It all starts when you see the first fleck of gold in the bottom of a pan: then you’re hooked…for life.
Following are the accounts of myself and my husband after discovering we shared a passion for gold. After a summer of prospecting the rivers of Northeastern Washington state, Gold Fever (as the passion is sometimes called), led us in search of land with a real-life gold mine.
After a few years of looking, we found one and after decades of relative quiet, it’s ready to talk.
Someone I once knew said hunting for gold is like shooting a ghost in the dark. Our ghost lives in The California Mine which lives inside a small mountain outside of the town of Republic, Washington.
Here is its story.
“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.
We had become obsessed with gold about three years prior and had been looking for property with either a good chance of having it or better: finding a place with an existing mine.
The precious metal has become nothing short of supernatural to us and we won’t be the first to have come under it’s spell. So much of U.S. history was dug, pounded, blown up and influenced by its conquest.
While the early days of prospecting were self-regulated amazingly well, during the latter half of the nineteenth century, the United States government codified the rights of the people to access public lands in search of minerals and attempted to standardize the system.
After meeting certain requirements, those with established claims could purchase the minerals and surface through mineral patents (which are no longer available unless you buy an existing one).
Uncle Sam sold our minerals and land into private ownership in 1913. We bought a portion of that (the best part), in 2022.
It’s known as The California Lode and encompasses a mine on a little over 45 acres along with The Bachelor Lode, and The Arizona Fraction. Once we’d purchased it, we began to research the history and what we’ve been able to find so far is fascinating. – so I write.
After waiting for the snow to melt, we lost patience and slogged in early in the year. Access is almost impossible and is part of a developing story. On the first trip, my husband made it to the top but not me. Regardless, we met our claim, shook hands with it, and ran back home to wait by the fireplace for spring. Stories From Off The Grid: The California Mine
On a subsequent trip, we both made it to the mine.
Once you get to the upper portions of the place you’re in the clouds. Just being there feels wild and alive – raw. It feels like a filter has been lifted between you and reality. It’s both exilerating – and scary.
As we stood and looked around before heading back down to the car on one trip, my husband pointed up to more mountain hundreds of feet over and further up and said “We haven’t even been up there yet”.
It was then that I realized how much I’d underestimated the size of the place.
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, office and cottages. 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 he’d served as mine foreman. We don’t know how things went for him and his company dissolved in the mid fifties.
There is a large gap in historical data 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.
We have a mine to open up.
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 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.
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 hid if any was left.
The California Mine and surrounding property has become more than just a business venture or a recreational place. We’ve learned enough about its history to realize there’s a story or past production complete with props.
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 70 years ago.
I feel our presence might stir up the cosmic “dust”. Except for the effects of nature, we have walked in on what has remained settled since 1939 – the last time we know of that it was worked.
Once we have reached the mine on several trips, we’ve poked carefully around and picked through the artifacts laying around. Mule shoes, mini rail spikes (everywhere), pots, chimneys, old oil cans, timbers, nails large and small, everything rusty and sounding like gold on my metal detector.
My husband has marveled at the pieces and wondered aloud about the people who cut into the rock, sorted through tons of ore, drove wagons, made meals, fought, and maybe skinned a knee in the process – or worse. He found a curious object hanging on a tree branch on a tailings pile. It was wrapped in foil and appeared to be a bandaid although how old, who knows.
The mountain is laced with smaller workings in addition to the California Mine but all except one entrance have mostly collapsed. We have suspicions about the adit that looks like it’s been worked more recently. It’s a sizeable tunnel we discovered who’s origins are part of another developing story.
As we explore, the energy feels thick, like the timbers that held up the rock around the various types of openings. We plan on going through the microfiche at the local library to learn as much as we can in addition to what we’ve found on the internet.
The most interesting of relics we find will end up at our home. I have a spike and a mule shoe to start.
The first night we spend there should be interesting. We have a lot of questions we’d like to ask.
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?