Sunday, March 30, 2014

Windy Point Trail

Dijukno that California has many beautiful, and historic hiking opportunities?

CA Explorer, Windy Point trail

Evan Jones

Windy Point trail...wildflowers and history

What better way to harken spring than to walk among multicolored flowers, with a backdrop of a wild
river and its precipitous canyon? The Windy Point trail near Colfax offers a remarkable seasonal
procession of wildflowers, and yet it remains a well kept secret. This is a pity because in mid-season,
practiced eyes have reported over 100 species of wildflowers along the first mile of trail alone. Bring a
hand lens and local flower guide! (“Wildflowers of Nevada and Placer Counties,” by Redbud Chapter,
CA Native Plant Society, is excellent)

 Near the trailhead, we enter a portal of Douglas fir, big leaf maple and black oak. Ponderosa pine,
buckeye with its new leaves and cinnamon colored nuts, and incense cedar help shade the trail. Toyon,
fragrant bay laurel, canyon live oak, gray pine, blue oak, interior live oak, redbud, and manzanita
complement the scene.

Early season blossoms include
rose-white milk maid, red-orange fiddleneck, pink-to-white miners
lettuce, blue-violet hound's tongue, tiny white nemophila, magenta shooting star, white saxifrage
(“rock breaker”), and yellow lomatium (a host to the anise butterfly). Blue dick is another early
treat, standing proudly on a tall stalk. Dutchman's pipe vine with its conspicuous “pipe flower” entices
the namesake swallowtail butterfly.

At ¼ mile from trailhead we pass impressive rock outcrops on our left. During mid-season, these
outcrops host red-yellow canyon dudleya, caterpillar phacelia, gold-backed fern (the undersides of
the fronds hide the gold), bird's foot fern, maiden fern, and club moss. Using a hand lens, admire the
seedpods of the delicate lacepod (in the shape of a spoked “wheel”) and the shepherds purse, with its
heart-shaped seedpods. Tip your hat gratefully to the lichens along the way. They have a soil-creating
importance that far exceeds their humble appearance!

Along the trail, look for the crimson flowers of milkweed (a Monarch butterfly nearby may have
spotted it first), globe-like fairy lantern, golden brodiaea, rose-hued wild carnation, orange-ish Indian
paintbrush, crimson Indian pink, garish foothill penstemon, purple wally basket, and eponimous
brown bell. The wild cucumber vine emerges from its subsurface tuber which can grow to an amazing
200 pounds. Owl's clover sports a dense spray of purple flowers. Pink and yellow linanthus (lens-
worthy), rose-colored wild carnation, flat-topped white yarrow, Hartweg's tauschia with its explosion
of greenish yellow flowering heads, rose-purple sidalcea, blue globe gilia, purple sanicle (a Miwok
cure-all), red maid, and popcorn flower grace the trail.

In about a mile, the trail abruptly opens onto a clearing(called First Bluff) the size of a football field.
In spring this meadow hosts a polychrome of orange tufted poppy (whose petals deploy with sunlight
and warmth), yellow-orange goldfield, meadowfoam, blue Douglas' lupine, and rose-pink Kellogg's
monkeyflower (best admired through a hand lens). Set against a background of the North Fork
American River and its 1800 feet deep canyon, the scene is a photographer's paradise.
Mid-April and later, the variegated harlequin lupine is a joy. Treats include the soap plant whose
flowers open at night, azalea-like bush monkey flower, elegant clarkia, the purple flower spikes on
the head of the tomcat clover, pink plectritus, foothill daisy with yellow center and lavender rays, the
larkspur designed to force pollinators into contact with pollen, and harvest brodiaea with its spray of
purple flowers.

Lively George creek is just downriver from First Bluff. Look for the showy Indian rhubarb in the
creek. If high water makes the crossing hazardous, the hike will end here. If it is safe to cross the
creek, intrepid hikers can continue along the trail to new adventures. Near George creek, brown bells
grow near the trail in May. Reliably, one leopard lily grows on the trail bed itself! Soon, a fork leading
sharply to the right leads to abundant riverside picnic sites. A little farther along the main trail, a
signed fork on the left leads steeply up to a shaded rest spot overlooking several cool springs. Back on
the main trail, we soon cross a picturesque creek named after One-arm Fowler, who in the 1920s was
the last stage driver along the route from Colfax to Iowa Hill. In about a mile from George creek on
the main trail, a large clearing (called Second Bluff) features concentrations of tomcat clover and owl

For the next 2 miles beyond Second Bluff to Indian Creek, the trail condition is marginal to poor. Then
the next two miles from Indian Creek to Yankee Jim bridge is on a good trail which ends at a road to
Iowa Hill. The crossing at Shirttail creek near the road is feasible only in the summer and early fall
when the water is low. Depending on location and season, look for the fence lizard, Stellar's jay, hawk,
robin, banana slug, and California newt. Turkey tail mushrooms grow on dead trees, and look for the
rare lion's mane mushroom.

In addition to wildflowers, there is exciting history nearby. Iowa Hill road which brought you from
Canyon Way to the Windy Point trailhead parallels a stage road dating from 1851. Remnants of the
stage road can be seen on the left side of Iowa Hill road at mile 0.6 and mile 1.2 from the Canyon Way
junction. From 1851, a ferry at Mineral Bar provided the crossing at the North Fork American River.

By 1860, the ferry had been replaced by a covered bridge. The toll house foundations and tell-tale
vinca can still be seen on the east river bank, near the modern bridge. The covered bridge in turn was
retired when the still-standing cable bridge was built in 1928.

From the river crossing, look high up on the canyon face to the north. The concrete wall you see is
an engineering marvel constructed in 1866 to support part of the intercontinental railroad. Called the
Cape Horn promontory, it is the visible portion of a convoluted ribbon of tracks which allows trains to
negotiate the elevation change from nearby Colfax. You may even see a train inching its way along the
grade. Eadweard Muybridge, English photographer, stood close to our trailhead in 1869 to photograph
the promontory and the covered bridge (See Photos 771
and 772). Muybridge was commissioned by Leland Stanford, a principal figure in the Central Pacific
Rail Road, to document its construction. Muybridge is best known for his use of rudimentary stop-
motion techniques to prove that all four hooves of a horse leave the ground at one point during its

Near the Windy Point trailhead, carefully cross the road and gully and turn north(downhill) to find a
short trail leading to the historical Dinner Tree, a magnificent canyon live oak. The Dinner Tree served
as an inviting stage stop to allow passengers and stock to rest. The tree stands alongside a still visible
segment of the old stage road connecting Colfax and Iowa Hill, and must have been mature 150 years
ago when it was, even then, a landmark.

As the Sierra tilted westward some 5 million years ago, the river cut this magnificent canyon, exposing
gold-bearing riverine gravels. Gold fever led to the founding of nearby mining towns such as Iowa
Hill, four miles farther along the road and well worth a visit. It boasts a period bank vault, and well-
documented pioneer cemetery (many recorded deaths were due to land slides at the still-visible open-
pit mines). Any local resident can direct you to the Stevens trail, Iowa Hill side (CA Explorer, Sept/
Oct. 2013), and to the Blue Wing trail(CA Explorer, Feb. 1983).

A few hundred yards west of the Mineral Bar bridge and during wet seasons, a neck-craning look
behind and to the left just as you make a hairpin turn (the driver must avoid the temptation to look!)
reveals the falls in Robber's Ravine. After you cross the bridge and start up the grade, look (again, not
the driver!) to the right at the falls in Slaughter Ravine...a spectacle!

Although the Windy Point trail to George creek has been enjoyed by folks from 9 to 90, it demands
care as it is moderately strenuous, steep in places, and can be slippery. Be wary of poison oak which is
common along the trail, although it is easily avoided. Please stay on the trails, walk carefully to avoid
disturbing the fragile blossoms, and leave the flowers for others to enjoy.

Getting there:

Directions to trail head: Follow I-80 east toward Colfax. Take the Canyon Way exit(one exit before
Colfax) and turn left at the stop. Canyon Way is a service road which parallels the freeway. In about
one mile, turn right onto Iowa Hill Rd(signed). Use caution on this narrow winding road which retains
many of the curves and exposure of the original wagon road.

Continue to the modern Mineral Bar bridge across the N. Fork American River. Follow the grade
for another 1/2 mile to the trailhead on the right, just as the road veers left away from the river. The
trailhead is marked by several large boulders.

Trailhead UTM: 10 S 0679 893 43 28 747
Dinner Tree UTM, 10 S 06 79962 43 28 838
TOPO map: Colfax 7.5”
Elevations: 1733' to 1013', 1275 ' total elev gain to George creek
Distance: 2.7 miles round trip to George Creek

Jurisdiction: Auburn State Recreation Area

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