JACKSON — Now that January has arrived, the Northern San Joaquin Valley can look forward to up to eight more weeks of refrigerator weather.
It happens on those days where there is either persistent tule fog or low-hanging overcast courtesy of the gigantic bowl that is the Central Valley.
The sun has gone AWOL. The 24-hour temperature never deviates by more than 2 to 8 degrees. It’s cold and dreary and bone chilling. Temps are stuck in the low to mid 50s and once in a while plunge into the high 40s.
Yet if you head west toward the Altamont Pass and the Bay Area that is supposedly fog central in California you can see the sun in skies that are often clear with temperatures reaching into the 60s.
It is why the great escape from being “locked in” the refrigerator that the 209 can become is heading east to the foothills.
Any place above 1,000 feet will do. But if you’re looking for a pleasant drive with lunch bookended by semi-mindless browsing through stores with arguably the greatest repertoire of interesting offerings in the Gold Country, then historic downtown Jackson is the place to head.
And while you could combine it with a visit to the Jackson Rancheria Casino or a number of wineries, heading to downtown Jackson for a low-key day trip that’s just an hour away from Manteca provides a welcome reprieve from the often dreary days of January and February.
Jackson at 1,120 feet in elevation in the Sierra foothills typically escapes the fog that can smother the valley after calendars for the old year are trashed.
Jackson’s Main Street is charming for a number of reasons. It’s a narrow street where many of the buildings date back to the 19th century.
And while there are a few stores aimed primarily at the local populace, there are plenty of stops to entice day trippers along with an ample selection of restaurants.
Appealing stores run the gamut from an old-fashioned bookstore crammed with endless volumes new and old, boutiques, the pre-requisite antique stores all Mother Lode communities worthy of the moniker “tourist trap” have, art galleries, wine shop, gourmet food, jewelry, wood carving, unique clothing stores, collectible shops including the Jackson Cat House that caters to devotees of everything from the San Francisco Music Box Company to Lennox Dolls, and Wierschem’s Train Town Candies & Ice Cream Parlor.
Wierschem’s is everything the name implies from model train sales to ice cream. But it’s the wide variety of candy including many hard-to-find classics of one’s youth that is arguably the biggest appeal.
And if you’re looking for a tad more exercise there is a walking tour complete with a guide of 45 points of interest. The tour starts and ends at the Amador County Museum. If the museum is closed or you want to browse what the walk entails in advance, there is a downloadable guide on the museum’s website.
Several buildings on the tour date back to 1854 including the Bottle Shop at 145 Main Street that still sports what is believed to be the original iron shutters and brick facade.
Jackson was almost completely destroyed by a raging fire in 1862. The city was rebuilt. Of those Civil War era structures that were erected, 42 of them still stand today along and near Main Street.
A Bit Of Jackson History
Jackson was founded in 1848 as a gold rush camp.
Jackson was proclaimed the seat of justice for the region in May of 1851 by Judge Smith after Clerk Collier canvassed vote that shows 1,222 votes cast for Mokelumne Hill and 1,014 for Jackson. That led to an armed confrontation. A subsequent election with disputed election results ended up seeing the judge shoot and kill the clerk. Jackson’s history gives you an insight into what real stolen elections are.
Jackson’s wild start laid the ground work for three mines — the Eureka, Argonaut, and Kennedy — to yield 4,630,000 ounces of gold or more than half of the 7,851,000 ounces taken from the community’s mines. Jackson altogether produced more than half of the gold in the entire Mother Lode.
There are shafts in the Kennedy and Argonaut mines that drop more than 5,000 feet or almost a mile. Some believe they are the deepest mines in North America.
Jackson is also the site of California’s worst mining disasters. The lives of 47 miners were lost in 1922 deep within the Argonaut Mine.
A bawdy part of Jackson’s past survived into the 1950s until the city’s nickel and dime slot machines, other gaming and houses of ill-repute that were dubbed “girls dormitories” were closed down.
The best way for a “true” drive with scenery and a little less traffic is to head toward Jackson via Jack Tone Road. If you’re heading to Jackson from Turlock or south of the Stanislaus River it’s the third exit north of the river. From Manteca head east to Jack Tone Road by either East Highway 120 or Louise Avenue.
Head north on Jack Tone Road. It’s a straight shot from there to Lockeford with only four stop signs. Given its wide open farmland save for about a few dozen orchards you will enjoy sweeping vistas of farm fields with hills and mountains in the distance. Once in Lockeford turn right onto Highway 88, go through Lockeford and Clements and then turn left at the junction with Highway 12 to stay on Highway 88.
Take Highway 88 all the way to Martell where a right turn puts you on Highway 49/88. From there it is a short distance to Jackson and a left turn into the historic downtown via Main Street.
You can also cut down on the pastoral scenery in favor of saving a few minutes in exchange for more typical freeway frontage images by taking Highway 99 all the way north into Stockton and exiting on Highway 88 and heading east.