First it was gold that got everyone’s attention. Then Mark Twain wrote the “Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County” and all bets were off. Gold Country made its mark on the map and California history. And though the days of striking it rich are over, there’s a mother lode of reasons to plan a weekend escape of your own.
Calaveras County is located in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada Mountains, about a three hour drive from San Francisco. Not long after crossing the county line on State Highway 4, you’ll hit Copperopolis. Mines in the town provided much of the copper used to make bullets in the Civil War. What you’ll find today is new construction built to look old.
Gold miners might still feel at home 15 minutes down the road in Angels Camp. This historic Gold Rush town was established in 1848 when shopkeeper Henry Angel opened a trading post. Even with cars rolling up and down Main Street, Angels Camp still retains old-time charm. Life moves a little slower. Businesses close early and stay closed on Sundays and even sometimes Mondays. And oh yeah, they still love frogs.
The third weekend in May, Angels Camp hosts the Calaveras County Fair and Jumping Frog Jubilee. But you don’t have to go to the fair to know being green in this town has its advantages. There are frogs on street signs, frog statues and the not-to-be missed Frog Hop of Fame. In Hollywood, celebrities get a star on the Walk of Fame. In Angels Camp champion frog jumpers get their names and achievements embedded in the city’s sidewalk and history.
Along with chocolate frogs, antique stores and gift shops, Main Street also has a classic 1920s movie theatre that adds to the old town ambience. Grab lunch or dinner at Sidewinders, which serves great Tex-Mex food along with fabulous beer battered fries.
For a heart stopping experience, head east on Highway 4 to neighboring Vallecito. Moaning Cavern Park is paradise for the adventure seeking type. At 165 feet, the cavern is large enough to hold the Statue of Liberty, and after watching a safety video and being harnessed with a multitude of straps and metal clips you can drop like a spider from a web into the cavern below. The drop starts off plenty wide to get your footing, before you have to feel your way through a dark, narrow worm hole. When you see the light of day – cavern actually – you’ll be dangling, twisting in space 100 plus feet above the cavern floor. In my case, terror quickly gave way to the awe of a view like none I’ve ever seen before.
Would I do it again? Absolutely. There is a walking cave tour, that requires climbing down and back up 234 stairs, but the views don’t compare.
If you’d prefer to stay above ground, you can race on twin zip lines a quarter mile long. Try Super Style and learn what it feels like to fly.
When exhaustion sets in, call it a night in the Caddy Shack at Greenhorn Creek. The five-bedroom, two-bath cottage has a small yard with a BBQ and horseshoe pit. Just off hole #9, you can sleep in and still tee off ahead of the crowd.
Dana can be found on twitter @drebmann
Dana and her family were hosted by Greenhorn Creek and Moaning Cavern Park, but as always Dana's thoughts and opinions are her own.