“Residents of Placer and Eldorado Counties are blessed with a resource that is unparalleled in beauty, ruggedness, and richness of history. The misty blue canyons of the North and Middle Forks of the American River, geologically shaped by uplifting plates and the cutting forces of water, hold secrets and long-forgotten tales that remain unrecorded, of original people, hordes of miners in search of golden holy grail, entrepreneurs, ne’er do wells, failed enterprises, lust and greed—all this amidst grandeur and beauty that both stuns the senses and bestows inner peace. These canyons can be viewed from afar in aircraft, Google Earth, or from the few roads that edge their way from precipitous cliff to deep valley. Or, they can be experienced by walking trails, mostly steep and long, but with a few easier walks, into deep and remote areas.
Among the crown jewels of these magnificent canyons are their ancient rivers, streams, and creeks that drain vast areas within the great divides that separate them. What follows is a brief description of these rivers, from their origin in high-altitude wilderness areas, to their terminus in Folsom Lake.
The North Fork of the American River
The North Fork rises in a vast expanse of wilderness lying due North of Squaw Valley, falling into the deep crevasse north of the great Foresthill Divide. In this high, remote upper area it is formed by a numerous small creeks. The river flows from Heath Springs into the Royal Gorge, where it cascades amidst cliffs, flowing in cataracts, falls, riffles and runs. From there it continues to be fed from the southern feeder creeks. Downstream the river is joined from the north by the North Fork of the North Fork. The lower portion of the North Fork passes through Giant Gap and its mystical vistas including Lover’s Leap, past the Iowa Hill, Yankee Jim’s and Ponderosa bridge crossings, and into Clementine Lake, a run-of-the-river facility. From there it cascades over the Clementine dam downstream for a short distance where it meets up with the Middle Fork of the American River, at the popular Confluence area. From there the conjoined rivers, called the North Fork, pass under No Hands Bridge, past China Bar, and into Folsom Lake.
The Middle Fork of the American River
The Middle Fork of the American River rises in the Granite Chief and Desolation Wilderness areas, west of Lake Tahoe, on the south side of the Foresthill Divide. Within the Middle Fork’s vast drainage area, there are two main sub-divides: the divide between the North Fork of the Middle Fork and the Middle Fork itself; and the divide between the Middle Fork and the Rubicon River. To the south of the Rubicon River is the Georgetown Divide, which separates the drainage of the Middle Fork from that of the South Fork of the American River.
Because of the interior duality of the Middle Fork drainage, there are two big high-altitude reservoirs: to the north there is French Meadows Reservoir, which traps the upper Middle Fork itself; and to the south there is Hell Hole, which traps the upper Rubicon river. The main tributaries to the upper Middle Fork are Picayune Valley and Talbot Creeks. Swollen by these and other small tributaries, the upper Middle Fork flows into French Meadows Reservoir at about 6200 feet in elevation. Below the French Meadows dam, the Middle Fork is a small stream that flows through an extremely steep canyon, peppered by numerous waterfalls, riffles and runs. It enters Interbay Lake and from there flows down to its temporary terminus in Oxbow Lake.
To the south flows the Rubicon River . Hell Hole Reservoir, at around 6000 feet in elevation, traps the upper Rubicon and smaller creeks. Below Hell Hole Reservoir, the Rubicon is a medium-sized stream that picks up volume about 10 miles downstream from the South Fork of the Rubicon and a number of feeder creeks also flowing into Oxbow Lake, where it joins the upper Middle Fork for a temporary respite.
Below Oxbow Dam, the combined waters of the Upper Middle Fork and the Rubicon River form the main Middle Fork down to the Confluence area where it meets the North Fork and continues its conjoined journey into Folsom Lake. Between Oxbow Dam and the Confluence it is joined by creeks and the North Fork of the Middle Fork.”
Bill, thanks for your article!
The Lower American (anadromous piscatorial cornucopia)
Anadromous: , from the Greek, ana “back, up” + dramein “to run”, to dromos” “a running”, a course”.
Every year the Lower American River, a gold mine of angling opportunities, is visited by runs of anadromous fish swimming to their spawning grounds. Migrating up out of the chilly Pacific ocean and passing beneath the Golden Gate bridge of San Francisco, Stealhead, salmon, shad and striped bass point there internal compass north charting a course up through the delta, up the Sacramento river and finally into the vein of the American River. There, they present themselves to the angling prospector.