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On the way to Yosemite: Coulterville, Calif.

I know that the excitement of approaching Yosemite National Park can tend to block out thoughts of stops along the way, no matter how attractive they might be. But the small town of Coulterville is such a picturesque, interesting and unspoiled reminder of California’s famed Gold Rush that it surely merits your consideration if you are traveling to the park from Manteca or Modesto on CA 120 or 132, or from Merced on CA 140.  Located 10 miles south of Moccasin, Coulterville has somehow managed to elude the commercialism that now characterizes such other (but still very interesting) Gold Rush towns as Jamestown, Sonora and Angels Camp.

Coulterville (population 200) is the real thing; so don’t expect everything here to be neat and freshly painted. The historic Hotel Jeffery is pretty much the center of town, and is about as close of a throwback to the “Old West” that one is likely to encounter in 2012.  The Hotel Jeffery has a large, quite charming dining room, which is the place in town for a group lunch. However, don’t miss the opportunity to also at least see the hotel’s adjacent and highly traditional Magnolia Saloon, if you don’t also decide to “belly up to the bar” for a cold one. Using the hotel as a base, everything else worth seeing in Coulterville is within easy walking distance.

Right across the highway (surely not a heavily traveled route) is the Northern Mariposa County History Center. Although I have explored more than my share of dusty old museums with little to spark my interest, this facility, contained in two adjoining historic buildings, definitely does not fall into that category. The museum contains quite a few fascinating (and largely dust-free) exhibits on the Gold Rush and area pioneers, including a detailed scale model of the original Coulterville Hotel.

Adjacent to the History Center is the small, narrow-gauge steam engine “Whistling Billy,” dating from 1897, as well as a properly weathered sign explaining the origins and history of the town, originally called Banderita in 1850 when George W. Coulter opened his store here. On the opposite side of the highway, and down the street from the Hotel Jeffery, are several interesting shops, a couple of general stores, a “Bed & Breakfast” and varied other enterprises offering selections of obviously well-worn items.  Be assured that you are not likely to mistake any of these establishments for emporiums that could be found in Beverly Hills, but you are not likely to find me in Beverly Hills, either!

Magnolia Saloon in the historic Hotel Jeffery

Model of the original Coulterville Hotel in the Northern Mariposa County History Center

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