A walk in the clouds…Glacier National Park

Clouds fill Glacier's valleys, leaving the peaks above about 7,000 feet all that is visible from on high...!

Grinnell Glacier in Glacier Park, slowly retreating as are all the park’s glaciers. Still stunning!
Another view of Glacier from about 7,500 feet!
Glacier from on high, with wildflowers in high bloom…!

I’d like to say these photos are mine, but they’re taken by two of my nieces, Emily and Sarah Viall, on a recent tour, and multiple hikes of Glacier National Park.  We met my brother John, spouse Anne and his two daughters there, and spent a lovely almost four days together (other than an absolutely stunning, ferocious thunder storm that descended upon on campsite on our last night there – the power of nature at it’s most compelling!).

These two alpinists are usually mild-mannered healthcare professionals, hailing from Cincinnati and now both working in Washington, DC. They both had the energy to do a number of serious hikes, up to almost 12 miles, much above 7,000 feet, in the clouds.

Enjoy these great photos; and thanks to Emily and Sarah for sharing!

Our next feature will offer insights and photos of a recent trip to Crater Lake National Park, with a side trip to Lassen National Park and Mt. Shasta along the way.  Stay tuned!

For additional travel destination inspiration, see my blog: http://blogs.eSanJoaquin.com/valleytravel; or contact me, tviall@msn.com. 

Happy travels in the west!


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Touring the west in a tiny trailer; life with a teardrop or other small campers

This 58 Serro Scotty Junior teardrop is our current small trailer, lovingly built three years ago by a West Virginia shop teacher.

This Aliner pop-up camper yields a hard-sided, rugged camper, sleeping up to six, and folds for compact and aero-dynamic towing with small vehicles!
This classic 1970s Compact II, made in CA, is light-weight, sleeps four and the inside offers a pop-up allowing standing room for six-footers!
A variety of small modern vans are converted to small campers like this one.
The classic VW Westfalia camper remains popular for small families seeking comfort and good gas mileage!



When we bought our first teardrop travel trailer, about six years ago, the seller (who towed it with a Mini-Cooper) pronounced it a “GEM; garage-able, efficient and maneuverable”.  She noted the little trailer was easy to stow in a garage, easy on the gas mileage, and maneuverable in campgrounds and other tight spots

My wife and I have been retired for over a year, and had long-planned an active, traveling retirement.  Now on our second teardrop, a reproduction 1958 Serro Scotty Junior, these little trailers have lived up to the “gem” description.

When we were younger, we would pile our two girls into our van, load a canoe on top, pitch a tent and tour much of the Pacific Northwest out of Spokane, our then-hometown.

As we have matured, the idea of tenting has lost its luster, and traveling in more comfort has risen.  But, the thought of purchasing a big, expensive travel trailer, or fifth-wheel, getting terrible gas mileage towing it and storing the behemoth struck us both as somewhat un-American.
We were bitten by the teardrop trailer bug about seven years ago.  These cute little trailers attract a crowd and we met owners who loved them.  Teardrop owners stage teardrop rallies throughout the west and vintage trailer rallies also occur regularly, making places to meet new traveling friends.

Additionally, these tiny trailers, weighing only about 800 pounds loaded, can be towed by small cars and they fit easily into a garage (no hassle storing them somewhere).  And you sleep off the ground, in a hard-shell camper, so the wife no longer worries about bear attacks!

Last summer, just before a planned bicycling tour of the Gettysburg battlefield, we found our second teardrop, a replica Scotty Junior made in 2011 by a skilled West Virginia shop teacher.  We picked it up on the way to Gettysburg, and have since towed it all across the country, up the coast of Oregon, Washington and across British Columbia, and to the Grand Canyon and Southwest.

As I write, we are into a three week trip with our teardrop to Crater Lake National Park, Mt. St. Helens, Mt. Rainier, over to Spokane, through Idaho into Montana’s Glacier National Park, then up to Alberta, Canada to take in Lake Louise, Jasper National Park and other incredible places.
With our circuitous route, we’ll log about 3,500 miles – and spend $500 on gasoline and, maybe, $350 on lodging.  Not bad for a three week tour into wondrous country!

You might wonder “how do we do that”?  Well, towing we get about 28 MPG (compare that to folks pulling giant fifth-wheels behind huge diesel pickups getting 7-8 MPG).

We don’t duck the chance to spend a few nights with friends along the way; a real bed and shower is nice on occasion.  For other nights we search out federal campgrounds (national parks, national forests, BLM) and with our America the Beautiful pass, we get half off all campgrounds.  So, a $24 site drops to $12 (the discount does not hold in Canada, however).

And, the trailer fits into many camping sites too small for the giant rigs and takes only minutes to set up.  It offers wonderfully comfy sleeping quarters, and we can cook with the best of the giant motorhome owners.   The sun shines as brightly on our campsite as does the larger rigs, and our campfire and picnic table is just as rustic.

My wife has a ready response to the constant question “can you sleep in that little trailer”?  Her reply “the sleeping compartment is 4’ wide by 6’3” long; once we each stake out our two feet, we are very cozy and sleep like two bugs in a rug!”.  Add cabinets above our feet and head, and the teardrop has lots of storage capacity.

Most teardrops have a rear galley that pops open; some have built-in sinks and propane stoves.  Ours is not quite so finished, but allows us storage for a camp stove, lantern, pop-up awning used in inclement weather, fishing gear and the like.

Long before retirement, we made a pact to do a lot of traveling in the US and Canada the next several years.   A spring trip this year had us visiting Death Valley, Grand Canyon and Joshua Tree National Parks, taking in spring training games in Phoenix and visiting pals in Yuma.  We have now visited eight of the nine national parks in California (only lacking Channel Islands NP; we’ll get there someday!).

For meals, we prepare many of our own in camp; the pictures above show the “kitchen detail” built into many of these small, teardrop trailers.  When you are camping in nice California weather, we and the fifth-wheel crowd all cook outside, so we do gourmet camp cooking with the best of them.

Pictured are several teardrop rigs, including ones that are 5’ wide and up to 10’ long, offering more sleeping space and more elaborate galleys. You’ll also see an example of owners who creatively expand their living area with awnings and shade structures.

We currently own two small trailers, the 58 Serro Scotty teardrop reproduction model, and an original 64 Scotty Sportsman, a bit larger though needing a fairly intensive rebuild.  We can tow the teardrop with our Focus, and we get lots of comments in the campgrounds, parked among the “big boys toys” –Guess who gets four-times better gas mileage?

So, consider the benefits of “small trailering”.  You can find slightly used teardrop trailers and their kin on eBay or Craig’s List, and new units sold locally at places like Pan Pacific RV in Lathrop.  In addition to teardrop trailers, modern pop-up campers and small van conversions offer all sorts of options that can sleep a family of 4-6  in most of the creature comforts offered by those giant fifth wheels!

With tiny trailers you can see much of the US and Canada, save money and be cozy and comfy as your bigger campground neighbors!

Our next feature will offer insights and photos of a recent trip to Crater Lake National Park, with a side trip to Lassen National Park and Mt. Shasta along the way.  Stay tuned!

For additional travel destination inspiration, see my blog: http://blogs.eSanJoaquin.com/valleytravel; or contact me, tviall@msn.com. 

Happy travels in the west!

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Tiny trailers make for cozy western travels!

Our current teardrop, a 58 Serro Scotty replica, lovingly crafter in 2011 by a West Virginia shop teacher!

Our first teardrop camper was a Kit Kamper, built from a kit in 2004; we towed it with a Nissan 300 ZX.
A modern Casita trailer offers the latest amenities, but maintains low weight and strearm-lined shape for easy towing with smaller vehicles.
Vintage VW Westfalias can still be found, perfect for camping for two or three-person families!

In recent travels throughout the west, tiny trailers and efficient campers are making steady in-roads – versus the giant fifth-wheels and behemoth motor homes.  They share common attributes: small, light-weight and stream-lined for easy towing with smaller vehicles.  And, they offer low-cost, ease of storage (many fit into a garage), and always create a crowd at campgrounds!  “Can you sleep in that little trailer” is a common inquiry!

Here are just a few of these cute trailers, spotted recently.  A full feature on traveling the west in tiny trailers is coming this Friday, featuring more detail on tiny trailers; teardrops, vintage trailers and other small camping rigs! 

For additional travel destination inspiration, see my blog: http://blogs.eSanJoaquin.com/valleytravel; or contact me, tviall@msn.com. 

Happy travels in the west!



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California Gold Rush trail, south to Columbia, Sonora and Tuolumne City (Part III in a series)


The Wells Fargo stagecoach is ready to give kids and families a ride in Columbia State Historic Park!

Columbia’s old firehouse was made to both withstand fire (with tin sheathing to withstand flames) and to fight fires that often ravaged Gold Rush cities.
Columbia’s main street is closed to vehicle traffic; you’ll find docents ready to share what the city was like in 1855.
The eves of an old Westside Lumber building reflect a bit of the company’s former grandeur, but the building is slowly rotting away.
A huge old “steam donkey”, used to move logs and lumber, sits adjacent to the Tuolumne City firehouse.
Westside Lumber’s old steam Engine #2 resides in a pleasant city park in downtown Tuolumne City.

We resume our tour of Hwy. 49’s Gold Rush gems with Columbia, which took root in March, 1850, when Dr. Thaddeous Hildreth and others settled here and began prospecting. Soon, Hildreth Diggin’s had found the precious metal; in weeks more than a 1,000 miners descended on the area. The gold camp was initially named American Camp, and, eventually, Columbia.

Today, Columbia State Historic Park preserves the old Gold Rush town of Columbia as a museum of living history! Open seven days a week, all year, the park offers activities and history for all ages, from young to old!

Columbia’s immediate challenge was a steady water supply, used to both wash gold out of hillsides and to sluice gold out of gravel deposits. Because no steady streams were nearby, the locals formed the Tuolumne County Water Company to bring water to the town. A competing company was formed in 1854 to bring water from 60 miles away!

By the late 1850s, the two had merged, and use of the water began to change the landscape. It is estimated that the current Columbia parking lot and area where kids pan for gold was once 25-30 feet higher, before water was used to wash the gold out of the soil and gravel!  All told, approximately $87 million (at 1860′s prices) came out of the mines around Columbia!

Within years of its founding, the prosperous town had streets well laid-out, and over 100 shops, saloons, bakeries, blacksmith shops and restaurants were catering to thousands of miners and townsfolk. Columbia would add churches, the Sons of Temperance, a Masonic Lodge, hotels and a concert hall; the town’s population jumped to almost 6,000. 

Originally, almost all the buildings were made of wood and a huge fire ravaged the city in 1854, destroying most of the wooden buildings in the business district. Most were rebuilt in 1855, but a second fire in 1857 destroyed more framed buildings and some of the brick ones; the town again rebuilt and further emphasized brick buildings and state-of-the-art fire suppression.

By the early 1860s, most of the easiest placer gold had been sluiced out, and the town began a slow decline. In the following 20-some years, many of the vacated buildings were torn down, and their sites were mined for gold. By the late 19th century and into the 20th, the town was in visible and steady decay – residents had dropped to below 500.

Columbia’s business district is closed to all but foot traffic, and a host of businesses, shops and volunteers bring the town to life, much as it appeared in 1855!  Take a stage coach ride, pan for gold, tour blacksmith and livery shops, get a free tour led by period-dressed docents, grab lunch or an ice cream and take in life as it was more than 150 years ago! Best of all, admission, parking and guided tours are free, so a day spent here is easy on the wallet!

From Columbia, head south on Hwy 49 to the historic and growing city of Sonora.  It offers a large and historic downtown; of special interest are the old courthouse and the historic opera house.  Lots of restaurants, too.  After your Sonora tour, take the Tuolumne Road to Tuolumne City.
Tuolumne City preserves vestiges of the old Gold Rush town of Summersville, but it’s even more interesting due to its hay-day as a logging and lumber capital of the Mother Lode. Tuolumne began in 1854 when Franklin Summers and family settled nearby. In 1856 James Blakely arrived and discovered the first quartz outcropping, which would become his “Eureka” quartz and gold mine.

Other nearby mining towns would spring up (and then disappear), Lone Gulch, two miles south, and Cherokee, two miles north. Later named Cartersville, then Tuolumne City, the gold would quickly be mined out, and the area developed as the heart of logging and lumber production for cities in the valley like Modesto and Stockton.

Of several logging operations, the Westside Lumber Company became the main player, expanding its railroad, the size and complexity of its mill, and developed Tuolumne City into a lumber town of major proportions in the first sixty years of the 20th century. The mill closed in the early 1960s, after a major fire during a labor dispute.

Today, remnants of the lumber empire of the Westside Lumber Company take center stage. Several of the company’s buildings remain, though in states of disrepair. Pieces of logging equipment dot the town, from a huge Steam Donkey next to the fire station, to lumbering equipment on the edges of town.  You’ll find the lumber company’s Steam Engine #2 in the city park; nearby are the Municipal Auditorium and the local museum (open Saturdays and Sundays, 1-4 PM excluding holidays, at 18663 Carter Street, (209) 928-3516; http://tuolumnemuseum.wordpress.com/). Visit the Tuolumne-band of the Miwuk Indian’s Black Oak Casino, just a mile away (www.BlackOakCasino.com).

Dining, lodging, camping options: Both Columbia and Sonora offer quick to gourmet dining options.  While Columbia and Tuolumne City offer no overnight accommodations, nearby Sonora offers many motels, hotels, bed and breakfasts and a number of good to fine restaurants. Black Oak Casino also offers hotel accommodations, several cafes and a fine restaurant, the Seven Sisters. Campgrounds can also be found along Highway 49, and up Highway 108 in the Sierras.

Nearby attractions: Pardee Lake, Comanche Lake and New Hogan Reservoir are all just west, for further exploration and fishing ventures.  Black Chasm Caverns and the Parrotts Ferry Bridge (with the sag in the middle) are just north west of Columbia, the caverns offer a wonderful opportunity for would-be spelunkers to ply their craft.

What to bring: Binoculars and camera, of course, water and snacks, a good map or GPS unit and comfortable walking shoes. 

How to get there: To reach Columbia, just 1.5 hours from Stockton; go east on Hwy. 4, then south on Hwy. 49 and watch for the Columbia turn-off. Sonora and Tuolumne City are further south down Hwy. 49.

What’s nearby:

To plan your visit, go to www.visitcolumbiacalifornia.com or call the State Park at (209)-588-9128.  For Sonora and Tuolumne City insight, go to the Tuolumne County Chamber of Commerce, www.tcchamber.com, or call 209.532.4212.
Next week, we will share insight on touring California with tiny trailers; teardrops, vintage trailers and other small camping rigs! 

For additional travel destination inspiration, see my blog: http://blogs.eSanJoaquin.com/valleytravel; or contact me, tviall@msn.com. 

Happy travels in the west!

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Traveling light; almost all your necessities in a daypack


Collect all your "must take" travel gear, stow it in your favorite daypack - and you are ready to travel on a moment's notice!

If you like to travel frequently, like we do, you need to be ready to depart when the mood strikes you. 

Here in central California, just 90 minutes from the San Francisco Bay Area, Napa Valley, coastal mountains, the Sierra foothills; two-plus hours from Lake Tahoe, Yosemite and the north California coast; the urge to travel hits us regularly! We aim to have just about everything we need for a quick day-trip or weekend trip packed in a ready-to-go backpack. Items within include, clockwise from top right, two hats o(n top of the backpack), two sets of binoculars, a couple of books including “Travel Writing” (of course), battery charger, cell phone accessories, exterior cell phone battery pack, a mini stuff sack, reading glasses and sunglasses, extra keys, water bottle, sunblock, mini umbrella, light gloves. In the center, two bandanas and small first aid kit.  And, if into Canada or Mexico, passports!

During the winter months, we also add other items including tire chains, a couple plastic bags which can double as rain gear, additional winter jackets and gear.  We also pack maps, cell phone, camera, snacks, drinks – and corkscrew!

So, freshen up that travel pack, and get planning!  For more travel inspiration, see my blog, www.blogs.esanjoaquin.com/valleytravel, or write me at tviall@msn.com

Enjoy those travels in our lovely west!

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California Gold Rush, top destinations in central CA (Part II; Sutter Creek, Jackson, Moke Hill, San Andreas)

The Leger Hotel in Mokelumne Hill is open to guest lodging and offers fine dining in a splendid historic dining room!

Historic church in Mokelumne Hill dates to the Gold Rush years.

The Hotel Sutter/Bellotti Inn in Sutter Creek is one of the oldest, contiually operated hotels in the state!

The old Knight Foundry in Sutter Creek, powered by water-power, was in continuous operation from Gold Rush days right up to 2010!

The Mokelumne River separates Jackson from Mokelumne Hill; this photo is shot at a pretty riverfront park, good for scenic views and fishing!



The historic east side of downtown Mokelumne Hill survived the fires that ravaged much of the city.

Last week’s feature homed in on the Hwy. 49 Gold Rush trail from Coloma south to Amador City.  This week, we continue on Hwy. 49, southbound.

Two years before gold was discovered at Coloma in 1848, John Sutter sent out a party from Sacramento in search of timber. They found a grove rich in sugar pine and named one of the nearby streams Sutter’s Creek. With the gold discovery, placer mining spread over Sutter Creek, quite a village sprang up and deep rock mining of rich ore deposits soon followed.

Incorporated in 1854, Sutter Creek was home to several hotels, saloons, dry-goods shops and churches. Today, Sutter Creek is one of the best-preserved of the California Gold Rush towns. Quaint Main Street (part of Highway 49 until a bypass skirted traffic around the city a few years ago) offers a walkable stretch with a wealth of historic buildings dating from the 1850s.

Some of the more impressive include the Hotel Sutter/Bellotti Inn. Opened in 1860, it is one of the oldest hotels still in continuous operation in the state. The American Exchange Hotel preceded the Bellotti on this site, opening in 1858 and soon replaced by the Bellotti.

Two blocks south, Sutter Creek Methodist Church was constructed in 1861, under leadership of Rev. I. B. Fish, and incorporated in 1862; the steeple was added in 1976 (church located at the corner of Main and Church). Main Street offers scores of historic edifices, many of them marked by plaques offering historical anecdotes – all of them home to busy shops, restaurants and wine-tasting rooms.

Just three blocks east of Main on Eureka is the old Knight Foundry. It was the only water-powered foundry in the US, that, until a few years ago, was in continuous operation since 1873. Sam Knight designed the water wheel which was used world-wide, often powering early hydroelectric plants throughout California, Utah and Oregon.

Seven-foot versions of the Knight water wheel powered the big stamp mills in gold mining days. The 42 inch model, used on Sutter Creek on the south side of the foundry, helped in manufacture of the heavy dredge buckets used on the San Francisco Bay, San Joaquin Delta and Seattle harbors, then hauled by freight wagon and mule teams to the railroad and shipped to their destination.

Sutter Creek is home to a baker’s dozen of bed and breakfasts and motels, with scores of quaint shops and restaurants.  Take in the entire street scene with lunch on the second floor veranda of the Hotel Sutter/Bellotti)!

From Sutter Creek, head south on Hwy. 49 to Jackson, then south again to Mokelumne Hill and San Andreas! 
Jackson is county seat and a very vibrant old and new town.  Check out old Main Street, deep in Sierra gold history, for a variety of cute shops, and stop at the National Hotel at the south end of Main.  Built in 1852 and visited by many noteworthy guests over its history, this Gold Rush Hotel was extensively renovated a few years ago; stop in Stanley’s Steakhouse in the hotel’s lower level for libation or lunch. 

Once refreshed, visit the old Kennedy Mine and the historic Kennedy Mine Tailing Wheel #4, for a dramatic dose of early mining history.  And, if you like the casino scene, the Jackson Rancheria Casino is a big part of “new Jackson”. 

Continue south on Hwy 49 to the wonderful old town of Mokelumne Hill.  Along the way to “Moke Hill” you cross the Mokelumne River; just across the bridge is a lovely riverfront park where you can get an up-close view of the river (fishing options, too).  At the top of the hill is the old town, with a variety of well-preserved Gold Rush buildings. 

Check out the Hotel Leger; a portion of the building served as Calaveras County Courthouse from 1852 to 1866.  When the courthouse was moved to San Andreas, George Leger made it part of his hotel; and when fire damaged the building it was restored in 1879 and renamed the Hotel Leger.  Today if offers quaint rooms and delicious meals in its Whitewater Grill.  Take the time to walk the four blocks of old Moke Hill and you will feel the ghosts of Gold Rush days!

San Andreas is next-up on Hwy. 49; Mexican miners settled here in 1848 and initially found rich placer discoveries.  After those petered out, an underground river bed was struck, leading to even richer treasures that allowed the town to rebuild after devastating fires in 1858 and 1863.  The riches discovered nearby greatly contributed to California’s financial backing of the Union in the Civil War.  Today the town offers a wealth of quaint buildings reaching back to the 1860s, including the 1867 County Courthouse.

How to get to Sutter Creek: From Stockton, go east on Hwy. 88, then left on Hwy. 49 to Sutter Creek (it’s about an hour).  Jackson, Mokelumne Hill and San Andreas are south on Hwy. 49; start early if you want to make this Gold Rush circuit in one day!  From San Andreas, return on Hwy. 12, which takes you back to Hwy. 88 and Stockton.

Nearby attractions: Pardee Lake, Comanche Lake and New Hogan Reservoir are all just west, for further exploration and fishing ventures.  Black Chasm Caverns offer a wonderful opportunity for would-be spelunkers to ply their craft.

Where to stay: All these quaint towns have a host of motel, hotel and bed and breakfast accommodations, as well as one-of-a-kind restaurants, bakeries, grocery stores and other places to gather provisions.

What to bring: Binoculars and camera, of course, water and snacks, a good map or GPS unit and comfortable walking shoes. 

For more information: Sutter Creek, www.suttercreek.org; the site also offers a host of annual events, such the Summer Music Fest in August, call 209-267-1344. For Jackson, check the city’s web site, http://ci.jackson.ca.us/ or call 209.223.1646.  For Mokelumne Hill, http://mokehill.org/; for San Andreas, http://san-andreas.ca.city.ws. 

Next week, we will bring you another installment on nearby Gold Rush towns; we’ll head south to Angel’s Camp, Columbia, Sonora and beyond! 

For additional travel destination inspiration, see my blog: http://blogs.eSanJoaquin.com/valleytravel; or contact me, tviall@msn.com. 

Happy travels in the west!

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Parrotts Ferry Bridge…a sagging story to tell!

In this view of the Parrotts Ferry Bridge, you can see the beams added in the center portion, to prevent further sagging of the graceful, arched bridge.

Parrotts Ferry Bridge; look closely and you will see the center arch’s sag (as well as the very low water in New Melones Lake).

Gold Rush explorers taking Hwy E-18 between Vallecito and Columbia in the central Sierra foothills get both a scenic drive, and cross the interesting Parrotts Ferry Bridge, arching (and sagging) high over New Melones Reservoir.

The bridge is a graceful structure that crosses the reservoir; at 640 feet, the main span is made of prestressed concrete beams and is one of the longest of its kind in the US.  Built between 1976 and 1979, it was also one of the earlier bridges built with lightweight concrete.  Alarmingly, the central span developed a noticeable sag in the months after the bridge’s opening.  After further sagging, a steel brace was placed under the center of the bridge to halt further droop, and the bridge has performed just fine since.  As you drive over the bridge, or, on the approach from either direction, you’ll see the sag in the middle of the bridge.   Fear not, Caltrans deems if safe and sound!

You’ll also get a bird’s eye view of the huge reservoir, down more than 100 feet from normal in the drought of the last three years.

Nearby attractions: Black Chasm Caverns offer a wonderful opportunity for would-be spelunkers to ply their craft (it’s just two miles northwest of the bridge), fishing in New Melones Lake; and, Columbia State Historic Park is just further south of the bridge.

What to bring: Binoculars and camera, of course, water and snacks, a good map or GPS unit and comfortable walking shoes. 

Watch my blog on Friday for a special feature on the Gold Rush towns of Sutter Creek, Jackson and Mokelumne Hill. For additional travel destination inspiration, see my blog: http://blogs.eSanJoaquin.com/valleytravel, or write to me at tviall@msn.com

Happy travels in the west!

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California’s Gold Rush…the trail is nearby in Mother Lode (Coloma, Placerville, Plymouth, Fiddletown to Amador City)


Coloma's replica of John Sutter's Mill is based on a variety of sources. They include a drawing by John Marshall, old photographs and excavations of the original saw mill site, now inundated by waters of the American River.

Between 1850 and 1883, Coloma was home to a large Chinese population. Chinese merchants supplied many of the goods and implements used by the miners; after the huge 1883 fire, most of the Chinese moved on to new locations. These two stone buildings are all that remain of the early China camp.
A Placerville favorite restaurant, Powell’s Steamer Company is housed in an 1890′s building on Placerville’s main downtown thoroughfare.
The Fiddletown Community Center, with giant fiddle over the entrance, is a backdrop for thousands of photos; last time we were there, the center was hopping with a pancake breakfast for area residents!
Fiddletown’s Chew Kee Chinese Apothecary is an example of a rammed-earth building dating to the 1850s
Amador City’s Keystone Mine was founded in 1853, and this wonderful building was the mining company headquarters (the mine is across Hwy 49 and about a ¼ mile into the Sierra foothills). It remained productive until closed in 1942 due to the war effort.
Amador City’s original wooden Imperial Hotel burned in 1878 and was rebuilt and enlarged after the fire. Today it is carefully restored and serves as both hostelry and dining room; visit the Oasis Bar for a travel respite! Just behind the hotel is the Amador Cemetery with graves of pioneers dating back more than 150 years.

In the 1840s, Sacramento’s Captain John Sutter hired members of a Mormon battalion to fan out and develop saw mills to supply lumber to his growing empire.  One was James Marshall, who chose Coloma (the Nisenan Indians knew the area as Cullumah), on the banks of the South Fork of the American River, to cut timber and mill lumber. 

Marshall’s discovery of flakes of gold in the saw mill’s tailrace ignited the largest mass movement of people in the USA and Western Hemisphere to California.  Mormons built cabins in Coloma (several are preserved at the Marshall Gold Discovery Park in Coloma); two occupants kept a journal, fixing the date of discovery of gold as January 24, 1848.

Gold would change the course of the nation and speed California’s place in the Union.  Soon, Coloma would swell to hundreds of residents, then thousands!  A large Chinese community developed, providing food, supplies, hardware and other items to the voracious miners.  Coloma would add scores of stores, restaurants and taverns, a jail, then a larger jail and boomed until the gold began to pan out.  

Today, visitors can see a replica of the old saw mill that Sutter commissioned, the Mormon cabin and over 20 historic buildings including the jail, mining digs, stamp mills that crushed quartz so gold could be mined, houses, blacksmith shop and old stores.  

The Marshall Gold Discovery State Historic Park, just two hours from Stockton, should be a “first stop” for any visitor, or Californian, seeking to understand the gold fever that brought tens of thousands of new immigrants to the state for riches.  California’s population would jump from 100,000 in 1850 to over 400,000 by the 1860s!

From Coloma, head south on Hwy. 49, reaching first the old “Hang Town”, Placerville, with its quaint and historic downtown.  You will find the downtown eminently walkable; for a good lunch stop try the Powell’s Steamers Restaurant in an 1890s building.

Heading further south, you soon reach Plymouth, which traces its history to the 1870s when prospectors stopped there in search of quartz and gold. For gourmet travelers, the new Taste Restaurant in Plymouth is a must-stop, drawing rave reviews from around the region. The city has a cute public park with bandstand, the old Plymouth Hotel and other eateries, all grouped along several blocks.

From Plymouth, take a detour 8 miles east on Fiddletown Rd. to Fiddletown; which predates Plymouth. Established by prospectors from Missouri in 1849, it quickly grew in the 1850s and 1860s as a center of trade for many mines located nearby.

Miners were known, during the dry season when water for their hydraulic mining ran low, to just “fiddle around”, hence the town’s name. During the city’s boom years, it numbered almost two dozen businesses, a handful of taverns, blacksmith shops, bakeries and restaurants. With a post office, church and school, it was a full-fledged city. The town soon grew to over 2,000 residents, with over half Chinese, who worked the mines and operated many businesses.

While touring the several remaining blocks of old Fiddletown, be sure to check out the Chew Kee Apothecary (a rare “rammed earth” building dating to the 1850s), the other old Chinese merchant buildings, C. Schallhorn’s Blacksmith and Wagon Store and the Fiddletown Community Center with the giant fiddle over the door!

Amador City, just south and two miles off Highway 49, is one of the earliest Gold Rush boom towns.   A well-outlined historic walking tour offers glimpses of life in the 1850-60s era, and many of the town’s oldest buildings and mining sites are preserved. 

Gold was first discovered in nearby Drytown, and soon mining claims and mines cropped up along Amador Creek; Amador City grew to thousands of miners, shopkeepers and restaurant/saloon workers.  In 1853, the Keystone Mine was formed by consolidating several smaller claims.  It would produce about $25 million in gold, and soon the main shaft would reach some 2,600 feet into the Sierra hillsides.  A new vein was discovered in 1866, and the mine would continue high productivity until if finally closed in 1942.

Today the city boasts many historic buildings now home to shops, restaurants and overnight accommodations.  You will find a fine walking-tour map on the city’s website, complete with capsule summaries of 24 top attractions, including boutiques, antique stores,  a soda fountain, upscale bakery and fine-dining options. 

How to get to Coloma: From Stockton, take I-5 North to Sacramento, go east on Hwy 50 to Placerville, then north eight miles on Hwy 49 to Coloma.  It’s about two hours from Stockton.  From there, follow Hwy. 49 south to Placerville, Plymouth (an 8 mile detour on Fiddletown Rd. to Fiddletown) and Amador City. You can make this Gold Rush circuit in one day, but, start early!

Nearby attractions: The Shenandoah Valley outside of Plymouth and Fiddletown boasts  30 wineries offering tastings and tours.   Black Chasm Caverns offer a wonderful opportunity for would-be spelunkers to ply their craft, and fishing in New Melones Lake is just south down Hwy. 49.

Where to stay: Most of these towns have a host of motel, hotel and bed and breakfast accommodations.  These same towns have many restaurants, delicatessens, bakeries, grocery stores and other places to gather provisions.

What to bring: Binoculars and camera, of course, water and snacks, a good map or GPS unit and comfortable walking shoes. 
For more information: For Coloma, see web site: http://www.parks.ca.gov/?page_id=484.  The Marshall Gold Discovery Museum and Visitor Center phone is 530-622-3470; address, 310 Back Street, Coloma, CA 95613.  For info on Plymouth and Fiddletown, http://www.historichwy49.com/amador/plymouth.html.  For Amador City: www.amador-city.com/, or phone the city staff, 209-267-0682.

For additional travel destination inspiration, see my blog: http://blogs.eSanJoaquin.com/valleytravel, or write to me at tviall@msn.com

Happy travels in the west!



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Traveling? Check out, and get, those recommended vaccinations!

If you’re traveling, get your shots!

I’m not just talking about malaria, tuberculosis shots and others required for trips to Thailand and the like. I’m talking about needed vaccinations if you’re in a certain risk group. Vaccines that can stave off the flu, meningitis, pneumonia, shingles and the like (see www.cdc.gov for a good list).

On June 30, I came down with, first, incredible toothache, in an upper left molar. Saturday and Sunday, between stabbing pains every six seconds, all I could do was dream of getting to the dentist and having a tooth pulled or root canal the following Monday.

Despite popping a dozen and a half ibuprofen over the weekend, by Monday the pain had moved to general jaw pain and in the roof of my mouth, lip, upper lip and lower cheek I was starting to pop out in what I thought were “fever blisters”.

I saw my dentist, first, and he, along with my Kaiser Permanente Doctor, suspected either bacterial or viral infection. At Kaiser, the tests came back confirming shingles, the adult continuation of chickenpox.

I now am three weeks and two days into this bout with the zoster shingles virus. And it’s been a variety of “shades of miserable”. From toothache, earache, jaw-ache and continuing headaches and facial swelling, most of my month of July has been “down the toilet”.  Not much sleep, little appetite (though I have lost 12 pounds) and low energy.

I finally appear to be coming out of it (normal duration is 2 to 4 weeks, though symptoms can last far longer), and I am thankful that this didn’t happen to me in the midst of a long trip we have planned later this summer.

Worst, upon my second appointment at Kaiser Permanente, I was given a list of “recommended and received” vaccinations. Of about eight of them recommended to me by KP, the only one that was recommended (upon my turning age 60) that I did not have was shingles. I never got around to it. Big mistake.

So if you’re in a risk group (in particular if you are 60 or older) or have other recommended vaccinations – get them! Don’t risk a well planned vacation – ruined. If you don’t, you might want to get trip cancellation insurance and prepare for a miserable time!

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Stockton/San Joaquin County, CA “hidden gems” list, Part II


The Stockton Empire Theatre anchors the southern end of the Miracle Mile in Stockton, and is home to a long stretch of quaint shops and gourmet restaurants.

Richmaid is a vintage diner on Cherokee in Lodi, the perfect place for breakfast or a lunch stop on your tour of the Lodi/Woodbridge Wine Grape Appellation!
This demonstration/teaching vineyard is part of the Lodi Wine and Visitor’s Center in Lodi!
UOP’s campus is a great place for quiet cycling, and, the location of the San Joaquin Bike Fest, coming on Saturday, Sept. 27 (detail at www.sjbikefest.org).
DeRosa University Center on the University of Pacific campus is the center of student activity, and a great place to bike or walk for a cool drink or snack!

In our working careers, my spouse and I have lived in five interesting cities (Spokane, WA, my wife’s hometown, San Mateo, Sacramento, Toledo, OH, and Stockton).  We lived in each of those cities for 2.5 years or longer, and upon departure from the first four, realized that, of their great sights and scene-stealers, we had probably only seen 50 to 75%.  What a shame, we now reflect – and have vowed not to let that happen again. 

Hence, we resolved not to miss those stellar attractions in Stockton and San Joaquin County – those places you would take guests to show off your hometown.  Why not start your own list, and check them off as you visit them?  Along the way, you’ll come to appreciate and understand our fine community all the better!  This continues our “must-sees” of Stockton and San Joaquin County, an article that ran last Sunday in the Record and can be found on my blog.

Last week we shared highlights of the Haggin Museum and Victory Park, the Downtown Stockton waterfront, the San Joaquin Delta and the Micke Grove Park/Zoo/San Joaquin Historical Society and Museum. For kid’s activities we suggested the Stockton Children’s Museum and Pixie Woods at Lewis Park,

Here is the second half of our list of “Stockton/San Joaquin County’s hidden gems”:

Miracle Mile, shops and restaurants: The Miracle Mile, on Pacific from Harding Way north to the University of Pacific campus and Calaveras River, was Stockton’s original suburban shopping center. Today it is resurgent as home to scores of quaint, walkable shops and some of the city’s finest restaurants.  Stroll the Mile on a Saturday and stop for food or drink at favorite places like Centrale, Whiskey Barrel Tavern, CoCoRo, Mile Wine Company, The Ave, Valley Brew and many more.  Not to be missed on the Mile is the Stockton Art League’s Goodwin Gallery, located at 1902 Pacific Avenue, a non-profit gallery supporting local artists at this location for 13 years.  For insights, www.stocktonmiraclemile.com. 

Lodi/Woodbridge wine country and varied wineries: Start in west Lodi at the Lodi Wine and Visitor’s Center at the corner of Lower Sacramento and Turner Road.  From there, fan out to visit some of more than 80 local wineries that have put wine tourism on the map over the last 25 years.  Throughout the season, a variety of festivals of wine, chocolate, music, good food and more offer many opportunities to tickle your palette!  Check the summer music festivals at Jessie’s Grove Winery or fun reviews at McConnell Estates Winery.

During your tour, stop for breakfast at Richmaid on Cherokee Lane, or lunch in downtown Lodi (one of the Valley’s gems of reborn downtowns).  You’ll find reliable choices such as Lodi Beer Company, Rosewood Grill and School Street Bistro all on School Street.  For more info on Lodi’s wines, www.lodiwine.com, or www.visitlodi.com.

University of Pacific campus: For theater, performing arts, sports, provocative lectures, adult education, bike trail convergence, UOP’s beautiful Ivy-League-like campus was the site for the filming of a dozen or more great Hollywood movies (like Raiders of the Lost Ark).  It’s a compact, walkable and bikeable campus (the Calaveras Bike Trail runs along the north edge of the entire UOP campus).  Stop at Burns Tower for a parking pass and a campus map, tour the shady campus, and stop for a drink or snack at the DeRosa University Center. 

During your tour, stake out the locations of the Long Theatre, Faye Spanos Concert Hall, Spanos Center and other key venues for future returns for theatre, performing arts, sports and more.  Info, www.pacific.edu.

Ethnic dining: Stockton is blessed with dining diversity like no city closer than Los Angeles, so get creative in your culinary tastes!  My list could offer scores of good choices, but downtown is rich in diversity (Cancun, Casa Flores, King’s House, On Lock Sam, Yasoo Yani, Bottley’s Barbecue, more, see www.downtownstockton.org), as well as the Miracle Mile (Suzy’s Mexican, Saigon, CoCoRo, New Wok Inn, Siamese Street, see www.stocktonmiraclemile.com) and many more throughout the city.  With such culinary and ethnic dining diversity, why not skip past the national chains and eat local?

Cultural celebrations: Throughout the year, our city and county offers up scores of celebrations of our cultures and many ethnicities.  The Stockton Obon Festival is one not to miss, on Saturday, August 2 at the Stockton Buddhist Temple, stocktonbuddhisttemple.org.  Soon to come are the Fiipino Barrio Festival, Aug. 9/10, Reggae Fest on the Delta at the Breadfruit Tree, August 23, the Greek Festival at St. Basil’s Church, Sept. 5, the Lodi Grape Festival, Sept. 11, the Record’s Family Day at University Park, Sept 20, San Joaquin Bike Festival, Sept. 27 and many more. 

While you are enjoying local entertainment, don’t overlook Wednesday night free concerts in Victory Park through end of August, the monthly free movies at Weber Point, classic films presented monthly at the Bob Hope/Fox CA Theatre, wonderful theater staged at Stockton Civic Theater and more. Immerse yourself in our many community celebrations and learn more about your neighbors!  Go to www.visitstockton.org for a comprehensive list of community events and cultural celebrations.

Please offer up your own “don’t miss short list” and send them on to me (tviall@msn.com); I’ll  visit many of those “musts” and include some in a future article or blog.  For additional travel destination inspiration, see my blog: http://blogs.eSanJoaquin.com/valleytravel. 

Happy travels in the west!

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    Tim Viall

    Viall is a local travel writer; he retired in late 2012 after almost 10 years as executive director of Stockton's Emergency Food Bank and six years with the Downtown Stockton Alliance. Before that, a 21-year career in daily newspapers helped shape ... Read Full
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