The California Mine
It all starts when you see the first fleck of gold in the bottom of a pan: then you’re hooked – for life.
When my husband and I moved from western to eastern Washington a few years back, we contracted what is known as Gold Fever after panning the rivers near us. To alleviate the symptoms we bought a gold mine but I don’t believe there is a cure for the love of and the fascination with gold.
I guess you just go with it.
Here’s our story – so far.
“Adventure Awaits You” the print optimistically proclaimed every time I saw the ad for this property. It mentioned a mineral survey but I didn’t have a clue what that was at the time.
After moving from the suburbs to rural Washington we’d settled on a few acres of raw land and were roughing it. This only left us wanting more adventure so, already looking for a larger parcel to build on, we set our sights on something in a gold district.
I ran across the real estate listing often but didn’t realize it had a gold mine until another deal fell through and we inquired about it. We were sold.
Gold is beautiful, infinitely useful, and elusive; making it an extremely valuable commodity. Like light drawn into a black hole, many people cannot break free of the powerful attraction.
The gold rush of 1848 attracted tens of thousands of souls to California while a large portion of the newly “acquired” American west remained unexplored. In addition, Congress needed gold to back the greenback so they opened those regions to mineral exploration and settlement, offering land and mineral patents as an incentive.
To locate (find and claim) a mineral deposit for potential patent, certain requirements had to be completed before the patent was issued. Then, once the fees were paid, both the surface and minerals passed from the public domain into private ownership.
Uncle Sam sold our mineral patent to The Apollo Consolidated Gold Mining Company in 1913. We bought a portion of that in January of 2022. The California Lode, The Bachelor Lode, and The Arizona Fraction stretch across forty-five acres on a small mountain where the historic California Mine resides.
Having purchased our mine in the middle of winter, the wait for spring was interminable. Sherman Pass and billions of tons of snow still stood between us and our destiny.
By March, we could wait no longer.
We braved (or stupided) temperatures in the teens and a quarter of a mile walk through three feet of snow before we laid eyes on It for the first time. My husband promptly climbed to the top of the mountain while I floundered about in the snow drifts near the road with my metal detector.
Exhausted, and having met and shaken hands with our claim, we turned tail and headed back home to wait till the snow was gone. Stories From Off The Grid: The California Mine
On a subsequent trip, we made it to the mine at a little over four-thousand feet.
From the upper portions of the property, you can see for miles and look down on low-lying clouds. The amazing sights encourage one to be present as does the potential for danger. Bear and cougar roam the area and ground subsidence from collapsed workings is sometimes hidden in the brush.
As we left the mine to head back down to the car on one of our initial trips, we paused as my husband gestured toward a mountain towering over us to our left.
He was pointing at The Bachelor Lode which is the apex of our property. United States Land Monument #7 is located there because it towers over the area. All of the nearby mineral survey measurements are located in relationship to it.
Hundreds of feet below the lonely, windswept surface (perhaps wandering the abandoned workings in the bedrock) lives The Ghost of The Mountain; or so we pretend. We came up with the idea when a friend remarked that “Finding gold is like shooting a ghost in the dark”.
As we gazed at the backbone of the property above us, already enchanted with much more than the promise of profit, my husband remarked “You haven’t even been up there yet”.
Then I remembered the ad: Adventure Awaits You.
The Ghost In The Mountain: A Short Story
He turned off the highway onto the gravel road, stopping at the gate. A heavy chain hung between two crumbling pylons that blocked the entrance.
He climbed out of his truck, fumbling for the key in his pocket and opened the lock. Once past the gate, he locked it again, climbed back in, and put the truck into gear.
Beyond Stan, California Mine Road stretched up the hill and disappeared around a bend.
The chain had hung across the entrance for twenty years. Only he and his family had the key. The owners of the mine at the end never put up a fight when he began switching the keys out. But now new people were here.
They’d bought the claim a year before and discovered the malfeasance within a month. Stan said “no” when they’d asked to pass through his property to get to their mine. There was no reason they couldn’t but they didn’t know that. When they started asking questions, Stan used his position in the county government to conceal records and stonewall any efforts to uncover the deception.
A year later, the law had caught up.
Stan had enjoyed that twenty years of control of the road and would have been able to claim the neighboring property with the mine for himself had two more months gone by before the land was sold.
Stan had planned this decades before. Determined to control all access, he’d purchased two parcels next to the highway, through which the road passed, reserving the rights to himself when he sold them. When the patented mineral claim went onto the market, the gate remained closed.
The two valleys that provided the sole means of entry through the otherwise steep terrain, were on Stan’s land. Without vehicular access, The California Lode – and the mine – were landlocked.
Stan’s interventions effectively brought all development of the mine to a decades-long standstill. The tunnels, tailings piles, and crumbling structures sat dormant aside from his own ventures.
Had the previous owner not lived halfway across the country from his property, Stan would not have been able to pull his scheme off. He used the isolation to his advantage, bulldozing through the neighbor’s tailings to make a road to his other claims.
That was mineral trespass – a felony – but no one was there to see. He’d also combed every inch of the mineral claim in search of ore containing high grades of gold and silver. Any artifacts he found he brought home or sold.
The mining company had once used his own parcel for the company town. His cabin housed the single company employees with families staying in cottages. The mine office once stood near a dance hall. That was all gone now.
He’d destroyed what was left of the historical community as it had become a curiosity – most often to younger people. They snuck onto the property when no one was around to have parties. He would come to the cabin to find trash strewn about and graffiti painted on the sides of the buildings.
Some thrill seekers hiked up to the mine and dared creep into the entrance.
He was relieved when it finally collapsed into what was now a growing sinkhole. The cavity was filling up with earth, pulling everything around it down from the surface as if the mine itself was determined not to leave empty-handed. An infinitely slow battle raged between the inexorable forces of nature and man’s attempt to leave his mark.
The shaft house would be the last to go.
Stan had grown up in the area, often sneaking up to the mine. He’d come to see it as his own and had helped himself to its rewards without conscience. He’d mined a tunnel at his property line for years. Hell, there was no one to see.
Little did he suspect that satellites were recording images of the changing landscape his bulldozing left behind – impressions revealing the ruts of the roads Stan had built across the neighboring property. His thoughtless plundering would later come back to haunt him.
They haunted him: the people who’d bought the property a year before. Great efforts were made to deny them access but in the end it had all failed. After years of domination, Stan’s reign was at an end – and worse.
He glanced at the mountain as he drove into his property. The road continued through his claim to a second sealed gate at the boundary before winding up the hill through the woods and ending at the dock for the mine. It was there that, over a hundred years before, wagons were loaded with some of the highest-grade ore in the region then drawn down the northeastern portion of The California Lode. It was then shipped by train to the smelter.
There were rumors of gold still deep in the mountain. At least two men had returned decades after their tenure with the mining company in search of it. Both ventures were cut short: one by law, one by fate.
Then Stan heard the stories and saw his opportunity.
He parked his truck and looked again at the mountain. A wind blew suddenly, carrying an old piece of paper to his feet. He picked it up and read what was scrawled in what looked like a real quill pen: “The Ghost in the Mountain comes. Your time is done.”
He was going to have to pay the attorney’s fees for the people who’d bought the mine. Damages too. He was also facing criminal charges for mineral trespass. Worst of all – he would no longer have access to the property as if it was his own. Financially, he would be ruined.
It was over. He wistfully looked west toward the sunset as he unlocked the door to the cabin.
Dark had fallen by the time Stan finished dinner by himself. Sighing again, he left his plate on the table and trudged up the stairs to bed.
Beware: You who have stolen another man’s treasure. When dark falls, listen for the sound of creaking wagon wheels bearing a load of gold ore.
Down from the mountain: down the Old California Mine Road comes the Ghost.
Ancient hands grip the reigns steadfastly; cold as winter and cracked by time. Eyes that see in the darkness guide the mule team forward. Awakened from his slumber by a call for help, He comes.
Just around the corner now and out of sight the plodding of hooves, approaching.
Stan pulled back the covers and eased slowly out of bed, his joints reminding him of his age. Drawn to the window, he pushed the curtain aside. The moon illuminated the landscape dimly. No one was there.
He shifted his gaze once more toward the mountain. The old haul road disappeared into the trees but Stan knew where to go as he suddenly found himself following the ruts. He rounded a corner and stopped in front of the loading platform; the beginning of the Old California Mine Road.
Or the end.
Once busy and alive, all was now silent and dark. Wistfully, Stan turned and pushed through the overgrowth, following the trails he’d played on as a child. He remembered them like the back of his hand. He turned onto the path that lead to the main shaft.
Standing near the edge of the sinkhole, he looked into the ruined opening at the bottom. He sighed. Deep inside, the gold still waited.
At the window, Stan heard the clanging of chains against metal and the rattling of the lock he’d welded shut two decades ago. Eyes wide in the dark, he turned to his bed.
The sound of hinges, long rusted and protesting as the gate slowly opened, broke the silence of the night.
The Ghost In The Mountain is here.
Stan fell to the floor, clutching his chest.
At the mine, he stepped forward.
Light and shadow painted the broken wooden beams and trees in contrast. The mine shaft remained black. The man who’d stood at the edge, looking in moments before, now claimed the place he’d obsessed over as his tomb.
Near the cabin, a grizzled figure flicks the reigns smartly, urging his team through the open gate. Stan drives them past the cabin, now dark and silent. He nods, tipping his hat as the wagon flickers, then blinks out.
The road is empty.
The next morning, a couple pulls up to the gate and parks. The man pulls out a pair of bolt cutters and cuts the chain. Not bothering to replace it, they drive forward. They have a mine to open.
The Shell Game
What is a land patent without a way to reach it? Worthless.
Did you know that “legal access” is a scam term that has nothing to do with your ability to get onto your land and enjoy it?
A very important case for the right of access: United States v. 9,947.71 Acres of Land, Etc.
This is a buyer-beware story where the issues are much more complicated, go much deeper, and originate from much further back in time than first appears.
In a nutshell, we bought our patented mine and claims believing we could get to them. We relied on the professionals when they said we had access. In real estate, however, access means only the right of access; kind of like being told you have the right to own a firearm then finding out they don’t exist.
In our case, our original road existed but our right to use it was illegally hidden from us. A local told us what happened: our neighbor (a county employee who doesn’t want us crossing their property) decided to change the locks on the gate.
Why keep everyone away? Mineral trespass.
The local told us that the former owners of the adjoining claim bulldozed our tailings and used them to make an access road which is a class C felony; but how to prove it? You can also see evidence of bulldozing from theirs onto our land via satellite but the looting theory is just speculation – so far.
Complicated and vague mining laws dating back over a century have muddied the waters also.
During the mid 1800’s, America was still young and didn’t know what to do with all of the land it had “acquired”. The government also needed money in the form of gold so Congress came up with an idea: it opened up the public domain to citizens to settle and explore for minerals in exchange for land patents.
Those grants came with the implied right of access via The 1866 and 1872 Mining Acts which caused confusion with such decrees as:
And be it further enacted, that the right of way for the construction of highways over public lands, not reserved for public uses, is hereby granted.
This one-liner created what are known as R.S. 2477 roads that people have been fighting over ever since. Congress’ intent, however, remains clear; the act was meant to assure access to the patents they were granting at the time – otherwise, the land would be worthless. It’s logical.
I wish the law said “If you have a mineral patent, you have the right to the road leading to your property and the right to whatever access is necessary to extract the minerals forever – amen.”
Too easy. Instead, Congress used words such as “appurtenances”, “trams”, “flumes”, “ditches” and “canals” to describe access rights. Who goes to work on or in a tram or in or on a canal for God’s sake?
Apparently, you can do anything with confidence with a patented mining claim except get to it. The good news is that no one can take your right to access over an R.S. 2477 road without compensating you.
Very few people understand mining law, however – including the title insurance company and every attorney we’ve consulted. They tend to see our property as strictly real estate but mineral rights are integral in any argument that would hold up in court.
Ironically, if you own the minerals only, the law is very clear about your right to access and extract your resources.
As it is, our insurance company just looks at us and shrugs when we tell them we need a road to our mine. One time they suggested that if the thieves that stole our camping gear a month earlier could make it up the hill, we should also be able to.
But the thieves didn’t have to carry gold ore in their backpacks which is apparently what the title insurance company expects us to do in order to operate a mine. Absurd.
We need to use our road – the one the title company and the county “overlooked”. The one and only road our predecessors used to get to their/our property for over 100 years.
The road that was granted to us FOREVER by the patent.
Not to worry, though.
We’re learning fast. We are methodical. We are patient. We will not accept the status quo.
Please don’t underestimate us.
We have a mine to open. 🙂
Batten Down The Hatches: Winter’s Comin’
At about 1:30p.m. this afternoon I sat at the computer thinking maybe we could break camp at the mine tomorrow instead of today like we originally planned. The morning had been busy and I was already tired when I looked up the forecast for Sherman Pass.
We had to leave – NOW.
Snow was forecast beginning about 5:00p.m. with a heavy dump predicted overnight. The tailings and camp are at 4140 feet so winter arrives earlier up there than at home. If we didn’t break camp within the next few hours, we stood to lose everything for the next few months – under tons of snow.
Having your equipment stolen is one thing but to lose it because you’d rather have gone to bed and taken a nap would be unacceptable. I ran to the shed and told my husband what was headed toward the mine.
We wasted no time emptying the back of the car to make room for the tent and other supplies and were on the road by 2:00p.m., all other plans we’d made for the afternoon abandoned.
Stopping only for a twenty-four pack of AA batteries for the trail cams and some snacks, we headed over the mountains.
Sherman Pass tops at 5574 feet and lies between us and the mine so we also have to consider the road conditions. The route is beautiful and takes one from Stevens into Ferry County at the Columbia River. Inevitably, we got stuck behind slow drivers and tailgated by speed-demons but forty-five minutes later, we turned onto the road that dumps us off at the base of a cliff at a remote portion of our property.
The title company says it’s “legal access” and it’s currently our only way in while we “correct” the situation: You Can Come Knocking But You Can’t Come In. We parked, donned our backpacks, set up the collapsible wagon we bought at Walmart, and headed up.
It never gets old; The Climb. We pass dozens of fresh cow patties with magic mushrooms sprouting out of them and admire the view as we ascend into the clouds. I still hate The Climb.
We made The Climb just a couple of days ago, when we took my husband’s father up to see the property. At one time, he was a subterranean cartographer, and, using the surveys, reports, and whatever else we can provide to him, he’s going to attempt to map the workings of the California Mine – in 3D!
We showed him the tailings and the “Mystery Mine” as we call it, hiked up to the top, then headed back to town before we saw him off to The Coast the next morning. The Coast to some people on this side of the mountains is anywhere on the other side of the Cascade Mountain Range, despite how far inland you actually live.
Today we were back as the threat of snow at the higher elevations grew each day. When we reached the tailings where we’d set up camp, we began to break it down as quickly as possible. A cold wind was already blowing in from the west and the clouds looked menacing. It was a race against time.
I replaced the batteries and SD cards in both trail cams for their tenure over the winter. Like a satellite on a one-way mission into outer-space, we figured they would broadcast until the batteries died.
We stowed anything we thought could withstand the cold and wet in the old mine boiler and assembled the rest of our belongings by the wagon. Forty-five minutes in, the trash was stashed and the wagon was overloaded. What was left went into our backpacks. We tied the load down and I attached a rope to the rear so I could stabilize it during the steep “climb” down to the car.
The “cage” we’d built around the tent in order to make me feel safer stood empty. It was time to say Goodbye for the winter.
I took some photos, my husband grabbed the handle of the wagon and we hiked up the tailings road then paused to look back. I almost got teary-eyed.
I wondered how the miners felt when they left for good so many years ago. We thanked those that had gone before us for the company and promised them we would be back in the spring via the road (God willing).
Until then, white silence will blanket the mountain and protect its secrets. The animals will have the place to themselves again but will they notice we’re gone while they dream?
Will the Ghost in the mountain miss us?
We turned and made our way down the hill for the last time in 2022.
We’ll be back in the spring; we have a mine to open.
You’d think that after being lost two – no three previous times in the woods that I’d get a clue but no….
I did it again about two and a half weeks ago on a small mountain surrounded by the Colville National Forest. I got lost on our own claim, which is fairly remote.
I admit that I got into an argument with my husband and decided to go “somewhere else” for the night. Yes, couples have arguments – we freely admit it. I was pissed and needed to get away but I didn’t know what was in store for me that night.
I packed up my gear: my backpack, extra flashlights, extra batteries, some munchies, and our radios that are equipped with GPS – and headed out.
I knew it was a race against the sun from the time I started packing. My previous experiences taught me to not get caught in the woods without some context as to where you are or you are fucked. Especially after dark,
I thought the radios would guide me in the event of an emergency but it turns out I was wrong. I had one job to do: climb a half mile from where we park the car to our campsite but $1400.00 + of expensive equipment later, I realized I needed a refund.
I brought a wagon along, thinking it would lighten the load but I ended up abandoning it along with a bottle of orange juice as I labored angrily up the 50 percent slope.
Then suddenly it was dark.
There are holes that will swallow you up whole where I was now finding myself wandering around. I freely admit I became scared shitless.
There are some really big kitties around here. Bear too.
Understanding I was disoriented and tired, I stopped and pulled out the so-called GPS units I was carrying and tried to see where I was but nope….one was dead and the other wouldn’t load the map with my coordinates correctly.
I tried and tried to figure out where I was with the one radio that was still alive and prayed repeatedly that it didn’t die while I was trying to find my way out. The backpack became impossibly heavy and I began to drag it behind me because whenever I put it on, I couldn’t walk. I would stumble to the ground under the weight.
I almost abandoned the backpack at one point then looked back and thought the better of it. It had the food, after all. I stopped to eat at one point, pulling the contents out and being grateful that I’d thought at least some of this out in advance. It wasn’t pure luck that got me out that night.
I believe I also had some help.
Exhausted beyond belief and near distraught, I stumbled upon an area I thought I recognized but knew to be dangerous. I was relieved and cautious at the same time. I believe it was a collapsed tunnel from the workings of the Colorado Claim and I knew it was just above the huge hole that was the remnant of the entrance to that claim.
Imagine the trap the insect often referred to as an Ant Lion makes: a crater with walls of loose sand that gives way when an unsuspecting ant is unfortunate enough to wander too close and can’t climb out. Then the predator lunges out, grabs it, and drags it into the earth. Only there was no predator here except the possibility of drowning in dirt on your way to hell.
What a way to die.
I believe I was very close to this hole and I decided it might be prudent to hunker down for the night rather than disappear without a trace.
I sat down and began to hack the branches off of a tree next to me in an effort to cover myself and create a layer below. I was thinking hypothermia at this point. You don’t have to be in a snow storm to die from the cold.
I laid on the steep hillside, kicking against the dirt and debris in an effort to keep myself from sliding down into the ravine. I began to scoop dirt, grass and moss onto myself in addition to the tree branches; hoping to keep warm.
I laid my head back and looked around again, shining the flashlight into the forest and once again remembered that I might not be alone. I wondered if my husband was worried because he couldn’t contact me. Surprisingly, we get some cell phone service from the tailings area where our camp is and he could easily have reached me if he’d tried, which I later found out he had.
I begged him mentally to KNOW I was lost on that hillside. No matter how mad you are at someone, it suddenly doesn’t matter when you’re alone in the dark and scared.
When confronted by Brother Mortality you KNOW right quick what matters. Petty conflicts dissolve when faced with the possibility of not seeing those that you love – ever again.
I began to send out distress signals with the radio but attempt after attempt went unanswered. I yelled a few times knowing I was alone – that no one would likely hear me. I radioed the sheriff a few times.
It’s at that point that something happened that I can’t explain. Perhaps I was just exhausted and began to fall asleep. I don’t know, but I talked to my father.
He passed three months before I was born.
I don’t recall what was said but I remember sitting up, looking around, and making the decision to continue. I saw the way I needed to go. I pushed the dirt aside, got up and dragged my backpack up and around the trench and continued down hill and by God….
I saw fence posts.
I’ve never been so relieved in my life with the exception of the other THREE times I got lost in the woods. Duh. When will I learn? I stumbled down onto the road and joyfully made my way back to where the car was parked.
I could have kissed the bumper. I drove home that night. Home. Never again.
Did my Dad come to me that night to show me the way? Who knows, but I love ya Dad.
In 1903, E.R. Delbridge, the superintendent of The Apollo Consolidated Gold Mining Company, requested an inspection and report on the mine.
The resulting document describes in great detail, an access road, and other improvements such as the boarding house and cottages that housed the employees. The dimensions of the shaft house and blacksmith shop are included.
The mine’s workings are laid out to the foot as well as the geology, type, grade and quantity of ore. The reporter notes how the ore body pinches to an end near the fifth level then suggests a few specific courses of action to relocate it.
I don’t know if Delbridge had the inspection done because the vein petered out but the company told him to close the mine when it did. He returned decades later, possibly to follow the recommendations of the report but he died before he could begin any work.
Now my husband and I have those instructions in our hands.
A second man, F.A. Callen, formed The New California Mining Company and also returned decades after having served as mine foreman in a leasing operation at the California Lode. He and his men attempted to reach the California vein through The Colorado claim near the base of the mountain but ran into legal issues, most likely ending the endeavor. His company dissolved in the mid fifties.
There is a large gap in historical data on the mine itself from 1939 on, aside from records regarding private owners and leases . Sometime during those years, though, the owners of the surrounding claims methodically gained control of the access points to the property, (possibly illegally), and isolated the mine.
As a result, the property settled into silence, the shouts of men, the grinding of machinery, and the percussion of explosions fading with the passage of time.
But faraway someone heard the echoes…
For the first time in years, the sound of voices can be heard from the top of the mountain on some days and certain nights. The sound of hammering too; and it ain’t the Ghosts Of Mining Past.
What compelled not one but two men to return to the mine they’d previously worked – years later? What did they know?
We have a mine to open up.
Setting Up Camp
As I wandered around the tailings piles where we’d set up camp last Sunday morning, it hit me: I was living a dream come true.
It’s a nice feeling.
After a lifetime of chasing this or that, the day had finally come where my dreams and the present intersected. I was living in the moment and I settled in to relish it.
The temperature was mild, the sun had come up to clear skies, the air was still and the only sounds were birds and an angry chipmunk or two. I had over 45 acres to explore, artifacts to find, history to research, nature to enjoy, and of course – gold to find.
We’ve been camping often to explore the place and prospect. It’s an incredible feeling to walk around a place with such a story.
Although it was a working mine with a community over a hundred years before, almost all traces are hidden under decades of fallen pine needles, branches, trees and crumbling rock. If you dig, be careful of the razor sharp edges of discarded ore, blasted from the bedrock and hauled from beneath the crust.
Fir and Larch trees populate the property, their ancestors fallen and rotting while some still stand in defiance of death. Outcroppings shower the steep hillsides with oxidized rock. Don’t climb over one. They’re treacherous.
The entrance to the mine lays sunken within a crater surrounded by rotting timber. The remnants of the shaft house litter the area, having given in to the elements throughout the years.
I’m sure most of the artifacts have been taken but a few things remain buried in the tailings or along trails. A chisel and a mule shoe here and 20 spikes there.
Down the hill, on the neighbor’s claim, a small community used to stand that housed the workers. A road lead from there to town. It’s called The California Mine Road and we aren’t allowed to use it – for now.
The hillsides are steep with access only through a couple of valleys. The neighbors managed to wrangle the keys to the gates – possibly illegally – so we temporarily have to hike up a hill with backpacks to get to the mine.
We are just beginning to explore the place as access is so difficult. We brought camping gear up ahead of time thinking it would be safe on private property, marked by signs, but no…
We put out cellular trail cams so we can watch the place from home. We have a tent and some basic supplies up there now so we don’t have to pack the entire house up the hill every time we camp.
With our little home away from home set up and fairly secure, we can focus on looking for samples to send in for assay. We can explore and appreciate the history and feel lucky for what we have.
If I get up before my husband, I start looking for good ore samples right away while the chipmunks berate me. Let ’em think the place is theirs. I know better.
The Hike From Hell To Get To Paradise
The view is extraordinary from the top of our claim: breathtaking. But for a few trees in the way, a panorama of hills and valleys stretches for miles. The day I first made it all the way, the sky was a beautiful blue with clouds spread throughout.
The climb was unanticipated and hellish but my anger and exhaustion faded as I looked around. My husband had been promising me it was worth it and he wasn’t lying.
We bought the place in January and he made it to the peak through the snow on our first trip there while I flailed through the drifts near the road with my metal detector. Until recently, I’d only seen the top from a distance and it had taken on an air of mystery to me.
The mine, at an elevation of 4,140 feet is already a horrible hike but to reach the apex of the small mountain at 4,284 feet, is to experience purgatory. As intriguing as the place in the clouds was, I was in no hurry for the hike.
We were there that day to explore a possible route up the southeast side of the mountain for a four-wheel-drive road. No regular vehicle would ever be able to make it up despite what the real estate ad said so we showed up with stakes and red tape and started up.
Our plan was to follow the boundary as it skirted the peak in hopes it was passable but we discovered two boundary markers at the bottom thus throwing things into confusion from the start.
We used our radio maps to navigate but it soon became apparent this wasn’t going to work. The map showed us way off course but we kept finding survey markers we believed might be the right way.
The slope became steeper and steeper as we climbed until we threw in the towel on any hope of marking a road. The decision turned to whether or not to continue to the top.
We went up.
I became so exhausted I practically collapsed every ten or so feet. We would crest what looked like the top only to discover more ahead. Then my husband yelled “There it is!”
About a hundred yards to go. I wasn’t happy.
I needed coaching from that point on. I was pissed. My husband stood on a rocky outcropping, having beaten me up, and encouraged me while I swore to myself and took twenty more breaks.
Then I was there. Still gasping for breath, I snapped a bunch of pictures before taking a look around.
A mound of rocks that resembled a lonely grave had been placed there; most likely as a survey monument. A single tree stood resolute, charred from a fire long ago. Simple in form, it reminded me of a sculpture.
Wildflowers dotted the grassy hillsides in contrast to the skeletal remains of ancient forest that lay strewn about. The day was brilliant and filled with color and solitude. I forgot the tortuous journey up – almost.
From there, we made our way down to the tailings piles at the entrance to the California Mine and looked for specimens of high grade ore the miners may have left behind. In the swing of things at the turn of the century, they pulled an average of two to five ounces per ton out of the bedrock.
Another man’s trash…
We packed up after posting several No Trespassing signs and made our way to our car. The hike down is difficult because of the steep grade and we’re always glad to see the road.
We’d gone there that day to look for a way around the far side of the mountain to the mine and instead, ended up at the top. I’d say I wouldn’t trade it for the world but I’d certainly trade it for a different route. Never again.
Are you superstitious? I tend to be only when the outcome benefits me. If I break a mirror, I shrug the supposed seven years of bad luck off. I have a black cat. I go out of my way to walk under ladders and yet…I believe in signs.
I believe the Universe communicates to us through symbolism – language anyone can understand. I believe coincidences, especially strings of them close together, may be this force telling us we are on the right path in life.
Encountering a classic good luck sign such as a rainbow, lucky penny, or four-leaf clover is good but how about all three within an hour? That’s what happened last month on our way home from the mine.
We were there with a local from Republic whom we’d met while looking for a contractor. I called him in search of a professional who could tell us whether or not we could build a road up our hill to the mine. During our conversation he mentioned he was a former miner and had also worked in two mills processing ore.
Someone with experience. What are the odds? He offered to help us with the mine and we gratefully accepted.
Coincidentally, as a child, this man and his friends had spent many a day exploring the place. He described the remains of a town-like setting complete with a dance hall and said the last time he’d been there was when he was twenty years old. He seemed excited to see the place again and we were happy to have him along.
He had an all-terrain vehicle that could possibly make the climb so we met near the highway and trekked in to take a look. My husband and I climbed into the vehicle and we started up the hill. It wasn’t long, however, before I became convinced the vehicle would roll over so I asked to walk.
A half-mile of near vertical climbing later, I found the guys and vehicle intact at the tailings. Our advisor confirmed we had a decent cache although it’s value had yet to be determined. My husband showed him around the site then we drove to the north side of the property to the “Mystery Mine” as we call it.
We shined our flashlights into the tunnel, wondering how far back it went as my husband and I explained how we’d taken ore off the wall at the entrance that’d assayed (tested for gold content), at near one ounce per ton: a very rich sample. With that much gold, this would be one of a couple of places to focus on once we started.
We discussed what kind of equipment could make it up the steep slopes without a road and came up with a rough plan going forward. Getting permits and making sure we comply with the mining laws will occupy our time in the coming weeks.
Feeling fortunate about having met someone with such valuable knowledge, we wrapped our trip up and piled back into the four-wheel drive headed back down the hill – me closing my eyes.
After saying goodbye, my husband and I threw our supplies into our car and prepared to get in when he looked down and saw a four leaf clover growing in a patch at his feet. He picked it and handed it to me then spotted four more.
This was a sign from the Universe, I told him. Success and good fortune awaited us alongside the ghost that hides in the mountain. Everything is going to be OK and better.
But more was to come. I found a lucky penny at the store on the way back and a double rainbow sprang to life out of a downpour as we neared home.
If these aren’t a sign of good things to come, I don’t know what is. By the way: three’s a charm.
Ghosts Of Mining Past
For those who don’t believe in ghosts, think about the science of energy: it can be transformed or transferred but not destroyed.
Now think about the human consciousness as energy: our emotions and innate instincts possibly leaving impressions in a time-space continuum. To get to the point, I believe ghosts are energy remnants and I believe that places connected with adventure and passion – like old mines – are probably replete with these “recordings”.
That’s what I was contemplating as we struggled up the hill the last time we visited the property. Every time I paused to catch my breath, I took a moment to just listen and “feel” the place. I wanted to “ask” those who’d gone before us, where the gold still hides if much is left.
The California Mine and surrounding property has become more than just a business opportunity or a recreational getaway to us. It’s historically significant and has a romantic appeal that has caught our imaginations.
Being there in person, we’re witnessing with our own eyes, what the miners took one last look at – maybe over a shoulder – before walking or riding away roughly seventy years ago.
Punching a hole through time, I feel our presence might stir up the cosmic “dust”. Except for the effects of nature, I feel we have walked in on time frozen. The mine was last worked in 1939, according to geological reports.
Roaming around the property, we’ve found mule shoes, mini rail spikes (everywhere), pots, chimneys, old oil cans, and tons of nails – everything rusty and sounding like gold on my metal detector.
My husband is fascinated with history and artifacts so this place is a dream come true for him. Picking up a chisel, so encrusted with oxidized iron it’s barely recognizable, one can’t help but imagine the poor soul who had to hold it while another miner swung at it with a sledge hammer. That’s trust and now, rust.
Huge timbers, built to hold up a mountain now lay strewn about, oversized bolts, nails and nuts still holding them together in places.
I can almost see the miners sorting the ore, hear the creak of loaded wagons bumping down the narrow paths, headed toward town then the smelter. Right where we are standing at any given moment, meals were made, people most likely fought, smoked pipes, and passed out soundly after a hard and dangerous day’s work.
Now, aside from the sounds of our voices and movements, the place is quiet. It can only speak through what remains. Or is that really so?
As we explore, the energy feels thick, like the hewed beams littering the site. We are excited to set up camp. There, on our first night, with our tent set up, enjoying some nice reconstituted trail dinners, we have a plan. In the midst of what was once a busy mining camp, separated only by time – we hope to ask some questions.
You Can Come Knocking But You Can’t Come In
Imagine booking a tour package for New York City that includes a “trip to the top of the Empire State Building!”
Now imagine being dumped off at the curb, gazing up in distraction as the cab screams away behind you, smell of burning rubber filling your nostrils, doorknob still in your hand. Your backpack is in the backseat; cell phone also.
You manage to find a payphone and call the tour company and ask to be picked up, having given up on seeing the Statue Of Liberty at eye level.
That’s when they tell you “hey…we got you there…the rest is up to you” as you hear the sounds of shutters locking and chairs being hastily folded in the background.
Translation: The title company sold us a supposed easement that is actually a forest service road crossing a remote portion of our property. The property is six-hundred-feet wide there with an average slope of 50%. It’s also collapsing into old mine tunnels.
We can’t build a real access road into the property from there – to the minerals – to the other forty acres. We are landlocked. The title company says curbside service is fine.
This is a mineral patent that comes with a strong bundle of rights that includes the ability to develop the resources – so they’re wrong. We have some legal issues to clear up now because we also discovered that we have our own road that leads directly to the mine that they didn’t tell us about.
In the meantime, it’s backpacks and cardio – and the meter’s running.
Can you say damages?