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August 7, 2002
From journal Going beyond the gold in Nevada City
San Francisco, California
April 29, 2002
To get to the park from Nevada City, go north on Hwy 49 and turn off at Tyler Foote Road. Although a short distance on the map, the driving is slow, as you will be winding along narrow roads - that turns to dirt at the end.
Your first stop will be the museum (where you pay a token parking fee) in North Bloomsfield. It is worth a quick visit to browse some artifacts from the 1800's and early 1900's and see a periodic slide show of the area as an introduction to "the Diggins."
North Bloomsfield is the near ghost town that once supported a booming mining population, with bars, hotels, and various shops and services. The buildings are slowly being restored, but it is possible to take docent-led tours of the apothecary, stables and one of the hoity-toity houses of the day.
You can go panning for gold in Humbug Creek. Pans are provides for free, and the ranger will give tips to first time prospectors. While a great interactive family adventure, it gets cold and wearying after 20 minutes (maybe 10 minutes for kids). Don't expect to find riches here- there's a reason for the creek's name.
Although the gold was quickly played out of the surface streams, geologists determined that the area was riddled with ancient stream beds, and hence, thar was gold in them hills. The concentration of this gold was low, but with enough volume.... Voila, the start of hydrolic mining! Take a water cannon and shoot it at a hill, reducing it to muddy rubble. The gold settles out first, the rest.... well, it becomes effluent in the Yuba river and others, contributing to massive flooding.
The farmers of the Sacramento basin complained, and after a court battle, hydralic mining was effectively outlawed. Thus we have one of the first pieces of environmental legislation. Folks may find it amusing that this legal battle was not over virgin redwood stands or sparkling lakes, but interference with the business of agriculture.
Be sure to take the road out to the vista point to see what greed and technology can do to a landscape (although I must confess I found it rather pretty.) Hiking trails for the more adventure prone are available- you can circumnavigate part of the Diggins and go to the man-made tunnel that let all the muddy water out. You can also camp here- there are several cabins back in North Bloomsfield that would house a family of 4 or more.
From journal Golden Opportunities in Nevada City