In 1995 I drove six days across the country to work in Silicon Valley, California. It was the best decision I have ever made. A few weeks ago I took a three day history trip to explore the famous California gold fields. I was interested to see close up what the Gold Rush was all about.
To keep it short, I would highly recommend visiting the old gold towns of Grass Valley and Nevada City, California. Spend a day driving highway 49 along the path of the old gold diggings and abandoned mines. Most importantly visit the old Empire Mine in Grass Valley and the Malakoff Diggings – one of the largest hydraulic mines in the world in 188o’s.
Having spent most of my childhood and college (VCU) years in Virginia, I used to enjoy exploring the old Civil War battlefield earthworks around the city of Richmond. Built just after the Gold Rush of 48, these large Civil War fortifications are visible reminders of the lingering effects of a war a 150 years afterward.
I think what struck me most about the old gold fields, was how the use of hydraulic gold mining completely destroyed such a beautiful piece of earth. And for what purpose? A ten year period of California history that we celebrate today, has left this land totally destroyed. Though the earth and people who lived in these mountains before gold was found paid a huge price, this insane destruction of our fragile environment did lead to the beginning of the conservation movement.