Hiking through country that is rich with mining history gave me the chance to walk in the footprints of unknown miners who had dreams of striking it rich in the South Fork of the Merced River. Some did, most didn’t. Another unique element of this hike is the Knobcone Pine stand that we passed through.
Where: Sierra National Forest
Distance: 7.90 Miles
Difficulty: Moderate to Strenuous
Elevation Range: 1,769′ – 2,220′
Date: March 4, 2015
Maps: Buckingham Mountain Topographic Quad
We headed out Jerseydale Rd. to Scott Rd. which turned into Hites Cove Rd., following it to the end of the good part of the road where there is a wide open area that looks like it has been used for camping and who knows what in the past. We parked up here, not really sure how the short distance left of the road that is supposed to be driveable looked like. I hear that when that road is wet, it becomes very slick. I have also heard of it being rutted and needing 4WD.
We walked down that last part of road to where it ended and where the trail started to the right. The trailhead was not signed at the beginning but a tree was blazed and had a sign on it farther down.
This picture shows the beginning of the trailhead and you wouldn’t really know it if you didn’t know where it was. It was a good trail though and easy to follow, although overgrown in areas where you would need to part the chemise sea of vegetation as you walked though a few sections.
One of the unique things about this trail is that it goes through a stand of Knobcone Pine. They look a little like a Digger Pine, but are very different and pretty scarce. One of the unique things about them is their cones.They remain on the trees almost indefinitely, seldom opening and releasing the seeds until after the tree or branch bearing them dies.
They are known as “fire-type” pines due to the prolific reproduction that follows the fires which occur in the foothills they inhabit. All the cones produced since the tree was a sapling, or since the last fire, except those buried in the trunk, are caused to open by the heat and discharge their seeds soon after they are exposed to fire. Most trees are destroyed by fire but fire is directly responsible for this tree’s future generations to thrive.
As we headed down the hill we could look up the canyon toward Snyder Ridge and down the canyon towards Hite Cove (also known as Hite’s Cove). Believe it or not, Hite Cove was a thriving mining town after the discovery of gold there in 1861by John R. Hite. By 1864, the town had a population of about 100 and a 10-stamp mill in operation, later increased to a 20-stamp mill.
The buildings burned down in 1924 but quite a bit of the old foundations, mining equipment and diggings can still be seen. It is more easily accessible from Highway 140 and is also well known for its poppy displaying spring. Also note that access is limited in this area only during the spring due to the high fire danger. I have links to my prior blogs on those hikes, which showcase spring flowers and mining history, at the end.
Mindat.org describes the geology of this area as follows: “The district is underlain by graphitic, schist and slate, quartzite, and hornfels. These rocks are cut by a variety of aplitic and granitic dikes, some of which are associated with gold-quartz veins. There are a number of northwest-striking quartz veins up to 12 feet thick. The ore contains native gold and often abundant sulfides. The greatest depth of development is about 800 feet.”
There were quite a few mines in the area that were worked back in the day in this area which is located in the Hite Cove Mining District. In addition to the Hite Mine, they include the Brown Bear Mine, Bunker Hill Mine, Confidence Mine, Eureka Mine #2, Georgia Point Mine, Kaderitas Mine, Mexican Mine #2, Squirrel Mine and Williams Mine. In addition to the gold, minerals such as Arsenopyrite, Baryte, Calcite, Galena, Gold, Nontronite, ‘Pitticite’, Platinum, Pyrite, Quartz, Scorodite, Siderite and Sphalerite. Some mining still occurs in the area.
The trail also took us above Snyder Gulch, where John Hite operated in his sawmill back in 1875.
We passed by quite a diversity of wildflowers along the rocky trail.
Once we made it down toward the South Fork of the Merced River and headed downstream from Snyder Gulch, we were at a fork in the trail. We followed the sign toward Peach Tree Bar and kept along the river, admiring the reflections in the water. We also spotted some really big fish in there.
We left the trail to head over to the river where there was a wide flat spot. We were surprised to find an old cook stove, along with a few campfire rings.
We found a good lunch spot by the river, where nice reflections of rock and grasses changed with the light and light breeze. After lunch I wandered around while Steve took a siesta.
This hike was a good workout and I sure loved seeing this old mining country from a different perspective. It was a cooler day with a breeze, so it wasn’t too hot as we climbed out of that canyon. I would not want to do this hike on a warm day. This trail is not for everyone though.
The trail is overgrown in places with chemise and you had to part the brush to get through in places. There were a few down trees we had to crawl over. Once we got toward the bottom, there was poison oak near along the trail, sometimes whipping our legs. I picked off a couple of ticks at lunchtime and the gnats were out. In the warmer weather I would think this area is VERY snakey. We didn’t see any rattlesnakes but I know they were there. We also saw plenty of coyote, bobcat and bear scat on the trail.
Chamberlain, Newell D., The Call of the Gold, 1972
Prior Blogs in the Area: