May 9 (1979, 1987, 2002, 2003)
Scarlatti, Conglomerates, and a Squatter

5/9/79 ~ dawn and a clear day ahead, the first in quite a while.

yesterday the storm was ending, and typically, all the action had retreated to the high country. i went out to [...] to grab a peek and was well rewarded by the site of many long ribbons of hail falling in the sunshine a few miles upcanyon. wandering about, i found another bedrock mortar, this one with many holes, some deep. further exploration revealed many shallow mortar holes in andesite boulders above the road. so. this seems to be the season to stumble upon indian grinding rocks.

now eagle puke point gleams bright, an island of light in a sea of shade.”

[Russell Towle's journal]

5/9/87 Saturday morning, Scarlatti, the songs, the lieder of black-headed grosbeaks. I heat water for a second cup of coffee outside in my little brick fireplace. A bit cooler this morning.

I received a note from Eric Peach the other day, suggesting a trip out to Wabena Pt. or down to the waterfalls in the Royal Gorge, but had no money to call, so no go. He'd mentioned Friday (yesterday). Perhaps I'll somehow come up with some money. Perhaps this coming week we'll go. I also received a letter from Ann Dow, District Ranger for the Nevada City Ranger District, replying to mine of a few weeks ago, and a note from G and K, asking if I wanted to help them clear their property on Memorial Day weekend. Also from Richard Johnson, D. R. of Foresthill Ranger District. I have put these two Ranger Districts on official notice that the views from Lovers Leap and Iron Point deserve consideration when timber harvests are planned within the "viewshed." They say they will, in the future, take this into account. I suppose this means that currently scheduled harvest will proceed without adjustment or alteration.

In recent weeks, the effect of National Forest timber harvests upon the viewshed has begun to lose importance and urgency in my mind. I am at least as concerned about residential construction and residential "clearcutting" on Moody Ridge, which, from Iron Point, is really "foreground," not background." I feel completely impotent insofar as actually doing anything about Moody Ridge is concerned. If I were to stick around here for a few more years (which is possible), I might, by dint of organizing hikes, and applying myself to organizing the Mother Lode Chapter of the Sierra Club in support, and by getting some organization such as the Nature Conservancy or The Trust for Public Land involved, — I might have a chance to effect a combination of zoning changes and scenic easements which would leave the Moody Ridge component of the viewshed intact, unspoiled. It's a long shot, and, judging by what a tiny bit of publicity has earned me, in terms of being hated by various Moody Ridge residents, well, I guess I could look forward to more of the same. It's not a pleasant prospect. My father is one more fly in the ointment; his house is the largest thus far to appear on the canyon rim.

It all looks like an uphill battle with very little prospect for success, but plenty of prospect for worry, grief, etc. etc.—yet, yet, the Iron Point and Lovers Leap views are so very very special, so especially beautiful, that to neglect any possibility of saving them would seem a crime in itself. I feel that I have accomplished something of substance, insofar as Lovers Leap is concerned, but just exactly what would be hard to say. Weighing my small accomplishment there against what it has cost me, in time, in headache and heartache and getting my name dragged through the mud—well, yes, it was worth it, and I won't give up. Or maybe I will; for it is too much for one person alone; this burden should be shared. For ten years I have stood very nearly alone in this battle. For four years it has been accorded large shares of my time and energy, especially since I am such a worrier and so inefficient, so that for every hour of tangible effort, I spend another ten hours worrying and thinking about it. I guess what I'm wondering is, if I turn away now, will my lonely cause be doomed?”

[Russell Towle's journal]

Date: Thu, 9 May 2002 14:12:42 -0800
To: North_Fork_Trails
From: Russell Towle
Subject: small exploration

Hi all,

There is a little bit of news to report:

1. Apparently, efforts to acquire an easement across private land to BLM lands on the Stevens Trail, at the Iowa Hill end, have been successful. A new trail must be constructed across the private land.

2. Negotiations by Placer County to acquire an easement on the Green Valley Trail seem to be moving along. One of the property owners (Susan Winje) near the trailhead is willing to sell an acre or so of land there for a public parking area. I don't know if Placer County is aware of this. Since this message is copied to the BOS, perhaps they will become aware of it now.

3. BLM is engaged with negotiations to acquire lands near Fords Bar on the North Fork American (about three miles downstream from Canyon Creek). This is one of the last river-level private parcels left on the North Fork American Wild & Scenic River, within the reach administered by BLM (Green Valley down to Colfax-Iowa Hill bridge). Deane Swickard and his staff have done an excellent job working on land acquisition along the North Fork. Now, if they could just buy the lands for sale at Gold Run ... . Incidentally, the BLM is thinking of trading other BLM land for the lands at Fords Bar, specifically, a roughly 200-acre parcel west of Gold Run, along Magra Road. This parcel contains an historic mining ditch and some old lode prospects. I have hiked there on and off for fifteen years; I call the old ditch the "Manzanita Miracle Trail," because of the huge ancient manzanita which grow there. I would be sorry to see this public land traded away.

Finally, today I made a small exploration down the Green Valley Trail (north side of the canyon). The Dutch Flat quadrangle shows a trail forking away from the main trail at the 3000-foot contour, about halfway down to the river. I have looked for this trail since 1976, without success. I decided to store the coordinates of the fork on my GPS unit and see if that would help.

It didn't help. Here, as elsewhere in and around Green Valley, there seem to be rather substantial errors in the locations of trails on the map. However, I did note that a certain Incense Cedar tree along the trail, which some friends of mine who used to spend their summers in Green Valley in the 1930s and 1940s call the "Echo Tree," and which they regard as the half-way point to the river from the trailhead, is almost exactly at 3000 feet in elevation (trailhead, 3900 feet; river, 1800 feet).

I descended a ways to 2700 feet in elevation, where I myself have long suspected a trail forked away to the east. I have scouted around for it for many years, always, tho, having trouble with extremely heavy manzanita. Today was a lovely spring day and, strangely, for such a dry, south-facing, serpentine-poisoned site, there were quite a few Western Azalea in full bloom. Their flowers are so showy and sweet. There is also an abundance of shrubby Bay Laurel, always surprising to me, for in its tree form this species is usually associated with springs and seeps, whereas here was much the opposite. In fact, the serpentine imposes an artificial drought upon plants. After making some rather wide passes through the dense brush, without any really definitive signs of a major trail, I retreated to the main trail and rested for a while.

There is a hidden side trail to the west, at that point, which leads to the vicinity of a cave where miners once lived, a century or more ago. A spring is near the cave. The cave is in a mass of serpentine agglomerate, that is, a conglomerate, if you will, but with angular, rather than rounded, boulders and cobbles. Something like 99.5% of the cobbles and boulders are serpentine, but a small number are andesite, derived from the young volcanics capping Moody Ridge. Now, this serpentine agglomerate has always seemed of special geological significance to me; it seems to betoken a time when Green Valley was choked with glacial outwash, so that the normal erosive processes which fragment the serpentine and move those fragments downslope, were interrupted by this floodplain of glacial outwash.

As a result, I theorize, masses of this serpentine detritus would accumulate on the margins of the floodplain, and perhaps even become buried, by a deepening of the glacial outwash deposits. And they became cemented into agglomerate. My theory is that this agglomerate is at least 500,000 years old, perhaps, let us say, 800,000 years old, from the notorious and cryptic Sherwin Glaciation.

Today I decided to skip the cave and visit the creek, which I call Ginseng Ravine, for the California Ginseng which grows at is headwaters. I found the slopes near the creek extremely steep and it took a while to find a safe place to descend.

I have descended the creek itself, in years past, all the way to the river, and also, I have ascended it from the river. I cannot pretend surprise that I had managed to forget entirely that the creek itself flows over masses of this same serpentine agglomerate. They form cliffs along the east side of the creek, and are also found to a lesser extent on the west side.

I have been trying, for over 25 years, to get "real" geologists interested in Green Valley and its peculiar Ice Age sediments, which include these agglomerates. My vision of the perfect geologist: a full professor at a major university in California, who can spin off graduate students into Green Valley over a 20- or 30-year span of time, to map, re-map, take samples, date samples, etc. etc. etc. Now, I have had some luck; I've had Dave Lawler down there a number of times, and Allan James, from U. South Carolina, once. I've contacted other geologists, and one of them (Bud Burke, Humboldt State U.) is sending an undergraduate student into Green Valley this summer.

So, someday, maybe, the mystery of the serpentine agglomerates, and the glacial outwash gravels they appear to be related to, will be solved. These agglomerates are fully 900 feet above the recent river level. Some of the glacial outwash deposits are fully 600 feet above the river. And, after refreshing my memory of the agglomerate along the creek below the cave, I see that the entire agglomerate section is something like 150 to 200 feet thick, not the 30 feet one sees at the cave itself.

The agglomerate is weakly organized into strata which dip gently to the south, towards the river.

After following the creek downstream for a couple hundred yards, past the cliffs of agglomerate, I managed to scramble up and out by clinging to a laurel branch which hung down in a springy part of the cliffs. Then it was back up the main trail, in the warm noonday sun.


Russell Towle

Date: Fri, 9 May 2003 23:25:51 -0800
To: North Fork Trails
From: Russell Towle
Subject: Squatter Back at Tunnel Camp

Hi all,

On Friday, May 9 Michael Joyce, Jay Thaxton, Bruce (?) and I made a visit to Giant Gap by way of the HOUT and the SHOUT. It had snowed and rained the day before.

As soon as we set foot on the Canyon Creek Trail in Potato Ravine, I saw a fresh boot print, outward bound, on the trail. I immediately worried that Tunnel Camp had been revived.

As we continued, we saw evidence that a motorcycle had been driven in and out on the trail. One part of the trail was about ruined, and the little stone "bridge" across Potato Ravine, which looks quite old, say, one hundred and thirty years, had been quite severely damaged by the motorcycle.

At the terrace outside the great tunnel of the Gold Run Ditch & Mining Co., a large blue tarp was stretched across two tents, and a variety of mining equipment was stacked nearby, and a hose led into the tunnel. I will say this: the camp was fairly neat.

I called one of the owners of the 800 acres now for sale in the Gold Run Diggings, and he said he would call the Sheriff. I am also copying this message to the BLM Ranger, since Tunnel Camp may actually be on BLM land.

It was a lovely cloudy day down in the great canyon and the flowers are finally showing their faces snow or no snow.


Russell Towle

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