D.L. Bliss State Park is a state park of California, United States, in the Sierra Nevada mountain range. The park preserves the site of the former D. L. Bliss Mine, which was one of the largest gold mines on the American west during the Gold Rush. Located outside Genoa and about 10 miles (16km) east of Lake Tahoe, at an elevation of 5,426 feet (1,654m), it spanned 7 square miles (18km2).
While generally a quiet and safe place to visit, DLBSP does contain some unfenced cliffs, and visitors should exercise caution if visiting between October and April, particularly at night.
The park offers:
- hiking trails
- camping facilities
- picnic areas
- swimming beach
- boat launch
- fishing pier
- interpretive displays
- nature center
The park has recently undergone major renovations and now boasts new playground equipment, restrooms, and parking lots. The park provides access points for many trailheads across the Sierra Nevada, including trails leading to Half Dome, Yosemite Valley, and Mount Whitney. One popular destination accessible via the park is the town of Genoa, famous for its Italianate style buildings and saloons.
The park contains the remnants of the Big Trees Trail, which leads past the remains of the Wawona Tree, the world’s tallest known living tree, which fell in March 2010. The park hosts regular events including historical reenactments by professional actors, as well as music festivals and fairs, including the annual World Music & Dance Festival. The park hosted the Junior Lifeguard International Competition in July 2006.
The park’s campground has 50 drive-up campsites divided into tent sites and yurts, each with water and electricity hookups. 30 walk-in sites are available in addition to the overflow campground across the highway. Camping costs are $10 per vehicle per day, with unlimited mileage permits valid in the park issued by the California Department of Parks and Recreation. Picnic tables are scattered throughout the park in open grassy areas. An outdoor pavilion near the swimming beach serves food and beverages, and has Wi-Fi access.
The park has eight hike-to cabins, ranging from one to three bedrooms in size, all with central heating, air conditioning, and furnishings. Each cabin has a kitchen/dining area with refrigerator, stove, microwave, countertop, table, chairs, and bath or shower facility. Outside of the cabins are a barbecue grill, picnic table, and fire pit. Tent sites and overflow campgrounds are also available in the vicinity of the cabins. Prices vary according to season, ranging from $30 per night in low season to $40 per night in high season. A campsite reservation system is in use, so parties of six or more cannot book a site simultaneously. Five modern yurts are available for rent, ranging from 2 to 12 people in single or double occupancy. Yurts feature wood stoves, electric heat, and outlets, along with satellite TV, bathroom sink, and shower. They are available from mid-May to mid-September, and must be reserved directly with the park.
No groups larger than 35 persons may camp in the park. Dogs are permitted, however they must stay on a leash at all times. Horses allowed in designated areas. Other pets are prohibited. Overnight accommodations are not available in the winter season. The park closes at dusk, so the roads and beaches are inaccessible to drivers after dark. Bikes are not recommended due to dangerous conditions. For these reasons, the park is best visited during daytime hours. Day use only. No drinking alcohol, no fires allowed except in the designated area, and dogs must be kept on a leash at all times.
Its peak production year was 1852, when it produced 607,922 ounces (20,179kg) of gold. By comparison, the nearby Humboldt Lumber Company operated at capacity for three months in 1886. In its prime, the mine had over 3,000 employees, but by 1900 only eighty to two hundred remained. A fire burned down much of what was left in 1922, and flooding from the adjacent Tomales River destroyed the rest ten years later. Only foundations and ruins remain today.
Visitors can see where the old roadways led, how high the mountains are above the level of the surrounding countryside, and learn about the lives of the miners who worked there. There are several historic sites within the park that have been registered as California Historical Landmarks. These include:
- the “Big House”, built in 1850, which served as both home and workplace
- the Carousel, originally built in 1899, which still runs daily
- the Icehouse, used to store ice for the mining operations and also to preserve fresh meat for the workers
- the office/warehouse building, dating from around 1915, which now houses the visitor center
- the smelting house, dating from 1870, which has been restored to its original condition.
The park’s museum features exhibits covering various aspects of life in the late 19th century and early 20th century, including mining, logging, transportation, recreation, conservation, architecture and natural history. It is located in the Old Smelting House. Tours of the grounds are given throughout summer weekends.
On special occasions, reenactments happen at the park, with costumed interpreters wearing period clothing. Over 300 acres (120ha) of land were donated to the state in 1934, after work by A. Johnston, then-governor Earl Warren, and Senator Pat McCarran resulted in the passing of the Mining Law of 1935, allowing for the creation of public lands in federal and state parks. This legislation provided for the leasing of mineral rights under certain circumstances, with the intent to create revenue for the purpose of acquiring additional parkland. With the help of LeRoy Stradley, a member of the Assembly and the Senate, respectively, both chambers passed enabling legislation in June 1936, officially authorizing the purchase of the mineral rights and setting aside the money necessary for their acquisition.
Additional acreage was added to the park through legislative action in 1957 and 1967. During the 1960s, the National Park Service designed and constructed an exhibit featuring the mining industry using the D. L. Bliss Mine as its centerpiece. That display was put together with the support of local citizens and business people who contributed items such as antique photographs, newspaper articles and personal mementos. When the current D. L. Bliss State Park opened in May 1970, it became the second state park in California to open following the establishment of Point Reyes National Seashore just four months earlier. Unlike most other western states, California does not allow private property to be sold inside a national seashore or state park. However, an exception to this rule is made for privately owned mineral rights beneath the surface of the ground. These mineral rights may be leased by the owner for a term of up to five years, at which time the lease will automatically renew itself unless either party elects not to extend the lease.
As of February 22, 2008, the last remaining mineral right under the Point Reyes Peninsula was leased to Marin County, which agreed to pay $3 million for the privilege of exploring for oil and gas off the coast of San Francisco Bay. If successful, the county would have paid the same amount to the previous owners, Horizon Resources, which held the lease until its sale to Woodside Energy Group. At the time of writing, D. L. Bliss State Park contained approximately 4,500 acres (1,800ha), making it the third largest state park in area behind Point Reyes National Seashore and Crystal Cove State Marine Reserve.