Back to “Bucks Batholith”
Before the story begins, there is another story, the one that sets the stage. Perhaps the best way to think about it is to say the story actually begins in the middle, and goes both ways in time, backward and forward.
An easy point of reference to begin such a bipolar journey would be the summer of 1950. Three young high school buddies arrive by car (1936 Pontiac) at the resort of Belden, on the North Fork of the Feather River, in Northern California. They are from Southern California, and are on a journey of adventure and discovery, across the great range of mountains that walls off the Los Angeles basin on the north, into the northern lands where strange things happen, like water flowing down the rivers all the way to the ocean! And nobody does anything about it! They just let it flow!
They are well along on their journey, the turnaround destination being a relative’s house on the Rogue River in southern Oregon. They have followed the North Fork of the Feather River up from the Great Valley, and will turn directly north from here to encounter their first live volcano, Mount Lassen. But not a geological thought of consequence has entered their heads, as yet, even though each in his own way will become a geologist, as defined by appropriate degrees from The University.
Belden is a convenient camp ground, and the River beckons to their limited talents at fishing. Not being on any strict time schedule, they are seduced by a trail sign pointing up the canyon wall declaring Three Lakes 6 mi. Thinking of themselves as intrepid, willing to go the hard extra mile for the excellent fishing that always lies a little further away, they decide to give it a try the next day.
What the sign didn’t say was that Three Lakes was not only 6 miles away, but several thousand feet above them, newly formed by small dams, impounding water that was destined to go through the turbines of the power company, several times, as was virtually every other drop of water in the watershed. Newly formed and absolutely sterile!
The water from Three Lakes travels in a pipe southward, along the wall of the canyon. At every stream or creek that that the pipeline crosses, there is, or was, an open grill work, called a grizzly, into which the drainage of the creek falls and joins the water already in the pipe. The pipeline empties into a small lake, Lower Bucks Lake, itself formed by the damming of Bucks Creek. Bucks Lake proper, looms above Lower Bucks Lake, behind another dam. It is a sizeable body of water, spreading out over a valley floor that was once owned by a rancher named Bucks. On the early maps, the area is labeled “Bucks Ranch”.
From Lower Bucks Lake, the water travels through tunnels and natural stream channel to Grizzly Forebay, again another dam, and from there it flows underground to the head of a penstock, whence it falls down the canyon wall into the turbines of the Bucks Power Station, on the River itself.
Along the River, a series of small (comparatively) dams divert the water into tunnels driven through the solid rock, following the canyon wall, and re-emerging at lower points along the steam gradient, dropping thence through turbines and back into the River. Several times. By the time the flow reaches the end of the Canyon of the North Fork of the Feather river, which is now Lake Oroville, it is exhausted! Or it would be if it were animate. The hydraulic engineers really had a field day designing this system.
The three young high school buddies continued their journey. Though each would become a geologist, only one would return to the Canyon, and the Lake, walk the Pipeline Road, climb the Canyon walls, bang specimens off the bedrock, in one instance taking off the end of his thumb in the process, wrestle with the manzanita, sweat through the poison oak, pick ticks off his private parts, face down bears and rattlesnakes, and be faced down by them. That would be years later.
Before there was a Bucks Lake, or Three Lakes, there was a valley in which a family named Bucks had a ranch. Before the Bucks family, there were other people in this valley, no doubt with another name for this place, a name now lost in the evaporated oral tradition of the native Maidu people. Before these people, before the valley itself, there were glaciers, flowing down from the highlands that surround the valley like a horseshoe opening south-Bucks Mountain, Bald Eagle Mountain, Mount Pleasant, Spanish Peak they are called now by the map makers, vacationers, geologists who are the present humans on this piece of earth. The higher places have been scraped bare by the ice: you can still see the scratches and plunge into the small lakes gouged out by the passing ice.
Standing on Bald Eagle Mountain, you can look across the Canyon and see another landscape similar to the valley of Bucks Lake behind you. The Canyon itself is a deep, V shape cut , slashed downward through this landscape. Your eye can follow this upland surface around a full circle. And you will note that this surface is sloped at a gentle angle down toward the Great Valley.
If you care to visit the far side, that landscape on the other side of the River, it is a full day’s journey from Bald Eagle Mountain. I have many times wished myself across the chasm, to see the rocks there, to know how the fitted into what I knew of the rocks on this side. I did get there.
On the steep slope from Bald Eagle Mountain down to Pipeline Road, the glacial ice has carved the surface of the bedrock, telling us that the carving of the Canyon came before the glaciers, at least partly. That is, the Canyon wall had to be there for the glacier to carve it. But glaciers and rivers work on the same time scale, and it could have gone back and forth between them.
On the other side of the Canyon, the present shape of the streams, particularly their gradients, indicate that they are working their way upstream from the Canyon, carving headward into the glaciated terrain of the uplands. So there it looks like the glaciers were before the River. The River is on-going, still acting, even though it was here before the glaciers. During the time of the River, the glaciers have come and gone.
But about the gentle landscaped upland surface there is little question. It extends throughout the Sierra Nevada Mountains and has been studied extensively, not least because it is the home of the “auriferous gravels”- gold! But to talk about this surface, we must adjust to a different scale of time. We need to talk a little about that.