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Hiking to the Old Mining Town of Bennettville and the Lakes Beyond

Tioga Road had reopened after the last storm dropped some snow and we never know how long it will remain open in the late fall. We could hear Tioga Pass calling to us, so we headed over there to check out the old abandoned mining town of Bennettville, icy Mine Creek and 6 beautiful lakes to the north.

Where: Hoover Wilderness, Inyo National Forest
Distance: 6.4 Miles
Difficulty: Moderate to Strenuous
Elevation Range: 9,534′ – 10,390′
Date: November 11, 2014
Maps: Falls Ridge and June Lake Topographic Quads

We started our adventure at the parking lot just outside the closed gate to the Tioga Junction Meadow Campground, 2.2 miles east of the Tioga Pass entrance to Yosemite National Park, and we headed up the trail that goes through the campground. The trail follows alongside Mine Creek as you head up toward Bennettville. When you reach the two restored old wooden buildings, all which remain of 14 buildings, you can’t help but imagine what this once bustling mining area was like back in its heyday. The United States Forest Service restored the two buildings, an assay office and a bunkhouse, back in 1993.

Bennetville and Beyond 2The story goes that “in 1860 a prospecting party consisting of a justice of the peace, an ex-sea captain, a surveyor, a dentist and a professor was prospecting in the Bloody Canyon area. The dentist, George W. “Doc” Chase, remarked, while camped near Tioga Pass, that if they could but spend one more day in the area he could locate and claim ‘the biggest silver ledge ever discovered.’

The next day he placed a flattened tin can, on which he scratched the location notice with his knife, on Tioga Hill. The ore he carried out was never assayed as he and his partners arrived at Monoville just when the Aurora strike was made. Each made money but none ever returned to the ‘thundering big silver ledge’ on Tioga Hill.

15 years later, William Brusky, Jr. was herding his father’s sheep and he found a rusty pick and shovel and a flattened tin can, on which he could make out, “Notice, we the undersigned” and the date 1860. Having heard of the lost mine, Brusky took ore samples to his father, who tested them and pronounced them worthless.

Young Brusky did not discourage easily. The next summer he ‘sank a small hole in the ledge and procured some better looking ore.’ It was not until 1877 that an assay found the ore to be rich in silver.”

In 1878, nine claims were made in the area and the Tioga Mining District was organized. Dana City, the site of the Great Sierra Mine, was given a Post Office in 1880. In 1881, the Great Sierra Consolidated Silver Company bought up all of the claims on Tioga Hill. No pay dirt was hit so they regrouped.

In 1882, they started working round the clock with 3 shifts to dig in the Great Sierra Tunnel. Their plan was to dig a tunnel 1,784′ down where they hoped to hit that big silver ledge. That year, the new town of Bennettville got its own Post Office. More than 350 claims had been made in the Tioga Mining District by this time. “Bennettville was touted as an excellent location with ample room for 50,000 inhabitants, an abundant water supply and invigorating climate.”

“On July 3, 1884, the boom was over. A financial ‘crisis’ occasioned the Great Sierra’s Executive Committee to suspend all operations and soon Dana City and Bennettville joined the silent ranks of fabled western ghost towns. Although more than $300,000 had been spent, as best we know no ore ever left the Sheepherder mine for milling. But a road had been built.” We know that road today as the Tioga Road.

Yosemite Nature Notes is a wonderful web series that puts together gorgeous videos about Yosemite National Park. Dana City is located within the Park but Bennettville is just outside. You can even subscribe to their YouTube Channel to be notified when a new video comes out (link at the end of the blog). They recently released a video about Dana City, Bennettville and other old, abandoned Mining communities in this area, please check it out.

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We walked up to Shell Lake where Debra Kincaid took this picture of me.
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We continued up the trail to Fantail Lake.(Photo of Gail and I walking up the trail by Debra Kincaid)
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As we looked back, we could see a huge, growing lenticular cloud over Mt. Dana.
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As I was walking up the trail, I spotted an orange butterfly right in the middle of the trail. The temperature was around freezing so I don’t know how this little guy was surviving. Of course, by the time I could get my camera out, he closed up his wings but it was still an unexpected find.
Bennetville and Beyond 9We continued up the hill. (Photo by Debra Kincaid). As we followed Mine Creek, there were many places where ice had formed on its outer edges and in small waterfalls.

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We climbed up and over into Spuller Lake.
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Then one more ascent up and over into Maul and Green Treble Lakes. (Next two pictures by Gail Gilbert)
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It was the perfect place for our lunch spot. The wind was gusting up to 30 mph so we didn’t stay too long.
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As we headed back, I could look back and see Saddlebag Lake in the distance. I took a few pictures of my hiking buddies climb out of this basin.
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And Debra Kincaid took this picture of me heading down the hill on the other side. Even though we had come up this same way, the afternoon sun made things look a little different so we needed to stop and admire the views.
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On the way back, we spent a little more time at the old town of Bennettville. The afternoon sun was much more forgiving for picture taking. We explored around and checked out what I call “the cave.” We even found an old foundation of another structure that had disappeared to time. (Photo of me and Deb by Gail Gilbert)
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Day Hikes in the Tioga Pass Region, John Carroll O’Neill & Elizabeth Stone O’Neill, 2002
Hubbard, D. H., Ghost Mines of Yosemite, 1958, Awani Press, Fresno.

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