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Enjoying fall's magic in the upper Yuba River country.

Gold gleams from the hills of the upper Yuba River country in fall-in the tinted leaves of aspen, cottonwood, liquidambar, and maple. The northernmost stretch of State Highway 49 calls to the painter as clearly as to the tourist with its classic covered bridges, Alps-like Sierra Buttes, and small Victorian towns.

Grass Valley is about a 4-hour drive from the Bay Area. Along the 75-mile stretch from there to State 89, State 49 climbs from 2,420 feet to 6,700 feet at Yuba Pass, crossing the Yuba River several times twice on gracefully arched highway bridges dating back to the 1920s. Quiet side roads lead to fishing, camping, and hiking. Allow a weekend or longer for a visit.

Fall color usually begins by mid-October and can last six weeks (barring rain or heavy windstorms).

Grass Valley-the richest mine town Once the richest of the northern mine towns, Grass Valley today is one of the fastest-growing foothill cities, though some still think of it only as the home of Lola Montez and Lotta Crabtree (gold rush entertainers) and Cornish pasties (meat and potato turnovers).

The pasties are a legacy of the Cornish miners whose know-how made the early hard-rock gold mines succeed. You can try one at Mrs. Dubblebee's (251 S. Auburn Street) or King Richard's (215 S. Auburn).

While Grass Valley's historic downtown isn't as manicured as that of neighboring Nevada City, it is fun to tour. The restored Holbrooke Hotel, at 212 Main Street, hosted Mark Twain and three presidents. The historic Lola Montez House, at 248 Mill Street, now serves as a visitor center (open 8 to 5 weekdays, 10 to 3 Saturdays); or visit Lotta Crabtree's, at 238 Mill. From Mill, turn right on Walsh Street and left on Church Street to see three charming late-1800s churches. Just outside town, Em ire Mine State Historic Park is 1 1/2 miles east of State 49 on Empire Street, The oldest, largest, and richest gold mine in California history, it once ran 367 miles of tunnels. During Living History Day, from noon to 4 on October 13, you'll see costumed guides working the machine shop and giving cottage tours.

Mine owner William Bourne owned the Willis Polk designed stone cottage here (he also built Filoli estate, in Woodside, south of San Francisco). On a short walk, view the retort room and shaft entrance, then continue up to the cottage and rose gardens. The 2 1/2-mile Hardrock Trail leads past old mining equipment and into pine forest. At the visitor center are geology exhibits, books, and a slide show. Park hours are 10 to 5 daily, with free tours at I and 2; entry is $1 (may rise). For a side trip off State 49 to see California's longest covered bridge (243 feet), head west from Grass Valley on old State 20, by tiny Rough and Ready, then north 15 miles on Pleasant Valley Road. Bridgeport is worth a stop to picnic, fish, or walk across the 1862 bridge. In use until 1971, it's now protected in a future state park called the South Yuba River Project. Continue north past French Corral and back to State 49.

Nevada City-Victorians, busy shops North of Grass Valley 4 miles on State 49 is Nevada City, the heart of the northern mines district. During the gold rush, the heavily traveled stretch between the two cities was notorious for bandits. Nevada City also had fires-most of the brick buildings you see here were built in response to fires that burned the town after it was established in 1849. Broad Street, the main drag, has shops, pubs, and restaurants set in restored Victorian splendor. On weekends, brief tours of town in a Percheron-drawn carriage ($10) depart near the 1856 National Hotel (211 Broad Street).

At 214 Main Street, an 1861 firehouse turned museum (open 11 to 3 daily) contains a notable collection of Maidu Indian basketry. For dining in Victorian decor, the National Hotel offers a good brunch, Selaya's (320 Broad) continental-style dinners. The Posh Nosh at 318 Broad has good take-out picnic fare.

Fall color in town is spectacular; pick up a free self-guided fall-color tour map at the chamber of commerce, 132 Main Street; hours are 9 to 5 Mondays through Saturdays, 11 to 4 Sundays.

Hiking the Diggins, fishing the Yuba The site of the world's largest hydraulic gold mine is Malakoff Diggins State Historic Park, 16 miles northeast of Nevada City on North Bloomfield Road. The mine operated from 1866 to 1884, carving a canyon and flushing silt down as far as San Francisco Bay.

Hiking trails in the 3,000-acre park give the best views of the gorge's salmon walls and ocher columns. Park at the overlook and hike the 3-mile Diggins Loop Trail down into the pit and around the pond (trail markers peter out halfway continue along the perimeter). The adventurous may try the 1/4-mile steep and dank Hiller Tunnel spur just off the loop (bring flashlight and boots). An easy walk is the level 3 1/2-mile Rim Trail overlooking the pit.

The heart of the park is the remnant of once-bustling Bloomfield; 30 original buildings remain. Free ranger-led tours are given each weekend at 1. The park has 30 sites for camping ($10; reserve through Mistix), or you can rent one of the tidy replica miners' cabins for 15 per night. Bring bedding and cookware; a potbellied stove is provided. Call (916) 265-2740. South Yuba River Recreation Area, off North Bloomfield Road 8 miles northeast of Nevada City, is a Bureau of Land Management reserve offering camping, hiking, and fishing. Where the road meets the river, there's access to the 10-mile-long South Yuba Trail, with fishing for rainbow and brown trout. You can camp at three campgrounds first come, first served, $3 per night at developed sites). Just outside Nevada City, Independence Trail follows the route of an 1856 canal built to supply water for hydraulic mining. This hard-packed, wheelchair-accessible trail winds 2 miles (one way) through ponderosa pine, madrone, and cedar, offering views of river rapids below. From Nevada City, take State 49 west 6 1/2 miles to the signed pull-out.

To Downieville and Sierra City North of Nevada City, State 49 crosses all three forks of the Yuba, passing through areas of good fall color, then parallels the river's north fork into Downieville. Pull-outs allow good fishing access along the way; check regulations at local sport shops.

In Downieville, look for a copy of the state's oldest continuously published weekly (since 1853), Mountain Messenger, to read while you eat a sheepherder's bread sandwich at the Downieville Bakery (formerly Marcantonio's). The bakery, open 7 to 5:30 daily, is on State 49 at Downie River Bridge. Along Main Street is the 1852 brick Craycroft building, tucked in among antiques shops and restaurants.

The road then climbs steeply to Sierra City. Behind town rise the jagged 8587-foot Sierra Buttes. A mile east of Sierra City on State 49, the recently restored and reopened Kentucky Mine Museum is open 10 to 5 weekends through October ($1 entry, $3 guided tour). This hard-rock gold mine operated from the 1850s to the 1950s. It allows a good look at one of the few still-operable 10-stamp mills, where ore-bearing rocks were pulverized and ore sifted out. A miner's cabin, blacksmith shop, and picnic tables are also open. Farther east along State 49, a 2 1/2-mile jog up Gold Lake Road to Lower Sardine Lake offers views of the Sierra Buttes as well as good picnic sites (check road conditions early snows may block access). As you near Yuba Pass, aspen brighten the landscape. From here, State 49 drops down to join State 89, which can take you 25 miles south to 1-80.

For lodging and trip information Call the chamber of commerce in Nevada City at (916) 265-2692, or in Grass Valley at (800) 752-6222 in California, (800) 521-2075 elsewhere. Or write to the Sierra County Tourist Office, Box 473, Downieville 95936.
COPYRIGHT 1990 Sunset Publishing Corp.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1990 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Publication:Sunset
Date:Oct 1, 1990
Words:1338
Previous Article:Bubbling with fun ... four Sacramento museums for children.
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