Sierra Nevada Shin-Dig, Day 3: Exploring Ghost Towns and Kicking Back in Nevada City

This post is a continuation of the epic Northern California road trip I took last month with my significant other, Zac.  Click the links to read Day 1 and Day 2.

We awoke on the in our swanky Nevada City Couchsurfing accomadations.  After leftover pizza and scrambled eggs, the true breakfast of champions, we got in the car and went out in search of Gold Rush towns.

The historic downtown of Nevada City, as captured by my Canon Coopix in sepia tones
The historic downtown of Nevada City, as captured by my Nikon Coolpix in sepia tones

Stu, our Couchsurfing host, had said that if you drive up into the hills from their house you can get to a place called North Bloomfield.  The road twists and turns past a tree farm before going on a bridge high above the lovely South Yuba River, where it turns into a dirt road through a state park.  After perhaps a half an hour, we started seeing old, whitewashed buildings and knew we were in the right spot. We parked and peered in the windows, like we had done at Bodie.

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Evidence that gold mining is still at past time at the South Yuba State River

According to the sign we passed, North Bloomfield has a current population of 8-10 (!) and is now called Humbug.  I love the uncertainty with the population.  It is like Bodie, but without the copious amounts of dust and destruction.  The main street has everything you’d want in a Gold Rush town, including a saloon, a barbershop, and a general store. I especially liked the pharmacist, with its advertisements for different uses of sasparilla and bitters, and the livery and stables.  I felt like I was in the world of Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman.

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The stables and livery at North Bloomfield

We walked through a nearby meadow and soon found ourselves navigating uncharted backwoods.  Now, Zac has a sense of adventure that sometimes leaves me bewildered.  But I try not to put my foot down too often, because most of the time everything turns out alright and we have a lot of fun.  On this particular adventure, his rambles led us up and down hills, through many a bramble and spiderweb, until we came to be in a vast, sand-filled valley with shrubby plants poking through.

We had ended up in the Malakoff Diggins, a “canyon” created by hydraulic mining in the 1860’s.  Back then, people did not care what havoc they reeked in order to get gold, and would used pressurized water cannons to blast apart the hillside.  The result is places like the Diggins, which 150 years later are still not recovering.  It was an insane place to be dab-smack in the middle of, and quite humbling of the greed destruction that humans are capable of.

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In the Malakoff Diggins

Getting out of the Diggins was another story altogether.  It involved scrambling up a sheer hillside and me sliding down and getting red earth all over my damp, sweaty clothes.  But we made it, and discovered a few more buildings of North Bloomfield away from the Main Street: the church, cemetary, and schoolhouse.

At the old schoolhouse, one of the side windows had been propped open with little bits of wood.  It was an obvious invitation that Zac couldn’t resist.  With a boost from me to help him through the high window (aren’t I supportive?) he was in and could explore and take photos to his heart’s content.  He wasn’t the first, as there was plenty of old graffiti covering the desks and chalkboard.  Finally, the smell of the old, musty building got to be too much for him, and I helped him back out.

A "cyanotype" of the schoolhouse at North Bloomfield.  Oh how I love my camera's dorky color settings
A “cyanotype” of the schoolhouse at North Bloomfield. Oh how I love my camera’s dorky color settings
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Taken by Zac inside the schoolhouse
Out the window

We concluded our time at North Bloomfield in the cemetary.  I have a thing for cemetaries; I am absolutely fascinated by them and make it a point to visit old ones when I am in a new place.  They had some amazing old gravestones from the 1800’s.  By this time, it was around 2 pm, and it was hot and we were dirty.  It was high time for a swim in the river, so we went back to the bridge and parked.

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Rather than go on the side where all of the people were, we traveresed the rocks under the bridge to the other side.  Usually, this is a great plan.  It’s worth it to take some time and find the best, most tranquil and most private spot.  But not this time.  After crossing hot rocks, a current, and slippery algae-covered rocks with all of our stuff in hand, the spot that had looked so amazing from the bridge was shallow and filled with bugs.  So we cut our losses and went back to the other side, wasting more precious river time.  Not fun.

Once we finally did get to a good spot and have a chance to swim and sun, it was miraculous.  The current was not too strong nor the river too cold, and with mountains and trees all around it was a gorgeous place to loose track of time for a while and simply exist.

The glorious South Yuba River

And loose track of time we did.  When we got back to the car, it was well past 5 pm, and we’d agreed to make dinner for Stu and his wife Mags at 6!  Luckily, it wasn’t a big deal, and after strolling through the local co-op for supplies, we arrived at their home to cook a delicious, veggie-laden dinner.

On our first visit to Nevada City in the spring, we’d arrived on a Friday night and the streets had been full of people with live music coming from every open door.  We had originally anticipated bar-and-music hopping on this trip, but it was a Wednesday and we hadn’t been able to find out about any shows happening.  It turned out to be just as well though, as we were worn from traveling. The dinner we had out on the patio over the creek with the sun setting and the bunnies hopping around was delightful.  We opened a bottle of wine I had gotten on my girls’ weekend in Paso Robles back in March, and all was delicious and peaceful.

After dinner, we shared some soy ice cream, and Stu took us on a twilight tour of the co-housing community where they live.  It’s a cool little community.  There are gardens and chickens that people take turns tending, and a labryinth set into the grounds with stones that we walked, laughing and not taking it as seriously as intended.  The four of us also enjoyed the community pool and hot tub.  Since this is the hippie eco-friendly Nevada City co-housing, both the pool and hot tub have very low levels of chlorine  and are unlit so you can see the many stars above you as you swim in the dark water.  Mags told me afterward that the hot tub is clothing-optional after dark.

Before long, we were told off by a neighbor for being noisy and having too much fun and left shortly after.  We bid Stu and Mags a good night and thanked them heartily for being amazing hosts.  Zac passed out, while I stayed up writing in the journal that is now morphing into these blog posts.  Speaking of posts, trust me when I say that there are plenty more to come.


Good Night and Happy Travels,


4 thoughts on “Sierra Nevada Shin-Dig, Day 3: Exploring Ghost Towns and Kicking Back in Nevada City”

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