July 4th: Doings at the Diggins

Happy 4th of July from Gold Country.

Happy 4th of July from Gold Country.

We had the best kind of 4th of July holiday this year. One filled with family, good friends, our pup, nature, history, and patriotism – the right kind of patriotism.

We celebrated Independence Day on a three-day campout at Malakoff Diggins State Historic Park, in a remote stretch of the California Gold Country: about 25 miles northeast of Nevada City. And it all came together rather last minute, too. Our original plan to spend the weekend with Scott and Kristen at their cabin above Shaver Lake unraveled (sigh – that’s what happens when you let the boys do the planning). But aside from getting a wee bit lost outside Nevada City on a rugged dirt “shortcut” not advised by Google Maps (and now we know why), things couldn’t have turned out better.

Team Temple (2 + pup) and Team Rippee (presently working on expanding from a team of 4 to 5!) arrived safely at “the diggins” and spent three days camped on the rim of a gorgeous canyon, ironically created by the practice of hydraulic gold mining in the 19th century…

Former site of the largest hydraulic gold mining operation in America (note wild gesticulation at right, as I deliver my live audio tour...).

Former site of the largest hydraulic gold mining operation in America (note wild gesticulation at right, as I deliver my live audio tour…).

Yep. That canyon you see there was formed by miners “hydraulically” WASHING AWAY the mountain in search of gold. They used giant cannons – adapted from Civil War artillery guns – to blast the mountain with water fierce enough to “cut a human being to ribbons.” As the mountain disintegrated in a torrent of sediment, tiny, heavier particles of gold stayed behind.

Seems like kind of a waste, but the North Bloomfield Mine Company didn’t think so. They actually amassed enough tiny flecks of gold to get rich and make it all worth it – in their eyes.

But all that washed-away mountain went somewhere, and the towns downriver on the Yuba whose farms began to flood and whose communities were choked with mud finally decided hydraulic mining had to be stopped. War broke out: miners vs. farmers. In the 1884 Sawyer Decision – the first piece of Federal environmental legislation in America – the US Ninth Circuit Court ruled that all tailings from hydraulic mining must stop – no ifs, ands, butts, loopholes, sluices about it. Hydraulic mining was over and, with it, gold mining as a whole in the Sierra Nevada.

Above the rim of “the diggins,” as it had come to be known, the mining town of North Bloomfield was all but abandoned. Today, it’s a ghost town. We checked into our campsite at a ranger station in a small one-room museum housed in one of its former mercantiles…


As a lover of the great outdoors and equally of history (and, yeah, a former museum educator and audio tour producer myself – sue me!), Malakoff Diggins had been on my list of California places to see for a while. The need to whip up a last-minute 4th of July miracle trip gave me the perfect excuse to get up there and celebrate under a halo of all that’s good and bad about America: the beautiful landscape, the innovation of Americans to harness the land for great purposes… The alternating vile nature of Americans that leads to ultimate abuse of the land, but a hopeful realization that a greedy powerful few in this country can be stopped by a great cause (and thank goodness, because if they hadn’t been, San Francisco Bay might be full of mud by now).

Not to mention, I’m a little intoxicated by the fact that I live in a place with a legacy of putting the environment before the interests of corporations.

But best of all, we got to share this trip with special little people who will hopefully remember being in beautiful places like these, and grow up to love them and care about them to the point where washing a mountain away would be unfathomable, for all the gold in the world.


Sydney at the diggins.

Carson at the diggins.

Carson at the diggins.


See all our pics of 4th of July in the Gold Country here.

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6 thoughts on “July 4th: Doings at the Diggins

  1. Margaret Wisniewski says:

    The grandparents and I enjoyed your pictorial history of California gold mining country! This is all history that we did not know before. Alas, what we were taught in school did not include so many significant events that affected the environment. And how perfect that you would choose July Fourth to celebrate how the few can influence the many to respect this beautiful creation. It is unfortunate that more people do not know how powerful their voices can be when they really believe in something and are willing to fight for it. What a worthy cause! At least the Rippee family and the Wisniewski family will know the other side of the story so that it can be told again and again. I am glad we got our independence and that this land belongs to us!

  2. Carla says:

    Super cute kids.

  3. Scott Rippee says:

    I learned more about the Diggins from your post than I did on the trip haha

    Thanks for the good times!

  4. […] July 4th on the calendar with the Rippees again, this time up at our new home! […]

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