Saturday, May 11, 2019
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Along California’s historic Highway 49, tucked neatly into a beautifully forested valley in the Sierra foothills, Marshall Gold Discovery State Historic Park straddles the South Fork of the American River. Here, on January 24, 1848, James Marshall found gold flakes in the tailrace and sparked one of history’s largest human migrations. *2
James W. Marshall discovered gold in 1848 on the South Fork of the American River in the valley the Nisenan Indians knew as Cullumah (beautiful valley). This event led to the greatest mass movement of people in the Western Hemisphere and was the spark that ignited the spectacular growth of the West during the ensuing decades. The gold discovery site, located in the still visible tailrace of Sutter’s sawmill in present day Coloma, California, is one of the most significant historic sites in the nation. See a replica of the original sawmill and over 20 historic buildings including a mining exhibit, Chinese store exhibits, and schoolhouse exhibit. Visitors have the opportunity to pan for gold in the American River and enjoy hikes and picnics under the riparian oak woodlands.*1
This hike takes you on a clockwise loop around the western side of the park on the Monument Trail up to the James Marshall Monument followed by a jaunt along the Monroe Ridge Trail into the valley at Monroe Orchard. The short hike can be extended for another 2.6 miles with a leisurely walk through the historic town.
Begin this hike from the Mill parking lot off Hwy 49.
Follow the trail through the parking lot, cross Hwy 49 and make your way to the Gold Discovery Museum. Follow the gravel path along the right side of the building towards the open park area. The path will lead you westward past the picnic area behind the restrooms to the Marshall Monument Trail post.
Turn left onto Marshall Monument Tr, it traverses the hillside in a series of switchbacks through the beautiful shaded oak woodlands.
The trail leads up to the park ranger residence and towards the Monument picnic area.
Turn left and follow the paved road up to the James Marshall Monument. Overlooking the beautiful river canyon is the Marshall Monument, California’s first historic monument and the final resting place of James Marshall. The statue looks down on the river and points to the site of the gold discovery. *1
Return to the main road, past the picnic area and parking lot towards Monument Rd to the Monroe Ridge Trailhead.
Turn left onto Monroe Ridge Trail, the gradual incline leads up to the Vista Point/North Beach sign post.
Enjoy the Vista Point views!
The trail continues through the shaded oak/bay woodlands to the next trail post.
Follow the left arrow to stay on the trail, it leads to a view point picnic area with gorgeous views of the American River and it’s surrounding canyon and ridges.
The trail continues through a beautiful section of manzanitas as it drops down to the wooden bridge crossing.
Wildflowers and insects!
The trail exits out onto the open valley at the Monroe Orchard.
Cross Hwy 49, cut through the North Beach parking lot to the Gold Discovery Site and towards the Mill Site.
View the sawmill replica, Sutter’s Mill Site and the American River! One outstanding attraction of the park is the full-sized replica of Sutter’s sawmill. The original, abandoned and torn down for its lumber, disappeared in the flood of 1862. The replica, looking much like the original, was recently rebuilt near the discovery site. Some of the original mill’s timbers, reclaimed from the river, are displayed nearby. Gold panning activities take place year-round. *2
Continue along the path through the park, it leads you out onto Main St.
Turn left onto Main St to Mt Murphy Rd for the scenic walk across the Historic Coloma Bridge circa 1915. Enjoy the river views!
Continue the walk with a jaunt along Gold Panning Beach. Enjoy the river views!
Reverse your way across the bridge to Main St to continue the stroll around town. Marshall Gold Discovery State Historic Park, created in 1942, encompasses most of the historic town of Coloma. A number of historic buildings and sites — including the working blacksmith shop, the Price-Thomas and Papini homes, the Mormon, James Marshall and Miner’s cabins, and the Indian bedrock mortar. *2
Monroe House: According to the Gooch-Monroe oral history, Peter and Nancy Gooch came to Coloma as slaves in 1849. In 1850 California was admitted to the union as a free state, so Peter and Nancy gained their freedom. Peter Gooch worked in construction and at odd jobs, and Nancy did domestic chores for the miners. By 1861 Nancy had saved enough money to buy freedom for her son, Andrew Monroe, who was still a slave in Missouri. Andrew brought his wife, Sarah, and their three children to Coloma, where they became respected farmers. In the 1940s, the State purchased some of the Monroe landholdings from Andrew Monroe’s son, Pearley, which included the original site of Sutter’s Mill and the site of Marshall’s gold discovery — the foundation of today’s park. The entire Gooch-Monroe family is buried in the park’s Pioneer Cemetery. *2
Continue on Main St past the Blacksmith Shop to the old School House.
Stay on Hwy 49 and Springs Rd to Pioneer Cemetery.
Cross Cold Spring Rd to Monument Rd/CA 153, California’s shortest State Hwy.
Monument Rd continues with a steady uphill to Monument Picnic Area. From there, follow the fenced trail to the Catholic Cemetery.
Continue on the trail to Marshall’s Cabin.
The trail continues past St John’s Catholic Church.
The trail ends at High St, follow the paved road back to the park area.
Check out the jail ruins and beer garden.
The Gold Discovery Museum admission is included with the parking fee.
Continue the walk through the park and explore the outdoor mining exhibits.
Remnants of the Chinese Community: News of Marshall’s gold discovery spread throughout the world. In China, California was called Gum San —“Gold Mountain.” Chinese workers, lured to California by a promised golden mountain from which they could literally carve out their fortune, were fleeing years of war and poverty. Chinese miners at Coloma — thought to have numbered about 50 — were so efficient at finding gold that other miners complained of a “Chinese invasion.” Hostilities among the miners helped spark discriminatory taxes and laws that were enforced only against “foreign” immigrant miners. The easy-to-find placer gold at Coloma played out early. By 1857 many miners had left, but a few Chinese miners remained to work the placer sites. Two structures used by the Chinese remain in the park today — the Man Lee building, which housed a Chinese trading and banking company as well as a hardware store, and the Wah Hop Store, once leased to a Chinese merchant of that name. They currently house exhibits of gold mining techniques and the mercantile goods needed by the Chinese miners.*2
Like others from around the world, the Chinese joined the California gold rush in hopes of finding quick wealth to take back home. In 1848 there were only two Chinese in California. In 1850 there were 500, and their numbers began to increase quickly. By 1855 the Chinese population of California had swelled to 20,000. *3
During the later years of the gold rush, Coloma had a large Chinese population. Coloma’s “Chinatown” encompassed the whole area west of the present Hwy 49, from the Chinese Stores to beyond the end of the picnic area. As the valley’s placer mines petered out and were abandoned by other miners, Chinese miners took them over. Their patience and frugality allowed them to make a profit from these supposedly “exhausted” placers. *3
Many resented the success of the Chinese, and in 1861 a riot occurred over the right to mine under an old hotel. A mob of drunken white miners rampaged through Coloma’s Chinatown, looting and destroying buildings. The Chinese were chased away, many were beaten, and several were killed. Chinatown recovered from the vicious attack, but it was finally destroyed by fire in 1880. The Man Lee and Wah Hop stores are all that survive.*3
Continue across the park to the Indian Grinding Rock.
For thousands of years, the Nisenan and foothill Miwok people built their dome shaped houses and cedar bark structures in villages along the streams and
tributaries that drained into the American, Cosumnes, Bear, and Yuba rivers. They called their home along the American River “Cullumah,” now known as Coloma. As “river people,” they enjoyed an abundance of freshwater fish as well as waterfowl, elk, deer, and small game and lived on a staple diet of corns, seeds, and fruits. The hollowed-out holes in a large bedrock in the park— the last remaining evidence of the native people’s original presence here — show
how they processed the acorns that formed their main diet. *2
This is a great way to spend a day with an easy hike and it’s also an opportunity to learn about California’s gold rush history with a stroll through the Historic town of Coloma. Plan ahead and make it so.
*1 Marshall Gold Discovery State Historic Park
*2 park brochure
*3 Coloma History
Total: 6.2 Miles with 842′ elevation gain
Trail hike: Monument-Monroe Ridge-3.6 Miles with 643′ elevation
Max elevation 1258′
Total time: 3.49 hrs with multiple stops
Trail hike: 1.5 hrs
Parking: Mill parking lot off Hwy 49. Water & restrooms available
Day use fees: $8 per car (Sr 62 & older $7) NO free parking anywhere in town (includes museum admission)
Dog-friendly (MUST BE ON LEASH)
Weather: Sunny & warm with temps ranging from the mid 60’s to the low 80’s with mild WSW winds