“8/1/76 ~ morning, at towle's hole on canyon creek. an exhausting weekend, truly exhausting. [we] were unable to get the timber on thursday but pulled it off friday morning early; i then drove up here to dutch flat, my new piano and an 18 foot hand-hewn twelve x twelve in the back of the truck. the piano—a 1909 fischer—is now in neil's kitchen. the timber i unloaded this morning out at canyonland.
multitudes of birds have been flitting about. high cirrocumulus mask the sky, with weak sunlight penetrating to the pool here.
i must build that cabin. had some good talk with lora about design, she has me back to considering random polygon combination hip and gable roof instead of a simple rectangle/cable. i want to make some wooden models.
~ late afternoon at iron point ~ such an incredible view of lovers leap & giant gap, actually 360° of nice views up and down canyon. wild canyon, such a wild canyon. actually one of the very finest sights i have ever seen, giant gap.
many knobcone and sugar pines on the adjacent slopes. manzanita. i am with tim fagan, cheryl, and dave and mike nelson. tim and dave and mike are thinking about trying to buy the top of moody ridge from my dad. i am very excited.”
[Russell Towle's journal]
“8/1/82 A surprisingly cool, fresh morning; breezes, and clarity that hints of fall.
Moon grows full. Insects that chirp and buzz and wine.
~ Sunset. Another sleepy afternoon. Ventured out to Casa Loma in search of the petroglyphs Lynn Miller said he'd found the other day. No luck. But upon ascending the ridge behind the spring, found that a view opens up that includes all of Moody Ridge and Giant Gap, as well as the Sutter Buttes, Sacramento Valley, and the Coast Ranges. so Casa Loma joins the ranks of the village sites in the Sierra foothills that command a view west to the coast ranges etc. Nearly all of them do.
I felt life trembling so vibrantly this morning, in the clarity of the Aegean Sun; and felt so happy for the plants, soaking up the wonderful rays.”
[Russell Towle's journal]
“August 1, 1986 Morning; [...] A Canyon Wren has begun visiting the cabin; other than that, it has been singularly dull. Or rather, I have been singularly dull. Let's see: the weather: the weather has been hot. [...]”
[Russell Towle's journal]
Date: Thu, 1 Aug 2002 07:35:34 -0800
From: Russell Towle
Subject: Dutch Flat Chinatown, Smarts Crossing
A few days ago former-Congressman Pete McCloskey, wife Helen, and family were up in Dutch Flat, stopping along the way to Saddlebag Lake, near Yosemite. Pete & Helen own the 3-acre parcel which contains the site of Dutch Flat's second Chinatown, below the railroad as one approaches Dutch Flat from I-80, and marked by many Lombardy Poplars. This Chinatown flourished from 1877 well into the 20th century, with ten to twenty rammed-earth "adobe" stores, and forty or fifty wooden buildings. In 1893, over 300 people lived there.
It is something in the way of a major archaeological site, and has been dug by bottle hunters over the years. To me the site seems worthy of being protected in some way, and several years ago I contacted the Archaeological Conservancy and the BLM, which has land holdings in the area, and for a while it seemed something might happen. Pete & Helen have expressed interest in selling the parcel, were there some credible plan to protect it.
We took a gang of kids down there the other day, and I talked about the Chee Kong Tong headquarters there, and how the whites burned down Old Chinatown, down in Dutch Flat itself, in 1877, and once again Pete asked me, "Russ, what do your hear from the archaeologists?", and I had to reply, "Nothing."
Now, one of the most beautiful places near Dutch Flat is on Bear River. A rather large and deep pool on the river is flanked by low cliffs of water-polished metamorphic rock, with a little waterfall entering a kind of grotto at the upper end of the pool. A road leads down here from Drum Powerhouse Road, and a bridge used to span the river here, the road continuing into Nevada County to the north, to the Liberty Hill area and Lowell Hill Road. One can still drive this road most of the way down to Smarts Crossing, thanks in part to Pete McCloskey, who was one of a few attorneys who volunteered their help to keep the road open to the public, back in 1984.
The road crosses private property on its way down to the river, where a fragment of Tahoe National Forest land may or may not include Smarts Crossing itself. When the road-parcel changed hands in 1984, a gate was installed and the new owner turned away people at gunpoint. A group of us here in the Dutch Flat area filed a class action suit to show that the road was in fact an historic public road and could not be closed to the public. We won in Placer County's Superior Court, James Garbolino presiding, in 1985.
At any rate, Pete & Helen and all of us visited Smarts Crossing the other day. It is as lovely as ever, the water, as cold and clear as ever, and we swam and panned gold and jumped into the deep pool from the rocks. A couple of the kids dared the 21-Foot Rock.
I noticed that someone or several someones uses some kind of ATV to drive right down to the pool, saving 200 yards of walking. I wish the trail could be closed to motor vehicles over this last stretch.
It also seems important to me to act further to protect Smarts Crossing. I would like to see the Placer Legacy purchase the ca. 75-acre parcel through which the road passes. There is also some PG&E land near the beginning of the road. If a residence were ever built along the Smarts Crossing Road, it would be, I think, the kiss of death upon public use of this historic swimming hole.
We had a great time visiting Dutch Flat's Second Chinatown and Smarts Crossing, both important parts of the heritage of Dutch Flat Several of us also visited the Dutch Flat Petrified Forest, another "heritage preservation" project which, unfortunately, became stalled due to private inholdings, in the "diggings" north of Lincoln Road. The petrified wood was looking as good as ever, which is quite good, with large pieces in the hundreds of pounds, some sparkling with crystals, and a small dam made of petrified wood, and a Chinese miners' camp hidden in the manzanita.
Well, such is some news from around Dutch Flat. This is one of the most charming of the old Gold Rush towns in the Sierra, and has, or had, a rich complex of scenic and recreational sites around it, really, part of the soul of Dutch Flat, as it were. Many such places have already been lost to the steady march of progress. Some parts of the soul of Dutch Flat, like Second Chinatown, the Petrified Forest, and Smarts Crossing, are at risk.
Date: Fri, 1 Aug 2003 12:19:36 -0800
From: Russell Towle
Subject: Lost Camp: Good News, Bad News
This morning, early, I made a dash up to Blue Canyon and drove through Lost Camp to the top of the China Trail. There is no obstruction on the road, contrary to the report I received yesterday. So, that's the good news.
The bad news is that many trees are marked for a timber harvest in the vicinity of the townsite, and that some private parcels in the area are "for sale," and that there is no immediate prospect for Tahoe National Forest or the Placer Legacy to step into the breach and try to acquire these private lands, near the townsite and trailhead.
For those who do not know of Lost Camp and the China Trail, well, Lost Camp was a hydraulic mining town established in 1858. It is roughly south of Blue Canyon, and is on top of the ridge dividing Blue Canyon, the stream, from the North Fork of the North Fork. Lost Camp is in Section 23, T16N, R11E. Directions to reach Lost Camp and the China Trail are as follows.
From the Blue Canyon exit on eastbound I-80, set your odometer to zero, and turn sharply right onto a paved road leading back to the west. This is Blue Canyon Road.
In .4 miles, pass paved Airport Road on the right, leading to the Blue Canyon airport. Blue Canyon Road descends steadily, crosses the creek, and at 2.0 miles, a paved road forks left, towards and past some houses. The pavement ends shortly and a dirt road continues. In another .5 miles a road forks left; stay to the right. The railroad is reached at approximately 2.9 miles. The road crosses the tracks near where the old Bradley & Gardner Ditch, or Placer County Canal, itself crossed the tracks, on its way to Dutch Flat and Gold Run. This major mining ditch pre-dates the railroad.
Immediately after crossing the tracks, a road forks left, which has been recently widened. Stay right. At 3.0 miles a log deck is passed and at 3.1 miles another road forks left—stay right—while on the right is a small cabin-like structure with "no trespassing" signs. At 3.5 miles a wrecked car is on the left. Roads fork to left and right, and a group of larger, older Ponderosa Pines is on the right, with a hunters' deer-dressing pipe embedded between two pines. The road to the right leads past the west part of the townsite to the largest hydraulic pit. That to the left leads to the east part of the townsite, where an old orchard still exists.
The main road goes straight. At 3.6 miles a gulch is crossed and hydraulic mining banks are visible nearby. At 3.8 miles the main Lost Camp Divide Road breaks away to the right, while the road to the trailhead goes straight. At 3.9 miles, a small road forks steeply down to the left to the trailhead, which is just out of view. There is a parking area about fifty yards or so back to the north. There are no signs.
This trail descends to the North Fork of the North Fork American, and not too long ago, crossed the river and climbed up Sawtooth Ridge to the south. However, on the Sawtooth Ridge side it has been obliterated by logging. I published the diary of a man named Isaac Tibbetts Coffin who lived over near Texas Hill and Burnett Canyon from 1858 until 1864, and he often used this trail to walk to Dutch Flat, by way of Lost Camp, and also, mule trains used to bring provisions to Texas Hill and Monumental Camp, from Dutch Flat, on this trail.
Coffin always refers to it as the "trail to Lost Camp." I do not know when or why it became known as the China Trail, or the China Bar Trail. Coffin does mention that, in 1864, Chinese miners from Dutch Flat were scouting the entire area, and looking to buy mining claims.
The China Trail begins in the private lands in Section 23 but quickly passes into Tahoe National Forest lands, in Section 24 to the east.
This trail shows on the 1866 General Land Office map, as does the road to Lost Camp. As it descends to the river it roughly parallels a ravine marked "Texas Cañon" on my 1866 map. This map also shows a trail leading east from Lost Camp, marked as "Trail to Monumental Camp," and another trail leading west, from somewhat south of Lost Camp, into Blue Canyon.
After driving to the trailhead, I turned back, drove to the townsite, parked near the wrecked car and old pines, and tried to find the "Trail to Monumental Camp."
Monumental Camp would seem to have been near the confluence of Monumental Creek and the East Fork of the North Fork of the North Fork. Coffin mentions several residents of Monumental Camp, who would come and visit him at Texas Hill or at his other cabin down in Burnett Canyon.
At any rate, scouting east on the small road, I passed the old orchard and reached the remnants of a cabin. Some mining occurred at Lost Camp during the Depression, but I have been unable to discover anything about this era. The structure I saw probably dates from that time. In the vicinity are a number of old mining ditches, mining reservoirs, and deep gullies left by minor hydraulic mining, of the sort they called "ground sluicing." The area has been logged again and again and no old trees remain which might have held blazes.
Unfortunately, the larger 3rd-growth trees which are there now are all marked with blue spray paint, and all kinds of flagging is scattered through the forest.
I struck the line of one of the many old mining ditches and followed it through a ravine, then saw an old human trail leading down, followed it, struck another ditch, in this case, with flagging marking it as a skid trail, and finally broke out onto an ugly bulldozed skid trail thing, with a bulldozed flat just above me. This I took to be a building site on one of the parcels now for sale. The ditch had been erased, and I was far from my car.
The route I had followed seemed a plausible fit for the Trail to Monumental Camp, but to determine the issue I would have to cross to the ridge between Texas Canyon and Fulda Creek, a ways east, and pick up the trail over there, and follow it back to Lost Camp, if possible.
The China Trail is quite special. A descent of around 1300 feet brings you to the river. Several old camping terraces are in the area. I almost always see tremendous numbers of ladybugs there, in fact, I call it the Ladybug Capital of the Universe. The river is lovely. However, the most wonderful, the most incredible thing, is the gorge which is hidden from view just a little ways upstream.
This is a Gorge of Many Gorges, riddled with waterfalls, a Confluence of Canyons, I don't quite know what to call it, but in a very short distance many streams are joined: Texas Canyon, Fulda Creek, Sailor Ravine and the North Fork of the North Fork itself, which is a hanging valley with respect to the main gorge, said main gorge aligning more closely with the East Fork of the North Fork of the North Fork. And add to all these streams Burnett Canyon and Wilmont Ravine.
The main gorge is awesome, with cliffs of the Shoo Fly Complex metasediments soaring above, in many blocky overhangs, so that, sitting on some outcrop or boulder down on the river, and looking up, I often get dizzy and disoriented. It is fairly difficult to ascend the river into the gorge. Some of the waterfalls, some of the best and highest waterfalls, are just off the main gorge, in the side canyons, and they too are difficult to reach.
It is really one of the most beautiful places in Tahoe National Forest.
We must find a way for Tahoe National Forest to purchase some of these private inholdings. However, TNF does not seem to appreciate the importance of this area, and the China Trail. I cannot help but think that, for the TNF staff in Nevada City, this area is far out of sight, and therefore far out of mind.
Date: Fri, 1 Aug 2003 18:41:41 -0800
From: Russell Towle
Subject: Lost Camp Update
I have found that the timber harvest planned near the Lost Camp townsite is part of a 590-acre harvest plan spanning sections 22, 23, and 24, on land seemingly owned by Andrew and Sharon Siller, in some way related to the Siller Brothers Lumber Co.
The period for pubic comment on this plan ended June 30, 2003.
In speaking with a CDF employee, I found that, in theory, they are supposed to protect old trails from the effects of timber harvests.
I also found that an archeological database at Sac State is used to see whether prehistoric or historic sites (including trails) will be impacted by any harvest plan. I have little doubt but that this database is seriously flawed, since, years and years ago, the person in charge of the database, whom I will not name, flatly refused to record the existence of the ancient Indian hunting blinds I discovered on top of Snow Mountain. She suggested they might be house sites! At 8000' elevation!
There may be some slight chance of influencing this harvest plan, for, if an undocumented archeological site is discovered within the harvest area, operations must stop while a CDF archeologist devises mitigation measures.
Sites I observed today included at least one building site, one orchard, three or more mining ditches, two mining reservoirs, and, largely erased by prior logging, one trail.