Scenic Mother Lode

Strike it rich on three Gold Country drives that take you off the beaten path
Lora J. Finnegan

Creeping along in commute traffic, the glare of brake lights hot red, you can easily succumb to daydreams. If you breathe enough truck exhaust, it isn't hard at all to imagine the simple pleasure of winding along an empty two-lane ribbon of asphalt: The windows are down, the sun is warm on your face, and the sweet scent of meadow grasses―or sage, or pine forest, if you prefer―washes over you like a benediction.

There's no better time and place to live out that fantasy than spring in California's Gold Country. State 49 is the backbone of your escape―linking three very different drives that bring you to a covered bridge, green hills and wildflowers, and a ghost town.

Pick one route and make a day of it, or do all three over a long weekend. Sneak out midweek and you'll have the Mother Lode pretty much to yourself.