Grizzly Flat Cutoff Tour
September 23 & 24, 2013
by Dee Owens
The tour of the Grizzly Flat Cutoff from Leek Springs to the town of Grizzly Flat took place on September 23rd and 24th, 2013. The Grizzly Flat Cutoff was opened in 1852 as an alternative route off the Carson Mormon Trail passing through Grizzly Flat and on to Placerville or the mines in Amador County.
Although the general direction of the cutoff was known, the exact route had never been found before the OCTA Grizzly Flat Mapping team began work three years ago. Although there are still some questionable sections, most of the twenty mile trail has been mapped to MET standards.
OCTA members participating included: John and Susie Winner, Lloyd Johnson, Jon and Janet Nowlin, Bill Mitchell, Dave Smythe, Don Buck, Steve and Patty Knight, John Grebenkemper and Dee and Glen Owens.
With trading posts serving the emigrants, Leek Springs was a popular camping spot on the Carson Route. Mentioned as the “most dangerous place on the trail”, several murders in the area are noted in emigrant diaries. Two possible graves were discovered there by OCTA members and we were fortunate to have John Grebenkemper and Barbara Pence with their Human Remains Detection Dogs, Kayle and Bailey with us to check them out. Unfortunately the dogs didn’t think they were graves.
John Grebenkemper, Kayle, John Winner , Lloyd Johnson, Patty Knight
We were able to drive close to or on the trail as it follows ridges until dropping off to the North Fork of the Cosumnes River near Capps Crossing. Following Baltic Ridge you get a sense of the trail during the Gold Rush. The scenery is much as it was then with tall forests and high sierra views. The road, really a jeep trail for the most part, is slow and bumpy. Luckily for us a recent rain caused us to miss out on the often mentioned emigrant experience in this area of “the worst dust on the trail”. Along Baltic Ridge you can still find white porcelain insulators from an early telephone line in the trees. In our search for the trail these insulators led us to the route when we lost it.
Last year I found an 1844-54 cap and ball pistol right on the trail (See Trail Talk – Fall 2012). We never collect artifacts but this one I did. Karin Klemic, our Eldorado National Forest Archaeologist, allowed me to check it out and take it on the tour. Everyone got a chance to carefully examine it near the spot it was found.
We nooned on Baltic Ridge. After lunch most of us hiked a little over a mile on the trail down to the river. While studying the GLO and topo maps when starting this project I thought this section of trail would be the last we would find as it is steep and rocky but you never know until you get out on the ground. This is the best section of trail on the cutoff, a beautiful Class 1 heading steeply though gently down to the river. After negotiating our way across the North Fork we met the rest of the group on the main road.
The second half of the tour followed near but not on the cutoff into Grizzly Flat. We ended the day with a trip to the Catholic Cemetery there. A recently discovered deed, dated 1857, states the southern boundary of the cemetery is the emigrant trail to Grizzly Flat. Once again the dogs went to work and this time seventeen previously unknown graves were located. Watching the dogs work is fascinating. They seem to move around the area randomly and sit when they scent a grave. After a while someone noticed the pin flags placed on spots the dogs alerted on were in a row. That was exciting.
That evening we got together at our house for a potluck dinner.
On the second day of the tour we met back in Grizzly Flat for a tour of the town. Pam Hupner, a local resident and historian and her husband, Steve, led the tour. Besides knowing the location of businesses and homes now gone, Pam shared stories about people and the history of the town.
Pam Hupner and John Winner
CA-NV Member, Bill Mitchell, a descendent of a Grizzly Flat pioneer family was with us. He shared stories and memories of the town with us as well. His family home is one of the few old buildings still standing in Grizzly Flat.
After a lunch at the Grizzly Flat pond we went to nearby Leoni Meadows to tour the historic restored ranch house of the Leoni family. Our guide, Laurie Heinrich, is an expert on the house, ranch, and Leoni family history. Her stories were interesting and we all enjoyed sitting in the afternoon sun on the Leoni Ranch House porch listening to them after the tour.
I often refer to the Grizzly Flat Cutoff as “my trail”. When we started this project I studied the GLO maps and the topo maps never having actually been on the ground in the areas I was looking at. Now I know the lay of the land like my own backyard and it was really fun sharing it with other OCTA members on the tour.