Walk on the sunny side….. of the Canyon!
It’s the middle of January already, but you wouldn’t know it out here on the Left Coast.
While the entire eastern half of the country has been stuck in the polar vortex, we’ve been having positively balmy weather, occasionally interrupted by some warm showers. There’s little that can be done to help our eastern friends who are bundling up in every stitch of warm clothing they can find as they huddle beside sputtering radiators. (I get chilly just hearing about it.) So I decided to go for a walk on the north side of the American River, where the south facing canyon walls get full-on exposure to plentiful, lovely, warm sunshine. It’s free Vitamin D and a tonic for the soul.
Forebay Road has finally been repaired and re-opened as far as the bridge over the American River- good news for kayakers and picnikers- but beyond the bridge the gate is still closed- good news for bicyclists and people who like me who like to walk with their furry friends. You might see a SMUD worker drive by, but last Sunday they all had the day off.
The north side of the American River canyon is astoundingly different than the south side. For starters, it is usually about 20 degrees warmer. The plant community is entirely different. Instead of tall firs and nutmeg trees draped with moss and lichens, and damp cliff faces dripping with ferns, you’ll see manzanita, toyon, oaks, lupins and grey pines. But my favorite plant of all of the north side residents is the LiveForever. (Maybe one of botanist friends can tell us the official latin name!)
I like to walk on a certain old road that was cut into the face of the cliff, about halfway up to the ridgetop. The road was built many years ago when the region was first being developed for hydroelectric power, and leads to an old tunnel dug deep into the side of the wall of one of the side canyons.
The roadcut reveals amazing geology, with layers of sedimentary rock going every which way- some vertical and some horizontal and most every angle in between. Here and there you can glimpse metamorphic layers, dark and wavy, which probably pushed around all the sedimentary layers on top. The metamorphic layers are much harder and less permeable than the upper layers, giving rise to a series of tiny springs and cascades along the way.
Anyhow the result is an amazing display of interesting plant life, including the delightful LiveForevers.
Much of this canyon was totally scorched by the King Fire in September 2014. And I mean scorched. The soil itself was heated so much that it was thought to have been sterilized. Many other burned areas came back with an abundance of wildflowers and new growth the year following the fire, but this section of canyon remained black and lifeless. Then the drought years seemed to add insult to injury.
So I was delighted and amazed to find patches of shrubby new growth sprouting from around many of the dead oaks and manzanitas and even the bay trees. Patches of colorful toyon shrubs hugged the trunks of live ponderosas with blackened bark. Best of all was finding the LiveForevers, impossibly happily lodged in their tiny cracks and crevices in the face of those intimidating and inhospitable cliffs. I have to admit to being impressed and even a little inspired by the darn things.
So if the weatherperson is right and we do get a bit of snow later this week I hope you read this blog again and maybe feel a little warmer. Or take a tip from a LiveForever: stay on the sunny side and hang tough.
Have a good hike,