Monday, August 4, 2014

CLASSIC TRIP: Yosemite and the Gold Country, California - Part 2


Having been to Yosemite yesterday and not wanting to wade into the crowds, we decided to see what the town of Mariposa had in store for us.

After another giant breakfast, we headed to the state Mining and Mineral Museum located 2 miles south of town at the Mariposa County Fairgrounds. Jon and Lois had provided us with a 2 for 1 admission coupon (also available at the visitor's center at the north end of town) so the price was right.

It's your basic museum but loaded with gems and precious metals. You follow exhibits that explain the history of gold mining in the region. This is the heart of Mother Lode country so a trip here must include some gold mining related activities.

There is a recreated mine shaft to wander down and many displays of the various minerals and gems that are mined in California. There is even a display that explains how you can file a mining claim yourself.

The crowning jewel of the museum is the largest gold nugget found in California. This 13 pound giant is very spectacular. About a foot long and 6 inches high. Just off the top of our head we figured just by weight is must be worth close to $100,000.

Next, we head to the north side of town and went to the Mariposa County History Museum, located right behind the Bank of America. This admission-free museum is full of the history of the region.

Outside is a large display of authentic gold mining equipment used in the region. The original office of the local newspaper is here along with a rebuilt gold ore stamping machine.

Inside are displays of local antiques along with stories of the region's schools, saloons, good guys and bad guys. Of particular interest are many of John Fremont's personal belongings. He, along with Kit Carson, explored much of the region and was instrumental in getting statehood for California.

After the museum we drove up the street to the cemetery to do some exploring. We tried, but by now the heat was just too much so we drove up highway 140 to the Merced River Recreation Area (12 miles north of town) to wade in the cool water.

There is a great little dirt road here that follows the course of the river south for several miles with plenty of great pools for a dip. Many outfitters also provide raft trips down the river here.

After this we head back to the inn for a long, refreshing dip in the pool. As beautiful as this region is, it really gets hot.

Jon and Lois invited us up for a barbecue that evening and we had some delicious barbecued chicken tacos with a French flavor. Jon, ever the Frenchman, pulled out some delicious wine to top it off.

After dinner, we head back over to the fairgrounds for the local 4th of July celebration. After much singing by a local group...too much singing judging by the reactions of those around us...the fireworks began. It was a great show and after fighting a great traffic jam to get out, we went back to the inn.


Our last morning at the Restful Nest. Breakfast again was a huge affair with an egg casserole, a variety of breakfast meats, fruit, muffins, and the ever-present brioches. It was sad to leave but leave we must and we proceeded to head south down highway 41 through a Gold Country scenic drive.

For the first time on our trip we actually got hungry for lunch about the time we hit Fresno. Not wanting to make the same mistake again, this time we remembered about the new In-n-Out on the south end of town.

After a delicious double-double and a shake, we continued on to this day's destination.

Most people are under the assumption that giant sequoia trees can only be found in national parks such as Yosemite and Sequoia. Well, they're wrong!

There is a little known and out of the way area south of Sequoia National Park that has many groves of these giants. True, it is out of the way (the loop we made will take you about 4 hours out of the way) and most of the groves are hidden in the forest up old dirt logging roads. However, that being said there are some spectacular trees right along the main highway.

To get there, we headed south on Highway 99 to Highway 140 leading to Porterville. Then we headed east on 140 into the Sequoia National Forest. This is a really windy road that finally straightens out 44 miles up into the mountains at Quaking Aspen. Here, we continued on to mile marker 13 to the Trail of 100 Giants.

There is a picnic area and a campground across the street from the trailhead next to the beautiful Long Meadow. The trail itself is an easy 1/2 mile loop through a spectacular grove of giant trees. These trees are not fenced in and you can get right up to them and touch 'em. You can even walk through some of them. If you've never seen a sequoia up close, just check out this picture to see just how big they can get.

After the trail, we did a little bird watching in Long Meadow, just off of the parking area. The meadow was filled with wild flowers and Letty cataloged 4 different species of birds in the meadow.

Next, we continued down the highway through the Kern River canyon. Just before the Kern, we pulled over to view the large South River Falls. The hillsides really dried up when we hit the Kern River although the river itself was very full and roiling with whitewater.

There were a lot of rafting guides leading groups through the river. We pulled over to watch some of the boats come around a bend in the river to get some photos for this report. If you look carefully at the picture below, you can see the result of a particularly nasty bump in the river. At the front of the boat you can see a woman holding on for dear life after she was thrown overboard in the rapids.

This was a truly scary moment as the guide let the raft go on uncontrolled while the woman held onto the guide's paddle. Luckily the raft drifted into some calm water and the overboard passenger was pulled to safety. Below is another picture of the whitewater activity at this point.

We continued on down the canyon to the nice little town of Kernville where the river empties into Lake Isabella. We had hoped to stay in the area this evening but everything was booked. We decided to spend some time here anyway, wading in the cool, refreshing water of the river and then having dinner before leaving.

From the numerous restaurants and snack bars around the town's Circle Park, we picked That's Italian. We were very glad we did.

That's Italian would be right at home with the better Italian restaurants of San Francisco or L.A. Dinner started off with a great, fresh green salad topped off with their delicious home-made Italian dressing...very creamy! Letty had the Linguini with shrimp and I had their cannelloni stuffed with ham, chicken, spinach, and cheese. The linguini came with an alfredo-like white sauce and the cannelloni had a tomato cream sauce. Absolutely delicious!

The meal was accompanied by basketfuls of fresh bread and butter. The whole thing was topped off with some of the best desserts we've ever had. Letty had a piece of their chocolate cake and I had a napoleon that was very, very flaky with custard and cream. All this was eaten on their outdoor porch dining area with great views of the town and fresh breeze.

With that great dinner under our belt, we continued on down highway 138 which winds its way down the Kern River to Bakersfield. At this point it was 8:30pm and we were not really wanting to spend the night in Bakersfield so we just continued on the 2 hour drive back home.

Copyright 1997 – Darryl Musick

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