October 22 (1975, 1985, 1986, 2003, 2005, 2007)
Big Valley Canyon ~ Horror Visits the Cabins



yesterday i went out to canyonland and cleared another thirty yards of road, including a turnaround spur into the elderberry meadow. back out today to have at it again. rained lightly last night; clear this morning. a long tongue of fog extended up the n. fork american river canyon and fanned out in the high country; when i saw it from my parents' house earlier this morning it was golden in the early sun.

~ night. was rained out at canyonland about three-thirty, but got a fair amount done, due to a fortuitous change in plans. originally i had thought to make a beeline from the edge of the meadow to a group of pines where i had determined that the road would end and the trail begin. unfortunately this beeline involved going through exceedingly heavy deerbrush; so heavy that after pulling out four bushes this morning all i had to show for it was a busted chain and about a yard of ground gained. i found it hard to face the job before me, and wandered by a circuitous route to the pines that are my goal. then i started back by another route, and came upon a nearly clear, meadowy avenue in the brush that i had missed in previous reconnaissance. it was a gift from heaven; in an hour's work i gained thirty yards, and have less than that remaining to reach the pines. i will be very glad when this road-clearing is over and done with.


[Russell Towle's journal]

October 22, 1985

[...] There was snow on the ground when first light came. Now it has melted, and rain threatens again.”

[Russell Towle's journal]

October 22, 1986

A shade past 8:00 A.M. and another sunny day.

Yesterday I drove into town (Dutch Flat) looking for someone to go hiking with, but struck out, and went alone. I decided to drive in towards Fordyce Lake with a view to establishing the condition of the road, in case Ed and I should go for Old Man Mountain this weekend.

I drove my motorcycle in there way back in '72, and climbed Old Man from the dam at Fordyce. And I skied a few miles in back in '79 or so, on my birthday, on my old skis, on one of my first real ski tours.

Yesterday I paused and explored in many places along the way, checking out nice roches moutonnées, [see roche moutonnée] looking for petroglyphs, and so on. I drove a little ways down the Fordyce fork but retreated, as snow patches began to intrude on the northeast slope; so I returned to the fork and headed for Magonigal Summit, where I parked and followed a ridge up to a minor summit with a major view.

It was heavenly, divine, truly magnificent. The sun brought warmth even at close to 8000' elevation, and haze and smoke softened outlines everywhere, imparting an impressionistic, dreamy quality to the landscape. The Sierra Buttes were only just visible through the smoke, and also I saw:

English Mountain, the Black Buttes, Grouse Ridge, Old Man Mountain, Signal Peak (complete with despicable relay tower), Cisco Butte, Mt. Lola, Basin Peak, Castle Peak, Donner Pass, Mt. Judah, Mt. Lincoln, Mt. Disney, Mt. Anderson, Tinker's Knob, Granite Chief; beyond this portion of the Sierra Crest, a nice view of Mt. Rose and associated peaks; Needle Peak, Mt. Lyon, and much of the Foresthill Divide, including Wabena Point, and most remarkably:

Devils Peak edge-on, just as it is seen edge-on from Wabena Point, but here, from the north;

Snow Mountain, Big Valley Bluff (?), Crows Nest, Rowton, Point 6868, Palisade Peak, peaks of the Crystal Range…

It was somewhat as though I was at one focus of an elipse of mountains, Devils Peak at the other focus.

I wandered aimlessly over the ridgecrest, noting that all that area had been heavily grazed by sheet this summer. I plotted out the scheme of bringing my chainsaw out to take out a very few red firs which clutted up the view from one point.

Returning, a terrible noise was heard as I left the freeway at Dutch Flat. It would seem that my water pump has had it. Alex gave me a ride home and offered to pick me up this morning and give me a ride to Colfax for a new water pump.

I hope my car loses its appetite for money soon. It was $111 a week or so ago.

But that trip yesterday… It was so fine… It would be great to ski in there. About eight miles, one way.

Later. In fact, near midnight. After a lot of hassles, invaluably aided by Alex, I have a new water pump. And a new frisbee, my very first personal frisbee, which is purple.”

[Russell Towle's journal]

Big Valley Canyon
[North Fork Trails blogpost, October 22, 2003:
http://northforktrails.blogspot.com/2003/10/big-valley-canyon.html ]
From a particular clifftop perch below the East Summit of Big Valley Bluff, one can see the remarkable gorge of the lower, southern reaches of Big Valley Creek, as it enters the tremendous depths—here, around 3500 feet—of the North Fork canyon. The bare rocky canyon walls rise thousands of feet, and an inner gorge is often incised within the main gorge. Here are many waterfalls, seldom if ever visited by humans.

On Monday Ron Gould and I drove up I-80, took the Yuba Gap exit, bore right at the first fork, passing an obscure petroglyph site along the line of the Donner Trail, beside a long wet meadow, and then took the left turn onto Forest Road 19. Lake Valley Reservoir was on our right as we slowly climbed eastward to another left on Forest Road 38, which leads in past Huysink Lake (named after outdoorsman Bernard Huysink of Dutch Flat) and the popular Salmon Lake Trail, on past the unmarked Big Granite Trail, and beyond to Pelham Flat and Sugar Pine Point. Just past the wet meadow of Pelham Flat, a road breaks away right and winds down into Big Valley.

The USGS 7.5 minute "Cisco Grove" and "Duncan Peak" topographic maps cover this area, but do not show the more recent logging roads, such as the above road into Big Valley.

The old Big Valley Trail used to cross the valley here, on an east-west line, from Mears Meadow, atop Monumental Ridge on the west, to Pelham Flat, atop the Sugar Pine Point ridge on the east. At Pelham Flat the Big Valley Trail met the Sugar Pine Point Trail. Both trails have been obliterated by logging within the past 30 years.

We wound down the narrow road, hemmed in by thick brush, over slopes of glacial till, and forests of Red Fir gradually changing into the White Fir, Incense Cedar, and both Lodgepole and Jeffrey Pine which dominate Big Valley itself. All along the way we saw golden Aspens, and then down near the creek, golden Cottonwoods trees. Fall is here.

Big Valley Creek heads at Huysink Lake and runs south some five miles to the North Fork. It is incised into a variety of different metamorphic rocks, including the Sailor Canyon Formation, in the upper reaches around Huysink Lake, and rocks of the Taylorsville Sequence etc. in its middle reaches, until finally it enters the metasandstones, slates and cherts of the Shoo Fly Complex, in the lower reaches.

Big Valley is named for a large, mostly forested flat in the middle area, with scattered meadows, and only one bedrock outcrop of note, a glaciated mass of Triassic conglomerate on the west side of the creek. Flat-lying, light-colored, clay-like glacial sediments exposed in the creek suggest that this large flat may be a silted-in glacial lake. Another model might be a large glacial outwash plain.

Unlike Little and Big Granite creeks, immediately to the east, also running south to the North Fork, and of equal lengths, Big Valley has not one shred of granite in its upper reaches. The metamorphic rocks, most resembling steeply-dipping slate, are far more easily cut by glaciers and streams alike; for the granite is more "massive," with widely-spaced joint planes, and tends more to being rounded and smoothed by glaciers, rather than quarried away wholesale.

To the north, the shallow upper canyon of the South Yuba could not hold its own due portion of ice, and over a long succession of glaciations, glaciers swept right over the divide, into the drastically deeper North Fork canyon. Here again we see the contrast between granite (Yuba) and metamorphic rocks (North Fork). A deep pass at Huysink Lake marks the path of especially large volumes of ice flowing south through Big Valley. Even in the last, "Tioga" glaciation, which ended around 12,000 years ago, the ice was deep enough to fill Big Valley to the brim and even cover the ridges to either side.

It has become an article of geomorphological faith that glaciers carve "U-shaped" valleys, while rivers carve "V-shaped" valleys. Big Valley seems very U-shaped in its middle reaches, around the large flat; but the actual bedrock profile of the valley there is buried beneath thick glacial sediments, so who can say what its "true" profile is? Yosemite Valley presents a similar case. It is often described as U-shaped, but the bedrock floor of Yosemite is lost beneath deep glacial sediments. In both cases the bedrock profile may be more V-shaped than we might like, were we trying to apply our articles of faith.

And in the lower reaches of Big Valley, one sees a plain old V-shaped canyon, a gorge, really, despite the fact that here, if anything, the glaciers were thicker and bore down more heavily upon the rock, than to the north and upstream. Similarly, the main North Fork canyon, as it passes Big Valley Bluff, is rather distinctly V-shaped, even though its valley glacier was at least three thousand feet deep at this point.

So at any rate Ron and I parked and first scouted west across the flat to a fossil site I have never been able to find, with brachiopods and crinoidal debris. Once again I managed to not-find the fossils, although Ron spotted some patterned, limy rock which had a large number of blurred, indistinct egg-shaped masses within it. Perhaps these were the fossils.

We broke away to the south, crossed the dry bed of the creek, and soon struck one of the larger meadows. This wet meadow was crossed by some amazing bear trails, beaten wide and deep into the lush grasses, and, following one of these, we came to a perfect bear wallow, a hole in the meadow some five feet long by three feet wide, brimming with water, and showing signs of having been used only that morning. Bear trails converged upon the wallow from all sides. We held a southerly course and soon passed from the main flat of Big Valley into the rocky open slopes of the gorge, marked as "Big Valley Canyon" on the topographic maps. Suddenly the creek held water, suddenly the bedrock was exposed everywhere.

We picked our way along mild cliffs and through brushy areas, while the canyon plunged ever more steeply. The day was warm and bright, the sky a deep clear blue. Forest and meadow had been replaced by cliffs and scattered Jeffrey Pines and Western Junipers. Nearly a mile south from Big Valley we hit the first major inner gorge. This gorge-within-a-gorge was in the hundreds of feet deep, and contained a series of pools and waterfalls. By my reckoning we were far enough south to be in the Sierra Buttes Formation, which has an upper and lower member, and it seemed we were at the contact between the two, for the thinner, more slaty strata of the upper member suddenly graded into an alternating series of more massive debris-flow breccias interleaved with slaty zones. All was as usual tipped right up on edge, and in this case, the upper member was to the north, the lower member to the south. These rocks are submarine volcanics and volcaniclastic rocks, Paleozoic in age, but much younger than the Shoo Fly, a little farther south. They are intermittently exposed from north of their namesake, the Sierra Buttes, south to at least Picayune Valley. They are part of what David Harwood of the USGS dubbed the "Taylorsville Sequence," which lies to the east of the Shoo Fly Complex in the Northern Sierra.

We picked our way down cliffs to some pools below a waterfall, with rather astounding and even frightening cliffs rising hundreds of a feet above us, frightening, because massive overhangs held thousands of tons poised in the air as it were, directly above us. Some very nice breccia was exposed along the creek, dark slaty angular raisins in a pudding of gray volcanic ash.

After a lunch break, we left our packs and dropped down the inner gorge. We were a little uncertain about the first little cliff. I should say that these canyons in the Northern Sierra, whether little or big, are dangerous places. I used to think of the High Sierra, with its peaks rising twelve, thirteen, fourteen thousand feet above sea level, and its monstrous cliffs, as the truly dangerous part of the Sierra. I have since come to realize that our local river canyons, here in the north, offer every bit as much danger. So we approached this little forty- or fifty-foot step in the gorge with all due caution.

Picking my way down the almost vertical rock face, I saw, but could scarcely believe I saw, bear poop on a ledge. I pointed it out to Ron and we had a bit of a laugh over the bowel-moving tensions of climbing sheer cliffs. Once again I am reminded of how very well these bears do in the most extreme terrain. Ron and I had seen bear sign all the way through Giant Gap earlier this year, on the high old discontinuous Giant Gap Survey trail.

We saw trout swarming in some of the pools, and were intrigued by signs that the bear or bears had waded all through these trout pools. Do they fish? Maybe.

Turning a corner in the gorge, we passed into a narrow band of igneous intrusive rock, a long thin body of fine-grained gabbro which strikes across the canyon. Here the creek had cut a fine broad avenue floored by solid rock, oh, thirty feet wide, and hundreds of feet long, a plane surface sloping south, and we walked along this steep mountain sidewalk until suddenly another waterfall was met, this one at least fifty feet high, and the cliffs beside it looked quite challenging. We had only just then passed from the thin gabbro body into the first fault-bounded slices of the Shoo Fly Complex, here, thin masses of the Duncan Chert.

We had great views south to the East Summit of Big Valley Bluff on the right, and to the low pass on the Foresthill Divide, across the main North Fork, where the Beacroft Trail heads up. We were not quite far enough south in Big Valley Canyon to look back north and see some rather remarkable cliffs and spires of the Duncan Chert I had noted the other day, and had hoped to visit; but the gorge below us to the south looked quite challenging, quite difficult, and to reach the next relatively level and passable reach of Big Valley Canyon would mean a circuitous passage over the cliffs to the left, and a descent of another couple hundred feet.

We decided we had come far enough. Another mile and a half of gorge lay between us and the North Fork, and that last bit looks rather drastically steep. I still doubt that anyone has ever followed the creek itself all the way down; it would require rappelling again and again and again, over the waterfalls.

On our way back up and out I got creative and tried to forge a new route, the result being that I found myself almost trapped within a patch of sunny, hot, impenetrable brush. I had to struggle uphill against the grain of the stubborn bushes. Every once in a while I saw places where bears had busted out a little opening, but these openings always closed down again, and it was back to acrobatics, huffing, puffing, sweating, cursing, and all the while Ron was strolling merrily along up the bouldery creek below me.

That hundred yards of brush sapped my strength. I was more or less ruined. However, we were not far from Big Valley itself, and a little higher we discovered remnants of yet another old trail, which is shown on a 1939 Tahoe National Forest map, and which ran down the length of Big Valley, to the beginning of the gorge. This old trail made for easy going, and soon we reached the truck. I was a wreck.

It was a very interesting day, in a very beautiful place. The land acquisition efforts by Tahoe National Forest in this area should be continued. In particular, the private lands at Pelham Flat; Section 7, within Big Valley itself; Section 17, which includes Sugar Pine Point; and other lands near the head of the Big Granite Trail, all ought to be purchased from the lumber companies, if possible.

This lovely part of the Placer County high country has been fairly heavily impacted by logging.

In particular, the old-growth Incense Cedar of Big Valley must have made an amazing forest. However, I believe the wild and scenic and recreational values are more than enough to justify further land acquisitions in this area.

Date: Mon Dec 12 15:18:01 2005
To: "John H. Skinner"
From: Russell Towle
Subject: Re: Euchre Bar Trail & Bridge

>I'm working on an article for Sierra Alive regarding the Euchre Bar Trail. I wanted a little history such as when was the bridge built? Why, was there a road connecting across the canyon? Why, i.e. mining? How old is Dorer Ranch? I tried to get some info out of the Foresthill trails people but had no luck. Nolan Smith is off until Jan 3. Do you have any facts that I could use?

"Euchre" of course was a very popular card game among the 49ers. And if you research the word, it carries some meaning, not favorable, as I recall.

The current bridge was built in 1964 or 1965, as the 1964 flood tore out the earlier version. But if you look around near the current bridge site you will see an older set of abutments, really ad hoc bedrock abutments, a few feet west. This is from a still earlier bridge (the current bridge was built in the exact same spot as its predecessor).

The bridge shows on Waldemar Lindgren's USGS Colfax Folio of ca. 1900 (surveyed in 1887). Hence it is likely the bridge goes back to at least 1887.

Since it is an ideal "inner gorge" site for a bridge, it may go back almost to the Gold Rush, I wouldn't be at all surprised to find the original dating to 1850.

In 1895 there were two bridges at Euchre Bar.

So far as a road: the Euchre Bar Trail was the "road," giving access not just to Euchre Bar and claims nearby, but to the placer and hardrock mines between Euchre Bar and Humbug, and to the Dorer Ranch and the Pioneer Quartz Mine in Humbug, and to all points east, as Texas Hill and Burnett Canyon etc., via the other bridge at Humbug Bar (also shown on the 1900 Lindgren map) and the Sawbug (my name; Sawtooth-Humbug) Trail.

While the Dorers were in Humbug in the 1860s, the ranch dates from later, and I have toured the ranch buildings and see nothing from before 1900, tho surely some part must date from a little earlier.

But the Dorer Ranch is on a broad terrace of glacial outwash, a meadow, with a big grinding rock and a lot of sun for a place so low to the river (scarcely 200 feet higher than the North Fork). I imagine that the bustling mining camp of Humbug Canyon, where hundreds of men worked in the early 1850s, was centered at this meadow, now the site of the Dorer Ranch.

The secret of access to Humbug via Euchre Bar has to do with elevation: how much ground above 4000' elevation must be crossed, starting at Foresthill, versus starting, say, at Dutch Flat (or later, Towle)? And the answer of course is that the trail from Dutch Flat via Euchre Bar is mostly below 4000' (below the snow), whereas from Foresthill many miles are over 4000 feet, and a few miles above 5000 feet. A huge factor in travel.

Here's an article from the Colfax Sentinel of January 25, 1895:
Narrow Escape
Euchre Bar Suspension Bridge Crashes
Into the American River.
Leopold Dorer and Thomas Patrick
Fall 40 Feet Into the Stream.

At 3 p.m. January 18th, the suspension bridge across the American river at Euchre Bar between Towles and Pioneer mine fell with a crash and is now a complete wreck. Leopold Dorer and Thomas Patrick, with their pack animals, who were on the structure, were thrown into the river 40 feet below. The fact that they both escaped death is a miracle.

They had started out to view the trail and examine the telephone line. Patrick rode a mule and Dorer a gray horse. When they reached the center of the bridge, the turn-buckle which held the upper cable to the anchor broke and the men and animals were thrown slightly up-stream and into the river. The strain was immediately transferred to the remaining cable which parted and the next instant the bridge lay in the river, a complete wreck. With great efforts both men, showing a wonderful presence of mind, managed to secure a hold on portions of the wrecked bridge.

Dorer managed to climb up one cable hand over hand, and reach the shore, but Patrick, who was considerably bruised and stunned by the fall, could not do so. E.L. Ford, of Euchre Bar, soon threw him a rope which Patrick made fast to his waist and he was rescued from his perilous position. Patrick was severely bruised and shaken up, but Dorer was not much injured.

A very curious thing happened to Patrick during his terrible fall. He carried a sharp axe on his shoulder for use in cutting brush. During the plunge, the axe blade struck him on the shoulder, cutting through the clothing and making a slight wound. It then glanced and struck his mule, literally cutting its brains out, and killing it instantly.

There was only 10 inches of snow on the bridge and it has often withstood a greater weight.

The bridge was erected by the county and money expended in its construction including repairs makes its total cost about $1300.

A bridge remains some distance lower down the river, which is passable for one animal at a time.

The Horror, and, Green Valley News
[Monday, October 22, 2007:
http://northforktrails.blogspot.com/2007/10/horror-and-green-valley-news.html ]
What an unusual fall, so stormy, so cool and cloudy! So often, October is bright and warm. Today it begins to find its old self.

Our Black Bears, which are often not black, have been much in the news over the summer, breaking into homes in the Tahoe area. Here, it is not uncommon for a bear or three to wander through. Various adventures and misadventures have occurred; why, once a whole family of bears broke into our car, peed in it, and jumped on the roof, denting it. Another time, a bear found its way into our bathroom, entered the shower, and left a strangely indelible paw print on the white shower wall. It also scratched the bathroom door, which had swung shut behind it.

More typically, a bear will get its paws on a bag of garbage, and strew it across acres of hillside. Some years ago I built a sturdy garbage-bin, which has not yet been successfully broken open, although it bears the scars of their efforts. They have literally rolled this cumbersome and heavy plywood bin down the hill.

Injured black bear, lower jaw dangling
The other day, a most sad and horrible bear came by. It was almost coal black, and strangely leggy, which as I later realized, meant it was thin. Why thin? Because someone had shot it, and its lower jaw dangled low from a generous thread of flesh and ligament, flopping to this side and that, useless teeth jutting forward. It would not be chased away, which is quite unusual, for it had found no food here, and for a bear to stand its ground against a man wielding a shovel, a man throwing firewood at it, a man shouting at it, a man advancing against it, when said bear has found no food, well, in my experience, that means it is sick. This was my second such sick bear. The other, a few years back, a dusty golden color, bore no visible injuries.

I tried calling the CA Department of Fish and Game, but their line was busy for half an hour, and I gave up. The poor poor thing should be euthanized.

On a happier note, I was contacted by descendants of the Dunckhorst family, who own land down in Green Valley, on the North Fork American River, south of Dutch Flat. The land is the old Opel & Williams claim, patented in the 1870s, and includes Joe Steiner's Grave, and the Hotel Site. The East Branch of the Green Valley Trail passes through their property. Joe Steiner lived down there for many years, working their claim, and acting as their caretaker.

They called the place "Pine Shadows," and drew their water, bucket by bucket, from nearby "Crystal Springs." These springs are on a lost little patch of trail leading down to the Hotel Site from near the Dunckhorst cabin.

On the 7.5-minute USGS "Dutch Flat" quadrangle, a small black square immediately south of the "r" in the words "Green Valley" seems to mark the Dunckhorst cabin, now gone. A wildfire in the middle 1950s erased the cabin. The descendants have several old family photo albums, and sent me some pictures. The cabin was a small affair with a gable roof. Of most interest is a picture of their summer sleeping platform, raised about ten feet above the ground, labeled "The Roost." My other Green Valley friends, the Dentons, who spent summers there in the 1930s and 1940s, also had a raised sleeping platform, and also called it "The Roost." The Denton Roost was built by Joe Steiner himself.

The way the Dentons tell it, the summers were so hot one simply had to sleep outside, but the rattlesnakes were so fierce, and so pesky, and so determined to somehow, some way, enter one's very bed, one could not sleep on the ground, or even near the ground. Hence, The Roost.

The Dentons had mentioned the Dunckhorsts to me, specifically, I recall their story about a young Dunckhorst man who set the record for the fastest descent of the Green Valley Trail, back around 1940. He made the descent to the river in eighteen minutes!

Such is some news.

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