This unique geological feature dominates the skyline when approaching the Jamestown area from the west. Table Mountain formation is the result of violent volcanic eruptions where lava flowed into an ancient stream channel, displacing the water and solidifying as a great lava cast of the river. Over millions of years the adjacent softer soils eroded away into the Central Valley, leaving Table Mountain standing in bold relief above the pastoral landscape. The solidified lava buried the auriferous gravels and small pieces of gold trapped in the old river bed. Miners have tunneled great distances to reach the channel and its gold. Today, the gold can be found each spring as beautiful poppy fields, along with other wildflowers.
History and Background
There were three basic stages in the formation of Table Mountain. The initial stage began with the Tertiary Stanislaus River, which flowed through moderately rolling hills flanked by subtropical vegetation. During stage two, nine and one-half million years later, steaming hot lava followed the easiest course downhill into the bed of the river, but not overflowing the path of the river. The lava flow cooled into a much harder material than the surrounding soil. The final stage progressed over millions of years, when the softer soils eroded away, leaving a lava-topped mountain formation shaped by the river’s winding course.
In January 24, 1848, James Marshall discovered gold on the South Fork of the American River. That summer, gold was also found in Tuolumne County by Benjamin Wood and his party, which included James Savage, on the banks of Woods Creek, near what is Jamestown today. In 1848-1849, miners in search of gold at Table Mountain could not break apart the hard, tough lava flow and tried tunneling under it to reach the ancient river beds.
By the 1850s, mines in Montezuma at the base of Table Mountain produced exceptionally pure gold. A ditch and flume along the base of Table Mountain supplied water for placer mining, and later successful tunnel mining was accomplished in this area. By 1852, the town had grown to nearly 800 people and was notorious for shootings and violence. The town was nearly destroyed by fire in 1866. Today, a lone monument along Highway 49 between Chinese Camp and Highway 108 is the only physical reminder that Montezuma once bustled with fortune seekers.
The Humbug Mine, located on the east slope near Jamestown, started in 1880, becoming the richest tunnel mine under Table Mountain; it closed in 1913.
Spring brings a profusion of wildflowers and vernal pools to Table Mountain. Though most of it is privately owned, Table Mountain can be seen from Highway 120/108/49, while driving in the Jamestown area. A cross-section of the mountain can be seen from Tulloch Lake. Pulpit Rock is a formation on top of Table Mountain near where Rawhide Road passes through a break in the mountain. The formation has cultural significance to the Me-Wuk.
Today the traffic signal in Jamestown is located at the intersection of Highway 108 and Humbug Street, named for the famous tunnel mine.
How to Get There—GPS Coordinates: Parking Area—N37° 56.64' W120° 27.72',
Trail head—N37° 56.23' W120° 37.73'
From Oakdale take Highway 108/120 east to Jamestown. Where Highway 120 turns off toward Yosemite National Park, continue on Highway 108. You will begin to see Table Mountain before reaching Jamestown on both sides of the highway. Remember, most of Table Mountain is privately owned, so enjoy from a distance. The Bureau of Reclamation (BOR) has a trail to the top of Table Mountain that can be accessed near Jamestown, and it is a favorite with hikers. Contact BOR for directions at (209) 536-9543 or download a map—http://www.usbr.gov/mp/ccao/newmelones/maps/map_table_mountain.pdf.