September 9 (1977, 2002)
The Rawhide Mine

9/9/77 [...]

The nights are getting noticeably colder. Jupiter, Mars, the crescent moon, Venus, and Saturn are in the morning sky now.”

[Russell Towle's journal]

Date: Mon, 9 Sep 2002 08:51:11 -0800
To: North_Fork_Trails
From: Russell Towle
Subject: Rawhide Mine

Hi all,

On Sunday, September 8, my wife Gay and I took a ramble down to the Rawhide Mine, near the confluence of Blue Canyon and the North Fork of the North Fork of the American. The day had dawned cool and clear. We waited until past one o'clock to start, driving out Casa Loma Road to the Euchre Bar trailhead near Iron Point, parking, and walking down the road to the mine.

So far, no construction is visible on the private parcel above Iron Point, where Placer County permitted residential use on the parcel, although it had a special "timber preserve" non-residential zoning. With some luck, we will not have to endure the sight of someone lording it over the North Fork Canyon, braying to the world that he is to the manor born. That is, the house at least could be set back into the trees, and not very drastically impact this remarkable and historic viewshed.

The Rawhide is a hard-rock gold mine in quartz veins which intruded steeply-dipping slates of the Shoo Fly Complex. There is a system of such gold-bearing quartz veins running more or less parallel to the northward strike of the steep strata of the Shoo Fly, and thus also more or less parallel to the Melones Fault Zone to the west, which fault divides the serpentine associated with that fault zone from the Shoo Fly rocks. The mine was active just prior to World War II, and its tailings used to color the North Fork a light, baby-poop yellow (I have seen photographs, taken in Green Valley), all the way down to Auburn. I hear that State water people actually hiked up the river to find the source of the pollution, around 1940, and forced the mine to stop releasing the muck directly into the river. The story may or may not be true.

The clear-cut patches on Sawtooth Ridge. This prominent
ridge separates the North Fork of the North Fork of the
American River from the North Fork "proper".
The road itself begins in suspect blocks of rock east of the fault, thus presumably in the Shoo Fly, but not of a typical make and model, as it were. Soon enough, as it descends to the east, unequivocal Shoo Fly rocks appear. They are exposed in the roadcuts, or, in weaker zones of rock, various thicknesses of landslide deposits are revealed. As we descended, the horrific clearcuts on Sawtooth Ridge were in full view, a couple of miles east, up the North Fork of the North Fork. These clearcuts are on old railroad lands now belonging to Sierra Pacific Industries. They should never have been permitted.

In about a mile, one reaches a gate, kept locked and closed, and carefully bulwarked to exclude all vehicles. In theory the public has a right to hike this road, but no signs inform one of that. The Rawhide road crosses Tahoe National Forest lands, and as I understand it, it is a kind of quid pro quo: the mine owners get to use and maintain the road, but the public gets to walk on it. At any rate. Walking along, we saw quite a few "No Trespassing" signs. In another mile we reached the principal mine buildings. Finally the horrid clearcuts were out of view.

These wood buildings are sheathed in galvanized corrugated steel. There is a heck of a lot of junky old mine equipment and what-not scattered around the area. A caretaker lives in one of the first buildings passed. We gave a few calls but, no answer, so we crossed Blue Canyon on the first little bridge, and then threaded our way past another building and junkyard to cross the other bridge, across the North Fork of the North Fork.

There used to be an old fellow named Louie, who would sit at the bar at the Monte Vista Inn night after night in the '70s, and who had been the caretaker at the Rawhide, back in the 1950s. In the 1956 flood his family was swept away before his eyes just as they crossed the bridge across Blue Canyon.

Louie told me that the Rawhide was driven into steep slates which continually caved in, and that a huge room, inside Sawtooth Ridge, developed over time, with a ceiling "300 feet" high. I have never been up to the actual mine site, and cannot vouch for this information. Louie also said that the gold was often found in pure masses between the layers of slate, instead of being bound and disseminated in quartz.

Having crossed the North Fork of the North Fork, on a rather tenuous, cobbed-together affair of steel walkways, resting upon the rotting wooden bridge structure, we followed the road upstream, passing the higher road to the mine, and passing a series of old mine buildings. We stopped to talk with the caretaker, Larry, who had a gold dredge in the river. Then we continued up the road to the old powerhouse, where twin penstocks about two feet in diameter lead down to a pair of Pelton wheels, around four or five feet in diameter. This building is very decrepit. I wonder where they got their water; must have been from the North Fork of the North Fork, somewhere upstream.

 California Fuchsia  (Epilobium canum)
Just upstream is a lovely deep pool, with bright red California Fuchsia, and that striking blue-purple aster I saw in Green Valley recently, blooming in the rock crevices. The water-polished slate of the Shoo Fly was impressive. Here, for whatever reason—perhaps it is more siliceous, more "quartzy"—the almost vertical strata are stronger than adjacent rocks up- or downstream, and so the already narrow canyon narrows further, the narrowness increasing the velocity of flow, and a deep pool was incised.

Purple Aster
(Machaeranthera canescens)
Spot the frog?
We rested at the pool for a good long while, and I conducted an impromptu yellow-legged frog survey, finding several adults perched on the bedrock near the pool; and I took some photographs of the flowers, and the pool.

We kept a leisurely pace climbing back up the road, and it was late enough in the day that we were in shade for much of the way, which was good. The views of the end of Sawtooth Ridge, and of nearby parts of the main North Fork canyon, are quite nice. Reaching the car, we paused at Iron Point to photograph Giant Gap, which looks so awesome, so magical and mystical, when shadows grow long, late in the day.

Such was a visit to the Rawhide Mine.

Russell Towle

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