February 28 (1979, 1986, 1988, 2002, 2004, 2005)
Many Forms of Beauty; and of Damage

2/28/79 ~ well, it is snowing again, huge ‘flakes’, started at dawn. ...

this day, right now, this is beautiful, and all my dreams have come true. in a way, snowfall like this, when it dusts the branches of the various bushes and trees, reveals their forms better than if they were bare of it. oh. I love it. ”

[Russell Towle's journal]

February 28, 1986   Sunset: a band-tailed pigeon makes short electronically spaced whistles in the warm dusk. After record rains, record high temperatures have ensued; spring, or even summer, seems upon us.

Last night the stars were so bright I walked up to the meadow and gazed; ... I lit some minor fires, burning ceanothus stumps, again and again. This morning, I visited the ashes of last night's fires; I heard some buzzing and found many flies of a certain kind clustering on the sunny sides of pine trees. [...]

I stood a graceful cedar stump up today, upside-down in fact; they are very sculptural, very beautiful. Another stump was too heavy for me to heave upside-downright, but I'll get it when I'm stronger, when someone is here to help me. Cedar stumps have roots like flames, forking flames ...”

[Russell Towle's journal]

2/28/88   Morning, grey and cloudy: yesterday afternoon it sprinkled ever so slightly, this morning again something wet precipitates from the sky, why, almost to the extent that the ground is dampened. [...]

Now it begins to rain, lightly, the trees gesticulate, gently, the canyon goes gray in the grasp of showers, my cabin a drum played by thousands of tiny watery hands, my labor foregone, digging beds wherein to rest tiny sprouts: foolish? for there's still snow to come, still frost will clamp rich soil tight within its grasp...

Later: the rain has passed, only higher clouds remain. I cooked spaghetti and sprinkled it liberally with parmesan cheese, ate plenty, while reading Suetonius and leafing through my dictionary.”

[Russell Towle's journal]

Date: Thu, 28 Feb 2002
To: North_Fork_Trails Email Group
From: Russell Towle
Subject: Adventures

Hi all,

The swinging of a heavy mattock last Sunday had left me rather sore in the lower back, so that after sitting for a while, I could not stand straight up but mysteriously leaned forward, like an old man. However, when an opportunity arose to visit Lovers Leap with Catherine O'Riley, I was more than ready. Catherine had never been there before. After picking up my kids from school and dropping them at home to fend for themselves, we headed out there on Monday afternoon.

It was one of those amazing winter days in the Sierra which seem almost summer-like. Canyon wrens were singing somewhere on the cliffs, the river was roaring over 2000 feet below, and to the west the thin silhouette of the Coast Ranges north of San Francisco could be seen above the haze.

After visiting the Leap itself we wandered west and down through the rather remarkable forest, with its fairly giant oak and pine, crossing the nameless ravine which debouches into Giant Gap, and climbing to the the mining ditch on its west side. This ditch, which appears likely to have served the small hydraulic mine workings west of Bogus Point, breaks out onto the rim of the canyon in Giant Gap and stays just below the rim for perhaps half a mile to the west. It makes a wonderful trail, although much blocked by brush and infested with poison oak. I have hiked it since 1978 and have tried to interest the BLM and others in its value as part of a "Giant Gap" trail since about 1985.

Unfortunately, although where it first breaks out into the main canyon it is on BLM land, it soon crosses onto private lands, then again onto BLM lands. There are as many as ten private parcels along the rim of the canyon in Giant Gap, between BLM lands at Lovers Leap and BLM lands a mile west at Bogus Point.

So, we had an excellent tour. On the way back to the Leap we followed a bear trail which has been there for many years, and climbs almost straight up the steep side of the ravine. A ridiculous route.



Russell Towle

Snow, Flowers, and Waterfalls
[North Fork Trails blogpost, Saturday, February 28, 2004:
http://northforktrails.blogspot.com/2004/02/snow-flowers-and-waterfalls.html ]
Friday I dropped my son at school and left Alta for Gold Run, Garrett Road, and the Paleobotanist Trail. I hoped that an early start would save me from that second snowfall which is typical at these elevations; first, a storm loads up the forest with masses of snow, then, as soon as the sun shines, often, say, the next day, all that tree-snow comes whomping down in a soggy, dripping mess.

An accident seemed to have blocked the eastbound freeway near the Dutch Flat exit, and a long line of cars and trucks was rapidly getting longer.

A few inches of snow covered the ground in that fine forest atop the Bluffs, and the trees dripped, but did not snow-whomp. It was interesting to see the Diggings in snow. There were occasional glimpses of the North Fork canyon to the south and east, fog swirling here and there, and snow near the canyon rim. I hastened along the winding trail towards Canyon Creek. It had come up big, raging in fact, on Wednesday, when the North Fork itself had topped 4000 cubic feet per second at the North Fork Dam (Lake Clementine), below Auburn. I wanted to visit the waterfalls, since I have yet to photograph them when the creek is really big.

In coldish weather an interesting phenomenon may be observed in the Diggings. A little down the Main Diggings Road from its crossing by the Paleobotanist Trail, an old mine shaft plunges a hundred feet or so to meet a long tunnel. The shaft is the historic "49" shaft, and the tunnel has been called "the gravel tunnel." The tunnel was driven in 1874, and follows the bedrock floor of the ancient river channel north. The shaft, tho, seems to be that very one sunk in 1861, on the banks of Potato Ravine, which established the depth to bedrock beneath the channel. At that time the shaft was 250 feet deep. Subsequent mining stripped away 150 feet of gravel, so now it is only 100 feet deep. And it connects to a roughly horizontal tunnel.

The "interesting phenomenon" is that fog rises from the shaft on cold mornings, when the rest of the Diggings is clear. It is as tho—as tho—as tho some tribe of Indian spirits has set up camp deep within the earth, and the smoke of their secret fire escapes up the 49 shaft. Now, fog forms whenever the air falls below the dew point, which point depends upon two variables, temperature and humidity. Given such-and-such a temperature, increasing humidity could drop the air below the dew point; or, given such-and-such a humidity, decreasing temperature could do the same. A few feet below ground, the temperature of the earth is about 57 degrees Fahrenheit. Now, colder air is denser and heavier, warmer air is less-dense and lighter. Fog rises from the 49 shaft when air temperatures at the surface are (how much?) colder than 57 degrees, which is a commonplace there in the winter, since the shaft is really within the huge mining pit below the Bluffs. Cold air sinks into this pit at night, and can't readily escape. Let us say that there is little or no wind and air temperatures in the pit are in the thirties. This is much less than 57 degrees, the aforementioned earth-temperature; hence (somewhat moist) air within the tunnel and shaft is warmed by the 57-degree gravels at depth, and this relatively warm air rises, and, reaching the surface at the top of the shaft, is instantly chilled below the dew point.

I noted a small column of fog rising from the shaft as I hurried along; the Indian spirits were awake; soon I was at the snowy head of the Canyon Creek Trail, and set off towards the waterfalls and the North Fork. I was a little disappointed when I reached that part of the trail where, suddenly, Canyon Creek is directly below, and as I listened to the loud voices of the many cascades and low falls in that area, I realized that, yes, it was big; but not raging big. Perhaps the lower temperatures and snowfall had slowed the runoff.

The snow steadily thinned as I dropped lower. There was a constant dripping from the trees as it melted. The little bridge had a thin layer of almost transparent, wet snow, but thereafter there was hardly any. The creek was indeed bigger than it had been on my previous visit. Some very fine views open up just after crossing the little bridge, and one can see that strange little fall, the Leaper, which rises in an arc before free-falling down a slot-like embayment in the cliff. Now it roared out of its narrow channel and slammed into the wall of the embayment with a loud cracking thunder.

Right beside it is the main waterfall, the first big waterfall as one descends Canyon Creek. There is quite a fine view of it from the trail: I call that place Waterfall View. I have a photograph of this waterfall taken ca. 1875, when the creek was lined with giant sluice boxes, and water from Bear River, the South Yuba, and the North Fork of the North Fork was used in the hydraulic mines of Gold Run and perforce flowed into Canyon Creek. The creek was perpetually big, back then. Thousands of "miners inches" of water were used in the mines, brought by long canals from the higher country. One miners inch is something like seventeen thousand gallons per day.

Sluice channels above upper falls, Canyon Creek.
Photographed in 1875
The Upper Falls, Canyon Creek
February 28, 2004
These "upper falls" were nice and big, but not exceptionally so; I photographed them and hustled down the trail. I should say that at the very instant of dropping my son at school I learned that it was a minimum day; I would have to be back to pick him up at noon, not at 2:30, as I had imagined. So haste was in order.

I had forgotten to bring a watch, but knew from past experience that it takes about thirty-five minutes to reach the little bridge from the Bluffs.

Not raging, but very impressive. More and more waterfalls appeared along the way, in new shapes and louder voices. In places the trail is cut into cliffs, and it is interesting to hear the sounds of the falls reflected from the cliffs as one passes. The Inner Gorge was spectacular and, as usual, somewhat frightening; the trail passes above it on a ledge blasted from a cliff, and one peers a hundred, two hundred feet down into a most remarkable chasm, twisted, narrow beyond belief, rife with hidden waterfalls of great power, and essentially inaccessible.

Gorge Point was passed, with its same Brewer's Rock Cress and Biscuit Root. Suddenly the North Fork canyon is in full view, and the Big Waterfall roars away below, out of sight. Since time was short I took the steep short-cut down. The Big Waterfall, around 120 feet high, was still in the shadow of its awesome gorge. As I neared the viewpoint below the falls, where the trail coming up from the Terraces ends, I noticed many Birdfoot ferns. These are smallish ferns with narrow leaflets, a ghostly light grey in color, adapted to dry conditions, such as cliffs baked beneath full sun. There is much in the way of varied microclimate along Canyon Creek, and I have identified eleven different species of fern growing there.

Spray billowed out from the falls and chilled me, so I took my photographs and hurried down to the Terraces. The fog and low clouds were thinning and I enjoyed sunshine, and stopped to photograph the narrow trail, all covered in a turf of grasses and sedges and moss, gleaming in the sun, still wet from the storm.

At the Terraces I turned onto the Lower Terraces Trail back to the CCT, and was striding along when a voice called out, "Hey Russell!" And there was Ron Gould, a couple hundred feet above me on the main trail.

We continued on down to the river, pausing to photograph one of the larger waterfalls, another one which develops a double path when flows are high, and therefore looks strange and unfamiliar. Then down the last few hundred yards to the last big waterfall, at the river itself, also doubling and even tripling its path, booming, spray rising.

The North Fork was surging along quite rapidly, fairly well bank-full, still over 3000 cfs, as I was to learn later on the Internet. Ron and I took the Low Old Upriver Trail to some great viewpoints, where one can see, first, Lovers Leap, all snowy and still partly hidden in fog, with Bogus Spur and by all rights the HOUT (tho we couldn't see a sign of it) in the middle ground; and then, around a few corners, the Pinnacles and the Eminence came into view. It was great to see the Leap and the Pinnacles so well frosted in snow. We photographed them, and then returned to the last and lowest waterfall, and took more pictures.

The Big Waterfall" by Russell Towle
All too soon I had to start up the trail. Ron stayed to visit the Big Waterfall at his leisure, but I walked on up and out without a break, and reached the Bluffs just before noon, only a few minutes late. However, the freeway traffic had been detoured onto the back roads, and it took a long time to reach the school in Alta. All was well, however, my son was waiting patiently in the chill shadowed snow in front of the school, and home we went. It had been another wonderful visit to Canyon Creek and the North Fork.

There [is a] useful and interesting internet site I would like to mention.

For those interested in California history, the Library of Congress has an amazing collection of books online, the text having been scanned and OCR'd, so that it is a searchable database. There are many Gold Rush diaries in this collection. Suppose, knowing that Gold Run was once called Cold Springs, one searches for Cold Springs. If any one of the Gold Rush diaries mentions Cold Springs, you will find it, and, moreover, be able to link directly to that part of that diary. Of course there were many places called Cold Springs in those days, so some caution must be used (and what temperature is the usual cold spring? Yes, of course: 57 degrees).

Go to

where the main search page is found for this collection. You can search through bibliographic records or the text (of the entire collection) itself. I almost always search the text. You do not need to enclose multiple words in quotes, as when using Google.

Date: Mon Feb 28 09:10:52 2005
To: NorthForkTrails
From: Russell Towle
Subject: Damage to Big Granite Trail, update

Hi all,

Last fall word came in from Tom Martin of Alta that the historic Big Granite Trail (BGT) had suffered new and additional damage from logging operations.

The BGT originally connected Cisco on the north to the North Fork American River on the south, and beyond to the La Trinidad Mine in Sailor Canyon. See the Cisco Grove and Duncan Peak USGS 7.5-minute map quadrangles.

The more northern parts of the BGT became roads long ago, for instance "The Grade" is what a local's local calls the road from Cisco Grove up to Huysink Lake. This road shows on a map from 1902. Currently one accesses the BGT by driving past Huysink towards Pelham Flat. An unmarked road left leads to the trail. Descending, one enters Four Horse Flat, where the original line of the BGT was destroyed by logging, some ten or fifteen years ago.

It is in this same area where new damage occurred last fall. The snow fell before I had a chance to get in there. Two lumber companies own land there, intermeshed with Tahoe National Forest (TNF) lands: Sierra Pacific Industries (SPI; famous for clearcuts) and another outfit called CHY. It turns out both have timber harvest plans, either approved (SPI) or pending approval (CHY) in the area. I was unable to determine "who done it."

I obtained the CHY and SPI harvest plans from the CA Department of Forestry (CDF), and wrote a letter to Deputy Chief Bill Schultz, complaining of the damage to a truly great and wondrous historic trail. This trail makes, I'd say, the very most scenic entrance into the North Fork canyon of all the old trails.

Now, it is remarkable and horrible that, in a frenzy of timber harvests in the 1960s, very many of our historic trails were ruined, utterly obliterated. What I find strange is that the process continues to this very day.

I copied my CDF letter to Governor Schwarzenegger, for I have a feeling, an odd feeling, that almost nobody in our State or our County governments has the slightest inkling that these historic public trails are being ripped up by bulldozers.

Today I received a letter from Dale Geldert, Director of CDF, in which he writes "Governor Schwarzenegger has asked us to respond to your letter regarding harvesting practices and protection of historic trails in the North Fork of the American River." Geldert goes on to remark that the CHY harvest plan is still under review and that no decision will be made until the snow melts and on-the-ground inspections can be made by CDF personnel.

I also learn, from John Betts, an archeologist who has worked hard to preserve and document petroglyphs in the Sierra, and who once worked for CDF, that CDF almost never hears from people who care about historic trails. It is so far off CDF radar that one might lose hope; but John says what is really needed is people like us making comments on timber harvest plans, and demanding the old trails be protected. John says CDF almost never hears about these trails, and often does not know they exist.

We wrote letters to CDF about such a trail at Lost Camp (south of Blue Canyon) not too long ago. The historic China Trail was actually marked as a skid trail, in the Siller Bros. Lumber Company harvest plan, that is, bulldozers were *supposed* to use the old trail to drag logs up to a landing. But our letters forced a small change, protecting the China Trail.

We couldn't stop the timber harvest at Lost Camp, but we did change the plan and protect the China Trail from what might have been very significant damage.

Such is some news about the recent damage to the Big Granite Trail. The public comment period will, it seems, remain open on the CHY harvest plan, at least until next June, when the snow will be gone, and the on-the-ground inspections can go forward.


Russell Towle

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