“Do you live around here?” The question came from a guy emerging from the Fippin Blacksmith Shop, while I was admiring a very pretty motorcycle parked in front. I was pleased he got it right, guessing that even locals took pictures and it was such a nice day I’d driven down the road for that exact purpose. He had a name, Craig, said he’d be sure to look us up on Gumbo and made sure I had a Chamber of Commerce brochure to take home with me.
The Great Republic of Rough and Ready is 4 miles west of Grass Valley on, what else, Rough and Ready Highway. The 2 lane road used to be the main one in that direction out of Grass Valley, to Penn Valley where Aunt Betty finally settled for the duration, and points beyond. It’s a winding descending rural road, one of those we’d have taken when our family “went for a drive”. I still love to go that way on the rare occasion I head for Penn Valley, which now has a real highway, a new section of CA-20. If you stay on 20 in a westward direction for about 200 miles, it’ll take you all the way to the Pacific Ocean near Ft. Bragg, and I plan to let it do just that one of these days.
Rough & Ready was founded by a group of gold seekers in 1849 and named in honor of the men who’d served in the Winnebago War under General Zachary Taylor. In 1850 the idea was conceived to make the town independent but, so the story goes, rejoined the United States when it became clear that 4th of July celebrations would otherwise go by the wayside. The town grew to be third largest in Nevada County, until 2 fires destroyed it and it settled into being the sleepy place, I believe, the current residents prefer.
The brochure from the Chamber of Commerce proved to be useful. Besides history of the locale, it had websites and email addresses for a number of businesses that I’d missed on my wander around the village, for instance, Butt-Head Pack Goats, and Pampered Paws Pet Sitting. I tend to pack light and have no pets but now I’m prepared if things change.
I think it likely that the wine industry will eventually replace gold as the major wealth-producer in Nevada County, with vineyards proliferating around the countryside. I saw signs for several wineries nearby, with Coufos Cellars located about a block from the post office. Here’s a map with a number of local wineries.
I drove around looking for roads I’d seen on the local map and didn’t find most of them. Probably just as well. To Hell & Back Lane appeared to be not far from Harmony Lane, which I did see, and Deerlick Road probably meant something different than my first thought.
Nevada County has a wealth of mostly disappeared former mining towns, some with curious names, such as Red Dog, Relief, Blue Tent and You Bet. Many have gone completely and others have traces remaining in the woods, if you know where to look. Landmarks retain their idiosyncratic names often long after the reasons for their being are no longer. On the San Juan Ridge above Nevada City, Humbug Creek and Diggins Pond are carryovers near the onetime largest hydraulic mining operation in California, Malakoff Diggins. Bloomfield, then North Bloomfield, were chosen as the name of the adjacent town after “Humbug” was deemed too undignified. Malakoff Diggins now has “State Historic Park” after it’s name and is an interesting monument to the damage men can inflict on the landscape in the never-ending search for riches.
While I was taking a picture of the “open” and "bait" signs in the window of the Rough & Ready Country Store, the bell on top of the firehouse behind me rang 3 times. A few minutes later I had what I needed and the tea kettle was calling me home. I’d never stopped there before and I plan to come back on a weekend when the winery tasting rooms are open, maybe when I have a visitor to share it.
To read more of PortMoresby's 'Gold Country, California' series, click here.
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