the not-so-wild wild west
From Yosemite we made our way north to Lake Tahoe. Had we stayed a few days longer, the Tioga Pass would have opened, making for a relatively quick drive through the Sierra Nevada mountains. As it was early in the season and the Tioga road was still closed, we had to leave the mountains and make our way north around them, adding a few hours of sightseeing to our scenic route.
The GPS suggested taking CA-99 through California’s Central Valley, which was the fastest alternative to the Tioga road, even though it was farther as the crow flies than the route we decided to take. Although we did not put much stock in the Yosemite park rangers’ assertion that this was the worst road in the world (clearly they need to travel out of the country a bit more), we were loath to take this arid highway through the dessicated Central Valley.
Instead, we opted for CA-49, a beautiful, tortuous road that wound its serpentine way through the foothills of the Sierra Nevada, offering gorgeous views on every hairpin turn. It was much slower going than the highway would have been, made even slower by our frequent photo stops. Although we arrived in Tahoe well after nightfall as a result, this less travelled road was well worth it.
In addition to the great views, CA-49 passes through a handful of gold rush era towns that provide historic color to the region’s natural beauty. Some, like Groveland, play up their mining history with storefronts and saloons that seem to have changed little in the century and a half since gold fever fizzled. Others, like Coulterville, have a quaint frontier feel while giving a modern facelift to their main drags that mask the feeling one gets of being on the set of an old western film.
We stopped for lunch in Mariposa (pronounced with a Z sound at the end that tries to obliterate the evocation of lepidoptery). S struggled with the name, relapsing into the Castillian pronunciation, but loved the town so much that she wished we had had more time – to spend the night and wander around a few of the frontier towns through which we passed.
This would become a familiar refrain throughout our trip – pretty much every place we visited during our three weeks in California left us wishing we had had more time to spend there.