A Week in Angels Camp Episode 3: New Melones Lake, Norwegian Gulch Trail, and Columbia State Historic Park

Columbia State Historical Park looked like an interesting place to explore on a Tuesday morning, April 13, 2021. On our way, a few miles south of Angels Camp, the New Melones Lake Visitor Center came into view. So we stopped to see if we could pick up maps and pamphlets. The center and museum were closed, being that it was a Tuesday. Fortunately, a ranger came out with a pamphlet that listed all the New Melones Lake hikes, and then he directed us to the Norwegian Gulch Trail behind the building.

Norwegian Gulch Trail

Switchbacks led the way toward the lake on the ½-mile trail through shady trees and fields of blooming wildflowers. We felt lucky to have timed our visit when the wildflowers were at their peak.

Norwegian Gulch Trail

The poppy (eschscholzia californica) is California’s official state flower. It grows in grassy and open areas from sea level to 6,500 feet throughout California and is also present in Oregon, southern Washington, Arizona, New Mexico, and Sonora, Mexico, and Baja California. It’s illegal to pick the poppies, and no, these poppies do not contain opium making properties.

California poppies galore

The silver lupine is another wildflower prevalent around New Melones Lake and has a similar growing area as the California poppy.

Silver lupine

Sunflowers were another common sight.


New Melones Lake

Native Americans inhabited much of California before Spanish missionaries, miners and early settlers arrived. It’s estimated that about 9,000 Me-Wuk (or Mi-wok) Indians once lived in the central valley and Sierra Nevada Mountains. The indigenous population declined significantly and by 1910 the census recorded only 670 Me-Wuk. Archeological evidence shows the Me-Wuk were careful stewards of the environment, employing harvesting, management, and cultivation techniques that protected and stimulated the natural resources. The missionaries, miners and settlers could have learned a thing or two from the Me-Wuk had gold fever not taken over.

On May 10, 2021, Governor Newsom declared a drought emergency for 41 of the 58 counties in the state. The low level of this reservoir is one reason he made that declaration.

Although congress authorized construction of the New Melones Dam in 1944, it took 22 years for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to begin construction. The new dam replaced the old one built in 1926. The lake’s surface area is 12,500 acres, has a capacity of 2.4 million acre feet of water, and 100 miles of shoreline, and is the state’s third largest reservoir. It stands at less than 58% capacity as of May 16, 2021. Recreational activities at New Melones include boating, fishing, skiing, swimming, hiking and camping among others.

After our little hike, we drove to Columbia State Historical Park.

Columbia State Historical Park

Columbia preserves an old miner’s town founded in 1850 by Dr. Thaddeus Hildreth, his brother George, John Walker, and others who found gold there on March 27, 1850. Originally named Hildreth’s Diggings, they renamed the town Columbia on April 29, 1850.

Not much happening on a Tuesday in Columbia
A dad, his kids, and a dog stroll down the street

Within two years stores, shops, saloons, and other businesses had sprung up, followed by churches, a meeting hall, and a masonic lodge. Gold fever attracted not only U.S. citizens, but immigrants from China, France, Ireland, Italy, and Germany. By 1853, the town had grown to 25,000 to 30,000 people.

Parrott’s Blacksmith Shop is an authentic Gold Rush era business with a coal forge for all your custom iron needs

Gold taken from the Columbia area helped finance the US Government and Union Army during the Civil War. Between 1850 and the early 1900s, the mines dug out approximately $150 million in gold.

These boulders were once underground. Miners exposed them using shovels, pickaxes, and jets of water until stopped by the townspeople.

On July 6, 1933, California listed Columbia as State Landmark No. 123. It wasn’t until July 15, 1945, that Governor Earl Warren created the old business district as a state park and the state began purchasing the properties.

Johnson’s Livery. The only building not an original or reproduction. A film crew built it for “The Young Riders” TV series and donated it to the State Park.

In 1854, George Morgan bought a brick building and a one-story wooden structure for his Morgan’s City Hotel. He purchased adjacent lots and incorporated them into his property. The structure housed Morgan and his family. An auction house, a theatre, music hall, bar, and restaurant occupied other parts of the building over the years. The state renovated the structure in 1975 and today guests can reserve one of the ten rooms decorated in a 19th century style.

City Hotel

Built in 1899, the Brady Building was operated as the Pioneer Emporium for decades under various concessionaires. Today its named Columbia Clothiers & Emporium. It doesn’t look like much from outside, but inside we saw 1800s western-style clothing and antiques.

Columbia Clothiers & Emporium

The Tibbits House arrived when Lyman C. Tibbitts moved his family’s home onto the corner lot in 1887. The Columbia docents use the home for living-history demonstrations. (Tibbits with only one T at the end is not a typo. Not sure why the spelling is different.)

Tibbits House

Charles Alberding built the next brick structure in 1856 and owned it until 1871. Since then the property changed hands several times with various businesses, mostly bars, occupying it over the years. Today the St. Charles Saloon is a popular place for beer and build-your-own pizza. Pizza lovers will like the long list of ingredients to choose from.

St. Charles Saloon

William Daegener completed this brick building in 1858 after two previously wooden-built structures burned. Daegener used the first floor for a Wells Fargo office, where he served as an agent. His family lived upstairs. A store occupied the single-story structure. The Stage Coach Office occupies that space today. After several ownership and agent changes, Wells Fargo closed the Columbia office in 1914.

Daegener Building

The photo below depicts the Jack Douglass Saloon. We highly recommend the saloon for one of the best hamburgers we have ever eaten. Jack Douglass rented the corner building built in 1857-58 and ran a saloon until he moved to Stockton in 1869. The property changed hands and names many times until the state purchased the property in 1952. In 1968, the state restored and reopened the building as the Jack Douglass Saloon.

Good eats at Jack Douglass Saloon

Other activities of interest while in Columbia include:

  • Take a class at Yankee Hill Winery and Cooking School
  • Purchase handmade candies at Nelson’s Columbia Candy Kitchen
  • Browse through Columbia Booksellers & Variety Store
  • Ride the Stagecoach
  • Pan for gold at the Matelot Gulch Mining Company

Next up: Angels Creek Trail at New Melones Lake

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

A Week at Angles Camp, California, Episode 1: Blam! “What was that?”

It had been a long twelve months hiding from the coronavirus, six months since our last adventure, and we were ready to hit the road. We selected Angels Camp RV Resort in Angels Camp, California, for our one week trial run. The morning of April 11, 2021, our excitement increased as we traveled over the Altamont Pass and through Tracy, with visions of a picnic lunch outside our rig. We transitioned onto Interstate 5.

Blam! “What was that?” I said. “Blown tire,” Jon said, more calmly than I would have expected.

He put on the emergency flashers, changed lanes, and pulled off on the narrow shoulder. Cars and semis zipped past so fast, one after the other, he couldn’t get out of the cab. I confirmed the tires on the passenger side were okay and walked around the back. I waited for a break in traffic before sticking my head around the corner to see a shredded mess clinging to the left rear trailer wheel instead of a stout tire.

It could have been worse

Fortunately, the next exit was within a quarter mile, so we limped to the off ramp and found a spot where Jon could jack up the trailer and exchange the tire. There’s never a good time or place to have a blown tire, but we felt fortunate it blew when it did. A tire problem in the middle of nowhere with no place to pull over would not have been an ideal situation. And the gas station and Subway store across the street were a comfort in case we needed something.

The tire had taken out most of the insulation above it and dug a hole out of the OSB material of the floor as well. Jon had to pull and cut away the remaining shreds so they wouldn’t tangle up in something else once we got back on the road.

Instead of our planned picnic at our RV site, a Subway sandwich had to suffice. With the tire changed, mess picked up, and tools and caution triangles stowed, we continued our drive to Angels Camp.

Office building with restrooms and showers

After hooking up to the water, electricity, and sewer, we stood outside with the remote and crossed our fingers as we extended the room slider. Thankfully, it opened fine. Then I went inside to find the floor not so fine. A hole next to the dinette exposed the ground under the trailer. Did that tire know Jon needed another project to keep him occupied?

Spilt milk? No, a hole in the floor.

Fortunately, we only had to close the slider about six or seven inches to keep any wandering critters out of the coach.

Settled in for the week and damaged accessed, Jon enjoyed his leftover Chinese dinner and a glass of beer.

Oh, what a day this has been

And a walk around the park helped him decompress.

Equipment and storage barn

A short trail wraps around a marshy area with a pond and skirts along the adjacent farm fencing.

A herd of cows and this longhorn steer populate the farm.

Moo! Munch, munch, munch.

Across the street from the RV park, stands (or should I say crumbles) the Romaggi Adobe. A restoration project started in the 1940’s never materialized. Another began in early 2000, and today it appears at a standstill. The website referred to on the posters is no longer in service.

Romaggi Adobe doesn’t look too bad from this view.

The latest news I could find was an article dated April 22, 2014, in the Calaveras Enterprise. It included a photo of a newly paved access from State Route 49, a brief description of the planned renovation, and a plea for donations. It’s sad to think the donations did not come in as planned. The building and surrounding property have historical significance related to the Gold Rush and mining enterprises.

A closer look tells a different story.
Did squirrels insert these acorns, or people intent on creating art?

The premium tent sites looked like cozy places to camp. Most of them included a driveway or generous parking area, a covered patio area with fire pit, and an equally sized area for a large family sized tent. They also come with water and electricity. With the pool nearby, it could be a pleasant place to stay even during the summer.

Premium Tent Site

We ended our walk around the park with a stop at this seating area that overlooked the RV sites.

A place to watch the sunset in the evening.
Home sweet home

Mother Nature must have known we needed a pick-me-up after our day, so she treated us to one of her beautiful sunsets.

Gold country sunset

Next up: A drive to Jackson to drop off the bad tire that suffered a tread separation, obtain a replacement, and explore the town.

Safe Travels

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.