Strike It Rich in Gold Country
Not too many serious gold-prospectors are left in Calaveras County today, but what you will find are avid golfers and grape growers. With springtime just about to pop, it’s the perfect time to plan a visit to this historic area.
Known for Mark Twain’s “The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County,” this part of the Sierra Foothills hosts an annual frog-jumping contest to commemorate the prized story. Mining for gold began in earnest in 1848 in one of the areas that came to be known as Angels Camp, part of the Mother Lode.
The rolling hillsides, fertile land, historic landmarks, challenging golf courses, delicious wines, and artisan purveyors and chefs make this a go-to destination.
For this trip, we let golf resorts drive where we stayed. First up was Saddle Creek Resort. It is located in Copperopolis, created when copper was discovered in 1861. The sprawling resort is set on 900 verdant acres. Our Lodge Bungalow was nestled on the edge of the course, just a few steps from the main lodge and restaurant. From inside or outside on the patio, we soaked in views of the foothills and the scenic golf course. High ceilings, contemporary furnishings, ample space (two bedrooms and two baths), a fireplace, a full kitchen, and modern amenities make it easy to relax. At 6 the next morning, a cart was parked outside for the golfer’s (aka my husband) convenience on the links.
Closer to Angels Camp, perched at 1,500 feet in the Sierra Nevada (where Twain wrote his memorable tale) is the Greenhorn Creek Resort. With limited accommodations at the club, most guests stay in condos at WorldMark Angels Camp located on the course’s 10th fairway. They are casual, comfortable, and convenient. In the morning, a family of deer munched grass outside our door.
Play & Shop
The Mother Lode has terrific golf experiences (as told to me by my husband). First up was a round at Saddle Creek Resort.
This course is big and bold, from the first tee to the 18th green. Designed by Carter Morrish, the course features breathtaking views and elevation changes that make every shot memorable. The championship layout measures just over 6,800 yards, but players have a wide variety of tees to choose from. At any distance, Saddle Creek is enjoyable for every skill level.
Noted architect Robert Trent Jones II designed the links at Greenhorn Creek Resort. Find imaginative bunkering, well-placed water hazards, rock outcroppings, strategic doglegs, and fabulous undulation. The course plays to a variety of yardages from five different sets of tees. Pick your personal sweet spot between the short tees (4,882 yards) and those designed for low handicappers (6,749 yards) and swing away. It’s fun and challenging, which is all a golfer can ask for.
Calaveras County, in the heart of the Sierra Foothills AVA, has vines dating to the mid-1800s. The wines reflect the warm summer days and cool nights. We started our wine tasting adventure along the tree-lined Main Street of eclectic Murphys, dubbed the Queen of the Sierra. A trading post was first established here during the height of the gold rush. Today, historic buildings with stone walls, iron shutters, picket fences, and beautiful gardens are home to creative restaurants, shops, and some 20 tasting rooms. Next time, we’ll spend at least a day exploring Murphys; here’s a slice of our quick visit:
Located in a sleek new spot on Main (a fire destroyed the historic building that housed them previously), Renner delivers wines that are rich and complex. Favorites included two 2010s: the Syrah and the Canterbury Vineyards Veritas (a wonderful blend of Malbec, Zinfandel, Sauvignon Blanc, and late-harvest Syrah). And don’t miss the delicious estate-grown olive oil.
Just across the street, Lavender Ridge Vineyard specializes in Rhône varietals. The tasting room is consumed with the aroma of fresh lavender as well as from culinary products and lotions. Also find a unique assortment of handcrafted cheeses to pair with the wines. We especially liked the 2011 Roussanne and these 2010s: Mourvèdre and Syrah.
South of town, Four Winds Cellars produces distinctive wines from local estate vineyards. Discover the laid-back tasting room in the middle of a stunning valley. The 2010 Tempest is a balanced blend of Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, Sangiovese, Petite Sirah, and Petite Verdot. The flavorful 2010 Syrah is must-try.
When it’s time to take in the picturesque scenery up-close visit Calaveras Big Trees State Park with its giant sequoias and mammoth Mercer Caverns or go on a hike over the natural bridges by Coyote Creek.
Both resorts at Saddle Creek and Greenhorn Creek offer fitness centers, pools, and scenic hikes.
Angels Camp, host to the annual frog-jumping contest, is another historic Gold Rush town with antique shops, galleries, restaurants, and lore. It’s here we enjoyed a delicious Italian meal at the popular family-owned Crusco’s. We started with sweet jumbo tiger prawns sautéed in garlic, butter, and white wine. The grilled beef tenderloin was served over spinach and soft polenta and topped with Dungeness crab—a yummy combination. The tasty chicken breast with Italian sausage and artichoke hearts was cooked perfectly. Desserts are all homemade, so save room (we had the key lime pie).
CAMP’s is the restaurant at Greenhorn Creek Resort. Situated right next to the lush golf course, the interior boasts walls of windows and high ceilings with a rustic feel. We could only squeeze in breakfast, when the menu features omelets and eggs any style.
In the clubhouse at Saddle Creek, find the Copper Grille. With beautiful views of the foothills and the 9th green, it’s a relaxing place to enjoy a meal. We began dinner with tender steamed clams. (They could have used more red chili flakes to really get kicked-up.) Entrée portions are huge, so be prepared. The maple sugar seared salmon was luscious served with shitake mushrooms and applewood bacon. The smoked ribs were the winner—tender and gooey dripping with barbeque sauce. The 2009 Hatcher Estate Zinfandel was the perfect accompaniment.
PATTY BURNESS can be found on Twitter at @pattygb.