It's called highway 49 for a reason...this ribbon of asphalt connect most of the towns that grew up during California's Gold Rush and includes some of the most historic sites in the state.
It's old, dating back over 150 years but Ione, actually, is not a gold mining town. The city made its riches by making the bricks that other Gold Rush towns used to rebuild with after devastating fires. Now, it's fireworks, tourists, and juvenile offenders. The Castle...a large, imposing building on the hill overlooking town was the old juvenile detention center. A more modern juvenile hall stands next door.
Pretty Sutter Creek has a working gold mine at the edge of town.
One of the best steakhouses in the Motherlode
The county seat of Amador County is nearby Jackson. Gorgeous town but really knocked to the mat during the great recession of 2010...saw way too many vacant storefronts while we were there as well as a sad looking for sale banner on the historic National Hotel at the end of the street but a recent visit saw the National back in business and the local economy has really picked back up.
Wine is the new hot commodity in Amador County, just a few miles away from where the big Gold Rush started. This little miner's cabin holds the tasting room for our favorite California winery, Story Winery.
There's also a great picnic area here overlooking hundreds of acres of vines...some dating back to the Gold Rush days...trailing off down the Consumnes River Canyon.
Perhaps the most famous of Motherlode towns is Angel's Camp, made famous by Mark Twain in his story The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County. Like Jackson, it's a pretty quiet place these days but nearby Murphy's draws big crowds on the weekends as bikers and tourist clamor for tastes of wine from this new wine region.
Last is the most historic town on the California gold trail...by far. In fact, I'd wager to say that this is THE most important and historic site in the entire state. Coloma is where John Sutter had his mill. Being water powered, the mill run would sometimes clog up. A couple of sticks of dynamite would clear it up and it'd just take some workmen to make sure the debris was cleared.
Mill foreman, James Marshall, was on that duty on January 24, 1848. As he was walking along the river inspecting for blast debris, he noticed something shiny in the water at this tiny, sandy beach. It was gold and California would never, ever be the same.
Unfortunately for Marshall and his boss, Sutter, others would profit from the rush they started and they died broke. Marshall is buried on top of a nearby hill where he had his cabin. This statue on top of his grave points to that spot on the river where he found the gold that forever changed the fortunes of the state.
Copyright 2012 - Darryl Musick
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