Through the years I’ve trekked through many exciting areas within Central California. Sometimes the least expected region can have lasting memories. I received an email from our local Senior Hiking group with the information on a mining area around Mariposa. The summer season fires, including the nearly 82,000 acre Detwiler Fire, had burnt through and opened up an old forgotten mining area from the 1850’s called Mount Ophir at 4,186 feet.
On Nov. 6, our group, led by Bob Whitley, had previewed this area a few days before. We drove through Mariposa on Highway 49, past the airport to the old road which runs parallel to Highway 49 and the location of Mount Ophir. Originally called Ophir, on Nov. 3, 1856 the name was changed to Mount Ophir. Today all that exists of this historic town is a crumbling stone wall and the remains of a foundation.
Could this be the remains of the first private mint established in California in 1851 built by John Moffot and closed around 1853.
Difficult to believe that standing near this small stream was a saw mill, 24 steam driven stamp mills, quartz mine, hotel, stores and cabins. Mount Ophir boosted a population of 5,000 which was the largest at that time in the surrounding counties.
It’s possible the foundation could be the Ophir Hotel that was located next to the mint. This mint turned out the first Hexagonal gold slugs weighing at 2.5 oz. minted in California valued at $ 50 around 1851. The coins face displayed a standing eagle with the number 50 and surrounded by lettering of the United States. Operations ended in 1853 and historically moved to San Francisco.
I started researching this area and came up with these facts; originally a group of Mexican miners in 1848 first discovered gold and removed $ 217,000 dollars in one week from this area. In the 1850s the Mount Ophir mine alone produced more than $300,000 dollars in gold.
We started sauntering around these mountains and canyons during the morning hours. Even in November this area can become quite warm hiking up these mountains and through burnt remote canyons.
The fire that swept through the area this year cleared the thick vegetation and exposed those original diggings from years past. The Manzanita bushes kept these historic areas from sight, but today all that remains are their stalks covered with charcoal, the residue from the fire. I counted over 12 surface mines and most were sealed, but two were open. Most diggings were easy to spot with huge open scars on the mountain surface. Sharing the area are mounds of tailings with white quartz scattered on the surface.
I did enter one mine which had burnt stalks surrounding its entrance and if at one time had a pathway, it was not visible. The opening was five to six feet in diameter and carved through hard rock. Curiosity got the best of me, so I proceeded into the dark hole.
After exploring only 20 feet inside I decided since I was by myself that was deep enough. I thought; what if these hard rock walls decided to take the advantage of gravity and come tumbling down. What was disturbing when my camera failed to operate inside the mine. So I have no photos of the fork that branched into two separate tunnels.
With the removal of 90% of all vegetation, this area was a joy to explore. Once on the summit of Mount Ophir the 360 degree views of the pathway of fire was visible. The physical surface scars surrounding each mountain displayed the efforts our fire fighters trying to contain this wild fire.
This was one of the easiest hikes into a forgotten historic area. First we crossed the dry creek bed and followed a fire break which was one of the trails. We hiked over four miles following the established marked trails around each mountain.
Most of the signs survived the fire only a few markers were displaying only their metal poles. Signs were made of wood and burnt in the fire. There are some interesting names for these historic trails including Serpentine, Sidewinder, Halo, Mineshaft and Billy Goat.
This adventure should be on your list of future hikes. Don’t wait until the vegetation starts growing, because these historic mines will once again be swallowed up from view and maybe another century will pass before they emerge once a gain into sunlight.