I’m a typical history nerd who daydreams while driving about old trains or historical events that took place on the same road I’m driving over. The daydreams turn obsessive when I’ve read and researched about certain historical events and I can almost recreate them in my mind. A good example is the path the California Central Railroad took from Folsom to Roseville, California, in 1861. I’ve driven and walked over so much of the rail grade that is accessible, and thought about its construction and daily operations, that I finally made a video about retracing the long forgotten railroad grade.
It can be a difficult task to locate the faint outlines of the Negro Hill Ditch which is usually under water at Folsom Lake. But when the lake is low enough it’s possible to find the old grade and structures associated with the historic water canal that ran from east of Salmon Falls down to Negro Hill and Massachusetts Flat. In the autumn of 2016 I was able to complete my goal of walking along most of the Negro Hill Ditch.
With Folsom Lake water levels low in the autumn of 2016, I decided to hike from Rattlesnake Bar up the North Fork of the American River to see if I could catch glimpses of gold rush era history. The terrain was far more difficult than I imagine. While I know the river canyon has change since the gold rush of 1849, I was surprised at just how arduous the hiking along this stretch of the river must have been for the gold miners.
As the lake level drops, the history is revealed. As Folsom Lake hit record low water levels in 2015, a whole lot of history was revealed. A drought shrunken Folsom Lake of 2015 was the highlight for a guy like me who had been hiking around the reservoir for years looking for historical sites. After numerous hikes around the North and South Forks of the American River at Folsom Lake, I finally organized my photographs and historical research into a book, Hidden History Beneath Folsom Lake – Hiking Across a Dry Lake in Time of Drought.
I started hiking from the Folsom Lake Peninsula campground down to the tip of this stretch of land. Usually underwater, the drought of 2015 had drained the lake down to 15% of capacity. This exposed lake bed that is rarely visited during normal lake levels. Like many people I tripped across sunken boats, abandon gold mines and a surprising number of dams.
For history buffs there is nothing closer to heaven than examining an old map. I share that fascination and also enjoy sharing old maps that I’ve found. Recently I uploaded a map published in 1910 by the American River & Natomas Water & Mining Company illustrating their network of canals. The map is generally topographically accurate and includes some place names not found on previous or later topographical maps.
I had always noticed Rose Springs and Rock Springs marked on maps that encompassed the south Placer county region we know today as Granite Bay. It wasn’t until Folsom Lake hit historically low water levels that what I think are Rose and Rock springs became apparent to me.
With the North Fork of the American River actually flowing around Rattlesnake Bar since the stationary waters of Folsom Lake didn’t occur until around the bend at Horseshoe Bar, I figured I might be able walk across the river to explore Goose Flats and the old mining operations. I thought if the miners of the 1850’s could ford the river so could I. Much of the bottom and banks of the river are choked with mud, muck and sediment as the lake elevation can be eighty feet above the river bed at Rattlesnake Bar.
A 2015 drought depleted Folsom Lake has allowed a rare opportunity to hike from the current Salmon Falls bridge over the South Fork of the American River all the way down to the old bridge which is usually covered by Folsom Lake. What makes this hike so special is that the South Fork of the American is flowing free like a river should.
In 1849 U. S. Army Lieutenant George H. Derby performed topographical survey of the Sacramento Valley. The “Topographical Memoir Accompanying Maps of the Sacramento Valley, &c.” was found in Quarterly of the California Historical Society Vol. XI No. 2 publication dated June 1932. I found the small quarterly report in a book store in San Francisco and was attracted to it because of the inset map of the Sacramento Valley. The map is a reproduction of Lieutenant Derby’s topographical map he made for his report.