Kim Weir

Host, Up the Road

Kim Weir, a former NSPR news reporter, is editor and founder of Up the Road, a nonprofit public-interest journalism project dedicated to sustaining the Northern California story. She is also an active member of the Society of American Travel Writers. North State Public Radio’s Up the Road program is jointly produced by Up the Road.

Wayne Hsieh

This week we add another woman’s perspective to the story of life in California’s gold camps. An everyday perspective. Of the very few women who made up gold-rush communities, most were not notorious—definitely not internationally notorious, like “Spanish dancer” Lola Montez—but just plain folks, doing their best to get food on the table and keep a roof over their heads. 

Portrait by Joseph Karl Stieler

This week we return to the western foothills of the Sierra Nevada, California’s gold country, to meet more of the bold, sometimes brazen women who made their marks early on. Appropriately enough, the U.S. senator who introduced legislation that led to the Nineteenth Amendment (and women's right to vote) lived in Nevada City. World-class soprano Emma Nevada was another well-known native. Locally famous was gambler Eleanor "Madame Moustache" Dumont. Scandalous internationally was Lola Montez of adjacent Grass Valley. 

Jeannie Stafford USFWS

We head up the road this week to Sage-Grouse country. California just happens to take in the far western edge of the Great Basin, high plateaus known for sagebrush and wide open spaces. California is the far edge of home for the Greater Sage-Grouse, which lives only in the West, nibbling at and nesting in sagebrush.

Christopher Browns

We head up the road this week to the Salton Sea in Southern California’s Coachella Valley. Most people don’t make it much beyond the population centers—Palm Springs with its swimming pools, mid-century modern architecture, and groovy antique shops; luxury golf courses valley-wide, gushing with greens and water fountains; upmarket shopping in Palm Desert; and classic resorts such as Spanish-style La Quinta, near Indio, where Frank Capra of It’s A Wonderful Life fame, retreated to write that equally rad 1935 rom com It Happened One Night.

Jessica Kantor

We head Up the Road this week to the Nord Country School in tiny Nord, California. This spot in the road just northwest of Chico, central to cattle, fruit tree, and nut ranches, puts on some of the best community events anywhere. When was the last time you went to a pie auction? The next one is coming right up, Saturday night at the Chico Elks Club, and you won’t want to miss it. Tickets are still available through the school, or online through EventBrite.

Nick Ares

We continue exploring the gold country this week, because—as we’re now learning—even though women were few among the miners, they had plenty to say about the 1849 gold rush and the onrushing chaos it created.

Take Coloma, for example. As every California fourth-grader knows, James Marshall started the gold rush when he discovered gold there. He had traveled from John Sutter’s ranch in New Helvetia, today’s Sacramento, up the American River to build a sawmill, to produce much-needed lumber.

 

Tom Hilton

We appreciate Louise Amelia Knapp Smith Clappe this week, a chronicler of the California Gold Rush better known as Dame Shirley.

Originally from New Jersey and Massachusetts, the dame came West with her physician husband during the heady early days of California statehood. Her descriptions of life in Rich Bar and Indian Bar, gold camps on the Feather River not far from Quincy, were published in the form of letters to her sister. (A “bar” in this case is an accumulation of sand or gravel in a river exposed at low water, the easiest place to find gold.) Clappe’s history was so apt that the well-known writer Bret Harte may have “borrowed” from it, liberally, in his own work. Ever generous, Dame Shirley called these “unconscious plagiarisms.”

Lily Gicker

We head up the road this week to Downieville, known these days for its northern gold-country charm and the annual Downieville Classic point-to-point mountain bike race, a 29-mile gold-rush-era route from Sierra City to Downieville.

Jan Arendtsz

We look to the center this week, California’s great Central Valley, where hundreds of thousands of waterfowl, shorebirds, and even songbirds stop to rest and eat on their way south for the winter. After summer’s breeding and chick-rearing season in and near the Arctic, migrants stream south via the continent’s Pacific Flyway, most becoming Californians for at least a short while. Which is why bird events such as January’s Snow Goose Festival of the Pacific Flyway are so immensely popular. How many people get to witness this great migration, year after year, up close and personal? Not many. What a privilege to be right here, year after year.

Photo by J. Maughn

This week we head up the road to Elkhorn Slough, the primary “head” of Monterey Bay’s canyon, just offshore.

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