke out of the Euchre Gorge into the Valley. And the time had come to dare to follow the deadly and tenuous track across those unforgiving cliffs.

10:30 in the morning, the sun bright, the day waxing hot and then hotter, found us at the top of the Euchre Bar Trail (EBT), and perhaps ten minutes' walk carried us down to near the 3000-foot contour, just before the main trail leaves the Iron Point ridge to switch back and forth through the oak woods down to the Bar. We turned onto the almost invisible Iron Point Trail, which forks away west, and dropped into the east end of Green Valley.

This Iron Point Trail (IPT) is not quite where it appears on the 7.5 minute Dutch Flat quadrangle, but then, neither is the main Euchre Bar Trail, in the switchback section. For quite a few years I didn't believe the IPT even existed, having tried and failed to find it both above and below. It is in middling bad shape and, as one makes the final descent into the gentle slopes of Green Valley, is difficult to follow in places, and splits into two trails.

Someone had tied many pieces of bright orange flagging to bushes and trees all along the Iron Point Trail, which we removed. What I consider to be the main (and older) trail in this last section levels out just exactly where Green Valley's High Ditch took its water from a certain ravine (tho one sees no sign of the ditch, across the ravine in thick forest). From there it is an easy ramble south through open oak woods to the Green Valley Blue Gravel Mine ditch.

We were all feeling the heat. I had been lopping brush all the way down the IPT and was dripping with sweat. However, now we would be following the GVBGM on its almost level line, which was quite a relief. We began to notice the rushing murmur of the North Fork.

Sharing the shade, Ron, Cindy, Greg, Catherine
The relief did not last long. The rather large ditch bore southeast towards the river, and the terrain became cliffier and cliffier. A certain ravine and spring are met, just where the marble begins, where one drops down slightly, and a short scramble is required to regain the line of the ditch, which suddenly is no more than a tiny ledge on a sheer cliff, and that ledge has annoying gaps and outward slants and narrow places.

Catherine gave me permission to describe her as "petrified." Howsoever, we all crossed the nasty section in good time, found one last patch of shade where the ledge broadened, and took a sustained break.

The crystal clear water of the North Fork was gathered into pools large and deep just below us, well, I should say, almost if not entirely 200 feet below us, and we could look across the length of Green Valley to Lovers Leap, and see, all too well, one of the houses where some cute young couple with their shiny SUVs decided to lord it over the North Fork canyon and all the rest of us. How charming, to have an address on Lovers Leap Road! How clever, to hire a bulldozer and any number of men with chainsaws, to clearcut the forest below their house, so as to see the river itself in Green Valley, and the Sierra crest at the head of the canyon!

Insufferable wretches.

Green Valley, where the North Fork canyon attains unusual width, and where thick accumulations of glacial outwash gravels dating to a series of glacial maxima over the past several hundred thousand years, were mined and mined and mined for gold—Green Valley is an artifact of the weak serpentine of the Melones Fault Zone. If one were to ask, what would the North Fork canyon look like, were it to cut a band of unusually weak rock, the answer would be, Green Valley. The serpentine might be, is often glibly considered to be, a portion of ocean-floor basalt, now turned up on edge. The right conditions of metamorphism will transform such iron-rich basalt into serpentine.

And if one were to ask, what would the canyon look like, were it to cut through a band of unusually tough and resistant rock, the answer would be, Giant Gap.

So a rare and great contrast is exhibited, between Green Valley on the east and Giant Gap on the west. Giant Gap is a cliff-bound gorge cut about 2300 feet deep into the massive metavolcanic rocks of the Calaveras Complex (ca. 200 m.y. old). The Melones serpentine is in faulted contact with the Calaveras on the west, and in faulted contact with the Paleozoic (ca. 400 m.y.) Shoo Fly Complex on the east.

The north side of the N. Fk. American River at Green Valley in 2001.
But it is more complicated than that, for a narrow band or zone of Mesozoic metasediments actually separates the serpentine from the Shoo Fly (also metasediments). And the Marble Cliffs are part of these metasediments, being beds of limestone, tilted up 90 degrees to vertical, striking north and south across the river. Lens-like shreds of serpentine are mixed into the Mesozoic metasediments, so that this troubling little zone of rocks just east of the Melones Fault Zone should likely be considered to be a tectonic melange within the multiply-stranded fault zone itself. Whether the melange represents scraps of sediments overlying the original ocean-floor basalt, I cannot say.

Having passed the narrow ledge section, we soon left the steep gray cliffs behind and turned the corner into the gorge proper. This whole section of the GVBGM ditch appears to have been a wooden flume; there is never a hint of a ditch dug down into the steep slopes. It made for a nice trail, tho. Canyon Live Oak, California Bay Laurel, Mock Orange, mostly small Douglas Fir, and Poison Oak were common, and had overwhelmed the ditch-trail in many places, so loppers came into play. We passed Sugarloaf Ravine, with is fine high waterfalls, across the canyon, and sometimes had fine views of deep pools below us in the Gorge.

I had made this same hike once in years past, well, actually, several times, but once I'd followed the ditch-trail all the way through from Euchre Bar to Green Valley, and I had a vague memory of a little "side" trail to the river, at the critical point where the GVBGM had crossed the North Fork on its high flume. I couldn't dredge up the details and began worrying that we would pass this side trail; for it is by no means trivial to make the 150-foot descent to the river from the ditch trail. The slopes are quite steep enough up by the ditch trail, and usually steepen into all-out cliffs closer to the river.

Fortunately Ron scouted ahead and quickly found our crucial side trail, which mirrors the general scheme of things by starting off steep, and then steepening further yet, and then following a steeply-pitching ledge down an outright cliff. It took a while to pick our way down this cliff, and one pair of loppers could not take the strain and attempted suicide, clattering desperately onto the unyielding rocks beside the river; but we retrieved them unharmed, and made a short boulder-hop upstream to a fine long pool, fording the river to a gravel bar veneered by sand, with a fire-ring, some little garbage, and, thankfully, a large patch of shade.

It did not take us long to get into the North Fork at last, and swim up and down the pool. The rocks beside the pool were interesting, vertical layers of metasediments; I could not tell for sure whether they were part of the Mesozoic tectonic melange, or the Shoo Fly, but, my money is on the Mesozoic melange. There was no outright marble, but thin layers of limy sediments were in the mix, sometimes beautifully folded.

This counted as a lunch break. We swam, or waded, gingerly, as the case was, and explored up and down the river. Eventually we had to saddle up and press on. A good boulder-hop led us through a kind of tunnel-gate between two huge boulders, and another sandy camp area was reached. From here a well-defined trail continues upstream to the bridge, briefly climbing to the level of the GVBGM but not holding that level.

We crossed the bridge and climbed a short distance, a few hundred yards at most, to the side trail to yet another ditch, certainly close enough to the level of the GVBGM, across the North Fork to the south, that cannot entirely discount the possibility that this ditch, too, supplied water to the GVBGM.

However, my sense has always been that this "High Ditch" ("high" because it is higher than the much lower ditch-line one sees blasted from the rocks on the north bank of the river, above the Euchre Bar bridge)—this High Ditch was built to supply water to the mines of Euchre Bar itself. But my sense could be wrong.

I must bring this account to an end, somehow.

We followed the High Ditch up the North Fork of the North Fork, past the appalling, garbage-strewn miners' camp, to its terminus, and found a shallow pool for some more swimming and another long break in the shade, before making the boulder-hop upstream to The Sidewalks, large planar masses of unequivocal Shoo Fly rocks flanking the river, leading us quickly to the Lucky 3 Claim.

Here some remarkable dry-laid stone walls bolster terraces, presumably an old house site, in the forest just above the river. Gold-dredging equipment and other junk it scattered around. And here a terribly steep little road climbs to the main Rawhide Road. After another rest, we made the climb, and sweat seemed to almost explode from my face, and drip onto the trail in front of me, as I trudged along.

At least we were in the shade.

We hit the Rawhide Road about a half-mile below the gate, and soon enough, tho it seemed to take forever, we reached Ron's truck, and made the jolting drive back up to Iron Point.

We had made a kind of circumambulation of Green Valley's East Knoll and of Iron Point, a hike with occasional river scrambles of perhaps five miles, on a very hot August day. We did have nice strong breezes for most of the hike, and very little trouble with insects.

It is not easy to make the hike between Euchre Bar and Green Valley, on the ditch trail, the GVBGM trail; in particular, the Marble Cliffs are dangerous, and not just anyone's cup of tea. To follow the river itself would require a fair amount of swimming and one heck of a lot of boulder-hopping. I did that once, years ago.

It was another great day on both the North Fork, and the North Fork of the North Fork.

Some New Old Trails History
[North Fork Trails blogpost, August 19, 2005:]
For a few weeks or so now I have been pleasantly engaged in renewed efforts to learn the history of trails in and around the North Fork American. So many of these old trails have been ruined by logging, or in some cases, blocked by gates.

It is an interest I have pursued since 1972, when I moved to this area and began hiking every which way. I love history in any case, and California history has always fascinated me. The past couple of years have brought the story into better focus, thanks to Ron Gould, who took the time to seek out old Tahoe National Forest (TNF) maps, and shared digital copies with me.

Ron and I now have TNF maps dating from 1901 (which actually precedes the creation of TNF), 1928, 1939, 1947, 1962-66, 1995, up to the current edition of the TNF "big" map, available at any TNF ranger station. In some cases we have transferred the courses of trails as shown on one of these old maps, to digital versions of the modern USGS 7.5 minute topographic maps, and then uploaded coordinates to our GPS units, and gone out and found and followed the trail in question, on the ground.

We also have a stock of old General Land Office maps, and still other old maps.

Several things led to my renewed effort: last fall, Tom Martin discovered that the Big Granite Trail had been badly damaged by logging; the BGT originally led from Cisco, south and east to a ford (and ephemerally, a bridge) on the North Fork American, thence climbing into Sailor Canyon and the La Trinidad Mine, and on up to the Foresthill Divide. That is, a part of it forms what we now call the Sailor Flat Trail.

This spring, Catherine O'Riley and I finally got up to see the new damage to the good old BGT. It was shocking; the line of the trail was completely obliterated in a couple areas. This 2004 damage followed earlier, more severe damage in 1990. Conversations with Rich Johnson, TNF District Ranger for the Foresthill Ranger District (now retired), suggested that TNF has an easement on the BGT.

So damage to the BGT led to one line of inquiry. Does an easement exist, and if so, how is it worded? Ron and I began trying to find out.

A few weeks ago, exploring lovely Four Horse Flat, Catherine and I found huge old Aspen trees with names and dates carved into their trunks, dating back to the 1940s. These carvings opened another line of inquiry: we saw, among many others, the name of Lee DeBusk. I was able to find Mr. DeBusk right here in Alta, and had a long conversation with him about the old trails.

Simultaneously, out of the blue, I received an email from one Mike ------, whose great-grand-aunt Josephine had kept a diary, during her summers at the Old Soda Springs, on the upper North Fork, near Mark Hopkins' log cabin. Mike was kind enough to send me his transcription of the diaries, from 1899 to 1916, and suddenly a window opened into the history of one of my favorite areas. Aunt Josie's Diary provides a pleasant puzzle, for she mentions many trails in the upper North Fork which do not appear on the old maps. Aunt Josie would sometimes ride right over the Sierra crest to Squaw Valley and thence to Tahoe, and to help fill in the blanks I used Google to discover what I could about the resorts where she would stay.

Of course Google can turn up amazing things. For instance, I determined that the Indian baskets Aunt Josie purchased at Tahoe City in 1910 were made by a Washoe woman named Dat-So-La-Lee. Those remarkable baskets would be worth thousands of dollars nowadays.

And I found the text of a 1915 book about Tahoe titled "The Lake of the Sky," by George Wharton James (Lake Tahoe, In The High Sierras Of California And Nevada. Its History, Indians, Discovery by Fremont, Legendary Lore, Various Namings, Physical Characteristics, Glacial Phenomena, Geology, Single Outlet, Automobile Routes, Historic Towns, Early Mining Excitements, Steamer Ride, Mineral Springs, Mountain and Lake Resorts, Trail and Camping Out Trips, Summer Residences, Fishing, Hunting, Flowers, Birds, Animals, Trees, and Chaparral, with a Full Account of the Tahoe National Forest, the Public Use of the Water).

The book is dedicated

(—To his friends "Bob"—)
Fearless Explorer, Expert Mountaineer, Peerless Guide, Truthful Fisherman, Humane Hunter, Delightful Raconteur, True-hearted Gentleman, Generous Communicator of a large and varied Knowledge, Brother to Man and Beast and Devoted Friend,
though younger brother of the same craft

Of course California has long been celebrated for its incomparable beauty. George Wharton James begins "The Lake of the Sky" with these words: "California is proving itself more and more the wonderland of the United States. Its hosts of annual visitors are increasing with marvelous rapidity; its population is growing by accretions from the other states faster than any other section in the civilized world."

In the course of decades of research into local history, I had of course encountered the name of Bob Watson, mountain guide extraordinaire. On the crest above Squaw Valley is the Watson Emigrant Monument; and there is Watson Lake, and Watson Peak, north of Tahoe; and on some maps we see, just upstream from Mumford Bar on the North Fork, Watson Crossing, which can only hark back to this same man, tho I have not yet been able to discover the story of this ford.

At any rate. California is a wonderland, yes, and Placer County is a wondrous part of that wonderland, and if we were to conjure up a recipe for the ruination of wonderlands generally, we would say, "open the wonderland up to mining claims; open it up to timber claims; build a railroad to let the world rush in, and give the proprietors every other square mile for twenty miles to either side of the tracks; then add one million, two million, ten million, twenty million, forty million people."

Well; that is a big part of the story of our old trails: the Central Pacific Railroad, later absorbed into the Southern Pacific, was given every other square mile of land in this part of the Sierra. The enabling legislation, the Pacific Railroad Act, was signed into law by President Lincoln in 1862, and then amended in 1864 and 1866. The actual transfer of title was not completed for some years.

In the olden days, it was clear as could be that the trails which cross from public lands into railroad lands were public trails, since in most all cases they pre-dated the CPRR.

This business of deeding every other square mile of land to railroads happened all over California and the United States, so many other areas struggle with similar issues.

Of course the railroad began harvesting timber from the more accessible sections a century ago or more. But the trails persisted, and the areas untouched by logging remained vast, and many many people hiked and rode horses on these old trails, and camped out everywhere; add to that, the Sierra was grazed heavily by herds of sheep and cattle, which herds were often driven right along the old trails.

George Wharton James, in discussing early efforts at fire suppression by TNF, remarks that the shepherds, when confronted by a large fallen tree blocking a trail, would simply set it afire, and continue on their way. This would burn the log off the trail, yes, but it also sometimes started a forest fire.

In 1953 Placer County enacted a Trails Ordinance to protect these historic trails; within minutes, a lawsuit was filed by private landowners, seeking an injunction to prevent enforcement of the Ordinance. In 1954 the Ordinance was rescinded and replaced by a much weaker law.

The Big Granite Trail was one of the sixty-odd trails specifically described in the 1953 Ordinance. None of these sixty are mentioned in the 1954 Ordinance.

Fast forward to 1985: the old railroad lands are suddenly sold to High Sierra Properties, who in turn sold these odd-numbered sections to Sierra Pacific Industries, among others.

SPI is a lumber company, and High Sierra Properties themselves harvested timber on the old railroad lands, so in the late 1980s and through the 1990s and now in the 2000s, very much logging has occurred on lands which had remained pristine and untouched. No care was taken to preserve the old trails: I remember one of the first instances of this new round of logging damage I observed, around 1987, when I tried to find the northern trail to the Lola Montez Lakes.

I am a good map reader. I put myself right where the trailhead should have been, and found a Lodgepole-Fir forest torn up every which way by bulldozers, stumps and slash everywhere, monstrous skid trails, and not one shred of trail intact.

SPI logging in 1990 brought roads into Four Horse Flat and ruined a good part of the Big Granite Trail. The lower portion of the Cherry Point Trail, which drops south from Middle Loch Leven Lake to meet the BGT at Four Horse Flat, had been made into a logging road.

I had only hiked that part of the Cherry Point Trail once before it was logged, around 1983, when I made a circuit from west of Salmon Lake, past the lake, cross-country east to the CPT, down the CPT to Four Horse Flat, thence up the BGT to its current trailhead, in a pass on the divide between Big Valley and Little Granite Creek, thence north to a log deck on TNF lands, where I had parked.

Well, to make a long story short, Ron and I finally obtained a copy of the deed recording the easement on the Big Granite Trail.

It turns out to be somewhat older than I had expected: it is dated to June, 1950, and the TNF surveys and field work which prepared the way dated from 1946. The Southern Pacific Land Company is Grantor, the United States of America is Grantee.

The deed actually describes easements on a number of trails; in fact, we are still missing some pages from the deed, so just how many different trails, and which, remains unknown. These easements cost TNF exactly one dollar. They are described in very general terms, in what are called "aliquot parts" of various sections.

For instance, the Big Granite Trail through Four Horse Flat is described as the "West Half of the West Half of Section 9, ..., Township 16 North, Range 13 East."

The deed concludes, in part, "The width of said right-of-way shall be Twenty feet. ... The Grantor reserves the right to remove all timber from the right-of-way herein described. ... The Grantee shall at all times have the right to enter for the purpose of construction, repair, patrolling, ... ."

Thus at least some of the old railroad sections which passed to SPI were encumbered with trail easements. Yet the Grantor, hence SPI, was specifically permitted to harvest all timber from these right-of-ways.

So, there seems to be little legal basis to complain about the damage to the various trails, from logging.

On the other hand, these are trails which Tahoe National Forest ought to maintain; if a trail is damaged, TNF should repair the damage in a timely manner; for, one last note from the language of the deed, "The right of way or easement herein granted shall terminate upon abandonment. Discontinuance of use of said easement for the purpose herein specified for a period of five years or more shall be deemed to be an abandonment."

Of course, if a trail is obliterated by logging, if the old TNF signs marking it are torn down and not replaced, if even the trailhead has no sign marking the trail, it becomes all too likely that a "discontinuance of use" will take place.

Fortunately, there has not been a five-year discontinuance of use on the BGT.

I cannot yet know the particulars, but it seems to me that this 1946-1950 easement acquisition represents an effort by TNF to protect the historic trails and preserve public access. It seems likely that some kind of public outcry led to the TNF efforts, just as, but a couple of years later, public outcry led to the 1953 Trails Ordinance.

It also seems to me that We the Public are doing a bad job, nowadays. When our numbers were far fewer, in 1946, 1950, 1953, we didn't sit around waiting for the Sierra Club to do the job for us, we went to TNF and to the County Supervisors and demanded action; and we succeeded. A little, anyway.

Now, when there are probably fifty people living in the general area, for every one here in 1950, we seem to be dropping the ball.

I will be visiting the BGT with Ed Moore of TNF next week. Perhaps a TNF trail crew can get in there to repair some of the damage.

I myself hope that TNF will be able to purchase Section 9 and Four Horse Flat, the sooner the better, and I believe TNF should be trying to acquire many many of the old railroad sections. I do not accept defeat, tho to be sure I feel defeated, when I see logging roads running right through Four Horse Flat and up Little Granite Creek, roads which did not exist prior to 1990.

It will require efforts by our representatives in Congress to effect these purchases (purchases which can only be made if SPI et. al. are willing sellers).

Such are some recent new findings with regard to the history of our old trails.

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