The Knitting Nurse

Rambles and Travels

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East Side of the Sierras Part 2 of ? – Masonic, CA, More Relics of the Gold Rush

A docent at Bodie recommended a side trip to the ruins of former mining town MASONIC.  It was a great side-trip.

One leaves Bodie (below) and heads out a dirt road for 16+ miles.  At first I thought is was 2WD but in time it proved 4WD.  Rain would make it miserable.


It was a gorgeous day.  Though only in the 70’s, at 8,000′ the sun was strong.  More like the high desert climate I’m used to I was in paradise.   Though I love my perch by the ocean, I really miss dry heat, having a little less air over my head and sweeping vistas of both nothing-ness and topographical relief.

That drive, though short in miles, took some time.  I poked along, at times needing 4WD.  There were plenty of “rest stops” to just sit, snack, and take it all in.

Less than 2 miles from the NV border and less than, oh, 15 miles from the feet of the Sierras the views didn’t stop:

Some background on MASONIC:

A 16-year-old young man from nearby Bodie found gold in the Masonic gulch in 1900. He named his claim Jump Up Joe Mine.  Small claims followed.

1907 brought the Pittsburg-Libery 10 stamp mill. This grew into a mining district some 6×12 miles in area with >40 claims.  Pittsburg grew to include a mill and a cyanide plant with a cable-bucket tram system enabling them to process their  own ore, eliminating the costly shipment of it to outside mills.  It was considered one of the best producing mines on the CA/NV border at that time.

MASONIC boomed, like most of these mining towns.  Unlike most, though, it was considered a ‘clean’ town with no (unbelievably) churches and (more unbelievably) no brothels.  At most, 1,000 resided there with the population plummeting to 12 registered voters in 1924.

Some remains:

A lone inhabitant:

Leaving the mine, on top of New York Hill (don’t you just wonder who and why named it that?) Dark rain clouds moved in along with gusts of wind and I was the tallest thing around.  I didn’t dawdle as I wished to.  The view was spectacular. I wonder if they appreciated it?  Masonic sits in the gulch below the trees in the bottom of the photo.

A few roads leading to unknown places caught my eye.

Pointed west down hill where the road terminates at Bridgeport.  Found more.

The CHEMUNG MINE is 3 miles west of Masonic.  Rapidly decaying, it functioned from 1909-38 with a brief occupancy (by what sounds like an eccentric and unhealthy but friendly old man) in the 50’s.

I was wary to enter. Being solo, I don’t enter structures.  Though judging from the online postings many have stepped into this rickety skeleton. It’s reputed as haunted.  The story is, a nasty owner was thrown into a mine shaft.

I’d like to share a fascinating book I picked up in Bodie.  The Mining Camp Speaks, by Beth and Bill Sagstetter.  From Denver, this couple’s compiled the ultimate reference book to understand the flotsam and jetsam of mine ruins.  Everything you ever wanted to know about machinery, types of structures, down to items in trash piles are spelled out here.  Nibbling at the book since the trip, I’m learning bunches.

It will come with on my next foray.  Perhaps I’ll better be able to ID a rusted generator, an assayer’s crucible, or gain a clue of the date of the  camp from the type of can I spot.

Beth and Bill Sagstetter, The Mining Camp Speaks

They’ve also written a similar book about Cliff Dwellings and have many published papers and research out there.  I hope to catch a talk by them when back in  CO.

Until then, dreaming of the next  out…