Malakoff Diggins historical erosion and devastation of Sacramento Valley
Malakoff Diggins looking east.
To see the combination of man’s greed coupled with a complete disregard of nature or other people, travel to Malakoff Diggins State Historic Park to see the results of hydraulic mining. After the easy gold was panned out of the stream beds, more innovative miners turned large scale excavation to extract gold dust mixed in ancient river bed in the 1850′s – 1880′s
Just as any small boy will tell you, there are few things as fascinating as washing away dirt with an open hose. That is essentially what they did at Malakoff Diggins. After the hydraulic mining was stopped by court order in 1884, we are left the historic scar to wander around.
When ever I visit a historic place I try to put all the pieces together. I am fascinated by the logistics, engineering and aspects of daily life scattered about. When you stumble upon a historic place like Malakoff Diggins you often wonder, “How in the hell did they find this place?” There are plenty of sources of historic information on Malakoff Diggins. I just wanted to pose some questions and offer some photos that I took of our experience.
130 years after the water cannons were silenced, significant scarring remains. Willows trees and brush, phreatophytes, are growing thick (I got lost in them) and trying to reclaim the pit. We are still left with a 7,000 foot drain tunnel and the lingering effects on the Sacramento Valley from the elevated river bottom that all of the hydraulic mining drained into.
I have lots of questions, so if you have lots of answers, please feel free to add a comment.
1. What is the parent material of the exposed eroded soil? The soil is a light gray or white. It almost looks like the parent material was volcanic ash. The rocks and pebbles in the pit are mostly round and smooth so they were obviously in moving water long before they were left high and dry in Nevada County.
2. What iron alloy was the penstock pipes made out of? Look closely at the large pipes scattered along the pit floor and you’ll notice they were flat sheets rolled and seamed to make the pipe. Additionally, all of the connections and fabrications were done with straps and rivets? Arc welding, was not universally available until the late 1870′s. Certain steel can’t be easily welded anyhow. There is one flange that has welding marks but I don’t know if it was from the period or from after the mine closed. The welding is and cutting of the flange is pretty crude, so it might be from the 1870′s.
It took a while, but I finally found some information about the termination of the 7,800′ drain tunnel. On our next trip up to Malakoff, we’ll hike down to the exit to take pictures. However, walking through the Hiller tunnel was fun. The red clay soil sticks to everything but the white powdery soil washes off easily.
I almost feel guilty revelling in the history of Malakoff Diggins. The heart ache and misery this mining operation caused to farmers in the valley and destruction to our rivers and San Francisco bay was enormous.
Click on thumbnails to enlarge photos.
Malafoff pit view looking west.
Vertical drip lines created by water dripping off the roots of the manzanita plants above.
Steep erosion pit view.
View of Malakoff Diggins looking north.
Crazy castle sculpted peaks of Malakoff soil.
Malakoff Diggins looking east.
Chalk white soil. What is the parent material? Volcanic?
Penstock wye pipe, massive water delivery.
Spindle in the monitor swivel that helped hold it all together.
Interior of the monitor swivel. Notice the ridges that were stops so the monitor did not get out of hand with all the water flowing through it.
Swivel joint of the monitor, all cast iron.
Small water monitor.
Wye fitting, notice the straps, rivets and creased seem holding the pipe together.
Malakoff old pressure pipe lying around at the site.
15′ barrel length gave the water stream a straight shot at the hillside.
End of the barrel of the a giant monitor, 5,000 – 7,000 gallons per minute.
Penstock pipe or lateral line used to carry water to the monitors.
Old pipe at least 140 years old still actually pretty strong even with the rust.
Old material and cables are just lying around Malakoff Diggins were they were left when mining ended.
Flange welded to pipe size reducer. Arc welding was not common in the 1870′s. Is this flange and ragged welding cuts original to the hydraulic operation?
Cast iron round knuckle swivel allowed the barrel of the monitor to be easily moved up, down and side to side.
Inside the Hiller tunnel looking south.
Water still runs through the tunnel.
South entrance of the Hillar tunnel.
Walking through the Hiller tunnel, 6′ in height most of the way.
North entrance of the Hiller tunnel
Seeping clay and water in the Hiller tunnel.
Foundation of the Skidmore Saloon
Not sure why they needed a fire tank when they had several thousand gallons of water flowing per minute to the pit right down the road.
Malakoff north Bloomfield sign
Malakoff livery hole rock. Probably used to grind corn and wheat at one time.
Malakoff Lafeyette hotel
Malakoff Kings saloon
Malakoff Kallenberger barber shop
Hendy monitor, largest of hydraulic cannons.
My son was convinced there was still gold at Malakoff. He left disappointed that he didn’t find any nuggets.
Giant monitor sign
Petrified wood around a drinking fountain in North Bloomfield town.
Malakoff ridge, continually eroding, never a chance for vegetation to grow.
Fine colloidal clay material continues to settles in the pit. When it dries, it makes hard chips. There is a lot of this clay in the San Francisco bay to this day.
Old pipes that brought water to the hydraulic monitors were called penstocks and could be under several hundred of water pressure.
Hiller Tunnel sign
Sign on Yuba River marking Bloomfield tunnel exit one mile up Humbug creek.
Historical hydraulic mining photos acquired in 2014
Log Dam for impounding tailings from a hydraulic mine. The material behind the dam is tailings from a hydraulic mine. c 1890 Upper Slate Creek.
Diagram of a hydraulic elevator. A jet of water that blasts the placer gravel up (elevates) to sluice box for separation and removing gold from slurry. 1940
Hydraulic Elevator, Bloomfield Mine, c 1890 above Nevada City.
Brush Dam, North Bloomfield Company, For impounding tailings. Dam is in the washed-out ground. It is sixty-five feet high and is raised as the tailings accumulate. The impounded tailings may be seen in the artotype. Nevada City c. 1890
45 inch water pipe for hydraulic mining supported by suspension bridge in Trinity County. The Swanson Mining Corporation also used this water for power generation to pump the water to the mines.
Campbell Creek diversion into the flume and water pipe carried by the suspension bridge to hydraulic mining activity near Salyer, CA, 1930 (?).
Spring Valley Mine, Butte County, Oroville, hydraulic mining, photo shows entrance of 3,000′ tunnel that led to Sawmill Ravine, Dry Creek. “Two streams piping. Gravel is washed into the deep bedrock cut which leads to the tunnel seen in the background, right hand side of picture. This tunnel is three thousand feet long, and driven to get outlet for the tailings.”
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