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Sonora

California’s Gold Rush Country

July 11, 2012 by · 2 Comments 

Rafting with OARS on the American River in California

Rafting with OARS

(Note from Lee Foster: Here is an update for my current Gold Country article. The newest subjects, rafting and Gold Country photographer Larry Angier, are placed here at the top as well as embedded. I will soon develop an article focused totally on rafting.)

By Lee Foster

Rafting the American River with OARS

The Gold Country presents some of the finest river rafting possible in California. Ironically, the start of this rafting is on the American River, near the original Gold Discovery site, at Coloma.

The South Fork of the American River is the river of choice for more rafters than any other waterway in the state. That’s partly because the Class III rapids have plenty of excitement and the water flow is a dependable release from an upstream dam. The river also passes through a particularly scenic environment, the American River Gorge, which has been preserved in its rustic beauty, aided especially by nature enthusiasts working with the American River Conservancy.

One dependable provider of a river rafting experience is OARS, founded back in 1969 by rafting pioneer George Wendt. OARS launches its rafts in the town of Lotus (adjacent to Coloma) at the River Park Adventure Campground. You can camp there on the night before and after your trip if you wish. Some of their campsites have views of the river. If you end up liking rafting, OARS can be a company to stick with. They have rafting trips on other California and western states rivers, including the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon. As you swirl through the eleven named rapids from Coloma to Folsom Lake, the photo experts at Hotshot Imaging have their photographers poised to capture you in the splashiest moment. Your Hotshot images can be purchased on a CD as a memento of the day.

For the traveler looking for lodging before or after a river trip, the area has options. The upscale and romantic Eden Vale Inn offers just about everything a B&B fan could want, including attractive modern rooms, a garden-like country setting with a pond, and a sumptuous breakfast. More basic rooms are possible at the Sierra Nevada House, an historic road-house ambiance. A beer and a roast pork dinner on the deck at the Sierra Nevada House can be a pleasant aspect of a rafting trip. Their lively bar is the regional watering hole.

The Gold Country Photographer

Almost every area of California has one or two dedicated photographers who take it upon themselves to celebrate the place. In the Gold Country, one leading image creator is Larry Angier. He focuses especially on Amador County, and many consider him “Amador County’s Photographer.”

His work is permanent on display at the American Exchange Hotel, Sutter Creek, and the Jackson Rancheria Resort and Casino Hotel, Jackson. If passing through, stop in and ask to see his images. Both hotels feature his photography of Amador County. Public venues such as this are where Larry tends to make contact with admirers who later become collectors.

Larry Angier lives in Jackson and travels rural America in search of images. He has also concentrated recently on Greece and Serbia, photographing people, places and the cultural landscape.

At his studio in Jackson, California, Angier crafts electronically his custom-created photographs into both fine-art prints and canvas in a digital print lab. His photography spans a career of more than 40 years, mostly based in the Mother Lode.

Larry’s editorial photography appears in magazines such as Range, VIA, and Nevada. Local tourism promoters such as Sutter Gold Mine, Amador Vintners, and Amador Council of Tourism feature his commercial photography regularly. Recent books showcasing his work include “This Land of the Free” (2008), “Red Meat Survivors” (2010), and “Go West” (2012).

His work is included in the collections of the University of the Pacific, National Steinbeck Center, and the Museum of Northeastern Nevada. Recent exhibitions include his Mission Portfolio at the National Steinbeck Center, Salinas (2009-2013).

You might enjoy Larry’s work on his website or Facebook page.


California’s Gold Rush Country – Images by Lee Foster

California’s Gold Rush Country

(Here is the full article, including the new elements, indicated above.)

By Lee Foster

California’s Gold Rush Country, three hours by car east from San Francisco, offers you the excitement that James Marshall felt when he first discovered gold nuggets at a sawmill on the American River in 1848. You can trace the path along Highway 49 that thousands of gold seekers followed in the decade after Marshall’s discovery. Gold Rush Country functions as a massive outdoor living museum, 300 miles long and about 20 miles wide if you begin at Mariposa in the south and drive north beyond Sierraville.

Today you can bathe in the nostalgic memories of the wild mining era while gazing at the many preserved buildings from the Gold Rush, one of the most frenzied voluntary migrations in human history. You can lodge in old Gold Rush era hotels or Victorians that are now B&Bs, visit the intriguing museums, poke about the small towns, and, if you are ambitious, even pan for flakes of your own (there is a well-salted panning operation at Columbia).

The actual world of the Gold Rush was a time of hardship, fueled by the vision of a Mother Lode with rich ore-bearing earth. The miners were willing to endure hours of tedious work in icy Sierra streams to secure a few nuggets. For every lucky miner, a hundred failed. Costs were high, with a slice of bread going for a dollar, a shirt for $50, and a plain shovel for as much as $100. The enduring wealth of the mining era rested in the pockets of shopkeepers, who could charge what the market would bear for their goods. Illustrious California names, such as Mark Hopkins, started their fortunes here, selling hardware and vegetables.

The mining era turned brutal and ugly for those not certified as white Americans. Prejudice and avarice combined as the white Americans physically forced off or else taxed off the Mexican, Chilean, and Chinese miners. Miners from other countries played major roles in the development of the Gold Country and the West in general.

Mexican miners from the state of Sonora, with their considerable experience in silver mining, were among the first to work the southern area of the Gold Country. The name Sonora on the map or the name Mariposa, Spanish for butterfly, suggests their presence. The numerous Chinese miners later became the work force that helped build the railroads over the Sierra. In 1856 the mining town of Chinese Camp was populated with about 5,000 Chinese miners.

Now the setting is tranquil, the small towns pride themselves on their underdeveloped status, and you can almost feel cares slough off as you drive through these foothills of the Sierra Nevada Mountains.

Getting to the Gold Country

You can fly into San Francisco, 150 miles to the west, or Sacramento, which is closer, and rent a car. The most direct route to Columbia (a good starting point for a tour of Gold Rush towns) is east from Stockton on Highway 4. Highway 49 runs north and south through the heart of Gold Country. Without a car, it is extremely difficult to see the Gold Country.

Getting there today is easier than it was for the miners, who had three alternatives. From the eastern U.S. they could sail 15,000 miles around Cape Horn. Panama offered a shorter, but hotter and malaria-ridden crossing. The prospective miner could also push overland on wagon train paths, but these were, as yet, poorly marked. Weather and Indians were equally hostile. The bravado of the mining era can be read in the motto, “The cowards never started, and the weaklings died on the way.”

Gold Country History

History is the major pleasure of the region, enjoyable any time of the year. Summer is the busiest month. Autumn offers the attractive colors of the red oak and yellow maple leaves. Spring entices with an outpouring of wildflowers and a cultivated show at one site, Daffodil Hill, 13 miles from Sutter Creek via Shake Ridge Road.

Five major historical state parks and several small museums are a fitting focus for this history voyage, traveling south to north

Columbia State Historic Park, just north of Sonora off Highway 49, amounts to an entire Gold Rush town preserved and restored. There you can actually pan for gold today at the Matelot Mining Co. and receive a demonstration of how it was done. You can peer in through the iron shutters of the Wells Fargo Express Building and ride one of the stages that carried $87 million in gold dust back to San Francisco. Along your route the legendary robber, called Black Bart, may relieve the stage of its fortune.

While strolling about Columbia, you get a sense of what life was like for the 15,000 miners who lived here. A museum in the brick Knapp Building exhibits the different mining techniques. At the Old Franco cabin you’ll see what a typical miner’s domestic life was like. A walk through town will take you by a Mexican fandango dancing hall, a blacksmith shop, and the 1861 schoolhouse.

The Sierra Repertory Theatre performs at the Fallon House. Columbia is a major festival site in the Gold Country, with one prominent annual event, a Firemen’s Muster, occurring in May. During the muster you can see old firefighting equipment. The passionate practitioners of old-time firefighting skills compete against each other in bucket brigades, water pumping contests, ladder raising, and hose-cart relays. Fire was a constant worry in the tinder-dry, wooden Gold Rush towns. Other festivals here are the Columbia Diggins living history program in late May, a July 4 Celebration, and a Miner’s Christmas.

If you have time to visit only a single Gold Country site, start with Columbia. The town had 5,000 inhabitants in 1854, making it California’s second most populous community at the time. Four banks, eight hotels, two fire companies, 53 stores, and 40 saloons flourished here.

The historic City Hotel in Columbia is a premier Gold Country hostelry and dining room. Guest rooms are furnished with exquisite antiques. Hotel-management students from nearby Columbia College provide attentive service in the dining room.

Chaw Se, or Indian Grinding Rock State Historic Park, is also worth a stop. The park, on the road connecting Pine Grove with Volcano, is a state park devoted to Native American culture. There you’ll see how Indians ground the acorns into meal for hundreds of years, using mortars in over 1,200 holes they wore in a huge granite rock. Huge valley oaks, once the food producers, dominate the landscape. While women processed the acorns, the men hunted for deer in this western Sierra location. Bark tepee-like structures re-create the abodes of the Indians. A sweat house approximates their milieu for cleansing and social activity. A cultural center exhibits Indian crafts at this park, where you can also picnic and camp.

John Marshall’s Discovery

The Marshall Gold Discovery State Historic Park celebrates how the Gold Rush began. Located at Coloma, the site is where lumberman James Marshall slept and lived while he sawed logs for John Sutter’s substantial Sacramento settlement. At the site, the famous logging chute has been re-created. It was here that Marshall came running back to his workers with the news, January 24, 1848, after finding some gold grains in the settled water, saying, “Boys, I believe I have found a gold mine.”

Both Sutter and Marshall made extensive tests on the metal and sought to suppress the news once they learned the truth. But the story of gold was too enthralling to keep secret. When the rush of miners arrived, wealth eluded Marshall, who died an impoverished and disappointed man, but others were luckier. Near Columbia, for example, someone had the good fortune to find a solid gold nugget that weighed 195 pounds. The search for the Mother Lode, that vein of pure gold, had begun.

What is impressive about the Marshall Gold Discovery State Historic Park, and the Malakoff Diggins State Historic Park, to the north, is that the large acreage of the parks preserves the entire area. Most of the buildings are now mere memories, but a few remain, such as the red-brick Robert Bell Store. The Coloma Schoolhouse, a white wood structure, shows what a thriving waterfront community once existed here. The Visitor Center has a museum with some large gold nuggets, the stuff of miners’ dreams, and a restored Concord stagecoach, the plushest of the bone-jarring carriages that brought some folks overland to California. The sawmill has been re-created on the grounds near the river. Other gold-mining paraphernalia include stamp mills used to pulverize rock into more manageable sizes, from which the grains of gold could be extracted. Recreational gold panning occurs across the river, west of the bridge.

On a hill above the site is a monumental statue of James Marshall pointing down to where he discovered gold. Hikers will enjoy the three-mile round trip Monroe Ridge trail leading away from the monument site. From high points on the ridge you get a panoramic view of the valley. Within the Coloma historic area is a charming B&B, known as the Coloma Country Inn, with its own pond, ducks, and grassy lawns, a tranquil setting for a Gold Country getaway.

The Gold Rush transformed the area within a few months. By the summer of 1848 over 2,000 miners were sifting gravel from the stream. By 1849 Coloma boasted a population of 10,000 inhabitants.

Empire Mine

The Empire Mine State Historic Park, the richest gold mine in California, portrays the next phase of gold mining, finding the ore deep underground in quartz veins. The Empire Mine is intriguing both for what you see and don’t see. Above ground, at the Visitor Center, you gaze upon some marvelous examples of gold in quartz rock. You see the landscaped grounds of mine owner William Bourn. The architectural gem is Bourn’s “Empire Cottage,” a sumptuous stone building designed by noted architect Willis Polk. Adjacent to the Cottage is a rose garden with roses developed from ancient times to 1929. Above ground, you can also glimpse the remains of the mining apparatus, the machine shops and the stamp mill, used here for 106 years of operations.

You can peer 50 feet into the shaft of the mine, where the miners went down and the ore came out. What you don’t see, however, but which you can envision after you have viewed a scale model of the underground mine in the Visitor Center, are the 367 miles of underground passageways, sometimes descending over a mile deep and sprawling at all levels over a five square mile area, all underground. The secretly built model of all the underground tunnels was constructed by the mine engineers for the express purpose of determining the veins of gold and plotting where to tunnel next. Color-coated wire indicates the relative richness of the ore in each tunnel. Once you’ve seen the model, you can appreciate the maze-like unseen world below ground. The mineshaft, beyond a glimpse of the first few feet, is now closed to the public. At the Empire Mine some 5.8 million ounces of gold were removed.

Malakoff Diggins

A final state historic park is the scar and eyesore of the Gold Country, both visually and historically. In fact, this final park serves as an example of the most environmentally-degrading activities of man in California. The site is the Malakoff Diggins State Historic Park, 26 miles northeast of Nevada City. You can get there via Tyler-Foote Crossing Road off Highway 49.

Hydraulic mining was the technique used to seek gold at Malakoff, the world’s largest hydraulic gold mine. Huge nozzles, called monitors, were connected with elaborate ditches and flumes that diverted mountain streams. The nozzles blasted away at the gravel hillsides, washing down the soil. The washed pit at Malakoff is fully 7,000 feet long and 3,000 feet wide. As the gravel washed through sluices, the heavier gold could be separated. The environmental disaster was all the silt that remained in the water and proceeded downstream. Farms were flooded by clogged rivers as the stream beds filled in with silt. Thirty nine inches of mud accumulated at the bottom in parts of San Francisco Bay. The sight of a core sample of the bay bottom, with the mud finally giving way to oyster shells, suggests the magnitude of the silting. Legal curbs on hydraulic mining began in 1884.

Today the park encompasses 3,000 acres of oak woodlands, pine forests, and meadows. The white wooden buildings of the North Bloomfield town site, located in the park, have been restored and refurnished to show what life was like here in the 1870s.

The road to the Malakoff Diggins takes you through one of the wilder, unsettled areas of California. The safe road is the paved route up Highway 49 from Nevada City toward Downieville, with a turn toward Malakoff at Tyler-Foote Crossing Grade road. This road takes you through hilly back country with stunning views of endless forests and even a few snow-capped peaks of the Sierra in the background. The adventuresome road in, which could be your circular road back to Nevada City, is the drive to Malakoff along North Bloomfield Road. North Bloomfield is only for those with the temperament and the vehicle to negotiate a steep, winding, gravel road. Inquire locally to be sure the road is passable. If you’re up for it, this can be an exhilarating back-country drive through the Yuba River environs.

More History Stops

Aside from these major historical parks, there are also dozens of small museums. Consider some of these on your itinerary.

The Mariposa Museum and History Center, 12th and Jessie Streets in Mariposa, includes a stamp mill used to crush rock in search of gold, a monitor nozzle, and several horse-drawn vehicles from the mining era. While in town, be sure to see the stately Mariposa County Courthouse, the oldest courthouse still in use in California. The white-frame structure was built in 1854 and cost $12,000. You can tour the inside, including the courtroom with its original furniture.

The Tuolumne County Museum, on West Bradford Avenue in Sonora, was once the county jail. Like many Gold Country structures, it was consumed in flames in the 1850s and then rebuilt. Fire was the scourge of the hastily-built wooden mining towns, which explains why the fire company was such an important civil and social entity. The museum shows period clothing and historic photographs as well as the restored jail.

The Amador County Museum, on Church Street in Jackson, resides in the historic Brown house, a brick structure from 1859. The museum’s tour de force is an intricate working scale model of local mine structures. Among the museum holdings are clothing, household utensils, furniture, musical instruments, and literary evidence of mining era culture. The men who came to California to the mines were often the educated and prosperous sons of strong families. Sometimes the second son, who could not inherit the family land or business, was sent to seek his fortune in California.

The El Dorado County Historical Museum, at the county fairgrounds west of Placerville, boasts a restored Wells Fargo stagecoach, plus a re-creation of a turn-of-the-century store and kitchen. At the El Dorado County Museum many of the holdings can be seen outdoors, scattered around. The artifacts include a bark teepee structure, the dwelling of the local Nisean Indians, plus old and rusted mining equipment, aging stage coaches, and railroad cars in various stages of disintegration.

The Placer County Historical Museum in Auburn is housed in an architectural gem of the Gold Country, the Placer County Courthouse. This gold-domed structure stands forth regally, as befits the town through which the Central Pacific Railroad headed east into the mountains. Within the museum, be sure to see the gold nugget display in the gift shop and the elaborate Native American basketry in several glass cases. If a docent is on duty, ask to be shown the historic Sheriff’s Office, which is locked. Inside you’ll see the jail ledgers in which were kept the names of all those incarcerated, including a line describing their offense. Beyond the Courthouse, stroll through Auburn to see its antique stores and the statue to Claude Chama, the founding miner. The Placer County Visitor Information Center is east of town along Highway 80 at the Foresthill exit, 13460 Lincoln Way. The Visitor Center is a thorough information source for adventure travel in the region, especially for hiking, rafting, and skiing. Placer County extends all the way from the Gold Country to Lake Tahoe.

The Sierra County Historical Museum in Downieville is a stone structure of mortarless schist, with heavy iron doors and shutters. Such buildings withstood the frequent fires of the mining era. Built in 1852, the structure was originally a Chinese store and gambling house.

Gold Country Main Attractions

The pleasure of the Gold Country is partly that it rambles in an undefined manner, perfect for the explorer temperament of many travelers. Aside from the mentioned historic parks and museums, many discoveries, like hidden nuggets, await the visitor. Here are a few to keep in mind as you drive Highway 49.

Jamestown boasts a special rail attraction from the era after the Gold Rush. Called Railtown 1897 State Historic Park, the entity includes steam locomotives and cars from the Sierra Railway. You can board the train, called the Mother Lode Cannonball, for an hour-long scenic ride along 12 miles of track in an oak-laden terrain.

At Jackson you can see two huge wooden wheels used to carry buckets of water and debris from the Kennedy Mine. Originally there were four such wheels in place, each 58 feet in diameter. Together they could carry 500 tons of water and debris from the mines each day. The wheels can be seen at a park north of Jackson on Jackson Gate Road. The Kennedy and Argonaut Mines, among the richest and deepest in the Mother Lode, produced about $60 million in gold.

Architecturally, the Chew Kee Store in Fiddletown is unusual because it is of rammed earth construction. The walls are 2-1/2 feet thick. Built in 1850, the structure was a Chinese herb shop and home of Fiddletown’s last Chinese resident, Jimmy Chow, until his death in 1965.

Placerville was a major supply site for the miners. Several famous captains of industry had humble beginnings here. Railroad magnate Mark Hopkins, as mentioned earlier, sold vegetables. Philip Armour ran a butcher shop. John Studebaker ran a wheelbarrow shop, amassing capital for larger ventures. Collis P. Huntington, later a rail tycoon, managed a store here.

Nevada City

Nevada City is another pleasant Gold Country town to explore. As a sample of the serendipity here, you’ll stumble across the Nevada City Winery, known for its Zinfandel. Next door is the Miner’s Foundry, a museum with foundry equipment, but now transformed into a performing arts venue. On Main Street, you’ll happen on the Firehouse, a red brick building from 1861.

Down the street is Nevada City Anglers, heaven for the trout fisher, where guide service, flies, and all sorts of fly fishing paraphernalia can be enjoyed. At the end of Main Street is the historic National Hotel and Bar, said to be the longest continuously operating hotel in California. You might stop for a drink at this dark wood bar and admire its collection of mixed drink shakers. One favorite local restaurant on Main Street is Cirino’s. Nevada City is also known for its Victorian mansions, such as the Ott House, 450 Broad Street. The explorer will find many nuggets of pleasant experience while ambling through the Gold Country. Nevada City prides itself on what its historic district lacks–no turn signals and no neon. The streetlamps are still actual gas lamps.

Antique hunters will be delighted by the numerous stores selling varied wares throughout the Gold Country. Jackson has several antiques stores. Because of the patronage from travelers, many artists have also located in the Gold Country and sell directly to visitors.

Victorian architecture in churches and residences could be another focus of a Gold Country excursion. The red St. James Episcopal Church (1859) in Sonora and the Bradford House, across the street, are both fine examples of Gold Rush Victorian architecture. Grass Valley and Nevada City offer self-guided Victorian architecture walks. While walking Grass Valley, be sure to see the Lola Montez House, 248 Mill Street, which is now the Visitor Center for the region. As you stroll the town, stop in at the historic Holbrooke Hotel, 212 West Main Street, whose wooden bar is inviting and whose dining room is notable. One of the loveliest Victorian houses is the Frank Beatty residence, 403 Neal Street. Autumn is a particularly lovely time to walk Nevada City because the sugar maples are aflame with color. Sonora residents have organized a Sonora Heritage Home Tour. Brochures and maps are available locally for all these walks.

The most famous festival in these parts, aside from the Fireman’s Muster in Columbia, is the annual Calaveras County Fair and Jumping Frog Jubilee, held on a weekend in May. The Jumping Frog Jubilee honors Mark Twain and his story “The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County.” You can visit the cabin in Angels Camp where he lived while gathering California material for his stories. A statue at Angels Camp recalls the author, who came west with his brother Orion, failed at mining, and took up the pen to earn his livelihood.

One pleasure of the Gold Country is how the terrain changes as you amble along Highway 49. Between Placerville and Coloma you’re in orchard country, delightful at the spring blossom time. Mandarin oranges are a typical specialty crop. (A farm trails brochure listing local producers of fruits, vegetables, and herbs can be obtained from PlacerGROWN, 11477 East Avenue, in Auburn. Between Coloma and Auburn, the landscape becomes hilly and wild, pastures overgrown with blackberries and woodlands dense with oak trees. From Auburn to Grass Valley/Nevada City stretches an urban corridor of businesses, ranging from automobile sellers to supermarkets. Beyond Nevada City, the huge forests emerge again, with digger pines at the lower elevations, as you drive north to the cutoff into Malakoff Diggins State Historic Park.

Personalities have played a major role in the legends of the Gold Country. Aside from Twain, two of the most colorful were entertainer Lola Montez and robber Black Bart.

Lola Montez, who flourished in Grass Valley, arrived from Europe, where she had been the mistress of Ludwig of Bavaria, among others. Lola intrigued miners with her noted Spider Dance, during which fake cork spiders were shaken from her dress. She was famous as a beauty and as a singer.

Black Bart, aka respectable San Francisco citizen Charles E. Bolton, became a Robin Hood folk figure in California. Bart politely carried off 28 robberies before tripping up. His mode of operation was always the same. He waited alone, without even a getaway horse, along the road at an uphill spot where the horses slowed. His face was covered with a cloth flour sack that had holes cut for his eyes. He carried a blanket roll with an ax in it. With a shotgun, which he never fired and which was later found to be empty, Bart quietly asked the stage driver, “Would you throw down your treasure box, sir?” Bart never disturbed the passengers, except that he collected all their firearms. His argument was only with Wells Fargo, a company that he taunted with doggerel. With the ax, Bart would then cut open the box, remove the loot, and somehow disappear on foot in the woods. On his 29th robbery attempt, a passenger, who had been let off the stage to do some hunting, surprised Bart as he was opening the treasure box. Bart disappeared, but dropped a handkerchief with his identifying laundry mark, which was traced to a San Francisco laundry.

Lodging and Dining in the Gold Country

Because of its many fine Victorian homes, the Gold Country has become a prime B&B territory for the California explorer. A good example of such lodgings in Grass Valley is known as Murphy’s Inn, 318 Neal St. Murphy’s Inn delivers all the desired aspects of an ideal B&B experience. The house itself is architecturally interesting and dates from 1866, when one Edward Coleman flourished in the mining and logging business. The innkeepers are knowledgeable and sociable people who can guide you with suggestions about experiencing their area. The rooms, such as the West Suite, tend to have four-poster beds, floral wall paper and lace curtains, and a cruet of port waiting for you to sip. The establishment is of manageable size, eight rooms in two houses, across the street from one another. Breakfast is memorable, with warm orange rolls and egg casseroles. Satisfying B&Bs like Murphy’s Inn have created a whole subculture of B&B lodging aficionados in Northern California.

Many other early historic buildings have been turned into hotels. The City Hotel in Columbia, mentioned earlier, is another good choice. Other Gold Rush-era hostelries, which often include a restaurant, are worth considering. The Hotel Jeffrey in Coulterville, once a Mexican dance hall, dates to 1852. The Jamestown Hotel has been restored to its 1860s decor. Gunn House, in Sonora, was the home of newspaperman Lewis Gunn in the 1850s. Angel’s Hotel, in Angel’s Camp, had Mark Twain as a guest when he wrote some of his celebrated stories. It is no longer a hotel. The Hotel Leger in Mokelumne Hill was originally called the Hotel de France, built in 1851. Volcano’s St. George Hotel is a handsome three-story brick structure with wooden balconies. Nevada City’s National Hotel, from 1856, furnishes its guest rooms with 19th-century antiques and emphasizes a Victorian dining room and tavern. Several of the bed and breakfast lodgings in El Dorado County have banded together to present themselves as Historic Country Inns.

Rafting the American River with OARS

The Gold Country presents some of the finest river rafting possible in California. Ironically, the start of this rafting is on the American River, near the original Gold Discovery site, at Coloma.

The South Fork of the American River is the river of choice for more rafters than any other waterway in the state. That’s partly because the Class III rapids have plenty of excitement and the water flow is a dependable release from an upstream dam. The river also passes through a particularly scenic environment, the American River Gorge, which has been preserved in its rustic beauty, aided especially by nature enthusiasts working with the American River Conservancy.

One dependable provider of a river rafting experience is OARS, founded back in 1969 by rafting pioneer George Wendt. OARS launches its rafts in the town of Lotus (adjacent to Coloma) at the River Park Adventure Campground. You can camp there on the night before and after your trip if you wish. Some of their campsites have views of the river. If you end up liking rafting, OARS can be a company to stick with. They have rafting trips on other California and western states rivers, including the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon. As you swirl through the eleven named rapids from Coloma to Folsom Lake, the photo experts at Hotshot Imaging have their photographers poised to capture you in the splashiest moment. Your Hotshot images can be purchased on a CD as a memento of the day.

For the traveler looking for lodging before or after a river trip, the area has options. The upscale and romantic Eden Vale Inn offers just about everything a B&B fan could want, including attractive modern rooms, a garden-like country setting with a pond, and a sumptuous breakfast. More basic rooms are possible at the Sierra Nevada House, an historic road-house ambiance. A beer and a roast pork dinner on the deck at the Sierra Nevada House can be a pleasant aspect of a rafting trip. Their lively bar is the regional watering hole.

The Gold Country Photographer

Almost every area of California has one or two dedicated photographers who take it upon themselves to celebrate the place. In the Gold Country, one leading image creator is Larry Angier. He focuses especially on Amador County, and many consider him “Amador County’s Photographer.”

His work is permanent on display at the American Exchange Hotel, Sutter Creek, and the Jackson Rancheria Resort and Casino Hotel, Jackson. If passing through, stop in and ask to see his images. Both hotels feature his photography of Amador County. Public venues such as this are where Larry tends to make contact with admirers who later become collectors.

Larry Angier lives in Jackson and travels rural America in search of images. He has also concentrated recently on Greece and Serbia, photographing people, places and the cultural landscape.

At his studio in Jackson, California, Angier crafts electronically his custom-created photographs into both fine-art prints and canvas in a digital print lab. His photography spans a career of more than 40 years, mostly based in the Mother Lode.

Larry’s editorial photography appears in magazines such as Range, VIA, and Nevada. Local tourism promoters such as Sutter Gold Mine, Amador Vintners, and Amador Council of Tourism feature his commercial photography regularly. Recent books showcasing his work include “This Land of the Free” (2008), “Red Meat Survivors” (2010), and “Go West” (2012).

His work is included in the collections of the University of the Pacific, National Steinbeck Center, and the Museum of Northeastern Nevada. Recent exhibitions include his Mission Portfolio at the National Steinbeck Center, Salinas (2009-2013).

You might enjoy Larry’s work on his website or Facebook page.

Nearby Trips in the Gold Country

The Gold Country is sufficient territory to consider for a trip of several days exploration. Any number of side roads can be tempting. The region falls conveniently into a northern, central, and southern area. Nearby, you can also explore Yosemite National Park, Lake Tahoe, Sacramento, and the Delta.

Gold Country: If You Go

Contact the chambers of commerce/visitors bureaus from the respective areas for more detailed information on lodging, restaurants, and attractions. Moving south to north, the resources are:

Mariposa County Chamber of Commerce, http://www.mariposachamber.org/.

Tuolumne County Chamber of Commerce, http://www.tcchamber.com/.

Tuolumne County Visitors Bureau, http://www.tcvb.com/.

Amador County Chamber of Commerce, http://amadorcountychamber.com/.

El Dorado County Visitors Authority, at http://www.visit-eldorado.com.

Auburn Area Chamber of Commerce, http://www.auburnareawa.org/.

Grass Valley Chamber of Commerce, http://www.grassvalleychamber.com/.

This article is one of thirty chapters in Lee Foster’s book Northern California Travel: The Best Options.

See Lee’s four Northern California books/ebooks on his Amazon Author Page.

See Lee’s books/ebooks
on his Amazon Author Page and in Independent Bookstores

My main book/ebook on Northern California is Northern California Travel: The Best Options. San Francisco figures prominently in my book/ebook titled The Photographer’s Guide to San Francisco. Those volumes, including some more on California, can be seen on my Amazon Author Page. My further books on Northern California are Back Roads California and Northern California History Weekends. One of my California books, Northern California Travel: The Best Options, is now available as an ebook in Chinese.

Sonora

Eusebio Kino Country in Tucson, Arizona, and Sonora, Mexico

June 29, 2009 by · 2 Comments 

by Lee Foster

In the Sonoran desert of northwest Mexico and around Tucson, Arizona, a historical figure named Eusebio Kino has emerged with legendary dimensions.

Few Americans know his name, but his story is destined to be told.

In 1687 Kino arrived in the New World.

A visit to Kino country takes the traveler to one of Mexico’s lesser known desert areas. The trip carries you back to the 17th century, when the New World was indeed new, and the northwest Mexico desert was the fringe of civilization.

Who was Eusebio Kino? He was an extraordinary mapmaker, geographer, and missionary who was the first to prove that Mexican California was not an island but only the lower or “baja” part of an unexplored land mass.

The cattle baron of his day, Kino introduced the animal into the Sonora desert and bred herds to sizable numbers. To this day a fine restaurant in Mexico City will proudly advertise that its steaks are “Sonora beef.” Fiestas in the region celebrate the feats of vaquero horsemanship that Kino taught his ranchhands. He also supplied his missions with sheep and goats, plus the beast of burden, the burro. He advanced such skills as carpentry and blacksmithing, gardening and baking in this desert area.

Kino was an agriculturalist who brought wheat to a region that now exports the grain. He imported numerous vegetables and citrus, including the Mission Grape now used for Mexican brandies. Seeing that the Indians were already farmers, even using primitive irrigation to grow cotton, corn, and beans, he brought in apricots, figs, pears, peaches, and pomegranates.

As a friend of the Pima and other Indian tribes of northwest Mexico and Arizona, Kino has emerged less scathed than other Europeans at the hands of today’s revisionary historians.

He was a man with an astonishing physique that enabled him, even in his 60s, to ride 30 miles per day on his horse and then sleep soundly with only a saddle for a pillow and a blanket to take the chill off the desert night.

Earlier in life, as a mathematician, he had written a celebrated small book on comets. A gifted writer, he recorded his time of sweeping change in the region (1670-1711) in an autobiographical book, FAVORES CELESTIS.

The occasion for Kino’s presence in Sonora was his membership in the Jesuit missionary order, which sent him in 1687 to the forbidding desert and fertile river valleys of the northwest. Between then and his death in 1711, this capable executive founded 22 mission churches and numerous smaller branches, called visitas.

Born in Italy, educated at German Universities, financed partly by a Portuguese noblewoman, serving the Spanish crown, Kino was an internationalist who saw life as an adventure. His first geographic thirsts were for a place in the China missions, but the vicissitudes of orders from his superiors, which gave Kino ample opportunity to practice the virtue of obedience, placed him in northwest Mexico. There his motives were several, and he was one of those unique men who have an ability to expand their vision as their opportunities increase.

His purposes were more than narrowly apostolic, though he certainly had a compelling wish to bring the Indians what he regarded as good news, his story of Christ, as he traveled among the seven tribes in his thousand-mile parish.

When traveling northwest Mexico or southern Arizona, a visitor can savor one of history’s many ironies: Kino’s vision of Sonora as an economically self-sufficient region with an identity of its own is being realized only today, three centuries later.

KINO COUNTRY FROM TUCSON

Kino’s country is easily accessible. You can drive to it from Tucson, which is also the center for Kino studies.

The main scholar studying Kino is Charles Polzer of the University of Arizona’s Southwest Mission Research Center. Polzer’s book is KINO: HIS MISSIONS, HIS MONUMENTS (from Southwest Mission Research Center, Tucson, AZ). Herbert Bolton’s THE RIM OF CHRISTENDOM (Macmillan) remains the landmark biography of Kino.

Outside of Tucson, the white San Xavier del Bac mission, which Kino founded, is a major travel destination. Though the site was designated by Kino in 1700, the current structure was built by Franciscans 1783-1797. Franciscans have maintained their priestly role here except for the period 1823-1911.

Be sure to enter the ornate, rococo interior to witness the splendor of ornamentation. Within the church you can see the faith of the local c, whose graveyard, adjacent to the church, is a moving exhibit of man’s effort to make some sense of life. Major Indian festivals occur October 3 and December 2. On the Friday after Easter a re-enactment ceremony celebrates the founding of the mission.

From Tucson you can drive south into Mexico to see several more Kino missions.

If you have a chance to explore Kino country, make the trip in cool weather. Spring through June 15 and autumn after September 15 are cool enough. Winter is a delight. Summers are extremely hot.

MAGDALENA: SOUTH FROM TUCSON

Magdalena’s church of Santa Maria Magdalena de Buquivaba is celebrated as the burial site of Kino. There his exposed bones can be viewed under a pink sandstone dome, circled by a handsomely landscaped and tiled square.

For the Sonoran Mexican the Kino monument is a source of pride. I have found more Mexicans than U.S. travelers there on my three visits.

Late September-early October is a time of extensive and exciting fiesta activity for the feast of San Francisco Xavier, patron for both Kino and the church. This largest fiesta in northwest Mexico draws thousands of Indians, such as Arizona Papagos, who come here partly to fulfill a manda, or vow. They walk along Highway 15 from the border. The authorities set up First Aid stations to assist the pilgrims. Festivities peak October 2-4 when participants attend religious services and then regale themselves by eating, drinking, dancing, listening to the numerous bands, and parading in the street.

Kino collapsed in Magdalena during an afternoon chapel dedication on March 15, 1711. By midnight the life of this imposing figure had ended.

SAN IGNACIO: SIX MILES NORTH OF MAGDALENA

San Ignacio de Caborica is one of the treasures of the Sonora frontier. This white stuccoed church is thought by scholars to approximate Kino’s original Jesuit-style structure. Remodeling in 1775 and 1834 did not substantially alter the characteristic bell tower, facade, and mesquite log staircase.

Kino himself described San Ignacio as follows, “It has a very fine location, an admirable and pleasant plain and meadow, among the most beautiful to be found in all these provinces.”

To get there drive north from Magdalena six miles and then inquire locally at the town of Tasicuri about a passable dirt road leading 2.7 miles west to the church and village.

If you find this delightful small church closed, ask locally for the sacristana who will let you into the structure and the small adjoining museum.

In Kino’s time San Ignacio was an orientation place where new missionaries learned the Indian languages. Founded by Kino in 1687, as his second church, the village has been happily by-passed in the 20th century because the main highway lies to the east.

The annual fiesta of June 31 is a lively time to visit San Ignacio, which emphasizes the arts of horsemanship in its celebration.

CABORCA: WEST FROM MAGDALENA

The Caborca mission, La Purisima Concepcion de Nuestra Senora de Caborca, lies in the extremely productive valley of the Concepcion River. This oasis provides a sharp contrast with the desert, which is also delightful in its way because of organpipe cactus stands that rival those in the cactus national monument across the border in Arizona. East of town there are large plantings of safflower, grown for its oil, and mission grapes.

The church site dates from Kino’s time, but the present church was built later, 1803-1809. The edifice’s mixed Moorish and Baroque elements are sufficiently unique that the Mexicans have registered it as a national monument.

Kino regarded Caborca as the important supply base for expeditions farther west into the Colorado River area. At Caborca the Pima Indians revolted in 1695 and killed Kino’s cohort, Xavier Saeta, a Jesuit and Sicilian nobleman, in the first major altercation between Indians and missionaries in Sonora. Spanish soldiers met the uprising with draconian severity that saddened Kino.

The edifice weathered one 19th century indignity.

In 1857 the church withstood a curious historical aberration when a group of Arizona filibusterers under Henry A. Crabb, feeling that the Caborca area should no longer be Mexican, attacked the town. Local defenders holed up in the church, which prompted the Americans to riddle the facade with their rifle bullets. Crabb was promptly caught and shot.

East of Caborca, at the town of Altar, drive four miles north on the paved road to see the small branch church, or visita, at Oquitoa, which is typical of the stone Jesuit structures of Kino’s time, with their long narrow naves, sited on hills. Oquitoa village is the most rural vision of Mexican life on this trip.

KINO’S LEGACY TODAY

A main question today in Kino county is how he would have viewed the rapid modern development of the region.

“Kino was not opposed to growth and development,” said Charles Polzer. “But Kino would never have allowed gross exploitation. Kino brought in the new food plants and livestock that transformed the economy. But he saw man’s role here as one of stewardship, as man interacting with his environment, recreating and ordering the world, with enough discipline to achieve good. He was a humanist, a better-world person, a man of exceptional human vision. All his changes proceeded within the environmental limitations of the desert, especially the water supply. He was a practical realist. There are so many subtle aspects of living in tune with the desert.”

When asked to elaborate on how Kino lived in tune with the desert, Polzer describes Kino’s architecture.

“Kino’s mission architecture, for example, faced south to avoid the heat of summer,” says Polzer. “Fountains in the mission architecture served to humidify the air for comfort and to lower the temperature. Typically, we sit in an air-conditioned building and look out at a fountain that exists only for show. We eat imported food rather than a locally grown corn, bean, and chili combination that evolved as suitable for people in a hot, desert region. We are allowing water-consuming industry and pecan orchards to proliferate here, forcing our citizens to consume mineral-laden Colorado River water rather than our own pure groundwater, which we must go deeper each year to pump. Are these wise and healthy decisions for the long run? I doubt that Kino would have thought so.”

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MEXICO’S KINO COUNTRY: IF YOU GO

For further information on Mexico, contact the Mexican Tourism Board at 800/44-Mexico. They can send a packet of information on the country. The Mexican tourism web site at http://mexico-travel.com is also useful, providing a gateway to many regional tourism web sites. Be sure to bring proof of citizenship to Mexico. A passport is best, but a certified birth certificate will do.

Foster Travel Publishing