Monday, May 25, 2015

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Bike Ride Down Yankee Jim's Road

A morning mountain bike ride down historic Yankee Jim's Road, from the Colfax side to the 1930 bridge over the North Fork American River, with my new GoPro Hero4 Silver video camera mounted to my helmet - a 945-foot descent over 3.5 miles - a glorious day.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

North Fork American River Underwater

Having just purchased a GoPro Hero 4 Silver, I wanted to test the video camera underwater, so off I went to my favorite spot on the North Fork American River, just a short distance upstream of Euchre Bar.

I departed Iron Point at 8:49 AM, while a California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CAL FIRE) helicopter flew over Green Valley. More on those folks later. Down Euchre Bar Trail I went.

Starting point, atop Iron Point, with a view to Giant Gap,
the most magnificent view in all of Placer County

I reached the footbridge over the North Fork at 9:49, and the turnoff to my destination at 10:09. At the river's edge I removed my hiking boots and put on my reef walkers. Normally this time of the year the river here is so high from the Sierra snow melt that getting caught in the current means certain death. But with the drought I could enter the water today. It was still too high to cross to the other side, but I could wade about safely.

A tree trunk some three feet in diameter rested on a rock ledge about fifteen feet above this day's river level. I think the trunk was put there during the heavy rains this past December. I've never seen the river that high, and I never will, for hiking here in a winter rainstorm is stupidity itself.

I finished taking my video shots. I left the river at 11:49 and crossed the bridge at 12:10. Then commenced the grueling 1800 foot climb to my truck, which I reached at 1:33.

I had seen only a few others on the trail. When I started my hike, a couple was pulling in to Iron Point. On my return hike, I passed three people headed to the river, and I caught a glimpse of two others ahead of me going uphill. Two Subarus were parked at Iron Point when I reached my truck.

There was CAL FIRE activity down river in Green Valley all day. In the morning I passed seven or eight CAL FIRE vehicles on Moody Ridge, the crew members assembling to depart into the canyon. A few vehicles had Department of Corrections signage, meaning some fire fighters were prisoners. On my return drive I talked with a crew member taking a break by the spring. He was in his early twenties. I don't know if he was a CAL FIRE employee or a prisoner. He said CAL FIRE was here today in an exercise to prepare for the upcoming fire season. The drought will make this fire season especially dangerous. He said the crew members had put out a real-world fire today down in Green Valley. I asked him what had caused the fire. He said he didn't know. "Probably a hiker," I said. Then I added, "Or more likely a pot grower." We both smiled and I drove off.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Yankee Jim's Road

"Have I been down this road before?"

The question came to mind while braking my Ford F150 pickup truck in low gear as I wound down the narrow primitive road named Yankee Jim's. The Colfax and Forest Hill Commercial Toll Road Company carved this route through the Sierra canyons in the early 1880s. Colfax was a railroad town and Foresthill was a mining community. Yankee Jim's was a mining town on the road, near Foresthill. The toll booth at the North Fork American River crossing closed in 1906 when Placer County bought the route. The current bridge dates to 1930 and is in poor shape.

Yankee Jim, by the way, was a gold prospector and horse thief. He left his eponymous town and continued his horse thieving ways in southern California, where he ended his days at the end of a rope.

My passenger Gary is a fellow member of the Sierra Foothills Amateur Radio club. Recently finding a shared interest in gold panning, we decided to do some prospecting together, starting with today's scouting trip. Gary had last been on Yankee Jim's Road many years ago and thought it was worth a try.

Four roads go over the North Fork. The crossing furthest downstream and the most traveled is Highway 49, which follows the Mother Lode. Next is Ponderosa Road, built by the Civilian Conservation Corps during the Great Depression. Then comes Yankee Jim's Road. The fourth, higher into the Sierra, is Iowa Hill Road, built during the Gold Rush on a precipitous route, the most exciting ride in the county. Beyond that, the canyon walls become too rugged for roads, with only foot paths reaching the river, and few even then.

I've driven the other roads but I couldn't remember if I'd ever been on Yankee Jim's. It seemed familiar but I wasn't sure. The road from Colfax to the river was in good enough shape. This section was once paved but now it's gravel over a slate base. Attention is needed with all the curves. Some drivers don't pay attention and over the side they go. Rare, but it does happen: a quick Google search provided a recent account (link here) of a tow truck pulling a Honda from the North Fork just below Yankee Jim's Bridge. Since I paid attention we easily reached the old bridge without incident.

The next turn-around after the bridge was a mile and a half away. We didn't know this, nor did we know that the most interesting section of road was just ahead.

The grade increased. Clearance on both sides narrowed to a few feet. The canyon dropped steeply to Shirttail Creek some one hundred fifty feet below. These factors by themselves meant only increased attention was needed for the ascent; but, with the dirt and gravel surface slick from the rain two days before, and the road getting more uneven, the prospects for continuing in my two-wheel drive truck were not good. Should we proceed, when the road could be even worse beyond the bend? I didn't want to get stuck - the tow would cost more than what my 18-year-old truck was worth. Sliding off the road was the worst scenario: I pictured my crumpled truck resting upside down at the bottom of the ravine, with Gary and me trapped inside as the waters of Shirttail Creek filled the cab. Backing the truck one-third mile to the bridge would be slow and difficult. Right now this rugged canyon country didn't look so charming.

We decided that Gary would walk the road ahead to check conditions. He had to squeeze out of the cab, for the canyon wall partially blocked the door. We programmed a simplex frequency into our two-meter handheld radios. Gary disappeared around the bend. Reports came that the road was improving. After some ten minutes he told me to proceed, that he had reached a road crew. I started the truck, put it in low gear, released the parking brake, and gave it the gas. My truck kept its traction on the area of concern.

I reached Gary and the road crew, two men with a grader and a truck, at a bend where my truck could pass. We spoke with the two for a few minutes, and then we continued. I drove slowly over the freshly-graded dirt to maintain traction. The travel was fine. We reached Mexican Gulch, at the turnoff to Shirttail Creek Road, and worked a few pans of gravel. After finding only a few small specks of gold, nothing of interest, we continued on to Yankee Jim's. In the early years of the Gold Rush this was one of the largest communities in Placer County. Now only a few people live here. The place seemed vaguely familiar. I asked myself again if I had been up Yankee Jim's Road before. I really couldn't tell. We drove to Foresthill and exited the historic toll road.


That journey was on Thursday, April 9. I wanted to get a better idea of the road, one that would come only from a walk, so I returned to Yankee Jim's Road by myself on Monday, April 13.

I approached Yankee Jim's Road from the Colfax side, and parked next to where the pavement ends and the primitive road begins. The bridge was 3.5 miles away. The elevation here is 1875 feet. I started the walk down Bunch Canyon a few minutes after nine o'clock.

Posted signs tell the traveler not to stray beyond the road. Such notices in these parts, where a frontier mentality persists, are best heeded.

Reaching a long section of fence, I peered between the slats and saw an old and decrepit house below. I'm not sure if anyone lived in it.

I reached the boundary of Auburn State Recreation Area, beyond which came beautiful scenery.

The twisted and tortured rocks I passed were formed by subduction. This is the Calaveras complex. The rocks get older towards the river. I began my walk along slates from the Jurassic, passed the Gillis Hill Fault, walked by ultramafic rocks from the Triassic, and finally reached metavolcanic rocks from the Permian. Alt and Hyndman's Roadside Geology of Northern and Central California (2000) states:
The best that can be said of the Calaveras complex rocks is that they are an unholy mess, difficult to decipher in the field and impossible to describe adequately on maps or in words. The rocks include a scrambled assortment of pieces of old oceanic crust and sediments that were deposited on them, all torn up along faults, jammed into tight folds, and recrystallized into metamorphic rocks in the heat of the deep trench. Even geologists experienced in working with such rocks find it hard to stop at an outcrop and understand what they see.
Within this unholy mess formed quartz veins with gold. I passed the adits of several abandoned mines, all sealed now for safety.

More beautiful scenery. Plus, the golden poppies were in bloom.

The North Fork American River came into view.

A small landslide, likely caused by the rainstorm the previous week, partially covered the road.

I approached the bridge. A female park ranger was removing fee payments from the collection box. I reached the bridge at 11:03, after a walk of two hours. The elevation was 930 feet, so I had descended 945 feet in 3.5 miles.

After crossing the bridge I met the same grading crew from the past Thursday. They had finished their grading to the bridge and were preparing for their return to Foresthill. They remembered my truck.

I walked one-third mile to the spot where we stopped on Thursday, for Gary to get out and scout the road ahead. The coordinates were 10N 681911 4323045, elevation 1092 feet. I took a photo of the spot and the drop to the creek below.

I turned around and walked back to the truck, reaching it shortly after one o'clock. The hike had lasted four hours. I covered 7.6 miles.

I had seen only nine other people: 1) A man in his fifties on a mountain bike, and his dog, coming up from the bridge; 2) A county worker in a truck headed to the bridge; 3) A female park ranger headed to the bridge; 4 and 5) The grading crew across the bridge, with truck and grader; 6) A male park ranger approaching the bridge from Foresthill; 7) A man in a privately-owned truck approaching the bridge from Foresthill; 8 and 9) A couple in an SUV headed to the bridge from Colfax.

There's history and scenery on Yankee Jim's Road. If the road conditions are bad, there's also an interesting ride. Avoid the road after a rain due to the slick conditions. With two-wheel drive, wait until after the road graders repair all wear from the winter. Keep a close eye on the road. Pray that you don't meet an oncoming vehicle, for there are long stretches where only one vehicle can fit.

I'm looking forward to my next drive down Yankee Jim's Road to the North Fork American River, this time with my gold panning gear.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Bok Kai Festival 2015

It was the weekend closest to the second day of the second month of the Lunar Chinese New Year. Time to head up to Marysville for the Bok Kai Festival! This was the 135th such festival, held in honor of Bok Kai Temple (built 1880) and its water god Bok Eye. The Chinese, of course, have held festivities in Marysville since their arrival in the early years of the Gold Rush. What number visit was this of mine - the fifth or sixth? I've lost count. I went inside the Taoist temple and watched the worshipers. I saw military volunteers from nearby Beale AFB carry the 175-foot dragon Hong Wan Lung along the parade route. Bok Kai Festival is at its core a religious event, but no ACLU types get into a snit about the troop involvement. After a big lunch at China Moon Restaurant, it was time to follow the lions about as they blessed the businesses. I departed Marysville to the sound of firecrackers in the distance. This was only Day One of the Festival - I've never been to Day Two, known as Bomb Day. But there's always next year.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

The Hangman's Noose

On display in the Superior Court Historic Courthouse in Auburn is the hangman's noose that sent Stephen B. Richards to his Maker.

A plaque gives the details:
On January 11, 1884 this rope hung Steven Richards from a scaffold in the Placer County Jail Yard. At 1:15 PM Placer County Sheriff A. Huntley placed this rope around Richards' neck and carefully adjusted the noose. The trap door dropped and nineteen minutes later Steven Richards was pronounced dead. 150 people came to Auburn and witnessed the hanging, including Sheriffs Galt of El Dorado Co., Carter of Nevada Co., and Cunningham of San Joaquin Co. Richards had murdered Thomas Nichols, 27, a miner on Sunday morning, March 11, 1883, outside the American Hotel in Auburn.
A note by the noose states that Richards directed the building of the scaffold from the jail windows.

The first floor of the courthouse (completed 1898) contains museum exhibits, and court cases are still heard on the upper floors. The noose sits in an alarmed display case in the old sheriff's office in Room 103, which contains furniture and books and firearms from a century ago. The Placer County Jail Register rests on the counter-top, its pages turned in synch with the current date. On my February 25, 2015 visit the Register was opened to the bookings from February 8 to February 28, 1897. There had been two bookings on February 25, 1897, for R. Stanley and Fred Snye, both from Rocklin and both for unnamed misdemeanors. Other bookings over this time period were for drunkenness, vagrancy, disturbing the peace, petit larceny, and lodging.

Stephen Richards wasn't the first person hanged on this hilltop where the courthouse stands. People gathered here for bull and bear fights and public hangings before Placer County was formed in 1851. Unfortunately there is a dearth of information on early executions in Placer County. People were in too much a hurry to pick up all those gold nuggets sitting atop the ground to keep detailed notes on executions. The best source of information I've found on Placer County executions is from History of Placer County, California by Thompson & West, published in 1882. The executions I focused on were those from due process of law, thus excluding the several recorded lynchings and vigilante executions.

The book notes:
During the first few years of gold-mining, crime was remarkably rare. There was very little security for property but the knowledge that punishment would be quick and terrible, without any intervention of the tedious processes of the courts, or the technicalities of the law now so universally used to shield the criminal.
Here are the executions from due process of law:
March 31, 1854 - Robert Scott was hanged in Auburn for the murder of Andrew King. Scott shot King in Auburn on October 20, 1853, for King's refusal to loan him $3 for gambling. Two thousand people assembled to watch the hanging, which took place at noon.
June 6, 1856 - James Freeland was hanged in Auburn for the murder of "Greek George." Freeland shot "Greek George" in Oak Flat after accusing the latter of cheating at gambling.
September 18, 1857 - Joseph Bradley was hanged on the outskirts of Auburn for the 1856 murder of Jacob Bateman. The murder occurred at the cabin of Bateman in Auburn. About 500 people witnessed the execution.
June 11, 1858 - Martin Rodriguez was hanged for the murder of Andrew Hollenberg. The murder occured on December 20, 1857, when Hollenberg refused Rodriguez entrance to his house.
September 21, 1860 - Two hangings this date. Joseph N. Maes was hanged for the March 8, 1859 murder of Joseph Thomas, of Dutch Flat. Genero Quintano was hanged for the July 3, 1859 murder of Joseph Reynolds, at Michigan Bluff. Reynolds kept a disreputable house at Michigan Bluff and Quintano, a Mexican, killed Reynolds for not letting him help himself at the bar.
No executions from September 21, 1860 to the book's publication in 1882? I find that odd, as just two years later, in 1884, Stephen Richards goes to the gallows. Were there were hangings between Maes/Quintano and Richards?

Capital punishment at the county level in California ended in 1891. After that, executions were conducted at the state prisons of Folsom and San Quentin.

Sacramento Daily Union, January 12, 1884

Thursday, January 22, 2015

More on J.W. Beardsley

Yesterday a reader sent additional information on my April 22, 2014 post regarding Joshua Beardsley, the unfortunate miner drowned in 1876 in the North Fork American River at Green Valley, leaving behind a wife and two children in Michigan. It explained why he was taking the small boat across the river - he was going to feed his dog.

My information to this point came from old California newspapers imaged to the California Digital Newspaper Collection, a project of the Center of Bibliographical Studies and Research at the University of California, Riverside. The search engine on this site greatly speeds research.

Many more historical California newspapers have yet to be digitized. They are found in libraries, either in original form or on microfilm. I've wanted to visit the Auburn Library with its microfilm collection of Placer County newspapers. Figuring J.W. Beardsley's death would be a good search topic, today I went for a visit.

Of course I had to search for his name the old-fashioned way: page by page, column by column. No fancy computer search engines when dealing with microfilm. The rolls were kept in the drawers of a metal cabinet. Newspapers from 1876 included the Dutch Flat Forum, Placer Herald, and Placer Weekly Argus. I started with the first issue following his death, to an issue or two following the discovery of his body.

Here's what I found:
Dutch Flat Forum, April 20, 1876: "News was brought here this morning from Green Valley by J. Harper, which strongly indicates that Joshua Beardsley was accidentally drowned in the American river at that place last Monday night. He was seen by several of his neighbors where he expressed a determination to return home to the opposite side of the river, which it is evident he attempted to do so in a rudely constructed ferry boat, which was discovered next morning capsized in the middle of the river. All efforts to discover his whereabouts up to the present time have proven futile." (There was much mining activity in Green Valley in 1876. Nobody lives there today.)
Placer Herald, Auburn, April 22, 1876: "During the storm of Monday morning snow fell in the mountains as low down as Blue Canon." (This article was unrelated to J.W. Beardsley, but the storm may have raised the river level.)
Dutch Flat Forum, May 11, 1876: (This contains numerous errors, corrections are in brackets) "FOUND - in our issue of April 20 we stated that Goshua [Joshua] Beardsley was supposed to be drowned in Bear River [American River]. The conclusions were correct, as the body was found at Sacramento [downriver of Sacramento] about ten days afterward [J.W. Beardsley drowned on April 17 and his body was recovered May 3]." 
Placer Herald, Auburn, May 13, 1876: "Early in the week a body was found in the Sacramento river, some distance below the city of Sacramento, which was identified by his brother, as that of J.W. Beardsley, who was drowned on the 17th of April, in the North Fork of the American river, at Green Valley, while attempting to cross in a boat. His body had been carried by the current at least 75 miles."
Historical newspapers contain valuable information, but for those not yet digitized, finding a particular subject absent specific dates can be daunting, the proverbial needle in the haystack.