My husband Allen and I arrived at the Sacramento airport early Thursday afternoon, then drove up I-80 to Auburn, across to the small historic town of Foresthill, and on another 13 miles up into the Sierra Nevada mountains to a wonderful B&B/lodge called The Christmas Tree Vineyard Lodge. Our hostess is Claudia, the owner and manager of the lodge and she’s made us feel welcome and has gone out of her way to be a help to me on this research trip.
Prior to my arrival she contacted people in the local historical group and was given the name of Nolan Smith, an archaeologist who works for Tahoe National Forest as a ranger. He offered to ride with us today up to the old town site of Last Chance, but first we spent 30 minutes or so in his office going over forest service maps of Placer county and particularly the area between Foresthill and Last Chance.
Before we even got out the door, he’d armed me with several books that have short bits of information on the old town, and urged me to keep them during our stay at the lodge. At his suggestion we’d rented an SUV with a higher wheel base as he hadn’t been into the old town site this spring and wasn’t sure what the road might be like.
We drove 24 miles at 25 mph and less, down a steep canyon on serpentine roads, then back up the other side to the top of a high ridge. We topped out on the ridge and began to go down the other side another nine miles on a gravel road, losing about 1,000′ in elevation until arriving in the vicinity of Last Chance. On the ridge to the east of town is a flat forested area well over a mile in length. According to historical records it used to be a flat, grassy glade with little or no trees, about two miles outside of town…a perfect setting for the ranch where Alexia lives.
Unfortunately, there isn’t even a foundation still standing where any buildings used to be, but we were able to see several leveled areas, with at least 3 that had surfaces dug into the bank. It was apparent a building had resided in those spots…and one area not far from a beautiful spring had the remnants of what could have been a split rail corral. A few of the posts still had square nails protruding from the sides. According to Nolan, those nails would be pre-1890’s—and could easily have been a corral where my blacksmith/livery kept the horses.
We also visited the few remaining tombstones in the cemetery up on a rise above the town site. Ethan Allen Grosch, the man who first discovered the Comstock lode, died in a tragic accident and was buried there in the 1850’s. His tombstone is clearly marked, along with several others both earlier and later.
Tomorrow we’ll be visiting Michigan Bluff, a very small town where Justin (our hero in my book) will be driving his wagon through on his way to Last Chance. We’ll also stop by the library, museum and historical society in Foresthill, as it’s the closest real town to Last Chance with any facilities or businesses.
I’m thrilled to have had the opportunity to see the topography, the setting for the town and learn more detail about the time period and history my book takes place. When we return home I’ll be back at my manuscript with a renewed excitement! Stay tuned for more updates as I happen to stumble upon them.