Two weeks ago I wrote about historic remains underneath local reservoirs. The night it went to press, TV news coverage began of the Eagle-Shawmut Mine, which emerged from beneath the waters of Lake Don Pedro late last summer.
I checked it out over the weekend, and it was surprisingly easy to find, accessible from a road that dead-ends into the lake. If you want to see it from the water, it’s a boat ride of only a few minutes from the Moccasin Point Marina. I arrived in the rain and was surprised to find three other cars parked at the end of the road. Four others arrived while I was there snapping photos of the site. Everyone had just about the same idea: “I saw this on the news and it looked interesting, so I thought I’d check it out.”
And it did prove interesting. What remains today is an extensive concrete foundation, set in a barren slope that is usually covered by water. It bears an unlikely but striking resemblance to one of those Egyptian tombs in the Valley of the Kings. The foundations are located across a narrow stretch of lake from the end of the road. They’re easy to see and you can get closer by walking past the end of the road along a former section that is now badly washed out. There’s no vehicle access, but it’s just fine for walking. The land on the water side of the road is part of the reservoir complex, but be sure to obey “no trespassing” signs on the land side of the road.
As you follow the old road down to the waterline, additional concrete foundations start to become visible. When the mine was in operation, there was a tramway from the bottom of the road to the mine on the far side of what was previously a free-flowing stretch of the Woods Creek. The mine shut down in the 1940s and was covered by the waters of Don Pedro when the new dam was finished in 1971. Although we received some precipitation last weekend, it is likely the foundations will continue to remain visible. As I was leaving, I saw a kayaker land near the foundations and another began his journey from the road end down to the water. The terrain is pretty steep and there isn’t any sort of pathway, so I wouldn’t recommend launching here. Kayaking is allowed at Don Pedro, free of a launch fee. All you have to do is to pay the $10 vehicle entry fee and inspect your kayak to certify that it is free of zebra and quagga mussels. You can find the certification form and more information about the lake at www.donpedrolake.com.
To find the Eagle-Shawmut Mine, look for Shawmut Road on the east side of Highway 49, just south of the Gold Rush town of Chinese Camp. If you’re in the area, Chinese Camp is an interesting place to explore. It’s nearly a “true” ghost town, with many empty historic buildings. A post office, a school and a fire station are the only active facilities. The store closed recently, but a report in The Modesto Bee last summer indicated restoration may begin on Chinese Camp’s structures in the near future. The well-preserved catholic church and cemetery are located across Highway 49, away from most of the other buildings so they are often missed by visitors.
If you make the trip to see these interesting ruins, there are quite a few other things to do in the area. Located at the intersection of highways 49 and 120, the Moccasin Creek State Fish Hatchery is especially fun with kids. Rainbow, brown and Lahontan cutthroat trout hatch and grow here until they are big enough to be planted in lakes and rivers.
You can see them in every size – up to really impressive trophy fish. Fish food is sold out of vending machines, and the fish leap into the air when you sprinkle it into the water. The hatchery is open daily from 7:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Admission is free. For more information go online to bit.ly/1g4Ta4H. The annual “Trout Fest” is scheduled for April 12. This family event offers opportunities for kids to learn to fish and to learn more about them. Call (559) 765-4824 for more information.
Lake Don Pedro offers year-round fishing and boat rentals. The nearby Bureau of Land Management property, Red Hills Area of Critical Environmental Concern, has nearly 30 miles of trails for hiking and horseback riding. Jamestown is the closest place to find food, lodging, supplies and services. It is also home to Railtown 1897 State Historic Park and Columbia State Historic Park is nearby. All these destinations are only an hour’s drive from Merced.