Monday, November 24, 2014

Two Mines

Last month at the Placer County Archives, a man at my table inquired about my research, and we found we shared an interest in the mining history of Placer County. We discussed the dangers of hiking alone into remote areas. After a lengthy talk about some of our explorations, we agreed to go on an expedition, and today Darren and I hiked to two remote mine sites.

We traveled to an area affected by the American Fire of August 2013. Here and there logging crews were cutting down burned trees and loading the salvagable timber onto trucks for transport to the Sacramento Valley. The fire had cleared brush which made our hike easier, although we'd return with clothing and hands blackened with soot.

The first mine was fairly easy to reach. The adit had been filled in, possibly for safety reasons. Historic photographs show numerous buildings on this site. A large amount of debris was scattered about. Relic hunters long ago removed the collectibles, but who knows what is hidden in the soil. Many bottles and plates had been used for .22 target practice. There seemed to be a lot of whiskey bottles. Darren found two Coca Cola bottles, one with the bottom marked SACRAMENTO and the other TRUCKEE. A metal canteen bore a patent year of 1918, and we wondered if it was military issue from the Great War, although it had no U.S. marking. There were many rusted tin cans. And there was debris from the buildings - window glass, ceramic insulators, electrical wire, metal pipe, and round nails. The fire had burned any remaining structure timbers.

The second mine was about one-third mile away, much of the our route along a rough trail, with a final scramble down a steep and rocky hillside where we grasped the trunks of small trees for stability. This is where solo hiking is unwise, for a moment's inattention could result in a twisted ankle or worse, and in this deep ravine there was likely no cell phone reception. At least with the cool temperatures we didn't have to worry about rattlesnakes.

A small stream of nasty looking water flowed from the adit of the second mine. Who knows what toxins those waters held. The large opening had not been filled in, possibly due to the remote location and difficulty of access. This mine operated from the 1890s to the 1930s, the activity irregular, with several changes in ownership. The miners worked three veins of ribbon quartz. Mules pulled the one-ton cars.

The mine's stamp mill was the main object of this hike, and we did not expect to find the two 200 h.p. steam boilers and other equipment, all left in place. The boilers powered the electric generator for the mill, hoist, compressor and other machinery.

We reached the nearby stamp mill after a short scramble down a steep hillside. A historic photograph shows a large building here, and more recent photographs show boards scattered about and the stamp mill exposed. The timbers and boards burned in last year's fire, making it much safer to walk around the site. There has been talk about moving the stamp mill to Foresthill for a historical display. The fire may make it easier to extract the parts by helicopter.

Darren remarked that for every hour of hiking, there are several hours of research. More visits to the Archives are in store for information on these two mining sites, and we are looking at the topographic maps to plan future adventures.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Return to Placer County Archives

In my second visit to the Placer County Archives, I learned to following:

1) The abandoned water ditch I passed last year on my hike to Dix Mine and Mitchell Mine was the Breece and Wheeler Ditch. It took water from Indian Creek in the east branch of El Dorado Canyon to the Paragon Mine (Breece and Wheeler Mine) east of Bath near Foresthill. (From Historic Mining Ditches of Tahoe National Forest, by C.B. Meisenbach, Tahoe National Forest Cultural Resources, Report No. 28, 1989, pg. 32. This references Placer County Book K of Deeds, pg. 79.)

2) The Dix Mine (John Dix and Arkansas Consolidated Placer Mine) was owned by William Mitchell of the nearby Mitchell Mine. Dix Mine had an assessed value in 1872 of $50. By 1882 the value had increased to $750. (From Mining Claims of Foresthill Divide 1851 to 1902, by Amy Rebok, pg. 59.)

3) Hudson Bay Company fur trappers worked the North Fork of the American River as far up as Green Valley. Forty Niner Mahlon D. Fairchild found a fur trapper at work in Green Valley. The trapper had left Fort Vancouver (Washington) shortly after word reached there of Marshall's discovery of gold. (From Placer County's Own Mining Story, L.M. Davis, Roseville Historical Society, 1997, pg. 13.) Heretofore I had wondered if the trappers went beyond the confluence of the North and Middle Forks.

I made a contribution to the Archives, to be filed under business establishments, an August 1949 photograph of my grand-uncle at work in Halley's Barber Shop on Finley Street in Auburn. He had lived in Auburn but a few years. A search by an Archives staff member found no records of him in Placer County. Born in the Missouri Ozarks shortly after the turn of the century, he had come with his parents and several siblings to California from Oklahoma during the Depression. While he and his family never faced the hardships described in The Grapes of Wrath, they did move around California quite a bit as they sought better opportunities.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Dia de los Muertos

The Mexican holiday Day of the Dead combines an Aztec festival with Catholic traditions. On J Street in Sacramento, people built altars to dead family members and friends, complete with offerings. Some dressed up and had their faces painted for the event.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

A Leisurely Hike to Euchre Bar

I'm enjoying a very relaxing two week vacation. I did some yard work, went with the better half for lunch in San Francisco's Chinatown, rode my Trek mountain bike, etc, etc.

My legs were in need of good exercise like an 1800 foot climb out of a canyon could give, so today I hiked my favorite trail, Euchre Bar Trail. I took no gold pan or shovel. I just wanted a relaxing early autumn hike, plus a look at the river level from our drought.

Yesterday on my first visit to the Placer County Archives I learned that the argonauts reached Euchre Bar in 1850. I went to the Archives to research three mines I've hiked to or have attempted to find: Southern Cross Mine on the North Fork American River (found), Clara Tunnel (found), and Mitchell Mine (got close per the GPS but couldn't reach the adit due to a steep hillside and heavy brush). As I was new to the Archives, I had to register and be placed in the database, and I was provided the list of rules (no pens, only pencils; packs and jackets kept in the storage lockers outside the research room). The staff was most helpful. They asked what I was researching, and showed me the shelves full of research materials on the mines of Placer County. Soon I was poring over large and heavy record books from the late 1800s and early 1900s with handwritten entries (what fine penmanship!) on locations of mines, proof of work improvements, and other details. There were binders with research by various people, and in the John H. Plimpton Collection, Volume IV - North Fork of the American River, Curved Bridge to Balance of the River, I found that Euchre Bar was discovered in early 1850. However, a source was not cited.

From this collection, I surmised that there are few historical records of the North Fork American River above Giant Gap, relative to the river below.

With that information in mind, today I hiked down historic Euchre Bar Trail, named after a favorite card game of the Forty-Niners. The weather was perfect. My vehicle was the only one at the trailhead at Iron Point, so I had the trail to myself. The mosquitoes were not too bad. The ground was a bit damp from the recent rains and the morning dew, and the forest had a rich smell. I heard an occasional train passing by high above, but otherwise I heard only birds and the river below. It took me about an hour to reach the footbridge over the North Fork. The sunlight had not yet reached down into this deep canyon. It may have well done so after I left, but I'm sure the rays of the sun don't touch the river here between November and January, so steep are the hills. The air temperature was very cool at the bottom of the canyon. The river was at the lowest level I'd ever seen. Not a single ripple was in the water. I ate my lunch and took some photos. A piece of sandwich bread I threw into the water hardly moved, so slow was the current.

I shouldered my pack and made my ascent. Climbing out of the canyon isn't so hard when you haven't spent hours shoveling river gravels. Well into my climb I met a man of about thirty with fishing pole in hand, headed to the river to catch trout.

Absent breaking your ankle on a lone hike in a remote section of canyon with freezing temperatures coming in the night, can there ever be a bad day in the Sierra?

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Officers Down

The counties of Sacramento and Placer both lost one of their finest on Friday, October 24.

Sitting at home reading a book late that morning, I heard on my scanner about the shooting of a sheriff's deputy in Sacramento. The dispatcher described the suspect and his vehicle. The suspect was sighted a short time later in Auburn, the seat of Placer County. By then I was listening to the police transmissions on Broadcastify. I counted 12,867 listeners on the connection.

When the afternoon ended, the authorities had the suspect in custody in Auburn. He is an illegal alien, twice deported, and details on his criminal past are still coming to light. He was charged with the murders of Sacramento County sheriff's Deputy Danny Oliver and Placer County sheriff's Deputy Mike Davis Jr.. He was also charged with the attempted murders of Placer County sheriff's Deputy Jeff Davis and a citizen in Sacramento, both wounded by gunfire. Finally, he was charged on two counts of attempted carjacking.

Deputy Mike Davis Jr. died on the same October 24 day that his father, a Riverside County deputy, died in the line of duty in 1988.

Early this afternoon, I took a bike ride to downtown Roseville. Strapped to my brake cables was a Baofeng UV-5R, a UHF/VHF handheld ham radio that also receives some emergency frequencies. At about $35, I'm not going care if it gets broken or lost. I scan various frequencies as I pedal along. When I passed by the train yard and Amtrak station, I heard a transmission from the Placer County Sheriff's Department about a procession leaving Sacramento and getting onto Interstate 80, en route to Roseville. I knew this pertained to yesterday's shooting.

I got onto Miner's Ravine Trail and rode along Dry Creek. A side trail took me to Center Street. At Atlantic Street, a Roseville police officer was standing at the side of his vehicle, emergency lights flashing. People were scattered along Atlantic Street, some with small American flags in hand. I realized the procession from Sacramento would pass here. A man near me said it was going to a local funeral home.

The procession arrived a few minutes later, a motorcycle officer in the lead. The Roseville police officer at the intersection saluted as he passed. Some citizens along the route including me put hand to heart. Next came several police sedans, emergency lights flashing, followed by the hearse. Then followed many sedans from various law enforcement agencies - the California Highway Patrol, several counties, many cities and towns, and others.

After the procession passed, I followed it a few blocks to the Chapel of the Valley funeral home on Vernon Street. The time was about 2:45 PM. About one hundred citizens stood across the street and watched in silence as the Placer County Sheriff's Department honor guard carried the casket from the hearse into the funeral home. The crowd included a Boy Scout leader and some of his troops with an American flag. People had hats off and many had hand to heart. The press had large video cameras atop tripods at one corner of the funeral home's parking lot. Several police officers and their vehicles were on the opposite side of the parking lot. On Vernon Avenue, the Roseville fire department flew a large American flag from the raised ladder of a fire truck. After the body of Deputy Mike Davis Jr. was taken inside the funeral home, Placer County Sheriff Edward N. Bonner came outside to meet with several individuals. The crowd continued to watch in silence. A passing Union Pacific freight train in the nearby train yard sounded its horn at a level lower than normal.

The crowd started to disperse around 3:15 PM, and I rode home.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Stevens Trail with Grinding Rocks and Ladybugs

With the wildfires extinguished and the air free of smoke, I returned to Colfax to hike Stevens Trail to the North Fork American River. Few vehicles were in the trailhead parking lot when I arrived around 10 AM. Not a cloud was in the sky and the temperature would climb to the low 70s - a perfect day for a hike. The distance to the river is 4.5 miles and the slope is gentle. Stevens Trail was built in 1870 as a toll foot path between the railroad stop of Colfax and the mining community of Iowa Hill.

I encountered a few people on my descent: two Japanese men around age 60; three young adults of I think Indian heritage; and two pairs of joggers. I took videos as I walked in some sections, being careful of my footing as I looked at the LCD screen, for in places to the side of the trail there are sheer drops of ten feet or more, followed by a steep grade. Two men in one section of river were in search of gold, shoveling the gravels onto screens atop buckets, their sluice boxes nearby. This is Bureau of Land Management land and permits are not needed for this activity.

I arrived at the river by Secret Ravine at 11:45 AM. With the drought, the water was at the lowest level I've seen. The low water has attracted people in search of gold. I've come to this spot a few times with shovel and pan, alone or with another person, and have taken out small amounts of gold. The activity over the past summer was on a larger scale, suggesting people had spent long periods on the river. The gravels were worked to bedrock and moved around to divert water flow through sluice boxes. Assuming a decent amount of snowfall in the mountains this winter, the rushing waters from the spring melt will move the gravels about, erasing signs of mining activity and replenishing the gold.

I sat on a slate outcrop by the river and ate a lunch of two handfuls of almonds. The Japanese men were having lunch a short distance downriver. The three young adults had continued hiking upriver a bit. This slate outcrop contained several grinding holes made by Nisenan women over the centuries. I suppose they sat here and ground acorns and other nuts into meal when their group came to the river for the salmon runs. Today, the two dams downriver prevent any salmon from reaching this spot.

I left the river at 12:30 PM. After walking a few minutes I passed a large blackberry patch where ladybugs were converging to hibernate for the winter. In the few spots I looked, they must have numbered in the thousands, This entire patch may have had hundreds of thousands of them. I watched my step to avoid crushing them.

I reached the trailhead at 2:30 PM. Another great day in the Sierra.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Scratch That Hike

Mid-September usually marks the start of the hiking season in the Sierra foothills for me. Although the hills are still bone dry, the miserably hot temperatures have passed, allowing tolerable ascents from the canyons at the end of the day. And so, I looked forward to today's planned hike to the North Fork American River, on Stevens Trail near Colfax.

The smoke from the King Fire turned me around.

The King Fire started on September 13 near Pollock Pines in El Dorado County. It has burned 82,018 acres and is 10% contained.

Traveling this morning up Interstate 80, there was a slight smoke haze starting at Auburn, elevation just over 1000 feet. By the 2000 foot mark, the smoke was such that some people had their headlights on. I knew a hike today was out of the question, so I stopped at Colfax for some photos, and then returned to the Sacramento Valley.