The top two themes of this weekend were: 1) the Gold Rush, and 2) discomfort in an unexpected and costumed crowd. As for the first, Richard mentioned a while back that he wanted to go to a ghost town with touristy exhibits. I had just the place in mind, since I had chaperoned a trip to 4th grade outdoor camp ten years back. A little web searching led me to Columbia State Historic Park, near Sonora, CA. The weekend was designated as full tourist mode.
About 12 miles before we arrived at the campground, we got a call from the host. That has never happened before, and our first thought was that the area was on fire and they were calling to tell us to turn around. In fact, they were just being hospitable and welcomed our arrival with a person guiding us into our site with a lantern. Impressive! The RV park was fine, not exactly ‘camping’ like, but we didn’t expect that. It was a short walk to the restored town of Columbia and we spent the better part of Saturday exploring exhibits and walking through Gold Rush themed shops. This place is very much like a Disney version of an old west town, except many of the artifacts are real. There were street musicians and a guy with old timey cameras, happy to explain how they used to make images back then on silver coated copper plates. Overall, it was an interesting contrast to Indian Grinding Rock. There, the focus was on how the indigenous people were decimated by the influx of miners. Here, it was all about the mining culture, with one tiny corner of an exhibit indicating that, oh yeah, there had been some Native Americans there earlier.
After exploring on our own, we sprung for a ride on a horse drawn stage coach. That was very fun! We even got held up by an amusing bandit. Luckily he was friendly and responded to a request (“Hey Bandit!”) from the driver to get the horses untangled before we moved on. I spent a fair amount of time looking for where the 4th grade camp cabins were located until a teacher texted me back to clarify that it had been Coloma, not Columbia, that I had been to. That explained why things looked just a little unfamiliar to me. Oh well, another future trip!
We walked back to Dory and started thinking about dinner. There were not many options in the area, but the local pizza joint, Waterwheel Pizza & Saloon, got a 4.9 rating and that made Richard pretty excited. When we arrived, the parking lot was already beginning to fill up. I noticed that it seemed like a lot of cars for such a small place, but, only place in town, so… Then we noticed that everything was quite decked out for Halloween. Like really decked out. Ok, I guess these guys go all out for this holiday. Then we started to feel a little out of place because EVERYONE, waiters, cooks, customers, were all wearing costumes. Some were intense, like they had put months of effort into making them. We noticed the blacksmith from the historic park was there, in costume. More and more people showed up and the parking lot was now three rows of packed cars with more spilling into a neighboring lot. Wow, we thought. This must be amazing pizza. And geez, these people really REALLY like their Halloween. So we placed our order and were told it would be at least a 45 minute wait. As I was no longer sure I could get my car out of the parking lot, we said fine and tried to find a spot to hang out. The picnic tables out back seemed somewhat out of the thick of things, but that didn’t last. Soon, we were right in the middle of a full on costume fest. At last, two people dressed exactly like us (as in, Richard owns the same National Parks T-shirt) came over and sat at the table. That was a relief not to be alone. We started chatting and learned that, in fact, we were still alone. “Oh. You ARE in costume?” we asked. Yes indeedy. They were dressed as “Flatlanders,” or tourists from the valley who come to their town and leave their trash behind. Fabulous. What could be more awkward? Oh. This is not a coincidental gathering of locals coming to eat pizza? Nope. It turned out we had accidentally crashed a memorial celebration of life honoring a young man who had been known for dressing up. What time is it? How long did you say the pizza would take? Oy. We passed on the raffle tickets going around, and just chatted with the nice Flatlanders while we waited. All around us, we could make out tearful conversations about how much this young man is missed. The second our pizza was ready, we snuck out, barely got Bruce through the parking lot, and rushed back to Dory where we closed curtains, locked the door, and tried not to crash anything else for the evening. By the way, the pizza was really good.
Sunday, we headed over to Railtown State Historic Park, because the Flatlanders seemed to think it was something we should do. They were right, it was very fun. We took a ride on an old rail car and learned about the history of the trains. Mostly, we learned about what movies and TV shows had featured the famed Engine #3. It really was a good recommendation and we should go back and thank them some time and not leave trash.
It was a good weekend, awkwardness and all!
Total miles: 122.9, 16.3 mpg, 3 hours 49 min. The RV park had full hookups and decent wifi and we both had some LTE service.