Newspaper article Evening Chronicle (Newcastle, England)

Striking Gold in Sacramento. California's State Capital Is Such a Rush, and Oscar Season Is about to Put It in the Spotlight. RICHARD MCCOMB Reports

Newspaper article Evening Chronicle (Newcastle, England)

Striking Gold in Sacramento. California's State Capital Is Such a Rush, and Oscar Season Is about to Put It in the Spotlight. RICHARD MCCOMB Reports

Article excerpt

Byline: RICHARD MCCOMB

HAVEN'T even seen the El Dorado hills yet but I've already got the fever - gold fever.

"Get the panning equipment. Get lots of it!" I tell my erstwhile guide, Nick. "There's gold in them thar hills. Our luck's a-changing!" We are heading to the spot that sparked the famous Californian Gold Rush of 1849 and I am determined to get a slice - a nugget, at least - of the action.

Carpenter and mill operator James Marshall's eye was caught by gleaming traces of gold in the American River in 1848, sparking the subsequent invasion of the "Forty-Niners".

This chance discovery changed the face of the West.

If there is one thing guaranteed about panning for gold, Nick tells me, it is this: panning is tedious.

And we will probably find nothing. As it turns out, he is right, and wrong.

The Marshall Gold Discovery State Historic Park is less than an hour's drive from my base in Sacramento, the state capital, nestled in a valley named Collumah ("beautiful") by the Nisenan Indians.

Nearby Placerville, affectionately dubbed "Hangtown" in the early days of the Gold Rush, is the perfect spot to stock up on prospecting kit. Head to Placerville Hardware ("The Oldest Hardware Store West of the Mississippi") for all manner of pans, sluices, dredgers and plain weird-looking stuff.

Richard grapples gold panning At the river, we take off our shoes and socks, roll up our jeans, and wade into the river where Marshall changed the course of American history. Nick gives me a quick Idiot's Guide to Panning - it's 1% skill, 99% luck - and we pan.

And pan. And pan. It's fun for about two minutes, then it's really boring.

We are on the verge of giving up, and doing something far more interesting, like drinking beer and eating, when something catches my eye: the teeny-weeniest flake of gold.

It is worth at least 20 cents, but that's fine. I have officially struck gold where gold was first struck. Priceless.

In fact, this swathe of California, relatively unknown compared with the state's brash tourist traps, has heaps of priceless experiences.

For jaw-dropping natural ones, it is only 100 miles from Sacramento McComb with panning to the cobalt, pure waters of Lake Tahoe, which plunges to 1,645ft at its deepest spot.

The lake's Heavenly Mountain Resort, next to the Nevada stateline, is a popular ski destination in the winter, and doubles as a great place from spring through autumn for walkers and beach-bums, who kick-back lakeside.

The pine-studded mountains are criss-crossed with trails - mountain biking is big, too - and the views across this great expanse of water are magical.

My guide Mike takes me for a short drive up the west side of the lake to Emerald Bay, the most photographed spot around Tahoe.

It is beautiful, but busy, and the tranquillity just off the main tourist trail is stunning. We trek through Cathedral Meadows, bursting with long grasses, wildflowers and trees scorched by lightning, walk alongside Taylor Creek, where kokanee salmon spawn, to the stillness of Fallen Leaf Lake.

This kind of stroll should be on prescription.

Like pretty much everywhere in the greater Sacramento's orbit, there is cracking food including the sushi at Naked Fish, and California-style Mexican at Azul Latin Kitchen. Azul has an epic tequila list but be warned: Heavenly is more than 6,000ft above sea-level and alcohol works very quickly. …

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