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Easter Trip to Calaveras County, Lodi, and Sacramento.
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Calaveras County, Lodi, and Sacramento

Original Article and Photographs by Kenneth A. Larson © 2006 - 2017

Calaveras County, Lodi, and Sacramento
Day One, Good Friday

My wife was missing her parents and we devised this trip to visit her parents for Easter and to see a few other sites along the way. We were both between jobs, so we extended the three day weekend into four and left early in the morning of Good Friday 2005, early, but the usual hour behind schedule. I wanted to see the back roads as much as possible on the way up and back, so we stared from our home in Los Angeles, heading up Interstate 5, through Tejon Pass and the Grapevine and up the west side of the Great Central Valley of California. However, we didn't go too far north on I-5.

We exited at California State Highway 43, north. This road took us through farmland for the next several hours. We stopped in the town of Shafter, but the Shafter Museum is only open the first Saturday of the month and this was Good Friday. Kern County has a rich history and soon, I hope to spend more time exploring this oil and agricultural powerhouse in the southern end of the Central Valley. Shafter Depot
Shafter Depot, now a museum.

We crossed the county line into Tulare County. In 1908, Tulare County was the chosen location for a new, African-American farming community named for its founder Colonel Allen Allensworth. Unfortunately, despite great efforts, the town had a short and troubled history. There were problems with water and after a tragic accident in which Colonel Allensworth was killed by a motorcycle while crossing a street in Monrovia, the community declined. A few residents hang on and several major buildings have been restored or rebuilt into Colonel Allensworth State Historic Park. I planned to return in May for the annual Jubilee. Allensworth
Colonel Allensworth State Historic Park.

Continuing north on Highway 43, we observed many more farms which contribute to making the Central Valley of California a major producer of food to the world - until Silicone Valley needs to grow some more. It was an uneventful and pleasant drive north for several hours and I stopped occasionally to photograph agricultural buildings and deteriorating barns. Shortly before reaching California State Highway 99 at Fresno, I noticed a whimsical Noah's Ark shaped chicken coop. Highway 43 runs almost perfectly north-south while the Central Valley Old Barn
Old Barn in tulare County.
and the two major highways run slightly northwest - southeast, so Highway 43 intersects I-5 at the south and Highway 99 at Fresno. By now my wife was anxious to get to her parents' home so it was freeway the rest of the way. Of course, a traffic accident near Merced reduced our speed to less than it had been when I was stopping to photograph old farm buildings along Highway 43. Highway 99 is lined with grain elevators, agricultural supply, large and small towns, but there is nowhere along the highway to stop and take photographs.

We arrived at my in-laws in Lodi about 6:00 pm. My wife's father drove us around Lodi and showed us the sights. We had visited Lodi twice the year before, but that was at Thanksgiving and Christmas and the weather was a bit dark and cloudy for photos. Today, the skies were clearer and the light brighter as we walked a few blocks in the historic area around the Lodi Depot. The historic section is marqueed by two arches, one older near the depot, and one of modern design to the south. Lodi Depot
Lodi Depot
Historic Arch.
Modern Arch at south end of School St.

Day 2, Saturday

We started out about 8:00 for Calaveras County. We were following up on a visit six months earlier in which we visited Angles Camp and Caleveras Big Trees State Park. This time we were visiting Angels Camp again to see a few historic sites we had missed the previous time and also Mercer Caverns just outside the historic town of Murphys. Last year, we had visited Angels Camp Museum, but it was closed today so we visited the Altaville School, built in 1859. The school house is sometimes referred to as the "Red Brick Grammar School" among other names. We spent some time in Angels Camp and stopped at the Visitor Center and went on to Murphys a few miles beyond. Altaville School
Altaville School

Murphys, founded in 1848 by John and Daniel Murphy, is another small historic tourist Gold Country town, just a stones throw off Highway 4. I photographed several buildings and started looking for the cave. In Murphys, Sheep Ranch Road, the road to Mercer Caverns, looked more like a narrow alley and we almost missed it. This narrow road ran a mile or so out of town, but follow the signs to Mercer Caverns. This entire area is filled with limestone caves, some lined with gold. We chose Mercer Caverns because we had been told at the Visitor Center that it might be better for my wife who was still uncomfortable with caves. She enjoyed the cave and wants see another soon. Guided tours leave every few minutes, taking guests down many flights of stairs, through beautiful underground corridors, past the usual stalagmites, stalagtights, columns, and decorated walls at odd angles. Rickety looking wooden stairs and platforms provided access through the cave.

We passed back through Angels Camp and made a quick stop at the Lightner Mine Ruins, the remains of a stamp mill. Across the street is the Saint Basil of Ostrog Serbian Orthodox Church.

It was early evening when we returned to my in-laws home. My wife's parents had an Easter-Eve event so we were by ourselves that evening.
Lightner Mine Ruins
Lightner Mine Ruins

Day 3, Easter Sunday

We went to an Easter sunrise service in Lodi and returned to my in-laws. It turned out to be a bad weekend to be visiting, so we arranged to spend the last night in a near-by motel. We packed up our things and check into the motel before heading north to Sacramento.

We arrived in Sacramento a bit early and our first stop, the former governors mansion, wasn't open yet. A block away is the California Musical Theatre, formerly Sacramento Light Opera Association (SLOA). I had a small part in designing the new Wells Fargo Pavilion a few years earlier and wanted to see how it turned out. It looked nothing like my computer models. For many years, it was tradition for SLOA
to erect a canvas circus tent each summer for its performances. In the late 1990s, SLOA decided it wanted an all weather permanent tent-like theater and enlisted R. F. McCann Theatre Architects of Pasadena (where I worked for a year) to design this permanent fabric structure which opened in 2003.

We took the first Governor's Mansion tour of the day from a guide with a real sense of humor, I was never sure when he was kidding me or serious. I'm not sure, but I think I bought the place, but I never got a deed. The mansion was built in 1877 as a private home and became the official Governor's residence in 1903. The mansion was occupied by thirteen governors and their families until Mrs. Governor's Mansion
Ronald Reagan declared it a fire trap and moved out. Today in addition to tours, the mansion is still the setting for many official state functions. Built in the style of Second Empire-Italianate, the structure encompasses all the lives who made it home.

We next visited Old Town Sacramento. Parking was tight at Old Sacramento State Historic Park. Most of the spaces were limited to an hour or two, so we had to rush through one venue and move the car before rushing through the next. There are parking structures, but somehow I couldn't find them. Still, it was worth the effort to see the beautiful and historic site. Sacramento is one of the oldest non-Spanish towns in California, coming into its own following the discovery of gold nearby in 1848. Old Town Sacramento covers several blocks along the Sacramento River, including the Steam Boat Delta King. Once one of a pair of stern wheel river boats working the Sacramento River, the Delta King is now a popular floating hotel, restaurant, and entertainment center permanently docked in Old Sacramento while the Delta Queen now makes her home on the Mighty Mississippi River.

The river front is lined with shops and restaurants and we worked our way north. There are three museums at Old Sacramento and we first visited Discovery Museum Gold Rush History Center, part of The Sacramento Museum of History, Science, Space, and Technology. This is a family and children oriented museum dealing primarily with the discovery of gold in the area and the history of Sacramento.

We headed south along the east side of the blocks. As we walked along the board walk, we came to the second museum we would visit today, the Wells Fargo Museum. Wells Fargo Bank got its start operating stage lines throughout the west and the company now operated several museums, always including a stage coach among the exhibits.

Well over a century ago, flooding was a problem in Sacramento and the decision was made to build a one-story high wall on both sides of the streets, fill in between with dirt, and either rase the buildings one floor or make the original second floor the new first. This effectively raised the town about one floor level and left these nice smooth cobblestones along both sides of the street. I hadn't realized that the rubber pad had fallen off the heal of one of my boots. I discovered this when twice, my heal skidded off these smooth cobblestones and I fell flat on my back on the streets of Old Sacramento. I had told my wife to go up ahead and she was blissfully unaware of my plight, waiting for me to catch up.

I moved the car again and we rushed off to the last museum we would visit today, the California State Railroad Museum at the north end of the park. The museum displays almost two dozen pieces of restored rolling stock (cars and locomotives) and numerous smaller exhibits. There is a pit under several locomotives so that the visitor can view these massive machines from below. A reconstruction depot a block way is the California Sate Railroad Museum
departure point for a rail excursion during summer months. The railroads were instrumental in binding the young State of California to the east and it is fitting that such a fine museum dedicated to the railroads should have been built in Old Sacramento.

We always try to cram too much into every trip and there was one last stop in Sacramento we had planned for today. It was late afternoon when we arrived at the California State Capitol building and caught the last tour of the day. Construction began on the capitol building in 1860, ten years after California became the 31st state. In the ten years before construction began, four other cities had temporarily been the capital, and it took fourteen years to construct the final capitol we know today, with more than a few modifications along the way.

We had just stepped outside the capitol building when it started to rain. We had left our umbrellas in the car a few blocks away so we had to skip the 40 acres of gardens and exterior of the building and hurry off to the car as the rain steadily increased. We encounter a lot of rain in this land of perpetual sunshine. It was getting dark and raining all the way back to Lodi. We settled into the motel and began packing for our return trip tomorrow.

Day 4, Monday

We left Lodi early Monday morning heading south on Old Sacramento Road (J3) toward Stockton. I had hoped to re-shoot photos of some collapsing grain silos I had seen a few months earlier and was disappointed to see that they were now gone. Never pass up an opportunity to photograph an old building. We drove through Stockton and continued south on J3 through an hour and a half of beautiful farm land. We stopped to photograph cows and vineyards and farming equipment. We then took California State Highway 33 south driving through many more miles of farm land, small towns such as Westley, Patterson, Newman, and Gustine.

At Santa Nella, we stopped briefly at Pea Soup Andersen's. While once a small chain of four or five Pea Soup Andersen's restaurants, there are only two still operating, the other is in Boulton. It was too early for lunch and we were on a tight schedule, so I bought a few more soup mugs and we continued south on Highway 33.

We continued south through more farm land and more small towns filled with more good people quietly going about their lives. Eventually Highway 33 merged with Interstate 5 for a few miles and we were forced to get off the back roads and onto the supper highway. My wife had a class that evening and she was now concerned that we would get home in time. We had a deal similar to our drive up, that I could stay on the back roads as long as possible as long as I got back on the freeway in time to get her home in time for class. I now estimated that it was time to stay with I-5.

Interstate 5 runs along the west side of the San Joaquin Valley paralleling the California Aqueduct and the mountains to the west. While faster than the back roads, it is less picturesque. There are endless miles of farms, but no opportunity to pull over for a closeup view. Highway 99 was built in slower times and linked many of the towns and cities in the valley. I-5 was designed to move people north and south as quickly as possible and there are few towns along its route. After about two hours, we climbed back up the Grape Vine and soon were back in Los Angles County. We were home in time for my wife's class, with an hour to spare.

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This page last updated: Friday, 28-Apr-2017 12:54:13 EDT

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