|Exploring the Elkhorn Mining
June 7, 2003
|Last Update: February 18, 2005 Repaired 4-23-08
|On June 7, 2003, my friend John and I explored part of the Elkhorn mining district. Located
about 30 miles east of Salem in the Willamette National Forest. This trip would not involve any 4
wheeling or my truck. Most access would be via foot trails. Today, we were only able to explore
one major mine, but we hope to return to the area to see the others.
|This would be a day trip where John and I would explore the Elkhorn mining district. This area is located about 30
miles east of Salem, Oregon and is on Willamette National Forest land. Some of the area is also privately owned
and wilderness area. Most mines are only accessible via foot. You can drive to some of the original mine sites,
but those mines are now collapsed and little trace is left behind. Our goal today was to attempt to locate the Crown
mine site and then hike the Hemline falls trail to the Silver King mine.
Our first stop for the day would be in Mill City, Oregon, which is just south of the Elkhorn district. Mill City is a
small town that has a portion of an abandoned railroad and a major abandoned railroad bridge that crosses the
North Santiam River. I knew from older USGS maps that while the railroad was abandoned, the bridge remained
intact. I was curious if this very historical structure still existed. I was happy to find that it did. Today it has been
converted into a foot bridge and is in very good condition.
|The railroad bridge at Mill City. This bridge was built in 1919 to allow access to timber stands north of Mill
City. The mill and original railroad are located in the southern part of town and still exist today. The bridge
and railroad north of the river (right side of photo) was abandoned at an unknown date, but sometime before
1980. Today it is preserved as a short bike trail.
|After leaving Mill City, we headed up the road to Elkhorn. The turn off of Hwy 22 is about 6 miles west of Mill
City near Mehama. Just a few miles up the road you can see a very old schoolhouse that dates probably from the
1900s. Today it and the old gymnasium are on gated off private land, but they are easy to see from the highway.
Even the old school's name, Oakdale School, is still visible on the front.
|The old Oakdale school just outside of Mehama, Oregon. It's unknown when it was closed down, but I would
guess no later than the 1950s. The school house appears to date as far back as the early 1900s.
This picture was actually taken by me on a prior visit in 2002.
|Once we reached the Elkhorn area, about 10 miles east of Mehama, our first goal was to locate an access trail to
the Crown mine. The Crown mine is not visibly shown on the USGS maps although the GPS coordinates do still
exist. However, we had talked to some campers while visiting the area several years ago, who indicated that the
tunnel does exist and some mine equipment still remains on site. The extreme difficulty in reaching this mine site
was intriguing, because that would mean fewer people have visited the mine over the years and it's original
condition and equipment were more likely be intact. Unfortunately, our several attempts to locate a trail failed.
We found the original mine access road which originally crossed the Little Santiam river and went straight up to the
mine. However at the base of the Little Santiam, we could not see the road on the other side and decided not to
attempt to the cross the river. The road on the other side was long overgrown or washed away. The mine was
about 1000 feet above the river and in extremely steep terrain. We did find a possible trail in another location, but
decide we would explore that possibility on another day.
|The Silver King Mine
Instead, we headed up to the Hemline Falls and Silver King mine trail. The trail head for this mine was located just
off of the easily accessible gravel road through the area. We were unsure what we would find, but it turned out to
be very much worth the hike. After hiking about 1/2 mile we found several collapsed mine sites. These are part of
the Silver King mine group and were the shorter shafts. The longest shaft is located at the Hemline falls. The
collapsed shafts left little trace of anything except tailings piles.
After about 1 mile, we came to the Hemline falls. The Hemline falls was an incredible set of falls about 150 feet tall.
The whole area was just as beautiful as any set of falls I'd ever seen and is located inside the protected wilderness
area of the Willamette National Forest. Some hikers in the area had asked if we had seen the bear in the area.
We did notice bear droppings, but never thought much about it. Apparently other hikers had reported seeing a
black bear that day. We were not concerned at the time.
In the falls area we found several concrete structure remains. We later figured out that the remains were part of a
water wheel set up, where the miners used the falls to power something. At first we assumed it was some kind of
stamp or processing mill for the mine, but it later made more sense that it probably ran a compressor for air
Just to the right of the falls was the main shaft. This shaft was the main crosscut into the mountain and was 1700
feet long! It was cut into solid rock from the beginning to the end. We felt it was safe enough to enter, because of
it's solid rock nature and it had obviously been explored by prior hikers hundreds of times. The shaft went straight
back for hundreds of feet. At one point you could look back and still see the entrance light, but it looked like a
pinhole. Walking through the mine reminded me of walking through some of the lava tubes we've visited. It was
flat, level and left plenty of room to walk through. Towards the end of the shaft, it curves to the left and you can no
longer see the entrance. At 1700 feet back, it is extremely dark and a bit cold and wet. There were almost no
remains inside the shaft all. Just rock, dirt and water. We did see one small section of pipe, one piece of ore cart
rail and several rotting railroad ties, but that was about it. Walking that deep into a mine shaft was still interesting
The Silver King mine is actually not one of the larger mines of the area, but it appears to be the longest remaining
intact shaft and probably the only one dug into solid rock. It dates to the early 1900s, but little information can be
found. It was mined for gold, silver, lead and zinc.
|Main Silver King mine shaft
just to the right of the falls.
This shaft is 1700 feet long, cut
into solid rock.
|The Hemline falls. With the
lack of a wide angle lens, the
camera just cannot do it justice.
|The Hemline falls. This picture
taken by John.
|John ahed of me, just entering
|Myself somewhere in the shaft.
We used LED headlamps as a
main source of light, but as
always at least 2 more
flashlights should be on hand
when entering caves or mines.
|This is looking back to the
entrance from about 600 feet
into the tunnel.
|The tunnel was solid rock and
we found it to be safe enough
for us. However, anyone who
does explore this mine, does so
at their own risk.
|Back to the entrance. This
picture was taken only about 50
feet from the tunnel entrance.
|These concrete remains were the only thing left behind, except for
the shaft that hinted of any mining activity. Even the tailings pile
was long ago washed away by the creek. This appears to be been a
water wheel set up. The closest structure was probably the base
mount for the iron air tank. The structure that John is standing
next too probably housed the water wheel on the left and the air
compressors on the right.
|This is John 1700 feet into the
tunnel at the far end.
|After we arrived back to the trail head, a passing car called out to tell us that a bear was sighted just down the road.
To our surprise there was in fact a black bear just standing about 50 feet off of the road. We stopped to take
pictures, but to our amazement the bear did not seem the least bit frightened of us at all. This was of great concern
because the area is full of hikers and if this bear is not afraid of humans he is more likely to stay in contact with
them and may possibly attack someone. He was a smaller black bear, perhaps 200lbs. John commented that he
also appeared younger. The bear made no threatening moves toward us, but I know from a prior experience that
they can travel at least 30 miles per hour in an instant. As we left he was still sitting by the road.
|These pictures were taken from approximately 50 feet away and during the evening hours, so they appear grainy due to the lack of light. John's
superior camera has some better pictures. The bear did not seem the least bit scared of us, at one point actually lying down like a lazy cat and
ignoring us. I felt like we were at a zoo, except we didn't have a cage or concrete wall to separate us from the bear. It was an amazing and
extremely rare site. Bear sightings in Oregon are fairly rare. Although black bear do commonly roam Oregon mountains, they are usually so
scared of humans they run before humans have any idea they were there.
|These are some better quality pictures taken by John. Added to the site on Sept. 7, 2003
|Our last stop for the day was the Salmon Creek falls. This is a very popular swimming hole for visitors to the area.
Unfortunately, the area is peppered with bear cans, garbage and cigarette butts. It made us extremely angry that
people could be so careless with such a pristine natural area. I support full public access to most areas, but seeing
things like this make me question whether people really should be allowed full access to wilderness and public lands.
And it's things like this that help close off access to public lands all over the country.
|Salmon Creek falls. A popular swimming hole on the Little Santiam River. The man
made concrete structure on the right is actually a fish ladder tunnel that was blasted
into the rock. This allows fish to spawn upriver above the falls.
|This concludes our trip to the Elkhorn mining district today. But we hope to return in the near future. The area has
several more mines that we have yet to explore. All require hiking or biking past a main gate. But public access is
allowed, just not in vehicles. Jawbone flats, just up the road past the gate is suppose to be somewhat of a ghost
town for the area. Actually most of the buildings are modern cabins and have electricity via a homemade waterfall
powered generator. It should be interesting to see as well.
|Copyright © 2004 Brian McCamish, All Rights Reserved
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