The gold rush of the mid 1800’s led to the Mother Lode in what is still called the Gold Country of Northern California. Going around Gold Country you are bound to discover your own rich treasures, starting with a round of golf at:
Greenhorn Creek Golf Resort – Don Boos, a former Robert Trent Jones Senior employee gets only hurrahs from us for the original design of this gem along with enhancements made by Robert Trent Jones II. It flows through pastoral Sierra Nevada foothills amongst cottonwood and oak trees in Angels Camp. A small herd of deer was grazing beneath the trees when making the turn to the fourth hole where an old rock wall divides the fairway. A Chinese oven form the 1800s stands out on number 5 and a 9000+ square foot home on number 6 is listed for $1.2m. Off course homes start under $500k. Cottages and the larger Caddy Shack House provide full accommodations for visitors along a few fairways. The area plays home to many birds, deer, families and retirees from all walks of like. Many of the landscapes incorporate grape vines for vintner hobbyists. We enjoyed rocking on our porch overlooking the pond between 8 and 9, watching golfers play through after our own round. The view from the elevated tee of the signature #13 par 3 distracts from the peril of the pond guarding the front of the downhill green as the reflection of trees and traps sparkle in the water.
The Lodge is a hub of activity for members and visitors alike with a well-stocked pro shop and Bistro Bar. Spacious seating is available inside or out for sizeable events. Sherri, the executive chef of CAMPS whisked up an excellent menu serving local USDA beef and offers catering services as well. The restaurant was actually closed while we were there (as are numerous Calaveras County spots on Mondays and Tuesdays) but if the “premade burrito” at the turn is any indication, the food will wow. It was fresh, hot and full of goodness. Note that the Bistro Bar is open 7 days a week and:
The Cellar Room showcases 13 area wineries with tastings and tales by Buck. Located on the ground floor of the clubhouse, it is a cozy and quaint tasting room with an open patio for parties and entertainment including musical events by Mario Flores billed as Sip and Salsa. They are reviving the dancing tradition. Buck is a wealth of knowledge. A retired Avery Label employee, he has made a hobby of wine label making and produces his own Syrah and Barbera with his wine group of five couples who meet in a garage. We found gold in the tasting room as Buck introduced us to Frog Tooth’s Malbec. The dill pickle aroma nips at you curiously, inviting another sip. Among other fine wines, we tasted Prospect 772 and Black Tie Charley, names inspired with stories of grapes. Buck sips and spins more stories of the area’s historical characters and wine producers with down home charm. Another famous storyteller welcomes all visitors to Greenhorn Camp:
Samuel Clements, aka Mark Twain – His statue is immortally seated on a bench in the entry courtyard of the clubhouse, reading a book in such a way that you may pose for photos beside him and imagine that his lilted oration is directed personally to you. Leaping into fame was Mark Twain’s rendition of “The Leaping
Frogs of Calaveras County”. His portrayal of the Jumping Frogs boosted or in some opinions launched his writing career. A library room dedicated to his legacy is just off the main hallway decorated with his philosophical words. A presentation of his 88 days in the Mother Lode is presented every Wednesday. The traditional Frog Jumping contest continues at the county fair of Calaveras, the third weekend in May in:
Angels Camp, California. These springboard champions are immortalized on the sidewalks of downtown Angels Camp. Each frog’s name and distance are recorded on a bronze plaque, much like the Hollywood Stars. Among the town’s shops, restaurants, visitors’ center and museum, is a dining venue that truly shines and is open on Thursday – Mondays is:
Crusco’s Italian Restaurant – Owner for 17 years, sweet Celeste and her husband Gilbert surprised us with some of the best caprese and caesar salad with fresh anchovies. Lollipop Lamb Chops and Crusco Pasta were followed by limoncello biscotti and tiramisu. It is all in the family at Crusco’s as hubby and daughters pitch in. Celeste’s Italian lineage comes from Calabria, in the toe of Italy while Gilbert is an Okie like Danny, small world. The Italian contingent of gold miners settled in an area known as macaroni flats. They brought vines from Italy to wash away the disappointment of lost dreams and established one of the fastest growing areas of fine wine in California. In fact, there were over 110 wineries by 1870, but prohibition reduced the industry substantially. Like most of America, people rediscovered what the early settlers had found. The exceptional microclimates and ph levels result in 8 different types of soils perfect for various grape varietals – Cabernet, Zinfandel, Grenache, Syrah, and Tempranillo are but a few of the main stays. Celeste paired her food with a local Four Winds wine and Chianti from Tuscany to demonstrate the similarity. The authentic cuisine and restaurant décor transports diners to Italy for the meal, largely due to the murals hand painted by the local artist across the street at Gold Rush Originals:
Mike Darby – Here’s a natural born artist with a vein ambition. There is no better way to understand the history of the Gold Country than to participate in actual gold pan mining. Mike Darby will take you to private creek beds and demonstrate the whole process with animated anecdotes. Finding a quartz vein in the ground is the first step, and then hard digging ensues around those contact points to extract clumps in hopes of gold dust and nuggets that have made their way to the surface. After digging and being educated with witty tales, we filled flour sacks with the dirt and rocks that held a prospect of gold. We emptied the bags over the bridge of a stream and climbed down into the water to begin the panning process. Gently washing and swirling the material in the round shallow pans and allowing the creek water to flow in and separate the soils from rock requires skill and patience. You get a true understanding of what the early miners went through to achieve success. It was a lot of fun work as our small group attained a few gold flakes and dust in our sample bottles. Mike Darby is a fascinating creature. A self-proclaimed discoverer, life strikes him with visions and dreams. His book God’s Gold weaves his philosophy of gold mining and the apocalypse as artfully as he paints scenes on the back of gold pans. His wife Linda directs her creativity in the jewelry scene, selling her gems, his artwork and booking tours at the shop downtown which has troughs for panning in the back. The best bet at the Original Gold Rush is to get down and dirty with Darby. For thrill seeking adventurers and a different mining perspective:
Moaning Caverns Park is just the ticket. Fly through the air at G speed on one of the longest zip lines in California. GoPro cameras can be rented to record the memory of your flight. A more unique exhilaration is felt rappelling down into the Moaning Caverns. Attention must be paid to the instructions for the safest experience. Your journey starts with a tight squeeze through the hole in the ground beginning your descent. Never let go of the rope. Sit back and hang on tight to your dreams. Once the small ledge has been reached, you allow yourself to fall into the opening of the great cavern that is 160 feet deep. Again, hang onto the rope. Anxiety quickly dissipates as you are suspended in mid air observing the open wonders of the cavern. You descend at your own pace and once you reach the floor of the cavern, a guide demonstrates the original miners’ true setting in total darkness by extinguishing the lights for just a moment or two. You literally cannot see anything. It helps to be in good shape as you climb over 240 spiral steps back to the surface of the cavern. In the old days, friends lowered miners in buckets. Today the cavern rappelling is a bucket list item. We discovered that caverns are also used for wine aging at:
Ironstone – Set upon 1200 acres close to the quaint town of Murphy, it boasts one of the largest productions of wine in California with 7500 more acres of grapes in Lodi. The Kautz family created quite the entertainment platform on the immaculately landscaped grounds including a 7000 seat amphitheater for concerts by Carrie Underwood, Kelly Clarkson and the like. At the forefront of the winery is sustainable agriculture and water is reclaimed on site. Ponds and gardens serve as romantic backdrops for weddings. A team of Belgium horses picks up the bride in a coach. Local artists set up their easels here to brush the scene on canvas. The springtime daffodil festival draws crowds, as does the fall Concours d’Elegance.
Inside, wine tastings are served at the bar built in 1906 by New Brunswick Ball Bowling Company. Upstairs a restored orchestra pipe organ from the Alhambra Theatre of Sacramento belts out nostalgic melodies in the music room. There is no modern equivalence of this multi pipe big band sound. We listened to Opus 1 by Glenn Miller and were riveted. Weekly concerts are well attended. Corsets and pantaloons are not required.
As we toured the production area, the last grape load for the year was being harvested. A bunch of petite syrah grapes were tossed down to our guide and general manager, Bruce Rohrer for our sampling. What a sweet sacrifice these tiny orbs make for the nectar to come of age in the cavern dug by traditional miners. They honed the solid rock and sprayed the walls with gunite for preservation and a perfect temperature control of 62-64 degrees. Ironstone distributes to all 50 states and over 40 countries. We preferred and bought the Obsession.
The Heritage Museum next door was unfortunately not open, yes because it was Tuesday. A vault there holds the largest Crystalline Gold Leaf specimen in the world. Weighing forty-four pounds, it was discovered in 1992 by the Sonora Mining Company, on Christmas Day, the largest nugget. Size does matter in terms of gold. Miners took a great leap of faith in search of fame and fortune and for most their Mother Lode was never fully realized. Many people however made good fortunes catering to the miners’ needs. This is the case of:
Murphy’s Hotel, a stopover destination for travelers heading west to San Francisco. Famous people adorn the walls and Ulysses S. Grant’s room is viewable, yet preserved. Delectable servings are enjoyed with the Famous Fizz. It tastes like a gin dreamsicle adorned with whipped cream and orange slice. Stroll along the sidewalks of the town of Murphy for more tasting rooms of local vintners. Zucca winery had award-winning Sorprendere with a $40 price tag, which they explained if it were in Napa would have a 2 in front of it. Wine isn’t the only tasting opportunity in Murphy.
Marisolio Tasting Bar has olive and balsamic oils with infused flavors to satisfy any palate. The options are almost overwhelming but we whittled it down to a purchase of Blood Orange olive oil and Pomegranate balsamic aged in oak barrels like wine made from trebbiano grapes. They mix for a delightful and easy dressing over any salad. Just as we were thinking that varietals are the spice of life, around the corner, we found the:
Spice Tin –Formerly the storage space for the general store, owner Patty believes there was a tunnel door during Prohibition. Hundreds of fused spices line the walls to enhance your style of cooking. They are helpful with selections and grateful for their business and for their customers. Gratitude was all around the Gold Country while we were there. In the final days of the Butte Fire, thank you signs were posted everywhere in appreciation for service by firefighters and law enforcement. A Billy Graham van was parked in nearby San Andreas as volunteers helped to sift through remains. Ashes had fallen upon Murphy and smoke blew into Angels Camp but the fire fortunately did not reach them. They might have new neighbors rebuilding from nearby burned areas though. 11 local firefighters lost their own homes along with over 500 others. Community spirit rails in the Gold Country.
Mines, wines, nines and more hail from the Gold Rush Days but there’s no rush to get there today. Take your time with a leisurely drive two hours from San Francisco or Tahoe, equal distance or a scenic route north from Yosemite National Park. www.greenhorncreek.com www.gocalaveras.com