July 6 (2001, 2002, 2004, 2005)
Green Valley Explorations ~ A Canyon Creek First

Date: Fri, 6 Jul 2001 00:16:05 -0800
To: North_Fork_Trails
From: Russell Towle
Subject: today's meeting

Hi all,

The meeting today was a bit strange because Deane Swickard never put it on his calendar, as his only notification was by email. Judy Suter and I attended, John Ramirez and Loren Clark were there, and we called up Deane and had a speakerphone conversation with him.

It was all a bit amorphous and I for one find it unsettling that Loren Clark and John Ramirez are so poorly acquainted with this area. With all the rapid development going on, I feel a sense of urgency, and yet it has proved so difficult to acquaint Placer County staff with this area.

OK, so, it appeared as though Placer County was looking to Deane for guidance, and Deane was looking to Placer County for guidance, and very little was accomplished, except that we did agree that of all the acquisition projects around here, the Gold Run Diggings/Canyon Creek project has to be near the top of the list. Deane will write to the BOS about the BLM's land acquisition work in the North Fork American, and place some of the current acquisition objectives within that context.

Perhaps the most interesting thing to emerge in the meeting, was that Loren Clark informed us that the BOS, responding to efforts by Rex Bloomfield, budgeted one million dollars for land acquisition in Placer County this year. This is very good. The real trick would be to obtain matching funds from, say, the Packard Foundation. We touched upon the idea of going for the entire 800 acres now for sale in the Gold Run Diggings.

Such was today's meeting.

Date: Sat, 6 Jul 2002 09:26:13 -0800
To: North_Fork_Trails
From: Russell Towle
Subject: Green Valley

Hi all,

Well, Deane Swickard of Folsom BLM assures me there is nothing on the front burner, so far as the Big Tunnel at Gold Run goes. So that's good.

Yesterday son Greg, stepson Gus, and I hiked down to Green Valley on the North Fork American. It was a lovely day, fresh, a little cool, or at least, not blazing hot. Michael Joyce loaned me his Fiskars loppers and I made good use of them along the trail.

In 1851-52 some 2,000 people lived in Green Valley and were supplied by mule trains from Illinoistown, where Colfax is now, that point being the highest on the divide between the North Fork American on the south and the Bear on the north, which a freight wagon could reach. So mule trains radiated out to points east, including Green Valley (and Dutch Flat, Little York, Cold Springs, Iowa Hill, etc.). The trail to Green Valley was graded for pack mules with many switchbacks, some of which have been abandoned to the manzanita by succeeding generations of foot traffic, making the trail steeper and shorter than it had once been.

Green Valley was tremendously rich, not only in claims along the river itself, in the "most recent" Holocene-age gravels, but in the vast volumes of ice-age, Pleistocene gravels which are arranged in terraces of varying heights on both sides of the river, some of these as high as 600 feet above the river's current level. Where these glacial outwash deposits lay directly upon the underlying serpentine bedrock, they were often cemented into a tough conglomerate, by cementing agents and processes currently unknown. Green Valley is notable in that there are quite a few hydraulic mines in these young, Pleistocene gravels. Also, the cemented gravels were rich enough to justify dragging one or more stamp mills down into the canyon, to crush them up before running the resulting slurry through sluice boxes.

We took the High West Trail that Michael & Marsha & Tom Molloy and Larry Hilberg and I worked on last fall. It needs more work. I paused to do some lopping, but the long descent had heated us up and we were anxious to reach the river. We left the tangle of bushes for another day and cruised on down to the river, to where a suspension bridge once crossed, from the Green Valley Blue Gravel hydraulic mines on the north, to trails leading to the Gold Ring (west) and Hayden Hill (east) mines. There are some classic exposures of the cemented outwash on the north side of the river here, and big hydraulic pits on the south, in uncemented gravels.

Joe Steiner and his suspension bridge across the North Fork American in Green Valley.
Photo courtesy of Harriette and Bernie Denton.
Here we swam and ate lunch and admired the Five-Finger ferns and wildflowers associated with springs on the steep banks of cemented gravel. Some Scarlet Columbine were in bloom, and Common Monkeyflower, and a few other species I didn't recognize. The river was crystal-clear and cool, not cold, and shimmered in the afternoon up-canyon breezes. We followed the old trail from the bridge site west, towards the Gold Ring Mine, with its lovely meadow and log cabin on a terrace of outwash set about 120 feet or so above the river. Lovers Leap soars above on the far side of the river, evoking thoughts of Yosemite. One also has a good view of the contact between the Melones serpentine of Green Valley and the Calaveras Complex metavolcanics of Giant Gap from the Gold Ring Mine.

Mustang Mint
(Monardella lanceolata)
We did not go to the Gold Ring directly, for I saw a trail breaking back to the east from the main trail, and cajoled Greg and Gus into an exploration. This trail had become overgrown and the loppers came into heavy use. We passed many mining locations where various methods had been used to attack patches of glacial outwash. There were also patches of cemented gravel here and there, 150 feet or so above the river. We saw some riveted iron hydraulic mining penstock pipe lying about in some of these sites.

The trail climbed slowly as it went east and, passing a small mining pit, suddenly climbed another forty or fifty feet to the top of one of the best-defined terraces. I could see that its surface was accordant with the terrace surface of the Green Valley Blue Gravel claim across the river to the north and west, and thus, at almost exactly 2000 feet in elevation, also almost exactly 200 feet above the river. We noted bear tracks on this part of the old trail, in the deep-hollow, always-step-in-the-same-spot style. A fine forest of mixed oak and pine grew on this unmined portion of the outwash terrace. We reached a small cabin, or more likely, toolshed, with a scattered few old apple trees and one fig tree in the vicinity. The structure was framed with poles and sided and roofed with corrugated iron. The actual cabin site appeared to be a few yards away. An assortment of what seemed a mixture of both Depression-era and older, 19th-century trash, was scattered about.

Five-finger Fern
(Adiantum aleuticum)
I suggested that a cabin meant a year-around spring must be near, and we began scouting the almost level, partly meadowy surface of the terrace, and soon the boys found that McIntyre Ravine was immediately east. A bear trail/old human trail plunged directly down to the creek. It was cool and shady down there, with lots of Five-Finger ferns, some dogwoods, and so on. We saw a goodly number of Foothill Yellow-Legged Frogs on our hike, both on the main river and on the smaller streams. Following upstream, we saw the main, well-made, well-graded old human trail leading from the terrace down to the creek, and Gus found its continuation on the east side of the creek.

It climbed from the creek up to a terrace to the east accordant with that of the cabin and fig tree, with a small mining ditch winding along. I had been here once, years ago, with Dave Lawler. The loppers came into heavy use again as I cleared along the ditch bearing eastward.

We came to a steep bluff facing Hayden Hill and called it quits on this side quest, for, the original plan had been to go to the Gold Ring Mine. We could just barely make out part of one of the huge tailings piles over at Hayden Hill.

Retreating westward across McIntyre Ravine, past the fig cabin and small pits, we reached the main trail and continued west to the Gold Ring. The cabin is a decrepit, Depression-era log structure. The location is incredible. There is a lot of rich cemented glacial outwash near, best exposed along Giant Gap Ravine, which flanks this meadowy outwash terrace on the west. In the 1890s a stamp mill was dragged down from the canyon rim, 2000 feet above, and one can still see the deep groove made in the ridge between McIntyre and Giant Gap ravines.

We explored a little ways up Giant Gap Ravine, and then walked back to the suspension bridge site, and from there picked our way upstream along the North Fork. We took another swim and reached a gravel bar where there were rare, scattered boulders of orange limestone (?) with veins of blue calcite (?), really among the prettiest and strangest rocks I have ever seen. The orange limestone was etched by solution-type weathering into deep channels which criss-crossed the surface in patterns which reminded me of Chinese writing.

Incidentally, ever since the January 1997 flood event there has been a "grace period" along local rivers and creeks, because the floods stripped out a lot of blackberry patches and thick groves of willows and alders, making it much much easier to hike along the banks. Now, however, the grace period is ending, and we passed several gravel bars with hundreds of willows and alders growing again, now several feet high; in a few years, these areas will be almost impassable.

A flat-topped tailings pile of serpentine was adjacent to the gravel bar on the north. We were in central Green Valley, just west of the old hotel site, and I knew the tailings were from Joe Steiner's tunnel. Steiner, a Swiss man, lived in Green Valley for many years (1915-1955?), died in the 1950s, and is buried down there, near his cabin site. I have a photograph of him with his home-made wheelbarrow/ore cart at the entrance to this tunnel, which is flanked by carefully constructed walls of large dry-laid stone, quite handsome. Joe wore a long beard.

Joe Steiner, at the entrance to his mine.
Photo courtesy of Harriette and Bernie Denton.
Joe Steiner, who lived, worked, and died in Green Valley, his "Little Switzerland."
Photo courtesy of Harriette and Bernie Denton.
This is the same tunnel which originally belonged to George Opel, in the 1870s-1890s, and where one of his sons was killed in a cave-in in the 1890s. The tunnel was driven into the serpentine, in a northerly direction, to reach a relict ice-age channel of the North Fork. There are many such channels in Green Valley. There are other tunnels near here. All have collapsed at the entrances.

Greg Towle at the Joe Steiner's collapsed mine tunnel

From the tunnel we followed a well-built trail up and to the north past a marijuana-growers camp with the most disgusting mess of garbage you can imagine, much of it thrown into a vertical shaft connecting with one of the several tunnels. This trail climbs to meet the main central trail of Green Valley, where it was carefully disguised by the marijuana growers.

It would be nice to clean up these accumulations of garbage in Green Valley. I know of three or four like the one near the Steiner tunnel, all too large for one person to seriously consider hauling up the 2000-foot climb; it would take many trips. Possibly a helicopter could be arranged for, to come haul it out, if the garbage were collected into one or two accessible locations.

We stepped slowly on up the trail to where we had cached some Gatorade, where the High West Trail forks away from the main trail. The mosquitos were out in force and we just kept on climbing, up and out of the forest growing in reworked outwash sediments, into the brush of the pure serpentine. There the mosquitos abated and we had our first rest. Scouting near the trail I found a little flat with some pretty, weathered serpentine outcrops, and a view of The Pinnacles in Giant Gap. It was around 6:30 p.m. and the sun had left the trail, fortunately for us, but still streamed through Giant Gap. I said, "This is a special place, right here; I think there could be some Indian stuff lying around here, or something." I looked for shards of chert but saw none and sat down with my Gatorade. Then Gus called out; he had found an anvil, hidden in the rocks.

The anvil was not large. I know of a much larger one at the Hayden Hill Mine. This one was, I estimated, around 70 pounds. It had the words "Peter Wright" and "Patent" and "0" and "3" and "6" stamped into its side, and many marks of long use, on its surface.

Clearly, someone had been trying to carry it up and out of Green Valley. This has happened a lot. I wish people would just leave these artifacts where they were. I know of one man in Dutch Flat whose sons-in-law proudly stole a Pelton Wheel from Green Valley and carried it up and out to grace his back yard. I photographed the anvil and then buried it in boulders again.

We walked slowly up the trail and reached the cabins at about 7:30. Later I searched the internet using Google, and the search terms ["Peter Wright" + anvil], and was rewarded with a list of seventy or so sites which mentioned what proved to be the famous anvils of Peter Wright.

I found that Wright had worked for the Mouse Hole forge in England until leaving around 1850 to start his own business. He pioneered and patented a method of forging anvils from two main pieces, instead of six, as had been the custom. His anvils are in common use by blacksmiths to this day and are prized highly, considered to be the "Mercedes Benz" of anvils. The numbers {0,3,6} mean that the anvil weighs zero hundredweights plus three quarter-hundredweights plus 6 pounds, or 90 pounds. Such anvils sell for several hundred dollars.

I wish I knew where this anvil was taken from, in Green Valley. It could well have been Joe Steiner's (or George Opel's, before him). It wouldn't be so bad to carry it down the trail.

Such was a day in Green Valley.


Russell Towle

First Canyoneering Descent, Canyon Creek
[North Fork Trails blogpost, July 6, 2004:
http://northforktrails.blogspot.com/2004/07/first-canyoneering-descent-canyon-creek.html ]
Various people on this email list know and love the Canyon Creek Trail, near Gold Run. It is surely one of the most beautiful and remarkable trails in this part of the Sierra. And, as one descends the trail, an inner gorge develops along the creek, twisted, water-polished, full of gloom (since the sun cannot pass the overhanging cliffs) and the dull boom of hidden waterfalls.

I have always wanted to rappel down into this twisted gorge; yes, I have talked, and talked, but I have never acted.

Yesterday a fellow named Mike Ming (?) of the Auburn area called to ask the way to the Canyon Creek Trail. He and a friend, Brendan, were planning to rappel down the waterfalls. I gave him directions to the Paleobotanist Trail, out along Garrett Road, and asked for a report on the day's adventures.

This morning he called, full of excitement, to duly report, that they had had success, and, starting up at the first big waterfall, had worked right down the creek, rappelling whenever necessary, through the twisted inner gorge, and on down over the Big Waterfall. Since they had started late, around 1:00 p.m., they had lost the sun by the time they reached the Big Waterfall, and were soaked and cold, from swimming through pools and roping down right through falls.

I asked him for a write-up of the great adventure, which I will send along to you.

Now if only we could find some money for the BLM, to buy the 800-acres-now-for-sale, which includes this remarkable trail, these amazing waterfalls ...

July 6, 2005

Grab shot of Fox...
who has just successfully caught young Ground Squirrel.

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