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Author Topic: Gold Rush Galore, Comstock Lode and Death Valley  (Read 1802 times)

Max Rockatansky

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Gold Rush Galore, Comstock Lode and Death Valley
« on: February 28, 2016, 03:54:11 PM »

The weather is finally starting to turn and I figure it's time to make one of my many pre-summer journeys to the Sierras and beyond.  Basically I'm going for minimal freeway usage, I would prefer as many old alignments of US 40 as possible heading over the Sierras. This time I have this roughly 1,050 route planned, I have an alternate idea to backtrack west from Auburn if the weather goes bad.  Any thoughts on the route or anything additional that I can see that I don't have listed?

1.  Take CA 99 out of the Bakersfield area through Fresno North exit 162 near Kismet.

2.  Take Road 22, Santa Fe Dr/Ave and Cunningham Road to bypass Madera to CA 140.

3.  Take CA 140 to CA 49 north in Mariposa.

4.  Follow CA 49 to I-80 in Auburn passing through the following California Gold Rush Towns:
-  Bear Valley, Bagby, Coulterville, Chinese Camp, Jamestown, Sonora, Columbia, Tuttletown, Carson Hill, Angel's Camp, Attaville, Fourth Crossing, San Andreas, Mokelumne Hill, Butte City, Jackson, Sutter Creek, Amador City, Drytown, Plymouth, El Dorado, Diamond Springs, Placerville, Coloma (where gold was first found in California) and Pilot Hill.  This involves some older alignments of CA 49 to reach some of the towns I listed.

5.  From I-80 make two stops in Colfax and Dutch Flat before reaching Donner Pass Road.

6.  Take Donner Pass Road over Donner Pass itself (alternate I-80 if the weather turned in the last couple days) to Truckee, CA.
 
7.  Take CA 267 to CA 28 on the shores of Lake Tahoe.

8.  Spend some time relaxing at Lake Tahoe State Park following CA 28 and NV 28 into Nevada and US 50.

9.  Take US 50 to NV 342 up to Virginia City and it's suburbs.

10.  Back track to US 50 and take it to US 95A south.

11.  US 95A to US 95 South near Walker Lake.

12.  US 95 to Goldfield, NV.

13.  US 95 to NV 374 and Rhyolite.

14.  NV 374 to California State Line and Death Valley National Park. 

15.  CA 190 to CA 178.

16.  Follow CA 178 over the low Sierras back to the Bakersfield Area with stops in Silver City and Havilah.
« Last Edit: February 28, 2016, 04:39:23 PM by Max Rockatansky »
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coatimundi

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Re: Gold Rush Galore, Comstock Lode and Death Valley
« Reply #1 on: February 28, 2016, 08:20:18 PM »

1.  Take CA 99 out of the Bakersfield area through Fresno North exit 162 near Kismet.
Jump over to the old road, Golden State Highway, as you're heading north. Right off of it, near Kingsburg, is the Sun Maid Plant where they package all their raisins. They have a visitors center. I tried to go a month or so ago, but went on a weekend, and I guess they're only open on weekends in the summer. There are lots of other places to buy nuts, but most are more expensive than in supermarkets. Golden State Highway itself is interesting because it has a much higher capacity (often 4-lane, divided) than it needs to be since it's a relic before the freeway bypassed it.

2.  Take Road 22, Santa Fe Dr/Ave and Cunningham Road to bypass Madera to CA 140.
I think you mean Merced, but why not just take 41 up from Fresno? The freeway interchanges are pretty impressive in Fresno if you're into that at all. For a city with no interstates, it has a lot of freeway mileage.

3.  Take CA 140 to CA 49 north in Mariposa.
There's a slide on 140 that's been there for over a year and it's created a signalized one-lane section. From a roadgeek perspective, it's cool because you can see the engineering behind the temporary bridge and roadway they had to build on the other side of the river but, from a driving perspective, it can really slow you down. Off-season should be okay though. I went through it around Thanksgiving and got through in the first light.

4.  Follow CA 49 to I-80 in Auburn passing through the following California Gold Rush Towns:
-  Bear Valley, Bagby, Coulterville, Chinese Camp, Jamestown, Sonora, Columbia, Tuttletown, Carson Hill, Angel's Camp, Attaville, Fourth Crossing, San Andreas, Mokelumne Hill, Butte City, Jackson, Sutter Creek, Amador City, Drytown, Plymouth, El Dorado, Diamond Springs, Placerville, Coloma (where gold was first found in California) and Pilot Hill.  This involves some older alignments of CA 49 to reach some of the towns I listed.
Sonora, Jackson, Coulterville and Jamestown are pretty cool. I especially like Coulterville and keep meaning to go back there. They have a distillery, Amador, that's in either Jackson or Sonora, that does weekend tours, but you have to sign up in advance. Keep meaning to go to that but I'm either busy or off drinking. A lot of these other places you're listing are either nothing or loose collections of homes. There's an apple orchard and wine region in El Dorado County north of US 50 that's cool and pretty to drive around. Placerville has a mining museum that I haven't been to, but that may be of interest to you, and the best BBQ I've had in the state is at Hog Wild there. I'll make trips through Placerville just to stop there. Not that typical California BS where they cook the brisket like they do the tri-tip, but good, mesquite-smoked stuff.

6.  Take Donner Pass Road over Donner Pass itself (alternate I-80 if the weather turned in the last couple days) to Truckee, CA.
I have to make the case for US 50 here. There are a couple of really cool spots right on the road that are worth stopping at. Though I guess that would keep you off US 40.

14.  NV 374 to California State Line and Death Valley National Park. 
They have a number of road closures in Death Valley right now because of the rain, so check on that before you get too far. Also be aware that they're having a "super bloom" this year and things are already full. It may be done by the time you go (I don't think you mentioned that), but check if you're planning on staying the night.

Again with the drinking, but there's a brewery along CA 14 just south of 178 called Indian Wells. They have something like $1.50 pours and are really liberal with samples, at least when I've gone. Not that you need to get loaded before getting on 178, but it's a nice stop. They also make soda and sell it for cheap, so you could also try that.
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Max Rockatansky

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Re: Gold Rush Galore, Comstock Lode and Death Valley
« Reply #2 on: February 28, 2016, 08:44:22 PM »

Jump over to the old road, Golden State Highway, as you're heading north. Right off of it, near Kingsburg, is the Sun Maid Plant where they package all their raisins. They have a visitors center. I tried to go a month or so ago, but went on a weekend, and I guess they're only open on weekends in the summer. There are lots of other places to buy nuts, but most are more expensive than in supermarkets. Golden State Highway itself is interesting because it has a much higher capacity (often 4-lane, divided) than it needs to be since it's a relic before the freeway bypassed it.

-  And it runs right next to where I want to be outside of Fresno, that might be a winner for me.  I can't stand modern 99 but I can't avoid it completely. 

I think you mean Merced, but why not just take 41 up from Fresno? The freeway interchanges are pretty impressive in Fresno if you're into that at all. For a city with no interstates, it has a lot of freeway mileage.

-  Yes I meant Merced, for whatever reason I get it flipped with Madera when I'm talking or writing.  Just took a recent trip up through CA 59 and followed the Yosemite Valley Railroad as much as possible.  The main issue I have with 41 is two fold; the traffic to Oakhurst and the fact that CHP loves to hawk tourists since it's the main route to Yosemite.

There's a slide on 140 that's been there for over a year and it's created a signalized one-lane section. From a roadgeek perspective, it's cool because you can see the engineering behind the temporary bridge and roadway they had to build on the other side of the river but, from a driving perspective, it can really slow you down. Off-season should be okay though. I went through it around Thanksgiving and got through in the first light.

-  Ironically that slide forces you right back onto the old rail bed that I just mentioned.  It's only wide enough for one-way traffic around the slide but it's neat to go over some old bridges.  This was last month, I might have encountered only two cars on the drive up to Yosemite Valley.  It's actually probably still a better way to get into Yosemite in the winter than 41 is due to the elevation being so much lower, I don't think it hits 4,000 until the park boundary where as 41 goes over 6,000.

Sonora, Jackson, Coulterville and Jamestown are pretty cool. I especially like Coulterville and keep meaning to go back there. They have a distillery, Amador, that's in either Jackson or Sonora, that does weekend tours, but you have to sign up in advance. Keep meaning to go to that but I'm either busy or off drinking. A lot of these other places you're listing are either nothing or loose collections of homes. There's an apple orchard and wine region in El Dorado County north of US 50 that's cool and pretty to drive around. Placerville has a mining museum that I haven't been to, but that may be of interest to you, and the best BBQ I've had in the state is at Hog Wild there. I'll make trips through Placerville just to stop there. Not that typical California BS where they cook the brisket like they do the tri-tip, but good, mesquite-smoked stuff.

-  One of my side hobbies is tracking old ghost towns and mining camps, CA 49 has them in droves.  Pretty much that's generally what I'm looking for is older buildings, main streets, rail grades, ect.  I put together a map of the places that I want to see, a lot of zig-zagging is involved.  I'll have to see about the mining museum in Placerville, the best part is that I'll be alone so parking along streets to check out old brick buildings at my leisure won't be an issue.

I have to make the case for US 50 here. There are a couple of really cool spots right on the road that are worth stopping at. Though I guess that would keep you off US 40.

-  Really this part largely depends on two things; weather and fatigue by the time I get to Placerville.  I'm planning on making this trip the 18th, 19th and 20th.  Right now the weather is fine but it looks like snow the start of next week.  Three weeks is a long way out and anything can really happen in the Sierras but I figure either I-80 or US 50 would be safe most days in March.  Taking Echo Pass on US 50 would definitely cut some distance and time out to Carson City.  I also have to decide if I'm going up to Virginia City the day I get in or the day I'm going south towards Rhyolite and Death Valley. 

They have a number of road closures in Death Valley right now because of the rain, so check on that before you get too far. Also be aware that they're having a "super bloom" this year and things are already full. It may be done by the time you go (I don't think you mentioned that), but check if you're planning on staying the night.

Again with the drinking, but there's a brewery along CA 14 just south of 178 called Indian Wells. They have something like $1.50 pours and are really liberal with samples, at least when I've gone. Not that you need to get loaded before getting on 178, but it's a nice stop. They also make soda and sell it for cheap, so you could also try that.

-  At present moment it's only Scotty's Castle and the southern end of Badwater Road that are closed.  That could change with the storms next week though, basically it's just another wait and see.  Really Death Valley is just a happy consequence of my trying to think what else I could do that weekend that doesn't require carrying chains right now since the car of choice so I new muscle car that I just finished breaking in.  The bloom might be a minor plus, but it's more the fact that I haven't been out that way in years that interests me.  That would be a negative on staying in the Park, I'm planning on Ridgecrest.  I'll have to check out that brewery on the way back though, the last day should be short back to home. 

-  On a side note if the weather gets bad that weekend I mentioned, I'm planning on doubling back out on I-80 west maybe down to the Muir Woods instead
« Last Edit: February 28, 2016, 09:22:05 PM by Max Rockatansky »
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coatimundi

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Re: Gold Rush Galore, Comstock Lode and Death Valley
« Reply #3 on: February 29, 2016, 03:32:36 AM »

-  Yes I meant Merced, for whatever reason I get it flipped with Madera when I'm talking or writing.
For whatever reason, I get Madera and Mendota confused all the time. They're very different towns but I just can never keep the names straight when I talk about them, either in internal dialogue or to others.
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Max Rockatansky

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Re: Gold Rush Galore, Comstock Lode and Death Valley
« Reply #4 on: February 29, 2016, 07:41:12 AM »

-  Yes I meant Merced, for whatever reason I get it flipped with Madera when I'm talking or writing.
For whatever reason, I get Madera and Mendota confused all the time. They're very different towns but I just can never keep the names straight when I talk about them, either in internal dialogue or to others.

The only way that works for me is to think about Merced River.  The problem is that I know someone that works out of Madera and it keeps making me slip up.

Max Rockatansky

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Re: Gold Rush Galore, Comstock Lode and Death Valley
« Reply #5 on: March 20, 2016, 04:50:34 PM »

Alright finally made it home and got everything finally together, here is my trip report:

Day 1

I decided against following CA 99 to Madara CA 140 and ending up taking CA 41 to CA 49 instead.  It didn't really add anything to the trip but it did alignment me more with a direct shot at the historic courthouse in Mariposa.  All told I went and checked out the following gold rush towns....some inhabited while others not so much:

Mariposa
Bear Valley
Bagby
Jacksonville
Chinese Camp
Jamestown
Sonora
Columbia
Tuttletown
Melones
Carson Hill
Angels Camp
Attaville
San Andreas
Butte City
Jackson
Sutter Creek
Amador City
Drytown
Plymouth
El Dorado
Diamond Springs
Placerville
Coloma
Pilot Hill
Auburn

Basically I never had a full chance to survey every town along the route.  Most are 1848-1852 creations during the Gold Rush era.  Out of all of them I would recommend Coloma because it was the gold discovery site and Columbia because it has the most extensive abandonment within easy reach of suburbia.  I'm fairly certain both are now states parks....or rather have been.  Downtown Columbia is gated off to motor vehicles now but there was plenty of parking...

I didn't get through CA 49 as fast as I wanted so I skipped some side trips along I-80 and went straight for Donner Pass.  Donner Pass Road/Old US 40 was in decent shape and I pretty much had it to myself.  There was a lot of snow melt considering it was 55-60 F but it was late enough in the day that it wasn't freezing back over.  The back side of the trip was through CA 267 from Truckee around the north east perimeter of Lake Tahoe to US 50.  In retrospect I would have liked to tried NV 431 since it's a 9,000 foot pass but I didn't do my research on the road conditions in Nevada before I left but it is usually open all year aside from blizzards.  I ended up spending the night in Carson City, the old alignment of US 395 and 50 through downtown is really beat up and being repaved.  It looks like I-580 being completed can't come soon enough for the area.


Day 2

Started the morning out by climbing NV 342 from US 50 and back.  I checked out downtown Dayton on my way east to US 95A, it has some nice older style buildings from the Comstock era.  I took US 95A to US 95 proper past Walker Lake to Tonopah and Goldfield.  Goldfield is always a hell of a place to check out just off the side of the highway especially considering it has shrunk from 30,000 people to about 200 since the 1910s. 

I ended up taking US 95 south to NV 374 and checked out Rhyolite before heading over the California State Line.  Rhyolite is a pretty neat place and definitely worth the 3 mile detour if you are heading from Beatty into Death Valley.  I spent the next couple hours traversing Death Valley down from Beatty Road to Badwater Basin before exiting to the west via CA 190.

This is where the day got interesting, not in a good way.  CA 190 has some 9% down hill grades for 10 miles on a 3,500 foot westward descent into Panamint Valley.  I was pretty sure that I over heated one of my rotors because my front clip began to shudder under heavy braking from 60 to 45 MPH.  The shudder remained for awhile once I hit the 5% grade section but leveled out once I hit an even grade.  In retrospect I noticed that my transmission was having trouble finding a gear and might have been the actual cause, more about that in Day 3.

Since I was heading to Ridgecrest I took Panamint Valley Road and Trona-Wildrose Road south from CA 190.  Both roads are in really bad shape and are in dire need of being repaved.  There is a five mile section Trona-Wildroad that had an emergency layer of gravel covering the asphalt so I can only guess how bad it really was underneath.  There wasn't any brake issues with the uphill climb towards Trona lending to my suspicious I just illustrated previously.  Trona is weird in that CA 178s western section abruptly begins just outside of the town limits.  I guess there was a plan to connect to the eastern segment of 178 via Death Valley but that went by the wayside when the park had it's boundary limits extended in the 1990s.


Day 3

Being from the Bakersfield area I have come to despise the truck traffic on US 395 and especially CA 58.  Fortunately there is an alternative via CA 178 that's actually a lot of fun to drive on and has little to no traffic.  CA 178 cuts over Walker Pass in the Sierras and traverses a couple valleys and Lake Isabella before entering Kern River Canyon.  Kern River Canyon is usually a surprise bottleneck point for most people considering the freeway status of 178 in Bakersfield and the expressway near Lake Isabella.  It's a hell of a lot more fun to drive 178 than 58 but there isn't a direct connection from US 395 which will take you way out of the way if you are heading from Barstow. 

Anyways no issues today on 178 with the 7% downhill grade in Walker Pass and no with the switch backs in Kern River Canyon.  The only difference I can see from CA 190 is that 178 has a lot tighter turns which require you to be going much slower than the former.  The shudder feeling never happened once the entire drive today so I'm a little at a loss to identify what I was feeling on CA 190 yesterday.  I didn't have any problems coming down from NV 342 either which has grades higher than 12% in places but is a very slow road.  For the record I used an newer Chevy Sonic that I've haven't had exposed much to downhill grades beyond 6% since I bought it.  Also the Sonic only has two front discs while the rears are the conventional drum setup you get in sub-compact class cars.  I have a much more useful muscle car in the garage that would have handled these roads better but I didn't take simply due to the fact that I don't carry emergency gear in it anymore.

 


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