Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Malakoff Diggins State Historic Park: Trip 1 of 70

This past Friday, July 8, I began my quest to visit all 70 State Parks on the closure list, by starting with Malakoff Diggins State Historic Park. It was fabulous!

But before I rave about this park I want to relay a bit more info I learned about the closure schedule. After talking with a couple of park rangers, it seems I am able to extend my goal of visiting all 70 parks until at least the end of the year (rather than September 1.) Whew! The "hard" date for closure of all 70 parks is July 1, 2012. Some will close before that, and many are already on very limited schedules.

My goal is now January, which still has me visiting an average of two parks a week. One ranger suggested that I should try to get to the high country parks before summer is over, as many of them close after Labor Day annually, and those that do so this year may not open again...ever...

Original plans were to visit the two historic mansions in Sacramento, (now postponed to this Friday, July 15), then plans changed to go to Benicia to see the old State Capitol. At 11:00pm the night before, I learned that the Benicia Capitol is only open on Saturdays and Sundays, apparently already a casualty of cutbacks.

So, when I met Patty in Placerville on Friday morning for our trip to Benicia, we quickly altered our plans to Nevada County. Malakoff Diggins allows dogs on some of the trails so Roxy got to go too.

Malakoff Diggins is the site of California's largest "hydraulic" or "placer" gold mine. We arrived around 11:00am and checked in at the small museum at the Town Site.

We had a picnic lunch and then embarked on a two mile round trip hike through manzanita to an overlook of the mining area. On the way we passed a historic cemetery with graves from the pioneer days to the present, although even the new graves are marked with rock borders and wooden crosses rather than with elaborate gravestones.

Arriving at the overlook, we viewed huge, colorful, man-made cliffs. Mother Nature would take many millennia to create the likes of these - but here they were carved in just a few decades by streams of water shot from powerful water cannons, disgarding dirt and gravel in piles on the stream bank or washed downstream as silt.

During the 1860s flumes and ditch systems carried water to wash away the ore at a capacity as high as 100,000 tons of gravel per day.

They built a 7,847 foot drainage tunnel that was dug through the bedrock serving as a drain. This resulted in the washing away of entire mountains. Legal battles between mine owners and downstream farmers ended this method through the courts and the legislature in 1884, but not before the destruction of much farmland and the severe flooding of the town of Marysville.

Today scientists continue to study the possible long term affects of the mercury that was consequently introduced into the ecosystem and water. 125 years since the cessation of the mining, very little life has grown back on those water-blasted mountains. The gouged hillsides and choked streambeds will be visible long into the future... as hopefully will be some of the wonderful wildflowers we saw.

Patty is great at identifying wildflowers. Shown here are Orange Paintbrush,, Sierra Sunflowerflower, Harlequin Lupine and Sierra Onion.

We followed this up with a 2.5 mile roundtrip hike to a waterfall. There were more wildflowers along the way, as well as strange, orange colored murky ponds, with frightened critters plopping into the muck every time they heard us approach.

At the waterfall we cooled our feet in the stream, took more pictures, explored a cave and relaxed for awhile. We hiked back and had another short "picnic" on the trunk of the car. Patty's homemade pesto got us through the day in gourmet style.
As we were leaving just after 5:00 pm we caught up with the ranger and discussed what may happen to Malakoff Diggins when it closes. The buildings and grounds will no longer be maintained, and very possibly vandalized. The trails will become overgrown. Malakoff is off the grid. There is no electricity there and all facilities and maintenance is handled with generators. Although it was a perfect summer day - in the mid 80s and sunny - we only saw about six vehicles at the park. At $8.00 a car, well,... do the math.

The natural landscape of this park is beautiful, though it's history includes some devastation. While it will be sad to lose the beauty and history of any State Park, it's seems especially poignant to me to lose one that contains lessons in shortsightedness and greed. With the closure of Malakoff Diggins, the ecological devastation can be neatly tucked away, out of sight, out of mind.


  1. You are doing a remarkable service of documenting these state treasures. I'm gonna tweet about this...hope you get more readers.

  2. Well I tried to become a "follower" again but although I signed on as me it still showed up as David. ARGH!!! Oh well... it is me!!! Love your blog! Keep it up. I really enjoy reading about your trips. Nice photos too!!

  3. Thanks Lucy, I am so happy you are taking us on journey with you through blogging. I have always wanted to see these parks!

  4. Nice reporting, Lucy! I'm enjoying the information and the beautiful pictures.

  5. I'm sooo glad you're blogging again!

  6. @Ann. Thanks! I have an old Twitter acct that's been idle for a couple of years that I should prob revive.

    @Greg: looking at some North Bay day trips in August. Are you around?

    @Chris, Karen & David..er... Linda... thanks for reading. This should be a great adventure!

  7. I have two family members who passed away years ago and are buried at North Bloomfield state park. Near the diggings. Will it close also?

    1. The cemetary and the road to the cemetary will remain open. There will be no staff, maintenance or school programs, but they have to keep the road open.

    2. We went to Malakoff Diggins last week, and wish that we stayed longer because we didn't see the waterfall. Truly enjoyable, but like you've said, very few people visit this hidden gem. It is a beautiful state park, and its horrendous mining history makes it all the more relevant to future generations, regarding conservation.

      Must note that it is easy to miss where to pay for park entry, in addition to where to enter the actual trail. We actually ended up driving a few miles past the trail's turn off before turning around and discovering it.

      Please stay open, Malakoff Diggins!


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