August 28 (1976, 1977, 1982, 1984, 1985, 1987, 2001, 2004, 2006) “The stupidest cruelest man who ever lived.” ~
The Fords Bar Trail & Crossing

8/28/76    early morning at canyonland. the sun rose about half an hour ago; nowadays when it rises, it seems to light up this whole wall of the canyon almost instantly… within a couple of minutes, anyway.


in the course of digging around in my building site, i've turned up some bits of history. notably, an ancient can about the size of a one-pound coffee can, with about ten square nails driven through from inside to out, as though it had been nailed up to a tree or post; and a fragment of a saw blade, of the large-toothed two-man push me-pull you variety—a couple of rocks seem possibly to be fragments of a) a pestle, and b) a metate slab, but so many of the volcanic mud flow cobbles and boulders show polished faces, i rather doubt that these were ‘indian’ rocks. a good deal of the mudflows stuff appears to have been through episodes of stream or river erosion/polishing before it flowed the last time and ended up here. what i recognize as andesitic mudflow, that constitutes the upper few hundred feet of this end of moody ridge, is clearly a composite of many different flows. the basal member of the andesitic stuff appears to be the fairly well-cemented material that is exposed around my building site… upon further consideration of the outcrop/slump block-landslide question, i lean towards the latter. the steep hollow directly above the boulder-line is too good of a clue to disregard. also, the larger boulders are embedded in a mound of finer material, just as they would be if a fairly substantial mass had slid down. next question is, when? and was it ‘all at once’ or ‘bit by bit?’ there was a tree, a black oak, that grew up against the side of the largest boulder (6' x 6' x 8' exposed) and after a long life, died, and eventually fell over. it lies rotting this very moment, and the area of the boulder it had kissed up against is still fresh and without a speck of moss—in sharp contrast to the rest of the rock. so it probably wasn't too very long ago that it fell over; and it was probably long dead when it did fall. by the size of the trunk i guess it must have been at least a two-hundred year oak. conceivably the boulder could have rolled up and stopped beside it when it was still small—but i'd say that these rocks tumbled down at least 2 hundred years ago. and that, rather than a rotating, slump-block slide, they simply rolled a short distance downslope from where they had outcropped.


went chasing trespassers today, caught two dirt-bikers and a Young Clean Couple. people with small cars can drive up under the cable, and motorcycles make it around easy… more work needs done.

the little outcrops of rhyolitic ash & andesitic mudflow that appear around the north end of moody ridge ~ i wonder if they're typical or not. for that situation. should explore more of the american river area. I'm looking forward to climbing the pinnacles opposite lovers leap on the giant gap side.”

[Russell Towle's journal]

8/28/77   [...]

My thoughts turn increasingly to my cabin. I know I've not much longer to work [on the coast, in Pescadero] this year—a week, or two or three at the most. And perhaps a week here and there in the winter. But basically, soon my coastal sojourn will end and I can make my home on Moody Ridge. I restlessly await. Do I have enough money saved?”

[Russell Towle's journal]

 “8/28/82    [J__ ] left today after a strange visit. We had some nice times together, but all was under a dark cloud of wrath and self-hate and sorrow for what I managed to do yesterday, namely, burn a Canyon Wren to death in my stovepipe. This same wren had been prowling around the cabin earlier while I explained to  [J__ ] my affinity for wrens. It would sing occasionally and I would answer. Then, after a while, we heard sounds coming from the stovepipe. I thought a bat had got in, and climbed up on the roof to see. Removing the cap, I peered inside and saw what appeared to be a bat. I looked to see if it was the wren, but it seemed a bat, wings spread, pressed flat against the inside of the pipe. I decided to smoke it out, not wanting a bat to roost in the pipe. I assumed it would fly out immediately upon smoke wafting up, and stuffed a sheet of newspaper in the stove, lit it. Went outside to watch the ‘bat’ fly out, but nothing emerged. A piteous peeping suddenly began that I hope I can forget. Nothing emerged. A dreadful certainty touched me and then clamped its hold on my heart: the wren was in the pipe. I rushed in to put out the fire, dousing it with water. Looking into the stove pipe with a flashlight revealed that it was empty later in the day, so I hoped. I didn't want to acknowledge my terror and shame to  [J__ ], nor my fear that it was wren, not bat who I burnt; so I waited until after she left to disassemble the stovepipe and check the damper plate. There, lying stiff, eyes shrunken, was the little Canyon Wren who's graced my yard for years. I knew I'd find it. Dead.

So I buried it beneath an Indian grinding rock in the yard. Oh God I hate myself. The stupidest cruelest man who ever lived.”

[Russell Towle's journal]

8/28/84   [...]

A Canyon Wren has made my cabin its territory. It comes by every day, morning, noon and night ~ it has been singing very delightfully this morning.”

[Russell Towle's journal]

August 28, 1985   [...]

My environmental projects of the past two years have focused on Lovers Leap and Smart's Crossing, but I have also involved myself in the following: I have helped the deputy sheriff, Paul Martin, to apprehend major litterers. Crawling through enormous piles of garbage at Windy Point and the hydraulic diggins at Dutch Flat looking for evidence. Also: have called and written Beale AFB about the numerous overflights of training jets in the D. F. area; turns out to be planes from Mather. Still have not written Mather, though my letter to C.O. of Beale was copied to Mather (copied to Sen. Wilson, Cranston, Rep. Shumway.) Also, have written Tahoe National Forest (TNF) about the clear-cutting across the canyon of the N. Fk. of the American; do not like their responses. Keep on trying. All letters in file.”

[Russell Towle's journal]

8/28/87   [...]

Gray appears to be reluctant to sell to BLM. And I remain convinced that Lovers Leap deserves better than to become a slight appendage to an illegal subdivision.

No letters to forest service personnel, or congressmen, for, I've no money for postage, stationery.”

[Russell Towle's journal]

August 28, 2001 ~ Smoke from the "Star Fire" as seen from Moody Ridge:

Fords Bar Trail
[North Fork Trails blogpost, August 28, 2004: ]
The inimitable Julie wrote:
Hi Russell. What more can you tell us about the Ford's Bar crossing? Is it an old over grown trail in partial ruin, or is it one people use but you just have to be in the right circles, with regard to private property? I have a friend who used to drive down to near the river somewhere near the knobcone road section of Garrett road , but he says the road is gated now and he isn't exactly sure which turn it was anyway. Even more interesting though, is a section of trail I found while doing some work for a lady near the end of Garrett. Down in a brushy ravine I came upon a long portion of stacked stone trailway, quite significant in height, stretching for maybe thirty five feet or so and then seeming to disappear into the hillside. Since I was working I didn't get a chance to explore it but wondered if it could be a piece of the Ford's Bar trail, or an offshoot of it. Any info? See you later, Julie
OK. This Fords Bar is on the North Fork, roughly south of Gold Run. Julie's friend, who used to drive down to the river "near the Knobcone section of Garrett Road" was using what has become the Fords Bar Trail. I used to drive in there myself. Placer County allowed a subdivision at the junction of this road with Garrett Road, and, perhaps to disguise the true nature of the road, it was named "Knobcone Road" rather than "Fords Bar Road."

Historically, the Fords Bar Trail was the northern part of the trail from Gold run to Iowa Hill. The Blue Wing Trail forms the southern, Iowa Hill side of the trail. It may well date to the early 1850s.

Let us call the road-trail Julie's friend used the "modern route." In its final approach to the river, it drops steeply down the west side of a ridge onto the Bar itself, in the southwest 1/4 of Section 21, Township 15 North, Range 10 East.

However, there are other routes this old trail used to follow, as anyone who studies old maps is forced to conclude. For instance, the 1866 General Land Office map shows the "Trail from Ford's Bar" leaving Garrett (labeled "Road From the Mines") exactly where Knobcone forks away west today. So there at least some of the various routes coincide.

However, the 1866 map shows the Fords Bar Trail dropping down Tommy Cain Ravine (not so labeled on the 1866 map; see the current USGS 7.5 minute Dutch Flat quadrangle) most of the way to the North Fork before curving out of the ravine south and west to the bridge site, labeled “Ford's Bridge,” in the southeast 1/4 of Section 21.

This “Tommy Cain Ravine route” could well be the same trail as you describe “in a brushy ravine,” Julie. I have never tried to find and follow it. On the other hand, the description you give, “near the end of Garrett,” might be too far east to be in the main section of Tommy Cain Ravine.

At any rate. There's the “modern route” and the “Tommy Cain Ravine route” and there may well be others; for at least one old map shows the trail following the crest of a ridge down, where the “modern route” is hewn into the west side of that same ridge. So let's call this the “ridge-crest route.”

Also, as Dean Decker of BLM has shown me, on an old mineral plat in his archives, there were two bridges at Fords Bar, back in 1891. One is at the site of the older Fords Bridge shown on the 1866 map, and is labeled “Warner Bridge,” and on the Iowa Hill side of the river is a building labeled “Warner Toll House.” The trail itself is shown only in the immediate vicinity of the river, and is labeled, “Trail from Gold Run to Iowa Hill.” The route of the trail seems to be the “ridge-crest route” but this is not terribly certain.

The other bridge is shown downstream, on this 1891 mineral plat, and would appear to be quite close to Fords Bar itself, whereas Fords Bridge and Warner Bridge were in a little inner gorge section, upstream from the Bar.

Lindgren's ca. 1900 USGS topographic map, in which it is noted that the topography was surveyed in 1887, shows the Fords Bar Trail following the “ridge-crest route.” It shows the bridge, toll-house, and the Blue Wing Trail, climbing up the Iowa Hill side.

Meanwhile, a 1928 General Land Office map suggests that, low down, in the main canyon, the trail is following the “ridge-crest route,” but that up higher, it crosses Tommy Cain Ravine, rather than circling around closer to the top of the Tommy Cain basin, as the “modern route” does.

Then there are some old Forest Service maps which show this trail. The 1939 map seems to agree fairly well with the 1928 General Land Office map, but does not show the trail connecting to Garrett Road! Another Forest Service map puts a trail to the east of Tommy Cain Ravine, where no other map would have it.

Thus, as Ron Gould writes, “Will the Real Fords Bar Trail Please Step Forward!” There seem to be at least two, maybe three or even four, fairly major variants of its route.

And not one of them is open to the public.

The easiest way to get to this part of the river today is to use the Blue Wing Trail, totally unmarked, over near Iowa Hill. Or still easier, with 4WD one can drive down the Truro Mine Road, a little up the canyon, and then cut over to the Blue Wing Trail near its base.

The Blue Wing Trail is a nice bit of trail. It switches back and forth through forest on north slopes. It is mostly on BLM lands but there are some private parcels at the head of the trail, where logging operations perhaps fifteen or twenty years ago damaged the upper end of the trail. People like Evan Jones have gradually opened a new route to the old trail. I would like to restore the upper part of the old trail itself, which follows a somewhat gentler grade; but it was blocked up by the loggers, who pushed a huge pile of manzanita bushes and dirt over it.

Unless we can find a way to get a public easement across these private parcels, or, much better still, find a way for the BLM to purchase them, we should fully expect that they will become residential parcels, and the Blue Wing Trail will be closed altogether, just as the Fords Bar Trail has been.

Of course, the same fate threatens the Canyon Creek Trail, at Gold Run.

For, after all, once upon a time this was Placer County, but now, it's Parcel County.

I would like to pay a visit to Fords Bar, by way of the Blue Wing Trail, and try to find the lower end of the Tommy Cain route, one of these weekends soon. If anyone is interested let me know.

The Crocker Museum
[North Fork Trails blogpost, August 28, 2006: ]
Yesterday the M.C. Escher "Art of Illusion" exhibit drew me to the Crocker Museum in Sacramento, and after savoring the works of the master I wandered freely through other exhibits, including the Early California section, where two huge paintings by Charles Nahl flank the pair of curving stairs, on the second floor.

The inner sanctum at this second level contains, presently, among many other paintings, a huge Thomas Hill of Yosemite, as seen from Inspiration Point, perhaps, and beside it, a rather smaller painting of the Old Soda Springs on the Upper North Fork American, up around six thousand feet in elevation. Mark Hopkins, one of California's Big Four, acquired land there late in the 1860s, and, possibly in partnership with Leland Stanford, opened a hotel near the springs.

The current town of Soda Springs is merely where visitors to the North Fork's Soda Springs would get off the train, to ride in a stage coach the rest of the way, over eight miles of dusty road.

The painting is by one Norton Bush, and dates from 1868. Anderson Peak and Tinkers Knob loom in the background, both somewhat exaggerated in size and shape, and in the foreground is a meadow flanked by a waterfall on the left. In the meadow is the Hopkins Cabin, but no hotel; the hotel would not appear until 1870, as I recall. And near the cabin are two people, one a man with a gun.
[See the painting here: ]
The text accompanying the Bush painting calls this neat, rectangular, gabled, squared-log cabin the “Mary Hopkins” cabin.

At any rate, the painting makes an interesting record, within the history of the upper North Fork. I hadn't been aware that this painting existed. I have a newspaper record of a “blockhouse” soon to be a-building, near or at the soda springs, around 1864, for gold mining purposes, and I have always wondered whether the Hopkins Cabin, which still stands, might have been this very blockhouse.

The M.C. Escher exhibit only stays until September 3, and I wouldn't know how long the Bush painting will stay up, in the Early California section, in the Crocker Art Gallery at 216 O St. Sacramento.

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