Sometime this winter when us Westerners were watching in awe as Mother Nature delivered vast amounts of precipitation to our dry & desiccated landscape, a couple of pieces of Forebay Road broke off and fell down into the American River Canyon. To any geologist this is to be expected. Mountains are forever falling on their way down to sea level- the only variable in question is whether the tectonic forces shoving them up are working faster than the forces tearing them down.
Luckily the pieces of roadbed which lost the battle with gravity were located a few miles past the residential section of the road, past the signpost marking the end of the county maintained section of the road, and just past the big bend where the road leaves the east ridge of Long Creek Canyon and curves out over and down into the South Fork of the American River proper. I call it SMUD-land. SMUD stands for Sacramento Municipal Utilities District, and the only reason the road exists or is maintained at all is because there is a SMUD power plant located down there in the canyon on the river, not to mention an extensive infrastructure including reservoirs, a giant penstock, underground tunnels and a grid of overhead transmission wires. All this so that Sacramento Valley residents can flip a switch to turn on their lights, air conditioners, TVs and computers!
You might remember this bit of canyon from September of 2014, when it was making headlines because of the King Fire. The fire, which burned nearly 100,000 acres and triggered the evacuation of several thousand El Dorado County residents, started near Forebay Road on King of the Mountain, when Wayne Huntsman kicked burning embers over a cliff, supposedly to hide the fact that he’d been cooking up a little meth. The fire scorched much of the territory on the north side of the river canyon before heading overland to scorch the Rubicon River Valley; the area is still a blackened moonscape today because the fire was so hot it sterilized the soil. To everyone’s amazement however, the steep canyon hillsides and cliffs on my side of the river, which face north, remained green and untouched. I can only speculate that this was because they are much wetter, cooler and generally more protected than the hot dry exposed south-facing slopes across the river on the North side of the canyon. Forebay Road wends it’s way about 1000′ down that cooler wetter north facing canyon wall to reach the river and the SMUD powerhouse, and with the road being closed it’s a great place to take a walk with a small pack of dog friends.
It’s a beautiful road through a beautiful section of forest. Tall firs, pines and cedars carpet the hillside, lending further shade and protection to a lush green understory. The shale cliffs and outcroppings are endowed with thick layers of moss, lichen and ferns. Wildflowers abound. Occasionally the road finds a clearing and you can catch a glimpse the river far below. There is plenty of water too, even a small cascading waterfall tumbles down the cliff at one spot. It’s lovely, really. But when the winter storms knocked down trees and sent huge mudslides over the road, and several sections of the road bed just plain fell off and tumbled down into the canyon, SMUD wisely put up a gate with a lock to prevent the general public from using the road.
The closure was just fine with me and the girls. A few months ago we discovered that the closed section of road was just perfect for taking the entire pack for a walk. There’s no traffic except for an occasional SMUD engineer coming or going by, and they usually just smile at the dogs and drive slowly. Today one engineer type person helpfully pointed out that my dog had short legs. I knew that- she’s a miniature dachshund. But he drove off before I had a chance to reply that my dog’s legs were perfect seeing as they went all the way to the ground and not a bit further. Oh well.
It’s a couple of miles down the cool shady side to the bridge over the river, and then from there you can continue up the other side to a landing area where the Forest Service roads begin. From there you can go all the way to Mosquito or Georgetown if you are a good navigator with a reliable GPS device. Or if you work for SMUD you can access all of the reservoirs, tanks, pipes and power lines that feed the grid. The other day we walked all the way to Brush Creek reservoir. Just for fun. The views are wonderful, and the weather is perfect for tromping up the sunny side of the canyon. The mudslides and slipouts are not dangerous for a foot traveler, but I’d be nervous about driving over the damaged sections of road bed, especially the 100 yard section on the north side that simply dropped about 3 feet down in elevation!
In case you can’t get over to see it for yourself I’ve been taking some photos of the area for you. Here ya’ go…