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Sonora got its name from miners who came from Sonora, Mexico
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SONORA — You know you’re in Sonora, California, when you see “The Red Church.” At least, that is true to a lot of visitors to this historic Gold Country town in the foothills. That’s also the nickname that locals simply use to describe this photogenic circa-1860 house of worship for the very obvious reason, and why it’s a favorite photographic subject of many a camera-toting tourist.

The church, which is just one of the many historic churches dotting equally historic Highway 49, is actually the St. James Episcopal Church built in 1860. It’s smack-dab in the middle of a protruding corner in downtown Sonora, its bright red bricks standing out against the surrounding stark trees in winter and the blue skies plus bright fall foliage in autumn that photographers find hard to resist.

Sonora - known during the Gold Rush as “The Queen of the Southern Mines”: - was named by miners who hailed from Sonora, Mexico

Incorporated in 1851, Sonora sits like a gem in the heart of California’s Gold Country in scenic Sierra Nevada Foothills. The city, which evolved from a mining camp during the Gold Rush days into the commerce Mecca of the region, is the county seat of Tuolumne County. It is also the home of nearly 5,000 residents based on the 2010 census.

The city was founded by Mexican miners during the California Gold Rush. During the Gold Rush days, Sonora was a booming industrial and business Mecca in the Mother Lode. But as the gold-mining boom turned to bust with the value of gold plummeting, and the “gold fever” slowly died down, the town subsequently decreased in size and population over the years.

But scenic Sonora’s other shining gold was discovered in later years by the celluloid industry. A whole laundry list of films and television series shot in and around Sonora attests to the city’s wealth of photogenic sceneries. To name a few of the blockbuster movies and television series that used Sonora as the backdrop: “Back to the Future Part III” (1990), The Big Valley TV series (1965), The Call of the Wild (1935), Chattanooga Choo  Choo (1983), East of Eden (1981), For Whom the Bell Tolls (1943), Gunsmoke TV series (1971), Hopalong Cassidy TV series (1952), and Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989), among many others.


209 staff reporter