Max Visits the Gold Country

Smelly Pot, the only place to go when you’re hankering for stinky tofu.

Max was sitting in his car seat outside the local Smelly Pot, waiting for his taste of stinky tofu, when he got word that we were headed to Northern California on a trip that would include a visit to his stepbrother, Jet.

The Malt was not amused. He doesn’t cotton to dogs in general and loathes big dogs.

By definition, anything larger than a plus size shih-tzu is Max’s sworn enemy.

(He also doesn’t like dark colored dogs. You might say they are his, uh, bête noire. Snork, snork.)

Jet is a Golden Retriever. He’s a member of our son’s family in Sacramento and successor to Tucker, a beloved 13 year old pooch, also a GR, who passed away last year.

Jet is at that awkward stage where he is chronologically still a puppy but has achieved most of his full growth. He’s clumsy, friendly, affectionate, strong and easily distracted.

Sometimes you’d swear his brain was the size of a walnut and other times that characterization would be an exaggeration.

Puppy Jet, before he became the Sith Dog, Terrorizor of Maltese.

Max and Jet met six months ago when Jet was a fluff bundle who could be intimidated, or at least ignored, by a senior Maltese. Since then Jet has developed into a fine 65 pound specimen.

He eats big and poos bigger, but has still to learn that “Off!” means more than a brand name mosquito repellent. The dreaded, needle-sharp puppy teeth are gone but his paws are still outsized for his frame.

Jet doesn’t have a mean bone in his body. He’s just a goofy slobberhound who lives his life at 130 miles per hour, bowling over everything in his path including certain small, white and occasionally ill-tempered fur nuggets.

I think you can sense where this is going.

Our trip north was planned to take two days. Not because of the recent deluges that hit California. Not because of distance or driving times.

Nope, the trip was scheduled in a leisurely fashion largely because the fur king and the Alpha Japanese Female have equivalent-sized bladders and require frequent stops to leg-lift and squat, respectively.

No longer the little pushover.

Contrast that with yours truly who treats every long distance drive as a personal challenge to his manly ability to avoid comfort stops even if that strategy requires empty bottles and risks indecent exposure to long haul truckers.

But I digress.

We planned to rip up the freeway to the middle of the central valley and then head east into the foothills along the Sierra Nevada range, staying high enough to enjoy the forests but low enough to avoid any snow.

Oakhurst sign.jpg
It appears that there may be more civic clubs than pizza parlors. Barely.

The first night out of Rancho Cucaracha took us to Oakhurst, known as the southern gateway to famed Yosemite National Park.

It’s a town of about 3,000 water logged souls living at 2,200 feet elevation along the Fresno River and surviving mostly on the tourist dollar.

There are lots of the following in Oakhurst: pizza places, gift shops, pizza places, statues of bears, white people, rain, pickup trucks and Labrador retrievers. And pizza places.

You won’t find many of these in Oakhurst: fresh vegetables, Asians (exactly 3 according to the 2010 Census), Prius cars, suntans, kale, quinoa or frou-frou dogs.

We rolled into town, the AJF immediately increasing the Asian population by 33%, and stayed at a Best Western which was perched on a hillside surrounded by lovely foliage and landscaping and featured the noisiest plumbing east of the Fukushima Dai-Ichi Nuclear Power Plant.

The most dangerous of these is the one in the sweater – 1/4 the total of that day’s Asian population in Oakhurst.

After strolling the downtown area we debated how best to spend the rest of the hour and decided a drive through the area sounded good.

We meandered along country lanes and took photos of bear statues and large logs and wondered how Spook Lane got its unusual name.

Returning to the lodge we stopped for… you guessed it, pizza.

Speaking of bear statues, Oakhurst boasts of an apparently world famous talking bear statue located in front of a real estate office.

The life size, fiberglass ursine has been around since 1963 and will spout about wilderness ecology and such when a visitor presses a button.

Okay, it’s not the Mona Lisa. It’s not even up there with the World’s Largest Twine Ball as a roadside attraction but it is a certified California Historical Landmark.

Other irresistible tourist sites include a 25 foot, chainsaw-carved Statue of Liberty and the statue of Gabby the Wooden Gold Miner in nearby Coarsegold. Sadly, the iconic 1,000 year old “tunnel tree“fell over a couple of weeks earlier.

Talking bear.jpg
This Talking Bear is world famous. We know this because there is a sign that says so.

After the day’s excitement, the night passed peacefully save for the guest above us who was afflicted with concrete feet and an incessant need to walk back and forth to the bathroom where he or she would flush the toilet repeatedly, each flush sounding like a 747 reversing engines after a particularly hard landing.

The following morning we woke to rain and left over pizza.

After a complimentary breakfast, which garnered no compliments, we left for a drive along scenic Highway 49, the “Gold Country Route,” which starts in Oakhurst and heads north through many historic mining communities of the 1849 California gold rush.

Yeah, the name adds to the value of the real estate. Ghoul Drive and Slasher Street are good, too.

Highway 49 twists and climbs past panoramic vistas dominated by rocky meadows, black oaks, and piñon pines with Douglas firs and redwoods on the higher slopes.

Over-achieving wildflowers added color in the fields even though the calendar said February.

Dozens of lakes, rivers, and streams provided dramatic counterpoints to an already attractive geology.

Our travels took us along misty routes through places whose names resonate with California history: Sutter Creek, El Dorado, Jackson, and Angel’s Camp – site of Mark Twain’s famous story “The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County”.

Yeah, well, we didn’t stop at any of these places.

We motored through because a) it was raining cats and canines, b) we’ve been to all these towns many times and c) the aforementioned male proclivity towards non-stop driving.

Besides, Max had a date with destiny. Jet was waiting. But that’s a tale for another time.

I promise, the next installment of this story is coming soon.

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