West of Tioga Pass Road is two old forgotten mining towns. One is called Dana City, located above the upper Gaylor Lake at 10,840 feet. The trailhead is located west of Yosemite’s east gate at an elevation of 9,970 feet.
Once passing the trailhead this historic trail rises in elevation over 400 feet while protected by an umbrella of pine and cedar trees. Once at the saddle, the trail drops over 300 feet to the middle of Gaylor Lake. Follow the trail east as it once again climbs to the upper Gaylor Lake at 10,520 feet. At this point one can see a stone structure which is the introduction to Dana City or The Great Sierra Mines.
From 1860 to 1884, Dana City boosted over 350 active mining claims and had a gold and silver production of over $2 million. This area was originally discovered by a sheep herder in 1860 by the name of Thomas Brusky Jr. He named the area the Sheepherders Load Silver Mine. In 1881 he sold the area to the Great Sierra Consolidated Silver Mining Company, to which they changed the name to Dana City.
All that remains today is the crumbling remains or foundations of many stone structures. The constructed walls of the one remaining stone cabin are over 20 inches thick to keep in heat and insulate from the extreme winter cold at 10,800 feet. The lack of roads (only trails) and the absence of cement and wood, the stacking of rocks was their only means of survival. In 1882 Dana City had the reputation of the highest elevation post office in the United States. It also boasted a population of over 500 people during its productive years.
Throughout this plateau are isolated areas displaying veins of white and gray quartz. Most of the mine shafts are vertical, extending deep into the guts of this mountain. The area is like any old mining town, one must be careful because not all of the shafts are exposed. Those shafts that were open are filled with debris and water.
After two hours of exploring the surrounding area I felt a deep respect for these miners, especially their foresight of creating this remote town. How they survived those harsh winter conditions and their acceptance of the hardships that followed this profession, just to create a lifestyle for themselves. The total round trip hiking time was under six hours. Parts of this trek are strenuous but rewarding just to witness this forgotten part of California history.
The second mining area is called Bennettsville, which is located almost a quarter-mile outside the east gate to Yosemite. The trailhead is located on the west side of Tioga Pass Road. This old wagon road was used to bring supplies into Bennettsville and transport ore from the mine. This will be an easy to moderate trek and takes only 45 minutes to hike to the mine. From the mine entrance, stand on the tailings, look to the south, and you’ll see the remains of Bennettsville. Only two structures were rebuilt, but take the time and preview the remains of another forgotten mining town.
Just a few artifacts are displayed at the mine entrance; a rusted mechanical steam pump, fresh air compressor, steam pressure tanks and an ancient compressed air drilling tool. Even the ore car tracks still extend from the mine entrance. The mine is barricaded to discourage access into its interior. Like most mines, water flows freely from its darkened horizontal shaft.
This was a non-productive mine, and after its failure in 1884 it remained closed until 1933. Once again it became a major disappointment to its owners with no value recorded and was closed and forgotten in 1934.
Within two hours one can walk in the same footsteps our early pioneers took during the late 1800s. Walk through its historic hillsides and who knows, maybe you’ll get lucky and find a small piece of history relating to this famous mining town called Bennettsville.