Jackson: Heart of the Mother Lode

At the heart of the Mother Lode, Jackson will be one of your favorite stops, one you will return to again and again

We remain optimistic about this year’s RV travel season despite its rough start due to the COVID-19 outbreak. We’re cautiously hoping that as this starts to pass, there’ll be enough cabin-fever to make people want to pack up the RV and head out on a road trip.

Jackson © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Stretching from El Dorado County south to Mariposa County, the Mother Lode is a continuous 120 mile long zone of hard rock gold deposits. Although most of the mining camps faded after the mines closed, tourism has brought some of them back to life. 

Jackson © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Nestled between 1,200 and 1,600 feet elevation in the Sierra Nevada foothills in the “Heart of the Mother Lode” is the historic town of Jackson. The city that produced more than half the gold pulled from the Mother Lode, Jackson is home to the deepest mines on the continent, the Argonaut and the Kennedy both in excess of 5,000 feet deep.

Jackson © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Argonaut operated until 1942, reaching a vertical depth of 5,570 feet via a sixty-three degree shaft and produced more than $25 million in gold.

Kennedy Mine, Jackson © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Kennedy has approximately 150 miles of underground tunnels, a great deal of surface equipment, which once included the famous Jackson Gate elevator wheels, and miles of flumes. The total production was $34,280,000. The Kennedy was closed in 1942 by order of the government while in full production.

Amador County Wine Country © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Today, where gold once reigned, some forty wineries produce a new treasure: superb wines which have earned Amador County international acclaim. The area’s rolling foothills are checkered between tall golden grass, oak trees, and thousands of acres of vineyards. The sun-drenched hillsides, warm daytime temperatures, and volcanic, decomposed granite soils are ideal conditions for producing top-quality wine grapes.

Jackson © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The town originally bore the name Bottileas given by the Mexican and Chilean miners who were, as the story goes, impressed by the number of bottles dropped at a spring that served as a watering hole for passing miners. The site of the original well is memorialized with a bronze plaque behind the National Hotel at the foot of Main Street.

Jackson © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

It wasn’t Bottileas for long. Sometime before the fall of ’49, Bottileas became Jackson’s Creek. Maybe it was named after New York native Alden Appolas Moore Jackson or Andrew Jackson.

Jackson © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The early gold rush camp turned city was, like so many other gold rush towns along California Highway 49, destroyed by a raging fire in 1862. The city was rebuilt with as many as forty-two of those Civil War era buildings still standing today on and around Jackson’s Historic Main Street.

Jackson © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

At the turn of the 19th century Jackson had about 3,000 residents with three churches, three newspapers, four hotels, five boarding houses, two candy factories, cigar and macaroni factories, eight physicians, and two dentists.

Jackson © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Visitors can explore these historic buildings and artifacts among the many shops, restaurants, and lodging facilities that include the iconic National Hotel.

Jackson Rancheria RV Resort © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Two and one-half mile east of the historic district off State Route 88, the Jackson Rancheria RV Resort makes a great home base to explore the Heart of the Mother Lode.

Jackson © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

New in 2008, Jackson Rancheria RV Resort is part of a casino complex. Big rig friendly 50/30-amp electric service, water, sewer, and cable TV are centrally located. Wide, paved interior roads with wide concrete sites. Back-in sites over 55 feet with pull-through sites in the 70-75 foot range. A 5-star resort. Reservations over a weekend are required well in advance.

Jackson © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In addition to wine tasting, Jackson is full of unique gift shops, antique shops, restaurants, museums, parks, and historical sites like the Kennedy Gold Mine and the former home of Armstead C. Brown. Constructed in 1854, this 15-room classic Greek Revival dwelling now houses the Amador County Museum. Exhibits feature a fascinating array of artifacts and items from the county’s early mining days.

Jackson © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

These scenic “Civil War” era buildings have been well preserved and are a photographic opportunity as well as being an incredible wealth of historic information. The sidewalks on Main Street have many bronze plaques laid into them with historic references to buildings and activities of days gone by.
Jackson at the heart of the Mother Lode will be one of your favorite stops, one you will return to again and again.

Jackson © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Worth Pondering…

There are not many places in the world where you can get to the beach in an hour, the desert in two hours, and snowboarding or skiing in three hours. You can do all that in California.

—Alex Pettyfer

Towns along the Gold Rush Trail: Amador City & Sutter Creek

Gold! The cry went up from Sutter’s Mill and brought tens of thousands stampeding into California from the four corners of the world.

COVID-19 (Coronavirus) has impacted RV travel right now. As RVers, travel is our way of life and, if you’re like us, you’re feeling the frustration of being limited to one location without the freedom to travel. 2020 is certainly presenting new challenges and now, more than ever, we realize that the freedom to travel is something we can’t take for granted. Now is a great time to start thinking of places you’d like to go—especially bucket-list destinations.

Amador City © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Travel back to the Gold Rush era on Highway 49 where charming mining towns dot the route, surrounded by the panoramic vistas and bubbling streams of the western Sierra Nevada foothills

Sutter Creek © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The discovery of gold at Sutter’s Mill in 1848 changed the course of California’s and the nation’s history. Although most of the mining camps faded after the mines closed, tourism has brought some of them back to life. 

Amador City

Amador City © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

One of California’s smallest incorporated cities, with a population of just over 200 residents, Amador City is a little city with a lot to offer.

Amador City © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The original mining-era buildings are now home to unique shops including Victorian clothing, custom quilts, local handmade gifts, a kitchen store, shops offering unique house and garden items, garden art, and antiques and books from the Gold Rush Era. You will also find wine tasting, an old fashioned soda fountain and lunch counter, an artisan bakery, and gourmet lunches and dinners. 

Amador City © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Imperial Hotel (from 1878) affords visitors an opportunity to stay the night and enjoy Amador City’s Gold Country small town way of life.

Amador City © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

It all started several hundred yards upstream from today’s town site. Jose Marie Amador, a wealthy California rancher, mined along this nameless creek in 1848-1849. There, gold outcroppings were discovered on both sides of the creek. The Original or Little Amador Mine and the Spring Hill Mine were probably the county’s first gold mines. Soon, the creek, the town, and a new county carried Amador’s name.

Amador City © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

As the “easy” gold was mined out on the upper part of the creek, mining and encampments gradually moved to South Amadore where French Gulch flows into the creek. This is the current site of Amador City. Founded in 1853, the Keystone Mine was the city’s most famous gold mine and a major reason for the town’s growth. It reached a depth of 2,680 feet and before closing in 1942 produced an estimated $24 million in gold.

Amador City © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Keystone’s early years were plagued with production and ownership problems; luckily, a rich new vein was discovered in 1866, enabling the mine to yield a monthly gold production average of $40,000, making the Keystone one of the most lucrative California mines. In those days there were an estimated four to six thousand residents in Amador City.

Amador City © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Amador City’s oldest structure, built around 1855, is the center portion of the Amador Hotel. Up Main Street is the stone Fleehart Building (now the Whitney Museum) was the Wells Fargo Building and dates from the 1860s.

Sutter Creek

Sutter Creek © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The town takes its name from the creek, and the creek takes its name from John A. Sutter. Sutter owned the saw mill in Coloma where the first Mother Lode gold was found in 1848. Unable to stop the tide of gold-seekers flowing over and destroying his lands, Sutter decided to follow the call of gold, trying in vain to recoup what the Gold Rush had taken from him. He arrived where Sutter Creek is currently located in 1848, and upon finding a likely spot, began mining along the creek.

Sutter Creek © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A small settlement began to grow, centered around a cloth tent where the miners met on rainy Sundays. The place eventually took the name of its most prominent citizen, and was called Sutter’s Creek, Sutter, Sutterville, and finally, plain old Sutter Creek.

Sutter Creek © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

But Sutter wasn’t a miner, and many of the other miners in the area didn’t much approve of his using servants to dig for gold. He left the area a short while later, returning with his men to Sutter’s Fort in Sacramento. Sutter would never mine again.

Sutter Creek © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Sutter Creek achieved prominence as the supply center for the many mines that circled the town. It was hard rock mining more than placer mining that helped the town to boom. Mines owned by Alvinza Hayward (the Gold Country’s first millionaire), Hetty Green (at one time the country’s richest woman), and Leland Stanford (at one time California’s governor and the founder of Stanford University) included the Union Mine (later renamed the Lincoln Mine) and the Old Eureka Mine. Sutter Creek remained a full- fledged mining town, boasting some of the best producing deep rock mines in the Mother Lode.

Sutter Creek © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Today, the town’s locals mine the visitors who come from around the world, drawn by both history and small town hospitality.

Worth Pondering…

There are not many places in the world where you can get to the beach in an hour, the desert in two hours, and snowboarding or skiing in three hours. You can do all that in California.

—Alex Pettyfer

The Gold Rush Trail: California Highway 49

Travel back to the Gold Rush era on Highway 49 where charming mining towns dot the route, surrounded by the panoramic vistas and bubbling streams of the western Sierra Nevada foothills

As the world comes to a standstill as we try to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 (Coronavirus), we encourage all of you to hunker down right now, too. In the meantime, we’ll keep posting articles to help you navigate the state of RV travel as well as stories about places for you to put on your bucket list once it’s safe to get back on the road again.

California is called the Golden State possibly for many reasons, among which, and in addition to its abundant sunshine, is the Gold Rush with its exciting and colorful history.

Amador City © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

“Boys, by God, I believe I’ve found a gold mine,” said James W. Marshall to his mill workers on January 24, 1848 after he discovered shining flecks of gold in the tailrace of the sawmill he and John Sutter were constructing on the South Fork of the American River.

Sutter Creek © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Gold! The cry went up from Sutter’s Mill and brought a mass migration of people into California from the four corners of the world. This discovery in 1848 changed the course of California’s and the nation’s history. This event led to a mass movement of people and was the spark that ignited a spectacular growth of the West during the decades to follow.

Jackson © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

By August, the hills above the river were strewn with wood huts and tents as the first wave of miners lured by the gold discovery scrambled to strike it rich. Prospectors from the East sailed around Cape Horn. Some hiked across the Isthmus of Panama, and by 1849, about 40,000 came to San Francisco by sea alone.

Angel’s Camp © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Most of the 49ers never intended to remain in California permanently. Most meant to seek their fortune and return to wherever they called home. But many sent for their families and stayed, causing a culturally diverse population to grow rapidly. Between 1848 and 1852, four short years, California’s population grew from 14,000 to 223,000.

Murphys © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Gold Rush expended 125 million troy ounces of gold, worth more than $50 billion by today’s standards. It is estimated that more than 80 percent of the gold in the Mother Lode is still in the ground.

Moke Hill © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

These 49ers established hundreds of instant mining towns along the western foothills of the Sierra Nevada. Most mining camps were nothing more than temporary encampments established where a section of a river was panned or sluiced until the gold ran out. Permanent towns developed in areas where more extensive operations spent decades tunneling deep into the hills. 

Placerville © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Many of these historic and picturesque towns still exist, linked by California Highway 49, the Gold Rush Trail.

The original mining-era buildings in these towns are now home to unique shops—but my interest lay elsewhere, in the gold mining history of these towns.

Far Horizon 49er Village RV Resort © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Using Far Horizon 49er Village RV Resort in Plymouth (see above) and Jackson Rancheria RV Resort (see below) in Jackson as our home bases, we explored parts of El Dorado, Amador, and Calaveras counties along State Highway 49.

Jackson Rancheria RV Resort © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Throughout its length, the Gold Rush Trail winds through many of the towns that sprung up during the Gold Rush as it twists and climbs past panoramic vistas. Rocky meadows, oaks, and white pines accent the hills while tall firs, ponderosa pine, and redwoods stud higher slopes. Dozens of lakes, rivers, and streams compliment the stunning background of rolling hills.

Amador City © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

We made stops in many old mining towns along the Trail. They retain their early architecture and charm—living reminders of the rich history of the Mother Lode. Placerville, Amador City, Sutter Creek, Jackson, Mokelumne Hill (Moke Hill), San Andreas, Angels Camp, and Murphys all retain their 1850’s flavor.

Sutter Creek © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The historic town of Placerville is just minutes from over 50 farms and ranches of the Apple Hill area as well as award-winning wineries.

Today, where gold once reigned, some forty family owned wineries and vineyards dot the winding roads of the fertile Shenandoah Valley in northern Amador County. The valley offers unique tasting rooms and outdoor event venues, bed and breakfast inns, and relaxing environments for locals and visitors.

Jackson © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Interesting places to stop are never far apart, and the drama of living history appeals to all ages. There’s no end to the nuggets you’ll discover in California’s Mother Lode Country.

Worth Pondering…

There are not many places in the world where you can get to the beach in an hour, the desert in two hours, and snowboarding or skiing in three hours. You can do all that in California.

—Alex Pettyfer

Eureka: Exploring California Gold Country

If you love history, beautiful scenery, and small towns, Gold Country is a trip worth taking

Nestled against the western slope of the Sierra Nevada the foothills offer outdoor adventure, farm-fresh produce, and relaxed wineries.

On January 24, 1848, James W. Marshall, a carpenter from New Jersey, picked up a few shining flecks of gold in the tailrace of the sawmill he and John Sutter were constructing on the South Fork of the American River in the valley the Nisenan Indians knew as Cullumah.

Placerville © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

James Marshall was building the sawmill to supply lumber for Sutter’s Fort in the Sacramento Valley. John Sutter had ambitious dreams of creating an empire—the New Helvetia in the Sacramento Valley.

Placerville © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

The gold discovery site and several historic buildings in present day Coloma became part of California’s state park system in 1927. Marshall Gold Discovery State Historic Park features a statue of James Marshall pointing at his gold discovery site, full-size replica of the original sawmill, over 20 historic buildings (many original and restored), living history demonstrations, video presentations, and costumed volunteers. Visitors can try their luck panning for gold and enjoy hikes and picnics under the riparian oak woodlands. 

Placerville during the Gold Rush © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

The discovery of gold was truly “dumb luck.” John Sutter and James Marshall started out as partners in the lumber business. In the fall of 1847, construction began on a sawmill, and by early 1848, it was ready to be tested. However, the tailrace, which carried water away from the mill was too shallow, and had to be deepened so the water would not back up and prevent the mill wheel from turning. It was during his inspection of the watercourse that Marshall found the shiny flecks. Four days later, the sample was confirmed to be real gold.

Amador City © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

By May 1848, San Francisco was reported to be “half empty” as every able-bodied man—doctors, lawyers, gamblers, merchants, miner, and more—headed for Coloma. A great number of Oregon Trail pioneers now had a good reason to head south. News also spread around the world. Many Chinese workers were lured to California, too, by the promise of gold.

The “easy” placer gold at Coloma played out within the first 10 years, sending prospectors into the surrounding hills where many hard rock mines were established.

Amador City © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Soon after the discovery of gold at Sutter’s Mill sparked the California Gold Rush, the small town of Old Dry Diggings sprang up. Later in 1849, the town earned its most common historical name, Hangtown. The name was changed in 1854 when the City of Placerville was incorporated. Placerville was named after the placer deposits found in the river bed.

Sutter Creek © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Other towns followed. One of California’s smallest incorporated cities, with a population of just over 200 residents, Amador City is a little city with a lot to offer. It all started when Jose Marie Amador, a wealthy California rancher found gold outcroppings were discovered on both sides of the creek.

Sutter Creek © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

As the “easy” gold was mined out on the upper part of the creek, mining explorations gradually moved. Founded in 1853, the Keystone Mine was the city’s most famous gold mine and a major reason for the town’s growth. It reached a depth of 2,680 feet and before closing in 1942 produced an estimated $24 million in gold.

Jackson © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Jackson, the city that produced more than half the gold pulled from the Mother Lode, home to the deepest mines on the continent, the Argonaut and the Kennedy both in excess of 5,000 feet deep, is the largest city in the historically rich and beautiful wine country of Amador County.

Amador County Wine Country © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Once the richest mining area in the Mother Lode, today Jackson’s main industry is tourism.

Moke Hill © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Founded in 1848, Moke Hill, as the locals called Mokelumne Hill, was among the richest of the digs. Claims in some areas were confined to sixteen square feet and many fortunes were made. It was the county seat in the early days and, although it held no exclusive rights, it was known as one of the most violent, bawdy towns in the Mother Lode.

Angels Camp © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Several good strikes were made by early miners at Angels Camp. The source of gold played out quickly but hard rock mining kept the gold industry flourishing in Angels until recently. The town is honeycombed with tunnels from the many successful mines.

Most of the 49ers never intended to remain in California permanently. Most meant to seek their fortune and return to wherever they called home. But many sent for their families and stayed, causing a culturally diverse population to grow rapidly between 1848 and 1852.

Murphys © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Over the next 50 years, roughly 125 million ounces of gold was taken from the hills in the California Gold Country.

Worth Pondering…

There are not many places in the world where you can get to the beach in an hour, the desert in two hours, and snowboarding or skiing in three hours. You can do all that in California.

—Alex Pettyfer