Leaving wine country we headed East, though the impression was that we were going further into the West. It was wild west territory we were hitting, and the landscape changed markedly from the lush greens of the valleys to the yellow prairies and then the speckled hillsides of gold rush country.
Stopping for lunch at a classic American Diner with a Hawaiian twist (!!!) – Hula’s in Escalon – we reached our new digs mid-afternoon. Riding in on our trusty black stallion, we felt every bit the outsider coming into town. Dominic yearned for his all-black jeans and shirt so he could look like a proper bad cowboy; and Karen fished in the suitcase for enough petticoats to pass in this town as we clattered into the saloon.
“Y’all look like you need a drink,” came a voice from the corner. And here we met Sabrina, the charming bartender of the National Historic Hotel – hosts in the past of many a western film crew.
As you might expect, the hotel, like the town, is right out of the nineteenth century, and comes with everything from a stoop to a soaking room (bath) to a resident ghost, and stories of shoot-outs. A tour around the town took two-and-a-bit minutes, but we lengthened it by taking plenty of snapshots just to confirm to the locals that we were indeed the out-of-towners. By 6pm we were absolutely baked because the outside temp was still 101 degrees fahrenheit. Considering that the hottest temp ever recorded in the UK is 98 degrees, that is damn hot!
As we settled into a pint and lots of chat with Sabrina and the proprietor Stephen, we heard all the stories, and felt like we really should be outside by the camp fire waiting for sundown and the howling of the coyotes. We heard about Christopher Lloyd filming Back to the Future 3 here, and enjoying a couple of whiskey’s of an evening; we also heard about Black Bart the bank robber, a San Francisco school teacher by day, who was finally caught just down the road but who never revealed where his $10m was stashed; and we heard about Flora, a young girl who was planning her wedding when her fiancé got shot and killed in the saloon bar: Flo died of a broken heart two days later, but still haunts the hotel to this day.
Dominic’s reading Sam North’s excellent book “Diamonds” at the moment, which is all about the Sierra Nevada Diamond Rush of the 1870s. Well worth a read, especially when you are holed up in the very towns that were part of those early prospecting days!
Tomorrow we’re going panning: there’s gold in dem dere hills.