In September, we attended our first all-Airstream event, Alumafandango, in Jackson, California, at the Jackson Rancheria Casino Resort. It was a 5-day event put on by the AirstreamLife.com folks and it was a blast! We attended several informative workshops, made new friends, explored California’s gold country, feasted on a very tasty catered BBQ dinner and enjoyed some great entertainment.
Jackson Rancheria Casino Resort is owned and operated by the Jackson Rancheria Band of Miwok Indians and includes a Casino, Hotel, RV Park and General Store & Gas Station on the reservation. It’s very well maintained and the staff is extremely nice and helpful. We were amazed to find out that they are the largest employer in Amador County.
The official start of Alumafandango was Tuesday, September 20th, but we got there a day early to avoid the 1st day check-in crowd. The entire RV Park, 100 sites, had been rented out for the event.
The first day of the event was check-in and sign-up for workshops and off-site activities. The AirstreamLife.com folks had a full slate of workshops and side trips for attendees to choose from. The day ended with a nice ice-breaker type of happy hour.
The workshops were mostly Airstream specific. We attended quite a number of them that included: a trailer tire changing workshop (every travel trailer owner should know how to do this); WBCCI (Wally Byam Caravan Club International) information presentation (they had some great pictures from a club trip to Alaska); a presentation about how to maximize storage in your Airstream; a propane safety workshop; a PEX plumbing workshop; a towing workshop for women (I didn’t go to this one). There were other workshops, but we could fit just so many into each day, so we missed out on a few.
In addition to the workshops, we took some side trips to explore the area. There is a lot of California Gold history in Amador County. The added value was some very good food and wine!
The first off-site trip we took on Wednesday, was a self-guided walking tour of Jackson’s historic main street. Founded in 1848, Jackson is the largest city in Amador County, which is kind of amazing since it sure didn’t look very big to me. It was originally a gold rush camp but later turned into a city as more and more gold was extracted from the mines nearby.
Jackson has quite a history of crooked politics, lynching’s, murders and rebuilding that appears to have been quite common in gold country. Most of the gold rush towns in the county burned down at least once. Jackson burned in 1862 and was rebuilt. Forty-two of the rebuilt buildings still remain today and are featured on the self-guided walking tour. Each has a plaque out front with a brief historical write-up. One of the more notable buildings is the National Hotel.
In 1849, Ellis Evans and D.C. White (both from Pennsylvania) built a general store at the south end of Jackson’s Main Street. The store became The Louisiana Hotel and Store three years later. The building burned down in 1862 and was rebuilt by the two men. They named this new, larger building the National Hotel. A lot of strange things reportedly happened here during the gold rush era and it’s rumored to be haunted. I read that the rooms with the most paranormal activities are 45, 47 and 61. We ate lunch in The Stanley Restaurant, which is in the National Hotel (didn’t see or hear one ghost). Alexandra had fish tacos with house made BBQ potato chips and I had a Portobello mushroom burger with seasoned fries. Both were very, very good and the price was quite reasonable.
Thursday, we went into Jackson for the Amador County Museum tour that we signed up for. The tour was done in an old house that was constructed by a judge. It is a two-story house with a lot of historical items spanning from the gold rush days up to the 1960’s. The second part of the tour was about the Kennedy Gold Mine. For this part of the tour, we were taken to another building where the guide was dressed up like a 49-er. He showed exact working replicas of the Kennedy Gold Mine header, the Kennedy stamper (used to crush rock), a tail wheel (that moved waste water and materials to another location) and explained the purpose of each. The models were fairly big with a scale of 1 inch = 1 foot, so the real things had to be huge! It was a very interesting tour that showed how hard the miner’s life was and explained their short average life span of 35 years. The fine dust they breathed, which they could not see, and/or handling mercury (used to extract gold from crushed rock) with their bare hands killed a lot of them. There were some pretty gruesome accidents also.
As we were leaving the museum, we met a volunteer who was cleaning up an area in another museum building. She asked how we liked the tour and what had we seen in Jackson. She then told us that in 1921 her grandmother, Teresa Bassignani, opened Teresa’s Place, originally a boarding house for miners. After the mines closed, it became a restaurant that is still family owned and operated. She was very nice and encouraged us to explore other historical parts of Jackson. She even drew us a map showing the location of an existing Kennedy Mine tailing wheel, the St. Sava Serbian Cemetery and her family’s restaurant, Teresa’s. It was interesting and nice to talk to a 3rd generation local who had a lot of pride about Jackson history, which she obviously enjoyed sharing. Teresa’s Restaurant did not serve lunch that day so we decided to explore the area and maybe have lunch at her restaurant on Friday.
After the museum, we headed off to grab some lunch and to explore the surrounding countryside. Our first stop was a little town called Volcano. We had lunch at the Kneading Dough bakery, which had great sandwiches and soup. After lunch, we stopped by the bakery counter and bought a walnut/fig bar, triple berry miniature pie and get this: a loaf of roasted garlic/potato/bacon bread! Next door to the bakery is the oldest operating grocery store in the U.S. and it looked like it! The owner, who is a real character, gave us a walking guide map for Volcano.
On our way back from Volcano, we stopped at Black Chasm Cavern. We had about 40 minutes before the cavern tour started so we took a short hike on a loop trail, the Lower Zen Trail, near the cavern. The trail was scenic and passed by an area with some odd, large boulders. We heard some kind of animal howl/growl nearby at the end of our hike, so we quickly returned to the cavern tour area. We’ve done a lot of hiking, seen and heard a lot of animals, but we could not recognize this animal sound at all. Maybe it was Bigfoot for all I know.
The cavern tour lasted about 50 minutes and featured some world class formations. There were even rare helictite formations that are found in only 5-10% of caves in North America. It was well worth our time and our guide, Drew, enjoyed giving the tour. If you are ever in the area, we recommend a visit to Black Chasm Cavern. As a side note, Drew advised us to not go to the bar in the St. George Hotel (in Volcano) because his uncle was the bartender and he was not a good one. He was laughing when he gave us this advice.
Later that night in our Airstream, we tried a piece of the roasted garlic/potato/bacon bread we got in Volcano, and for me, it was like being in “hog-heaven”. We didn’t stop with just one piece each, oink, oink. Thursday was a busy day.
After attending some workshops on Friday morning, we pulled out the map that the lady from the museum had drawn for us the previous day. The first stop was the Kennedy Mine tailing wheels at Tailing Wheels Park in Jackson. There is one that collapsed and another one still standing. The standing one is HUGE, 55 feet tall, and encased in a building with glass walls on two sides so you can see it. It really was incredible to think they had made this wheel out of wood. At the top of the park, we looked over a valley where the Kennedy Mining Company had to build a dam to hold the waste the Tailing Wheels moved from the mine. The mine had to build the wheels and dam area for the mine waste because farmers complained that the mine wastewater, being drained into the river, was killing crops and poisoning farm animals.
We then proceeded over to Teresa’s Restaurant for lunch. I ordered Chicken Cacciatore with a side salad and Alexanda ordered stuffed avocado on lettuce. The salads were quite a pleasant surprise since they had fresh (and I mean fresh!) vegetables. The tomatoes they uses were a rich red color and delicious so we knew they were raised locally. The waitress, one of the owner’s sisters, confirmed, with great pride I must say, that the vegetables were from the restaurant’s own garden. Outside of a trip we took to Italy years back, this was some of the best Italian food we have had and it truly did taste homemade. The icing on the cake was that the meals were VERY reasonable. A delicious lunch for two with iced teas came to $23.
After lunch, we drove back to Volcano to get more roasted garlic/potato/bacon bread. Although it was tough for me, we parted with a loaf to give to the Alumafandago organizers.
On our way back from Volcano, we stopped by Indian Grinding Rock State Park. The Chaw’se Regional Indian Museum features a number of interesting exhibits. It was created in 1968 and preserves a great outcropping of marbleized limestone with some 1,185 mortar holes — the largest collection of bedrock mortars in North America. These are the rocks that the Miwok women used for grinding acorns.
Next to the grinding stones is a reconstructed Miwok village, which includes a ceremonial roundhouse and gives one an idea how the Northern Sierra Miwok lived. Today, the roundhouse (hun’ge) is used for various Miwok social gatherings and ceremonial events. The Miwok traditionally held ceremonies in roundhouses to pray, to mourn the dead, or to observe special occasions through music and dance. In a typical village, the roundhouse community center was the largest building and tended to be between 20 and 50 feet in diameter. The Indian Grinding Rock State Historic Park roundhouse is 60 feet across and is one of the largest in California. Four massive beams support the roof. A hole in the center of the roof allows smoke from the fire pit to escape and also permits some observation of the night sky.
When we visited the park, it happened to be during Big Time, which is the Miwok annual acorn gathering ceremony. Miwok families had reserved the park for the weekend, starting Thursday evening. Some had arrived and setup camps and a few booths. Children were playing in the Indian Game Field. The Roundhouse had a big fire in the middle with four poles surrounding it. Big Time is one of two annual events when the public is allowed access to the Roundhouse; the other is Chaw’se Days, which takes place each Memorial Day weekend. There was an Indian seated outside of the Roundhouse and we asked if we could go inside. He said yes, but we could not touch any of the poles, had to walk outside of the poles and could not take photos or videos. Once inside, we saw a ranger who reminded us of the same rules. We asked why was there money on the floor next to the poles? The ranger said that the four poles symbolized Prosperity, Puberty, Health and something else I’ve forgotten and can’t find on the Internet. The prosperity pole had the most money by it and the one I can’t remember had no money by it so it must represent something like the IRS.
We felt lucky to have been able to visit the park during an event so important to local Native Americans and to see that such an event occurs in California. Having come from the Los Angeles area, we never hear about events like this. The park has several small trails (South Trail and North Trail) that we hiked. The scenery was beautiful. All in all, we’d recommend visiting this park if you are ever in the area, especially during a tribal event the public is allowed to attend.
Saturday was the last full day of AlumaFandango. In the morning while I attended some worshops Alexandra went to Volcano, again, to buy a couple more loaves of roasted garlic/potato/bacon bread that we gorged ourselves on and are now hooked on. Both of us then attended a presentation by the Bowlus Company about the history of the Bowlus Road Chief, which was the inspiration for Airstream travel trailers. Later that afternoon, the rally had a swap meet where attendees sold items they either made or sell for a living. That evening we attended a catered BBQ buffet dinner and then went to a show featuring musician Antsy McClain. His music is good and he’s very funny. Look him up on youtube.com when you get a chance.
We did go into Jackson on Saturday to see the annual Musical Organ Rally. There were supposed to be 10 organ grinders in attendance, although I think we only saw 6 or 7. We had no idea these things were still being made but apparently they are. Many were made by a company in Germany. We planned on going to a church concert they did on Sunday, but we got sidetracked and didn’t make it back in time.
Here’s a couple of short Oragan Grinder Clips. The second one got cut-off, but you’ll get the idea.
Sunday was checkout day for most of the event attendees, but we were staying 2 more days to explore the area a little more.
The first thing we did on Sunday was tour the Kennedy Gold Mine. It’s famous for being one of the deepest gold mines in the world at 5,912 feet. It was prospected in 1860, reorganized (new owners) in 1886 and operated until 1942. The value of the gold the mine produced was approximately $34,280,000 when gold was valued at $20.67 and $35.00 per ounce. Today’s dollar value would be significantly more.
Kennedy Mine has one of the tallest head frames in existence. The head frame houses a hoisting mechanism (pulleys and cables) that lowered and raised large metal skiffs, which moved men and ore in and out of the mine. The mine also had one of the largest stamp mills. The stamp mill crushed rock so gold could be extracted. The Kennedy stamp mill could be heard for miles and miners working in the stamp mill quickly went deaf. Wastewater, sludge and other useless materials created when gold was extracted, called tailings, was moved to a dammed storage area by means of huge wooden wheels called tailing wheels. A docent gave the tour, which was very interesting.
Next, we went to the town of Sutter Creek to explore. Main Street had some historic buildings, which are mostly typical touristy stores. We walked through a few antique stores and stopped by a little cheese/wine shop to sample some cheeses. They were all good and we ended up buying some.
I felt like I was catching a cold on Monday, so we decided to take it easy since we were going to Yosemite for a few days on Tuesday. We drove by Lake Almador and then decided to take a drive on some country roads. We took highway 49 to Placerville and back, going through Diamond Springs and Plymouth. It is scenic and the countryside is beautiful, though some of the roads are pretty narrow. We drove through Fiddletown and Drytown. All of them offered a lot of Gold Rush history.
Tuesday was checkout day for us. We left Jackson for Yosemite, which will be our next post.
As a sidenote, one thing that we didn’t expect was being able to see the Milky Way at night in the RV Park. We thought for sure there would be more light pollution. I should have brought one of my telescopes! Also, as a side-side-note, Alexandra has towed our Airstream this entire trip, for the first time, and I get to enjoy the scenery!
That’s it for now … the next stop is Yosemite!