The Rush for Gold

Empire Mine, Grass Valley, California

It was a big day on January 24, 1848 when the first California gold was discovered at a saw mill in Coloma. Let’s take a trip to the “Gold Country,” where dozens of small gold towns still exist in the Sierra Nevada foothills. We’re going to Grass Valley and  Nevada City.

 

That original gold flake brought 300,000 people to California, half by sea, half by land; an unprecedented surge for those days. (That gold flake, by the way, can be viewed at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C.)

 

Eons before, 400 million years ago, California was at the bottom of a sea, and underwater volcanoes deposited gold and other minerals onto the sea floor. Next, tectonic forces drove the minerals to the earth’s surface. Eventually the minerals eroded and were deposited in gravel alongside rivers.

 

Prospectors at first could sift through riverbed gravel with a shallow pan, finding gold nuggets and flakes.  See map below.

Gold Mine Shaft

After the surface gold had disappeared, mining followed. Gold was extracted from quartz by “hardrock” mining. Men were lowered in buckets into deep shafts to chip and drill through the rock, and later sled-like “slips” and cages were invented for miners to enter the earth.

Empire Mine, circa 1890

The rocks were detonated, and blasted rock was loaded into rail carts, ore cars, and brought up. Extracted ore went to the stamp mill where it was crushed, mixed with water, and processed, then further processed in the refinery.

 

Empire Mine miners on sled-like “slip,” before descending into the mines

Empire Mine, Athena on the same sled-like “slip”

Empire Mine Stamp Mill. Each stamp was mechanically lifted and dropped over 100 times per minute to crush the rock.

The Empire Mine, in Grass Valley, is a State Park with remnants of the mine still open for touring. This complex had 56 shafts extending over 8,000 feet (2,438 m) deep, with 367 miles of excavations. Mining stopped in 1956 when it became too expensive to extract.

Empire Mine Model. Colors indicate gold.

I liked the Mine Model. It looks like a modern model that was built for tourists. But it is actually what engineers and geologists constructed in 1938, as an important working tool.

 

It gives a thorough view of the underground environment, where they could find the gold. All the squiggly colored lines are gold veins. As you can imagine, it was closely guarded and studiously analyzed.

 

Empire Mine quartz, gold in front center

 

The California Gold Rush (1848-1855) was a lucrative time for some folks, and a cruel time for others. Native American Nisenan were forcibly removed and displaced, exposed to disease; miners were exposed to chemicals and disease, their work was devastating to their health; fatal accidents occurred; the earth was ravaged.

 

When I hiked in the area two weeks ago, it was easy to see the quartz veins in the granite boulders, and minerals bleeding through the rocks. I wondered if people still search for gold. I learned that yes, there are still people who pan for gold, but there is no rush like in the old days; basically, for dreamers.

 

Quartz vein in granite: diagonal white line upper center to right

 

All these years later, there are still tectonic forces here, and minerals continue to be important to all living creatures…mining continues around the world. We wouldn’t have mobile phones without minerals.

 

Hirschman’s Pond, Nevada City, California

One day we hiked an area that we learned was on much higher ground in the old days. It had been extensively dug up by two brothers during prospecting days. The hole that they dug was now filled in with a century of rainfall–a scenic, quiet pond with surrounding trails.

 

Ponderosa pines whistled above us in the wind, and a pair of belted kingfishers dipped into the water for fish.

 

Photo credit: Athena Alexander unless otherwise noted

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California Goldfields. Courtesy Wikipedia.

 

 

 

 

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Hitchcock Lives On in the Bay Area

Hitchcock, circa 1943, courtesy “Footsteps in the Fog”

In celebration of Alfred Hitchcock’s birthday this weekend, here are photos and scenes from his San Francisco Bay Area films. Born in England on August 13, 1899, he became a successful film director in British cinema, then came to the U.S. in 1939.

 

After buying a 200-acre Bay Area ranch in 1940, the “Master of Suspense” spent many years living and working in northern California. Three of his films were set here, and many scenes from other movies as well–Rebecca, Suspicion, Psycho, Marnie, Topaz, and Family Plot.

Hitchcock’s Bay Area, courtesy “Footsteps in the Fog”

 

Hitchcock’s film and television productions. 

Alfred Hitchcock Wikipedia. 

 

The three Bay Area films span a 150-mile radius of San Francisco. Over a half century later, film buffs, tourists, and Bay Area residents still enjoy visiting these sites.

Hitchcock, Santa Rosa Courthouse Square, 1942; courtesy “Footsteps in the Fog”

1 – “Shadow of a Doubt” was set in Santa Rosa, California, about a 1.5 hour drive north of San Francisco. Hitchcock considered this film his finest.

 

Filmed during the early 1940s, it was heavily impacted by WWII. There were blackout orders restricting nighttime filming. Also, the War Production Office required Hitchcock to limit his set construction budget to $3,000 (from “Footsteps in the Fog”).

Santa Rosa Calif., Old Courthouse Square, photo by F. Schulenberg, 2012

 

Therefore, in order to curtail set costs, Hitchcock resolved to use the town as the movie set. At the time, this was a new innovation, filming in the town square and other public places.

 

He chose Santa Rosa, a quaint and quiet town, for the backdrop of his dark psychological thriller.

 

Released in 1943 and starring Joseph Cotton and Teresa Wright, the screenplay was written by Thornton Wilder.

 

Much of Santa Rosa, and many local residents too, appear in the film. Santa Rosa’s downtown, railroad depot, Courthouse Square, public library, church, bank, and spacious tree-lined neighborhoods take center stage.

 

The railroad depot, the “Newton House,” and other buildings can still be seen today in Santa Rosa.

 

Santa Rosa railroad depot, 2016. Today it is a Visitor Center.

“Shadow of a Doubt” filming, at Santa Rosa railroad depot, early 1940s. Hitchcock seated in dark suit, front left-center. Courtesy “Footsteps in the Fog”

“Newton Family” house where Shadow of a Doubt was filmed, 2017

 

2 – “The Birds”, a 1963 horror-thriller, is set primarily in and around Bodega Bay; approximately a two-hour drive north of San Francisco. There are also scenes in San Francisco, including his cameo appearance at the pet store with his true-life pets, a pair of Sealyham terriers.

List of Alfred Hitchcock cameo appearances. 

 

 

Alfred Hitchcock filming “The Birds”

Starring Rod Taylor, Tippi Hedren, Jessica Tandy, and Suzanne Pleshette, the story is loosely based on a 1961 bird incident in nearby Capitola, California; and a novel with the same title written by Daphne du Maurier.

 

Around the time of “The Birds” filming, Capitola experienced a brief scare when birds called Sooty Shearwaters slammed into, and died, on rooftops. Shearwaters are birds of the sea, on land only during nesting, and ill-suited for landing. Because they cannot land properly, they do actually slam into whatever is in their way.

 

I once went birding on an island covered with nesting shearwaters, and one of my birding mates was slammed in the back really hard by a shearwater.

 

It is a bizarre thing to witness…and who else but Hitchcock would create a thriller out of this?

 

Bodega Bay Overview

The Tides pier, Bodega Bay, 2016. Western Gull.

Today you can still visit The Tides Restaurant and Wharf, where the film was largely set; they proudly display old film posters.

 

In Hitchcock humor, there are stuffed crows in the rafters.

 

Staged scene at The Tides Restaurant in Bodega Bay, 2017

“Potter School” and the general store called Diekmann’s also still exist.

 

“The Birds” schoolhouse, aka Potter School, Bodega, 2013

 

When I was on the Bodega Bay pier of the Tides Restaurant last fall, an unusually large flock of marbled godwits flew over us; Hitchcock’s story immediately shot to my mind as I looked tentatively at the bird-darkened sky.

 

3 – “Vertigo”, released in 1958, was filmed all over San Francisco and in outlying Bay Area venues. Starring Jimmy Stewart, Kim Novak, and Barbara Bel Geddes, this story is a haunting one, highlighted by a brilliant musical score by Bernard Herrmann.

 

Movie buffs soak up San Francisco Vertigo tours, re-living the fictional story of this psychological thriller. Vertigo captures the charm and romance of 1950s San Francisco; featuring the Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco Bay, panoramic skylines, winding streets,  redwood trees, and rocky cliffs.

 

Fort Point and Golden Gate Bridge, SF, 2017

 

Kim Novak in Vertigo, at Fort Point, SF, circa 1958, courtesy Wikipedia

 

Scenes include visits to the Palace of Fine Arts and the Legion of Honor.

Palace of Fine Arts, SF, 2016

 

Legion of Honor, SF, 2017

James Stewart as “Scottie” at The Legion of Honor, circa 1958, courtesy Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco

 

Two local California missions, which look the same as when Hitchcock filmed here, are also embraced in this story. The crew filmed at Mission Dolores in San Francisco, where I have also set a scene from my own novel.

 

Mission Dolores, San Francisco, 2014

 

Hitchcock at SF Mission Dolores, 1957, courtesy “Footsteps in the Fog”

 

Hitchcock and Stewart in Mission Dolores Cemetery, circa 1958, courtesy “Footsteps in the Fog”

 

Mission Dolores Cemetery, 2014

 

Mission Dolores Cemetery, 2014

 

And the second mission, Mission San Juan Bautiste, is in the town of the same name, about 90 miles south of San Francisco. The famous bell tower, where several shocking scenes take place, was added via special effects.

 

Mission San Juan Bautista, 2011. The “Vertigo” Bell Tower was added to the mission via special effects.

 

Hitchcock films have a way of grabbing hold of our human frailties, and exploring our deepest fears.

 

Enjoy a toast this weekend to Sir Alfred’s mastery.

 

Photo credit: Athena Alexander unless otherwise specified. Thanks to Kraft and Leventhal’s book “Footsteps in the Fog” (2002).

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Fighting Fire in San Francisco

The San Francisco earthquake of April 18, 1906 claimed over 3,000 lives. Even the fire chief, Dennis T. Sullivan, was fatally wounded that day when the chimney of a neighboring building collapsed on him.

 

The earthquake and subsequent fires, though devastating, shaped the city for future safety and fire prevention.

 

That day, 90% of the destruction occurred after the initial 7.8 earthquake, in fires. There were over 30 fires, destroying approximately 25,000 buildings on 490 city blocks.  Complicated by ruptured water mains and quaking disasters all over the Bay Area, the city’s conflagration lasted three days, levelled 80% of the city.

 

Wikipedia 1906 San Francisco Earthquake.

 

The hydrant that saved a neighborhood in 1906

Over a century has passed since then, and residents are often assured there will never be anything so catastrophic again. An annual celebration of the survival of the city occurs every April 18 at 5:12 a.m., the time the 1906 earthquake hit.

 

A post I wrote last year about the celebration: Celebrating Survival. 

 

Protective laws and regulations, neighborhood preparedness, and numerous preventative systems are in place.

 

If you drive around San Francisco, for example, every once in awhile you will find an intersection with a large circle made of bricks. There are 177 of them. Measuring 32 feet (9.75M) in diameter, the circle indicates there is a huge underground concrete vault filled with 75,000 gallons (284,000 L) of water; reserved for any emergency.  (Photo at end.)

 

 

San Francisco Painted Ladies

With neighborhood houses typically built abutting each other, in a region that only gets rainfall during half the year (if that), this city relies heavily on their fire department.

 

San Francisco is only 47 square miles in size, yet it has 51 neighborhood fire stations. SFFD Wikipedia info. 

Fireboat

 

I researched residential fires in San Francisco for my recently published mystery novel. I learned a lot about the devastation of fire. I visited fire stations, peered in, took notes, talked to firefighters.

First fire engine built in Calif., from 1855. Courtesy SFFD.

One day I visited San Francisco’s Fire Museum. It is a small add-on section to a busy fire station, located in the Pacific Hts. neighborhood. Museum info here.

 

That day they were getting ready for a public event, and the station was lively with firefighters moving fire trucks, preparing the space for visitors.

 

 

The glass case displays were loaded with memorabilia, old equipment and hoses, and old photos. There were numerous old trucks, shiny and in mint condition.

 

About a dozen people were moving a big old truck, and as they did, they proudly reminisced about using that truck to help in “the Loma Prieta” (large 1989 earthquake) when all the newer trucks were out fighting fires.

 

I stood on the sideline, intrigued by it all, staying out of the way. They talked in a language that was filled with codes and details of which I was unfamiliar. They moved with swiftness and strength, and worked together in comradery and unity.

 

I have more respect than ever for firefighters. They carry a heavy responsibility, these warriors of fire; and they do so with grace and pride.

 

Photo credit: Athena Alexander unless otherwise specified

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This intersection has an underground water vault. Photo: Travis Grathwell, localwiki.org

 

Answering Your Questions

Golden Gate GraveyardI have happily received emails and questions lately about the process of my novel writing. In response, I have written a brief page addressing how I determine aspects like the setting, plot, characters, and researching.

 

Visit the “Writing Novels” tab above to learn more about how I write mystery novels. You’re welcome to leave a comment if you want. If you have an additional question that didn’t get answered here, you can also contact me at my email address, via the “Contact” tab.

 

Keep the questions coming, and thank you for your interest.  Tell a friend!

 

Photo credit: Athena Alexander

Jet in Australian rainforest with Golden Bowerbird bower, research for Wicked Walkabout.

Jet in Australian rainforest with Golden Bowerbird bower, research for Wicked Walkabout.

 

Outdoor Ice Skating in California

Embarcadero ice rink, San Francisco, Ferry bldg. on right

Embarcadero ice rink, San Francisco, Ferry Bldg. on right

Outdoor skating in sunny California — how does that work?

 

I went to San Francisco’s Embarcadero rink last week, to check it out. For years I had heard friends talk about it, but I was skeptical, having grown up in Wisconsin where freezing temperatures were always part of the package.

 

Ice skating in San Francisco includes mild temperatures, sunshine, and palm trees. The rink is portable, installed every November for the holiday season. Aluminum segments measuring 3×30 feet are assembled, accompanied by tents offering skate rentals and storage lockers.

 

There is a company who specializes in temporary outdoor skating rinks, they service cities around the world. Then sometime after New Years Day it all comes down until next November.

 

San Francisco

San Francisco in winter – hats, scarves, and gloves optional

For $11 per person, it offers excitement, exercise, and a few wobbles and tumbles at no extra charge.

 

San Francisco Embarcadero Ice Rink photos and info.

 

It so popular that skaters have to make reservations, are committed to a timed session. Music is pumped in and a Zamboni smoothes the ice in between sessions.

 

In Wisconsin, we skated on huge expanses of frozen lakes and ponds; and quickly figured out where the smoothest ice was. Every winter my father also rolled out plastic sheets and transformed our dormant vegetable garden into the neighborhood ice rink.

 

So to me the outdoor rinks in California seem odd; but the Zamboni, after all, was invented in California.

 

The Model A Zamboni

The first Zamboni. Courtesy Zamboni Ice Resurfacers.

The ice-smoothing machine was invented in the Los Angeles area by two brothers and their cousin, the Zambonis, in 1940. They used the Ford Model A as a prototype.

 

Ice melts in warm weather, but the magical Zamboni comes along and scrapes the chips and fills in the gaps. It’s a real science, making ice, read about it here.

 

Personally, I had enough of cold weather to last me a lifetime. It was fun as a kid, but then I grew up; drove my first car across an ice patch into a concrete wall, lost a million mittens, and was always freezing. So when I got old enough, I moved to California.

 

Still, the snow is pristine and hushing, and creates some of the most lovely vistas. I still find it beautiful to look at.

 

I like to watch the ice skaters circling the rink, I like to look at beautiful photos of snow, and I like traveling to the tropics. It’s a wonderful world, having these options.

 

Photo credit: Athena Alexander unless otherwise specified

 

Here are a few places I go for beautiful snow adventures:

adventure69degreesnorth.com – Inger and Tor ski Banff, Canada

alittlebitoutoffocus.comMike lives in the Alps

madlyinlovewithlife.com – Jeannie delights in Alberta, Canada

oldplaidcamper.com – Plaidcamper often hikes in wintry Canada wilderness

port4u.net – Sherry captures the beauty in NYC

traveltalesoflife.com – Sue cross-country skis in Canada

 

Golden Gate GraveyardIn case you want more of San Francisco, I know a good book written by someone I know. Oh yeah, me.

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Rock Hyrax

Lilac-breasted Roller, Africa

Lilac-breasted Roller, Africa

One day years ago we were traveling through northern Kenya, not far from the border of Somalia.

 

We were isolated, on dirt roads, en route to our next lodge when our driver  heard that a different tour bus ahead of us had come upon bandits.

 

The unlucky tourists had stopped on the side of the road, were looking at something, and subsequently robbed.

 

We were warned we were not going to be making any stops until we reached our next lodge, except for one bathroom pit-stop. They assured us we would be fine, but no dallying was the strong message.

 

Eventually we stopped for our bathroom break, privately dispersed behind the rocks. The guides watched for suspicious travelers while we hurried.

 

I was there behind a rock when a terrifying, shrill scream erupted.

 

I didn’t know what to do. So I waited a minute, heard nothing more. Then I peered out from behind the boulder, shaking and rattled, ready and resolved to surrender my precious wedding band and binoculars.

 

But the only vehicle there was ours, and my safari mates were calmly filing back into it.

 

Back on the road, my heart still pounding, I asked what that horrible scream was. That’s when I learned what a rock hyrax was.

 

Rock Hyrax. Photo B. Torrissen, courtesy Wikipedia

Soft, furry creatures, the wee size of a guinea pig.

 

Procavia capensis live in rocky outcroppings in Africa and the Middle East (see range map below).

 

A small mammal, the rock hyrax have a hearty diet. They eat quickly, never lingering long.

 

Leopard, Africa

Leopard, Africa

There is a good reason they hide inside rocks and don’t linger, they have many predators:  wild cats, like leopard, as well as hawks, owls, and eagles.

 

Cobras, puff adders, pythons, and wild dogs also hunt them.

 

Egyptian Cobra, Africa

Egyptian Cobra, Africa

More rock hyrax info here.

 

The rock hyrax have many tools for survival, including more than 20 different vocalizations.

 

They communicate within their large colonies with growls, twitters, whistles, and songs. When the sentry senses danger they scream and shriek.

 

Apparently I was the perceived danger.

 

Hyrax Family.jpg

Rock Hyrax. Photo: Siegmund K.M., courtesy Wikipeida

Click here for the shriek.

 

What a crazy little animal. Small body, ferocious scream. I was glad we were not accosted by bandits, but I could’ve used a gentler introduction.

 

Rock Hyrax area.png

Rock Hyrax Range Map, courtesy Wikipedia

Photo credit: Athena Alexander unless otherwise specified

 

 

 

Golden Gate GraveyardHere’s my newly released novel. Suspense that will rock you.

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The Mission Dolores Cemetery, San Francisco

Mission Dolores, San Francisco

Mission Dolores, San Francisco

The oldest building in San Francisco, the Mission San Francisco de Asis, more commonly known as Mission Dolores, was built in San Francisco in 1776.

 

In the back, behind a white adobe wall, is the old cemetery. It is one of the quietest spots in this urban sprawl.

 

Between 1769 and 1833, 21 Spanish missions  were established by Franciscan priests throughout what was later to become the state of California. The sixth mission to be founded was the San Francisco one. The missions were the origins of the state’s communities.

 

Mission San Francisco De Asís

Old Mission on left, Basilica on right. Photo: Robert A. Estremo, courtesy Wikipedia.

More information about the missions.

 

The old San Francisco Mission has a small chapel, museum, cemetery, and tiny gift shop; the basilica next door hosts regular Catholic church services. As a city, state, and national historical landmark, it is also a popular destination for tour buses.

 

Original adobe walls, inside the Mission Dolores

Original adobe walls, inside the Mission Dolores

History of Mission Dolores here.

 

Mission Dolores, 1856. Courtesy Wikipedia.

 

 

 

 

The chapel is popular and interesting, decorated and devoted. But it is busy with tourists and sounds echo.

 

Chapel interior. Courtesy Wikipedia

The cemetery, however, is hushed–with old rose bushes, palm trees, birds, and vibrant sunshine. This is where I like to be.

 

There are only two cemeteries in San Francisco, this tiny plot is one of them. It was originally much bigger.

 

Mission Dolores Cemetery

Mission Dolores Cemetery

Today the earthquake-rippled sidewalks still lead you down a path of centuries-old gravestones. It holds the markers of San Francisco’s pioneers, leaders, old residents. There is also a revered sculpture of Father Junipero Serra.

 

I like to linger here among the broken graves with worn-off names, quietly listening to the sound of the chickadee singing overhead, feeling the penetrating warmth of the sun.

 

Mission Dolores Cemetery

Mission Dolores Cemetery

Sometimes I think about the people who shaped this city, sometimes I think about Alfred Hitchcock who filmed a scene from “Vertigo” right here, and sometimes I wonder how long it will be before my parking time runs out.

 

Photo credit: Jet Eliot unless otherwise specified

 

Golden Gate GraveyardYou can read more about Mission Dolores in my newly released mystery novel. Purchase here or at Amazon or any other major book retailer.