Tuesday, June 23, 2015

The Current Confederate Flag Controversy and a Memory of Beauvoir

Following the horrific Charleston church shooting of June 17, many are calling for the removal of the Battle Flag of the Army of Northern Virginia (commonly referred to as the Confederate Flag) from display at the South Carolina state capitol.

I live in California and my Southern ancestors fought for the Union (they were from the Missouri Ozarks, a region of divided loyalties, with neighbor against neighbor), so with no attachment to that flag or the Confederate cause, I'll leave the decision of the flag placement to the citizens of South Carolina. I hope they choose wisely. I note only two things. First, any argument supporting the Southern cause must square itself with the evil institution of slavery, and I'll let the Confederacy apologists twist themselves into a pretzel over that one. Second, South Carolina fired the first shot of the War of the Rebellion, making it responsible for what followed, something General Sherman did not forget when he turned his army north from Savannah.

The flag issue made me think of an October 8, 2005 afternoon in Biloxi, Mississippi. I was there on business following Hurricane Katrina. I stopped outside Beauvoir, the post-war home of Jefferson Davis, former President of the Confederate States of America, to see the hurricane damage to the house. I had seen the house undamaged, on March 2, 1986, when I walked over on a late Sunday morning from Keesler AFB, where I was attending an Air Force school. But now Army troops on guard duty kept the public from the grounds. I don't know if they were active duty, Reserve, or National Guard troops. I spoke with two of them. One was a white man in his thirties, the other a black woman in her early twenties. Both were in battle dress uniform and were unarmed. I had a short and pleasant chat with them. As I drove away, I wondered if the woman had any thoughts about guarding the house and grounds of the man who had led the nation that intended to keep her ancestors as slaves. Hopefully she took the guard duty with the same smile she gave as we talked.

Beauvoir, March 2, 1986

Beauvoir, October 8, 2005

Beauvoir, October 8, 2005

My concern here is, where does it end? There are already calls to remove the Confederate flag from license plates. Amazon has announced it will not sell items bearing the Confederate flag. At what point does this become cultural cleansing? Will the statues of Jefferson Davis and Confederate generals be torn down? It will not likely end with symbols of the Confederacy. There are nascent calls to replace the California state flag, for some find the Bear Flag of the California Republic offensive. Let's talk about this, folks. I'm reminded of Martin Niemoller's words, "First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out..." I fear the masses are embarking on a very dangerous path in their desire to correct past wrongs.

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Placer Big Trees Grove

As if there aren't wonders enough in Placer County, we even have our own grove of Giant Sequoia trees. This northernmost grove was discovered by a prospector in 1855. Six Giant Sequoias are standing. One is named after a state senator from Placer County (Lardner). Three are named after Allied commanders from the Great War (Haig, Joffre, and Pershing). Two remain unnamed. While the Joffre Tree is the tallest (250 ft), the Pershing Tree (225 ft) is the largest by volume, its trunk 12 feet in diameter at breast height. These Giant Sequoia are small compared to their southern cousins.

I visited the grove on June 4th. It had been many years since my last visit.

In Foresthill I stopped by Worton's Market to consult the map, and to take in the wonder of the vast canyon of the Middle Fork American River. Nearby were about a half-dozen Forest Service workers who had stopped for supplies. With their trucks and trailers and all terrain vehicles, plus their shovels and ropes and assorted other gear, they were clearly heading out to the wilderness for some hard work. They were in their late twenties and early thirties, all men except for the one woman. From my queries I learned their job was to seal the entrances of abandoned mines. What a dream job to have.

A short distance beyond, I turned onto Mosquito Ridge Road, which follows the Middle Fork. I stopped in places to examine walls of slate twisted in crazy angles from subduction. Long ago there had been a mile or two of slate above these points, but those rocks eroded away and now fill the level Sacramento Valley.

I crossed the bridge over the North Fork of the Middle Fork of the American River. With easy access to the river, many people try their hand at finding gold around here. I've worked gravels upriver myself, but found little color. At the side of the road was a pile of camping and prospecting gear. I stopped and got out and looked out from atop the bridge. I saw the owners of the gear off in the distance, carrying more items up trail. I wondered how their luck went finding gold.

I continued up Mosquito Ridge Road. The views of the canyon were magnificent, but I had to pay attention to the road to keep from driving off it.

I left warm and sunny conditions in the Valley. The weather can change quickly in the mountains. Around Milepost 23 (I think at 4500 feet) the temperature had cooled by some fifteen degrees, and there was briefly a light rain.

I took the turnoff to the Placer Big Trees Grove, and soon reached the parking lot. Only one other vehicle was there, and the occupants (two young men with two dogs) were departing the trailhead as I got out of my truck. So with them a good way ahead of me, I essentially was alone on this half-mile trail. I took an interpretive booklet and commenced my walk. The cloud cover gave good diffused light for photography.

This grove is so far from the others that there has been no cross-pollination from outside Giant Sequoias, leading scientists to wonder if these trees have evolved their own genetic code. In the past century, Giant Sequoia plantations have been established around this area. Potentially in a thousand years Giant Sequoias will tower here and there. But the plantation trees may impact the genetics of the descendants of these old timers, and nobody knows if this is a good thing or not.

This is a grove. One can find individual trees. I once saw a lone Giant Sequoia by a remote trail, near Dix Mine in Placer County.

On the return drive I had this view of the canyon. Magnificent.

And one more picture of those twisted slates.

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.