SAMS VALLEY, Ore. – From the time the first settlers arrived in the Rogue Valley, the Table Rocks have been a source of fascination and mystery. All sorts of rumors and legends surround the Twin Mesas along the Rogue River near Sams Valley and one of the most enduring mysteries involve a series of deep shafts and tunnels, who dug them, when and why?
Contract crews hired by the Bureau of Land Management were on Lower Table Rock recently, pouring a foam plug in the mouth of a shaft near the face of the cliff that rises over the Rogue River and Sams Valley. Nobody is sure who dug this hole, estimated to be about 300 feet deep, but BLM officials are worried somebody could fall in and be seriously hurt or killed.
“This particular shaft was brought to our attention, because of on-line videos of people performing stunts, jumping across the opening here and so it was something that we felt needed to be closed for public health and safety,” said BLM Archeologist Terrance Christian
Christian is part of a BLM task force searching for dangerous mine shafts and other diggings that could become death traps. The presence of several such excavations on Table Rock has long been rumored, but nobody seems to have a good explanation for who dug them or why. Just guesses, mostly, from Indian diggings to natural caves to gold mines.
“You’ve got a caprock of 7 million year old basalt that is variably 200 to 300 feet thick, and underlying that, you’ve got an eosene sandstone formation, and you’ve got some gravels where there was an original river channel that passed through here and there’s always been rumors that people have found gold around the edges of the Table Rocks in that gravel,” Christian explained, “And so some industrious person back in the day actually decided to sink several shafts through the cap rock to try and, and hit that gravel and hit pay dirt.”
One of those shafts is more than 300 feet deep and it was capped by the BLM several years ago. Visible near the shaft are piles of tailings, gravel and rock, dug and blasted out of these holes by someone decades ago. A trench was apparently another effort to dig down through what is some of the hardest stone known.
“It looks like they tried at one point to drive a tunnel and hit the gravel from below, through the Tallus Slope and they gave up on that effort and figured it would be easier to punch down through the top and you know that, that’s just an incredible amount of moving rock and there’s no production records to tell us whether they were successful. I’m guessing that they probably didn’t find a whole lot of gold here,” Christian said.
Old cans and bottles, blasting wire and fuel barrels in the trees and brush below the cliffs on the east side of table rock are clues to who went to all this work, who knows when for sure.
“Based on the artifacts that we found, it looks like it was probably in the 1950’s, but the range of the artifacts give the date anywhere from the 1930’s up through the 1960’s,”
Across the valley, at Upper Table Rock, someone did file a mine claim in 1954, but there’s nothing here. This work was done anonymously. For many people, including BLM officials and miners, it’s always been a mystery as to why anyone would try to tunnel down through basalt rock, several hundred feet through; they may have been looking for gold. It’s hard to tell though if anything was ever really found because there just aren’t any records to show what actually came of it all.