Although Alaska’s the focus of current gold mining reality television shows, California's got a rich and well-known Gold Rush history. Summer’s the perfect time to pack up the kids and have an authentic --almost--gold mining experience.
We decided to spend a few days in the California gold country to experience our own version of Gold Fever, California style. We made the easy two hours (plus) drive to Jamestown, California, which was a hotbed of gold mining activity back in the day, and our accommodations at the National Hotel. Established in 1859, the hotel’s got modern conveniences now, but still retains much of its Gold Rush charm.
The small rooms, patterned wallpaper and carpet, dim lighting, narrow hallways and period antiques set the mood for imagining the mid-1800s when the hotel was new, and the California Gold Rush was full-on and dusty Main Street was full of 49ers.
Posted next to the light switch inside the door of our room was a sign:
This room is equipped with Edison Electric light. Do not attempt to light with match. Simply turn key on the wall by the door. The use of Electricity for lighting is in no way harmful to health, nor does it affect the soundness of sleep.
In a day when we can turn lights on and off remotely with our phones, it's hard to reach back to the time when Edison's genius invention was something so foreign that instructions were required.
There was hardly any square footage to spare in our small, air-conditioned room. The double bed was half the size of our huge king at home, but it dominated the space.
The tiny wardrobe in our room made us wonder--how did travelers fit their clothing, especially since clothes back then were so much more elaborate than ours? And how did they manage wearing all those clothes in the heat-- without air conditioning? Windows open, men drinking, gunshots: how did they get any sleep?
A narrow mirror in the corner of our room was impossible to use. How about a woman, trying to view her full skirts in that sliver of glass?
Although today the National Hotel has en suite bathrooms, back in those days bathrooms were down the hall. At the National Hotel, a claw foot tub sits in the "soaking room,", which today, guests can use by appointment.
We sat on barstools in the saloon with our draft beers and imagined how many whiskies were ordered at that polished wood bar by scraggly-faced miners wearing dusty clothes.
On a weekday, the couple of blocks that is Jamestown is quiet. Not exactly a ghost town, but only a handful of people browsed the few antique stores or enjoyed a meal at one of the saloons.
While in Jamestown, we found Gold Prospecting and Panning Adventures, and spent three sunny hours in any icy stream (wearing waders provided for us) learning to pan for gold with a professional prospector. Meant to be a fun outing mostly for kids (we were two adults) pans are seeded with a few flecks of gold to get the fever going, and then we were taught to pan, sluice and collect the flecks we found. We enjoyed every minute, as did the young boy whose parents had brought him along.
That afternoon we drove over to Murphy’s, a more booming and upscale little town, for cocktails and lunch. But the real mood of the Gold Rush era can be found in tiny Jamestown, where it’s easy to imagine what life was like in the second half of the 19th century.Especially at the National Hotel, whose ghost story kids will love. A great summer vacation outing and close enough for just an overnight.
Advice: Find one or two kids’ books on the California Gold Rush so your children can prepare in advance. Then, drag your kids away from their electronic games, pack them up and take them on an historical adventure they won’t soon forget.
Carol A. Cassara blogs daily at www.middle-aged-diva.blogspot.com