Located in the City of Sonora, the Dragoon Gulch Trail provides its visitors with a unique opportunity to stroll through the Mother Lode's oak woodlands.The Dragoon Gulch Trail is a system of trails creating a 2 1/2 mile loop. The trails travel along a natural creek up to the vista that provides a spectacular view of the City and its surrounding mountain ranges. The trails off the main trail vary in difficulty making it perfect for the casual walker and for those who want a strenuous hike or jog.
The History of Dragoon Gulch
This region was occupied in historic and late prehistoric times by the Miwok Indians who appeared in the area ca. 800 years ago. The region also received seasonal visits by members of the Paiute from east of the Sierra Nevada and the Yokut from the San Joaquin Valley. They eventually moved their camps farther up into the mountains as the population of the area increased.
The discovery of gold in 1848 precipitated a world-wide rush to the Sierra Nevada foothills. Virtually overnight the land was populated with gold-seekers from all over the world. Although there was mining activity in the Sonora area in 1848, the first documented discovery was in Wood’s Creek on March 17, 1849 (near the site of Sonora High School). Towns, such as Sonora, Columbia and Jamestown, quickly sprang up around the major strikes.
The City of Sonora, known as the “Queen of the Southern Mines”, was established in 1848 by miners emigrating from the State of Sonora, Mexico. The early settlement was often referred to as the Sonoran Camp. As thousands of eager gold seekers made their way to the Camp so came merchants with a wide variety of tools and supplies, butchers, bakers, mule packers, teamsters, along with those aiming to open restaurants, lodging houses and saloons, thus a town was born. Sonora, incorporated on May 1, 1851, has served as Tuolumne County’s seat of government and its commercial center since its inception.
Placer mining occurred on Dragoon Gulch as early as 1849, but not extensively until after 1852 due to the lack of water. Dragoon Gulch was named for a group of dragoons, or cavalry soldiers of the United States Army, who stayed in the area and mined for gold in the ravine. It is unknown if the soldiers were deserters from their units or on legal furlough to mine for gold. The date they began mining is unknown, but it was probably in early 1849.
Later, the whole of Dragoon Gulch, between its source in the rich gravel deposits of the Shaws Flat area to its confluence with Woods Creek, was heavily worked by placer miners. In the early days some of the rich gravel was carted (about two miles northeast) as far as the springs at Springfield to be washed. Other miners dug wells or used water impounded from a number of springs in the ravines at the head of Dragoon Gulch. The first outside water supply arrived from Sullivan’s Creek in February 1851 when the Sullivan Creek Water Company completed its ditch. The Tuolumne County Water Company provided some water in late 1852.
Like other areas mined, the miners had varied luck. Some did very well and others made barely enough to survive. One success was reported in the San Francisco Daily Herald of November 23, 1852, when a company of French miners found a nugget which weighed 116 ounces and was sold to a Sonora banker for $1,600. In 1853, it was reported that at the extreme upper portion of Dragoon Gulch miners were only making from $5 to $8 per day. At first there were no formalized rules governing the mining of gold. On August 11, 1854 a convention of miners formed the “Shaws Flat Mining District”, which included the upper portion of Dragoon Gulch. They adopted laws governing mining within the district boundaries. Claimants were required to be rectangular in shape and were not to contain an area in excess of 100 feet square. Claimants were limited to one claim each unless by purchase, and the purchased claim could be held only as long as miners were kept at work upon it for one day out of each three.
Following the decline of the placer deposits in the Mother Lode after ca. 1860, ranching and the timber industry became more important to the foothill economy. It was not until the late 1880s that the technology and mining methods for hard rock (lode) mining were sufficiently advanced to warrant large-scale underground mining. Extensive areas of both placer and hard rock mining activity are still evident along the trail. Features include piles of randomly stacked and hand-stacked waste rock, open pits, and portions of the original ditch system.
Directions to the Trail:
The main entrance to the Trail is located at Woods Creek Park. From the Bay Area and Central Valley take Highway 108 East to Highway 49 North into the City of Sonora. From Highway 49 turn left on Woods Creek Drive (across from the Mother Lode Fairgrounds) and follow the signs to the trail. If traveling south on Highway 49 into the City, stay on Highway 49 and turn right on Woods Creek Drive.
The secondary and ADA entrance for the Trail is located at the end of Alpine Lane. To access this entrance from the Bay Area and Central Valley, continue on Highway 49 North, then, at the Historic Red Church, turn left onto Snell Street. Take Snell Street to the first stop sign (about 1/3 mile), continue straight thought the intersection. The street name is now Bonanza Road. Go one block and turn right onto Calaveras Street. Go one block and turn left onto Alpine Lane. Take Alpine Lane to the first intersection (about 1/8 mile). There are no street signs at the intersection, just turn left and go one block through the gate to the Alpine Lane parking lot, which is just before the entrance to the trails. Remember the gate is locked at dark. If traveling south on Highway 49, turn right on School Street, near Sonora High School, then turn right on Snell Street and follow the directions above.
Parking:Woods Creek Park - Near the main trail entrance, this parking lot is accessed off of Highway 49. Kiosks display information about the Trail at this site.
Alpine Lane Parking Lot - The parking lot provides ADA access to the trail and is located off of Alpine Lane. The gate is locked at dark. Kiosks display information about the Trail at this site.
Restrooms for the Trail are located at its main entrance in Woods Creek Park