Mountain Mining

Top Historical Mines to Visit in California

a cottage made of rocks from the mine

Dubbed with various nicknames such as Cali, the El Dorado State, the Land of Milk and Honey, the Golden State, the Sunshine State, the Grape State, and the Golden West-California is not just a state but one of the best states and perhaps the wealthiest state in the US. With its vast numerous tourist spots, its pristine beaches with some best and finest sands, national and historical parks, excellent and world-class wineries, the home of celebrities, Hollywood, and the very famous Disneyland.

Besides the sought after wonderful recreational destinations in California and the tourist spots, the state’s primary economic player is its mining industry. California is home to several mining areas in America.

California is a major producer of some industrial minerals and metals, the sole producer of Boron, a leading producer of aggregates, cement, diatomite, feldspar, pumice, soda ash.

Contrary to the high-tech mining industry, California has developed less-sophisticated mining methods, and before modern environmental regulations, that is why due to the laws that have passed in the country and the state, some of these mines were closed and abandoned as they stopped their operations.

Argonaut Mine

At State Route 49, Jackson, California, this mine was initially named the Pioneer Mine, discovered by two freed slaves who became miners, William Tudor and James Hager, in 1850. The claim was then sold to the Pioneer Gold & Silver Mining Company in the 1860s. In 1893, the Argonaut Mining Company purchased the mine. Before WWII, the Argonaut Mine produced more than $25 million in gold, making it one of California’s wealthiest mines.

Marshall Gold Discovery State Historic Park 

street at Columbia State Historic Park

James Marshall discovered gold in this site in 1848 as he was helping to build a sawmill for himself and John Sutter. The park grounds incorporate much of Coloma’s historic town, which is now considered a ghost town and a National Historic Landmark District. The park includes two California Historical Landmarks: a monument to commemorate James Marshall and the exact spot where he first discovered gold in 1848.

Columbia State Historic Park 

This site is also known as Columbia Historic District. This is a state park unit and National Historic Landmark District preserving historic downtown Columbia, California, which also includes about 30 buildings built during the California Gold Rush, most of which remain today. It was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1961.

Gold was discovered in this area in the spring of 1850 that attracted an influx of other gold seekers, and gave birth to Columbia’s town.

Empire Gold Mine

View down the main shaft at Empire Mine, California

Empire Gold Mine (1850-1959) was the oldest (a working gold mine for over 100 years), the largest and richest mine. The park contains many original buildings, including the owner’s cottage and gardens and a museum.

Gold Bug Park

This mine is the most favorite among kids and school groups. It is located north of Placerville; this historic gold mine is the nearest to Sacramento. The park offers a self-guided audio tour of its mine, stamp mill, museum, miner’s blacksmith shop, gift shop, hiking trails, picnic areas, and gem panning.

Kennedy Gold Mine

This is famous for being one of the world’s deepest mines, which was discovered in 1856 by Andrew Kennedy. This is continuously mined from 1860 to 1942. It is situated near the town of Jackson.

When the mine was closed, it had produced more than $34 million in gold. During that time, gold valued between $20 and $35 per ounce.

Big Horn Mine, Angeles National Forest

This is in Southern California in Angeles National Forest near the Vincent Gap parking area. In 1891, while hunting bighorn sheep, Charles Tom Vincent discovered a gold-bearing quartz vein at what was to become Big Horn Mine.

In 1936, the mine was abandoned, and no prospecting activity has taken place since the 1980s. Today, it’s preserved in place as the 277-acre parcel is in the USDA Forest Service stewardship since 2011.

Borax Visitor Center, Boron

Exploring present-day Death Valley is just looking through nearly half of the story of borax. Head south to Boron’s town to get the rest of it! It is only six miles west of the junction of the 395 and 58 highways.

The town was named after the element, Boron, the commercial product borax, and the 20 Mule Team that took 20 days to bring 20 tons of it out of Death Valley. A more plentiful supply was found in the town of Boron in the Mojave Desert. The following “harvest” created California’s largest open-pit mine and an active worksite operated by Rio Tinto.

Wall Street Mill and Lost Horse Mine, Joshua Tree National Park

Go to a relatively easy hike to Wall Street Mill in Joshua Tree National Park and see a mostly in-tact stamp mill for milling gold ore. Besides the mill itself, cordoned off with barbed wire, the trail brings you past a windmill, concrete foundations, and a couple of 1930s cars that had been driven off the side of the road to their final resting place.

Lost Horse Mine

Johnny Lang first developed this historic gold and silver mine in the Lost Horse Valley of Joshua Tree National Park, then by J.D. Ryan. It has produced 10,000 ounces of gold and 16,000 ounces of silver between 1894 and 1931. Scarce resources for steam-powered pumps and mining equipment led to denuding the local mountains of trees, which is still clearly visible in 2014.

The site has access via a loop trail that clocks in at 6.2 miles, but you can take the trail clockwise to make it only two miles in, at which point you can turn around and make your hike a 4-mile out-and-back.

Searles Lake, Trona

This dry lake is in the Searles Valley of the Mojave Desert in northwestern San Bernardino County, California. On the western shore is the mining community of Trona. The evaporite lake is about 19 km long and 13 km at its widest point, yielding 1.7 million tons annually of industrial minerals within the lake to the Searles Valley Minerals mining operations.

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