Monday, April 2, 2012
PLUMAS EUREKA STATE PARK: Trip #31 of 70
Up until a couple of weeks ago, it seemed the only snow California was going to get this winter was at Plumas Eureka State Park. Once there, in addition to the novelty of the snow itself, winter delights include hiking mountain trails, cross country skiing, touring a gold mine and viewing my first ever frozen lake! The area also has what many believe is California's first ski lift.
Patty and I headed to the park on a Saturday in February, not knowing if we would encoun-ter any snow or not. Along the drive we rode in and out of mountains and valleys, some with whispers of the white stuff, others completely dry.
The park is fifty miles north of Truckee. Charming rural towns dot Highway 49 South, er... or is that Highway 89 North. Perhaps this gas sta-tion with the fabulous prices can clear up our confusion. Hm. It appears the gas station has been out of business for awhile. We resigned ourselves to going both North and South at the same time. I was oddly comfortable traveling simultaneously in opposite directions.
We pulled into the camp-ground parking lot. A small lodge and visitor center had apparently been closed for at least a few months. No one was there today. We peaked through the windows and could see a few of the historical artifacts shoved into corners.
We hiked around the campgrounds for a couple of hours. While only logging in about two miles, it was a good work out as we routinely fell knee-to-hip deep in snow drifts. The surrounding scenery was beautiful of course. It always is.
Plumas-Eureka hosts a great variety of plants and animals that exist within park bound-aries. Mountain meadows and forested glades are often dotted with an assortment of Sierra wildflowers. Deer, weasel, mink, mountain lion, bobcat, fox, and a host of other mammals are seen through the summer months. And of course, Black Bears.
There were the familiar signs often found at Northern California campgrounds, warning campers to properly store food in the bear con-tainers. And, lest one is lulled into a false sense of security by winter weather, thinking that Bears are hibernating, there is a curious new trend in Bear behavior. From Yellow-stone to Lake Tahoe, Bears are increasingly being found wandering around the woods in winter, abandoning their hibernating ways. Whether this is attributable to warmer winters, or other factors no one is sure. Just know that winter is no longer a guaran-tee that your soda pop in the ice chest is safe. Use the bear containers!
May 23, 1851, nine miners discovered gold here. This led to over thirty miles of mine shafts with various operators and companies. British mining experts per-fected the method of removing and crushing the rich ore from within the mountain.
The Mohawk Mill, built in 1876, contained sixty stamps, each weighing 600 to 950 pounds with a drop of 8 1/2 inches, 80 times per minute. Each stamp crushed 2-1/2 tons of ore (a small dump truckload) every 24 hours, smashing the gold bear-ing quartz into fine, sand-like grains in order to remove the gold from the rock.
Mining at Plumas-Eureka stopped permanently in the 1940s. Plumas-Eureka State Park Association was established in 1977 to support inter-pretive and educational programs here. They currently have approximately 140 members. After much hard work the good news is... this park is officially OFF THE CLOSURE LIST! Congrats to all who dedicated themselves to this effort.
Next, Patty and I drove about a mile down the road where we joined snow-shoers and cross-country skiers to ascend Eureka Loop Trail and view both Lake Eureka and Eureka Peak. The trail is a steady uphill climb, taking you along side the Plumas-Eureka Ski bowl, under the ski-lift lines, above the ski-run, and finally bending around leaving the ski-slope behind, heading towards the lake and the mountain.
The higher we climbed, the more spectacular the panoramic views. Here and there the cross-country skiers abandoned their skis, choosing instead to hike up the mountain due to the sparse snow cover.
Lake Eureka was frozen, almost. Hikers walked onto the ice. One artist "free-footed" a heart on the lake's surface. I was tempted, but the sound of the "non-frozen" water spilling over the edge of the dam gave me pause.
Looming ahead was the mountaintop. Other hikers informed us it was the steepest part of the trail and would add an additional two to three hours to our walk. With only a couple of daylight hours left, we decided to leave that portion of the hike for another day, since the park is staying open! We spent some time admiring it all, returned to the car and called it a day, and a great one at that!
It's Spring Break! I hope to see you at the State Parks.
Posted by State Park Closure Trips at 9:15 PM