July 20 (1997, 2000, 2002, 2006)
Landscape Renderings ~ Sailor Flat Trail
Letter to the Governor

7/20/97   [...]
Last night I had one of my strange and intricate Green Valley dreams, which happen once in a blue moon. In this one I found an old diary of mine which described a trip to Green Valley many years ago. The dream became a mishmash of passages from the diary combined with my “current” experiences there. As always there were houses down there. I found incredible petroglyphs, and visited an aged Chinese man who recited poetry. There was a certain waterfall which I had forgotten and then rediscovered. And more.”

[Russell Towle's journal]

Date: Thu, 20 Jul 2000 12:29:45 -0800
To: Diana S.
From: Russell Towle
Subject: landscape renderings
X-Attachments: :Macintosh HD:196471:Giant Gap.jpg: :Macintosh HD:196471:NF_low.jpg:

Hi Diana,

It was good to talk with you today. I hope we can find a way to get the section corners into UTM coordinates as we discussed. I am attaching two JPEG images, renderings of surfaces created from the USGS DEM data set. Although I can render such surfaces in Mathematica, I often export the elevation data in a form which can be used in the freeware ray-tracer POV-Ray. Then mountains cast shadows and there is complete freedom of camera placement, field of view, lens length etc. Also, atmospheric effects may be introduced.

Giant Gap.jpg is a view of Giant Gap from the east looking west, or rather, southwest, down the canyon. Lovers Leap may be seen on the right. A hazy atmosphere was used.
NF_low.jpg is a view looking east and northeast up the North Fork canyon. Moody Ridge and Lovers Leap (labeled) may be seen in the left foreground. The camera is roughly above Rollins Lake (probably farther west; I think a long lens was used in this rendering). Quite a number of DEMs (over 20 I think) were merged to make this rendering. The terrain extends east to the Sierra Crest. The broad volcanic mudflow plateau of the Foresthill Divide is very evident. Behind the words "Lovers Leap" a portion of the North Fork of the North Fork American can be seen, with some of its headwaters on Monumental Ridge and Black Mountain. Part of the upper South Yuba basin is also visible on the upper left, while on the upper right part of the Middle American is visible—the French Meadows area, and part of the Granite Chief Wilderness.


Russell Towle

Date: Sat, 20 Jul 2002 07:59:38 -0800
To: North_Fork_Trails
From: Russell Towle
Subject: Big Granite Creek

Hi all,

Thursday last Catherine O'Riley, son Greg and I drove from Colfax via Mineral Bar on the North Fork to Iowa Hill, thence via Sugar Pine Dam to the Foresthill/Soda Springs Road, and turned left and upcountry. From Mineral Bar no road crosses the North Fork for 35 miles upstream, until The Cedars, at about 6000' elevation.

Thunderstorms were brewing over the high country east of us, already showing decent development at 10:30 in the morning, but skies were clear above.

Our destination: the Sailor Flat Trail. We used Catherine's 4WD truck, and passing the turnoffs for the Italian Bar, Mumford Bar, and Beacroft trails, we continued to Sailor Flat, a wet meadow at about 6200' elevation, and drove down the rough road to the left (north). This road follows the ridge dividing Sailor Canyon on the east from New York Canyon on the west. About a mile down one reaches the vicinity of the X-Ray Mine and other gold mines, drift mines in the Eocene-age relict channels. These ancient streams were buried under thick sequences of the young volcanics, including, exposed along the road, the "pink welded tuff" unit of rhyolite ash, dated at ~22 million years, and thought to have erupted from a volcano near Carson City.

The Big Granite Trail and the confluence of Big Granite Creek with the N. Fk. American River are at  upper left.
The road steepens and narrows into a jeep trail and Catherine threw her rig into low range. Eventually we reached the terminus of the jeep trail at Oak Flat, only 1600 feet or so above the river, a considerable advantage in an area where the canyon is over 3000' deep. After scouting unsuccessfully for a view of the 500' waterfall in New York Canyon (Oak Flat is on the crest of the dividing ridge), we started down the trail.

At the first switchback we paused to paw through the slaty shards of the Jurassic Sailor Canyon Formation, looking for ammonite fossils. We saw many, all incomplete. Then the plunge began. This trail, especially in the upper part, is unusually steep. For a time it was the main line of supply for the La Trinidad Mine, a hard-rock gold mine deep in Sailor Canyon; the mules left Cisco, on the railroad, and followed the Big Granite Trail past Huysink Lake, Four Horse Flat, and on down via Big Granite Creek to the North Fork, crossing a ways below New York Canyon, and on up to Sailor Canyon, and up the trail to the mine. So. Below the mine the trail is graded for loaded mules; above, it is not. It is dreadfully steep.

Passing the mine, we turned aside to visit a pretty waterfall and swimming hole on Sailor creek. An old mining ditch can be followed to the site from the main trail. Clouds had spread west from the thunderstorms and the water was cold enough to deter us from swimming. Such would be the case all day.

Continuing down the trail, we stopped at the river for a lunch break. A man passed us on the trail with a large German Shepherd carrying its own food in saddle bags. He was heading for Big Granite Creek, a couple miles downstream, with six friends, somewhere above us on the trail. He had taken these friends, now in their twenties, down to the river to camp when they were children. So this was like old times. Having been dropped off at the end of the jeep trail, they were climbing out of the great canyon to the north, on the Big Granite Trail, in a couple days.

I was hoping to make a foray up New York Canyon to see the big waterfall, but, when we reached said canyon, so little water was flowing that we gave up on that plan, and decided to mosey on down the canyon. At a certain point, we could see boulders massed in the river bed, and left the trail to explore. It was easy to cross. A nice pool was there, but once again, in the shade cast by the clouds it was just a mite too cool for any of us to swim. Thunder could be heard rumbling to the east and we fully expected to get rained on in due course.

After another break we scouted the glacial outwash terrace north of the river, and picked up a trail on its west end. We had decided to make for the confluence of Big Granite Creek, and this trail was in fact the Big Granite Trail, on its last descent to the river. We found ourselves climbing again and again until we were maybe 400 feet above the river. Then, at a broken sign reading "Sailor Canyon 2" we left the main trail on a fork Dave Lawler and I followed a few years ago which drops west to Big Granite Creek. This trail needs some brush work.

At Big Granite Creek we scrambled a short distance up to the waterfalls. I had never been farther upstream from this point. Consulting my geologic map, I saw that here, at the falls (which incidentally have deep, almost black-with-depth pools at their bases) the rocks were the meta-tuffs etc. of the upper member of the Sierra Buttes Formation. If we passed a spur ridge a short distance upstream we would enter a different band of rock, the lower member of the Peale Formation. Both of these, I think, are regarded as part of the Paleozoic "Taylorsville Sequence," which is much thicker and better exposed to the north, in Plumas County. Here it thins into narrow bands but a few hundred meters thick, all tilted up more or less vertically.

At any rate. My plans to round the spur were dashed, as we reached another deep pool, a large one at that, in a water-polished theater of rock, with a waterfall hiding in a sort of corkscrew chute at the upper end. By taking off our shoes and wading a little we were able to climb onto the bare rock and scurry along above the pool to its upper end. Here the cliff on the west side makes a gigantic overhang and one can see the water shooting into a little pool just above the main pool. It was a lovely spot. To get any higher on Big Granite Creek would require a climb of 100 to 200 feet on the cliffs to the east, where a passage looked possible. It was already late afternoon, so we left that for another day.

We forded the river at Big Granite Creek, and climbed through some mossy, poison-oaky, manzanita-y clifflets to the American River Trail a couple hundred feet above. I grabbed the strange bait juice bottle I had seen this spring, with the fisherman, a six-foot trout slung over his shoulder, embossed on one side.

Trudging upstream we passed many old mining sites and springs and some really large trees, including an Incense Cedar fully six feet in diameter, and reaching the base of the Sailor Flat Trail, trudged slowly up. Catherine, recently returned from 6000' climbs out of the Grand Canyon, led the way. Oh my goodness that trail is steep. I appreciate more than ever why some people, if they want to do a day hike like we did, will leave a car at Mumford, and go down—only down—the Sailor Flat Trail, then down the main canyon on the American River Trail, and climb out on Mumford Bar Trail. About sixteen miles altogether, and a 2800' ascent at Mumford, but, anything's got to be better than that steep climb at Sailor.

Washington Lily
(Lilium washingtonianum)

It was a very nice day kept unusually cool by the cloud cover. We saw quite a few flowers and, surprisingly, no rattlesnakes. When we reached Catherine's truck we were all more or less destroyed. We skipped Iowa Hill, sailing straight down the Foresthill Divide to Auburn and then up I-80, and at about nine o'clock we were back in Colfax.


Russell Towle

July 20, 2006

Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger
State Capitol Building
Sacramento, CA 95814

re: Timber Harvests Ruin Historic Trails, II

Dear Governor Schwarzenegger,

This is a follow-up to my letter of December 15, 2004, which you forwarded to (then) chief of CDF, Dale Geldert, who himself responded to me on February 22, 2005. Mr. Geldert asserted that CDF “... does recognize the importance of protecting historically important features such as historic trails.”

Mr. Geldert is so very wrong, Governor. CDF has presided over the rampant and inexcusable destruction of our old trails. If CDF recognizes the importance of the old trails, why has it approved so many timber harvest plans which led to their obliteration?

Our own U.S.G.S maps have not caught up with the destruction. On these maps, we can still trace the courses of the Big Valley Trail, the Sugar Pine Point Trail, the Long Valley Trail, the Monumental Creek Trail, the Mears Meadow Trail, the China Trail, and the Big Granite Trail, in eastern Placer County.

However, just try to follow one of these historic trails on the ground, trails which already existed before Tahoe National Forest (TNF) itself came into existence, in 1905. You will find a wilderness of stumps and bulldozer skid trails and roads and log landings, but you will be lucky to find any part of the old trail.

I would be more than happy to give you a tour of these old trails, Governor. We could hike along and merrily apportion blame between CDF, TNF, and Placer County, while using GPS technology to locate the line of some historic trail, ruined a few years ago in a few minutes of bulldozer yarding.

At any rate, we Californians ought to take better care of our old trails. Recently I joined with a group of volunteers to restore almost a mile of the Big Granite Trail, ruined by logging in 2004. It was very hard work. I myself think that land acquisition is extremely important, here in Tahoe National Forest; for the damage to these wonderful trails has occurred almost entirely on the private inholdings in the Forest.

The destruction of our old trails is actually far worse, and far more widespread and pervasive, than I can explain in a letter of this sort.

With thanks for your consideration of these matters, I am,


Russell Towle
Box 141
Dutch Flat, CA 95714

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