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Lakes Basin.

Three dozen lakes, fishing, old-fashioned resorts, mining history Just an hour from Interstate 80

To the uninitiated, it's hard to pin down just where Lakes Basin is. You can attempt to triangulate its position using better-known locales. It lies 2 hours northeast of Nevada City, an hour northwest of Lake Tahoe, and an hour south of the Feather River gorge. Still, even these calculations may leave the basin's location hazy.

But that's the pleasure of this corner of California. Finding it is as happily surprising as finding a forgotten $20 bill in your back pocket.

Granite-set lakes, a gold-rich mountain, and Plumas-Eureka State Park Lakes Basin straddles the crest of the Sierra Nevada in Plumas and Sierra counties. The Middle Fork of the Feather River runs to the north, the North Fork of the Yuba to the south. Elevations range from 4,000 to 8,000 feet. The pine- and fir-clad mountainscape was polished by ice-age glaciation, which is evident also in the chain of granite-set lakes that give the region its name.

Another geological phenomenon first lured settlers here: gold. A couple of years after the strikes at Sutter's Mill, argonauts began panning basin streams like Jamison Creek, then turned their attentions to hard-rock mining of nearby mountains like 7,447-foot Eureka Peak.

By the 1870s, the Sierra Buttes Mining Company had dug some 65 miles of tunnels into the peak. Gravity-powered trams hauled ore down to the Mohawk Mill's 60 stamps, each weighing 600 to 950 pounds. Some 400 miners lived down in the company town of Johnsville.

Today, that hard-won wealth is recalled at Plumas-Eureka State Park. Exhibits explain the industrial alchemy that pulled ore from the mountain, then turned it to pure gold with "grizzlies" (sorters), "jaw crushers" (ore grinders), feeders, and amalgam plates. There's a working model of a stamp mill, a blacksmith shop, a stable, and-dwarfing them all the Mohawk Mill, a 150-foot-tall behemoth of sugar pine that looms almost as large and steeply sloped as the gold-rich mountain behind it. It's being restored.

Depicting the domestic side of the miners' life is the Moriarity House, furnished much as it was when John Moriarity and his family moved into it in 1896. The house is open for tours Saturdays. Nearby stands the park museum, a miners' bunkhouse now filled with mining and natural history exhibits; it's open 8 to 4:30 daily through August (in the off-season, hours vary).

Plumas-Eureka offers a number of trails. The 3-mile loop around Eureka Peak is moderately tough in terms of elevation gain but compensates with 360[degrees] views: Jamison Creek Canyon, Florentine Creek Canyon and, on the southern horizon, the jagged silhouettes of the Sierra Buttes. Flatter and easier are the trails to Grass Lake (1.8 miles) and Smith Lake (3 miles). Through the summer, rangers lead hikes; check with the park office.

Campers will find 67 sites at Jamison Creek Campground. Like most California state parks, Plumas-Eureka sees crowds all summer long; September is quieter, and the weather normally remains sunny and warm. Fees are $10; to reserve, call MISTIX at (800) 444-7275. For information, write or call the park, 310 Johnsville Rd., Blairsden 96103; (916) 836-2380.

Exploring the rest of Lakes Basin: fishing, hiking, old-fashioned comfort

Plumas-Eureka stands at the northern end of Lakes Basin. There's a lot more to do, nearby and farther south.

The mining town of Johnsville forms an inholding within the state park. Many of the old miners' lodgings are now private summer homes. And the 1896-era general store is now a restaurant, The Iron Door; it's open from 5 to 10 P.M. Tuesdays through Sundays; call 836-2376.

Six miles cast of the park, you'll find the town of Graeagle. Orthographically confused-the creek it sits on is spelled, more reasonably, Gray Eagle it's still a pretty place. Rows of barn-red buildings testify to a past as a logging company town; now, golf-oriented tourism competes with timber as lifeblood. The town and nearby Blairsden hold three or four good restaurants: we liked sedately woodsy Olesen's Cabin, on County Road A-14; 836-2801.

It's open 6 to 9:30 P.M. Mondays through Saturdays.

From Graeagle, you can head south on Gold Lake Forest Highway, a 15-mile road that skirts the 11,653-acre Lakes Basin Recreation Area. This is a fine place for easy exploration. Signed hiking trails are well suited for eight-year-olds and all others who demand immediate gratification; with 30 or so lakes in the vicinity, you can hike to one fast. If that one doesn't suit you, there'll be another a half-mile down the trail. Many are stocked with brook or rainbow trout. You'll need a California fishing license.

One easy loop begins at Lakes Basin Campground: take Bear Lakes Trail past Big and Little Bear lakes 1.2 miles to the Silver Lake Trail; follow it back to the campground. If you're more ambitious, continue from the trail junction southwest past Silver Lake, then northwest 2-1/2 miles up 7,812-foot Mount Elwell for its alpine views. From the southern portion of the basin-Salmon, Packer and Sardine lakes-it's also possible to hike up toward the Sierra Buttes.

You can get maps and trail information at Plumas National Forest's Mohawk Ranger District office, on State 70 in Blairsden, open 8 to 5 weekdays; or write to Box 7, Blairsden 96105; or call 836-2575. The southern portion of the Lakes Basin lies in Tahoe National Forest; get a map at the Mohawk office, or write or call North Yuba Ranger Station, 15924 Highway 49, Camptonville 95922; 288-3231.

Horseback rides and pack trips also go into the region. At Gold Lake, Reid Horse and Cattle Company has guided hour, 2hour, half-day, and day rides ($12.75 to $60); call 836-2491. Reid also offers day and longer pack trips into the basin; write or call the company at 1540 Chandler Rd., Quincy 95971; 283-1147.

Campers have a number of options. Near Grassy and Long lakes, Lakes Basin Campground has 24 sites. Near Packer Lake are Berger and Diablo unimproved campgrounds; near Sardine Lake is Sardine campground. Parts of the basin are off-limits to backpack camping, but you can pack to Smith, Grass, Rock, and Jamison lakes at the basin's northern end.

But you don't have to sleep on the ground. Lakes Basin is also a stronghold for the kind of rustic, unpretentious resort that hardly seems to exist anymore in California. Some are now on their third generation of visitors, and guests frequently book a year in advance. Suchpopularity can make reservations hard to come by. But cancellations do occur, and September and early October usually have more openings. Even if you can't stay overnight, four have dining rooms that can be a welcome reward after a day of hiking.

Gray Eagle Lodge, Box 38, Blairsden 96103; 836-2511 or, in northern California, (800) 635-8778. This is the largest and arguably the plushest of the lodges, with a handsomely timbered lobby and dining room. Gray Eagle Creek runs nearby; Smith Lake lies about 1/2 mile northwest. Rates for the 15 cabins start at $110 for two, including breakfast and dinner. The dining room is open for dinner from 6 to 7:30; reservations are required.

Elwell Lakes Lodge, Box 68, Blairsden 96103; 836-2347. This colony of solid, shingled buildings was completed in 1920; rates for the housekeeping cabins run from $47 per night to $284 per week.

Gold Lake Lodge, Box 25, Blairsden 96103; 836-2350. A resort since 1912, the lodge caters to families, with 11 cabins set about 3/4 mile from Big Bear Lake, 13/4 miles from Round Lake-trails to both begin at the resort. Double rates for cabins start at $70 per day, $140 weekends, $441 weekly, breakfast and dinner included, The dining room is open to the public from 8:30 to 10 A.M. and 5:30 to 8:30 Pm.

Salmon Lake Lodge, Box 121, Sierra City 96125; (415) 771-0150. A short boat ride across the lake takes you to this cluster of 3 cabins and 10 tent cabins perched on a granite slope above the water. Weekly rates are $275 for tent cabins, $425 to $625 for cabins; all have kitchen facilities.

Packer Lake Lodge, Box 237, Sierra City 96125; 862-1221. This informal lakeside resort consists of a small lodge, eight housekeeping cabins, and six sleeping cabins. Rates range from $40 to $83 per day, $260 to $550 per week. Restaurant is open 8 to 10, noon to 2, 6 to 8:30.

Sardine Lakes Resort, Box 216, Sierra City 96125; 862-1196. The view here is of the Sierra Buttes looming above mirror-smooth Sardine Lake. (Sardine's uninspiring name allegedly comes from a gold miner's mule lost, like darling Clementine, in the lake.) With only nine cabins, the resort is often full, but the dining room (and the view) is open to the public for lunch and for 6 and 8 Pm. dinner seatings. Cabins run $52 to $82 a day, $325 to $510 weekly

Getting to Lakes Basin

To reach Lakes Basin from Nevada City, head north 60 miles on State 49 to Gold Lake Forest Highway, east of Sierra City. From 1-80 at Truckee, take State 89 about 50 miles northwest to Graeagle. From the north, take State 70 or 89 to Quincy, then continue southeast to Graeagle.
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Copyright 1988 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:California
Article Type:Directory
Date:Aug 1, 1988
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