Monday, December 6, 2010


Second in a series

"My eye was caught with the glimpse of something shining in the bottom of the ditch. I reached my hand down and picked it up; it made my heart thump, for I was certain it was gold. Then I saw another piece. Putting one of the pieces on a hard river stone, I took another and commenced hammering. It was soft and didn't break; it therefore must be gold."

– James Marshall, January 1848

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IN MY MIND, a good “potty stop” is one where Doritos and soda may not be readily available, but great distractions are. If this is the definition, then the James Marshall Gold Discovery site at Coloma more than offers a fine experience off the saddle. Eight miles north of Placerville and 17 miles south of Auburn on state route 49, the Day Use rate for this locale is $8.00.  It is eight bucks well spent. There is much to do after visiting one of the many well-maintained “comfort stations.”

The State of California has restored or rebuilt many historical buildings including the fabled mill whose tailrace yielded that discovery on January 24, 1848. The replica mill is several yards from the American, but the original location is marked and quite accessible. A well-groomed trail follows the west flank of the river, easily negotiated in even the "most supportive" of riding boots. Another fine trail leads to the top of the hill where a monument to Marshall overlooks the valley.  In completing the loop on this trail, Marshall's cabin and the cemetery must not be missed.

The park’s museum nicely represents the pre- and post-gold rush history with displays recounting Maidu life prior to the discovery as well as the incremental industrialization of the Mother Lode that followed.

Highlights include the stamp mill by which gold was crushed from quartz. A large wheel accommodating a fabric belt was first powered by water harnessed by a Pelton Wheel (invented some 40 miles north near North San Juan) and later by a steam donkey’s piston. One can only imagine how the decade between 1848 and 1858 saw the placid course of the American transform from a bucolic river valley into a mechanized means by which the golden metal was extracted from the riverbed and surrounding hillsides.

Smithy's product is available.
The State of California employs docents to recreate life in the mid 19th century. Not to be missed is the blacksmith shop (circa 1902) where volunteers continue to use red-hot coal to turn black iron malleable.

ON THE OPEN ROAD, whether travelling alone or cooped up in the car, it is all-too-easy to find a potty, pull over, conduct business and get back on the road. Frequently, it is a missed opportunity to do much more. Even as it faces bankruptcy, the California is doing yeoman service in maintaining sites that, if lost, would leave an historic, cultural and educational void that cannot be recaptured by browsing through a book or looking something up on Wiki-pedia.


NOTES: The Church of the Open Road makes a habit of paying the day-use fee in California State Parks even if only pausing to “refresh oneself.” It is the least we can do to preserve the rich, bawdy, pristine and delicate heritage of the Golden State. Readers are asked to consider similar “donations.”

The Church of the Open Road seeks reader input for this series on Great Potty Stops of the Open Road. Submit your recommendation through the “comment section” below, and we’ll check ‘em out and write ‘em up.

© 2010
Church of the Open Road Press


  1. What have you got against Doritos???

  2. I don't have much a comment for the potty series but I stopped today with my hubby and daughter at Mark Twain's cabin - advertised by a small sign on the side of Hwy 49, and who could resist a road named Jackass Hill Rd? So "Let's go see it!" - just a mile off the main road. Daughter - architecture grad student - immediately starts yelling "Fraud!" when we read the small sign outside a replica tiny wooden cabin - surrounded by a locked eight foot iron fence - stating it was built in early 2000s by Rotary International group from Sonora to commemorate Twain's summer in Calaveras County. Sorta took the punch out of a Sam Clemens experience but still you never know where the road will take you, right? Enjoying your blog.

  3. Interestingly, a guy I used to work with (well, "for") had a surface mining claim out that way. We drove down from Chico and parked at Mark Twain's cabin - then hiked into and through the poison oak to scratch at the poison oak for a few minutes.

    I, too, was quite nonplussed by Mark Twain's cabin.

    Little did I know that a few years later, I wold be living and working in Sonora - just a few miles south.