“One in every five miners who came to California in 1849 was dead within six months.”
Quote from a writer of the Sacramento Bee
We’re in the heart of some of the oldest gold mine history in California and y’all know how I love those wild west stories. This is my kinda hard, crazy history filled with the dreams of fools looking to make it rich. Last year we did some local prospecting around our boondocking site, but this time around we decided to make the trek ~5 miles north to the ghost town of Hedges/Tumco, a site that takes us right back to the start of it all.
Gold has always been a draw in these hills. In the 1600′s the Spanish explorers discovered gold in the Sierra de San Pablo Mountains (now known as Cargo Muchachos), and in 1780 established the first mission in Yuma. The Spaniards exploited the area, but war and strife followed leaving the ores largely undeveloped until much later….right up until 1849. It was the start of the gold rush, one of the biggest migrations in the history of the US. The “49′ers”, as history would remember them, were the very first, the most hardy souls that led the chase. These idealistic madmen named themselves after Greek mythology, the “Argonauts” -> a band of heros in search of a golden fleece.
And seek they did, oh yes they did. In 1849 Fort Yuma was established followed by the railroad in 1877, and hundreds of thousands of prospectors on the western trail. Most of the early migration went further northwest, but by 1880′s interest revived in the Tumco valley and the first claims were opened here.
From there it was a typical gold rush story. In 1894 the valley settlement named Hedges had established ~31 tents, a large stamp mill capable of crushing 100 tons per day and over 12 miles of water pipeline. By the turn of the century the town had grown to one of the biggest mines in the state with 500 people, 100 stamp mills, a school, a church, two cemeteries and massive cyanide plants for ore post-processing. Then, as quickly as the riches had amassed they disappeared, things turned downhill and by 1909 the town was mostly abandoned. Interest re-surged briefly in 1910 with a new set of investors who re-named the settlement Tumco, but it was a short-lived dream that shut down again only a year later.
After this time the mine saw several years of sporadic development, but never quite reached the heyday of the early 1900′s. It was finally abandoned as a ghost town in 1949, 100 years to the day after the start of the big rush.
We headed out on our ghost town adventure with our buddies Alex&Ellen on the day the cold weather broke here in Yuma bathing our site in warm temps and gorgeous blue skies. The mine is on BLM land just a few miles north on Ogilby Road. Although most of the structures have vanished to rubble, there is a nice hiking trail with well-marked sites that take you around the whole town and gives a great feel for what it was like. The whole place is a wild, crazy, lonely spot and apart from the ghosts we were the only souls there. We spent a good hour walking around and imagining the harsh life in the old mine before heading a mile across the road to historic and quirky Gold Rock Ranch to putter around the shop, check out the history knickknacks, scope out the RV park and meet the locals.
A very, very cool ghost town which is most definitely worth the trip.
NOTE/ Since Tumco is on BLM land you can actually boondock right next to the mine for free (so very cool)! If you want more civilization the quirky RV park across the road has a dump and full hookup sites for $40/night ($20/night with Passport America).