Railroad Canyon holds echoes of gold mining past

By Sharon Rice, Editor, The Friday Flyer

Canyon Lake residents Paul and Kathi Price point to the collapsed tunnel of an abandoned mine at the base of Goetz Hill, literally in Canyon Lake's own back yard. Paul learned about the mine as a young boy when he explored the Perris, Menifee and Lake Elsinore Valleys.

Credit: Sharon Rice

The Prices show a chapter Paul wrote about the Good Hope goldmine that can be found in the hardback book, “Perris – A Place to Remember,” compiled by the Perris Valley Historical and Museum Association. In it, Paul traces the history of the mine.

Credit: Sharon Rice

Kathi emerges from an exploratory tunnel of the Hope Goldmine, not far from Paul's boyhood ranch in Meadowbrook. The Hope Goldmine was less than five miles from what is now Canyon Lake.

Paul and Kathi's nephews prepare to enter an exploratory tunnel of the Hope Mine.

Kathi Price stands next to the eight bullet-proof cases containing the Prices' extensive collection of mining artifacts. The display is part of San Diego International Airport's one-year exhibition, "Myths of the West."

A fire earlier this year scorched a swath of shrubs and trees on the backside of Goetz Hill and the riverbed, where Paul says an abandoned mining tunnel, a former railroad track and an ancient Native American village site are located. Paul says the indentation in the hillside is part of the collapsed mining tunnel.

A fire earlier this year scorched a swath of shrubs and trees on the backside of Goetz Hill and the riverbed.

A fire earlier this year scorched a swath of shrubs and trees on the backside of Goetz Hill and the riverbed.

A fire earlier this year scorched a swath of shrubs and trees on the backside of Goetz Hill and the riverbed.

In addition to the abandoned mine, the area on the backside of Goetz Hill contains bedrock mortars and slate tools used by Native Americans.


Who knew Railroad Canyon contains echoes of California's gold mining past? More than 100 objects relating to the California gold rush of the 1800s are on display at the San Diego International Airport, placed by Canyon Lake residents Paul and Kathi Price.

Featured are various gold mining tools, equipment, materials and everyday objects that were common among early prospectors ? some of them found less than five miles outside Canyon Lake's gates.

The Prices' collection is housed in eight 4x4-ft. glass cases and is part of a larger exhibit called "Myth of the West." On display through May 2014, the exhibit is located on the mezzanine in Terminal 2, opposite American Airlines gate 33. (For a You Tube video of a KPBS interview regarding the Price exhibit, search "Gold Mining Exhibit at San Diego International Airport.")

What is as interesting as the exhibit is the story of how Paul and Kathi came to have such a collection.

As a young boy, Paul moved to a ranch in Meadowbrook, not far from the intersection of Greenwald and Hwy. 74 outside the North Gate. From a very young age, he explored by foot and by horseback the countryside from Perris Valley to Menifee Valley, Quail Valley to Cottonwood Canyon, Railroad Canyon to Lake Elsinore.

From his reading, especially in the subject of archeology, he learned how to spot Native American sites and artifacts in the local valleys, then occupied by ranchers and farmers whose families had begun settling the area in the late 1880s. He found “graffiti” in the form of ancient petroglyphs and pictographs. He also found bedrock mortars ? those round indentations in stone where Native American women ground seeds and berries. Some can still be seen at the foot of Goetz Hill and in a tumble of boulders on the Audie Murphy Ranch.

Paul was fascinated to learn more about the people who inhabited or passed through the area in centuries past ? an interest that led him, as a teenager, to working with the archeology team of Dr. Gerald Smith (founder of the San Bernardino County Museum), and later lured him back to this area after a successful career in commercial art.

With the knowledge he gained through personal exploration and a great deal of study, research and interviews, Paul was instrumental in teaching the current generation of Luisenos (the tribes of which include La Jolla, Pala, Pauma, Pechanga, Rincon and Soboba) their culture and language, and helping them preserve some of their more sacred sites.

In particular, he worked with the Pechanga Band of Luisenos and was tapped to be art/cultural director when the Pechanga built their resort and casino in Temecula.

California Gold

Throughout his explorations as a young boy, one of Paul's favorite stomping grounds was the abandoned Good Hope goldmine, the main entrance of which was located a short distance from his home and northwest of Canyon Lake. An exploratory tunnel for the mine was on his neighbor's property, and Paul was drawn to the collection of mining relics his neighbor hung on his fence. Paul soon began his own collection of items discovered amongst the abandoned miners' shacks and shanties, shafts and tunnels in and around Good Hope.

A chapter Paul wrote about the goldmine can be found in the book, "Perris ? A Place to Remember," compiled by the Perris Valley Historical and Museum Association (copyright 2007). In it, Paul traces the history of the Good Hope mine to the 1870s, when Mexican miners were prospecting for gold in the area where the Good Hope mine later was located.

Someone must have sounded the "eureka!" because, during a three-week period in 1880, four parties filed claims with the Pinacate General Land Office ? all containing the name "Good Hope."

Paul writes that, in 1881, a five-stamp mill for crushing ore was constructed to replace the method used by the Mexican miners. "The processed ore was reportedly extremely rich," says Paul.

He continues, "A small town, which included a school, rose up near the Good Hope mine. When the California Southern Railroad was built through Perris Valley, there was a station platform east of Good Hope, at the end of River Rd., where the train stopped and unloaded equipment and supplies needed at the mine. The train would then continue down present-day Railroad Canyon to the Elsinore station. (The track bed lies under Canyon Lake.)"

It's intriguing to look at a satellite image of the area and see the station wasn't far from the river's inflow above Canyon Lake's North Ski Area. Paul says the embankment for the station can still be seen. When he was young, he explored the length of the tracks between Lake Elsinore and Perris. Where they were submerged under the lake, he skirted the shoreline until he picked them up again below the dam.

Paul says the Good Hope mine thrived for several years. He writes that, as early as 1894, the mine was equipped with a more powerful 20-stamp mill, with steam-powered stamps roaring 24 hours a day. However, starting in the mid-1890s, there were problems with flooding of the lower levels, safety regulations and increasing labor costs.

Soon, the cost of pumping water from the lower levels and extracting the gold exceeded the value of the gold. After the turn of the century, the machinery was sold as scrap to provide metal for WWI industries.

There were a few attempts to resurrect the mining operation, including the last one in 1962, but that fell through. The site was abandoned and the metal buildings only stood a few years more. Paul says Good Hope neighbors helped his dad, Harry Price, caretaker for the mine, seal the mine entrance. But not before Paul had a few years to thoroughly explore the four miles of tunnels.

The odds and ends he found left behind from the mining operation formed the basis of a lifelong fascination with that period of history in the Golden State.

Back at home, his dad gave him one enclosed room of the chicken coop in which to keep his treasures. Paul said he built shelves and, based on archeological methodology he learned from books, began cataloguing each of his finds; i.e. he would tag the find, then write in a journal when and where it was found. On one side of the room he kept his mining artifacts; on the other his Native American finds. (He also had a significant collection of rocks and minerals, but that's another story).

Before he moved away to pursue a career in commercial art, Paul donated those early collections to the San Bernardino County Museum. Wherever he lived and worked, Paul continued to collect and learn about the history of the area. He got involved with museums and sometimes became a curator for their exhibits.

Old people gravitated to him and told him their recollection of historic events; many gave him their personal collections of artifacts. These collections became so great over the years, he made many donations to museums. The Native American display at the Temecula Museum in Old Town is from Paul's collection. He has written stories and made documentaries. He has faced literal threats to his life (another story).

When he and Kathi married 23 years ago (his second marriage), he brought her home to explore the Good Hope mine area once again. He said the earth “bleeds” artifacts; i.e. items that were buried slowly come to the surface so that, if one knows where to look, there always is something new to discover, especially after the rainy season.

Early this year, many of the mining artifacts were included in a temporary exhibit at the Temecula Museum. The show drew the attention of the Gold Prospectors Association of America, as well as the curator for the San Diego Port Authority, who was putting together the “Myths of the West” exhibit at San Diego International Airport.

The curator and others from the Port Authority came to Paul and Kathi's home in Canyon Lake to talk about an exhibit for the airport and to learn the value of the collection for insurance purposes.

Last week, Paul and Kathi had a chance to accompany visitors from China and England for a personal tour of the airport exhibit. Paul says the Chinese have a strong interest in the California Gold Rush because so many Chinese worked on the railroad and other building projects during that era. Kathi's own grandmother was a mail order bride from China, brought to California early last century.

These days, Paul says he would like nothing more than to see a cultural center/history museum created in Canyon Lake, where exhibits of art and artifacts like his and, what he imagines are many other collections of Canyon Lakers, could be displayed. No doubt, area pioneers Don and Elinor Martin would be contributors to such a center.

Elinor's ancestors were among the first ranchers/pioneers to settle the Menifee Valley in the 1890s. Her book, "Images of America, Canyon Lake," contains photographs of the railroad that once ran through Railroad Canyon, where echoes and artifacts from California's gold mining past can still be discovered.