I am so lucky to live in the beautiful Sierra Mountains of California near Lake Tahoe. This area, so full of living history, is a gold mine for writing my stories. A couple of weeks ago my daughter and I finally took the time to visit the Gold Bug Mine which is located a few short miles from our home. Since the heroine in my current wip inherited a gold mine, we thought now was the perfect time to explore a real mine to experience life working underground.
We donned hardhats, carried information wands and grabbed the camera before entering into a whole new world.
What I didn’t expect was to see water dripping off the sides of slate in places and bits of fools gold as well.
I’m excited to share what we found deep inside the earth.
The major historical and geological attraction in Placerville’ s Gold Bug Park is the gold mine, established as the Hattie in 1888 by John Dench and William Craddock. A lighted wooden walkway has been installed in the 352-foot drift for safety. The classic hard rock gold mine is a cool and damp 52-57 degrees. The working face of the mine is about 360 feet back from the entrance and about 110 feet below the top of the mountain.
In the 1880’s they drilled dynamite holes by hand. With one man drilling the hole, it is called single-jacking. Most of the rock in the mine consists of slate with quartz veins. It is in the quartz vein where gold is found.
An airshaft was established to provide clean air the workers. After a day’s work it would take 24 hours for the air to exchange so the men could start to work again. It is believed that no more than 2-3 men worked the mine at a time.
It’s not known how much gold was removed. No records were kept. During World War II the mines throughout the Mother Lode were closed by order of the President as gold mining was considered a non-essential industry and men were needed to go to war. The mine was closed in 1942.
After we vacated the mine, a docent explained the process for retrieving the gold from the rock and gave me lots of pointers for my story. I don’t know if you’ve ever looked into a hole that leads deep into the earth, but I found it an uneasy experience. There is a hotel in the area that was built over the tunnel entrance. The entry had about a three foot diameter, and it felt like the devil himself was trying to pull me into the darkest black I’ve ever seen. I have a lot of respect for the miners. As we are watching the rescue of the miners in Chile tonight, I cannot even begin to imagine spending over two months inside the bowels of the earth without going insane. It certainly has given me a whole new respect for their experience.
When the quartz came out of the mine it was crushed in a stamp mill, which consists of rods that continuously pound the rock into powder. In this case, mercury was used to pull the gold away from the powder. The mercury is then vaporized off in 650 degree temperature. As for my heroine, the docent suggested that she use a gold pan and swish it back and forth until only the heavy gold nuggets remained on the bottom of the pan.