Guidebook to Points of Interest
By Judith Marvin, 2011, for Guidebook on Ebbetts Pass
During the early years after the Gold Rush, the Arnold community was composed of two large ranches. The largest, consisting of almost 2,000 acres, was the Moran cattle ranch, where Blue Lake Springs is now located. The Dunbar Ranch, which encompassed the present community, was deeded to lumberman Willis Dunbar in the 1880s. In 1914 the Dunbar Ranch was sold to H.L. Hunt, who planted an apple orchard of 1,000 trees, the present location of the Meadowmont Golf Course. Much of the area was owned by the Manuel Estate Company, which operated lumber mills on the Pass and lumber yards in Murphys and Angels Camp.
In 1927, Bob and Bernice Arnold, for whom the town is named, arrived and began restoring an old roadhouse and restaurant to serve people travelling over Ebbetts Pass and visitors flocking to see the giant Sequoias in what later became Calaveras Big Trees State Park. In 1934 they built three cabins, and started constructing the Ebbetts Pass Inn, which opened in 1939. Dave Copello’s general merchandise store was one of the first commercial enterprises, with other tourism related enterprises soon following.
2 White Pines
The town was founded in 1938, when Frank Blagen relocated his lumber mill and timber harvesting operations from Calpine, California (near Truckee) there. White Pines (thus named by Frank Blagen’s mother, Helen) became the new “company town,” with its own post office, school and workers’ housing. The mill closed in l962 and was dismantled in 1966. American Forest Products, Inc. (AFP), which had purchased a controlling interest in the Blagen Lumber Company in 1940, planned to create a large residential subdivision along San Antonio Creek between White Pines and Camp Connell. They dammed San Antonio Creek to create the 26-acre White Pines Lake to attract homebuyers, but never completed the subdivision. In 1977, the Calaveras County Water District (CCWD) purchased the lake and a band of surrounding land. CCWD now operates the lake as a domestic water source for its utility customers, and leases portions of the lakeshore to various community organizations. White Pines Lake and Park are a popular recreational resource for residents and visitors to the greater Arnold/White Pines area.
3 Sierra Nevada Logging Museum
The Sierra Nevada Logging Museum is located adjacent to White
Pines Lake, on the historic site of the Blagen Sawmill. The
non-profit museum is dedicated to telling the story of loggers
and logging-related industries in the Sierra Nevada of California
– from the discovery of gold in 1848 to the present day. The
geographic scope of the museum encompasses the 18 counties of the
Sierra Nevada range, from Lassen County in the north to Kern
County in the south. The museum boasts indoor exhibits including
a diorama and many informative displays, as well as outdoor
interpretive trails highlighting an impressive collection of
historic logging equipment, including a Willamette steam donkey,
a “two-man” sawmill, an impressive 1920 Shay logging locomotive,
several enormous logging arches, three Caterpillar tractors from
the 1930 to 1960s era, and many others.
Construction of the Sierra Nevada Logging Museum began in 2000 by the non-profit Friends of the Logging Museum, and through the spirited efforts of volunteers and donors, the museum continues to grow in exhibits and offerings.
Learn about the history of logging and lumbering throughout the Sierra Nevada, and enjoy the picnic area and trails that surround the museum grounds. There is an intimate amphitheater where historical talks are presented. The museum is open by appointment during the winter season and from Thursday-Sunday, 12 to 4 p.m. when the weather warms up. Admission is free. Call (209) 795-6782 or visit sierraloggingmuseum.org for more information.
4 Calaveras Big Trees State Park
The most popular destination in Calaveras County, Calaveras Big Trees State Park is located four miles northeast of Arnold on Highway 4. The Park is home to the North Grove, the pristine South Grove, the raging Stanislaus River, and tranquil Beaver Creek. Open year-round, Calaveras Big Trees State Park offers 129 campsites, picnic areas, miles of hiking and biking trails, and a visitor center.
Although credit for discovery of the Big Trees was given to Augustus T. Dowd in 1852, several emigrants over the route had recorded them in diaries dating from the mid-1840s. But Dowd, a trapper for the Union Water Company, was the first to promote the discovery, which created tremendous excitement throughout California and the world. The “Discovery Tree,” first noted by Dowd in the North Grove, measured 24 feet in diameter at its base, was 363 feet tall, and was determined by ring count to be 1,244 years old when felled. The bark was stripped from the tree in ten-foot high sections, marked for reassembly, and taken on public tour around the world. The still-visible stump became a popular spot for cotillion parties, picnics, and other gatherings, with an elegant pavilion erected in 1856.
The Mammoth Tree Hotel was constructed in 1853 to serve the
increasing number of visitors flocking to the area to see the Big
Trees. In 1860, James L. Sperry and John Perry, owners of a
hotel in Murphys, bought the property and later constructed the
new Mammoth Grove Hotel, which could accommodate 60
lodgers. Later owned by the Whiteside family, the hotel was
the center of social life in the North Grove until it burned in
From the 1850s, timber in the South Grove was utilized for local use. Slated for logging by the Pickering Lumber Company in the early 1940s, the South Grove was ultimately saved for the State Park system in 1954 after an arduous campaign. The route of the proposed logging railroad may be seen in the South Grove and provides an easy hiking trail. From the South Grove, the road continues to the Beaver Creek Picnic Area.
Calaveras Big Trees State Park became a state park in 1931 to preserve the Calaveras North Grove of giant sequoias (Sequoiadendron giganteum). Over the years, other parcels, including the much larger South Grove of giant sequoias, have been added to the park, bringing the total area to about 6,400 acres. For more information, call the visitor’s center at (209) 795-3840, or visit online at www.parks.ca.gov.
5 Sourgrass Recreation Complex
The Sourgrass Recreation Complex is located on the North Fork Stanislaus River outside of Dorrington. The complex includes a day use area with picnic tables, BBQs and restrooms, as well as a 49-site Forest Service campground known as Wa Ka Lu Hep Yo, or “Wild River.”
The Wa Ka Luu Hep Yoo campground was so named because it was built on the site of an ancient Mi-Wuk (the Calaveras group of Miwok spelling) Indian village. The Mi-Wuk word “WaKaLuu” means river, and “Hep Yoo” describes an untamed or wild force of nature. For over 2,000 years, the Mi-Wuk people lived seasonally on this site in North Fork Stanislaus River canyon, gathering food and fishing the river. The campground was designed around the archaeological site in partnership with the local Mi-Wuk tribe, and the Forest Service undertook a complete archaeological excavation before construction began. Significant Native American artifacts such as grinding stones and middens have been preserved in and around the campground. The fountainhead, or takeout, for the Union Water Company ditch and flume system, is located about one mile upstream. Three of the logs which once formed the crib dam, erected in 1853, can be seen protruding from the river, and the eyebolts for the flume are still embedded in the granite. At the river you can see the ending point of the 1997 Sourgrass Slide.
Dorrington was a historic stopping place on the Big Tree-Carson
Valley Road and a toll station from the 1890s until 1910. Noted
for its ice cold spring, it was originally called Cold Spring
Ranch. The property was sold to John Gardner and William A.
Gibson in January 1868. Known as Gardner’s Station when a
post office was established in 1902, the Post Office Department
objected because there were so many others of the same name, so
the maiden name of John Gardner’s widow, Rebekah Dorrington
Gardner, was chosen for the hamlet instead.
Gardner built the existing Dorrington Hotel in the late 1880s
after his original hotel across the road was destroyed by fire.
The hotel served as a depot for stockmen and as a summer resort
for guests visiting the giant Sequoias at Calaveras Big Trees
7 Camp Connell
The area known today as Camp Connell was first used by Native
Americans hundreds of years ago. Its location on San Antonio
Creek was along a trading route between bands of Mi-Wuk, Paiute,
and Washoe, and was a popular summer encampment. By the
mid-1850s, the old Indian trail had been improved to accommodate
increasing numbers of miners and adventurers heading west to the
Calaveras goldfields, as well as visitors flocking to the area to
view the recently discovered Giant Sequoia.
Jack and Noreen Connell, who had purchased the Dorrington Hotel property in the mid-1920s, established Camp Connell in 1928. With auto traffic increasing and the old hotel in need of repair, the couple decided to build the Camp Connell Store, complete with gasoline station (still operating today as one of the oldest Chevron stations in California), general merchandise store, rental cabins, and a campground. Camp Connell quickly became a stopping place for travelers along the Ebbetts Pass Highway, as well as a gathering place for local residents and cattlemen. The Connell’s continued to expand the store and added a café to serve the increasing number of visitors. By 1934 the post office was moved to the store from Dorrington and became “Camp Connell Station.” The store served as a community center where local residents and vacationers alike would come to share news and leave messages, much as it does today. Occasionally, Circuit Court was convened in the building.
The campground was closed in 1949, while the cabins remained a
part of Camp Connell until the 1960s, when the highway was
realigned to accommodate the ski resort and village at Bear
Valley, as well as the development of Big Trees Village
subdivision. Portions of the old highway remain on the store
property, as two access points.
Camp Connell is also home to the second largest Sugar Pine tree
in the world, measuring 32 feet in circumference and 220 feet
tall. It may be seen adjacent to the old highway, near the
8 Sourgrass Debris Flow
Thousands of years ago, a retreating glacier left an enormous
moraine deposit, forming Summit Level Ridge on the upslope (north
side) of Highway 4, about 3.5 miles east of Dorrington. On New
Year’s Day in 1997 these unconsolidated deposits of dirt and rock
became saturated by water during an unusually wet series of
winter storms (100-year storm event), and the hillside gave way.
An estimated 65,000 cubic yards of material slipped off the ridge
and flowed downhill and across Highway 4, picking up dirt, rocks,
boulders, trees, and vegetation as it went.
Initially traveling at approximately two miles per hour, the
debris flow picked up size and speed as it moved downhill,
eventually reaching an estimated 12 miles per hour before
approximately 191,000 cubic yards of material crashed into the
raging North Fork Stanislaus River two and one half miles
below. The impact ripped the steel and wooden bridge at
Sourgrass from its footings, flipping it onto the opposite bank
in twisted pieces. The old Sourgrass campground, picnic
area, and newly constructed river overlook trail on the south
side of the river were also completely destroyed. The slide left
a 100-500 foot-wide swath of forest completely denuded of
vegetation and scoured the drainage channel to bedrock in some
places. Although the private landowner and Forest Service
undertook intensive restoration and reforestation efforts, the
upper mile of the slide is still visible on both sides of the
highway. Look for a patch of forest with obviously much
younger and smaller trees than surrounding areas.
9 Cottage Springs
As you travel along Highway 4, you may notice signs referring to
various named “springs.” These denote the location of historic
ranches located along the route of the emigrant trail in early
years, which were established at the site of natural springs that
provided water for people and livestock. These ranches
became stopping places on the road for emigrants traveling west
and cattle and sheep men taking their livestock east to the high
country for the summer months.
Cottage Springs was owned by A. Henry Stevens as early as 1865. The ranch was conveyed by Sheriff Ben Thorn to John Gardner in 1870 when Stevens failed to pay back taxes. It was patented by his wife, Rebekah Gardner, in 1888, and a tollgate for the Big Tree and Carson Valley Turnpike was located here when the Big Tree and Carson Valley Turnpike was completed in the early 1860s. In 1964, the area on the north side of the highway was developed as a small, single lift ski area and snow tube park, predating Bear Valley Mountain Resort as the first commercial ski area on Highway 4.
Black Springs was the site of a ranch patented in 1862 by William Carmichael and Jacob Pettit. Owned later by J.H. Lowman, an “old log house” was depicted on an 1876 map of the area.
Mud Springs was the ranch of Josiah McClelland, denoted today by two picturesque incense cedar trees on the north side of the road. During the month from mid-August to mid-September in 1862, McClelland and his partner recorded travel on the road as 134 horse teams, 70 ox teams, and 650 pack animals.
Big Springs, located at the junction of the Mokelumne Hill and Big Tree Road, is where emigrants and travelers to Mokelumne Hill, West Point, and other localities turned northward.
Poison Springs, also known as Williams’ Springs for the road house of a man by that name, served the freight traffic and stages traveling to and from Silver Mountain City. The name was derived when a large number of sheep were poisoned there sometime before 1890.
10 Gann’s Meadow
Gann’s Meadow was settled in the 1870s by George, Jackson, and William Gann, who arrived in California from Missouri in 1853. First engaged in the cattle business in San Joaquin County, they eventually acquired a ranch in Calaveras County north of Salt Spring Valley on the old road to Spring Valley (near present Valley Springs). Their summer cow camp, located on the Big Tree and Carson Valley Road, soon became known as Gann’s Station. The 160-acre ranch was homesteaded by Charles A. Gann in 1902 and patented in 1910. A summer home tract, the 38-Mile Tract, consisting of six lots along the western side of the Ebbetts Pass Road, was laid out by the Forest Service in the 1920s. It later became known as the “Gann’s Trespass,” where homes were built on land sold by Charlie Gann in good faith, but actually on Forest Service lands.
The three stone and frame cabins on the north side of the road are all that remain of Bailey’s Resort, a popular summer recreation area in the 1920s. The main lodge burned in later years, and its location now subsumed beneath the highway. A modern residence and restaurant were built on the southwest end of meadow in the late 1960s to cater to travelers to the Bear Valley Ski Area, but has been vacant for many years. Once the cattle were removed from the area, the meadow, which had previously been kept open by Native American coppicing and burning, as well as natural fires, filled in with native conifers.
11 Liberty Vista
At the Liberty Vista you have an opportunity to stand on granodiorite (a form of granite) that began as an upwelling igneous intrusion 80-90 million years ago, miles under the earth’s surface. During the millions of years it took this igneous rock to cool, erosion was stripping away most of the overlying rock, exposing and eroding the granodiorite. But then extensive volcanic activity erupted, and again the granodiorite found itself covered by volcanics thousands of feet thick. By about three million years ago basaltic flows, andesite, mudflows, tuff, ash, and other volcanic material covered the entire area. However, with the Ice Age (one million years ago), more erosion carried away the volcanic cover that was eroded away through glaciation and uplift leaving behind the remnant volcanic ridges and outcroppings we see today. Liberty Hill (7,619 feet), for which this vista is named, is a volcanic ridge that can be seen directly across the canyon. Also visible is the glaciated canyon of the North Fork Stanislaus River, 1,500 feet below the vista, and the distant mountains surrounding Sonora Pass.
12 Big Meadows
Big Meadows encompassed the valley in which Blue Creek and the main fork of Big Meadows Creek originate. The present Forest Service campground, in what was originally known as Register Flat, is located southwest of the original Big Meadow (Dell’Orto Camp or Thompson Meadow today). The Emigrant Road came down off the ridge from the east and crossed the meadow northeast of the present highway.
What was probably the first cabin to have been built along the Calaveras route between Dorrington and Bloods Meadow was located at Big Meadows. The cabin had a dirt floor, no windows, but three gunports, and a front door. By 1878 the location was known as Big Meadows Ranch, and was used in the 1890s and early 1900s as the Guishetti Dairy Ranch (northwest of the present Cabbage Patch Maintenance Station).
A summer home tract was surveyed in 1922, but a resort was never developed. The meadow, coppiced and burned over for hundreds of years by Native Americans, filled in with native conifers after the cattle were removed from grazing. A large grove of mature aspen surrounding the meadow puts on a spectacular display of fall color.
13 Hell’s Kitchen Vista
Hell’s Kitchen is 1,000 feet below the vista, where the North
Fork Stanislaus River runs through the middle. During the
Ice Age, glaciers descending the North Fork Canyon met the
Highland Creek glacier and even extended down canyon to the Big
Trees. When the glaciers retreated, they left some moraines
and lots of erratic boulders here at the Vista and in the
canyon. These formations are called “roche moutonees,”
rounded glaciated granite that reminded someone of sheep.
Balance Rock is a local landmark, noted by early travelers over
the Emigrant Trail.
Sapps Hill, visible to the southeast, is a volcanic remnant, while Whittakers Dardanelles are ragged extensions of the Dardanelles flow. At the bottom of the canyon lies the junction with Highland Creek, as well as Sand Flat, a primitive Forest Service campground reached by a rugged jeep trail west of the Vista.
14 Spicer Reservoir
The New Spicer Meadow Dam and Reservoir, commonly known as Spicer Reservoir, was named for the summer cow camp of the Daniel Spicer family from Salt Spring Valley.
Situated on Highland Creek, a tributary of the North Fork Stanislaus River, the large meadow (named for the Gabbott family of Paloma, who ran a dairy herd along the creek) was flooded in 1990 by construction of the 262-foot high New Spicer Meadow dam as part of the Northern California Power Association’s (NCPA) North Fork Stanislaus River Hydroelectric Development Project. The project, a joint development by NCPA and Calaveras County Water District (CCWD), spans 60 miles of the western slope of the Sierra Nevada, and includes the main Spicer Reservoir, two diversion dams and tunnels, the McKay’s Point Reservoir, the Collierville Powerhouse, and power transmission lines. It provides power to numerous communities throughout northern California.
15 Union and Utica Reservoirs
Union and Utica Reservoirs are scenic small, twin reservoirs
located off the Spicer Reservoir Road. They were constructed to
provide water for first placer, and later, hard rock mining
operations. Union Reservoir was built in 1853 by the Union
Water Company of Murphys to provide water to Murphys, Angels
Camp, and beyond. The Utica Mining Company took over the Union
Water Company in the late 1880s, and enlarged the Union Reservoir
in 1901. The company constructed Utica Reservoir in 1905 to
augment its water resources and provide water and electricity to
its extensive mining and power operations. Today, both
reservoirs are owned and operated by the Northern California
Power Agency as part of their Upper Utica Project. They are
used to regulate water flows for downstream power generation as
part of NCPA’s North Fork Stanislaus River Hydroelectric
Known originally as Onion Valley, the area was an early summer stock range named for its profusion of wild onions. In the 1860s and early 1870s, C. Brown operated a saw mill in the area, residing in a cabin on the west side of the road and creek. Over the ensuing years a number of people used the area for summer livestock pasturage, including sheepherder “Turkey” Johnson, Carlos Giacomo Fillipini and his son Dave, and Will and Charlie Gann. In the early 1920s, W.H. Hutchins erected the first store in a lease agreement, changing the name to Camp Tamarack. Located on the east side of the creek, Hutchins’ store also housed a dance hall for summer campers and visitors. In the early 1930s the Gann’s subdivided the section west of the creek into a summer home subdivision. The Hutchins building was destroyed by fire and, in 1934, William and Ruby Bracey purchased the land from the Gann’s and built a store and two rental cabins. After passing through a succession of owners, the present lodge was built by Mr. and Mrs. Harold Mosbaugh of Arnold, when they acquired the property in 1954.
Between Tamarack and Bear Valley, Emil Lombardi built a cabin in
what is now called Sherman Acres, patenting the land in
1898. Known as Lombardi Meadows, the Mokelumne Hill family
ran cattle there for many years, where Louis Lombardi built a new
17 Bear Valley
Bear Valley was first named Grizzly Bear Valley for the abundance
of grizzlies in the vicinity. In the early 1860s Harvey S.
Blood of Angels Camp patented the land as a summer stock
range. A prominent citizen of Calaveras and Alpine
counties, he served as an Assemblyman to the State Legislature in
the 1890s, and was a long-time owner of the historic Murphys
Hotel. In 1862, after Blood and Jonathan C. Curtis took
over the Big Tree-Carson Valley Turnpike, they completed the
section from Grizzly Bear Valley to Hermit Valley, maintaining
the road and establishing tollgates at Cottage Springs, Hermit
Valley, Ebbetts Pass, and Silver Mountain City. A tollgate
was also established at Bear Valley, and Blood’s Station became a
well-known way station and landmark. Mt. Reba and the Mt.
Reba Ski Area (now Bear Valley Mountain Resort) were named for
Reba, the daughter of Harvey Blood and Elizabeth Gardner.
The toll road became a public thoroughfare in 1910 and was
incorporated into the State Highway System.
In 1952, the Orvis family purchased Blood’s Meadow, bringing
their cattle up from the San Joaquin Valley to graze in the
summer. Their son Bruce Orvis later acquired 400 additional acres
of land to the north. He was instrumental in the initial
development of the downhill ski area and Bear Valley Village, as
well as a new highway from Camp Connell to Bear Valley. The
downhill ski area opened in the winter of 1967/68.
18 Lake Alpine
Originally known as Silver Valley Reservoir, Lake Alpine was
created in 1892 when the Utica Mining Company, requiring ever
more water for its mining operations in Angels Camp, dammed the
waters of Silver Creek. In 1905 the dam was raised from 40
feet to 44 feet, increasing the capacity of the reservoir to
4,050 feet. The created lake flooded the valley as well as
portions of the old Emigrant Road and Big Tree-Carson Valley
Turnpike. At the foot of the valley was a well-known
stopping place in what is now known as Dynan’s Cove. Owned
by cattlemen William Dennis in 1863 and Sam Osborne the following
year, it was the eastern end of Miller’s Express Stagecoach
Lines, where the mud-wagon and pack train routes completed the
The “Stone House” on Dynan’s Cove was built as a supply cabin by
the Utica Mining Company during construction of the dam. It
is now a private residence. The old road (Slick Rock Road)
that passes by the Stone House was used to haul supplies to the
Utica Dam worksite during its construction.
The Lodge at Lake Alpine Resort was built by B.R. Gianelli of Murphys in 1927-28 but collapsed under heavy snow in 1932. Only the large stone chimney, built by legendary mountain man Monte Wolfe on the west side of the building, remained. The lodge was then rebuilt as the one-story structure that is in operation today. Summer home plots were laid out in 1925 and cabins were erected beginning in 1928 and continuing through the 1930s and 1940s on land leased from the Stanislaus National Forest.
19 Cape Horn Vista
The Cape Horn Vista is one of the crown jewels on the Ebbetts
Pass National Scenic Byway. From here, you can see one of the
most spectacular views of the Dardanelle formation, as well as
expansive views of the Carson-Iceberg Wilderness, Union, Utica,
and Spicer Reservoirs. Lookout Peak can be seen on the far
left. Notice the silhouettes of the “sleeping lion” and
“elephant” on top of the Dardanelles, and the gnarled, twisted
trunks of western juniper trees on the exposed, south-facing
Ten million years ago volcanic material covered this area to a depth of 2,000 feet, with the Dardanelles formed in the depths of a river valley when basaltic flow after flow filled and solidified in the channel. Extensive glacial and other erosion removed the surrounding volcanic material, leaving the very resistant lava river rock high above the surrounding topography, a process called inverted topography. The Dardanelles today stand over 2,000 feet above Spicer Reservoir and the Stanislaus River Basin.
The Western or Sierra Juniper (juniperus occidentalis var.
australis) is found on rocky, wind-exposed slopes with relatively
short, twisted and weathered trunks, making for very dramatic
mountain scenes where abandoned, dead branches strike defiant
gestures against the sky. Juniper bark has a “redwood” look
but is much hairier and not spongy. The spineless leaves
are scale-like, while the so-called juniper “berries” are
actually the cone of the juniper.
Originally, the old road above Lake Alpine climbed straight up
Stroble Hill and over the top of Cape Horn, an extremely steep
route. Alpine County later cut the present route, which was
dubbed “The Straits of Magellen” by Grant Merrill of the Alpine
County Division of Highways, as it ran around Cape Horn. A
segment of the old Turnpike road is visible to the north, and a
mountain bike trail follows a segment of the Emigrant Road to the
south and down to Lake Alpine.
20 Stanislaus Meadow
Evidence of an old cabin and the presence of many barked trees in
Stanislaus Meadow indicated an early day dairy operation, as
ranchers stripped bark from Lodgepole pines to make cheese
molds. In the 1920s the Forest Service created a tract to
accommodate the grazing use of Leslie Hunt of Linden, whose
interests were transferred to Don R. and Don J. Whittle.
The Stanislaus River was originally named Rio Nuestra Senora de
Guadalupe by the Moraga Expedition of 1806, called the Appelaminy
by Jedediah Smith in 1827, and finally named Rio Estanislao in
1829, for a Mi-Wuk Indian who escaped from Mission Santa Clara
and returned to his homeland on the river. It was finally
anglicized to Stanislaus by Frémont in 1844.
The Stanislaus Meadow Trailhead begins in the meadow, a large and
scenic opening along the headwaters of its namesake river, a
tributary of the San Joaquin River. The trail then winds
pleasantly into the Carson-Iceberg Wilderness through deep old
growth forest and finally breaks into the granite slick rock
country below Bull Run Lake. The trails to Bull Run and Heiser
Lakes are a system onto themselves and do not connect directly
with the rest of the Calaveras District trail system.
Another trail follows the old Turnpike to Mosquito Lakes. A
primitive campground is located at the trailheads, providing a
respite for those who wish to spend more time in the area.
21 Sandy Meadow
The corrals are a spring and fall disbursing and collecting place for the livestock operations of the lessees of the summer ranges on this section of the Stanislaus National Forest. Families from the foothill elevations of Calaveras County have been bringing their livestock to the high country during the summer months since 1849, a practice known as transhumance. This practice was imperative to maintaining the foothill ranches, as the grasses on the home places would have dried out and the livestock would be driven to the higher elevations in the spring to graze in the mountain meadows, to be collected and returned in the early fall. Cow camps were established in most of the larger meadows, and the majority of geographic names on the mountains, meadows, and creeks in the area were derived from those early day ranchers. A trailhead for Wheeler Lake, Frog Lake, and Sandy Meadow departs here from the north side of the highway.
22 Mosquito Lakes
In the 1920s the Angels Camp Booster Club was looking for a site
in the mountains for their “high jinks,” so Angels Camp druggist
Harry Barden, dentist Charles Smith and wife Amelia, Dick Raggio,
and others settled on Mosquito Lakes. Named “Camp Kilkare,”
at that time the lakes were just shallow snow lakes filled with
mosquitoes. When the highway department realigned the old
turnpike closer to the lake, Harry Barden and his cronies
constructed a concrete dam between the lakes, raising them for
swimming and fishing. Barden built his picturesque cabin on
the rock outcrop at the east end of the lake, the subject of
numerous photographs and paintings.
The “Pacific Heights Tract,” also known as the “Mosquito Lakes Group,” was established by the Forest Service in the mid-1920s. The cabins are privately owned and located on land leased from the Stanislaus National Forest. The two lakes drain into different watersheds – the western one into the North Fork Stanislaus River, the eastern into Pacific Creek and then into the North Fork Mokelumne River. A segment of the original emigrant road can be seen north of the present route.
Immediately east of Mosquito Lakes is Pacific Summit, known as
the “Second Summit” on the Big Tree-Carson Valley Turnpike.
The 5,000-foot level was called the “First Summit” and Ebbetts
Pass, the “Third Summit.” A spectacular view of the
U-shaped Pacific Valley is visible below the summit, as are
Raymond and Reynolds Peaks to the northeast. Another
pull-out on the way to Pacific Valley offers a view north toward
the Carson Pass area and Jeff Davis Peak and the
23 Pacific Valley
A U-shaped glacial valley, Pacific Valley was shaped during the
Ice Age from a glacier that spilled north from the Highland Lakes
region. Pacific Creek wanders through the meadow, where a Forest
Service campground is located. The valley is host to a
variety of wildflowers in the early summer months, and trails to
Bull Run Peak and Henry Peak, volcanic remnants, depart from the
south end of the valley.
What is perhaps the oldest extant log cabin on the Ebbetts Pass
route is located at Pacific Valley. Denoted by the initials
A.G. and the date 1856, the cabin may have been built by Augustus
Gebhardt, a butcher from Calaveras County. In the early
days, butchers owned their own livestock, keeping them on their
foothill ranches during the winter and spring, and taking them to
the high country meadows to partake of the green grasses in the
summer months. The cabin is currently leased by the Whittle
family of Angels Camp as headquarters for their summer
range. Other cabins in the valley date to a late 1920s
summer home tract.
24 Hermit Valley
The deep Sierra terrain opens to scenic Hermit Valley, where the
Mokelumne River becomes the centerpiece of an open meadow teaming
with wildlife and wildflowers.
In 1856 a road was completed from Murphys to Hermit Valley,
following the old Emigrant Trail, which turned northward from
Hermit Valley via Faith and Charity Valleys to Hope Valley and
joined the Carson Pass Road or “Mormon Route” to the north. This
route crossed over the Border Ruffian Pass (thought by some to
have gotten its name from the Border Ruffians, members of the
outlaw Joaquin Murrieta’s gang), and was used by early emigrants
and prospectors traveling over the Sierra crest. After
silver was discovered in 1861 on Silver Mountain, a few miles
east of Ebbetts Pass, another route was rapidly completed from
Hermit Valley to the silver mines and beyond to Markleeville (the
approximate route of Highway 4), and Border Ruffian Pass then
became less important as a trans-Sierra route.
A tollgate, known as “Holden’s Station” was established here in
1864. The settlement that grew up around the hotel became
headquarters for the Mokelumne and Highland mining
districts. Other names on the station included Boyd,
Richey, and Cristie; Slater’s Ranch; Cummings Ranch; and, by the
early 1880s, Henry Adams Ranch, which was known as “Adams Hotel”
in the 1890s. The area was later the livestock range of the
Stevenot family of Angels Camp, and ranged all the way to Blue
Lakes. The Forest Service established a summer home tract
of five residences in the 1920s along the North Fork of the
Mokelumne River, on the south side of the traveled route, where
the Stevenot cabin was located.
Bedrock mortars in a granite outcrop in the west end of the
meadow attest to a much earlier occupation by Mi-Wuk and Washoe
people who traversed the pass in hunting, gathering, and trading
26 Highland Lakes
Highland Lakes are located at the end of Highland Lakes Road,
seven miles off Highway 4. The lakes are set in a
spectacular high alpine valley, close to the top of Ebbetts Pass
at an elevation of 8,600 feet. These two lakes are unique in that
they are headwaters for two different major watersheds: the
eastern lake flows into the Mokelumne River drainage, while the
western lake flows into the Stanislaus River drainage. Capped by
ice in the Pleistocene era, glaciers poured out in all directions
from Highland Lakes to form steep canyons, leaving a remnant
snowfield on the south side of Lower Highland Lake that rarely
melts in summer.
As early as 1864, the small community of Highland City had been
established on the southeast side of Upper Highland Lake among
many mines, a short-lived affair like so many other eastern
Sierra mining communities. Mostly built of log shanties
with rough stone fireplaces, only a few of the structures had
stone foundations, some of which mark the location
Surveyed by the Forest Service in 1920, only two lots were laid
out in the Tryon Meadow tract, located about one mile north of
Highland Lakes, both for cattle operations in the area.
They included the Tryon cabin and outbuildings on the west side
of the road to Highland Lakes, now occupied by the Wooster
family, and the Carley/Raggio cabin and barn on the opposite side
of the road.
26 Ebbetts Pass
In 1851, “Major” J.A.N. Ebbetts claimed to have led a group of miners and mules east over the Sierras, using a snow-free pass at the headwaters of the Mokelumne River. Later, in 1853, he led a railroad survey team across the Sonora Pass region. From a high peak just east of Sonora Pass he pointed north to the pass he thought he took in 1851 to George Goddard, a mapmaker. In 1854, Ebbetts died in a steamer explosion on the Napa River. In memoriam, Goddard placed the name Ebbetts Pass on the map he completed in 1856, approximately in the region he thought Ebbetts had pointed out. This pass was later utilized by the Big Tree and Carson Valley Turnpike, where the stone foundation of their toll station is located. Ebbetts Pass is registered as California Historical Landmark #318.
Ebbetts Peak is a basaltic intrusive volcanic neck that extruded through the 90-million year old granite batholith during the Pliocene era (10 million years ago). Each summer a group of intrepid patriots place a flag at the peak, which has a basic trail most of the way to the top.
28 Pacific Crest Trail
Conceived by Clinton C. Clarke in 1932, the Pacific Crest Trail
was designated a National Scenic Trail in 1968. It was
constructed through cooperation between the federal government
and volunteers organized by the Pacific Crest Trail Association;
it was completed in 1993.
The 2,650-mile long trail crosses Highway 4 just east of Ebbetts Pass. Starting at the California-Mexico border, the trail zigzags its way to Canada through California, Oregon, and Washington, passing through six ecozones and nine mountain ranges along the way. Hikers and equestrian travelers enjoy spectacular alpine scenery and landmarks including the Mojave Desert, Big Bear Lake, Mt. Whitney, Kings Canyon, Yosemite and Lassen Volcanic National Parks, Mt. Shasta, Mt. Hood, Crater Lake, Columbia River Gorge and Mt. Rainier. Every year, about 300 hearty souls attempt to hike or ride the entire trail in a single season. Shorter sections of the trail are popular with day hikers and backpackers.
28 Kinney Lakes and Reservoir
The lakes are depicted as Silver Lakes on an 1864 map of the
Silver Mountain Mining District, with the Mountain Oaks Mine
located between them. In the 1890s, the Alpine Land &
Reservoir Company, an organization of East Fork Carson River
farmers in Douglas County, Nevada, dammed a tributary of Silver
Creek to create Upper and Lower Kinney Lakes, as well as Kinney
Reservoir. Utilized for irrigation purposes in the Carson
Valley, by 1912 the agriculturalists had constructed half a dozen
reservoirs in Alpine County. Lower Kinney Lake Dam was
completed in 1926, and Upper Kinney Lake Dam in 1990.
29 Aspen Groves
Located between Kinney Reservoir and Upper Cascade Falls are
several large groves of Quaking aspen trees, which put on a
spectacular display of fall color.
The Quaking Aspen (Populus ttremuloides) is a deciduous tree that
grows in cooler climes. Because of the way the leaves are
attached to the branch, they seem to quake or tremble in the
breeze, making a soft fluttering sound. The quaking aspen
rarely grows from a seed, but usually propagates from
roots. Whole groves are actually clones of one plant; all
the trees in the grove share identical characteristics and share
one root system.
30 Volcanic Neck and Upper Cascade Falls
The jagged peaks of Volcanic Neck protrude through the remnants
of flat-lying volcanic flows and sedimentary deposits under
nearer hillslopes. The formation was created by a former
volcanic vent, through which molten lava flowed, leading to an
explosive eruption, ejecting solidified fragments of rock and
ash. Subsequent erosion removed the surrounding rock,
resulting in the distinctive landform.
Upper Cascade Falls are located east of Kinney Reservoir, on the
north side of the Highway. This waterfall is generally
visible only in the springtime, during the snowmelt.
Between Upper Cascade Falls and Silver Creek Campground, the
early route of the Big Tree and Carson Valley Turnpike in visible
on the north side of Silver Creek, denoted by the rock retaining
walls and steep grade. Also visible on the east side of the
highway, midway on the winding route between the falls and the
campground, is the geologic contact between the 83.9 million year
old granodiorite and the 7+ million years old volcanic Relief
31 Silver Mountain City
Silver Mountain City, first named Kongsberg after a silver mining
city in Norway, was founded shortly after Norwegian prospectors
made a silver strike in 1861. In 1863, when the population
reached 3,000, the name was changed to Silver Mountain City, and
the town was designated the county seat when Alpine County was
formed in 1864. By 1868, however, the boom was over and the
population had dwindled to 200. The county seat was moved
to Monitor where a new strike promised more wealth. All
that remains today are the stone walls of the jail, the cells
removed to Markleeville when it became the county seat in
1875. The Fisk Hotel, built about 1863, was taken down and
moved to Markleeville in 1883 and renamed the Hot Springs Hotel,
where it still stands today, housing the Cutthroat Saloon and
Restaurant. As you walk around the site of Silver Mountain
City, do not remove any of the historical artifacts; they are the
only remnants of this once flourishing boomtown left to tell its
story to future generations.
32 Scossa’s Cow Camp
Located midway between Silver Mountain City and the settlement at
Silver Creek, the Scossa Bros. Cow Camp was established as a
summer livestock range by four brothers, who were born in
Switzerland and came to America in the 1870s settling in Alpine
County. In the summer of 1880 they were residing on the
property and noted their occupations as “packing wood with
mules,” undoubtedly for the smelters at the mills. By the
turn of the 19th century they had turned to farming and ranching,
establishing ranches in Diamond Valley, and the Carson Valley
southwest of Gardnerville, Nevada, which they operate to this
day. Joseph, another member of the family, established a
farm on the Markleeville Road, where he and his wife Katie raised
A popular rest stop for hikers and cyclists, the simple board and
batten buildings at the Scossa Bros. Cow Camp were erected by the
Isabella Mining Company of London, located in front of their
Isabella Boarding House (no longer extant), a residence for the
miners at Silver Creek and a popular stage stop on the Turnpike
Cottonwood, quaking aspen, and willow grow along Silver Creek, as
do summer wildflowers. The white and gray tuff columns
north of the road are remnants of volcanic ash, hardened by water
33 Chalmer’s Mansion and Cemetery
David Davidson established the first smelter and home on the site in 1862; the tall brick smelter is one of two which were once used to smelt the ore from the nearby mines. In 1870, the mill and house were purchased by “Lord” Lewis Chalmers, who came to Alpine County from Scotland in 1866 to develop silver mines for investors in London, leaving his wife and five children behind. After several failed ventures, Chalmers acquired mining property near Silver Mountain, including a saw mill and eight-stamp quartz mill. He renamed it the Exchequer, and built himself a fine home, which came to be known as Chalmers’ Mansion, nearby. His brother, John Chalmers, came to America to help manage the mine, but as the silver ore proved to be elusive, the Chalmers brothers had a hard time making a profit from their mining venture. By then a widower, Lewis married his housekeeper, Antoinette (Nettie) Laughton, in 1880, having two more children with her. By January 1884, with his mines shut down and creditors demanding sale, Chalmers returned to England to try to raise funds to back his ventures, leaving his family in Alpine County. He never returned, dying there in 1904. Nettie died in 1913 and is buried in the small pioneer cemetery (across the highway and about one-half mile west of the Chalmers Mansion), along with Lewis and Nettie’s young son, Nettie’s first son from a previous marriage, and Lewis’ oldest son from his first marriage. Souvenir hunters stole the tombstones many years ago.
34 Centerville Flat
The town of Centerville Flat, northeast of Silver Mountain at the
junction of the East Carson River and Silver Creek, was not a
mining community, but the location of Richardson’s saw mill.
Operated by Lewis Chalmers until about 1868, it produced eight to
ten thousand feet of lumber per day. A supply center for
the surrounding mines, the small village boasted a tavern and
stores. From here the old road to Bodie went to Gray’s
Landing, across Silver King Valley, ascended Snodgrass Canyon,
and continued on to the east side of the Sierra
Centerville Flat is a campground with undeveloped sites. An
old road up Wolf Creek turns southerly from the junction, leading
to Wolf Creek Pass and the Carson-Iceberg Wilderness.
Jeffrey pines (pinus jefferyi), a very close relative to the
Ponderosa pine, are abundant on the flat. With the
same overall look, cone size, needle bundle count (three), and
some overlap in growing region, these trees are often mistaken
for one another. There are, however, several ways to distinguish
them: Jeffrey pines prefer to live in the Lodgepole pine forest
and on the east side of the Sierra (although there are places
where both pines are found together); the bark of the Jeffrey has
a more reddish-orange tint on the plates and has a sweet aroma
often described as “vanilla;” and the cones of the Jeffrey do not
poke when you pick them up.
35 Monitor Pass
Coursing easterly along the south slope of Colorado Hill, the
pass was named Monitor for the silver mining town of Monitor,
located at the junction of Mogul Road, about two miles up Monitor
Creek from the junction of Highway 4. Silver was discovered
in the district as early as 1857, but it wasn’t until rich
strikes were made at the Tarshish and Colorado mines in the early
1860s that the community was established. By 1862 the town,
named for the ironclad ship used in the first battle between
ironclad ships in the Civil War, had been established on Monitor
Creek. Two years later 150 buildings had been completed in the
town, which was noted as the “centre of one of the richest mining
districts on the eastern slope of the Sierra Nevada.” At
the height of the boom the town boasted two newspapers, a
telegraph line, post office, Wells-Fargo station, six saloons, a
brewery, hotels, boarding houses, restaurants, stores and supply
centers, and 69 mining claims.
The population reached 300 in 1872, but a fire that April
destroyed much of the business center of town and a decade later
the population had dropped to 200. From 1888 to 1908 the
name of the community was changed to Loope in honor of Dr. Loope
who represented a group of eastern investors who contributed
money to reopen the mines. The town declined soon
thereafter, as the readily available ore bodies had been
depleted. People moved away and the buildings were torn
down and succumbed to the vicissitudes of fire, weather, and
vandalism. The few remaining buildings were removed in the
1960s when the area was encompassed by the Zaca Mining Company
Mount Bullion, located at the foot of Monitor Creek where it
enters the East Fork Carson River, was another silver mining
community that boomed in the 1860s, primarily funded by British
investors. A post office was established in 1869 and called
Bulliona, but discontinued in 1873 when the boom ended. The
mining communities of Mogul and Forest City Flat were located up
Loope Canyon from Monitor Pass, as were numerous mines and aspen
groves with Basque carvings. Haypress Flat, which
commemorates an early day haying operation, is located farther
along the jeep trail.
In recent years, settling ponds have been established along Monitor Creek to contain the heavy metals leaching from the old mines on Colorado Hill. Diatomaceous earth has been introduced to settle the metals, which will be removed about every decade to keep them from leaching into Monitor Creek and the East Fork Carson River.
The first roads into the region were established in the 1860s as
toll roads, travel provided by enterprising stage companies
located in the major settlements. The Monitor Toll Road and
the Road to Mogul were depicted on early maps of the area,
following up Monitor Creek from Mount Bullion and over the old
overland trail once known as “The Dump,” where camels were pulled
by rope into Slinkard Canyon on their route into the Great Basin
in 1864. The Bactrian camels were brought to the lower
Carson River area and employed in transporting salt from the
Lahonton Basin district to the mills of Virginia City. The
trail later became Slinkard Canyon Trail and was generally used
as a cattle route.
The segment of road from the Alpine/Mono County line to the
junction of Route 89 and Route 4 is named the “Robert M. Jackson
Memorial Highway,” in memory of Jackson, who worked for the
Alpine County Public Works Department for over 30 years and was
instrumental in completing the road over Monitor Pass in
1954. This 18-mile span traverses both Alpine and Mono
counties, and is a mountainous road reaching elevations in excess
of 8,500 feet. The original road grade was crooked and
steep, as much as 17% in some places.
A few miles up Monitor Pass, a road leads to the Leviathan Mine,
where copper sulfate, copper, and sulfur were mined from 1863 to
1872. Inactive until reopened by Calpine in 1935, the mine
was purchased by the Anaconda Company in 1952 and operated until
shut down in 1962. It is now a 250-acre Region 9 Superfund
Site, due to the arsenic and heavy metals leaching from the
operation. Beyond Heenan Lake and below Leviathan Peak, a
spectacular stretch of aspen groves provides brilliant color in
the fall months.
36 East Fork Carson River
A designated State “Wild and Scenic” River, the East Fork of the
Carson River is a popular whitewater kayaking and rafting site,
and also provides excellent trout fishing opportunities. Historic
sites and areas of natural and geologic beauty abound in the
river canyon, which is especially colorful in the fall of the
year when the cottonwood and aspen turn brilliantly yellow and
The Carson River was named for famed explorer and guide Kit
Carson, who, with John C. Frémont, accomplished the first
non-native mid-winter passage over the Sierra in February of
1844. During the Comstock boom, timber was cut in the
mountains and hauled or flumed to the East Fork of the Carson
River from where it was floated down to Empire, Nevada, to be
hauled by railroad to the mines at Virginia City. Men in
piroques (flat boats) followed the wood drive down the river,
using picaroons to manipulate the logs. The largest drive
in those days was said to have contained about 150,000 cords of
wood, filling the river up to six feet deep for a distance of
four and a half miles upstream.
The gorge of the East Fork Carson River was formed by an 18-mile
long glacier that scoured the canyon, leaving behind riverine
terraces with round boulder as it melted. Caves, formed by
volcanic lava tubes, sheltered Native Americans and later
stockmen and campers, are located on the west side of the East
Fork Carson River at Hangman’s Bridge. A major flood in
1997 scoured the canyon, eroding the road and leaving stream
boulders high and dry.
One interesting historic site in the river canyon is “Hangman’s
Bridge.” According to local lore, in 1874 a man named Ernst
Reusch was accused of murder in Alpine County. In order to spare
the financially-strapped county the expense of a jury trial or
change of venue (sought because it was thought that Reusch could
not get a fair trial in Alpine County), some local vigilantes
took justice into their own hands while the prisoner was being
transported to neighboring Mono County for trial. The armed
men stopped the escort at a point south of Markleeville on the
East Fork Carson River, and ordered the prisoner out. They then
put a noose around Reusch’s neck and dropped him over the side of
the bridge. The old bridge was replaced by a new bridge
about one mile downstream
37 Grover Hot Springs State Park
From the immense mountain peaks and old lava flows covering
hundreds of square miles to the east to the glacially-carved
valley and natural hot springs, Grover Hot Springs State Park is
a testament to the ancient and powerful geologic forces that
shaped the landscape that one sees today. The Park’s eight
natural hot springs are a result of surface water percolating
through cracks in the earth’s crust until it reaches hot rock
thousands of feet below, then bubbles back up to the surface,
dissolving and absorbing minerals along its way. The water is a
scalding 148 degrees when it reaches the ground surface; however
the Park regulates hot pool inflow to maintain a comfortable
soaking temperature between 102 and 104 degrees. The water at
Grover Hot Springs State Park contains little sulfur, and
therefore does not have that “rotten egg” smell so common in
natural hot springs elsewhere.
Open year-round, the 700-acre park features a hot soaking pool
fed by natural hot springs and adjacent swimming pool, a 76-site
developed campground, picnic area and hiking trails.
Originally known by Native Americans for hundreds of years,
non-native visitors have flocked to Hot Springs Valley since the
1850s to “take the cure” in the natural mineral hot
springs. Reputedly visited by Frémont in 1844, the site was
homesteaded in 1854 by John Hawkins. In the 1860s, the
property was leased to dairyman C.H. Kilgore, who constructed a
rustic bath house, dwelling, barn, and outhouses. By the
late 1860s the enterprise was operated by Dan
In 1874 Alvin Merrill Grover formed a partnership with Hawkins
and began making improvements to the property. In order to
better serve his paying guests, in 1883 Grover purchased the Fisk
Hotel at Silver Mountain City, moved it to Markleeville, and
renamed it the Hot Springs Hotel (later the Alpine Hotel).
By 1895 ownership of the springs had passed to Mrs. H.A.
Grover. In 1959 the property was purchased for inclusion in
the California State Parks system, which replaced the old pools,
but retained the historic cabins.
Markleeville traces its beginnings to the land claim of Jacob J.
Marklee who established a toll bridge across a tributary of the
Carson River in 1861, during the height of the silver mining boom
at nearby Silver Mountain City. Marklee hoped to prosper from the
freight and supplies headed to the mining camps, but he was
killed in a gunfight in 1863. As the terminus of wagon and
stage travel in the region, by 1864 the town boasted 168 houses,
a telegraph line from Genoa, Nevada, a population of 2,620, a
post office, and soon thereafter a Wells Fargo Express Office and
an armory with a company of Union troops. By 1875, the year
in which the county seat was moved to Markleeville, the
population had decreased to 172, due to the demonetization of
The first courthouse was located in the Odd Fellows Hall, with the present courthouse, of native stone quarried above Silver Mountain City, completed in 1928. The oldest building in town, built as the Fisk Hotel in Silver Mountain City, was taken apart in sections and rebuilt as the Hot Springs Hotel, known today as the Cutthroat Saloon and Restaurant. A disastrous fire about 1886 decimated most of the town, however, and it was never rebuilt in its entirety.