If you have an interest in early mining history and have always wanted to explore underground, then you are in luck in California. Several places in this state have rare opportunities to safely explore old mines that were once major gold producers.
Professional guides will show you can deep underground where men once worked to the precious metal that made California famous.
Sixteen to One Mine Tour
The Sixteen to One Mine was founded in 1896 and resides in Alleghany County. The interesting name of this mine had to do with theratio of the value of silver to gold being 16 to 1.
The mine was discovered quite late after most of the gold rushes were long over, and it is rare because it is still operational today. This mine process high quality gold with extremely rich ores that are commonly used in the jewelry trade.
Of course the most interesting part is the fact that you can visit it in a guided tour! You can see dark caverns, low and narrow corridors that lead deep into the mountains. If you have claustrophobia, this is definitely not the place for you. Just imagine the feeling of having a picnic hundreds of feet below the surface of the Earth! In some areas you can see actual gold on the walls of the mine. It is definitely worth the visit, however this is not a structured tour, so you need to contact the mine directly to make arrangements prior to your visit or you won’t get in.
Kennedy Mine Tour
Kennedy Mine is one of the deepest in the world (more than 5000 feet below sea level). The Kennedy Mine was among the earliest discovered California Gold mines. It was prospected in 1860 for the first time and was worked until 1942. Almost a century worth of mining produced nearly 35 million dollars’ worth of gold.
Unfortunately, you can’t actually go underground here since the mine is abandoned and now very dangerous inside. The outside of the mine is still maintained just for the sake of visitors. Don’t be too disappointed that you can’t actually go underground though; there is a lot of interesting old mining relics on the surface.
There is the office building with its smelting furnaces. Bars were made from gold that was extracted there. There are also stamp mills that crushed the ore. You can also find lots of technical buildings which had been used by miners in those days. The elevator mechanism powered by a steam boiler, changing rooms and cantinas.
You can basically feel yourself a miner of a large company and understand how the process went when people were outside of the mine. It is fascinating to learn about the processes that they used so many years ago.
Eagle Mining Company
The Eagle Mine was established in 1870 in Julian a few decades after the start of the California Gold Rush. It was quite a standard mine back then and was abandoned in the early years of the 20th century. However, in 1967, a married couple found out that their ancestors had a claim on the abandoned mine. They decided to rejuvenate it and make it into a museum.
It may not be as big as other mines but it offers a great and cozy experience and a peek at how small mines were processed in the Gold Rush years. It has but a few tunnels, some picks, carts and other materials but every detail tells you a story of single miners who tried to earn their living going underground every day to find the precious metals.
Empire Mine State Historic Park
The Empire Mine Historic Park provides a great time with exhibits both above and below ground. On the surface, wander through William Bowers Bourn’s huge country estate. The ridiculously misnamed “Bourn Cottage” is a two-story stone mansion which was patterned after the largest estates in 19th century England.
After seeing Bourn’s estate, explore his “day job.” He managed the mine in the late 1800s.There is a Mine Yard Tour which sheds light on the rough lives of the miners who worked in one of California’s deepest gold mines.
In the Visitor Center you can learn about the history of one of the state’s largest and richest gold mines. It was in operation for quite some time before eventually being shut in 1956.
5.6 million ounces of gold were mined — enough to fill a box which would be 7 feet long, 7 feet high, and 7 feet deep. You can see a scale model of what the huge mine looked like. The underground network covered 5 square miles!
Also Read: California’s Lost Underground River of Gold
Burro Schmidt Tunnel
This mine is very peculiar due to the fact that it is not really a mine that ends in a dead end as most mines do. It is an entire tunnel through the El Paso Mountains! The interesting fact is that Burro Schmidt made the tunnel to haul gold from his claim towards the smelter. Talk about being thorough. And then, as he was halfway through, a safe road around the mountain was constructed making his tunnel obsolete.
However, he never gave up. He got obsessed with the tunnel and finished it 38 years after he started this endeavor, even though there was no rational reason to do it! Talk about being dedicated. He never even used the tunnel to haul his gold. He just sold it to another miner and moved!
Well, his achievement is a very interesting monument to gold mining nowadays and you can come to see the tunnel and have a walk in the shade 2,500 feet long. The shade is an understatement, of course. The tunnel has no illumination. You wouldn’t want to walk 40 minutes in absolute darkness!
There is no guided tour here, and the BLM recommends that people stay out of the tunnel for safety reasons, but people do commonly go through it.
Underground Street Tours in Sacramento
So this one is not exactly a mine, but it is directly related to the gold rush almost as much as the mines themselves. Sacramento became a boomtown that supplies the mines of the Sierra Nevada.
One major problem that it faced early on was flooding. The town was very often underwater, so a decision was made to raise it up. The built above the current level of the city, and completely abandoned the old below, leaving many of the old relics behind.
Eventually historical societies managed to defeat the flooding with modern drainage technology and uncover the underground town of Sacramento and allow you to see firsthand the buildings, the culture and the way the people had lived back during the time when mining was king. The most fascinating part is standing inside a house or in an old church and see the guide point up to the ceiling and say, “Up there is the pavement”.
*Note: Most of these are guided tours, and as such they are safe to visit. However, it is generally recommended that people use extreme caution and never explore abandoned mines unless they are professionally trained to do so. Out article titled 10 Ways to Die in an Underground Mine covers a few of the potential dangers you might encounter.