Gold Rush site is a real gem in winter

By Kerry Drager
Bee Staff Writer
Published Dec. 24, 1997

Next month, 150 years after the fact, California starts a three-year commemoration of the gold strike, the Gold Rush and statehood. The kickoff is Jan. 24 in Coloma, home of Marshall Gold Discovery State Historic Park.

But that's not the only Gold Country park to bring to life those tumultuous times. For another perspective on the Gold Rush, try Indian Grinding Rock State Historic Park.
Yuba countryside
Mortars at Chaw'Se Indian Grinding Rock State Historic Park

Bee photo: Dick Schmidt
This Amador County park is one of my favorite Sierra escapes, because of its combination of history and the outdoors: a re-created Miwok village, a collection of bedrock mortar holes, nature trails, a reasonably priced campground, a refreshing peacefulness found only in the offseason and a first-class museum that tells how the Gold Rush ended the age-old world of the Sierra's Indians.

Open every day, including Christmas and New Year's, Indian Grinding Rock lies at 2,400 feet in elevation east of Jackson. Between storms, things can be surprisingly pleasant; for instance, while fog draped Sacramento on a recent day, conditions in the Amador foothills were bright and brisk. The park's supervising ranger, Curtis D. Kraft, put it this way: "Winter is a perfect time to see the park and to enjoy it when there's not a lot of people here."

Of particular interest is the Chaw'se Regional Indian Museum (open daily, but unlike the rest of the park, closed Christmas and New Year's). The museum, which profiles the Northern Sierra Miwok and other Sierra Indian groups, features artifacts, monthly demonstrations of basket weaving and soapstone carving and exhibits such as "Sutter Invades the Wilderness," "Cycles of Violence" and "Indians in the Diggings." Here's an excerpt from one display:

"During 1848, the first year of mining, Native Americans made up half of the 4,000 miners working the Sierra's waterways.. . . But as news of the gold find spread, increasing numbers of white miners reached the foothills, forcing Indians out of the diggings by threatening -- and using -- violence."

Near the museum, a concrete walkway winds past the village's bark houses, ceremonial roundhouse and Indian game field. The adjacent limestone outcroppings contain hundreds of grinding holes in which the Miwok people ground acorns and other seeds into meal; for a close-up look, walk out to the viewing platform.

Unpaved walking routes include the one-mile North Trail, which traverses the park's out-of-the-way scenery, and the half-mile South Nature Trail, which identifies some of the plants used by the Miwok people.

The park day-use fee is $5 per car. First-come, first-served campsites run $12 a night -- on the low side for developed, drive-in campgrounds in California. Says Kraft, "We're trying to be the best bargain around."

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