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Mellow living among majestic mountains.

The high, rugged slopes of eastern Alpine County lured silver miners in the 1850s. today, they appeal to relaxed Sierra sojourners who appreciate majestic mountain scenery, uncrowded trails, hot springs, and simple bits of pioneer history. Poky Markleeville, the county seat, feels a long way from the crowds and casinos of Tahoe, but it's less than an hour's drive south. Tahoe-based vacationers can make the town a day's outing. But you can easily spend more time here. There are several motels and plenty of campgrounds--including one with a hotsprings pool--that can serve as your touring base. With elevations above 5,000 feet, June days are warm but not hot, and evenings are cool enough for a jacket.

From the great serene openness of Hope, Faith, and Charity valleys to the snowcrested 10,000-foot peaks that stop the horizon, outdoorsmen have much to enjoy this month. You can fish in tumbling streams or glassy lakes, stretch your legs on a trail, or conquer a pass by bicycle. If you'd rather settle down with a good book by a riverbank, stroll historic Markleeville, or have a lazy soak in the hot springs, you'll still find yourself surrounded by dazzling alpine scenery.

Markleeville: a fragment of the past

Kit Carson is said to have scouted the area as early as 1839, and in 1844 he accompanied John C. Fremont's expedition through what is now Markleeville and Grover Hot Springs State Park, over the divide near Carson Pass, and down to Sutter's Fort.

When silver was discovered in the 1850s and '60s, Silver Mountain, then the county seat, grew up around a profitable silver mine there. But when the nation switched to the gold standard in 1873, the town declined rapidly, and in 1875, the county seat was moved to Markvleeville.

All that remains of Silver Mountain today is a plaque commemorating the settlement and the stone foundation for its jail. But you can see much more of the late 1800s at the Alpine County Historical Complex in Markleeville. Here, a small museum displays willow and fern baskets by the indigenous Washoe Indians, as well as mining equipment, a reconstructed blacksmith shop, an old country store, and clothing and artifacts of the early white settlers. The Old Webster Schoolhouse (see photograph on page 10) and the Silver Mountain jail (moved from its original site) fill out the picture.

To reach the complex as you're coming from north to south, turn right on Montgomery Street in the middle of town, then go right on School Street and look for the sign. Beginning June 14, the complex is open noon to 5 Wednesdays through Mondays; donations are welcome.

Grover Hot Springs State Park

A highlight of the county is Grover Hot Springs State Park, 4 miles west of Markleeville, situated in Hot Springs Valley at 5,800 feet. Camping and picnicking beneath the pines, soaking in the hot springs, and hiking the high meadows are the main attractions.

There are two pools at Grover Hot Springs. Fed by mineral springs, the warmer pool's temperature ranges from 102[deg.] to 105[deg.]. The cooler pool for swimming stays at around 75[deg.] to 80[deg.]. Both pools are open daily from 9 A.M. to 9 P.M., and admission is $2 for adults and $1 for children. The number of bathers admitted at one time is limited, and weekend afternoons and evenings, you may have to wait.

The park offers an easy 1-1/4-mile selfguided walk through Hot Springs Valley, a glorious alpine meadow nestled between glaciated granite peaks; you observe flora, fauna, and geological features. Pick up a pamphlet at the park entrance.

If the valley seems too tame, you can hit the trail that begins behind the pools and scale the heights along Sawmill Creek Trail for 1-1/4 miles. Burnside Lake Trail, accessible from the campground, skirts the north side of the valley, then takes two directions. If you veer left (south), the trail takes you 1-1/4 miles to a waterfall. Turn the opposite way and you can hike a strenuous 5-1/2 miles over the ridge to Charity Valley or Burnside Lake.

Reserve (through Ticketron: $6 per night) well in advance. Grover Hot Springs is open for day use, and you can enjoy its pools, picnic area, and trails, then camp overnight elsewhere if necessary.

More hiking and camping nearby

At Curtz Lake, a shallow pond 2 miles north of Markleeville, an environmental study area has three short, connecting self-guiding interpretive trails; a complete tour takes about an hour. Four hikes with views of the East Fork of the Carson River and surrounding mountains start at the north edge of Curtz Lake. None of the four is longer than 6 miles round trip.

Indian Creek Reservoir, on BLM land, has 29 campsites ($4) and a picnic area.

To reach this area, take State Highway 89 north from Markleeville, then turn right on Airport Road. Curtz Lake is 1 mile up the road, and Indian Creek Reservoir is a mile beyond that.

June activities: East Fork of the Carson, the Emigrant Trail

Sorensen's Resort (address at right) offers two day-trips emphasizing history and geology of Alpine County. You can raft 22 miles of the East Fork of the Carson River or walk part of the Emigrant Trail. The river trip, rated Class 2-3 (beginners) and available until mid-June, takes you from alpine scenery to a hot spring, then to the high desert, where you're met and brought back for a barbecue dinner. The river trip costs $50; for $110, you also get two nights' lodging and four meals.

A 40-mile guided walking and driving tour of the Emigrant Trail, for groups of at least six, costs $98, including two nights' lodging and four meals.

Three state highway crisscross the county to scenery and history

If you're traveling from California toward Nevada, you might like to take State 4 or 88, spend a weekend near Markleeville, and go east over Monitor Pass (8,314 feet) on State 89 or go northeast toward Minden and Gardnerville on State 88.

State Highway 4 passes Bear Valley and Lake Alpine, then rises over 8,731-foot Ebbetts Pass. You pass Forest Service campgrounds, several at lakes. About 10 miles south of Markleeville, you'll see the Chalmers Mansion, with its landmark chimney, on the north side of the road. It was built in 1867 by Lord Chalmers, a British subject, who invested in American silver mines. Today, it's still privately owned, but restored and, supposedly, haunted.

As you wind down to the East Fork of the Carson River, you meet up with State 89, which takes you northwest into Markleeville or east to Monitor Pass and on into Nevada.

Going east on State 88, you'll climb over the precipitous 8,573-foot Carson Pass (emigrant pioneers called it "Devil's Ladder"), then drop down to Red Lake and the restful Hope Valley.

Down on the flat, you pass the turnoff for Blue Lakes (trailheads, campgrounds). Following the West Fork of the Carson River past more campgrounds, you descend to Woodfords, then Gardnerville.

Traveling south from Lake Tahoe, State 89 takes you over aspen-covered 7,740-foot Luther Pass, then east to Woodfords and south into Markleeville. From there, along the East Fork of the Carson River, the scenery turns more mountainous and arid as you rise toward windswept Monitor Pass.

Where to bed down for the night

Aside from numerous U.S. Forest Service campgrounds ($6 per night; first come, first served), these motels, all within 10 miles of Markleeville, offer accommodations. Addresses are Markleeville, Calif. 96120; telephone are code is 916. Coyan's Motel, Box 186; 694-2261; $22 up. East Fork Resort, Box 457; 694-2229; $20. Markleeville Creek Cabins, Box 261; 694-2150; from $25. Sorensen's Resort, Highway 88; 694-2203; from $35. The Toll Station, box 395; 694-2244; $30 and up. Woodfords Inn, Box 426; 694-2410; $24 and up.
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Title Annotation:Markleeville, California
Date:Jun 1, 1985
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