Our first stop, as always, was the Whiskeytown Visitor Center. It is located right off of CA 299 about 8 miles west of Redding.
The Wintu people lived in this area for thousands of years finding abundant resources in the forests and creeks (acorns, elk, deer, trout, salmon) to sustain them. Gold was discovered here in 1848 only months after it was found in Sutter's Mill, leading to the settlement of Whiskeytown and nearby Shasta.
Whiskeytown Lake is a man-made lake created by the Central Valley Project. Construction on the dam began in 1959 displacing 200 residents that lived in the area. It was built to manage the water supply, provide flood control and hydroelectric power. The lake has a 36-mile shoreline and is a popular swimming, boating, and fishing location.
We decided on a 1.5 mile hike in the Tower House Historic District. Charles Camden settled here where he mined gold, dug irrigation ditches, built a toll road and bridge, and operated a sawmill.
The toll in 1865 was $.10/person to walk across; $.25/person to ride across on a horse; $1.25 to cross by wagon. Camden spent $20,000 improving the road and bridge but easily recouped his investment with the tolls. The current bridge sits on the same stone piers as Camden's second bridge over Clear Creek.
The Camden House was built by Charles in 1852, initially as a one-room home. As his family (and wealth) grew, additions were built onto the original home. Camden made $80,000 in gold over an 18-year period enjoying much greater success than most.
Levi Tower came to the area to find gold, but had short-lived success when he built and operated the 21-room Tower House Hotel in the 1852-53. When he suffered financial losses in other businesses, his brother-in-law, Charles Camden purchased it. Camden leased it back to Tower who ran it until he died in 1865 of typhoid fever at the age of 45. The hotel remained in operation, though, until 1919 when it was destroyed by fire. Levi Tower was buried in a nearby grave where we also saw these lovely flowers.
We followed the Mill Creek Trail to the El Dorado Mine pausing for our dog, Sadie, to go for swim in the creek.
This pioneer barn still stands in a meadow and the tenant house was built in 1913.
Gold was discovered at the El Dorado Mine site in 1885 by William Paul. Over the years it had numerous owners, but never a larger producer. The mine stayed in business for many years. The mine shaft has been plugged but the entrance is still visible today. Two other buildings can be seen at the site: a stamp mill and open shed. Both have artifacts have days gone by inside.
We returned to the bridge by way of the Camden Water Ditch Trail. Visitors to Whiskeytown may purchase a Gold Panning Permit ($1) for recreational purchases. Only "old-time" tools are permitted (a trowel and pan), but it is reportedly a fun family activity here. The supplies are sold at the Visitor Center. John thinks we should spend a day panning for gold here...we'll see.
We continued west on CA 299 for about a mile and made a left onto Crystal Creek Road. After about a mile is a parking area for .6 mile round trip paved trail to see the Crystal Creek Falls. The 50' falls are indeed beautiful!
Sadie found it all to be very interesting as well.
For additional information about things to do at Whiskeytown Recreation Area, check out their website or stop at the Visitor Center on CA 299 if you are in the area.