Tuesday, October 6, 2009

a zome temple

I just learned today of this tragedy. I had a brief email correspondence with Russell in 2007. At the time I'd just designed and built my first Zome - zonohedral dome. He was very generous and encouraging of the work I shared with him.

I discovered this blog while looking Russell up to share my latest creation. I think he'd have enjoyed it.


I'll be thinking more about this.


Monday, September 7, 2009

1966 Pacific High School

I started at Pacific High School, a progressive school in California, in 1966, the year Russ was getting ready to leave. At Pacific, you left when you were done; there was no obligation to stay for 4 years. I stayed for 3.

Rusty (he was called either that or Russ; the Russell period would be in the future) was a wanderer then. He was seen around the campus less than most people. He was off hiking and hitch hiking most of the time...down to the beach, up to the mountains...usually with his guitar.

It was nice when he was around. He was one of those people who would be warm and receptive to your possibilities even though he was a few years older than you and, in high school, that was a pretty cool thing. He was wonderfully soft spoken; he sang that way too and I liked listening to him play his guitar and sing folk songs.

We lost touch for a long, long time. We met again in the late 90s. I thought I was quite different: fatter, more confident, more articulate. But Rusty was very much the same: soft spoken, warm, interesting and interested. I could tell he had become a very happy person. I also had the feeling that he'd left me far behind.

Dean Farwood

Monday, August 17, 2009

First Annual Russell Towle Memorial Backpacking Adventure

Friends and Family,

On August 7 - 9, a group of us met at Wabena Point and backpacked down Palisade Trail to the Royal Gorge - Russell's favorite wilderness paradise, his echoing canyon of canyons! It was an incredible adventure, so if you missed it, read all about it here! And plan on coming along next time!


Saturday, August 1, 2009

Russ, and the Royal Gorge

I (this is Gay) have spent many hours this past year, transcribing Russell's hand written journals, both to preserve and share them, and to make them easily searchable. I have far to go on that project... you'll be hearing more... but I want to share now some excerpts in which he mentions the Royal Gorge. He and I visited there together in 1988, on August 3rd, and that day turned out to be a pivotal one in both our lives. I will revisit the Royal Gorge with some precious friends next weekend, immersing myself once again in my love for Russ, for life, for this planet and its wonders.

The first entry is a long one, mentioning Royal Gorge only at the very end. In it Russ gives us a vivid snapshot of himself at age 26. After several years living on the coast at Año Nuevo, he was then living in the shack he'd built, 'wren shack', on his parents' property in Grass Valley. He'd just obtained and begun to develop his Moody Ridge property, which he refers to as 'canyonland', and he calls his planned cabin site 'cabañita'.

11/3/75 sunny morning in wren shack. tim & jim & i went out to canyonland day before yesterday and camped overnight on cabañita. taffy, tim's dog, was very nervous all night long, barking and growling and pacing around. we didn't sleep very well, but got up before dawn and brewed some coffee. yesterday we hiked down to green valley and the north fork of the american river, descending via the gulch that heads up at the springs near cabañita, past many tiny cascades and waterfalls, mossy gardens with a species of buttercup in full bloom, and an interesting zone of [brecciated] serpentine that had a band of tufa accumulation ~ quite odd. the river was beautiful, easily twice as big as the south yuba, with many old mine and cabin sites, and a weathered grave marker, wooden, reading 'joe steiner - 1860 1949' ~ i found an old silver u.s. navy spoon with an embossed anchor on the handle. we hiked upriver to where an old suspension bridge used to be, and where there is a beautiful cliff of smooth marble rising nearly sheer from the river for a couple hundred feet. hiking back up to cabañita on the green valley trail was tough, and when we finally packed all our stuff back out to the jeep, the battery was dead ~ my father had left the fire radio on the day before. so we had to walk over to alta on the railroad tracks and call craig, tim's old buddy, to come give us a jumper with his 4X4 bronco. but we finally made it back.

had a dream out at cabañita that i wish i could remember ~ strange. somehow i was involved with some sorcerers in an old world city, ancient stone buildings and marble statues everywhere, a dark stormy night, crowds of people ~ that's all i can bring back from that one.

the headframe of the gracie mine on my dad's property out by nevada city is in danger of falling onto some high-power lines, so my dad wants to pull it down with one of the fire trucks that has a winch and cable mounted up front. there is extensive six-by-six framing in the headframe, some of which i may be able to salvage for cabañita. on one of the main six by six someone carved, years ago, the word 'phantasmagoria' ~ that one especially i would like to retrieve, if it isn't busted too bad. it calls to mind visions of a group of young people who dropped acid together one fine night, a warm summer evening perhaps seven years ago. they partied up at the old gracie mine, the old silent tumbledown gold mine, giant relict of yesteryear. the headframe was sturdier then, a fine outsize jungle jim to scramble over and perch upon, to reflect on the sound of rushing water from the nearby ditch, to loll about and laugh and pass around joints and carve 'phantasmagoria' into an old wooden beam... i would love to build 'phantasmagoria' into cabañita ~ i've had my eye on that timber for years now. i recall when my dad first showed me that property out there, one of the first things i noticed was that distorted word ~ and while we stumbled about in the brushy forest, my dad pointing out little bits of flagging tied in this bush or that tree, trying to communicate to me his visions of roads here, building sites there and then again over there, my mind was wandering, i was chuckling to myself about the acid party of years past, and the weathered old timber with soul, 'phantasmagoria'

soft afternoon light setting cedar walls aglow. i hope to use a lot of cedar in cabañita. i need help if i am to build this cabañita. i need determination. the road, the trail ~ they are done. now to get the materials in. but the design, the design. i have not settled on it. perhaps a sixteen foot diameter dodecagon with sleeping loft? that's a big project! one more heavy storm and the road may be impassable. i should probably settle for less, for a smaller cabin ~ twelve foot octagon with sleeping loft. i've decided to build right to the edge of the cliff, may necessitate a split level ground floor, as some of the serpentine bedrock protrudes in the site. maybe i'm pushing this too fast ~ maybe it'd be better to wait for spring, do some tripping in guatemala, take my time and make my money and do it right. but then again if i let my perfectionist tendencies get the upper hand, it may never get built, like the octagon at año nuevo. compromise ~ half a pie is better than none ~ should be my philosophy here, i think. don't get too fancy. that spot, tho, is so fantastic ~ almost phantasmagorical ~ it deserves my best effort.

~ later, and the sun has set. a warm day ~ crickets thrill as i have not heard in weeks. but cool enough so that the old electric heater is going here in wren shack. a copper bowl mounted on a frame with a heating element in the center, glowing springs wound about a ceramic cone. i watched ridges glow in the sun's dying light, watched the shadow of the coast ranges creep across the foothills, at this distance and low sun angle so diffuse as to be barely perceivable as such ~ by the time the sun is just touching the coast range, only a rosy glow is left on the higher sierran ridges.

it's funny i'm so preoccupied with this cabañita that i care even less than usual about my personal appearance. i sleep in my clothes and wear the same pants, socks, and shirt for a week at a time. i eat my regulation fare: granola, cheese sandwich, tacos. coffee first thing in the morning. it is a rare day when muscles don't ache. callouses build up on my hands. i should eat better. eat some eggs once in a while maybe, or get some vitamins. i've been a man obsessed. i want a break. i wish it was over, that i was sitting in cabanita watching sunglow on cedar, playing my guitar, singing my songs, writing my memoirs. with my old lady by my side. i am sad and lonely in the midst of this drive to accomplish cabañita. i need somebody to love. and i must find meaning in my life, must find it anew. this stream without a channel may dry up otherwise, disappear into the desert sands of a hermit existence. just as at one time i felt it necessary to suspend involvement in the religious meaning i had discovered in life, after an effort of many years; and to fill the vacuum left, affirmed vigorously the attitude that i should look at myself and the world with my own eyes and no one else's, which involved me in an intense study of earth sciences, natural history etc., ~ now i feel the need perhaps to suspend my involvement in that path, at least as far as identity/persona trips go, and reach for a new relation between myself and the world about me and within me. once again i feel like plowing it all under and letting nature take its course; i begin to feel heavy with knowledge and short on spirit. partly because i know no one who shares my intellectual interests, no one with whom to explore ideas and theories. when i attempt to share my appreciation of some of the wonders of the universe with my friends, i generally seem to miss the mark and am taken as a boaster and a show-off. whatever my ideas about myself, the impetus to advance my understanding of the universe has lessened, partly at least because of the canyonland and cabañita. i was looking forward while backpacking last summer to some really intense research on geology pertaining to the sierras and the west in general, to better understanding of plant relationships and classification, to developing knowledge of the california indians ~ but all that has taken a back seat for now. i am in another world almost, where i grit my teeth and battle bushes, where i strain at the yoke like a beast of burden, where i am often too tired to want to socialize. today has been a rest day. tomorrow i will go and finish the trail, and take a long hard look at the building site, and take measurements. and it should be the last time i go out there without a load of materials for a while.

~ still later, after watching some monday night football (with howard cosell!) and poring over the desiderata mrs. anderson sent my father, items relating to the canyonland property, the morgan asbestos mine, the mollie claim, etc. some old photographs, one with the jagged rock blades across the canyon from lover's leap in view in the background.

a pulsating sea of crickets laps at my cabin walls, and manzanita [choirs sing songs not so easily heard.] the eery arias of the cedars are something else again and i will see rainbows over the sierra crest from cabañita, rainbows falling into the royal gorge. i will see the morning star. a river of fog in the canyon, wrens making love. and loads of lightning. from cabañita i will see many fine things.

new adjectives for living in canyonland: 'upcanyon', ''downcanyon', and actually the only new one: 'crosscanyon'. something on the other side of a canyon from something else is, properly speaking, 'crosscanyon'. in my dictionary. ah, bullshit. canyons, cañons, gorges, gulches, valleys, arroyos ~ i like them.

just went through my routine of capturing vespulid wasps and releasing them outdoors, vespulid wasps clinging to my eastern window, on warm days such as today they are quite active. i catch them with a film can and a piece of paper.
That beam was indeed placed as a rafter in the "Little Cabin", the variously colored letters of the word visible from within the sleeping loft.

Three months later...
today i amused myself by sitting at the dining table in my parents' house, plotting cross-sectional views of three different parts of the north fork of the american river canyon. one transect was at lover's leap-giant gap ridge, an impressively steep, V-shaped section. another was a mile upriver. extending from my land down to the river and ascending to green valley trailhead on giant gap road. the other was across the royal gorge, some twenty miles upstream. call the three sections A, B, C in the order described above. see top of page. the bedrock in the region of A is extremely resistant to weathering; in area B is serpentine occupying a fault zone & very weak; and in C is, again, highly resistant but probably somewhat less so that at A. i have not visited the C area and wonder if it was even occupied by a valley glacier ~ it is V-shaped as it would be if stream-cut; but hints at a U-shape ever so slightly. north is to the left on the three drawings; one would [be] facing upstream, in a northeast direction in A and B and east in C. C is only ten miles from the sierra crest, the peak on the left is snow mountain; to the right is the foresthill divide, separating the drainages of the north and middle forks of the american river, and largely capped by volcanic mudflows & volcanic ash, with old river channels & their gravel deposits meandering around. beneath lies the bedrock and the pre-volcanic, pre-uplift terrain. some granite but largely older paleozoic metamorphic rock. snow mountain rises above the level of the mudflow, i believe, which is about 7000' in elevation in the vicinity; downslope at moody ridge the mudflow surface lies just over 4000 feet in elevation.
a party of maidu indian hunters might set forth from camp one fine fall day, and pause on a low prominence atop a ridge with a broad top and canyons dropping away thousands of feet on either side. as the upcanyon winds swept past occasional eddies and surges would set the oak leaves dancing and glinting in the sun, while the whispering rustling flow of sound would be punctured by the various taps and thuds and sharp reports of falling acorns. looking across the tops of ridges paralleling the one they were on, they would see row upon row of forests so even and so effectively hiding the deep canyons between that it looked almost as if it were one broad, forested plain rising imperceptibly to the rocky battlements of the sierra crest, already whitened by the first snow fall of the season. and looking at the ridges, the hunting party would know that, a little ways below the summits of each one, were networks of heavily-trodden animal trails connecting the springs that regularly occurred at the base of the clay-like zone of volcanic ash. often the zone would be easily identified by eye from afar by noting the tendency of the black oaks to dominate the upper slopes and the live oaks those below.
and 4 months later...
~ early evening. cumulus clouds have thinned to reveal cirrus feathers above. woodpeckers laugh, jays buzz. the shadow of moody ridge across the canyon. the amphitheater... i commented to rick and susan the other day that the feeling i get from this area is one of mountains as opposed to foothills. rick said, yeah, and the gateway to the mountains from the foothills is giant gap.


and the gateway from the mountains to the high country, the royal gorge.

really it's all one: the west slope of the sierra nevada. as the afternoon advances the clouds retreat, east towards the crest. snow mountain's crown lost in fog. to be there now! cold, wet (raining perhaps), dark; will the clouds lift to allow the last rays of the sun to bathe the summit in their cool light? and grosbeaks sing.
Twelve YEARS later...
8/3/88 Morning; I await Gay, who is scheduled to arrive this morning for a hike, possibly to the waterfalls below Wabena Point, in the Royal Gorge. The heat wave has slacked off, thank goodness.
8/4/88 Morning. Stiff and sore after the hike in and out of the Royal Gorge yesterday. We drove directly to Wabena Point and descended the spur ridge leading to the two waterfalls visible far below. Encountering a little brush near the top, which gravity helped us through, we had mostly open going over rocky and increasingly steep terrain. When we'd visited The Step near Wabena Point in June we'd seen a cliff facing upslope on the near side of the river which appeared to offer a good route down to the base of the falls from the ridge we planned to descend, and so it happened. The unusual cliff flanks a narrow gully entrenched by the glacier parallel to the river, a gully choked with enormous boulders and graced by enormous canyon live oaks. It was hot. The sun beat so strongly upon the vastness of stone all around us that, well, it was hot.

From red fir and lodgepole pine we had dropped into live oak and douglas fir and bay-laurel, native grape sprawling curtains, a few incense cedar -- poison oak! It was hot, the unusual cliff had blocked out all vestiges of the river's sound, the world had shrunk from the far-flung alpine vistas at the canyon rim, Devils Peak, Castle Peak, Tinkers Knob, Snow Mountain looming across the gorge; shrunk to a canyon increasingly dominated by Snow, Snow with its little grove perched higher and higher above us, shrunk into a canyon enlivened by the roar of waterfalls, one of which's top we could now see -- then shrunk into this intimate gully sweltering, hidden, closed, guarded, quiet, knowing only itself, encircled by cliffs, choked by the giant angularity of mega-boulders --

a turn to the right, a traversal of trees gnarling to a single blade of stone hundreds of feet long up which we climbed to see that we'd Arrived at the lowest waterfall/pool. But what a pool! It was elliptical in outline, cliffs falling sheer into the water from three sides, two waterfalls converging to meet at the pool's surface, but the color, the color -- the incredibly deep green color betokening incalculable depths. Alders, willows below the pool. Nice big boulders along its edge upon which to sit; we sat, we ate quickly -- I'd skipped breakfast and was famished, it was probably, hmmm, one in the afternoon. A 2,500-foot descent. We ate.

We plunged into the pool, water clear water cool. Water shallow beneath the falls, water at low flows, levels, volumes, all of the above, water dashed white and enlivened by falling ten, twenty feet. Water cool, climb out, dry into hot sun and strong canyon breezes shimmering the pool and then dive, and swim, and peer into the impossible and wholly undiscernible depths. Trout, ouzels.
Trout and ouzels and granodiorite -- no -- the rock scoured white to a distance of ten feet or more above the pool, suggesting that the river does indeed roar during the snowmelt. The repeated and intense scouring has not permitted trees near the pool, and the purity of water and rock and air and very little else has an otherworldly character. Perhaps primitive, like, only First Things allowed here.

A ledge provided access across the cliffs to the next pool/waterfall just above. Tiny circle of an impossibly deep pool, water falling twenty feet in column to plunge into deep water, we swim beneath the plunge, are massaged, pounded.

After explorations in the area and more swimming in the Big Deep, we proceed upstream, rock-climbing. After a flat stretch, another sequence of pools and falls, little falls, we stop below a pretty little double fall, photograph, continue, clambered, were amazed by the discovery of another Big Deep. Triple waterfall over blank vertical granodiorite (we'd passed the contact zone) surrounded by other blank flat cliffs, deep, deep, big overhang along one side: amazing in the extreme! Above, another deep, deep pool, no waterfall. Flat stretch, then, as we approach the confluence of Palisade Creek, another large waterfall and pool, this one a double fall, very pretty, with rocks suitably positioned for up to seventy-foot jumps into the pool. A large camp-site not far away signaled the proximity of the trail and bridge. Sure enough; and we hiked up the trail in gathering darkness, arriving at the car when stars grew bright. Home at midnight, sleep, awake, drink coffee, smoke substances. Finally after all these years,


And on a looseleaf binder page, inserted into the journal at this point and dated 8/11/88:
The Royal Gorge

Sun and stone and mountain throne:
the Royal Gorge.
light bright lances
gently shattered rippling patches
dance embracing cliffs, trout,
dance also the ouzels,
dance the waters falling
into pools of deep and many dimensions.

bones of rattlesnake victims like driftwood heaped:
the Royal gorge.
take a foot, take another
and still another:
take four thousand feet and reach
rocky tops of Snow Mountain.
and atop those tops
obsidian clues to vanished hunters:
loping bear, jumping deer, wood-rat, thou,
sing! sing! sing to me
the men who lounged atop these tops,

granite jewels close-pack to fill space,
all around, up, down:
Royal Gorge.
distant roar single hands clapping,
waterfall upon waterfall,
pool upon pool,
ouzel upon ouzel, trout on trout,
eagle golden over all of everything.
to leap, to dive, to swim,
perchance to dream, that
certain stars shot madly from their spheres,
and blended raging raging maelstrom of
torrential Spring,
and remained by way of blessing,
the echoing, echoing, all-reflecting
canyon of canyons:

Royal Gorge.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Following His Tracks

I do a lot of walking in this area (although certainly not a lot compared to Russell). Many times over the years, I've worked my way deep into some little-known canyon, seeking their hidden mysteries, and on my return found email from Russell describing his own trek into the same area just a day or two prior. On far more occasions, however, the same kind of email would appear, tipping me off to new places to explore.

I revisited such a place a couple months back, off the beaten track, no sign of other travelers having been here for a long time. Very likely the case, too, considering the heavy brush in the area was recently burned off by a fire.

At the hike's turn-around point I sat down to eat lunch, a rocky point with views deep into the NFNF canyon. And there, at this same point, was one of Russell's clipped trees, neatly cut off at waist level. I felt like I had just missed him on the trail.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

He saved flies and spiders too...

and there was never such a thing as a fly swatter in our home! We had independently developed the habit of simply catching the little critters and releasing them outdoors.

Once, we were gone for a few days, and when we returned, found that the cabin door, which didn't latch firmly, had opened in our absence, and a mouse had taken the opportunity to set up residence in the insulation lining of the oven. For three weeks we tried to catch that mouse but it would NOT be caught--a very feisty mouse. It was wreaking havoc with my sleep, running around, chewing things up, leaving turds everywhere... Russ finally did resort to the snap mouse trap.

Russ's reverence for all life forms, for all of nature, actually (living and not) was deeply rooted. Part of it was from his insatiable curiousity about it all. He was driven to learn EVERYTHING. And once he learned something, he wanted to share it with everyone.


Sunday, May 31, 2009

Another Russ Story

First off, I should start by saying that I didnt know Russ really at all but for those of you who loved him so much, I do have one more special little Russ story for you....................

I am a fisherman and recreational gold miner and I was doing some research one day on the internet and found some very helpful commments by Russ about the North Fork American canyon. Since he left his email address on the post, I emailed him a simple inquiry and was pleasantly surprised that he emailed back his phone #.

I called him and we chatted for the better part of an hour. I was very grateful that he gave so much of his precious time to a complete stranger, sending more information to me via email. I was also completely taken with his love for nature and especially the area that includes the North Fork Canyon. Without his help, I am not sure I would have been able to find my way down to the spot I wanted to access. Yesterday, I was rereading an email that he sent a couple of years back and though I would look up his website again, only shocked to find news of his tragic accident.

I only had an hour of time to spend with this warm and generous guy but it was quite special. I feel very sorry for his family and their loss. This has been just another reminder of how precious life is and how important it is to live it to the fullest while we are here. I got the impression that Russ lived an unusually rich life and everyone who knew him should be very grateful that they knew him.

David James, Manhattan Beach CA dsj1776@gmail.com

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Russ in a creek in his younger days...

Thought you'd all enjoy this picture of Russell hanging out in a creek as a kid... Doesn't this look like it could be a picture of Greg? It's not. Really. Enjoy.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Russell saving ticks!

I was chatting with Laura and Russ (her boyfriend) last night (yes, they are back in California), and as I watched Russ try to gentley catch some flying bug to let it go outside, it reminded me of one of the WEIRDEST things I remember my brother Russ every doing. Rich's dog, Fanky, had a big, swollen tick on his belly. Russ carefully removed the tick using the "counterclockwise unscrew" method, and then took to tick outside to let it go, because it deserved to live. I vividly remember thinking he was crazy, and was just "too" something... Now, in hindsight, it's just another example of someone who genuinely cared about all living creatures... even blood-sucking ticks! Oh, this was probably the summer of 1972; why I can remember this, I'll never know.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Beautiful hanging crystal...

The other morning I was relaxing with a strong cup of coffee and enjoying the sunrise. As it peeked through my front window, suddenly there were little rainbows everywhere. I had finally hung my beautiful crystal that Russell gave to me in honor of Julie's birth. It was in her room when she was a baby, and somehow got "lost" in one of the moves. I was so happy to find it recently, and to remember receiving this special gift from my brother when I had my first child. Looking back at a few pictures, he did enjoy getting down on the floor with Julie, and seemed quite taken with her. This crystal is the only gift I can clearly remember that Russ ever gave me, and I LOVE IT! Sure wish he was here with us, but I'll think of him each time the sun mixes with the crystal and gives me those gorgeous rainbows. Shellie

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

New stories, anyone???

Okay...here's the request: How about some NEW stories about Russell on this blog? I keep checking hoping to find new tidbits about Russ that I never new. It is wondeful to read about different times in his life, and see old pictures. I kind-of think we all keep looking here. It's been eight months... and some times it seems like a lifetime ago and other times it is fresh and raw. Hang in there everyone... and PLEASE post something new.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Nine Expeditions to New York Canyon

I found the following while searching thru an archive of the content from Russell's iMac (with permission from Gay). The entire book totalling four-hundred and thirty 8½" x 11" pages is contained within this archive. Only the CD cover art, preface and introduction are included below. Yes, something will be done to preserve the entire book.

There is an incomplete list of "Books by Russell Towle" in this prior blog post.

Richard L. Towle (Russell's brother)
Alameda, CA

Nine Expeditions to New York Canyon


Since 2001, or slightly before, I have written extensively about the North Fork of the American River, in California’s Sierra Nevada mountains, for my North Fork Trails email list. Today, in April, 2007, there are about one hundred and twenty subscribers. Some have been with me since the beginning of the list.

My topics include historic trails, environmental issues, geology, the flora, fauna, history and prehistory. These topics arise, most often, in the course of describing this or that hike, somewhere in the great canyon. The equivalent of several books, in the counting of words, has been generated, and it has long seemed good to publish an archive of North Fork Trails. The emails are sent as plain text, and I regret that it is not possible to attach photographs and maps. I love maps, and generally, if I am out hiking, I have a camera with me.

The task of combining the entire archive of writings, with its parallel archive of photographs, has seemed so large, so daunting, that I never quite get around to it.

It occurred to me, recently, that it would be interesting to collect all the emails which have to do with one particular locality, and combine them with their corresponding photos. This electronic book, or eBook, is my first attempt at such a correlation. It contains accounts of nine expeditions to the great 560-foot waterfall in New York Canyon (a tributary of the North Fork); in two of the nine, I failed to reach the falls, or to even see them. Yet these failed expeditions form part of the story.

The expeditions took place between May of 2001 and June of 2005. Hundreds of photographs are included. The PDF file format allows one to zoom in on the photographs, and capture detail far beyond what is usually seen on the internet, for instance, or even in a “real” book, where page size often prevents such detail from emerging.

So, be sure to zoom in on the photos, and the maps.

I have also included a short sketch of the geology of New York Canyon, with geologic maps.

—Russell Towle, April, 2007


The great 560-foot waterfall in New York Canyon is hidden from easy view. I first saw it from a small airplane, in the late spring of 1975, following an unusually heavy winter, which had buried the Sierra Nevada under many yards of snow. At the beginning of April, 57-foot-high lift towers at the Squaw Valley ski area were hidden under the snow! By June, more than ten feet of hardpacked snow still covered the high country, and waterfalls everywhere were at historic high flows, as hot weather settled in for the summer.

Flying up the North Fork American towards the Sierra Crest in that little plane, my friends and I were astounded by the many waterfalls. I barely glanced at New York Canyon’s Big Waterfall. During the early 1990s, I received a Tahoe National Forest document describing several Sierran rivers and streams, with a view to their inclusion in the National Wild & Scenic River system, and I read, then, of New York Canyon’s 560-foot waterfall.

Surprisingly, I waited nearly ten years to visit that cliff-bound, magical place. I scouted the area, however, becoming increasingly familiar with the Sailor Flat Road, and with the upper basins of the two forks of New York Canyon. In 2001 I made the first of nine expeditions to New York Canyon’s great waterfall, but failed to gain even a distant view of the thing. I could hear it, faintly. An infinitude of brush prevented movement towards the vague roaring and booming.

Nine PDF files record the nine expeditions, in this “eBook,” and I have included a tenth PDF file (NYC_Maps.pdf), of maps and landscape renderings; an eleventh (NYC_Geology.pdf), of geologic maps; and this file (NYC_Preface.pdf) makes twelve. Here I wish to provide a more general introduction to this very special place.

In the general scheme of California’s Sierra Nevada, Yosemite Valley is but one of many deep canyons scoring the broad western slope of the range. During the Pleistocene, that is, within the past two million years, each such canyon had its own glacier, which extended from the summit ice fields about half-way down to the Great Central Valley, which is only a little above sea level.

Like all these other canyons, then, the “Great American Canyon,” of the North Fork of the American River, has an upper, glaciated reach, and a lower, stream-eroded reach. It is only about eighty miles long. From the peaks at its head, such as Mt. Lincoln, Anderson Peak, Tinkers Knob, and Granite Chief, one can see Lake Tahoe, only a little ways south and east. These peaks rise to about nine thousand feet in elevation.

Like all these other major Sierran canyons, the North Fork’s canyon deepened drastically during the Pleistocene, and deepened much more rapidly than its tributaries. Hence the tributaries often form what are called “hanging valleys.” New York Canyon is just such a hanging valley.

New York Canyon enters the North Fork at 3200 feet elevation, and heads up on the Foresthill Divide (the ridge dividing the North and Middle forks of the American River) at about 6800 feet elevation. It is only three miles long, and has two forks, an East Fork and a West Fork. The big waterfall is on the East Fork, just above its confluence with the West Fork. In those three short miles, New York Canyon descends 3600 feet. Hence there are many many waterfalls along both forks of the canyon, and many cascades.

Different types of rock lead to different canyon morphologies. For instance, one of the greatest contrasts in Sierran geomorphology is exhibited by the adjacent upper canyons of the South Fork of the Yuba River, and the North Fork of the American River. The former is incised mostly in granite, the latter, mostly in metamorphic rock, often metasediments, often something like slate. As a result, the North Fork Canyon is vastly deeper than the South Yuba canyon; at Kingvale, the South Yuba is less than a thousand feet deep, while a few miles south, the North Fork American is over three thousand feet deep. The “digital landscape” renderings in the NYC_Maps.pdf file give an idea of this strong contrast between two canyons otherwise much of a muchness.

Like the main North Fork canyon, New York Canyon is incised into metamorphic rock of various kinds. In particular, there are large masses of chert and siliceous sandstones and quartzites, which all have a relatively massive texture, and stoutly resist erosion. To the east, these quartz-rich rocks give way to slates, and adjacent Sailor Canyon has no 500-foot waterfalls. It has many smaller waterfalls.

At the North Fork American, the forest of New York Canyon is typical of the “Transition Zone,” being a mixture of Ponderosa Pine, Incense Cedar, Douglas Fir, Kellogg’s Black Oak, and Canyon Live Oak, with Bigleaf Maple, Dogwood, and White Alder, along the creek itself. Up on the Divide, at 6800 feet, and in the upper basins of the two forks, we find pure stands of Red Fir, with masses of Mountain Alder around springs, and Jeffrey Pine in sunny, more open locations. The Sugar Pine is well-represented in the middle reaches of New York Canyon, as is the White Fir.

Finally, as will become apparent in my accounts of the nine expeditions, it is not easy to reach the great waterfall. Vast brushy areas and steep cliffs interfere. Also, by the time the Foresthill Road is free of snow, and one can drive to the head of New York Canyon, the snow has also melted from the upper basins, and the waterfall has subsided. It is most difficult of all, therefore, to reach the waterfall during high flows. The remoteness of the waterfall, the steepness of the cliffs, the rapidity of the current (should a ford of the stream be necessary), are all serious hazards. Also met are the more typical dangers, of rattlesnakes and poison oak.

—Russell Towle, April, 2007.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Sad News

I'm very sad to hear of Russell's passing. My name is Cynthia McDaniel and I am the granddaughter of Alleen Towle, daughter of George G. Towle and Bertha Brice. I contacted Russell in the past regarding family history. Does anyone know how I can get a copy of Russell's Dutch Flat Chronicles? Thank you. camcdaniel@cox.net

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Happy Birthday, Russell

My Mom had this picture of Russ on his 3rd Birthday... and she wrote the story below. This has been a tough 7 months... loving thoughts to all of you. Shellie

All Russ wanted for his third birthday was a Hopalong Cassidy jacket, pants, hat and guns. Thus this washed out Hopalong Cassiday outfit that was the most joyous birthday present he ever received. So joyous, in fact, that he just had to sleep in it for a night or two. I should add, that with reluctance on his part, the hat and the guns were carefully placed next to his bed. So joyous, in fact, that it probably did not see a washing machine for several days.Strangely, if you asked me to remember what he got on any other birthday I could not come up with an answer. That third birthday was so far above any others for him at that time and for me in my memories. We lived in Connecticut at the time and I do believe that this picture was taken at the quite large beach house we rented as we had sold our house and had to move about six weeks before we were to head for California.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Russell's 60th Birthday

UPDATE on weather/road conditions, Friday 7 March: Scratch that last post! This is actually Greg, but my mom wanted to let you all know that the road isn't as good as previously stated. You can make it in if you have good clearance or four-wheel drive, but otherwise, it's likely you'll get stuck. If you want to leave you car out at the Alta exit from the freeway, feel free, just give us a call and I'll come out and pick you up. Happy March! Greg.

UPDATE on weather/road conditions, Friday 6 March: We saw increasing sun today, and patches of ground are now showing up under some trees. The road in has gotten pretty easy; it's tracked down to the road surface, so it should not be a problem for anyone. There's still lots of lovely snow in the meadow, good texture for igloo and sculpture building. Down at the cabins where more ground is showing through, it's muddy. Gloves and boots are in order!

UPDATE on weather/road conditions, Thursday 5 March:
Weather looks promising, dry for the weekend, partly cloudy. The snow that we got on Tuesday (about a foot) is melting rapidly but still covers the ground everywhere. We did a lot of shoveling Wednesday and can now drive to the bottom of the meadow with our 4WD cars. Anyone driving a 4WD will not have problems getting in here even now. By Sunday, I'm confident that even 2WD vehicles will make it OK... but Saturday—can't be sure yet.

The meadow is absolutely beautiful when snow covered. My memorial dreamcatcher has taken a hit though; one of its support ropes has broken so that it has flopped over and hangs low and doesn't look now like it was ever round. That's OK, it evolves... I think we should make fanciful snow sculptures to surround it with sparkling whimsy ; )

The guest of honor can't be here, but we'll celebrate his fascinating life anyway. Join Gay, and Greg (and maybe Janet, Gem, Gus) at the cabins, anytime during the weekend of March 7-8. Bring food to share, music to share, but YOURSELF mainly.

IMPORTANT--check back here on Thursday evening or Friday for an update on our weather/road conditions. If the current series of storms results in snow at this elevation (4000') the road may become difficult or impassable, and we don't want anyone to get stuck. If the road is going to be a problem, we'll move the gathering somewhere else, below the snow.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Richard's DVD Collection of Russell...

For those of you who have received the DVD set Richard put together... WATCH IT! Jeff and I spent a wondeful rainy afternoon watching Russ in his element. How fortunate we are to have this to watch whenever we need to see Russell's smiling face and hear his intelligent voice. (We also hear a bit of irritation and sarcasm at times... LOL). Anyway, many thanks to Rich and Chris for all your hard work. For those of you who haven't seen the footage, it's great. It's so hard to believe it's been six months... some days it seems like yesterday, and some days it seems like an eternity. Shellie

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Thanks Russ...

I have been averted to posting anything here out of some sort of fear of not having anything to say that meets the caliber of who Russell was and what I have learned from him. This is utter nonsense.

I have always held him in the utmost regard, not only for his vast, synergistic knowledge, but for the moments (usually during hikes, of course) that he recognized my enthusiastic interest and indulged it. Unfortunately, like for everyone else I am sure, this becomes all too apparent after the fact. I just received a copy of some of his raw interview footage on DVD in the mail and was sincerely taken aback by how authentic his presence was, even rendered through time and media.

Without getting too sappy, as the time for this has passed (and I cry too easily, it turns out!) Russell is truly an inspiration for me in multiple aspects of life. It is all too easy for over used words and phrases to be construed as such, but this entire experience has been a vivid illustration of what is really important in this life. I hope that someday I might attain half the existence and accomplishment that Russell has shown me and everyone else. Thank you.

I'll see y'all on the trail...
Cheers, Ian Baker

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Dear Towle family and friends

Hello, my name is Thomas Dargie, I am 26 and I live in grass valley, I was recently researching a summer adventure trip to the royal gorge. I have done alot of exploring in nevada county and i want to branch of to placer.

This is how I learned of russell, he sounded just like a tuffer modern day john muir. I am very sad to hear about what happened to him, I have a feeling a man like that would be in a great place and watching over his family,

The reason for my post is to find out is there anyway possible maybe to volunteer trail work or anything that I can do In respect for a great man. I would love to be able to hike with somepeople that knew this man, Thank you for you time it is trully appreciated,

P S, If its not already in the works, but a book should be written about this man and the stuff he accomplished

Friday, January 9, 2009

Russell wearing Bullwinkle hat on Christmas day 2005

photo courtesy of Carol Towle.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Russell and siblings in ...

Old Town Auburn on June 20th 2004 (per the timestamp on the photo) after lunch at Cafe Deliacias.

From left to right: Richard Towle, Karen Mingst, Russell Towle, Shellie Archer: