Saturday, April 12, 2014

Return to Green Valley

Google Earth view of Green Valley, from above Euchre Bar,
looking towards Giant Gap, with the place mark on Joe Steiner's grave

What a difference a week makes.

Last Sunday the climb out of Green Valley was a challenge. Today, it was far less so. I made the ascent of some two thousand feet slowly, for sure, but without any cramping in the legs and with no twenty-minute siesta. I attribute this to three things: the last hike conditioned the leg muscles; I had not over-exerted myself, such as when I went bushwhacking last week; and I started this hike far better hydrated, having drank about 36 oz. of water before leaving home, rather than two cups of coffee. Hydration was likely the most important factor.

My Topo! map software gives a distance of 0.83 mile for the steep section of the trail, but with switchbacks I'll give it 0.9 mile. Let's compare this steep section of Green Valley Trail with Bright Angel Trail, which connects the rim of the Grand Canyon with the Colorado River.

Elevation difference:
- Bright Angel Trail 4,380 ft
- Green Valley Trail 1,600 ft

- Bright Angel Trail 8.0 miles
- Green Valley Trail 0.9 mile

Average Grade
- Bright Angel Trail 10%
- Green Valley Trail 34%

Slope in Degrees
- Bright Angel Trail 05.74
- Green Valley Trail 19.67

I departed the trail head at Moody Ridge at 8:50 AM. The trail soon reached a paved road and followed it a short distance. A small pickup truck approached. The driver stopped to talk. He lived up the road, and he asked if I was prepared for the hike into the valley. Yes, I was: I had water, a GPS, a personal locator beacon, and fire making items. I carry gear I would need to face a night alone. "Do you have a snake bite kit?" Yes, I did. We talked some more. Russell Towle had been his neighbor and friend. I said that Russell was the John Muir of the North Fork American River, and he agreed. We talked for a good twenty minutes, and exchanged contact information. He said trail maintenance events are held in Russell's memory. I would like to join these. Many years ago I joined Russell for a maintenance hike he arranged on Canyon Creek Trail.

I made my way down the steep section, and reached the junction where last week I had taken the trail to the right, leading to the west side of the valley. Today I took the trail to the left. Now I was in Green Valley proper, the steep hillside behind me. The trail was obscure in many places. Few people enter this valley and the old mining trails are becoming overgrown. I passed two old water ditches, now dry as they are no longer in use for mining operations.

Soon I was at the grave of Joe Steiner. Born in 1869 in Switzerland, he spent the latter part of his life in Green Valley, working his mine and managing a property. He died in 1949. Atop his grave were two rusted gold pans, the rusted head of a shovel, a kerosene lamp, and a broken ceramic coffee mug.

Joe Steiner's grave

The trail led to the hotel site, a level spot with rock retaining walls. People now use it as a camp site. Someone had placed a large anvil on the corner of the site. Looking across the river, I saw other rock walls. I don't think many people go over there anymore.

Site of the hotel

I followed the trail westwards, passing old mining sites, rock retaining walls, and pits with iron debris. I found plastic tubing from more modern mining activity, but I think such activity is limited. I reached the site of Joe Steiner's mine. The adit had collapsed long ago.

Site of Joe Steiner's mine

I made my way eastwards along the river, and reached a nice spot for lunch, water and a single Clif bar. Water is more important than food on a hike, so I eat little, if at all. I sat on the slate rock outcrop and enjoyed the view of the river. I was probably the only person in the valley.


Then commenced the return hike. My going was slow on the steep section but my legs felt fine. I encountered a couple walking with their dog to the river. These were the only people I saw on the trail today. We talked a bit. They said they lived on Moody Ridge, so they were locals. Russell Towle had been their neighbor and friend. I asked them if many people hiked into Green Valley. They said no, the valley gets few visitors.

I reached the trail head parking area at 2:05 PM. My truck was the only vehicle there. Thus ended another wonderful day on the North Fork.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

First Hike to Green Valley

View upriver towards Euchre Bar

Three old mining trails lead to Green Valley, located between Euchre Bar and Giant Gap. Today, my first hike there, I took the trail commencing from Moody Ridge. The rim of the canyon is at 3,800 feet, with a descent of 1,600 feet over some 0.9 to 1.0 mile to the valley proper; then follows a leisurely walk to the river, elevation 1,800 feet. So from rim to river is a difference of 2,000 feet. The climb out of the canyon, with that 1,600 foot ascent over about one mile, is brutal.

I left the house at eight o'clock. The weather would be perfect for a hike, warm but not too warm, with plenty of sunshine. Approaching Colfax on Interstate 80, I passed a billboard for the Bunny Ranch Bar and Cigar. The Bunny Ranch is a brothel outside Carson City, Nevada. The Bunny Ranch owner claims these billboards are for his restaurant.

Taking the Alta exit, within minutes I was on Casa Loma Road, passing small patches of snow from the recent storm.  I reached the trail head. My truck was the only vehicle in the small dirt parking lot. I shouldered my Osprey pack. It carried three liters of water, and I would drink almost all three before returning to the truck. I checked my watch: nine o'clock. I was on my way.

The digital watch, a recent purchase, is a Casio PRW3000-1A. Besides getting its time set by a radio signal from Fort Collins, Colorado, it has a compass, barometer, thermometer, and altimeter. The altimeter is handy for hiking the Sierra, where the challenge is less the distance ahead than the elevation above. My Magellan Triton GPS contains the local topographical map. Checking the watch's altimeter against the GPS point on the map, I found the altimeter to be accurate, within ten feet. The altimeter must be calibrated before setting off, as barometric pressure changes affect the altitude readings.

I made my way down the steep portion of the trail, getting nice views of the North Fork American River, Green Valley, and Giant Gap. I walked atop the peridotite of the Melones Fault Zone, which separates the Calaveras Complex (west - Permian - metavolcanic rocks) from the Shoo Fly Complex (east - Devonian - sandstone and siltstone and slate). The complexes were formed from different subduction events. Geologists deem the twisted rocks in both complexes an unholy mess. The peridotite contains serpentine, the state rock of California. Where serpentine is found, gold is close by.

The Nisenan had villages along the canyon rim, and they went into Green Valley to hunt game and net salmon. They put no value in the gold in the river gravels. Beginning in 1848, they were quickly displaced by people who did. Green Valley had two thousand inhabitants at its peak. Three trails led down to it. It had a hotel. When the placer gold ran out, the miners left, save for a few working the hard rock mines. When those mines closed, even fewer people remained. Then the valley was empty of inhabitants.

Probably fewer people walk into Green Valley each year nowadays than in the time of the Nisenan.

I may have been the only person there today.

Near the end of the steep section of trail, was a junction, the trail to the right leading to the west section of Green Valley, the trail to the left leading to the central and east sections. I took the trail to the right. I passed through a small meadow. How many dozens of tents had once been pitched around here? Water still flowed from a rusted iron pipe from the ground.

There are many trails in Green Valley. The trail I was on was not on the map in my GPS. I eventually reached the trail that parallels the river. This trail was on the map. I continued west on it. The trail was some forty feet above the river. In many places was debris from the miners - broken bottles, rusted cans, sections of iron cable.

The trail would continue to the river, but as I was getting no good views of Giant Gap, I decided to turn around and head east to the central section of Green Valley. I kept an eye on the map in my GPS.

And then reality intervened. What should have been a trail was a steep hillside covered with serpentine rock debris, possibly tailings from an asbestos mine. I decided to bushwhack a bit, to see if I could pick up the trail. I wound my way through manzanita bushes, scrambled here and there, and looked around. No trail. I considered my situation. I could very well be the only person in Green Valley today, it was an almost 2,000 foot climb to the canyon rim, my footing on this hillside was not stable, and a cold bottle of Sierra Nevada Pale Ale was waiting for me at home. I decided to travel east no further. I made my way back to the trail, and commenced my return hike.

I walked slowly, drinking water regularly, as I made that climb out of the canyon. I looked at the altimeter on my watch from time to time. 2985 feet...2990 feet...2995 feet...

Beside the trail I found the remnant of ceramic bowl. I picked it up and examined it. The ceramic had fine cracks in it. How old was this? Did it date to the Gold Rush? On the inside curve was a small picture of a rose. How did this wind up here? My best guess was that someone found it in an old camp by the river, decided to bring it out, and either lost it or discarded it here. Please, folks, just leave the debris in place for others to discover. I put the piece back on the ground and continued my hike.

3115 feet...3120 feet...3125 feet...

And then I did something that I never do on a hike. I took a sit down break. I found a shaded spot and sat down in the middle of the trail, my pack still on my back, my legs stretched out level. And I closed my eyes and rested, for a whole twenty glorious minutes.

The siesta over, I stood back up. The time was 2:19 PM. The elevation was 3,360 feet. Just 440 more feet to the rim.

At one point my thighs started to cramp up, and I wondered if I would reach my truck while it was still daylight. I kept walking and the cramps went away.

Finally I neared the rim, and there I met the only others I would see on the trails today, three hikers heading down the canyon only a short distance, as it was too late in the day to reach the river. We exchanged some pleasantries, and I continued on.

I reached my truck at 3:12 PM. Only one other vehicle was in the trail head parking lot, and I am sure it belonged to the people I met.

I arrived home. My black tee shirt had white salt crystals on it. I took a shower, and put on a clean tee shirt and clean cargo shorts. I opened a bottle of Sierra Nevada Pale Ale. I poured the beer into a tall glass. I picked up the cold tall glass of beer. I smelled the aroma of the cold beer. And then I took a taste of the beer.

It was delicious.

I plan to return to Green Valley next weekend.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Euchre Bar, Hike #1 2014

Today I went on my first hike of the year on my favorite trail, Euchre Bar Trail. I brought no gold panning equipment, just a camera. I wanted to give my leg muscles a good workout. I plan on a lot of hikes this year. I commenced the hike at Iron Point. The distance to the North Fork American River is about 1.25 miles, with a descent of about 1,800 feet. I wasn't the only person on the trail. Some people had carried their kayaks and inflatable rafts to the river.

While I was by the footbridge, I looked around at the terraces carved into the hillsides where the early miners set up their camps. I imagined what this place looked like in the early 1850s. The miners built their camps and worked the gravels, bringing out gold that had been collecting for thousands and thousands of years. I pictured all the trees on the steep canyon slopes being cut down for firewood and building materials. When the gold ran out and the miners left, this place was probably very barren. But the forest has renewed itself and it's now a scenic area.

From my several hikes in January, my legs were in good shape for today's return climb to the truck. Normally I have to take a few rest stops on my first hike up Euchre Bar Trail, but I made no stops today. If I could make a hike such as this two or three times a week, I'd be in exceptional shape. The early miners hiked trails like this all the time, but the benefits of exercise were offset by gunshot wounds, mining accidents, exposure, drowning, mule kicks, grizzly bear attacks, and the like. My biggest worry today was brushing against a poison oak plant.

Only about 1,000 feet (elevation drop) to the river!

People preparing to run the river

View upstream from the footbridge

Ham Radio Go Box

I have a General class ham radio license, but my house isn't configured to conveniently operate my radios indoors, and I can't install permanent antennas in my backyard. So I built a Go Box. It's a Gator Case with an Alinco DM-330MV power supply, an ICOM IC-7000 radio with an LDG IT-100 tuner (for long distance HF contacts), and a Yaesu FT-2900 2 meter radio (for local VHF contacts). I have a little more work to do on it - I'll install power cords with Anderson PowerPole connectors - but the box is operational. This weekend I set up a temporary HF antenna (10 meter dipole on a 12-foot mast) on the backyard lawn, with a 2 meter mobile antenna set on the air conditioning condenser. I placed the Go Box on the patio table. In two minutes I had the coaxial cables connected and the power supply plugged in, and I was on the air. I worked the ten meter band, which was wide open, making contacts in Poland, Venezuela, Japan, Michigan, Wisconsin, and St. Lucia. I tried to make a contact in Volcan, Panama (I've been there, twice) but the signal just faded away. For local operations, I listened to nearby repeaters but made no contacts.

I'll buy some batteries to operate away from the house.

I noticed beer tastes a bit better when I'm making DX contacts.

Saturday, March 1, 2014

2014 Bok Kai Festival

Today I watched active duty Air Force members carry a large Chinese religious figure through the streets of Marysville, in a ceremony honoring the god of a Taoist temple.

Airmen from nearby Beale Air Force Base have volunteered for this duty for years. The figure is a dragon named Hong Wan Lung. The god being honored is Bok Eye, the primary god of Bok Kai Temple.

It was Marysville's 134th annual Bok Kai Parade. A good time was had by all.

The Chinese of Marysville built a temple early in the Gold Rush years to honor the gods they worshipped back in Canton Province. That temple was destroyed in a flood. The current temple was dedicated in 1880. The temple's name Bok Kai means North Stream, for the temple sits on the north bank of the Yuba River. The Taoist god Bok Eye (God of the Dark North) has powers over floods and rain, powers needed to protect a temple sitting next to a river.

The Chinese held annual festivals for their temple and its gods. The first dragon was paraded through the streets of Marysville in 1888. The non-Chinese started to get involved in the fun, what with the firecrackers and drums and bombs and cymbals and all. In 1910, the Marysville Daily Appeal noted that the white citizens were donating funds to defray the cost of the festival, adding "This is perhaps the first time in the history of this country where Christian people help carry out a barbarian or heathen celebration." In 1930, the Yuba County Chamber of Commerce joined the Chinese citizens of Marysville to put on the parade. What was a Chinese religious ceremony became a community event.

Today was my fourth Bok Kai Parade.

The parade started at eleven o'clock. First down D Street came a man holding a banner from the temple, followed by a Chinese man in traditional dress banging two gongs. Then came the leaders of the Chinese societies, the beauty queens, the Air Force honor guard (I held my hat to my heart as the colors passed), the politicians, the marching bands, the Mexican vaqueros (con una vaquera hermosa), the service organizations, the E Clampus Vitus members, and et cetera, until the grand finale, the dragon Hong Wan Lung, held aloft by the airmen. I followed the dragon to the intersection of D Street and 1st Street, the closest point on the parade route to Bok Kai Temple. There the dragon paused to bow its head in homage to the temple. The dragon then went east on 1st Street, turned north on C Street, and stopped at the Hop Sing Tong Building to pay homage while firecrackers went off. It then proceeded north a short distance, and stopped for the final firing of firecrackers.

After a quick lunch at China Moon Restaurant, it was time to watch the lions blessing the businesses. Those establishments wanting a blessing had heads of cabbage or lettuce hanging by a string outside their entrance. Affixed to the heads was a small piece of paper which I think represented a donation. A truck followed the two lions. In the truck bed were young Chinese men and women in red silk outfits banging cymbals and drums. Each lion consisted of two young Chinese men in red silk outfits. The man in the front carried the lion's head. The lion would go into a business and walk about, and then it exited the business backwards in respect. The back member then lifted the front member on his shoulders, allowing the lion to take the head of cabbage or lettuce into its mouth. The back member returned the front member to the ground. The lion then took the leaves apart, and with strong shakes it spewed the leaves into the business three times. This completed the blessing, and the lion would proceed to the next business.

Following the blessing of the businesses, I visited Bok Kai Temple. I had gone in prior to the parade but the crowds were large. Now there were few visitors. People were burning incense and praying to their gods. Food offerings were placed on tables.

Thus ended my Bok Kai experience, a nice slice of California that goes back to the Gold Rush.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Bear River

Low river levels in the Sierra from the drought are drawing people in search of gold. The section of the Bear River by Bear River Campground in Placer County is a popular spot, for access is easy, and anyone can bring a shovel and a bucket and a pan to this public land. The gravels, for the most part, were not here prior to the Gold Rush. They are what is known as Tertiary gravels, deposits from rivers that flowed in the ancestral Sierra some 25 million years ago. The miners quickly found these ancient riverbeds, many hundreds of feet above the present-day riverbeds, and took to them with giant hoses called monitors, and massive sluice boxes, for in these ancient gravels was gold, and lots of it. They washed away entire hillsides. Indeed, entire landscapes. The debris went into the modern riverbeds. Walls of gravel and mud made their way downstream, leaving an environmental catastrophe in their wake. Farmland and towns in the Sacramento Valley were flooded. Sediment affected navigation in San Pablo Bay and San Francisco Bay. A court decision in 1884 effectively put an end to this hydraulic mining.

I went to Bear River today to see what I could see. A handful of casual prospectors were about. The holes they dug in the gravels brought to mind photographs of France from the Great War. I had no gold panning gear, only a digital camera and a video camera. Shooting from a distance is no problem, but it's best to strike up a conversation and get permission before taking close shots of prospectors, for they tend be wary of strangers. I talked with a man digging in a large hole. He works the gravels of the Bear and Yuba and Feather rivers. He's never worked the North Fork American, so I told him about Stevens Trail and Euchre Bar Trail.

When the storms again come, the Bear will rise, mixing the gravels all about, and when the waters drop it will look like nobody had been here at all.

The Tertiary gravels, which brought so much wealth to early California

What is normally the middle of the Bear River here this time of the year

Working the gravels

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Drought Emergency

Yesterday, Governor Jerry Brown declared a drought emergency for California.

Today I hiked Stevens Trail, from the Colfax trail head to Secret Ravine, down to the North Fork American River. Here's the water level from early last year, when rainfall was low, compared to now.



This is serious, folks.

The low water level is attracting prospectors. I met this young man on the trail. He had carried his gear into the canyon using a pack of his own design. He was cooking a breakfast of oatmeal. He planned to prospect only a few days. (He has a job in Sacramento.) He wants to find enough gold to pay for his prospecting equipment. His name was Miles.

I need to correct something from my last post, where I wrote that the miners who live along the river keep their camps orderly. This observation was from a hike last year, when I passed an orderly camp. Today I hiked down the side trail to this camp. The camp was abandoned and trash was strewn about. This was not good. The authorities should evict anyone trashing public land. (Although at this site eviction is a moot point.)