August 7 (1982, 1983, 1988, 2003, 2008)
Life Is Too Short

8/7/82 A wonderful, CLOUDY morning! I listen to Grappelli/Menuhin, which is psychic candy to me, alternately happy and sort of sad in a neat way. 2 violins, a bass, a guitar.

Rec'd a letter from Sen. Cranston yesterday, in reply to one that I sent him a few months ago. It's a nice one, and details his many efforts to stop the growth of the nuclear arsenal.

RAIN RAIN RAIN PLEASE RAIN, because the spring is slowing so, because the dust is thickening so, because I WANT YOU (ATMOSPHERE/UNIVERSE/FATE) to RAIN RAIN RAIN.

Stopped by at Neil and Sue's for a session with a window that didn't fit. Now it does. Made a date to go up to the Cedars with them next Wednesday. [...]

~Evening. IT RAINED!!! Very slightly. And I was fortunate in wandering out to the cliffs to wait for the sunset. When the sun finally made it below the cloud deck to the west, it caused a rainbow up over Helester Point. Just part of one. To the southwest, in the distance, were a few blobs of sunlit golden cirrus shaped like spinning tops. Overhead, the altocumulus cloud deck was intricately ruffled, with large-scale waveforms displayed. I wish it would go ahead and put a half-inch of rain down.”

[Russell Towle's journal]

“NOTE: 8/7/83: acid in groundwater, Moody Ridge aquifer ‘perched’ above bedrock in deep soil layer & volcanic mudflow; thick conifer forest with 70 inches per year average precipitation; much decomposition of woody materials, especially after logging; thus, much carbonic acid; could use of fire to burn up forest litter help keep carbonic acid out of groundwater? Would the charcoal have a beneficial effect? Filter? Charcoal from previous fires has remained in the soil layer, thirty years or more. Periodic burning of the top of Moody Ridge (as the Indians practiced, in conjunction with lightning, etc.) might well ‘sweeten’ groundwater in the wells and springs of Moody Ridge.”

[Russell Towle's notebook]

8/7/83 Early afternoon. The sky has remained cloudy and it is hot. Thunder rumbles out of the most distant distance, nearly, as thunder may rumble.

Two rounds of hydraulicking so far.”

[Russell Towle's journal]

8/7/88 In the cool of the morning, the heat wave having broken, dashed itself against autumnal shores, beyond the sea.

Awake at seven, musings begin: why aren't I married? Will I ever? Does the woman exist, and if so will our spheres ever veer or expand to include one another? Life is too short, I want another chance.

The descent from the loft, coffee, a gazing into canyon depths, pinnacles gold upon the blues and purples of shady and surrounding cliffs… Life is too short and my voice too weak to be properly heard: a vision of the nature of things—many, many things—left somehow unspoken? Can this be? To see so intensely into life's beauties and mysteries and beauteous mystery, to see what so few are ever ever blessed to see and—remain mute? Hi, how are you, how's it going, Weather's hot, cold, nice, terrible—endless refrains along these lines my fate, instead of conjuring the music intertwined of Django Reinhardt and Rachmaninoff up and flamboyant from blue and purple depths into golden crests which preside over pools, trout, ouzels…  or singing the reflections of shadows of higher-dimensional solids…

And the Canyon—Giant Gap, Green Valley—is it to be gradually crowded with houses along the rim, of which my own was the first, that is, I despair because people are following my example! Because, this canyon is far too uniquely beautiful to be overhung by the egotisms of modern Sierran settlers, who fire up their chainsaws and imagine themselves Pioneers, building house after house and cabin after cabin on Moody Ridge's largely illegally subdivided land… So, life is too short, not only for communicating my Vision, but for saving a part of wondrous California from the sort of Progress which should never ever have been visited upon it? And of course, I mumbling muse to myself, if I were a successful and widely-read author, I could influence people to act to preserve precious resources now being squandered…”

[Russell Towle's journal]

Date: Thu, 7 Aug 2003 11:47:58 -0800
To: North Fork Trails
From: Russell Towle
Subject: Lost Camp THP reconnaissance
Cc: Rich Jenkins, "Bill Slater", Steve Hunter

Hi all,

I joined Steve Hunter of Colfax for a reconnaissance of the Lost Camp THP area yesterday. We left at 8:00 a.m. and drove up to the Blue Canyon exit on I-80, proceeding south and across the railroad tracks to the road fork leading east to the ridge (let us call it Fulda Ridge), in Section 24, between Fulda Creek and Texas Canyon (Texas Canyon is not so named on the modern USGS 7.5 minute Westville quadrangle, but is named on the 1866 General Land Office map of that area). We found this road gated closed with a sign reading "no trespassing" and "if you enter you will be shot."

Another road forked left near the gate and we tried it. It almost immediately leveled out and I realized it had been cut into the line of an old ditch, which could only be the historic Bradley & Gardner Ditch, or Placer County Canal, which drew from the East Fork of the North Fork of the North Fork, and went to the hydraulic mines of Dutch Flat and Gold Run, arriving in 1859. It was following almost exactly the 4680' contour where we met it. In a while we reached a locked gate, and, knowing the ditch must swing around Fulda Ridge, followed the road in. We passed a group of small cabins of recent construction, and then suddenly the road ended and we could follow the ditch itself. It is about five feet deep, and six or eight feet across at the top, and was said to have a capacity of 5000 miners inches, in the olden days.

A little less than a mile along the sinuous course of the ditch brought us to Fulda Ridge. Immediately below us to the south, a fine stand of coniferous timber had shaded out the brush, and made for easy going. We noted flagging where we left the ditch, marking it as a "truck road," and knew we were just entering the Lost Camp THP, on the north line of Section 24.

This forest had been logged at least twice, decades ago, we believed, but by a "selective" method, in which only the largest trees had been cut, and the forest canopy had remained largely intact, and no brush and relatively few small trees had become established, in the shade. So, it was a pretty patch of forest, and easy to walk through, and as we descended, the crest of the ridge flattened out to a dead level. Unfortunately this forest will be pretty well all harvested, according to the THP.

Steve has explored this area almost incredibly thoroughly over the past fifty years. He and his friends have pulled off some amazing adventures. For instance, Fulda Creek, below us to the east, has a steep gradient which only gets steeper as it approaches the North Fork of the North Fork, to the south. There is a series of high waterfalls along the creek, and essentially no way to hike up or down this section. Steve and his friends brought ropes and rappelled down the cliffs beside each waterfall in turn, all the way to the river, and then came back up the China Trail.

But this was only one of Steve's forays into lower Fulda Creek. On other occasions he had found an unusual old mining railroad. Since this is within the THP we wished to document it. I myself also hoped to discover some shred of the old trail from Lost Camp to Monumental Camp, constructed in 1862. However, in this I failed. The logging of decades ago had involved bulldozers, and the usual disruption of the land surface had effaced any sign of the old trail.

Reaching the southern end of the flat top of Fulda Ridge, where it drops away in ragged cliffs of the Shoo Fly Complex metasediments, into the main North Fork of the North Fork canyon, we veered east and began working down towards Fulda Creek. Almost immediately we struck a broad old trail or wagon road, which led back to the north and east. Following it, for a time I hoped it was my lost trail from Lost Camp, but soon it was obliterated by bulldozer skid trails from, what, 35 years ago. So we just angled on down the ever-steepening canyon wall, through a thinning mixed coniferous forest increasingly dominated by Canyon Live Oaks, until another segment of broad trail or wagon road was reached, this, very nearly on a level.

Following it south, we passed sections of dry-laid stone walls, and finally reached a small mining area with abundant chunks of angular quartz scattered around. There the road-trail seemed to end. A sort of gully choked with angular talus was above the terminus, but no tunnel was visible. We made a short scramble beyond to some cliffy outcrops with fine views out into the main canyon, and we could see all the tributaries which make the Gorge of Gorges: Fulda, Sailor Ravine, the North Fork of the North Fork, the East Fork of the North Fork of the North Fork, Burnett Canyon and Wilmont Ravine, and Texas Canyon. Across the main canyon, Sawtooth Ridge rose steeply to Helester Point. There, a drastically ugly SPI clearcut made a square hole in the forest cover.

Fair-weather cumulus clouds graced the pure blue sky. It was cool, perfect for hiking.

Retreating north along the road-trail, I saw a faint old human trail leading down, and we followed it a short distance to a smaller trail, also about level, perhaps one hundred feet lower. This we followed south until it appeared to end at some cliffs. A bit of iron strapping stuck out of the trail at one point, of the sort one sometimes sees in old mine tunnels, a sort of poor man's railroad track, used for moving ore carts along the tunnel. Also, we saw an ancient cable stretching straight down the hill. Steve's recollection was that this cable led down to his mining railroad. However, our level old trail must be explored first, so we turned and followed it north.

It too had its dry-laid stone walls, and we walked it for a long distance, well, a quarter-mile perhaps, and saw Douglas Fir trees of increasing size, one, perhaps six feet in diameter. Strangely, the THP specifically states that there is no old-growth forest within the plan area. These large trees are clearly old-growth. The only logging which had ever occurred at this depth within Fulda Canyon (we were near the 4200' contour), was minor harvest of medium-sized trees, for mining purposes, around 100 years ago.

Suddenly, though, the old trail was crossed by what seemed to be a skid trail, which had been undoubtedly made by a bulldozer, and yet which looked very old. No stumps in the area signaled that it had been made for logging. Its rough steep bench cut had been much softened by the passage of decades. We tentatively ascribed an age of fifty years to it. The level old trail did not seem to continue, so we followed the steep bulldozer trail down a short distance. There we found large stockpiles of quartz ore, and a variety of mining equipment, including an ore cart, a sort of crucible, and several odd tubes of galvanized metal, something like water heater tanks, but meant to rotate on a longitudinal axis, some still having their axles. We could not imagine what they were for, but, clearly, it had to do with gold mining. They were of several different diameters.

We were now close to the creek, on a small flat, everywhere sloping, but not too far from level, and with a find stand of large Douglas Fir. Steve's sense was that we were far to the north of the mining railroad, which broke out onto the sunny cliffs we had visited earlier. So, with considerable difficulty, we contoured along to the south, while the creek fell away below us, and reached increasingly rocky areas with some rather large outcrops, almost house-sized. At one point Steve climbed up some shattered rock above me, and as I followed, I came within inches of a rattlesnake, which he had passed already. It was a calm snake, half-hidden in a hole, and did not rattle. I stepped away a few feet and climbed up after Steve.

After a time we found a great viewpoint and stopped for lunch. We reviewed the situation. It was impossible that the mining railroad had disappeared. It was virtually impossible that it could be below us. I suggested that perhaps his mining railroad was just the same as our lower level trail; but Steve recalled, vividly, railroad tracks crossing a cliff, and hanging into space. We had followed the entire length of the lower level trail, and had checked the slopes well for hundreds of feet below its line. So, what then?

As we continued, Steve saw a familiar-looking outcrop above us, and as we made for it, he saw a rail. A steep climb brought us to a gully where, perhaps a hundred years past, a trestle had supported narrow-gauge track. The trestle was gone, the track hung in the air, supported by cliffy outcrops at one side. So, we climbed over to the cliffy area, and, voila! There were the railroad tracks, winding sharply around a blasted-out bench on the cliff, and hanging into space at either end of this curved reach. Old cedar ties were still in place, with small railroad spikes, and round nails, and square nails too. It all suggested a turn-of-the-century date, around 1900. We had, again, tremendous views, very similar to those we'd enjoyed earlier.

It was hard to see how far the original line of trestle and track might have continued, to the west, but, as we climbed up above the tracks, the question was likely answered, for we caught sight of a steep-walled, steeply-plunging gully, which I recognized as a quartz vein complex which had been "stoped out" along the surface, to a depth of nearly if not more than twenty feet, measured perpendicular to the overall steep rocky slopes. This may well have been because the material closer to the surface was more weathered, and the gold easier to extract by ordinary, gravity-based methods, i.e., crushing followed by of a sluice box. Sometimes at greater depths, the gold is far harder to separate from other minerals.

We followed the stoped-out vein complex on up the cliff. I have seen very similar workings in the Stanislaus river canyon. At the top of the cliff, the stoped area continued down the far side, and we realized that we had returned to the southern end of our first, highest, level road-trail. Thus Steve's mining railroad was really part of the lower old level trail; and we had just been mistaken, when we thought it had ended at some rocks, earlier.

Thus, the two parallel, almost-level trails are ore cart runs leading from the stoped-out vein complex, north to the ore stockpiles in the little flat with the old mining equipment and the old bulldozed steep road.

Steve says there are other mining artifacts down along the creek itself. I want to emphasize that, not only are these artifacts on private property, but in any case, all such things should be left alone. Carry nothing home, no old railroad spikes, no arrowheads, nothing. Photograph them if you like. Be careful about even mentioning such sites to anyone. It is a shocking fact that many archeological sites have already been looted. This has to stop.

We climbed back to the level summit of Fulda Ridge and retraced our steps back to the ditch and to Steve's jeep.

Later in the day we took a look at various parts of the Lost Camp area, including the proposed new road, to cross Texas Canyon, which is detailed in the THP, and which will require rather extreme cuts on steep slopes and a huge culvert, and, all in all, I would like to see this and other new roads *not* constructed, for this timber harvest, instead, if any harvest occurs, let there be much more in the way of helicopter yarding, much less tractor yarding, and no new roads.

Later we drove down the Lost Camp Divide out of the THP area and into some horrible clearcuts on what I presume is SPI lands.

Such was a very interesting day.

Russell Towle

August 7, 2008
[Auburn Journal front page of August 12, 2008 ran this article]

Dutch Flat environmentalist, author Towle dies in auto accident

By Gus Thomson, Journal Staff Writer

Dutch Flat environmentalist and author Russell Towle has died after being pinned against his own car by another vehicle while stopped along Interstate 80.

The accident occurred just after 4 p.m. Thursday [August 7] along the eastern end of the Yolo Causeway between West Sacramento and Davis.

Towle, 59, was well-known in Placer County environmental circles for his passion in preserving the North Fork of the American River canyon. An author of a history of Dutch Flat, Towle had lived in the mountain community east of Colfax since 1975.

Terry Davis, conservation director with the Mother Lode chapter of the Sierra Club, described Towle as a low-profile but tireless worker for saving trails and preserving the North Fork.

Towle, who wrote a book about Dutch Flat and kept up a respected blog about his trail experiences, was remembered Tuesday by Auburn State Recreation Area Canyon Keepers founder Jim Ferris as someone with an incredible enthusiasm for the relatively undisturbed North Fork canyon area.

“He knew a lot of things about a lot of things, and I’ve often thought it would be good to compile his writings into a book,” Ferris said.

Towle’s son, Greg, described his father as not only an environmentalist but a local historian, mathematician, hiker, linguist and geologist who would lead him on incredible hikes and tell memorable stories.

Woodland CHP Officer Phil Gruidl said Russell Towle was driving eastbound in a Subaru along Interstate 80, a half mile east of Enterprise Boulevard, when the vehicle apparently had some mechanical problems.

Russell Towle pulled over to the right-hand shoulder and his father, 81-year-old Dick Towle of Dutch Flat, who was driving in a truck accompanying his son, also pulled over, the highway patrol report said. The two had been traveling together in the two vehicles after picking up the car from another location, Gruidl said.

The report said the elder Towle lost sight of his son as he backed up and pinned Russell Towle between the two vehicles.

Russell Towle was taken to a nearby hospital where he died of injuries received in the accident, Gruidl said.

Arrangements for a memorial service for Russell Towle have yet to be finalized.

A native of Iowa, Russell Towle is survived by his wife, Gay Wiseman of Dutch Flat, a daughter, Janet Towle of Davis, a son, Greg Towle of Dutch Flat, a brother, Richard Towle of Alameda, sisters Shellie Archer of Ukiah and Karen Mingst of Rocklin, his father, Richard, stepmother Sally Towle of Dutch Flat, and his mother, Carol Towle of Grass Valley.

The Journal’s Gus Thomson can be reached at

[Comments posted through 8/13/08]

On 8/12/08 at 06:19 PM, jayber wrote:

This is such sad news. My heart goes out to his family. I remember meeting Russell in the library where he often did research back in the 80's. He was always a gentleman.
On 8/12/08 at 08:42 PM, daver1 wrote:

I am so very sad today, on reading this news. The foothills and mountains of our area have lost a gem of a supporter. I have been reading Russell's wonderful accounts of exploring, history, science and much more for several years. His knowledge of the California Coast and so many other things will also be so sorely missed. As with me, I'm sure he was a window to the North Fork of the American River for many people.

My condolences to his family and friends, and special thoughts to his father, at this very sad time. Russell will be missed so very much.
On 8/13/08 at 01:27 AM, rgould wrote:
Looking back at the time I've known Russell I am surprised that it has been less than six years. In those six years I've had the opportunity to hike and explore with him this incredible canyon we call the North Fork. The adventures we had could range anywhere from the simple drive out to some vista of the canyon to an exhausting bush wack in search of some hidden history of the North Fork. There was always something to learn from Russell and I am in much debt to him for my knowledge and appreciation of the North Fork and much more. I will miss him dearly and my heart goes out to his family.

See you on down the trail Russ!
On 8/13/08 at 07:46 AM, Miuwtant wrote:
I didn't know Russell though I met him briefly on the Sunday before his death. He came to our house to pick up Greg, his son, who had spent the week with my son and me on a trip to Southern California to look at colleges for the two boys who are entering seniors at Colfax High School. From the comments above I can easily picture Russell on a trail. Tall and rangy he looked like a person most comfortable in a natural setting.

Greg is a fantastic young man. If one sees the father in the son then Russell must have also been a terrific human being. My heart goes out to Greg, his mother, his two brothers and his sister, his grandparents and the rest of the Towle family.
On 8/13/08 at 09:19 PM, JimCather wrote:
No words can assuage such grief as this one. When someone refers to another as "unique," Russell would be the one who set all the standards. He was so much more than just one of a kind.

My heart turns to the family, the depth of sorrow and burdens we cannnot possibly fathom, especially when we can barely manage our own sadness.

The mysteries of life are not blowing kindly on us mortals at this time.
On 8/13/08 at 09:35 PM, karenelizabeth wrote:
I want to share with the world this wonderful man, my big brother, Russell. I invite anyone who is interested to go to and read about our growing up years, as well as other tidbits. I miss him, but a close mutual friend just reminded me that Russell will always live on along the trails of the North Fork - in every tree, every flower, every rock - so I can be with him any time, as can we all.

Hike in peace, my dear brother,


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