Peace and quiet at California's Empire Mine State Historic Park
Gone are the crews of dusty miners, gone are the thunderous mills crushing ore 24 hours a day--but in the Northern California foothills, Empire Mine State Historic Park is far from abandoned. More than a century after the gold rush that left this area stripped of its mineral reserves, the park offers another golden resource: land.
Though park administrators are working to make Empire Mine's 750 acres of forested backcountry and extensive trail system more accessible, for now the area is blissfully uncrowded. "The trail system at Empire Mine is generally overlooked," explains ranger Jeff Jones. "But we're changing that with an exciting new focus on this resource."
Historically, most park visitors have headed straight for the Empire Cottage- the English manor home of former mine owner William Bourn Jr., surrounded by manicured grounds and rose gardens--and the informative Visitor Center Museum. The park also offers mine tours and costumed living-history reenactments. With these attractions drawing most of the attention, miles of trails are left open to those who, like me, seek solitude.
On a recent visit, I walked the 2.5-mile Hardrock Trail loop, which begins and ends at the park entrance and encompasses many features of the park's mining legacy Two walkers and a cyclist passed me on the main trail; I saw nary a soul on the side trails.
Tree frogs croaked and wrens scolded me in the damp woods along Little Wolf Creek as I strolled among …