Friday, July 24, 2009

California or Bust!!

Northern California, that is. For several years, I have been dying to visit the area of California's we're packing it in for seven full days with tons of destinations on the agenda. Up on Wednesday morning at the crack of dawn for a flight to Sacramento. First stop - Old Town Sacramento.

Sacramento got its start when John Sutter arrived on August 13, 1839 at the divergence of the American and Sacramento Rivers with a Mexican land grant of 50,000 acres. The next year, he and his party established Sutter’s Fort, a massive adobe structure with walls eighteen feet high and three feet thick. Sutter called his colony New Helvetia, a Swiss inspired name, and was the political authority and dispenser of justice in the new settlement.

Within just a few short years, John Sutter had become a grand success and Fort Sutter became a regular stop for the increasing number of immigrants coming through the valley. However, in 1848, James Marshall discovered gold on Sutter's land and soon the California Gold Rush was on.

Sutter lost his workers and land to the gold fields and spent the rest of his life trying to recover his losses. In the meantime, Sacramento developed into a thriving city. Today, Old Sacramento, with its wood plank sidewalks and picturesque three-story buildings, caters to more than 5 million annual visitors.

From old town, we visit Sutter's Fort, take a drive by the California Capitol, and begin to make our way east out of the city. First stop -- Folsom Prison. Here, we take a couple of pictures and Kim and I try to talk Terry and Dave into an extended stay, so they could write the inside story about the prison. No takers! Hmmm. So, we visit the Folsom Museum, chat briefly with a very grouchy old prison guard who's manning the museum and get ready to skedaddle. Me thinks, prison guard duty for too many years is perhaps not good for the mental health. Check soon for stories on Folsom Prison on Legends of America.

Then onward we go to a couple of historic old towns that some websites refer to as ghost towns. No, El Dorado and Placerville, while historic, and yes, were once thriving mining camps, are definitely NOT ghost towns. In fact, we're pretty sure that all the way from Sacramento to Placerville, we didn't travel more than a mile without seeing lots of dwellings and businesses. Still, these places are historic and well worth a stop.

Finally we do arrive at a "real" ghost town and the site of the original gold discovery in California - Coloma. Lots of historic buildings and the rebuilt Sutter's Mill where James Marshall originally found that bright and shiny metal that changed the history of the American West.

No sooner are we out of Coloma, when the landscape is once again dotted with homes, resorts, and tourist traps. I'm a thinkin' the only "real" ghost towns to be found in the Golden State are probably in the desert. It's been a long day, beginning at 4:00 a.m. and these four are bushed. Bunk down in Auburn, California to prepare again for another adventurous day.

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