Winter Break, Day 10 – January 27, 2019


Sunrise through the rising mist in Radke Martinez Regional Shoreline Park

I woke early in the pre-dawn darkness, ready to dress myself and load up my gear in the car.  I had packed the evening before knowing that I wouldn’t want to do so this early, barely five now.  I had also mainly said my good-byes before going to bed since I wouldn’t see the majority of my family this early ante meridiem.  Mom drove me the short distance to the bus depot for the Amtrak connection in Santa Rosa, California, part of the Sonoma County wine country.  As has been my previous experience, not many people were on the bus this morning although we picked up a few others along the way in Rohnert Park, Petaluma and Napa.  The world seemed fairly quiet this early in the day, especially on a Sunday.  The Sun had risen by the the time the ride had terminated in Martinez, where the bus connects to the train, but as yet a thick fog hung over the valley and I could stare at the dimmly glowing orb hardly knowing that it was our Sun.

A fog generated from the Pacific Ocean had lain over the region but had begun to rise once the Sun rose.  Having a lay-over of nearly three hours I paid a small fee to have the station agent hold my luggage while I  walked first to downtown Martinez.  Martinez lies in Contra Costa County on the Carquinez Straight, between San Pablo and Suisun Bays.  Like many similar cities, an older downtown core is surrounded by both older residential neighborhoods and newer suburban development.  Relatively early for a Sunday morning, the misty streets were nearly deserted except for a few bikers, joggers and such.  After wandering around for a quarter of an hour I walked into the Copper Skillet, a pleasant restaurant serving breakfast.  On other similar trips I have made the same breakfast stop, knowing that I could sit for a spell imbibing hot coffee and devouring a delicious meal.  This isn’t my first rodeo!

Having feasted on an omelette and quaffed many a cup of hot Joe I left the restaurant to walk north towards the station but continued by crossing the tracks and entering Radke Martinez Regional Shoreline Park.  Typical of many such parks that lie in or near urban development, this park consists of an area where heavily developed recreational facilities exist (softball diamonds, soccer fields, picnic areas, manicured lawns, a boat launch, etc…) next to more or less undeveloped open space that serves as a refuge for native flora and fauna.  I passed through the former to reach the latter, the Sun streaming through the steadily rising mist, revealing the channel ahead, the narrow Carquinez Straight where the Sacramento and San Joaquin Rivers disgorge their contents into the salty ocean.  A fog horn sounded its melancholic din, and the shrouded hulks of the Benecia-Martinez and Southern Pacific Bridges became increasingly visible as I walked out towards the marshland.

Numerous aquatic birds busily searched out food as I and other walkers plied the paths.  Interpretive signs offer snippets of history, both man-made and natural, that provide insight into the region.  One sign describes a ferry that used to operate between the two towns now connected by a bridge, while another extols the virtues of nature reserves and their concomitant benefits to society.  Most striking to me, however, is the pathos surrounding the rotting hulk belonging to the Schooner Forester.  Having plied the ocean trade for some decades under a sole skipper, the boat was eventually beached in its current location and served as the home for said captain until his death years later.  It burned to the waterline sometime around Nineteen Seventy.  Besides serving as a direct link to the past in a form that is hardly comprehensible to most moderns, that is, a commercial sailing vessel, there is a certain romantic quality about the entire story.

Some time had slipped away as I admired the Schooner Forester and I noted that the time was near for my departure.  I ambled back towards the station and retrieved my bags from storage.  Although the misty fog had lent a damp chill to the morning air the ocean’s moderating warmth kept the temperatures into the comfortable range, especially since the Sun had emerged from behind its cloak.  On the outside of the station I discovered a small garden of native plants, one of many on the Alhambra Native Plant Trail.  Having come from snowbound Colorado it was a marvel to see flowers at this season.  A couple of commuter trains came to a halt  and a transition of passengers commenced.  As I finished my admiration the California Zephyr rolled into the station exactly on time.  I boarded, stowed my baggage and found a seat on the sunny side of the train.  We pulled out of the station, passed a large oil refinery and subsequently crossed the Southern Pacific Bridge, a massive steel girder type of drawbridge dating from the nascent days of the Great Depression.

We zipped across the Sacramento Valley and just east of Roseville began climbing the foothills of the Sierra Nevada.  Now we slowed down and wound around the mountains, the vegetation becoming increasingly dense with conifers as we gained elevation and left the oak savanna behind.   Contouring around hillsides and following ridge lines, we kept our elevation above the Yuba, Bear and American Rivers.  Eventually we rode up to the lower snow line and I knew in earnest the my Winter Break’s end was near at hand.  Passing over Donner Pass, the lands were blanketed by the whiteness and we entered the Great Basin, leaving the Pacific drainages behind.  Following the Truckee River to and through Reno, this is perhaps my favorite part of the rail journey as I admire the large ponderosa along the banks.  Some thirty miles east the river swings north to deposit its liquid flow into Pyramid Lake while the rails continue eastwards into the rain shadow created by the Sierra Nevada Range.  We entered the realm of sand dunes, salt flats and vast expanses of sagebrush.  The climate had changed drastically form the morning and all afternoon and into the night we kept on heading east deeper into the inter-mountain west.  Well after dark we entered Utah and changed from Pacific to Mountain Standard Time.  The cars’s rhythmic swaying made it easy for me to dose off intermittently, but when awake I would catch snippets of lights passing by, traffic on nearby Interstate 80 and occasional patches of complete darkness.  As we rolled into Salt Lake City I noted to myself the end of the day, more or less.  A long stop so as to facilitate the changing of the train crew, I took a moment to get out and stretch my legs.  The cold air that I inhaled drew forth a visceral awareness within me that I had truly reentered the mountainous domain that I now call home.  I re-boarded the car and snuggled back into my seat before dozing off as we continued on through the dark.

Winter Break, Day 9 – January 26, 2019


An outbuilding at the old Chanate Complex in Santa Rosa, California, owned by the County of Sonoma

I woke up in Santa Rosa, California, at my parents’ house, for my last full day in the state before my return home to Colorado.   My sister-in-law departed early to join some of her friends up north for a mushroom hunting party.  After breakfast my cousin returned to Burlingame to spend time with her parents and prepare for her own return overseas.  Although my parents, brother and two nieces remained, besides me, the house seemed quieter with the departure of the two guests.  A sunny day waiting outside, my brother and I walked the two girls down to Hidden Valley Elementary School, where the two of us had attended kindergarten through sixth grade.  From the house overlooking most of Santa Rosa we walked down to Chanate Road and the old Chanate Complex, where the County of Sonoma had built a hospital, morgue, mental health complex as well as numerous other offices associated with the main campuses.

The county has now abandoned this area due to earthquake issues and obsolescence and is looking to sell the property it has owned since the mid Eighteen-Seventies.  Neighbors have sued in the past to halt development of this property, but new housing seems inevitable in such a desirable location.  Personally, I would hope for some form of preservation as open space but I believe that to be an uphill battle.  The Bird Rescue Center has already been established here, successfully rehabilitating some three thousands birds a year and will now be forced to find a new home should the sale go through.  We made a quick detour onto County Farm Drive and walked around a loop where we could look at the old buildings and some stonework put up the Works Progress Administration in Nineteen Forty-One.

We then continued to walk along Chanate Road until we reached the elementary school.  For a Saturday, the grounds were fairly crowded.  There may have been an organized activity or it could be that the neighbors were using the school as a defacto park.  Regardless, there were all the concomitant sounds of children playing on outdoor equipment, what were called “monkey bars” when I was young.  All the sounds of children playing brought back memories of when I was a youngster myself and I recalled my personal history with the various classrooms and the multi-purpose room.  So many memories have yet to fade away despite their four decade old age.  The campus itself has changed significantly since my days, as more buildings have been added and the core structures that were new and fresh when I was a youth now look a bit worn.

Leaving the school yard behind we walked around the perimeter and returned home via Chanate Road.  I admired the large eucalyptus trees although they are both non-native and fire prone.  My parents house had barely escaped destruction a couple of years prior and I was surprised to find these trees extant.  Walking up towards my folks’ house we passed the old barbecue pit that I believe was part of the old nurses’ dormitory near the hospital.  Returning to the house, we then spent an enjoyable afternoon and evening socializing.  A quiet day, more or less, I packed up my possessions after supper since I knew that I would be leaving early the next day for the trip back home to Colorado.

Winter Break, Day 8 – January 25, 2019


An ancient root ball from an ancient tree in Armstrong Redwoods

From my parents’ house overlooking the City of Santa Rosa in the State of California the three relative youngsters departed after a late breakfast.  My brother was off to find a place to work and sip coffee while my cousin and I continued on to tour through Armstrong Woods State Natural Reserve near Guerneville.  Dropping my brother off near the junior college the remaining two of us bought a couple of burritos at Jalisco Mexican Food, something of a Santa Rosa tradition for me.  I am particularly fond of their salsa!  We stopped briefly at The Last Record Store, a name that predates internet streaming.  I bought yet more compact discs and was elated to find a couple of things that had eluded my attention in earlier quests.  We then drove north on U.S. 101 before exiting at River Road, a county highway that passes numerous vineyards on its route to Guerneville.  This small town lies on the banks of the Russian River, surrounded by Coast Range redwood groves and forested hills.  Prone to flooding during wet years such as this, nothing seemed amiss on our visit this day.

The parking lot outside the entrance kiosk was nearly full by the time we arrived just before  noon.  There is no charge to enter the park on foot should you be lucky enough to find a place to park, and we were both elated to find one last spot.  We ate our burritos at a picnic table near the temporary visitor’s center, soaking up some of the sunny rays that we had been blessed with.  The vaunted redwoods rise high from the valley floor all around us.  The nearby hillsides are coated with Douglas fir and a wide range of deciduous and evergreen leafy trees.  Sitting and talking was a nice thing to do on such a beautiful and quiet day, but after consuming our comestibles we  decided to stroll among the towering giants that are the redwood trees.  Perusing the park brochure we decided to walk along the Pioneer Nature Trail that parallels Fife Creek three-quarters of a mile from the kiosk to the picnic area.  The various signs convey knowledge about various aspects of forest ecology and the history of conservation that brought protections to this grove.

Walking through a redwood grove is always something special, as the sounds seem to be dampened by the forest itself and an unusual quiet comes over the area.  On this bright day the Sun streamed down through the canopy two to three hundred feet above us and a few shafts of light managed to streak all the way down to the forest floor, brightly illuminating one patch of soil while leaving the other areas in a deep shadow.  Photography I find is challenging in this dappled setting, as the contrast between the extremes of dark and light don’t allow for accurate capture of the vivid colors I am seeing.  The individual snapshots are either too dark or washed out by the intense brightness. Despite this day falling in the middle of Winter everything vegetative is green here on the valley floor, and I am reminded why so many people find this region a good place to live.

Walking through the verdant picnic area we passed a shrine of sorts to an early supporter of the groves.  We left the picnic area via a connector to the Pool Ridge Trail.  This four tenths of a mile long trail rose steeply up nearly five hundred feet to a ridge.  Leaving the wet valley bottom, the vegetation matched the drier character of the slopes.  From one of the rare open views, I could see out across the valley we had just risen above to ridge after ridge of conifer covered forest, and I understand why these lands were so coveted by the lumber barons.  Climbing the ridge a bit we found a place to sit and talk for a bit, resting ourselves before hiking south on the Pool Ridge Trail to complete the loop we had started.  The trail dropped down into an unnamed fork of Fife Creek that it subsequently followed down to the Colonel Armstrong Tree.  Named for another early supporter of conservation of extant groves of redwoods and not the infamous leader of the Seventh Cavalry, this individual tree rises three hundred and eight feet above the forest floor to its peak.  The diameter is over fourteen and a half feet!  Craning my neck backwards I can still but barely discern the crown.  We walk the quarter mile along the Discovery Trail to the junction with the Pioneer Nature Trail and return to the parking lot.  A pleasant hike, the redwood trees always garner in me an appreciation for quietude.

From Guerneville we drove back via California 116, a highway that leads to Sebastopol.  This road winds around more than does River Road, and carries less traffic.  However, I find it a bit more scenic, although I imagine that this is my own perception.  Passing through Forestville and Graton, we left the forested hills behind and entered the large Laguna de Santa Rosa  where many apple orchards grow.  As a child I remember the old railroad, the Petaluma and Santa Rosa, that served this area but has now been dismantled.  The rails used to run right down the middle of the main street in Sebastopol.  Now, there is much more traffic than I recollect, and we had to pause a bit in our ravels to get through town.  We returned to Santa Rosa via California 12 to find my nieces and sister-in-law newly arrived.  Dad was pleased to have so many people around the dinner table that night!

Winter Break, Day 7 – January 24, 2019

This day of travel was also a day of family visitation.  I took no photographs or snapshots today because I was doing the lion’s share of the driving on crowded freeways, or because I was in the various homes of my family.  The day began with breakfast at my aunt and uncle’s house.  My cousin and I made a short walk around the block with the family dog, and we talked about the interesting features of all the different styles of architecture on display.  The moderate temperatures under a bright Sun made for a pleasant stroll, and I made a mental comparison to what I would otherwise be experiencing at home in Gunnison, Colorado.  Afterwards, we returned for lunch and, for me, farewells before departing to pick up my brother at his place of employment.  His office is just off the Bayshore Freeway, also known as U.S. 101, and again I was immersed in the strange zen of congested urban freeway driving, California style.

By leaving in the middle of the day we avoided the worst excesses of the freeway experience.  That is, the constant stop and go traffic.  Now, with most folks at work the traffic flowed mostly freely excepting a few troubled choke points.  That isn’t to say that the road was empty for it still retained a high traffic count, but low enough to allow the posted speed limit.  I have been traveling these various routes for decades, having grown up in the Bay Area, and I can say that most residents have a palpable fear of the being caught in some sort of dreaded snarl.  When I suggested a stop in San Francisco to see a beloved book store I was curtly reminded of the misery that would befall us should we linger too long and the backups begin.  Upon reflection, especially since I was doing the driving, I concurred and we made our way merrily up the eight lanes of turmoil, moving along with the flow, happy to be flowing and not dammed up.

Driving up from Redwood City, we passed through other smaller cities such as San Bruno and South San Francisco.  Once north of that latter city we cruised along the shore of San Francisco Bay, and we could look out and see the East Bay cities, such as Oakland and Alameda, as well as the hills above the East Bay.  Entering San Francisco proper the architecture changed from the endless canopy of office buildings and tract housing found in the suburbs.  I can’t even begin to describe it, but The City has a unique style of building that seems immediately recognizable and, for me, comfortable.  Perhaps its the ubiquity of bay windows.  Traffic halted at the 101-80 Split, and this came as no surprise because this has been a trouble spot for the last four decades.  We followed relatively uncrowded U.S. 101 into the heart of The City, while most motorists were crossing the Bay Bridge via Interstate 80.  This part of the freeway was built above street level, and offers a surprisingly good view of downtown.

South of the Split, the freeway is also known as the James Lick Freeway.  A land baron and real estate investor in the Bay Area, he was the richest man in California when he died in Eighteen Seventy-Six.  Because he bequeathed the majority of his estate to the public, his name has been commemorated repeatedly and is found throughout the Bay Area as well as his hometown of Fredericksburg, Pennsylvania.   After having lived in New York, Argentina and Chile, making a career out of piano making, he moved to California with, among other things, six hundred pounds of chocolate.  In the gold rush era of San Francisco this sold quickly, and he receives credit for encouraging Domingo Ghirardelli to follow him from Chile to San Francisco.  So says Wikipedia!

North of the Split, U.S. 101 follows the Central Freeway, or rather what is left of it.  The double-decked freeway used to extend up to Golden Gate Avenue but was torn down after being damaged beyond repair during the infamous Nineteen Eighty-Nine Loma Prieta earthquake.  This earthquake also caused the deadly collapse of the Cypress Street Viaduct in Oakland and to the eventual demise of the loathed Embarcadero Freeway in San Francisco, both of which where of the same double-decked design.  One of the things that I admire about The City is that the citizenry stood up to the entrenched bureaucracy and vested interests and, after an initial glut of freeway building, said “no more”.  The Central and Embarcadero Freeways were supposed to cross the city but would have resulted in widespread disruptions to the cityscape.  No alternatives appealed to the people and to this day travelers by car must ply the city streets to cross from north to south.  I believe this makes San Francisco unique in our car-driven society, at least within North America.

The Central Freeway disgorges U.S. 101 traffic onto Mission Street.  The routing over Mission Street is only a few blocks long before jogging onto Van Ness Avenue.  Traveling northwards the route took us past the heart of The City.  I couldn’t really see much because Van Ness was all torn up for some construction project and traffic was especially scary.  Inevitably, though, we’d get stopped at a traffic light, and I could take a quick gander at the various familiar buildings and businesses, some of which have been around longer than I have!  We drove along that wide street until making a left hand turn onto Lombard Street.  A few blocks east this famous street descends a series of switchbacks down a steep grade, but this stretch that I turned onto  is six-lanes of heavy city traffic.

Traffic moved along smoothly, despite a stoplight at every corner.  Turning  onto Richardson Boulevard, U.S. 101 leaves the streets behind and enters an elevated highway.  I’m not sure if it still goes by its former name of Doyle Drive (named for the person who was primarily responsible for financing the Golden Gate Bridge) or if its been changed to Presidio Parkway.  Regardless, we passed the former army base at The Presidio, which has now been thoughtfully preserved as part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area.  The ex-army buildings stud what is otherwise a mixed forest and parkland.  I’ve always enjoyed this scenic entrance and exit to San Francisco.  We drove by the toll booths without stopping, since we were headed in the free direction and, anyhow, now with modern technology the tolling is done automatically sans toll-takers.  As a child I somehow felt that paying the toll was an integral part of the Golden Gate bridge experience.  A bit of humanity was involved.

I piloted the car out onto the deck of the Golden Gate Bridge, admiring the international orange coloring that is so well known the world-around.  My fascination with this structure never ceases.  In my youth nothing could get me more excited than a trip to San Francisco and points south.  Crossing the bridge was an event in my young mind.  Now, even as a driver, without taking my eyes off the road, I am able to  admire the graceful curves and tasteful Art Deco architecture of the bridge that linked The City with Northern California.  We crossed the Golden Gate and drove up into the Marin Headlands towards the Waldo Grade.  First, though, we passed through the Rainbow Tunnels, an unofficial name for the officially named Robin Williams Tunnels.  Since before I was born the southern side of the tunnels have had the arch painted like a rainbow, thus the popular moniker.

We drove through Marin County, past Sausalito, San Rafael and Novato.  Many people from this area commute south, and the highway traffic reflects it.  This area is pretty, green and rolling, some areas flanked with thick forest.  Its expensive to live here, but there are some good reasons why some folks pay top dollar for the privilege.  North of Novato there is still a stretch of mostly undeveloped agricultural land.  The freeway shrinks from six lanes to four, and even now, in mid-afternoon, the backup causes a huge slowdown.  At this slower pace I leave a bit of space in front of me and look out to admire the live oaks and open savanna.  Once the resulting crush has had a chance to adjust to the new reality we pick up speed and head in to Sonoma County.

The open space ends at Petaluma but picks up again, and I am enthralled by the verdant vistas all around.  It doesn’t snow here, ever, really.  This drive north to my parents house in Santa Rosa is so familiar to me, yet also something of a exciting new experience since its been a while since I last drove this route.  Home is close by, and I know that we will shortly arrive.  I loved growing up in Santa Rosa but was captured by the charms of the Rocky Mountains when I became an adult.  Still, I love looking around and feeling this city.  I can look at particular buildings and know their history over the last half-century from personal experience.  Set in a wide valley surrounded by ridges of the Coast Range, Santa Rosa enjoys generally moderate temperatures so that some citrus will grow here.  I was happy to leave the freeway behind, and to climb up a bit into the surrounding hills, where I could look out over the city and wonder at all that goes on in this world.  There was a happy reunion between my brother, cousin and me and my parents, and, for now, that concludes this tale.

Winter Break, Day 6 – January 23, 2019


Sutro Tower as seen from Golden Gate Park in San Francisco, California

Having spent the night in Burlingame, California, at my aunt and uncle’s house, my cousin and I decided that this day would be a good time to visit San Francisco.  We drove north on Interstate 280, south on California 1 and then north on California 35 until reaching the Great Highway, which parallels Ocean Beach.  Driving past the Cliff House at Land’s End, we parked just to the east in a parking lot within Sutro Heights Parks, part of Golden Gate National Recreation Area.  Some of this Federal facility had been closed due to the ongoing government shutdown but much remained open to visitors.

Blessed with an auspicious day, weather wise, we strode over to the ruins of the Sutro Baths.  Originally built by Adolph Sutro, a former mayor of San Francisco, in the 1890’s the baths burnt in the mid-1960’s and now nothing remains except the foundations.  The structure was huge and must have been an impressive sight.  Nearby we found a tunnel of sorts that may have housed some of the operating equipment for the baths but now resembles a “pirate’s cave”.  Within the tunnel a blowhole exists where the surf can be seen frothing below.  Afterwards my cousin and I climbed to a view point just above the ruins where we could see out from Point Lobos towards the Farallon Islands as well as distant Point Reyes to the north.  Closer by, Mile Rock and Seal Rocks remind all ocean-going navigators of the treacherous nature of the currents about the Gulf of the Farallones  and the Golden Gate, leading into San Francisco Bay.

Having found free all-day parking we decided not to drive for lunch but rather walked over to 44th Avenue and Balboa Street where we sampled the dim sum at Feng Ze Yuan Restaurant in the Outer Richmond District of The City.  We walked back via a slightly different route and then explored some of the Sutro Heights Park that allowed for a fine view of Ocean Beach stretching off to the south. There was some sort of photographic shoot going on, and the costumes I saw were fairly interesting.  Seeing what we had wanted to see in this part of The City we decided to visit the Haight District.  Driving over to Golden Gate Park, we left the car on John F Kennedy Drive towards the the eastern end of the park.  Everything was so green and vibrant that I nearly forgot that ti was the middle of Winter.  Only the Sun’s low angle in the sky hinted at the time of year.

We walked past the Conservatory of Flowers, where many warm weather plants are kept alive all year; a monument to President James Garfield erected a few years after his assassination; a sculpture by Douglas Tilden called The Ball Player; the McLaren Lodge with its basalt walls and sandstone quoins; and a view of Sutro Tower.  This tower, used to transmit television signals, is seen as a blight by some but has also become a landmark of sorts.  Golden Gate Park has always struck me as one of the acmes of urban landscaping, a fantastic combination of parkland interspersed with monuments and museums.

Leaving the east end of the park we walked onto Haight Street.  The center of the counter-culture during the late 1960’s, the neighborhood has become slightly gentrified over the years as tourists wanted to visit and experience “the scene”.  We first stopped at Amoeba Records, a huge record store.  Strolling along after I bought up a few compact discs, we stopped at Cafe Cole for coffee and a snack.  There are many murals in the area, interesting shops focusing, for example, on costumes, older businesses such as corner grocery stores and plenty of bars and eateries.  People watching is an event unto itself.  The pleasant weather made our lazy walk that much more enjoyable.  No wind, nor fog, and blue skies kept our spirits high.

Later on that evening, after our return from The City, we all went out to dinner at a Mexican restaurant near Burlingame, in San Mateo.  Called El Sinaloense, the ambiance, decor and food focused on the Mexican state of Sinaloa.  That is something that I like about California, one doesn’t just go out for Mexican or Chinese Food, but rather for cuisine from specific regions within those respective countries.  Again, I had a sangria to enjoy with my meal.  Because the restaurant focuses on seafood, I had camarones y pulpo al mojo de ajo, or, in English, prawns and octopus in a garlic sauce.  After dinner we had dessert at home and I then relaxed listening to some of my new music before turning in after a long day playing tourist in my home town.

Winter Break, Day 5 – January 22, 2019


Looking upstream on the South Fork American River at Sutter’s Mill within Gold Discovery State Historic Park; Coloma, California

Three of us left my older cousin’s house in Roseville, California, intending to visit Sutter’s Mill, where John Marshall, in partnership with the former to construct the and operate the contraption, found gold in the tailrace thus setting of the Gold Rush of Eighteen Forty-Nine.  Initially intending to keep the find secret, the discovery nonetheless leaked out through a series of contrivances.  As both men had foretold, the lure of relatively easy money drew away their laborers, thus thwarting their intended plans to build their relative dominions.  It seems hard to believe, but both men also later died in poverty, never able to capitalize on their presence at the inception.  The sawmill itself was abandoned by Eighteen-Fifty as the diggings in the vicinity expanded.

My younger cousin, uncle and I left Roseville via a series of expressways, crossing Folsom Dam along the way, until we left town on Natoma Street and Green Valley Road.  The latter we followed until we turned onto Lotus Road.  Having started on the edge of the relatively flat floor of the Sacramento Valley we quickly transitioned into the foothills of the Sierra Nevada Range.  The railroad had built, and still operates, a huge marshaling yard in Roseville where freight could be broken up or put together and where helper engines could add traction or braking for the passage over the mountains.  The interstate, too begins its ascent just east of this city, so after we passed around the reservoir, we also began to climb up through the oaks and conifer until we dropped down into a low but narrow canyon formed by the South Fork American River.  At the junction with California 49, we turned south and shorty arrived in Coloma, the town that had formed after the initial discovery.

Adjacent to, and somewhat encompassing the town of Coloma, sits the Marshall Gold Discovery State Historical Park.  It being the middle of the week in late January there weren’t too many people at the park.  We parked the car near the park headquarters  and museum, next to something called the “Beer Garden”, having been built on the ruins of the old town in the mid-Nineteen Fifties by the then contemporary residents.  Upon entering the museum we were greeted by a docent who had a large collection of minerals, including the near obligatory pyrite (fool’s gold) and true gold nugget.  I say obligatory because it seems that every site I’ve ever been to anywhere near relating to gold always has the so-called fool’s gold on hand.  But this docent’s collection transcended that and displayed some truly amazing samples from around the globe.  Having taken a mineralogy course years ago, I yet retain enough knowledge about the subject to have asked a ceaseless stream of questions while my uncle, who has a parallel interest in mineralogy, interjected with his own.  We ended up talking for about an hour, a fascinating rambling conversation, completely unexpected.

We toured the museum that gave a good overview of the succession of peoples who lived in the area and how the gold changed so many people’s lives.  The town name was taken from the word “Cullumah”, meaning peaceful valley in the language of the Miwok and Nisenan people who lived here prior to European settlement.  People came from all over, travelling overland or by sea from the East Coast and Europe, and across the Pacific from China.  A large contingent of Mormons had traveled overland for the War with Mexico and after service in the army had been discharged in California.  A cabin with replicas we explored and talked with a couple of other docents.  The mill itself has just been rebuilt, and we wandered around the banks of the South Fork American River where all the commotion began.  I was especially fascinated by the Wah Hop store complete with Chinese merchandise of the era.  A short trail nearby leads up to a series of hollowed-out holes in an outcropping of bedrock where the native peoples had ground acorns, a staple of their diet.

We had spent so much time talking to the docent at the museum that we didn’t get to see everything there was to see at the park.  There are quite a few more trails and historical sites that I will have to visit at another time.   After our visit had been concluded we drove south on California 49 to Placerville, a large gold mining town.  Here we walked along the main street admiring the buildings before having dinner at a Mexican restaurant, Tortilla Flats Cantina. Is the name a nod to John Steinbeck?  I was initially dubious but changed my mind after having what I must honestly call the best sangria ever.  I rarely consume alcoholic beverages anymore, but that one was a dandy!  One note, there was some vigilante justice performed that involved a hanging in Placerville.  This act is still celebrated, despite the extralegal results.  I think it a bit vulgar, but this lynching was hardly unique to that era or place, just a little reminder of the dark side of human nature.

After our meal we drove west on U.S. 50 to Sacramento and then continued on Interstate 80 to the Bay Area where my aunt and uncle live.  We had had a fine day, exploring some of California’s history.  This was the first time in some forty years that I had seen the gold discovery site, and I know it made more of an impression on me now than then.  The weather had cooperated, being sunny and relatively warm for the season.  Traffic had even moved easily on the freeway system, not something that can be taken for granted.  For more information about the historical park check out this link, and for a general overview check out the brochure online.  It seems like such an normal place to have so changed history.

Winter Break, Day 4 – January 21, 2019


The Old Schoolhouse at Columbia State Historic Park

While much of the day was taken up by family interactions at my cousin’s house in Roseville, California, we did drive out some two hours to visit Columbia in Tuolumne County.  A former gold mining town founded in the early Eighteen-Fifties, the town has become a example of historic preservation.  It is both a functioning town and a state historic park.  We left Roseville via a series of California-style expressways that led to the U.S. 50 Freeway.  After a short stint on the bedlam infused eight-lane highway we exited onto Latrobe Road, passing through open country dotted with Live Oaks and conifer amid the savanna.  At the end of the road we turned left onto California 16 and drove a short distance to Highway 49.  This storied road, the number of which pays homage to the Forty-Niners, transects most of the Gold Country along the foothills of the Sierra Nevada Range.  We continued south until reaching Angel’s Camp and turned west on California 4.  A few miles on we turned to the south along Parrot’s Ferry Road, also signed as Tuolumne County Road E18.  This road crossed New Melones Lake, a reservoir, actually, nee Stanislaus River.  Said pavement then twisted up through dense forest to Columbia.

The storm from the previous days had mostly dissipated, but nonetheless left numerous puffy clouds transiting west to east.  Mostly sunny and bright, I enjoyed the brisk temperatures.  Cold by regional standards, I found the air to be refreshingly warm.  We sat down in a saloon dressed up to period appearance.  They served pizza as well, the real reason for our being there.  After our meal we walked down the main street of the old town, which is kept closed to vehicular traffic during the day.  There are quite a few interesting buildings, some of which hold functioning businesses and others that serve as museums.  There were some areas of hydraulic mining, a practice so destructive of clean water that it was banned by the turn of the Twentieth Century.  The bedrock that remains looks like some amorphous contemporary sculpture.  It is heartening to see nature reclaim some of these places, covering much up with verdure.  On the main street nearby  I liked the two large cottonwood growing on the street.  Most cities would have cut them down years ago.

Overall, I was impressed at the age and manner of construction of this town.  Like so many other similar towns, the original wooden building burnt repeatedly and thus the structures were finally constructed of brick.  These had metal shutters that could be closed in the event of another conflagration.  As far as businesses were concerned I was most impressed by the functioning blacksmith, and the practical art that said individual can produce.  We walked up a hill to the old schoolhouse, and this perhaps impressed me the most.  It is well preserved both in and out, and I regret now that I didn’t take of snapshot of the inside what with the desks and blackboards still extant.  A walk through the cemetery reminded me that these were real people with real lives who had made this place their home.  Returning to the parking lot we passed the brick shell of what had been the Chinese grocery.

We returned to Roseville via the same route but we stopped in a couple of other small towns along the way to walk down the main business sections where a wealth of old buildings remain.  Columbia was a day well spent, and here is a link to the park.  I especially recommend the link to the brochure, as it tells the story quite well.  Though, I never could figure out who was responsible for preserving the town via the designation of the state park.  It was nice to relax after out little adventure, but I sure did enjoy seeing a part of the sate that I was mostly unfamiliar with.