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  • Jason Sheck

Gold Country and the Yuba River

We headed to lower elevation for this trip, and into a part of California often referred to as "Gold Country". Yes, the Gold Country the San Francisco 49ers are named for and the "gold in them there hills" that sparked a westward migration of pioneers and settlers starting after a gold strike in 1849.


We left CA HWY 20 near Washington, CA and for the most part worked our way along the north side of the the South Fork of the Yuba River. The weather hovered around 70 degrees and sunny the whole time we were in the area. Our first stop was for lunch at a little picnic ground just east of Washington. We were visited by a camper's dog a couple times while we sat on a rock in the middle of the river and ate our lunches. The dog was well behaved, and its people tried coaxing it back to shore, pretty successfully. Visits from four-legged friends are always nice.


After lunch we started working our way west following the river on forest roads. Our first stop was a trailhead where we got out and took a 4-something mile hike. We don't know the actual distance because the walls of the canyon were steep enough to interrupt the GPS signal. The hike was fun but buggy. The terrain was actually Oregon rain forest like in a few spots, at least in April. On our hike we were passing through an area that had been heavily mined over 100 years ago, so the destruction had been covered up by new growth. I say "destruction" because hydraulic mining was used in this area. I am no mining expert, but I've gathered they took high pressure water and blasted the embankments so they released large volumes of sediment. That sediment would travel into the river and downstream until it passed through a sluice, where the gold was captured in a series of screens (gold being heavy it settled out faster than the dirt). Hydraulic mining eventually ended in CA when the farmers dependent on the water from rivers like the Yuba became unusable from this process, and peoples' attitudes toward the environment started shifting away from consumption toward conservation.


What the mining industry left behind was roads, buildings, and structures. We followed one of those roads to a ghost town that has been somewhat preserved (North Bloomfield). We've been to ghost towns, and if you've never been to Bodie, CA, go. This ghost town wasn't as exciting that so we moved on. From there, the road went back down into the canyon and crossed the river twice before making its way into the Nevada City area. The one lane bridges built long ago as still in use today.


The route was never rougher than barely unmaintained road. Most vehicles would have been able to make it down the roads we took, though a few spots would be tricky for lower cars. 4WD was not needed since the roads were dry and most of the snow was gone (or was never there).


What did I learn?

Always stop and explore. Between the amazing little water fall we came across in the Feather River Canyon that had an incredible aroma, and the natural infinity pool shown below. getting out and checking something out is almost always rewarding.


GAIA GPS Link (The Yuba River Trip)


A little creek coming down to the South Fork.


The bridge we crossed on the way to our picnic site.


Not a bad place for a picnic, very quiet, water moving by, sunny and warm...


The slippery locals guarding the trailhead of The South Yuba Trail. These are weird little creatures...the males do pushups to impress the females. The females rarely seem impressed.


A little shot of the trail. Not all of it was right along the river, but the parts that were are incredible.


If you look close, you can see a rock wall in the water. It's only my speculation, but I think the rock wall was directing water into the sluice...many years ago.


This is what gold mining looks like in CA and parts of the West today (there are still some huge strip mines in places like Nevada, but I am focusing on the CA river areas). Individuals can stake their claim and record it with the federal government. There are different types of claims, but in general the claim doesn't mean you own the land. It means you can set up and operate your gold mining operation within the claim. While you're working the claim, you can prevent people from passing through the area but when you're not there the public can use the land like most public land. The exception being the public can't mine or pan for gold. Make sense? Any questions you can ask Lucky Bob.


I don't know that I'll ever know, but part of me wonders if all those smooth round rocks came down the embankment during the mining activities, or if the river has always been lined with them.


The view as we worked our way west. The land is a checkboard of publicly and privately owned land here so the parts of it are logged, and parts of it are preserved (possibly to log later?)


Here's the little bend in the road where we decided to explore.


What we found was incredible! In warmer weather you could probably sit in this pool and feel like royalty! The drop off was probably 15-20' so you feel like you're flying when you crouch down up there.


Trying, maybe pathetically, to capture the feeling of being in the infinity pool.


This was called a "monitor." It was used to blast the embankments with water to release gold-laden sediment that could be further processed in the river. Imagine bringing this to a water balloon fight.


The old crossings...still used today.


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