BANNER GRADE, Calif. (CBS 8) -- It's been more than 80 years since gold was mined commercially in Chariot Canyon east of Julian. Now, one of the area's top producing gold mines has been purchased by a group of investors.
One hundred years ago, the Golden Chariot mine was at the center of a Julian gold rush. It yielded close to $1 million in gold until 1931, when commercial mining came to a halt in Chariot Canyon near Banner Grade.
Today, no trespassing signs block access to the 26-acre property surrounding the Golden Chariot mine. Some modern buildings are still standing but the old mining equipment is rusting away.
Experts say all six levels of the Golden Chariot mine are now flooded with millions of gallons of water. Old timber in the rock tunnels is rotting away and some sections are collapsed where cave-ins block access to the deep mine shafts.
CBS News 8 recorded video inside the neighboring Hubbard mine in Chariot Canyon with tunnels similar in appearance to the Golden Chariot, only less flooded.
Local cave explorer Frank Hood took us inside for a look.
“The Hubbard mine has about five inches of water inside the tunnel. But in the Golden Chariot those tunnels are totally submerged; water comes totally to the top,” said Hood.
The Golden Chariot continued to operate on a small scale until 2002 when a wildfire raced through the canyon, destroying buildings and shutting it down for good.
For years, the property sat idle on the real estate market, listed at $250,000. Then, in April of this year, a group of gold exchange investors purchased the Golden Chariot for $150,000, real estate records show.
None of the new investors wanted to be interviewed on camera by CBS News 8 but two of the three owners spoke to us by phone.
Parviz Firouzgar, Stephen Kent and a third unidentified partner are all associated with the AAA Gold Exchange firm based in Orange County.
“We have a cash for gold business. But the cash for gold business -- the whole industry -- is in rapid decline because gold prices have gone way too low,” said Firouzgar.
“We've been looking to diversify and about a year ago this mine just came up on our radar,” he said.
Firouzgar told CBS News 8 that the partners are in the process of cleaning up the property and pumping out water from the underground mine shafts.
“The shafts are completely filled with water and those shafts go 400 feet under the ground. We have to drain the water first and see what's down there.” Firouzgar said.
“Draining this mine is quite an engineering challenge because the main shaft was covered by a building and during the 2002 fire the building collapsed into the shaft. We've done a little bit of draining but we only got so far because then it was all debris blocking the shaft.”
A team of engineers is now surveying the Golden Chariot mine, inside and out, to determine whether it can once again be mined for gold.
But if their search for gold doesn't pan out, the owners say the property could be turned into a historical landmark and operated as a tourist attraction; or even be used to raise endangered desert tortoises.
“I guess they get sold to zoos,” said Firouzgar. “We like the idea of using the property in some sort of productive and positive sense. And, if the desert tortoise is an endangered species and our property is ideal for that, that's definitely something that's attractive as long as it can pay for itself and make a little bit of money.”
Firouzgar said it will take a long time to find out if the Golden Chariot can shine again as a mining operation.
“If we just do this ourselves as hobbyists not a whole lot is required. But if we send people down there as employees into the mine, well, then you have OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) issues, you have all kinds of issues that need to be handled,” he said.
Still, the prospect of the Golden Chariot being reopened has historians and cave explorers excited.
“If they got the money to buy it more power to them,” said Hood, the local explorer.
“It's a lost art form,” Hood said. “This kind of mining, with the blasting out of the rock and putting up timbers; it's part of the history of the area.”
YouTube: Flooded Mine Exploration: The Hubbard Mine