CHAPTER XV. TRAIL TRIPS IN THE TAHOE REGION
Immediately at our feet lie the various mazes of canyons and ravines that make the diverse forks of the American River. In one place is a forbidding El Capitan, while in another we can clearly follow for miles the Royal Gorge of this many branched Sierran river. To the right is Castle Peak (9139 feet) to the north and west of Donner Lake, while nearby is Tinker's Knob (9020 feet) leading the eye down to Hopkins' Soda Springs. Beyond is Donner Peak (8135 feet) pointing out the location of Summit Valley, just to the left (west) where the trains of the Southern Pacific send up their smoke-puffs and clouds into the air.
At our feet is the Little American Valley, in which is the road, up the eastern portion of which we have so toilsomely climbed. With a little pointing out it is possible to follow the route it followed on the balance of its steep and perilous way. Crossing the valley beneath it zig-zagged over the bluff to the right, through the timber to the ridge between the North and Middle Forks, then down, down, by Last Chance to Michigan Bluff. The reverent man instinctively thanks God that he is not compelled to drive a wagon, containing his household goods, as well as his wife and children, over such roads nowadays.
Just before making the descent we succeed in getting a suggestive glimpse of what is finely revealed on a clear day. Slightly to the south of west is Mount Diablo, while northwards the Marysville Buttes, Lassen's rugged butte, and even stately Mt. Shasta are in distinct sight. At this time the atmosphere is smoky with forest fires and the burning of the tules in the Sacramento and other interior valleys, hence our view is not a clear one.
It did not take us long to reach the old stage-station in the Little American Valley. Here Greek George - he was never known by any other name - had a station, only the charred logs remaining to tell of some irreverent sheep-herder or Indian who had no regard for historic landmarks. The pile of rocks which remain denote the presence of the chimney. When the new stage-road was built and travel over this road - always very slim and precarious - completely declined, Greek George removed, but his log hotel and bunk-house remained until a few years ago.
We lunch by the side of the old chimney and ruminate over the scenes that may have transpired here in those early days.
On our way back we pass the stumps of two large firs which were undoubtedly cut down to supply George's houses with shakes. At the base of Ft. Sumpter we leave the trail down which we have come, with the intention of going - without a trail - down Whisky Creek, over several interesting meadows to Five Lake Creek, and thence up by the Five Lakes, over the pass into Bear Creek Canyon, past Deer Park to the Truckee River and thus to the Tavern.
With such an excellent guide as Bob Watson we have no hesitation in striking out in any direction and in a short time Mt. Mildred (8400 feet) is on our right.
Great groves of willows and alders cover immense areas of the canyon's sides, while we pass a giant red fir with a diameter of fully six feet.
When about half a mile from Five Lake Creek the largest portion of the canyon is taken up with irregular masses of granite over which a glacier, or glaciers, have moved. The striation and markings are down the valley, and looking up from below the canyon for a mile or more it has the appearance of a series of irregular giant steps, each step gradually sloping back to the step above. From above the course of the glacier seems clear. It must have flowed downwards, polishing and smoothing each step in turn, then falling over the twenty, thirty or fifty feet high edge to the next lower level, to ascend the next slope, reach the next precipice, and so on.
At the point where we strike Five Lake Creek, in a large expanse of meadow, we pass a camp, where in the distance we can clearly see three men and a woman. Deer hunters probably. We give them a cheery Halloo! and pass on.
Five Lake Creek here makes a sharp bend into the canyon which is a continuation of the canyon down which we have been traveling, and enters the Rubicon River at Hell Hole. We, however, turn up the Creek to the northeast, here striking the regular Hell Hole trail built a few years ago by Miss Katherine Chandler, of Deer Park. Just ahead of us, appearing through a grove of trees near to where the Five Lakes are nestling, is a perfectly white cloud, absolutely startling in the vividness of its contrast to the deep blue of the sky and the equally deep green of the firs and pines.
A wilderness of bowlders compels the winding about of the trail, but we hear and see Five Lake Creek, roaring and dashing along, for it has a large flow of water and its course is steep and rocky. We pass through groups of willows, wild currants and alders, enter a sparsely wooded meadow and in a few moments see the first of the Five Lakes. There is but little difference in their levels, though their sizes vary considerably. The first one is the largest. Here is a log cabin and two or three boats. These are owned by the Deer Park Springs resort, and are for their fishing and hunting patrons. They also own a hundred and sixty acres here, which include the area of the lake. The two first or lower lakes are the largest and the deepest. It is their flow which makes Five Lakes Creek. The three upper lakes are smaller and shallower. It is said that a divide used to separate the two lower from the three upper lakes, and the flow from the latter descended through Bear Creek, past Deer Park, into the Truckee River and thence into far-away Pyramid Lake in Nevada.