Crown Mine (Little North Santiam) 1-1-19

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Crown Mine (Little North Santiam) 1-1-19

Post by bobcat » January 2nd, 2019, 3:32 pm

The Crown Mining and Milling Company registered ten claims up Crown Creek, on the south bank of the Little North Santiam, in the early 20th century. Work on these claims and, in particular on the main prospect at the Crown Mine, was most productive in the mid-1920s but the claim was active until 1951. The main tunnel runs about 1,000 feet into the quartz-diorite bedrock, and there are several drift tunnels. The trail to the mine led from just west of the Pearl Creek Guard Station to a ford on the Little North Santiam and then climbed one mile and 1,000 feet up the steep slope to the west of Crown Creek and the site of the main tunnel, which is on the east bank of the creek. The miners stayed in a small cabin about ¼ mile below the mine.

I had a blowup of the relevant section of the USGS Mill City Quad, printed in 1941 but surveyed in 1925-26. The trail shows quite distinctly on this map, but it disappears on later topo maps. Also, I have a copy of the Forest Service’s Cultural Resource Inventory Report for the Little North Santiam Mining District, published in 1985. Other than those, there is a Youtube account by Graham Spencer of an exploration into the mine tunnel, but no details on how to get there.

Crown Mine Trail - 1925.png

Edit: This snippet is actually taken from the 1955 1:62,500 Mill City Quad. The earlier 1929 1:125,000 Mill City Quad also shows the cabin. The trail disappears from the maps issued after 1955 until it reappears on the 1983 1:100,000 North Santiam River map.

We hiked along the Little North Santiam Trail from the east trailhead. It was about 28 degrees, brisk and dry, but the river flowed clear and pellucid over turquoise pools. We crossed the footbridge over Little Cedar Creek and arrived at Three Pools, where we made a scrambling exploration of the rocky shore. The well-known pillar has unsightly climbing ropes attached, and the double-portaled grotto unfortunately displays a little graffiti. The USFS has clamped down on this area recently since Instagram has made it “the best” swimming hole in the state. Visitors are restricted to the 90-space parking area on the north bank, with no parking permitted on the roads. Glass containers are forbidden, but summer swimmers should think twice about putting their feet down on the river bottom as, apparently, glass shards are waiting to slice your sole. Needless to say, what is a noisy summer zoo was, on a sub-zero winter's day, completely devoid of a human presence.

Little North Santiam and Cedar Creek Confluence, East Trailhead.jpg
View to the FR 2207 road bridge, Little North Santiam Trail.jpg
Big Douglas-fir, Little North Santiam Trail.jpg
Orange jelly fungus (Dacromyces palmatus), Little North Santiam Trail.jpg
Reuben and Ezra on Little Cedar Creek footbridge, Little North Santiam Trail.jpg
Little Cedar Creek, Little North Santiam Trail.jpg
At the Little North Santiam, Little North Santiam Trail.jpg
The pillar, Three Pools, Little North Santiam Trail.jpg
Looking out the Grotto, Little North Santiam Trail.jpg
From the Grotto to the Pillar, Little North Santiam Trail.jpg

We passed above the “cliff diving” pool, crossed an unnamed creek with a broken footbridge, and made the two-log crossing of Crown Creek. From this point, we searched for any sign of the Crown Mine’s trail leading up to the left. We encountered nothing even remotely resembling a trail on the first pass and, coming back, still couldn’t find a definitive beginning.

Diving pool, Three Pools, Little North Santiam Trail.jpg
Varnished conk, Little North Santiam Trail.jpg
Pellucid waters, Little North Santiam Trail.jpg
Crossing of Crown Creek, Little North Santiam Trail.jpg

The final option was simply to begin bushwhacking up the ferny slope west of Crown Creek. About 250 yards above the Little North Santiam, we encountered flagging which led us above the creek to double-tiered Crown Creek Falls. There was no trail tread, so this was obviously somebody’s “route”. The map shows the trail angling west from the creek, so we headed over and soon encountered a tread. There was intermittent flagging for a while here as well, but after some slogging through patches of salal, the tread was never in doubt as it wandered well away from Crown Creek and headed up the slope.

Upper tier, Crown Creek Falls, Crown Mine Trail.jpg
Wire and insulator, Crown Mine Trail.jpg
Through the salal, Crown Mine Trail.jpg
Stepping over logs, Crown Mine Trail.jpg

The understory became very open and, despite dozens of downed trees, progress was rather easy. After a wooden Crown Mine claim marker, we began looking for the site of the cabin, which I knew to be about 25 yards off the trail. We soon spotted it, and that’s where we stopped for lunch. All of the cabin timbers have collapsed and become forest mush concealed under a thick carpet of moss. Numerous artifacts lie scattered about, including a bed frame, wood stove door, and shards of dinnerware.

Crown Mine sign, Crown Mine Trail.jpg
Rusting artifacts at the cabin site, Crown Mine Trail.jpg
Lunch at the cabin site, Crown Mine Trail.jpg
Bed frame at the cabin site, Crown Mine Trail.jpg
Rusting can, cabin site, Crown Mine Trail.jpg
Pottery shard, Crown Mine Trail.jpg

The trail continued up from here, at first steeply and then well switchbacked on the steep hillside with a definitive bench. The rhododendrons on the trail tread are only two feet tall right now, but in coming years they will become a major impediment. The last traverse back to Crown Creek and the open portal of the mine was across a seeping, soggy, 65 degree slope on a tread that has slid away in places. Crown Creek tumbles here in a series of rushing cascades but can be crossed via mossy stepping stones.

View up the valley, Crown Mine Trail.jpg
Pausing on the bench, Crown Mine Trail.jpg
The adit, Crown Mine Trail.jpg

There was about six inches of water on the tunnel floor, with the outlines of the wooden ore cart rails barely visible (These had originally been surfaced with strips of metal). To the left of the portal was a stack of flattened galvanized piping. Supposedly, there should be other artifacts down the creek valley, but we decided not to plunge through the devil’s club and salmonberry to search them out. Neither did we enter the tunnel as the prospect of getting soaked from both the bottom and top was not enticing on such a cold day.

Shovel head, Crown Mine.jpg
Looking up the adit, Crown Mine.jpg

On the descent, we resolved to follow the entire trail down to the river, and this proved a fairly mundane task. Reuben decided that the fallen trees were really a glorified playground obstacle course and had fun performing his acrobatic leaps although there were a few yelps whenever he landed on something unforgiving that was lurking under the ferns. We found the tread reaches the Little North Santiam Trail about 200 yards west of Crown Creek although it is completely concealed by sword ferns at its lower end. A great outing on a dry day and a fun way to begin the new year.

Wide trail corridor, Crown Mine Trail.jpg
Reuben leaping, Crown Mine Trail.jpg

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Re: Crown Mine (Little North Santiam) 1-1-19

Post by BurnsideBob » January 3rd, 2019, 9:59 am

What a great adventure/treasure hunt/history lesson!!

Probably a whole lot of work for very little reward. What were they mining for?

Thanks for sharing.
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Re: Crown Mine (Little North Santiam) 1-1-19

Post by bobcat » January 3rd, 2019, 5:14 pm

BurnsideBob wrote:
January 3rd, 2019, 9:59 am
Probably a whole lot of work for very little reward. What were they mining for?
Never underestimate effect of gold fever on the delusional part of the brain. They had to haul ore carts, steam engine, boiler, compressor, stamp mill, wood stove etc. - all made of iron - up that steep, switchbacking slope. Copper and zinc were also found at the Little North Santiam although there's no evidence that the Crown Mine broke even after 1,000 feet of swinging the picks at solid bedrock in a six-foot-high tunnel with poor ventilation and filling ore cart after ore cart.

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Re: Crown Mine (Little North Santiam) 1-1-19

Post by Splintercat » January 3rd, 2019, 5:20 pm

Thanks, John - great post! I'm a big chicken when it comes to the mines in that area... scary!

Tom :-)

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Re: Crown Mine (Little North Santiam) 1-1-19

Post by pcg » January 3rd, 2019, 8:38 pm

Fun trip!

Years ago I spent a cold muddy day crawling through mine tunnels in that area. Some were cribbed and some were not. I remember some of the tunnels went back at least a hundred feet before branching off into other tunnels. Also most had metal track still in place. It looks like the track has been removed from the tunnel in your pic.

I went back about five years ago and most of the cribbing was collapsing so I stayed away. There are still solid tunnels without cribbing in that area, the most visited being the one at Henline Falls. All of the tailings I found contained copper ore and nothing else. I also found no evidence of quartz anywhere so I think these were exclusively copper mines. (Although I have panned gold out of the North Santiam so somewhere there is some quartz way upstream.)

About 30? years ago there was renewed interest in that area and another mining company moved in around Opal Creek. I think they went belly up after just a couple years.

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Re: Crown Mine (Little North Santiam) 1-1-19

Post by DannyH » January 5th, 2019, 8:05 am

Thanks for a really interesting report and research!
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Re: Crown Mine (Little North Santiam) 1-1-19

Post by Bosterson » January 7th, 2019, 12:34 pm

Hey John, neat exploration. It's good to see you inducting the kids into schwacking and exploring at a young age! :)
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