A ceramist by profession, and by passion, Eric Peach often leaves his home studio in Auburn to venture down into the American River Canyon, looking for inspiration in the rushing white water, the winding trails, the abundant wildlife and bountiful flora of a thriving ecosystem.
You can see the result in his works, ranging from playful river otters to fish sculptures to those psychedelically hued fire belly newts.
But you can also see Peach’s love for the American River and its foothills in bookstores and at outdoor retailers. The third edition of “The American River: Insider’s Guide to Recreation, Ecology and Cultural History of the North, Middle and South Forks” ($24.95, Protect American River Canyons, 416 pages) recently was released, all proceeds going to the nonprofit Protect American River Canyons, the organization that sponsors the American River Confluence Festival and other fundraising events.
Peach, 64, and wife Paula enlisted no fewer than 44 writers and editors, and 30 photo and graphics contributors, to completely revamp the second edition, published a decade ago. This time around, 15 trails were added, as were scores of new and updated rafting routes, including a new stretch from the confluence down to Rattlesnake Bar. There’s also a complete digest of plants and trees, birds, reptiles and mammals, as well as an exhaustive history of the area, from the Indian settlements up to the now-revived attempts to dam the river.
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“The whole thing is to have a mindful connectivity to the foothill landscape,” Peach said. “If people have a little something they can look for when they’re walking on a trail, that’ll help with that. Now, they may never find that butterfly or something again, but we did, and they can look for it.
“I look at it as the best way to lobby for permanent protection for the canyons. I’ve been rattling around here a long time, 30 years, and, you know, we have kind of (an American River) Parkway up here. It’s just a wilder canyon backdrop. Sure, it’s steeper and more demanding physically and all that, but people go out of their way to come here for these type of experiences. It’s amazing how popular different activities in the canyon have become.”
One goal of the book is to aid in that enjoyment. Even at 416 pages and with glossy pages featuring trail maps, photos and color illustrations, it’s still light enough to toss in your daypack as a reference or keep in your dry bag when you put in at Chili Bar and head toward the class III-plus “Meatgrinder” rapid a half-mile away.
But it also can be read in the warmth of one’s study as a history book, with chapters of mining and fluming, reprints of Gold Rush songs and Stephen Powers’ fascinating essay on “The Botany of Native California,” reprinted with permission of UC Press. There even is a little river-inspired poetry wedged in, perhaps a first for any guidebook.
Ten years in the making, and 20 years after the first edition was released, it almost reads like a new guidebook. In many ways, it is. The river is constantly in flux, of course, and a great pond in which to jump may now be a shallow puddle and offshoots from popular trails spring like Hydra’s heads.
Even some regular users of the trails might not be aware of the less-trod options that make a hiking trip a journey of discovery.
“The information on the existing trails in the book is so much easier (in this edition) with good maps and GPS points and descriptions. We added at least 10 or 15 trails – and those are just the popular ones. Say, you go to the Knickerbocker area behind (the) Cool (fire station). Basically, in the second edition, we just included the loop going clear around and the paved road that connects it and goes down to the old dam site. But you know how many other trails there are? A dozen. We’ve got all the interconnects that go through the farm homesteads and black walnut orchards.”
Whereas, in the decade-old second edition, the map and description for trails in South Auburn mostly consisted of the Pioneer Express, Cardiac Hill and the Cardiac Bypass Trail, the new guide shows a half-dozen trails that intersect and resemble a map of the L.A. freeway system. Added this time is the clearly demarcated path of the Shirland Canal Trail, the specified route of the agonizing climb that ends the annual American River 50 Mile race and a little-used stretch called the Oregon Bar Trail, which intersects with the Pioneer Express Trail south of Cardiac.
“That’s an obscure one,” Peach said of Oregon Bar. “Beautiful wildflowers, and it’s a trail that may go back to the Gold Rush or maybe from horseback riders that lived in the Crockett area. Now, the trails goes out of this new subdivision called Canyon Rim. The Placer Land Trust got an easement, so it’s there to use. I really went to a lot of trouble to include that because I don’t want it to get lost in that subdivision going in there with those big fancy houses. (Homeowners) may not want to share that, but it’s a public trail, you know.”
Inclusiveness is a thread running through the book. That includes humans co-existing with the animals and treating the ecosystem with respect. Peach enlisted Joe Medeiros, professor emeritus at Sierra College, to write about the importance of sustaining the watershed, “from the tiniest microbes within the soils, to the tallest trees and largest mammals.”
One of the book’s many sidebars is a tribute to Barbara Schoener, a trail runner killed by a mountain lion on the Western States Trail in April 1994, one of the rare instances of deaths from mountain lion attacks in the past century. A fieldstone memorial bench on the trail honors Schoener, and the guide book advises, “Take a moment to rest here, enjoy the view and reflect on the human relationship with the beautiful wild side of the canyons.”
A nice sentiment. But you might also want to read the advice on Page 20, about what to do if you encounter a mountain lion on the trail. Short answer: “Do not bend down, turn your back or run. ... Stay calm and stand your ground.”