Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Back to Bodie and Through Yosemite

Sunday, July 26, 2009 - Mammoth Lake, Bodie, Yosemite, California

We'll we can't stand it - just have to go back to Bodie. Afterall, it was one of the main reasons I wanted to come to this area. And, so glad we backtracked. This place is probably one of the best, biggest, and most preserved ghost towns in the American West. Bodie got its start man named William S. Bodey, discovered gold near a place that is now called Bodie Bluff in 1859. Alas, the poor man died in a snow storm that very winter and never saw the new town that would be named after him. In 1861 the Bunker Hill Mine was established but Bodie grew slowly and remained an insignificant mining camp for 17 years. The mine changed hands several times during the years before being sold to four partners in 1877. The name was changed to the Standard Mining Company and within months the partners discovered a significant vein of rich gold ore. Profits rose dramatically and by the end of 1878 Bodie's population had soared to some 5,000 people. The Standard Mine would yield nearly 15 million dollars in gold over the next 25 years. Today, Bodie not only preserves about 200 historic structures, but several legends abound that it is haunted.

Ok, now we're on our way to Yosemite National Park. As expected, we run into some large crowds in the park, but still get the opportunity to take bunches of great photographs. The almost 1,200 square mile park is internationally recognized for its spectacular granite cliffs, waterfalls, clear streams, and Giant Sequoia groves. While there, we get a view of "Half Dome," "El Capitan," a couple of water falls, and some super crazy climbers who make us dizzy just watching them.

Lots of pics before traveling on bunchs of winding roads, through a couple of small mining camps and on to Sonora, California, known as the “Queen of the Southern Mines.” Here, we find a small Mom & Pop Motel -- not fancy, but clean. Settle down in some lawnchairs in front of our rooms, drink a few brewskies, order a pizza, a relax for a while, before we start all over again tomorrow.

Virginia City and the Comstock Lode

Saturday, July 25, 2009 - South Lake Tahoe to Mammoth Lake, California

Up and at ‘em – gonna go eat some breakfast at the Harrah’s buffet on Mr. Terry highroller’s points. Damn, damn, damn, closed. McDonalds and forge on. Virginia City, Nevada, here we come!! And, oh ma gosh, what a place!! But, on the way, we get a couple of bonuses – Silver City and Gold Hill. Three mining camps situated one right after the other, the area is dotted with head frames, mine tailings and old buildings as we wind up the road to Virginia City.

The heart of the Comstock Lode, Virginia City was heralded as the most important settlement between Denver, Colorado and San Francisco, California in the time of its heydays. By the 1870s, over $230 million in silver ore had been produced by the mines and Virginia City was continuing to grow. At the peak of its glory around 1876, Virginia City was a boisterous town with many businesses operating 24 hours a day. At that time the boomtown sported some 30,000 residents, 150 saloons, at least five police precincts, a thriving red-light district, three churches, hotels, restaurants, ten different fire departments, its own water, electric and gas systems, and numerous other businesses.

After strolling the streets and taking lots of photographs, we can’t resist getting our photo taken in an “old tyme” photo shop. As we wait for the photos to print, we sip on a coupla beers in the Mark Twain Saloon and pick up a few legends from the bartender. Cool stuff and you’ll see it soon.

Turning around and heading south again on our way to Bodie, California – one of the best, if not THE best ghost towns in all of the American West. Unfortunately, our GPS gave us not such good directions and we wound up at the park at 5:55. It’s ok, it doesn’t close till sundown. Nope—that was pre Mr. Hollywood cutbacks. In December, the park began to close at 6:00 p.m. but, alas, I didn’t know that. So, I pay $5.00 for five minutes and run like the dickens through the park taking as many pics as possible. All the way getting stopped by no less than four rangers telling me I’ve got to leave. “No, I say, I have four more minutes, I paid a dollar a minute, and I will use them.” And, I did. Sadly, not the kind of visit I had hoped for.

South again, beautiful scenery along the way and an erie lake called Mono Lake – huge but not a single boat, nor dock, nor campground, nor tree. The lake, one of the oldest in North America is over 1 million yearls old, covers about 65 square miles and has no outlet. Throughout its long existence, salts and minerals have washed into the lake from Eastern Sierra streams. Freshwater evaporating from the lake each year has left the salts and minerals behind so that the lake is now about 2 1/2 times as salty and 80 times as alkaline as the ocean. Ah, this explains no boats, docks, or buildings around the lake.

Then on to Mammoth Lake, about 30 minutes south of Yosemite and the only hotel we could find.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Forward to Lake Tahoe

Bright and early, Miss Kimmy, who never eats more than a bananna for breakfast - hence nice skinny legs, is craving what she calls pammy cakes. Denny's -- here we come and fortified, we are on our way. Who would guess, it would take us six hours to cover 27 miles. Well, mebbe, that's not so surprising. Anywho, drives through two more "non-ghost-towns" that are; however, historic mining camps -- Colfax and Grass Valley. Picturesque for sure. Then on to the highlight of our day -- the Empire Mine State Historic Park. What a wonderful stop and a great history.
The Empire Mine was the richest hard-rock mine in the State of California producing 5.8 million ounces of gold in its operating history of 106 years (1850-1956). George Roberts, the original discoverer of the gold soon sold his interest and by 1869 William Bourn Sr. owned controlling interest. The Bourn family maintained control of the mine until 1929 when it was sold to Newmont Mining. It ceased operation in 1956. In 1975 the State purchased the surface property as the Empire Mine State Historic Park. The Park draws thousands of worldwide visitors each year and is noted for its historical tours of the Bourn Cottage, the mineyard and "living history" events.
This was an absolute wonderful stop. We watched blacksmiths doing what they do best, and one very informative gentleman made both Kim and I a small salt spoon out of railroad nails. Then, we got to meet an origianl decendent of the owners, who shared with us a giant and beautiful gold nugget.
You can bet this will be one of the first places to get written up on Legends of America. Sadly, we also learn that California's Hollywood governor, in the midst of a financial panic, is looking to perhaps close down some of these wonderful state parks. Terrible! Very glad we are here now, as the future of these historic places is uncertain.

We then tour through a "real" ghost town called Rough and Ready (what a name!) before making our way to the Yuba River and the old townsite of Bridgeport. Though there is nothing left of the town today, a historic and incredible surprise awaits as at the Bridgeport Bridge. Built in 1862, the bridge is the longest single span bridge in existence. Down below dozens of people splash and float in the crystal blue waters of the Yuba River.
Then on to another "real" ghost town -- North San Juan before making our way to the Malakoff Diggings State Park, another historic site that Mr. Hollywood is threatening to close. However, before we get there, Dave spies a UPS driver (female) who has broken down on the side of the road. Now, Dave, probably the most conservative and cautious man in the state of California at this time, decides to stop and give her a hand, while Terry, Kim and I insist it's probably some kind of scam - disguised drug runner or worse. In the end he agrees to play "UPS man" and deliver a package for her while she waits for help that's already on the way. Come to find out, Dave has a "thang" for brown uniforms. He caught a lot of grief for the rest of the day from the rest of us. Hehe.
On to the Malakoff Diggings State Park where our good smaritan delivers his UPS package to the museum. Good deeds do return good deeds and we are delighted when the ranger, thankful for receiving her package, says we can take the tour for free. Good job Dave.
The park is the site of California's largest "hydraulic" mine. Visitors can see huge cliffs carved by mighty streams of water, results of the gold mining technique of washing away entire mountains to find the precious metal. Legal battles between mine owners and downstream farmers ended this method. The park also contains a 7,847 foot bedrock tunnel that served as a drain and the visitor center has exhibits on life in the old mining town of North Bloomfield. Another great stop.

We then wind around for miles before finally making it back to "civilization" and find a good road to make up some time. Ahhhh, here we go -- Interstate 80. Only 54 miles to Truckee, then we're on our way to Tahoe. Huh!!! Not so easy as we thought. Gotta say, California has set an all time record for these travelers, who have been virtually everywhere in the United States. A four mile construction zone takes us one hour and 15 minutes to get through. Yuck, yuck, yuck. Finally, we peel off the other thousand or so vehicles to make our way to the Pioneer Monument, also referred to as the Donner Monument, situated near the site where the fateful wagon train of 1847-48 was stranded at the edge of the Sierra Nevada range.

On to South Lake Tahoe. Beautiful drive, lots and lots of people. It’s definitely summer season at Tahoe. Couple of stops for scenery pics – especially at Emerald Bay. Then off to Harrah’s -- maybe four feet over the Nevada state line. Wonderful friends, Terry and Kim, got high status with Harrah’s and get us two huge comped rooms. Very quick loss of our gambling budget, dinner and bed.

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.