Calaveras - Do You See What I Tree?

I admit it. I love the Sierra Foothills. They have been included in several of my travel books, and I adore Calaveras County (the southern neighbor to Amador and El Dorado counties) because it offers a huge diversity of things to do and see: there is gold panning, white water rafting, horseback riding, visiting the historical mining camps that dot the area, and wine tasting. But this post is about trees -the region is populated with lots of them. 

One way to see them is to fly above them at speeds of 40 mph. MoaningCavern in Vallecito not only brags of having the largest underground cavern in California (large enough that the Statue of Liberty could fit inside), but has twin zip lines stretching 1,500 feet above the tree tops whereby you can race against someone else, or just keep each other company as you zoom like a bird in the air. The oldest person to zip was 98 years old and a zip line offers a pure rush as you roar over mature pine forests. To capture the experience you can rent a Go Pro camera mounted to your helmet, or use Google glasses to film yourself in action. Unlike other zip lines, this is one long uninterrupted line and you do not operate it using a hand break, the system has a built in breaking system so all you have to do is enjoy the ride, and that makes it so much better than worrying about stopping yourself, especially for first timers.
If flying above forests is too daunting then a visit to the blandly named Big Trees State Park is your counterpoint to the rush of zip lines; a sedate and stunning collection of giant sequoias reaching heights of 325 feet with diameters of 33 feet. Back in 1852 no one believed Augustus T. Dowd when he described massive trees he had found while tracking a wounded grizzly bear. Today giant sequoias are the largest trees on earth living for more than 2,000 years, and the North Grove of the park is populated with 150 of them. Stretched out across a 1 3/4 mile loop the hard packed path with minimal elevation gain is quite suitable for a baby stroller, even a wheelchair. 
Populated with a mix of ponderosa pines, sugar pines, incense cedars, white fir and pacific dogwoods this forest is stunning; the sequoias so colossal you crane your neck constantly to take them in. There are 26 specific sequoias along the path, notable for their size, shape, age and even one you used to be able to drive through. Aside from the vocal strains of other people in the forest, the deep rustle of the wind in the treetops hundreds of feet above you is magical. More and more as developments and cities consume our time, a visit to a place like this reminds of of our mortality and our proper place in the world.

Creature Comforts
Of course you need someplace to stay and I highly recommend Saddle Creek Resort. Yes it is a golf destination. No, you don’t need to golf to stay there. Designed by Carter Morrish and located in compact Copperopolis the resort offers lodging for golfers, but little known is that non-golfers can stay here too; a counterpoint to the standard motels and quaint but pricy B&Bs nearby. Several bungalows offer terrific value if you're staying in the region for several days as there is a full kitchen, two bedrooms and two bath options, a large living area with fireplace and a patio in which to soak up the sedate and wide open visuals of the golf course. 
Their on-site restaurant, Copper Grille, offers a Friday and Saturday dinner menu which changes weekly, which might include lobster risotto, prime rib, Dover sole stuffed with crab. They offer lunch and breakfast daily and I loved staying here. It’s a short drive to Angels Camp and Murphys and yes you can stay in these places too, but I find that Saddle Creek Resort is worth looking into if you’d prefer a home over a hotel. The Sierra Foothills in included in my Moon Travel Guide, CaliforniaWine Country, with lots more info!

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