A Visit to Old Town Sacramento California

The location of what became Sacramento California could not have been more opportune at the time of California statehood in 1850. Here was a land far away from the U.S. seat of government but at the same time so important to the nation’s westward expansion. At the same time, Old Town Sacramento was at almost ground zero during the spectacular California Gold Rush. So many things came together at the end of the 1840’s with the Mexican cessation of Alta California and then the Gold Rush that California became the destination of immigrants from around the world. This also catapulted San Francisco into a world famous seaport. Today, that original site east of San Francisco where all the action occurred is called Old Town Sacramento and is as close as you can get to a must stop during your California vacation. Sacramento Old Town is all about the history of the gold rush era.

Wells Fargo Concord Coach model at the Wells Fargo Museum in Old Town Sacramento

Transportation wise, Sacramento was at the confluence of the Sacramento and American Rivers which afforded easy access to San Francisco, the major western shipping point. This is adjacent to present day downtown Sacramento. All of those thousands of people who rushed to California by ship in pursuit of gold would find themselves passing through Sacramento. As they say, it was the right location at the right time.

The gold rush was responsible for the heavy steamboat traffic up and down the Sacramento River. Boats were crowded with prospectors who had arrived in San Francisco by ship from either around Cape Horn or through Panama. Supplies were shipped up to Sacramento and in many cases gold dust was shipped out. Some steamboat owners made a fortune on the Sacramento. According to steamboats.org, the very first steamboat to make it up the Sacramento River was the George Washington in 1849. Prior to this, the first recorded journey by boat up the Sacramento River was in 1839. This was a three boat trip by John Sutter. He went up the Sacramento to where it met the American River and this is where the city of Sacramento rose from.

Sutters Fort, Sacramento California

The late 1840’s and early 1850’s was a time when people were beating down the door getting to Sacramento and to Sutters Fort which was the major jumping off point to the Sierra Nevada gold fields. What sprang up and was built at the area of the Sacramento River and the American River is today called Old Town Sacramento. This and Sutters Fort which is located a few miles west could be the two most historic sites in Sacramento. Definitely, two places you want to add to your trip planner if your California vacation takes you up to Sacramento.

You’ll find plenty of things to do in Sacramento. Old Town Sacramento has enough historic attractions to spend the entire day. You’ll view historic old town hotels such as the Union Hotel which originally was named the Veranda Hotel and was used extensively by old town Sacramento politicians. The California State Railroad Museum might be the finest vintage railroad museum in the United States. Among the many large exhibits under roof is a Atchison Topeka & Santa Fe railroad dining car from the Fred Harvey era. They also have a mail car from the Great Northern Railway. All of these exhibits allow you to walk through and see everything close up. Another rare exhibit among the steam locomotives is the Governor Stanford, which was one of the first locomotives purchased by the old Central Pacific Railroad. The Central Pacific Railroad was the western leg of the transcontinental railroad completed in 1869.

When you’re strolling around Sacramento old town you’ll also see the unique Tower Bridge. This is a vertical lift bridge that crosses the Sacramento River  was dedicated in 1935 and in 1982 was added to the National Register of Historic Places.

The California State Military Museum is another excellent historic attraction. This museum is the official California historic military museum and historic research center. Opened in 1991, the museum has artifacts on display from the earliest times until the present. Vintage firearms are showcased in abundance as well as official military flags, uniforms, frontier equipment and many historic photos. One rare exhibit includes a 1875 Battery Gun which is a modified Gatling Gun. The California State Military Museum also features a pretty extensive library.

1875 Battery Gun

Among the historic buildings still standing, and there are several, includes the old B.F. Hastings Building. This building is considered the old focal point of Old Sacramento. The structure was built in 1853 and at one time served as the western terminus for the Pony Express, the offices of the Alta California Telegraph Company as well as a Wells Fargo Agents office. Hastings completed and opened the building with his bank, Hastings & Company. The land where the building sits on was once owned by John Sutter through a Mexican land grant. The building changed hands several times. The structure that was there prior to Hastings building had burned down in a fire. The building you see today, built by Hastings, is a two story brick structure. At one time the B.F. Hastings Building also served as the first site for the California Supreme Court.

B.F. Hastings Building, Old Town Sacramento

Old Town Sacramento itself has been declared a state historic district. Truly, you can spend an entire day in touring Old Sacramento and the California State Railroad Museum is at least a half day itself. One thing you may want to check on is the excursion train trip put on by the railroad museum usually offered April to September.The museum also hosts an extensive history program available to students. The museum staff has information on this and their website features all current programs.

The following two articles highlight both the gold towns of Auburn and Grass Valley California with several great pictures. Both of these towns sprang up from the California Gold Rush and are also great stops to put on your California vacation planner along with Old Town Sacramento.

(Photos are from author’s private collection)



A Scenic Santa Fe To Taos New Mexico Road Trip


santa fe to taos road trip

Truchas New Mexico during High Road Art Tour

A popular and very scenic drive while vacationing in New Mexico is called “The High Road to Taos”. This route is often taken while driving Santa Fe to Taos. The route is 56 miles in length and winds through the beautiful Sangre de Cristo Mountains. The trip is listed as an official New Mexico scenic by-way and you’ll pass by many unique art galleries which are home to the local artists who make this part of New Mexico their home. The Santa Fe to Taos route goes through deserts, mountains, forests and farmland. This route probably represents the best area of New Mexico where the Spanish heritage is still somewhat untouched. From Santa Fe to Taos, this scenic byway is one of the most impressive road trips in New Mexico. It’s also the perfect road trip to combine a Santa Fe and Taos vacation.

The journey on the High Road to Taos begins in the Espanola area about twenty miles north of Santa Fe. This Scenic Byway takes you through an authentic remnant of Old Spain. To start your journey, take U.S.285/84 north from Santa Fe and turn east on N.M.503. This will take you to the village of Nambe. You’ll drive by several adobe brick churches and chapels. These structures represent the early Spanish influence on the entire New Mexico region. The Byway then turns north on N.M. 520. The Byway next follows N.M. 76, heading northeast. N.M. 76 will turn into N.M. 75 eastbound. You’ll reach an intersection with N.M.516 going north and this road will take you to Rancho de Taos. The roads are posted with appropriate signs to help your journey. There are of course several short scenic detours that you can take before getting back on the scenic Byway. One such short detour is when you reach the village of Truchas. Truchas is situated on the side of a canyon and is very picturesque. Many people take a short ride east of the town toward Truchas Peak which is quite scenic.

gallery on the santa fe to taos road

Truchas New Mexico art gallery

An added treat along the way is a stop in Chimayo. Chimayo New Mexico is home to the Sanctuario de Chimayo which is a noted shrine. This church was constructed between the years 1811 to 1816 and is visited by thousands of people annually from throughout the world. The Santuario de Chimayo is believed to have healing powers and one of the most visited chapels in the entire American West. Chimayo is also home to several weaving studios that are operated by descendants of the original Spanish settlers. One very good stop for the hungry traveler is the Rancho de Chimayó. This popular restaurant is located in a restored, century old adobe home and is surrounded by three beautiful mountain ranges. The restaurant serves some of the finest Native New Mexican cuisine you’ll find in New Mexico. Diners can enjoy the garden terrace on sunny summer days, and cozy fireside dining as you watch the snow fall during the winter months. I’ve been to this restaurant during all seasons and I know you’ll enjoy it.

sangre de cristo mountains

New Mexico's Sangre de Cristo Mountains

The last two weekends of September is the traditional time for the High Road to Taos Art Tour. This is a very fun event and allows you to attend gallery open houses and have a chance to meet and greet local artisans. The High Road Art Tour offers the opportunity to deal directly with artists as well as visit the small, historic Land Grant villages in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains.

Among the towns you’ll drive through on The High Road to Taos include Nambe, Truchas, Las Trampas and Cordova. In Truchas you’ll have wonderful views of the Rio Grande Valley and Truchas Peak. Great for picture taking. In Las Trampas be certain to stop and visit the San Jose de Gracia Church. This church is considered by historians to be one of the most beautiful colonial-era churches in the United States.

rancho de taos

San Francisco de Asis Church in Rancho de Taos

Your High Road to Taos drive will end at Ranchos de Taos which is about four miles southeast of Taos. Here you will see the magnificent San Francisco de Asis. Many believe that this is the most photographed church in all New Mexico. The church faces a plaza which is surrounded by adobe structures, some that are quite old. Rancho de Taos also offers some great photo taking opportunities. It is also thought that this church provided the inspiration behind many paintings by New Mexico’s own Georgia O’Keefe. OKeefe spent a good deal of her time in nearby Abique which is southwest of the Taos area on the west side of the Rio Grande and Chama Rivers. The San Francisco de Asis Church was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1970 and has also been designated as a World heritage church.

Another very interesting article related to the Spaniards and the colonization of Nuevo Mexico is the Palace of the Governors in Santa Fe. This was the seat of government for all of Nuevo Mexico. Another good article relating to your New Mexico visit is the story of the La Fonda Hotel and the Atchison Topeka & Santa Fe Railroad.

When on a Taos vacation make it a point to explore the Kit Carson Home and Museum, the Charles Bent Home and Museum which is two blocks north of the Taos Plaza and also the Taos Pueblo or often referred to as Pueblo de Taos which is just a few miles northwest of town. The Taos galleries are also great places to view local southwestern art. This part of New Mexico combines some of the finest western scenery there is with very interesting historic sites. If you plan on spending the night in Taos there are several unique hotels and bed and breakfast locations. One popular historic lodging site is the Mabel Dodge House just a very short drive east of the Taos plaza.

(Photos are from author’s private collection)