July 16 (1976, 1982, 1987, 1996, 2000, 2002)
Reconsiderations ~ Sunspots ~ Picayune Valley

7/16/76 early morning in canyonland with wonder of wonders, a cloudy sky that looks like rain, a fantastically patterned sky, with a cloud deck heavy and dark in some areas and thin and light in others. to the south there is even a patch of blue sky and distant masses of cumulus are golden in the morning sun. a cool breeze makes the trees sway and the train can be heard long before usual because the clouds hold the sound in.

i'm back again to considering other building sites besides the ‘boulder field’ one that i have run my water line to and cleared—in particular i've looked at a spot between the aralia spring where my water tank is, and what i called the cabaƱita site. it is a steep slope and well shaded by deciduous trees, with a view of giant gap. it is oddly attractive to me. the boulder field site has always felt a little forced and a little too close to the meadow. forced, because i had my heart set on cabaƱita, which because of its small area, leaning digger pine, and value to me just as it is, i have turned away from. boulder field would be an excellent spot, but i lack gut feeling for it. however i'll go ahead as if i will build there. it is a good spot too. one thing that makes me uneasy is that the springs (i have thought of names for them—aralia spring, maple spring, pine spring) are the heart of my land. if i should be unable for some reason to buy the meadow etc., a building site near the springs would be close to the center of these five acres, while boulderfield would be on the edge of it if in at all. yesterday i spent most of the afternoon sitting on my water tank and picking up on how important those springs are to my trip…

yeek! it's raining!”

[Russell Towle's journal]

7/16/82 [...]

Went hiking this afternoon with Sue. I wondered where we'd go, left it up to her; Eagle Lakes. Another area of mixed heavy forest, meadows, and lakes, with rocks all over the place, wonderful to ramble in… We took a picnic and had a real nice time. [...]

On our way back down I-80 today Sue and I saw the sun through a band of thick smoke that has roofed the Sierra all day; low in the sky, strikingly orange in color, and to my utmost amazement and excitement, sunspots were visible, one with the naked eye, others with binoculars. First time since about 1958 at Ortega Elementary School in Palo Alto, when the sun appeared through the fog one day with just the degree of filtering to allow the sunspots to show. It was such a delight to see them today.”

[Russell Towle's journal]

7/16/87 evening; a most peculiar day, marked by unrelenting strong winds, gusting over 40 miles an hour, under skies once clear but now suffused with the smoke from a large forest fire in Oregon. The canyon is filled with smoke. It can be smelled, faintly, in the air.


Day before yesterday, Gary Wiseman and I went on a great hike, a monster, parking at the North Fork up by the Cedars, and climbing an unnamed glacial valley leading up to Lyon Peak, traversing to Needle Peak and Needle Lake, and then returning via another unnamed tributary of the North Fork, reaching the car around 10 o'clock, after 10 miles and over 3000 feet of elevation gain. I hadn't been to Needle Lake since Tim Fagan and I were there in 1974. The meadows around the lake are particularly beautiful right now, dotted with thousands of Alpine asters and louseworts, etc. it was a wonderful hike.”

[Russell Towle's journal]

July 16, 1996

Evening. Just wrote a lettert to Tahoe National Forest about Section 20 near Sugar Pine Point, where Dave Lawler and I hiked a few weeks ago, and where a very nice stand of first-growth timber survives. Somehow.”

Date: Sun, 16 Jul 2000 10:05:48 -0800
To: North_Fork_Trails
From: Russell Towle
Subject: Trust for Public Land

Hi all,

I made contact finally with Dave Sutton of the Trust for Public Land. Dave is one of their Sierra Nevada team. He asked that I send him some maps showing the Gold Run-Giant Gap area and so I made some maps up and sent them along (just JPEG images, by email). The text of my message to him appears below.

I took a group of eight adults and children into Canyon Creek yesterday. We had a nice swim, just upstream from the great Gold Run Ditch & Mining Co. tunnel. A pair of Redtail hawks were exhibiting some unusual behavior down there in the canyon, making a series of excited squeaks. Perhaps one was a juvenile. There may have been a nesting pair in Canyon Creek this spring. Scarlet Monkeyflowers are in bloom now, and Mustang Mint. Poison Oak vicious and robust.

The Canyon Creek Trail from Potato Ravine down to the creek is on BLM ground and needs some work. Maybe the BLM trail crew can do something there too, when they get here.
Hi Dave,

I've worked up a few maps depicting some of the land acquisition targets in the Gold Run/Giant Gap area, as per our telephone conversation on Friday, July 14th. Two of the maps are slightly modified versions of those appearing on the Placer Legacy web site.

1. "regional.jpg" shows all of Placer County, with a box drawn around the Gold Run-Dutch Flat-Giant Gap area.

regional.jpg; click to enlarge

2. "ownership.jpg" shows land ownership in eastern Placer County. An arrow points to the vicinity of the Gold Run Extension of the North Fork American Federal Wild & Scenic River boundary; note the BLM holdings along the course of the North Fork. The arrow points directly at some of the private lands within the Extension boundary. To the northeast, a stair-step pattern characterizes the private/BLM boundary. This boundary is along the line of the proposed Giant Gap Trail, and ten or so parcels of private land must be acquired here.

ownership.jpg; click to enlarge

3. "GR_Extension.jpg" shows in more detail the vicinity of the Gold Run Extension. BLM lands are shown in gray, and some of the roads and trails in the area are shown. This area forms a portion of the USGS 7.5 minute Dutch Flat quadrangle. Canyon Creek is seen, as it descends to join the North Fork. Portions of several sections of Township 15 N, Range 10 E are visible. Giant Gap is that part of the North Fork canyon immediately northeast. Lovers Leap is a 2500-foot cliff on the north side of Giant Gap.

GR_Extension.jpg; click to enlarge

In this map, the private lands within the Gold Run Extension are more clearly visible. These lands belong to an entity called Gold Run Properties, and are a part of 800 acres currently for sale. From the near the common corner of sections 9, 10, 15 and 16, the hydraulic mining "diggings" of Gold Run extend two miles or so north to Interstate Highway 80 (off the map). The 800 acres roughly coincide with this reach of diggings. In the southern part of the diggings, and within the Gold Run Extension, there are several parcels belonging to Gold Run Properties which are crucial acquisition targets. Other Gold Run Properties parcels, to the north of the Wild & Scenic River boundary, are also prime targets, as they secure public use of various trails.

The trail climbing from Canyon Creek labeled "9" is part of the Giant Gap Trail. This the portion from Canyon Creek to Bogus Point.

4. "North Fork_i.jpg" is a shaded-relief rendering of the North Fork canyon from near Colfax on the southwest, to Giant Gap on the northeast. I-80 passes through "GR" (Gold Run) but is not drawn in; "DF" is Dutch Flat. The Giant Gap Trail is drawn in from Lovers Leap on the northeast, to Garrett Road on the southwest. The trail can be seen crossing Canyon Creek.

North Fork_i.jpg; click to enlarge
I have more detailed maps showing the various parcels along the line of the Giant Gap Trail, and within the Gold Run Extension. I also made a list of all the property owners' names and addresses, a few years ago, although my list is likely out of date by now. What I am sending you today is just by way of introduction to the land acquisition targets in the Gold Run/Giant Gap area. Giant Gap is one the more unusual and beautiful gorges in the Northern Sierra. The Gold Run Diggings are replete with extraordinary scenic and historical resources, and are also of some note from a geological and paleobotanical perspective. I could go on and on about these areas and their importance to the future of Placer County.

There are many other land acquisition targets in and around the North Fork American, which involve public access and enjoyment of this rather remarkable canyon. I know that Deane Swickard and members of his staff at Folsom BLM are concerned about these other trails and areas too. For now, though, I just want to put Gold Run and Giant Gap on the Trust for Public Land's radar.

Dave, where could we we find some money, yesterday if not sooner, to attempt acquisition of some of these lands?
Well, that's what I sent Dave Sutton.

Russell Towle

Date: Tue, 16 Jul 2002 22:31:54 -0800
To: North_Fork_Trails
From: Russell Towle
Subject: Picayune Valley

Hi all,

Today son Greg & I drove from Dutch Flat to Auburn, up to Foresthill, and on Mosquito Ridge road to French Meadows, then on to Talbot Campground and the trailhead for Picayune Valley, a tributary of the Middle Fork of the American River. The day was sunny and clear. Several cars were parked at the trailhead.

For the first mile the trail follows a road through a section of land which was logged not too long ago. The Mildred Ridge, bounding Picayune Valley on the west, can be seen occasionally. Its long summit can be seen from far and wide, standing at about 8000' elevation—for instance, I can see it from near Dutch Flat, and also, from Sugar Pine Point. Picayune Valley is within the Granite Chief Wilderness Area, but no permits are required. Leaving the logged area, we were immediately within the shelter of a fine forest of mixed Incense Cedar, White Fir, Ponderosa Pine, and Cottonwood trees. Some of the conifers verged upon six feet in diameter. A variety of wildflowers adorned the trail, including many green-flowered Rein Orchids and some Snow Plants.

The trail stays well away from the Middle Fork for the most part. When a nicely glaciated outcrop of rock adjoined the trail, we visited it, and were sometimes rewarded with faint petroglyphs. The rock was metamorphic and was very pretty in the polished sections.

After several miles the trail to Picayune Valley forks right. As we entered the valley, we found more petroglyphs. A pluton of granite lies to the east of the trail at first, with metamorphic rock to the west, and blurring the true situation somewhat, the valley is incised into the contact between the two rock types. As we climbed higher up the valley, we crossed many springy areas with wet meadows and dense thickets of Mountain Alder, and a very nice display of wildflowers, including Larkspurs sometimes standing eight feet high. The pines were now Jeffrey Pines, the Ponderosas left behind, and Aspen trees replaced the Cottonwoods of the lower areas.

In a mile or so we reached a bench of bedrock over which Picayune Creek plunges in a nice waterfall. Several people were lazing about on the glaciated and water-polished rocks above the falls. Interesting dikes of granite and aplite penetrate the metamorphic rocks here, making broad creamy stripes in the dark grey and brown country rock.

After scouting, unsuccessfully, for petroglyphs I had heard were in this area, we took a lunch break below the falls. There, nasty orange deer flies tormented us; I have never, ever seen so many of these biting flies, and they were hungry. All that can be said in their favor, is that they are amazingly easy to kill. Oh, and they're orange. Our break was brief and we started down the creek, abjuring the trail for a chance to roam the outcrops and hop the boulders along the creek. Every time we even thought about stopping we were swarmed by deer flies. Part of the creek, well off the trail, has an inner gorge. Here we found a goddess sunbathing and moved up the cliffs to preserve her privacy.

Eventually we reached the confluence with the Middle Fork, and, exploring some more glaciated metamorphic rock, found some more very faint petroglyphs, and passing them, the main trail. In another hour we were back at the car. We had spent about six hours on a day hike to Picayune Valley, broad and open and relatively lightly forested—in fact, it was clear the wildfires had scoured the timber off both sides of this valley, leaving vestiges along the valley floor, and dense groves on the ridgecrests. There were rather more people than we expected for a Tuesday, but, this place is pretty and popular.

There are many decent camping sites scattered up and down the valley. Fires are prohibited right now due to high fire danger. A trail climbs out of the head of the valley to the south, giving access to other parts of the Granite Chief Wilderness.

Such was a nice visit to Picayune Valley.

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