Sterling Mine Ditch Trail - Jacksonville, Oregon
When James Sterling and Aaron Davies found gold in 1854, within two years a town was booming.
Sterlingville had boarding houses, general stores, saloons, a barber shop, casino, dance-hall, and a lot of houses. With a population of 1,500 it had its' own school district.
In 1877, the Sterling Mining Company built a ditch 26 miles long from the Little Applegate River to support their hydraulic mining operations.
The Sterling Mine Ditch was completed in a little less than a year by about 400 Chinese laborers.
In our quest for discovering early Oregon history, we set out to find this amazing ditch, since the town of Sterlingville was destroyed after the mining operations ceased.
There is a well-marked trail with parking across the dirt road, sufficent for several vehicles.
Starting out, it was a very pleasant day, and since we have been taking many mountain climbing trips this year, we felt this would be an easy hike, as the last several we had ended up at the 6,300 foot level.
This hike gradually climbed, but it certainly wasn't strenuous.
One thing we forgot however, is that at the lower elevations, as these foothills are, a 96 degree day on a hot, dirt trail is flat out miserable!
Climbing up and over these smaller mountains,
we had the most incredible views of the beautiful mountains surrounding this entire area.
We are headed toward the top, and over this one.
In the center of the picture, we at last see a sign of the Sterling Mine Ditch. Even though it appears to be lower on the right, it is an optical illusion. The water flows from right to left.
The ditch started up in the hills, about center picture.
This is where we finally intersect the ditch after our long climb upward. We approached this sign from behind, having come up the Tunnel Ridge Trail. We are headed for the Bear Gulch Trailhead, which is another 3 miles away, but on the way down, we made an interesting discovery. We found a tunnel, and after entering the tunnel, realized it had come from the other side. So before proceeding toward Bear Gulch, turn left on the Little Applegate Trailhead, and travel about 50 yards, and then you'll discover the ditch coming down on your left, and you will find the beginning of the tunnel.
This is the ditch as it approaches the tunnel.
This is the tunnel that the miners dug by hand, to channel the water through the hill as it was too much effort to excavate the mountain it goes through. Imagine this being dug with picks and shovels. This tunnel is probably a good 150 feet long.
It was like a furnace outside the tunnel, but inside it was beautifully air-conditioned. Our dogs crawled in, and didn't want to leave.
Passing by the sign again, and heading for Bear Gulch Trailhead, we find the other end of the tunnel.
It's not high enough to walk through, but a bear could do it.
The Sterling Mine Ditch continues.
The walking path runs along the side of the ditch for the next two miles.
Magnificent trees grow the entire length of the Sterling Mine Ditch.
This is one of the rock walls that the ditch builders had to make in order to keep the slope of the channel at the proper grade.
The trees all along the ditch obviously outgrew their neighbors in this arid region of Southern Oregon.
Magnificent Madrone trees, the size of which we have never seen, dominate the area along the trail.
At times, the slope where the ditch had to run would intersect a gully, and the skillful engineers built trestles to create flumes to continue the flow of the water across the gushing, torrents of water that seasonally plunged down the sides of the steep slopes.
After crossing over Bear Gulch, we had a choice, we could continue along the Sterling Mine Ditch, run out of water, and die on the trail, or take the route that we did, which winds down through the gulch, and back around to the other side, and takes you back to the road. Coming out at this point, we then had to walk on the dirt road for half a mile back to where we had parked. I was really glad that we have two miniature schnauzers, as the older one finally decided he'd had enough exercise, and Daddy had to carry him the last mile.
This is the roof of one of the operating mines in the area, as viewed from the mountain. There are many people living along the Little Applegate River, and making a good living bringing home the gold.