The Golden State and the ‘49ers conjure up images ofCalifornia’s sun-drenched beaches and burly footballers. but the origin of these names lies nestled in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada.
The Gold Rush made California. It also ruined the man who started it all. John Sutter‘s wealth came from farming and lumber. and. when in 1848 his foreman. James Marshall. spotted the first honey-coloured particles in the tailrace at Sutter's Coloma mill. both men tried to keep the find a secret. They failed dismally as Sutter lost his workforce to the hills.
The following year. the original '49ers struggled in their thousands round Cape Horn and across the Panamanian Isthmus. They set up tent camps and panned the river beds and mountain springs. Wherever the illusive metal was found. cities burgeoned overnight. attracting prostitutes. quack medics. merchants and preachers. Life was hard and pleasures lusty.
Exploring the surviving settlements today. there seems little hint ofthat back-breaking. gutsy world. The false-fronted stores are beguiling in their new coats ofpaint and. down leafy lanes. gingerbread houses shelter behind wicket fences. But scratch the surface a little and reminders abound.
On Main Street. Jackson. James Smalldon‘s bookshop offers a cornucopia ofphotographs. folklore and original letters. Across the street. the National Hotel claims to be the longest continuously running hotel in California.
Inside. the Forty—Niners’ Saloon is a genuine Gold Rush relic with red-ﬂock wallpaper. dark wainscoting and a century old mirror-backed bar. The barman will gladly join you for a beer. or an old timer with grizzled beard and battered hat may settle himselfon the next stool and remind you that Jackson wasn't always quaint and pretty.
Yarns are part of life in the mining towns and not all date back to the last century. On St Valentine’s Day 1968. a local group made headlines when they offered a heart-shaped bronze plaque to the former ‘ladies ofthe night.‘
Eleven miles to the northeast. the tiny settlement of Volcano hasn’t been restored: it has survived — by the skin ofits teeth. In the 192(lsthe weathered remnants were due to disappear beneath the waters ofa dam. until the authorities realized the rock bed was porous.
Today‘s population of less than a hundred is scattered along streets with names like Clapboard. Consolation and Plug. The General Store opened its doors in 1852 and its ﬂoor to ceiling shelves are still stacked with tins. jars and bottles of whiskey.
In its heyday Volcano fostered the State‘s first lending library. a theatre group and a debating society. Nowadays the talking drifts on in the
situated two hours east of
Lesley Childs finds choice nuggets in California’s
USEFUL INFORMATION Getting There
Return flights to San Francisco departing Prestwick are available ior £420 (low season) and £470 (high season) with Air Canada and Northwest. For iurther details contact Connections Travel. 34/35 Queensferry Street. Edinburgh, Tel 031 226 5523; and Anglo-Scottish, 542/545 Sauchiehall Street, Glasgow, Tel 041 332 3233. The Gold Country is
San Francisco by car and roughly follows Highway 49 from Vinton in the north to Coarsegold in the south. Car hire is cheap in San Francisco if you shop around. Don'tforgef to ask for ‘collision waiver', the equivalent of our comprehensive insurance.
Visas are not necessarylor direct flights into the US provided you have a return ticket. Flights with Air Canada (as above) require visas as the )oumey is via Toronto.
What To Know Before You Go:
Background: Marshall's discovery in 1848 launched a wave of immigration, lollowing President Polk’s official announcement that gold had been found in California. The huge influx
Until the Gold flush it was a territory larger overlooked by central government and thinly populated. Though the surface gold was soon exhausted, rich veins were discovered below ground and mining went on into the late 19th century. Millions of dollars worth of gold were extracted from the ground and fortunes were made not only by the miners but also the merchants who supplied them. Geologists say there is still a lot ofgold left and quite a few people are looking for it.
Climate: The Gold Country is warm and sunny during spring and autumn with temperatures around 20C, but evenings can be chilly particularly in October. Summers are hot and dry with temperatures between 25C and 30C. Winters are cold and crisp with snowfalls.
Currency: American dollars and cents.
Where To Stay
There are a large numberoi motels offering reasonable accommodation. Prices are per room, not per person.
Bed and Breakfast. American style. are more ’ expensive. but provide
warm, hospitable accommodation in beautiful old houses where no two rooms are alike. The
National Hotel, 2 Water Street at Main, Jackson.
has double rooms for $40 a
night. St George's llotel. Volcano has double rooms from $38, and the exquisitely restored Fallon
: Hotel in Columbia is worth a
visit even if you can'tafford $70 for a balcony room.
The best way to see the Gold Country is by car, but cycling is an alternative for the fit.
What to Do
Apart from soaking up the atmosphere of this fascinating area, there is a wide choice of activities. Try wine tasting in the numerous vineyards round Jackson, many have prize winning vintages. Or go gliding with ‘Gold Country Soaring‘, they operate out of Amador County Airport. Jackson has an excellent museum on Church Street which explains the complexities of hardrock mining. Explore the Mercer Caverns near Angels Camp with their awesome crystalline formations. There's a variety of transport experiences. the Steam Passenger Trains leaving from Jamestown, or stagecoach rides and pony trekking from Columbia.
in San Francisco, Visitor Inlorrnation Center, Lower Level. Hallidie Plaza, 900 Market Street. In Britain, US Tourist Information Service, 68 Cambridge Street, London SW1.
hoo Lesley Childs
i led to California being I granted statehood in 1850.
wonderfully cluttered bar at the St George’s Hotel. Amidst artifacts and fading posters, faces mufﬂed in a wealth of straggling whiskers are eager to impart stories.
The tale ofCharlie Parkhurst stands out. A stagedriver with the California and Pioneer Companies for thirty years. Charlie chewed tobacco and spent his pay on whiskey and dice. ‘But Charlie was no gentleman.‘ The storyteller‘s eyes twinkle. ‘The old critter was a woman, and no-one found out till she died.‘
The road between Volcano and Sutter Creek is one of the delights of the Gold Country. It winds along the banks of a glittering thread of water, through a narrow canyon where canopies of overhanging oak and maple filter the early morning sunlight.
In Sutter Creek’s handsome main street, the raised sidewalks are shaded by overhanging balconies supported on pencil thin columns. Beneath, antique and curio shops vie
‘ with gourmet food stores and art
galleries for your attention.
Yet not all the Gold Towns have been spruced up. To the south, Angels Camp has seen better days, but lives on its past association with Mark Twain. The author had a cabin on nearby Jackass Hill (which has been reconstructed around the original hearth) and made visits to Angels Hotel. An idle hour spent in the company of proprietor Ross Coon resulted in Twain’s short story ‘The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County.‘
Frog racing was a favourite pastime with miners, and the Jumping Frog Jubilees are still held every May. If you come without a ‘croaker’, the organisers will gladly supply one.
The gem ofthe mining settlements is Columbia. Bought by the State and turned into a living historic town, it recreates a sanatized version of life in the 18505 and 60s. The false-fronted buildings. wood-framed houses and brick stores with iron shutters run the gamut of Gold Rush architecture.
Shops and businesses are chosen to fit the atmosphere. The Columbia Gazette Office still publishes newspapers; Bill Sey stands poised with a cut-throat razor at the Barber’s shop; and the sound of
hammering emanates from the gently sagging blacksmith‘s.
Phinnaes, who runs the Matelot Gulch Mine Supply Store, leads tours to the only working gold mine open to the public. In the Stanislaus River Canyon, Hidden Treasure Mine is hewn out of solid granite by blasting a few feet at a time.
Back at the supply store, an operating sluice box offers you a chance to learn the proper technique for gold panning. Then climb into the gently rolling hills, past rusting head-frames engulfed in lupins and larkspur. find a secluded river and try your luck. Word has it there’s still gold in the Sierra, but the secret‘s better kept these days.
54 The List 28 July — II) August 1989