Tag Archives: Gold Country

Bridgeport, Gold Country

Bridgeport Covered Bridge

Bridgeport Covered Bridge

After breakfast, we set out for Bridgeport, which is ten miles away from the cabin on Pleasant Valley Road. On the way we passed Wildwood Lake and pulled into a small parking area to take a closer look. The lake was formed when the Anthony House earth dam was constructed. The name of the dam intrigued me and I have tried to find out more about it. The only information I found just said that the dam was named after a house called Anthony House which had been submerged by the lake.

The main reason for traveling to Bridgeport was to see the longest single span covered bridge in existence located in the South Yuba River State Park. We caught a glimpse of it before pulling into a car park. From the car park we walked across the road and found the trail leading towards the covered bridge. The first covered bridge I ever saw was in Oregon and to date I have seen many covered bridges and they are a pretty sight. This is a particularly fine example. Just before we reached the bridge we took a detour down to the river. The bridge crosses the South Yuba River which, at this time of the year, is swollen with the melting snow from the high Sierras. Looking up at the bridge from the edge of the river was an impressive sight and Tom took lots of photographs. While mooching around I was amazed at the number of butterflies flitting around.  The Monarchs were easy to spot but there were several I did not recognize at all.

I climbed back up the bank and wandered towards the bridge. I imagined what it must have been like in its heyday with the mule trains

One of many wildflowers we saw on the trail along the South Fork of the Yube River. This one is called, 'Elegant Brodiaea'.

One of many wildflowers we saw on the trail along the South Fork of the Yuba River. This one is called, 'Elegant Brodiaea'.

hauling wagons through it. It is constructed of Douglas Fire and even after all this time – it was built in 1862 – the smell of the wood is very strong and pleasant. I stood at the end and looked through to the far end. The interior was dim but light from the three windows on either side brightened up the inside. Running the whole length were four thick raised sleepers, presumably to keep the mules on track as they crossed the bridge. I walked along the top of one of the planks and tried not to look down between the gaps at the river below. When I came to the first window and stopped to gazed through it. The windows have no glass in them so I was able to poke my head through. Down by the river I spotted Tom still busy taking photos. I called but he didn’t hear me.

(Click on the images for larger versions. There are some other options on the larger photos too)

At both ends of the bridge are commemorative plaques which gave interesting facts about the construction of the bridge and when I got home I looked on line for more information. This site gives information about the construction and the toll road and this one on the three plaques.

By this time Tom had caught up with me but then he disappeared from sight. Finally I tracked him down in the Historic Barn. Outside the sun was beating down but inside the barn it was deliciously cool. On display were eleven huge wagons and I marveled at their size. The wheels of the older ones were made out of a solid pieces of wood and rimmed with iron. On the walls were photos and interpretive panels which told the history of the wagons. Some of the wagons were pulled by up to 42 mules because they were so large and heavily laden.

South Fork of the Yuba River

South Fork of the Yuba River

Nearby was a small visitors center with some interesting displays.  A full sized Kodiak brown bear, a near relative of the Grizzly Bear, was the first object that caught my eye. There were fascinating displays featuring wildlife, plant life, how the original native tribes lived, pictures of I.O. Wood (who built and owned the bridge) and domestic objects from the gold rush days. There is no charge to visit the South Yuba River State Park but we left a generous donation in the box by the door.

Outside there was a hands on experience on panning for gold with volunteers ready to explain and answer questions. We were tempted to try our hand but the table was crowded. Under the shade of a huge tree a table had been laid out with leaflets. Behind the table sat a volunteer who was eager to hand out leaflets and to give information. One leaflet I picked up was called Bridgeport Trails. As Tom and I plan to walk one the trails I thought it would come in very handy. John and Judy told us that one of their favorite hikes is the Buttermilk Bend Trail and, sure enough it was on the leaflet. I was also handed a printout which pointed out interesting things to look for on the walk. To get to the trailhead we had to return to the car park. The docent informed us that we didn’t have to recross the road but could take the path which led under the bridge.

It was a hot day but we had a big bottle of water and Tom, of course, had his camera. As it was a holiday weekend there were quite a few hikers on the trail and several large family groups. The trail was wide to begin with so getting past the slow moving groups posed no problem. Later on, when the path became narrower we had left the families behind and passing other hikers was easy.

The printout explained that most of the trail is the course of a ditch which carried water down to Englebright Lake and was used to lay down dust on the turnpike. It was certainly a very scenic route and for most of the way we looked down on the fast flowing South Yuba River. A short way along we spotted a small sandy beach on the other side of the river and there were lots of people making the most of it. There were quite a few swimmers in the river. Large rocks in the river had sun worshipers stretched out on them. On such a hot day the water did look exceedingly inviting and Tom wished he was down there in it. Not me, I would be too frightened of the strong current.

On the way back to Nevada City this field was just ablaze with color.

On the way back to Nevada City this field was just ablaze with color.

Even though it was relatively late for wildflowers there were lots around and most of them were labeled. I was impressed with this as it enabled me to identify most of them. There were the bright orange Canyon Dudleya, cornflower blue Globe Gilia, yellow Tufted Poppies (they looked identical to California Poppies but maybe not so tall), tiny yellow Silverleaf Lotus, light and bright purple Winecup Clarkia, pretty purple Elegent Brodiaea along with Clover and Purple Vetch. One plant which intrigued us was the Woody Sunflower Gumplant and it did indeed have a gummy feel to it.

At one point the trail turned inland along the edge of French Coral Creek to a footbridge across creek. The leaflet told us to look out for ‘substantial stonework…probably where a flume crossed the ravine’. We both searched for it on both sides of the creek but somehow we missed it.

Along the way there were several benches to sit and admire the scenery. At one such stop there was another couple and I sat and chatted for some time. The view looked downstream and beyond. It was a very pleasant way to spend half an hour while I waited for Tom to catch up with me.

We didn’t quite make it to the end of the trail. For one thing we were nearly out of water plus we had promised to call and see Aunt Thelma at her house in the afternoon. Our route to Nevada City was along the scenic Bitney Springs Road. Aunt Thelma showed us around her beautiful home and, along with John, the four of us took a stroll down her garden to Deer Creek. The last part of the path was very steep with many obstacles but Aunt Thelma had no problem at all getting down and back. She is a remarkable lady and, would you believe it, 98 years old!

Tom and I rounded off our fantastic weekend in the Gold Country with a wonderful meal at the New Moon Cafe on York Street in Nevada City. It was a slap up meal and I tried soft shelled Dungeness Crab for the very first time.

Daybreak Cafe, Penn Valley

Daybreak Cafe in Penn Valley, California

Daybreak Cafe in Penn Valley, California

We had our day planned out but first we needed breakfast. Somebody had been told us that the Wildwood Center on Pleasant Valley Road had a cafe so, as it was just down the road from where we were staying, we pulled in to have a look. Sure enough, there was a cafe which served breakfast but it is only open Monday to Fridays and this was a Saturday. Next door there was a market so we went in to buy a bottle of water and asked the cashier where else we could find breakfast in Penn Valley. She gave us directions to one where Pleasant Valley joins with Highway 20 but, when we arrived at the location there was no cafe in sight. We followed signs into the town of Penn Valley and stumbled across the Daybreak Cafe.

It was a very welcome sight and we were greeted warmly as we walked in the door and told we could sit anywhere. This must be the only place to eat in the area because it was nearly full. Coffee was served straight away.

Oatmeal was on the menu, served with toast ($4.60), so that was my obvious choice. Tom went for the sourdough pancakes with two eggs and two strips of bacon ($7.95). The coffee was $1.50.

Inside it is very pleasant and almost as if you were sitting in somebody’s house because of the net curtains at the window. There were about 20 tables but no booths or seating at the counter. Ceramics is definitely the decorative theme. On the wall behind counter were about 50 mugs hanging on hooks. Displayed on shelves were utensils, plates, teapots and even a clock. On the walls were a couple of photographs. On each table were silk flowers.

My oatmeal was very tasty. Tom enjoyed the sourdough pancakes but buttermilk pancakes are still his favorite. The coffee was good.

For a change, Tom reviewed the restroom. It was outside and the key, which was attached to a huge wooden spoon, was hanging on the side of the counter. He said it was unisex, clean and basic. There were a couple of stenciled sayings on the wall but he couldn’t remember what they said.

This is definitely a place we would come for breakfast when we visit the area again.

Daybreak Cafe
17464 Penn Valley Drive
Penn Valley, CA 95946

Malakoff Diggins State Historic Park, Gold Country

View from our balcony

View from our balcony

Maybe because of the total seclusion of our log cabin but more probably due to our late night, it was 8.30 before we stirred. Tom likes to get up early to take photos but the sun was way up before we had even opened our eyes. He did take some photos from the balcony though. We were deciding where to go today – so much to see, so little time.  Malakoff Diggins sounded interesting so we decided to drive into Grass Valley to find something to eat before heading north.

After breakfast at the Old Town Cafe we explored a little bit of Grass Valley including the pastie shop (or pasty as we would say in England). Cousin Jack Pasties. They are indeed authentic Cornish pasties. It is a family owned shop and the recipe has been handed down from generation to generation. Of course they sell many variations of the Cornish pasty.  On their website they explain the tradition of Cornish pasties; Wikipedia is a good source as well. My father was a cook in the Royal Navy and he made oggies (naval term for Cornish pasties) all the time but his were not semi circular in shape and flat but crimped along the top. No matter what they look like, there’re great to eat. Obviously I bought one, which was just right for the two of us when we had a picnic lunch later.

(Click on the photos for larger versions)

South fork of the Yuba River

South fork of the Yuba River

According to the map, it looked an easy drive to the Malakoff Diggins but, to be on the safe side, we turned on Camilla (our GPS), found Malakoff
Diggins and set off. The first part of the route was easy on Highway 49.  Just beyond Nevada City the freeway ended and Highway 49 became a scenic route. The highway crossed the South Fork Yuba River and we turned down what we assumed to be the old road over the river and pulled into a small car park. We walked down to the bridge and looked down onto the fast flowing river beneath. Tom absorbed himself in taking photos and I spent several minutes watching a group of fisherman on the rocks below. The 1.5 mile long Independence Trail starts here and is the nation’s first wheelchair accessible wilderness trail. Two other trails start on the north side of the river – Hoyt’s and the South Yuba River trails. The first is 1.2 miles and the second 5 miles long. Another time maybe.

Back on the road again we faithfully followed the GPS instructions, turning right onto Tyler Foote Crossing Road but then things started to unravel. We were directed to turn right again, this time onto a road which quickly turned into a loose gravel track but we carried on, trusting Camilla absolutely. After a couple of miles she said ‘recalculating’ and directed us to take a couple of other turns. We were baffled but let her do her job. A few miles later she said ‘recalculating’ again. By now we were way out in the boonies and travelling on completely unpaved roads. We gave up and found our way back to Tyler Foote Crossing Road and looked for official signs to the Malakoff Diggins State Historic Park.

Eventually we saw a sign and breathed a sigh of relief. Then another sign which indicated we should turn right. We expected to see an entrance of some sort but there wasn’t any plus a complete lack of any directional signs. There were signs pointing to different camping sites and that was all. According to what we had read, Malakoff Diggins is famous for using hydraulic mining after the easy pickings from the mother lode began to dry up in the 1850’s but we could see nothing to indicate where we could go to see any sign of such mining. We did see a sign saying ‘North Bloomfield – originally Humbug’ which intrigued us so we went to investigate.

North Bloomfield turned out to be a small town with a few very old houses, which didn’t look as if they were occupied, a church, shops and a museum. We parked near the museum and I wandered inside to investigate. This turned out to be the park headquarters and where we had to pay a fee ($8.00). I picked up a handy little leaflet with lots of information and sat outside in the shade to read it. Tom, as usual, had wandered off with his camera. I discovered that a town tour started right at the spot I was at 1.30 every Saturday. Talk about good timing as it was 1.15. Several other people wandered over, including Tom.

Not long after 1.30 Debbie, the park ranger, joined us and for the next one and half hours she kept us enthralled. She first told us the origins of the town and Humbug was indeed it’s original name. Humbug was a common name used by miners back in the 1850’s and indicated a place where the gold had run out. When hydraulic mining uncovered gold in the hills, miners returned to Humbug and a thriving community formed. When the town applied to have a post office it was refused because there were too many places with the same name. The name that the US Post Office eventually agreed to in June of 1872 was North Bloomfield and has been known by that name ever since.

Hydraulic mining was widely used in the area but the side effects of the operation caused an environmental disaster. The process uses a lot of water which is aimed at the mountainside through a tapered nozzle. The force of the water blasted the side of the mountain and dislodged the rocks and released any gold in them. The water had to go somewhere of course and flowed into creeks, which fed into the Yuba River and caused flooding down in the valley. Mercury was used in the mining process and this, plus debris from the blasting, silted up the river and farmland was destroyed. After years of legal wrangling, an injunction was issued against dumping tailings into the Yuba River in 1874. Under the new restrictions, hydraulic mining became unprofitable and North Bloomfield declined as people drifted away. The town is not abandoned completely as a few people still live there but it is officially a ghost town.

Old house at Malakoff Diggins State Park

Old house at Malakoff Diggins State Park

Then Debbie took us for a walk around the town and into a few of the old buildings. The first building we entered was the stable. Here several wagons were on display plus a hay bailing machine. A sign tacked to the wall amused me.  It said ‘Whip Lightly, Drive Slow, Pay Cash Before You Go’. Of couse, any old mining town had to have plenty of saloons. The present museum used to be a saloon but Debbie took us into the restored King Saloon. It was a wonderful place. The long polished bar with the standard brass foot rail attached conjured up what the saloon looked like in its heyday and I imagined the miners drinking,  carousing and the making full use of the strategically placed spittoons. A few minutes later we were peeping through the window into the Barber’s Shop. We went into the Drug Store (which was extremely cold) and looked at the bottles arrayed on the shelves. It surprised me that the smell of the old medical remedies still lingered in the air. Across the road we entered the General Store with a Post Office just inside (which was also very cold). At the back we could see, behind bars, the original Wells Fargo safe. Here the miners’ gold was stored. A twenty four watch was kept on the precious metal and we could glimpse the sleeping quarters of the armed guard. The last house was the Skidmore House which is reputed to be haunted. Inside it was interesting to see the layout of the house and could peep into most of the rooms.

After the tour, we couldn’t leave the area without going to look at the Malekoff Diggins themselves. We could see vast ridges, gouged out of the hillside by the high pressure hoses used in hydraulic mining, and it was hard to imagine just what the place looked like before the miners came. We passed a sign which said that Nevada City was only a few miles away but that was the route the muleteers took and completely impossible to drive today. We checked the mileage on the way back and it was 26 miles. On the way, Tom pointed about the milky colored water in ponds at the side of the road.  These are the tailings from the hydraulic mining and even after all this time they are probably still full of mercury.

Once again, back in Nevada City, we walked around the town and enjoyed an ice cream in Treats. Tom had a cone but I went the whole hog and ordered a delicious ice cream sundae. In the evening we had dinner with Tom’s cousin, Judy, her husband, John, and Tom’s Aunt Thelma. Judy and John have a beautiful home in Nevada City and Thelma lives nearby. This was the first time I had met all of them and we had a wonderful time. Hopefully we will see more of them and if that means another trip to Nevada City, I’m all for it.

Old Town Cafe, Grass Valley

Old Town Cafe, Grass Valley, California

Old Town Cafe in Grass Valley, California

Old Town Cafe is in the historic downtown area of Grass Valley. After our late night we woke up at 8.30 so we didn’t set out for breakfast until 10am. For us, that is very nearly lunch time! Neither of us was very hungry after our gorgeous meal last night but Tom needed coffee.

Grass Valley is the nearest fair sized town so that’s where we headed. We found a car park which gave us three hours of free parking and headed for the historic district. One of the first places I noticed on the way there was a shop selling pasties – could they be Cornish pasties I wonder? Decided to check on that later.

The historic downtown area in Grass Valley is charming. There is a long street, with a slight kink in the middle, lined with old buildings which have been turned into cute shops selling antiques, clothes, books, furniture and, most important of all, breakfast.

Inside the Old Town Cafe it was not large but very roomy. We were seated at one of the tables in the window. The padded seats were wide and comfortable and the table was just the right height, plus, being in the window, we had a good view of the street outside. There was only one booth, seven tables for four people and thirteen stools at the counter.

As they also serve lunch, the menu had burgers and sandwiches on offer. The breakfast selection spread over two pages but mainly consisted of egg dishes and a few pancakes. They did have oatmeal ($4.29) so that was my choice. Tom ordered chorizo and eggs ($7.00) with corn tortillas and salsa. There was a note on the front of the menu which stated that the Old Town Cafe was the oldest continuous operating eatery in Grass Valley.

There were lots of photos on the walls, mostly of Grass Valley in the gold rush days. On the wall next to me were three color photos of old custom-built cars. Apart from that, I saw nothing else unusual, quirky or off the wall which caught my eye.

My oatmeal was served in a small, deep, round, bowl on a tea plate. The milk came in a stainless steel lidded jug and the brown sugar and raisins in small ceramic bowls. The oatmeal was OK but could have been hotter. Maybe it had been sitting a while before being served. Tom’s chorizo and eggs was not bad at all. He asked for extra crispy hash browns and that is exactly what he got.

The restroom was through the kitchen and up some stairs.  It was OK.  The water did not get hot at all so that was definitely a minus point. There was a wooden shelf with three coat pegs. Fake ivy was draped over it and was wound round exposed pipes. You know I like quirky but on the shelf were some rather odd items – a roll on deodorant, an old carton of dental floss and a table knife.  Umm.

The Old Town Cafe had some commendable attractions – location, good chorizo and eggs. On the minus side – lukewarm oatmeal and the cold water in the restroom. Would we go again? Definitely.

Old Town Cafe
110 Mill Street
Grass Valley, CA 95945

Penn Valley and Nevada City, Gold Country

Penn Valley cabin

The Penn Valley cabin we stayed in.

This is the start of the long Memorial Day weekend. For me it is a four day weekend because I have every other Friday off. We are off to spend three nights in a secluded log cabin in Penn Valley which is in the Sierra Nevada foothills. Penn Valley is close to both Grass Valley and Nevada City in the Gold Country.

(Click on the photos for larger versions)

As it was a working day for lots of people, we set off at 10 a.m. after the rush hour. The major part of our journey was on the 680 freeway, over the Benicia-Martinez Bridge, up to Interstate 80 to join Route 113. From here on the journey started to be interesting, maybe because it was new territory for both of us and you know how we love to explore new places. We were driving north through a part of the Central Valley where the main industry is agriculture. Partly submerged fields were on either side of the road indicating that rice is the main crop in this area.

We entered a small town and saw a sign which said ‘Historic Knights Landing’. An ideal spot to stop and stretch our legs we thought as we had been driving for two hours. The town seemed to consist of just one street. Some of the houses were historic but we could not see any downtown area so it was a quick stop. Back on the road again, we crossed the mighty Sacramento River and headed for Yuba City. With apologies to the residents of that city but I was not impressed.  All we saw was one shopping center after another. We did stop at a Starbucks for a coffee though.

With Yuba City behind us we continued along Route 20 through Marysville towards Grass Valley. Our surroundings became more and more interesting. Ahead we could see the snow-capped Sierras in the distance and we began to climb into the foothills. On the map I noticed that the next town along was called Timbucto0 but we never saw any signs of it at all. Being curious I checked when I arrived home. There was indeed a town called Timbuctoo. Legend has it that a freed slave found gold in the area and asked that the town be named after Timbuktu in Africa where he was born. It was a booming town in the 1850’s when hydraulic mining was at its peak. When that form of mining was banned in 1884, the town slowly declined and now only the remains of one structure is left and Timbuctoo is officially a ghost town.

Gas light post in Nevada City.

Gas light post in Nevada City. I guess somebody goes around each night lighting these.

Just before the small town of Penn Valley our directions were to turn left heading towards Lake Wildwood. Before we reached the lake we made another left onto a private road. Along this road we suddenly had the most amazing view in front of us of Yuba City and the Central Valley with the Sutter Buttes behind. Not long after that we arrived at the home of Chuck Frank, the owner of our log cabin. His home is also built from logs but is much larger than our cabin, Chuck, his wife Kathy and daughter Holly welcomed us into their home and took us onto their wrap around balcony. In one direction we had another view of the Sutter Buttes and below us a fast flowing creek, complete with several small waterfalls, with a heavily wooded ridge in front of us. Chuck pointed to where our cabin was but it was hidden behind some trees.

There was no way our Prius would be able to get down the slope to the cabin so we were given the keys to a four wheel drive truck. We loaded our luggage into it and set off. Chuck drove ahead in his ATV to show us the way. We could only to so far down in the SUV. The rest was on foot down a steep 300′ long rocky path to the cabin. And there was our home for the next three days – a lovely, one bedroom log cabin just above the babbling brook.  Total seclusion. Inside we had a living room, kitchenette and bathroom on the ground floor with a door onto a balcony overlooking the creek. The bedroom was in a loft and to get to it we had to climb a steep wooden ladder.  I felt like Heidi.

As soon as we had explored the cabin, we set off to walk along a track which led to the top of the waterfall. Chuck and Kathy said it was possible to pan for gold in the stream and in the cabin were a couple of pans and a metal detector. They gave us a few hints on how to look for gold. On this occasion we were just happy to soak in the view and take photos.

Earlier I had asked Chuck about wildlife.  There were plenty of deer and coyotes and maybe a few rattlesnakes. They have lived here for eight years and have never seen either a beer or a mountain lion near the cabin, but three weeks ago they did see three wild peafowl.

At 3.30 we made our way back up the path to the SUV, then on up to our car before heading into Nevada City which was about 15 miles away. We have booked seats for a show in town which starts at 8.15. Before that we wanted to take a walk around the town and get something to eat.

Nevada  City is a picture perfect town. Built in the gold rush days, the buildings are mostly old and lots of the houses are cute Victorians with lovely gardens. In most shop windows were displayed sepia photographs of Nevada City in the good old days. We checked all the menus posted outside restaurants on Broad Street to see where we wanted to eat tonight and Citronee appealed to us the most. It opened at 5 so, with time to kill, we went into the Mine Shaft for a drink beforehand. Inside it was dark and several TV sets were tuned to different stations. The two closest to us were showing a basketball and a baseball game. I won’t say it was crowded but it certainly was not empty. We were greeted by the barmaid and ordered a couple of beers – I always ask for a shandy which is beer with a dash of 7-Up. The atmosphere was friendly and casual and we struck up a conversation with another customer about basketball.

Downtown Nevada City

Downtown Nevada City

Just after 5, we sauntered up the Broad Street to Citronee. The restaurant is very pleasant inside and we were immediately shown to a table in the front part. At first we were the only customers sitting in that section though the back section had quite a few people in it. We ordered a starter – anchovies on crostini  – and sipped our wine as we waited. Just before our main course arrived our server came over and asked if we would mind moving to a different table. A party of 7 had walked in without a reservation and the only way they could fit them in was by moving us. Of course we were quite happy to oblige and as a thank you we didn’t have to pay for the starter. For our main course, Tom had filet mignon and I had chicken. Both dishes were superb. It was a great meal.

Our evening was not over as we had booked to see a show called ‘The Be-Bop Stop’ at Off Broadstreet on Commercial Street, which was only a short walk away. The theatre was not very large and set out in cabaret style. We had good seats towards the back on a slightly raised platform. We were sat at a small round table with a red check tablecloth. On the stage, a guitarist was playing well known songs from the fifties. He was good and had everybody singing along. The atmosphere was very relaxed and friendly. We had drinks served at the table. Tom had a hazelnut coffee and I had a hot chocolate. The show was described as ‘A Nostalgic Musical Comedy’. We were not really expecting a top notch performance, afterall Nevada City is a small rural town, but we were very pleasantly surprised. The plot, costumes, acting and especially the singing were marvelous. During the intermission we ordered deserts. Tom had the chocolate truffle cheesecake and I had Maui Pie. Scrummy.

What a fantastic night out we had in Nevada City. All we had to do was to find our way back to the cabin and negotiate our way down the track and then the walk to our destination. Of course a flashlight is an absolute must. Fifteen minutes later we were ensconced inside, looking out of the large picture window at the myriad stars and with the sound of the creek lulling us to sleep.

El Dorado County – The Journey

Old Building in Ione. Obviously the Coke sign was there before the window.

Old Building in Ione. Obviously the Coke sign was there before the window.

We’re off on another trip to the Gold Country, this time to the El Dorado wine region.  Originally we were planning a day trip but as El Dorado is further than our normal destination in the Gold Country, we decided to make a weekend of it and booked overnight accommodation at a bed and breakfast.

After our recent trip to Murphys and Mokelumne Hill, we had a comment from Jolaine Collins extolling the El Dorado area in and around Placerville and Fair Play.  I have been through Placerville several times quite a few years ago but never realized it was also a wine area.  Fair Play neither Tom nor I had ever heard of.  The place name itself intrigued me but when I searched for more information I could not discover too much about it apart from the fact that there were several wineries situated there.

Jolaine sent us a link to the El Dorado Wine Country which gave me a list of wineries and their opening times along with a down loadable map of the area. We pored over the map and consulted the wineries list and decided to leave early in the morning on Saturday going first to the Pleasant Valley are where all four of the wineries opened at 10 am instead of the usual 11 am. We wrote to Jolaine and told her our plans, including stopping for breakfast on the way, and she kindly sent back lots of useful information along with the name of a place to go for breakfast.

An hour into our journey at 6.45 in the morning we were on I-205 and approaching Tracy. It’s going to be a nice day. The sun, which 15 minutes ago had popped up over the Altamont as a bright orange ball, is now shining into our eyes. Sunglasses on and visors down. Ahead we spot a small plane fly low over the freeway, bank steeply and fly back. It was a crop duster. By the time we reached the point of his crossing, he was back again seemingly inches above the roof of the car. It was definitely a ‘wooh’ moment.

I-5 was as monotonous as usual. Lots of SUVs and trucks pulling small boats, jet skies and trailers, probably on their way to one of the many lakes dotted around. On Highway 88, just outside Stockton, we stopped at a Starbucks for coffee. Tom had a muffin as well. He was getting hungry and it is over an hour to where we plan to stop for breakfast. Unlike the last time, when we stopped in Copperopolis looking for somewhere to eat and failing miserably, we knew exactly where we are going today – Zachary Jacques in Pleasant Valley.

Highway 88 is a two lane road through the Central Valley. We were heading towards Jackson (the same Jackson as Nancy Sinatra sang about I wonder?) on Highway 49. Our route takes us through orchards and Tom remarked on the fact that although the trees were all the same, some of them were tall and some were short. It looks like the tall trees had not been cut back but the short ones obviously had. We wondered why. Oleander bushes were in full bloom and lined both sides of the road at one point. Just before the Harney Road intersection I spotted a peahen standing motionless at the side of the road.

Along Highway 88 grapes, apples, and a host of other fruits and vegetables grow profusely. Fruit stands are abundent, selling strawberries, corn, applies, cherries, blackberries, apricots and blueberries – all grown locally. As we drove through Lockeford, I noticed that the Lockeford Meat Service (good sausages) in the center of town was not open yet. Just north of Clements we bear left, still on Highway 88, and for me this is new territory.

Suddenly we are no longer on the valley floor but steadily ascending towards the foothills of the Sierra Nevada range of mountains.  The land has become more open and hilly.  the orchards and vineyards are no more to be seen.

I see a sign advertising the Black Chasm just outside Volcano.  My daughter Ginnie and I visited this cave a few years back and it was great fun.  Near the Black Chasm is Indian Grinding Rock State Historic Park which Tom and I visited once.  Both places are worth a visit.

According to the map, the Camanche Reservoir was off to our right but I see no sign of it.  I see a road sign pointing towards it with the brown symbols showing that fishing and boating can be enjoyed there.

We enter the town of Ione.  How is that pronounced – I-one, I-on or I-own – I wonder?  Tom says it is I-own so I’ll bow to his superior knowledge.  The town looked interesting so we decided to stop and stretch our legs.  The main street is wide with lots of parking places.  There is a wide covered sidewalk on one side of the road and the buildings are all evocotive of the heady gold rush days.

Right behind the Ione City Hall, which was originally a hotel built in 1864, an old railway steam locomotive stands under cover and behind a high barred fence which is difficult to look through,  Tom couldn’t even take a photo of the train.  A sign to the right of it proclaims it to be ‘Iron Van’ which was ‘the last steam locomotive to operate over the Amador Central Railroad between Ione and Martell.  …….The last trip………was made in 1956.’

It is just 8.30 in the morning and there were very few people around and certainly nothing was open.  We took a stroll up one side and down the other to see what there was to see.

In the C&P Tax Service window were some old typewriters and adding machines.  One was an Underwood, which looked just like the one my Dad used back in the 1960’s and on which I learned to type.  Memories, memories.

Old gas station in Pleasant Valley on the way to breakfast.  The pumps still showed gas at $.40 a gallon

Old gas station in Pleasant Valley on the way to breakfast. The pumps still showed gas at $.40 a gallon

The library is housed in the Ione Parlor No 33 N.S.G.W. building which was built in 1854.  This builidng is two stories hight with a balcony on the second floor.

On one corner of Main Street is an old brick building with a faded Coca Cola sign painted on the side.  A door and a window have been built into the wall which partialy obliterate the sign.  On the wall of the building opposite are some large , bright paintings of annual events in Ione – the Soapbox Derby, Fireworks in Howard Park, Pumpkin Patch at Winterport Farm and Home Town Christmas.

A sign on the front of 18 Main Street declares the building to be the Daniel Co Store built in 1856.  this was the first brick building erected in the Ione Valley.  The sign goes on to say that Ione was once known as “Bed-bug” and “Freeze-out”.  That conjures up a pretty picture doesn’t it?

Time to move on.  We are both more than ready for breakfast but we still have some way to go.  We left town on Highway 124, which is the Plymouth Highway, and the road climbed upwards.  The brown hills on either side became higher but we had occasional views to the even higher hills ahead of us.  No sign yet of the majestic peaks of the high Sierra, which will grace the skyline shortly.

At 9 am we reach Highway 49, the scienic route through the Gold Country and the historic gold rush towns from Oakhurst in the south to Vinton on Highway 70 to the north.

When we reached those higher hills, the road began to twist and turn and there were steep drop offs to my right.  Our ears started to pop.  A convoy of motor bikes passed us, heading south.  And there, to the left of us, we caught sight of those high mountain peaks.

Just south of Diamond Springs we drive through the small town of El Dorado.  This little hamlet must be the county seat of El Dorado county.  I checked a map of the counties of California and was surprised to see that this county is bigger than I though it would be.  It stretches all the way to the stateline with Nevada.

At 9.30 we finally reach Zachary Jacques and at last we get to eat.

Zachary Jacques, Pleasant Valley

Zachary Jacques in Pleasant Valley (Placerville), California

Zachary Jacques in Pleasant Valley (Placerville), California

Mollie, our GPS, let us down at the last minute.  Normally she gives us due warning that our destination is coming up, but not this time.  We were right on top of Zachary Jacques when she said ‘destination on the left’ and we sailed right past.  For the next mile we searched in vain for somewhere to turn around and eventually found a suitable place.

The restaurant is set a little back from the road with parking on a steep incline at the road side.  A couple of tall pine trees stand in front.  The exterior of the restaurant looks pleasing and rustic with a large metal rooster to the left of the font door.  The chef owner is John Evans

The interior is fairly dark with low light.  They also serve lunch and dinner here so I’m guessing it will be quite romantic later on in the day.  We waited a few moments to be seated and were shown to our table by the window.  It is a nice, comfortable place with a long, low padded seat to the left.  The tables are made of a dark varnished wood and the chairs have padded seats.  Draped net curtains adorn the sides of the windows and hanging lacy curtains cover the top half of the windows.  Enya plays softly in the background – my favorite type of music but not Tom’s cup of tea.

Our server is very helpful and extremely cheerful.  Tom and I studied the menu carefully.  There was no oatmeal on offer but everything did look tempting.  Tom ordered Duck Confit which was described as ‘duck with eggs and crispy potatoes’ ($11.50).  He also ordered free range eggs for an extra $1.  I strayed a long way from the straight an narrow and ordered Coconut Macadamia Nut French Toast, described as fresh baked macadamia bread dipped in coconut custard, garnished with coconut syrup and toasted macadamia nuts for $6.95.  What the heck, I’m on (a mini) vacation.

Now for the decor.  Around the walls were large paintings – one of a courtyard and garden, one a landscape with trees and a third of a couple sitting in a cafe with a large window behind them.  There were a couple of smaller paintings as well.  One right above my let shoulder was of a vineyard scene  Behind me was a glass panel with raised purple grapes and green leaves across the top and down the sides.  In the far corner was a dresser with ceramic jugs and other things I couldn’t quite make out from where I sat.

We were both really impressed with the food and the way it was presented.  On Tom’s plate was a delicious looking piece of duck with a crusted outside two large pieces of herb roasted potatoes, a thick slice of toasted bread and two fried eggs which looked just how he liked them – over medium.  My French bread was on a plate decorated with a swirl of raspberry coulis, two small slices of both oranges and apples.  There were three thick pieces of nutty macadamia bread, butter with bits of macadamia nuts inside and s mall stainless steel bowl with the coconut syrup.  It looked too good to eat.

But eat it I did and it was delicious.  Decidedly decadent though and I dread to think of the calories I have just overloaded my body with but it was worth it.  So, Tom, how was yours?

Mine was great.  Duck is something you don’t have for breakfast everyday that’s for sure.  I wish I had had some of their coffee but we stopped at a Starbucks in Stockton on the way up.

Of course I paid my usual visit to the restroom and it was better than a lot I’ve been in.  The walls were sponge painted with a beige base and gold on top.  There were four framed pictures which were all tapestries with a definite French feel about them, two featured couples in 17th century costumes, one was of a French chateau and the fourth and largest looked like Napoleon Bonaparte and the Empress Josephine.  Over the sinks were two oval mirrors with silver frames.

I must say, we both really enjoyed our breakfast at Zachery Jacques.  It was well worth the long drive.  Would love to come back some time and try and few more items from the menu.  It’s such a pity that it is such a long way from home.  If you are within 100 miles, you really should try it out.

Zachary Jacques
1821 Pleasant Valley Road
Placerville, CA 95667

Gold Country

Downtown Murphys.  Waiting for his master.

Downtown Murphys. Waiting for his master.

The Gold Country is a fair drive away from San Jose, so we left at 5.20 in the morning.  Planned to make it to Copperopolis for breakfast.  After an hour, we were driving over the Altamount Pass towards Tracy.  Half an hour later we had Stockton in our rear view mirror, heading east on Highway 4.

We came up to a railroad just as the barriers came down and we sat and waited for five minutes.  To our right we saw the train – a long freight train, coming towards us at a snails pace.  Oh no, we thought, this is going to take some time.  The the train stopped.  Two minutes later the barriers opened and we were able to cross.  Maybe the train was waiting for another to pass but we were just grateful not to be held up for half an hour.

Highway 4 dissects the Central Valley so, for the first part, we drove past corn waving in the breeze and orchards.  After Farmington, the scene changed to vineyards and cattle grazing.  The the road started to climb towards the foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountains.

At 7.20 we arrived in Copperopolis, only to be hugely disappointed because we could not find anywhere to eat breakfast.  We drove on to Angels Camp, where it was almost the same story.  We did find one cafe but it was not open.

Angels Camp, otherwise known as Frogtown, is an interesting town though.  Why Frog Town? – I hear you say.   In the 1860’s a young journalist named Samuel Clemens stayed overnight in Angels Camp on his way to Nevada.  While there, he heard of a frog which locals claimed could jump higher and further than any other frog.  Samuel Clemens write a short story entitled ‘Jim Smiley and His Jumping Frog’ and it was published in the New York Saturday Press.  Two years later the short story was turned into a book entitled ”The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County’ but this time under the pen name of Clemens, which was Mark Twain.

To this day they hold an annual contest to find the frog which can jump the furthest.  Every third week in May this contest is held during the Calaveras County Fair and Jumping Frog Jubilee.  Installed in the sidewalks on Main Street in Angels Camp are bronze plaques shaped like frogs.  Each plaque has the year, the name of the winning frog and the distance it jumped.  The record stands at just over 21 feet.

Hunger and the need for coffee motivated us to move on.  The nearest town of reasonable size was Murphys and here we were successful.

After breakfast at the Foothills Restaurant – see previous post – we moved the car to the main street where we found a nice shady tree to park under.  We noticed quite a few empty shops on the way in, which is a sign of the times.  On the other hand, there were more wine tasting rooms than on our previous visit.

We did our usual wander up one side and down the other to see what we could see.  Murphys is an old gold mining town and a lot of the buildings have been here for over 150 years, with covered sidewalks – just like in the old westerns you see on TV.  It is very pleasant to saunter up and down and there are many convenient benches to sit on in the shade.

A sign pointing to a  ‘Point of Historic Interest’ caught my attention.  Following the sign, I came of a wall which was called the E C V Wall of

E C V Wall of Comparative Ovations in Murphys

E C V Wall of Comparative Ovations in Murphys

Comparative Ovations and was covered in plaques commemorating an unusual array of men and women who have left their mark on California.  One of the plaques explains about the society of E Clampus Vitus – ‘sort of parody of the solemn and mysterious fraternal orders then so popular in the states'; ‘helped widows and orphans – especially widows’.  It was very much tongue in cheek and very amusing.  There was, of course, one for John Murphy, 1824-1892, who was the founder of Murphys.  In December 1949 at the age of 25,  he returned to San Jose with one and a half million dollars in gold.  He married Virginia Reed of the Donner party and served as mayor and sheriff of Santa Clara County.   There were just two women honored among the 50 or so plaques.  One was Julia C Bulette, born London 1832 – ‘gentle companion to the miner……..strangled (in her bed maybe) in 1867′ and the other was Emma Nevada (Wixom) who was known as the Nightingale of the Comstock and sang for the Clampers and even for Queen Victoria.

Murphys Hotel in downtown Murphys

Murphys Hotel in downtown Murphys

Further down the street was the historic Murphys Hotel – lovely old building with an upstairs balcony swathed in red, white and blue bunting.  On a plaque outside it told the history of the building.  Originally it was the Old Speery Hotel or the Speery and Perry Hotel.  It has been a hotel since 1856 and is one of the oldest operating hotels in California.  Over the years it has had its share of famous guests – Mark Twin, The Rothchilds, General U S Grant, Thomas Lipton and Black Bart (an infamous highwayman of the late 1880s in the area).  Today the hotel is still very active.  In fact, we wished we had waited just a little longer because they serve breakfast on the patio at the side of the hotel in a very nice shady garden.  We must remember that next time we visit here.

Another old building ,which was originally called Jones Apothecary and Cash Store, still has the old painted sign on the side of the building.  It is quite faded but the words can still be made out.  Now it is an art gallery.

Along the way I saw a couple of interesting posters.  Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young will be performing at the Ironstone Winery on September 19.  They would be interesting to see in concert but probably to far to come.  The other post was advertising the Calaveras Grape Stomping in Murphys Communal Park on October 3.  That sounds like fun.

There are lots more interesting buildings in Murphys and I hope the above has given you a flavor.

At the end of shops and the beginning of the residential part of the town, there is a bridge over a fast running stream.  This is Murphys Creek.  On one side of the bridge are two houses with the creek running between them.  One of the houses has a small, ornamental water wheel with a crank shaft leading to model windmill.  The sails of the windmill were not turning though.  It all looked very pretty.

Continue reading

Gold Country

We left San Jose at 4.30 in the pitch black and it did not begin to get light until we reached Stockton. Mind you, the urban sprawl we were driving through was not much to look at. Just before Stockton we took Highway 4 East towards Highway 99 and then Route 88 towards Sutter Creek.

It was not long before we were in the countryside of the Central Valley and the scenery began to be interesting. We passed a lot of orchards and rows and rows of grape vines sporting their new greenery.

At Lockeford we stopped for breakfast and by 7.30 we were on our way again. It was a beautiful drive through some lovely countryside with masses of wild flowers of every color along the route.

It’s going to be a hot day and already the sun is up and the shades are down. In front of us we can see the Sierras which is always an uplifting sight.

The cattle ranches and vineyards gave way to scrub and rock and we began to climb out of the valley.

When we reached Highway 49 we turned left and stopped off at Sutter Creek.Downtown Sutter Creek

Sutter Creek

The first thing that caught our attention was a huge banner announcing the 49er Bypass Challenge for Walkers, Runners and Bikers was taking place today. Trust us to arrive when something was going on. The same sort of thing happened to us on our first trip to Murphys and also to Volcano. In Murphys it was a Homecoming Parade and in Volcano a chili cook off.

Another banner was strung across Main Street and the middle of the town was cordoned off so we turned up a side street and found a small car park and took a wander around.

They call this city the Jewel of the Gold Country and it is a very cute place. The main street consists of cafes, gift shops and antique emporiums all situated in buildings constructed over a hundred years ago. Sutter Creek was a tent town during the latter half of the 1800s when gold was found nearby. Be warned, the sidewalk is not suitable for wheelchairs as there are lots of levels and steps.

Today there was a lot of bustle as volunteers for the 49er Bypass Challenge where busy setting up water stations and cones and contestants with numbers pinned to their vests were warming up and studying route maps. There were four routes – a 1 mile walk around town, 5 and 10 kilometer course for runners and a 25k bike ride and they all started and finished at the same point with staggered starting times.

We stopped off at the Backroads Cafe where Tom had a decent cup of coffee and I treated myself to a cup of chocolate (without the whipped cream). Everybody was very friendly and I chatted to the coffee servers, the volunteers in the street, the competitors and the passerbys. There is a laid back and relaxed feel about the place.

I was surprised at how few competitors there were. The first call was for girls 6-7 and men over 80 but there were no participants. There were about a dozen different starting times for the under fifteens and the over 35s but nobody came forward. The announcer was having a hard time to get anybody on the start line. There was one call for 69 year old females so no wonder there were no takers – who wants everybody to know how old you are? It all seemed a little complicated to me and the announcer struggled to get all the categories and start times right. By 9 though he had a few takers and we watched small groups set off on the 10k run in one direction and the dozen bikers set off on the 25k course in the other direction. Between 9 and 9.30 there was a lull before the participants for the 5k run were called to the starting point.

Continue reading

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...