During the gold rush in California when enthusiastic hopefuls heard of nuggets of gold so of you could barely hold ‘em in your fist, which could just be picked up laying on the ground or in the clear cold waters of the rivers, flocked over the Sierra foothills to try their luck, there was an expression used to illustrate the fascination with the unusual must be seen for oneself which drove many of the curious to the gold fields, “Goin’ to see the elephant”. Well, it was true that some giant gold nuggets were found in the veins of quartz cutting through the schist and decaying granite hills of central California. One of those can still be viewed inside its own vault at the California State Mining Museum in Mariposa.
The Fricot Nugget, weighing 13.8 pounds, is the largest mass of gold remaining intact found during the gold rush era. A rare form of crystalline gold once part of a larger deposit of quartz, discovered in August of 1864 in the stream of the middle fork of the American River. The nugget was never cut or melted, but toured the world, displayed at the Paris Exhibiton in 1878. The Fricot (pronounced free-co) Nugget was donated to the state museum in 1930 and remains its most noted exhibit, tucked into a period safe inside a vaulted display room.
The California State Mining Museum is located at the Mariposa County Fairgrounds on Highway 49 (see Touring the 49er Highway), is more than just a hunk of glistening gold. The museum is dedicated to informing visitors of the importance of mining and minerals to California’s history. The collection found in the museum was begun in 1880 with fascinating and beautiful specimens of minerals found in the state, from the common to the exotic, Fluorite, Topaz, Argonite, Amethyst and Benitoite, the Official California State Gemstone.
The museum collection has over 13,000 mineral examples with about 350 displayed on a rotating basis, along with original mining artifacts, historical documents, miniature models of mines, mining Boomstowns, a replica Assayer's Office, Stamp Mill, mining equipment, and a recreated wood frame supported Mining Tunnel to present the history of mining operations through the state. The museum shop sells jewelry, mineral specimens and assorted books on rocks, minerals and gold prospecting, with a schedule of activities for kids, like the Junior Ranger program.
The California State Mining & Mineral Museum in Mariposa is open from Thursday to Sunday with an admission price of $4 for Adults, Children under 12 are free. For more of the gold rush mining history, the nearby Mariposa County History Museum has more real mining equipment on display just down the road on the other side of town. Mariposa is on the Highway 140 route to Yosemite National Park and the mining museum is just to the south of the 140 and 49 Junction. The mining and mineral museum is a California Stae Park. © Bargain Travel West
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