Low Water Reveals Original American River Bed

By kncitom on December 1, 2022
Photo by: Tom Mailey

Yes we need rain. And snow. But, at the same time, in these low water years it is still kind of fascinating to travel up the far reaches of Folsom lake and see the original river beds of the North and South forks of the American.

The dam went up in the 1950s, just west of the two rivers’ confluence. And most of the time, what was covered with water stays covered. But with climate change whipsawing our annual rain and snow fall totals, it’s becoming more common for the lake to be regularly drawn down lower than in the past. And while it would take an unprecedented drought to drop the lake level so low you could see the original river bed out in front of, say, Granite Bay state park (and let’s hope that never happens), there are places where you can see how it used to look.

The first is off Salmon Falls road. A short hike down the Sweetwater trail will drop you onto the shoreline. I took this montage of pics in the winter of 2014 and not only is it cool to see the old bridge, but a little exploring nearby will reveal other surprises too. Heck, even crumpled up beer cans are interesting if they’re old enough

photos: Tom Mailey

The 2nd spot is Rattlesnake Bar state park, off Auburn Folsom road. The park is located near the site of an old bridge as well- but that bridge collapsed under the weight of an overloaded truck in the early 1950s just before Folsom dam’s completion, so it was never rebuilt. But it’s foundation is still there, as is the original riverbed, complete with gravel and sandbars that in the 19th century that were mined extensively for gold (you can still see the piles of river rock removed by miners around the river’s shoreline). Check out this short video of the river bed as it looked as of Nov 26th 2022 by clicking here Video (3) For me, it’s doubly-fascinating because I fish Folsom lake a LOT and have caught some very nice trout along that rock wall on the far side of the river bed….about 30 feet up!

So yeah. If you’d like to travel back say, 6 decades but you don’t have a time machine handy, a visit to either of these two locations is the next best thing.


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