A Mother-Lode Acquaintance……#196 (80’s)

The reaches of Foster City were diminishing in the rear view mirror,  the San Mateo Bridge beckoned a farewell,  the Willson rental Cavalier crossing to the East Bay turning east on Interstate 580 .  The start of a familiar journey through the Livermore Valley venturing the wind-swept Altamont Pass,  a pilgrimage to the residency of Gary’s parents in the tree shrouded Sierra Nevada mountain town of Pioneer.  Traversing thru Tracey then north on highway 99 to Waterloo Road,  the given name for a five miles section of State highway 88.

Continuing east  thru the Sierra foothill gold country,  passing the village of Martel,  beginning a downhill incline towards the town of Jackson,  the family viewing the relic fixtures of two once  prosperous gold mines still present with their stature and heritage,  the Argonaut and the Kennedy.   The Argonaut at its 1942 closing  having the distinction of being the deepest gold mine in North America,  reaching a depth of 5570 feet,  but also having the distinction of losing 47 miners to a fire at the depth of 4650 feet in 1922,  a rescue shaft was provided from the nearby Kennedy mine but to no avail,  the miners were lost.

The infamous Argonault Mine

The infamous Argonaut Mine


raversing Jackson, the legendary gold emporium town on Highway 88,  the Sierra Mountain highway again starting an uphill climb for 16 miles passing thru the hamlet of Pine Grove before discovering Pioneer,  a way-stop from a by-gone era, once christened Pioneer Station,  a stopping point to change wagon horses for the continuous journey over Kit Carson Pass.   The Cavalier continuing  a two mile venture on a gravel road into the forest shrouded surroundings, the pastoral cabin and family members waiting for their arrival.

Pioneer, a remnqnt of the past

Pioneer Ca., a remnant of the past

Pine engulfed Buckhorn Ridge Rd.

The Willson’s sequestered retreat aptly christened “the cabin, in reality was a two bedroom 768 square foot retirement home with a 10 by 32 foot deck.   Gary having fond memories of his youthful days, helping his Dad clear the land and lay the foundation piers for the structures construction and was always mindful of the wilderness,  its eminence of discovery and adventure.  Gary sensing a wave of nostalgia addressing ambiance, seeing his family,  it having been several years since his last endeavor to California.   Sandi and Robert greeting their cousin Sarah and her husband Randy James, their Aunt Nancy, the three having driven from the Sonora area.

The cabin floor joist

Randy, Sarah, Robert, Sandi, Jan

The cabin standing structurally strong and stately,  no longer an addendum,  but a final accomplishment, Gary’s mother the architect and his father the laborer and construction initiator,  the finished product a result of their collective efforts.   The wind in the towering pines giving notice to all that listened,  discovering the message, an invitation,  a beckoning call from the wilderness.  Instinct flourishing,  organizing an outing for Robert and Sandi, a first a journey down the old logging road where as a youth Gary and his sister Nancy discovering a sequestered  cache of dynamite, but on this trek to re-explore the abandoned gold mine with the rusted ore car tracks and its natural spring, the spring at one time the family’s only source of water.  It was no surprised to discover the aqua flow still flowering from the mines darken fissure.   A further expedition,  the three following a well-traveled deer trail in an attempt to discover the remains of the old miners cabin from Gary’s childhood ascendancy,  but the recollection of its location was either amiss or the quondam of history having removed its propinquity.

The dream come true

A returning venture to Jackson with Grandma Willson along, turning on highway 49, towards the town of Mokelumne Hill,  the families destination  the mow call me river and a revered swimming area.  Turning east just before the bridge, then proceeding on the narrow  access road that paralleled the river,  soon reaching a widening area with ample parking among the river shrouded forage.   The river a boyhood memory of  Gary’s dad, able to swim there as a youth in the 1920’s,  one of the few times he was able to share companionship with his father.

Mokelumne Beach - A 1920's swimming experience for Gary's Dad.

Mokelumne Beach – A 1920’s swimming experience for Gary’s Dad.

Mom and Smoky on the Mokelumne River bridge

Embarking to the river’s edge,  finding a large expanse of sand resembling a beach,  its granular consistency reaching out into the water.   Gary briefly reminiscing,  experiencing  a similar scene over three decades ago with his sisters,  recalling their water spaniel Smokey and his Father sharing of his youthful experience of this spot.  Sandi and Robert were hesitant but motivated to venture into  the icy waters of the snow embolden flow that emerged from the apogee of the Sierra’s,  the two soon discovering its temporal aperture unsuitable for a sustainable swimming presence.   With a Mokelumne river memory installed,  the family continuing on  to Columbia,  preparing for the next event of the mother-lode acquaintance.

Robert and Sandi at Mokelumne Beach

Grandma, Robert Sandi, Jan and the river sand

Gary’s sister Nancy providing an opportunity to visit Columbia State Park,  with it 30 original buildings from the 1850 gold mining town, her residence within walking distance of this awe-inspiring exhibition.  The family arriving at the park, experiencing  a journey back in time,  the post office,  bank,  the saloon,  blacksmith shop,  all the conveniences of a by-gone era,  but in reality, a functioning town within a park,  the denizen dressed in character of the historic period.   Among the many exhibits, Sandi and Robert discovering the parks gold panning display the most enjoyable, a unique exhibit with water filled troughs containing sand,  embedded with flakes of real gold to be extracted by the celebrating customers, an experience in California Aurelia mineral history.

Robert, Gary, Sandi panning for gold

  A return to Pioneer a final evening before the family’s departure, Gary anxious in one respect to continue their journey, but an aura of melancholy beginning to filter thru his inner-feeling facade,  knowing that his mother would travel east to visit, but having no idea when he would see father again.


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