The Sulphur Mines – A Return…#18 (the 50’s)

Mike and his adherent sister Nan

A summer day,  the East Oakland Hills beckoned and  the attentive young boy listened,  discerning their incessant plea of assiduity.   A plan was in the making, he would approach his younger next door neighbor Milton, better known as Babe, asking if  he would be interested in an expedition to the reaches of Skyline Blvd.,  East Oakland’s highest view-point overlooking the vast bay-area.   It was agreed upon,  the two boys starting their 2 mile march, crossing Mountain Blvd. upwards towards the first lower summit, a familiar climb for both having been there before.   Looking back Mike noticing a young unpretentious figure following in their footsteps,  it was his sister Nancy.   She was tenacious in meandering behind him whenever  he went on a venture,  especially when going into the hills.   In the past he had tried everything from yelling at her,  to actually throwing rocks, with  no intent to hit her,  only to coax her from continuing her undertaking, but alas to no avail,  her persistence prevailing.  With no other options,  he invited her to join this quest.

Milton (Babe) Pepitone

Looking east, Destination – Skyline, the furthermost peak

The three reaching the crest of the first hill, heading down into a shallow valley with what resembled a road having been bulldozed years before, going past the abandoned stables he had explored during a previous journey, following the hollow north for a quarter-mile before  addressing the beginning of another trail upwards.   It too looked like it might have been made by a bulldozer, being  too steep for anything automotive.  The ascent was slow,  Milton wasn’t use to the climb,  but his younger sister was a rugged little cuss and showed no signs of fatigue.   It took the better part of an hour to reach the summit, Skyline Blvd lying  about a fifty yards beyond the scenic overlook.

The three travelers continued on a disassembled trail that paralleled the road, soon passing above the Gallagher and Burk Quarry boundaries.  Mike having to make a decision,  either follow Skyline to Redwood Road and take the winding road down to Mountain Blvd or descend down this side of the Devil’s Punch bowl quarry to the sulphur mines and then following Leona Creek to the two lane blacktop.   Mike decided on the shorter of the two routes because of the distance, Redwood Rd. intersected Mountain Blvd. a mile further north than Leona Creek.   With a decision accomplished, the trio pressing  towards the McDonnell sulphur mine.

Sulphur Mines tailings


It was still one of the most prodigious sights Mike had ever viewed.   The glimmering yellow of the pyrite containing the valued ferrous sulfide that encased the surroundings and permeated the atmosphere with its ever-present pungent smell of sulphur.   The rustic relic of the old central shaft its pilings standing like a monument in commemoration of days gone by.   The foreboding tunnel entrances boarded up as if to imprison the  memories they still  held  rather than to prevent access to unwanted  visitors,  their  warning signs still posted,  weathered and neglected.   Mike entered an aperture,  exploring the  encasing walls with his hands,  the yellow crystallized material cleaving to  his fingers.  In the light provided from the opening,  he stood within, absorbing the ambiance of the moment, its reality and a feeling of deja vu, to visualize the arduous undertakings of these  unearthing craftsmen of old.

what memories lay burried

what memories lay buried

A exploring comptempuous sister

Once again basking in the sunlit terrain of this hillside mining quarry, it was time to move on.  He looked about,  Milton was present,  but his sister Nancy was nowhere to be seen.  He had  instructed her not to enter any of the tunnel openings,  but he knew how obstinate she could be.   He conveyed the question to Milton about Nancy’s  whereabouts to no avail.   He knew how adamant she could be in her determination to explore these underground caverns having  some of the same intransigent traits that he had,  so it was no surprise what was transpiring.    As suddenly as she had disappeared,  she emerges with a contemptuous grin on her face.     Mike could say nothing for he could identify with her pretentious act.   She could proclaim that she had succeeded in doing something few of the populace  would undertake,  let alone accomplish.

Mills College Lake Aliso better known as Green Lake

Departing from this wondrous extrication area, the threesome journeyed down the path above Leona Creek,  reaching the point where it became subterranean before crossing  beneath Mountain Blvd,  emptying into a body of water commonly referred to as Green Lake.  In reality it was Lake  Aliso,  situated on the Mills College Campus,  but because of its green algae hue  when viewed from Overdale Ave a shortcut north around the college to access MacArthur Blvd bypassing the Seminary Ave route, the  Green Lake vernacular  prevailed.   Pressing onward they marched homeward bound  not journeying on Mountain Blvd but on the eucalyptus tree-lined dirt road  at the base of the hills culminating at Keller Ave.

Mike reasoned the undertaking of such an outing  kindled his longing to experience the trepidation for other adventures, but still somewhat engrossed with Leona Heights and Laundry Farm Canyon.  His dad having told him as a youth he had ridden a street car to Leona Heights and was aware of the sulphur mine and the quarry’s but never had the initiative to see them first hand.   Mike didn’t press the matter, but knowing that  his dad was a city boy going to McClymonds High and one up-close look may have introduced a whole new chapter to his life.  Just as hearing Steve Graham tell about Laundry Farm Canyon had  spurred Mike’s interest, leading to his first brief visit, dictating a second and bookmarking a future filled with adventure.


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