a remarkable sight yesterday: susan and i were on my little rock outcrop and saw a golden eagle playing along the canyon wall. it was flying like a pendulum. it would drop with wings folded against its body, then spread them for a moment to shoot itself back upward, fold them again and ride its momentum, vertical, body vertical, a little rocket; at the summit it would turn back down, wings folded for another dive. eventually it soared down towards giant gap.”
|Russ sketched the eagle flight pattern within this journal entry.|
[Russell Towle's journal. 1984 volume]
“4/18/87… It is trying to snow! The dogwoods are in bloom, or at least beginning, the black oaks are pushing out new leaves, every sign had been that we would enter summer forthwith, hardly pausing for spring, and now… And now—winter has returned.
I have built a little fire; I have had a cup of coffee; I now prepare another; and I listen to Baroque music… and I am happy. Happy!
I just moved my car up to the meadow. Tomorrow shapes up as a possible good day for skiing.
Funny. The day dawned cloudy, with patches of sunshine penetrating the canyon here and there. I'd half expected rain to begin during the night. The sunshine seemed to indicate that the storm would “miss”—but, perhaps solar warming proved enough to trigger the clouds into precipitating.
Now it snows, not just sleet, but real snow. The ground is white; it is 8:40 AM and I drink coffee, and watch snow, and listen to very very nice baroque piano… I think about Lovers Leap and the Incident; I have spent all too much time thinking about the Incident. Every day I ponder the Incident. A meeting is planned, at Lovers Leap, on April 28th, hmmm, 27th I think, with Deane Swickard and members of the Moody Ridge Road Association, a meeting which I will also attend. Should be interesting.
But now I do not ponder the Incident: now I pondered the mysterious angle, arc tan square-root-of-one-half, 35.26+ degrees, .615+ radians, the pitch which yields spherical symmetry, or something approximating spherical symmetry, in polar zonohedra.
It is snowing lightly and I indulge in a third cup of coffee.”
[Russell Towle's journal]
April 18, 2003
|The steep walls of the canyon traversed by the SHOUT ("Super-High Old Upriver Trail") on the north side of the|
North Fork American River Canyon between Canyon Creek and Green Valley.
Green Valley Trail
[North Fork Trails blogpost, April 18, 2005:One of the larger Gold Rush-era mining camps of the North Fork was in Green Valley, just upstream from Giant Gap. Two newspaper articles from the 1860s assert that two thousand people lived there in the early 1850s. Supplies came by mule train from Illinoistown, near today's Colfax, so the Green Valley Trail was graded for loaded mules, i.e., some care was taken to make it broad and of a gentle gradient.
In part because of our letters, Placer County Supervisor Rex Bloomfield directed the Placer Legacy to negotiate the purchase of an easement across private lands near the head of the trail, the easement extending well down into the canyon, to public lands there.
It happens that the County owns ten acres of land near the trailhead on Moody Ridge Road, and a parking area was built there.
It only remained to connect this parking area to the Green Valley Trail road. Last Friday, a California Conservation Corps crew was at work on this short new section of trail. Yesterday I took a tour of the work in progress, and it bids fair to be ready for use later this spring. The parking area remains closed for the moment.
So, some good news.
Tripping Up the HOUT
[North Fork Trails blogpost, April 18, 2006:Tuesday morning dawned clear and cold, with icicles here at 4000', and it seemed a mite early to be rushing off to meet Catherine O., lo and behold before my second cup of coffee; but I so rushed, and soon enough we reached the Canyon Creek Trail, in Potato Ravine, near Gold Run.
Word had reached us that a new bridge was built at the old crossing, and we were eager to see, eager to cross into that wonderland of gorges within gorges, waterfalls every which way, 2000-foot cliffs, and so on. Did I mention flowers? Many, very many; but for all that, a retarded, light-starved biota, dressed like February tho it's getting late in April.
Why, we saw a poor starved bat winging around at noon, hoping against hope for an insect, after six long weeks of storm.
Give us a week or three of hot weather, and there will be an explosion of flowers like this world has rarely seen.
Right here in River City. I mean, the American River Canyon.
We saw Houndstongue, Mosquito Bills, Blue Dicks by the thousand, by a thousand thousands, Tufted Poppies, some few Brewer's Monkeyflower, Blue Bush Lupine, Brewer's Rock Cress, much in the way of yellow Biscuit Root, False Rue Anemone, Canyon Nemophila, Bride's Bower, Brown Bells, and more.
Canyon Creek was raging high and fast, thundering along in a menace of surging white water, and the bridge had already, only days old, been glancingly kissed by the high waters of two days past. Kissed, and left in peace. It was wet with spray and we crossed without incident. A fine bridge, tho endowed with a hazardous central crack, a problem with the blocking, as I see it.
The creek thundered along under blue skies and rapidly warming temperatures, so soon, layers were shed, and I went bare-chested down the sunny trail, admiring the many waterfalls.
The first big waterfall, a few hundred yards below the bridge site, a fifty-footer, maybe, will show four separate channels when the creek is high enough; it was barely that high today, quite a rare sight.
All the creek was thundering, yes, but the waterfalls were thunder upon thunder, with big bombs thrown in for good measure, and thrown constantly, so that there was a stuttering thudding which shook the very earth, as massive concussions of water slammed into solid metavolcanic rock of the late-Paleozoic Calaveras Complex. These deeply-seated thuds punctuated the constant thunder upon thunder. Then too the cliffs beside the trail will throw the sound back upon you, so there seem to be waterfalls on all sides.
We picked our way down the Rockslide, still hazardous, especially to anyone below, say, at the Big Waterfall, which is where we went next, abjuring the trail for the open moss-bound clifflets and terraces, all threaded with game trails. The rapid descent of a few hundred feet brought us near the base of the falls, which were of course spectacular in might and majesty, with so much water, but still tombed in shadow. In minutes, or half an hour, rainbows would glow in the billowing spray.
But we aimed for the HOUT, and the deeper and the farther east, the better. So we left the spray-drenched area near the falls and dropped to the Terraces and Lower Terraces Trail to return to the main trail, and the secret entrance to the HOUT.
The High Old Upriver Trail is a thread of a thing. It was hacked into the canyon wall about 1900, along the line of survey for a proposed Giant Gap Canal, diverting the waters of the North Fork to Crystal Springs Reservoir, and San Francisco. All this is explained in a treatise published at that time, found today in the State Library at Sacramento; a treatise, then, by the projectors of this Giant Gap Canal, and addressed to the Supervisors of the City of San Francisco.
The treatise stated that the projectors had already "broken grade" from Green Valley on the east, to Auburn on the west. The Canal was surveyed in with a slope of ten feet per mile, very flat. A fall of one inch in five hundred and twenty inches is scant indeed.
On Lower Terraces Trail I found myself alone. Catherine had discovered some flowers, and had whipped out her camera, and the Whole World came to a halt while she was at such work. So I stood and waited.
It occurred to me that right there, right exactly where I stood, was the projection of the line of the HOUT, towards the Terraces and Canyon Creek. I had never seen evidence of any continuation, west of Canyon Creek. Gazing up the HOUT, and then down, I saw that I stood somewhat higher than I had ever stood before, in years past, when I would strain to see some plausible figment of a trail, across Canyon Creek.
I scanned the correspondingly higher, then, region of the steep canyon wall across the thundering torrent, hidden in a waterfall-infested chasm right below the Terraces.
To my amazement, I saw something. A level line, great for squirrels and mice and lizards, but arrow-straight, level as a lake. It could not be! But, it was.
Eventually, Catherine appeared. We were almost immediately on the HOUT proper, making good time eastward. At a certain projecting point of rock we halted for a snack and I wandered a few yards west, gaining a view across Canyon Creek to the steep walls of Diving Board Ridge. A confusion of cliffs and moss and Canyon Live Oaks littered the steeps. And there! A level line—and a second, at the same level—and now a third—totaling a hundred yards or two. I hurried back for my too-powerful binoculars, sat myself down and rested elbows on knees, and slowly gained control and brought the area into good focus.
A dry-laid stone wall supported a portion of the central level-line.
It was the HOUT, and west of Canyon Creek!
I hurried back to Catherine and relayed the exciting news, and had her look and verify that, yes, it was a dry-laid stone wall.
So that was interesting.
Continuing east, we saw many threads of waterfalls in the shallow ravines scarring the cliffs across the North Fork, making a spectacular show; in some places the little falls were a hundred feet high. I have seen these falls set up strongly during or right after big rain storms, but on a dry and warm and sunny day like today, they seemed exotic, and were.
The North Fork was a monstrous torrent, a heaving, lacy torrent of emerald and snow, full bank-to-bank, almost too bright to look at under the brash and blazing sun, and the "banks" being sculptured bedrock.
In quite a few places, trees had fallen across the trail during the severe storms this winter. We cleared those we could. But the others? Perhaps the already knotty problem of hiking the HOUT should become thorny as well, by permitting all manner of obstacles to intervene, and force one through hoops and into hops.
We finally made the climb around the base of Big West Spur, the Pinnacles rising high above us, across the gorge, and the Pinnacles Waterfall, call her Athena, breaking into existence with a roar of her own, fully formed, from the base of a vast talus field.
The Big West Spur flares into huge almost blade-like sub-spurs which plunge many hundreds of feet into the heart of Giant Gap. So the trail winds in and out around these sharp buttresses. In the ravines, the view becomes intimate, a dizzy plunge of three hundred feet or more into some maelstrom of white water, and then across the way, some one of the many little waterfalls which inhabit the gorge.
But on the blades, the buttresses, the view widens and one suddenly sees for miles.
The last blade is climbed and crossed in a tight and tiny arc and then the trail takes a plunge into an elfin forest of dwarf Canyon Live Oak, clinging to the cliffs in a welter of moss and ferns. Soon a point is reached where a few steps brings one to the edge of a nearly sheer three-hundred-foot drop to the river, and an outstanding view of Lovers Leap, rising maybe 2400 feet from the river, and Lovers Leap Ravine, my name for the ravine heading up on the Moody Ridge uplands, in a broad crease between the island of pre-volcanic, Eocene-age bedrock land surface exposed atop Lovers Leap Spur, and the Miocene andesitic lahars to the west, of the Mehrten Formation. There are many slow springs around the head of this ravine, just west of Lovers Leap itself.
But in a year like this year, on a day like today, when snow still mantles the uplands beside the canyon, and the springs are flowing like seldom before, Lovers Leap Ravine made a spectacular series of waterfalls on its descent to the North Fork, one of the falls being about three hundred feet vertical, I'd say. Quite a display. This is indeed our Yosemite.
We lingered long at this overlook, but deepening shadows and a sudden chill in the strengthening breeze awoke us to the need to start back to the Unreal World, which others call the Real World.
So off we went, and wound our tortuous way west on the good old HOUT, and I talked about the song, A Felicidade, from the movie, Black Orpheus, and Catherine herself proposed to make a movie about food. At last we were at the car and soon enough, on I-80.
A great great rarely fine day in the great canyon.
Visit to Gold Run
[North Fork Trails blogpost, April 18, 2007:Wednesday morning I met Ron and Chris Lane, and Gordon Hinkle of Congressman John Doolittle's office, for a tour of the Gold Run Diggings and the Canyon Creek Trail.
Ron has developed quite an interest in this area; he sees that an irreplaceable resource hangs, so precariously, in the balance, that one of the most beautiful trails in the Sierra is "For Sale," that the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) has had a mandate to purchase critical parcels there, since the creation of the North Fork of the American Wild & Scenic River, in 1978, but that nothing has been purchased; Ron saw these things, and decided to do something positive. So, in a variety of ways, he has worked to bring Gold Run and the Canyon Creek Trail to the attention of the movers and shakers, the decision-makers, the responsible officials, and really, anyone who could help secure this incredibly beautiful and historic area for We the People and our posterity.
I deeply appreciate Ron's efforts.
For my own part, letters about Gold Run to my representatives, mainly to Senators Feinstein and Boxer, have fallen into the typical abyss. The Gold Run situation is complicated by mercury contamination, which derives from its use in the sluice boxes of the hydraulic mines; for mercury amalgamates with fine gold, trapping it. A single large sluice box, of a thousand feet in length, would be "charged" with an entire ton of mercury, and every day another hundred pounds would be poured in, to replace what inevitably washed out of the box with the tailings. This finely-divided atomic mercury made its way down Canyon Creek into the North Fork of the American, down the North Fork to the Sacramento, down the Sacramento to the San Francisco Bay, and on into the ocean. But a large fraction settled out before ever reaching the Pacific. It remains in our waters to this day, and one should not eat very many fish caught in the Bay, for one would poison oneself with mercury.
If it were not for the mercury at Gold Run, the 800 acres of old mining ground now for sale, embracing two miles of Canyon Creek, would have long since been sold. Offers have been made. It is mercury, and a bit of sheer luck, which have averted disaster.
At any rate, under cloudy skies, with the icy remnants of Tuesday evening's violent thunderstorms and ensuing snow lightly frosting the forest, we set out to give Gordon a tour.
We parked at the Gold Run end of things, near one of the gates barring access to the 800 acres, and walked down into the Diggings. We visited Stewart's Pond, where ducks and swallows were happily going about their business, and then continued south on the Main Diggings Road, to the obscure old road leading east to the Canyon Creek Trail.
Gordon is a fellow lover of history, and we talked a little World War Two, and a little Ancient Rome, but mainly we talked Gold Run, and hydraulic mining, and rich strikes, dark tunnels, drift mines, the Chinese, the Anti-Chinese (I was pleased to be able to inform Gordon of one curiosity of California history, stemming from the Constitutional Convention of 1879: the enactment of an official State holiday, "Anti-Chinese Day"), and many such things—sluice boxes, mining ditches, monitors, and the "State of California versus the Gold Run Ditch & Mining Company" (1881).
It was a gorgeous day, with flat-bottomed fair-weather cumulus clouds at first seeming to disperse and admit the glad sun, but too soon they coalesced and darkened, and our five-mile ramble ended under a light snowfall. The usual early-season flowers had arisen along the old trail, species of Larkspur and Poppy, Biscuit-root, Virgin's Bower, and some lovely liliaceous flowers whose name escapes me at this moment..
We dropped down the good old trail past Gorge Point to The Rockslide, where we decided it might be better not to descend all the way to the river, but rather, retreat up to the Old Wagon Road, climb to the Indiana Hill Ditch, and follow the ditch around into the Secret World, exiting the World to the north by the Wagon Wheel Tunnel, thence into the great 400-feet-deep pit of the Gold Run Ditch & Mining Company, and *thence* on the Main Diggings Road to Stewart's Pond and our vehicles.
All this came off without a hitch, and we stopped briefly for lunch at a sunny and propitious spot on the old mining ditch, high above Canyon Creek, with a bit of a view into Giant Gap. The clouds soon cast us into cold cold shade, so we picked ourselves up and kept a-walking.
It was a very nice day, and Gordon seemed to appreciate the beauty of the area, and its history.
Ron and Chris kindly drove me home, where the sleety, hail-like "snow" increased, and they hurried away to the lower elevations.
Such was a very nice day, rambling around the old gold mines and into the wilds of Canyon Creek. We even took Gordon out to the politically-incorrect Blasted Digger, that lightning-struck pine on the rocky ridge east of Canyon Creek, that wondrous spot which offers awesome views into Giant Gap, and even beyond, to the freshly snow-dusted mountains around the head of the North Fork of the North Fork.