Malakoff Diggins State Historic Park

This post is NOT about a trip I took solo, bracketed by conference calls and City Council meetings. This post is about a trip I went on with FRIENDS!

For the last several years I have tried to get people together for tubing and swimming in those months that seem so very short and so very precious here when I am writing this, five days past solstice and 131 days after I went there.

In prior years we take a day trip to the Russian River, where we put in below a dam and had to furiously kick our way back to our cars after realizing there would be no current. There were blackberries along the way though.

After that I shifted to American River trips, which have a much more suburban feeling in all the best ways. You can park your car at one spot and then take a cab to the other, and the cab drivers are prepared with plastic on the back seats. A bunch of people are pretty drunk and wearing American flag bikinis and doing possibly really dumb stuff like doing backflips off the shore. Usually at least one person loses an entire sandwich that floats by you and the float/waterproof speaker/cooler situation is impressively baroque compared to our battered collection of inner tubes. Sometimes you paddle across the current and trade a beer for an edible.

During my Thanksgiving trip to a bunch of hot springs and The Clown Motel (oh I guess I should write that up too), we asked some fellow soakers about favorite swimming holes in the Sierra foothills, and they told us about one along the Yuba. I wrote the name of it on the back of a receipt and left it on my fridge, a totem of my surely sun-drenched future. So I sent an invitation and created a Doodle poll:

on thanksgiving day, at a hot spring in the mojave desert, a kind couple from nevada city told us of a well-loved-but-mostly-by-the-locals swimming hole. it’s by no means a secret, but it’s less a floating mardi gras than the american river, has 20-foot-deep pools, and is just a half mile hike in. nevada city also has a brewery in a cave for some reason.
nearby, there are car camping sites in tahoe national forest (Pat at White Cloud is a well-loved camp host), or a “glamping” experience. there’s a ghost town/cool rocks park that has plenty of tent sites and lots to learn about hydraulic mining. if you don’t find that interesting why are we friends.

More than thirty emails later, with many people bailing for various reasons, then rejoining, or asking to bring whoever, we had a crew: Sarah, Nicole, Joyce, Kyle, Anna and Skyler. We also had an industrial-sized tub of cheese balls and I think like, 6 bottles of wine.


After briefly considering leaving town on Friday night, we all gave up and made pacts to take our two cars early early Saturday morning. Somehow this actually worked out (often group trips are held up by the inevitable needs to have breakfast, pee, get more groceries, whatever, times 4 people, times 2 cars) and we all met up at Malakoff Diggins just after lunchtime. (This is also despite taking a horrible, twisting, rutted gravel road down to the campsite, thank you hero Skyler for driving that. Hilariously when we rolled into the town site, it was onto a clearly well-paved road that led all the way back to the ‘burbs).

Turns out we got there just in time to set up and then take a tour of the ghost town stuff! Nobody lives in North Bloomfield anymore really but they have kept some of the buildings up (and restored others, I have thoughts about the arrested decay of managed ghost towns for some other post probably).

The tour of the town (which used to be called Humbug!) had some real cute sanitized information about the bar Nicole and I took this selfie in. There was also a general store, an ice cream parlor, a stable/livery, and some big old houses.

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A really enthusiastic retired ranger was leading gold panning demonstrations, which we truly could not resist. The signs of GOLD FEVER are evident in Sarah and Nicole’s faces below. Or maybe that’s just the look of HAVING WHOLESOME FUN. I wasn’t immediately good at this task, and it made my back hurt, so I quit and started taking pictures.

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goldbugs #slawcrew

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On the tour of the home of the big important family in the town, we saw some Victorian hair sculpture. Joyce knew some stuff about this so we clamored for a speech. She hopped onto a stump and obliged. Basically hair sculpture was a practice of using a dead loved one’s hair to make some art, twisted and shaped around wire sometimes. Lots of times they look like flower wreaths. This is a picture of her hopping back down, having educated us all.

After that we headed back to camp for snacks and stuff to intoxicate us a little bit. Then we struck out in search of a lake we saw on the map (optimistically we had suits and towels). We wandered over to Blair Lake, which was largely dry. Oops! No swimming!

That very moment, as I recall, one of my friends noted that they had never seen a bear before, and then we saw a bear. It was a teen bear! We watched it rustling around in the bushes about 50 feet downhill from us, then it crashed away into the brush and we moved on to some other ghost town stuff.

During a bathroom break when we found some blackberries, there was the bear again! Often they come in pairs, right. It was such a trundly bear, you could just tell it was an adolescent even without knowing other stuff about bears. I only get to call it goofy because it stayed far away, I realize this.

We checked out a cemetery, and an old school and old church each papered with Hantavirus warnings. As dusk fell we hurried back to the campsite on an unexpectedly steep tail, completely missing all of the scars left by the nearly unfathomable reach of human greed I will write about when I go this summer for HUMBUG DAY (to see “the exciting and controversial hydraulic gold mining era of the 1870’s!”).

One last park event fit right into our schedules: the ranger talk! Night fell as a ranger laid out various bones, teeth and hides on the campground stage. There were a few actual children there, but they were outnumbered by a) us, and b) a group of other adults wearing animal-themed onesies who were clearly pretty drunk and largely there to test out their gear for festival season or something. They were annoying but we learned a lot about owls and how to tell the difference between a bobcat and a fox. (Allie I know you think this is obvious.)

At dinner we made a fire and polished off five cans of beans between us, along with some slaw (#slawcrew) and some other stuff I didn’t take a picture of. I started eating cheese balls by headlamp with my tactical spoon/fork because that’s cute I guess, at least it’s cuter than going greedily after that famous snack that leaves oil cheese detritus on your fingers.


On Sunday, my car had to get back to the Bay Area by dinnertime, so we had a beautiful group pancake breakfast and then packed up and headed to the swimmin’ hole. This was back down the rutted, horrible gravel road some miles, which wasn’t great.

But the swimming hole was great. We put the remaining rose in the river to keep it cool, and passed around the last of the cheese balls. The sun was hot, the water was cold.

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cheesin on the yuba #slawcrew

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Lessons Learned: Do not doubt for a second the power of these particular seven people to consume five cans of beans, six bottles of wine and a large tub of cheese balls. Swimming in a cold river is fantastic at any sobriety level, 5 and up. Watch your friends for gold fever.

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