January 3 (1981, 1989, 2000, 2001, 2003, 2008)
Big Valley Bluff ~ More on the “Blasted Trail”

1/3/81   Way before dawn... went to the Bluff yesterday and hiked down to the edge of the canyon. McClungs, anxious about heights, stayed above. I got hungry for quartz crystals and climbed down the cliff in search of quartz veins; I found many veins but few crystals. Clouds came in while we were there. We left after an hour or so.

It sprinkled lightly last night, the first precipitation in weeks. Incredible weather most of December—sunny, over 70° in the day, above 40° at night.”

[Russell Towle's journal]

*The "Bluff" referred to is Big Valley Bluff, a point on the north rim of the North Fork canyon west of Snow Mountain. It is quite unusual to have been able to visit that spot on January 2nd, since the access road would normally be long blocked with snow by this mid-winter date, being over 6000' elevation. The warm, sunny December he describes in the second paragraph explains how it could be.

View to the east from the Bluff
(Click to enlarge)

View to the west from the Bluff
(Click to enlarge)

View south across to Tadpole Canyon
Straight down over "Falcon Perch" high above the river
Taken August 2, 2008, after the "American Fire" finally died out, from the Iowa Hill Ditch trail near the head of Tadpole Canyon, looking north across the North Fork to Big Valley Bluffthe highest point on the right.
(Click to enlarge)

January the 3rd, 1989


I cried while skiing up the meadow and out from my cabin today. It really seemed like good-bye. The water line is frozen, pipes are broken inside the bathroom wall, it is all a mess and a clutter and a thousand memories of so many many prayers for someone to share that incredible beauty with. So many unanswered prayers. And there comes a point when it is just too much, it has gone entirely too far, and yet the sun lights it all up as always and I cry to think of so much loneliness. It is so less than fair. Then for my father to move out there. It's over. I'm gone; if I am seen around here now, it is only my ghost. I'm out of here.

Or so I say.

The sun sets, after another clear day, so blessed after too many storms.


[Russell Towle's journal]

Date: Fri, 3 Jan 2003 08:39:41 -0800
To: North_Fork_Trails
From: Russell Towle
Subject: Blasted Trail? Uhhh ... No!!!!

Hi all,

Terry Davis of the Sierra Club wrote, of Supervisor Rex Bloomfield's proposed Capitol-to-Capitol Trail,
"Bill & Russell & others, I've been horrified by Rex's trail concept ever since he started talking about it a couple of years ago. Wide, even grade, close to the river. He refused to even talk about using existing trails. He seemed to have in mind a mini super-highway, off limits only to motorized vehicles. I think that the Sierra Club, PARC, CNPS, Audubon all need to make it clear that we will not support the trail he has in mind--can you imagine blasting through the Giant Gap and the Royal Gorge? I wouldn't be so sure it's an impossible dream. Once the EIS/EIR is approved by the agencies, the grants will just roll in. We need to strategize on stopping, or modifying, this atrocity. I hate to wait until the environmental docs are out. We need to make this controversial now. Terry"
Now, others on this list have made some inquiries, and been assured by people involved in the actual planning of the trail, that:

1. It will not go through the Royal Gorge.
2. Its actual course has yet to be determined.

Hmmm. Then why did the map in the Bee article show it going right up the river?

I agree with Terry, we need to figure out how to stop this trail.

One thing we can do right now is let District Five Supervisor Rex Bloomfield know we are opposed. Perhaps the simplest message would be, "no new trail in the North Fork American canyon." That is least open to misinterpretation. His email address is:

Rex Bloomfield [no longer relevant]

He gets all these "North Fork Trails" email list messages anyway.


Russell Towle

Date: Fri, 3 Jan 2003 11:20:12 -0800
To: Deane_Swickard
From: Russell Towle
Subject: Re: Blasted Trail? Uhhh ... No!!!!
Cc: North_Fork_Trails

Hi Deane (Deane Swickard, Area Manager, Folsom Area, BLM),

Thanks for your reply, in which you wrote,
>Relax, there is no way a trail is going to be blasted up the North Fork
> First, it will never pass muster on environmental grounds.  It's
>inconsistent with wild river management.  There will be no blasting a trail
>along BLM or Forest Service land in the wild river corridor.  Since most of
>the river is publically owned from 1000ft above the Iowa Hill Bridge
>eastward, a trail within a quarter mile of the river doesn't have a prayer.
Yes, this seems only what good sense would imply.
>Rex has good intentions.  Trails are very popular and there is need for new
>trails throughout the state.  In this case, he seems limited a bit by his
>knowledge of the geography, the protections afforded wild rivers and the
>difficulty and cost of trail building in steep terrain.
Yes, Rex has good intentions. But the Road to Hell should by no means proceed up the North Fork of the American River!

Although it seems to *me* that no new trail would be allowed to be constructed within the North Fork American Wild & Scenic River corridor, nor, for that matter, within the canyon at large, this idea has been kicking around for a few years now, has not gone away, and in fact, has attracted a grant of $1.5 million from the CA Resources Agency, and a grant of $400,000 from the Placer Legacy.

It could be that Tahoe National Forest District Ranger Rich Johnson, of the Foresthill Ranger District, has provided encouragement to Rex Bloomfield, about the prospects for building a new trail, suitable for horses and mountain bikes, up the river, within Tahoe National Forest. For, Rich Johnson has said to me personally that he envisions opening up a trail from Mumford Bar, downstream to Italian Bar. Such a trail, I believe, existed in the 19th century, since I seem to recall that, in his diary, I.T. Coffin records going from Italian Bar up to Mumford Bar in 1863, along the river, which would be quite a strenuous exercise without some kind of trail to follow.

So, in this one reach of the river, it could be maintained that a trail already exists.

Similarly for the reach from Euchre Bar, upstream to Italian Bar.

I have been scouting out some of these old trails, now abandoned, but hesitate to bring them to the attention of Tahoe National Forest, lest they become mountain bike trails. I have about had it with mountain bikes in the North Fork American, especially within the Wild & Scenic River corridor.

Thanks again for your remarks, which tend to quiet my extreme terror.

All the best,

Russell Towle

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