On the road to gold: A Highway 49 driving tour from Angels Camp to Jamestown

This blog follows my VoiceMap audio driving tour On the Road to Gold: A Highway 49 Driving Tour from Angels Camp to Jamestown   As you drive along some of California's most peaceful backroads, we will share the history of the California Gold Rush as well as the stories of some of the era's most headstrong women.  This includes innkeeper Jennie Megquier, who caught gold rush fever three times without any success.  We will visit the towns of Volcano, San Andreas, Angels Camp, and Mokelumne Hill.  On this drive, you'll have the opportunity to visit Calaveras Big Trees State Park, Columbia State Historic Park and Railtown 1897 State Park.  You'll also have the opportunity to explore several of the majestic wonders of the California Mother Lode, one of the state's best-known mining districts.  

You may download a souvenir brochure for this tour here.  We have also created a companion brochure, Hiking and Walking Tours of the Gold Country.  Download that here if you are interested.  

The audio driving tour, it is available at VoiceMap and listed under Calaveras County.  To use VoiceMap, you will need to download the VoiceMap app from the Apple Store or Google Play. The app is free, this audio driving tour, which is one of four that takes you along the Mother Lode from Auburn to Jamestown currently sells for $11.99.  Here is the link to the first blog in this series California's Gold Rush: A Highway 49 Driving Tour from Auburn to Placerville.  Here is the link to the second blog in this series Hard-rock mining in California:  A Highway 49 driving tour to Jackson.  And here is the third Native Americans, Boomtowns and Literary Legends:  A Highway 49 Driving Tour from Jackson to Angels Camp, California.

Calaveras Big Trees State Park

At the Calaveras Big Trees State Park, you’ll find the largest trees in the world, the Sierra Redwood which is also known as the Giant Sequoia. Well-preserved western streets await us at Columbia State Historic Park where you may experience the sights and sounds of a working gold rush town and try your hand at gold panning or take a ride on the stagecoach. You’ll be stepping back in time to the late 1800s with a visit to Railtown 1897 State Park in Jamestown where you may explore the railroad museum, roundhouse, and machine shop. In summer, on the weekends, you enjoy a ride on the Sierra #3 steam engine which sits proudly on the tracks in front of the station.

On this driving tour you can also look forward to:

• Learning how Jennie Wimmer knew that the mineral that James Marshall found at Sutter’s Mill was indeed gold
• Visiting wine rooms in the charming town of Murphys, known as the Queen of the Sierra
• Seeing the unusual stalactite and stalagmite formations in the Mercer Caverns and Moaning Caverns
• Hiking to see the unique ecological wonder of the Natural Bridges
• Finding out what it means to “see the elephant”
• Wandering the pedestrian-only streets of Columbia, a historically preserved western-style gold rush town
• Exploring the Railtown 1897 State Park and learning about the railroad and its connection to Hollywood

This 65-mile driving tour may be completed in about two and a half hours without any stops. On the other hand, this is your adventure. You may stop where you want, when you want, and for as long as you want. It’s up to you. Or just use this blog as a guide to create your own trip.  Happy Adventures and enjoy the tour! 


This driving tour begins in Angels Camp, California in the public parking next to the Art Deco-style Utica building on Main Street. The bronze and stone historical marker for Angels Camp stands at the entrance to the parking lot.  

If you would like to explore Angels Camp before we set out on the driving portion of this tour please use the map in our Companion Brochure

We covered much of the history of Angels Camp in our previous driving tour Jackson to Angels Camp, so here is just a brief overview of the history.

Angels Camp was named after Henry and George Angel of Rhode Island, who prospected the placers nearby for a short time. These brothers discovered they could make more money selling goods to the miners and opened a trading post.  After the placers ran out, quartz mining took off.  By 1857 there were eight water-driven mills and four steam mills supporting Angels Camp's hard-rock mining operations.

The chief mine, the Utica, operated from the 1850s through 1915, and employed over 500 men.  During the 1890s the Utica was one of the most productive mines in the nation with an output of around $4 million.  Overall, records of the hard-rock mines in Angels Camp and its vicinity record gold production at over $100 million. 

Besides being the setting of Mark Twain’s famous story, The Jumping Frog of Calaveras County, this town is also said to have been frequented by two of California’s most notorious outlaws, Joaquin Murrieta and Black Bart. 

Before we exit this parking lot make note of the two-story building with the long balcony across the street.  This was the location of the Angels Hotel, where Mark Twain got his inspiration for his short story, The Jumping Frog of Calaveras County

Alright, lets get going.  Exit the parking lot and turn left onto Main.  The Utica Building on your left is named after the Utica Mine. 

The buildings in this part of town date from between 1845 with the cement Odd Fellows Building on your right, and 1910 with the one-story red wood Angel's Creek Restaurant on your left.

Ahead on your left, across the street from the Chevron Station, is Utica Park, the location of Utica Mine, Angels Camp's most profitable mine.

Utica Park 

It was also the site of its worst mine disaster.  The headline of the Daily Alta California reported on December 27, 1889, "Utica Mine Disaster, 16 Timbermen Crushed to Death under Fifty-thousand Tons of Rock."   

The Historic Marker inside the park reads: "Utica Mine, the most important mine in the Angels District, set national records in the 1890s producing more than 4 million dollars in gold in 30 months.  The Utica was also the site of Angels Camp's worst mine disaster when 17 men were buried when the North Shaft collapsed in 1889.  Three men escaped through the adjoining South Shaft.  The bodies of those who died were recovered over a period of years.  The last two remained buried for 12 years.  The Utica properties expanded to include the Stickle, the Utica Cross-Shaft, and Gold Cliff Mines.  Combined 
production totaled 16.4 million dollars from 1887-1918 when Angels Camp's gold mining era ended."  

Hard-rock mining may have been profitable, but it was also quite dangerous as well.  Our next stop is Angels Camp City Museum.  It will be on your right.  Turn right into the parking lot.   

The Angels Camp City Museum is located on the original land claim for Angels hard-rock mine. It is home to one of the largest collections of carriages and wagons in the nation.  The  museum consists of four buildings with more than 30,000 square feet of collections. It is open daily and the current fee to visit is $15.  


Out in front before you go in, make sure to note the grey steam traction engine parked next to the museum sign.  This engine was built in the 1870s. Nicknamed Jenny it was purchased by Nathan and John McKay for use in their logging and sawmill operation near the town of Avery.  We will be driving through Avery on our way to Calaveras Big Trees State Park later on this tour. 

Carriage Collection

After you have explored this expansive museum and grounds, exit the parking lot, turn right back onto the highway and continue through the next traffic signal. 

Turn right onto Murphys Grade Road.  We will be on this road for the  next 7 miles as we make our way to the truly charming town of Murphys.

While you drive we will go back and recap the history of the gold rush which we covered in depth in our three companion California Gold Rush driving tours: Auburn to Placerville, Placerville to Jackson, and Jackson to Angels Camp

Sutter's Mill

The gold rush began on January 24th, 1848 at Sutter's Mill in Coloma, when James Marshall discovered yellow flakes at the bottom of the channel under the mill's waterwheel.  Marshall assumed that it was gold but he didn't know for sure, as he had never actually seen gold in its natural environment.   So, the story goes, he turned to an unlikely source to confirm it, Jenny Wimmer. 


Jennie Wimmer 

Jennie and Peter Wimmer brought their seven children  to California in 1846.  John Sutter hired Peter to work on the crew digging the track for his sawmill in Coloma.  Jennie was hired to be the camp cook and laundress. 

Drawing of Jennie Testing the Gold
California Gold Book, by Allen & Avery (1893) 

It was Jennie's ingenuity that saved the day.     Jennie's journal records the event, "I said, this is gold! I will throw it into my soap kettle along with the lye, and you just watch what happens. I finished off my soap for the day and left the kettle to cool overnight. At the breakfast table the next day, one of the work hands raised up his head from eating and said 'I heard something about gold being discovered, what about it?' I told him why don't you check out my soap kettle. Sure enough when we looked at the bottom of the kettle there was my gold as bright and shiny as it could be."    


Routes to the California Goldfields

Well news spread fast, and so did gold fever.  49ers, as the first gold miners were called,  came by covered wagons, ship, mule or foot.  Some chose one of two optional sea routes.  The seventeen thousand mile voyage around South America that took at least five months, or a fifty-three hundred mile trip including a jungle trek through the Isthmus of Panama. Other gold rushers took a different route, overland, and purchasing  the 1849 best seller The emigrant's Guide to California as a guide.

The overland route, was a rugged 2,000 mile journey over plains, rivers, mountains and deserts. Either by land or by sea, approximately 300,000 migrants from all around the world, made the journey to California.  

Placer miners with their tools

From 1848 to 1854 the main type of gold mining was placer mining.  For this method, men, and some women, worked the streams with pans, long toms, and sluice boxes.  Once the placer gold was depleted prospectors turned to lode or hard-rock mining.  This process involved extracting gold directly from the rock, typically quartz rock.  By the end of 1851 quartz mining had become a major industry in California’s Mother Lode.  It eventually would overtake placer mining in popularity, and become the largest source of gold production in California’s gold country.

The Mother Lode, which is a large system of gold-quartz veins deep underground, begins in Coloma and runs south about 120 miles to the town of Mariposa.  These veins branch out, in no particular fashion along this corridor, and constitute the best-known mining districts in California.

Miners in Camp - drawing by J. D. Borthwick 

During the gold rush years of the late 1840s through the 1850s and 60s, over fourteen hundred tent mining camps sprang up throughout the Sierra foothills, dotting the hillsides and mountain streams.   Many eventually became bustling towns. We had the opportunity to visit a few, such as Placerville, Fiddletown, Volcano, Amador City and Mokelumne Hill, on our three gold rush companion driving tours. 

In a few minutes we will arrive in the town of  Murphys.  This town, which was first mined in July of 1848 by two brothers from Santa Clara County, John and Daniel Murphy, was developed around a small Miwok village. The brothers set up a trading post. John won the respect and trust of the Tribe chief and the hand of his daughter in marriage. 

Murphys 1850s

By the early 1850s Main Street was lined with commercial buildings, occupied by hotels, saloons, liveries and general merchandise establishments.  In 1852 the population had grown to 3000, the placer mines were overcrowded and in great need of a water source, to make them more successful.  The following year, the Union Water Company  built a series of flumes and ditches that brought water from the Stanislaus River 15 miles away.  The next ten years were the greatest and most profitable in the history of placer mining in Murphys.  After placer mining played out in the 1860s, ranching, farming, and logging took its place. 

The town of Murphys, with its quaint buildings, and rich history, has been aptly named the Queen of the Sierra. Main Street is lined with shops, restaurants, and numerous wine rooms.     

Follow the highway as it veers to the right ahead and becomes Main Street.  As you drive, notice the different architectural styles ranging from western to  Queen Anne Victorian. These buildings were constructed between 1856 and 1902. A plethora of wine rooms now occupy many of these historic structures.  Ahead watch for Pop the Bubbly Champagne.  Is is located in the 1856 stone western-style building across from the Murphys Hotel, at one time this operated as Wells Fargo assay office.  

Turn right after the Murphys Hotel onto Algiers Street.  

Continue past Murphys Park and follow the brown parking signs.  The public parking area will be on your right after the bridge.  

Use the map below or our Companion Brochure to explore Murphys by foot.

Make sure to take some time to visit the Ebbetts Pass Veteran's Memorial before heading off into town. 

Murphys Park 

Old Jail 

Main Street Murphys 

Odd Fellows Building 

Pop the Bubbly 

Murphys Hotel 

When you have finished visiting the town of Murphys, exit the parking lot and turn left.  At the stop sign, cross Main Street to continue on Algiers, 

then turn left onto Church Street and right onto Sheep Ranch Road. We are on our way to Mercer Caverns which is just a little over 1 mile away.   

Inside Mercer Caverns

The subterranean caves of Mercer Caverns were formed eons ago in limestone slabs that run deep in the ground throughout the Sierra Nevada. These were discovered quite by accident by gold miner Walter Mercer September 1, 1885.  The cavern, which is open daily, is located on Sheep Ranch Road, about one mile northwest of Murphys. Summer hours, which run from Memorial Day Weekend through Labor Day, are 9 to 5 with the first guided tour beginning at 9:30.  The rest of the year, this location opens at 10am. Here visitors may take a 45 minute guided tour, descend 160 vertical feet into the earth while  navigating walkways and stairs.  Your reward is a large array of incredible cave formations, stalactites, stalagmites and flowstones.     

Down the road in the distance the Mercer Caverns sign should come into view.  Exit the highway and follow the driveway past the sign to the parking lot for Mercer Caverns.

Before you tour the caverns, here is a bit of history on this location. The Sept. 12, 1885, headlines in the Calaveras Weekly Citizen announced the discovery of the New Calaveras Cave, the article read: “The cave was discovered by Walter Mercer a couple of weeks ago. It has only been partially explored, but enough has already been discovered to justify us in saying that it will prove a major attraction to tourists and curiosity seekers.  The cave is in a limestone region, as in fact are all of the great caves of the world.  Some of the apartments are of immense dimensions.  It has been explored to the extent of seven or eight hundred feet.” 

Entrance to Cave 1886

Walter Mercer began conducting tours shortly thereafter, charging guests .50 cents.  The first visitors, holding candles between their teeth to light their way, maneuvered through the caves on ropes and ladders.

Cave Entrance 2022

During the early exploration of these caves, skeletal remains of six people were found.  These remains were eventually examined by the Harvard Museum and University of California and determined to be members of a local Miwok Tribe. The original name of the caverns, New Calaveras Cave, can be traced back to the human remains found by these early explorers.  “New Calaveras” means “New Place of Skulls”.  Obviously Walter Mercer was not the first to discover these subterranean caves. Yet in the years that followed the caverns were renamed Mercer Caverns in his honor. 

The pictures below are courtesy of the Mercer Caverns

Mercer Cavern Cave Twins

Descending into Coral Room

Close up of aragonite

Once you have explored the caverns follow the driveway back the way you came to the highway.  Continue straight on Sheep Ranch Road a little over 1 mile back to the town of Murphys.  We are going to head back to Main Street, by turning left onto Church Street off of Sheep Ranch Road. 

 Then make the next right onto Algiers Street and a left back onto Main Street.  
Continue down Main and pass restaurants, wine rooms and shops. 

The buildings that line this block were built after the fire of 1859. 

To your left watch for the Hovey Winery sign.  The building is set back off the road behind a low stone fence. This was the home of  Albert Michelson.  Albert received a Nobel Prize in physics in 1907 for his work on measuring the speed of light.   


Next on your right is the stone and bronze California Historical Landmark forMurphys, designating this town historically significant to California.  The marker reads: "
One of the principal mining communities in Calaveras County, named for the discoverer of gold on the flat in 1849. The objective of many immigrants coming over the Sierras by Ebbetts Pass, Murphys Flat and surrounding mines produced $20,000,000 in gold. Early regulations restricted claims to 8 ft. square. Suspension flume conveying water across Murphys Creek and drainage race draining the flat, were two outstanding accomplishments of early day miners. Business portion of town destroyed by fire August 20, 1859. Joaquin Murietta bandit, began his murderous career here. Calaveras Light Guards recruiting for Civil War, organized here May 4, 1861."

At the stop sign turn left onto Big Trees Road. Then in less than 1/4 mile turn left onto Highway 4 toward Big Trees.  

We will be on this highway for 15 miles as we make our way to Calaveras Big Trees State Park to view the Sequoiadendron giganteum, also known as giant sequoias.

If you took any of our other three Gold Country driving tours you would have heard the fascinating story of American gold miner John Doble.  John's journal from the 1850s and 60s gave us an inside view of a California gold miners daily life, the joys and struggles.  Though men outnumbered women about 10 to 1 in California during the gold rush, there are several journals and writings left behind by the women of that time period.

Zealous Gold Diggers 

Many women came to California during the gold rush.  Using their individual talents to make their own fortune, they cooked, sewed, ironed, washed, and in some cases danced or poured drinks.  One such women as fifty-one year old Harriet Ward.  


Harriet left Independence, Missouri in 1853 with her husband to join their gold-mining son in California.  One month into her overland journey, Harriet wrote:  "I think what is often termed suffering is merely a little inconvenience, for I had so often read and heard of the difficulties and dangers of the overland route to California, and I find from experience that the pleasure thus far quite over-balances it all." 

About 900 miles out of Independence Harriet's wagon train reached the fork of the Salt Lake and Sublette Routes, she wrote:  "It is just four months today since we left our dear home and friends, perhaps forever, and have since been leading this wild, wandering gypsy life.  Oh, when will the day arrive when we can say this long journey is over?  You may possibly infer from this remark that I am becoming weary of this mode of life but indeed to me it is a perfect pleasure trip.  There is so much variety and excitement, and the scenery through which we are constantly passing is so wild and magnificently grand that it elevates the soul from earth to heaven and causes such an elasticity of mind that I forget I am so old."

Harriet lived the rest of her days in California and her journal was adapted into the book Prairie Schooner Lady: The journal of Harriet Sherrill Ward 1853.  This book was published by Ward and Florence DeWitt in 1959. 
Here is another story about a strong willed woman pioneer.  

Margaret Frink caught gold fever when she received this letter from her friend Mrs. McKinney.  "If a woman can cook at all, she could get $16 a week for each man that she cooked for. And the only cooking required to be done was to boil meat and potatoes and serve them on a big chip of wood, instead of a plate." 

Margaret and and her husband Ledyard left on their overland journey in the 1850s.  In Margaret's journal, she writes.  "We got into St. Joseph, Missouri at 10 o'clock this morning.  The whole country around the town is filled with encampments of California emigrants. They have gathered here from the far east and south to make final preparations for launching out on the great plains.  Every house of entertainment in the city is crowded to its full capacity. This has been backward spring season with thousands of us waiting patiently for the grass to grow.  As this will be the only feed we have for our stock after crossing the west side and getting into Indian country." 

40 Miles of Desert

Nearly seventeen hundred miles into their journey the Frinks' had reached the Humboldt Sink.  Ahead of them lay forty miles of desert. On her trip through the desert Margaret writes:  "For many weeks we had been accustomed to see property abandoned and animals dead or dying.  But those scenes are here doubled.  Horses, mules, and oxen, suffering from heat, thirst, and starvation, staggered along until they fell and died.  Both sides of the road for miles are lined with dead animals and abandoned wagons.  The owners left everything, except what provisions they could carry on their backs, and hurried to save themselves." 

In September 1850, Margaret and Ledyard reached Sacramento and jumped right into the hotel business.  They rented a two-story house on K Street for $175 a month, purchased a stove for $50 and paid $18 for the lumber to build a dining table and benches.  Ledyard placed the finishing touches on their establishment by nailing a sign over the front door that read, "Frink's Hotel." By the end of the first month, the Frink's had cleared a tidy $200 profit.  


Time to take a break and stop at the Red Apple roadside stand on Highway 4 for some refreshments.  Open Thursday through Sunday, the Red Apple is family owned and operated. It offers a variety of heirloom apples, homemade pies, freshly pressed sweet cider, as well as locally produced honey, and syrups, jams and jellies. 

The exit will be on your right about 1/4 mile past Red Apple Drive.  

Head back to the highway and turn right.  We are entering the Stanislaus National Forest, which manages almost 900,000 acres of land in four counties of Northern California. Named after the Stanislaus River, it was  established in 1897, making it one of the oldest national forests. 

As we continue to climb in elevation along the highway making our way to Calaveras Big Trees State Park, we will pass through two rural mountain towns, Hathaway Pines and Avery.

Joseph and Sarah Goodell arrived in this area in 1851 and built a four room house.  It was known by the name The Half-Way House, as it was located half way between Murphys and Big Trees. The Goodell’s sold Half-Way House to the Avery family in 1869.  

This roadhouse was a major stop for overnight lodging in the 1880s. Emigrant Road ran right through what later became known as the town of Avery.  Miners would stop here on their way to or from the Comstock Lode in Nevada. Logging and freight teams also frequented the hotel.  

Today Half-Way House is called the Avery Hotel and is located just off the highway. Let's drive by it. 

Turn right ahead off the highway onto Moran Road.  This was the original road through Avery before Highway 4 was constructed in the 1920s.

Ahead on your right is the Avery Hotel, built in 1851 as the Half-Way House. Notice the historical monument before turning left onto Avery Hotel Road and heading back to Highway 4.  

Our next little town is Hathaway Pines.  Nathan and John McKay arrived in the Hathaway Pines near Avery in 1885.  Noticing the great stands of sugar pine in the region, the McKay’s opened the Clipper Mill and built a railroad to haul the logs from the woods to the mill. The old traction engine, named Jenny, stayed in the woods for many years after the mills closed.  Eventually it was moved to the Museum in Angels Camp.  Those who stopped at this museum earlier on this driving tour would have viewed this historic engine up close. 

From Hathaway Pines we are about 7 miles to Calaveras Big Trees State Park. While you drive we have a few more stories about those early gold rush pioneering women. 

While overlanders, Harriet Ward and Margaret Frink, were forced to wait for the first spring grass to grow before they could roll out of Missouri in their wagon train heading west, those departing for California by ship could leave any time of the year.

Early in 1851, forty year old Elizabeth Gunn and her four children booked passage to join her husband in the California mines.  They would take the traditional route around the Horn of South America, a journey that would take at least five months.  Her journal while at sea details her difficulty in traveling with four young children in such a confined area. 

"A gale commenced on Tuesday at noon and lasted till Friday, and we were tossed about in fine order.  We could neither stand nor sit without being tossed about.  The children held their plates in their laps and half the time one would spill his water or lose his spoon.  No one can hold on to their things.  If you try to walk, down you would fall and slide along the deck until you hit the wall. I am quite downhearted. At the slow pace we are traveling, the Captain says that at this rate we shall be five years getting to California."    

Well it didn't take Elizabeth quite that long to get to California. After only six months, she and the children joined her husband Lewis in the town of Sonora.  We will be visiting Sonora later on our driving tour and view her home which is now a hotel.  

Though most of the dwellings in Sonora were colorful structures comprised of calico shirts and pine boughs, the Gunn's house was quite a bit finer.  Elizabeth writes, "Our home is well built, a two-story adobe with a long balcony and full garret.  We use one of the bedrooms for Lewis' printing office.  The house is comfortable, my only complaint is the constant opening of the printing office doors.  They let in all the dust and I am cleaning all the time. I looked forward to the wet season in hopes rain would settle the dust but that proved no solace, only turning the dirt to mud."

The Gunn family left Sonora in August 1861 and settled in San Francisco where Lewis was appointed Deputy Surveyor of the port and then San Francisco's Assessor of Internal Revenue.  After the Civil War, Lewis returned to the newspaper business as the supervising editor of the San Francisco Times.  Elizabeth Gunn died in 1906 at the age of 95.  In 1928 her daughter Anna Lee Marston published Records of a California Family, a compellation of her father's gold rush diary and her mother's journal and letters. 

We will drive by Elizabeth's home in Sonora later on this driving tour. But right now we are coming to the town of Arnold.

                                                                          Town of Arnold 

In 1927, Bob and Bernice Arnold, for whom the town of Arnold is named, arrived in this area.  In 1934 they built three cabins that would become the Ebbetts Pass Inn. This roadhouse served  the adventurous travelers crossing the Ebbetts Pass as well as those flocking to see the giant sequoias in what would later become Calaveras Big Trees State Park. 

Ebbetts Pass Inn 2022

Arnold continues to cater to visitors drawn to the area’s myriad of year-round outdoor recreational opportunities, including hiking, camping, biking, fishing as well as winter sports.  The community also serves as the western terminus of the Ebbetts Pass National Scenic Byway, which stretches 61 miles from Arnold in Calaveras county to Markleeville in Alpine county.     


Our next stop is Calaveras BigTrees State Park.  Watch for the park sign ahead on your right and turn right into the entrance.   Continue straight to the ranger booth to pay your parking fees.  Then follow the sign which points right toward the Visitor Center and Parking.  

Before you get out to explore this area, here is a little history about the park.  

While tracking grizzly bear, in the spring of 1852, Augustus Dowd, came upon a grove of enormous trees.  The trees Dowd encountered were the Sequoiadendron giganteum, or giant sequoia.

Several emigrants recorded seeing these enormous trees in their diaries dating from the mid-1840s, and surely the Native American tribes that frequented this region would also have noticed them. But Dowd was the first to promote the encounter, so history gives him the credit for their discovery.  

In 1900, to great public protest, the property was sold to lumberman Robert Whiteside.  Whiteside declined offers from the federal government to establish the forest as a national park.  In 1928, Californians voted to establish a state park system.  Three years later with the help of John D. Rockefeller, Jr. and Mrs. William Crocker funding was acquired to turn the North Grove section into a state park.   It would take 23 more years to acquire the South Grove.  These two groves make up the Calaveras Big Trees State Park,  a total of sixty-four hundred acres of the largest and most magnificent trees in the world.   The North Grove, which we will be visiting, contains about 100 mature giant sequoias.

The Twisting Tree 

The giant sequoia, also known as the Sierra redwood, grow naturally only in groves on the western slopes of the Sierra Nevada mountain range. Many of these trees grow to be between 250 to 300 feet tall.  While their height is impressive, the real wonder of the Sierra redwood lies in its bulk.  Many of these trees have diameters in excess of 30 feet near the ground.  The largest redwood in Calaveras Big Trees is located in the South Grove.  It is only 250 feet tall but its trunk is over 25 feet in diameter.  The largest in the North Grove is the Empire State Tree which has a trunk 18 feet in diameter. 

Open daily year round, there is a charge to visit Calaveras Big Trees State Park.   The easy 1 -1/2 mile North Grove Trail winds through the North Grove. It is the best way to experience this park and get a taste of these giants in their natural habitat.  

Use the map below or the one in our Companion Brochure.  When you get to the start of the North Grove Trail you may purchase a map with more information about each of the points along the trail.  The price is .50 for the brochure.    

The trail starts near the Visitor Center.  When you get to the beginning of this trail look for the box with the brochures.  There are 26 stops along this hike and this brochures gives a detailed explanation of each.  

Some of the notable trees include the Discovery Tree which was the largest tree in the North Grove. It was noted by Augustus Dowd in 1852 and felled in 1853 leaving a giant stump.  

You can see in the photo above that a section of the trunk of this tree was turned into a dance floor.  John Muir wrote an essay on this tree titled "The Vandals Then Danced Upon the Stump!" to criticize the felling of the tree.  

The Discovery Tree was over 25 feet in diameter at the base, and over 280 feet tall.  The rings were counted and it was found to be over 1,244 years old.  You can see how large this tree is by comparing it to the people walking along the top.  

Empire State Tree 

The Empire State Tree is now the largest tree in the North Grove with a base diameter of 30 feet.  

The Twisting Tree which is pictured earlier in this blog, noticeably twists to the right. Spiral growth is a common characteristic of tree trunk development.  Trees with spiral growth are more flexible and able to withstand wind stress and snow loading. 

Siamese Twins 

The Siamese Twins are two trees that began life so close together that the first 50 feet of their trunks have merged and now appear to be one tree.  


The Hercules tree blew over in a windstorm in December 1861.  Knowing that it has been lying here for over a century gives us a valuable perspective on the age of other fallen trees in this grove.  

Father of the Forest 

The Father of the Forest fell long before the Euro-Americans arrived in this grove.  The process of decomposition occurs very slowly in the sequoias because of the tannin in their heartwood.  The picture below is also of the Father of the Forest from the roots. 

The Mother of the Forest, shown in the picture below, shows a very sad blackened tree, and is one of several trees that has been harmed by human activity in the park.  When Dowd came upon these big trees in 1852, this one was considered the second largest (after the Discovery Tree) at 328 feet tall and 93 feet in girth.  In 1854, exhibitions of this tree were set up for visitors to experience its immense stature, but this wasn't good enough.  

Mother of the Forest 

Using drills, rods were inserted into the tree to support a scaffolding. Over the course of three months workers climbed around the tree on the scaffolding removing 60 tons of bark.  This bark came off in 8 by 5 foot sections at an average of 11 inches thick. 

Mother of the Forest in 1866 with scaffolding  

The bark was shipped by sea around the Horn to New York where it was reassembled in 1855 at an exhibition at the New York Crystal Palace.  From there the bark was shipped to London and reassembled permanently in The Crystal Palace in London's Sydenham.  

Mother of the Forest on Display in London 

Back in California, the Mother of the Forest was mortally wounded and could not survive long with its protective bark gone.  In 1908 the tree was severely charred by fire. 

Pioneer Cabin Tree fell in 2017

Continue along the trail and you will come to another fallen tree, the Pioneer Cabin Tree.  After the Wawona Tunnel Tree in Yosemite was carved out for visitors to drive through in the 1880s, the owners of the Calaveras Big Trees North Grove decided that they wanted to have the same kind of exhibit at their park.  

Pioneer Cabin Tree c. 1860 - 1880 before tunnel 

They chose the Pioneer Cabin Tree. This tree got its name from its distinctively hollow trunk, partially burnt by lightning strikes and a forest fire.  The small compartment in the base looked like a log cabin to some and would be perfect to hollow out.

For years it was a pedestrian only tree, then for a short time automobiles were allowed to drive through.  Finally it became a hikers only tunnel on the North Grove Loop. 

On January 8, 2017, heavy rain caused the soil at the base of the tree to liquefy.  The roots pulled up and the Pioneer Cabin Tree fell and shattered.

Pioneer Cabin Tree 2022 

There is quite a bit to see on this short trail, but we just want to bring your attention to one more and that is the group called Three Graces.  

The Three Graces

After you have enjoyed this state park, exit the park the way you arrived and turn left back onto Highway 4.  We will be on this highway for 15 miles as we make our way back to Murphys.   While you drive we have more stories to tell.  


Mary Jane "Jennie" Megquier  

Dr. and Mrs. Thomas Megquier, left their three children with relatives in Maine and traveled the Isthmus route to California in 1849.  Jennie and her husband intended to "make a pile" and then return home to Maine. 

The fifty-three hundred mile Isthmus of Panama route was shorter than traveling seventeen thousand miles around the Horn, yet it could end up taking just as long.

Old Chagres harbor, 1850 

On the Megquier's journey, passengers were dropped off on the Atlantic coast of Panama in the city of Chagres and left on their own to get across the Isthmus to Panama City. That trip began with transportation along the Chagres River.  The Mequier's had two options a dugout canoe called a bungo or a steamer.  They bought passage on the Orus steamer, which shuttled them only sixteen miles up the river before they had to transfer to a bungo.

Chagres River by Charles Christian Nahl

Jennie writes, "Despite the boiling sun I am utterly captivated by the dense jungle foliage. Would that I could describe the scene.  The birds singing, monkeys screeching, the Americans laughing and joking, the natives grunting as they pushed us up along the river rapids.  It was enough to drive one mad with delight.  That afternoon, we arrived at a village and took supper of baked monkey cooked by the natives.  It was rich to see us eating soup with our fingers, as knives, forks, spoons, tables, and chairs are among things unknown here.  Under my feet pigs, dogs, cats and ducks waited to catch the least crumb."

Guide and pack mule crossing Isthmus (B. F. McCreary) 

From the village the Megquire's rented mules and commenced to cross the land portion of their journey.  Traveling by foot or upon the back of the mule, or even clutching its tail, Jennie described this as "one of the roughest roads in the world, nothing but a path wide enough for the feet of the mule, which if he should make a misstep you would go to parts unknown."

The last stop on the Isthmus before continuing on to California was Panama City.  Here passengers had to compete with thousands of others impatient gold rushers for a seat on one of only four steamers that traveled back and forth up and down the coast from Panama City to San Francisco.  The Megquire's waited weeks for their steamer connection.  Once they arrived in San Francisco they decided they could make more money opening a boardinghouse than working the mines.    

On June 30, 1850 Jennie wrote to her daughter from San Francisco: "I should like to give you an account of my work if I could do it justice.  I get up and make the coffee, then I bake the biscuits, fry the potatoes, broil three pounds of steak, and as much liver.  At eight the bell rings and they are all eating until nine.  I do not sit until the men are nearly all done. After breakfast I bake six loaves of bread, four pies, and a pudding.  Then we have lamb, beef, pork all baked with turnips, beets, and radishes. Dinner is set everyday at two. I have cooked every mouthful that has been eaten.  I make six beds every day and do all the washing and ironing.  If I had not the constitution of six horses I should have been dead long ago.  I am going to give up in the fall as I am sick and tired of all this work."  

Jennie and Thomas ultimately did not make the fortune they had hoped for and returned home to Maine in 1852, only to catch the fever again and return to the mines later that year.  Amidst problems arising from finances and illness Jennie and Thomas returned again to Maine in 1854.  Thomas died a year later, and Jennie sure enough, caught the fever yet again and returned to California.  


The next gold rush woman we want to tell your about is the famous Lola Montez.  

Lola Montez (1847 - 26 years old)

On May 22, 1853, the San Francisco newspaper The Golden Era informed its readers: "The world-renowned Lola Montez, Countess of Landfeldt, arrived in this city on the Northerner."

Born Eliza Rosanna Gilbert in Ireland in 1821, she would go on to became famous as a Spanish dancer.  Her dancing debut was held in London in 1847 where she was billed as "The Premier Spanish Ballerina."  In order to make the act more authentic, Eliza changed her name to Lola Montez and adopted a Spanish accent. While touring Germany that same year, she managed to capture the heart of King Ludwig I of Bavaria. The king showered her with gifts and gave her the title Countess of Landsfeld.  When the king allowed Lola to help him rule his country the people of Bavaria were outraged and ran both King Ludwig and Lola out of the country. The picture above was painted in 1847 for the King.

Lola went on to perform in Europe,  New York and New Orleans.  It was while playing to audiences in 1853 in New Orleans, Lola caught gold fever and decided to extend her U.S.  tour to California.  Women with any musical or theatrical talent could make a fortune entertaining gold rushers and with Lola's international fame, she planned on garnering a fair share of California's gold. 

Lola Montez (1852 - 31 years old)

In 1853, Lola stood on stage before an audience filled with gold miners at the American Theatre in San Francisco and announced, "Good evening, gentlemen.  I am Lola Montez.  I was born in the year 1830, in Seville, the capital of Andalucía, the land of the serenades and balconies, of troubadours and romance, and the fatherland of Miguel Cervantes." 

Best known for her "Spider Dance," Lola dressed in a risqué costume, fluttered around the stage pretending to be trapped inside a spider's web.  At the climax of the dance, stage hands dropped giant tarantulas made of cork down on her. Some miners were thrilled, others found the dance a bit too provocative. Most newspapers gave her mixed reviews.

One newspaper critic wrote:  "She unwittingly gets into one of those huge nests of spiders found during the spring time in the meadows.  She commences to dance, and the cobwebs entangle her ankles.  The myriad of spiders begin to colonize.  As the music, a slow-measured but fascinating amalgamation of polka, waltz, march, and jig, conforms admirably to the step the spiders accumulate.  These hairy monsters appear to crawl about the stage, invading the fringes of her petticoats and taking unwarrantable liberties.   It is Lola versus the spiders.  After a series of shaking her dress, she succeeds in getting the intruders away and does it with so much naivete that we feel a sort of satisfaction at her triumph." 

Lola Montez (photographed by Antoine Samuel Adam-Salomon 1860 - 39 years)

Lola enjoyed a successful two-week engagement at the American Theatre followed by performances in Sacramento.   She left California at the end of 1853 for New York where she commenced a career as a lecturer.  Her subject matter, "Heroines of History".  Lola died in 1861 at the age of 42. 


Our next story is about a female card shark, Miss Eleanora Dumont. 

Half drunk and fresh from a profitable gold strike, Dutch Carver burst into Miss Eleanora Dumont's gambling house and demanded, "I'm here for a fling at the cards tonight with your lady boss, Madame Mustache."  Flinging a piece of gold at the saloon girl, Carver said confidently, "Now you take this and buy yourself a drink.  Come around after I clean out the Madame, and maybe we'll do a little celebrating."  

Eleanora arrived and sat across from Carver and asked, "What's your preference?"

"I don't care, I've got more than two hundred dollars in gold.  Let's get going, I don't want to quit until you've got all my money or until I've got all yours." 

Eleanora's game was vingt-et-un the precursor to 21 or blackjack.  In less than 1 hour she had cleaned Carver out of his entire bankroll. 

Born Simone Jules around 1829 in New Orleans, Eleanora made her way west to San Francisco in 1849. She had one goal in mind.  "The western heartthrob I'm after, is not a man, but that glittery rock lying among the foothills of the Gold Country."  Her game, though was not panning, it was cards.  Eleanora quickly established herself as a force to be reckoned with, easily taking  money from drunk miners who had never before seen a woman gambler.  A few years later she took her profits and opened a gambling establishment of her own just north of Sacramento in Nevada City.

Her advertisement in the Nevada Journal read, "Come to the grand opening of the best gambling emporium in northern California, the Vingt-et-un on Broad Street, and enjoy a game with Madame Dumont as well as free champagne for all."  Citizens from all over responded to her invitation.  At the entrance only well-behaved and well-groomed men were allowed in, and cursing was discouraged.   

Eleanora recalls:  "It was a tasteful establishment furnished with expensive chairs and settees, carpets and even gas chandeliers.  I held my establishment open 24 hours a day and soon it became the most favorite spot of thirsty gold miners. Many found recreation in a hand of poker or a spin of the wheel, but my appearance behind the gambling table drew criticism from the respectable women in town.  They viewed me as a threat to their marriages.  Well maybe I am, as several have fallen hopeless in love with me.  Dell Fallon was one such suitor.  He popped the question one night while I dealt his cards."

"Madame Dumont I know I ain't worthy to ask the question, but would you consent to become my wife?"

"My friend, I am grateful that you hold me in such high regard.  But I am not free to follow the dictates of my heart.  I must go alone.

Actually Eleanora did have her heart set on someone, Editor Wait of the Nevada Journal.  Mr. Wait though found her lacking in social standing, and did not return her affections.  After he announced his engagement to another, Eleanora marched into his office and announced, "I'm leaving Nevada City to forget you.  I hope you have a good life."  

Eleanora made her way to Columbia, California in 1857, and set up a gaming table in one of the hotels.  Over the years, her beauty faded and she started to grow facial hair under her nose.  Miners nicknamed her Madame Mustache, and came from miles around to play try their luck at beating her at blackjack.

Pioche Record (Pioche, Nevada August 10, 1878)

In 1879, at the age of fifty, Eleanora moved to Bodie, California.  With stabbing's and shootings taking place daily, this mining camp was known for its violence.  She set up a gaming table at one of the saloons and invited men to try their luck against her.  This time however things did not go well for Eleanora, professional gamblers regularly won at her table and eventually left her penniless.  One evening after another loosing hand, Eleanora drank a bottle of poison.  When she was found, the note in her hand read, "Dear Citizens of Nevada City I am kindly requesting that you permit me to be buried next to my one true love, Editor Wait."   

Continue along the highway as we have a moment of silence for Miss Eleanora Dumont. 


In the mid-19th century the phrase, “I have seen the elephant” referred to overcoming the adversities and hardships in one’s life.  The tale spun around a farmer who had heard that a circus with an elephant was coming to town.  He had never seen an elephant so he packed up his cart with produce to sell and headed into town to the circus.  At the head of the circus parade, he encountered the elephant.  It was everything he had hoped for.  Unfortunately, his horse was not as enamored with the enormous animal and was spooked, thus turning over the cart and ruining all the farmers produce.  Not discouraged the farmer responds, “I don’t care, for I have seen the elephant.” 

Seeing the Elephant (mid-nineteenth century lithograph by W. B. McMurtrie)

For gold rushers, the elephant symbolized both the countless possibilities of misfortune on their journey, as well as the promises of an adventure of a lifetime.   

John Doble, Jennie Wimmer, Margaret Frink, Jennie Megquier, Lola Montez and even Eleanora Dumont all would say they saw the elephant.  Some had better experiences than others, some may have just barely held on to the elephant’s tail.  But each one of our gold rushers, whether they came to California via land or sea would have seen the elephant, “from the tip of his trunk to the end of his tail” by the time they arrived in California.  And for those who hadn’t yet, two or three weeks in any one of California’s early mining towns was certain to bring on the vision. 


Douglas Flat
We have arrived back on the outskirts of Murphys.  This time we are going to continue past Murphys on Highway 4 and make our way to Douglas Flat.  

The prosperity of the community of Douglas Flat in 1849, was first based on placer mining in the creeks and streambeds nearby.  Eventually miners traced the source of this gold to the ancient Tertiary Central Hill Channel that ran beneath Table Mountain northwest of town.

Tertiary channels are places where a river once flowed millions of years ago but is now far from any existing river or water source.  It is basically a dry abandoned riverbed.  Some of the highest concentrations of gold are found in these ancient tertiary gravel channels and Central Hill Channel proved quite profitable. 

Hydraulic Mining 1870s

Prospectors erected tunnels into the hillside under the tables and scoured the slopes with hydraulic mining, high-pressure jets of water that dislodged the rock and gold from the sediment. After hydraulic mining was halted in 1884, prospectors changed profession and became agriculturalists, establishing farms growing hay, alfalfa, wheat and planting orchards. 

Locke Winery 

Today along this area of highway you will find three vineyards on the left side of the road, the Locke, Hatcher and Sevenot.  Each of these have wine tasting rooms in nearby Murphys. 

After passing the Sevenot Winery turn left onto Parrotts Ferry Road toward Columbia State Park and Moaning Cavern.  This road was named after Thomas H. Parrott who established a ferry here across the Stanislaus River connecting the towns of Vallecito and Tuttletown at the confluence of New Melones Lake in 1860.  Parrott ferry service consisted of a flat bottom wood barge-like structure propelled to both shores by heavy cables. The ferry lasted more than 40 years, until 1903 when the first bridge was built over the river. The current bridge over this site, the Columbia-Vallecito bridge, opened in 1979.  We will cross over this later on our driving tour. 

Our next stop is in about 1 mile.  The Moaning Caverns Adventure Park.  This park is open year round from Thursday through Monday.

 Once you see the sign for Moaning Caverns, turn right off the highway.   

 Continue along this road for about 1 mile to the parking lot.  

Moaning Caverns was discovered in the late 1840s by gold miners.  These miners found arrowheads, and human remains. 

Historic Picture Moaning Caverns 

In 1920 a set of wooden stairs were built to reach 65 feet down into the main chamber.  Two years later the spiral staircase was added and the park was opened to the public.  If you visit this park you will descend sixteen stories underground via the spiral staircase into the deepest cave in California.  

Spiral Staircase Moaning Caverns 

Here you will view stalagmites, flowstones and other massive cave formations such as the "moaning holes" which are the rock formations caused by dripping water that create the sound which inspired the cave’s name.  There is a charge for this tour.  

Take some time to enjoy this stop and tour the caverns.  Once you are finished, return to the highway the way you arrived and turn right onto Parrotts Ferry Road. Our next stop is in about 2 1/2 miles, the Natural Bridges Trailhead. 

The exit for this stop is a bit difficult to find, but worth the effort. These are the coordinates 38.051689, -120.470849 for this stop.  Google lists as the address as 4508-4532 County Rd E18, Angels Camp, CA.  The only marker along the highway are a few boulders that sit at the entrance to the driveway that runs at a sharp right turn off the highway.  

Driveway to Natural Bridges Trailhead 

When you locate the driveway, turn right off the highway and continue straight to the parking area.  You will also find a restroom here, there are no facilities at the creek. 

On this trail you will enjoy a unique 1 1/2 mile round trip hike that leads to a spectacular limestone cavern which has been carved out by Coyote Creek.  Due to the geological sensitivity of this natural area, dogs and bikes are not allowed.  You may however bring an inflatable raft to float along Coyote Creek into the caves.  The water is cold and please be aware of swift currents and changing water levels. 

The trail is pretty straight forward.  But use the map below or our Companion Brochure to help you explore the area.  

From the trailhead just follow the trail. 

From the trail you will be able to look down and see the natural bridge over the creek. 

Once you get to the historic marker near the end of the trail,

 look for the set of stairs that leads down to the creek.  Use caution to navigate the stairs. 

 We highly suggest wearing water shoes to walk along the rocks into the cave itself.  

We did not go into the cave on this trip. But here are pictures taken by Dave Bunnell for Go Calaveras. 

Inside Nature Bridges 

Inside Nature Bridges 

When you have finished exploring this amazing natural bridge, turn right back onto the highway. Soon you will see a brown ore car that marks your exit from Calaveras County into Tuolumne County. 

Turn right into the parking area before you cross the Columbia-Vallecito Bridge.  

Here you will get spectacular views of the bridge and river. Note the historic marker in the parking lot. 

This is part of the Mark Twain Bret Hart Trail and marks the approximate site of  Thomas Parrott's Ferry crossing which was established in 1860 to connect the mining towns of Tuttletown and Vallecito.  

Turn right back on to the highway and cross the Stanislaus.  The Columbia-Vallecito bridge opened in 1979. This pre-stressed concrete box girder bridge is one of the tallest of its kind in the country.

The Stanislaus River is a tributary of the San Joaquin River located in north-central California.  It consists of three forks that originate in the high Sierra Nevada and flow southwest through parts of Alpine, Calaveras and Tuolumne County into the agricultural San Joaquin Valley.  The Stanislaus is known for its swift rapids and scenic canyons. Its waters are used for irrigation, hydroelectricity and the domestic water supply.

As you continue along the highway on the other side of the river, you will have a great view on your left of the Stanislaus River as well as the Columbia-Vallecito Bridge.

Columbia Historic Marker 

We are a few miles from our next stop, Columbia State Historic Park.  The historic marker shown above reads: "One of the best preserved of early towns and known as Gem of Southern Mines. Gold discovered through cloudburst 1850.  Population grew to 6000 in six weeks.  Governor Earl Warren signed bill at Columbia July 15, 1945, creating Columbia State Park." 

While you drive, we have one more story to tell, this one is about Lotta Crabtree and her connection to Columbia.  

Located on a limestone belt, Columbia was once known as the "Gem of the Southern Mines."  A visit to this town today is like stepping back in time to experience life in California during the 1850s. 

Lithograph of Columbia by Towle Leavitt 

In March of 1850, Dr. Thaddeus Hildreth and his brother arrived at Columbia Gulch.  They pitched their tent in the rain and the next morning found golden flakes stuck to their wet blankets.  Word of this discovery traveled quickly and thousands of miners arrived by April.  Early newspaper reports announced several large nuggets of nearly pure gold were found at Columbia Gulch. One 72 pound nugget was valued by Wells Fargo at $14,000. By 1860 estimates of between $85 million and $150 million dollars of gold were panned, picked or dug out of the area. 

Wells Fargo Express Columbia, CA 

Wells Fargo Express Columbia, CA 2022

At its heyday, Columbia had four banks, eight hotels, 30 saloons, 2 churches, a theater, school and various general stores. Devastating fires leveled the town in 1854 and 1857.  After that, Columbia was rebuilt using brick and cement. 

A scarcity of women in gold rush towns gave rise to Columbia's theater district which showcased some of the miners favorite entertainers.  Miners flocked to the theater cheering, hooting, howling and throwing buckskin bags of gold on to the stage.   Child actors were particularly popular as they reminded the men of their own children back home.  One of those child stars to play the Columbia theater was Lotta Crabtree. 

Lotta Crabtree (1868 - 21 years old) 

Born in New York in 1847, Lotta and her mother Mary Ann crossed the Isthmus of Panama  in 1853 to join Lotta's goldmining father in Grass Valley about 50 miles north-east of Sacramento.  Gold mining was not making ends meet for the Crabtree's so Mary Ann enrolled Lotta in dancing lessons with the idea that she could become an entertainer and help support the family. Lotta soon attracted the attention of a neighbor, dancer and actress Lola Montez.  Lola who was famous for her Spider Dance,  taught Lotta the Irish jig.  Half of California's foreign born emigrants were Irish and this they felt would make her star material. 
Lotta Crabtree 

Mary Ann put a company of musicians together and set off on the road with Lotta.  They toured the southern mining camps of Columbia, Sonoma and Jamestown earning $13 a night dancing and singing.  By the time Lotta was twelve she was the sole supporter of her family, which now included two little brothers.  In 1865 Lotta wrote to her friend: "I'm a continual success wherever I go.  In some places I create quite a theatrical furor as they call it.  Why, your heart would jump for joy to see the respect I am treated with here.  I'm a star and that is sufficient."  

Lotta would go on to tour the East Coast as well as Europe, retiring from the stage in 1891 at the age of 44.  Throughout her life Lotta continued to support her family.  She died in 1924 with an estate valued at over $4 million. 

Columbia State Park is one of the premier Old West mining towns and features an array of attractions where visitors are encouraged to join in.   We will arrive at the park shortly to take a self-guided walking tour of the old town.   Parking is free in town but there is a small cost to experience some of the adventures, such as candle dipping, gold panning or a ride on the Wells Fargo Stagecoach. 

Gold Panning Columbia State Park

This highway runs through Columbia State Park.  There are several parking areas here and we usually use the most centrally located one near State Street.  

Use the map above or our Companion Guide to explore this State Park.  Make sure to stop by Knapp Store on the corner of Main and State and visit their museum which is free, then take some time to walk through the town.


Bowling Alley

When you have finished exploring this town, continue along Parrotts Ferry Road for 2 miles. Then follow the highway as it curves left toward Sonora.   

When you come to the traffic signal at the intersection of Parrotts Ferry Road and Highway 49, turn left and follow Highway 49 for the next 2 1/2 miles to Sonora.  

Sonora was initially settled in 1848 almost exclusively Mexican born miners.  In 1850 the United States imposed a Foreign Miners' Tax, nicknamed the Miserable Law. This act imposed a tax of $20 a month on all foreign miners.  After the Mexican's left others arrived to replace them.

By 1858 hard-rock quartz mining replaced panning the creeks.  The Bonanza hard-rock quartz mine located at the northern end of town near what is today St. James Episcopal Church produced a total of one and a half million dollars in gold. In the 1870s miners broke through to a continuous solid gold vein in town that earned a $160,000 payment from one shipment to the San Francisco Mint.  Over all $40 million dollars in gold was mined within a two mile radius of Sonora. 

Today this colorful mining town is the Tuolumne County seat.  With many historical buildings this destination is known as the Queen of the Southern Mines.  Once you arrive we will take you on a driving tour through the old western part of town and point out some of the historical highlights.  

Make a right at the next corner on to Wyckoff Street.  As you make this turn you will see the back of St. James Episcopal Church, also known as the Red Church. Built in 1859 in the Carpenter Gothic style, its board and batten exterior walls are California redwood. 

At the stop sign, turn left onto Snell Street.  As you make this turn you will get a better look at St. James Church. 

To the right the red Queen Anne Victorian Morgan Mansion was built in the 1880s.  At the stop sign veer slightly right onto North Washington Street. 

On your right pass the 1936 City Hall building and the 1853 Odd Fellows building.  

Turn right onto Yaney Avenue.  Drive up the hill along side Courthouse Park.  

Ahead on your left is the Spanish Revival style Tuolumne County Courthouse completed in 1900. Drive past the courthouse and turn left onto Norlin Street.

At the stop sign turn left onto Bradford Street.  After you make the turn, the Victorian-style Bradford Place Bed and Breakfast on your left was built in 1889.

The two-story red brick building in the next block was built in 1903. At the stop sign ahead, turn right onto South Washington.  The buildings that line both sides of the next two blocks were listed on the 1890 Sanborn Fire map. Making them all over 130 years old.   

Take a look ahead and spot the two-story stone and red brick City Hotel. Turn left on the street that runs along side this hotel.  This is Theall Street.  

Continue through the stop sign ahead.  The two-story red house on your right is the William Snugg house. 

William came to California from North Carolina in 1850 as a slave. William Snugg obtained his freedom from slavery  in 1854 after paying his owner a manumission fee.  He bought this property on Theall for his wife and built a three-room home there in 1860.  As his family grew to 12 members, William added seven more rooms in 1885.

At the stop turn right onto Shepard Street, then right onto Gold Street, and right onto South Washington. As you make this turn look left to view Elizabeth Gunn's house.  Recall Elizabeth came to California in 1851. Her husband built her this two-story adobe.

 On your left ahead is the brick Opera Hall. It was built in 1885.  

Across the street from the Opera Hall is the Sonora Historical marker.  This marker reads "Queen of the Southern Mines, settled in 1848 by Mexicans from Sonora, Mexico.  City government established 1849.  Sonora Herald, first newspaper in the California mines, established July 4, 1850.  Single copy, fifty cents; yearly, twenty dollars.  One pocket in Bonanza Mine yielded half million dollars.  Nugget, "Holden Chispa," weighing twenty-eight pounds, found 1851.  Sonora made County Seat in 1852.  Here Mark Twain and Bret Harte found materials for their stories."   

At the traffic light ahead use the left turn lane to turn left back onto Highway 49. While you wait at the light or as you make the turn, notice the two-story yellow stucco Sonora Inn.  Originally built in 1896 in the Victorian-style, the building was redesigned in the 1920s in the California Mission style which you see today.  The Sonora Inn has hosted some of Hollywood's elite, Grace Kelly during the filming of High Noon in 1952 and Drew Barrymore while she worked on the film Bad Girls in 1994.

Continue along 49 for about 2 miles to the junction with Highway 108.  Turn right and follow Highway 49 and 108 southwest toward Mariposa and Oakdale.  We are on our way to California State Historic Park Railtown 1897. 

Follow the highway for 1 1/2 miles to the traffic signal at 5th Avenue and turn left.  Continue along 5th and veer right onto Sierra Avenue.  

Parking for the California State Historic Park Railtown 1897 will be on your left off of Sierra Avenue, just past the California Historical Marker noting this location as the Sierra Railway Shops complex. 

 Between 1897 and 1955 this complex included a freight house, roundhouse, turntable and car shop.  

Today this State Park still contains these buildings preserved as a living history museum dating to 1897.  From the 1920s onward, this rail station became one of Hollywood’s most popular film locations.  Over 200 movies, and television programs were filled here.

This park is open daily from 10am, and there is a cost to visit.  On the weekends from April to September you make take a 6 mile ride on the historic steam locomotive. This trip through California's scenic gold country passes by the water tower used in the 1960s television show Petticoat Junction.

Take some time to explore this State Park.  You may use the map below or our Companion Brochure

Before we leave this location, cross the street in front of the bronze historic plaque.  Take a look at the sidewalk and find the bronze circle.  This is part of the Jamestown Walk of Fame, a series of 30 bronze plaques imbedded in the sidewalk between Railtown 1897 and Rocco Park in Jamestown. They denote the films and television shows filmed here in Jamestown.  This particular plaque is for The Virginian, a 1929 film directed by Victor Fleming and starring Gary Cooper.  

Exit the parking lot the way you arrived,  cross Sierra Avenue and head straight onto Ninth Street.  At the stop sign turn right onto Seco Street and then veer left onto Donovan.   We are on our way to our last stop on this driving tour, Jamestown. 

At the stop sign ahead, turn right onto Main Street. On your right at the stop sign will be the historic plaque for Jamestown, the southern Gateway to the Mother Lode.  

Oregonian Benjamin Wood panned a creek and found gold outside Jamestown a few months after gold was discovered in Coloma in 1848.  Wood’s gold discovery was the first in Tuolumne County. The creek was named after Wood; however, the town was named after Colonel George F. James, a wealthy attorney from San Francisco.

The placers ran dry by 1854 but, a profitable hard-rock drift mine was discovered nearby and Jamestown’s population soared.  In 1898 the railroad would become Jamestown’s primary industry, transporting quartz, lumber, and other goods out of the county. 

The railroad continues to be a major part of life in Jamestown, as it is the home of the Steam Sierra Railway and Railtown 1897 State Historic Park.  Several of the buildings in downtown Jamestown date to the 1870s and 80s, today they are occupied by quaint historic inns, restaurants, a cigar bar and wine tasting rooms. 

As you continue down Main watch for the two-story brick Jamestown Hotel on your right. It was originally built in 1858.  After burning to the ground twice, it was rebuilt in brick in 1919.  Next is the National Hotel.  

After the stop sign ahead, make the next left turn onto Smoke Street and follow the Parking sign to the parking lot behind the white gazebo. 

Welcome to Old Town Jamestown, the backdrop for dozens of Hollywood television and movies including: Back to the Future III, Unforgiven, High Noon, Little House on the Prairie and the Wild Wild West .  Park here and if you are interested in exploring Jamestown by foot, please use the map below. 

This however is where we are leaving you.  We hope that you have enjoyed your driving tour from Angels Camp to Jamestown and all of the stops in-between.

This is the last in our series of four companion tours of the California Gold Rush Back Roads and Highway 49 from Auburn to Jamestown.  If you are interested in the other segments please visit these sites: California's Gold Rush: A Highway 49 Driving Tour from Auburn to PlacervilleHard-rock Mining in California: A Highway 49 Driving Tour to Jackson, and Native Americans, Boomtowns and Literary Legends:  A Highway 49 Driving Tour from Jackson to Angels Camp 

Until next time, Happy Adventures!


All pictures by L. A. or R. M. Momboisse unless listed below: 

Juaquin Murrieta - Wikipedia 

Picture of Jennie Wimmer and drawing of Jennie Wimmer

Routes to the California Gold Fields - Kids Britannica 

Placer Miners with their tools - Courtesy Bancroft Library

J. D. Borthwick Miner - Sierra Collage 

Murphys 1850s - Murphys History 

Inside Mercer Caverns - Wikipedia 

Movie Poster The Virginian - Wikipedia 

Mercer Cave Entrance 1886 - Mercer Caverns 

Three pictures inside Mercer Caverns - Mercer Caverns 

Zealous Gold Diggers - Ordinary Women of the Goldfields

Wagon Train into Great Salt Lake - National Park Service 

Margaret Frink - National Park Service 

40 Miles of Desert - California Trail Interpretive Center 

Poster of Hornet Clipper that Made trip around the Horn in the 1850s - Wikipedia 

Mammoth Giant Sequoia Tree - Wikipedia 

Mother of the Forest in 1866 with scaffolding - Wikipedia

Mother of the Forest on Display in London 1859 - Wikipedia

Pioneer Cabin Tree c. 1860 - 1880 before tunnel - Wikipedia  

Pioneer Cabin Tree with tunnel - Wikipedia 

Mary Jane "Jennie" Megquier - Women in the California Gold Rush

Old Chagres Harbor (1850) 

Chagres River by Charles Christian Nahl

Guide and pack mule crossing Isthmus (B. F. McCreary) - Diary of Frank McCreary

Lola Montez (1847 painted by Joseph Karl Steiler for Ludwig I of Bavaria) - Wikipedia        

Lola Montez (1852) - U.S. History Scene 

Lola Montez (photographed by Antoine Samuel Adam-Salomon 1860 - 39 years) - Wikipedia

Eleanor Dumont - Wikipedia 

Pioche Record (Pioche, Nevada August 10, 1878)

Seeing the Elephant (mid-nineteenth century lithograph by W. B. McMurtrie)

Hydraulic Mining 1870s - USGS

Historic Picture Moaning Caverns - Moaning Caverns 

Spiral Staircase Moaning Caverns - Moaning Caverns 

Inside Nature Bridges - (Photos by Dave Bunnell for Go Calaveras)

Columbia State Park Historic Marker 

Lithograph of Columbia by Towle Leavitt - Columbia State Park 

Wells Fargo Express Columbia, CA - Friends of Columbia 

Lotta Crabtree (1868 - 21 years old) - Women in Theater (Library of Congress)

Lotta Crabtree - Wikipedia 

The Virginian Movie Poster - Wikipedia 

Diary excerpts were researched and paraphrased from the following books:  

Prairie Schooner Lady: The journal of Harriet Sherrill Ward 1853 published by Florence DeWitt 
California Women: A History by Jensen and Lothrop 
Margaret Frink, Journal of the Adventures of a Party of California Gold-seekers 
With Great Hope: Women of the California Gold Rush by JoAnn Chartier and Chris Enss 
They Saw the Elephant: Woman in the California Gold Rush by JoAnn Levy 
Women of the Gold Rush: Taming the Forty-Niner by Elizabeth Margo
Golden Dreams: True Stories of Adventure in the California Gold Rush by Frank Baumbardner
Tales and Treasures of the California Gold Rush by Randall Reinstedt 
Gold Rush Women by Claire R. Murphy and Jane Haigh
Records of a California Family published by Anna Lee Marston