Feather River Canyon
|Scenic Feather River Canyon. September 1971.
||Abandoned Lumber Mill in Feather River Canyon. December 12, 2004.
||Two GP-7's push from the rear as a train crosses a bridge on the "Highline" on September 4, 1966.
The Feather River Canyon is, roughly speaking, the dividing line
between two great mountain systems in the far west, the Sierra
Nevada Mountains and the Cascade Range. Although Lassen Peak is
popularly considered as the southern end of the Cascades the Sierra
Nevada’s terminate at the North Fork of the Feather River within
this steep walled canyon with forested mountains and rushing
streams. Its namesake river received its romantic name “El Rio de
las Plumas”. . . ‘‘River of the Feathers” from Don Luis A. Arguello,
a Spanish conquistador, who while on an exploring expedition up the
canyon in 1820, observed and was impressed by the quantities of wild
fowl feathers floating on its surface.
Woven intricately into the over‑all story of California is that of
the Feather River Canyon. Following by only a few months the
discovery of gold at Coloma by James W. Marshall, the discovery of
gold along the river at what would become Bidwell Bar on
July 4, 1848 by General John Bidwell, helped open the
fabulous chapter of the Mother Lode era, which lasted many years.
Other gold strikes would quickly follow Bidwell’s find. Most of the
old mining camp names, such as: Peasoup Flat, Hungry
Canyon, Indian Bar, Dutch Hill, Poorman’s Creek, Cariboo, Graveyard
Hill, Calcutta, etc., have faded into the past, but Rich Bar is still
in existence, having yielded, unofficially, about $14,000,000 to
$23,000,000 in its lusty days.
James Pierson Beckwourth, a trapper, Indian Chief, and maulatto army
scout, discovered Beckwourth Pass, for unknown ages a great Indian
thoroughfare, to civilization, in 1850. A Sierra crossing more than
2,000 feet below the elevation of Donner Pass, it became popular for
covered wagon trains. Beckwourth immediately recognized its
importance and went to Marysville where he presented a plan to Dr.
S. M. Miles, the first mayor of the newly incorporated town for an
emigrant road by the way of the pass. The mayor was enthusiastic and
promised community support. The road was built, but the night that
the first party of emigrants arrived over it into Marysville, the
town was almost destroyed in one of its early‑day fires. The hard
hit city failed to give the promised funds although a subscription
raised some money for Beckwourth. The route that he pioneered was
from a point near Reno, over Beckwourth Pass, elevation 5,218 feet,
across Sierra Valley, then along the ridge of the Middle Fork of the
Feather River to Bidwell’s Bar and into the Sacramento Valley.
The Sierra Nevada crest acts as a barrier to the moisture-laden air
that comes from the Pacific Ocean and the cold dry air masses that
come from the central United States in the winter. During the summer,
the crest also acts as a barrier to the hot, dry air masses that
develop over the central United States. This situation creates a high
precipitation, cool summer, and mild winter climate on the western
slope; and a low precipitation, hotter summer, and colder winter on
the eastern slope.
Portions of the North Fork Feather River west of the Sierra Nevada
crest are within the Mediterranean Climate Zone, which consists of
cool winters and warm, dry summers. Minimum temperatures occur in
December to February with maximums in late July or August.
The eastern sierra portion of the North Fork Feather River is in a
rain shadow where little precipitation falls and desert conditions
prevail. Total precipitation depends more on summer thunderstorms
than winter snowfall. With the lessening of the marine influence,
temperature has a greater daily and seasonal variation, with annual
precipitation in the 15 to 20-inch range.
The fabulous Feather River
was never destined to relapse into ghostly memories after the dust
of wagon trains rolling westward had settled and the grubstakes of
gold miners had faded away. For after these early seekers and
settlers came pioneering "water men"- engineers who saw in the
North Fork of the Feather River one of the
finest potential sources of hydroelectric power in all California.
An important advantage lay in the natural underground storage of
water in the porous volcanic rock formations of the region.