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1st Annual Gold Country Historical SUV Tour / Grass Valley, May 10, 2003

Story by: Jack Raudy


GRASS VALLEY – Rich Bartke of El Cerritos said he had participated on several four-wheel drive trips in the past, but the recent Gold Country Historical SUV Tour was clearly his favorite and deserved four stars.

Bartke and his wife, Jane, joined 54 other four-wheel drive guests on a special trip hosted by the Sacramento-based Sierra Treasure Hunters four-wheel drive club.

"The day was perfect in every way," said Bartke. "The weather was great, the club was extremely well organized, the food was outstanding, and the trail offered everything from dry conditions to mud to snow."

Ron Kellogg of Elk Grove, one of the Sierra Treasure Hunters trip organizers, said his club is very family-oriented and its members include serious rock crawlers as well as those owning stock vehicles and enjoy the natural beauty of the backcountry.

"These trips afford us an opportunity to take SUV owners and their families to areas that they have only read about," said Kellogg. "It also gives us a chance to tell them about the importance of treading lightly when going off-road and the how we can all share in keeping public lands open for the public."

The trip began at the famous Empire Mine, located on the outskirts of Grass Valley. Here, the guests had a chance to meet the club volunteers, enjoy a continental breakfast and listen to several briefings on the day’s activities.

Jim Bramham of Sacramento, who has led scores of backcountry trips throughout California, served as trail boss and narrator for the Gold Country adventure. Bramham told his guests that his grandfather had worked in the Empire Mine for more than 35 years and drove the head train until the mine closed in 1956. In addition, his great aunt worked in the mine’s kitchen for eight years.

He explained that more than five million ounces of gold was extracted from the 367 miles of underground passage, with most of it going to Fort Knox, Kentucky.

Finally, the group was on its way with the first stop at the Grass Valley Cemetery. Bramham told his guests about many of the early pioneers and miners who are buried there. From the cemetery, the contingent began its climb into the Sierras to the Malakoff Diggins State Park.

With his guests listening intently, Bramham said, "this site is just one of many hydraulic diggings spread across the Yuba River drainage. The water shot out of these water cannons moving about 7,000 gallons per minute. The water shot out with such force that it washed away entire mountains of dirt. The heavy gold then settled to the bottom because it was heavier than the sand and gravel particles."

Lunch was waiting for the group when they arrived in the historic town of Washington. Kathy Medley had been shopping and preparing this meal for several days. Carrol and Linda Bryant, Geoff and Penny Ford, Rick and Shannon Kerley, Dick and Deleaua Shannon, and Leona Kellogg all assisted Kathy with a mouthwatering lunch.

In 1850, at the peak of the gold rush, Washington boasted a population of more than 4,000 people living and working there. Today, the town has approximately 150 full time residents and locals will tell you there are no secrets in this town.

"My son, Ryan, and I were very impressed with the entire trip, but particularly the great lunch," said Scott Pressler of Colfax, who was making his first organized four-wheel drive trip. "I was very impressed with all facets of the trip. The trail went from easy to tough. The volunteers were very helpful and friendly and the food just couldn’t be beat." Kathy Medley and her crew had put together flank steaks, potato salad, macaroni salad, rolls and several scrumptious deserts that participants are still talking about.

After lunch in Washington, the group crossed the South Fork of the Yuba River and headed up the Spanish Mine Road to the Graniteville Ridge.

Dean Handrath of Antelope and his wife, Rene, were also making their first trip on an organized 4X4 run. "I have got to tell you that crossing that river was quite an experience," said Handrath. "It was very adventurous, but we all traveled very slow and had no difficulties whatsoever."

Handrath said that he surprised his wife with the Gold Country trip. "I simply told her to block the calendar and that I had something special planned for that day," he said. "Rene enjoyed every minute of it and we are looking forward to the next trip into the backcountry."

In addition to Kellogg, other Sierra Treasure Hunters trail committee volunteers included Chris Collard, Rob Elsemore, Jimmy and Sharon Clements, Rory Huber, Matt Hoey, Rick Stillwell, Troy Homes, Don Herget and John Hargis.

"Over the past several years, we have learned that SUV owners want to explore the backcountry and learn more about the history of this area," said Bramham. "On this trip, I tried to provide our guests with some mild four-wheeling in the mud and the snow, offer some interesting insights into early mining operations and an opportunity to meet other families who are also interested in these types of trips."

Keep an eye on our Future Trips page and our Calendar for the next SUV Tour!
Contact to be added to our SUV Tours Mailing. Registration form for May 22, 2004 trip

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