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Theme: Parks with a Past

A Brief History of Bay Area Parks and Open Space
   Pt. 1, 1840s-1950s

A Conservation Timeline
   Pt. 1, 1840s-1950s

Up and Down the Peninsula and South Bay

Names on the Land
   Pt. 1, San Mateo County

Other Features

Sudden Oak Death

Oak Mortality Syndrome

Grazing Through Huckleberry Heaven

Old-Fashioned Huckleberry Muffins

Wild Lit

Note from the Literary Editor

Blacksmith Fork and Fox - Megan E. Hansen

Down Harkins Fire Road (El Mar de la Purissima - Greg Dunn


From the Editor

Park News

Trail Center Notes

Upcoming Events

The Trail Companion

Fall 2000

Theme: Parks with a Past

Up and Down the Peninsula and South Bay

William Brewer, professor of Agriculture in the Sheffield Scientific School (Yale) from 1864 to 1903, was picked by Josiah Whitney, to join in the first geological survey of the new state of California in 1860, which was to include "a full and scientific description of its rocks, fossils,

The field party of 1864 (l-r) - James T. Gardiner, Richard Cotter, WIlliam Brewer, Clarence King
The field party of 1864 (l-r) - James T. Gardiner, Richard Cotter, WIlliam Brewer, Clarence King.
From the cover of Up and Down California in 1860-1864.
soils, and minerals, and of its botanical and zoological productions, together with specimens of the same." For the next four years, Whitney's party traveled from the desert to the northwest forests, and from the Sierra Nevada to the coast, and Brewer kept a detailed journal throughout, in addition to his duties as a naturalist.
      Although the survey was a disappointment in the eyes of the state government since it failed to discover any new mineral fields, it produced a wealth of knowledge about the state, served as a basis for subsequent surveys nationwide and for the establishment of the USGS as a civilian agency, and provided a vivid portrait of the region and time through Brewer's journal. Of particular interest for The Trail Companion's theme are his descriptions of the Peninsula and South Bay, which the party visited several times in the course of the survey.
      The party made long visits to the mines at New Almaden, now Almaden Quicksliver County Park, where fortunes were being made in the mines that supplied mercury for gold extraction in the Mother Lode:

New Almaden Mines,
August 17 [1861]

Tuesday, August 13, I went to the mines and collected specimens. The mines are about two miles from the furnaces, on the hill. We collected two or three boxes of specimens, then returned. The furnaces are complete, and about three thousand flasks (seventy-five pounds each) of quicksilver are made each month. More might be made if desired, but that is enough for the market. An old furnace has been taken down, and the soil beneath for twenty-five feet down (no one knows how much deeper) is so saturated with metallic quicksilver in the minutest state of division, that they are now digging it up and sluicing the dirt, and much quicksilver is obtained in that way. Thousands of pounds have already been taken out, and they are still at work.
      No wonder that there has been such legal knavery to get this mine, when we consider its value. Every rich mine is claimed by some ranch owner. These old Spanish grants were in the valleys; and when a mine is discovered, an attempt is made to float the claim to the hills. Two separate ranches, miles a part and miles from the mine, have claimed it, and immense sums expended to get possession. The company has probably spent nearly a million dollars in defending it claim - over half a million has been spent in lawyers' fees alone, I hear. The same at New Idria - it was claimed by a ranch, the nearest edge of which is fifteen miles off!
      While in the Bay Area, Brewer ascended most of the major peaks. He notes the hundreds of peaks in the Coast Ranges that Mount Tom (900 ft.) and Mount Holyoke (1,200 ft.) - the major mountains of his native Mass. - would scarcely be noticed if they were set in the Coast Range, and here, the peaks were "not only unknown to fame, but are even without names."

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