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
. 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
, 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.