If you love exploring and history, you must experience this scenic drive and hike through the Eldorado National Forest. If you don't have a USGS topo map you best stay on the main forest service road, also known as Mosquito Road. However, with a topo in hand, stop by Slate Mountain where you'll see a great deal of the Central Valley from Stockton in the south to north of Sacramento. Continue on for the trip to Deer View, where once stood the legendary Hotel Bret Harte. The hotel is the subject of another Scenic Byway article found on this website entitled Deer View.
However, for today we will be driving, and possibly hiking a bit, to the area known as Pino Grande. Living in the Sierra Foothills is like living in the shadow of California’s history. When most folks think of California during the 19th century they think of the Gold Rush. Most of the people that came here to seek their fortune in gold never did. Yet, there was another 19th century Gold Rush, of sorts. That gold was in the forests of the Sierra's foothills.
The American River Land and Lumber Co. began logging the Georgetown Divide in 1890. Logs were delivered to the American River via a chute and thus floated to a mill in Folsom, CA. As logging progressed further back into the woods, a narrow gauge railroad was built to bring the logs to the chute. The first locomotive arrived in 1892. In 1900, the entire operation changed hands to the El Dorado Lumber Co. and the rough cut mill was relocated to Pino Grande.
After an economic downturn in 1907, which shut down the operation, the company was sold in 1911 and became the CD Danaher Pine Co. Hands changed once again in 1915 to RE Danaher Co. and finally the operations became the Michigan-California Lumber Co. in 1918. By this time the company owned nearly 60,000 acres of timberland and spread miles of railroad lines throughout the forest.
Their large sawmill operation was located at Pino Grande, originally spelled Pinogrande and pronounced a Pie No Grande. Located approximately 18 miles northeast of Placerville, CA the operations lasted until the late 1940s. The mill had the capacity to produce 200,000 board feet of cut lumber every 10 hours, and that was in 1910. From Pino Grande the rough cut lumber was sent to their mill in Camino, CA. To get to that mill the lumber had to traverse a 1,200 foot high canyon, via a cable tramway. The cable way was built in 1901, burned down twice and after the second time in 1949, was never rebuilt.
Today locations like Pino Grande are just a point on a US Forest Service map. The buildings, railroad, and logging camps are distant memories. Yet what was there created fortunes for some and it was mapped and photographed.
Shay locomotives on narrow gauge tracks, would haul the cut trees to the mill. Tracks, trestles, and bridges criss-crossed the area, all in the pursuit of moving the sugar pine and ponderosa forest to the mill. The mill itself sat on the confluence of Ticky Creek and Slab Creek, with Mill Creek located a bit to the east.
Today only remnants of what was once a thriving work camp remain. The old mill burnt down years ago. Workers cabins went as well, as did the store, school, infirmary, warehouses and any other man made objects.
However, you can still find a few tell tale signs that man had been there. The ruler straight lines of some forgotten foundation, an area void of trees yet within a forest. One's imagination is all it takes to see the robust time of this area, to hear the buzz saws cutting, to see the boiler engines' smokestacks billowing, and the aromas of the meals being prepared at the dining hall.
It is also nice to see that nature can reclaim that which she once lost.