August 20 (1976, 1982, 1983, 1988, 2001, 2003)
Robert Louis Stevenson and the North Fork

8/20/76  morning in wren shack ~ haven't been living out on moody ridge for quite some time now… i have no money to start building, that's the problem. ready to build and i know where to build and i even have some wood but no money. it's been nearly a month since i've camped out there. a month with little to show except that some friends of mine will be buying some land adjacent to mine out there.

yesterday i went out and cabled off the green valley trail road, set a steel pipe in concrete, which i expect will be short-lived, since anyone with a truck could pull the post over no sweat. today i guess i'll haul a load of lumber out there and maybe some no trespassing no hunting signs. yuk. there are aspects of owning land that are definitely unappealing.

went out to iron point for sunset last night, and was joined by ron and jim ~ ron is a painter who used to live at china grade, jim also a painter who lives at neil's.”

[Russell Towle's journal]

8/20/82  Morning. A few clouds remain after yesterday afternoon's great thunderstorms, that alas, dropped not a drip here on Moody Ridge.

Yesterday I saw some nice cumulonimbus to the west in the morning and thought, ‘Aha! We are within the westerly wind belt; those clouds will be here in a few hours: therefore it would be wonderful to take Sue and go up to the high country and wait it out.’ So I did. [...] We drove up to Cascade Lakes, near soda Springs. [...] The clouds that had been building up let loose and rained. We had a picnic beneath the sheltering branches of a huge Jeffrey pine, returned to the car for warmer clothes, and hiked out to Long Lake. Finding a nice expanse of granodiorite beside the water, and the sun having returned, we dove in and swam about… A while later we made a spiraling ascent of a small mountain of glacially rounded granodiorite complete with beautiful junipers & jeffreys. Views opened up into the North Fork Canyon, with the Foresthill Divide peaks displaying their snowfields, and Wabena Point very conspicuous across the canyon to the south. Petroglyphs there. I'd like to visit them this summer.

We dove back amidst a glorious sunset, with rain showers and glowing clouds. [...]

[Russell Towle's journal]

8/20/83 ~ Morning. A storm came through and dropped a little rain yesterday—now fog swirls in the canyon.”

[Russell Towle's journal]

8/20/88  [...] Hot? Why, it fries, bakes, scalds, the drier than dry August heat of California's interior, far from ocean fogs.

Went to Nirvana City, TNF headquarters, for a meeting with various TNF officials—Geri Larson, John Corbett, Ann Dow, Pete Brost—and others who share my concerns about Castle Peak and that miserable Pendola…”

[Russell Towle's journal]

Date: Mon, 20 Aug 2001 22:32:01 -0800
To: North_Fork_Trails
From: Russell Towle
Subject: Green Valley

Hi all,

On Sunday my family and I hiked down to Green Valley (on the North Fork American near Dutch Flat), with Allan James, a professor of geology and geomorphology at U. South Carolina, and Jim Wood, a geochemist. As we descended the switchbacks of the old Green Valley Trail, I pointed out some of the topographic features I attribute to the vagaries of the river's course during the Ice Age. These include certain bedrock knolls and relict channels over 200 feet above the river.

At Green Valley, the canyon widens dramatically in the weak serpentines of the Melones Fault Zone. This provided space for deposition of unusually large volumes of Quaternary gravels. A floodplain would develop, over which the river would sinuously meander. These gravels were mined heavily by ground sluicing and hydraulic mining, as well as by many drift mines. The river itself was tremendously rich, in the Gold Rush.

At the 2600-foot contour, or 800 feet above the river, I showed Allan and Jim a mass of cemented serpentine agglomerate. This is like a conglomerate, but is formed from angular, unrounded fragments of serpentine. Several such masses of serpentine agglomerate may be found in Green Valley, at various heights above the river. They all seem to have something to do with the periodic (partial) filling of Green Valley by glacial outwash gravels, over the last million years. I discovered this mass twenty-five years ago, while following a faint trail which seemed like an old human trail. Walking along the top of a little cliff, I saw a stove-pipe sticking out of the solid rock. Climbing down and around, there was a cave with some rotten furniture and rusty tools in it. It was in the agglomerate, and the artifacts suggested two periods of occupation, one perhaps during the Depression, the other, over one hundred years ago.

Chasing mergansers
We reached the river, passing the old hotel site, and the kids and I quickly jumped into a marvelous deep pool below a curious bluff of quartz, quite out of place within the serpentines. My son and I ventured up-river to where the North Fork comes out of a gorge into Green Valley, and swam the long deep pool there, with its cliffs of marble plunging into the water. We scared a Great Blue Heron away, and a flock of mergansers.

Later, Allan James and I explored a little of the mine workings, and found some interesting cross-sections of the Quaternary deposits in a ravine. We then followed the river downstream, scaring many Foothill Yellow-Legged Frogs, which are expert at swiftly disappearing in clear shallow water. The rest of our group had already headed up the trail. Finally AJ and I climbed up and away from the river, through some old ground-sluice mines, and into the forest of pines above. We struck the West Trail and followed it to the main trail, and slowly slowly slogged up and up and out of the great canyon.

Today AJ showed me some of the glacial moraines he has been mapping near Rattleshake Canyon, above the South Yuba. He has been using cosmogenic dating methods on glacial erratics and rock surfaces in that area. This method measures isotopic changes in beryllium and other elements induced by the constant bombardment by cosmic rays. Several episodes of glaciation have begun to come into focus, the Tioga being the most recent, at fourteen to eighteen thousand years, locally. Other dates have come in at about 45 thousand and 65 thousand years.

We took a sample for future dating from a large granite erratic near Magonigal Summit, at 7500 feet. I would like to see AJ obtain adequate funding to vastly expand the number of cosmogenic samples. This brand-new technology is at last providing good chronological control for the timing of glacial advances here in the Sierra and around the world.


Russell Towle

Robert Louis Stevenson and the North Fork
[North Fork Trails blogpost, August 20, 2003: ]
I am always on the lookout for old descriptions of the North Fork American. It is quite amazing what one can find on the internet. This morning I stumbled upon Robert Louis Stevenson's diary-essay, “Across the Plains,” date uncertain, but I would guess, in the late 1870s. The entire essay is remarkable. Little vignettes illuminate unforeseen historical corners, as when he changes from the Union Pacific to the Central Pacific, in Utah, and finds the cars of the CPRR so much taller and airier, clean, and freshly varnished; it put a new complexion on what had been a rather tiresome journey.

He also remarks upon the anti-Chinese movement (this suggests the late 1870s); how the Chinese had their own car, on the train, and that the Chinese car smelled better than the white cars, but the whites, when brought face-to-face with a Chinese man, would clutch their throats, as if strangling with the bad Chinese smell, and about to throw up.

So. The excerpt below begins with a glance back at the deserts of Nevada, and then, late at night, the train has stopped, perhaps in the canyon of the Truckee, west of Verdi, or perhaps near Donner Lake, in Coldstream Canyon.

The next morning Stevenson awakes, the train breaks free of the snowsheds once, near Emigrant Gap, and then breaks free again, for once and for all, at Blue Canyon. The American River Canyon is now in view.

Of all the next day I will tell you nothing, for the best of all reasons, that I remember no more than that we continued through desolate and desert scenes, fiery hot and deadly weary. But some time after I had fallen asleep that night, I was awakened by one of my companions. It was in vain that I resisted. A fire of enthusiasm and whiskey burned in his eyes; and he declared we were in a new country, and I must come forth upon the platform and see with my own eyes. The train was then, in its patient way, standing halted in a by-track. It was a clear, moonlit night; but the valley was too narrow to admit the moonshine direct, and only a diffused glimmer whitened the tall rocks and relieved the blackness of the pines. A hoarse clamour filled the air; it was the continuous plunge of a cascade somewhere near at hand among the mountains. The air struck chill, but tasted good and vigorous in the nostrils - a fine, dry, old mountain atmosphere. I was dead sleepy, but I returned to roost with a grateful mountain feeling at my heart.

When I awoke next morning, I was puzzled for a while to know if it were day or night, for the illumination was unusual. I sat up at last, and found we were grading slowly downward through a long snowshed; and suddenly we shot into the open; and before we were swallowed into the next length of wooden tunnel, I had one glimpse of a huge pine-forested ravine upon my left, a foaming river, and a sky already coloured with the fires of dawn. I am usually very calm over the displays of nature; but you will scarce believe how my heart leaped at this. It was like meeting one's wife. I had come home again - home from unsightly deserts to the green and habitable corners of the earth. Every spire of pine along the hill-top, every trouty pool along that mountain river, was more dear to me than a blood relation. Few people have praised God more happily than I did. And thenceforward, down by Blue CaƱon, Alta,
Dutch Flat, and all the old mining camps, through a sea of mountain forests, dropping thousands of feet toward the far sea-level as we went, not I only, but all the passengers on board, threw off their sense of dirt and heat and weariness, and bawled like schoolboys, and thronged with shining eyes upon the platform and became new creatures within and without. The sun no longer oppressed us with heat, it only shone laughingly along the mountain-side, until we were fain to laugh ourselves for glee. At every turn we could see farther into the land and our own happy futures. At every town the cocks were tossing their clear notes into the golden air, and crowing for the new day and the new country. For this was indeed our destination; this was "the good country" we had been going to so long.

By afternoon we were at Sacramento, the city of gardens in a plain of corn ....

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