On This Day: Gold Found at Sutter’s Mill

January 24: Gold!

California’s most famous gold rush dates to the morning of January 24, 1848 when James Marshall made his customary inspection of the sawmill he was building for John Sutter. During the previous night, Marshall had diverted water through the mill’s tailrace to wash away loose dirt and gravel and on that fateful day he noticed some shining flecks of metal left behind by the running water.

He picked them up and showed them to his crew and, as he later told the story: “My eye was caught by something shining in the bottom of the ditch. . . . I reached my hand down and picked it up; it made my heart thump, for I was certain it was gold. . . Then I saw another.”

Amador City © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

James Wilson Marshall, a foreman at John Sutter’s lumber mill near Coloma, California was on the edge of the American River when he spotted something glittering in the sun on January 24, 1848. When he brought the shiny flakes to his boss, Sutter ordered him to be quiet while they secretly tested the material.

As Sutter feared, Marshall had found gold. The two men did not know it yet but California’s fabled Gold Rush was about to explode and California and the United States would change forever.

Sutter was dismayed because he owned nearly 50,000 acres and knew that his dreams of an agricultural empire would be ruined if crazed gold prospectors rushed in and overran his property. Despite all his efforts at secrecy, however, rumors started spreading.

Men began to write letters; by the summer newspapers on the East Coast were announcing the news and in an address to Congress on December 5, 1848, President James Polk—a strong supporter of America’s Manifest Destiny—officially confirmed the discovery of gold in California helping to spur the Gold Rush and ensuring the acceleration of America’s westward expansion.

Sutter Creek © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

California was still part of Mexico at the time Marshall discovered gold but Polk took care of that by acquiring California with the signing of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo that ended the Mexican-American War on February 2, 1848. At the end of the year Polk delivered his address to Congress and the California Gold Rush erupted the next year as 90,000 49ers rushed to California in 1849 looking for the gold Polk confirmed was there. California was admitted into the Union the next year as part of the Compromise of 1850.

Between 1848 and 1855 about 300,000 prospectors flooded into California, mostly Americans but tens of thousands also came from as far away as China, Hawaii, Europe, Peru, and Australia. It is estimated they recovered over $7 billion in gold. It all began with that January 24, 1848 discovery by Marshall, a find that touched off an irresistible gold fever that made men abandon what they were doing and head off to California to strike it rich.

Today, a few mines and the remains of several boom towns have been preserved in a variety of state parks. Most of them, including the Marshall Gold Discovery site, the fabulous Empire Mine, the historic town of Columbia, the rich gold deposits at Plumas Eureka, and the controversial hydraulic mining pits at Malakoff Diggins are located in or near the Mother Lode region of the central Sierra Nevada foothills.

Jackson © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The riverfront embarcadero and commercial district of the Gold Rush preserved at Old Sacramento teemed with activity as would-be miners disembarked from riverboats and regrouped before setting out for the Mother Lode. Outfitters and other merchants there thrived on the gold trade portrayed in the re-created Huntington & Hopkins Hardware Store. The mining boom that Captain John Sutter himself set in motion nearly destroyed his Nuevo Helvetia agricultural empire headquartered at Sutter’s Fort. A portion of his Mexican land grant became the bustling Gold Rush boomtown of Sacramento.

While gold-seekers were pouring through Sacramento and into the Sierra, deposits of the precious metal were also discovered in the Klamath Mountains of northwest California. Today, ruins of the historic town of Shasta and the Chinese temple at Weaverville Joss House State Historic Park recall the days of the Klamath gold rush.

In combination, the Mother Lode and the Klamath gold fields produced the modern-day equivalent of more than $25 billion in gold before the turn of the century with operations continuing at Empire Mine until as late as 1956.

Placerville © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Between the 1860s and the turn of the century, prospectors found gold in a number of locations in California. One of the Wests largest authentic ghost towns is Bodie in the eastern Sierra Nevada, now a state historic park that preserves the abandoned buildings of the rough-and-tumble mining town that sprang up in response to a gold strike in 1877.

In Southern California, three historic gold mining areas lie within the state parks. Park headquarters at Red Rock Canyon State Park is on the site of what was once an important community in a region that produced several million dollars in gold primarily in the 1890s -including one 14-ounce nugget.

At Cuyamaca Rancho State Park, visitors can tour the remains of the Stonewall Mine which produced $2 million worth of gold between 1870 and 1892.

At Picacho State Recreation Area on the lower Colorado River, visitors can view Picacho Mill, the last visible remnant of Picacho, a gold mining community that boasted a population of 2,500 in 1904.

Angels Camp © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Check out these articles to learn more:

Worth Pondering…

All the gold in California

Is in the bank in the middle of Beverly Hills

In somebody else’s name.

So if you’re dreamin’ about California,

It don’t matter at all where you’ve played before.

California’s a brand-new game.

Tryin’ to be a hero, winding up a zero,

Can scar a man forever right down to your soul.

Living on the spotlight can kill a man outright

‘Cause everything that glitters is not gold.

—written by Larry Gatlin and recorded by Larry Gatlin & the Gatlin Brothers Band in 1979 

20 Scenic Road Trips to Take This Summer in Every Part of America

No matter where you are, an unforgettable road trip is never far away

Sometimes it’s more about the journey than the destination. For these 20 road trips, that is definitely true.

America is one of the most geographically diverse countries in the world, it is home to mountains, prairies, canyons, deserts, lakes, beaches, forests, and just about any natural landscape you can imagine. If you like road trips, a lot of these incredible landscapes are accessible by road with tons of sights to see and other adventures waiting around each bend. If you’re not a fan of road trips, well, this list might change your mind.

Every corner of the United States has some incredible sights to see and whether you’re looking for history, nature, interesting small towns, or anything in between, there’s a scenic drive for you. Take advantage of the warm weather and check out these summertime drives; the adventures won’t disappoint.

Best Scenic Road Trips in the Northwest

Spirit River Memorial Highway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Washington: Spirit Lake Memorial Highway 

The Spirit Lake Memorial Highway is the only scenic byway in the U.S. that penetrates a fresh volcanic blast zone. This scenic and historic route is a 52-mile journey into the scene of epic destruction that Mount St. Helens caused when it erupted on May 18, 1980. Along the route are four distinct interpretive and tour centers: Silver Lake, Hoffstadt Bluffs, the Weyerhaeuser Forest Learning Center, and Johnston Ridge. Each one tells a different part of the story from the natural history before the May 1980 eruption, the aftermath, reforestation efforts, and the natural recovery of plants and animals. 

Best Scenic Road Trips in the Northeast

Trapp Family Lodge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Vermont: Green Mountain Byway

The Green Mountain Byway travels from Stowe to Waterbury between mountain ridges. Little River, Smugglers Notch, Waterbury Center state parks, and Mount Mansfield and Putnam state forests are along the route. Stowe is a premier four-season resort destination particularly known for its alpine and Nordic recreation, mountain biking, and hiking. Here, the Von Trapp family (of Sound of Music fame) attracted worldwide attention more than 50 years ago. Along with beautiful scenery, a large variety of attractions for all ages and tastes including Ben & Jerry’s ice cream factory, Cold Hollow Cider Mill, and Vermont Ski Museum.

Ocean Drive © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Rhode Island: Ocean Drive

This loop around the island’s coast is full of seaside views, charm, and historic homes to excite the imagination. Along Harrison and Ocean Avenues, a plethora of 1865-1914 mansions from the Gilded Age come into view that were once summer homes and getaways for the financially and socially elite but now many of the Newport Mansions are open to public tours. For outdoor fun, stop at Brenton Point State Park to enjoy the water or a nice picnic spread.

Lancaster County Amish Country Drive © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Pennsylvania: Lancaster County Amish Country Drive

A visit to Amish country is a worthwhile addition to your summer drive plans. When all else fails and you’re looking for the idyllic peacefulness of a pure country drive, circle around the city of Lancaster and see some of the gloriously beautiful landscapes. Unplug and experience communities of people who aren’t affected by the hustle and bustle of modern life, instead keeping their treasured traditions alive and strong to this day.

Best Scenic Road Trips in the Midwest

Heritage Trail Driving Tour © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Indiana: Heritage Trail Driving Tour

The 90-mile Heritage Trail Driving Tour winds through Amish Country taking you down rural highways, country lanes, and charming main streets. Stop in Shipshewana to stroll the shop-lined streets where you’ll find handcrafted items, baked goods, and the Midwest’s largest flea market. Enjoy a delightful Amish meal at Das Dutchman Essenhaus in Middlebury or Amish Acres in Nappanee.

Peter Norbeck Scenic Drive © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

South Dakota: Peter Norbeck Scenic Byway

Embracing South Dakota’s pastoral landscapes, the Peter Norbeck Scenic Byway winds its way from Rapid City terminating at Mount Rushmore. This 70-mile route graces travelers with landmarks like the intriguing Needles Eye and the monumental Rushmore Presidents. En route, small towns like Keystone and Custer dot the journey lending aid if a leg stretch is overdue. Amidst this, Sylvan Lake, a man-made marvel provides a serene break. Its creation is attributed to Peter Norbeck and his predecessors. Norbeck was the byway’s namesake as well as South Dakota’s former governor in the early 20th century. Lastly, the annual Sturgis Motorcycle Rally the first week in August (August 4-13, 2023) showcases the byway’s lively side, drawing motor enthusiasts nationwide.

Amish Country Byway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Ohio: Amish Country Byway

On a map, routes 39, 62, 515, and 60 form a sort of eyeglasses shape throughout Holmes County in Ohio. That’s fitting because exploring these four roads is a great way to explore Amish Country. These routes make up the Amish Country Scenic Byway, designated in June 2002 as a National Scenic Byway. These 72 miles of roadways are recognized for their unique cultural and historic significance. Along these roadways, you will be treated to the typical, yet breathtaking sights of Amish Country: teams of huge, blonde Belgians pulling wagons of hay, farmers working in the fields, and of course, beautiful views of lush, green farmland, large white houses, and red barns.

Best Scenic Road Trips in the Southwest

Gold Rush Highway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

California: Gold Rush Highway

Follow in the footsteps of miners and prospectors through California’s Gold Country along Highway 49—a road named after the gold seekers or 49ers who made their way to the state during the 1849 Gold Rush. Plan for five days to provide time to strike its rich panning for gold in the region’s rivers. You’ll also want to spend time exploring the rocky meadows and pine-covered foothills of the Sierra Nevada.

Apache Trail © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Arizona: Apache Trail

This historic road covers some of the most rugged terrains in Arizona. The land surrounding the road rises steeply to the north to form the Four Peaks Wilderness Area and to the south to form the Superstition Wilderness Area. Steep-sided canyons, rock outcroppings, and magnificent geologic formations are all along the road. Water played a major role in creating the beauty of the area, and it also provides numerous recreation opportunities. Fish Creek Canyon is perhaps the most awe-inspiring section. The road hangs on the side of this high-walled canyon and winds its way along tremendous precipices that sink sheer for hundreds of feet below.

Scenic Byway 12 © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Utah: Scenic Byway 12

An All-American Road, Highway 12 is one of the most scenic highways in America. It winds through canyons, red rock cliffs, pine and aspen forests, alpine mountains, national parks, state parks, a national monument, and quaint rural towns. On your 119 mile drive, you’ll discover the vast Grand Staircase–Escalante National Monument and the beauty of Boulder Mountain.

Palms to Pines Highway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

California: Palms to Pines Highway

The Coachella Valley is known for its beautiful scenery and warm weather but just a few miles to the south is a scenic drive that offers high mountain wilderness—a two-hour journey (to Mountain Center) provided you don’t stop to admire the gorgeous sights along the way. Palm trees give way to piñon pines and firs as the byway climbs into Santa Rosa and the San Jacinto Mountains National Monument.

Oak Creek Canyon Scenic Road © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Arizona: Sedona-Oak Creek Canyon Scenic Road 

The Sedona-Oak Creek Canyon Scenic Road was designated by the Arizona Department of Transportation in 1984. This route follows US 89A through the scenic canyon made popular in the 1920s when it was discovered by Hollywood. This scenic road offers a rare opportunity to study a variety of elements within a short distance. The road traverses seven major plant communities as a result of elevation changes, temperature variation, and precipitation. It begins near the town of Sedona and runs in a northerly direction through Oak Creek Canyon to the top of the Mogollon Rim, traveling areas rich with geologic formations similar to the Grand Canyon

Scenic Highway 28 © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

New Mexico: Scenic Highway 28

Roughly paralleling the Rio Grande River, New Mexico Highway 28 travels from Mesilla to Canutillo (at the New Mexico-Texas state line). Along the drive, the Stahmann Farms pecan trees have grown over the roadway making for a sight straight out of a fairytale. Highway 28 is also home to Chopes Bar & Café, known for its tasty New Mexican food. Rio Grande Winery Vineyard & Winery and La Viña Winery are also hot spots along the roadway and very much a testament to New Mexico’s thriving, the centuries-old wine industry.

La Sal Mountain Scenic Loop © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Utah: La Sal Mountain Loop

From the alpine ridges of the La Sal Mountains to the red rock desert and sandstone pinnacles of Castle Rock, this back road is an adventure. This 60-mile route is paved and starts about 8 miles south of Moab off US-191 and loops through the mountains down to Castle Valley and SR 128 where it follows the Colorado River back to Moab. It takes about 3 hours to complete this drive. The narrow winding road while suitable for passenger cars is not suitable for large RVs. The La Sals are the most photographed mountain range in Utah, providing a dramatic background to the red rock mesas, buttes, and arches below.

Best Scenic Road Trips in the Southeast

Colonial Parkway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Virginia: Colonial Parkway

The Colonial Parkway, a scenic roadway that spans 23 miles serves as a time machine transporting visitors to the colonial era of Virginia. Connecting three significant historic sites, Jamestown, Williamsburg, and Yorktown, this picturesque drive offers a glimpse into the region’s rich history and cultural heritage. The Colonial Parkway winds along the Virginia Peninsula linking three pivotal sites in American history. This well-preserved roadway takes travelers on a journey through time, immersing them in the story of America’s colonial beginnings. With its carefully designed architecture, stunning views of the James River, and access to iconic landmarks, the Colonial Parkway provides a unique opportunity to explore Virginia’s colonial heritage and gain a deeper understanding of the nation’s roots.

Jim Beam American Stillhouse © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Kentucky: Lincoln Heritage Scenic Highway

Here’s a must-do for every American history buff. Explore the land of Honest Abe’s youth as well as several significant Civil War sites. Learn what Lincoln’s log cabin life was really like at the Lincoln Museum in Hodgenville, Kentucky; then visit Lincoln’s birthplace and the original Lincoln Memorial at the Abraham Lincoln Birthplace National Historic Park. If you’re so inclined, you can pair these educational adventures with a stop or two at one of the many breweries and distilleries the area is famous for such as Jim Beam’s American Stillhouse.

Creole Nature Trail © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Louisiana: Creole Nature Trail

One place in Southwest Louisiana that never ceases to amaze is the Creole Nature Trail, a 180-miles-long scenic byway where natural wonderlands abound. Affectionately known as Louisiana’s Outback, the Creole Nature Trail is a journey into one of America’s Last Great Wildernesses. The Creole Nature Trail features four wildlife refuges, three national and one state: Sabine National Wildlife Refuge, Cameron Prairie National Wildlife Refuge, Lacassine National Wildlife Refuge, and Rockefeller Refuge While there are five entrances to the Creole Nature Trail, the most popular entrances are off I-10 in Sulphur (Exit 20) and just east of Lake Charles at Louisiana Highway 397 (Exit 36).

Newfound Gap Road © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Tennessee: Newfound Gap Road

When you get on Newfound Gap, you won’t believe the wealth of overlooks, picnic areas, and trails to explore. Take this spectacular road through Great Smoky Mountains National Park to experience the pristine wilderness that drives millions of Americans to this wildly popular park year after year. The views get more and more breathtaking, putting a lifetime’s worth of astonishing natural eye candy into a couple gallons of driving.

Blue Ridge Parkway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

North Carolina and Virginia: Blue Ridge Parkway

A meandering road snaking for 469 miles along the crest of Blue Ridge Mountains from Great Smoky Mountains National Park in North Carolina to Shenandoah National Park in Virginia, the Blue Ridge Parkway provides access to more than 100 trailheads and over 300 miles of trails. It passes through a range of habitats that support more plant species than any other park in the country: over 4,000 species of plants, 2,000 kinds of fungi, 500 types of mosses and lichens, and the most varieties of salamanders anywhere in the world.

Skyline Drive © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Virginia: Skyline Drive

This stunning drive runs a length of 105 miles north and south through Shenandoah National Park along the crest of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Despite its lower latitude, in the winter driving conditions can be rather sketchy, with its altitude bringing in more snow, ice, and cold.

In the summer this ice gives way to views of green rising high out of the Shenandoah Valley. While driving through the elevated winding road, you’ll feel tucked away in the green forest at the top of the ridge and then be rewarded with expansive views of the valley far below at the many scenic viewpoints along the road. In the fall and winter, though, you’ll see even less crowds and even better colors.

Bayou Teche © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Louisiana: Bayou Teche Byway

For a road trip that boasts both scenery and history, this is the perfect route. From its southernmost point in Morgan City to its northern end in Arnaudville, the byway crosses beautiful marshes and fields of sugar cane connecting small towns with well-preserved historic districts. Cafés and dance halls serve up Cajun and zydeco music along with boiled crawfish and étouffée.

Road trip planning

Road trips take a little planning. Here are a few tips that will help make your scenic road trip a success:

Worth Pondering…

The journey not the arrival matters.

—T. S. Eliot

10 Scenic Drives that are Not National Scenic Byways…but should be

What exactly do you mean by a “scenic” drive?

There’s nothing quite like packing up your car or recreation vehicle and heading out onto the open road. With over four million miles of roads crisscrossing the country, how do you choose where to travel?

In much the same way Congress set aside lands to be protected as national parks, the Department of Transportation has designated a network of spectacular drives that are protected as part of America’s Byways collection. Currently, the collection contains 184 National Scenic Byways and All-American Roads in 48 states. To become part of America’s Byways collection, a road must-have features that don’t exist anywhere else in the United States and be unique and important enough to be destinations unto themselves.

Here are 10 scenic and culturally significant roadways in America that have not been designated as National Scenic Byways…but should be.

Gold Rush Highway winds through Amador City © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Gold Rush Highway

Location: California

Length: 295 miles

Gold Rush Highway through Angels Camp © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Follow in the footsteps of miners and prospectors through California’s Gold Country along Highway 49—a road named after the gold seekers or “49ers” who made their way to the state during the 1849 Gold Rush. Plan for five days to provide time to strike its rich panning for gold in the region’s rivers. You’ll also want to spend time exploring the rocky meadows and pine-covered foothills of the Sierra Nevada. 

More on scenic byways: Get in your RV and Go! Scenic Drives in America

Green Mountain Byway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Green Mountain Byway

Location: Vermont

Length: 71 miles

Cold Hollow Cider Mill © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Green Mountain Byway travels from Stowe to Waterbury between mountain ridges. Little River, Smugglers Notch, Waterbury Center state parks, and Mount Mansfield and Putnam state forests are along the route. Stowe is a premier four-season resort destination particularly known for its alpine and Nordic recreation, mountain biking, and hiking. Here, the Von Trapp family (of Sound of Music fame) attracted worldwide attention more than 50 years ago. Along with beautiful scenery, a large variety of attractions for all ages and tastes including Ben & Jerry’s ice cream factory, Cold Hollow Cider Mill, and Vermont Ski Museum.

Heritage Driving Trail through Ligonier © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Heritage Driving Tour, Indiana

Location: Indiana

Amish Acres © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Length: 90 miles

The 90-mile Heritage Trail Driving Tour winds through Amish Country taking you down rural highways, country lanes, and charming main streets. Stop in Shipshewana to stroll the shop-lined streets where you’ll find handcrafted items, baked goods, and the Midwest’s largest flea market. Enjoy a delightful Amish meal at Das Dutchman Essenhaus in Middlebury or Amish Acres in Nappanee.

Apache Trail © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Apache Trail Historic Road

Location: Arizona

Length: 41 miles

Apache Trail © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

This historic road covers some of the most rugged terrains in Arizona. The land surrounding the road rises steeply to the north to form the Four Peaks Wilderness Area and to the south to form the Superstition Wilderness Area. Steep-sided canyons, rock outcroppings, and magnificent geologic formations are all along the road. Water played a major role in creating the beauty of the area, and it also provides numerous recreation opportunities. Fish Creek Canyon is perhaps the most awe-inspiring section. The road hangs on the side of this high-walled canyon and winds its way along tremendous precipices that sink sheer for hundreds of feet below.

Travel Advisory: In 2019, the Woodbury Fire burned several areas on the Apache Trail, and a 7-mile section of the road from Fish Creek Hill Overlook (milepost 222) to Apache Lake Marina (Milepost 229) remains closed. 

More on scenic byways: America’s 10 Best Scenic Byways for your Next Road Trip

Spirit Lake Memorial Highway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Spirit Lake Memorial Highway

Location: Washington

Length: 52 miles

Mount St. Helens © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Spirit Lake Memorial Highway is the only scenic byway in the U.S. that penetrates a fresh volcanic blast zone. This scenic and historic route is a 52-mile journey into the scene of epic destruction that Mount St. Helens caused when it erupted on May 18, 1980. Along the route are four distinct interpretive and tour centers: Silver Lake, Hoffstadt Bluffs, the Weyerhaeuser Forest Learning Center, and Johnston Ridge. Each one tells a different part of the story from the natural history before the May 1980 eruption, the aftermath, reforestation efforts, and the natural recovery of plants and animals. 

Palms to Pines Highway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Palms to Pines Highway

Location: California

Length: 67 miles

Palms to Pines Highway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Coachella Valley is known for its beautiful scenery and warm weather but just a few miles to the south is a scenic drive that offers high mountain wilderness—a two-hour journey (to Mountain Center) provided you don’t stop to admire the gorgeous sights along the way. Palm trees give way to piñon pines and firs as the byway climb into Santa Rosa and the San Jacinto Mountains National Monument.

Oak Creek Canyon

Sedona-Oak Creek Canyon Scenic Road

Location: Arizona

Length: 14.5 miles

Oak Creek Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Sedona-Oak Creek Canyon Scenic Road was designated by the Arizona Department of Transportation in 1984. This route follows US 89A through the scenic canyon made popular in the 1920s when it was discovered by Hollywood. This scenic road offers a rare opportunity to study a variety of elements within a short distance. The road traverses seven major plant communities as a result of elevation changes, temperature variation, and precipitation. It begins near the town of Sedona, and runs in a northerly direction through Oak Creek Canyon to the top of the Mogollon Rim, traveling areas rich with geologic formations similar to the Grand Canyon.

More on scenic byways: Take the Exit Ramp to Adventure & Scenic Drives

Mesilla © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Scenic Highway 28

Location: New Mexico

Length: 28 miles

Rio Grande Winery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Roughly paralleling the Rio Grande River, New Mexico Highway 28 travels from Mesilla to Canutillo (at the New Mexico-Texas state line). Along the drive, the Stahmann Farms pecan trees have grown over the roadway making for a sight straight out of a fairytale. Highway 28 is also home to Chopes Bar & Café, known for its tasty New Mexican food. Rio Grande Winery Vineyard & Winery and La Viña Winery are also hot spots along the roadway and very much a testament to New Mexico’s thriving, the centuries-old wine industry.

La Sal Mountain Loop © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

La Sal Mountain Loop

Location: Utah

Length: 60 miles

La Sal Mountain Loop © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

From the alpine ridges of the La Sal Mountains to the red rock desert and sandstone pinnacles of Castle Rock, this back road is an adventure. This 60-mile route is paved and starts about 8 miles south of Moab off US-191 and loops through the mountains down to Castle Valley and SR 128 where it follows the Colorado River back to Moab. It takes about 3 hours to complete this drive. The narrow winding road while suitable for passenger cars is not suitable for large RVs. The La Sals are the most photographed mountain range in Utah, providing a dramatic background to the red rock mesas, buttes, and arches below.

Ajo Scenic Loop © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Ajo Scenic Loop

Location: Arizona

Length: 10 miles

Ajo Scenic Loop © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

With its rich tradition as a former copper mining hub, Ajo is a casual town with relaxed charm. Enjoy its mild climate, low humidity, and clear skies. Take in the historic Spanish Colonial Revival architecture in the Downtown Historic District, Sonoran Desert flora and fauna, and panoramic views. Ajo is surrounded by 12 million acres of public and tribal land waiting to be explored. Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument and Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge offer expansive hiking, camping, and birding places.

More on scenic byways: America’s 10 Best Scenic Byways for a Fall Road Trip

Ajo Historic Plaza © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

This 10.4-mile-long scenic drive starts at the Historic Plaza in downtown Ajo and loops around the gigantic open pit copper mine, then through a wonderland of saguaro, organ pipe, and other diverse cacti and back to downtown Ajo where you started. The scenic loop is mostly gravel and travels through BLM land and is popular for boondocking.

Worth Pondering…

Our four simple rules: No Interstates, no amusement parks, no five-star accommodations, and no franchise food (two words which do not belong in the same sentence!)

—Loren Eyrich, editor/publisher Two-Lane Roads

Apples and Pies Just Part of Julian’s Appeal

Julian is an old gold mining town, now famous for its apples and apple pies

While many boomtowns eventually became ghost towns, Julian had more to offer than mining.

In the lush rolling hills and mountains, just 60 miles northeast of San Diego, is the small town of Julian. It’s not on the way to anywhere for most folk, but if you’re even close it’s well worth visiting for a day or two.

Julian © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Confederated, veterans from Georgia headed west to seek their fortunes in a new, mostly unsettled land. Among these were cousins, Drue Bailey and Mike Julian, who found a lush meadow between the Volcan Mountains and the Cuyamacas to their liking.

Julian © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The town was named Julian, in honor of Mike Julian, who later was elected San Diego County Assessor. The town was never large; at the most, it boasted a population of about 600. Rumor has it that Julian almost became San Diego’s county seat.

Julian © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A cattleman, Fred Coleman, found the first fleck of gold in a creek in early 1870. It was San Diego’s first and only gold rush. The gold rush was short-lived, lasting from 1870 until around 1900 with some mining still later on. But the pioneers stayed and began farming the rich land.

Related: The 10 Best Day Trips in Southern California

While many crops were planted and animals pastured, Julian proved to be a fine place to grow apples. Julian apples, “Twenty-one varieties of well-grown and carefully selected apples”, received the Bronze Wilder Medal, a top honor, from the American Pomological Society at the 1907 Tri-centennial Exposition held in Jamestown, Virginia.

Julian © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Apples continue to be produced in Julian. Their sweet, fresh flavor lures thousands to the mountains each fall when visitors will find fruit stands overflowing with crisp fruit, homemade cider, and other delicacies and enjoy U-picking.

Apple picking season in Julian arrives in early September and lasts until mid-October. But even if your trip doesn’t coincide with the harvest you can still enjoy the spoils: there’s no shortage of bakeries in town and everyone you ask will have a personal favorite.

Julian Pie Company © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The biggest name in town (and possibly in the West) is Julian Pie Company. Along with the most widely distributed apple pie throughout Southern California, they carry more than 20 pie varieties, apple cider donuts, apple nut bread, and “apple memories,” bits of extra pie crust cut out into hearts that are perfect to snack on during the ride home.

Mom’s Pie House © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

At Mom’s Pie House, you’ll find a laundry list of pie options and other equally delightful confectionary goodness but not to be missed are their apple dumplings loaded with brown sugar, cinnamon, and nutmeg and baked in cream cheese to absolute perfection.

Related: The Charms of Julian

Apple Alley Bakery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

An unassuming spot right off the main drag, Apple Alley Bakery turns out a spectacular apple pecan pie with a crunchy crumb topping plus a killer lunch special that includes your choice of a half sandwich and a side of soup or salad and a slice of pie for dessert.

Julian Cafe and Bakery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Also noteworthy, Julian Cafe and Bakery’s boysenberry-apple is the perfect mix of sweet and tart, and Juliantla Chocolate Boutique covers cinnamon-scented caramelized apples in a flaky crust that’s also completely vegan.

Julian is an official California Historical Landmark, meaning that any new development must adhere to certain guidelines that preserve the town’s architectural integrity. Once you’re settled in, get your bearings with a self-guided walking tour and explore Julian Town Hall, historical homes, and the Pioneer Cemetery as well as the Julian Gold Rush Hotel, the oldest operating hotel in Southern California and one of the first businesses in San Diego County to be owned and operated by African Americans.

Julian © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

One of the longest-running mining operations in town, The Eagle Mine is a popular spot to take a tour and try your hand at panning for gold as they did in the olden days. Julian Mining Company also has all your gold-panning needs covered, plus gem mining, tomahawk throwing, and train rides.

Related: Where is the Best Apple Pie in America?

Julian © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

It’s also worth checking out the outstanding collection of historical artifacts at the Julian Pioneer Museum where you can learn about how local Indigenous groups and pioneer settlers lived and worked as well as The Barn Vintage Marketplace just outside town in Wynola, a great spot to shop for vintage keepsakes, furniture, and souvenirs. Be sure to say hello to the sweet emus who call the latter home.

Julian © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

You won’t be leaving this little town hungry and for a trip down memory lane, Miner’s Diner is the spot. Operated within the Historic Levi & Co. building (the first brick building erected in Julian, 1885) the historic significance doesn’t stop there. From the eclectic mix of vintage signage to old prescription medications which line the shelves to the numerous photos of the town and the building, customers receive an understanding and experience of old Julian which is available nowhere else.

Julian © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Dating back to 1929, this charming vintage soda shop has classic diner fare on deck—stacks of pancakes, bacon, and eggs, burgers, dogs, and melts included—plus a “Fun Stuff” menu where you’ll find old-timey treats like phosphate soda, ice cream floats, thick shakes and malts, banana splits, and, yes, apple pie.

Related: Julian Is World Famous For Apple Pies

Julian © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Established in 1977, the California Wolf Center is home to several gray wolf packs including one of the rarest and most endangered species, the Mexican gray wolf. Reservations are required to visit so schedule one of three different tours to learn about wolf conservation and meet with the wolf packs.

Worth Pondering…

Cut my pie into four pieces, I don’t think I could eat eight.

―Yogi Berra

A Braying Good Time in Oatman

Oatman prides itself on maintaining a Wild West feel, down to the wooden sidewalks, staged shootouts, and kitschy shops. (You can even adopt a wild burro and take it home!)

You’ve got to see Oatman to believe it. This tiny town is in a rugged area carved out of the wilderness by determined miners and now populated by more wild burros than people.

On the road to Oatman © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

They know how to have fun in Oatman where good-humored shops line the street and the furriest residents—small donkeys descended from miners’ beasts of burden—contribute to the annual fall Burro Biskit Toss.

Burros on the road to Oatman

More than 500,000 visitors are drawn annually to Oatman’s gold mine history as well as the legend of its namesake. Olive Oatman is entrenched in western lore as a woman who was kidnapped by an Indian tribe then sold to a friendly local tribe before being freed to her family near what became Oatman.

On Route 66 between Kingman and Oatman © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The town of Oatman is 28 miles southwest of Kingman along old Route 66. This town in the Black Mountains of Mohave County was founded back in 1915. Two miners discovered gold in the nearby hills and put the place on the map. By 1915 these two miners pulled out over $10 million worth of gold in a short time. That would be about a quarter of a billion dollars in today’s dollars. Oatman grew to nearly four thousand people within the year.

Oatman © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

But the town has a very sad tale that accounts for its name. Pioneers from the east looking for a new life came west in search of a better life. One such pioneering family was the Oatmans from Illinois. Royce and Mary Ann Oatman had seven children and one on the way as Mary Ann was pregnant. As their wagon train made its way toward Maricopa Wells along the Southern Emigrant Trail, it was approached by Yavapai Indians. Royce Oatman was prepared to give some supplies but when he refused to give the Yavapai more of their already limited supplies, the family was massacred.

Oatman © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Only their son, Lorenzo, and two daughters, Olive and Mary Ann, survived. Believing the boy to be dead, the Yavapai stole the Oatman’s possessions as well as the two girls as slaves. Mary Ann later died in captivity but Olive survived and was reunited with her brother in 1856 at Fort Yuma. In honor of the family that lost their dream for a better life, the village of Oatman was named for them

Oatman © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The area surrounding present-day Oatman was mined for decades before the two miners showed up in 1915. Back in 1863, Johnny Moss discovered gold in the Black Mountains and staked a couple claims. One, he named after himself—a very thoughtful choice—and the other in memory of Olive Oatman.

Oatman © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

As with most small mining communities, this area had its ups and downs, depending on the prices for minerals and the cost of getting them to market. But in 1915, that large deposit of gold was discovered and Oatman was on the map as the largest producer of gold in the American West.

By the 1960s, the boom had gone bust and Oatman was nearly deserted. So what to do with an old mining camp? Why not make it a tourist attraction?

Oatman © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

According to visitarizona.com, more than 500,000 visitors are drawn annually to Oatman’s gold mine history as well as the legend of its namesake. For a village, that’s a lot of people walking up and down the streets. Actually, when visiting most people walk along wooden sidewalks—just like they did way back when.

Oatman © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

But when the burros come visiting most anything goes. The burros that live in the nearby hills are a major calling card for Oatman. They are everywhere—and I mean everywhere. The early miners used burros to carry their belongings as they went from one gold strike to hopefully, the next. Being a miner was a lonely business. Often, when a miner died alone, the burro simply wandered off. Over time, the burros thrived in the hills near Oatman. The burros strut along the streets, brush up against vehicles, and bray at anyone who will listen.

Oatman © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Oatman is such a tourist destination that back in 1939 Clark Gable and Carole Lombard allegedly honeymooned at the 1902 two-story adobe Oatman Hotel after marrying in nearby Kingman. It is no longer an actual hotel but tourists can eat at the first-floor restaurant or have a drink at the bar before visiting the museum on the second floor where the lovebirds spent their wedding night. Some say the lovebirds’ spirits as well as other former lodgers still vacation there. The hotel is the oldest two-story adobe building in Mohave County.

Oatman © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Oatman has been used as a backdrop in numerous films, too. There’s “How the West was Won” (1962), “Roadhouse 66” (1984) and “Killer Holiday” (2013).

There are numerous shops along the main street and some of the activities offered during the year include the Great Oatman Bed Race in January, the sidewalk egg frying contest on July 4, and the Christmas Bush Decorating held in December.

Oatman © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

We stayed a few hours, wandering here and there. We patted the burros and made sure that each store saw our feet. We crawled into a pub or two, as well. One does get thirsty wandering a village.

Oatman © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Oatman is surrounded by Bureau of Land Management wilderness which is also home to desert bighorn sheep. Outdoor activities include hiking, camping, hunting, photography, and rock climbing.

When in this part of Arizona (it really isn’t that far), take some time and visit Oatman. You’ll have a braying good time.

Worth Pondering…

So many ghosts upon the road,
My eyes I swear are playing tricks;
And a voice I hear, it’s Tom Joad,
Near Oatman on Route 66.

—Dave MacLennan

Gold Country Wineries

You are in a great place when it is the site of the California Gold Rush

The discovery of gold in 1848 led to the establishment of hundreds of instant mining towns along the western foothills of the Sierra Nevada.

Amador City © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Most mining camps were nothing more than temporary encampments established where a section of a creek 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. Many of these historic and picturesque towns still exist, linked by California Highway 49, the Gold Rush Trail.

Sutter Creek © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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 and the robust wines of the region.

Angels Camp © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Nestled in these foothills is the unique wine district of Gold Country. Touring the unique wineries along historical Highway 49 took us back in time. The majority of the area still looks stuck in gold rush times, but that doesn’t mean that it doesn’t produce sophisticated wines perfect for the modern-day wine enthusiast.

Jackson Rancheria RV Resort © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Using Far Horizon 49er Village RV Resort in Plymouth and Jackson Rancheria RV Resort in Jackson as our home bases, we explored the Gold Rush Trail and Gold Country wineries along California Highway 49.

Gold country has always been audacious and rip-roaring. No surprise—its wines are too. Most wines need time to rest, relax, and mature. And really, don’t we all?

For most of the above, we recently embarked on a tasting getaway in the foothills of Amador, El Dorado, and Calaveras counties where some vines date to the late 1800s and all the wines seem amplified with a flavorful dose of the American West.

Amador Flower Farm © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The most common adjectives for the area’s potent reds are big and robust—zinfandels, syrahs, and barberas that howl at the moon. Roughly 40 wineries in Amador County alone offer sips.

Amador County © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Amador County’s major wine area is the Shenandoah Valley in the northern part of the county near the small town of Plymouth. Stylistically, zinfandels from the Shenandoah Valley tend to be fuller, riper, and earthier with a characteristic dusty, dark berry fruit character, hints of cedar, anise and clove spice, and scents of raisin and chocolate.

Borjón Winery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Amador may have developed its reputation around Zinfandel, but Shenandoah Valley winemakers have branched out over the past 20 years and now produce wines from grape varietals originating in France, Italy, Portugal, and Spain, offering red, white, and rosé wines as well as excellent ports and dessert wines.

Cooper Vineyard © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Wineries within five or 10 minutes of Plymouth include Bella Piazza Winery, Terra d’Oro, Borjón Winery, Helwig Winery, and Cooper Vineyards, one of California’s most charming family wineries and a personal favorite.

Placerville © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

El Dorado County’s Grace Patriot Wines, a family-run business, provides not only award-winning wine, but history to the area. Their scenic property lies a few miles east of Placerville in an area known as Apple Hill for the abundant apple orchards scattered across the landscape. 

Grace Patriot Wines © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The winery and adjacent vineyards sit at an elevation of 3,000 feet, with an amazing eastward view over the Sierra Foothills and onwards toward the High Sierras on the far horizon. The tasting room looks out on to the patio and frames the timeless scene through its windows and the grand double doors through which visitors enter.

Grace Patriot Wines © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Our visit to the winery was memorable, as we had the opportunity to taste through their portfolio of wines. We took three of our favorite Grace Patriot wines back to our motorhome to enjoy during the winter.

Murphys © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

At the heart of Calaveras County’s wine country is an old-school Main Street with a new-world vibe. Unique to any other wine region, Murphys is a wine-lover’s dream with delightful tasting rooms and excellent restaurants in an historic downtown.  You can literally do wine country on foot in Murphys. There are over 25 wineries here and 20 of them have tasting rooms within walking distance from one another along Murphy’s Historic Main Street.

Murphys © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Picturesque vineyards and destination wineries are nestled in the rolling hills throughout the county.

Worth Pondering…

Let us celebrate the occasion with wine and sweet words,

―Plautus

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

California Gold

Get a taste of frontier life as you retrace the history of California’s boom-and-bust Gold Rush, a defining event of the 1800s

Pan for the glittering metal and see merchants in period dress recreate life as it was in the 1850s at Columbia State Historic Park. Climb aboard an inflatable raft for a bump-and-splash whitewater raft trip down the American River. Discover Placerville known during the gold-rush era as Hangtown.

Placerville © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The most popular whitewater-rafting river in the West, the American tumbles through the Gold Country, an inviting jumble of churning rapids, deep pools, and tumbling cascades. While its rich riparian ecosystem long supported Native American tribes, the next wave of humans—the legendary ’49ers—saw the waterway as means to their fortune, panning for gold in the river silt.

Placerville © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

While remnants of old mining equipment still poke up in or near the river, the rush for gold has mostly been replaced by the rush for adrenaline. Each of the American’s three forks serve up their own style of watery fun, and outfitters offer everything from family-friendly half-day floats to white-knuckle multi-day adventures.

Placerville © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Though it only has a population of around 10,681, the number and variety of attractions to be found in and around Placerville will be a pleasant surprise to visitors.

After news spread about the discovery of gold at Sutter’s Mill on January 24, 1848, thousands began arriving from all over the United States, and even from abroad. People from all walks of life wanted to make their fortune in the area’s streams and hills.

Placerville © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Merchants and others hoping to profit from the miners soon followed. The “gold rush” was born, and by 1849 it was going full bore.

It has been estimated that at least 39,000 people arrived in California by sea, and another 42,000 via overland routes, by the end of 1849. Though Coloma was the initial rendezvous point for those who became known as “Forty-Niners,” camps soon sprung up elsewhere in the area, including what eventually became known as Hangtown.

Placerville © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

What is now State Route 49 follows approximately the same course as the trail used by miners—and the merchants who supplied them—as they moved between Coloma and Hangtown. But mining was hard work, and not everyone was willing to do it for long. Some resorted to stealing gold from others, resulting in many robberies and even some murders.

Placerville © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Before the name Hangtown was applied to the camp, it was referred to as Old Dry Diggins (because the miners had to cart the dry soil to running water for washing out the gold).

Placerville © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Details seem to vary by some accounts, but in 1849 an impromptu jury met there to decide the fate of three accused murderers. After a trial that lasted about 30 minutes, someone reportedly shouted “Hang them!” Up to 1,000 miners gathered, and the sentence was carried out. Those first known hangings in the Mother Lode were carried out at a giant white oak near the center of the camp (where Coloma and Main streets intersect today).

Placerville © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Word spread rapidly, and other hangings were later carried out at the same place. The location soon became known as Hangtown.

Placerville © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

By 1854, Hangtown was the third-largest town in California—behind only San Francisco and Sacramento in total population. Los Angeles, at 15th place, had a population of only 541 voters. That same year, Hangtown was incorporated and renamed Placerville. The name was chosen for the deep-reddish-brown soil that the gold was mined from. Some of the methods used included excavating pits, digging tunnels and hydraulics (eroding the soil by shooting large volumes of water under high pressure).

Placerville © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Many fortunes were made. Merchants from near and far flocked to the rapidly expanding town.

Placerville © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Still a robust community today, Placerville also serves as the El Dorado County seat. Through a variety of attractions and sponsored activities that are put on within the historical section throughout the year, people can now visualize what it was like during that wild period.

Placerville © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Though terrible fires tore through and destroyed most of the historical section, visitors can still see buildings of stone or brick that were constructed as early as 1852

Worth Pondering…

All that is gold does not glitter,
Not all those who wander are lost;
The old that is strong does not wither,
Deep roots are not reached by the frost.

—J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring