Outdoors: Mariposa mining museum a treasure

By Adam BlauertApril 3, 2012 

Recently I wrote about local state parks and attempts to keep them open in the face of budget cuts. One effort that has garnered very little media attention is aimed at ensuring the survival of Mariposa's California State Mining and Mineral Museum.

I paid a visit to the museum last weekend to learn more. The first thing that struck me was what a treasure this museum is -- a collection of some of the best examples of our state's great variety of mineral wealth and exemplary specimens from around the world. I hadn't seen the museum since a visit when I was in elementary school and I was impressed by how much the museum offers for all ages. A popular stopping point for domestic and international visitors, annual visitation ranges from 12,000 to 20,000 people annually.

The second thing that struck me was the museum's great educational value for students in the surrounding counties. Ranger Randy Bolt gave me an overview of programs offered for elementary through college aged students. When I arrived an enthusiastic group of 4th graders from Fresno were completing a tour. Randy's passion for educating students really impressed me. I learned a lot and picked up some of his excitement. The museum, its programs, its staff, its volunteers, and the California State Mineral and Mining Museum Association (a cooperating association) exemplify the best of what our state parks have to offer.

Visitors can't help but marvel at the 201 ounce Fricot Nugget -- the largest intact mass of crystalline gold from the gold rush era. A noteworthy recent addition is a large example of Benitoite, our state's official blue-purple gemstone. A display of meteorites also caught my attention right away.

Samples of silver ore show how surprisingly different it looks in its natural state before it is turned into jewelry or tableware. Stunning, vividly green examples of California jade nearly steal the show. Hands-on displays allow visitors to feel and touch examples of a broad range of minerals. A meticulous working model of a stamp mill demonstrates how gold was recovered from quartz in the 1800's and early 1900's. A door along the back wall of the museum opens into a hillside tunnel that is an extensive, faithful recreation of a hardrock mine tunnel. Mining was successfully conducted for many years in tunnels and shafts dug within the same hill.

That's part of what makes Mariposa the perfect location for the museum and its collection. Growing over time to nearly 14,000 specimens, the collection has been on display for 132 years. The other thing that makes Mariposa the perfect location is that Mariposa County has provided strong support to make the museum possible and continuously successful. The County approved the moving of the collection from San Francisco, and currently the County funds the rent and the Museum Association funds a part-time employee and the educational programs. The museum has been partially sustained without state funds since it moved to Mariposa in 1983.

Museum Association President Ron Iudice filled me in on the details of how the association is working to get approval to keep the collection open to the public without state funding. With the museum's educational and scientific importance to our area and the state as a whole, this is truly a worthy endeavor.

The Mariposa Gem and Mineral Club and the Museum Association are sponsoring the 12th annual Mineral and Gem Show "Mountains of Minerals" on the weekend of April 14-15. The show will run 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Saturday and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Sunday. In addition to being able to see the museum's regular collection, visitors will be able to participate in children's activities, listen to guest speakers, see demonstrations of gold rush mining methods, and check out dozens of vendor booths offering mineral specimens, gemstone jewelry, fossils, crystals, beads, and mineral crafts.

For more information, call the museum at (209) 742-7625.

The museum's regular operating hours are Thursday-Sunday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Starting May 1, the museum will close at 5 o'clock.

The museum is located on Highway 49, two miles south of Mariposa. Look for signs for the Mariposa Fairgrounds. The museum will be on your left once you enter the gate. The museum's exhibits have broad appeal, even if you aren't deeply interested in mining and minerals. If you go, you'll probably notice that you understand more about the geology and resources of our state next time you go for a hike.

Adam Blauert can be reached at adamblauert@yahoo.com.

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