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Mountain Vacation

August 19-24
written August 20+
Dear Diary, Friends, and Families,

Kids and grandkids are gone, so the Fresno world is quiet.  Not much material for a diary around home, but we have started a short get-away this weekend.  We selected a B&B near Yosemite called "Penon Blanco Lookout", based on nice website pictures.  I am not sure that is the most scientific approach, but we will see.  We had considered returning to the Oakhurst area, since it's close and seemed pleasant when we passed through - twice - last week on our grandkid trips to the Sugar Pine train.  However, as it currently stands, Oakhurst is being evacuated because of a "brush fire", a risk in these dry times.

On Friday morning, we started with a hardy breakfast at Farnesi's Restaurant in Madera, a biggish farm town just north of Fresno.  This nice, slow start put us back in our traveling mode.  The next stop, at about 9:30 am, was wine tasting at Quady Winery, a nearby family winery.  I think I sampled six or eight of their offerings; mostly sweet dessert wines, but also a wine-flavored chocolate sauce over a spoonful of vanilla ice cream. Their port-style wine is called "Starboard" -- get it?  The early morning sampling was fun, in part due to the enthusiasm of Shayden, the Fresno State viticulture student who was handling the pouring.  Our second stop in the area, at Cru Vineyards, was OK, but more routine.  Cru seems to be a much more commercial outfit, making wine from juices purchased throughout northern California.  They do sponsor music evenings, so maybe we will return.
Quady, a friendly stop
Cru, OK, but more commercial
d140822_10_orchards.jpgd140822_12_almonds.jpgFrom here, it was off through San Joaquin Valley farmland, mostly miles and miles of relatively new almond orchards.  This valley supplies essentially all American almonds and a majority of the world's supply as well.  (This may also be one of the reasons for the local water shortage!)

Our destination was near the main Yosemite Park entrance, but we chose to approach it from smaller roads.  I think this was a good idea, but I am now tired of farm scenery.  There is something about acres and acres of dusty trees, landmarked with dusty farm houses and broken-down-pickups, that makes the drive less than inspiring.

Eventually, we did make it into the Sierra foothills and here the scenery became much more interesting.  The hills are rugged, blanketed in brown and yellow grasses, and dotted with dark green California Oaks.  Our first good vista was at "Fremont's Fort", an overlook built on the spot of a private fort, built by Mr. Fremont in the mid-1800's to protect his mine claims.  It was easy to see how a small bastion could prevent any unauthorized movement along the road.

From here, it was Coulterville and a lunch stop.  Coulterville is one of the few villages that remain from the 19th Century mining boom.  Back then, it had 5,000 people, 10 hotels, and 25 saloons; now it has a few handfuls of folks, one old hotel, three bars, and a VFW hall. We did note that everyone we talked to was friendly and full of enthusiasm for the little town.  And the hamburgers at the Coulterville Cafe were quite good.
After lunch, we toured the Coulterville Hotel Museum, a properly-scaled display of local history of the small town. 
d140822_40_drivein.jpgThe drive out to Penon Blanco B&B took us over a small, rough road.  We definitely were out in open spaces.  Eventually, we found the place and were greeted by three big Dobermans.  Margi, the owner-manager, told us they are completely docile, but it took some convincing.  In any event, we moved in our bags and quickly headed to the patio to sip wine, eat a light snack, and watch the sun go down.  It could be worse.

Saturday started with no plans, other than the breakfast that the B&B website had highly touted.  In this case, the advertisement was right, the food was good and the view excellent.

Neighbors looking for handouts on the drive out
d140823_00_track.jpgOur Saturday plan was pretty vague.  We set a goal of visiting a few gold country towns, nothing more.  Although it was very close, Yosemite National Park did not attract us this trip.  Maybe next time.

Our first stop was the small community of Jamestown.  Marianne spoke to one local who assured her Jamestown had not changed in at least 20 years and it did have a comfortable-in-its-own-skin feeling.
There were reminders of the old mining background alongside any number of antique and "miscellaneous" shops.  Scattered about were wonderful examples of late 19th- and early 20th-Century homes, some restored and some not.
The other Jamestown attraction was the Railtown 1897 train station.  Next time the grandkids visit, we need to take a ride on the Sierra Railroad!

d140823_27_sonora.jpg From quiet and sleepy Jamestown, it was off to busy Sonora.  Washington Street, the main drive through town, was filled with cars, in stark contrast to Jamestown's Main Street.  At first, the hustle and bustle was off-putting, but a visit to the Ventanna /Annex Galleries and a good lunch at Talulah's convinced us Sonora was OK.  I think it may be where we stay on our next gold country safari.

Our final gold town for the day was Columbia.  Marianne and I had visited a couple of decades ago, but I had forgotten how Western-kitschy the place is.  There were stage coaches, a blacksmith, a well-equipped fire house, and two old-but-restored hotels.  Probably a good place for families, but we'd prefer Sonora.

A new project?  NO!
After all this excitement, we were glad to settle in back on the patio at Penon Blanco.  We caught up on email and internet news, while we watched the sunshine be replaced by a wonderful star-lit night sky.  The quiet was a marked contrast to our patio back in central-city Fresno - no sirens, muffler-less cars, and barking watch dogs.  Even the bats flying around seemed friendly.

d140824_02_sundaytrack.jpgd140824_04_twistyfrive.jpgOn Sunday we left Penon Blanco and headed back down twisty mountain roads toward home.  It was yet another chance t0 see the ruggedness of the Sierra gold mine territory, the Mother Load country.  We imagined the difficulty faced by the 19th Century miners in bringing heavy equipment, and everything else, through these hills to their mines.  Much of the gold here was found underground, not in easy-picking stream beds, and it required hard rock drilling and crushing and transport, with all the associated equipment dragged by men and horses over these hills.

Our last gold town was Mariposa. Under its original name of Aqua Fria, and at a location a few miles away.  (The Aqua Fria river, where the first gold deposits were found, also proved dangerous and flooded away the original mining settlement.) Mariposa was an early regional capital in California gold country and Mariposa County covered much of what we call the San Joaquin Valley today - including Fresno and eight other counties.
Main Street had less bustle than Sonora, but a bit more than Jamestown.
The small museum, in an old general store, was a highlight.  Inside (where photos were not allowed) it held a series of well-explained displays of 19th Century life in gold country.  Outside were examples of the mining equipment that had been brought to bear on the local hills.

Shortly after leaving Mariposa, we were back in the flat-land orchards of the central valley.  We drove past miles and miles of almond, pistachio, pomegranate, and walnut orchards.  The scale of these farms really is impressive.

Our goal, however, was a vineyard and winery: Chateau Lasgoity.  When planning our little trip, I had looked for small wineries to visit and the Lasgoity's winery seemed as small as there is.  John is the grower, winemaker and his wife Alyson is the business office and tasting room hostess.  On this Sunday, we were her only customers, so we received all the details - and samples of wine - that we could possibly want.  I was pleasantly surprise with all six wines we sampled, especially given the reasonable prices on the for sale notice.  We even learned some about the local wine business.  Alyson told us that they sell their wine to other vintners or restaurants, who can then re-label it and boost their profit.  Example: Tadich Grill, a famous San Francisco landmark, had purchased a large number of whites for about $4 per bottle.  I can imagine Tadich's lowest offering on their wine list probably sells for twice that -- per glass.

As for our purchases, we bought a case of Pinot Grigio for $100 and a case of Syrah for $28 - that's about $8.50 for the white and $2.50 for the red.  That night, we shared the Syrah with neighbors and they were pleased with the wine and astonished with the price.
As we ended our wine and gold country weekend, we reviewed what we would repeat and what we would not.
-- Wine: Quady for dessert wines, for sure.  Lasgoity for remarkable value.  Both winery tasting rooms offer a fun experience.
-- Hotel:  Probably not another stay at Penon Blanco, just too small and out-of-the-way.  Otherwise, each town had plenty of offerings, some modern, some restored-old, and some ... other.
-- Towns:  Sonora for food, art, theater, and bustle.  Jamestown for quiet and, with grandkids, for the train museum and ride.

Now it's Monday, and we're back at work.  Marianne is over helping Mamo and I am contemplating garden work and bill-paying.  Or, maybe lunch.

Write if you discover gold.

John and Marianne

Meanwhile, the garage and bocce court project is in the final stretches.
Starting the score post - hand made pegs by neighbor Gene!
Final touches on the garage - all we need now are some concrete walkways
Even the Art Hut is improved with more electricity and an exhaust fan


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