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Gold Rush, Wine Country and Mark Twain's Jumping Frog

Angels Camp travel destination Sierra Gold County photoIn the rush to find gold in “them thar hills” of 1849, miners looking for the precious metal would move from camp to camp between the rivers of the Sierra Nevada foothills, now referred to as “gold country”. The gold had flushed down the rivers for eons of time and the flakes and nuggets which first excited the rush to riches were easily found in the rivers and along the banks. But the easy placer pickings soon were gone and miners had to dig deeper in the ground. The gold rush towns that remain today were the result of hard rock digging and hydraulics.

Budget Travel Gold Country Flume photoAngels Camp was the largest mining camp on the northern slope of the Calaveras County side of Stanislaus River, where once the flakes of real gold and more often pyrite “fool’s gold” would sparkle in the dark sand of the river bottom, is mostly flooded now under the upper lake fingers of New Melones reservoir. Angels Camp was first just a trading post set up by Henry Angel, but underground mining called "pocket mining" flourished in Angels Camp long after others had folded tents and moved on. Today the earth underneath Angels Camp is still honeycombed by mine tunnels and the water which supplied the miners still comes to town through a wooden water flume cut through the high Sierra but the Utica Water Company. Angels Camp is a unique gold rush era stopover for the nearby lakes and rivers and the crossroads of Highway 49 and Highway 4 which heads up to Murphys and the Calaveras Wine growing area (See Calaveras Wine Tasting, the Kautz Ironstone Winery entertainment center (See Ironstone Vineyards) and Calaveras Big Trees Park where the giant redwoods stand. Other unique gold rush era town sites, Columbia State Park (see Columbia Travel Gem of the Gold Rush) and Jamestown (see Railtown 1897) are within 30 minutes drive.

Mark Twain’s Jumping Frog

Mark Twain Cabin Calaveras photoMark Twain, famed author of the tales of “Tom Sawyer” and “Huckleberry Fynn” first came to literary fame from his first published humor fiction story “The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County”. He legendarily first heard the story from a half-drunken miner friend in a saloon in Angels Camp on a cold December night in 1864. Twain had been writing for a newspaper in Virginia City, Nevada (see Mark Twain Museum Virginia City) and during a trek across the Sierras during the winter of 1864-65 shared a cabin on what was called “Jackass Hill” a stop for mule trains carrying supplies to miners in the hills of the Mother Lode, located a few miles from Angels Camp. Twain, then still using his real name Sam Clemens, didn’t stay long in the cold damp mountain winter and headed on to San Francisco where he continued as a newspaper columnist until his friend Bret Harte encouraged him to publish the jumping frog story he would constantly tell to social companions after a few drinks and cigars. Clemens published the story under his new moniker Mark Twain and soon left the newspaper business behind, traveling through Europe with his books and speaking tours.

Jumping Frog Calaveras Angels Camp photoTwain left, but the frog legend stayed with Angels Camp which is now home to the Jumping Frog Jubilee held at the Calaveras County Fair the third week of May every year attracting 40,000 frog watchers. The current jump record of 21 feet ¾ inches has stood for over 20 years. The main street of Angles Camp is the 49er Highway straddled by the iron shuttered gold rush buildings which remain, along with a statue of the towns most famous though brief resident in Utica Park at the end of Main Street. A few miles between Angels Camp and the bridge which spans the Stanislaus River and New Melones Lake a sign points to a narrow windy short road to the top of a hill where among the golden grass and green oaks, one can find the cabin where Mark Twain spent his summer. The cabin on the spot is for most part a reconstructed replica with some boards and chimney stones left from the original, and few of the jackasses still watching over it. © Bargain Travel West

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