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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.

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This page last updated: Saturday, 06-Jul-2013 19:23:25 EDT

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