Brake for artisans and Gold Rush history in Mariposa County en route to Yosemite.
There’s gold in them thar hills of Mariposa County, and you’re guaranteed to find a particularly large nugget several minutes from the charming historic downtown of Mariposa.
On display in the California State Mining and Mineral Museum, the legendary Fricot Nugget weighs a whopping 13.8 pounds. Discovered in the middle fork of the American River in 1864, it’s the largest remaining intact mass of crystalline gold dating to the California Gold Rush. Back in the day, gold nuggets like this one were melted down right away.
It made headlines in 1878 when it was displayed at the Paris Exposition. But it became the talk of the town in 2012 when five men charged into the museum during business hours armed with pickaxes and attempted to steal it, along with other museum items. While they made off with about $1.3 million worth of gold and gems, the alarm sounded before they could take the Fricot Nugget. Eventually, the robbers were apprehended, but not everything from the heist was recovered.
Today, you’re more likely to run into artisans and craftspeople than any Wild West bandits in this artistically inclined town and county. There’s Epic Alpacas, the largest alpaca farm in the state, that sells sweaters and other goods made from alpaca wool in its downtown Mariposa shop (epicalpacas.com). Across the street is CostaLivos Mountain Gold Olive Oil Tasting Room and Gift Shop (costalivos.com). Down the road Nativearth produces custom shoes with a focus on the Renaissance festival audience (nativearth.net).
“It’s quite impressive that such a small town has such a vast array of artisans,” says Terry Selk, executive director of the Yosemite Mariposa County Tourism Bureau. “Nativearth is one of the greatest attributes of this community. Where in America can you go and see a real sewing shop with locals doing the craftsmanship?”
Point of Interest
As the first county in California, Mariposa County once stretched all the way to San Diego and was known as the “Mother of All Counties.” Along with the town of Mariposa, Coulterville, population of a bit more than 100, is a must-see.
It’s 28 miles from Mariposa along a gorgeous stretch of empty road. In Coulterville, you’ll find the John Muir Geotourism Center and Hotel Jeffery, a historic hotel that’s closed due to a fire but is being restored.
“Coulterville has truly held on to its authenticity,” says Terry Selk, executive director of the Yosemite Mariposa County Tourism Bureau.
For more information:
Yosemite Mariposa Tourism Bureau
(866) HALF-DOME or (866) 425-3366
5320 State Hwy. 49 North, Mariposa, CA 95338