California’s Gold Country

Thinking of Gold and Cowboys

You wouldn’t know by looking at me but I love Country music and all things Western.  Throw in the chance to explore a region of California with lots of history that most people aren’t aware and I’m in heaven.  I may not have the money to fly off somewhere when I want but that doesn’t stop me from appreciating sites closer and just as worth exploring.  The weekend that hubby and I spent in California’s “Gold Country” is actually one of my favorites.  No traffic, no standing in line, no crowds.  Just us exploring whatever we came across and stopping at anything interesting.  Sacramento immediately comes to mind when thinking of a California Gold Rush town.  Prettier however are the towns of Nevada City, Grass Valley, and Auburn to the North East of Sacramento.  These cities are real communities, not just relics of the past deserted and forlorn.

Nevada City

We drove through the Tahoe National Forest from Tahoe to Nevada City, CA.  Nevada City’s historic district, complete with a Main St, is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.  It’s not hard to see why.  You’ll find restaurants, boutiques, and galleries housed in picturesque Victorian and brick buildings.  National Exchange Hotel, opened in 1856, is one of the oldest hotels to operate continuously in the West.  After a hot summer day of touring old historical sights, there’s nothing better than sitting down to tea and freshly made pastries at Top Floor Tea Room, located above Shaw’s Antiques, complete with antique chandeliers and burgundy color scheme.  The white building near Shaw’s Antiques is actually a firehouse – pretty ain’t it?

Malakoff Diggins State Historic Park

We were in a little park looking at what just looked like to to be some model cannons.  A young man our age approached us and started talking about the area.  He pointed to the mountains and said that water cannons, called monitors, were used to blast the mountains with water in man’s search for gold.  Gold would drop to the bottom of the captured sand and gravel.  As you can imagine this practice resulted in a lot of destruction to the environment, causing flooding to nearby areas.  A lawsuit initiated by farms made hydraulic mining illegal.  We had actually planned to visit Malakoff Diggins State Historic Park first before Nevada City but as happens so often on road trips, we missed the little road off the 20.  Malakoff Diggins is about 3,000 acres big.  We drove around the park, seeing massive cliffs that carved by the massive streams of water, old monitors, and the remnants of the abandoned city of North Bloomfield.  There are a lot of hiking trails in the park and you can even hike into a 556 foot long tunnel.  That’s a little too dark for me!

Grass Valley

We set off for Grass Valley afterward and started driving on N. Bloomfield Rd.  At first the drive seemed fine but after a while the road became unpaved, winding, and very rough with scattered derbies all around.  Good thing we had a powerful SUV, a regular sedan would not have made it.  I was getting a bit worried about where we were headed and whether we were getting lost (hello….this is how scary movies start!).  Eventually I just had to close my eyes because I was getting sick.  Hubby seemed to have fun swerving the car back and forth getting the car dirty though!  Hubby luckily took all the right turns to get back to the 20 (there are no signs) Of course now when I’m reminiscing about this read, I read this: “North Bloomfield Road is not recommended as it is unpaved, rough, and narrow.”  As you can read, we don’t plan out our trips as fully as we should sometimes…

Here are scenes from the lovely Grass Valley, south of Nevada City.  We walked around the neighborhood and had lunch at Old Town Cafe.

In Grass Valley is the Empire State Mine was one of the longest and richest mine operating in California in 1956.  You can check out gems and read a brief history of the mine at the Visitor’s center before exploring the grounds of the mine.  Old equipment is scattered about.  We went down a miners shaft and that really shows you how hard the job must have been.

Set off from the mine’s grounds but to which you can walk through pretty landscape is Bourn Cottage, residence of the mine’s wealthy owner.  Behind the cottage is a wonderful little garden and reflection pool.  I apparently forgot to take photos!

Auburn

Further down south is Auburn.  Auburn has a Fire Depart Museum that looks like a New England lighthouse.  The old historic district resembles more the read brick and timber saloons of Sacramento than the Victorian-influenced buildings of Nevada City and Grass Valley.  Auburn is home to the beautiful Placer County Courthouse.

So that’s the end of our trip to learn and see California’s Gold Country.  One day, I’ll go back to the area and prospect for gold just for the hell of it.

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