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Miner for the heart of Golden

With the scorching Indian summer in the rearview and daytime temperatures resuming a normal stance, it’s finally that finest of fine times — day trip season.

What better excuse to hit the open road on a blue October morn than to visit a Southern Oregon ghost town, the abandoned mining community of Golden.

Lane and I generally begin any trek with a fortifying lunch, so we shot straight up I-5 to conveniently located Heaven on Earth restaurant in Azalea. Heaven is just a little over an hour’s drive and just past our destination near Wolf Creek. We took the Quines Creek exit 86. This whole area is lousy with creeks.

Christine Jackson has owned HOE since 1974, when she moved to the area as a single mom. We visited with her briefly, and also met Rose, who was once the “singing waitress.” She doesn’t wait tables now, but she lives just over the way and helps out around the place. She works M-F, 7-3, so when you go, ask Rose to sing you a song. She promised to bring her guitar back. This place is well known for bowling ball-sized cinnamon rolls. Their website spells it out, “All are welcome in this warm, inviting atmosphere where they can experience great food, hospitality and a spirit of kindness and peace.”

After leaving Azalea, we got turned around. We backtracked a few times, but after two cups of coffee and a large glass of water, I needed to stop. We found Glendale wanting in the restroom department, though I was more than willing, eager even, to buy gas, another coffee drink or a road map just to use the facilities. A kind-hearted checker at Dollar General came through. Anyway, I need Neil Young to help me out with this one. Sung to the tune of “Heart of Gold,” I call it “Town of Golden.”

I want to drive,

I want to find it.

I’ve been a hunter for the town of Gold(en).

It’s these directions

I just don’t get

That keep me searching

For the town of Golden

And it’s getting old(en).

I’ve been to Wolf Creek,

I’ve been to Glendale,

I crossed the freeway

For the town of gold.

It’s been a long time

I hate to drive blind

But we keep searching

For the town of Golden

And we’re getting old.

I knew our ghost town was a short drive from the Wolf Creek Tavern. We returned there and saw the sign for Golden pointing down Coyote Creek Drive. About three miles on, under the freeway and through the woods, we spotted the ruins of the once-thriving mining town on the left. The property is now owned by the state, with a camp host on site.

In the 1890s and beyond, gold miners extracted over a million dollars-worth of the shiny stuff. Over several years, treasure-seekers destroyed natural habitat with hydraulic equipment, wearing away the creekside and forming a steep ledge where a gradual slope had once led to the tree-lined creek. Since 1993, community volunteers have been transforming the site into a wetland preserve, allowing nature to gradually repair the damage.

We were the only ghost hunters in sight, so we rambled over the countryside, taking pictures and checking out the vintage orchard planted by settlers. There are four remaining buildings — a mercantile, schoolhouse, barn/shed, and a church that remains open. When Golden was in its prime, it had two churches and no saloon. Faith and family were priorities to the Ruble family, who settled the town.

In 1970, a fake cemetery appeared in the churchyard for an episode of “Gunsmoke.” Someone placed real grave markers there, which fooled me, but no one is buried in Golden, that we know of.

It’s quiet in Golden, and just looking at the old creek bed and inhaling evergreen scent feels peaceful. Becoming part of area history is easy when you’re standing right in it.

Reach freelance writer Peggy Dover at pcdover@hotmail.com, except when she’s mining in Golden, where there’s no service.