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 4: Angels Creek Trail and the City of Sutter Creek

The stress from the blown tire while driving to Angels Camp on Sunday and the back-and-forth Jackson drives and explorations on Monday and Tuesday told us we needed a break. So, instead of packing in a full day, we opted for another hike at New Melones Lake and a relaxing afternoon at the trailer.

Angels Creek Trail

The Angels Creek trail was a perfect choice for our second hike in New Melones Lake recreation area. Listed as a 2.5-mile moderate trail, it was a good follow-up after the short one we took the day before.

Hiking trail through shady trees and green grass
Angels Creek Trial

We parked at the Buck Brush Day Use Area and started out on the trail that loops around a partial peninsula. We traveled through woodlands, grasslands, and a small section of wetland pond.

Manzanita tree on side of trail
Love the red bark on the manzanita

I was surprised to see manzanita trees so tall. The ones I’ve seen before were more like a bush and not much higher than my waist. With 105 species and subspecies of the plant, I guess they come in all shapes and sizes depending on the soil and other growing conditions.

Red barked manzanita tree limb against blue sky
Gnarly manzanita limb

It’s good to know that the berries and the leaves make an excellent snack in case I get hungry on a hike. According to Wikipedia, Native Americans made cider with the berries and toothbrushes with the leaves.

Blue wildflowers on slope and river below
Lupine was plentiful on the hills above the lake

Wildflowers were plentiful on this trail too. Lupine blanketed the slopes above the lake and patches of yellow flowers crossed our path.

Hiker walking between yellow wildflowers
JT walks through a yellow patch

It’s hard to comprehend the size of the lake from one or two locations since it spreads out into canyons, arms, and fingers. A map is best to visualize the lake’s size.

Blue skies, forest of trees, S-curve river
The lake snakes its way through canyons
Blue lake seen through tree branches
And spreads out through valleys
Grass and trees in the foreground, blue lake, and blue skies with puffy white clouds
Blue skies, blue lake, green grass and trees. What a perfect day.

From the trail I spied this restroom at the Angels Creek Boat Launch that was closed. It looked like it went a couple of rounds with a windstorm.

Restroom building with roof damage
Windswept roof

After our hike we drove to the Marina and Glory Hole Point Launch area. The normal boat ramp was closed since it ended well above the water surface, so boaters had to drive out on the point to launch their marine toys.

Closed boat lunch, lake, hills in background
Boat launch closed until the water rises

Sutter Creek

The next day we drove north to the City of Sutter Creek. Someone told us Sutter Creek had the best historic downtown, so we had to see for ourselves. On the way there, Jon stopped so I could take a photo of this structure nestled among the trees.

Headframe mining equipment towering over green leafed trees
Headframe above underground mine.

Visitors will find drinks and food at the tasting rooms and restaurants that line the street. And shoppers are sure to find something to take home from one of the antique, clothing, and gift stores. I did. An apron and a pair of pants had me pulling out my wallet.

Dark green two story 1800s building with white railings on top floor
Outdoor dinning in Sutter Creek

Sutter Creek started its life around 1848 as a settlement, offering food, drink, and mining equipment. Legally founded on September 4, 1854, the population grew, welcoming Americans, Europeans, Asians and Pacific Islanders. Immigrants from Italy, Yugoslavia, and Cornwall, England, influenced the building methods and architecture.

Man standing in front of an 1800s building waiting to cross the street
Look both ways

After the 1860s, the town became known for the local quartz-mining activities and continued to grow and prosper. Once the mines closed, the city transitioned into a tourist town, attracting visitors from San Francisco, Sacramento, and beyond.

White steeple church and rectory
Methodist Church founded 1862

Here are just a few of the many buildings in the historic downtown region. The use of native stone as a building material and iron doors contributed to the survival of many of the buildings from the 1800s. The town learned early on that stone and iron can prevent fires from taking out an entire town.

Street scene of Sutter Creek
Street Scene facing north

The Sutter Creek Auditorium was built in 1939. The conference and event venue includes a small kitchen and large stage with parking in the back.

White early 1900 building used as Sutter Creek Auditorium
Sutter Creek Auditorium
Creek running between grassy area and buildings on each side and bridge in the background
Sutter Creek runs through town next to the auditorium

A fire in 1865 destroyed the American House, built on this site in 1852, along with most of the town. When rebuilt, it opened as the American Exchange Hotel and enjoyed a long history. Today, Hotel Sutter offers twenty-one guest rooms, a restaurant, bar, and a banquet room for up to 100 people.

Beige 1800s style three story building used as Hotel Sutter with street dining under umbrellas
Hotel Sutter

The J. Monteverde building is a museum with displays of dry goods, hardware, and other products commonly available for purchase during the Gold Rush era. Unfortunately, it was closed during our visit.

White general merchant building from the 1800s with pillars

Built in 1919 for silent films, the Ratto Theatre is one of four art deco theatres constructed by John Ratto in Amador County. This one is the only one that survived over the years.

Art deco theatre painted cream with gold and maroon trim

Visitors needing a comfy bed and a scrumptious meal have the Foxes Inn and the Sutter Creek Inn to choose from. Both properties were built in the 1800s and feature rooms with private baths.

Yellow 1800s style home amid flowering trees and bushes
The Foxes Inn
1800s style home with manicured green grass
Sutter Creek Inn

Here are a few things I’d like to do and see on a return trip to Sutter Creek:

  • Knight Foundry – A water-powered foundry and machine shop that operated from 1873 until the 1960s. Check the website for information on tour days and times.
  • Miner’s Bend – A park with artifacts and replicas of Sutter Creek’s gold rush history.
  • Preston Castle – Opened in 1894 as a reform school for boys, the Preston School of Industry operated until 1960. It was built in the Romanesque Revival style using bricks made in San Quentin and Folsom prisons. Check the website for information about visiting.

So do we think Sutter Creek is the best historic town in the Mother Lode? It’s definitely at the top of the list, but I’m reserving my answer until I’ve seen more. Each of them has their own personality, and I haven’t explored enough to form an opinion. I think we need a few more trips to the Gold Country to investigate towns north of Sutter Creek and south of Angel’s Camp.

On our way back to the trailer, we stopped at this water tower. The Italian Picnic Grounds was founded in 1881. They hold an annual picnic and parade in non-pandemic years. Sounds like fun. Maybe it will come back in 2022.

Italian Picnic Grounds green, white and red striped water tower on a hill with green bushes and brown grass.
Italian Picnic Grounds looked like a fun place

That’s it for now. Coming up next: Big Trees State Park

Safe Travels

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.

Sunflowers

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