Leaving Sonora, California, we quickly make our way to the old mining town of Columbia, today preserved as a state historical park. Columbia got its start in March, 1850 when prospectors made camp near here. In just two days, they hit a bonanza and the gulch yielded more than $4,500 in gold ore. News like that doesn’t take long to spread and the area was soon flooded with thousands of miners hoping to find their fortunes. Within no time, a tent and shack city was formed called Hildreth's Diggings. The site was later called American Camp before it was changed permanently to Columbia. Within weeks, the town boomed to a population of over 5,000 people. Between 1850 and the early 1900s, about $150 million in gold was removed from the hills surrounding Columbia.
Today, the state-preserved historic park and a National Historic Landmark preserves the original, gold-rush-town flavor of the town. The historic district features dozens of restore buildings that now feature shops, restaurants and two hotels. Key buildings include the Wells Fargo Express office, built in 1858, the City Hotel, which was established in 1856, the first public high school building, one of the oldest in California, and many more. A stroll along the tree lined Main Street, which is blocked to automobile traffic, visitors can view an old-time pharmacy, newspaper office, and a working blacksmith shop. Tourists can also ride a 100 year-old stagecoach, pan for gold, or tour an active gold mine.
Then we're off to see some really, really big trees at Calavares Big Trees State Park. A California state park since 1931, the site preserves the North Grove of giant sequoias that includes the "Discovery Tree", the first Sierra redwood noted by Augustus T. Dowd in 1852. These are the biggest trees on earth, some of which we could walk through. You used to be able to drive through them.
Then onward to a couple of old mining camps -- Sheep Ranch and Mokelumne Hill before making our way westward to San Jose, for the night.