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Hiking With Sally & Fannie to Bennettville and The Great Sierra Mine

Camping with my dogs, we wandered where miners knew they would be striking it rich as soon as they hit “The Great Silver Belt.” Back in 1882, a town was started up to accommodate the needs of up to 50,000 miners when that happened. Well, the big strike didn’t take place but the remains of the town named Bennettville and the Great Sierra Mine are still up there to explore. This mine and community played an important role in history, one of them building the Great Sierra Wagon Road. This road is known to us today as the Tioga Road.

Where: Inyo National Forest
Distance: About 2.04 Miles Roundtrip
Difficulty: Easy
Elevation Range: 9,548′ – 9,917′
Elevation Gain: 367′
Date: September 30, 2021
CALTOPO: Bennettville Great Sierra Mine Hike
Dog Hike? Yes

Sally the Weimaraner, Fannie the Corgi and I spent a few days camping at Junction Campground before it closed for the season. The nights were chilly, making it down to the low teens each night, but the days warmed up for comfortable hiking weather to do some exploring around Bennettville and the Great Sierra Mine.

This is a hike that doesn’t take all day and can be a great stretch for your legs stop as you drive over Tioga Road. There are two possible starting points for the hike to Bennettville and the Great Sierra Mine. One is at a wide pullout across from Tioga Lake, just east of the Yosemite National Park entrance station at Tioga Pass. The other trailhead starts at the Junction Campground in the Inyo National Forest at the intersection of Hwy 120 and Saddlebag Lake Road. It just happens that is where I had camped so we had an easy journey to the trailhead that starts o the right of the Camp Host’s campsite and campground informational signs at the entrance to the campground. If you are not camped, you can park in the parking area before the bridge, just before you enter the campground where a E. Clampus Vitus historical marker and old piece of mining equipment stand. Sally, Fannie and I headed up the trail to the old mining town of Bennettville.

The trail is fairly easy, except there are a few spots where you need to navigate up and down through short rocky sections. Hiking poles or a steady hiking buddy can make this part easier. We also passed over some dried up small creeks but they can be running in the spring. I kept the dogs on leash most of the time, one reason being that this trail is a popular one for both people and dogs, and we saw several on our adventure.

 

It was only about 1/2 mile before we reached the old mining town of Bennettville, which housed those hardy miners. There used to be 14 buildings but they have been lost to time. The United States Forest Service restored two of the buildings, an assay office and a bunkhouse, back in 1993. I love these old pictures of the town and always picture the buildings and thoroughfares when it was booming.

Bennettville (Photo Courtesy Yosemite National Park Digital Archives)

Bennettville (Photo Courtesy Yosemite National Park Digital Archives)

The mining history of this area includes many discoveries and rediscoveries of mines, along with the relationship of these mining operations being intertwined with the mining communities of Bodies, Aurora and Lundy. The search for gold and silver led to the discovery of the Sheepherder Lode, claimed to be “the biggest silver ledge ever discovered”. The Sheepherder Lode was discovered in 1860 and rediscovered in 1874 by a Sheepherder named Thomas Brusky Jr. The short version of this story is that many claims were made in this area and in 1881 The Great Sierra Consolidated Silver Mining Company bought up all of the claims around Tioga Hill and established a town with an approved post office in 1881 called Dana. The largest efforts related to Dana City were in sinking a shaft straight down to hit the Sheepherder Lode. That town didn’t last too long and by 1884 the operation was moved to the community of Bennettville, not too far away. The Consolidated Silver Mining Company had been reorganized into the Great Sierra Mining Company, and they made the decision to refocus their efforts away for Dana City and instead of trying to sink a shaft straight down, moved their efforts to the west from the base of Tioga Hill.

Bennettville was first called Bennett City and shows up in the Homer Mining Index on February 18, 1882:

“The Coming City. The embryo town at the mouth of the Great Sierra (commonly called Tioga) tunnel is called Bennet City, in honor Thomas Bennett Jr., of New Bedford, Massachusetts, President of the Great Sierra Consolidated Silver Company. . . Bennett City, being centrally and beautifully situated, will be the principal town of the district, though when the mines are developed they will doubtless support one or two other towns of considerable size. But all the mines of Tioga Hill as far north as Mount Conness will be tributary to this place, as will also the Rhinedollar group of mines on the eastern line of contact and on both sides of Lee Vining creek, and all the mills and other reduction works required by both tiers of mines in the central portion of the district. Bennett City will also be the terminus of the wagon road to be built early in the coming Spring, but the Great Sierra Company, to connect the mines with the railroads of the San Joaquin Valley. A portion of the flat near the mouth of the tunnel has been located for placer mining and some good prospects obtained, but there is ample room on gently rolling ground for a city of 50,000 inhabitants, with an abundance of wood and water of the best quality on the ground.”

We checked out the inside of the larger building.

I could tell that the dogs wanted to get a picture of themselves in the old building so I obliged.

Near the larger cabin, there is a rock that holds many treasures that people have found around Bennettville. Pieces of old glass, pottery, bits of tin and parts of old mining stuff are all laid out on the rock for people to inspect and daydream about.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We wandered around a bit, looking at the view of the town from different angles, checking out the remains of old foundations and other interesting stuff.

Old treasures can be found if you look and I found a gem, an old intact jar with a lid. I don’t think it was super old but it was old. I placed it on the rock with other treasures that people had found for others to admire.

If you are hungry for more history related to Bennettville, my 2019 blog has more detailed information. You can access the links of my prior blogs on the area at the bottom of my blogs. 

We followed the trail down to the creek. The trail splits in this area, the right fork heading up to Shell, Fantail, Shuller, Green Treble, Maul Lakes and beyond. The left fork crosses the creek and ties in with the old road that went up to the Great Sierra Mine.

I have been asked about what was the official name of this mine where this Great Sierra Tunnel was dug into Tioga Hill’s. The name of a mine may change over the many years since it was first “discovered.” New owners may change the name or add it to a grouping of nearby mines under a different name. People today will refer to the name of this mine under slightly different names because of this. Because the Great Sierra Mining Company underwent this large mining endeavor, the mine at Bennettville and Dana City, often are both called the Great Sierra Mine. The Homestake Mine and Tioga Mine are shown on Mine.dat and Mono County’s records as the latest names and September Holdings also has mining claims in this immediate area.

Tioga machinery in place near Bennettville (Photo Courtesy Yosemite National Park Digital Archives)

Note Reversed Image (Photo Courtesy Yosemite National Park Digital Archives)

A view of the main adit to the Great Sierra Mine and mining equipment. All of this mining equipment and much more was brought over from Lundy by men and mules on sleds.

We checked out the remains of Two Pressure Tanks, an old ore cart and other old mining stuff.

Steam pump

 

 

 

 

 

 

We walked by the remains of an old handheld drill to take a peek into the mine. Ore cart tracks led into the tunnel where a strong gate limits the access into the old adit, full of hidden dangers.

An iron gate blacks any entry further into the mine.

I put my camera through the iron gate heavy bars to try and capture an image farther in.

Looking out from the iron gate.

The Great Sierra Mining Company worked a 1,784′ deep tunnel in search of silver but ran into financial problems and shut down July 3, 1884. The post office closed in November of that year. Although more than $300,000 had been spent on the tunnel and $56,000 on the road, They hadn’t struck any ore yet but it was “confidently predicted” that the tunnel would cut into the Sheepherder lode “within a few weeks.” There are several attempts over the years to rework the mine but no ore of value was located in these small attempts.

The Homer Mining Index records many mining stories at Bennettville and the surrounding area, too many to share them all here. The mine was worked year round and stories of frostbite, sledding injured men from Bennettville to Lundy and an avalanche are just a few.

Probably one of the most significant improvements from Bennettville was the construction of the Great Sierra Wagon Road. The work on the 56 miles of road was done mostly with Chinese labor. It cost $62,000 and took 100 days to complete. The road went from Bennettville, west to the area of Crocker Station off of Big Oak Flat Road. With the advent of the automobile and the need for roads to drive them on, the National Park Service purchased the Great Sierra Wagon Road in 1915. The road was improved to allow automobiles to travel on it and is now known as the Tioga Road. You can still see portions of the old road as your travel the area. Across from the upper end of Tioga Lake and across the road, there is a portion of the old road that you can walk on and even arrive at the Great Sierra Mine and Bennettville. I highly recommend that you give this pretty easy walk a try.

There was even talk of putting in a railroad. The plan was to tie it in with The California and Yosemite Short Line Railroad Company’s line from Modesto.

We took in the view that the miners would have had of their town from the tailing dump left behind.

We headed back the same way we had come in, down the old mining road.

This trail is not short of fabulous views along the way.

From Bennettville, you can continue up the trail to check out some beautiful small lakes, make a loop over to the mine then back down the old section of the Great Sierra Wagon Road, walking along Hwy 120 by the Tioga Pass Resort and back to your car, or just come back down the way you hiked in. It is all good!

There is a wonderful book at Bennettville that I cannot recommend enough if you want to learn more about Bennettville and the surrounding area. It is called Bennettville and the Tioga Mining District by Alan H. Patera. He includes many stories about the people who lived here, along with historical information. You will probably have a challenge finding it but you can usually pick up a copy on EBay if you set a search.

One of the relaxing things to do while camping in this area is when I walk around after the hikers go home, the traffic slows down and the sun sets or rises against the mountains, casting them in a rosy glow.

Or a starry frame.

From Bennettville, you can continue up the trail to check out some beautiful small lakes, make a loop over to the mine then back down the old section of the Great Sierra Wagon Road, walking along Hwy 120 by the Tioga Pass Resort and back to your car, or just come back down the way you hiked in. It is all good!

There is a wonderful book at Bennettville that I cannot recommend enough if you want to learn more about Bennettville and the surrounding area. It is called Bennettville and the Tioga Mining District by Alan H. Patera. He includes many stories about the people who lived here, along with historical information. You will probably have a challenge finding it but you can usually pick up a copy on EBay if you set a search.

Dog Hike?

I checked out Sally’s feet during this hike and after we returned to our campsite. That rocky country can be tough on a dogs feet and I brought Sally’s boots with me but she didn’t need them.

This hike can be a good dog hike if your dog is up to it. The rocky terrain is very rough on a dog’s feet and I packed Sally’s boots just in case she got a sore spot on her paw or sliced her foot on one of those sharp rocks. Even if you think your dog’s feet are toughened up enough for this hike, you can have surprises so please be prepared. Sally hiked for 3 1/2 days on this trip. There aren’t any rattlesnakes or poison oak and there is plenty of good, fresh drinking water for her all along the way. That means I don’t have to pack her water and that is a good thing! Sally has never had any problems drinking the water out of these higher elevations but some dogs may not be as easy as Sally on this issue. I think you need to know your dog and you may need to carry some water for them. This area also has bubonic plague and if you dog gets a hold of a critter such as a squirrel or mouse, this could be something to watch for after a trip in this area.

Here is some information from Inyo National Forest regarding their dog rules:

Traditionally, National Forests have welcomed dogs. However there are a few rules that apply to assure that you and other National Forest visitors have an enjoyable outdoor recreation experience. If you are camping with your pet, please practice the following:

  • Leave vicious or unusually noisy dogs at home.
  • During the day keep your dog on a leash no more than 6 feet long, or otherwise restrict its freedom to roam at will.
  • At night keep your dogs and other pets inside an enclosed vehicle or in a tent.
  • Developed campgrounds are for people, not animals. Please do not bring more than two dogs or other pet to any one campsite.

General rules for dogs within the Inyo National Forest:

  • Dogs are allowed for trips staying in the National Forest. Pet food must be stored the same as required for your food.
  • Dogs are prohibited, as are any other pets, on trips visiting the wilderness of Yosemite, Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks.
  • Pets need to be on leash or under verbal command. Do not allow pets to chase or harass wildlife.

Doarama:

What is a Doarama?  It is a video playback of the GPS track overlaid on a 3 dimensional interactive map. If you “grab” the map, you can tilt it or spin it and look at it from different viewing angles. With the rabbit and turtle buttons, you can also speed it up, slow it down or pause it.

Bennettville Great Sierra Mine Doarama

Map, and Profile :

CALTOPO has some free options for mapping and here is a link to my hike this week, which you can view or download: CALTOPO: Bennettville Great Sierra Mine Hike

Junction Campground Map

Bennettville Great Sierra Mine Topographic Map

Bennettville Great Sierra Mine Profile

Prior Blogs in this Area:

Hiking With Sally to the Old Mining Town of Bennettville July 17, 2019

Camping & Fishing With Sally in Tioga Pass June 19, 2019

Hiking Through July Snow To Gaylor, Granite Lakes & The Old Mining Town Of Dana City July 1, 2019

Hiking from Tioga Lake to Bennettville and up to Green Treble Lake Loop October 12, 2018

Hiking from Tioga Lake to the Great Sierra Mine and High Lakes Beyond August 10, 2017

Hiking with Sally From Bennettville to Green Treble Lake August 18, 2016

Bennettville to Spuller Lake Snow & Ice Hike February 13, 2013

Hiking With Sally And Raven from Bennettville to Green Treble Lake June 2, 2014

Hiking to the Old Mining Town of Bennettville and the Lakes Beyond November 11, 2014

Bennettville to Spuller Lake Snow & Ice Hike February 13, 2013

Sources:

The Great Sierra Wagon Road Wikipedia

Chinese in the Woods: Logging and Lumbering in the American West By Sue Fawn Chung

Homer Mining Index  http://www.lundycanyon.com/the-homer-mining-index/

Hubbard, D. H.,Ghost Mines of Yosemite, 1958, Awani Press, Fresno.

Ghost Mines of Yosemite (1958) by Douglass Hubbard

Trexler, Keith A., The Tioga Road; a History 1883-1961 http://www.yosemite.ca.us/library/tioga_road/mines.html

Patera, Alan, Bennettville and the Tioga Mining District, Western Places, Lake Grove, Oregon, 2003

Yosemite National Park Digital Archives

Inyo National Forest Dog Rules

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