A Week in Angels Camp Episode 6: Another New Melones Lake Hike, Mark Twain Cabin, Angels Camp Historic District

On April 17, 2021, our last full day in Angels Camp, called for another hike at New Melones Lake, a visit to downtown Angel’s Camp, and a peek at the Mark Twain Cabin.

Another New Melones Lake HikeA

We started our hike at the Tower Climb Trail, except instead of climbing we descended toward the lake, enjoying the shade from the oak, sycamore, and other trees. Yellow, lavender, and pink wildflowers joined the winter vetch in showing off their blooms.

Yellow Wildflower
Lavendar Wildflower
Pink Wildflower
Violet Wildflower
Winter Vetch
Wild Blackberry Bush

The trail continued onto the Carson Creek Trail that follows the outline of the lake in a W formation, providing us with more views of the lake.

Trail along Carson Creek
New Melones Lake View
Another New Melones Lake View

Our final transition was on Fire Access Road and here is where we needed to climb back up to where we parked, stopping in shaded sections to catch our breath.

Mark Twain Cabin, Historic Landmark No. 138

We had trouble finding the cabin at first. There were two stone bases and plaques on the side of the road as we headed south. One plaque stated the location of the cabin was only a mile ahead and the other one stated it was a ½ mile. Yet we didn’t see any cabin. It wasn’t until we came from the other direction that we realized we had to take a road off Highway 49 to get to Jackass Hill Road and the cabin.

Mark Twain Cabin

Although the cabin is a replica, it contains the original chimney and fireplace. While hiding out for 88 days as a guest of the Gillis brothers, Samuel Clemens gathered material for his famous short story “Jumping Frog of Calaveras County” and semi-autobiographical book Roughing It. I’ve heard many writers say they get their best material from exploring new locations and meeting new people. I need to read these stories again to see how Twain worked in the colorful characters he met while in Angels Camp and the surrounding area.

Robinson’s Ferry State Registered Landmark No. 276

On the way back from Mark Twain’s Cabin, we stopped at an overlook for another view of the lake. A plaque commemorates the ferry transport John W. Robinson and Stephen Mead established in 1848 for freight, animals and persons across the river. They charged 50 cents for each passenger, horse, jenny or other animal. In 1856 Harvey Wood purchased interest in the ferry and then property nearby, which was maintained by the Wood family until 1911.

Robinson Ferry Overlook

Also at the overlook is another plaque in honor of “Mr. Mother Lode” Archie D. Stevenot who was the founder of the Mother Lode Association in 1919. The Mother Lode created California’s first highway association. In 1976, the plaque mentions 100-year capsules placed on July 23, 1976 by Golden Chain Council of the Mother Lode and Grand Council of E Clampus Vitus. I’d sure like to look inside those capsules. Since I’m not likely to live until 2076, I’ll have to use my imagination to figure out what they have placed in them.

Angels Camp Historic District

Our last stop of the week was Angels Camp Historic District. Famished from our hike and search of the Mark Twain Cabin, we selected Cascabel Restaurant for a Mexican lunch. Our meals had a distinct flavor from other Mexican restaurants where we’ve eaten, but definitely enjoyable.

This town is filled with Mark Twain and “Jumping Frog of Calaveras County” references. They sure are proud of their association with the author. Like the stars on Hollywood’s Walk of Fame, one cannot miss the plagues embedded in the sidewalk that announce the Angels Camp’s Walk of Frog Competition Winners throughout the years.

1955 Winner Thunderbolt
Modern Day Jumping Frog

As if we hadn’t walked enough already, we cruised up and down the main street, which is part of Highway 49. We noted how much narrower the road was and had driven several times the part that pinches down and runs through a residential area where houses stood right at the street edge.

Yikes! Our rig barely fit down this street

Here’s a sampling of the buildings along Main Street in Angels Camp.

Other activities in and near Angels Camp:

  • Download a walking and auto tour pamphlet from gocalaveras.com.
  • Take the walking and/or the auto tour
  • Visit Angels Camp Museum and Carriage House
  • Go spelunking at California Caverns
  • Wine taste at Prospect 2 Wine Company
  • Have a picnic at Utica Park
  • Hit a little white ball around a golf course
  • And much more

The next day, we headed home to unpack, clean up, and relax after our whirlwind week at Angels Camp exploring Highway 49. Stay tuned for our next adventure, a return to San Diego, Chula Vista to be exact.

Safe Travels

A Week in Angels Camp Episode 2: Historic Jackson, California

First came the Gold Rush when on January 24, 1848, James W. Marshall announced he found gold at Sutter’s Mill. Then came the 300,000 people with dreams of harvesting nuggets from the ground. Naturally, towns mushroomed along Highway 49, providing housing, food, mining equipment, and various services to the miners.

View of California Poppies on the way to Jackson, California

Jackson, the county seat of Calaveras County and one of many mining spots, served the local communities as a supply and transportation hub. In 1853, Jackson became the county seat for the newly formed Amador County.

The primary purpose for our visit to Jackson was to get a new tire. Fortunately, we had added the road hazard insurance when we the bought the set four years before. Can’t beat $20.00 for a new tire.

After taking care of tire business, we searched for things to do in Jackson. The historic downtown seemed like a good place to start. On the way, a cemetery came into view. Yes, time to stop and pull out the camera.

Entrance to Catholic Cemetery

The Catholic Cemetery and Jackson City Pioneer cemeteries are next to one another. The graves, laid out on what looked like family plots atop a hill, flows down into a valley.

Many of the burials appear to be mostly above ground and encased in concrete and/or covered in gravel.
There are a few mausoleums on the property
Closer view of a mausoleum
Besides headstones, various statuary also mark the gravesites
I liked the cape design at the top of this headstone.
The trinkets people decorate or leave at the graves must reveal something about the person. I wondered what a blue carved bird had in common with a golf hat or a metal red bug.
Erosion is a problem with some brick structures.

One of the worst gold mine disasters in the United States occurred on August 7, 1922, when the local Argonaut mine caught fire. Forty-seven men died in the fire, many of them buried in the cemetery.

Gold mining ended in California during October 1942 when the War Production Board issued Limitation Order L-208. The World War II war effort needed copper more than gold, and of course plenty of men to fight. As a result, the Argonaut and Kennedy mines closed in 1942.

The wreath and plaque at this grave site honors the forty-seven men who died in the Argonaut mine fire in 1922. Additional graves are in the Pioneer cemetery.
A Raiders birdhouse? What is it doing up in a tree at the cemetery?

Jon pulled me away before I filled my memory card with grave sites. It was time to see the historic downtown. From the fine examples of mid-1800s to early 1900s architecture, it’s easy to see why the area is listed in the National Register.

Main Street view looking north

Many of the restaurants and stores in the towns along Highway 49 were closed from Monday to Wednesday. That wasn’t a burden for us. We prefer fewer crowds and don’t buy much because of the lack of storage. But I was a little worried about where we would eat if all the restaurants were closed. Fortunately, Mother Lode Deli was open for business, and we enjoyed a delicious chicken salad sandwich on a croissant. The food was outstanding, the people were friendly, and the place was clean with plenty of space between tables.

Mother Lode Deli curbed our hunger

The National Hotel had a closed sign on its front door, and their website is no longer online. Although the hotel booking sites still have the property listed, reservations are not available. Had the owners not received the all clear from the health department yet? Had the pandemic and closure decimated the owners’ finances? The most recent information I could find was on the Mercury News website published on August 2, 2019. The article described the hotel as charming with “plenty of 21st-century comfort” and a steakhouse downstairs.

The National Hotel sits strategically on the curve of Main and Water Streets

From the downtown tour pamphlet, we learned the Louisiana House was the name of the original building built in 1850. That building burned in 1862, and when rebuilt in the brick style, the owners renamed it the National Hotel, a more politically correct name during the civil war. A major renovation in 2014 revived the hotel to its current state. I hope they come back when the county lifts the pandemic restrictions. The National gets top ratings from their guests, and I would love a peek inside.

St. Patrick Catholic Church and Italianate rectory, built in 1867, replaced the building destroyed in the 1862 fire. The church added a gable in 1887, and in 1894 a cupola and cross replaced a belfry tower and cross when the wind blew it off.

The first two stories of the Globe Hotel building date back to 1858.

The art déco architecture of the Amador County Courthouse caught my eye at the top of a street off Main Street. The building was originally two: a courthouse built in 1864 and the Hall of Records built in 1893. In 1939, the art déco exterior combined the two buildings.

Historic Amador County Courthouse

Although the county abandoned the building for newer and larger space, it hasn’t reached the eyesore stage, yet. It sure would be nice if someone restored the building as a museum or for another purpose.

Water fountain outside

And here is a look at a few more buildings, some dating from the 1800s and a few from early 1900s.

The cozy Fargo Club
Books, movies, games, and antiques galore in the 1931 Krabbenhoft building
The Biggest Little Kitchen Store is chock-full of pots, pans, knives, and gadgets

Other things to do in and around Jackson include:

  • Enjoy a picnic and short walk to the Kennedy Mine Tailing Wheels at Kennedy Tailing Wheels Park. There’s a kiosk with historical photos and information on the engineering and operation of the wheels.
  • Take a tour of the Kennedy Goldmine. They offer guided and self-guided tours on weekends.
  • Visit the Amador County Museum Fridays through Sunday.
  • If hiking is more to your liking, check out the Mokelumne Wilderness.
  • Prefer to gamble? Jackson Rancheria Casino Resort would love to take your money.

Oh, and don’t forget to take a gander at the Butte Store ruin 3 miles south of Jackson. It is California Historical Landmark No. 39, the only remaining structure of Butte City. The building dates back to 1854.

Butte Store State Historical Landmark

Next up: A nature hike from the New Melones Lake Visitor Center and a stroll through Columbia State Historic Park.

Stay Safe

2020 October COVID Adventure Part Eleven: Last days — Draft

Another Day Poking Around Bishop

On one of our last days, we drove up to Rock Creek Canyon, which sits north of Bishop about 20 miles. Rock Creek Lake is another 10 miles through the canyon. The aspen trees sported their autumn coats, and a breeze ruffled their yellow leaves.

Sunburst shines through green and yellow tree leaves
Sunburst shines on fall colors

The Big Meadow Campground was open for day use only. Jon would have liked to stop and fish along the creek, except he had never purchased a fishing license for 2020. So we drove on.

Yellow-leafed trees line a road
Entrance to Big Meadow Campground

We continued to the end of the road at the lake where we had planned to eat our lunch. Unfortunately, the road to the lake was closed, so picnic tables for eating and taking close-up photos of the lake were impossible. A few hardy anglers hiked down to try their luck. We didn’t think it was a good idea with the smoky skies.

We remembered a turnout near a western red cedar. No cars nearby, so we parked and ate our lunch while admiring the tree.

Western red cedar pine tree alongside a road.
A fine specimen of a western red cedar

Always curious to see where roads lead, we took a detour on our way back to Bishop. We passed through farmland and ranches in Round Valley and drove by Rovana. The US Vanadium Corporation established the Rovana housing tract for its workers at the Pine Creek Mine. By 1951 there were 85 houses and another 50 added later. All the homes are still in use.

The smoke wasn’t too bad along U.S. 395, but it grew thicker as we approached the mountain. When we reached the end of the road, we could barely see the peaks.

Road leading to mountain peaks shrouded in smoke
Pine Creek Road

With the sun close to setting, we returned to the fifth-wheel to prepare for our departure the next day.

On the Road Again

We left the Eastern Sierra Tri-County Fairgrounds in Bishop on October 28, 2020. Hwy 120 through Yosemite was our usual route when the road was open. A requirement to have a reservation just to drive through kept us from taking the scenic route. A few more days on the road wouldn’t hurt and the Sparks Marina RV Park sounded like a good idea. So north on U.S. 395 we drove.

As we passed by Mono Lake, we pulled off the road to take a photo of the blue waters. From this view the tufa towers (limestone formations) weren’t visible, only the smaller forms poking out of the water near the shore. To learn more about Mono Lake and the tufas go here to see our post titled “Summer 2018 Tour – Mono Lake.”

Blue skies over Mono Lake's blue water, flowering shrubs and grass in foreground
View from west side of Mono Lake

The Bridgeport Inn looked like a good place to stop and break up our drive. The 1877 Victorian inn began as the Leavitt family home and stagecoach stop. Today the Peters family owns the property which they operate from mid-March to mid-November, providing rooms and dining for travelers and visitors to the area.

White Victorian era Bridgeport Inn and Restaurant
Bridgeport Inn and Restaurant

It was past noon, so we enjoyed a relaxing lunch as the only patrons in the dining room. It’s the sign of the times when the one thing on the table is hand sanitizer when you enter a restaurant. No place settings or bottles of condiments in sight. The wait staff delivers those items after you order.

Wallpapered dining room with cane seats and rectangle tables
Bridgeport Inn Dining Room

Kitty corner from the inn stands the 1881 Mono County Courthouse, another example of Victorian architecture in town, which is still in use today.

Victorian era Mono County Courthouse
Mono County Courthouse

Sparks, Nevada

We weren’t in the mood to do any sightseeing while in Sparks. Instead, we hung around the trailer and walked to the marina to check the construction progress since our last visit. The first thing we noticed was the view out the fifth wheel’s back window. Here is what it looked like during our 2017 stay.

Fluffy clouds over brown hills, line of trees, gravel mound, and brick wall
View from our site at Sparks Marina RV Park in 2017

And here is the view in October 2020.

Apartment building, blue sky, trees, over behind brickwall
View from our site at Sparks Marina RV Park in 2020

Another notable change was an abandoned building down and across the street from the RV park. The photo below shows the corner in 2016.

Abandoned concrete building behind chainlink fence
Southwest corner of E. Lincoln Way and Harbor Cove Dr. in 2016

In the October 2020 photo, the abandoned project vanished and luxury apartments sprouted in its place.

Waterfront at the Marina Apartments Five story luxury apartment building
Waterfront at the Marina Apartments 375 Harbor Cove Dr.

New construction also appeared along the lake’s shoreline. In 2017, the blue and white building in the photo below was mixed use with retail and businesses on the bottom floor and condos or apartments on the upper floors. There were a few businesses that made a go of it, others were not so lucky.

Blue three-story mixed use building, brown hills, cloudy sky, lake, marina
Shoreline development at Sparks Marina Park Lake

And now the Waterfront Apartments dwarf the small blue building (on the right in the photo below). The once blue building was undergoing a facelift, a promise of better times ahead for the property.

Apartment buildings reflected in Sparks Marina Park Lake
Additional shoreline development

It was sad to see that our view out the back window was a three-story apartment building. Yet I understand the need for housing in Sparks. For the past twenty years, manufacturing, distribution, and technology companies have poured into the Reno/Sparks area. This made jobs plentiful, housing not so much. Reno, known as the “Biggest Little City in the World,” is not so little anymore as housing mushroomed in all directions. I guess that’s the price of progress.

Home Again

On October 30, 2020, we drove the rest of the way home. As we listened to the news, we heard that COVID-19 cases and deaths broke records daily while Trump and his campaign insisted he vanquished the virus, “It’s a beautiful thing.” One report stated once infected, you are immune for months while another report said that was not true. Nobody seemed to know what was going on.

And then we pulled into our driveway and look what was waiting for us.

Pumpkin on doorstep of blue house with white trim
Welcome home and Happy Halloween

Thanks, Chris and Laura, for the homegrown pumpkin. It was just what we needed to push the bad news from our brains and focus on Halloween. Will parents take their kids out trick or treating during a pandemic? Do we want people coming to our door? Should we buy candy?

We were tired and had a lot of work to do unpacking the trailer and washing clothes, so no candy for the brave parents that let their kids dress up and beg for treats. We turned out the porch light, turned the volume low on the television, and watched a movie. If we’re home next year, we’ll pass out candy.

And with that our 2020 October COVID-19 Adventure comes to a close.

Up Next:

We have nothing more to share. Homebound describes our life since the end of October, and until we receive the vaccine and places open up, we don’t see the situation changing much.

So, I’m taking a break from posting on the blog. We’ll be back as soon as we can venture out and explore again.

Until then, stay safe.

Personal Virus and Vaccine Update

On December 3, 2020, San Francisco Bay Area health departments put us under another stay-at-home order. They released the restriction on January 25, 2021. Hooray haircut time!

Today the virus is still among us. New variants pop up weekly. Vaccines are in short supply. Distribution has been sketchy. Eligibility to receive the poke in the arm has changed more than once. Ineligible individuals are jumping the line. Appointments aren’t easy to get. More vaccine is due this week. It’s Wednesday night already. Where is it?

Jon has an appointment on Tuesday, February 9, for his vaccine. I check every day without success to procure one for myself but will keep trying.

Like everyone else out there, I can’t wait until this ordeal is behind all of us.

2020 COVID-19 Adventure Part Ten: Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest

For a look at some of the oldest trees in the world, we headed up to the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest in the White Mountains. The visitor center is in the Inyo National Forest, about 24 miles east of Big Pine. Take U.S. 395 to SR 168 east and continue to White Mountain Road. Don’t expect to arrive in 25 minutes. The hairpin turns and S-curves make for slow going, and you may want to stop along the way.

Man sitting on bench next to a rocky trail and bushes
Jon waits for me to put the camera down and catch up

Along the way is Sierra View Overlook, about 20 miles from Big Pine, where a short hike from the parking lot took us to spectacular views that spanned almost 360-degrees. With smoke engulfing the lower altitudes, we weren’t able to see Mt. Whitney or Mt. Dana in Yosemite National Park or Mono Lake. Only a silhouette of the Sierra Nevada Range was visible.

Landscape view of shrubs, mountains and smoke below blue skies
View northwest from overlook
Landscape view of shrubs, mountains and smoke below blue skies
View southwest from overlook
Landscape view of trail, shrubs, mountains, and smokey skies
View west from overlook

The park had already prepared for winter by boarding up the visitor center. There were plenty of information panels along the boardwalk that detailed the trees and shrubs in Schulman Grove. The visitor center is new construction, having been built after a fire on September 4, 2008, destroyed the original.

Wood boardwalk leading to wood building with Steel roof and pine trees in background
Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest visitor center

There are two trails at the visitor center: The 1.0-mile loop Discovery Trail and the 4.2-mile loop Methuselah Trail. Both are advertised as easy-moderate and start at the visitor center. We only had time for the Discovery Trail, where along the way, additional information signs told us about the trees and Schulman Grove.

Sandy looking hill with bristlecone pine trees
Future ancient trees grow on the steep slope

The park named the grove after Dr. Edmund Schulman who in 1953 discovered that the bristlecone trees were over 4,000 years old. His discovery led to a calibration of the carbon-14 dating technique and changed the estimate of when ancient man first possessed certain technologies.

Stump of ancient bristlecone pine tree
Ancient stump shows compressed circles of life
Fire damaged bristlecone pine tree trunk
This tree damaged by fire still lives

Younger bristlecone pines and those growing in nourishing soil stand tall with plenty of branches and needles. The ancient trees are my favorite, with their gnarly growth forms that twist this way and that way. They may have spikey dead tops, limbs and trunks with bare wood, or polished limbs, strips of bark growing up the tree, and exposed roots.

Ancient bristlecone pine tree
Exposed roots cling to the gravel and rocky soil

Steep, exposed slopes and the alkaline dolomite soil is the perfect growing medium for the long-lived trees. The white soil formed at the bottom of an ocean when deposits of small particles of dead organisms, sand, and silt formed sediment deposits 650 million years ago. Bristlecone pines that grow in better soils and receive more moisture grow faster and taller, but they die sooner.

Ancient bristlecone pine tree
Still alive after all these years

Short and dry growing seasons make for slow growth, allowing pines to produce only tiny amounts of extremely dense and resinous wood each year. Insects, animal pests, infection, heart rot, and even fire are not a danger to the bristlecone pines. The hard wood and resin protect the tree.

Many standing next to bristlecone pine tree at the side of a trail
Jon, worn out by the altitude, takes a rest

Bristlecones can lose 90% of their bark and keep growing with just a narrow bark strip connecting live limbs and roots. The trees spread out in their environment instead of crowding close together. This leaves a natural firebreak that can limit the spread of wildfires.

Ancient bristlecone pine tree
Barren land across the dirt road

I would have thought some of these ancient trees were ready to topple over when I saw their exposed roots. Not so. Scientists estimate the average rate of erosion in the Discovery Grove is one foot of soil loss per one thousand years. The exposed roots do make the trees susceptible to disease and insect infestation, so that is a factor in the trees’ lifespan.

Ancient bristlecone pine trees
Bristlecones in battle? Or are they dancing?

This is another place where the Pacific and North American plates created mountains that tower above the valley floors. Through the folding, faulting, and uplifting action of the plates, the bottom of an ocean rose over 10,000 feet to create the White Mountains. Standing at 10,000 feet above sea level, it’s hard to believe the ground on which we stood was once below sea level. Of course, this took hundreds of thousands of years, but the forces needed to achieve such a feat are hard to comprehend.

Landscape view of road cutting through bristlecone pines and golden hills
The road back to civilization

Extreme heat and pressure from the platonic movements altered sandstone grains, melting and fusing them together and creating the red quartzite in the photo below. Forces from wind and rain exposed the red rock. Rain seeped into cracks in the red rock where it froze, expanded, and broke the slabs apart. The pieces then fell, rolled, or slid down the mountain and collected in a talus slope.

Talus slope of red quartzite
A talus slope of red quartzite

Unfortunately, we missed seeing the largest bristlecone pine, the Patriarch Tree. A 12-mile dirt road with a 15 mph speed limit leads to Patriarch Grove, where the tree is located. It was too late in the day for us to travel farther than Schulman Grove.

View from top of Discovery Trail

It was a humbling experience to learn these trees were already 1,000 years old during Shakespeare’s time. Nothing like a 4,000-year-old tree to make me feel like my lifetime was but a microscopic speck in this great universe.

Other locations where the Great Basin bristlecone pines grow are Utah and Nevada. The Foxtail bristlecone pine grows in the Klamath Mountains of California and in the southern Sierra Nevada mountains. The Rocky Mountains claim their own species of bristlecone pines, which have gray-brown bark instead of the orange-yellow to light brown of those found in The Ancient Bristlecone Forest.

Bristlecone pinecone and needles
Bristlecone pinecone and needles

Scientists are not sure what fate awaits the trees because of climate change and global warming. Although they have noted that new generations of trees are taking root at higher elevations. Will the older generations survive? Time will tell as competing plants, insects, fire, and higher temperatures encroach on their ideal location. Only our descendants will discover the answer, if humans endure long enough.

Up next will be the last post detailing our October 2020 adventure during the pandemic.

Until then, stay safe.