TUOLUMNE COUNTY -- Just to the east of the Great Valley, nestled in the Sierra Nevada foothills, sits Tuolumne County.
Many visitors come to see notable attractions such as the Gold Rush streets of Columbia State Historic Park, rustic Washington Street in downtown Sonora with its multitude of shops, and the charms of Black Oak Casino.
But taking a fortuitous jaunt down a side street or making a slight turn on a country road can turn up a couple of other long-standing Tuolumne treasures -- such as the Tuolumne County Museum and Cover's Apple Farm.
Turning off Washington Street in Sonora and heading a few blocks west on Bradford, visitors will find the Tuolumne County Museum and History Center. The museum is a historic building which was built in 1857 as the Tuolumne County Jail and rebuilt following a devastating fire in 1865.
The old jail contains many displays that tell tales of Tuolumne County history. Artifacts include a fireman's "speaking horn" and a pair of roller skates with wooden wheels.
A highlight of the museum is the opportunity to see the original jail cells. Completely encompassed in brick, small arched cells, with small beds and straw mattresses and a small slit of a window allow guests to visualize the dreary life of inmates. Along with the sleeping arrangements, visitors can also see the bathing facilities, a large tub where the inmates shared the water and the towel.
On the wall facing the old cells and depicting historical events in an engaging way is a timeline of important dates.
Another display covers overland transportation. There is a firearms room with an extensive collection of derringers, rifles and pistols.
The outside grounds of the museum include a courtyard which is encircled with tall brick walls and now takes the place of the former inmate exercise yard.
Cover's Apple Ranch
After touring the museum and stepping inside one of those cells, you might feel a bit claustrophobic. Well, head outdoors and take a turn down a country road -- in particular, Cherokee Road off Tuolumne Road. Treat yourself to a visit to Cover's Apple Ranch.
This working ranch and shops makes the most of the harvest by offering a family gathering area complete with a country feel and some great culinary delights.
With about 25 acres of apple trees, the Cover family operation offers a chance to spend an afternoon relishing the fun. The grounds showcase a bright red structure that houses a deli and boutique.
The outside area has a playground structure for kids, a barn walk where guests can visit cows, horses, sheep, goats and flocks of birds, from peacocks to turkeys.
No harvest playground would be complete without a hay maze, and Cover's doesn't disappoint.
There is a large windmill. It is surrounded by a small water hole where some ducks and geese play, oblivious to the attention they generate among onlookers.
To view all that the grounds have to offer, guests who visits on Fridays and Saturdays can take a ride on a small steam train that circles the area and even includes a short trip into darkness as it passes inside a tunnel.
If a souvenir from the play area is what you need, stop by the "stand-up apple," put your face in and smile -- a great photo opportunity to remind you of your visit.
After all that playing and animal viewing, head into the deli, order up and enjoy a seat on the patio. Try a whole or half sandwich, soup and salad or skip the lunch fare and head right to the pastries -- after all, it's an apple ranch, you know: apple pie, apple turnover ...
I recommend the apple dumpling, and don't forget to order it a la mode!
Sherry Cover manages the ranch. She reminds visitors that on Oct. 20, the ranch will be hosting its annual BBQ complete with tri-tip, chicken and the delicious Cover's cheesy potato. The event will include an apple cider press demonstration, and the train will be moving round the track. All aboard for apples!
Bee assistant librarian Karen Aiello can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 578-2392.