Originally, this was going to be my entry for the October 2017 edition of the At Home linkup, but I decided to talk about a more important (but devastating) natural disaster that broke out in early October near my home region, and of course, a short introduction of the North Bay region of the San Francisco Bay Area.
As of this writing, about 89-90% of the wildfires have been contained. We’re very close to extinguishing all of the fires, to the point that all the businesses and schools have been reopened and the evacuation warnings have been lifted in many parts of the North Bay. However, the recovery period of our majestic Wine Country and its neighboring areas will be very long. In addition, the casualty number slightly increased to 43.
I also proposed that the original October 2017 entries will be in a series of three parts to cover the three days that we were there. But instead, I’ll make this somewhat brief and squeeze in all the three days in this one entry. Without further ado, let’s get started!
Sierra Nevada (Part One)
What does the Part One mean in the header? I haven’t quite mentioned this in my previous entries, but we do plan on taking a trip back to the Sierra Nevada a few days after Thanksgiving. It’s just that it will be in another area of the mountain range and we will be there for four days. Of course, this next trip will be the next entry for December, which is perfect. I rarely experience the snow in my life, since the majority of California does not snow except in the high mountain ranges like the Sierra Nevada and other places.
As mentioned in my previous entries written last month, the family and I planned on going on a three-day trip, not too far from home, out in the East to the mountainous wilderness. Today, I am finally going to write about them and I’m excited to share my pictures and experiences to all of you!
Day 01: Calaveras County (Gold Country)
My parents are members of a timeshare program in which we can stay at a designated hotel resort (they look more like apartments, actually) on any spot that we choose to go on a trip at. I’m still not understanding much of these timeshare concepts, but they also have a time limit too. Because my parents haven’t been using their timeshares for over a year now (because of my dad’s diagnosis and couldn’t go on trips), they decided to finally use them before the end of this year before it expires (or something like that).
My dad is an avid fan of those old Western movies, those cheesy spaghetti westerns, and the Wild West era of 1800s America. This is also one of the reasons why he chose to settle in California. Well, his first reason is that he has close family who is living here already. His love of the Wild West and cowboys and ghost towns, etc. is his second reason why, and he knows well that California has plenty of “Wild West” history along with Texas and other neighboring states that used to belong to Mexico (Arizona, Nevada, New Mexico). None of us really care about the “more mainstream” vision1 of California, really. Between the redwood forests and the deserts and the beach, anywhere where there are accessible pure and natural resources that are sustainable to live is always the best.
Calaveras County is one of the many counties in the Gold Country region. All the towns and cities along this area were all established by gold miners just before California became a U.S. state. And yes, there were actually gold there (and probably have more gold in small traces, of course), as well as they found other precious minerals, like copper, iron, quartz, and the infamous pyrite (Fool’s Gold).
Our hotel apartment was located in a city (by population, even though the place itself is a small town) named Angels Camp. It was named after a Rhode Island gold miner named John Angell, who set up a camp with fellow miners and discovered quartz along with some traces of gold. Eventually, the miner camp became a town, and by population count, it became a city. Angels Camp is also one of California’s first found towns just before California became a state, c. 1848. The first towns and cities established around the Sierra Nevada and Westward of it, in which the Bay Area and much of the North Bay became its first highly-populated area before it became a state in 1850.
Angels Camp also became famous, at least to many of us Californians, thanks to one of the greatest American writers of all time, Mark Twain. Mark Twain launched his career as a literary author at Angels Camp during one of his many travels when he first worked as a travel journalist. At the Angel Hotel in the main town, Mark Twain heard a story from a bartender that gave him the inspiration to write a short story called The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County in 1865. The story, which eventually was published as a short story anthology, became a huge success for Mark Twain and helped him established his name as a writer. Years later, his fame skyrocketed with his now famous classic novels such as Tom Sawyer, Huckleberry Finn, A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court, The Prince and the Pauper, and more.
And because of the short story, Angels Camp now has an annual Jumping Frog Jubilee that takes place during the Calaveras County Fair. Residents and visitor would come and participate with their frogs in a jumping frog race.
Here are a few shots of the sights of Angels Camp.
Murphys & Vallecito (Moaning Caverns)
Our check-in time to our hotel apartment wasn’t until 4:00 pm and we arrived at Angels Camp at around 11:05 am. We left home at around 9:00 am, knowing we would be there before lunch. Since we had so much time to kill, we decided to have our lunch at Murphys (the next town over) and then figure out where to go exploring right after.
I don’t have any photos of Murphys without people2, so I’ll just give a short narrative. Murphys is known as a “mini-Napa Valley.” Like Napa and much of the North Bay, it is also a vineyard town (city by population) and is a great place to taste some of their local fare. Unfortunately for me, who is more of the explorer, my parents craved for Chinese or Vietnamese food.3 Thanks to Yelp, we actually found a Chinese AND Vietnamese fusion restaurant at Murphys. It’s probably the only Asian cuisine restaurant that exists there, but it’ll do.
After lunch, bro remembered that there is one tourist spot that this area of the Sierra Nevada is most known for: the underground caverns. My parents wanted to visit the nearest one, and just next door to Murphys, and conveniently on the way back to Angels Camp, is a very small town called Vallecito. The Moaning Cavern was the closest and decided to tackle the challenge by going through a walking tour.4
We knew it will be a very challenging exploration because Moaning Cavern is known among the underground caverns as being the deepest, with its distance of some 410 ft. The entrance itself is very deep that there is a 60-ft iron spiral staircase that may be deemed dangerous for the weak legs. The cavern was discovered in the 1850s, but also believed that the entrances already existed because they also found remains of human (ouch!) and animal remains down there.
Why do you think all of these caverns exist and are now a tourist part? They were found by miners and decided to dig and explore. What are they there for? To find gold, of course! This is Gold Country after all!
Learning of this fact, my parents decided to back out from the exploration because of that 60-ft staircase, so my brother and I decided to take this leap.
And boy, it was awesome and very well worth it! If you’re a geology fan, you’d be amazed at the formations of the stalactites and stalagmites. But I’ve enjoyed it because now I can record this and show off to the world that I have explored a very deep cave.
The tour only took 45 minutes. We still had some 30 mins left when we arrived back at Angels Camp, but we decided to just check in early and get our keys to the apartment. I didn’t even get a chance to take photos of the apartment because I was too tired. I will when we go to our next Sierra Nevada trip this November (we’ll be in a hotel apartment too 😄). For dinner, we finally have their local fare (a local pizzeria that uses their local crops as their ingredients. Very delicious!).
Just on the side note, the word calavera is skull in Spanish, which in turn, calaveras is the plural version.5 When these caverns were discovered by miners, in hopes of finding more gold, they found more skeletal corpses of whatever living creature indigenous to these lands. Native American tribespeople, raccoons, bears, mountain lions, and other wildlife made their seven-second tour ((well… you should know why it’s “7 seconds”…)) down these caverns, never to return to the surface again.
Day 02: Yosemite Valley
Visiting the grand valley that we locals view as the symbol of California would be a first-time event for me. The rest of my family have been here before when some out-of-state relatives came for a visit, but I wasn’t able to go with them because I had to attend summer school. I guess for me, it’s been a very long time waiting. We got up early-ish, and just like the day before, we hit the road to Yosemite (yo-se-mi-ti) Valley at around 9:00 am. To be honest, the distance between Angels Camp and Yosemite is quite short, but because of the narrow, long, winding, and mountainous roads leading us to the valley, the drive would take us about two hours and fifteen minutes to get to the entrance.
New Melones Lake and “Melones, California”
Thirteen-something minutes on the road, we spotted a very nice vista point right over a large lake. My brother took a look at his Waze app to see the name of the lake and if we’re still in the vicinity. The name: New Melones Lake. The place: Melones, California.
But, when we looked at the paper map, we noticed one thing. There is no “Melones, California.” In fact, it no longer exists!
Still, we decided to enjoy the majestic view of this large lake not too far from Angels Camp. We took photos of the views of all sides. While I was going on and about with the pictures, I stumbled upon state landmark plaque on the vista point and decided to take a photo of it.
I looked up Robinson’s Ferry and Melones, California on Wikipedia or any of the local informational sites to see if I can find some information about them. I learned that Robinson’s Ferry was a former ferry port town in which the miners would ride river ferries through the lake and through the rivers connected from the lake that would lead them West to— where else? The Bay Area, of course!
Back in those days, San Francisco was the major big city of the gold rush days. The majority of the miner’s families and other gold rushers found other opportunities in San Francisco and eventually its neighboring towns. There are a lot of rivers and streams that connected to the San Francisco Bay from all of these lakes such as the New Melones Lake. Robinson’s Ferry just happens to be one of these ferry port towns that people would come and settle or rest before they take the long riverboat journey.
The name “Melones” turned out to be an old name for another town called Carson Hill. Then we realized that we just passed Carson Hill to get to this lake. It was renamed Carson Hill and Robinson’s Ferry was renamed Melones sometime in the late 1800s. Still, Google Maps pointed us to Melones right near the lake. Eventually, when my brother zoomed in the map to see where Melones was pointed, the dot was pointed right on the lake itself, right from where the vista point where we were standing right then.
So, further research on the mobile internet and it turned out that the ferry town of Melones, California was submerged underwater in the lake. As for Carson Hill, no one lives there anymore. It is now a ghost town that tourists can come and visit. In short, standing right at this vista point overlooking New Melones Lake, we were still in Angels Camp territory. How about that?
Enjoy the majestic views of the lake… and pretend that “Melones, California” is still standing right now.
After a brief rest, we proceeded on the road.
Tuolumne County and Stanislaus County
In order to get to Yosemite Valley (which is located in the Mariposa County side of the Sierra Nevada), we had to cross two counties: Tuolumne (“to all o’ me” or tu-ol-o-mi – the “n” is silent) and Stanislaus (sta-nis-los) Counties. The majority of their lands consist of nothing but redwood forests and more long and winding roads. We crossed a few towns and settlements where people work to protect and preserve the wildlife of the forests and the peaks here. For the next hour or so, the roads and the sights look like these sites in the gallery below. I don’t know which of these pics belong to which county, as both Tuolumne and Stanislaus pretty much have the same landscapes, forests, mountains, and towns.
I actually have more photos than the ones I posted, but let’s move on. I’ll post those missing ones on a separate future photoblog in the future.
After passing through the ranger gates leading to the valley and pay for our entrance fees, we still have about some thirty minutes left for us to reach the Visitor Center. This meant seeing more of the same sights: more redwood forests, more redwood-covered mountains, and most especially, redwood that was struck and burned by the recent wildfires. Ugh, I don’t want to think about the word “wildfire” right now.
It was around 11:45 am when we arrived at our first tour spot before reaching the Visitor Center: Bridalveil Falls, one of the falls of the valley. It’s not as majestic as the more famous Yosemite Falls, but it’s known to have the top of the falls “drooping” like a bridal veil. There was a trail that leads closer to the foot of the Bridalveil Falls, and once again, because we have senior citizens (parents) who are not exactly 100% healthy, they decided to stay on flat land while my brother and I decided to take the (rather short) trail leading to the foot.
We didn’t go further than that due to safety, even though there were rocks that you can easily climb that can take you much closer to the foot of the falls. There was a cave behind the falls but we were not allowed to go inside. Curiosity can kill the cat.
Here are some shots of the falls, zooming in and out with my little camera.
We found another vista point where we got to see El Capitan and the Cathedral Rocks, such as the Three Brothers Mountain. I just took a few shots here and there while we were in the car.
We finally reached the Visitor Center after this lengthy drive. While we were parking, I snuck a shot at one view of the most famous Half Dome.
We had Polish hotdog in a bun (with the usual ketchup, mustard, and relish toppings, of course), some side of chips, and soda for lunch when we reached the Visitor Center. We also noticed that there are the Yosemite hybrid shuttles that we can ride and have stopovers at designated vista spots (and lodging and campsite areas for those staying overnight) for free. Because we were getting tired of driving around, we decided to take the hybrid shuttle and ride around to see most of the spots.
We got off on some spots to take pictures, of course. But what we all wanted was us with the Half Dome at the background. We finally did it! After we headed back to our original stop, we decided to call it for a day and head back to Angels Camp. But before we did, we decided to have one more stop at the El Capitan and Cathedral Rocks stop before we drive back to our apartment.
Enjoy the rest of my “bus ride” shots!
Before I conclude Day 2 of the 3-day Sierra Nevada trip, here are a few facts about Yosemite:
- The name Yosemite was named after a renegade native tribe that was driven out by the Mariposa Battalion, one of the early regiments of the California State Militia. In the Miwok (native tribe) language, “yosemite” means “killer” or “murderer.” (strange name for a beautiful landscape like this…)
- A Scottish immigrant author, naturalist, and conservationist named John Muir made Yosemite a household name throughout the nation, not just in California. His writings, essays, and activism towards preseveration of these precious natural habitats that earned him the nickname “Father of the National Parks.” He was one of California’s prominent legends and many places and establishments throughout California (especially here in the Bay Area and the rest of Northern California) bears his name.
- The engraving of John Muir and the Half Dome of the Yosemite Valley was chosen to represent California in the state quarter coin series. Thus, Yosemite Valley became the official landmark symbol (maybe?) of California.
- The high-end outdoor clothing line, The North Face, has its logo created based on the Half Dome.
- Yosemite is also one of the two American UNESCO World Heritage Sites located in California.
Now that I have come and visited Yosemite, I felt that I ruled the world. Even though the redwood and the mountains and hills and rivers are common in and around my home area, I know I would never see anything else more breathtaking than Yosemite. We’ve only spent one day here and we know that there are a lot more sites that are hidden that we haven’t visited, such as Mono Lake and Vernal Falls.
Oh, and of course, if you remember reading my deer entry, here’s a few more of the deer family.
Day 03: Columbia, California (Tuolumne County)
Our last day has finally arrived and we know that we have to go back to reality.
But, before we do hit the road again, we decided to visit a very well-preserved not-so-ghostly town known as Columbia, California. This is located in Tuolumne County, but it’s quite a short drive from Angels Camp (some 20 minutes). We said goodbye to our beautiful hotel apartment at around 9 a.m. and thought that we can just have lunch in town.
As you can see, Columbia is yet another gold mining town that was established during the Gold Rush period on 1848-1850. The unique bit about this small town is that even though every single structure standing is well preserved and authentic with some restorations, the town still exists, with some of these 100+-year old businesses are still up and running. You can call this a living museum, of sorts. Columbia is also used as one of the existing gold mining towns Hollywood uses as a set for Western movies. When you step inside its grounds, you would really feel that you just went back in time where everyone was rowdy and no one cared for anything here except for mining gold and getting rich quick.
Enjoy the views and imagine yourself being there.
We spent about 45 minutes here, since Columbia is a small town. We even drove a few blocks up the street to visit the Columbia School House. We thought that we may eat lunch here, but we decided to just hit the road and eat lunch at Stockton, a city halfway between the Sierra Nevada area and the Bay Area. My parents wanted to eat Chinese again, and for sure we ain’t gonna find no Chinese food in a town like this. 😅
We got back home to Union City at around 3:30 p.m., which means, we had enough time to take a long nap, and of course, enough time to make dinner.
Gold Country and Yosemite are just parts of the great Sierra Nevada Mountain Range region. We plan on going back to the region again this November and most likely, it will be the December entry of the At Home linkup. We are hoping that we get to see snow during that period (though we all kind of doubt it), but even if we don’t see snow, the place where we are going is as breathtaking as the Gold Country and Yosemite. Rather, maybe not as grand as Yosemite, but still comparable. I have been to this area before, but it’s been years since I’ve been here, so I can’t really remember much.
Before I end this linkup entry, I just want to have a quick update. As of 12:20 am PST, November 1st, the North Bay wildfires are now 100% extinguished. Thank the heavens!
Come and Join in!
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On the sidenote...
- Los Angeles, beach culture, surf culture, Hollywood, Beverly Hills, desert, etc. [↩]
- my parents are very sensitive with their photos being displayed in public so I won’t be posting them [↩]
- we get so many of these restaurants back home, why do we have to eat “Bay Area” food in the Sierra Nevada? [↩]
- because rappelling and spelunking down the cave is not good for our health combined [↩]
- those decorative skulls that Mexicans create to celebrate DÍa de Muertos/Day of the Dead festivities on Halloween, All Saints Day, and All Souls Day [↩]