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Poking along through the Calaveras Gold Country.

As a late-summer destination, California's Gold Country generally ranks too high on the thermometer. But in Calaveras County you can immerse yourself in the historic atmosphere of old-time towns, poke along picturesque side roads, then escape from scorching heat to explore cool caves and high country. The sleepy towns are well off the route of throngs on their way to Yosemite or Lake Tahoe. Walk through historic towns during cool hours of the day. In Angels Camp, stop by the Calaveras County Chamber of Commerce, 753 Main Street, for walking-tour maps; call (800) 999-9039 for information. Stroll down covered sidewalks; picnic or play in Utica Park near a statue of Mark Twain (who immortalized the jumping frog of Calaveras County). Utica Mansion Inn serves evening meals, offers Victorian rooms; call (209) 736-4209. The Cooper House B & B (736-2145) is another excellent lodging choice. On State 4 about 9 miles northeast of Angels Camp is the charming town of Murphys. Old buildings offer antiques, new and used clothing, and handicrafts for sale. You can still belly up to the bar or dine at the Murphys Hotel. (Its historic rooms are slightly faded; check them out before checking in.) The Dunbar House (728-2897) is an elegant B & B. San Andreas' Main Street, off State 49, has just a trace of gold rush appeal. The Calaveras County Courthouse Museum, near Black Bart Inn, has displays of pioneer life and Miwok Indian artifacts. Black Bart's bunk is in the jail behind. Mokelumne Hill looks and feels like a Gold Country town should. Hilly streets offer good vantage points for overall views. Along Main and Center streets, historic structures now house antiques, pottery, and snack shops. Drive scenic back roads through the hills around these towns. For an hour-long drive from Murphys, take Sheep Ranch Road (see map), then Mountain Ranch Road to State 49 at San Andreas. Stevenot Winery 21/2 miles out of Murphys) has wine tasting in its sod-roofed house and picnic areas overlooking the vines; it's open 10 to 5 daily. Explore cool caves during the heat of the day. (Cave temperatures are between 55' and 6 1 .) On State 4 about 5 miles northcast of Angels Camp, turn off for Moaning Cavern, open 10 to 5. You descend stairs 165 feet to a subterranean platform, where you can see Indian relies and lime formations. Or, if you're feeling more adventurous, rappel 185 feet to the cavern floor. The 45-minute tour costs $5.75 for adults, $2.75 ages 6 through 12. Another cool stop is Mercer Caverns, a mile northwest of Murphys. Climb down wooden and concrete stairs past stalagmites, stalactites, and crystalline formations. It's open 9 to 5 daily ( I I to 4 weekends only during the school year); cost is $5, $2.50 for ages 6 through 12. From Mountain Ranch Road, take the turnoff to Cave City and California Caverns (open 10 to 5 daily through October). The 80-minute Trail of Lights tour follows a nearly level path through 12 rooms of various lime formations. Cost is $5.75, $2.75 for children 6 through 12. Wander through the great outdoors. State 4 takes you into high country. At the Stanislaus National Forest ranger station in Hathaway Pines, stop for information on hiking trails. Farther along State 4, at 4,750 feet, stretch your legs in the lofty serenity of Calaveras Big Trees State Park. The mile-long signed North Grove Trail introduces you to Sequoiadendron giganteum and other large trees. The 5-mile South Grove Trail shows off the big trees in a remote setting. Reserve campsites up to 60 days ahead by calling (800) 444-7275. For gorgeous, expansive mountain views, continue about 25 miles up State 4 to Bear Valley (at 7,000 feet). 1:1
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Title Annotation:California
Date:Sep 1, 1990
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