I prefer winter and Fall, when you feel the bone structure of the landscape — the loneliness of it, the dead feeling of winter. Something waits beneath it, the whole story doesn’t show. ~Andrew Wyeth

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Over Zealous Miners from Michigan

Just before you drive down into Rancho Murieta, on highway 16, in the California Foothills, you can see the landscape change. The hills look different.
It is because this whole area has a history. It's where GOLD was discovered on the Cosumnes River in 1849.
Two men from Michigan found some gold along the river and within a very short time there was a town and  people swarming over this area. They wanted to get the gold as fast and as efficiently as possible. So the process of hydraulic mining was used.

Now there is no one here. Mainly a highway going up into the foothills, a clay company, some cows and, in the spring, hills covered with many kinds of wildflowers and yellow lupine.
 The Michigan Bar Mining District covered a large area. Placer gold deposits were mined extensively between 1849 and 1900 primarily by hydraulic and ground sluicing techniques. Dredging was another successful technique and extended the district's mining life into the 1950's. The total gold production in this district has been estimated at over 1,500,000 ounces.
But the miners made a terrible mess of the area because they didn't have good mining practices back then. Because they wanted to get more of the gold out of the ground they turned to larger mining practices, using water to break down the material. They called it hydraulicking. It was a form of mining using high-pressure jets of water to dislodge rock material and move sediment. The water-sediment slurry was then run through sluice boxes to remove the gold. The hydraulic mining left scars on the land that, to this day, are still visible.

But Mother Nature has worked some magic and healed most of her wounds. When Spring comes and the wildflowers bloom, this area is just about as beautiful as it gets around here.
 Above is Michigan Bar Rd looking north toward the Cosumnes River.Those are poppies and blue lupine lining the road. There are a couple of ranches down at the river and some old buildings, but mostly it's just rolling hills and a long gravel road.
If you turn around and look south, you can see the strange shape of hills that were created by huge hydraulic water guns..
If you look closer... you can see how the water pressure cut into the hills as if someone took a bite out of them.
The folks that mined this way thought that hydraulic mining was an efficient way to get the gold out of the ground but the erosion and damage to the land was horrific.
Today the land looks beautiful, with some slightly funny looking  hills and a few red dirt remnants left to tell the tail.
There are some beautiful old valley oaks here and there.
And the wildflowers (including the yellow lupine) have, again, laid their clam to the land.
Nature is always healing man's mistakes.
We need to be more careful. We don't want to damage this beautiful world beyond its ability to repair itself or we will find ourselves without a world at all and my grandchildren need a place to live.


  1. Another wonderful post. My dad worked in the gold mines in and around Nevada City, California. I remember what was called the diggins where they used the hydraulic way of getting the gold. Thanks for sharing this with us. Have a blessed day. Madeline

  2. I hadn't known about this area, I will have to get over there to check it out. Placerville has sections that were destroyed by hydraulicking also, tall hills in the middle of town that parts are still there. Some have houses built on them now, I wouldn't trust living in one myself. A lady I know lived below a cut and a huge boulder ended up in the back of her house. Over a hundred years after the mining took place. Enjoyed your photos as always.

  3. This is a great post. Interesting history of the area and beautiful photos.


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