“One impulse from a vernal wood/ May teach you more of man/ Of moral evil and of good/ Than all the sages can.”
William Wordsworth’s faith that nature is the great teacher, and a great restorer of the human spirit, was a creed he held to his entire life. He thought that force found its most beautiful moments in the springtime.
In the Gold Country, that means the month of April.
April has always been the most mesmerizing window on Amador. There’s the fresh, shamrock shimmer of the hills, the clear, cold water trickling by emerald grasses along creeks, the endless blue of mornings that cast sunlight on oaks. There are also those puffy, pearl clouds that slowly drift through the stunning brightness. Make no mistake; if you need to recharge your mind and energy, soaking in April scenes across the Mother Lode is the way to do it.
Here’s my advice for a perfect spring drive through Amador County.
Start your morning at Sina’s Backroads Cafe in Sutter Creek. Owner Sina Hanning has a magic touch with home-style cooking, and if you begin your drive at her cafe with a latte and Sina’s Spanish Street Scramble (corn tortillas stuffed with scrambled eggs, shredded cheese, olives, sour cream and fresh salsa) you’ll probably be in a proper mood to watch the early glow across the range.
From the Backroads Cafe, head north on Highway 49 until you get to your first genuine backroad, which is Amador Road. This path turns along fenced corrals and big wooden cattle chutes that are shadowed by timeless oaks. At the end of this path, you’ll take a left onto String Bean Alley, which winds past the Sutter Gold Mine before ducking by a faded, ramshackle farmhouse that hides behind the brush. If you accidently turn right, you’ll probably end up in Whiskey Gulch, which is pure country, but also a dead end.
String Bean Alley brings you to Main Street in Amador City. Once you reach the worn, rustic facade of the Imperial Hotel, take a right onto Amador Creek Road and then a quick right onto East School Street. You’ll climb to the top of a vista overlooking Amador City, one with views of lonely cattle wandering green, steep ledges. From there, you’ll take a right onto Bunker Hill Road and follow it to Freemont Mine Road. Within a minute, a hidden world of gentle glens and grades suddenly opens up all around you. This is where scattered ponds lay on the chartreuse brilliance of grass rippling in the wind. This is where old, crooked oaks lean along streams that glimmer in the sunlight. Overlooking the view is the Freemont Mine headframe, its aged iron bones hinting at similar spring seasons during the days of the 49ers.
Freemont Mine Road takes you down onto New Chicago Road, eventually dropping into Drytown. Get on Highway 49 there and travel into Plymouth. Then turn on Shenandoah Road. Soon you’ll come to Shenandoah School Road, which takes you to another spring-centric stop, the Amador Flower Farm. This 14-acre nursery and farm sells nearly 1,200 different kinds of daylilies, along with clematis, jasmine, honeysuckle, passion vine and climbing roses, all of which bloom in the springtime. It also offers locally grown walnuts and locally made grilling sauces, fruit butters and salad dressings. On April 6 and 7, the flower farm holds its annual celebration of spring, presenting free tram rides, horticultural demonstrations and strolls through colorful, blooming gardens. On April 21 at 1 p.m., the flower farm hosts its big Easter Egg Hunt for kids. On May 12, it opens for a free Mother’s Day event, one that focuses on daylilies and picnics under the shade of its majestic live oaks.
After you leave the flower farm, hang a left where Shenandoah School Road meets Shenandoah Road again. You’ll backtrack south about a mile to Bell Road and turn right onto it. This quaint country lane has great glimpses of the surrounding vineyards and cattle lands, yet the real payoff happens when you arrive at Story Winery. A downhome, family-owned haven for more than 30 years, Story Winery has one of the nicest views in the valley that tourists don’t know about. Travel writers have highlighted the vistas at Helwig and Iron Hub wineries, but if you want a similar experience – and want it mostly to yourself – Story Winery is a better option. Its friendly staff pours stellar Zinfandel and Primitivo vintages, not to mention one of the few Mission grape wines in all of California.
Leaving Story Winery, take Bell Road back to Shenandoah Road and turn left. Driving north into the higher wine country, you’ll eventually come to a hill-bound path called Ostram Road. It offers sweeping views of vineyards, cattle ranges, aged corrals and rising pine thickets, all before you arrive at Fiddletown’s Chinese halls and covered wooden bridges. It’s the perfect end to a drive through Amador’s most inspiring season of green, blue and gold.
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