June 22 (1978, 1987, 1988, 1998, 2005)
Climb of Devils Peak ~ Green Valley Characters ~ Secret Canyon & IHC

6/22/78 morning. now the days begin getting shorter; spring rolled by quickly. the morning light in giant gap is very nice. at this time of year the sun, the pinnacles, and the edge of giant gap ridge are all aligned early in the morning. at first only the pinnacles are lit, and the characteristic curve of giant gap ridge's profile is displayed along the base of their cliff. then other ribs of rock begin getting light, until now there are several lighted streaks, on a shadowed, dark background. on a couple of ridgelets, the tops of tall douglas firs are in light; a tracery of triangles marks their presence.”

[Russell Towle's journal]

6/22/87 Morning; just awoke from the most bizarre dream, no doubt brought on by my cold… In the dream, of which I have only partial recall, I was traveling at night—was it at night?—and stopped at a ramshackle house, where a family of black people lived. I stayed there for a day; I got to know a fine young black man, very nice, tall and athletically built, but blind. We had long conversations. Walking outside the house (it was in the Midwest somewhere, in (oddly) mountainous terrain), I saw at sunset, a view down a valley/canyon towards a city: what had once been a beautiful canyon was now nearly covered with houses. I told the blind man of Lovers Leap and the North Fork canyon, of my Fears that the North Fork, which had made it into the 1980s in a virtual wilderness condition, by itself be overwhelmed by senseless civilization. My travels continued. I was in the city in Kansas, with the Nelson brothers; so strange, so foreign; inner-city: old tenements, whores leaning out windows: I saw three matching whores all with platinum blonde hair, leaning out the same window, gesticulating; one of the Nelsons led me on a walk through a maze of streets and corridors within warehouses, to visit an old woman they said was really neat; I found her utterly disgusting, and left peremptorily to find my way out of the warren alone; somehow reunited with the brothers, sat on a sunny bank and watched a black man practicing martial arts; he would throw hefty stones and chunks of concrete in the air and then kick them with expert vigor: how could his foot be so tough? Then he took a staff and twirled it around his body, a blur of motion, a spinning club. awoke to the squawking of bluejays, within old early 60s song going through my mind, Dionne Warwick possibly—I can remember the melody even now, but not the words, not the title.

Yesterday, drove over to Bill's, hoping to score some breakfast. I did find some coffee, but we were running late (Dave Black and Tim Fagan had stopped by just as I was getting ready to leave), as were Ed & Tina—we called them, but no answer, and figured they'd already left for Soda Springs, where we were to meet some friends of Ed's, Gary and Julia; Bill and I found Gary and Julia, but not Ed & Tina, a matter of crossed wires which it is not necessary to recount in detail; after 15 minutes or so, they rolled in, and we continued toward Cascade Lake, parked, and hiked in on the Palisades trail, which, at a certain point, one must leave and head out cross-country towards Devils Peak; typically, Ed and Tina did not trust my reckoning or ability, but eventually they gave in and off we went, without the benefit of a trail, something which seemed to astound everyone but me. At Devils Peak we traversed around the base of the columnar andesite cliffs, easy going but again, something extraordinary insofar as these city slickers were concerned; it was really a very beautiful day, with cumulus clouds in a slowly thinning deck, and strong winds; finding a sheltered nook in the cliffs, we paused for lunch, and then all of us but Julia continued towards the summit, and all succeeded in reaching the summit; Tina is really improving in her ability to handle rocks, while Ed, I see, struggles against an intense fear of heights; it was too windy on top to stay very long, but the view was tremendous, and we picked our way down over the easy rocks, easy, that is, for Gary and me, but for Bill and Tina and Ed a real challenge; soon we were tramping through the wildflowers on our way down to the big Mule Ears meadows at the base of the peak, where Julia awaited us. We all lazed around in the sun for a while before heading back, which again involved a certain amount of cross-country travel; we saw a marmot, and earlier, at the peak, an immature golden eagle; and when we got back to the cars, all were unanimous in proclaiming the hike a success. Bill had enlivened things considerably with the recitation of a variety of ribald limericks; he had us all in stitches while perched on the rocks eating lunch; he is truly wonderful. After a beer and some nachos at Tinker's Station, we went our various ways, and I rode back with Ed & Tina, had a beer and was paid for the weed-eating, along with an advance for further work.”

[Russell Towle's journal]

6/22/88 Morning. To continue, [following up on the entry of June 21, 1988] well, it was a bit strange, to spend a half-hour with Steve, drunken 36-year-old martial arts expert and recreational fist-fighter, to listen to him lurch from one topic to another, every once in a while raising a hand to his poor aching head—Ow! That was a good right cross he caught me with—he was a Marine, recon, Vietnam—I was Special Forces—I'm sorry, man, I'm drunk, schizophrenic, not making any sense—but that was a good right cross, 'cept I gave him worse than I got. That's where we fought—right on your driveway, right where you saw us—for the second time—oh, I been drinkin' too much beer. I get down to the Valley, I'll be okay. My brother's been visiting me, we been mining gold, I'll tell you, I can work like a son-of-a-bitch, you never saw anybody move boulders around like me, well, not long ago, we hit a rich pocket, heavy with gold, cleanin' it out, one day, this kid, The Kid I should say, Red, there he was right in the middle of our claim, I'm gettin' tired of his shit, one of these days, one of these days, I'm goin' to turn him inside out, he's more than got it comin' and walkin' on thin ice right now I'll tell you—

Wait a minute—I say—Red? You mean that kid with the red hair, James? He thinks he owns Green Valley—

Oh? You know who I'm talkin' about? Yeah, that's him, and he's doing too much drugs, man, hard stuff, crank, crack, all the time he brings that shit down there—I'm from the 60s, right? Hey, I don't mind passin' a joint around from time to time, but that shit!

It makes you crazy.

Damn right it does. And Red, he's walkin' thin ice, I'll tell you. He ain't—I mean, excuse my English, man, I've got five years of college, I'm just drunk, and my head hurts so bad—that was a good right cross the Marine caught me with—he's good all right, but I flattened him, he knows I'm good, heck, he's always tryin' to get me to do mercenary work—

We lean against my car and smoke in the fading twilight. The guy's tall, about six-three, lean of hip and broad of shoulder, like one of Louis l'Amour's heroes, long arms and big long muscles, a powerful man. Eagle face, lank hair dark and matted with sweat, deep tan from working in the sun.

You're A POWERFUL man, I say, you get into fights with your friends, you could really hurt somebody.

He hurt me! I'll tell you that! Oh, my head…

But how can you hit somebody like that, and not break your hand. How can you hit their jaw and not break it and a bunch of bones in your hands at the same time?

Like this, man!

He raises his hands slightly above his shoulders and slowly clenches them to fists, first one, then the other. Each one makes a series of crackling sounds—you could have heard his hands clench from 20 feet away.

Like this. They don't break if you've got them like this.

Well, I don't know about any of that, me, I'm a wimp, I don't know anything.

I used to be a wimp too! Here let me show you something. You see this? You fold your fingers down, your thumb just so, no, hold your arm up like that—now the other arm—yeah, that's it. That's The Crane. Know what you use The Crane for? Well, suppose I swing on you like this—and you just make a circle up with your hand—

Followed a little lesson on how to deflect punches to the side. The Crane. Finally I realized it was getting dark, and this guy Steve had a couple of miles of trail to cover, so we parted, Steve apologizing for about the tenth time about the gate. Invited me down for martial arts lesson. Said he taught for years—I believe it. And now? Now he lives wild and free and far from the nine-to-five, mines gold, engages in the constant round of territorial disputes which seem to characterize life on the river, comes up once in a while and gets drunk, finds his Marine and has a fist-fight or two, that's Steve Williams.”

[Russell Towle's journal]

June 22, 1998

Strange that I have not written for a long while, with so much going on. I see from my last entry that Neil and I had been planning a hike into Canyon Creek waterfalls; which we at last accomplished, on April 22nd, if I recall. We had a fine sunny day for the hike, made quickly for the Indiana Hill pit, took the Indiana Hill Ditch around the corner into Canyon Creek canyon, and then scrambled down the steep wall of the canyon to the creek, where heavy brush blocked further progress along the ditch. We joined the creek just at the old trail crossing, and were barely able to make the jump across, the creek being somewhat high. We followed the Canyon Creek Trail all the way to the river, which was itself running high and wild. As we returned up the trail (there being nothing to do at the river, it being too high to explore alongside), Neil and I checked out a few of the old lateral trails leading back into Canyon Creek itself. The entire trail and its laterals were constructed to allow access to all of Canyon Creek, which was treated as an enormous sluice box, and since it received all the tailings from the Gold Run hydraulic mines, or nearly all, a lot of gold was cleaned up there. I am unsure as to just how much of the lower portion of the creek had actual wooden sluice boxes installed in it. Higher up the creek, Colonel Moody had a 3000-foot sluice box in the creek itself.

Neil and I covered a lot of ground and as always the hike out of the North Fork canyon was quite an effort. However, when we reached the crossing, where a bridge once spanned the creek, I suggested we continue up the trail to the big old Gold Run Ditch & Mining Co. tunnel, and so we did. It was my first visit to the tunnel in over ten years, maybe fifteen years. A wagon road leads down to the tunnel from the diggings. which I had explored in 1978 but found far too overgrown with manzanita etc. to make a feasible route. We decided to venture up the wagon road and see how it looked nowadays. To our surprise, it had been cleared of the worst of the brush, perhaps five or ten years ago. We easily followed it right up to the Indiana Hill Ditch. This too showed signs of having been cleared, so we headed south towards the Indiana Hill Pit, half expecting to be blocked by massive brush tangles at some point. To my delight and amazement, the ditch was cleared to within a few feet of the point at which I have over the past couple of years always stopped, because of brush. Only a few bushes disguised the continuation of the cleared portion of the ditch.

So we had a wonderful hike, and I was tremendously inspired. Suddenly, my idea of a Giant Gap Trail, connecting Garrett Road to Lovers Leap, seemed much more easily realized. I began bringing various people in to see the new route; Steve Bush, Jim Ricker, Alex Henderson, Kelly Olrich, and more recently, Eric Smith of Dutch Flat, Bill Newsom, and Dave Lawler. Later in April I led a group of about 30 people on a Nevada County Land Trust hike into the Indiana Hill pit and then over to the Petrified Wood Preserve.

I began firing off letters and phone calls to the BLM offices, talking to Deane Swickard and Jim Eicher, to Deane Decker, and trying to get them to come see the new route into Canyon Creek, and the historic Canyon Creek Trail. While down there with Jim Ricker I noticed a faint lateral leading up towards Bogus Point, as it seemed, and I have yet to explore this, but if it goes where it seems, then the trail from Garrett Road to Lovers Leap is nearly complete already, only requiring a little brush work in the main. I have not managed to get Deane Swickard or actually anyone from the Folsom office in here to see the trail this spring. Now it is summer, the creek is diminishing, and the waterfalls are less impressive. On my latest hike in, last Saturday the 20th, with Dave Lawler, we went all the way to the river and explored some of the laterals. One leads into a 100-foot waterfall which I had seen only once or twice or so before, back in the late seventies and early eighties. A marvelous spot. The main trail itself is not much more than a mile but with the laterals another mile or so of trail figures in.

Just upstream from the big tunnel, there is a tight oxbow on the creek, with a large cut through the neck of the ridge. This I take to be the terminus of Colonel Moody’s 3000-foot sluicebox. It has an interesting three-pronged, three-channeled configuration which is seemingly repeated on Canyon Creek just above where it meets the river. Undercurrents were installed at these places I am sure, but I don’t know just how it all worked.

From the hairpin curve in the wagon road just above the Oxbow, a trail leads away northwest to meet the Indiana Hill Ditch only a little ways south of Potato Ravine. This might eventually become the shortest or at least easiest way into the Canyon Creek Trail from the diggings, were the BLM ever to acquire some of the diggings from Gold Run Properties. It seems that the latter entity is selling off some at least of its land, which imparts urgency to my own quest, since some of the GRP parcels are along the line of the Giant Gap Trail. Who knows but that other of the private parcels along the line of the trail are being built on even as I write this. The Giant Gap Trail may remain only a dream, a good dream overtaken by the nightmare of development of property which should never have been developed.

[Russell Towle's journal]

Return to Secret Canyon and the Iowa Hill Canal
[North Fork Trails blogpost, June 22, 2005:
http://northforktrails.blogspot.com/2005/06/return-to-secret-canyon-and-iowa-hill.html ]
Winecup Fairyfan
(Clarkia purpurea)
On Tuesday morning I met Catherine O'Riley and geologist/paleontologist Dave Lawler at Weimar for a visit to Secret Canyon and the Iowa Hill Canal. We crossed the North Fork on Ponderosa Way, where a tremendous bloom of Clarkia purpurea, Purple Clarkia, or Winecup Fairyfan, is in progress along the old wagon road, as it drops into the canyon. These spectacular flowers have four pinkish or lavender petals grouped in a bowl, each with a purple spot. There is a ring of white anthers at the base of the corolla-bowl, and the four-parted stigma is a deep maroon.

We stopped to photograph these lovely flowers.

There are many species of Clarkia in California. They are in the Evening Primrose family. Recently I have been photographing another species, Clarkia arcuata, with a cream to white stigma, and dark blue anthers, near the head of the Green Valley Trail, on sunny serpentine slopes. This C. arcuata may be the flower I mistakenly identified as a Sidalcea near Giant Gap, about a month ago.

The road up the south wall of the canyon is rough and rocky. Eventually we won through and drove the twenty or so miles up the Foresthill Road to Ford Point, at about 5600' elevation. A deep blue sky was adorned with scattered fair-weather cumulus clouds, driven north by strong south winds. What would have been quite a warm day at lower elevations was markedly cool.

Click to enlarge
We took the same little road breaking east from the Ford Point road, a road marked 13-14-2 as I recall, into a logged area rich with green manzanita which scratched my little Subaru. Again the Subie managed to collect pine needles in its catalytic converter housing, and a delicate perfume of burning pine wafted about as we parked and gathered our packs. I looked beneath the car and reassured myself that nothing too significant was afoot; it would not do to set Tahoe National Forest afire.

The country rock is metasediments of the Shoo Fly Complex. The Complex is divided into four major thrust blocks, each containing various formations which have never yet been systematically mapped, except in this area, by David Harwood of the USGS. He identifies the rocks of Secret Canyon as belonging to the oldest thrust block of the Shoo Fly, the Lang sequence, and divides this Lang Sequence into formations such as the Big Valley Bluff fm., the Screwauger Breccia, etc.

At any rate, there are not very many exposures of the bedrock here, almost everything being covered by a glacial till which itself contains these same Lang sequence rocks, with few to no exotic rocks from outside the area. The till makes for rich soils which do a good job of storing the snowmelt and support much in the way of heavy timber, especially on the more northern exposures.

On a pure south slope near our parking spot, Ponderosa Pines grew. Large Sugar Pines and Douglas Fir were in the area. But across Secret Canyon to the south, on the northern exposures, these same ancient Sugar Pine and Douglas Fir are mixed with some large true fir such as White Fir and, rarely, Red Fir, with an understory of small to fairly large true fir.

We followed the road east to its end, where a short trail drops to the Secret Canyon Canal (SCC), a tributary to the Iowa Hill Canal (IHC). Suddenly all signs of logging disappeared and we all felt that this was a very special trail, almost level, winding through the forest of huge old trees. We passed the half-crushed shingled cabin and reached the "take" from Secret Canyon, where a log dam likely once diverted the creek into the SCC.

Directly across Secret Canyon and 25 feet higher is the American Hill Canal (AHC). We crossed and climbed over rocks to the old ditch, there, a wooden flume, with a surprising quantity of flume wood still visible on the ground.

It looks as though the flume, its most recent incarnation possibly dating to the 1930s, had been robbed for its lumber at some time, possibly for the cabin across the creek, and for whatever mining operations had been underway there.

At any rate, the main body of the wooden flume is gone, with parts of the floor remaining, and no signs of a fire have affected the area since the flume was built, perhaps seventy years ago.

We followed this American Hill Canal back down Secret Canyon to the west, until the first little "ditch lake" is reached, where a generous array of springs fill the old canal over a distance of over a hundred feet. We rested and ate and explored before turning back; there was only so much time, if we wished to visit the IHC.

At Beacroft we saw an SUV with a trailer and some kayaks. Soon we were at the pass, just beyond where the Beacroft Trail climbs away west, and entering a grove of White Fir, found and followed the little old road by which lumber for the giant IHC flume was hauled to the work. This part of the flume was necessary to cross the cliffy areas on both sides of Tadpole Canyon. Here, in contrast to the AHC in Secret Canyon, several wildfires had intervened since the flume's principal period of operation, in the 1870s, and only a very few fragments of almost unrecognizable flume wood remained.

However, the bench cut blasted from the cliffs makes for a very nice trail, in fact, the entire upper few miles of the IHC is shown as a trail on the 1962 TNF map of this area. It is fairly easy going and the old flume-trail offers great views into and across the North Fork canyon, here over 3000 feet deep. The big waterfall near the bottom of Big Valley Creek is still impressive.

Very much yellow-flowering Stonecrop was in bloom on the cliffs along the IHC trail, mixed with a red-purple profusion of Penstemon, possibly that species called Mountain Pride.

Tadpole Canyon creek has subsided quite a bit over recent weeks and we crossed by an easy jump and continued along on the IHC as it curved from north to east and reentered the main North Fork canyon. There the brush becomes extreme and further progress is barred. Green Manzanita, Huckleberry Oak, and Bush Chinquapin dominate. We had fine views across the North Fork to Sugar Pine Point, Cherry Point, Snow Mountain, and in the distance to the north, Castle and Basin peaks.

The Big Waterfall in Big Granite Creek is still big, and looks quite monstrous in fact. It would require quite a hike to actually visit the thing. It could be approached from above, from the Loch Leven Lakes area, but quite a bit of brush guards the entrances to Big Granite Canyon in that area.

The shadows lengthened and added considerable drama to the great and deep canyon of the North Fork American. We had a schedule to meet and had to leave a little earlier than we would have liked.

I have not seen, yet, the larger part of the Secret Canyon Canal. Maps suggest that it has been disrupted by logging and logging roads over much of its course in Little Secret Canyon. More exploration is needed. If it had been left intact, one could treat that uppermost part of the IHC, the SCC, and the AHC as one continuous trail, almost perfectly level, winding along through the main North Fork canyon, Tadpole Canyon, Little Secret Canyon, and Secret Canyon, for a distance of, say, almost ten miles.

It was a great day in and around the great canyon.

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