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.
Walking uphill, I thought of the impact of the Transcontinental Railroad on travel in these parts. In the 1870s, a Chinese miner could have theoretically left Iowa Hill in the early morning, walked Stevens Trail to Colfax, caught the train to Oakland, boarded the ferry to San Francisco, and been on a ship to China before midnight.
I reached the trailhead at 2:30 PM. Another great day in the Sierra.