ADT4/5: Foresthill to Folsom, spring 2015

unnamed creek below Foresthill
unnamed creek below Foresthill

This spring I re-hiked the American Discover Trail section 4, Foresthill to Auburn, and part of section 5, Auburn to Folsom. My purpose was to create a GPS track for ADT-4, which I had already tried twice and failed to do. I used my new iPhone 5C to create the track, but I hadn’t yet figured out how to maximize battery life, so it ran out about 2/3 of the way through. So I returned yet again to finish off the last 1/3 to Auburn. I’ve glued the GPS tracks back together using Adze on my Macintosh. Of course any time out on the trail is time well spent, and in re-doing this section, it has come to seem quite familiar and is now a favorite.

The ADT splits from the Western States trail just downstream of Ruck-A-Chucky campground, and then rejoins at the Mountain Quarries Railroad bridge. The ADT goes up on Foresthill ridge and then gradually descends back to the confluence of the Middle Fork and North Fork American River. Part of the route is along (new) Foresthill Road, part along (old) Foresthill Road, and the trail itself is partly on (old, old) Foresthill Road. The walk along Foresthill Road is quite unpleasant, with traffic whizzing along at 65 mph or more, and even the less trafficked (old) Foresthill Road is not pleasant. I looked for an alternative route to (old) Foresthill Road, but unfortunately there is not one. Several possible trails start off but then veer away. I will explore more in the future to see if there is a bypass for Foresthill Road. If you want a more natural experience, stick with the Western States trail, which descends and crosses the river, possible only at moderate to low water, of course.

I had been calling the river between the confluence and Folsom reservoir the American River, but apparently it is traditional to call this section the North Fork American River, all the way to the junction with the South Fork American River, now under Folsom reservoir.

On the first trip in February there were just a few flowers out, while on the second flowers are quite abundant in some areas, particularly the lower foothills around Folsom Reservoir. The soil is moist, the weather warm, and vegetation seems very happy. Of course it doesn’t know that this is March and not May, and that a long, very dry summer is yet to come. Poison oak is quite happy, large leaflets glossy with oil. Though the Western States/American Discovery Trail from Foresthill to Auburn gets maintained, the Pioneer Express Trail from Auburn to Folsom rarely does, so the poison oak wands are hanging into the trail, and will no doubt be across the trail later in the season. The “poison oak dance” got me around everything, but only for so long.

Pipevine Swallowtail butterfly
Pipevine Swallowtail butterfly

Along the entire hike this month, Pipevine Swallowtail butterflies were in abundance, mostly nectaring on the Blue Dicks, and a few other flowers as well. Blue Dicks (Dichelostemma capitatum) are common right now. The related Harvest Brodiaea (Brodiaea elegans) was common only in the grasslands close to Folsom Dam.

In section 3, where the trail first comes down to the river, there is a large, almost perfectly flat river bar, just about where the head of Folsom reservoir would be, if it were up. The bar might predate the reservoir (the general area is called Oregon Bar), or have formed at high mark as sediment was dropped. But I think it most likely that the bar was created by the flood resulting from the failure of Lower Hell Hole Dam on December 23, 1964. There are remnants of the North Fork Ditch above here, but most of it was destroyed by the flood. On previous trips I’d been confused about where the reservoir high water mark and resulting bathtub ring was, but this time I realized that there is a scour zone of about 30 feet above river level, representing the flood 61 miles downstream from the failed dam. Vegetation has come back in to some degree in the 50 years since, but the zone is still devoid of large trees and has lost much of the soil that trees would need to regrow. The bathtub ring itself is free of most vegetation except willows in wet areas with soil, and seasonal grass. A USGS technical report on the flood is available: Flood Surge on the Rubicon River (1968).

wall of North Fork Ditch at Oregon Bar
wall of North Fork Ditch at Oregon Bar

The North Fork Ditch, first constructed in 1854, continued all the way to Mississippi Bar in Fair Oaks. The upper part of the Pioneer Express Trail sometimes uses the ditch bank as its tread, and is sometimes above it. It is eventually covered by the high water mark of the reservoir, but with the lake level down, I was able to follow some of the ditch there as well. The further it gets from the canyon, though, the more it winds and the less sense it makes as a hiking route. There are fragments of the ditch here and there, but it has largely been erased by wave action of the reservoir. 150 Year of Water: The History of the San Juan Water District includes information about the ditch.

Previous trips (you can also search for American Discovery Trail and Western States Trail):

Flickr album (2015-02 trip on ADT-4)
Flickr album (2015-03 trip on ADT-4 and 5)
ADT-CA-4 Track (created by Dan Allison 2014-02 & 03; edited and smoothed in Adze)

ADT-CA-4 track from Motion-X

2 thoughts on “ADT4/5: Foresthill to Folsom, spring 2015

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