831--Tales From The Area Code

(left) Home Office: The Melville Mining Company''s headquarters is frozen in all its glory by this 1889 Max Fischer photo taken in Manchester in the Los Burros Mining District. (right) Bar None: Max Fischer captured this casual photograph of Manchester''s Davis Saloon during 1889.

My windshield turns totally white for a second and I feel like I''m navigating an airplane through a cloudbank. Spray churned from chocolate-colored puddles by my tires is tossed in every direction on the road leading up to Monterey County''s gold rush ghost town.

"Woo hoo!" yells Clinton, my fellow adventurer, from the shotgun seat. "That was a good one!"

I swerve to the side of narrow Willow Creek Road to avoid sinking my truck in a small pond, while Trey, my back seat passenger, complains that I''ve missed a real nice puddle. We''re having a good time journeying up to Manchester despite the fact that the rutted road is causing my CD player to stutter.

During Manchester''s heyday in the late 1800s and early 1900s, the town''s residents didn''t have an easy commute to larger communities like King City. Manchester''s isolated, rugged location helped to insure that it would become a ghost town rather than a boomtown.

E.S. Harrison''s Monterey County, published around 1889, makes the King City-Manchester trek sound like quite an adventure. In those days, after a stagecoach ride of 28 miles, the rugged trail to the mining area began. "One follows the sinuous course of this trail over ridges, and around mountain-sides, which pitch at an angle, in some places, of forty-five degrees, ever upward, when, at a distance of ten miles, the summit of the mountain chain is reached," writes Harrison.

The tired traveler then had to travel a "few" miles west before reaching Manchester. "Here, in this solitude of human sounds and babel of nature''s, a town, thriving, busy, and active, would be the last thing expected," writes Harrison. "But a little distance towards the ocean lies the unexpected, the town of Manchester, created by Los Burros Mines."

The trail leading out of the rugged area would prove to be deadly even for longtime residents. In Randall Reinstedt''s fascinating little book, Monterey''s Mother Lode, the author relates how two members of the area''s prominent Cruikshank family disappeared in the wild mountains around Manchester.

William T. Cruikshank, one of the first miners in the region of Los Burros (the name given to the area around Manchester), hit the trail out of the rugged enclave, heading for San Francisco. He was never seen again.

William Cruikshank Jr., William T.''s son, suffered the same fate 30 years later when he disappeared on the same trail after leaving for a party in King City.

High Wired Act

We stand outside my truck looking at the barbed wire fence, low-level clouds hanging over our heads like a prop from a horror movie set. "I''m not going," Clinton says, shaking his head.

"What do you think?" I ask Trey, who lacks Clinton''s better judgment.

"We''ve done it before," Trey replies.

It''s true--Trey and I had explored the place a couple of years ago, finding a small monument and plaque commemorating Manchester in the field beyond the barbed wire fence. Still, Trey''s response doesn''t answer my question.

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A few minutes later, we''re across the barbed wire fence and edging towards the field. I keep glancing at the two seemingly vacant buildings on the property, looking for any movement or evidence of current inhabitants. It''s widely known that in this part of Big Sur, uninvited visitors often are greeted with the barrel of a shotgun.

GGGRRR!, we hear a nearby chainsaw erupt into a snarling grumble. I look at my feet and see an old shotgun shell lying on the ground.

That''s enough. We''re getting the hell out of here.

The monument Trey and I almost reached was the site of downtown Manchester. The monument is located in a field where one really would have to use his or her imagination to recreate the bustling town with a population of 350 people that once thrived here. Manchester had a couple of general stores, a hotel, a blacksmith shop, a post office, a restaurant, a dance hall, a school, several saloons and a slew of quirky residents.

In Big Sur: A Battle for Wilderness 1869-1985, John Woofenden writes about Henry Melville, a gigantic miner from Australia who literally threw two robbers out of his house during an attempted robbery. He then warned the two to leave the area immediately or "their remains would be turned over to the coroner."

Another popular Manchester character was Ma Krenkel, who earned her "Matriarch of the Mountains" moniker following years of nursing Manchester''s wounded and sick. According Woolfenden''s book, Ma Krenkel claims the town burned down in 1909 from a fire started by a young man who put too many logs in a stove.

A forest fire in 1970 leveled most of Manchester''s remaining structures, leaving only mine shafts and metal mining equipment as reminders of a vanished slice of Monterey County''s history. "A whole chapter of local history was destroyed," says Reinstedt.

Clay Shards and Rock Teeth

I stop my truck at Alder Creek campground and the three of us strike out on foot up a muddy Jeep road. We notice a gaping hole in the bank to our left, a stream of orange, mineral-soaked water pouring out of it like blood from an open wound.

A couple of hundred feet later, the road becomes a trail by a small creek. There is rusty mining equipment strewn throughout the area, as if a huge explosion had rocked the site. One piece looks like a rusted fireplace, its mantle sporting the words "Joshua Hendy Machine Works Builders, SF Cal."

I notice skeet blown into clay shards and a Natural Light beer can reduced to a sieve by a shotgun blast.

We continue up a steep, pebbly hill until we come to a shaft dropping straight down into the earth. There are no wooden supports to keep the dirt from caving in, so we keep our distance and try to measure its depth by throwing pebbles into the hole and waiting for a sound. It''s pretty deep.

Under a rock overhang where an orange and white sign announces "Danger," Trey finds three shafts reduced to narrow slits by time and erosion.

Our last major discovery is a shaft with an opening resembling a mouth--compliments of a miner''s pickax--complete with rock teeth.

It is hard to imagine that at one time, the people of Manchester poured all their hopes into these abandoned tunnels. Stories, like one in Sharon Lee Hale''s A Tribute to Yesterday about the owner of Manchester''s Gem Saloon who dug a well and found "gold in every bucketful he examined," probably kept the miners going during lean times. And dreams, of course, are highly nutritious to ambitious folk, especially when riches might be just a bite away.

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