The Motherlode. It’s the 120-mile stretch of California’s Gold Rush territory and its vein spreads almost entirely along the Sierra’s Western flank. Hwy 49 drops you in and out of classic western towns that were nothing more than tent encampments a short time ago. Dozens of 90-degree turns ascend rugged valleys before negotiating down over massive rivers and lakes. The scenery is nothing less than spectacular and the vibe is almost ghostly as you picture all the prospectors, whores, murders and massacres of the region’s short history.
It’s the latter part that intrigues me. I’m mysteriously drawn to the rolling hills as they transform from waves of gold to stems of green with each passing season. But it’s the human history, albeit it dark, of this place that really keeps me coming back to it.
The saloons wear the scars of their past with badly scuffed floors, dulled bar tops and angled support beams. The rivers are forever stained with silt, sediment and mercury deposits caused by the rampant environmental abuse of mining. I.O.O.F. buildings droop and sag with boarded up windows while once thriving hotels and saloons rust and wear from neglect; neglect sped up by the recent economic demise.
Perhaps it’s because you can touch and see these things firsthand that makes the experience all the more powerful or maybe it’s the condition that some of these towns are in. Sure, some of the places have taken on modern inhabitants with their trendy boutiques and antique shops, but for the most part many of these towns lay victim to the abandonment of their creators and the harsh weather of their locales.
The people of the Motherlode have stories to tell. And their relatively isolated location seems to lend to their willingness to tell them. It’s as if the twists and turns of the journey there give you a small right of passage when you arrive in each former boom town of the West. With each conversation, you dredge deeper into the history of the Mother lode and quickly realize that the times gone by were much darker than the Hollywood versions most of us are accustomed to. And that’s exactly what I want to portray in the story I am writing.
I truly believe that research is the core of a successful story. You can create captivating characters and take them on a tumultuous expedition, but that story falls flat if it’s not well rooted in the proper context of its history. My research and my writing are on their way to where they belong. I look forward to more trips to the Mother lode in order to get them there.