Our bus snaked up the mountains of Eastern Oregon on Thursday and arrived at our destination around noon - an unmarked rocky site in the Whitman National Forest about a mile north of Granite.

Members of the 2010 Chinese Heritage Tour exited the bus, carefully made their way across a narrow wooden bridge and gathered under a small clump of trees. That provided a bit of relief from the dry summer heat in this area about 5,000 feet above the sea.

At least by 1867, Chinese miners had arrived, too, in search of gold discovered that decade, researchers have said. Many of the miners had made their way from the Toisan, or Taishan, area of southern China.

It is a region of the world relatively close to the ocean and which in the 19th century faced famine, turmoil, bandits and invasions.

We had arrived at what is referred to as the Ah Hee Diggings or the “Chinese Walls” – a former mining site covering 60 acres of rocks piled in rows about 12 feet high and 15 feet wide. Some stones were likely moved with the help of winches but the vast majority were stacked by hand, researchers have found.

Those numbers don’t completely sink in on the human brain until you cross another narrow wooden bridge and scale up the rocks – trying to find firm footing each step of the way – and take in the sprawling field of stones so big that more than two hands are needed to move them.

The Chinese miners who arrived at this site undertook placer mining in which they worked the earth’s surface to find the precious metal, said Sarah Crump, a USDA Forest Service archaeologist.

The rocks are piled high because once the Chinese miners had worked one area of the land, they would move the stones to one side and make the walls, she added.

“This is 60 acres of rock people moved to find gold,” she said. “It’s pretty amazing what people are willing to do to earn money.”

While some call the site the Ah Hee Diggings, Crump explained that records indicate that he never owned the land. But Ah Hee did live in Granite with his name showing up in a store ledger.

Tour members stood on the rocks and soaked up the sight – with a keen awareness of who did it, why and when.

One reason why researchers know the Chinese worked this land is because of Chinese artificats found in the area – bowl shards and items with Chinese writing.

Chinese miners in this area faced another issue at the time: Many were working on abandoned claims or ones purchased or leased from Europeans.

At the time, the government prohibited Chinese miners from filing direct claims, Crump said.

After European mining companies left a mining site, the bosses would sell the claims to Chinese miners. “That’s how most Chinese got their foot in the door,” she said.

In conversations, some tour members talked about whether they would do the stone-moving work if that was what was needed in order to earn money and support loved ones. The answers varied with some thinking about their age and the entire physical undertaking.

King, a teen who immigrated from Hong Kong, talked about survival and said he would do the work.

MingFeng, another teen, grew up in Toisan and moved to the Seattle area in recent years. As she sat on a pile of rocks and gazed at the scene, the heat settled in with a slight breeze in the air.

She talked about how the experience of visiting this site helped her understand the history of the Chinese in America. The fact that the rocks were moved by people from Toisan – thousands of miles away – didn’t come as a complete surprise.

In Toisan, she said, people often do work with their hands.

For centuries, the people there have farmed the land, stooping in paddies to plant rice.

And in the future, would she ever want to return to this site should she have kids to show them this field of rocks that stretches and stretches along the land?