Finally, after several years the North Yuba Trail, which was badly damaged by blowdown and landslides, is open again. This 7 ½-mile trail through dense stands of conifers, alternating with barren and rocky slopes, parallels the North Yuba on its south side connecting the historical mining communities of Indian Valley and Goodyears Bar. Elevations range from 2,300’ to 3,000’. There are no spur trails or access roads along its entire length. Nor are there any managed campgrounds until you reach Indian Valley at its western terminus.
Recently the Forest Service and the Sierra Buttes Trail Stewardship built another 6-mile trail eastward from Goodyears Bar to Downieville. I have yet to walk this one because it’s a fairly new and popular with mountain bikers. I’m partial to historic trails, roads and ditches.
HOW TO GET THERE:
The historic and humble town of Goodyears Bar is 40 miles northeast of Nevada City, California and 4 miles west of Downieville on State Highway 49. The trailhead is on the south side of the river on Mountain House Road and is clearly marked. In Indian Valley the other trailhead is 31 miles from Nevada City near the Rocky Rest campground and is also clearly marked.
GOODYEARS BAR – Late in the summer of 1849 Andrew and Miles Goodyear found gold and convinced fifteen of the local Nisenan to help them mine it. It’s a unique setting because Goodyears Creek, coming from the North, and Woodruff Creek coming from the south, both enter the North Yuba at Goodyears Bar. All three of these streams were, and are, contributing placer gold from ancient rivers and quartz veins. The big difference from today is that in 1849 there was an accumulation of streamside gold that had accumulated for millions of years.
By 1852, Goodyears Bar Township had 600 voters, a Post-Office and a school with 13 students. Ten years later there were 52 students. In this era Goodyears Bar had an express office, saloons, stores, hotels, bakeries, restaurants, churches and many cabins. There were also a few Chinese owned businesses that served the needs of Chinese miners. In 1864 the town almost burned to the ground and was never rebuilt entirely.
After the gold rush there were mostly overseas Chinese mining in the vicinity. The 1860 census shows 394 Chinese, 90 in 1870 and 92 in 1880. Most of them were miners but there were also a few merchants and gardeners and there was a Joss House on adjacent Texas Bar. Between 1867 and 1878 the Sierra County Tax Assessors records show that there were predominantly Chinese miners working on the river between Indian Valley and Goodyears Bar during this period. In 1890 census takers noted that “there were about a hundred Chinese miners employed in river mining, scattered in about a dozen companies, ten miles each way from town (Downieville).” The aggregate product from their efforts was between $35,000 and $45,000 annually. There were small Chinese communities in the North Yuba settlements of Downieville, Goodyears Bar, Texas Bar and Indian Valley.
Near Texas Bar
THE TRAIL: The trailhead in Goodyears Bar begins on Mountain House Road on the way out of town. Once you start hiking, you’ll soon come to the North Yuba which turns west while flowing downstream. From this point you can look north up Goodyears Creek and see Saddleback and Fir Cap, both landforms that are clearly described by their names. They are snow covered in most winters and in early spring. Dominating the foreground is Grizzly Peak, 4,638’ high, abruptly rising 1,900’ from the North Yuba. Douglas fir and canyon live oak are by far the dominant trees and there are long stretches where the trail is shady. One delightful aspect of this trail is that you will be within earshot of the river for its entire length.
You’ll soon be walking above a terraced point that was once known as Hoodoo Bar. As miners passed by mining claims along the trail, they typically greeted each other with “Howdy-Do”, a practice adopted by the local Nisenan who pronounced it “Hoodoo” – hence the name. James Hutchings, in his 1855 diary, records it as “Hudu.” Rantedottler Bar was the next adjacent mining area downstream – the origin of its name is unknown and at least seven different spellings from various historical sources. In 1851 Major Downie and many others mined there. In a letter to the Mountain Echo in April of 1853 the writer remarks, “I consider Rantedottler without an equal.” Rantedottler Bar was thoroughly mined by Euro-American and Chinese miners. By 1880 the Ah Cow company had amassed 1,500’ of claims along the river along with two ditches and improvements such as flumes, derricks, wheels, tools, a shop and a cabin.
As the North Yuba Trail continues downstream it eventually drops below a mined bank and into an excavation. At the lowest part of the trail, where a sluice runs to the river, there are some large flat rocks; one of them has six bedrock mortar cupules alerting us to the presence of earlier inhabitants for whom this was a productive site as well. Somewhere in this vicinity was a place known as Cutthroat, or Woodville, Bar where a sick miner cut his own throat.
About two miles downstream from Goodyears Bar and across the river from Saint Joe Bar was Sand Flat. Ah Ling maintained a commercial garden here in 1866. In 1877 Ah Ling’s neighbors were Paul and Gertrude Bachels, their 12 children and two cows, who within three years, bought out the Chinese farmer. All but three of the Bachels’ children walked this trail to school. In 1899 the Bachels’ bought the former Jacob Fluke Hotel and moved to Goodyears Bar where the building is still used as a residence. As you contour around a flat that may have been a corral, you’ll see a huge display of periwinkle, an ornamental plant that was very popular in 19th century domestic settings. There is also an obvious spur trail that leads to the rock-lined cellar of a former structure.
Between Devil’s Canyon and Saint Catherine’s Creek the trail is situated upslope and well above the floodplain. Maybe it’s because I attended Catholic School for eight years, but I find it fascinating that within a five-mile stretch of this trail are several places named after religious figures. There’s Saint Joe’s Bar, Saint Peter’s Bar, Saint Catherine’s Creek and Devil’s Canyon. In the early days of placer mining there were Catholics from Mexico, Chile, Ireland and Italy on the North Yuba. I’m familiar with most of these saints but I had to look up Saint Catherine. Apparently, she was once a beautiful Egyptian queen who wouldn’t marry the Roman Emperor Maxentius. She was fascinated with the new religion called Christianity and couldn’t marry a pagan. He sent fifty philosophers to convince her that she was deluded but Catherine converted them to Christianity instead. Maxentius then executed the philosophers and attempted to torture her into submission by stretching her body over a spiked wheel. Miraculously, angels destroyed the wheel with lightning. Frustrated, Maxentius beheaded Catherine when milk, rather than blood, flowed from her neck. The angels then flew her body to Mount Sinai.
That’s quite a story and I don’t know what it has to do with gold mining except that most claims on the North Yuba in the late 19th century used waterwheels routinely for a number of tasks. Fast-forward to 1982 when choreographer Twyla Tharpe created a dance production based on this story and called it The Catherine Wheel with music and words supplied by David Byrne.
Below Saint Catherine Creek, which is at the trail’s mid-point, there is a small streamside hydraulic mine with remnants of a ditch above the trail. Around the next point and across the North Yuba is evidence of a mining claim known as Pierces Flat. From 1918 to 1920 inmates from Folsom Prison camped here as they worked on the highway and it’s been called Convict Flat ever since.
Soon the trail switchbacks downslope to a small bridge over Humbug Creek where I once met the greenest rattlesnake I’ve ever seen. There’s a small waterfall in the creek below the bridge and you’ll soon come to a larger waterfall in the river. From here the trail enters upper Indian Valley where the canyon gets wider while the river slows down due to its gentle grade. When the river slows down the gold, because of its great weight, drops to the stream bed and lodges behind obstructions. With this information Indian Valley was intensely mined and now piles of tailings consisting of heaped, rounded rocks are the dominant landscape feature. The typical vegetation here is well-spaced ponderosa pine, Douglas fir, canyon live oak, aspen and willow.
Living and working amidst the tailings was a logistical problem for the miners so they stacked rocks to create platforms for machinery and structures and walls for sluices. Don’t assume that the Chinese built all the stacked rock features that are so common in the Yuba region because rock was an abundant resource with many uses, and all miners, trail and road builders, dam and ditch builders, terrace builders, etc., had some familiarity with dry wall rock stacking.
Indian Valley was an ideal place for salmon spawning, it was full of oak trees and was at a perfect location for foraging forays – it must have been a highly desirable place for the indigenous people. Mining and lumbering followed by campground and road construction have massively changed the ecology of what must have been a valuable natural resource and a gorgeous landscape.
During the Depression of the 1930s there were hundreds of people camped in Indian Valley while placer mining using many of the same techniques that the miners used in the 1850s. According to the State Division of Mines (1946), “In 1935-37, hand-placering paid an average of $6 per week, with about a third of the miners averaging $3.50 per week.” Most of this is Tahoe National Forest land and they were generally sympathetic to the situation, turning a blind eye to poaching, fishing and some environmental degradation. The largest settlement of Depression-era miners in Indian Valley was known as “Tar-Paper Shack Flat.” Today it’s a very popular recreation area in the summer and for this reason I recommend hiking the North Yuba Trail in the “off-season.”
Indian Valley upstream from Rocky Rest
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