April 11 (1978, 1987, 1988, 2001, 2002)
Joy, Fear, and Reverence in “The Great American Cañon”

4/11/78 […] and we went to the Leap. It was a perfect spring day, and the late afternoon sunlight displayed the canyon to its best advantage.”

[Russell Towle's journal]

4/11/87 […] I've been upset these past two weeks, after the Saturday incident. Apparently I've inspired quite a bit of disapproval because of the publicity the Big Oak at Lover's Leap has received. I don't really know how best to respond; I believe that Lovers Leap is a spot which should remain openly accessible to the general public… It is definitely not agreeable to them… the pressure of their dislike towards me is annoying and intimidating… My fantasies turn upon getting beaten or murdered or humiliated publicly, etc. etc. I consider moving away. And perhaps I shall. But this is not why I sat at my typewriter this Friday morning in April, this balmy flowering hazy spring day.


[Russell Towle's journal]

4/11/88 Evening; windows open upstairs and down, incredibly warm weather […]

So I awoke bleary and ill-humored and without proper fixings for my morning coffee and short on time since I had to wash my clothes and wash myself and prepare for my meeting with the Forest Service. I stopped by Bill Newsom's and imposed upon him various burdens, coffee, washing machine, dryer, shower, while helping him with this and that.

Met The Peach in Colfax and on to Nevada City we went, arriving early at Forest Service headquarters and spending some time talking with one of the timber people, Don, about various harvests being planned.

Then the long-awaited Meeting, attended by Frank Waldo, Truckee district ranger JoAnn, recreation officers Pete Brost Matt, plus a delightful fellow named John, old and wise, TNF lands officer, quite knowledgeable and expert and reasoning; and we looked over the Royal Gorge trail system in detail, their permit status with TNF, the various ski tours lost to the Royal Gorge, and more importantly, the general and underlying issue of to what degree the public has acquired an inalienable right to use old roads and trails in the high country… Also parking, the lack of, etc. etc.

We thrashed about for some two hours, and I wished Gene Markley had been there, with some of his friends, as had been the idea. Gene et. al. weren't able to make the daytime meeting. I believe I made my case well, albeit encountering some resistance, even scorn, from Pete Brost—“What do you want? Do you think the Forest Service should step into the breach and fight your legal battles for you whenever a road is closed?” Or, “Here you are, complaining to us about the Royal Gorge, when you don't know the first thing about their operation. Why don't you contact John Slober (Royal Gorge owner) and express your concerns to him? Instead of talking about something you are ignorant of.”

However, all in all, I made my case well, to what discrete or tangible effect I've no idea, but, by a sort of addition of vectors, not a merely wasted effort.”

[Russell Towle's journal]

April 11, 2001

The Great American Cañon
Russell Towle

The Pacific Tourist, 1876:
“… a few miles beyond, near Shady Run, there suddenly opens on the gaze of the expectant traveler, just before the sunlight has quite disappeared, and the evening shades come on, the vision of The Great American Cañon—by far the finest cañon of the entire Pacific Railroad. The suddenness of approach, and the grandeur of scene are so overpowering, that no pen, picture or language can give it adequate description. Two thousand feet below, flow the quiet waters of the American River. Westward is seen the chasm, where height and peak and summit hang loftily over the little vale. …”
[View The Pacific Tourist in entirety here:
http://cprr.org/Museum/Books/Williams_Pacific_Tourist.html ]
“Don’t tell anyone,” they say; “keep it a secret. If people find out, it will only get ruined.”
All too true; but it’s being ruined, slowly but surely, anyway. There is a Yosemite hidden in our own back yard, over 3000 feet deep for miles and miles, with 500-foot waterfalls and eagle eyries, ancient petroglyphs and monstrous pines. It is the Great American Cañon, once famous nationwide; the canyon of the North Fork of the American River.

No one can drive into this Yosemite. It is riven into slates and other metamorphic rocks, rather than that porridge of crystals we call granite, and it must be this slatiness which explains its unusual depth. Northern Sierran canyons are much of a muchness, having been cut by rivers of similarly-sized basins, into a sloping plateau of volcanic mudflow. Our flat-topped ridges are vestiges of this plateau surface. Yet, at a distance of ten to fifteen miles from the Sierra crest—say, west of Kingvale on I-80—we find the South Yuba flowing over granite at an elevation of 6000 feet, while a few miles to the southeast, the North Fork American runs at 3500 feet, through metamorphic rock.

No roads cross the North Fork from near Colfax on the west, to The Cedars, on the east, a distance of over thirty miles; and little wonder. It is too deep and too steep. Historic trails, dating from mining days, offer access to the sparkling river; but relatively few people are prepared to take on a canyon over 3000 feet deep. There is the Palisade Creek Trail, from Cascade Lake; the Big Granite Trail, from near Salmon Lake; and the Mumford Bar Trail, from Sawtooth Ridge: these enter the canyon from the north. From the south, along the Foresthill Divide, we have the Sailor Flat, Beacroft, Mumford Bar, and Italian Bar trails. Mark all these down as strenuous; farther west, where the canyon shallows somewhat, the Euchre Bar and Green Valley trails descend a scant 2000 feet. Few consider that an easy hike.

Most of this spectacular reach of the North Fork American is within the boundary of Tahoe National Forest (TNF). However, the railroad land grants of the 1860s left the area in a “checkerboard” land ownership pattern. For years now, TNF has pursued land acquisitions along the North Fork, in an attempt to forestall logging and road-building in this remarkable canyon. Most of the old railroad lands recently passed into the hands of lumber companies.

At this moment Tahoe National Forest is seeking Land & Water Conservation Act funding to acquire 6100 acres of land owned by Sierra Pacific Industries in the North Fork canyon. Letters supporting this purchase are desperately needed, to Representative John Doolittle, and Senators Barbara Boxer and Diane Feinstein, right now. Go to http://personal.neworld.net/~rtowle/NorthFork/Environmental/Environmental.html [link is no longer active] for addresses and more information about North Fork land acquisitions.

If you write a letter I will tell you another secret: The Great American Cañon has its own El Capitan. It is called Big Valley Bluff, and stands 3500 feet above the river. Go to a ranger station, get a Tahoe National Forest map, and from Emigrant Gap on I-80, follow Forest Road 19 for miles and miles through various valleys, until, having climbed from the East Fork of the North Fork of the North Fork American onto Texas Hill, you lose the pavement and the road forks. To the right is the road to Sawtooth Ridge and Helester Point; to the left is Big Valley Bluff. In about four miles, a right fork to the Bluff itself is met, which is about a mile to the south. This last stretch can be a little chancy in a low-slung passenger car. In any case, Forest Road 19 will not open until the snow melts, some time in May. Aim to reach Big Valley Bluff in the afternoon, when shadows grow long. Watch for falcons and golden eagles.

So, go to Big Valley Bluff; wander the cliff-tops, watch the sunset. It would take years to know the Great American Cañon well, but how better can one live a life on this quickly shrinking Earth? Discover for yourself why the old guidebooks to California so exalted this one canyon, and why there was once a movement to name one of its many gorges after God Himself: “Jehovah Gap,” near Alta. However, the old Gold Rush-era name, Giant Gap, stuck. Here an illegal subdivision in the 1970s created “view parcels” which now sport houses visible from far and wide. I hear the new residents wish to call it “Giant Ego Gap.” To avoid similar atrocities in the upper canyon, we should support Tahoe National Forest in its land acquisition efforts.

An April storm leaves fresh snow down to 2500' on the
North Fork American River canyon slopes.
April 11, 2001

Date: Thu, 11 Apr 2002 10:27:18 -0800
To: North_Fork_Trails
From: Russell Towle
Subject: Stevens Trail, Iowa Hill side

Hi all,

I spoke with Deane Swickard of Folsom BLM the other day, and learned that negotiations have been successful with property owners near the head of the Stevens Trail at Iowa Hill. The upper end of the trail will be relocated, and a BLM work party is scheduled for Monday the 15th of April, meeting at the Iowa Hill store at 10:00 A.M.

So, this is good news. I am going to try to attend the work party. Over very much of its length this trail is very gently graded, in fact, it takes almost too long to reach the North Fork. It offers a tremendous contrast, vegetation-wise, to the Stevens Trail on the Colfax side, for the Iowa Hill side is often on north-facing slopes, and is very mossy and shady and ferny.

In my conversation with Deane I learned that no plans are afoot to make any acquisitions at Gold Run; there is no money, says Deane; we need Land & Water Conservation Act funding. Well, this is not such an easy thing. In fact, it really puts land acquisition at Gold Run way out there, somewhere in Never-Never Land.


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