Although dim bulbs now light the tunnels of the Eagle and High Peak Mines, the original miners did not have electricity. At first they worked by candlelight, and later they wore hard hats affixed with carbide lanterns. The miners even had to buy their own candles! To save money, miners would generally not use any light until they arrived at their work area. Try to imagine stumbling down a rock tunnel in total darkness, guided only by the ore cart tracks at your feet. Miners would keep one hand in the air as they walked so they knew when to duck their heads, and then would light a candle only when they started work. When the tour guide turns off the lights for a quick moment, you’ll get a good comprehension of true pitch dark.
After the ore carts were filled with rock and pushed out of the mine, their next stop was the stamp mill where the rock was crushed to release the gold. The weights on the newly painted bright red 5-stamp mill provided 1,000 pounds of crushing force. A mill this size crushed 10 tons of rock every 24 hours. Notice the examples of old and new weights on display. It’s amazing how solid iron can be worn down from constant pounding. After being crushed, the resulting gravel was then processed on shaker tables. You might be surprised to learn that a clean up was done only once per month. After rinsing, the carpets or miners moss were burned and then the ashes were panned. Every grain adds up! Mercury was also used to extract gold (and silver) at this operation.
The tour concludes with a quick lesson from your guide on how to pan for gold. You can easily skip this tutorial and instead poke around the eclectic collection of antique cars, trucks, hand-crank washing machines, and old gold mining equipment scattered about the parking area. Old photographs, stock certificates, and ore samples can be found in the office/museum where you pay for the tour, along with a rare display of old mercury retorts.
If all these relics and stories whet your appetite to find gold where you live, go for it! Whether you’re panning by hand or using a highbanker or power sluice in a stream, or setting up a gold dredge in a river, you might just find a flake or nugget missed by the old-timers. Eureka!
IF YOU GO:
Eagle and High Peak Mine located at the end of C Street in Julian, CA. Phone (760) 765-0036
Karl & Paul Nelson, owners
No website or email
Year-round tours of the mines offered daily between 10:00 a.m. and 3:00 p.m. Closed only on Thanksgiving and Christmas. Adults are $10 and children are $5. Because of the length of the tour and vast amount of history and information provided, this excursion is best suited for kids at least 8 years of age.
2129 Main Street
Julian, California 92036