January 16 (1976, 1987, 1990, 2001, 2003)
Sun and Snow and Eagles; and the Chill Northeast Wind

1/16/76 warm and sunny: soaproot sprouting leaves”
[Russell Towle's journal]

1/16/87   Morning, just after dawn. The day sunny, clear, cool; we've had days of strong northeast winds, high pressure over Nevada sweeping these very cold and dry winds from the continental interior out over California, plunging temperatures. Yesterday, for the first time in my memory, Canyon Creek was frozen over.

Gay Wiseman asked me to write a little something about Moody Ridge history for the road association newsletter, so:
Down at the Auburn Library, one can read the old Dutch Flat Forum, a newspaper published in the late 1870's. It's on microfilm; ask for it at the reference desk. There is an abundance of mining news items, including a regular spot on Green Valley Mines. I have yet to find Moody Ridge mentioned by name, but one does encounter a Colonel Moody, operating a hotel in Gold Run, and his son, operating a gold mine in Green Valley. Presumably, Moody Ridge was named for one of these Moodys.

Before the Central Pacific Railroad was build, in the 1860's, the Green Valley Trail begain in Gold Run, traversing the length of Moody Ridge before dropping into the canyon along its present route. It is rumored that a string of mules knew the trail so well, they could be turned loose in Gold Run, and be trusted to arrive, untended, in Green Valley (and vice versa); but I kind of doubt it. 

Lovers Leap is not named in the Forum, but the editor, Ben Frank, wrote a charming account of a visit there in 1876; perhaps it can be printed verbatim in another newsletter. Giant Gap appears on very old maps, and was probably named in the Gold Rush itself, when over 2,000 people lived in Green Valley. It must have reminded some of them of the Cumbarland Gap and other ‘Gaps’ back east.

The Maidu Indians and their ancestors wandered Moody Ridge for thousands of years—perhaps ten thousand—and their grinding rocks for pounding acorns, and arrowheads may be found from one end of the Ridge to the other. Slightly to the northeast of Moody Ridge at Casa Loma, is one of the larger Maidu village sites in the area; smaller ones exist at Sons of Norway and below Snot Hill.

Gold and asbestos were both mined on Moody Ridge, the former near Bogus Point, the latter, near the Green Valley Trail. Most of Moody Ridge was logged off at least once by the Towle Brothers Lumber Company (no relation to the author). One of their twelve sawmills stood near Canyon Creek on Mike Smith's place, and the pond at Jim Coleman's place had something to do with the mill, exactly what I do not know.

Most of Moody Ridge remained in the hands of the Towle Estate until the late 1970's, when real estate speculators got their felonious hands on it. Placer County joined in prosecuting these speculators, settled out of court, and received (or stands to receive) something like $160,000 into the General Fund as part of the settlement. Melody Preis and I wonder if some of this money might well be spent on Moody Ridge Road, seeing as how, if those speculators had done it all legal-like, they would have had to pave the damn road.

Bald eagle
January 16, 2003
January 16, 1990

[...] Today, it snows most wonderfully [...]

Lora came for a visit yesterday morning, and as we walked back up to the meadow, we saw a huge bald eagle circling. Yesterday was a lull between the series of storms which have pounded the Sierra in recent days, and the eagle was seen against a clear blue sky, a couple of hundred feet above us. Gem says he saw it again as he arrived home last night towards sunset. Then, this morning I walked out to the cliffs and saw a huge golden eagle roosting in the dead top of a douglas fir a few hundred feet below. We all watched it through binoculars.

Later... the storm dwindles, sun blasts in but soon to set, I cut firewood, Gay and Janet [2 months old] and I visited the cliffs, the meadow, Gem and Gus [ages 9 and 7] play with their new hand-held video games and build snow-beings and carry wood in to the new cabin. I saw extraordinary footage the other day of a golden eagle, in Europe, snatching a baby mountain goat off a ledge, and wings spread to their fullest, clutched it in its talons while making a continuous descent to its nest across the canyon; in another instance, an eagle filmed carrying a lamb in flight was unable to maintain its grip, and dropped it. It flew on, there being no possibility of raising the carcass from the canyon bottom if unable to hold it in level flight... So if one flies by with a fawn in its talons someday, I won't be too surprised.”

[Russell Towle's journal]

Date: Tue, 16 Jan 2001 09:44:37 -0800
To: North_Fork_Trails
From: Russell Towle
Subject: Canyon Creek Hike
Cc: Senator Barbara Boxer

Hi all,

I would like to see Senator Barbara Boxer sponsor a bill appropriating Land & Water Conservation Act funds for the Folsom Area BLM, so that private inholdings along the Canyon Creek Trail, in the Gold Run Diggings, and between Bogus Point and Lovers Leap (here in Placer County), can be acquired. So I will copy this message to her.

Dave Lawler, noted geologist and paleontologist, Alex Henderson, Rich LaTour and I met Monday morning and drove to the trailhead in Potato Ravine. The northeast wind was cold and biting in the shadows, but as we approached the creek the wind lessened. One of the pieces of plywood making the bridge deck is delaminating and should be replaced. Perhaps some paint would help protect the slender structure.

As we turned the corner past the cliffs standing over the weird inner gorge, the sun was blessedly warm. We visited the camping terraces made by the miners 130 years ago, when the sluice boxes in Canyon Creek needed constant maintenance and also had to be guarded. After taking the spur trail to the base of the big waterfall, we worked a little on opening another short spur trail to the creek from the terraces. Quite a number of the California Milkmaids (Dentaria californica, or Cardamine californica) are now in bloom near the terraces. These lovely terraces, with their massive dry-laid stone retaining walls, were apparently located with reference to a sweet spot in the local microclimates. It was positively warm there, and the flowers offered their own testimony. We found a piece of coal near the remains of the old wood stove. It was pleasant to imagine, perhaps, an Ah Wong or an Ah Kite frying up platters of meat and potatoes, and a large pot of coffee kept hot and full, for the rough old rednecks of days gone by.

The N. Fork American River in Green Valley,
Lovers Leap at right
. January 16, 2003
We took the lower trail from the terraces back to the main trail and continued down to the river. One of the prettier waterfalls is visible from the trail, and we opened up one of the old spur trails a little ways towards this fall. There are some very nice viewpoints here, and some curious and ancient potholes eroded into the rock high above the creek. It would be interesting to do cosmogenic dating on the rock surfaces along and near Canyon Creek and try to establish the rate of deepening of both Canyon Creek and the North Fork American at large. These little potholes may have developed within the past twenty thousand years, during a high stand of the Quaternary gravels which choked the main canyon during glacial maxima. The glaciers themselves were far upstream, at or above Humbug Creek, but they seem to have supplied a large bed load of sediments to the North Fork, exceeding its carrying capacity.

It was but another few minutes to reach the river, at a very low flow right now, but sparkling clear, with gently roaring reaches of rapids and white water. From the base of the Canyon Creek Trail one can actually see Lovers Leap, a great blade of greenstone jutting out into Giant Gap, 2500 feet above the river. After a quick lunch, we left our packs and with clippers and loppers in hand followed the up-canyon trail. This trail appears to lead directly to the first deep pool on the river upstream from Canyon Creek, but a faint spur climbs steeply away and, expecting that it led up into Giant Gap, we began attacking masses of poison oak, bay laurel, live oak, and toyon, which had blocked its course in many places. As we went we saw stumps and sawn branches from at least twenty years ago, when someone had worked on opening this same old trail.

This trail, to me, evokes the idea of the period of Chinese mining of the placer deposits along the North Fork, which was at its peak around 1860. It is possible that the North Fork was turned from its bed into flumes all through this section, so that the deep pools and indeed every part of the river's channel could be worked down to bedrock. At any rate, the trail takes some surprising twists and turns and sudden ups and downs as it negotiates a passage through the rocks and trees. In places it has more or less disappeared, but behaving more or less like bears and forging ahead along the line of least resistance we always found ourselves back on the trail again.

While the south canyon wall was in shadow, our trail, about 150 feet above the river, was in full sun. The tremendous cliffs in this lower part of Giant Gap were really awe-inspiring. Rich LaTour remarked that this wild canyon of the North Fork American is so exceptionally scenic, that he really finds it equal to any of our national parks. I agree.

Passing quite a number of great viewpoints, we continued lopping and clipping until I thought my arms would fall off. In a while we found the trail descending to the river on mossy ledges. We were just above a long deep pool. Another pool could be seen upstream, just below a bend in the canyon which blocked our view farther up the river. Between the two pools was an area of huge boulders, some of which had an interesting reddish orange tint, and may be related to similarly colored rocks we noticed high on the canyon wall, from way back at Canyon Creek. The rocks here are in the volcanic member of the Calaveras Complex, and are metamorphic rocks considered to be Late Paleozoic in age (ca. 200 million years old). Dave Lawler speculated that the pretty red rocks might be metamorphosed sand lenses entombed in the submarine lava flows and pyroclastics that make up most of the rocks nearby.

Actually we were not much more than half a mile, maybe three-quarters of a mile, up-river from Canyon Creek. The trail finally dropped down to the great boulder field, although, a faint spur trail climbed higher and continued up the canyon. I scouted this and found it significantly smaller and less well-defined than the somewhat sketchy trail we had cleared, but, nevertheless, unequivocally an old human trail. I stopped at the aforementioned bend in the canyon, made where a spur ridge drops to the river from Bogus Point on Moody Ridge.

Retracing our steps, we shouldered our packs and slowly picked our way up the rather steep trail. Everyone seemed to agree that this is a better trail than the Pickering Bar Trail, about a mile to the west. At the spot next to the first high waterfall, 1000 feet above the river, we left our packs and explored out along the old trail to the ridge dividing Canyon Creek from the main canyon. Recently I opened a path through heavy brush out to a remarkable vista point on this ridge. We sat for a while on the rocks in the full warm westering sunlight, with a completely unobstructed view down the canyon, and across to Roach Hill and Iowa Hill. This was very pleasant, but after a while it was back on the trail again, and with the sun dropping low, in shade for the rest of the way back out to Potato Ravine. The chill wind was not too bad, inasmuch as we were on the uphill grade, but I for one was glad to reach the shelter of our cars and get out of that wind.

Such was a very nice day spent in Canyon Creek and the lower reaches of Giant Gap.

Date: Thu, 16 Jan 2003 08:33:29 -0800
To: North Fork Trails
From: Russell Towle
Subject: Coincidence in Canyon Creek

Hi all,

The day being so sunny and fine, yesterday morning, on an impulse, I set my computer work aside and drove over to the Canyon Creek Trail, planning to pull the miners' ribbed pipe out of a certain pool, a ways below the Big Tunnel. As I drove in I noted that there were many fresh tire tracks on the muddy, rutted track behind Heistercamp's. I'm not sure what to make of this. It could be someone is camping on one of the many spur roads leading over to Canyon Creek from the northern reach of the Diggings.

After a mile's drive through the Diggings, I backed my truck in to the trailhead, grabbed my pack, and set off down the trail. In a few minutes I reached the wagon road, passed the tunnel, and at a favorable spot picked my way down the mossy slopes to the creek. A perfect piece of driftwood with a natural hook lay ready to hand and I fished the pipe from the pool. It was about twenty feet long. Draping it across the rocks to dry, I went downstream in search of a tire I remembered seeing, but did not find it. So I lashed the pipe to my pack and clambered back up to the trail. Leaving the pack, I walked down to the bridge, scanning the creek below for the tire, but did not see it. I did see a truck innertube. At the bridge I explored an old miners' trail which gives every indication of climbing to meet the Indiana Hill Ditch, several hundred feet above. It is drastically overgrown, with much poison oak, and every kind of tree and shrub setting its hooks into those who try to pass. I had walked/crawled this little trail before, but now carried my explorations a little higher on the ridge, and became a little more certain that it must indeed continue up to the ditch.

Retreating, I started up the main trail, pausing to pick my way down mossy cliffs giving on to a sloping ramp of polished stone, jumped the boisterous creek where a boulder split its flow, and grabbed the innertube. I had to cut it with my knife to let out a sludge of water and mud which had seeped in. I carried it out, lashed it to my pack, and strode on up the trail. Only about thirty pounds, not bad at all. I put the whole affair into the back of the truck, my dog hopped in after, I closed up the tailgate, and got in. Just as I was about to start off, I saw another truck ahead, blocking my way.

As I walked toward it, wondering how it could be that anyone would have left their truck blocking me in, I realized that it was Catherine O'Riley's rig, a husky 4WD Toyota. There was no sign of Catherine. I began hollering out hellos, without any response. Suddenly she popped into view from behind the truck, astounded to see me.

She was heading for the river, but I had to pick up my kids in a couple hours. After moving her truck to give me room to escape, we decided to explore the Indiana Hill Ditch, going north from Potato Ravine. Here the ditch is still on BLM property; in a few hundred yards or less it passes onto the 800 acres now for sale. It is very hard to follow, being overgrown with manzanita, etc. (Jim Ricker and I once crawled all the way through to Gold Run Ravine, farther to the north). As we rounded a faint ridge we could hear the creek roaring and splashing below. So we picked our way down to a very nice gorgelet with many small waterfalls, six or eight feet high, and large masses of polished rock.

This is at the northernmost end of the 72-acre Canyon Creek Placer Mine, a patented claim making part of the 800 acres, which runs south all the way to the North Fork. Several gigantic bolts were embedded in the rocks above the creek, used to anchor the large sluice boxes which once winnowed fine gold from the tailings. Thousands of cubic yards per day of tailings from the Gold Run hydraulic mines used to flow down Canyon Creek.

We followed the creek down to the Oxbow, in an intricate exercise in scrambling over rocks and following ledges around cliffs. There we parted, and I rushed up the trail to my truck, not quite sure whether I would be in time to pick up my kids; but all was well.


Russell Towle

The last light of day streaming through Giant Gap illuminates the forest
grove on the top of "The Pyramid" of Green Valley. January 16, 2003


  1. Noticed the photos are from January 16, 2003. That is the first time I met Russell in person and the first of many hikes with Russell and Catherine. The photo of Russell and Greg that you have in the 1/15 entry is also from that day and was taken at the miners cave. I still remember Russell asking me before we left the cabins that morning "Do you have loppers?".

  2. Thank you Ron! So YOU took that photo of Greg and Russ; I love it. I have now properly credited it on that post.

    I find loose, unlabeled photos among Russ's digital files; no doubt HE remembered who had sent them to him but he didn't always make notes that guide me in crediting them now. I could get really crazy about tracking down the email they were attached to, but haven't yet. I very much appreciate you sharing your memories and adding information.

    You can see by now in this blogging project that it's sometimes hard to know which day to post something on -- the day Russell DID it, or the day he WROTE about it. I don't know that there's any "right" way to decide that; I've been mixing it up, trying to achieve the fullest coverage overall.

    Did you take the photo of Russ in the left sidebar? It's another unlabeled image file I'd like to credit properly.