The Plan

After passing one of the mildest winters in decades in Western Washington, we were itching to get an early start on the 2015 adventure season by seeking out a new (to us) mine in the Money Creek Watershed. After reading the directions to the San Francisco Mine in Volume 1 of Northwest Underground Explorations’ Discovering Washington’s Historic Mines book series, we decided to give it a try. It ended up taking us two attempts as we accidentally followed the wrong gulch during a trip that took place on February 2, 2015. That adventure took us to the foot of a lovely waterfall rather than to the entrance of a mine.

 

The Drive

Our drive to the location was uneventful, and we turned onto Money Creek Road about an hour and a half after we left our Seattle HQ. The drive along Money Creek was both scenic and bumpy, but the mild winter had left the road in surprisingly good condition. After passing through a few switchbacks in the road we kept our eyes out first for a gulch on the right, and shortly after for an old roadbed that ran off into the woods back toward the gulch. Once we spotted the road we parked in a nearby turnout and grabbed our packs.

 

The Trailhead

Our journey on foot began by following the old, overgrown road into the woods. The old road is highly visible from Money Creek Road if you are looking for it. 

 

The Trail

We walked the old road for several hundred yards. It was overgrown a bit in spots, but it was never difficult to follow.

After just a few minutes of hiking the old road intersected with the broad gulch we had driven past on Money Creek Road. It was obvious that a torrent must run through the gulch during times of heavy snowmelt or significant rainfall, but it was almost bone dry on the day we visited.

Upon reaching the gulch, we turned left and followed it up the mountain. It was wide and flat in the beginning.

 As we continued uphill the gulch narrowed. It also began to get steeper.

The walls of the gulch rose up and it began to feel more like a canyon. When we saw a rock outcropping on our right we felt like we must be getting close to the mine.  As rocky walls closed in around us we spotted the mine portal on our right. It was partially obscured by a boulder and a log, and the branches of a dead tree hung in front of it. In this photo, the upper left corner of the “Exploring History” watermark is pointing toward the mine portal.

Here’s the mine portal from another angle. You can still see the log and boulder in front of it but now the dead tree branches seem to be pointing at the entrance. Water was still flowing at the surface of the streambed near the entrance to the mine.

 

The Destination

We had found the San Francisco Mine. It was time to put on our helmets and lamps and see what awaited us underground.

The entrance to the mine was partially filled with a large pile of debris. The angle of the debris was steep enough that it allowed us to climb down backward rather than sliding in headfirst on our bellies.

From inside we could see that the debris in the entrance was mostly just mud and dirt rather than rock that had caved in. The interior walls and ceiling of the mine still looked solid. A few rusty cans provided evidence of past visitors or workers at the mine.

Turning away from the entrance we followed the tunnel a short distance. It turned to the left and then it continued on in a straight line disappearing into the darkness.

We encountered some old metal buckets as we made our way through the tunnel. The buckets were labeled “Elixir Industries” and seemed to contain paint of some kind. A little Internet research later confirmed that Elixir Industries started in 1948 as a paint and lacquer company. It has since evolved into a metal fabrication company. Whatever might have once needed a coat of paint in the mine was long gone.

We followed the tunnel for a little more than 100 feet before we reached a dead end.

As we headed back toward the entrance we took some time to examine the walls more closely. Interesting natural processes were taking place in the tunnel including opaque mineral seeps. They appeared to be wet and mushy, but they were actually hard and smooth. The ooze was most likely calcite.

We had observed many Harvestmen (aka Daddy Longlegs) lurking on the walls and ceiling of the mine. When we inspected the calcite ooze more closely we discovered that some of these mine dwellers had become encased in the minerals. At first we wondered if they would be preserved as when ancient invertebrates were caught in tree sap that then hardened into amber. This did not seem likely though as the mineral ooze appeared to be dissolving rather than preserving the Harvestmen.

We eventually returned to the portal and exited the San Francisco Mine. We captured this image as the light of the outside world came back into view.

It is a short hike to the San Francisco Mine, so when we were finished exploring the adit we were still up for more adventure. The gulch beckoned us upward and we decided to heed its call.

The farther we went the steeper and narrower the gulch became. Soon we were climbing as much as we were hiking.

As we continued large boulders and deep pools of freezing water dotted our path.

We also encountered many small but beautiful waterfalls.

At one point the path of least resistance was scrambling up the fallen trunk of an ancient old growth tree. Julie made it look much easier than it really was.

We could see an enormous boulder hanging wedged between the canyon walls in the distance. The size of the rock was difficult to wrap our heads around. The stream was flowing down in a gentle waterfall that came out of a crevice underneath the boulder. You can see Julie sitting on the old growth trunk in the following photo with the boulder in the distance behind and above her.

As we neared the boulder it was clear that there was no safe way around or over it. The view was breathtaking though.

We managed to make our way all the way up to a small rock shelf underneath the hanging boulder. It would have been a very unfortunate time for an earthquake to have hit. Fortunately, that didn’t happen and we were able to take this photo as we safely made our way back to the car.

 

The End

Thank you for reading about our adventure finding the San Francisco Mine. If you choose to take an adventure of your own to this spot*, we hope you will drop us a line.

*Entering mines poses many more dangers than hiking.  If you plan to enter a mine - and we are not suggesting you do - then make sure you are prepared.