Thursday, April 18, 2013

A Small Flake of Gold Country.

Just a small dose of two wheel therapy I took after work one day. A quick run to Coloma in the Sierra Foothills, to the Marshall Gold Discovery Site, where a man named ... James W. Marshall discovered flakes of shiny gold at the Saw Mill he was building on the South Fork of the American River in 1848.

This discovery ushered one of the most colossal migration of people in the Western Hemisphere known to historians. A promise of wealth and fortune which flared the dramatic and explosive growth and development of the American West in the following decades.

For me today, it was a brisk run on Salmon Falls Road - no traffic on a late week day afternoon. There used to be a time many years ago, when I loved Salmon Falls as a great motorcycling road right outside my doorstep. Over the years there have been quite a few McMansions springing up on Salmon Falls, with blind driveways and gravel driveways, which introduce risk from hidden vehicles entering the roadway or vehicles dragging gravel on to the road. So, while it still is a good curvy road, it is no longer a great motorcycling road, but rather just an OK road to get to the great motorcycling roads in the Sierra Foothills.   

As I passed the Salmon Falls Bridge, I spied Lupine covering the hillsides on either side of the bridge. The early warm weather and snow melt has this fork of the American River flowing pretty good already. The water level is rising fast. When I approached the water after taking the shot below, I found rows of Lupine submerged by the rising water line. It was a very pretty sight, more so than my shoddy picture could capture.

California Poppies were in attendance as well, but none near the water, they were growing up higher on the hillsides, with the Lupine in the meadows below. Again, apologize for the shoddy camerawork. I couldn't capture this scene as it deserved to.

I didn't meander too much on my way to Coloma. The park closes at 5 as most state operated entities do and I didn't want to linger around too much past the closing time. The approaching dusk also hastened my steps. This was going to be quick foray into this State Park. Like the title suggests, a touch and a sliver of Gold Country, but in no shape or form a comprehensive exploration. 

At the park you can see the replica of John Sutter's Saw Mill which James Marshall was building for John Sutter when he discovered gold. The original Saw Mill is no longer standing, but has been replaced by a replica based on James Marshall's own drawings.  You can spend some time standing here and mull that this is THE very spot which triggered California's Gold Rush over 150 years ago! Don't ya just love history!! :)
Sutter's Saw Mill Replica
Sutter's Saw Mill Replica

You stand here on this historic ground and you imagine the days of old, workers toiling away at the Mill, at the riverside panning for gold, and at the mines from sun up to sun down. Trying to make a living, trying to make a fortune, trying to make a better life for themselves, and then as night falls, head to the saloon after a long day of work, to wash the toil and burden of the day away with spirits and to ebb the aches and pains of a hard days work with the same.

I bet you found this place was full of 'Gold Diggers'. Not everything has changed over the years in California... :P

Then you returned home to your log cabin, probably not much bigger than most rooms we have in our houses these days. 

Mormon Cabin

You looked through the window and maybe you would see the reflection of where you parked your bike wagon and check if your wife/wives were pissed at you for coming home drunk and late. (Which, probably didn't happen. I don't think Mormons drink alcohol, or aren't supposed to.)

Mormon Cabin

So, you come home to a nice and hot meal, and you spend the rest of the evening reading out aloud to your kids from the Book of Mormon, which remains very popular to this day (esp. in San Francisco!). :P

Mormon Cabin
If you haven't been offended by mild politically incorrect humor, then please read on.. ;)

The Chinese weren't far behind in this rush for quick wealth. In 1848 there were only 2 (some say 7) Chinese in California, in 1850 there were 500, and by 1855 there were 20,000! 
Again, not everything has changed over the years. Not unlike modern times, in the 1800s - the gold prospectors were also buying their goods from the Chinese, at these stores like the one you see below. 

Chinese Stores
You can also find some examples of the old mining equipment used by the gold miners to crush, process and filter the sluice and gravel to extract gold. Makes one wonder what their safety record used to be to venture a guess?

You can see the well preserved structures of the Chinese stores in the background of these images of old mining equipment at the park. There is an old gun store in this park as well, but given my lack of time - I couldn't explore it fully to be able to find it. Unfortunately, even in 1856 at the end of the gold rush, they wouldn't have been able to sell me the Winchester Model 92 lever action I have been looking for. No, not because of background checks, but because it wouldn't have been made till 1892.

You can also see some remnants of hydraulic mining equipment. In the latter years of the Gold Rush, when most of the easily accessible gold deposits had already been exploited. Large water canons were used to literally wash away hills and mountains to then be sifted through for gold. Hydraulic mining was eventually outlawed in 1884.

It certainly wasn't a very colorful life. Stark and spartan, unless you were one of the very few and lucky early birds who struck it big. 
Retracing my steps back home, I couldn't help but admire the vibrant hillsides as they look right now, still early in Spring. Over the next few weeks as summer approaches and the heat rises - these hillsides will themselves be turning to gold. 
Every once in a while you would see a hillside covered with large rocks and it makes me wonder if those are volcanic outcroppings or what remains after hydraulic mining.

Lots of cow and horse pastures and ranches in this area. I found this one with a nice looking barn. I didn't ride any distance at all onto this road, because it is a private road. 

Waited quite a while, and even made encouraging noises for this horse to turn around - to no avail...where did I put that carrot again?

Oh well, if the horsey won't come to Sammy, then Sammy will go to the Horsey..

Back on Salmon Falls on my way home, I had just waded into the brush for some fire suppression (just kidding!), when I saw this guy come galloping through. Unfortunately, it has been some time since I last saw this guy, and some vandals have poached this poor fellow's horn! :(

Thanks much for reading! :)


John Sutter tried to keep the discovery of gold a secret and bought the land around the discovery site from the local Indians. He tried to register it with the new American authorities, but since Indians weren't recognized to have property rights, his purchase was deemed invalid. Instead, the authorities claimed the lands as federal property. Soon news leaked out that there was gold in the hills and thousands of people descended upon the area. Sutter's farms were ruined, and his mill couldn't cope with the competition. 

The rest of his life - Marshall was not able to find any more gold himself, and was cast out of towns when he claimed that all the gold was his, because he was the one who found it first. In 1885, Marshall died penniless (just like Sutter) a gold flake's distance from the mill. 

So much for getting rich quick...

Resources: (No affliation with the websites below, listed for reference only).


  1. As always Sam, Very nice work!

  2. Hi Barry! How have you been?

    Thanks for your kind words! :D

  3. Great stuff Sam -- we expect no less :-))

  4. Thank you Roger! I haven't seen you and Deb in a long time! Looking forward to seeing you in May, if not earlier! :)

  5. Enjoyed the read and the pics...really liked the historical perspective...good stuff


  6. Thanks Willie! I see that you are still toying around with the Mini. Has your riding season started yet on the top right coast? :)

  7. Nice write up! - there is truly something to be said for "a fool and his money..."


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