June 30 (2001, 2003)
Kids in the North Fork ~ Sierra Redwoods ~ Then and Now

Date: Sat, 30 Jun 2001 07:02:43 -0800
To: North_Fork_Trails
From: Russell Towle
Subject: Young Bears of Canyon Creek

Hi all,

Yesterday my kids (Janet and Greg) and I joined Alex and Nathan Henderson, John and Aaron Muir, and a young fellow named Loren for an excursion to the North Fork by way of the Canyon Creek Trail. The five kids were between 9 and 13 years old. We left the trailhead at Potato Ravine Pass at about 10:00 a.m.

The day was middling hot and we stopped at the giant tunnel of the Gold Run Ditch & Mining Co. (1873) for a cool-down. Cold air floods through the tunnel. I was reminded once again that my dog, Lucky, an excitable Australian Shepherd, is not a good idea for group hikes like this. The kids ventured into the tunnel for a ways and Lucky began barking loudly. Ouch! Then Greg and Nathan and I led the way down the ever-steepening trail. At a point well down we stopped to await the others. We were at a cliff I call River View, enjoying a patch of shade. A crackling in the bushes nearby alerted us to the presence of a small golden brown bear, calmly walking towards us!

His eyes sparkled intelligently for a second before Lucky took off like a bat out of hell and chased that little bear well away, returning in triumph a few seconds later. The possibility that a mother bear was near made us wary, and we waited for the others before finishing the descent to the river.

At the base of the trail we took the up-river trail to the first deep pool. Then it was swimming and jumping off the rocks beside the pool, fifteen to twenty-five feet above the water. There were garter snakes to be scared of, and even a Mountain (or maybe a Foothill) Yellow-legged Frog, which Janet caught for us to admire. A rather large fellow. The adults panned for gold and were pleased to find a number of tiny flakes. The kids romped around and swam and swam. The water was perfect, cool but not cold.

Today I am taking some other people down there (the kids are not going, they want to rest). We are meeting at the Gold Run exit, south side of I-80, at 2:00 p.m., for an afternoon hike to the river. Anyone is welcome. We will come up the trail about 6:00 p.m.


Russell Towle

Date: Mon, 30 Jun 2003 16:50:33 -0800
To: North_Fork_Trails
From: Russell Towle
Subject: Past and Present

Hi all,

Most of you will know the Placer County Big Trees, the northernmost grove of Sierra Redwoods. There are sixty-some groves of this species here in the Sierra, and nowhere else on earth, although their range was once quite extensive, millions of years ago.

A few months ago I was contacted by someone doing research on Agassiz Hall, a boarding school which flourished for a while in Alta, in the late 1890s and early 1900s. He kindly furnished me with a biography of the headmaster, William Wightman Price, said biography published in an ornithological magazine about 1921, soon after Price's death.

It turned out that Price was a naturalist, and took his students on many field trips into the North Fork canyon. The article also credited him with the discovery of the Placer Big Trees, in 1892. He was quite a fellow, running away from home to live with Indians when eight years old, and attending high school in Berkeley by correspondence while living in Dutch Flat, in the 1880s.

The Sierra Redwood was once placed in the same genus as the Coast Redwood, and was named Sequoia gigantea; but more recently it has been divided away, and is now called Sequoiadendron giganteum. To get to the Placer Big Trees, drive out to Foresthill from Auburn, and look for the right turn to Mosquito Ridge. A very long and windy road along scary cliffs eventually tops out on Mosquito Ridge, then straightens somewhat, and after several miles a right turn leads a short distance to the parking area, with a trail continuing into the grove.

There are two notable older histories of Placer County: the 1881 Thompson & West, and the ca. 1926 History of Placer and Nevada Counties, by William Lardner. Both may be found in the Reference section at the Auburn Library.

While at the library recently, I revisited the Lardner history, hoping for something good about, oh, New York Canyon, or Sailor Flat. Skimming the text, I found his description of a visit to the Placer Big Trees in 1923 (page 224). Lardner asserts that the Big Trees were discovered at least as early as 1860, and that the largest was measured in 1862. This does seem likely.

He joined several members of the Auburn Chamber of Commerce, and some forest rangers, and a few others, in the expedition. At that time the Mosquito Ridge Road did not exist. The group met in Auburn at 4 a.m., departed at 5 a.m., and drove up the Foresthill Road. Many in the group were interested in opening up the Foresthill Road all the way through to Soda Springs Station, on the railroad. In 1923 the road was passable only so far as Robinson's Flat. The group hoped Placer County would spend the money necessary to open the old road beyond, to the Lost Emigrant Mine above Wabena Canyon, and then on to what we now call Old Soda Springs; from there a good stage road led up to the railroad and the Lincoln Highway.

Lardner's essay makes for good reading. It is amusing to find that they brought horses along, to pull the automobiles up the steeper grades. Only the heavily loaded Fords needed the extra horsepower, however. They paused along Canada Hill, above New York Canyon (Lardner calls this "Sailor Grade"), to take photographs and enjoy the wide view, across the North Fork canyon and the (hidden) South Yuba to Red Mountain.

At Robinson's Flat the meadow was fenced just as today, and the same little steep-roofed buildings stood there then, which still stand today. From the Flat they drove south along Duncan Ridge, stopping at the old lookout on Duncan Peak (since dismantled), and taking more photographs. They camped near Greek Store.

Later a drive of two miles down Mosquito Ridge led to a trail, and another two miles on foot brought them to the Big Trees. Sheep-herders' wagons had used the trail, and it was easily followed.

They measured the trees, and named the largest after the principal Allied commanders of World War I. A fallen giant, sixteen feet in diameter, was named after Teddy Roosevelt.

On the next day, after a breakfast of cantaloupe, bacon and eggs, topped off with pancakes with butter and maple syrup, some of the party visited the Blue Eyes Mine, apparently a placer mine, and helped in a clean-up of the sluice boxes, and were given some nuggets. Others, including the Forest Service personnel, drove to the old and lonely town of Last Chance.

A friend of Lardner's named David Ray was just setting out with horses and loaded mule on a camping trip. He told the Forest Service people where to find one other solitary ten-foot-diameter Big Tree, not in the Placer Grove.

I have always hoped to find such a tree, separate from the northernmost, Placer grove; there are many locations ideally suited for Big Trees, with unfailing springs and deep soils, and at around 5500 feet in elevation. Here was a plausible mention of just such a tree! I wonder if the Forest Service people ever found it, and if, perhaps, it proved to be just an unusually large Incense Cedar.

At any rate, Lardner goes on to relate that the town of Last Chance was on the "principal aviation lane" between Sacramento and Reno, and that the "whole population, five or six, go out and see the ships go by towards Reno on the south side of the town, ... ."

They (the expedition) made the long drive back up and around and down through Foresthill (then still written in the olden style, as Forest Hill), and followed the old stage road to the Confluence, where, on a hot August day, they found some fifty people, men, women, and children, swimming in the clear waters of the North and Middle forks of the American.

That was then. Nowadays Placer County is growing very, very fast. The list of proposed projects kept by the Planning Department is a scary kind of thing. On the list you will find thousands—yes, thousands!—of residences planned for the Martis Valley, up by Truckee and Northstar. And if that were not scary enough, more thousands are planned in the immediate vicinity of Foresthill.

Here are two projects which may have substantial impacts upon the future of the Foresthill area, as excerpted from the Planning Dept. list:
Proposed 4,000+ sq. ft. lodge, 60 cabins, recreation center and equestrian facilities.
Project location: Intersection of Foresthill Road and Finning Mill Road, Foresthill
APN: various
Applicant: Forest City, 1250 Terminal Tower, Cleveland, OH 44113 (216) 416-3775
Owner: Timber West, 8744 Main St., Ste. 301, Woodstock, GA 30188 (70) 591-1411
Status: Third submittal due May 23, 2003.
MAC area: Foresthill Forum
County Staff: Michael Wells, Planning Department; David Price, Department of Public Works

Proposed planned residential development on 2,615 acres. Plan includes 2,213 residential units (1,700 age restricted for 55 years of age and older), with a mixture of housing options from town homes to rural residential; an 18-hole golf course, clubhouse and other recreational facilities; 5 acres of office and professional uses; 100-unit recreational vehicle park; an equestrian center for the boarding of horses and a staging area; approximately 1,128 acres (43% of project site) to be maintained as open space.
Project location: North of the community of Foresthill
APN: Various
Applicant/Owner: Forest Ranch Associates, Don Ryan et al, 1735 Crockett Lane, Hillsborough, CA 94010 (650) 344-6123
Status: Second Administrative Draft EIR due from consultant May 12, 2003.
MAC area: Foresthill Forum
County Staff: Michael Wells, Planning Department; David Price, Department of Public Works
I talked to Planner Mike Wells about both of these projects. The Forest Canyon Falls thing is near Shirttail Canyon and the old Finning Mill site. The lodge would be used as a retreat and convention center. The 60 cabins would actually be duplexes, used by attendees, not for permanent residents.

The Forest Ranch project is on lands closer to Foresthill itself. As I understand it, this project involves in part a road which leads in to public (BLM) lands and which the developers have already tried to close to the public.

Wells says that existing zoning in the Foresthill area would allow the population to grow from the current 5,800 to at least 20,000.

Does anyone out there know anything about either of these projects?


Russell Towle

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