The TR is overdue for my Thanksgiving week Yosemite and Mother Lode getaway, which covered several places in the western foothills. I'll start it on the Sonora forum and maybe later put it on the Yosemite and Columbia forums since it also covers those places. The trip had been planned a week or two ahead, even as time got closer and I heard forecasts of rain and snow for a good part of my time frame and itinerary.
In fact, I had been in Columbia earlier in November during Veterans' Day week, and we had heavy rain in town on two days on end, with snow along Hwy 108 from just above Twain Harte and enough to crunch around in at Pinecrest. That was just a quick escape and I never did a TR, so I'll roll these two trips into one. It'll be in installments.
For the Veterans' Day week trip, I left about 5:00 p.m. from an earlier commitment in Oakland. As usual, traffic stunk on 580, 205, and 120 to Manteca (a lyrical way of saying "lard"), but I got through Oakdale and Sonora in good time. I did not have a reservation, but figured that on a November night I could find a vacancy at the Columbia Inn Motel where I've been staying for years, for better or worse, because it is just a few steps from the historic Gold Rush town.
It was past dusk when I arrived, but the office was staffed (not always the case in the past) by Rob, the owner who had taken over since my last visit. I told him I'd been staying for years through several management changes, including some who let the place go and the last owners who made some improvements before selling to Rob last year. He has been remodeling rooms, sprucing up the grounds, and opened a mining apparatus shop in a store room and space once occupied by a couch littered with shed hairs from the prior owners’ dog.
As always, I spent some time enjoying Columbia's historic setting, shops, and living history. Because of the rain, the stagecoach was not running. Several shops have closed including the fancy dry goods, haberdasher, and seemingly the Pioneer Emporium which sold nice kitchen and other household items. Hopefully new tenants will be found soon. The St. Charles Saloon is now Bixel's but was closed, as was the grocery in the historic building across from it. One night I had dinner (garlic shrimp with the customary Mexican dinner fixings) at El Jardin just outside the historic town, one of a small local chain. They serve both corn and flour tortilla chips, not just the usual corn, and a pickled cabbage relish with the salsa. I like El Jardin, but wish Columbia had more dinner or late lunch options. The void left from the closing of Lickskillet Café, the 2013 torching of the Columbia House by an emotionally disturbed local, and the City Hotel's paring down to a lunch and bar snack menu, still needs filling.
It was on this visit that I learned of the plan for a Dollar General store about ¼ mile from the historic town, which would impact Columbia's rural 19th century ambience along with adding more traffic and possibly safety problems at the nearby school. That is the subject of my "Columbia's quiet 19th century atmosphere" thread on the Columbia forum.
In church on Sunday in east Sonora, where I'd been before, one of the locals told me about Natural Bridges on the way to Angels Camp near the Melones Reservoir bridge. She described an open-ended cave that usually contains water, often enough to require swimming. On Monday while deciding what to do, I vetoed the cave because of the weather. We'd had heavy rain in Columbia, so I drove up 108 to see if there was snow. Patches started appearing around 5000 feet, just above Twain Harte. At Long Barn and Pinecrest (a few miles west of the road closure), I found up to 3-4 inches on the ground in undisturbed spots. There was little activity, and since Dodge Ridge ski resort does not make snow, it would be awhile before it could open. But with Thanksgiving coming, I could foresee the area getting busy if it stayed cold and another storm or two blew in.
Afterward, I went to the charming Sonora main drag. There are a few chain stores, but most are local and many sell antiques or items of regional interest. Where I had lamented the closing of Sonora Music & Creative Learning last year is an indie store selling a little of everything – clothing, toiletries, books, home décor, and more. I was glad to see that a local business was able to move into this big space. Mountain Home sells clothing, books, household and travel accessories, most with Yosemite and Gold Country themes. Within the walls of a former Gold Rush era basement, next to Mi Pueblo Restaurant is an underground park. Steps lead down from street level and Sonora Creek runs next to it. In San Francisco, such a place would become a public safety and health problem, but towns like Sonora CAN have nice things, and this park is a pleasant sitting area.
A drenching rain began during my shopping excursion, making me glad I'd chosen to hang out in town and not tackle the water-filled cave. It reminded me of another recent trip to Sonora when it had also rained heavily but I had popped into the local shoe store and found what is now one of my favorite pairs of shoes. With my wallet slightly thinner, I headed back to Columbia for the night. Before turning in, I went for a walk in the historic section and saw the Fallon Theatre's marquee for a Gold Rush themed production of Dickens' classic "A Christmas Carol," which would open in a few days. So I decided then to return to see it in a couple of weeks.
(to be continued)