Wednesday, November 12, 2003

Visit to Gold Run Diggings

Tuesday morning I met Ron Gould for a tour of some of the more interesting parts of the Gold Run Diggings: the Secret World, and the southern part of the Indiana Hill Ditch. In recent weeks I had been doing a lot of concrete work and no hiking at all. In the course of all this I managed to severely tweak my back; there appears to be a limit, which was drastically exceeded, to the number of ninety-pound sacks of concrete mix I should sling around on any one day. The result was that I was tottering around like a truly ancient one.

Still, the day was fine and sunny, and we found a way (thanks RC!) to drive into the Diggings, and ended up at the gigantic pit of the Gold Run Ditch & Mining Co., marked on the 7.5 minute USGS Dutch Flat quadrangle as the Stewart Gravel Mine.

James Stewart the Younger owned most of the Diggings for many years. His father, James Stewart the Elder, had been a hydraulic mining superintendent in the olden days. The younger Stewart was a friend of Jack London and Franklin Delano Roosevelt. It is said that London used to stay at Stewart's house in the Diggings, and did some writing there. His short story, "The All-Gold Canyon," may have been written at Gold Run.

We parked where the road was cut through by the January 1997 flood event, which here was amplified by the failure of a small dam up near Garrett Road. Facing south, we had The Bluffs on our right (west), and Indiana Hill on our left (east). The high ground to either side is BLM land, while the floor of the pit is part of the 800 acres now for sale. Nearby was the more northerly of the two shafts, each leading to a tunnel, which two tunnels join beneath Indiana Hill, and continue east as one huge tunnel, twelve feet wide by nine feet high, before breaking out at Canyon Creek. This shaft and tunnel complex was made in 1873-74 by the GRD&MC.

Walking south through the pit, we marveled at its depth--all of 400 feet--and the millions of cubic yards washed away by the water cannons, through the long sluice boxes, and away into Canyon Creek and the North Fork American. In 1881 California brought suit against the GRD&MC, arguing that the tailings were raising the bed of the American River far downstream, and placing Sacramento and other communities at risk of severe floods. The State prevailed, and Judge Temple handed down an injunction, that no tailings be discharged into Canyon Creek or the North Fork.

It so happens that 45 volumes of testimony were written out in longhand during this trial, and that microfilm of all this can be examined in the Auburn Library (ask at the Reference desk). I have pored through something like a quarter of this mass of material, for the defense explored, in considerable detail, the history of mining in the Gold Run area.

For instance, testimony was taken that, in 1881, between three and five thousand cubic yards of tailings per day were run through the tunnels into Canyon Creek. These tailings went through more sluice boxes fitted into the creek itself, before finally being let free into the North Fork. In 1881 one could drive a wagon right up the tailings from Mineral Bar, below Colfax, to Canyon Creek.

The North Fork has long since ripped all these tailings out and away and downstream. Only insignificant vestiges remain in this reach of the North Fork. Lower down, where the river's gradient begins to flatten, a little more of this mining debris has been preserved. In stark contrast, portions of the Bear River remain buried by tailings to this day, partly because the Bear has a smaller basin, and smaller flows, than the North Fork. It also had more hydraulic mines, and received more tailings, than the North Fork.

Climbing a little above the floor of the pit on the south, we entered a tall tunnel driven through the gravel, and walked through into the Secret World. This relatively small hydraulic mining pit lies at the head of Indiana Ravine, and is surrounded by high banks on three sides, while opening into the North Fork canyon to the south. This, as testimony in the 1881 trial brought out, was exactly where the gold in these "high gravels" at Gold Run was first discovered. Claims were filed, the Indiana Hill Mining District was constituted, and in September of 1852, the Indiana Hill Ditch was completed, bringing water from Canyon Creek a couple of miles south to the head of Indiana Ravine.

In the Secret World is a small stone cabin, built I believe by one Byron Emric, maybe in the 1930s. He used clay for mortar, and gleaned some corrugated sheet iron for a roof. Unfortunately, the cabin was vandalized in 1998, and appears to have been struck again in 2003. A large part of the wall around the door has now collapsed.

The deepest part of the old river channel passed through here, and the gravels were so rich they justified drift mining, until, sometime in the late 1870s or early 1880s, the ground was leased to a Chinese company headed by one Tia Sing, and they used hydraulic mining methods to create the pit, working down to bedrock, and stacking boulders in huge piles, in order to "clean" the bedrock of its golden treasure.

We picked our way across some of these boulder-piles left by Tia Sing's men, and climbed out of the pit on the east, where we passed a monstrous mossy dry-laid stone wall, and entered the small reservoir at the end of the Indiana Hill Ditch. We exited the tiny reservoir basin on the south, and followed the ditch itself around the end of the Indiana Hill ridge, at first right on the rim of the main North Fork canyon, but passing gradually into the valley of Canyon Creek. Some very nice views of Giant Gap, Iowa Hill, Roach Hill, and even some snow peaks, are had from this ditch. It is oft-infested with ancient huge bushes, so that one is forced off the berm and down the hill again and again.

At a sunny opening we stopped for a snack, with the uppermost of the big waterfalls of Canyon Creek directly below us, out of sight, but audibly roaring right along. Some hawks could be seen enjoying the sunny day, out in the main canyon.

Continuing, we reached the Old Wagon Road, which was made by the GRD&MC in 1873 to facilitate construction of the great tunnels. It crosses the Indiana Hill ridge in a low pass at the head of Judd Ravine, and descends steeply to Canyon Creek and the tunnel outlet. The uppermost part is blocked by brush, but from the ditch down it is open enough to walk. We followed it down to the creek, and enjoyed some more sunshine at the U-Bend or Oxbow, where the miners blasted out a huge channel for their sluice boxes, and made some terraces.

Then it was up and out on the Canyon Creek Trail, through Potato Ravine Pass to the Diggings, where a few yards down the Main Diggings Road brought us to Ron's truck.

It was a very pleasant hike, of a couple miles perhaps, first south along one side of Indiana Hill, then north along the other side.

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