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  • Pamela Froman

Gold Country and More!


There are many ways to explore California's rich past and gorgeous present. Ghost towns dot the landscape of our state, along with the promise of buried treasure. You can even check out mines where gold and silver were found back in the day. Or search for treasure yourself by panning our many fruitful rivers.

California offers an amazing array of pioneer ghost towns that allows you to take a step back into time.

Bodie was one of the original mining towns, and by 1880 was bustling with over 10,000 residents. The town was famous for its red light district, with plenty of brothels, gambling halls, opium dens, and saloons. But Bodie’s population had dwindled to 120 by 1920 thanks to deplenished mines. A destructive 1932 fire sealed Bodie’s fate.

Bodie is now a National Historic Landmark. For $5 you can wander the town that is preserved in its original state. There are around 100 structures, including the general store, the church, a saloon, a bank vault, and the cemetery. A popular spot is the grave of Rosa May, a prostitute who died after caring for sick miners. She is often referred to as the “hooker with a heart of gold.”

A word to the wise: No sticky fingers. Legend has it that bad luck follows anyone who steals from the town. Some claim that Bodie is inhabited by ghosts who guard against pilferers. Panamint City is a ghost town deep in Death Valley. It was founded when three stagecoach robbers hit it rich by discovering silver in 1872. The area was soon flooded by hundreds of would-be prospectors. Saloons, stores, and a population of more than 2,000 people popped up. However by 1876, the mines were done for, and a flash flood washed away most of the buildings. What's left today? A brick smokestack, stone foundations, mining tunnels, cabins, a mill and various artifacts.

What about ghost towns filled with actual...ghosts? You can walk through these haunted spots, where you may see former residents.

Calico is a ghost town, just outside of Barstow in the Mojave Desert. It is known as California’s official “silver rush ghost town.” In 1881, John McBryde and Lowery Silver discovered silver ore in the mountains. More than 500 mines produced the biggest silver load in California history. But by the 1890s, silver had lost much of its value, and the town was mostly deserted.

But today, this picturesque spot is full of charm. Take a ride through an old mine, pan for silver, shoot 'em up in the shooting gallery, and camp overnight under the hills. There is a general store on Main Street and in the print shop, wanted posters decorate the walls. For a bit of haunted fun, visit the Calico Graveyard, where mountaineers and prospectors from Calico’s past are buried.

In Kern County is the ghost town of Sageland, founded in the fall of 1866. The town did well until a flash flood destroyed many public buildings in the 1860s. Sageland was abandoned in 1874. Travelers who pass through have said they have heard disembodied voices of mine workers and the phantom noise of the mine shaft carts being pushed.

Cabazon in Riverside County was named after an Indian Chief who helped build a railroad station in town. However, when the town’s aqueduct system failed, the townspeople dispersed. Visit the remaining olive orchard and you may see the apparition of an Indian in a magnificent headdress walking through.

If you've ever dreamed of striking gold, buried treasure in California does exist. A trove of rare Gold Rush-era coins was recently unearthed by a couple as they walked their dog. It was a find worth more than $10 million. The 1,400 gold pieces, dating to the mid- to late 1800s and still in nearly mint condition, were buried in eight metal cans on the couple’s land.

But before you break out your metal detector, you'll need to start with research. The more information you have about a lost treasure, the better your chances of striking it rich.

Want to try your luck? Here are a few sites:

Mountaineer Roadhouse is a historic spot that was an infamous hideout for outlaws during the 1800’s. There are rumors that several buried treasures are hidden near here.

Situated between the All-American Canal and Laguna Dam is The Ruins of the Mission San Pedro - San Pablo de Bicuner. In 1871, before an imminent Indian attack, the priests supposedly hid a large cache of riches. During the attack, everyone was killed, and the Mission was destroyed. Is the treasure still there? Maybe so.

Does the Butterfield State Route hold $60,000 in gold? Supposedly, outlaws buried this treasure somewhere on, or near the road, between the ruins of an old stagecoach station, at Carrizo, and the restored station at Vallecitos.

Historic communities like Sutter Creek and Jamestown are the perfect place to stay.

The luxurious Grey Gables Inn offers eight comfortable and large guest rooms and two luxury suites, a formal dining room, and a large parlor with a double alcove. Outside, red bricked pathways lead the way to a terraced garden. http://greygables.com

Step back in time to 1879 when the Gold Rush was in full swing and the Imperial Hotel opened its doors. Today the hotel offers a warm and gracious welcome where time does not stand still, but it does slow down. http://imperialamador.com

The 1849 discovery of gold at Sutter’s Mill in the western Sierra foothills lured people to California from all over. Prospectors came equipped with picks, shovels, and gold pans as they searched for flakes and nuggets that washed into streams.

The Feather River is one of the richest gold bearing rivers in the Mother Lode region. At the peak of the California’s gold rush thousands of gold miners worked along the river.

Have you ever entertained the fantasy of finding treasure while diving a shipwreck? Every diver has heard of the famous cry “Today’s the day!”

The Monfalcone, is a local shipwreck that might actually yield results for treasure seekers. The Monfalcone was a floating casino and dance hall. On August 31, 1930 she caught fire and sank 75 feet below. While all 300 onboard escaped unharmed, several of the dealers responsible for securing the casino’s cash panicked. Salvage divers were dispatched to search the wreckage but approximately $11,000 was never found. Maybe you'll find it!

Shore diving at Jade Cove isn't easy. But it's worth it to capture these gorgeous green stones. The cove is located along an isolated portion of the Big Sur coast, and can only be reached after crossing a grassy meadow, then down a rugged trail switch backing down to a 100-foot cliff. Not easy when you are wearing a dive suit!

Divers have been harvesting this semi-precious stone off the central coast for over three decades. In August 1971, diver Don Wobber lifted a 9000-pound boulder which was worth $180,000. The stone was named “Nephipod,” and was pulled from the water by rope, chain and griphoist. But these days the State of California has prohibited divers removing jade by mechanical means. You can take only what you can carry.

Roaring Camp is a gold-mining camp on the Mokulmne River. Visit the operating mine and go for gold by panning, sluicing, dredging and dry-washing. Roaring Camp provides fun activities, including rafting, camping, swimming, fishing and hiking. www.roaringcampgold.com

If you have an interest in history and have always wanted to explore underground, then you are in luck. You can explore old mines that were once major gold producers.

The Sixteen to One Mine was founded in 1896 in Alleghany County. The name of this mine had to do with the ratio of the value of silver to gold being 16 to 1. The mine is still operational today. You can visit it in a guided tour that lead deep into the mountains. www.origsix.com

The Empire Mine Historic Park provides exhibits both above and below ground. On the surface, wander through William Bowers Bourn’s country estate. There is a Mine Yard Tour which sheds light on the rough lives of the miners. www.empiremine.org

Gold panning is legal in most rivers and streams running through state and national parks in California. Places to pan for gold include Marshall Gold Discovery State Historic Park along the American River, and Auburn State Recreation Area, north of Sacramento.

Columbia State Historic Park offers throwback charm and a treasure trove of artifacts, presenting the Gold Rush in living, breathing color. Costumed docents live and work here in a variety of period-appropriate shops and trades. Catch a ride on an authentic stagecoach, order a cold sarsaparilla soda in a saloon, or check out a working blacksmith's forge. No cars are allowed here, so you'll have to hoof it or ride a horse. www.visitcolumbiacalifornia.com

The 1859 Historic National Hotel is perfectly situated for you to either antique in Jamestown and Sonora or explore the area’s award-winning wine country. www.national-hotel.com

The Inn on Knowles Hill Bed and Breakfast is a mansion on a hilltop where you can relax in a luxurious room or suite, stroll into Sonora, catch a showing at Stage 3 theatre, or dine in historic downtown! www.knowleshill.com

At Roaring Camp Mining Company for $40 per person, enjoy an all day adventure into the Mokelumne River Canyon, once mined by the 49ers and still mined today. See the Placer Gold Mine Operation, Wildlife and Mining Artifacts Museums, pan for gold, collect rocks, fish, hike and enjoy river swimming. Tours go Sunday – Friday 10 a.m. - 4 p.m. www.roaringcampgold.com/guidedtours

Gold Prospecting Adventures tailors programs to meet your needs. Their guides, dressed in period costume, insure that everyone enjoys a genuine and comprehensive gold rush experience. www.goldprospecting.com

Live out your old Western showdown aboard the Sacramento RiverTrain’s Great Train Robbery. Keep a weathered eye on the horizon for greedy outlaws! This 2.5-hour experience is fun for kids and adults alike, and you’ll feel like you’ve traveled back in time. www.sacramentorivertrain.com

You don’t need to go far to find an amazing adventure!

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