California’s Lake Don Pedro is a jagged reservoir smack dab in the middle of California, and while the desolate wilderness area surrounding it has a number of recreational activities, the true draw to the lake are the remains of the Eagle-Shawmut Mine which have recently reemerged due to the plummeting water level left in the wake of California’s drought.
Ground on the mines was first broken in 1850 when deposits of gold, silver, and copper were discovered in the area. Mining the land for nearly 100 years, the mine built a number of structures right into the sloping hillsides. As the mine dug deeper and expanded, it created a number of steep slopes and valleys, each with the severe stratification lines of mine work dug into the surface. However, the output dried up and the mine was closed in 1947 and quickly forgotten to the desert.
In 1971 the nearby Don Pedro Dam was built, blocking the flow of the Tuolumne River and drowning the nearby gorges and mining areas to create Lake Don Pedro. Had things worked out, the Eagle-Shawmut Mine might have been lost forever beneath the accumulated waters, but thanks to the years-long drought in the state, the waterline of Lake Don Pedro has dramatically receded, revealing the submerged mining installations colloquially referred to as “Brutalist Petra.” At the most dramatic site of the exposed mine, the flat earthen building built into the hillside recalls the cyclopean masonry of ancient civilizations despite being only a handful of decades old.
The old mine can be reached via kayak, but sits on an ungraded slope and is hard to reach by foot, although either way is treacherous. The remains are also only exposed with the fluctuating levels of the lake, so visiting in the dry season would be advised. At the most extreme levels of drought, the mine is further exposed and can be much more easily reached simply by crossing the dry lakebed. The devastating California drought is unquestionably a tragedy and a disaster, but as this mine proves, it can produce no small amount of wonder in its wake.
Know Before You Go
Two options: 1. Go to the end of Tarantula Mine Road, and climb down the gorge. It'll be pretty hard. (Not recommended in a regular car without 4WD/AWD, it's a steep dirt road). 2. Go to the end of Shawmut Road, on the south shore, and cross in a small boat, or find a fording point further up the reservoir to the west.