A Great Trip Back in Time – By Maire McDermid
One of the best parts about attending Downieville Elementary School is the
opportunity to interact with local history in a variety of ways. There are
many museums and state parks in our area, which offer students a first-hand
look at what life was like in times past. One recent example is the “Living
History” field trip, which was taken on September 28th and 29th by Ms.
Maire McDermid’s 4-6th graders. Students dressed in period (late 1800s)
costumes and went to Malakoff Diggins State Park, in the historic town of
North Bloomfield, aka “Humbug”, CA.
The trip was a result of a new scholarship offered by the California State
Parks that provides full funding for qualifying groups for educational
The striking landscapes created by hydraulic mining are the backdrop to
Malakoff Diggins State Park. (“Diggins” is the name for the areas with a
moon-like appearance where millions of gallons of water tore away the
layers of topsoil in search for gold). Upon arrival, the students took a
brief walk overlooking the diggings, and discussed in detail the process
used in hydraulic mining.
Later, the students explored some of the most notable buildings in North
Bloomfield with a scavenger hunt, aided by park hosts and volunteers. “I
learned that they had to warm up water for a bath in a pot and pour that
into a large basin. Or they could take a cold bath!” – Jasmine Smeltzley, 4
Following the scavenger hunt was the unforgettable experience of working
with blacksmith, Ric Moorhouse, to create their very own decorative hook.
Ric explained the process used by blacksmiths and their importance in
history. The students were all thrilled to take home a beautiful piece of
handmade art to show their families.
The last hour before dinner, the students were treated to the storytelling
skills of Rick Toles, aka “Old Alkali: The Last Remaining 49er”. Rick and
his musical instruments transported the students back in time with songs,
stories, and jokes. We all enjoyed his performance, especially the hilarity
of “Dude”, Alkali’s whistling banjo. A great way to end a day of fun!
Dinner was cooked on the coals and fire, and prepared by the chaperones
with help from the students. Everyone had worked up quite an appetite and
was ready to “hit the hay” after eating and hanging out around the campfire.
The next day, the students worked to complete tin lanterns, cloth dolls,
and dipped candles. After cleaning up the campsite, a quick trip to the
gift store, and a last look around, it was time to head back out on the
dusty trail home to Downieville.
An excellent time was had by all on this amazingly fun and educational trip.
If you haven’t been over to Malakoff Diggins SP, you have missed out. It
really is a jewel of the California State Parks, and so close by!
A special thank you to Park Ranger Brooke Betz and all the awesome
volunteers who made this experience possible. For more information, see