Once upon a time (January 24, 1848 to be exact) there was a man named James Marshall who was working as a foreman and noticed something shiny in the tailrace of the lumber mill. He brought his finding to the mill's owner, Mr. Sutter, and the two of them had it tested. Eureka! It was gold. Now Mr. Sutter wanted to keep things quiet because he was busy forming an agricultural empire and had no desire to deal with all those wack jobs that a gold rush brings out of the woodwork. Alas, we all know people can't keep their big mouths shut and news quickly spread. Their was gold in the American River! And the rush began. 300,000 fortune seekers quickly filled Northern California and helped create the international port we know as San Francisco, that thriving state capital we all know and some love (not me in particular) called Sacramento, and many little towns all along the Sierra Nevada foothills. The town where it all started, Coloma, is now nothing more than a sleepy hamlet of about 300 residents and its main purpose is to keep the state park and its history alive. Marshall Gold Discovery State Historic Park was our destination of the day.
Well I guess I should say it was our final destination. Our main reason for heading out to Gold Country was to go see Paul's aunt JoAnn who has been feeling under the weather as of late. My sister in law, Nicole, was in town for her 20th reunion (I swear if I look as good as she does I may consider attending my 20th reunion) so we figured a visit to Auntie was in order. Auntie lives in a house out in the country near the gold discovery sight. It is set up on a hill and surrounded by scrub oak and other trees that make for a beautiful and peaceful setting. The kids had fun running around her property and exploring.
We enjoyed having lunch, being force fed every snack that Auntie had in her pantry, and chatting away.
Then we decided to pay a little visit to Paul's cousins who happen to live down the road and own alpacas! Can you feel the jealousy seething from my body and into the computer? For those of you (Lisa) who don't know what an alpaca is, it is a cousin of the llama from the Andes and has some of the finest wool nature has to offer. I want to be an alpaca rancher so bad! So bad! Well Paul's cousin decided to buy a few and we decided we needed to go see the babies. I got to pretend to be a ranch hand for 15 minutes and help separate the baby from the herd and ask all the alpaca questions that only a knowledgeable alpaca connoisseur such as myself would know to ask. Basically show off but only impress myself. The kids thought the baby alpaca was so fun to touch. Ben kept laughing every time he touched it and went into hysterics whenever it would sneeze. Mari was a bit more serious (as always) but even she couldn't help but crack a smile when she touched its ultra soft fur.
Then while we were talking alpaca Mari decided to take off and give Auntie a run for a money on a grand tour of the property. Poor Auntie got quite the workout following her around until I came to her rescue.
After alpacas and conversation we bid farewell to our family and headed up to Sutter's Mill in Coloma. Since it was a Monday things seemed to be mostly closed by the time we got there. No panning for gold photo ops for us. Bummer. Luckily I have been there before and I am sure next time we visit Auntie we can go again and finish giving the kids the full gold discovery treatment.
Sutter's original mill did not survive into the 21st century
but a fabulous replica stands in its place
and some of the original lumber is displayed nearby in a building in which you can peer through some musty windows and stare at some old wood. Fascinating.
I am not one to normally mock historical sites or the hard work the state park service does but I really do think they could have figured out a better way to display these pieces of history. You can barely see into the building to see the wood. I am sure they have plans to improve the display but park funds are always the first to be cut and it seems like California is always out of money.
The mill site is really interesting because it takes you back in time to the moment where gold was discovered. There is also a Mormon cabin replica,
a school, and about 20 other historical buildings. The Gold Discovery Museum is cute and very informative. There are some gold panning areas along Hwy 49 which cuts through town but they close at three so we were out of luck this time. We did get to go down and spend some time at the river right next to where gold was discovered. It was just us and the water. Very peaceful. There was a little shallow cove that the kids had a blast playing in. Mari had no problem sitting in the freezing cold water, dress and all. Ben was a bit more mindful of freezing and decided to stay at waters edge and throw rocks into the river. I snuck a few blackberries off the vines for the adults ( I had no intention of dealing with a wet, berry stained child. Wet was enough for me) All in all, a wonderful way to spend the afternoon.