MARIPOSA -- Although known to many as a gateway to Yosemite, the quaint foothill town of Mariposa, with its population of less than 2,000 people, has an identity all its own, and that identity is ingrained in its preservation of history.
Whether walking the downtown streets and enjoying the galleries and shops or visiting the Mariposa County Courthouse, the oldest county courthouse in continuous use west of the Rockies, visitors to Mariposa can't escape the sense of Gold Rush history that fills the air.
Just try strolling up to Saint Joseph's Catholic Church, erected in 1861 -- Lincoln was president and the Civil War had just broke out -- on a hill at the south end of town,
Stopping in at the Mariposa Museum and History Center is a great beginning to understanding the area's past. This museum offers a look at Mariposa's people and lifestyle from the days of native tribes to the influence of Spanish adventurers and the surge of gold seekers. An outdoor display at the museum holds the only operational 5-stamp gold ore mill in California, a real treasure.
Mariposa is also home to the California State Mining and Mineral Museum, where John C. Fremont and Kit Carson found the rich Mariposa Vein and opened the first mill to crush ore and extract gold in California.
This museum highlighting the days of gold fever is home to the Fricot "Nugget," a rare and beautiful specimen of crystallized gold discovered in the American River in 1864. This 13.8-pound nugget is the largest remaining intact mass of crystalline gold from 19th century California.
Visitors can take a walk through the mine tunnel and see how gold was mined in the mid-1800s. Next, tour the assay office and working scale model of a stamp mill.
Mariposa, which means butterfly in Spanish, spreads its welcoming wings in a beautiful display of California history.
WHERE: Mariposa is roughly in the center of California where highways 49 and 140 meet in the Sierra foothills southeast of Modesto, near the western gateway to Yosemite National Park.
WHEN: Mariposa Museum and History Center (5119 Jessie Street), 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.; California State Mining and Mineral Museum (Mariposa County Fairgrounds, 1.8 miles south of Mariposa), 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. (closing time extended to 6 p.m. starting May 1).
COST: Mariposa Museum and History Center, $3 adults, children free.
GETTING THERE: Take Highway 99 south toward Fresno. Take Highway 140 east toward Mariposa and Yosemite. Continue on 140 until it merges with Highway 49 and follow into Mariposa
DRIVE TIME FROM MODESTO: 1 hour, 25 minutes (Mapquest)
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