Gold Country in Winter

A friend and I took a trip from 12/25-29/08, basing ourselves in Angel’s Camp.

On the way, we spotted a Red Fox along the road somewhere near Tracy. We stopped at Jade Garden restaurant to pick up some dinner food.

Stopping in Oakdale for a bite and surprised that anything was open, we proceeded on to New Melones Lake. The visitor’s center gate was closed, so we drove down the Tuttletown road to check things out. At the end, we got out for a few minutes. Along the way, we observed Acorn Woodpeckers, California Towhee, Dark-eyed Junco, an American Kestrel and Double-crested Cormorants.

Arriving in Angel’s Camp, we pulled into the Best Western Cedar Inn. The room was fine, good shower, pretty good sound insulation (not perfect), the needed heater was rather loud. The included breakfast was decent. We had room 206. The door faced outside (some of the rooms are inside), overlooking the pool. The window overlooked a back yard edged with trees, next to a grassy lot. The small yard had a rock pool. There was a wooden fence, and it was the kind of place you might expect a Hermit Thrush to like. Indeed it was, once we realized there were actually some birds out there in the cold. During our stay, American Robins, Yellow-rumped Warblers, Dark-eyed Juncos visited, and White-crowned Sparrows made themselves known also. A Northern Flicker also landed in the pyracantha, hanging on the end of a bending branch selecting big red berries, in between checking out the sky for predators. One day, a Gray Squirrel joined the Hermit Thrush in the yard.

After an early dinner of the Chinese food, we decided to see a movie, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. While waiting for the start time, we played some Scrabble (first time for me in a very long time). We both liked the movie (and were entertained by the gasps and giggles of the young women behind us when scene of Brad Pitt on a motorcycle, ala James Dean, appeared!)

Next day, we tried the visitor’s center again, but it was still closed. The gate was open though. We walked part of the trail leading out from the back of the building. Western Bluebird, Acorn Woodpecker, Oak Titmouse, House Sparrow, Anna’s Hummingbird, Spotted Towhee, Northern Flicker, Lesser and American Goldfinch were around. As we entered the oaks, we heard little bird mutterings, which turned into two little bird mutterings. They turned out to be White-breasted Nuthatch talking to each other, very cute. One of them stole an acorn out of an Acorn Woodpecker’s granary! As we were watching, a Red-breasted Sapsucker flew into binocular view. It sure is nice when they do that.

As we left, we decided to drive up Jackass Hill and see the Mark Twain cabin (and see if the jackass I found up there in 2000 was still there–it was). More White-breasted Nuthatch up there, and Emu in a big yard.

We walked around Jamestown and looked for somewhere to have lunch. We first tried the cafe, but there wasn’t much in the way of vegan food. We discovered that the coffee/ice cream/cooking accessories place had soup and salad as well as other items, including a freezer with big hunks of beef in it.  (We found out why in another shop.) The food was good, and I picked up a bag of gummy frogs, too. In one of the shop windows was a Barbie & Ken Star Trek set. There is something really wrong with that…

We hit the 1897 Railtown after walking around the town. Unfortunately, the trains weren’t running, but we ran into a guy giving a tour, so we tagged along and got one of our own behind-the-scenes tours. Quite a few movies were filmed around there.

We had dinner in Murphys, at Alchemy. On the drive up, we pulled over to let a car pass, and the spot happened to be right below a Great-horned Owl perched on a line!

On the 27th, we tried California Caverns. We arrived right on the dot, and felt rather rushed to catch up to the others, who had already walked down the trail to the cave opening, waiting for the leader. I had to remove my waist pack, and couldn’t bring my water bottle either. It turned out that there was only a woman with two small boys waiting, and the leader didn’t come until 10-15 minutes later, so I would have had time to go back to get my flashlight. More people came after us. Anyway, it was interesting, and watching an experienced woman we ran into dive into a hole too small to let a basketball pass through was a sight.

Where to, for lunch this time? We decided to try San Andreas. Not much going on there. We ended up at a pizza place, where the pizza was made by the same person who rang us up.  There was a master native garden that we had passed along the way, but it was closed when we went back.

Still full from the late lunch, we called to move our dinner reservation back. We checked out Murphys while working up an appetite. There were painted frogs around town. A very interesting gallery had works by Sharon Strong, one made mostly of a huge snake’s shed skin. Sustenance Books also had a good selection of things. I actually had found a vegetarian restaurant up there (surprise!), Mineral, in Murphys. The food was was intriguing, including dessert, but I was too full for that.

On Sunday, it had warmed up enough to melt some of the snow at higher elevations, and chains were no longer required above Arnold. We went to Calaveras Big Trees State Park, and trudged the North Grove Trail. The only birds we heard were Brown Creepers. The snow was a few feet deep along the roads, and closer to the park, trees were covered. Within the park, in spots it rained snow from the trees, and clumps fell, thumping as they landed. Click to hear (if you have a plug-in)

Having not yet checked out old Angel’s Camp, we did that before dinner at Crusco’s (they were very accomodating). Frog plaques were placed in the sidewalk, naming the winners of the jumping frog contests, and frogs were placed everywhere. And I made an impulse buy of a cuckoo clock, which I’ve always wanted. It’s not perfect (no cuckoo comes out of a little door), but I like the now-digitized sounds. Besides, my bird clock stopped working.

On our last day, we again stopped at New Melones Lake, this time from Parrot’s Ferry Road to see the Natural Bridges Trail. I think we actually ended up on some other trail, looking at the detail map, which we didn’t have at the time. It was a nice trail, nevertheless. The trail headed downhill, and we didn’t get all the way to the bottom. There were oaks and rocks, more rocks the further down we got.

We stopped at Columbia for a short while, then tried to find a lunch spot in Sonora. We didn’t have good luck there–the bagel place was almost out, the spot we ended up at had unwisely used the bottom of the sunflower seed container, making the salads way too salty. Inedible, in fact. Tangerines in the car were lunch.

Knights Ferry was our last stop. The visitor’s center was closed, though someone was inside. As we crossed the wooden bridge, a couple of walkers told us they’d seen a couple of animals in the water–they didn’t know what, but I’d guess river otters. Unfortunately, they apparently got scared off by the people who had gotten too close to the water by the time we got there. There were some Acorn Woodpeckers, and another Red-breasted Sapsucker, and the usual Turkey Vultures, many of which were standing on the hill behind the visitor’s center.

We were both glad we didn’t decide to drive to Joshua Tree, by the time we got back. Maybe next time…

To see my photos from the trip: GoldCountry