Friday, May 20, 2005

Leave Your Clothes Behind

Friday, May 20, 2005 Edwards Crossing After High Water

The last big storm that came through brought over 3.5 inches of rain. This caused the highest river flows of the year and the South Yuba peaked at 14,000 cubic feet per second (CFS) Wednesday night. That is a lot of water.

Unfortunately I had to work Thursday so I couldn’t go to the Yuba to see what was going on for myself. Instead I walked along the banks of the Lower American looking for suitable places to teach at 14,000 CFS. The Lower American, a typically slow river becomes wider and faster at that flow, but not particularly impressive. What was impressive, however, was the confluence of the north and middle forks of the American River in Auburn.

The North Fork, a café au lait color, stomped through trees usually quite high on the banks. The Middle Fork had nothing of its usual deep green color. Instead it was black coffee crashing around a bend to form quite a formidable looking rapid leading right into a thicket of drowning trees. People were milling around on the roads and trails, cameras in hand, trying to capture the incredible force of water on film. The two rivers met like a diagram – black coffee running full force into café au lait. The two colors remained distinct for several hundred yards after they met before mingling together in turbulent waves and writhing boiling eddies. I must admit that I was severely disappointed to not be able to join the throngs of camera-toters on the road. It was a fascinating display of hydrology.

Saturday the South Yuba was still high, but it only reached about 5,000 CFS while I was there. I returned to the steep crinoid trail. The sluice box was no longer leaning against the tree where I last seen it. From the top of the trail high up on the road I could hear the river below. I began my descent, but soon my attention was caught by a tire firmly planted in Kenebec Creek below the trail. I veered off the trail and down the hill to check it out, then continued down to the river via the creek.

Quite suddenly the creek disappeared. There had been ample amounts of water collecting in small pools and pouring over rocks and then there was none. I couldn’t figure out where the water went. It was just suddenly gone. I walked further down the waterless creek and suddenly the water reappeared to the right of where the creek should have been. I followed that flow back up. All of the water was pouring out of a cave. Then I realized what must have happened to the water in the creek. That cave was the end of a hydraulic mining flume blasted through the hill in the 1800’s. The creek must have been flowing right over it and seeped through the roof of the tunnel.

Down at the river most of my access to the water was thwarted by brown water that had risen into the thickets of berry bushes and poison oak. I didn’t find much that interested me except for some old canning jars of peanut butter and jelly with rusted lids, a broken robin’s egg and piles of grasses and leaves suspended in tree branches high above the water – evidence of the river’s previous height. I collected empty Gatorade bottles and beer cans and shoved them in my backpack to take out.

Nearing the top of the trail on my way out I saw some movement further up on the side of the trail. As I got closer I saw that it was the same guy who had lugged the sluice box out of the canyon a week earlier. ‘Better weather today, eh?’ he offered. ‘Yup,’ I replied. ‘Lots of water.’ Then he resumed picking up garbage on the steep hillside and stuffing it into a bag. He’s not much of a talker. I felt better for having more than just an empty Splenda packet in my pocket this time.

I drove down to Edwards Crossing to see if I could get better river access there. The dirt road had a few cars parked off to the side, the owners presumably, on the bridge with camera in hand and cigarette in mouth, trying to capture the unusual amount of water in the river.

At the water large thickets of branches stripped of leaves scattered the banks like poorly formed tumbleweeds. It took me a while to realize that some of the tangles were poison oak, the bane of my river existence. I can’t find a good reason for the stuff to exist. It irritated me that the bushes hadn’t been completely eradicated by the river. Instead it was just made harder to identify.

I had expected to see more detritus stuffed in weird places by the high water. Much to my dismay, I found very little. Yet in several places, ribbons of different materials were woven into the leafless brambles like tinsel on discarded Christmas trees lying prone on suburban curbsides waiting to be picked up and hauled away.

Disappointed by the lack of displaced trash, I wandered to the rocks by the bridge to soak up the afternoon sun. Soon after I found a perfect spot by the roaring rapid I looked upstream where I had been. A small beach, previously empty, was occupied by a nude yoga practitioner - this one female - and a clothed observer. This, to me, is starting to represent Nevada City. Come to the South Yuba. Bring your yoga mat and leave your clothes behind.