February 24 (1978, 1987, 2005, 2006)
Taking Notice

2/24/78   early morning. clouds on high, the light soft, the canyon meditative and quiet, the river's faint roar all that speaks, not a leaf is stirring. i watch a grey squirrel descend the giant oak of arches, stop midway down the main trunk, and carefully stretch each foreleg out as far as it can reach, first left, then right—it is early even for squirrels.”

[Russell Towle's journal]

2/24/87 ...  Just before dawn; a cold morning, with a dusting of snow on the ground. ... I made a visit to Nevada City TNF headquarters as planned, and spent a couple of hours talking with Bill Woody and Bill Baker. I also made some copies. The Environmental Assessment for the Giant Gap timber sale never even mentioned possible effects upon the viewshed of Lovers Leap, Casa Loma, etc. I could not obtain a copy of the 1978 Timber Management Plan, but a skim revealed, among other things, that only sixty-nine letters were received in way of public comment upon the Plan, which was the turning point towards clear-cutting, and away from selective harvest methods. I managed to leave a map behind which shows the current schedule of harvests in TNF... so, I may return this morning to retrieve it.”

[Russell Towle's journal]

Date Thu Feb 24 09:08:38 2005
To: "Scott [...]"
From: Russell Towle
Subject: Re: Good Book...
>Hi Russell - have enjoyed all of your recent 'reports'...   Found a book you would likely enjoy - Annals of the Former World by John McPhee - wonderful group of essays linked together by the roadcuts along I-80 from the East Coast along to our areas - lots of observations in Gold Run and our Sierra Nevada ranges.   Scott
Thanks Scott.

McPhee. I have read a fair amount, including stuff about the roadcuts of I-80. So I probably had a look at this once.

The two most-massive slabs of metavolcanic Calaveras Complex rock which are exposed in Giant Gap as Lovers Leap and the Pinnacles (west slab) and two opposed unnamed spurs (east slab) both find expression in the (two highest) roadcuts between the Alta and Dutch Flat exits.

If McPhee had ever noted *that* I would really have sat up and taken notice.


Russell Towle

Near Giant Gap
[North Fork Trails blogpost, February 24, 2006:

Kathie Schmiechen, a firefighter who once worked for Friends of the River, stood rigidly on the High Old Upriver Trail, or HOUT, one arm raised high and arrow-straight, with palm held flat, in what could only have been some ancient Roman military hand-signal, meaning, I suppose, "Halt!"

In just such posture some antique Roman captain bestrode a bridge, and raised his arm in silent warning to the hoarsely screaming hordes of wildings: "Advance at your peril!"

I halted. I listened.

A chirp—or it may have been a cheep; or a quizzical buzzing, rhythmically repeated; or some friendly, dispersed tittering, away in the sun-sparked Canyon Live Oaks; or a mosquito-bill-thin shrieking buzz, pitched almost above the human ear; or a restless mumbled clucking, away in the manzanita and silktassel.

"A Ruby-Crowned Kinglet," Kathie exclaimed, happy, confident. Then her arm dropped, her gaze turned inward, and a frown creased her brow. "Or it may have been a Wrentit."

There were birds about. Many birds. The sun was shining, the grass was greening, butterflies were flying, flowers blooming, a river always roaring, and snow-flecked cliffs rose two thousand feet above us, across the North Fork, near Giant Gap.

Ed Pandolfino had been teaching Kathie Schmiechen to recognize birds by their songs and calls. I went hiking with Ed once, in the old forests of Duncan Canyon, an upper tributary of the Middle Fork American, and was astounded by his ability to recognize birds by sound alone.

Kathie arrived soon after ten in the morning for a visit to Canyon Creek. My old friend John Davenport, of Gold Run, had stopped by to say hello, as I sat by a picnic table in the Tesoro gas station parking lot, looking at a piece of Bigleaf Maple burl I have been polishing for days on end. The bird's-eye grain is spectacular. John asked me about the big blasted cut in the bedrock near The Oxbow, on Canyon Creek, right by where The Old Wagon Road makes a switchback, and turns downcanyon for its final approach to the twelve-foot by nine-foot tunnel of the Gold Run Ditch & Mining Company.

This 1873-era "drain tunnel" was critical to the continuation of hydraulic mining at Gold Run; only by means of this tunnel could the deeper and richer gravels be worked. Millions of cubic yards of tailings flowed through the giant tunnel, all lined with sluice boxes, a swiftly flowing muddy mess of clay and sand and hundred-pound boulders, and gold, and mercury.

Tons of mercury.

Then the tailings entered the sluice boxes of the Canyon Creek Placer Mine, and continued all the way down to the North Fork in the sluices, interrupted only by the many waterfalls, and at last were discharged into the North Fork proper, so clogging the mighty stream that one could drive a wagon right over the tailings, up the river from Mineral Bar, below Colfax, to Canyon Creek, below Gold Run, a distance of over ten miles.

I told John that the big blasted cut in the bedrock (a volume of approximately 40 feet wide by 100 feet long by ten feet depth), by the Oxbow, was made to accommodate giant sluice boxes, allowing the tailings to follow a straighter, more direct course down Canyon Creek, and also allowing the tailings to make a kind of waterfall fifteen or twenty feet high, which sudden fall served well to smash up the cemented gravel from the Diggings, and release its gold.

Kathie and I advanced into the Diggings and parked near the Canyon Creek Trail. Soon enough we were striding along the Indiana Hill Ditch, which coincides with a small length of the trail. The ditch was finished on September 13, 1852, and delivering water from Canyon Creek itself to the new "diggings" at the head of Indiana Ravine, all staked off into small claims during 1851, and only worked to a limited extent until the ditch arrived, in 1852.

The ditch traverses shady north-facing slopes in Potato Ravine, where the somewhat reclusive shrub called California Hazelnut grows, along with other very mesic-adapted woody plants like Pacific Dogwood, Thimbleberry, Wood Rose, and Huckleberry.

For a while, there, Kathie and I were on BLM land; we had crossed the 800-acres-now-for-sale to get to the trail, and would re-enter the 800 acres almost immediately, in the form of the Canyon Creek Placer Mine, a patented claim; for all the 800 acres is made from old patented mining claims.

The BLM lands are areas never patented.

We found the creek low enough to jump, down by the bridge site, and were soon passing the lovely purple Brewer's Rock Cress and yellow Biscuit Root at Gorge Point, soon, I say, although in point of fact Kathie made her ancient Roman military command many times, as we advanced down the trail.

Eventually, then, we found ourselves at the base of the Big Waterfall, which may be 150 feet high, and which bursts into view from the peculiar Inner Gorge as tho from a cave in the cliffs, a surging mass of whitewater.

The sun was very bright, and the air temperature was climbing into the sixties at the least. Near the Big Waterfall, it was cooler, tho, with droplets of spray wafting a hundred yards down the canyon, conveying a sharper coldness, in tiny dots, to our faces and arms.

It felt good.

We ambled down to the lawnlike flowered Terraces, with the old cook-stove the miners who tended the sluice boxes once used, lying in pieces, then along Lower Terraces Trail back to the main trail, then east on the HOUT.

We crossed Bogus Gully and turned the corner on Bogus Spur to the fine overlook spot, where we had our lunch and admired Sarah Orange-Tip butterflies, among others.

Kathie and I both had things to take care of later in the afternoon, so an early retreat was called, and we made a slow slog up the steeps of the Canyon Creek Trail, visiting the Six-Inch Trail and the Blasted Digger Trail, along the way up and up and up and out.

It was another great day in the great canyon.


Hear the Ruby-crowned Kinglet:

Hear the Wrentit:

See the Sara's Orangetip butterfly:

A WONDERFUL video — “Sara Orange Tip: Butterfly Life Cycle” on YouTube:

Excerpt from the intro text:
This beautiful white, orange, and black butterfly is found throughout the western United States, and is one of the first butterflies to emerge in spring. It is easily mistaken for the more common Cabbage White Butterflies and other similar species unless one is able to get close enough to see the bright orange wingtips.

As Winter ends and the days slowly begin to warm, these butterflies begin emerging from their long winter sleep as pupae, and start looking for mates. The females seek out plants in the Mustard family and lay their eggs on the plant's stems. After a week or so, the eggs develop and hatch, after which the tiny larvae, not much longer than 1/8" eat their eggshells (shown here in time lapse) for some extra protien to start the caterpillar phase of their lives.

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