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Four Wheelers Learn About Gold Rush History During Winter Fun Festival Backcountry Trek

Bundled up in their warmest jackets and coffee cups in their hands, the guests listened intently as their narrator and guide pointed out the 1850s home of Lotta Crabtree, who had entertained Grass Valley gold miners and graced the American stage for more than 50 years.

Warner Anderson of Auburn, narrator and trail guide, was taking his special guests on a recent four-wheel drive trip through Nevada County’s historical gold rush sites during the 22nd annual Winter Fun Festival, hosted by the California Association of Four Wheel Drive Clubs.

“There is so much to see and to learn in California’s backcountry,” Anderson said, “and these historical trips afford us the opportunity to guide sport utility vehicle (SUV) and other four-wheel drive participants to places they have only read about.”

From Grass Valley, the contingent headed south on Highway 20, through the town of Rough & Ready, past Fippin’s Blacksmith Shop and the next stop was the Bridgeport covered bridge. Anderson said that the 229-foot bridge built in 1862, is thought to be the longest arch/truss single span covered bridge of its type in existence.

“As we stood and listened to Warner describe the history of this crossing, one could only imagine what a typical day would be like with the traffic crossing over the bridge between Marysville in the valley and Virginia City in the Comstock,” said John Moreau, who made the trip from the Bay Area.

After the guests had an opportunity to walk across the Bridgeport bridge and learn about the Bridgeport Mining Camp along the South Yuba River, the group visited the Oregon Creek covered bridge. At this site, Anderson explained that during a serious flood, the bridge was washed away off of its foundation and was only to return by the good graces of a farmer who attached his oxen to the bridge from both sides of the river.

Climbing higher and higher into the Sierras, it wasn’t long before the group was traveling in snow and everyone was encouraged to use four-wheel drive as a precaution.

From the Oregon Creek Bridge, the group passed Goodyears Bar and began the climb up Mountain House Road to the site of the Mountain House Hotel. Over the Citizens Band (CB) radio, Anderson told his guests they were following the famous Henness Pass road, one of the most heavily traveled routes in its day, but virtually disappeared from most modern maps.

Finally, with hunger setting in, the four-wheelers arrived in the town of Forest City where they would visit the town’s dance hall, have lunch and listen to Glenn Sundstrom, an archaeological anthropologist who has lived in the town for 15 years, tell them the most interesting history about the town.

Sundstrom said that the two forks of Oregon Creek bisected and washed a great quantity of river gravel within and downstream of the town site. Because of this, early claims were exceedingly rich and easily accessible, Sundstrom told his guests. The town quickly grew to a population of more than 1,000 by 1854. He said that fires in town drove many people away, however, in 1872, the “lost” ancient river channel was searched for and found running under the bluffs of Bald Mountain. Sundstrom said it was destined to become the greatest “drift” or underground gravel mine in the state for 15 years.

“He (Sundstrom) explained the history of the community that was based on rich deposits of gold that brought the city’s population to over 1,000 in its heyday,” said Dick Wasley, who also made the trip from the Bay Area with his wife, Liena. “The renovated dance hall with its small stage and old artifacts in the connected informal museum were a lot of fun to experience.”

From Forest City, Anderson guided the group through the town of Allegheny and a quick drive by the Sixteen to One Gold Mine. On the way back to Grass Valley, Anderson led the group down the old Tyler-Foote X Road through Kanaka Canyon and up a steep canyon wall where the roadbed is held in place by hand-carved stone walls built by Italians in 1912.

“We want to give a big round of applause to Warner Anderson,” said Lynda Larsen of Truckee, who made the trek with her husband, Carl. “He is most informed, answers questions professionally and has certainly done his history homework.”

Bob Reed, president of the association made the trip with his family and had this to say about the trip: “This trip was particularly interesting to me as many of the areas we toured, I had visited many times as a kid growing up. It was very fascinating to get a first-hand history lesson on this tour.”

More than 700 people with approximately 280 four-wheel drive vehicles participated in this year’s Winter Fun Festival, according to Pat Bashore, a co-chair of the event with her husband, Mike. She said that the event featured 13 different trips ranging from extremely deep snow to historical SUV trips with moderate snow depths.

For more information on upcoming SUV trips throughout California and northern Nevada, contact Jack Raudy at (530) 389-9154 or email