Date: Wed, 25 Apr 2001 09:39:53 -0800
From: Russell Towle
Subject: Sugar Pine Point
I sent Vance Kimbrel of Placer County Parks this letter this morning and thought some of you might be interested. We should do a North Fork Trails hike to Sugar Pine Point in, oh, late June or so. And, speaking of hikes, how about trying on some of the trails near Iowa Hill, such as the Blue Wing Trail, and the Stevens Trail from Iowa Hill to the North Fork?
I don't remember how Sugar Pine Point arose in our conversation the other day, in which you mentioned riding a bike out there. It's one of my favorite places, and should be on the Placer County radar, since a historic trail is out there: the Sugar Pine Point Trail. If you have the topo maps for that area, the Cisco Grove and Duncan Peak quadrangles, take a look at Section 20, T16N R13E. This is where the remaining old-growth forest is, really one of the more remarkable stands of heavy timber left in Placer County. The forest is similar to that at Sailor Meadow, across the canyon and a little east. I will attach a photo of one of the big old Ponderosa Pines out there. This was taken on a PARC hike last September. The year before I led a Nevada County Land Trust hike there.
This area first came to my attention about thirty years ago, while examining the 7.5 minute quadrangles. There are two curious hanging valleys on the wall of the North Fork canyon there, both paralleling the main canyon before their streams break out and plummet down the cliffs. The streams are small but make fine waterfalls in a good snow year. I saw the two valleys and the waterfalls in the spring of 1975, when flying up the canyon in a small plane. The 1974-75 winter and spring was a huge snow year.
Unaccountably, it was not until about 1995 that I actually visited the place. My geologist friend Dave Lawler and I hiked out there from Pelham Flat, where the road was blocked by fallen trees. We reached the same place you did on your bike (shown on the map as Sugar Pine Point), hoping to find a nice canyon overlook, or at least some big Sugar Pines, but were disappointed. We saw some stumps. I suggested that we drop down through the brush and small trees to the south, to see if any rocks broke free of the scrubby forest cover.
Almost immediately we found ourselves in the ancient forest, the brush largely gone, and huge trees everywhere. The steep slopes quickly flattened and we walked through a wonderland of monstrous trees and springs, in deep glacial till which had been slathered across the slopes, hiding the welded tuffs of the Valley Springs formation. Eventually we descended into the bedrock; slates and other metamorphic rocks which are part of a curious complex (the Taylorsville Sequence) lying to the east of the Shoo Fly Complex (although we did not recognize them as such, assuming ourselves to be still in the broad Shoo Fly zone, which extends from Green Valley up to that area).
We climbed onto a little ridge offering a really fine view of the main canyon, with Snow Mountain to the east, Big Valley Bluff to the west. The shadows were growing long, so we headed back up through the ancient forest, and discovered a faint trail above an Indian camp site. We had seen many well-trodden bear trails in the forest, but this one trail was slightly too well-defined to be just another bear trail. We had found the terminus of the Sugar Pine Point Trail. On the way out, we found that the old trail had been drastically cut by recent logging roads in two places, but was otherwise intact all the way north to a little pass on the ridge. This pass, incidentally, is on an old Indian trail from Little Granite Creek across to Big Valley.
At the pass we picked up the road we had walked in on. Since then I have returned many times, often working on the old trail, clipping back brush and rolling logs away. This trail used to start back northwest of Four Horse Flat, near Little Granite Creek; it forked away from the Big Granite Trail, which began at Cisco and passed Huysink Lake, to Four Horse Flat, on down Little Granite Creek and then Big Granite Creek, to a crossing on the North Fork American, and up the Sailor Flat Trail to the gold mines there. At any rate, the Sugar Pine Point Trail left the Big Granite Trail above Four Horse Flat and quickly reached Pelham Flat (where the little pond and large meadow are, atop the ridge). There the Big Valley Trail forked to the west, crossing Big Valley and joining the trail to Mumford Bar from Cisco (now Forest Road 19 for much of the distance).
Road-building and timber harvests have obliterated much of the courses of these historic trails. In particular, the Sugar Pine Point Trail was ruined from above Four Horse Flat, for two miles or so south, to the little pass mentioned above. The Big Valley Trail was cut in several places by logging roads and obliterated in many places by logging. From Four Horse Flat to the North Fork, the Big Granite Trail remains intact.
I would be glad to show you around this interesting area when the snow melts. The sections flanking Section 20 (where the old-growth forest is) to the east and west (sections 19 and 21) are among those sought by Tahoe National Forest, from SPI. I myself want TNF to also acquire some of the already-logged sections farther north, including the main part of Big Valley, Pelham Flat, and Four Horse Flat. In Big Valley and Four Horse Flat there used to be amazing stands of Incense Cedar. It will take, oh, a few hundred years to restore these areas to their former splendor.
Recently, TNF classified Section 20 as the Sugar Pine Point Research Natural Area. The old-growth Sugar Pines there are the main focus. This is what on some old maps is shown as Sugar Pine Flat. I took TNF archaeologist Bill Slater out there to see the Indian camp a couple of years ago. We found one Sugar Pine nine feet in diameter (since then I have not been able to find this tree). There are many trees in the five to six feet range. Most people don't realize that this used to be rather common, as for instance, near Dutch Flat and Gold Run, or even as far down the mountain as Colfax, where (at Illinoistown) a seven-foot-diameter Sugar Pine was felled, about 1855.
So, such are my remarks about Sugar Pine Point.
April 25, 2001
April 25, 2005