July 23 – August 3, 2020
The next day, our last in town, we opted for what we hoped would be a less difficult ride, down to Angels Camp on Highway 4 and then back up Murphy’s Grade Road. This would mostly be the case with a few small exceptions, starting with a rough descent on the shoulder, full of bumps and cracks, with traffic whizzing by at high speed. Not your most pleasant experience but a bit of what one endures when they choose to do something as foolish as riding a bike on a highway.
We entered Angel’s Camp and stopped for a moment to admire a sign painted on a hotel proclaiming the town to be the home of Mark Twain’s Famous Jumping Frog of Calaveras County. Its success led to numerous Frog jumping contests that are held in small communities scattered around the United States.
Perhaps the most well-known is held annually in Angels Camp since 1928. With 4,000 contestants in 2007, the contest imposed strict rules regulating the frog’s welfare, including limiting the daily number of a frog’s jumps and mandating the playing of calming music in their enclosures. Participants entering the longest-jumping frog were to win a $750 prize, or $5,000 if their frog were to break the 1986 record of 21 feet 5 3⁄4 inches (6.547 m), set by “Rosie the Ribeter“.
As we sat there, we started up a conversation with the fellow that owns the hotel, formerly from the Los Angeles area and full of good information about the area. As we chatted, I noted that that pesky rear tire was going flat again and so retired to a shady spot to pump some more air into it and subsequently, limped back to Murphy’s by returning on one of my favorite routes in the area, Murphy’s Grade Road.
Along the way to stopped to admire one of the remaining water flumes that traverses the side of the road, possibly dating back to the gold rush days and rebuilt in 2008 by the Utica Power and Water Authority, it is part of the living history of the area. We finished up the ride, glad to be back without any further tire mishaps and cleaned up, ready to finish off the day with a drive down Highway 49 to Sonora.
Sonora, the county seat of Tuolumne County, is also a special place for me as I lived there for about a month at the tail end of the cone project. By early December collection had wound down and I joined one of the crew to be based at the CDF fire station in Sonora. We then spent our final days going out to a number of CDF stations and taking down trees that had been identified as diseased or dying or both.
For the first and just about only time in my life I got to regularly use a chain saw and except for the fact no one in their right mind would let me fell a tree, I was pretty much a junior lumber jack. The best thing about the arrangement was back at the station the barracks were centrally heated and had an unlimited amount of hot water, both being in short or non-existent supply back at Aggie and Dick’s cabin.
Most nights I and a couple of other members of the crew would amble into town and hit one of the bars, this one also featured a card room where one could play poker for money, and while away the night playing pool and drinking beer. Warren Zevon’s Werewolves of London was popular at the time and whenever I hear that tune, it takes me back to those cold winter nights where a bar provides a welcoming environment.
We parked and walked up and down the main street, window shopping and reminiscing about visits here in the past, and then finished up and drove back to Murphy’s. We stopped at the top of Jackass Hill, at a site we visit almost every time we are in the area, the Mark Twain Cabin. Langhorne Clemens, better known today as Mark Twain, arrived at this small cabin to stay with local miners Jim and Steve Gillis. At the age of 30, he had already been first a riverboat pilot and then a miner himself and having failed at the latter profession he had decided to try his hand at journalism.
While staying at the Gillis brothers’ cabin, one day Clemens went to a saloon in Angels Camp where he heard a story about a jumping frog. Taking notes, he wrote the story down in his own style and published it as “The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County” under the name Mark Twain, thus beginning in earnest his career as a writer. The cabin that stands on the site today is a replica, built in 1922, but the fireplace and chimney are original.
Later, back in town, we’d head to the edge of town to Rob’s Place for dinner and a fine experience it would be. Again, focusing on local wines, we both chose those from Vina Moda, with their chardonnay to accompany our first food selection, the Tempura Avocado, served with a basil horseradish aioli and a chipotle sauce. Was it good? You bet, just as good as that great version we had in New Orleans at Cane and Table in 2016 with Lyndsay (https://3jmann.com/2016/05/02/south-east-spring-swing-new-orleans-4/).
Early on we decided to stick with appetizers that night and so immediately went for the Bacon Apple Turnover, those two primary ingredients married to gruyere cheese and sautéed onion, as savory and good as it sounds. Moving on, another glass of wine led us to our final choice, the Bruschetta, a different preparation than normal as it was served on small slices of un-toasted baguette, highlighted by the fresh tomatoes, parmesan, and basil on top.
We settled our tab at $85 including the tip, again fairly reasonably priced given the amount of food and alcohol consumed and returned to the hotel for one more night’s good sleep. With a fairly easy six-hour drive ahead of us the next day we didn’t dawdle much in the morning, stopping first at Gold Country Roasters for a big latte and a snack for the road.
Not quite two hours into the journey, we got off Highway 99 in Merced to stop for breakfast at the Denny’s there. Not always our first choice for dining, readers of the blog know we like to stop there at least once during a long trip for a decent breakfast. In particular I like the vegetarian omelet they serve, which I can often get on the 55+ menu (smaller portions) and Joanna can usually fine some imaginative pancake concoction.
We were seated outdoors in a portion of the parking lot, not entirely comfortable as it was very warm out and we were partially in the sun. Another disappointment was that they didn’t offer any version of a vegetable omelet, so I ordered something with bacon and avocado and had my quotient of pork protein for the week.
Joanna would be delighted with her Cinnamon Roll Pancake Breakfast which also included eggs and hash browns. She did a stand-up job eating quite a bit of it, but when looking at the amount of food included one wonders how do people eat all of this at one time?
We settled up at $34.64 including tip and hopping back on the freeway cruised back into town safely. Our first venture out during Covid-19 had been successful, spending time in places familiar and unfamiliar to us, in a pretty safe fashion. All of our dining had been outdoors, we saw nearly universal wearing of masks, and the lodging we frequented went to great lengths to reassure us that they were striving to maintain a safe and sanitary room environment. Heartened, we could now begin to plan a few more trips like this one, car based and visiting locales where Covid counts are low. Bring on the future.
Jumping Frog: https://twain.lib.virginia.edu/projects/price/frog.htm
Rob’s Place: https://www.robsplacerestaurant.com/
Vina Moda: https://vinamoda.com/
Gold Country Roasters: https://goldcountryroasters.com/