“2/27/88 Saturday morning, the first morning in weeks that has seemed cool enough to merit a fire. [...]
Yesterday, while walking near the old mine, I found a fox fresh dead, lying in an improbable place, amid some branches at the base of small cliffs, almost as though it had fallen. If the flies hadn't found it first, I might have skinned it. Yuk.
So clouds cover the sky, and perhaps, strangest of all things, it may rain, something we haven't seen since January.”
[Russell Towle's journal]
Date: Wed, 28 Feb 2001 09:19:27 -0800
From: Russell Towle
Subject: More old trails near Canyon Creek
On the sunny and warm Tuesday, February 27 2001, Catherine O'Riley and I hiked the mystic and historic Canyon Creek Trail, from the trailhead at Potato Ravine Pass in the Gold Run Diggings, down to the North Fork. The recent snow storms had brought down many branches from the oaks and knobcone pines along the trail, and we paused to clear the debris, dragging branches twenty feet long to the side, and cutting through other branches with a handsaw. Catherine applied herself to vagrant shrubs with her loppers; the snow had bent many smaller branches down across the trail. She also paid special attention to poison oak, a personal vendetta.
We continued down to Gorge Point, where the blessing of micro-climate has spurred early bloom in a number of species, including Brewer's Arabis [Arabis breweri, also called Brewer's rock cress], Rue Anemone, and Biscuit Root. The Six-Inch Trail led us into the strange inner gorge of this part of Canyon Creek. We marveled at the corkscrew chasm which plunged toward the head of the highest waterfall.
Returning to the main trail, we descended to The Terraces, had lunch, and took the side trail up to the base of the big waterfall. It was impressive, blasting rainbowed spray, as the warmth of the day had melted lots of snow in the upper basin of the creek. Then it was on down to the river, which is also flowing at a considerably higher rate after the recent storms. Near the very bottom of the trail one may clamber down to the creek, just above the last and lowest waterfall, to a spot where the creek enters a narrow slot and may be jumped easily. On the far (west) side a huge terrace had been blasted from the cliffs in the 1870s (?), to set the last of the undercurrents before the tailings from the mines in Gold Run had to be given up to the North Fork. It had occurred to me that a trail might follow the North Fork downstream from here, just as one leads upstream. Although I had scouted for such a trail in years past, I had missed it, but this time Catherine and I struck gold. A very well-defined trail, in places bolstered by dry-laid stone walls of a goodly size, proceeds downstream, around one hundred feet above the river.
That this trail may date back to the days of the 49ers is suggested by its abrupt termination on the cliffs of the undercurrent Terrace. The final descent of the trail to the easy crossing of Canyon Creek was blasted into thin air when the terrace was made. However, there is an easy ad hoc approach to the trail a few yards to the south.
We followed the trail for about a quarter mile, where it appeared to descend to the river and end. This part of the river was flanked by huge boulders (instead of cliffs), and thus one can actually move around up- and downstream even during high flows. Suspecting that the trail might continue, we followed the boulders downstream and then climbed up onto the mossy ledges above. Sure enough, there it was; and on the return, it proved that this old trail is actually continuous, and we had just missed the main trail, and followed a spur down to the river.
Proceeding downstream, some rather sharp blades of rock were passed, where the trail became sketchy but still easily passable, and reached a very steeply sloping mass of rock. Here it degenerated into some discontinuous ledges a few inches wide. We could see the upper end of Pickering Bar across the river, a little ways downstream. Dean Decker had mentioned to me once that a trail went from Pickering Bar, upstream to Canyon Creek, on the south side of the river. We could see traces of this trail extending about a quarter mile upstream from the Bar, over some very steep terrain, but then it appeared to end, perhaps descending to a boulder-field which extends all the way up to Canyon Creek on the south bank of the river, similar to the smaller one we had followed on the north bank.
Our trail now descended to a boulder field/Quaternary gravel bar of the same age and provenance as Pickering Bar, i.e., a remnant of glacial outwash gravels, most likely of the most recent, Tioga event, which terminated not much more than 10,000 years ago. We visited the base of Indiana Ravine, with its masses of tailings from the hydraulic mines at its headwaters, and flat iron bars embedded here and there in the alluvium, relicts of the undercurrents once installed in the ravine. There is a little waterfall and plunge pool here. A trail leaves this area going upstream, which we found to be "the" trail, linking to the one we had just followed. There were some rather intense efforts, probably most significantly in the 1890s, to mine the very limited volumes of Quaternary gravels here. A rather large pile of large boulders had been heaped up, and nearby, a shaft, now flooded with water, had been driven through perhaps twenty feet of the outwash gravels. presumably to a network of lateral drifts along bedrock. A large tailings pile flanked this shaft, with a lot of angular fragments of bedrock (metavolcanics of the Calaveras Complex), showing that when the bedrock was reached, it was ripped up pretty thoroughly to extract the gold which had settled into the cracks and crevices.
The afternnoon was waning and we made our way quickly back to Canyon Creek and up the steep trail. It had been a beautiful day. The new (old) trail we explored was quite interesting, and there were signs that it had been of somewhat greater importance than the similar trail which leads upstream from Canyon Creek. This trail connected Indiana Ravine/Pickering Bar to Canyon Creek Trail. The way it has been truncated, at Canyon Creek, by the blasted-out undercurrent terrace, shows that it is older than the terrace. Let the terrace be dated to 1875 (it may be a few years older, the Canyon Creek Placer Mine was being worked by W.H. Kinder & Co. in the late 1860s); then this trail predates 1875. I have always wondered if the Canyon Creek Trail dates back to the Gold Rush, or at least to the early 1850s, and now I am leaning more strongly towards that notion.
I used to say, that while the Canyon Creek Trail is wonderful, once you get to the river, there's no place to go. However, old trails trails lead both upstream into Giant Gap, and downstream to Indiana Ravine and Pickering Bar. Both trails have hazardous portions, where they traverse cliffs. It is possible to fix these problem spots. Both trails offer lateral access to the river in various places.
The existence of the trail Catherine and I explored yesterday points to the possibility of going from Colfax to Iowa Hill on the Stevens Trail, to Fords Bar on the Blue Wing Trail, to Pickering Bar on the River Trail, to Canyon Creek on the new-old trail, and to Gold Run Diggings on the Canyon Creek Trail.