After the Gold Rush

Published: July 9th 2010
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One hundred and sixty one years after the gold rush, I am here in Sacramento. In the middle of the Sacramento Valley. and at the confluence of the American River and the Sacramento River. Sacramento has a deep water port, so the modestly sized ships can make it this far inland. This explains why the trans-continental railway starts or ends here, depending on your direction, and marks the boomtown where the prospectors set off into the Sierra Nevada mountains in search of gold in 1849. Sacramento is California's state capital, and was admitted to the union in 1850. Hundred's of thousand of people poured into the land around the time of the gold rush. California is now America's most populous state, third largest by area and if it were a country it would be the 10th largest economy in the world.

I am staying in east Sacramento, in a quiet green suburban neighbourhood. My second full day in Sacramento I rode the light rail into town. The weather so far has been great: brilliant blue sky without a cloud in sight, cool mornings and hot afternoons, and cooling again in the evenings making sleep come easy. The train took me to the downtown core. Sacramento is a rather sleepy metropolis, quite sparse and full of government workers making bills, or whatever make work projects they choose. I walked underneath the Interstate 5 Highway to Old Sacramento. Old Sacramento is an old frontier town restored and complete with covered walkways, boardwalks, old type font advertising and plenty of red, white and blue, think Disneyland without the rides. It's all been rebuilt above the level of the Sacramento River levee. Historic Old Sacramento dates back to 1848-1849 when the discovery of gold attracted prospectors and entrpreneurs in search of adventure and money. Old Sacramento was the last stop of the Pony Express, the terminus of the trans-continental railway and housed the original California Supreme Court Chambers.

I walked back under I-5 and all the way to the Cesar Chavez Park for the farmer's market. Cesar Chavez was a union leader of farmers just after WWII. He started the United Farm Growers Union, and negotiated better pay and working conditions of the farm workers of California. Agriculture has always been a bigger business than gold. The farmers come from all around the region and sell vegetables and fruits, some organic. I spoke to one vendor who described that his blueberries are on probation because the process of becoming certified as organic takes years. The market was very coloured and certainly the most busy spot in all of Sacramento. Hundreds of people were sitting about the green lawns eating and listening. A duo of buskers were on guitar and saxophone playing cover tunes of Dave Brubeck, Janis Joplin, Jobim, CCR and more.

I left the lunch time farmer's market and walked back under the I-5 to the California Railway Museum. I got there just in time for the tour. An old timer volunteer told us of the beginings of the trans-continental railway. We wandered by the old trains, old carriages and other old machines. Imagine that the first trans-continental route took seven days; you sat upright in hard chairs with no head or shoulder support; there were three classes and if anyone boarded the train mid route with a train class ticket higher than yours you could be bumped from the train and the next train could be as long as a week behind. But still better than months in a covered wagon. The museum had a couple of newer diesel trains, a dining carriage and a sleeping carriage from the early 20th Century - decadent luxury by then. I watched a movie about the first trains, and then left the museum nearly three hours after I entered. My trip to Chicago in two weeks will follow the same route as the first trans-continental railroad.

I walked about Old Sacramento again, and then again under I-5. I entered the Capitol Building in downtown Sacramento. A stately neo-classical domed building painted in stunning white. There is a security to pass and bags are X-rayed; and then I wandered down to the Governor's office. Arnold wasn't in today, but there were certainly some admirers waiting outside for a glimpse. I strolled past the halls of various other officials, and on the walls there are displays of every county of California. There were State Troupers on guard, but I must say that the entire place seemed rather informal and relaxed. I was able to wander about nearly everywhere.

Another day in Sacramento, and I went to the California State Museum. The big draw here is the Hall of Fame, notable Californians who've made a larger than life contribution. George Lucas gets a lot of space, and there is a manuscript of American Graffiti and an early version of Star Wars. Ronald Reagan, Clint Eastwood, Carol Burnett, Chuck Yeager and his Airforce suit. A large display is for Andy Grove who co-founded Intel. He escaped the tanks of the 1956 Soviet Invasion of Hungry and fled to America. He quickly learned English, completed his engineering degree then PhD and started work at Intel growing the company into the giant that it is today. The museum was interesting but devoid of other people, only me and another patron.

I left for lunch, then walked into mid-town Sacramento. I walked and walked. The buses are infrequent in this town. I wandered past the huge and impressive red brick Memorial Auditorium, then to the Governor's Mansion. No governor has actually lived there since Ronald Reagan was elected in 1968. This place wasn't good enough for Nancy, they passed on the offer. The place is now a museum. I walked around the building in a couple of minutes, stopping to take photos - it's not very large, and at a very non-descript intersection in the commercial district. The house is a old colonial style house, taller than wide and white and bright in the mid-day sun. Later that evening we drove past the actual house Nancy and Ronald did occupy while he was Governor of California. It's in the residential district of East Sacramento, walking distance from my home base, on the most expensive and exclusive street in town.

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