Day #50 - Big Trees, Big Wood, Big Smiles

We reached our 50th day, and a third of the way into our trip! 

Today was a day I've been looking forward to for a very long time. The chance to visit giant sequoia at Calaveras Big Trees State Park. 
As it opened at 10am and we were raring to go much earlier we managed to squeeze in one last meal at Mandy's diner. We had eaten here four times as it was Aunty Sue's favourite diner and served delicious breakfasts. Today I was greedy and went for 'The Motherlode' omelette. Which had everything in it with a side of wedges and biscuit and gravy! Needless to say I couldn't eat it all. 
Spencer had a breakfast sandwich with fruit. His choices are usually much healthier than mine.

The drive to Big Trees State Park is a beautiful 40 minutes drive, going through historic towns of Murphys and Arnold. Once we arrived at the park we were greeted by a ranger, who told us we were lucky we didn't try to visit any sooner, the park had just opened that morning after 3 weeks of controlled forest fires. And smoke was still in the air! 
I had never seen a sequoia, so I was hoping they would be as big as I imagined. I was not disappointed. The first tree was a felled tree called The Discovery Tree. I instantly recognised it from when I studied ancient trees for my thesis at University. I was not aware this tree was in this park, so I was instantly excited to see it. Due to its sheer size, this tree was cut down in the 1860s and parties, dancing, a saloon and bowling alley were on put top of it for early California tourists! 
The trail route is about 1.5 miles long and meanders around many of the biggest trees, all awe inspiring. I was excited to find a fallen tree so big it was hollow and a walkable tunnel through its length. In places smoke was wisping around where areas had been burnt to ensure regeneration. Some of the trees are estimated to be 3000 years old, and would have seen as many as 100 natural forest fires in their lifetime. 
Sadly the famous Pioneer tree, which is famous for cars driving through it had fallen down in 2017, which most people might have seen in photographs. I was so happy to see these trees, and hope on my next visits to visit the other sequoia and redwood parks in California. 
We headed back towards Murphys, and stopped into Ironside Winery. This was not just a winery, but much much more. A museum, wine tasting building, a stadium for big events, lake, gardens and more. On arrival an abandoned 19th century mine, complete with water wheel greeted us, with a lot of mining memorabilia dotted around. 
We decided to skip the wine tasting and visit the main exhibit in the museum. The largest piece of crystalline gold in the world, discovered locally and held on display in the museum vault. Weighing 16.4kgs and worth around $4 million! We then walked around the beautiful gardens and lakes surrounded by autumn foliage. 

Next stop was Columbia for a quick visit to buy a magnet. Something we have tried to do in each place we stay. The historic town, totally preserved and kept as a tourist town is so beautiful. Our English equivalent of a totally preserved town would be Lacock, but so different in so many ways. 
We had stayed the week with my Aunty Sue, her beautiful home is in a beautiful area called Gold Springs. The houses here are all unique and grand, all set in spacious gardens. Aunty Sue's place is situated right on the edge, overlooking the most beautiful distant views of steep sided hills, colourful woodlands and lakes. 

Sadly it was time to say goodbye. It's times like this I hate, saying goodbye to someone you love living so far away and not knowing when we will meet next. With tears in our eyes we said farewell and made our way by car to San Francisco. 
We followed the sunset all the way to the city, about a 2hr drive. We checked into our hotel and got an early night, ready fora 3am start.