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Gold Country Cool

IN SEARCH OF THE PERFECT
ESCAPE WITH HER TEENAGERS,
A MOM TURNS TO THE SIERRA
FOOTHILLS—AND STRIKES GOLD


WHEN IT CAME TIME TO PLAN a summer vacation with my two teenagers this year, I had two missions: 1) make it active and fun because we-Sam, age 18, Hannah, age 15, and I (age, well, whatever)-all like to play and explore, and 2) make it unplugged-no phones, laptops, or iPods for one whole week.

I found it all in the Gold Country: boundless fun, with great ways to get out and explore without an electronic gizmo in sight, and all an easy drive from two of California's major gateways-San Francisco and Sacramento . An added bonus was how cool our trip would turn out to be-not just in terms of the cool as in "wow, this is fun," but physically cool. With rivers, lakes, gold-rush creeks, and dark caverns-and a welcome smattering of ice-cream parlors-we discovered that the region had no shortage of ways to beat the heat during the day. What's more, evenings are pleasantly cool for dining on outdoor patios and taking post-dinner strolls.

GEARED UP FOR ADVENTURE
Bags packed, we headed toward our starting point near Coloma . It seemed appropriate that we would begin our trip literally in the very river where the Gold Rush began with James W. Marshall's discovery back in 1848. We pulled into a pleasant group campsite, called River's Bend Resort, by late-morning, helped set up camp near the river's edge, had lunch with our fellow rafters and guides, and boarded the bus to our put-in site up river.

Our first day bounced us down relatively tame rapids on the South Fork American, a perfect tune-up for our second day on the much more challenging Middle Fork. Back at camp, we skipped stones on the river and counted Canadian geese and mergansers. After s'mores around a crackling fire, we crawled into our sleeping bags. Hannah looked up through the screen top of our dome tent and sighed, "I love falling asleep where I can see the stars."

Our second day on the Middle Fork American delivered adrenaline-rushing thrills, and we were all ready to get a little silly by the end of the day. In a wide pool in the river, our delightful guide, David Terry from O.A.R.S. (Outdoor Adventure River Specialists), got playful with our raft and made it "pop wheelies" with us in it, pulling the bow high into the air like a crazy carnival ride.

Back at camp, we packed up, hugged our goodbyes, and headed down to Auburn for sushi and showers. The next day we drove south through Placerville as it got gussied up for its upcoming Bell Tower Brewfest, and continued south to Moaning Cavern , one of a trio of Gold Country caverns open to the public. Sam and Hannah raced over the chaparral on a -1,500-foot long dual zip line. "Crazy," announced Sam with a broad smile. He then joined me on a heart-thumping 165-foot free rappel into the depths of Moaning Cavern, feet dangling as we descended on ropes past glistening limestone formations.

Time for a little pampering. At peaceful Jillian Day Spa in Murphys , I treated the kids-and myself-to massages. I could have curled up for a nap under an oak at nearby Ironstone Vineyards , but feared I'd never make it to Jamestown, where we checked into the Jamestown Hotel, a stately old gal operating since the 1850s.
IN SEARCH OF THE PERFECT
ESCAPE WITH HER TEENAGERS,
A MOM TURNS TO THE SIERRA
FOOTHILLS—AND STRIKES GOLD


WHEN IT CAME TIME TO PLAN a summer vacation with my two teenagers this year, I had two missions: 1) make it active and fun because we-Sam, age 18, Hannah, age 15, and I (age, well, whatever)-all like to play and explore, and 2) make it unplugged-no phones, laptops, or iPods for one whole week.

I found it all in the Gold Country: boundless fun, with great ways to get out and explore without an electronic gizmo in sight, and all an easy drive from two of California's major gateways-San Francisco and Sacramento . An added bonus was how cool our trip would turn out to be-not just in terms of the cool as in "wow, this is fun," but physically cool. With rivers, lakes, gold-rush creeks, and dark caverns-and a welcome smattering of ice-cream parlors-we discovered that the region had no shortage of ways to beat the heat during the day. What's more, evenings are pleasantly cool for dining on outdoor patios and taking post-dinner strolls.

GEARED UP FOR ADVENTURE
Bags packed, we headed toward our starting point near Coloma . It seemed appropriate that we would begin our trip literally in the very river where the Gold Rush began with James W. Marshall's discovery back in 1848. We pulled into a pleasant group campsite, called River's Bend Resort, by late-morning, helped set up camp near the river's edge, had lunch with our fellow rafters and guides, and boarded the bus to our put-in site up river.

Our first day bounced us down relatively tame rapids on the South Fork American, a perfect tune-up for our second day on the much more challenging Middle Fork. Back at camp, we skipped stones on the river and counted Canadian geese and mergansers. After s'mores around a crackling fire, we crawled into our sleeping bags. Hannah looked up through the screen top of our dome tent and sighed, "I love falling asleep where I can see the stars."

Our second day on the Middle Fork American delivered adrenaline-rushing thrills, and we were all ready to get a little silly by the end of the day. In a wide pool in the river, our delightful guide, David Terry from O.A.R.S. (Outdoor Adventure River Specialists), got playful with our raft and made it "pop wheelies" with us in it, pulling the bow high into the air like a crazy carnival ride.

Back at camp, we packed up, hugged our goodbyes, and headed down to Auburn for sushi and showers. The next day we drove south through Placerville as it got gussied up for its upcoming Bell Tower Brewfest, and continued south to Moaning Cavern , one of a trio of Gold Country caverns open to the public. Sam and Hannah raced over the chaparral on a -1,500-foot long dual zip line. "Crazy," announced Sam with a broad smile. He then joined me on a heart-thumping 165-foot free rappel into the depths of Moaning Cavern, feet dangling as we descended on ropes past glistening limestone formations.

Time for a little pampering. At peaceful Jillian Day Spa in Murphys , I treated the kids-and myself-to massages. I could have curled up for a nap under an oak at nearby Ironstone Vineyards , but feared I'd never make it to Jamestown, where we checked into the Jamestown Hotel, a stately old gal operating since the 1850s.
A LITTLE GOLD, A LOT OF LUXE
Now it was time for a dose of history, and we drove back to Angels Camp (of jumping-frog fame) to meet Michael Darby at Gold Rush Originals. Michael, a bear of a man who is an artist by trade, seems destined for his current passion of looking for gold-a string of men in his family were original '49ers. We headed for a leafy, calf-deep creek, meandering through a quiet neighborhood. It was hard to imagine the place swarming with gold-seekers 150 or so years ago; now, it was all but lost in a tangle of blackberries. We settled down with our gold pans and digging tools, and yes, discovered flecks of gold among the silt.

Temperatures rising, we headed to Angels Camp Mercantile for double scoops of Speckled Frog ice cream (green mint with crushed Oreos), then headed for Groveland . At about 3,000 feet and only a half-hour west of Yosemite National Park, the tiny town in the High Sierra region had a decidedly mountain feel, with soaring Ponderosa pines lining State 120.

We settled into an inviting suite in the exquisitely restored Groveland Hotel . The building, an unexpected Monterey adobe, was built in 1849. It was dilapidated when owners Peggy and Grover Mosley bought it in 1990, but they restored and upgraded it, with an impressive wine list and menu at The Cellar Door , which Sam and Hannah declared was "the best restaurant we've ever been to"-and they've been to a lot.

Now, it was time to wend our way back home, and we did so in style, with a final night on a deluxe houseboat on Lake Don Pedro (with over 160 miles of shoreline, it was easy to find a secluded spot). Friends joined us here, and we rode wakeboards and inflatables, lolled in the hot tub on the roof, then retired to our staterooms for the night. Driving home, the kids did zap on the laptops and started texting, but not without proclaiming first that this was one of our best vacations ever, even if it didn't include iPods. Mom's mission accomplished.—HARRIOT MANLEY
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