Layton Ditch (Williams, Oregon) 08-Mar-2017

Layton Mine Ditch Williams Oregon

Oh, what an extravaganza of storms! Wave after wave after wave of moistness pouring over us, with only brief, usually sun-free, breaks to ease the sogginess.  With one such break teed up for this morning, we searched (yet again) for a new (to us) low-altitude hike that we could fit into our allotted few hours of relative dryness.  Our first thought was the well-known Sterling Mine Ditch Trail, which is a great trail, but one we’ve hiked many times before (post). We hit gold (pun intended) when Roether’s Williams Area Trail Guide (2006) pointed us toward a 6-mile hike along the remains of the Layton Ditch, a similar, but much less well known, one than the Sterling.  A hike of the Layton culminates at one of Williams’ most famous architectural structures – the Chinese Wall.  A new hike into another piece of Southern Oregon’s history sounded ideal and so off we went!


From Highway 238 south of Grants Pass, Oregon, we turned south on the Williams Highway to Williams, then south on the East Fork Road to a left (east) turn on to Panther Gulch Road (Bureau of Land Management (BLM) Road 39-5-2). Going east on Panther Gulch for 2.3 miles (paved, then good gravel) brought us to a T-junction where we parked. The ditch trail starts just west of this junction – there’s no trailhead per se (and no amenities), but the BLM did put up an information plaque in 2008, which can be seen from the road.

Hydraulic mining was the principal form of gold mining in Southern Oregon. This type of placer mining uses water discharged (through a nozzle called a “giant”) under high pressure to wash away gravels and alluvial deposits, making a slurry that can be run through a sluice box or other equipment to recover the gold. It required considerable quantities of water, which was usually conveyed, often over long distances, in a ditch. Water pressure (the “head”) was created by having the intake of the ditch at a higher elevation than the giant.

Layton Mine Ditch Williams Oregon

An example of small-scale hydraulic mining in Southern Oregon

Beginning about 1860, placer mines in the Williams area were worked by pick and shovel or ground sluiced. By 1869, a short ditch, now known as the Lower Layton Ditch, was dug to supply water from Williams Creek to diggings close to the creek. In the mid-1860s, J. T. Layton extended this lower ditch for 18 miles to feed the giants at his mine in Ferris Gulch on the other side of the ridge from Williams. This mine is considered by the BLM to be the first hydraulic mine in Southern Oregon. It was productive enough to justify digging a second 21-mile long ditch, the Upper Layton Ditch, from Williams Creek to the mine in the mid-1870s. This upper ditch was estimated to have cost $10,000 at a time when that was serious money. Use of the ditches for mining by Layton and his successors (particularly the Pacific Placer Company) continued at least into the 1920s and perhaps as late as 1940. After that the ditches fell out of use for mining and were eventually abandoned. In the mid-1990s the BLM cleared part of the upper ditch for a trail that traveled in and out of federal lands, but that too fell into disrepair. More recently, the Williams Community Forest Project has been clearing swaths of the trail for use by hikers, mountain bikers, and equestrians.  The trail starts at the Panther Gulch Road,

Layton Mine Ditch Williams Oregon

Start of the trail along the Upper Layton Ditch at Panther Gulch Road

and is a wonderful, easy, seemingly level stroll as it goes along the ditch – which is in surprisingly good shape given that it hasn’t seen any maintenance for roughly 80 years.

Layton Mine Ditch Williams Oregon

Along the Upper Layton Ditch

Layton Mine Ditch Williams Oregon

Along the Upper Layton Ditch

As promised, it wasn’t exactly raining (yet), but the weather was working hard, very hard, at looking ominous and foreboding.

Layton Mine Ditch Williams Oregon

Storm clouds building over Grayback and Big Sugarloaf Mountains

Somehow, it seemed less threatening to avert our eyes from this overhead gloom, and look down at some of the smaller things along the trail.

Layton Mine Ditch Williams Oregon

A fully hydrated, and thus happy, lichen

Layton Mine Ditch Williams Oregon

Fuzzy tree fungus the size of a quarter

We continued along through the forest on what seemed like an almost level trail (we were actually losing elevation, albiet slowly) for just short of two miles,

Layton Mine Ditch Williams Oregon

The level trail through the forest

until we crossed onto private land at the boundary of Section 36 and ran smack into the first of the two marijuana farms that Southern Amalgamated Development has placed across the ditch – obliterating it in the process.

Layton Mine Ditch Williams Oregon

The first of the two marijuana farms covering the trail

Marijuana is now legal in Oregon (which is why Southern Amalgamated, a Georgia company, is here) but we do have an issue with such farms bulldozing the landscape, the forest, and part of the local history, and then leaving a huge mess of rotting plastic, mouldering containers, and other trash. Hydraulic mining has been justly criticized as an environmentally distructive practice but, frankly, the bad practices exhibited here are a close second. We think that marijuana can be grown, as can any crop, in an environmentally responsible manner, but this doesn’t look like an example of that.

Layton Mine Ditch Williams Oregon

The second of the two marijuana farms covering the trail

A pile of bear poop in a nitrile glove discarded by one of the “farmers” sums up our feelings here.  If you’re concerned about where your food comes from, then you might also want to be concerned about the source of your dope too.

Layton Mine Ditch Williams Oregon

A well-placed poop

The trail disappeared at the first farm, so we went around that farm, then along a road carved where the ditch used to be to the next farm, and picked up a short bit of the ditch just to the north of this farm. This short piece of degraded ditch/trail soon merged with another old road coming up Cherry Gulch, one which had been bulldozed over the ditch at some time in the past.

Layton Mine Ditch Williams Oregon

Climbing up to the old road from the short section of ditch trail

For about the next half-mile, we were walking on this old road, with the ditch, which had been clearly visible along the trail south of the farms, now completely filled-in and no longer evident.

Layton Mine Ditch Williams Oregon

Along the “trail” north of Cherry Gulch

Layton Mine Ditch Williams Oregon

A big old madrone along the “trail” north of Cherry Gulch

The road peters out back into a trail in the next gulch north of Cherry Gulch and here the ditch becomes visible once again. About 3 miles from the trailhead, we could look across a gulch and see where the ditch had been blasted through a rock outcropping, with the rock fragments from that then used to build the “Chinese Wall.”

Layton Mine Ditch Williams Oregon

The rock outcrop (black arrow) and the Chinese Wall (white arrow)

Layton Mine Ditch Williams Oregon

Close-up: The rock outcrop (black arrow) and the Chinese Wall (white arrow)

This ditch, like the better known Sterling Mine Ditch, was likely dug primarily by Chinese laborers. Up close, the blasted ditch is still readily apparent.

Layton Mine Ditch Williams Oregon

The LovedOne surveys the scene, with the blasted ditch behind her

Layton Mine Ditch Williams Oregon

The ditch is over 5 feet deep here

It is also assumed that these same laborers built the wall here to create a ditch across terrain in which is was nearly impossible to actually dig one in.

Layton Mine Ditch Williams Oregon

The Chinese Wall creates the ditch

Layton Mine Ditch Williams Oregon

Close-up of the Chinese Wall

The weather was still holding-off with the rain but the clouds over Big Sugraloaf Mountain had started to rearrange themselves into even more ominous shapes.

Layton Mine Ditch Williams Oregon

Weather over Big Sugarloaf

It was likely already snowing up in the mountains and we weren’t trusting enough to believe that it wouldn’t soon be raining on us. So we said good-bye to the blasted ditch,

Layton Mine Ditch Williams Oregon

One last look at the blasted ditch

and quickly retraced our steps back to the trailhead.

Layton Mine Ditch Williams Oregon

Hurrying back along the trail

At 6.4 miles round-trip, with only 500 feet of elevation gain, this was an easy hike along an historic route to a unique piece of Southern Oregon’s history. Roether says that the “…best time to hike here is in the dead of winter when the southern exposure can be a sunny relief…” and we agree.  Sadly, however, the hike is marred by the two poorly constructed and seemingly unmaintained marijuana farms but perhaps the Williams Community Forest Project can work to ameliorate that.  As an added bonus, we finished this hike in time for lunch at Climate City Brewing in Grants Pass!  The rain started as we were finishing lunch and stuck with us for the drive home, so everything worked out just fine in that we never got to test our rain gear!

Layton Mine Ditch Williams Oregon

Our out-and-back track along the Layton Ditch

2 thoughts on “Layton Ditch (Williams, Oregon) 08-Mar-2017

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