The Yuba River, between Dobbins Creek and the mouth of the Middle Yuba
Trails go nowhere
They end exactly
where you stop - Lew Welch
It’s unusual to find such isolated, steep, scenic and wild country at elevations below 3,000’ but Rice’s Crossing Preserve has those assets and more. Hiking is possible all year here because the preserve is below the upwardly creeping snow-line but in the summer it can be quite hot. Dress appropriately and carry enough water.
The preserve is a rectangular holding along the Yuba River that’s approximately six miles long, set between New Bullards Bar Dam and Englebright Reservoir. It encompasses 2,707 acres and includes properties on both sides of the river. The land is managed by the Bear Yuba Land Trust (BYLT) and bordered by California State Parks, the Army Corps of Engineers (ACOE), Bureau of Land Management (BLM), Yuba County Water Agency (YCWA), Plumas National Forest (PLM), Tahoe National Forest (TNF) and private properties. According to BYLT Co-Director, Erin Tarr, “The majority of the Preserve will remain as wilderness. Within these wild areas we will devote our resources to obtaining grant funding for healthy forest and watershed management projects which will create resilient habitat structures to ensure future sustainability.”
The 645' high New Bullards Bar Dam was built on the North Yuba in 1969
The north entrance to the Rice’s Crossing Preserve is below the New Bullards Bar Dam near a prominent road-side quarry, and the preserve's northern boundary is between the dam and the confluence of the Middle Yuba River. Below the dam the river flows south to a pronounced bend at Rolleys Point, where it flows west, then southwest to Rices Crossing. This is a steep and rugged canyon on steep slopes, dense with vegetation. The highest peak, near the Yuba Rim Trail is approximately 2,600’ and French Bar on the Yuba River is at about 500’. From the terminus of the Rim Trail there is a drop of 1,100’ to the mouth of the Middle Yuba. And, from the top of Red Bluff, a dramatic geological feature at 2,525’, there is a steep drop of 1,925’ to the Yuba.
The Bear Yuba Land Trust has started their trails program with three trails. On the south end is the short trail to French Bar and on the north end there is the Yuba Rim Trail and they have started on the Yuba Drop Trail, which promises a rugged descent to the Yuba and a demanding climb out of the canyon.
Construction on the Yuba Drop Trail
THE RIM TRAIL
How to get there: From Nevada City take Highway 49 north, cross the South Yuba bridge and pass through the town of North San Juan, then drop to the bridge over the Middle Yuba. Cross the Middle Fork bridge, make an immediate left on Moonshine Road, and drive it for 5 miles to its terminus at Marysville road. Turn left on Marysville Road and drive 3.1 miles, crossing the New Bullards Bar dam, to the trailhead, which will be on your left, opposite a fenced quarry area. There is an identifying sign at the parking area. That makes it 24.5 miles from Nevada City, one way.
Hiking the Trail: One of the best views from this trail is a view close to the trailhead. As you look down on the meadow below the parking area you’ll see a bench and kiosk where there is a view of a segment of the Middle Yuba and Klensendorf Point. Start with this and then hit the trail.
A segment of the Middle Yuba just before it joins the North Yuba at Klensendorf Point
The trail starts by contouring around a series of small eastward flowing drainages that are dense with vegetation. You’ll cross a newly constructed footbridge beyond which there is a series of ten small switchbacks that climb to the ridgetop and a former logging road, which is now part of the trail. Continue uphill. Despite the continuous, but gradual, climb there is an elevation gain of only 750‘.
When the ridgetop road fades follow the clearly marked former skid trail to a rocky knoll with an expansive view to the west and north. Immediately across the canyon is San Juan Ridge and the hydraulic gold mining excavations that supported the settlements of North San Juan, Sweetland, Sebastopol and French Corral. The long view to the northeast includes Fir Cap and the Saddleback lookout in the mountains above Downieville. I prefer to visit this view in the fall, winter and early spring when there is the possibility of clouds and the sky is a clean bright blue. In the fall there is also changing color as deciduous plants lose their leaves.
What’s surprising about this trail is the dense vegetation, rugged steepness and the remoteness of the Yuba River. The only road access to the river within the preserve is Rices Crossing via Bridgeport and the road from Dobbins to the New Colgate Power Plant. When the Nisenan were the naturalized inhabitants and stewards of this landscape it looked very different. Their primary “management” tool was fire and the natives used it to create an environment with less understory, more navigability, greater lateral visibility and to maintain small meadows with nearby springs. I have found milling stones here in settings that are now choked with trees and brush.
The vegetation is varied with ponderosa pine, Douglas fir, incense cedar, black oak, canyon live oak, tan oak, madrone, broad-leaf maple, dogwood, manzanita, redbud, ceanothus, soap root, poison oak, blackberries and many other plants. This is also prime tick country – try to stay on the trails. Because of the variety, abundance and health of the vegetation you can assume there is a flourishing wildlife population that includes deer, rabbits, foxes, moles, hawks, owls and coyotes as well as black bears, mountain lions, rattlesnakes, skunks and scorpions.
The Yuba River downstream from Chute Ravine
Placer gold mining was the first significant human impact on the Yuba River. The erosion of ancient streams, now located mid-slope, made for rich streamside gravel bars, at least in the early gold rush when men were sluicing surface gravels streamside and diverting the river with wing dams to get at the stream bed. There were mining camps and small settlements all along the Yuba River from Long Bar to the area above Downieville, with mining happening on the Middle Yuba, the South Yuba and Deer Creek as well. Many of the early streamside mines and crossings were washed away by the flood of 1862.
Rices Crossing / Yuba River
Within the borders of the Rice’s Crossing Preserve were the following mining operations:
Rices Crossing is on the west bank and was originally called Lousy Level, Liars Flat, Leases Flat and finally Rices Crossing. Some maps and references call it Rices Ford. The river is very flat and would have slowed down here forming gravel bars, which I suspect would have been good salmon spawning ground prior to gold mining. According to Nisenan tribal spokesperson, Shelly Covert, “Rice’s Crossing is where we have an ancient burning ground and where our family had a stage stop and ranch. It’s the place where Nisenan family members hid when they ran away from the Indian Boarding School and it’s the place where stories that are still alive within the Tribe became part of our memory.” The 1879 Yuba County History says that this location was originally mined by 100 men, then Chinese and then Indians and “Half Breeds.” This was also a popular place with Depression era snipers. Sniping is the mining of crevasses in streamside rocks and boulders that contain gravel and sand by using knives, spoons, screw-drivers, shovels, pry bars and sluices or pans. This kind of low-tech mining, combined with some poaching and fishing, made it possible for men and small families to endure hard times.
French Bar / Yuba River
Upstream and around a bend was Frenchman Bar where “150 men mined." The French presence was considerable and is indicated by the nearby towns of French Corral on San Juan Ridge and Frenchtown, on Dry Creek. By 1879, Chinese miners were the majority here.
At the mouth of Dobbins Creek, on the north side of the river, was Condemn or Condemned Bar where Henry Warner had a store and 75 men worked. Later, “Two or three companies of Chinese, about 100 men” worked here. It was mined during the Depression and there were still snipers camped here in 1948.
Upstream, and above Dobbins Creek was Missouri Bar #1 at the site of the present-day New Colgate Powerhouse managed by the Yuba County Water District. As of 1879 “a company of white men and some Chinamen” were at work here.”
Upstream about three miles above Dobbins Creek, on the north side of the river, is a pronounced bend at a place called variously Clingman Point or Klingermans Point or on later maps as Rolleys Point. J. A. Stuart was there in 1851 and wrote in his diary that there was “considerable mining.”
Rolleys Point is a difficult place to get to but is mighty tempting to visit. In late summer, a few years back, I started upstream from Missouri Bar #1 and immediately realized that because of steep slopes and continuous bouldering this might be an overnighter. Nevertheless, here I was, and I wanted to see how far I could get in four hours or so. It was very slow going and demanding too – I hoped that I had enough calories in my pack to power me. Less than a mile upstream, as I was standing on a large boulder to survey what was ahead, I noticed what looked like the hind quarters of a deer near the water and not too far in front of me. As I moved closer, I realized that I was right and I could see that the meat was very red and that this was a fresh kill. Everything about this pleasant outing changed as I realized that a mountain lion couldn’t be too far from here and it would definitely return to claim its due in which case I would be perceived as an intruder. Suddenly vulnerable, in difficult terrain, alone and without protection, I headed home. As I slowly creeped downstream, boulder by boulder, I recalled an Inuit song that referred to “eyes all around” and I hoped that somehow I could summon some of that magic. I remained fairly calm while retracing my path and frequently looking behind me. That day taught me some lessons and humbled me too – a sane stance in the natural world.
Lush habitat like this would have contained the mature trees that 19thcentury lumbermen pined for and took first. It’s obvious that the preserve and adjacent properties have been logged repeatedly for lumber and firewood. Stumps along the trail indicate that both cross-cut saws and chainsaws were used – chainsaws were probably introduced to this area by the late 1940s. Extensive logging preceded the construction of New Bullards Bar Dam, which was completed in 1969. There were many post WW II sawmills in existence between Challenge and Camptonville, as well as at many other locations. Logging was the local economy for several generations.
New Bullards Bar Dam / North Yuba River
The south entrance to the Rice’s Crossing Preserve is located on the Yuba River (South Yuba State Park, at Bridgeport) above Point Defiance, near French Bar. To get to Rices Crossing/French Bar, start at Bridgeport on the South Yuba and take the first uphill turn (a dirt road) off of Pleasant Valley Road, on the north side of the bridge over the river. It climbs to a saddle with an intersection of roads where directional signs are planned and may be there already. Basically, you go straight ahead and begin a gradual descent to the Yuba River. There are no wrong turns. The historic road, which is still intact, dropped from French Corral to the intersection and on to Rices Crossing, which was used to get to Dobbins and Oregon House until the Englebright Dam was completed in 1941.
Work is currently underway on the downstream entrance to the preserve. There will be parking ($5) and a trail to nearby French Bar on the Yuba River located upstream from nearby Rices Crossing where the streamside vegetation crowds the river. Although French Bar is alongside the river don’t expect sandy beaches, instead there are acres of gravel and cobbles that have accumulated as a result of upstream placer gold mining, part of our unique legacy. This area is currently being developed as a recreation destination so stay tuned to the Bear Yuba Land Trust website (www.bylt.org) for further information. If you are headed there remember that it’s still basically a single-lane wagon road so be careful and courteous.
Young Jay in a Incense Cedar
Two fussy footnotes:
(1) In California Counties that were part of the gold rush it was, and is, a convention and tradition to drop the possessive apostrophe when referring to places such as camps, towns, endeavors, momentous event locations and geographic landmarks. Nearby examples include Parks Bar, Bullards Bar, Moores Flat, Goodyears Bar, Craigs Flat, Cut-Eye Fosters Bar and Devils Postpile. This customary usage pattern has been honored by newspapers, legal documents, technical journals and Post Offices. Contemporary usage validates the gold mining vernacular of 19thcentury California and it’s good enough for me. Ordinarily I wouldn’t bring this up and simply proceed with the original spellings. But in this document you’ll see both Rices Crossing and Rice’s Crossing and that’s because the official name of this land acquisition is the “Rice’s Crossing Preserve.” This may be proper English but as a history buff, a long-time inhabitant and a finicky researcher I prefer the traditional spellings – enough about that.
(2) Terminology used to describe local geography is a mixture of local lore and the observations of professional hydrologists and geographers. Rices Crossing is the upstream boundary of the Englebright Reservoir, managed by the Army Corps of Engineers, and the waterline from Rices Crossing to the dam is higher than it was prior to the dam (1941). The South Yuba actually flows into the reservoir. A few miles below the New Bullards Bar dam the Middle Yuba enters the North Yuba and the stretch of river from here to the Feather River is known as the Yuba River and alternatively as the Lower Yuba.