There’s fool’s gold, gold dust and nuggets, and high wattage gold when fall amps up the colors in the aptly named Golden State come October and November. So forget leaf peeping along the Eastern Seaboard or in the Midwest and head along the California Gold Rush Trail in the state’s Gold Country. It’s an experience of small towns that boomed during the Gold Rush era when those hoping to strike it rich descended upon the stunning Sierra Nevada Mountains.
In California’s Gold Country, Historic Hwy 49 offers an array of colorful foliage – dogwood, aspen and maple light up the Mother Lode with orange, red and yellow. In Coloma, the Marshall Gold Discovery State Historic Park affords spectacular view along the American River as well as many stands of colorful trees.
Stop at one of the Apple Hill Grower farms and pick your own pumpkins, sample mouth-watering baked goods and Sierra Foothill wines. Continuing south, colorful stands of dogwood trees complement the Giant Sequoias at Big Trees State Park.
Traveling north on Highway 49, the charming town of Mariposa is the southernmost destination in the Gold Rush chain of towns. Historic and lively, Mariposa was founded in 1850 and boasts a plethora of shops, restaurants and venues such as Mariposa Museum and History Center named one of the best small museums in America by the Smithsonian Institute and the California State Mining and Mineral Museum.
Locals call Coulterville “the town that was too tough to die.” Once a major mining and supply town, Coulterville was named after George and Margaret Coulter who arrived in 1849 and began selling supplies after learning that miners had to travel some 30 hard miles to buy what they needed. Two years later gold was discovered. Boom is the operative word as to what happened next. The town prospered. For an interesting tidbit of local history, travel through the downtown off of Highway 49 and turn left on Kow Street to the intersection of Chinatown Main Street–yes, that’s really the name of the street. Located on the corner is what was the Sun Sun Wo Co. It’s an old adobe building, one of a handful left in California (for more, click here).
Built in 1851, it was first owned and operated by Mow Da Sun and his son, Sun Kow and run by Chinese until 1926. Said to have an opium den in the back, it was so successful as a general store that a second store ten miles away in Red Cloud. And if you’re wondering how the Chinese were treated, we can report that according to Sierra Nevada Tourism, a site developed in conjunction with National Geographic, the town’s hanging tree is where an outlaw named Leon Ruiz met his fate in 1856 after robbing and murdering two Chinese miners of $600 in gold, showing not only the money to be made in a Gold Rush town but also that the killing of Chinese did not go unpunished.
The intriguingly named Chinese Camp, once a busy mining camp with thousands of inhabitants, the town is now for all intents and purposes a ghost town. Tucked away in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada Mountains, its buildings are a feature in movies and television shows about the Old West.
Travel on to Sonora, another Gold Rush town. Settled by miners from Sonora, Mexico in 1848, Sonora, known as the “Queen of the Southern Mines” offers a vast historical perspective with thriving businesses and a bustling downtown housed in historic buildings dating back to the mid-1800s. Check out such beauties as St. James Episcopal Church, built in 1860 and the oldest Episcopal church in the state.
Finish your drive to Yosemite National Park up Highway 120 when the valley floor is its most colorful.
Boysenberry Pie at The Ahwahnee in Yosemite
On the menu at the venerable Ahwahnee Inn for more than a quarter of a century, their Boysenberry Pie is a must try dessert. Served in the Ahwahnee Dining Room, with its 34-foot-high beamed ceiling, floor-to-ceiling mullioned windows, granite columns, Gothic-style chandeliers, an dexposed stonework, is a resplendent place to enjoy such a treat. The dining room, designed by famed architect Gilbert Stanley Underwood in a mélange of Art Deco and Arts and Crafts architectural styles and flourishes of Native American and Middle Eastern elements to attract high-end visitors, opened in 1927. Located on the first floor of The Ahwahnee Hotel, in itself a masterpiece of an opulent and gracious past, in eastern Yosemite Valley, the entire building was made using 5,000 tons of stone, 1,000 tons of steel, and 30,000 feet of lumber.
The Ahwahnee Inn Boysenberry Pie
Makes: One 10” pie
- 1 ½ pounds fresh or frozen boysenberries
- ¾ cup sugar
- 1 ¼ oz clear instant gelatin
- Pinch of salt
In a saucepan on a low heat add frozen boysenberries and slowly cook for 5 minutes. In a bowl combine sugar, gelatin and salt and mix. Add sugar mixture to sauce pan. Cook for another 5 minutes. Stir often to avoid burning. Set aside and let cool.
- 9 ounces all-purpose flour
- Pinch of salt
- 1 ½ teaspoon sugar
- 4 ½ ounces soft butter
- 1 ½ ounces very cold water
In a food processor add flour, salt, sugar and softened butter. Turn on and mix ingredients until they are evenly distributed. Then add water all at once. Turn off food processor as soon as the dough binds and comes away from the sides of the bowl.
Divide dough into halves and roll each into a ball. Refrigerate for one hour. Roll out on doughball into a circle large enough to fit a 10-inch pie pan. Preheat oven to 350’F and bake pie shell for 5 minutes.
Roll second dough ball into a large circle and cover with a towel. Place filling in shell and cover with remaining pie dough. Use an egg wash to seal the pie rim. Cut four slits in the top of the pie and brush remaining egg wash across the top.
Place in the 350° F and bake until golden brown, about 15 to 20 min. Let cool before serving.
The Ahwahnee Bar
- 1/2 shot tequila (we prefer Sauza Gold)
- 1/2 shot Creme de Cocoa Brown (we prefer DeKuyper)
- 2 tablespoons Firefall Hot Chocolate Mix, see recipe below
- 2 cups Nestle Hot Chocolate Powder
- 1 tablespoon pasilla chili powder
- 1 tablespoon cinnamon
Pour tequila and Creme de Cocoa Brown into an Irish coffee mug.
Add the Firefall Hot Chocolate Mix. Add boiling water and stir well. Top with whipped crème.
Sprinkle whipped cream with pasilla chili and cinnamon.
Double Chocolate Bread Pudding from The Ahwahnee Dining Room
- 1 quart heavy whipping cream
- 2 pieces vanilla beans pod (split and scraped)
- 8 ounces granulated sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 7 pieces egg yolk
- 2 pieces large croissants (baked and sliced crosswise)
- 2 ounces milk chocolate chips
- 2 ounces dark chocolate chips
.In a stainless mixing bowl, incorporate the egg yolk, ground cinnamon, sugar and a cup of heavy whipping cream.
Split and scrape the seed of the vanilla pods. Place pods and beans in a sauce pot and the remaining heavy whipping cream and bring to a boil. Pour the hot cream into the egg mixture and stir.
Arrange half of the croissant slices in a baking dish. Sprinkle half of the milk and dark chocolate chips over the croissants. Pour half of the hot custard mixture over the croissants to soak. Repeat the layers.
Bake at 320° F degrees for 25 – 30 minutes.