A Two-Day Adventure Down Under:
Kid Trekking in the Mother Lode
by Heather Barnes

Diving into kid-friendly attractions is not just an activity reserved for the long summer months. As the onset of school shifts attention from summer activities to carpooling, homework, sack lunches and school meetings, the ever-present need for fun and balance rests on the weekends. Within a couple hours drive south of San Francisco awaits mysteries deep within the earth ready to amaze, delight and educate kids of all ages and parents alike.

The Gold Country is home to some of California’s most historic towns such as Sutter Creek, Jackson, Plymouth, Volcano, Angels Camp and Fiddletown. They dot the mountainous 120-mile region with character, and despite twenty-first century progress, the pioneer past has not been lost on these Mother Lode communities. If you take a deeper look into the Gold Country, you'll discover that its riches continue to lie buried deep underground. From mines, where gold continues to be extracted, to the cavernous depths of underground labyrinths, lakes and crystalline chambers, nature’s gifts overflow in abundance.

A weekend family excursion to the Gold Country is simple to plan with attractions so multi-faceted that it makes it difficult to narrow down an itinerary. Yet, two days is plenty of time to take in an array of caves, mines, and town-hopping which are within comfortable distances of one another


Try this plan out for size -- head first for the small community of Jackson. This charming little town makes for the perfect hub where the entire family can park their luggage and snooze after a long day of Mother Lode adventure.

Once settled into your lodging, look on your map for the sleepy little town of Volcano -- a community rich in gold rush history. Visit the Black Chasm Cave, and take a 50-minute guided tour through beautiful rooms of stalagmites and stalactites. Peer down into an ominous lake within this deep abyss, and gaze upon some of the most captivating cave formations that the Gold Country has to offer. Above ground, kids will get a chance to pan for gold and shop for their favorite gems. Before you leave, take a crack at a geode. Each mysterious rock cavity is filled with crystal formations. They make a perfect and unique souvenir.

If your journey to Gold Country happens to be in the spring, don’t miss Daffodil Hill -- a historical sight to behold. Take Pine Grove – Volcano Road until it turns into Rams Horn Grade. Bring your camera for a family portrait amidst some 300,000 daffodil bulbs and up to 300 varieties.

Sutter Creek
is your lunch stop, but first stop by the Chaw'se Indian Grinding Rock State Park, located in Pine Grove . Here, unique exhibits and artifacts bring Native American history to life. The grounds are scattered with actual "grinding rocks," and a ceremonial roundhouse. The museum offers an educational history lesson for the entire family.

Venture on to Sutter Creek where you can finally enjoy a hardy meal. Once a booming gold rush community, it is now a serene historical landmark perfect for spending a couple hours walking about and getting a feel for mid-nineteenth century gold-mining life. Imagine the main street as dirt rather than cement, and imagine horses sauntering by with tired gold prospectors atop their backs. With many of the original structures still standing, your imagination can take you far. Before you finish your visit in Sutter Creek, be sure to visit the Monteverde General Store Museum – an emporium from 1898 to 1971 Take in the authentic hardware, groceries, candy, pharmaceuticals, clothing, and miner supplies.

It’s getting late in the day, and Jackson’s an easy jaunt back to your home-away from-home. Relax for the evening with your Gold Country map. It’s time to plan your final day of Gold Country exploration. The California Sierra Nevada Foothills are famous for luring many who felt they stood a chance at finding a few nuggets of gold. Towns sprung up in all directions as the hopeful settlers set about their new-found routines of digging and panning. One such mine that relays a rich and colorful history is Sutter Gold Mine. Once there, each visitor will "tag in" just like the minors have done for generations. Then, all "minors" will don their hard hats and hop into the Boss Buggy Shuttle. The one-hour tour takes it’s crew deep into the earth for a gold-mining education and is a perfect way to begin "Day Two" of your Mother Lode adventure


Next on your itinerary, plan a drive down Highway 49 to Angels Camp. It’s a great pit stop for lunch and more historical glimpses into the past. A one-room school house, built in 1859, still stands and welcomes visitors. Mark Twain lived nearby, and today Angel’s Camp is still famous for its annual frog jumping contest. While there, visit the whimsical fountain shop on the main street. The kids will thank you for it.

After lunch, head for Moaning Cavern. Descend down a 100-foot spiral staircase as a guide shares fascinating facts. You will learn that some of the oldest human remains in America have been found in Moaning Cavern, and you will view one gallery that is large enough to hold the Statue of Liberty. Stand at the base of the cave, and allow the guide to shut off the lights. Then, listen. Does the cave really moan? Prepare for a hefty hike back to the top. It’s well worth it.

This wraps up your two-day Gold Country family excursion. Remember to pack your map, guidebook, sweatshirts, jeans and sturdy shoes. Consider adapting your own, unique itinerary or take along this article and highlight your favorite parts. Now, go forth and explore the Mother Lode from the inside out!









Heather Barnes is a freelance travel writer who lives in the hills of the San Francisco Bay Area. She can be reached at beyondmyfence@yahoo.com )

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