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Friday, June 20, 2014

CLASSIC TRIP - Amador County and Gold Country, California 1998 - Part 1

Please indulge us for another classic trip, a new trip will be up next week.  For now, it's time for another trip in the WayBack Machine.  This time, way back to 1998.  One caveat is that our lodging in this report no longer appears to operate as a bed and breakfast.  It is now just a place to hold weddings and receptions, which is too bad because it was a very nice place to stay.  Kind of like a Tom Sawyer house along the banks of a nice little creek.  Oh well, time marches on...


After driving 300 miles and getting lost on some country back roads, it was amazing looking at this humble little stretch of sand that is the epicenter of California history. For it was here, on a January day 150 years ago that a sawmill manager bent over to pick up a shiny fleck in the outflow of the mill. From that moment on, things were never to be the same in California again.

Our latest getaway was taken over the July 4th weekend. Again, we find ourselves drawn to the Gold Country, this time to the area south of Placerville and east of Sacramento.

In planning this trip, we originally were thinking of seeing the star wine country of the state, Napa Valley. We were soon discouraged over the high lodging prices and the long drive. Looking over the appellations of the wine bottles at our local shop, the name Amador County popped up again and again. A little research into this area showed that it is a great area for wine and travel value so Amador County is was.


We settled on the great little Heirloom Inn in Ione, CA for our lodging. This antebellum style inn, built 135 years ago, sits on the banks of Sutter Creek and provides a secluded, private base to explore all this area has to offer.

As stated above, our first day in the area started with us taking a wrong turn near Placerville and getting lost trying to find Coloma. Unfortunately, our AAA map of California was missing some key roads in the area and was of no use. Knowing that Coloma should be somewhere northwest of Placerville, we stumbled along until we found a sign pointing in the proper direction.

The town of Coloma...really more of a village these days...is a state historic park. Coloma is the spot where James Sutter built his sawmill to process the logs from the nearby mountains. John Marshall was Sutter’s manager at the mill.

On that fateful day in January of 1848, the tailrace of the mill (where the water that powered it flowed through) was clogged with debris. The waterwheel that powered the mill would not turn. Marshall supervised the dynamiting of the tailrace. The blasting was successful and the water again flowed freely.

Marshall then went to inspect the exit of the tailrace to make sure there was no more clogging debris when he noticed something shiny in the water. There, at the spot pictured above, he bent over and picked up the gold nugget that started the California Gold Rush.

150 years later, we find ourselves looking for another kind of gold. We are frantically looking through our car for loose change because of the $5 park admission fee. We have a $20 bill, but the toll booth is unmanned and no one is available to make change. Finally, we find our $5 worth of change and somehow manage to cram it through the narrow slot of the toll booth and park our car.


From the lot it is about 100 yards to the replica of Sutter’s Mill. It’s about another 200 yards from that spot to where the mill was originally located, marked by a monument (the American River has changed course since 1848 and inundated the original site). Next to the replica is a shed containing some original wood from the real mill.

It’s what lies down river that intrigues me even more. First is that spot where the mill was actually located. As you stand on the banks of the river watching the rafters go by, all it takes is the thought that 2 of the most important men in the state’s history stood on this spot. Indeed, they worked and lived here.

Further downstream as you come upon that humble little beach (see the picture up above), again the thought comes into your mind...this is where John Marshall actually bent over and picked up that nugget. My son kids me sometimes about my getting thrilled over history, but it’s the same feeling I get when I’m in Washington, D.C. and standing behind the balcony in Ford’s theater thinking about the assassination that took place right in front of the spot I’m standing in.

Later on we visited the park’s museum and wandered around what’s left of the town...many of the old buildings were torn down as prospectors looked through the ground underneath them for gold. Of interest here is the old jail and the many pits left from those early diggings.


Up the hill is John Marshall’s grave which is marked with a prominent monument pointing down to the discovery site. It’s sad when you learn that he died broke and dejected...only after his death was his place in history noted with this monument.

Just below his grave is his old cabin. Still standing, complete with the outhouse. Adjacent is the old cemetery and an old canal, still carrying water, left over from those gold rush days.

Stay tuned for Part 2...

-Darryl
Copyright 1998 - Darryl Musick
All Rights Reserved

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