Wild West Still Alive in Calaveras County

Author: Cary Ordway

If you're looking for the Wild West, you could do no better than to go to a place that was once the home of Mark Twain and even memorialized in one of his short stories. Lucky for California residents, Calaveras County is a reasonable drive from both north and south and puts a lot of Gold Rush history all within a few square miles.

Students of Mark Twain will remember The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County, a short story that was actually Twain's first published work and what eventually made him famous. Today, the Angels Camp community reminds us about Twain and his story every May, drawing more than 2,000 "frog jockeys" who compete to see whose frog can jump the farthest.

Such is the spirit in Calaveras County, a fascinating collection of historic villages that you don't need to wait until May to visit. In fact, the Jumping Frog Jubilee's added traffic may just interfere if all you want to do is explore the many historic attractions, museums, interesting shops - and even wineries - found in this scenic part of the state.

Your exploration can be a weekend or a vacation and can focus on just Calaveras County or include any number of towns and attractions in neighboring counties. We spent just a weekend, parking our RV near Angels Camp and driving short distances to attractions in Calaveras County as well as a couple over the border in Tuolumne County. The distances are all short - 10 to 20 miles between towns or attractions - and the sometimes-winding roads are always scenic in this hilly, forested part of California.

The common denominator between all these attractions is history - if you like history and love looking at historic towns, then this part of the state is your kind of place. A historic church here, an old general store there, antique stores on every block - the towns of Calaveras County are like a stroll into the past.

The Mark Twain connection is a big one for Angels Camp and, just like "the Birds" has become a cottage industry for its filming location, Bodega Bay, the Mark Twain short story has put Calaveras County and Angels Camp on the map. All manner of frog memorabilia are offered locally, and more than one business has the word frog in its name. You can even visit the cabin where Mark Twain lived for the few months he was staying in the area.

Angels Camp is the only incorporated city in Calaveras County so that tells you something about the rural nature of the neighborhood. Anxious to share its history, Angels Camp offers visitors a map for a walking tour of the town. Each of the historic buildings in town - and from what we could tell, they're ALL historic - has a number posted on the front of the building to correspond with the numbers on the map. The map has a description and history of each location.

The Angels Camp Museum and Carriage House is known for its fine collection of historic mining equipment as well as its many native American artifacts. There are reminders of life in the mid-1800s such as the drug store with the many old remedies on display in their original packaging. The Carriage House features more than 30 carriages, carts and wagons from the era.

Just a few miles from Angels Camp, a little further into the mountains, is Murphys, a tiny hamlet that also features many historic landmarks. Most of the buildings are from the mid-1800s with thick stone walls, iron shutters and white picket fences. Once a town of 3,000 people, the current population is a fraction of that, although tourists do swell the numbers on weekends.

Not far from Murphys, we came across a winery that had been recommended to us by the local visitor association - Ironstone Vineyards. This 1,150-acre property includes a tasting room, tours and even a museum on site. Catching our attention was a 44-pound gold nugget that was on display with, as you might suspect, plenty of precautions against theft. Ironstone also has an amphitheater on property which looked like the perfect place to enjoy a Sunday concert. Altogether there are 14 wineries in Calaveras County.

Some of the best history in the area actually is in neighboring Tuolumne County, where we visited the town of Sonora. Perhaps the most scenic town in the area, Sonora has a main street of western storefronts even longer than Angels Camp, but also boasts historic homes and a couple of spectacular church steeples that make it great for taking pictures. Again, Sonora is chock-full of antique shops, as well as small, but interesting shops and restaurants.

Near Sonora is the Columbia State Historic Park, a theme-park like reconstruction of a real California gold rush town. This is like the historic parks you hear about on the East Coast where people dress in period costumes to take you back to earlier days. Gold was discovered in 1850 in Columbia, and the town quickly grew into a bustling base for miners seeking their fortunes. Today, the park has a complete Main Street with reconstructed storefronts that actually have real stores and shops inside. There's a blacksmith shop, a couple of saloons, a hotel and a even a stagecoach ride in addition to many other small businesses. When we were there, a local bluegrass group was dressed in period garb, strolling the streets and entertaining visitors.

While we didn't have time to visit, it's not far from Columbia to Railtown 1897 State Historic Park which offers rides on authentic steam trains that have been used in many television shows and movies.

Another historic attraction in the same general area is the Tuolumne Museum, which blends local history from the early Me-Wuk tribes and the Gold Rush period. Open only on weekend afternoons, the museum displays many typical family items from the period, including clothing, health care items and family photos. A scale model of a local railroad and its route are set up in an adjacent room.

Between Columbia and Angels Camp, we came across a rather unique experience. Moaning Cavernn is just four miles east of Angels Camp and it's where we had the opportunity to walk down into the ground on a spiral staircase that opens to one of the largest caverns in the state. At one time, it was just a hole in the ground that was first discovered by local Indians who would hear a moaning sound coming from the opening. Some would accidentally step into the hole and plunge to their deaths.

Later, when the big underground cavern was discovered, lots of human remains were uncovered. A new opening was cut to allow for the insertion of the staircase and, today, visitors have the choice of taking the staircase or a more adventurous 165-foot rope rappel. If that's still not enough for you, guided tours are offered into the undeveloped and unlighted portions of the cave using lighted helmets and ropes. We chose Option A - the staircase - but there is still something unsettling about being underground in a natural cavern that would be big enough to place the Statue of Liberty inside.

This was just one of the many surprises we found in and near Calaveras County and, like Mark Twain, we had no trouble telling a short story or two when we got back home.


WHERE: Calaveras County is in the heart of California's Gold Country and easily accessed from Highway 99 using west-east highways you can get at various points south of Sacramento. One of the most direct is Highway 4 from Stockton.

WHAT: Calaveras County and several nearby counties make up Gold Country, a historic part of California that retains much of the flavor and charm of the mid-1800s gold rush period. Outdoor recreation is also plentiful here, including several campgrounds and New Melones Reservoir, a haven for boaters.

WHEN: Any time of the year, although there is some mountain driving and most roads are narrow and windy, so spring, summer and fall would be bets.

WHY: The scenic beauty of the area - hilly, mountainous and forested - is a feast for the eyes, while the history of the area is visible almost everywhere you look.

HOW: To plan a trip to Calaveras County, contact the Calaveras Visitors Bureau at 800-225-3764, or visit www.visitcalaveras.org. For more information on the attractions noted here that are in Tuolumne County, contact the Tuolumne County Visitors Bureau at 800-335-1333 or visit www.thegreatunfenced.com.

About the Author:

Cary Ordway is a syndicated travel writer and president of Getaway Media Corp, which publishes websites focused on regional getaway travel. Among the sites currently offered by GMC are http://www.californiaweekend.com , covering California spa vacations and other Golden State destinations, and http://www.northwesttraveladvisor.com , covering Washington vacation ideas as well as other Pacific Northwest travel destinations.

Article Source: ArticlesBase.com - Wild West Still Alive in Calaveras County

Southern Arizona western travel...

Adventures in Southeastern Arizona

To many people, a vacation to Arizona means enjoying the sun and perhaps a game of golf in and around the state's two largest cities, Phoenix and Tucson.

If you have an interest in history, and enjoy getting off the busy highways, you might wish to take a trip to Cochise County, which is located in the southeast corner of Arizona.

In many ways, Cochise County embodies what Arizona was all about back when it was a Territory - wide open spaces and a great independent spirit.

The best way to take in Cochise County would be to visit the historic towns of Tombstone, Bisbee and Benson.

The historic railroad town of Benson is just off Interstate 10, approximately fort five miles east of Tucson. Situated in the center of the San Pedro River Valley, Benson is where you will find Kartchner Caverns State Park. In the Territorial era, Benson was one of the scheduled stops on the Pony Express and the Butterfield Overland Stage Coach Route. Along with the birth of the transcontinental railroad, Benson soon became a busy railroad town.

Twenty miles south on US Highway 80 lies the infamous town of Tombstone, the town too tough to die.

Even those that aren't interested in the Old West know that Tombstone was the location of the Gunfight at the O.K. Corral.

Tombstone's main source of income is, you might have guessed, tourism. Allen Street, the town's main thoroughfare, still resembles Tombstone as it was in the 1880s. The walkways beside the storefronts are wooden, and the streets are still unpaved.

Although there are many shops and restaurants in Tombstone, the town relishes its historical imprint on America. The O.K. Corral still offers tours, as does the C.S. Fly Photo Gallery, where you can view Mr. Fly's photographs of Geronimo and 1880s Tombstone.

The most important place to visit in town is the Tombstone Courthouse. Now a historical museum, visiting the courthouse will take you back 120 years, as you can view exhibits and thousands of artifacts and really get a feel for what life was like in Tombstone.

Now an artist enclave, the quaint community of Bisbee lies about twenty miles southeast of Tombstone. Bisbess is home to the largest open pit copper mine in the world, the Queen Mine.

The first thing you might notice about Bisbee is its beautiful architecture, as "old" Bisbee is nestled into the side of a mountain. Immediately, your eyes will gaze over to "The Pit," the copper mine, which ceased production in the mid 1970s. Quite simply, it's the largest hole in the earth you'll ever see!

You can go right down into the Queen Mine, where tours are operated by former miners on a daily basis. From the miners you will get their personal knowledge of the operations of the Queen Mine.

All of these historical towns make a good day trip for tourists. You may want to consider a weekend getaway to take in everything that Cochise County offers.

About the Author: To Find Hotels in Benson and Tombstone Arizona Click on http://www.searcharizonahotels.com/