Wandering Down the Western Sierra

Lookout Ranch

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Part III-- Christmas Eve

'Twas the day before Christmas and all through the house, not a relative was visiting...

Hey, there has be a pony somewhere in this manure pile that is 2020, right?

With shopping done, no family gatherings planned, and weather expected to turn rainy the next day, Christmas Eve presented the chance to go back and complete the last part of the Hwy 80 - Hwy 50 segment, the part from Wentworth Springs Road to Hwy 50.

Crossing Wentworth Springs Road heading south, we're in the watershed of the South Fork of the American River, where the Gold Rush started. My route meanders along the side of the canyon carved by Rock Creek and its tributaries. Rock Creek Road is the most primitive route still open under the forest's winter closure rules.

Rock Creek Route.JPG

Given the choice of following a ridge-top road or a canyon, I'll take the low road just about every time.
RC 1.jpg

This is a Douglas fir, the primary commercial lumber tree of the western forests. There aren't too many of the bigger ones left around here, especially close to roads, so it's always a treat to see one. The air near the creek was cold and damp and the exhaust was creating a lot of steam.
RC 2.jpg

Most of the colorful leaves are gone, except for the blackberry vines. Note the ice crystals.
RC 3.jpg

This is a large sugar pine. These are prized for their clear white grain and are commonly used for window and door sashes, finish trim, etc. Note the tree’s huge pinecones on the ground.
RC 4.jpg

A tributary of Rock Creek.
RC 5.jpg

The forest comes to life after the rain.
RC 6.jpg

After a few miles the pavement ends.
RC 7.jpg

RC 8.jpg

The shady north slopes are always interesting.
RC 9.jpg
 
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Lookout Ranch

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These roads have been here since the 1800s, used for logging and connecting communities that sprang up around mills in these woods. Not far form here there was once a sizable mill town called Pino Grande (pronounced PINE-oh grand). Today there's nothing left. It was made of wood, after all. Some of these old roads used to be railroad grades.
RC 10.jpg

Rock Creek Road goes to the town of Mosquito, or Swansboro, as the modern developers prefer to call their rural subdivision built on the old town site. I go up Mosquito Road a ways and get this view to the south across the canyon of the South Fork of the American River. I'll be heading down into it shortly. Pino Grande used to put lumber and logs on rail cars and send cars and all across that canyon on an aerial tramway to a sister mill in Camino. There's old movie footage of it around that's worth watching.
RC 11.jpg

Along Mosquito Road I encounter this small logging operation, probably a thinning project. A couple of guys using this equipment can do more work than a whole crew of fallers, buckers, choke-setters, skidders used to do.
RC 12.jpg

There are just a few muddy spots with that nasty red clay. Rock Creek Road was mostly carved into a hillside of slate, so it isn't like this.
RC 13.jpg

Going down Mosquito Road to the Mosquito bridge across the South Fork, you really don't want to lose your brakes. There are several of these switchbacks, and it's really steep. A sign at the top reminds drivers to yield to uphill traffic.
RC 14.jpg

This little one-lane suspension bridge gets a lot more traffic than you'd think because this route is a lot shorter than the alternative. This bridge is scheduled for replacement with a modern one that will span the canyon much higher on the canyon wall, which should do wonders for property values in Mosquito...I mean Swansboro.
RC 15.jpg

RC 16.jpg

RC 17.jpg

Climbing up the other side of the canyon is almost as steep and twisty, but not quite. When Mosquito Road intersects Union Ridge Road I turn left and head east toward Camino, via Apple Hill, avoiding Hwy 50. I feel kind of sorry for this pickup. It just sits there year after year serving as a prop for a touristy Christmas tree farm or apple orchard, not sure which.
RC 19.jpg

Nearing Camino, I pass the remains of the last independent sawmill in the area, Michigan-California, which closed 10-15 years ago. All the timber cut in the region is now trucked to a large mill in the Sacramento Valley near the town of Lincoln.
RC 20.jpg
 
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Lookout Ranch

Well Oiled
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May 9, 2015
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  1. 1957
In the little (former) company town of Camino, I turn south and pass under Hwy 50, completing the passage from Hwy 80 entirely on back roads.
RC 21.jpg


A few miles farther and nearly home, this inconspicuous crest divides the watersheds of the American and Cosumnes (pronounced something like kuh-SUE-mess) rivers. The latter watershed will be the subject of the next segment.
RC 22.jpg
 
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Joe B

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Thanks yet again Carter!
Pino Grande used to put lumber and logs on rail cars and send cars and all across that canyon on an aerial tramway to a sister mill in Camino. There's old movie footage of it around that's worth watching.

There's an extremely short portion showing that aerial tramway about 25 seconds into this video:

 

Lookout Ranch

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Thanks for the field trip Carter ! As always very informative. Do you like to fish ? looks like some good spots for a little stream fishing .
I fished some as a kid but it wasn’t really my thing. I’m sure there would be some nice fishing in these creeks, especially if one got down into some of the remoter parts of the canyons.
 

Lookout Ranch

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Thanks for the ride Carter. Always enjoyable. I was surprised to see abandoned industry out your way also. Looks like back here in rust belt but you have better scenery.
Here, it’s not industry going offshore so much as technology-driven productivity enhancements combined with better roads. The big mill in Lincoln can process as much timber as the dozens of regional mills it replaced and with a lot fewer workers. Similarly, as mentioned, the work of felling and prepping the logs in the woods is much less labor-intensive.

The one job that hasn’t changed a lot in the last 50 years is driving the log trucks from the forest to the mill, except that the trucks are now a lot more powerful and have much better brakes.
 

Lookout Ranch

Well Oiled
All-Star
May 9, 2015
5,100
Sierra Foothills
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Carter
Willys Model
  1. Wagon
Willys Year:
  1. 1957
There's a much better view of the Camino aerial tramway at 1:19 into this video:


Here’s the definitive video of the logging railroads of El Dorado County, including a lot of footage of the tramway. I purchased this DVD years ago at the county museum in Placerville. Too bad it doesn’t seem to be available for streaming.


 
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