GOLD COUNTRY GEM: Stroll into a museum devoted to our state's history and you're bound to see some interesting artifacts that date back to 1849 (if you're thinking pans, shovels, and picks here, you'd be correct). Sometimes, though, you might spy a glint of gold in a museum's collection, the very material that all of those pans, shovels, and picks were put into service to find. Many existing bits of gold from the time, from the famous Wimmer Nugget to pieces displayed at the Wells Fargo Museum in San Francisco, have gained fame, as has the Sutter's Mill nugget that's a part of The National Museum of American History in our nation's capital. But gems of all sort still exist in Gold Country, and while they might not have the chemical properties of Au, they have connections to that era when the western slope of the Sierra changed forever. Auburn is one such gem, a compact Gold Country town that has kept its 1800s look and walk-a-bility, and a devotion to the stories from long ago.
AUBURN, of course, isn't tucked away — it is right on the 80, between Sacramento and Lake Tahoe — but learning about the miners who pitched tents along Auburn Ravine, and why it is a landmark of the Transcontinental Railroad, requires pulling off the freeway and making time for a tour. Where to meet? The Courthouse Museum, where a docent will say hello and then chat for 60 minutes or so about this historic Gold Country burg, its many buildings that stretch back a century or two, and what is next for the town, which sits along Highway 49 in addition to Interstate 80. Have you made a pit stop on Tahoe trips, and vowed to return for a deeper look? Here's where to start, history buffs.