Queen of the Southern Mines

City Hotel, Main Street, Columbia (11/17/21) John Poimiroo

This week, the Outdoor Writers Association of California fall conference brought me to Tuolumne County in California’s Gold Country.  The conference included craft improvement sessions and business meetings, though I also had time to tour an area I hadn’t explored in years. I found Tuolumne County to be charming, personal and untouched.

While California’s population grows steadily, Tuolumne County’s has hovered – for years – at 54,000 folk. Areas of the County appear as they did in the 1850s when Sonora was called Queen of the Southern Mines and Columbia – to its immediate north – was known as the Gem of the Southern Mines.

Today, Sonora has modern accommodations like the newly renovated Lumberjack Hotel, authentic shops that feature locally made goods, like the Local Collective and Columbia, a state historic park that is California’s equivalent to Williamsburg or Jamestown, Virginia, a wholly preserved gold rush town true to how it looked in the 1850s.

Gold Rush themed activities are common there and across the county. Sip a sarsaparilla or watch a blacksmith work in Columbia; pan for gold or ride a steam train in Jamestown. In winter, Tuolumne County has California’s best sledding hill, the privately operated Leland High Sierra Snowplay Area near Strawberry and one of California’s best family mountain resorts, Dodge Ridge.

Though, the true find for a color spotter was to discover Lost Cannon Creek where by mid October a lush stand of quaking aspen provides what is likely the best display in Tuolumne County, and a grove just waiting for a “First Report.”

At 7,800′, the grove lies beside the creek a half mile after the trailhead near the Marine Corps Mountain Warfare Training Center, east of Sonora Pass. It’s a short, though moderately difficult hike and one to plan to do next October.

I left Tuolumne County at dawn this morning, stopping first at Columbia before returning along Hwy 49 to El Dorado County. A light fog embraced Columbia’s historic Main Street and lanterns lit its leaf-strewn path.

City Hotel, Columbia (11/17/21) John Poimiroo

Peak has past in the Gold Country, though a red maple complemented St. James Episcopal Church, beside it. Orange persimmons and liquidambar dressed a Victorian home and orange black oak and cornhusk-yellow locust and red bud decorate the hills.

St. James Episcopal Church, Sonora (11/15/21) John Poimiroo

Persimmons and Liquidambar, Sonora (11/15/21) John Poimiroo














  • Tuolumne County (2,139′) – Peak to Past Peak, GO NOW, You Almost Missed It.

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