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Exploring the Gold Country
Mark Twains literacy career took flight like a Calaveras County jumping frog in Angels Camp
They call Angels Camp Frogtown for its literary heritage. Evidence of this is everywhere. - photo by Photo Contributed

Mark Twain mined – pun intended – the foothills of Northern California for inspiration.

And as the story goes, Samuel Langhorne Clemens – the birth name of one of the American West’s most iconic writers – was sitting on a barstool in the Angels Hotel when he heard one of the damndest stories ever told.

“The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County.”

Twain’s retelling of the tale would launch his literary career – getting published in the New York Saturday Press – and a rehashing of the story even made it into the pages of Huckleberry Finn.

For those willing to make the short hour-long drive from the Northern San Joaquin Valley, the building where he famously heard the yarn in 1865 still stands today as a testament to the spirit-laden storytelling that was so prevalent in Mother Lode mining camps.

The cabin where he scribbled the words still stands just across the Calaveras County line in Jackass Hill.

Tucked along Angels Creek on California’s Highway 4, Angels Camp – a stamp mining town that produced more than $20 million worth of gold during the height of the rush – sits amid a series of foothill communities that serve as a snapshot of life a century ago.

Here are a few things you can enjoy when day-tripping through the region:

• California Cavern State Historic Landmark – Underground caves aren’t a rarity in granite mountains that were made famous for the gold-rich paystreaks contained within. But getting to walk around in them without fearing for your safety is. Every year thousands of schoolchildren gaze and the stalagmites and stalactites protruding from every which way. There are short, easy walks available for those with limited mobility that want to enjoy the attraction, and hardcore spelunking tours for those who aren’t afraid of tight spaces or watery holes. A must see. 

• Ebbetts Pass Scenic Byway – During the winter months this road can be brutal. But when the snow melts, it’s one of the most beautiful places to traverse in all of California. This road does wind – it’s the kind of drive where the trip and the journey are better than the actual destination. So downshift and enjoy the best of what Mother Nature – and Calaveras County – has to offer. 

• Utica Park – After a day of strolling historic downtown Angels Camp, Utica Park offers a beautiful and serene reprieve for those looking to either grab a quick minute of shade or spend a few hours enjoying lunch with family and friends. It’s built over an underground mine – a testament to the history of the area – and its beauty shows the reclamation of what would otherwise be an abandoned area.

• Calaveras County Fair and Jumping Frog Jubilee – You’ll have to wait until May of 2015, but watching people coax frogs into jumping for distance is one of those things that you truly have to see to believe. Mark Twain would have had a field day actually watching all of this take place. You will too. 

To get to Angels Camp, take Highway 99 north through Stockton to the Highway 4 East exit. Follow the highway through Farmington and Copperopolis. It will eventually flow right into the heart of Angels Camp.