Part 3: Three Days of Play

Continuing the story of our 1300+ mile road trip in our electric car (Part 1 & Part 2 here).

Somewhere east of Sacramento – the city where the reunion was held – we passed the halfway point of our trip, miles-wise. So far, we were pleased with the EV’s performance, comfort, and the availability of superchargers.

Amador County, California

We were looking forward to spending the next several days with my brother and sister-in-law exploring Amador County – an area famous for gold mining in the 1800s, and now known for producing wine. The fact that we would also be celebrating both our anniversary and my brother’s birthday while there, was a bonus. Besides visiting a few wineries, our plans included taking a tour of an abandoned gold mine operation, exploring a deep cave, and wandering around several gold rush-era towns and historical cemeteries.

Like many retirees, we prefer to travel in the off-season. After Labor Day, the summer crowds have dispersed, and reservations often aren’t necessary. That’s the good news. Traveling after Labor Day, especially mid-week to smaller towns, can also mean facing “Sorry, we are closed” signs in shop and restaurant windows. More about that later.

Kennedy Gold Mine  

Kennedy Gold Mine headframe, where the miners were lowered into the mine shaft. Photo credit: my brother, Gary.

On our first day in Amador County, we took a tour of the Kennedy Gold Mine, one of the deepest mines in the world. Part of the tour included viewing old black and white films that showed the mine in operation. The mostly immigrant labor worked long hours in dangerous conditions. Despite the mine producing over $34 million (not adjusted for current prices) until it was closed in 1942, there was little indication that much of the wealth trickled down into the pockets of the laborers.

Although the actual mine was closed to visitors, we would have the opportunity to explore beneath the Earth’s surface the next day.

Black Chasm Cavern 

Waiting to enter the cave with the naturalist.
Stairs leading down into the cavern.
Just one of the beautiful formations we saw in the cave.

Not for those who are prone to claustrophobia or who have a fear of heights, the Black Chasm Cavern was a dazzling experience. The deep, cool cave, with its stalactites, stalagmites, and rare crystal formations called helicites, was the perfect place to spend an afternoon away from the sun.

Historical Towns – charming… and closed

When we weren’t exploring mines, caverns, cemeteries, or wineries, we spent time wandering around several small towns whose founding dated back to the gold rush days. The main streets were quaint and lined with enticing shops and tempting restaurants. Sadly, because we were there at the beginning of the week, most of them were closed. Living in a big city, when everything is always open, this hadn’t occurred to us as a possibility.

Hours of operation were very iffy… and, sadly, closed when we were there.

Fortunately, we were able to find a nice(ish) restaurant that was open on my brother’s birthday. The next night, though, when it was our anniversary and their turn to treat, the only thing open was the restaurant attached to our hotel:

Not exactly elegant, but it’s the thought that counts, right?

I have to admit, although I have no recollection of what we ordered – most likely it was off their 55+ Special Savings menu – it was an anniversary celebration dinner that we won’t forget. Ever.  

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Author: Janis @ RetirementallyChallenged.com

My blog is about travel, relationships, photography, and whatever else pops into my head (even, sometimes, issues surrounding retirement and aging).

87 thoughts on “Part 3: Three Days of Play”

  1. My next car will be electric, so thanks in advance for the tips! We’re about 30 minutes from the wineries in Amador, which I believe are just as good as Napa or Sonoma. We haven’t yet been to the cavern or the mine, but they’re on the list.

    1. We were only traveling in California this trip. The west and east coasts have the best charger infrastructure, but I imagine more will be added elsewhere in the near future. I have a friend who traveled from SoCal to Maine several times in her EV. It just takes some extra planning.

  2. Our anniversary is next week and I thank you for sharing your anniversary trip as we won’t be able to travel this time around. Loved the photo of the cave… and laughed at the hours sign on the door. “Maybe” and “-ish” are hoots, and leads me to believe that the store owner makes more than enough to sustain them when the ‘closed’ sign is up. Fantastic trip. And Denny’s is our ‘go-to’ restaurant when traveling. It’s dependably good and inexpensive (on the 55+ menu!) Plus with AARP you can be generous with the tip.

    1. Those door signs were so funny… and, unfortunately for us, true. Although Denny’s wouldn’t have been our first (second, or third) choice for a special anniversary celebration, you are right. The food was decent and our waiter was great. Now that I know about their 55+ menu, we may visit it again the next time we travel 🙂

  3. Exploring that cave? Nope, nope, nope although it looks interesting. We go to the Jersey shore in September. One year we went the last week and that was a mistake. Most of the restaurants are seasonal but even the ones that are somewhat open year round have their own idea of which days to open and it’s always changing. There is a wonderful bakery that is only open Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Really? There is a big year round population who obviously doesn’t eat baked goods! Ok, rant over.

    1. The cave was so interesting but I imagine that it would freak some people out. This was my first experience with so many places being closed. The night of our anniversary, even the restaurant at a nearby casino was closed… I didn’t think that ever happens.

  4. I plan to purchase an EV next time round. I am enjoying your journey. Loved the cavern. Looking forward to the wine tours. We did a couple in California a few years ago and realized enjoyed them.

    1. Amador County isn’t as popular with the tourists as Napa and Sonoma so it’s much less crowded and you have more opportunity to learn about each pour.

      I love that so many people are considering EVs for their next purchase. It seems that every year, there are more and more options.

      1. Not round here, but where we used to live in England – Yorkshire / Derbyshire – there are many show-caves. However, John was a pot-holer when I met him – I went a few times before getting completely spooked. Fortunately, he gave up soon after.

          1. Quite! Yes, spelunker or, to give it the official term, speleologist. Climbing down rope ladders in a waterfall, wriggling on my stomach through a gap John helpfully called Death Crawl – well, all I can say is it must have been love.

  5. I hadn’t realized the reunion was in Sacramento, Janis. Which high school? I hope the weather was decent while you were there–I’ve seen weather reports that put their temps still hot! We traveled a lot to Amador County and enjoyed several outings in Jackson and Sutter’s Creek. Such a cool area all through there. I never made it into the mines–cool photos! Denny’s isn’t so bad, especially with a discount 🙂 Happy Anniversary!

  6. How fun, Janis. I haven’t been to Amador, but it looks like a good place to put on my bucket list. Denny’s isn’t glamorous but the food is good.

  7. Oh no, Denny’s for dinner?!! That is sad. I only saw a little bit of Amador County, but really enjoyed the gold rush region. I plan to be back there next year.

  8. The immigrant (Chinese) experience during the Gold Rush reminds me of the imported labour we saw when we lived in the Middle East. The workers in both instances could earn much more than they could earn in their native land! For the Chinese in America, the money they sent home was immensely important not only to their families but to the overall wealth of entire villages.

  9. Janis, The cave and the mine look fascinating. Thanks for letting me know about Denny’s 55 plus special savings menu, something to look forward to 🙂 Happy anniversary!

  10. Whenever I’ve had the opportunity to go into one of those beautiful caves, I always imagine what it must have been like for the first people who found them… before the lights, before the steps, before the rails, before the walkways… yikes!
    Thanks for taking us on your trip with you!

  11. The photos of the cave are stunning but not certain whether or not I could do it. I did manage Vimy Ridge but there was a lot of deep breathing and talking to myself. As to closed restaurants we ran into the Monday Tuesday thing in PEI. At least there was a Denny’s. We had one night of eating our sandwiches for supper! Bernie

      1. Heights are OK, it’s the closed space that gets me. I got locked in my room in residence and it made me so claustrophobic. Nowadays it would be called a panic attack.

  12. What a wonderful trip, Janis! I love the 12ish to 4ish hours. And Sacramento is about 2 hours from our home. 🙂 Those caverns look amazing, too. We’ve visited several in the past and they’re always fascinating. And Denny’s? Well, the food was probably decent, and like you said, it will be an unforgettable anniversary dinner. 🙂 Happy belated Anniversary, also!

  13. I’m glad you had a nice time and a wonderful anniversary, despite the absence of decent restaurants that night.

    When Mark and I stroll through small, cute towns, we are usually not bothered by shops and establishments being closed, because we never set foot inside anyway. I understand we are in the minority. I just love looking at the architecture and taking photos, while walking our dog on the shady side of the street. Shady as in not sunny. 🙂

  14. Black Chasm Cavern looks fascinating. I enjoy seeing what’s underneath us. I’m glad you took some photos. Laughing about your anniversary dinner. Living large there! 😉

  15. What a fascinating place! Too bad about the businesses being closed. Their “ish” and “maybe” are pretty funny, though! Denny’s for your anniversary. Not what you expected, but certainly memorable, and, no doubt, funny with time. Happy anniversary

  16. I bet you had a few hearty chuckles over that Denny’s menu. 🙂 Denny’s is not where one normally thinks of spending their anniversary, but we’ve all encountered those closed signs, and the more important part of the evening was the company you were keeping. Happy Anniversary and many more.

  17. That sounds like a great place to visit. Your cave pictures are spectacular. I bet it was nice to get out of the heat for a bit and enjoy the views down there. I love the sign “maybe” they’ll be open. That’s one way to be flexible in their work schedule. Aw…Denny’s for anniversary dinner, that’s precious and memorable! Happy Anniversary to you two, what a wonderful trip you had together to add to the memories you treasure!

    1. I loved those “maybe” and “ish” signs too… if I owned a small business, I’d want to be flexible also. The cave was a perfect place to be on a hot day. Not only were the rock formations fascinating, but the cool air was so refreshing. Thanks for the anniversary wishes… it was fun to celebrate with family, even at Denny’s 🙂

  18. I love caverns. You got some nice shots. Regarding the shops, I had to laugh when I saw those signs. The same thing happened on our recent trip to Oregon. We went on a Sunday/Monday/Tuesday to avoid crowds and most restaurants were closed -even the one at the hotel!! Also, that is the way my new town is all the time. At least we are prepared for that!

      1. Very small…..Kingston, WA, but on Highway 104 on the way to the Olympics. Lots of summer tourist traffic and a quick ferry ride to the other side of the Puget Sound. We love it.

  19. What a wonderful trip! I would love to visit the mine, and have added that to my list! Thank you. I wouldn’t have anticipated so many days with business closed, but it makes sense. It’s a good heads up to remember for a future trip. 🙂

  20. My husband and I had the same experience last year, when we decided to go on a long weekend. We spent the last night in the charming, historical town of Washington, MO, and were planning to explore the town the next day before going home. Sadly, it was Monday, and almost everything was closed!

  21. Gorgeous photos, Janis! I really enjoyed this little part of your trip with you. I smiled at the signs posted of the hours open. I’ve experienced my fair share of closures on certain days in small towns so I know it can be a bit of a rude jolt to a city person 😏

    Never having been in a Denny’s I can’t comment on your anniversary dinner … but I’m guessing not Michelin Star rated 🤪 I hope it was wonderful just the same!

    1. Hi Joanne… so nice to “see” you in the comments. Yes, I guess us city-folk are a bit jaded… “What do you mean that you are closed when I want to visit?” I’ve never gotten used to the idea that the world doesn’t revolve around me. 🙂

      And, no, I don’t think Denny’s would rate a Michelin Star (but then I’ve never eaten at one of those fancy-pants restaurants so what do I know) but the company was great and the food not bad at all – and well worth whatever my brother and sister-in-law paid 🙂

  22. I’m glad you had fun and got to spend your anniversary and brother’s birthday together.

    I love that part of CA. We pass through Jackson all the time. It’s on the way to our daughter’s home who also lives in Gold Country.

    1. Jackson was fun (despite all the closed shops and restaurants) and heaped in history. We especially enjoyed wondering around some of the old cemeteries in the area. I was shocked that they even had a whole bank of super chargers so we could keep our car well-charged.

  23. That’s disappointing that things were closed. Easy to not take that into consideration when making plans, I’m sure. I know it wouldn’t dawn on me. Consider me warned for when I retire in a decade or so… 🙂

  24. Those caves are just beautiful and nice you had a naturalist with you to point out things you might miss. I like the little town and its signs like “12 ish to 4 ish” – too bad they were closed up tight though and I wouldn’t have thought to ask in advance either.

  25. What a surprise, Janis. I used to live in Rancho Murieta, not far from the wineries of Amador County. I have several buddies who live in Jackson and Sutter Creek. There really are some nice restaurants (and good red zins) in Amador County, as long as their kitchens are open.

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