Travel Gold Country
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Experience Gold Country at spring, summer events
By Matt Villano

As far away as warm and dry weather might seem these days, now is the time to plan your next visit to Gold Country. Event calendars in Amador, Placer and Tuolumne counties are chock-full of fun and worthwhile experiences throughout the spring and summer.

The only question: How will you choose to spend your time?

Perhaps the most iconic attraction in the region is the Columbia Diggins days at Columbia State Historic Park.

This annual four-day shindig is a re-enactment of an 1852 Gold Rush tent town, complete with period activities, volunteers in costume and more. According to Kelly Leage, an interpreter for the park, visitors can pan for gold, buy authentic wooden toys, sample sarsaparilla and watch a blacksmith in action.

“Being here for Diggins is like going through a time warp — everything we do is designed to be as it was 150 years ago,” she says of the May 16-19 experience. “It’s truly a chance for the past to come alive.”

Leage notes that the first two days of the event (a Thursday and Friday) are geared mostly toward local schoolchildren, while the weekend is more for older visitors from farther afield. She adds that this year the park will welcome a farmer who allows participants to pet and feed her Dominique chickens — the breed of chickens that was popular back in the day.

Other events in Tuolumne include the Black Oak Casino Concert Series, an outdoor concert series at the brand-new 2,700-seat Westside Pavilion and the Mother Lode Round-Up and Rodeo, which will attract more than 350 professional cowboys and cowgirls from all over the country.

This year’s concert series will feature Midland (May 25) and Sublime with Rome (June 20). The rodeo will include events like bronc riding, barrel racing, calf roping and steer wrestling, to name a few.

In Placer County, art fans geek out over the annual spring North Auburn Art Studios Art Tour, a weekend in May where 18 different artists around the town of North Auburn open their studios and welcome members of the general public for an up-close-and-personal perspective on what it takes to create great art.

This year’s tour takes place May 11-12 and includes artists who specialize in jewelry, metal and wood sculpture, painting, ceramics, textiles, photography and glass blowing.

Hannah Nicholson, co-owner of Nicholson van Altena Glass, is one of those artists, and said she and her partner Alana van Altena will welcome visitors while the two of them are blowing glass at the Nicholson Blown Glass studio owned by her parents.

“If you like art, the tour is a great opportunity to come and get an inside look on some of the creative spaces around town,” she said. “Most people speak with artists about the medium in which they specialize and engage them about their creative processes. It’s a great way to see the person behind the piece.”

Elsewhere around the county, popular events include Grape Days of Summer, a wine party; and the Lincoln Potters, an independent collegiate wood-bat baseball team the plays in historic McBean Park.

“Grape Days,” as it’s known, is scheduled for July 20-21 and is set up like other passport-style events — participants receive a tiny booklet and receive a stamp at every winery they visit. The event is sponsored by the Placer County Vintners Association and wineries were still being confirmed as of press time.

As for the Potters, games are competitive and attract huge crowds of locals and visitors alike.

Cherri Spriggs-Hernandez, president of the Lincoln Chamber of Commerce, said game nights create a “block-party feel” around downtown during the season that runs from late May to early August.

“From a business perspective, [Potters baseball] brings so many people to our downtown to shop in our shops and eat in our restaurants and just generally get a chance to experience what Lincoln is all about,” she said. “During the summer, you could say that Potters home games are the place to be in South Placer.” Finally, in Amador County, the sixth annual Chaw’se Day is shaping up to be the event of the spring.

Think of this free event as a modern-day powwow. Held at Indian Grinding Rock State Historic Park on May 25-26, it pays homage to local Native-American groups and is sponsored by the Jackson Rancheria Band of Miwuk Indians. Festivities feature indigenous dancing and singing, as well as Native-American games, food and crafts.

Visitors also can tour a traditional round house with a straw roof. Representatives from the Jackson Rancheria Resort & Casino painstakingly restored and rebuilt the house over the course of three years earlier this decade.

Oh, and in case you’re wondering, “chaw’se” is the Miwok word for “grinding rock,” and natives used to grind acorns and other seeds upon a giant rock in the park to produce meal.

Other notable events in Amador county include the T.G.I.F. Free Summer Concert Series in county parks from June through midAugust, and the Wildflowers & Wine tasting event at 11 different tasting rooms in historic Sutter Creek.

During the wine event scheduled for April 7, tasting rooms will pour special selections of local wine and pair each pour with delicious food made by local chefs. Some of the wineries will sponsor live music or arts and crafts.

The event is hosted by Wine on 49, a marketing association composed of the wineries in downtown. Participating wineries include Bella Grace Vineyards, Le Mulet Rouge Vineyard & Winery, Sera Fina Cellars, Uphill Vineyards, and Yorba Wines, to name a few.