September 25 (1976, 1978, 1986, 2002)
Fall Rains ~ Moonshine Ravine

9/25/76   evening on moody ridge. came out this morning with ladders & food, to work. today i cut down the leaning tree ~ took about an hour, because although it fell in the direction i wanted it to, and the cables held it just as planned, it got hung up on the way down in the branches of nearby trees, so that i had to fiddle around a bit to get it to actually go down all the way. i also trimmed a limb off the lower big oak, that obstructed the view of giant gap… framed up one more wall & added top plates to tie the three together. i am running out of two-by-fours but should have enough for two more walls—walls 1 & 2. 4 5 6 are up.

i think i'll build a ridge pole out of an inner core of two 2x6 and an outer shell of two 1x8 ~ pine and cedar. on wall one i hope to have a 5x8 piece of plate glass; on wall 6 i have a 5' x 6' opening framed in. well [wall] three may get a window or two after all, i've considered, upon seeing the evening light through the oak forest…  many mosquitoes.“

[Russell Towle's journal]

9/25/78  late afternoon; sky of cirrus clouds, warm (90°), many insects. hang loose, leave the door open, the place is full of flies. just past the equinox, pigeons are flocking, geese go by, elderberry heavy with fruit, grapes are ripe in dutch flat, [...] deer season has opened [...]

[Russell Towle's journal]

September 25, 1986   Morning; more stormy weather, especially yesterday, when deluges of rain descended dolorously downward. It seems as though it's been stormy forever, actually only about 2 weeks of clouds and occasional rain, but quite un-summerly if I do say so. And now it's fall and it's even un-fallingly cool.


Later, rain continues its dismal dismality dismally and I am cold and I am bored and I am out of firewood and I am drinking a cup of tea and I am smoking a joint and I am listening to the post-game wrap-up of a Giants loss to Houston and I am reading books about Colfax history and ancient Rome and Greece mathematics, in fact, I shall, for purely historical reasons, list the titles of the books piled on top of my tiny 18-inch square coffee table:
  • The Transformations of Lucius, by Lucius Apuleius
  • Twentieth-century Interpretations of Antony & Cleopatra, edited by Mark Rose
  • Roman History, by Dio Cassius, Loeb edition
  • Complete Works of Tacitus, edited by Moses Hadas
  • The Last Algonquin, by Theodore Kazimiroff
  • Analytic Geometry, by C. O. Oakley
  • Vol. II of the World of Mathematics, edited by Newman
  • A Field Guide to Western Birds, by Roger Tory Peterson
  • The Feminine in Fairytales, by Marie Louise Von Franz
  • De Oratore, by Marcus Tullius Cicero
  • Prudentius, Loeb edition
  • Regular Polytopes, by H. S. M. Coxeter
  • The Idea of the City in Roman Thought, by Lidia Mazzolani
  • A Distant Mirror, Barbara Tuchman
  • Vol I of the World of Mathematics, ed. by Newman
  • Roman Architecture, by John B. Ward-Perkins
  • The Colfax Connection, by Pat Jones
  • Hellenism and the Rise of Rome, by Pierre Grimal
  • The Role of Mathematics in the Rise of Science, by Salomon Bochner
Rain, rain, rain. The radio spouts information about a cycle of horse races in the Bay Area, which horses, how much they paid, and it seems that the Roman Empire never fell... just transmuted... ”

[Russell Towle's journal]

Date: Wed, 25 Sep 2002 19:54:22 -0800
To: North_Fork_Trails
From: Russell Towle
Subject: Green Valley

Hi all,

In August I took Professor Bud Burke and one of his students, Paul, to see the unusual Pleistocene gravels of Green Valley. Just to the west of the Green Valley Trail, an unnamed ravine contains some cemented "serpentine agglomerate," or breccia, at about the crossing of the 2600-foot contour, or about 800 feet above the river. I take this breccia to be a relict of a larger mass of serpentine debris "flowing" down the ravine, whereupon it hit a floodplain of glacial outwash and accumulated in a sort of alluvial fan. The mass of debris was saturated by groundwater, especially in its deeper portions, close to bedrock, and became cemented, apparently by the very same poorly-understood process that also cemented masses of glacial outwash in Green Valley proper.

Cemented breccia in “Moonshine Ravine”
I had mentioned to Bud that in an unnamed ravine to the east, a very similar deposit of cemented breccia existed, and I suggested that it was at the same elevation, and thus of the same age, as the deposit near the trail. Today I visited Green Valley solely to GPS the position of the breccia in this more-easterly ravine.

Since there are the remains of a tiny still, near a tunnel in this ravine, I call it "Moonshine Ravine."

I hit the trail at 8:18 and reached Joe Steiner's grave about 9:15. I had paused to GPS the position of the Peter Wright anvil; the fork in the trail where one can bear either to the western, or to the central and eastern parts of Green Valley; and the intersection of the Main East Trail with the ditch of the Green Valley Blue Gravel Gold Mining Co., at just over 2080' in elevation. This mine is on the north bank of the river in the west end of Green Valley; the ditch took from the main North Fork a ways upstream from Euchre Bar. The line of the ditch crosses the limestone cliffs at the east end of Green Valley and is usually mistaken for a trail, and it can be used as a trail, but is really just a little ledge blasted out of the massive steep grey limestone, a slender basis upon which to mount a wooden flume.

From the grave I took the High East Trail and soon reached Moonshine Ravine. I crossed it and scouted around a meadowy area to the east, notable on two accounts. First, it contains a grove of Blue Oaks, otherwise unknown along this part of the North Fork. Second, the meadowy area contains a large accumulation of what I always took to be a landslide deposit, late Pleistocene in age, and strangely, studded with many large to even huge boulders of rhyolite ash. These are totally out of any stratigraphic order in their present position; large masses of this weakly welded rhyolite tuff of the Valley Springs Formation are exposed near the railroad, a mile to the north and 1800' higher in elevation.

I am not at all sure that it was a simple landslide which moved these boulders a mile or more. At the head of Moonshine Ravine is an ancient Tertiary river channel, considered to be part of the Nary Red channel, which flowed to the north and joined the Dutch Flat channel about halfway between Alta and Dutch Flat. The "trademark" quartz cobbles of such ancient channels can be seen near the Alta exit of I-80, where the road to the CDF station forks away from the road to Alta, in the roadcut. They are intercalated with volcanic ash there.

At any rate, at the head of Moonshine Ravine, there is a gap or pass in the ridge dividing the main North Fork canyon from Canyon Creek. I think it is likely that at least once, a glacier flowed down Canyon Creek, and broke across the ridge into the head of Moonshine Ravine, forming the above-mentioned gap in the process. It is possible or even likely that this hypothesized glacier would have ripped up the thick layers of rhyolite ash in the Nary Red channel as it broke through the gap. Possibly these mysterious boulders, way down in Green Valley, are relicts of this glacial erosion.

The rhyolite ash is fairly weak stuff, and perhaps it moved down Moonshine Ravine as part of a sludgy mass of clay and sand and river gravels from the Nary Red channel. That could explain how such large yet weak boulders traveled such a distance.

Trusty Lucky and the loppers
I had hoped to work my way up through the meadowy area before breaking west into the ravine, as I had in years past, but the brush looked bad and I wore shorts. So I just wandered a bit, admiring the intricately eroded boulders, and then took the trail back to Moonshine Ravine. The loppers came into heavy use on the ascent. The ravine was floored by masses of rounded serpentine boulders with an occasional rogue boulder of rhyolite ash, and smaller boulders of andesite from still higher and farther away; but this andesite is quite tough and one cannot be surprised to find it, at least, so far from home.

Barneby's Columbine/oil Shale Columbine
(Aquilegia barnebyi)

Occasionally the underlying serpentine bedrock must have approached the surface, for small pools of water appeared. There were some few flowers in bloom, the lovely blue asters, and some Scarlet Columbines. At about 2120' in elevation I hit my first exposure of serpentine breccia. Just below the 2200' contour I reached my intended destination, a much larger exposure of the breccia, with one full-fledged drift mine driven into the sediments, and one smaller exploratory tunnel.

A section about 40 feet thick or so is exposed there, and suddenly there is water in the creek, many columbines in bloom, and a mossy waterfall down a cliff of breccia. I took some photographs and GPS readings, using the loppers to clear a path out of the ravine itself, where the cliffs and alder trees conspired to shield me from the satellites needed for good ground coordinates, to a sunny ridge with plenty of sky in view.

After a rest, I started back, leaving the ravine to explore a wooded area with relatively little brush, just to the west. Canyon Live Oaks grew well enough to shade out the manzanita and buckbrush in a narrow zone. Once I found a bear trail with the deeply-indented marks made by always stepping in the same place, and followed it for a ways, hoping for a shortcut back to the Green Valley Trail; but no. The bear trail soon entered brush and I did not dare follow, wearing shorts. So I stayed in my narrow zone of live oaks and continued downhill.

Soon I reached a pair of mining ditches, a smaller, upper ditch, badly overgrown, and a larger, lower ditch, not too badly overgrown. I knew this to be the same ditch I had GPSed earlier on the Main East Trail, and decided to follow it.

Large branches of buckbrush and bay laurel and manzanita and toyon and oak had been trimmed back by some adventurer or adventurers, back in the days when men were men, and strode the earth in the full realization and application of all their remarkable powers. I marveled at the work, at the wisdom with which the branches had been cut well back from the ditch, and at the tremendous girth of many of the cut branches. Whose mighty thews and sinews could possibly stand up to such a Herculean task?

Then I remembered that Dave Lawler and I had made a pass along this very ditch with our loppers, five or six years ago. Thank goodness we had. I now made a second pass, and cut another hundred or two hundred branches, and by golly, that part of the old mining ditch, from Main East Trail to Moonshine Ravine, is almost, well, passable.

Actually, it is passable. It has its share of poison oak, but not all that much; and there are a few downed trees too big for loppers no matter who wields them; but if one has even a spark of adventure, yes, it is passable. It would be nice to open up the whole length of this ditch, from the west end of Green Valley to the east end, someday.

Reaching the trail at 11:20, I slogged slowly up in the increasing heat and glare. A helicopter arrived in Green Valley, the same black-over-white unit which had been scouting the canyon rim yesterday afternoon, and with anguishingly loud thumpings of rotor blades, circled in and out of the ravines across the canyon, McIntyre and Giant Gap ravines. By every indication it was searching for marijuana gardens. I wonder who is sending helicopters out to search for marijuana gardens in this day and age? The feds? It's ridiculous, even shameful. I hear that they (the DEA) are busting home gardens here in California in full flak-jacketed, storm-trooper-booted, helmeted regalia. I wonder how much it cost us to have that helicopter and crew circling around and around and around and around in Green Valley. $200 per hour? $500 per hour? A lot, at any rate. I don't think there are any marijuana gardens to find in Green Valley, this year. In years past there have been some, and some very regrettable piles of trash were left by those growers, plus, they often harassed hikers in Green Valley—so don't count me as a friend of all marijuana growers. I just think we should legalize the stuff and have done with these helicopters and raids, once and for all.

As the temperature reached into the nineties, I began resting in good patches of shade, but finally, around 12:45, made it to the top.

Such was a morning in Green Valley.


Russell Towle

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