January 8 (1977, 1978, 2003)
Stratigraphy, Waterfalls, and High-Flying Wonders

1/8/77  a day at moody ridge; a tromping around in the serpentine belt, and really appreciating the plants, the terrain. trying to understand the stratigraphy of the bedrock series/volcanics in the moody ridge–casa loma area. some confusing stuff. i can't understand the gap between the two ridges, except as a possible relict of pre-volcanic topography; there are some stream gravels that would seem to indicate a stream valley—but gravels rich in quartz and metamorphics are interbedded high in the volcanic ash exposed in the railroad cut where casa loma–moody join. so high i wonder where the stream could have originated, since the volcanic ash must have covered much of the higher ground towards the crest. careful mapping may clue me in.”

[Russell Towle's journal]

1/8/78   morning. cloudy sky & south wind. storm after storm, it would appear that the drought is over... i am groggy, muscles sore, from a long day yesterday. neil and dana and gary and i hiked to [the Canyon Creek] waterfalls, but not quite in time to see the rainbows. some other time we'll go down there at the right time to see the gorgeous display those falls must put on in the sunshine. they are in such a narrow gorge that the sun is shining for only a few hours in the late morning.

Russell's sketch in the margin of the journal page
there are about seven main waterfalls, many cascades, and a unique inner gorge section between waterfalls two and three (counting down from the top). the inner gorge has walls only about five to ten feet apart and follows a sinuous path between cliffs that rise hundreds of feet on either side. there may be a waterfall hidden within it, clouds of spray billow out here and there. this incredibly narrow cleft ends at waterfall three, a three-leap fall of about 100 feet in height.

ron met us while we were out there [This "ron" is Ron La Lande, landscape painter, who was living out at Casa Loma at this time] and he and neil and i went all the way down to the american river, visiting all the falls. there is an old old trail that goes down beside canyon creek, usually a few hundred feet above, with laterals that go to each waterfall ~ quite convenient, a legacy from the gold miners.

the american river was wide and green and fast and deep; it was apparent that during the recent rains it rose about four or five feet above the level we saw it at yesterday.”

[Russell Towle's journal]

Date: Wed, 8 Jan 2003 08:35:44 -0800
To: northforktrails
From: Russell Towle
Subject: Mystery Birds of Canyon Creek

Hi all,

Yesterday I met Catherine O'Riley at the Dutch Flat exit on I-80; we snuck into the Gold Run Diggings at Heistercamp's, and drove to the head of the Canyon Creek Trail. The day was surpassingly clear, and warming rapidly, with the most amazing pure blue expanse of sky.

We paused briefly at Tunnel Camp, and pocketed two pieces of blue plastic Chris Schiller & I had missed, a few weeks ago. We continued south on the slender trail, and noted one more length of plastic pipe underwater in one of the many pools along the creek below. The very last, one hopes, of the miners' equipage. It looks to be around fifteen feet long; it is of the white, ribbed, four-inch-diameter type, and must be retrieved soon, before the creek comes up big in a storm. There is also an automobile tire in that same vicinity—for Canyon Creek parallels I-80 for miles, upstream, and somehow, tires get into the creek, and then floods carry them down. I know of about four tires  between the Big Tunnel and the North Fork American, a mile south along the creek.

As we passed Gorge Point we looked for early flowers, but saw none, and then, a ways below the Rockslide, we decided to drop directly down to the Big Waterfall. Winding along past rocky bosses and gnarled shrubs on the very steep slope, we enjoyed the intense sunshine, and soon had the waterfall in view. Canyon Creek, despite the snow in its upper basin, has only a moderate flow, but the falls looked very good, and the morning sun was just now reaching them, within their narrow embayment in the soaring cliffs.

At the base of the falls there seemed nothing better to do than to luxuriate on the sunny rocks. The cliffs rise in great hackly angular slabs, with an inordinate number of overhangs, and all very very steep—in fact, one has to go to Lovers Leap itself to find cliffs steeper than these, beside the Big Waterfall. These falls seem to be around 120 feet high, altogether. The cliffs on the west side rise nearly 1000 feet.

On my last visit, December 7, I had seen a Bald Eagle at Gorge Point, and then five white pigeons, roosting on the eastern cliffs beside the Big Waterfall. To my amazement, the pigeons were still there, or at least, four of them. We watched them zoom around and then land on the cliffs very close to the top of the waterfall.

We descended Waterfall Trail to The Terraces, and then on down to the creek again on a short spur trail there, crossing, and scrambled to the top of another waterfall. While there we saw what looked to be an eagle or an osprey soaring far above. It was heading towards the Big Waterfall from over Diving Board Ridge, and began folding its wings and dropping, bullet-like, at high speeds, then opening its wings for an instant, then folding and looping lower; suddenly it spread it wings and landed in some trees, perhaps 800 feet above us.

We returned to The Terraces, where we did indeed find flowers on the very verge of bloom, the California Milkmaids which are always the first, at this one spot, which the miners who tended the sluice boxes chose very carefully for their main camp; for it has a very warm microclimate, and the first flowers always appear here. These flowers had not yet opened, but it cannot be long now.

We heard the scream of a hawk, which is so expertly mimicked by Steller Jays that I am never quite sure what is going on, but we saw the hawk itself, a Redtail I thought, not too far above, circling and screaming, and what appeared to be our eagle/osprey, also circling, several hundred feet yet higher. We watched them for a while, and then the two of them disappeared over Diving Board Ridge to the west.

Backlit view from the Canyon Creek Trail of the Diving Board ridge,
protruding into the North Fork American River Canyon
It was time to go, I had my children to pick up from school, so we started up. The sun! the warmth! It might have been all of 75 degrees down there. The native Rock Bugs (I don't know what these true bugs are actually called) were swarming over boulders and moss. We took the side trail to the Overlook of the Blasted Digger, admired the North Fork, Giant Gap, Sawtooth Ridge, and the snow peaks in the distance, and then hurried back to the main trail and up and out.

I was only a few minutes late at Alta-Dutch Flat School.

This coming Saturday might be a good day to hike the Canyon Creek Trail down to the river, and haul out the plastic pipe, if anyone is interested (Craig & Karen; Eric Smith; ?).


Russell Towle

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