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Road Trip, Lodi and Gold Country

Original Article and Photographs by Kenneth A. Larson © 2004 - 2017
Written December 2004

Six months earlier, my wife had been disappointed that her parents had moved from Morgan Hill to Lodi just a few weeks before our long planned visit to the Morgan Hill Mushroom Mardi Gras in May of 2004. Further, a few months earlier, we had to cancel our first trip to Lodi for Labor Day weekend. As you might guess, my wife was very excited as we finally loaded the car and left for Lodi at 6:30 am on Thanksgiving Day, 2004. We divided the slightly less than six hour trip into four 1 1/2 hour shifts and Joy took the first shift, diving to Baker's Field.
Although it had been raining recently, the Grape Vine pass was clear and we entered the great Central Valley of California. We could take I-5 or State Highway 99 to Lodi. The year before, we had taken I-5 to Morgan Hill on Christmas Day, but this year I chose State Highway 99. Highway 99 was the main route to the Bay area before I-5 opened a few dozen years ago. I-5 takes the traveler through mostly empty farm land on the west side of the valley and we found Highway 99, which runs up the center of the valley, more interesting with towns, grain elevators, farm equipment rentals, and other constructions to keep my designer mind occupied. The trip was uneventful and because it was the holiday, none of the stops we planned for our return trip were open. We changed drivers for the first time in what turned out to be Buck Owens Productions parking lot in Bakersfield. No reason for this, it was just a convenient place to turn around.
We drove through Pixley (familiar to Green Acres fans) and the Swedish town of Kingsburg where we hope someday to attend their annual festival. In Fresno, we stopped briefly for gas, to change drivers back to the starting position, and to check out one of our two planned stops for our return trip, Forestiere Underground Garden. Joy took over driving and drove on to a rest stop just over the border into Stanislaus County. I photographed a farm that had recently been cleared with piles of brush distributed about. A sign on the fence said they had been almond trees. I drove the last leg of the trip to Joy's parents' home in Lodi.
We unpacked the car and Joy's parents took us to a Thanksgiving dinner at Hometown Buffet in nearby Stockton, a large agricultural town and the farthest inland seaport on the west coast. Joy's father and brother took us on a driving and walking tour of old town Lodi. A new modern arch marks the southern end of the old center of town along School Avenue north of Lodi Street. This arch is a companion to the old mission revival arch over Pine Street near the railroad depot. This part of Lodi is a mix of old and new and was unusually quiet because of the holiday. When we returned the next night, there was much more activity. We stopped to see the first A & W store and the current A & W restaurant built in 1953. We returned to Joy's parents' home and a much needed rest.
Friday we began early with our tradition of visiting stores for the day-after-Thanksgiving sales. Joy's father took us to Omelet House for breakfast and then we were off to the gold country.
We took Highway 12 to the town of San Andreas (no relation to the famous earthquake fault - which isn't my fault either) and then south on Highway 49 to the gold mining town of Angels Camp. Our first stop was Angels Camp Museum and Carriage House which opened in 1951. We made the mistake of going straight to the wonderful pieces of old mining equipment arranged about the property, then being told we should start at the front building and pay our modest fee. The Carriage House was filled with old wagons, coaches, carriages, and other artifacts from the early mining days. The outdoor displays include an overshot water wheel in its original location, two steam engines, and a hydraulic mining monitor.
We then moved on to the center of town and a visit to the Angels Camp Visitor Center. We gathered enough information on the area for the next ten trips and began the walking tour of the historic center of town. Angels Camp began about 1848, suffered its first serious fire in 1855, and was rebuilt of stone and iron and many of the replacement buildings survive today. The last gold mine closed in 1942 by which time, Angels Camp had found new reasons for being. Angels Camp has its own "Walk of Fame" just like Hollywood, only this "Walk of Fame" is to the Celebrated Jumping Frogs of Calaveras County. One plaque for each year listing the name of each winning frog, the distance jumped, and the name and home of the trainer. Just for fun, we found the plaques for the winning frogs for the years that Joy and I were born. The main street is lined with these 150 year old buildings which are now home to shops and restaurants. The marquee on the Angels Theater still shines at night. Only after we had left did I realize how much I missed and we planned to return.
We hoped to visit Calaveras Big Trees State Park and Mercer Caverns and I decided to visit the trees first since the weather and lighting never changes in a cave and I was afraid it would be too late for the trees if we did the cavern first. We were disappointed that the only open trail at the trees was longer than we expected and we never made it to the caverns. Joy had never seen a cavern or a big tree, so she still found these giant Sequoia trees fascinating. If you have never seen a giant Sequoia tree in it's natural environment, I can't describe it, you must see it for yourself. I can't capture the size and majesty of these magnificent trees even with my widest camera lens. You must see these trees with your own eyes. The North Grove Trail is about 1 1/2 miles long and winds through a thick redwood forest. It's easy to understand how people can get lost in a forest like this as the parking lot soon disappeared behind us. But not to fear, the trail is well marked with numbered trail markers at every significant point. A 50 cent printed guide explains the point of interest and each marker. There are no rest room facilities along the trail and Joy ran through the last half, so be prepared.
As I drove back to Murphys, I almost thought I made a wrong turn and went four thousand miles out of my way when I saw a lama grazing on the side of a hill. Had we been about 15 minutes earlier, we could have still seen the Mercer Cavern, but we missed the last tour at 4:30 pm. Just as well because a few minutes later, Joy's parents called to say they were ready for dinner. It was an hour and fifteen minutes back to Lodi on a dark winding Highway 12 and I drove back as quickly as I felt safe. Joy's parents had planned to take us to a restaurant they had been wanting to see, but there was a private party so instead, we went to another restaurant they had been wanting to see, Movie City Grill. I've been working in the motion picture industry for over 25 years and sometimes become jaded, but it was interesting to look at the motion picture memorabilia and vignettes. After dinner, Joy's family went home and Joy and I took a few side trips to see Lodi at night.
Saturday morning, we awoke to the sound of rain. We loaded the car and left about 9:00 am. It felt so much like the drive we took to Morgan Hills last Christmas Day, when we had rain almost all the way. I started driving and we reached Fresno by 11:15. About a half hour north of Fresno, there are two trees that look out of place along the center divider. Nowhere else are two trees located at the center of the highway. A conifer tree is a few feet north of a palm tree. I am told that this is a symbolic division between Northern and Southern California. We parked by the entrance to the Forestiere Underground Garden and waited in the rain for it to open. At noon, the caretaker and guide, a decendent of the original builder, Baldasare Forestiere, addressed the gathered visitors standing outside the gate in the rain. He said that normally he would cancel the tour today but didn't want to disappoint us. Because of the rain and winter season renovations, he would give us a half tour at no charge. Upon leaving, I don't think anyone was disappointed. Baldasare Forestiere came to the United States in 1901 and began working as a tunnel builder in the east. He settled in Fresno in 1908 and bought 70 acres of what he thought was farmland. It turned out that there was only a few inches of topsoil over hardpan. He couldn't farm the land, but began nearly 40 years of building a subterranean home to avoid the valley heat. Ironically, the soil beneath the hardpan was fertile and Baldasare was able to plant fruit trees in underground rooms with the trees growing up through openings in the hardpan ceiling. A labyrinth of underground rooms and passages extend out from the entrance. Two large spaces were built to use as a restaurant. We all left, thanking the guide, and promising to return.
It had stopped raining and Joy took her turn at driving the two hours to our second and final stop, Colonel Allensworth State Historic Park in Tulare County. It was cold and windy at this large open site. The two dozen or so historic buildings are scattered about the many acres with nothing to stop the wind. It's not always this way, we had been dodging a storm all day. We drove from building to building for about an hour taking photographs and reading the signs. Everything was locked, there were no other cars, and the only person we saw was an old man sitting on a picnic table with his feet on the bench and his head down in this cold wind. A few minutes later, he was gone and since there was no where to go in this large open site without us seeing him walking away, we were convinced we had seen a ghost. My wife said she saw him fade away. Now I am sorry I intentionally excluded him for my photos.
I took over driving again, making a few quick stops to photograph some old agricultural buildings. It rained off and on the rest of the way home, a drive that took and hour and a half longer than expected because of high traffic. We arrived home about 8:00 pm to a house full of hungry cats. Joy is looking forward to visiting her parents again and I am looking forward to revisiting all the places we rushed through or missed altogether.

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This page last updated: Friday, 28-Apr-2017 12:54:15 EDT

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