Continuing my week long vacation, I reluctantly began my drive out of Yosemite Valley. The quality of light in the valley is so spectacular and the vistas incredible and endless. The afternoon sun shown on El Capitan giving it a golden glow against the deep blue sky beyond; the sparkling light on two leafless trees pop them out from their background. Driving around the main road on my way out of the valley, I stopped multiple times to capture the light glowing on the aspens across the meadow and to inhale the pine scent one last time. Seeing deer grazing on the lush grasses of the browning meadow made it difficult to leave. Some of my last glimpses were of El Capitan, Clouds Rest and Cathedral Rocks and their reflections on the Merced River at Valley View, the view shown above. And, leave I must since this trip was about ghost towns not Yosemite. As I was leaving the valley, I turned back for one last shot and saw the pink of the sun as it descended behind the mountains leaving a shadow on the valley just outside the park, show in this photograph. What a sight!
After a night in a motel in Mariposa, California, I headed north and spent the next day driving along and around the Gold Chain Highway, route 49. This is the area of the original California gold rush. Golden grasses on the rolling hillsides contrasted against the black bark of live oak and other trees. My plan was to explore Cathey’s Valley, Hornitos, Mt. Bullion, Bear Valley, Coulterville, Chinese Camp, Sonora, Columbia and Indian Gulch. Since I was searching for ruins and photo opportunities, I hurried though some towns to spent more time in others. Even though it is a thriving community with more new than old, I did stop in Sonora. I watched as a red headed older woman dressed in shorts and wearing a fiery red blouse struggle across a busy street to her station wagon lugging a tin washtub as if it were precious metal. I’m sure she was one of the many antique hunters in the area. Although I took some photos in Sonora, I couldn’t find the kind of shots I like to take. I strongly favor simple graphic photographs as you can tell from the ones I have included in these blogs.
I spent time in Hornitos, Spanish for little oven, where I took this photograph of a white church on a weedy hillside. I don’t know if it was abandoned or not. It did look like it could use a coat of paint. I decided not to trample through the weeds to find out. I was interested in excellent photo it gave me. The stark white against the deep blue sky excited me. For me the single small church isolated in the field of weeds and backed by the deep blue sky is exactly the type of photograph that excites me. Before I take a shot like this, I get an emotional high just seeing the image in my camera viewfinder. For me, that’s the purpose of art and that’s what I seek to capture in every photograph I take. Obviously not every view gives that type of opportunity and that’s the fun of photography - to keep looking.
Columbia, California is a State Historic Park. It is one of the best preserved California gold rush towns and remains a thriving community. Although the center of town contains many restored wooden buildings, I was especially attracted to the brick buildings like the one shown here. I liked the strong texture against the green of the tree. I was told that this main street was often used as a set for western movies. Its dusty, stained and weathered buildings had that look.
I spent some time wandering around looking for shots, then headed to nearby Jackass Hill to see Mark Twain’s cabin. Here he gathered material for "Jumping Frogs of Calaveras" and "Roughing It". Nothing much to see, it was a small cabin on an isolated piece of land, looking like any other miner’s shack. Disappointing!
When I left Columbia, I drove through Angel’s Camp, Mokelumne Hill, Butte City, Jackson and Sutter Creek, another day of mostly meandering. The weather was beautiful and warm for October. The sun was shining and as I hurried along the golden California hills, I stopped occasionally to take photos of the landscape. If you’ve ever driven in this area during the fall, you know how beautiful the hills can be. The long grasses have turned a warm golden brown and the road winds around the low hills. Scattered cattle and oak trees complete in the picture.
I spent a lot of time in Jackson Gate a section of Jackson, California. Two of the four original fifty-eight feet in diameter wooden tailing wheels are still standing. They were used by the Kennedy mine to haul debris from the mine shafts away from the diggings. Built in 1914, these structures are truly impressive. I was struck with the incredible quality of construction of the wheels. Layers of shaped wood board were interwoven to form the wheel as you can see in the photograph. Multiple massive machine bolts reached through the layers to tie them together. The wooden spokes were joined at a cast steel center. Today they are an historical landmark. You can see in the photos how the wheels were made and their relative size. I left Jackson Gate realizing how inventive and courageous were the entrepreneurs who solved these kinds of problems.
I made a brief stop in Sutter Creek, which is another town that has become a tourist attraction within an active community. This was the site of the Lincoln mine that made Leland Stanford, who started Stanford University, wealthy.
My week was coming to a close, so I headed back to Southern California stopping along the way to take some scenic photos. One stop I made was near Knights Ferry along the Stanislaus River and where I spotted the remains of a mill: shown here. Also here is one of the still existing old covered bridges.
My next trip was to Jerome, Arizona and I’ll tell you about that in my next blog. I would love to hear from you about your interest in ghost towns especially if it’s as avid as mine. Maybe you have similar memories of these places or maybe yours are different than mine. Either way, I’d love to hear about them.