There’s gold in them thar hills!
Grass Lake, at 5,842 feet, lies peacefully in a meadow in the Lakes Basin area near Johnsville. The trail to the lake begins at the Jamison Mine site and passes many old mining buildings and relics.
When gold was discovered at Sutter’s Mill in Coloma in 1848, a massive influx of immigrants flocked to the area only 150 miles from the area soon to become Plumas County.
A few years later, in 1851, wandering miners made their way to an exposed ledge of quartz on the slopes of Eureka Peak.
The quartz proved rich with “hard rock” gold and mining activity began in earnest.
By 1853, Jamison City was born as a tent city. Soon it had morphed to a settlement of 12 buildings (six of them saloons), according to the Plumas-Eureka State Park Association website.
In 1872, Johnsville was settled and a year later, on the slopes of Eureka Peak, a settlement called Eureka Mills grew up.
Independent miners and small mining companies had experienced many “boom and bust” cycles until a British enterprise bought up most of the mines and began the Sierra Buttes Mining Company Ltd. around 1869.
It was profitable until about 1919, when the gold became much harder to find and the mining became sporadic. By 1943 mining was discontinued.
Little Jamison Falls is the first major water feature visible just off the trail to Jamison Lake on June 22. The falls drop sharply about 30 feet, offering a pretty view but no access from the cliff above. Photos by Laura Beaton
By that time, some $25 million in gold had been taken from the Plumas-Eureka area with the help of 65 miles of tunnels and tons of mining equipment and manpower.
All that remains now are remnants of sealed mine shafts and tunnels, mining debris, an old bunkhouse and a tramway, thought to have been the world’s first ski lift.
The Plumas-Eureka State Park Museum, home of the Plumas-Eureka State Park Association, now occupies the historic bunkhouse where miners used to live back in the gold mining heyday.
Plumas-Eureka State Park offers a wealth of history and artifacts as well as a self-guided tour, a working blacksmith shop, an assay office, a livery stable and the Mohawk Stamp Mill.
It’s possible that the birth of winter sports happened right here in Plumas County during the winters of the 1860s and ’70s, when miners were forced by the weather to quit work. Some believe that those idle winters birthed the sport of downhill skiing, starting on massive wooden “longboard” skis.
Nowadays the Plumas Ski Club continues the longboard tradition each winter with its annual world championship longboard ski races.
The ski club has also put out a bid request for installation of a used ski lift it recently acquired, to be erected at the Johnsville Ski Hill. When the lift is operational, the area will once again be a family-friendly ski destination, as it was a generation ago.
Now that mining enterprises are no longer operating, the Plumas-Eureka area has become a popular camping and hiking destination.
Between Plumas-Eureka State Park, which was saved from the chopping block of state budget cuts with help from the adroit negotiating powers of the Plumas-Eureka State Park Association, Lakes Basin Recreation Area (part of Plumas National Forest) and the Tahoe National Forest abutting Lakes Basin, there are hundreds of miles of trails and dirt roads available for recreational use.
A 6-mile round-trip trail beginning at Jamison Mine off Johnsville Road (A14) leads to Jamison and Rock lakes.
Along the way is Little Jamison Falls, Grass Lake, incredible views of jagged spires and buttes, wildflower-studded meadows and huge expanses of forest.
Trails abound all over the Graeagle area, and can easily be located on Forest Service maps, the Plumas National Forest website and the Beckwourth Ranger Station located at 23 Mohawk Road in Blairsden: 836-2575, Monday – Friday 8 a.m. – 4:30 p.m.
Put on your hiking shoes, pack a bathing suit, lunch and water and hit the trail for an experience in nature you won’t soon forget.