worked hard clearing brush yesterday—how i hate that task! it's been too hot to wear clothes, just my cutoffs and shoes, and my body is covered with scratches. thank god for towle's hole ~ i've been going there every day when i stop working.”
[Russell Towle's journal]
“7/22/87 sure that it is Wednesday, unsure of the date; sure that today was epochal, unsure of my fate.
Today I went into DF early and attacked the last remaining problem—last?—Anyway, attacked: and won; for now, dear diary, I can draw equatorial projections of polar zonohedra, rotated to any angle. So, now I can draw both polar and equatorial projections, and rotate each. Other problems do remain; to draw “opaque” projections, or, to draw “transparent” projections which differentiate hidden from visible edges; also, to draw a rhomboid-tiles projection of the zonagon, either opaque or differentiated as per above.
While contriving all these wondrous things, I saw a little note behind the computer, and picking it up, found a $10 bill clipped to this message: “Russ—fill your tank and go hiking for me—Gay” so, seeing as how I had conquered the universe of polyhedra, I headed for the high country with the petroglyph map. I found several of the mapped sites; they all command wonderful views, in fact, I begin to think of them as orientation stations. It seems to ring true that the Washo came West into the North Fork basin during the summer, and I speculate that the petroglyph sites represent “known” spots amid the anonymity of forest and river; one stretch of the North Fork is like another; one forest is like another; but from most of the petroglyph sites, one can see most of the rest of the petroglyph sites, and usually several high peaks which are distinct, easily recognizable, such as Tinker's Knob, Anderson Peak, Devils Peak, and Lyon Peak.
All in all, a very rich, very enjoyable day; polyhedra and petroglyphs and wildlife (I saw a whole family of sparrow hawks, the juveniles vocalizing loudly and continuously from their perches, atop juniper trees on the edge of the inner gorge, near some petroglyphs; and another family of trilling-chirping birds, similar to rock wrens, and sitting on rocks; heard a coyote howl; saw a Lewis woodpecker; a covey of mountain quail; grasshoppers on granite); the day was clear, cool, bright, more like October than July; it was most satisfying; all I could wish for myself would be a hot shower. Tomorrow, I will have one.”
[Russell Towle's journal]
Date: Mon, 22 Jul 2003 09:26:59 -0800
To: North Fork Trails
From: Russell Towle
Subject: Black Mountain; Crystal-Lithic Turbidites
Near Yuba Gap, the upper basin of the North Fork of the North Fork American holds Lake Valley Reservoir. This PG&E reservoir, at about 5800' elevation, stores snowmelt and diverts much of the water to Drum Powerhouse. From the Yuba Gap exit, south side of I-80, proceed east and take the right-hand fork in about a quarter-mile; in another half-mile a left-hand fork puts you on TNF's Forest Road 19, which can be followed all the way around in a large arc to the Emigrant Gap exit, farther west.
FR19 follows along the north side of Lake Valley Reservoir before climbing to the crest of Monumental Ridge, passing Mears Meadow, skirting the rim of Big Valley, and then deteriorating briefly to a jeep trail before passing Big Valley Bluff and Texas Hill, finally reaching I-80 at Emigrant Gap.
The shallow upper South Yuba canyon could not hold the gigantic mass of ice which accumulated during each of many glaciations over the past million years or so. Not far to the south, the very deep canyon of the North Fork American received much of this excess ice. In particular, during the most-recent "Tioga" episode, South Yuba ice crossed the divide south into the North Fork from Soda Springs on the east to Lake Valley, and beyond, on the west. Tioga ice melted away a scant 12,000 years ago.
Lake Valley was named for a small natural lake, of glacial origin, at the upper end of a broad meadow about two miles in length. Monumental Ridge was named for several unusual rock pinnacles, one very high and narrow, along Monumental Creek, just above its confluence with the East Fork of the North Fork of the North Fork American, and not far from where FR19 crosses that stream.
Paralleling Lake Valley to the south, Monumental Ridge has a fairly even crest standing just shy of 7000' elevation. The entire ridge was beneath the ice spilling south and west from the South Yuba, although terrain at this elevation stood well above the "firn line" of Tioga glaciers, above which level ice accumulates, while below, it wastes away. That is, not only were Monumental Ridge and Lake Valley generating their own proper ice, South Yuba ice was sweeping in as well.
I drove out FR19 on Sunday, planning to visit some glaciated outcrops of Paleozoic metamorphic rock on the north, Lake Valley side of Monumental Ridge, and also to visit Black Mountain and a crag nearby, where a vertical-angle benchmark (VABM) is marked "Monumental Ridge" on the USGS 7.5-minute quadrangle. I will call this crag "Monumental Point" to avoid confusion.
Black Mountain and Monumental Point are both in view from I-80 just west of the Yuba Gap exit, as one looks to the south. One sees much of the forested crest of Monumental Ridge, with the broad summit of Black Mountain on the right, at the west end, and just a smidgin farther west and south, the narrow craggy ridge of Monumental Point juts free of the forest. Below Black Mountain, some long brushy ridges are also visible from the freeway, being lateral moraines left by the Tioga ice in its waning stages. Such well-defined moraines are a little unusual here on the west slope, although commonly well-preserved on the drier east side of the Sierra.
Passing Forest Road 38 on the left, which leads to Huysink Lake, the Salmon Lake Trail, the Big Granite Trail, and Sugar Pine Point, I climbed through a lightly-logged Red Fir forest growing in glacial till slathered all over Mehrten Formation andesitic mudflow. The mudflow and till are exposed in the roadcuts, with the till containing very many granitoid boulders ripped out of the South Yuba and carried here by Tioga ice.
FR19 levels out as one gains the crest of Monumental Ridge, and FR19 bears left to Mears Meadow. I took the unmarked road to the right, and soon saw patches of the ancient bedrock exposed in the road-cuts. The glaciated outcrops were somewhere below me, but hidden by the forest. Rather fine views began to open to the north: I could see the Black Buttes, Grouse Ridge, Bowman Mountain, and in the distance, the Sierra Buttes, rising in steep peaks and pinnacles 4,500 feet above Sierra City, on the North Yuba. Cumulus clouds adorned the high country, and were building into cumulonimbus clouds minute by minute.
The bedrock, at first, was metamorphosed volcanic sediments—tuff— of the Paleozoic Sierra Buttes Formation, but soon I began to see the rocks for which Black Mountain itself was named, I guess, startling black peridotites of the so-called Emigrant Gap Mafic Complex. These resemble granite in texture, but are made entirely of iron-rich, dark minerals, without a speck of quartz, and in fresh exposures, around the road-cuts, sparkled brightly in the sun.
The glaciated outcrops I sought were not easily visible and I decided to explore west along the road, visit Black Mountain, and catch the metamorphics on the way out. Soon the road entered a broad open area along the crest, where the peridotites had themselves been severely glaciated, and perhaps, as is so often the case with serpentine, the oddly orange soils inhibited plant growth. The rich forest of Red Fir had given way to widely scattered Jeffrey Pine and Western White Pine, often "flagged" by centuries of storms beating on this exposed location, with most of the branches trailing to the lee, northeast side of the trees.
Continuing west, the road dropped gently into a broad pass with wet meadows, groves of Red Fir and Lodgepole Pine, and a really wonderful array of wildflowers. I found the Mears/Lake Valley Trail crossing the road, and parked nearby. This trail begins over in Monumental Creek, south of the ridge, crosses over to Lake Valley, near Lodgepole Campground, at the west end of the reservoir, on the east side.
I grabbed my camera and geologic map and explored north on the trail. Where it began to drop over the edge into Lake Valley, I left the trail and meandered west, through forest and flowery meadows, across glaciated outcrops of the various granodiorites, diorites, and peridotites of the Mafic Complex, which often opened up into broad flats with great views. I could often see right up to the crest, Mt. Lola, Basin Peak, Castle Peak, Anderson Peak and Tinkers Knob, and even the Crystal Range, well to the south. The broad massif of Snow Mountain was often in view, and from one point I could even see Squaw Peak, at the head of the Middle Fork of the American.
I followed bear trails through the last groves of Red Fir to the summit of Black Mountain, which is a flat plateau, and much more open and rocky than one would think, looking up at it from the freeway. Monumental Point was now in view, and its narrow crest must be visited, for it must command a terrific view.
To my dismay, a timber harvest had occurred some decades ago, but a logging road made for easy progress towards Monumental Point, and I was soon on the summit. In the hazy heat of the afternoon, and the flat, almost shadowless light of a sun still high in the sky, I was not sent into raptures by the scenery. The basin of Monumental Creek has been rather severely scarred by logging, for one thing, and it was directly below me. To the west, Lovers Leap and Giant Gap were visible, with the grotesque bulldozed clearings for the million-dollar-view houses all too easily seen, even at a distance of fifteen miles. The place does command a wide view. It would be fun to ski out there in the winter.
The clouds had built into high castles and turrets and thunder began to rumble almost constantly. However, the sky remained clear above Monumental Ridge.
I soon left and hewed to a much more direct line back north to my car, a little over a mile away. I explored east on the Mears/Lake Valley Trail, and followed it easily enough for a quarter mile, where it crosses the outlet of a wet meadow, but soon thereafter lost the line of the trail amid the log decks and skid trails of a Tahoe National Forest timber sale dating to the Reagan presidency. As with other historic trails in this area, such as the old Sugar Pine Point Trail and the Big Valley Trail, Tahoe National Forest unaccountably decided to allow this old trail to be ruined by logging. It would be fun to try and recover and restore its original course.
Returning to the car, some ATV riders appeared, and seemed at first as tho they meant to rampage around the wet flowery meadows, but instead drove over to me, and asked the way to a canyon view point they had heard of. I soon realized they were looking for Big Valley Bluff, and gave them directions.
It was time to visit the glaciated metamorphic rocks. I drove east, and was again amazed by the broad open area with the orange soils and scattered storm-wracked trees. I stopped there and explored around, visiting outcrops of peridotite, and enjoying the view to the north. I can't be sure, but I may have been seeing Mt. Lassen, a little west of the line to the Sierra Buttes.
Driving east again, I found a short spur road leading north to an outcrop of the "lower member" of the Sierra Buttes Formation. This formation forms a part of the so-called Taylorsville Sequence. Throughout the Northern Sierra, this Taylorsville Sequence lies just to the east of the older Shoo Fly Complex. The whole shebang has been rotated 90 degrees to the east, so the original horizontal layers of sediments and volcanic debris are now vertical.
My map described the lower member of the Sierra Buttes Formation as "coarse-grained submarine debris flows composed of angular felsic volcanic fragments and variable amounts of black chert intraclasts." Roughly speaking, a conglomerate made from underwater landslides of lava and chert. At any rate, a few steps from where I parked, I could see just what was described, complete with the occasional chunks of black chert. The stuff all looked a little stretched and sheared by metamorphism.
With map and camera I walked north to where the outcrop fell away into Lake Valley, and finally could see the rest of the glaciated outcrops I wished to visit. I began a meandering descent, followed a bear trail across a springy swale clogged with Mountain Alder, and on the steeply-plunging spur ridge to the north of the swale, found the "upper member" of the Sierra Buttes Formation, " fine-grained, generally thin bedded tuff and tuffaceous siltstone," with "thin lenses of chert-rich granule conglomerate."
Contouring along farther north, I soon passed into the Taylor Formation, "andesitic crystal-lithic turbidites." These were quite interesting, and the glacially polished outcrops made for excellent exposures. The rock was strongly layered, in a rhythmic fashion, the same patter repeating again and again: at the base of each layer would be some coarse-grained andesitic stuff, with abundant small crystals of white feldspar in the light-brown andesitic stuff. I say, "stuff," because although it did resemble andesitic lava, it clearly was sedimentary, and must represent reworked andesitic tuff, I'd guess. At any rate, at the base of each layer-sequence there was this andesitic crystal-lithic stuff. It started out coarse and then within inches became quite fine-grained. Then it abruptly gave way to a layer of black stuff which to my eye looked like chert. Each composite layer, then, was between a few inches to a foot or so thick, and there were many many layers exposed.
Of course there were variations. Sometimes the black chert swelled to a foot in thickness itself, and sometimes the andesitic stuff was at least a foot thick. Interestingly, the entire area of this glaciated Taylor Formation had been used by the Indians as a chert quarry. They smashed up the black chert and carried chunks of it around. In fact, these glaciated outcrops would have formed the line of the Indian trail from the original lake of Lake Valley, up to the crest of Monumental Ridge at Peridotite Flat and Mears Meadow. There is another Indian chert quarry over in Big Valley.
After wandering back and forth and up and down and visiting all the best outcrops, I followed a slightly different, lower line back to the car, and while climbing up into the lower member of the Sierra Buttes Formation, heard the sudden crash of a startled bear in brush nearby. I had taken it by surprise, and it had bolted. It stopped and looked back at me from a little meadow filled with flowers. I fumbled to get my camera turned on and in position, and snapped two photographs, neither very good. It was about fifty yards away, standing still, staring at me, a fully-grown, rich reddish-brown bear. As I climbed an outcrop to gain a better view, it surprised me by taking a few rapid steps in my direction. This is not usual, and I retreated as rapidly as a climb up steep outcrops of metamorphic rock would allow, and the bear didn't follow, and I reached my car, noting the large masses of plastic sheeting and carpeting (!) left behind by hunters, last year, which need to be cleaned up and out of there, and drove slowly down the mountain, to the horrible freeway-of-insane-tailgaters, and fifteen miles west to home.
In Search of the Sawbug
[North Fork Trails blogpost, July 22, 2004:
There are some really great trails in the North Fork canyon, many quite old. Some are abandoned and no longer appear on modern maps, not Tahoe National Forest maps, nor on the USGS 7.5 minute topographic maps, which are the most detailed maps readily available.
Old maps often show these now-abandoned trails, and for many years I have pored over these antique maps, studying them inch by inch with a magnifying glass, and transferring the lines of trails to our modern 7.5 minute quads. I have also visited map archives at the USGS headquarters in Sacramento, and studied the surveyor's notes which accompany some of them.
For instance, in 1866, in the Dutch Flat area, the government surveys focused upon laying out the section lines, dividing each "township" into a grid of thirty-six sections, each section a mile square. This was the primary goal, and the positions of roads and trails were often only partially recorded, where they happened to cross some section line. The surveyor's notes often contain more information about these roads and trails.
One of the more interesting of the old maps is the USGS Colfax Folio (from the "Geological Atlas of the United States", ca. 1900), the first good topographic map published of this general area. Contours are at an interval of 100 feet, with bold contours every 500 feet, of elevation. This map is notable, among other things, for showing trails from Sawtooth Ridge down to the North Fork, which do not appear on any other map I have seen. East of Helester Point, a trail is shown dropping away south from a pass on Sawtooth, to Italian Bar. West of Helester Point, another trail is shown dropping from a pass, south and west to Humbug Bar, where a bridge existed. Since this trail connects Sawtooth Ridge to Humbug Bar, I've dubbed it the "Sawbug" trail.
From the pass, the trail can be followed for a little ways, before a maze of game trails obscures its course. If one just forges ahead in what should be the right direction, a human trail reappears, which leads to a hard-rock prospect on one of the many quartz veins in the area. From there, the trail again fades away. I searched that area a couple of years ago with Tom Molloy, and then again last year with Ron Gould.
The upper part of the Sawbug had disappeared so completely that it seemed the next step must be to go to Humbug Bar and try to follow it up from there. Last year I joined Steve Hunter and others for a visit to Humbug Canyon, and while they visited old mines, I tried and failed to locate the Sawbug, beginning at the bridge site, finding instead an old wagon road on the north side of the river, and another wagon road which climbed up the canyon wall, in much the direction one would want to see on the Sawbug, but, sadly, too far east.
Yesterday Jerry Rein, Ron Gould, Catherine O'Riley and I met Steve Hunter and friends in Colfax for another visit to Humbug Canyon. Steve knows one of the owners of the Dorer Ranch, near the base of Humbug Canyon, and obtained a key to the gate, up high on the canyon rim off Elliott Ranch Road. We drove out there and down the road, pausing at the ranch to greet the caretaker, Danny, and his friend, Grant. The ranch is located on a meadowy terrace of glacial outwash sediments. It is an amazing, albeit somewhat ramshackle, place. After a time we made our way down to the river, a short distance away. A lovely deep pool is just downstream from the confluence of Humbug Creek, and we all swam, for the day was waxing hot, hotter, hottest.
The river was a comfortable 64 degrees, as a fisherman among us determined, and we jumped and dove from the polished bosses of rock beside the pool.
Soon, tho, our sub-group packed up, forded the river, and climbed to the bridge site, in search of the Sawbug.
Our search lacked a little in method. Howsoever, some widespread wandering up and down and back and forth eventually revealed a human trail, winding through a dense thicket of young Douglas Fir. I lopped a line through, where bears had often stomped, but soon enough we lost the thing, and wandered east, up the canyon, some scouting high, others low.
I found a plausible human trail amidst a regular maze of very well-trodden game trails, and called the others up. We followed along well enough for a ways, and then our trail again blended into the generality of game trails, in a forest of Canyon Live Oak, Ponderosa Pine, and Douglas Fir. I scouted high while the others took shelter beneath some trees, and found yet another supposed human trail, and, walking back west, and then east, and then up and down and every which way, established that a certain combination of the most heavily-trodden game trails, which combination might be interpreted as lightly-used human trails from long ago, led to a hard rock prospect with some terraces bolstered by dry-laid stone walls, littered with chunks of quartz.
I went back and retrieved the others, and we walked to this "prospect terrace." As we neared it, Ron split away and scouted higher, thank goodness, for soon he called down to us that he had found an even broader trail, and I hurried up to see.
Ron had found "it." The Sawbug. Finally, another piece of the puzzle.
It was past noon and sweltering, blazing hot. A climb of perhaps 100 feet brought me to Ron's trail, where a gigantic Canyon Live Oak and Douglas Fir were clasped in a strange embrace. The trail was broader than most we had explored that day, and was in just the right position, following just the right course, ascending to the east and north, to be the Sawbug.
We followed it up and east, passing some springs, and began to see dry-laid stone walls bolstering the trail. In a sunny, grassy opening, we could look across the North Fork canyon into Humbug Canyon and see the meadow and Dorer Ranch. We were perhaps 400 feet or so above the river.
Retreating down and west, we followed the Sawbug past the Trees of the Embrace, and became if possible even more convinced that this was indeed IT, the one and only Sawbug. Its course was gentle but inexorably down and to the west, drawing a bead on Humbug Bar. However, upon entering an especially brushy, overgrown area, we lost it, and, already scratched, tired, dripping with sweat, we set the problem aside for another day, and made our way back to Jerry and Catherine.
From there, a blundering descent was made to the northside wagon road, which we followed up towards the Cavern Mine, where the Steve Hunter party might be found. This mine is one of many in the area, has a stamp mill near the portal, and a slightly flooded tunnel, with ore-cart track still in place, leading perhaps a hundred yards into the cool depths of Sawtooth Ridge, to a sort of narrow cavern with side tunnels branching away, and a great, indefinitely high, stoped-out area above, with some relict timbering spanning a narrow kind of chasm. The mine was probably one of fifteen claims (the Adeline, I find, from old maps) owned and worked by the American Eagle Mine.
We met Steve Hunter et. al. on the wagon road; they were on their way back to Humbug Bar. We continued east to the mine, explored the cavern, and then swam in a great, great, deep pool below the mine.
As shadows began to lengthen we picked our way downstream along the river, over water-polished masses of almost-vertical Shoo Fly Complex strata, with unusual laminations, intercalations of limy sediments bordering upon being outright limestone. These were in close association with the ubiquitous quartz veins, and probably account for the white dripstone deposits within the Cavern.
After a time we were able to make a short climb to the American Eagle Trail on the south side of the river, and followed it back to Humbug Canyon, where another round of swimming cooled us in preparation for the final short sharp ascent to Catherine's trusty Land Rover. We left the Dorer Ranch at about 7:00 p.m., and made it back to Colfax a little after nine.
Such was another great day on the North Fork. It was especially notable on these two counts:
1. We found the long-lost Sawbug Trail.
2. Catherine O'Riley actually went swimming in the North Fork!
July 22, 2005
To the Teacups
[North Fork Trails blogpost, July 22, 2006:Friday dawned cloudy, and stayed cloudy, and summer thunderstorms were said to be brewing in the Sierra. Hence Ron Gould and I thought it the better part of valor to bid Responsibility a poignant goodbye and strenuously stray in search of Wildness and Beauty.
Ron suggested the Big Granite Trail, where our chances of rain would be high, but I made a bid for the China Trail, out of Lost Camp, and since the Big Granite Trail would end up meaning actual work (it is quite the demanding trail), we wavered a little but left I-80 at Blue Canyon and drove the two odd miles down south towards the railroad, before breaking left past a cluster of old houses onto the road to Lost Camp.
All this area is depicted on the USGS 7.5 minute Blue Canyon quadrangle, including the China Trail, which, however, is unlabeled.
Here a new house is a-building beside the road, and two signs which first appeared last summer remain, telling all the world that this marks the End of County Maintained Road, and moreover, to Keep Out.
This is a historic public road, dating back to the late 1850s, and it is an absurdity to tell We the People to Keep Out, but, hey, this is Parcel County. Parcel mining is an important part of the local economy, and to hell with the consequences.
One of the best ways to mine parcels is by way of the no-pun-intended Minor Subdivision, in which, say, one 40-acre parcel becomes four 10-acre parcels. The actual mining process often begins with a timber harvest. Then comes the subdivision, and then the sale of the new parcels. The new owners rush to nail up as many "No Trespassing" signs as possible, and then commence their desperate worries about Road Maintenance.
Road Maintenance costs money, and any use of the road whatsoever involves some degree of wear-and-tear, so, when the new owner stops and thinks about it, it is only good sense to discourage We the People from using the same road our great-grandfathers used. For goodness' sake, We the People will raise a cloud of dust, and our tires may well bounce a bit of gravel to the side. So, it is only prudent to go to Parcel County itself, and to explain the problem of people who do not own parcels using the very road which gives access to those parcels. Of course Parcel County comes through with flying colors, and an End County Maintained Road sign appears in all its glory, as official as a sign can be.
I have been a little afraid to visit Lost Camp and the China Trail, inasmuch as a major timber harvest has been approved, and at any time Siller Brothers lumber company could set their bulldozers swarming over the historic town site and trailhead.
Lost Camp boomed into existence in 1858, and was a hydraulic mining town from the get-go, a patch of auriferous Eocene-age river gravels capping the ridge dividing Blue Canyon from the North Fork of the North Fork American River (NFNFAR), said gravels only needing water to make men rich.
There is quite a maze of canyons in the area, all tributaries of the NFNFAR: Blue Canyon, Texas Canyon, Fulda Canyon, Sailor Ravine, the East Fork of the NFNFAR, Burnett Canyon, and Wilmont Ravine.
I breathed a sigh of relief when Ron and I reached Lost Camp, and we saw that the bomb had not yet dropped, the logging had not yet begun, and we passed quite a number of side roads before reaching that one particular road left which leads to the China Trail.
This trail is sometimes called the "China Bar Trail," suggesting that Chinese miners worked the river there; this is supported by the 1863 diary of Isaac Tibbetts Coffin, who lived at Texas Hill and used the trail frequently. He does not call it the China Trail, or the China Bar Trail, but does record that Chinese from Dutch Flat were in the business of purchasing mining claims in the area. Perhaps by the 1880s the trail had received its present name.
Lost Camp derives its name from the maze of many canyons, the Gorge of Many Gorges, which baffled mapmakers for decade after decade, and by the late 1850s, had led to a number of stories about Rich Diggings found, late in the fall season, and then lost, for, on the following summer, when the Sure Thing was to be worked down to bedrock, and all lucky enough to be involved would become Rich Men and go back East to the States, to live like barons in New Hampshire or whatever—on the following summer, the Rich Diggings could never, ever, be found.
So when at last an actual town was built, safely above and beyond the Gorge of Many Gorges, it was named Lost Camp, in keeping with the local traditions.
The China Trail once crossed the NFNFAR and climbed to Sawtooth Ridge, which is the divide between the main North Fork and the NFNFAR. The trail was built in 1862 to allow pack trains from Dutch Flat to reach the Texas Hill area, where a number of miners lived. It later became an official "system trail" in Tahoe National Forest (TNF), and like most such official trails, it had already existed for decades before TNF was established, in 1905.
So the trusty old rangers maintained the China Trail, and blazed the grand old trees along it, and drew it on their maps, and placed signs at either end (at Lost Camp and Sawtooth Ridge), and in fact did everything good forest rangers ought to do. And then ... and then the rangers stopped maintaining the China Trail, and the old railroad lands on Sawtooth were hit hard by timber harvests, and the usual welter of stumps and slash and skid trails obliterated the China Trail, on that side of the NFNFAR. Last summer Jerry Rein and I managed to find and follow the exact line of this historic trail, through the devastated area. We even found the old TNF signpost, at the crest of Sawtooth, the sign itself missing, the post rotting on the ground in the manzanita.
Well. Ron and I were perturbed to find that OHVers had been widening the China Trail for their "quads." Many a forty-acre parcel has been divided into four ten-acre parcels around greater Blue Canyon, and the new owners not only like "No Trespassing" and "Keep Out" signs, they like riding their quads anywhere and everywhere.
Ron spotted a distant waterfall through the trees, which we took to be the 200-foot Burnett Canyon Falls, below Texas Hill.
Eventually we dropped below the recent OHV work and followed the old trail, with its Forest Service "small i" blazes now almost unrecognizable on the trunks of ancient trees, down to the NFNFAR, sparkling clear and cold. First we visited Slate Camp (as I call it), just downstream and across the river, where a truly great swimming hole is adjacent to a gravel bar much grown over with various dogwoods and other riparian vegetation, well hiding an elaborate camp with benches and thrones of stacked slate around a slate fire-ring.
It appeared the OHVers had preceded us, at any rate, garbage and bullet casings littered the area. Butterflies swirled around us, especially some which resembled Pine Whites, and flew in a lazy flip-flopping slow motion. Soon they discovered our sweaty clothes and packs, which lay in heaps around us, and I took many photographs.
I have been concentrating more on butterflies this year, and less on flowers, and having made the acquaintance of famous entomologist Art Shapiro of U.C. Davis, I send him my photographs, and he replies with genus, species, sub-species, and gender. Thus he will write, for instance, "The second photo is a female Speyeria callippe Juba."
The non-riparian forest flanking the NFNFAR is dominated by Canyon Live Oak and Douglas Fir, with lesser numbers of Incense Cedar and Ponderosa Pine, but with a somewhat unusual incidence of the California Nutmeg, or Torreya, a conifer. The largest Torreya I have seen in Placer County are near the base of the China Trail. These trees do not have cones, but bear single large seeds which resemble husky green olives. Torreya have very large and brash and stiff and sharp needles, of a glossy dark green, which stink unpleasantly if bruised.
We had the luck to see a Kingfisher, just bombing down the river, only a few feet above the water, so that at first I thought, "Ouzel," but then saw the brilliant blues and white and the crest on the head. And then it was gone, away and down the canyon.
We had seen a new truck at the trailhead, and decided to work upstream towards the Pool of Cold Fire, expecting to find some people along the way, which we did, a friendly young couple fly-fishing in midstream.
The young man warned us about rocks and rattlesnakes. I suppose that this was his Secret Spot, and we were unschooled interlopers. We did manage to stir up a rattlesnake as we boulder-hopped upstream on the left bank, but neither of us saw the thing.
The Pool of Cold Fire stops further progress upstream. The Gorge of Many Gorges begins here. Usually I swim the Pool and then use a complicated route to climb up and around a waterfall, dropping back down to the NFNFAR a little ways above the falls, where some fairly serious gorge-scrambling begins. It is this area some old aficionados of local gorges call The Teacups. The bedrock is all metasediments of the Shoo Fly Complex, mainly metasandstone, the strata nearly vertical, and it is scoured and polished into wonderfully rounded forms along the river,
We both tried on a little swimming in the cold water, but we had no method of keeping our packs dry while swimming the two hundred feet of the cliff-bound pool, and it appeared our rather modest explorations had reached an end. I sat on the gravel and scanned the cliffs across the way. Surely there must be some kind of fisherman's trail, or some old miners' trail, which would ascend those cliffs, and somehow, some way, lead up into the Gorge of Many Gorges? I decided to have a look.
With my usual acrobatic flair I jumped from boulder to boulder across the river below the Pool, and worked upstream to the cliffs. Sure enough, a route was found, which only required a little out-and-out rock-climbing, and once I saw that it would actually work, I went back and begged Ron to check it out. He was reluctant. Worse than that, he said "No." So. How could I appeal to his Better Nature, to his Higher Self?
How else than by Jealousy?
"Oh well," I offered, "you would really like it up there, Ron. It's that area, you know, which Steve Hunter and his Gang call The Teacups." I wished to convey the idea that the real studs of gorge-scrambling thought nothing of slippery cliffs and hot days and angry rattlesnakes and had ever so much fun doing what no one else in the world dared to do, so much fun they had to give the place its own special name. Few were the heroes enrolled upon the short list of those who had braved the severe dangers which attend upon The Teacups, dangers which in fact throng all around The Teacups, hell, even if someone were bold enough to swim the Pool of Cold Fire, they were immediately brought to bay by the big waterfall. Fewer than few had ever made it beyond that supremely scary spot, etc. etc.
Well. Most of the above was only in my mind. Somehow, tho, it worked, and Ron relented and led the way back up the cliffs and, soon enough, we were amid those glorious Teacups, with high old cliffs overhanging on every side, and waterfalls and cascades and deep pools and water-polished miniature synclines and anticlines folding the almost-quartzite metasediments into tight arcs.
We only went a little ways, far enough to peer up the gorge and see about where the main NFNFAR enters the Gorge of Many Gorges from the north; for the main axis of the Gorge better aligns with the East Fork of the North Fork of the North Fork, than with the higher reaches of the NFNFAR itself.
Having succeeded in all our objectives, it only remained to slowly retreat back down the gorge, over the cliffs, to boulder-hop along the river below, and then make a sweat-dripping slog up the old old trail to Ron's truck. Our clouds had gradually drifted apart and let the sun shine into the canyon, so that great masses of warm air began to form, and it was time to take things quite slow and steady.
But it is only a 1500-foot climb, and the grades are easy. We reached the truck without incident and such was a great day in the North Fork country, great, yes, but disturbing on several counts, what with the Keep Out signs and the No Trespassing signs and what with OHVers transforming the historic foot trail into a quad trail.