May 21 (1976, 1986, 1988, 2001, 2007)
Dynamite and Doings in Dutch Flat ~ Upper Canyon

5/21/76 morning, wren shack. cloudy, for a change! i am ready to go back out to moody ridge and work some more on the spring.… i have so much work to do ~ after cementing in the spring-tank, 360 feet of trench to dig for a water line. more brush and tree clearing so i must sharpen the chainsaw.”
[Russell Towle's journal]

May 21, 1986 Morning, quite cool, after a weak storm. I've been rather extremely delinquent about keeping up with the journal. Much has transpired.

Dave Black and I (as per last entry) did indeed hiked down to the American via Canyon Creek. We saw a pair of golden eagles. It was nice… a difficult hike. The river was running high and cold. We did some prospecting without much luck.

I joined Newsom and Pfister at the Monte Vista for dinner, and they donated money towards getting a tree person out to take a look at the Big Oak near Lovers Leap. Bill also gave me some money for stamps, envelopes, telephone calls etc., re the Tahoe Forest Plan. I called Yamasaki Nursery and spoke to Mr. Yamasaki himself about which tree person to go to; he gave me the name of a Mr. Austen Carroll in the Sacramento area. I arranged for his son, Willy Carroll, to meet me on June 3 for a visit to the oak.

Charlie McClung gave me the go-ahead on clearing out his old stone building below the house, and last Thursday I began raking up pine needles preparatory to burning. To make a long story short, I raked up a box beneath which were about 50 sticks of dynamite. Byron Emric's old stash. Apparently I'm lucky I didn't blow myself sky high. I summoned the Sheriff, and he summoned the bomb squad, and it was a really big deal. They burned the old dynamite, laying a trail of black powder up to it. Unfortunately, they didn't burn it completely. I got back to work the other day and found several unburned sticks. Haven't decided what to do; tried to burn it myself, but the pine needles are too wet.

Later that day was the Dutch Flat Community Club potluck for which I'd arranged a presentation by Otis Wollan on the Tahoe Forest Plan. It was a success; the hall was packed like I've never seen it before.

A rumor had caught my ear that someone Federal had been cruising around Moody Ridge inquiring into land prices with a view towards arranging a purchase or trade on the lands adjacent to Lovers Leap. With the Newsom fund I called, first, TNF, and drew a blank. Then I tried BLM, and talked with Kevin Clark, with whom I spoke years ago about Lovers Leap. I'd sent a long letter in to the head of the BLM office in Folsom, along with a copy of the petition I'd circulated. But they had not replied, and I'd imagine the worst, namely, that BLM was wholly uninterested in protecting the Leap. However, it transpires that they are interested in acquiring some of the land there, and have begun a rather convoluted process which involves land trades. Mr. Clark told me that my letter had in fact touched the process off, that they are trying to fulfill their role as managers of the river from Green Valley down to the Iowa Hill bridge, and have placed land acquisition at the Leap at the top of their list. Needless to say, that made my day. I'm to meet Mr. Clark on the 27th, rather, call him, to make plans for a visit to the Leap, the Big Oak, and so on. I should write him a letter detailing the history of the process, zoning change, recalcitrance of Emory Gray, etc., since my letter of 1983. This is so exciting.”

[Russell Towle's journal]

5/21/88 morning of singing grosbeaks and hot weather impending, Saturday morning, worked on the McClungs' spring yesterday, earlier in the week wrote a little piece on the Maidu for the little D.F. newspaper, managed to work in some Latin, quotation from Catullus, atque in perpetuum, frater, ave atque vale*, my title, and by a clever feeling for symmetry, my conclusion also.

What else to remark upon? Spent hours on the phone, one day, with Forest Service District Rangers and with the notorious John Slober, chief of Royal Gorge x-country ski area, who with forceful urbanity assured me that the public has no rights to old roads and trails on private property in the high country, property which his highly successful organization has managed to accumulate to the tune of 3000 acres, including my access to Point 6868, for years one of my favorite tours.”

[Russell Towle's journal]

* “And for eternity, my brother, hail and farewell”

Date: Mon, 21 May 2001 09:19:34 -0800
To: North_Fork_Trails
From: Russell Towle
Subject: Visit to Upper Canyon

Hi all,

I have been hearing about a 500-foot waterfall in New York Canyon, a tributary of the North Fork in the upper canyon. Hoping to photograph it, I drove up the Foresthill-Soda Springs road to Sailor Flat, at about 6500 feet. Snow barred further progress, but I planned to take the Sailor Flat Trail down to the river anyway; from the trail, I had heard that one could work one's way west into New York Canyon to see the waterfall.

I planned to spend the night down by the North Fork.

Only a hundred yards or so of snow had to be passed to gain the road leading down to the trailhead.

The first mile or so I followed this road, then turned onto a jeep trail. This was as far as I had ever been before, and it was exciting to enter unknown territory. The jeep trail descended quite steeply in places. I kept my eyes peeled for fossil ammonites of the Jurassic-age Sailor Canyon Formation. There was a rich forest of Ponderosa Pine, Sugar Pine, Kellogg's Black Oak, and associated species. Some of the pines were around five feet or so in diameter.

Snow Mountain from the Sailor Canyon Trail.
There were some fine views across the main canyon to Snow Mountain, with just a few patches of snow left on the sunny side of its 8000-foot-elevation summit. I could also see across Sailor Canyon to the remarkable forest around Sailor Meadow.

The jeep trail plunged down to about the 5000-foot level at Oak Flat. Here there was a small parking area and turn-around, and the foot trail proper continued down. If one has a 4WD with low range and steady nerves, this is by the far the easiest way into the upper canyon, since there is only about two miles of trail and 1600 feet of elevation to reach the river from the end of the jeep trail. For me, it was four miles and 3000 feet.

Ammonite fossils from the Jurassic
Sailor Canyon Formation can be
found along the trail in places.
I could see no obvious way to cut over into New York Canyon and without much ado changed my main objective and began thinking in terms of going up the North Fork to Wabena Creek, where there are more fine waterfalls. So it was on down the trail. Soon I found some ammonites. They make for pretty fossils, having somewhat the appearance of a chambered nautilus, up to a few inches in diameter, and all that I saw were somewhat sheared into elliptical shapes. One was even faulted slightly. The shearing forces are likely an artifact of the accretion of this wedge of oceanic sediments to the continental margin.

I passed the old Trinidad Mine and after some steep descents the trail moderated and approached Sailor Canyon creek itself. I could hear the roar of cascades and waterfalls. Suddenly a rattlesnake rattled fiercely. It was just above the trail, coiled and ready. I could not see how I had so aggravated it; perhaps it had been napping. I took some photographs and cautiously passed it.

This is a typical reach of the foot trail,
often with good cover from the sun.
The trail follows an old mining ditch for a ways before taking a final plunge to the river. At the river it meets the American River Trail, which proceeds west and downstream to Mumford Bar.

View downstream on the North Fork, to the confluence
of Sailor Canyon Creek center left, and with Big Valley
Bluff in the distance, standing 3500 feet above the river.
I went east and unslung my pack at the confluence of Sailor Canyon creek. The North Fork is running high and cold, but not nearly as high as usually at this time of year. I explored along the creek for a little ways and had quite a scare when I nearly stepped on a snake with a huge grotesque head. I jumped away in such a panic that I suddenly was aware that my toes were hurting from the long descent, and even managed to pull a muscle in my back! I was in agony! I turned to see what the thing was that had brought all this grief on me.

It was a large garter snake of the aquatic variety, and it was swallowing a trout at least eight inches long, with only the tail and the last four inches sticking out of its mouth! I rushed back to my pack to get the camera and took several pictures. Adding to the overall strangeness, four house-flies of various sizes were crawling all over the tail of the fish and the snake's head.

The glacial outwash terrace on the south side of the river,
just below Wildcat Canyon. These terraces run for many
miles down the main North Fork canyon, and in some
places, notably, Green Valley, terraces of several to
many different ages are found. I hope that a formal
geological examination of all such terraces can be made
soon. This terrace is probably about 15,000 years old,
and dates from the retreat of the last, Tioga-age glacier
in the main canyon.
In this entire reach of the North Fork canyon, there are large glacial outwash terraces often on both sides of the river, with flat tops, from fifty to 150 feet above the river. Guessing that some kind of old trail might go upriver atop the terraces, I found a place to cross Sailor Canyon creek and immediately found a fine old trail, which does not appear on the maps. I made for Wildcat Canyon, the next tributary entering from the north, and although the old trail was often blocked by fallen trees, it was otherwise easily followed.

The remains of a stone cabin, probably dating from
the late 19th century, perhaps earlier. This is on the
line of the old trail up to Wildcat Canyon.
I passed the remains of an old stone cabin, and after a mile or so reached a collapsed log cabin on the terrace just shy of Wildcat Canyon. I descended to the river and spent the night there.

My camp was due south of the summit of Snow Mountain, fully 4500 feet above the river. The steeply plunging strata of slates etc. of the Sailor Canyon Formation made up the cliffs across the river from me; a little ways east, the contact with the Jurassic meta-volcanic pyroclastic sequence was only faintly discernible, as a kind of gully.

The confluence of Wildcat Canyon creek and the North Fork, as seen from my camp. The ragged cliffs of Snow Mountain are across the river to the north, with the slanting strata of the Sailor Canyon Formation on the left, and on the upper right, the metavolcanic pyroclastics. The summit of Snow Mountain, out of view in top center, is 4500 feet above the river here. A glacial outwash terrace is well-exposed across the river.

Merganser at sunset
There was a large island of gravels and large boulders right below where I camped. It looked very raw and fresh and I suspected that it had been fully submerged during the almost epochal January 1997 flood event. I wandered around taking photographs. A merganser landed in the river right next to my camp, at sunset.

Big Valley Bluff could be seen a few miles down the canyon. It reminds me of El Capitan, and stands 3500 feet above the river. To the east and south there is another tremendous spur ridge jutting into the canyon, truncated by the huge glaciers which flowed through here time and again during the Pleistocene. I call this spur Wildcat Point. It stands about 3500 feet above the river, between Wildcat Canyon on the west and Wabena Canyon on the east. I had some fine views of it. From the flood-swept island I could see Wabena Point, the amazing petroglyph site a few miles up the canyon.

Wildcat Point (on the ridge between Wabena and Wildcat canyons), as seen from the 
flood-swept island just downstream from Wildcat Canyon creek.
At sunset I encountered another rattlesnake, on the banks of Wildcat Canyon creek.

Before dawn I began scouting up the river. About a half-mile up I found a remarkable thing: a landslide from Snow Mountain had crashed down, filling the river to a depth of fifty feet or so, and slathering angular boulders and debris all over the top of the outwash terrace on the far (my) side of the river. This avalanche deposit had then been overrun by the river. This could only have happened in the January 1997 flood event. The river then breached the slide-dam and ripped it all out. This probably accounts for the raw look of the island near my camp. It was not only scoured by the river, but also by the avalanche debris, when the slide-dam breached.

The river's gradient was increasing and a number of lovely cascades appeared. I could also see, a little ways upstream, the hulking mass of a huge landslide deposit. I left the river and climbed up to the top of the outwash terrace to see if there was an old trail here as well. I found a faint suggestion of one and headed back to my camp. As I got closer to Wildcat Canyon I became more sure of the trail, and reached the creek directly across from where the log cabin is.

The view from the old trail to Wildcat Canyon, atop the outwash terrace, up the canyon.
Snow Mountain is on the left, and Wabena Point, is visible in the distance.
I was not encouraged by the prospects for reaching Wabena Canyon and it waterfalls, returning to camp, and making the 3000-foot, five-mile climb back out, all in one day. I decided to start out immediately, and have a go at getting into New York Canyon as originally planned. However, the climb out of that amazing canyon really took the starch out of me. I did find a nice waterfall in Sailor Canyon, in fact, the old mining ditch which the trail follows for a while came from the top of that waterfall.

I met three people from Auburn, who were going down Sailor Flat Trail to the American River Trail, thence to Mumford Bar and back out on the Mumford Bar Trail. This is about a fifteen-mile hike, maybe seventeen miles.

When I reached the jeep trail at Oak Flat, I rested for a while, and took note of the heat; the mosquitoes; the brushy tangled nature of the forest through which I must go to approach New York Canyon; and recalled that I had another two miles or so and 1500 feet to climb to reach my truck. So I gave up on New York Canyon.

The jeep trail was somehow steeper than I remember on the way out. So was the upper road. It was also mysteriously longer. Finally the snowfield appeared and I crossed it to my truck.

Such was a very nice adventure to the upper canyon of the North Fork American.

Moody Ridge blooms
May 21, 2007

Indian Paintbrush
(Castilleja applegatei)
Sierra Larkspur
(Delphinium glaucum )
Sierra Iris
(Iris hartwegii)
Stonecrop or Canyon live-forever
(Dudleya cymosa

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