Pioneer Express 2021-04

This backpack was a continuation of my previous trip on the Western States Trail.

I took the train to Auburn. It is less expensive to take the bus, but, well, I love trains. I camped out near Robie Point, and in the morning headed to Auburn Staging Area, the end of the Western States Trail and beginning of the Pioneer Express Trail. While having breakfast, I talked to three women who were in training to ride… not the Western States (Tevis Cup), but the PCT. All the way! While many people backpack the PCT, which is a major physical accomplishment, I don’t think many ride it. Perhaps not quite as much of a physical accomplishment, but a logistically challenging trip. Keeping yourself and your horse happy and healthy for that distance requires planning, and training, and that’s what they were doing.

The Pioneer Express Trail drops toward the canyon but then contours a long ways above the Shirland Canal, before dropping precipitously down the Cardiac Trail to the Oregon Bar trailhead and then down a closed road to the American River at Oregon Bar. I can’t understand how a National Recreation Trail was routed along the very steep and heavily eroded Cardiac Trail. The designation is federal, but maintenance is the responsibility of the land management agency, in this case, California State Parks. So I’m not sure where to point the finger.

American River at Oregon Bar

The trail then follows the north side of the American River all the way to Folsom. The first section, above the river but with views down on it, and very occasional access points, is one of my favorites, when Folsom Reservoir is down and the river is flowing. At high pool, it comes up to Oregon Bar, but at the moment the river is flowing all the way to just past Mormon Ravine. I love free flowing rivers! I have never been big on the idea of living forever, or coming back reincarnated, but the one reason I’d really like to is to see the rivers flowing free again, as they are meant to be. Of course in those future times people probably won’t be traveling, except by foot, so I’d likely see only part of one river system, but I’d be happy.

I did a little bit of trail work on this trip, pulling up young brooms, and cutting older brooms. The brooms are nonnative invasives from Europe, and they both push out native plants and close off trails. There are at least two species along the trail, but there may be more. One grows huge, but isn’t long-lived, so the stiff grey brown dead ones stand along the trail. But in their short life they produce abundant seeds for the next generation of plants. Unless I pull them up first! The brooms are widespread from the eastern part of the Pioneer Express up through the Foresthill-Auburn section of the Western States Trail, so this is a project that I can make only a small dent in, but even a short stretch of trail free of broom makes me happy. I don’t cut poison oak, though it needs cutting. I’m no longer willing to face the horrible cases of poison oak reaction I get when I cut and pull poison oak (to really reduce poison oak, it must be pulled out by the roots; cutting it just causes it to produce more stems next year).

From Mormon Ravine westward, the views are of the Folsom Reservoir puddle and the drawdown wasteland above it, so not interesting views, but close up along the trail there are a lot of flowers along with native trees and shrubs.

I walked out to the truss bridge over the American River at Folsom, had tea at Reset: Cafe, and then took light rail home.

I was, up until this trip, trying to make the Pioneer Express Trail and American Discovery Trail (ADT) fit together as one coincident route, but they aren’t. They deviate at some critical locations, including the descent to Oregon Bar, where the ADT follows a much more rational alignment, yes, with some road segments, but none of the horribly eroded trail. It will be a significant project to separate out the routes and associated waypoints again, but when I get that accomplished, I’ll post links. I use GaiaGPS.

Photos on Flickr:

and to Auburn 2020-05

North Fork American River

This trip, May 2-4, I continued on up the Pioneer Express Trail to Auburn.

North Fork American River, morning, above the rapids

I rode by bike further, all the way to Granite Bay staging area (the staging areas are horse trailheads) and stashed it in the long grass. On the way, I stopped off in Folsom for the farmers market and mac & cheese from Samuel Horne’s, then ate at the staging area picnic table. The day was cool and cloudy, at least compared to recent days, so there were far fewer people out on the trail.

I was able to get all the way beyond the head of the reservoir, to the last rapids on the North Fork American River. The lake is coming up rapidly, which depresses me, but a little bit a living river, and everything seems OK again. I slept on the sand above the rapids (too loud below the rapids) and had a great night’s sleep.

Sunday, I hiked up the Pioneer Express Trail / ADT-CA-5 to Auburn staging area, but took several detours to explore other trails and routes. The day was clear and warmer, and there were a ton of people out walking; many, many families; and a fair number of mountain bikers. I returned by what seems to be the official Pioneer Express Trail, which heads west along near but not on the Shirland Canal. This is not the same route that I’d taken previous years for the ADT-CA-5 segment, so I’m not sure if it has changed, or I was off-route, or the routes are simply different. There are variations between the Western States/Pioneer Express Trail, and the American Discover Trail, and maybe this is one of them. Anyway, the trail maintains elevation quite a ways, and then drops precipitously down the Cardiac Hill Trail nearly to the river. This trail does not even come close to National Recreation Trail standards, and it is disappointing the California State Parks would make this the route when other options are available. I’m not sure they get the whole concept of National Recreation Trail.

Returning to the river, I spent the afternoon exploring upstream, following the route of the North Fork Ditch. Most of the ditch is gone, washed away in repeated floods, but there are remnants here and there (see photos). The going along the river is not easy, as it seems like the bedrock as all contrary to the route, but it is doable. I went up for a ways above Knickerbocker Canyon, which comes in from the south. I could see upriver that it is possible to continue at least to the Auburn dam site, so I’ll do that in the future. Knickerbocker has several waterfalls in it, and you can see the lowest from the river level.

I then walked back along the Pioneer Express Trail towards Granite Bay, and camped in a little grove of blue oak on what would be a little island at high water. Though the moon was just past full, the sky was finally clear (first time in my three recent backpack trips) so I did get a good view of stars towards morning. Once I left the Oregon bar area, which was chock full of people, I saw almost no one except a group of horse riders, pretty much of control thundering up the trail, and then back down later in the day. I’ve never seen such a group of inexperienced and unskilled riders going so fast on the trail. Scary! I’ll note that almost all of the riders I see out there on the trail and respectful and skilled, so this was a surprise.

Pioneer Express trail and lupine
Pioneer Express Trail and lupine

Monday morning I walked some of the North Fork Ditch that is only exposed when the reservoir is low. It is kind of a toss up between the ditch trail, which winds in and out but is nearly level, and the constructed trail which is much shorter but climbs and descends and climbs and descends… Back at Granite Bay staging for lunch, and then the pedal on home to Sacramento.

I had been thinking that this might be my last trip along this route, having finally gotten to Auburn, but I so much enjoyed the living river above the reservoir, that I’m probably heading back on my four day weekend over Memorial Day, and going further upriver to the confluence at least.

Searching for information about the North Fork Ditch on the Internet, I came across Kevin Knauss’ blog. Though his outdoor posts are mixed in with his insurance business posts, you can zero in on the hiking and historical posts by pulling down the ‘Kevin’ menu and selected the subtopics. He is, so far as I’ve found, the best source of information about the Folsom reservoir area.

Photos on Flickr:

backpacking up the American River 2020-04

This week, which is spring break from schools, I went on a four day backpack up the American River, walking from home since backpacking is not an essential activity, at least not in the view of the health department.

I walked through town on Capitol Ave and M St, through the Hornet tunnel and over the bridge at Sac State, and onto the parkway trail. This paved trail is called Jedediah Smith Memorial Trail, officially, but predating the paved trail and still present in the many places, is the Pioneer Express Trail, which goes from Auburn to Sacramento. The mileage is measured from the same point, Discovery Park, but goes beyond the paved trail end at Beals Point on the shore of Folsom Reservoir, along the north shore of the reservoir, which is the North Fork of the American River, to the head of the reservoir and then climbs up to the Auburn staging area on the southwest side of Auburn, where the Western States Trail ends. Actually, the Western States Trail goes from Virginia City in Nevada to Sacramento, one of the original cross-Sierra mining and supply trails, but it is not called that the entire distance any more. This is also the American Discovery Trail (ADT) segment 5 in California, which goes from Delaware to Point Reyes.

On the dirt trail part, it was uncrowded, but on the paved ‘bike trail’ part, necessary where the dirt trail disappears or I missed the not always well signed parts, it was crowded. Tuesday, the first sunny warm day after several days of rain, and everyone was out on the parkway. I don’t know how I had convinced myself that I would not see many people, and it would be easy to maintain physical distancing, but apparently everyone else had the same idea. The trail is often closer to the river than the paved trail, but other times further away. Flowers are out to some degree, but not abundant. I think the grasses may have such a head start that flowers just won’t be abundant this year.

The first part of the trail is within the American River Parkway Regional Park, and then from Hazel Ave upriver is within Folsom Lake State Recreation Area, including Natoma Reservoir. From the truss bridge over the river at Folsom, the trail climbs steeply past Folsom Prison to the dam, and then to Beals Point picnic and camping area, which of course is closed. I noticed particularly in the Folsom area, but other locations where the trail crosses under major roads, that the suburbs are not like downtown/midtown, where there is little traffic and things are very quiet. In the suburbs, life goes on as before, everyone driving everywhere all the time. But finally the trail pulls away from Auburn-Folsom Road and there is some peace and quiet.

The Granite Bay area was packed with mountain bikers, many of them on the Pioneer Express trail, almost all of which is closed to bikes. Two things are apparent: 1) the regulations don’t apply to mountain bikers, and 2) mountain bikers are immune to the virus and can ride in groups. /s (that is the Twitter mark for snark).

Finally, late in the day, I got past the mountain bikers and selected a campsite on a granite outcrop with a great view south over the reservoir, and watched the end of the day. It rained lightly during the night, and I got a little wet, but the next day dawned dark and cloudy, which is perfect weather for keeping mountain bikers at home, so I had the trail upriver to myself except for a few hikers. I shared the trail with one coyote, but otherwise did not see much wildlife in this section (though I did see a lot of deer and turkeys in the lower section).

Snowdrop bush (Styrax redivivus)

The snowdrop bush was in flower, which is great because it is a favorite of mine, and also because it gradually replaces much of the poison oak, with increasing altitude (yes, I’m very allergic to poison oak, and have some spots of it on my legs). I walked as far as milepost 42 (from Discovery Park), which is short of the head of the reservoir and the steep climb to Auburn. My feet were worn out, and going further would not have been wise. My muscles are in decent shape from my daily walks, but feet not yet ready for backpacking.

I headed back towards home, camping once along the way. The fourth day I overdid it, walking 48 km, which is the longest walk with backpack on that I’ve done in about 30 years. Today, two days after the trip, which is when muscle soreness really shows up, I’m feeling it! But I’ll heal and be ready to go out again.

Paintbrush (Castilleja) and reservoir

Though I enjoyed the long walk, my next trip will involve bicycling to Folsom, putting my bike into the BikeLink lockers there, and walking from that point. I don’t need to do the long walk again this season. And then, maybe, bicycling to Beals Point or Granite Bay (on trails that are open to bicycles), stashing my bike, and hiking.

On the less interesting parts of this walk I was listening to a novel Earth Abides, by George R. Stewart, which is an apocalyptic novel set in the Bay Area, written in 1949, and amazingly prescient.

Up the American River is about the only practical direction I can go from home without driving, which I don’t do, or using transit, which I won’t do. I could go west towards the coast ranges or southwest towards the bay area, but both of those directions involve a long way before getting to where I want to be. So the American River, for now!

Photos on Flickr:

My previous trips on this trail are grouped (tagged) as American Discovery Trail:

Auburn to Folsom backpack 2017-03

AmericanRiver_bottom-of-trailI’ve been away from my personal blog for eight months, in part because I’m now doing an additional blog for Sacramento Transit Advocates and Riders (STAR), and in part I’ve just been busy with life. A backpack seems like a good time to start again, since many of my posts are about backpacking, and backpacking season is coming on.

I took light rail and the Placer County Transit light rail to Auburn bus up to the transit center/train station, and then walked to the trailhead. Picking a different route to the trailhead from the one I normally use, I realized that Auburn Alehouse is on the way, so had to stop in for a beer. This is one of three breweries in Auburn, but the other two are not on the way anywhere, so will require a separate trip. From the Auburn Staging Area, where the Western States trail ends, I headed down the trail westward. Though the Pioneer Express Trail has had many different routes over the years, it seems as though it has settled into following the Shirland Canal and then down the Cardiac Bypass trail to the Pioneer Express Gate (174).

A short ways below the tail reaches the river. I reservoir full pool, the river ends here, but with the reservoir low it flows for several miles down as far a Mormon Ravine. The huge gravel bar here, deposited at full pool, has been cut through by the recent high water. The river is a beautiful blue green, though I’m sure it was sediment laden during the warm rain runoff this winter.

Pipevine Swallowtail butterflies mating

Pipevine Swallowtail butterflies were everywhere, in fact almost the only butterfly I saw. Though the caterpillars feed only on pipevine, the adult nectar on almost anything in bloom, and the Blue Dicks were the most common flower along the trail. Though the green growth is lush, the bulk of the flowers have yet to come on. Other flowers were Forget-Me-Not (possibly), lupine, poppy, painbrush, iris, wallflower, and of course shrubs of which buckbrush Ceanothus was the most common. Redbud was brilliant where it grows, but not widespead.

I camped at an old homesite where a long abandoned road comes down, one of the few good flat spots along the trail. The apple tree there was in bloom, though most of it is now dead. A bit further down I ate an orange, very tart, and I wonder if that is just the taste of oranges back in the old days before they were bred to be sweet, and bland.

There were a passle of people near Mormon Ravine and Rattlesnake Bar, running clubs and runners, three backpackers, and several families. But the rest of the trail was mostly empty.

Poison oak is already growing into the trail, this will be a good year for it, so I’m glad I did this section early.

When I got to the Folsom truss bridge, the parkway trail was signed as closed, and I realized that 26 miles on the trail had left my feet pretty sore (I’ve neither been backpacking nor hiking much, just bicycling and walking), and I was unlikely to finish the 28 miles back home, so I walked to Folsom light rail and went home.

With the deep snows in the high Sierra, I imagine I’ll be backpacking and hiking a lot more in the Sierra foothills and the coast ranges this year, maybe not getting into the high country until late July.

This trail, in addition to being called the Pioneer Express Trail, is part of the American Discovery Trail (ADT) segment 5, Auburn to Sacramento. For other ADT trips, search American Discovery Trail.

Photos on Flickr:



I am now living in Sacramento. Many friends already know, but I’m sure some to not. I took a job with San Juan Unified School District as a Safe Routes to School Coordinator for the eleven K-8 grade schools in Citrus Heights. Citrus Heights is a suburb of Sacramento, and as a place lacking sidewalks and bike lanes in many areas, a place that was designed for cars and not people, it needs my help. I really enjoy the people I work with there, as they are by in large committed to the same objective of creating a more walkable, more human place where children feel welcome to get to school under their own power.

I live in mid-town Sacramento, and I’m very much enjoying being here. There is so much to do: live music, community theatre, coffee shops that have quality bulk teas, restaurants, bars, museums, young people, streets lined with beautiful mature trees, fairly bike-friendly streets and drivers, the American and Sacramento rivers close by. If my income level were higher, I’d get to enjoy more of some of these opportunities, but I’ve decided that half-time work is about the right amount for me, and I’m learning how to survive and thrive on it.

My apartment is on the third floor, up at the crown level of many of the trees, so as I stand on my porch, I feel somewhat like I’m living in a forest.

Living in one place and working in another doesn’t fit my ideal of what people should do, and I wonder about it. But I realized that with a public transit system that starts shutting down at 8:00 and is completely shut down by 10:00 in the evening, I would be more socially and culturally isolated in Citrus Heights than I was in Carson City. As has been said of many places, “there is no there there.” Suburbs where most of the people leave every morning to work in a completely different place and return home at night too tired, from work and driving, to do much, do not create social and cultural opportunities. So, for now, I’ve chosen to be where the opportunities are, not where I work. I get to work every day on a combination of light rail, buses, and biking. At the end of the day, I try to ride at least a little of the American River Parkway bike trail on my way back home.

Today I rode bike trail from home to the beginning at Discovery Park (the confluence of the Sacramento and American rivers), and east to Folsom 32 miles, where I had a beer and ice cream cone (not together!), and took the light rail back home. The light rail station is three blocks from home.

I miss several friends from Carson City, and very much miss being so close to the Sierra Nevada. One can see the Sierra from Sacramento only on clear days, and they are much further away. But I’m happy to be where I am. It is much noisier here, with the busy streets and night life, but that is a reasonable trade off for living in a place where so much happens.