September 15 (1976, 1982, 1983, 1985, 1986, 1987, 2000, 2002)
Sunrise over the Sierra Crest

9/15/76 ~   [...]  yesterday i got up and drove my dad down to a tomato field near the sutter buttes at five in the morning. saw the sunrise over the sierra crest ~ from the sutter buttes the sun appeared over the rim of the upper basin of the north fork of the american river. i could recognize in the pre-dawn silhouette, peaks from the feather river high country, the sierra buttes, grouse ridge, old man mountain, signal peak, snow mtn., lyon and needle peaks, granite chief, and the crystal range with a little spike of pyramid peak at its southern end. The cretaceous divide of the sierra. curious that the cretaceous divide should be easier to see than the present one, which was only partly silhouetted.


~ evening… a day of magnificent clouds, thunder, darkness and wind; huge masses of cumulonimbus billowing upwards into the sunshine. clear enough down below that i could see the gentle west slope of the sierra quite plainly, the meadowy lower foothills giving way to the forest; the higher peaks were in cloud. this from overpasses on interstate 5… made a quick trip out and back to moody ridge today to cover the deck so it wouldn't get rained on. might swell and crush the edges of the flooring, and leave cracks where i had nailed them so tight and fine.”

[Russell Towle's journal]

9/15/82   [...]

Last Saturday we went out to Wabena Point and spent the night... 'twas beautiful ~   [...]

[Russell Towle's journal]

9/15/83   Evening. Cricket choruses. Warm. Spring is slowing down, days getting shorter ~ only 3 hydraulickings a day possible now. A fourth at bedtime, by flashlight.”

[Russell Towle's journal]

September 15, 1985

Sunday morning, bright and sunny, a football game on the radio, a little work on the trail. yesterday Rick and I drove out to Wabena Point curiously, we encountered Gene Markley and his hiking group on their way out to the same spot. I had told Gene about the petroglyphs there a couple of years ago; he was making his first visit. It was cloudy and cold, windy. Rick and I saw an eagle or three; one which we thought for a while was a UFO; it moved so incredibly fast with the wind at its back, sunlight flashing off its body so brightly that it seemed it must be made of metal. We returned about sunset and made some quesadillas around the campfire at Rick's place. [...]

The trail needs a couple hours more work, and then I'll have a nice place to park just above the steps.”

[Russell Towle's journal]

9/15/86   Afternoon. I laze around and nurse my cold [...] A day of massed cumulus, sun and shadow, deep blue sky, an occasional fire in the stove  [...]

[Russell Towle's journal]

9/15/87   [...]
Later; the sunset hour. This morning, walked up to the meadow and was standing quietly beside a tall pine tree, lost in thought, when a goshawk flew up and landed in a branch some 10 feet above me; I was able to turn my head and look it right in the eye. This situation lasted for a minute or so, before I smiled, which alarmed the hawk, and off it flew with a sharp peep or two. Bit of luck to see one so close.”

[Russell Towle's journal]

Date: Fri, 15 Sep 2000 07:49:57 -0800
To: North_Fork_Trails
From: Russell Towle
Subject: Sugar Pine Point hike
Cc: "Phil Sexton/R5/USDAFS"

Hi all,

I will be leading a hike into Sugar Pine Point old growth forest on Saturday, September 16 (sorry for the late notice!), meet at the DF exit, Monte Vista at 9:45 a.m. This hike is sponsored by PARC.

There are several historic trails in this area, and originally, the principal access was from Cisco Grove by way of Huysink Lake. Today, one drives in from I-80 at Yuba Gap, taking FS Road 19 past Lake Valley Reservoir, and then FS Road 38 past Huysink Lake. Originally, the trail forked at Huysink, one branch following the ridge west to Big Valley Bluff and on to Mumford Bar (or Texas Hill, or Blue Canyon), the other, heading southeast and forking near Four Horse Flat, one branch, the Sugar Pine Point Trail, leading to its namesake, the other, the Big Granite Trail, following Little Granite Creek down to Big Granite Creek, thence to a crossing of the North Fork and up to Sailor Canyon and the drift mines there. Still another trail crossed Big Valley Canyon, connecting the Sugar Pine Point Trail to the Mumford Trail. This was the Big Valley Trail.

Now, land ownership is in the typical checkerboard pattern out in that area; and except for the Big Granite Trail (and its northward extension to Middle Loch Leven Lake, the Cherry Point Trail) the trails above have either been turned into roads or obliterated by logging. Only the last half-mile of the Sugar Pine Point Trail is intact, and even this intact portion is cut by a skid trail at one point and a logging road at another.

I have made two attempts to follow the Big Valley Trail this year, on both sides of Big Valley, and have found it to be more or less obliterated, even the trees which once held blazes marking the trail, having been felled. This obliteration occurred on both Forest Service and private sections.

Down in Big Valley there is a large almost level area, floored by glacial, possibly lacustrine, deposits, where a tremendous stand of trees once flourished. There were many Incense Cedars over four feet in diameter. Needless to say these are all gone. If the place is left alone, a few centuries will restore the forest. Well, say, five centuries. It must have been one of the nicest patches of forest in the upper North Fork basin, until a couple of decades ago.

I found an Indian chert quarry along the line of the Big Valley Trail on Wednesday, and informed the TNF archaeologist, Bill Slater. The chert was glossy and black. There are many Indian sites in and around Big Valley and Sugar Pine Point.

The lower, more southern part of Big Valley Canyon is very rocky, having been heavily scoured by glaciers, and has not much timber, so, it remains untouched. There are some very interesting rocks exposed, bands of different types of metamorphic rocks, slate, chert, metaconglomerate, metamudflow, etc.

I have been asking TNF for years to try to acquire the private in-holdings in this area (flanking the main North Fork canyon to the north, in Big Valley, Little Granite Creek, and Big Granite Creek). Most but not all of the private land is owned by SPI.


Russell Towle

Date: Fri, 15 Sep 2000 09:49:49 -0800
To: North_Fork_Trails
From: Russell Towle
Subject: Gold Run Extension/TPL

Hi all,

This morning I began writing up a land acquisition proposal for the Trust for Public Land, involving the Gold Run Extension of the North Fork American Wild & Scenic River. It is pretty rough, and the two maps which accompany it look OK on my computer but so far don't print very well. One shows property boundaries, the other, roads and trails.

To me it seems important to strike while the iron is hot; so far as we know, the Gold Run Properties 800 acres is still for sale; so why limit our objectives to only the three parcels which are fully within the Extension? I have identified 7 GRP parcels as primary acquisition targets, two of which are up near Bogus Point and just barely outside the Extension boundary, but which are directly on the line of the Giant Gap Trail. Another lies in the center of the diggings and includes part of the trail from Garrett Road to Canyon Creek Trail. Of course, an even more ambitious approach could be taken, to try to get the entire 800 acres into public ownership. But the 7 parcels, totaling around 250 acres or less, seem to me the most important.

Here is what I've written so far. I see I've forgotten to mention the proximity to I-80 and haven't listed the assessor's parcel numbers or acreage either, but if you think of anything to add or subtract please let me know.

The Gold Run Extension Project

In 1978, the North Fork of the American River received designation as a Federal Wild & Scenic River, over 38 miles of its course, between Heath Springs in the upper canyon, down to near the Colfax-Iowa Hill bridge. The "zone of protection" extends only one-quarter mile to either side of the river, with limitations as to how much money might be expended to acquire private in-holdings within the W&S zone. A special expansion of the W&S zone was created near Gold Run, extending more than a mile north of the river, and embracing the southern portion of the historic Gold Run hydraulic mine "diggings." This is called the Gold Run Extension, and was specifically exempted from spending limitations. It was intended to become a major "portal" to the North Fork American W&S River, for two historic trails descend to the river, within the Extension: the Pickering Bar Trail, and the Canyon Creek Trail.

It was also recognized that important historical resources could be protected there; for mines within the Extension were the first ever to be successfully enjoined by the courts from discharging debris ("tailings"). This benchmark case was heard in the Superior Court in Sacramento, Judge Jackson Temple presiding, in State of California vs. the Gold Run Ditch & Mining Company (1882). The huge, 400-foot-deep pit of the GRD&M still remains, with its two bedrock drain tunnels leading away toward Canyon Creek, where the tailings were conducted through a series of sluice boxes reaching all the way down to the North Fork itself.

Also within the Extension may be found a portion of the Indiana Hill Ditch, and its terminus in a reservoir with a tremendous, dry-laid stone wall forming a dam. Over a dozen distinct historic mining claims lie within the Extension, and an abundance of historical data about the area may be found in the transcript of the 1882 court proceedings. There are also paleobotanical resources of some note within the Extension: Eocene-age petrified wood, carbonized wood, and leaf impressions. A Native American village site flanks one side of the diggings. Also, a network of trails and old mining roads laces the area.

Little has been done, however, since 1978. No land has been acquired within the Extension. The private in-holdings belong to a group called "Gold Run Properties," and GRP listed their 800 acres with the realtors Coldwell & Banker last year (1999). North Fork Trails sees this as a precious opportunity to accomplish the goals set forth by Congress over twenty years ago. We have identified a number of GRP parcels which are desirable targets for purchase. Three are actually partly, or entirely, outside the Extension boundary; of these three, one lies in the center of the diggings, and includes the course of a trail giving access to the Canyon Creek Trail from Garrett Road (a paved county road south of the diggings). The other two flank the Extension near its northeast corner, on Moody Ridge, near Bogus Point; these two are considered critical acquisition targets because they are on the line of the proposed Giant Gap Trail, connecting Garrett Road to Lovers Leap, and because of their potential for adverse impacts upon the viewshed, if ever developed.

There are other private parcels along the rim of the North Fork Canyon in Giant Gap, farther east, towards Lovers Leap: but since these two are owned by Gold Run Properties, it makes sense to include them in the Gold Run Extension Project.

Russell Towle

Date: Fri, 15 Sep 2000 10:36:15 -0800
To: North_Fork_Wilderness
From: Russell Towle
Subject: Big Valley Bluff

Hi all,

The amazing Big Valley Bluff, for reasons unknown entirely excluded from the California Wilderness Coalition's North Fork American River Proposed Wilderness Area boundary, is surely one of the most awesome places in California. Below, the text of a letter to Steven Eubanks of Tahoe National Forest.

Steven Eubanks
Forest Supervisor, Tahoe National Forest
631 Coyote Street
Nevada City, CA 95959

re: Big Valley Bluff area

Dear Supervisor Eubanks,

One of the great scenic overlooks of Tahoe National Forest is Big Valley Bluff, a 3500-foot cliff on the north wall of the canyon of the North Fork American. It is within the Nevada City Ranger District. I have expressed my interest over the years to TNF in protecting the viewshed of Big Valley Bluff, and was very disappointed ten or twelve years ago when a Special Use Permit was granted for construction of a road leading to a smaller ‘bluff’ to the east, on private property. This road allowed a small timber harvest within Section 25 of T16N R12E. I understand that TNF has arranged a land exchange with SPI to acquire all of Section 25. This is good. In fact, as I have suggested before, I would like to see TNF acquire many other private in-holdings in the North Fork American basin. The scenic and wilderness values in the area deserve much better protection.

For instance, near Big Valley Bluff, in T16N R12 E, I would like to see that portion of Section 27 which is private, acquired, along with Section 13; and to the east, in T16N R13E, sections 15, 17, 19, 21, and 23. The scenic and wilderness values in the lower reaches of Big Valley Canyon, Little Granite Creek, and Big Granite Creek, are very important to me. Other sections to the north might well also be acquired.

I noted, at Big Valley Bluff, that there has been quite a rash of vehicular traffic near the road and on the very top of the ridge, in areas which had been fairly undisturbed twenty years ago. I wonder what can be done to restrict vehicles to the road? It has occurred to me that perhaps it would be best to close the last quarter-mile or so of the road altogether, and provide parking at the closure.

I am shocked at the appearance of the forest along Road 19. There seems to be a ‘fuel load reduction’ program taking place out there, and along the Helester Point road. Gigantic burn piles have been assembled, and the forest soils are torn up and heaped, the remaining trees bruised and battered, in what has a bit of the look of a great exhibition of the victory of Man and Machine, over Nature. I am not altogether opposed to timber harvests and forest management, but there must be a less drastic and mechanized way of effecting harvests and fuel reduction.

This mechanized treatment has extended to the very edge of the main North Fork canyon a little west of Big Valley Bluff, in an area which had fairly well recovered from a limited selective harvest of about 20 years ago. I am quite concerned about preserving and enhancing the wilderness values of the North Fork Canyon and would like to see more of a buffer along the canyon rim. Even farther west, in and around Andrew Gray Creek, and between Andrew Gray Creek and Sawtooth Ridge, I would like to see these kinds of forest management excluded from the areas below the roads. On the easternmost ‘tooth’ of Sawtooth Ridge, we should again provide a bit of a buffer along the rim of the North Fork canyon (here, the crest of the ridge).

Sincerely yours,

Russell Towle

Date: Fri, 15 Sep 2000 20:13:19 -0800
To: Dave_Lawler
From: Russell Towle
Subject: Paleozoic in Big Valley

Hi Dave,

The difficulty presented by the formations immediately east of the Shoo Fly is substantial. The chert of Duncan Peak and Little Bald Mountain was placed within the Shoo Fly by Lindgren and other early workers. Then Harwood maps the area for the North Fork Wilderness Study Area (the map you gave me a copy of) in the late 1970s, and concludes that the Duncan chert is not within the Shoo Fly, but rather is within a Permian-Carboniferous sedimentary sequence, and that adjacent to this to the east is a pyroclastic sequence of the same age; then the Triassic limestone in lower Big Granite Creek then the Sailor Canyon fm. and the Jurassic igneous rocks of Snow Mountain.

However, it appears that Harwood has subsequently changed his mind. He remarks, in his text on the 1980 map, that the two Paleozoic fms. east of the Shoo Fly were apparently correlative to similar rocks farther north near Taylorsville. Now, in the 1997 Field Trip Guidebook with my rendering of Giant Gap on the cover, there is an article by Elwood Brooks titled "Geology of the Eastern Belt of the Northern Sierra Nevada." Brooks cites Harwood's later work often and Harwood reviewed the article. A map is included with the article (Figure 1, page 54), and a table of the stratigraphic columns of the Eastern Belt (Figure 2, page 55) sampled at various places from north to south, the southernmost being in Big Valley.

Although the map is crude and poorly reproduced, it is in accord with another map in the same guidebook which places the chert of the Duncan Peak-Little Bald Mountain area within the Shoo Fly (as Lindgren did of old) instead of within the Taylorsville sequence. In fact the Duncan chert is considered one of four fault-bounded units within the Shoo Fly.

Figure 2 in Brooks' article shows that the entire Taylorsville sequence is exposed in Big Valley, from the Sierra Buttes fm. at the base, to the Reeve formation at the top. It even shows limestone just inbound of th Sailor Canyon fm. in Big Valley. The Taylor fm. is above the Sierra Buttes fm. in Big Valley (within the Taylorsville sequence) and is represented as being only 200 meters thick there.

So, the photo I sent you with contacts sketched in, is not in accord with Harwood's more recent work.

The Taylorsville sequence seems to thin out to zero right as it crosses the North Fork, so for instance in New York or in Duncan Canyon we would expect to find the Shoo Fly (Duncan chert) in direct contact with the Sailor Canyon fm.


Russell Towle

Date: Sun, 15 Sep 2002 00:11:52 -0800
To: North_Fork_Trails
From: Russell Towle
Subject: Visit to Big Valley

Hi all,

On Saturday, September 14, my family and I visited Big Valley, a tributary of the North Fork American, accessed via the Yuba Gap exit, and taking the road to Huysink Lake. Ever since I acquired David Harwood's (USGS) geological map of this general area—a map comprising all of the Cisco Grove 7.5 minute quadrangle, and much of the Duncan Peak quad to the south—I have wanted to visit Big Valley. A series of rock formations cross the valley at gradually changing angles as one proceeds south (downstream), and I wanted in particular to explore farther downstream than I had ever before.

A mile or so past the Salmon Lake trailhead, one reaches Pelham Flat, a marshy meadow and pond, which while nearly atop the ridge dividing Big Valley on the west from Little Granite Creek on the east, is actually tributary to Big Valley. Although logging obliterated the historic Big Valley Trail, a road has replaced it, which forks away to the southwest about two hundred yards past the outlet of Pelham Flat pond. We drove down this road, probably a mistake, for, although not terribly rough, it was closely hemmed in by brush, a lot of this the feared Mountain Whitethorn, a species of Ceanothus with very stiff and pointy branches. So, we did a good job of scratching the Subaru.

Big Valley is much too big, too broad, too deep, for the length of its stream or the size of its basin. Like many another northern tributary of the North Fork American, it received a huge influx of ice from the South Yuba ice field, during each glacial maximum—and there were many such maxima, not just the "four" we may have learned about in school, long ago. Sediment cores from lakes east of the Sierra support the idea that there have been about sixteen maxima in the last 52,000 years—a small fraction of the Pleistocene's ~1.7 million years' duration. At any rate. Big Valley is big, and it is big, at least in part, because it managed to rob so much ice from outside its basin, from the South Yuba, to the north. The South Yuba canyon is quite shallow in comparison to that of the North Fork American, so it would fill with ice to overflowing, time and time again.

In the central part of Big Valley there is a large area of glacial sediments; glacial till, and some fine-grained seds exposed along the creek suggestive of lake deposits. In this area outcrops of the underlying bedrock are rare. The till is notable for the large number of granite boulders ferried in from the South Yuba on the great ice-river. There is not a speck of granite bedrock in Big Valley's basin—only these hundreds and thousands of granite boulders, many ten feet across.

This once-lovely part of Placer County's high country has been somewhat ravaged by logging. The huge Incense Cedars and White Firs and Red Firs have been cut down, and if we, wisely, were to let it alone, in not more than a few centuries—five or six centuries at the outside—we would have those big trees back. The elevation of this central part of Big Valley is around 5600', while the ridges to the east and west top out near 7000'. The valley deepens into a canyon and then into a gorge, downstream, until it is fully 3000' deep.

I set my daughter Janet, age 12, to the task of using my GPS unit to navigate to a fossil site marked on Harwood's map. We parked, hiked along a road which took us south rather than the desired west, and finally struck out cross-country for our fossils, crossing Big Valley Creek, dry in this central, sediment-laden area at this time of year, and passing some fine glaciated exposures of some metaconglomerate. This is the same Late Triassic conglomerate exposed on the east side of the Sugar Pine Point ancient forest, a mile or so southeast.

We found exposures of the Reeve Formation (Permian Volcanic Sequence) in a little tributary of Big Valley near the old trail, here also wrecked by logging, and spent half an hour playing around tiny pools of water charged with hordes of water-striders. That is, the kids played; I crawled upstream and downstream, peering at the steeply-dipping volcaniclastic sediments, looking for fossils. I found some faint traces of crinoid columns, at least, they could have been crinoids. These were (I think) coral-like organisms which had jointed bodies, like vertebrae, or tiny bamboo.

Giving up at last on finding solid gold trilobites, or diamond-encrusted ammonites, we set off cross-country on a course which bore south and slightly east, hoping to strike Big Valley Creek far enough south to get clear of the glacial till, and into the bedrock, which dominates the lower two and a half miles of the creek, before it meets the North Fork. We passed though a narrow belt of bedded chert, the upper member of the Peale Formation, before entering the bedded tuffs and volcaniclastic sandstones of the lower member of the Peale. This is a relatively broad band of rock, Paleozoic in age. The gradient of the creek steepened and some nice pools with little falls began to appear. We stopped at one of the nicest pools, and in a few minutes I left the rest of them happily wading and ducking quickly underwater, and continued downstream, map in one hand, GPS unit in the other. I wished to pass all the way through the lower member of the Peale, to the Taylor Formation—more volcaniclastic sediments, metamorphosed as usual, tipped up on edge as usual.

The creek steepened further, and in little more than a quarter-mile I reached a quintessential swimming hole, below a small waterfall. Its UTM coordinates are {Easting: 710903, Northing: 4347025}, in the NAD27 map datum. Here I found many Grass-of-Parnassus (Parnassia californica) in full bloom, growing amid Five-Finger ferns beside the waterfall. There actually were quite a number of flowers in Big Valley today, including many of the bright red California Fuchsia.

Immediately after the pool Big Valley Creek turned and began following the strike of the Peale perfectly. It was pleasant to stride along the water-polished ribs of upturned, slate-like rock. Soon enough I reached the Taylor Formation. It is apparently a little less massive, a little more finely-divided, than the Peale, and the creek sudden flattens in gradient, and is choked with large granite boulders, and finer sediments, after one crosses the contact. Another sign of its relative weakness is that very little of it is exposed to either side of the creek. However, I climbed up above the creek and examined the contact.

I would have like to follow the creek farther, but it had taken nearly an hour to reach the Taylor fm., and would take nearly that to get back. It is another two miles to the North Fork from where I stopped, and, despite my impression that the creek was in a wild and rocky canyon already, it is nothing to what lies downstream, as a glance at the Duncan Peak quadrangle reveals. It is quite likely that, without a rope for rappelling, and some other climbing gear, that it would be pretty much impossible to follow this creek down to the river. There are probably a hundred waterfalls in that last two miles, and the cliffs close in tighter and tighter and steeper and steeper.

Nevertheless, it would be nice to at least try, and to go as far as possible. Someday I will.

Today, I decided to take the "high road" back upstream; I had noticed portions of bear trails which were so well-defined one might have thought them to be human trails, here and there, and thought it might work out well to just follow the bears. So I did, and it did work out well. In fact, it was where the terrain was steepest, with the highest bluffs of rock, where the bear trails were at their very best. When a patch of glacial till/outwash was met, with its usual grove of pines and fir, then the bears, and I, were at the mercy of fallen trees, and there was a lot of zigging and zagging and climbing over logs. But in the rocky sections, I swear, in places, it looked like the Forest Service had gone in and built the trail.

Reaching my group in good time, we gathered our things, and followed the bear trail on upstream. For a while we had been in unlogged Tahoe National Forest lands (Section 18), but all too soon we were back in Section 7, and the stumps and skid trails were with us again. We crossed a wet meadow where some Indian stuff can be found, and hit the main road, a dusty track, with some pleasant bear tracks freshly-stepped into the fine dirt, amid a welter of quail and deer and fox footprints.

We reached the car a little after five, and were home in an hour. On our way out, we saw men in trucks, near Yuba Gap, who looked much as tho they were hunting, driving slowly along and peering into the recent clearcuts, tho I couldn't say what the hunting season is, now. I thought deer season didn't start for a while.

Such was a visit to Big Valley.


Russell Towle

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