In 1965, roughly a century later, the government declared the old gold mine a state park. The transition from North Bloomfield gold mine to Malakoff Diggins State Historic Park reflected a change in how many Californians were experiencing nature.
Last summer I spent time with family and friends hiking and swimming in the Sierra Nevada. Having read about North Bloomfield, I lobbied to stop, and after winding our way through empty mountain roads we arrived at the ghost town. We checked in at the museum, and then proceeded to the ‘diggins.’ I spent over an hour hiking the perimeter of the old gold mine, staring at the weathered cliffs and struggling to imagine how the lush fields I walked through were once hills themselves, and then briefly a watery mess of mud and mercury that quickly disappeared downstream.
Studying environmental history has not changed the fundamental parameters of my relationship with the natural world: my direct experiences with nature remain primarily leisure-based. But it has given me a greater appreciation for just how strange such a relationship is in the long sweep of human history. As I walked through the gravely remains of the North Bloomfield mine, stopping to take photos, I reflected on how utterly different my experience of this space was than those who used it before me.