GOLD RUSH: TRAVEL

Nevada County fetes Gold Rush, too

By Kerry Drager
Bee Staff Writer
Published Jan. 14, 1998

Marshall Gold Discovery isn't the only Gold Country state park around, although it might seem that way. Most of the attention these days quite naturally focuses on Jan. 24, when the Coloma park observes the gold strike's 150th anniversary.

But in Nevada County, two state historic parks also recall the Gold Rush. Both offer a low-key, offseason atmosphere that's filled with history lessons and hiking trails.

Malakoff Diggins, northeast of Nevada City, documents the 19th-century battle over hydraulic mining. Cannon-like water monitors blasted away hillsides to get the gold, sending tons of debris downstream and causing flooding.

Malakoff Diggins
Malakoff Diggins remind visitors of the environmental damage caused by hydraulic mining.

Photo courtesy "California's Gold Rush Country"
"In 1884, after years of debate, a federal judge handed down what was perhaps America's first precedent in environmental protection, effective prevention of the North Bloomfield Mining Co. from hydraulic mining," according to National Geographic.

Today, Malakoff Diggins combines dramatic scenery -- eroded cliffs and carved columns -- with the restored gold town of North Bloomfield. Between storms at the park, which sits at 3,300 feet elevation, winter can be a beautiful time to explore, says ranger Ken Huie, "especially when there's a dusting of snow."

Park paths include the three-mile Diggins Trail, which loops in and around Malakoff's mammoth mining pit. Some reminders from Huie: Paths can get muddy, and prospective visitors should check on snow conditions.

Malakoff is open daily, sunrise to sunset. Museum hours are from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. weekends. The park campground operates on a first-come, first-served basis. Call 530-265-2740.

At Empire Mine in Grass Valley, the guidebook "California State Parks" puts it best: "At this park, visitors can view, side by side, the genteel existence of the mine owner and the hard-bitten, sterile mine yard of what was one of California's oldest, biggest and richest hard-rock gold mines" (from 1850-1956).

Flowers and foliage provide colorful backdrops in spring and fall, but "some people prefer winter," says a park ranger. "It's an opportunity to see a different side of the park."

The mine yard (old buildings and mine shaft entrance) and country estate (Bourn Cottage and landscaped grounds) are the main tourist stops. But Empire's often-overlooked outback deserves a look, too. The two-mile Hardrock Trail, for example, circles the surrounding scenery, while the Osborn Hill Loop leads to abandoned mine sites.

The park's museum and facilities are open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily (sunrise to sunset for trails). Guided tours take place on weekends, weather permitting. Call 530-273-8522.


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