After a relatively quick start to our year-long RV trip, we’ve slowed the pace over the past ten days. First, we stayed four nights in Cloverdale, outside wine country. Next, we drove east to Amador Country, Kim’s “homeland”, where we spent nearly a week hanging out with friends, exploring the Sierra Nevada foothills, and making some small tweaks to Bigfoot. (Thankfully, as our pace has slowed, our spending has slowed.)
Kim grew up in Amador County, California. When she talks about the region, few people know where it’s located, yet it’s an integral part of U.S. history. The small towns in this area just east of Sacramento played a major role in California’s gold rush during the 1850s (and beyond). Today, these towns — Plymouth, Sutter Creek, Jackson, Pioneer, and so on — are connected by California highway 49 (after the “49ers”, get it?), which also winds north to El Dorado County (and Placerville) and south to Calaveras County (home of Mark Twain’s celebrated jumping frogs).
You don’t need a map to know you’ve reached Amador County. As you drive east from Sacramento, the rural farmland is flat and fertile. But as you enter Amador county, two things happen:
- First, the plains give way to rolling hills. As you head east into the Sierra Nevadas, these hills become much more pronounced.
- Second, the wide open space plains give way to a wall of oaks. The further you climb into the foothills, the denser the stands of oak trees become. Eventually, they give way to pine forests and higher-elevation trees and plants.
Although Amador County is small, it has a distinct character. The towns are tiny and close together, which means the character of the county as a whole tends to be more important than the character of any one individual city. (That said, each city does have an individual identity.) Living in such an insular region has plenty of upside, but it’s not without its drawbacks. (For instance, everyone knows everything about you.)
I think Amador County is beautiful. I love the rolling hills and the forests of pines and oaks. When Kim comes back, she gets that comfortable feeling of being home. The hills create pockets of isolation that provide a sense of privacy and protection. It feels like the land is embracing you.
We spent a lot of time with Kim’s friends Susan and Connie (and their respective partners). We barbecued and drank wine and laughed and played games. We also explored the county.
On Saturday, we drove up Highway 88 into the Sierra Nevadas to admire the scenery (and to marvel at the complete lack of snow, even at 9000 feet! — the Sierra Nevadas have only six percent of their normal snowpack this year). We passed Silver Lake and Blue Lake and Red Lake. We stopped briefly at Caples Lake. We drove almost to Lake Tahoe before stopping for a picnic lunch in Hope Valley.
Connie and Kim and Susie, high in the Sierra Nevadas
On our way home, we stopped at Ham’s Station for a local ritual: kamikazes on the mountain. (Ham’s Station is the sort of place that locals love because of its history and character, but which is not meant for tourists. If you stop here as a passer-by, you’ll be sorely disappointed. But when you’re with people who understand its lure and lore, it’s a hell of a lot of fun.)
Kim chats with Tommy, who owns and runs Ham’s Station
Sunday morning, Kim and I played tourists in her hometown. She drove me north to Plymouth, and then south along Highway 49 until we reached Jackson. There, we visited the Kennedy Mine, where we admired the massive structures that still stand from the era of gold-mining.
Part of what remains of the Kennedy Mine
While in Amador County, we also performed a lot of errands. We took the RV in to diagnose some strange sounds emanating from the left front wheel. (Diagnosis: A loose wheel weight, which was easily fixed, and some minor corrosion on the brakes, which is nothing to worry about.) We stocked up on pork chops and chicken breasts at Swingle Meat Company (“the carnivore’s toy store”). Kim visited with old friends and co-workers. I took a bike ride toward Rancho Seco, where I quickly learned that California drivers aren’t as bike-friendly as Oregon drivers. (I should probably purchase a bike helmet!)
After six days and five nights of fun, it was time to move on. We waved good-bye on a rainy Tuesday morning, and then made the two-hour drive to Groveland. We’ll stay here with Kim’s brother for several days while we explore Yosemite National Park and visit with family.