02 April – Left the reservoir campground and continued towards the foothills of the Sierra Nevada via Los Banos and Chowchilla with a stop at Los Banos to replenish supplies (the wine was getting down!). Our stop for the night was our first at a Corps of Engineers campsite and wow was it flash. There was more guard rails on the little bit of road into the site than we have seen on the whole of the other main roads we have travelled. Each site was super flat with it’s own metal ramada (sun shade with picnic table) and we had a great view over the reservoir. The facilities were lovely and clean and had free hot showers plus fresh water supply and waste dump thrown in – all this for $20 a night. Again the reservoir was only about 10% full and we can see why all the farmers in the irrigated areas are worried – there just isn’t nearly enough water to keep them supplied. Water (or lack of it) has become a very political affair here, but from what we can see they have converted so much of their dry areas into irrigated farm lands that it has just over extended the capability of the water storage systems so they are rapidly running out of water – the snow falls have been low and not much in the way of rain over the last two or three years has resulted in these reservoirs being run right down.
03 April – Today was the start of our trek along Route 49, following the gold rush towns which sprang up from 1849 onwards. The first part of our run today was through very picturesque rolling hills (so very much like home) with green pastures and spreading oak trees dotted here and there. The spring flush was definitely upon this region. After about 30 miles on this road it was like we had gone over an invisible dividing line and the rolling hills gave way to steeper inclines and the oaks to pines. We had reached the Sierra Nevada foothills and although we climbed a bit the road was good and an easy drive. One surprise was that at 3,000ft there was snow on the sides of the road. After passing through Raymond and Oakhurst we made a stop at Mariposa to visit the Historical Museum there. Bob had decided that he would see if he could find any trace of a relative of his who reportedly came out to the goldfields around 1849 from New York and supposedly died out there. The museum had an incredible array of archives including an 1852 census of the region as well as all the recorded graves from right around the region. The ladies at the museum were so helpful and let us sit down and sift through the records to see if anything came to light. The result was a negative but Bob was encouraged to go visit the Public Records Office around the corner and see if they had anything, which he duly did but nothing was gleaned from there either. While he was doing that I managed to go and get a much overdue haircut. Our destination was Bagby Lake camp, which we found closed due to fire concerns when we got there but we parked in the carpark anyway and were not disturbed.
Babgy Lake – you can see where the lake level should be
04 April – We must have started earlier than normal today because we got to Coulterville before anything was going and had to wait for the museum to open. Another very informative woman manning the museum. Coulterville’s population today is 150, but back in the goldrush days it was 10,000 with 15 pubs and 25 mines. There was also a large Chinese community of over 1,000 who made an indelible mark on the area. One of the main merchants at Coulterville was the house of Sun Sun Wo. Sun Sun Wo also supplied miners in the mountains, they would send their pack mules over the mountain roads and trails carrying food, tools, blasting powder and other necessities to the isolated prospectors and mines. Leaving Coulterville we continued along 49 passing though quaint little towns of Jamestown and Sonora. The towns through here have retained a lot of the buildings from the 1850’s and are great to stop and walk around. Nearly all of the towns had one, two or even three disastrous fires doing the gold rush times and were rebuilt again and again. They often have little museums and they nearly all seem to have several antique shops, which make interesting browsing. Ironhorse campground on New Melones Lake was our target and again this was at an irrigation reservoir (nearly empty again) but a very pretty setting and with the sun shining and weather improving decided to stay here for a couple of nights, to catch up on washing and air everything out.
05 April – An unusual alarm call to start our day – wild turkeys gobbling outside our windows. Enjoyed a nice little walk around the area on one of the many trails, it would be very pretty if there was more water in the lake but lots of trees and very green. The larger part of the lake had a whole lot of houseboats moored and also a floating storage shed for speedboats. The most interesting thing was floating portaloos – a sensible idea when you have a lot of boats. This must be a very popular place in the summer – there were about 200 campsites on the lake but only a handful were occupied.
New Melones Lake
06 April – Carrying along on the 49 again today, it is such a pretty drive – green hills, more spreading oaks and good roads. First stop Angels Camp and a visit to their carriage and mining museum. The display of carriages was impressive and the docent (a new word we have learned along our travels used for their volunteers) gave us an interesting spiel on their history. Their other building housing the mining displays was still in the process of being constructed but what was there was very informative. The region churned out huge amounts of gold during those gold rush years and it is no wonder that people flocked there from all over the world to try and make their fortunes. Carried on from here via San Andreas and Mokelumne Hill (little towns) and onto Jackson for a night of luxury at the Walmart carpark!
07 April – Apart from the floodlights, our night was very quiet and we awoke to a bright sunny day. The temperatures have increased over the last couple of days to be in the very pleasant 20’s after the cold snap we have had, it is most welcome. Set on our way today first to Sutter Creek for a walk around the town – very pretty with some lovely old houses with magnificent gardens. Main street was full of early buildings and quite quaint. Had lunch outside of Plymouth and then made our way up into the hills again for our first visit to a Harvest Host stop. The Harvest Host programme lets you stay at vineyards, farms and other places of interest and instead of paying a fee you buy something from their shop. Our stop is a vineyard, so unfortunately we had to do the mandatory wine tasting and buy some local wine which was a real bind!! We have a lovely site looking down over the valleys and vineyards (although it is a good thing we weren’t here this time last week as as they had snow) and are looking forward to a pretty sunset. We have not done a lot of mileage in the last few days (a whole 30 miles today) and at this rate it will take us over 3 years to get around the States. I think I’ll need to win lotto to keep us going. At least I get a chance to update blogs and photos when we go at this pace (that assumes we can get an internet connection of course).