When was the last time you visited one of California's beautiful state parks?
If it's been a while, consider a trip to Columbia next weekend for its old-fashioned Fourth of July celebration.
Just outside of Sonora, Columbia is a living history community, with the largest collection of gold rush-era brick buildings in California, plus merchants offering everything from sun bonnets and garden tools to used books and jewelry.
The town of Columbia continues to thrive, although it is no longer home to more than a hundred businesses; a few dozen shops, museums and other places of interest are still open.
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Columbia became a state park in 1945, with much being done to restore the 150-year-old structures. Originally, it was a mining camp called "Hildreth's Diggings," after a group of prospectors discovered gold there in the spring of 1850. It soon became known as the "Gem of the Southern Mines."
On weekends, holidays and special days throughout the year, tours and programs are led by museum docents and staff.
While the "Columbia Diggins" event for this year is passed, Independence Day is just a week away.
The day begins with a flag-raising, the firing of the cannon and a genuine hometown parade with big folks and little folk -- and their dogs -- all dressed in red, white and blue.
Shops are open for browsing, the stage coach makes its rounds giving rides for a small fee and modern day prospectors can pan for gold. There's an old-time bowling lane, candle-dipping, an ice cream parlor and more than one place to buy candy or a satisfying sarsaparilla.
Lunch can be purchased at one of the restaurants, or bring your own in a picnic basket to eat at an outdoor table under a canopy of shade trees.
Then in the afternoon, there are numerous events guaranteed to keep anybody happy. There's the nail pounding contest, the egg relay -- not to be confused with the egg toss -- a greased pole contest, looking for a needle in a haystack, a cake walk, bucket brigade and five-way tug-o-war.
And you won't want to miss the watermelon and pie eating competitions.
The tri-tip barbecue dinner always sells out quickly, so get your tickets early: $8 for adults and $5 for children. Oh, and there's plenty of music, from the brass and reed band to the fiddle playing by costumed musicians, plus dancing in the streets with the Virginia Reel.
No experience necessary, as there's a free lesson beforehand and plenty of experts around to help out those who aren't so light on their feet. Lots of laughs and great fun for the whole family!
Debbie Croft writes about life in the foothill communities. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, or at her Sun-Star blog: City Girl, Country Life.