Tuesday, September 1, 2015

As “Eye” See It: Places to Sketch, Paint and People Watch In Calaveras County

Sunrise  Over Valley Springs

Lake Hogan Inspiration Pt Trail

Lake Hogan Inspiration Pt Trail

River of Skulls/Calaveras River

Harmon Gardens, Douglas Flat

Murphys Park

White Pines Lake
This is hard to believe, even for me, but I have now posted 1000 blog entries since 2007. Honestly. In honor of this dubious distinction, may I offer an artist's view of our county? Written as a submission for our local visitor's bureau, this is just a very small sampling of places to go and sketch, paint and people watch. I didn't even make it up to Big Trees and Lake Alpine (another county) but trust me, there is still plenty to do!

As an artist who has lived here in Calaveras County for five years, I can say unreservedly that our area of California possesses many great opportunities for sketching, painting and general people watching. Depending on how hardy you are, these places offer a year round chance to hone your artistic (and observational) skills.  My rundown starts at the west end of our county and winds east up highway 49 towards Arnold and beyond. My recommendations are based on my own positive experiences over the past several years and honestly, are just a small slice of the many opportunities available here in Calaveras County. Here are some of my favorite spots.

Starting in Valley Springs (of course!), head right on over to Lake Hogan. Come early in the morning if it is during the height of the summer and autumn or better yet, come during the spring and late autumn/winter when the weather cools down. Inspiration Point is a great place to start. Learn a little bit about the lake’s history and then move on to any of the trails.  I have personally made lots of sketches of the lake itself, the trees and the pathways. As a side trip, I also recommend the River of Skulls walk which is on the way to Hogan. It is a short loop (maybe a mile or so) and winds you down to the Calaveras River. There could be any number of birds, possibly some horse riders, and maybe a fisherman or two!

When you are finished at the lake, come back through town and proceed on highway 12/26 towards San Andreas.  Stopping in San Andreas just off of the main highway, turn left down Main St to visit the Calaveras Arts Council. Be sure to call ahead to verify hours but they are normally there Monday-Friday. Say “Hi” to Mary Jane and Wendy and check out the selection of locally made art. San Andreas is our county seat and has many historic buildings that make great subject matter. There is also a Catholic Cemetery connected to St. Andrew Parish on Church Hill Rd. Read the names of some of our local families and check out some beautiful views.

Hop back in your car and continue towards Angels Camp. Consider stopping in the historic downtown district to paint or sketch. During the summer it can be a good people watching area too.  Fair time (in May) is a great time to sketch the “laundry” hanging from lines above the street. (There is a story!) Don’t forget to stop in at the Visitors Bureau (at the main intersection) or set up shop in Utica Park for some more people watching and sketching.

Back in the car, keep driving up highway 4. If you call ahead, make an appointment to stop at Harmon Gardens in Douglas Flat. The owners maintain a beautiful garden with a little gift shop. There are many seasonal things to paint or sketch here and the owner is very “artist friendly”!

When finished at the gardens, continue east on highway 4 to the historic town of Murphys. The downtown area can be busy but offers many opportunities for people watching.  I have set up my stool to sketch at Hovey Winery as well as across the street from Grounds Restaurant. People are very friendly and may ask what you are doing. The park in back of the main street can be quieter. It has a beautiful little creek as well as picnic tables and places to stroll. If you are feeling adventurous, you can take the road up to Ironstone Winery. I recommend walking (just be careful) and stopping to sketch any number of buildings, trees and fields, or wildflowers. There may even be some cattle!

If you aren’t too sketched out at this point, take a drive back up highway 4 to the town of White Pines, next to the town of Arnold.  White Pines Lake is a gem of a spot and perfect for painting and sketching. Quiet during the week but with enough people on the weekend to be interesting, the lake is truly beautiful in all seasons.  There is a logging museum (for those who like to sketch objects) and a great trail system nearby (Arnold Rim Trail). I have sketched and picnicked and taken lots of photos here. You can’t beat it.

There are really so many places in this county that offer any number of opportunities for sketching, painting and people watching. As always, be prepared for the weather. It can be very hot here during the summer and early autumn. It’s a wonderful time to visit though so just plan accordingly. The spring season is impossibly green-dazzling-and is not to be missed. Winter is equally beautiful with bare trees, beautiful gray skies and many indoor opportunities to sketch, people watch and eat if the weather turns wet or too cold.  It is best to call ahead to verify days open and operating hours of any spot that I mentioned. Being from the Bay Area myself, it is hard to believe that such a beautiful place in California is easily accessible by such a short drive. As always, bring your sketch and paint tools, your camera and your sense of adventure. You won’t be sorry!



  1. Happy Blogiversary! You do live in a beautiful place.

  2. Beautiful area with variety and interest. Would love to spend some time there!!

  3. How did I miss this gorgeous post! So glad I did some back checking.

    Congrats on 1000 posts. I am getting closer myself and find it hard to believe.


Thank you for taking the time to comment. I appreciate it! I reply back in an email if you are signed in and I can see your address. Otherwise I will post the reply here under your comment. I tend to cut and paste my emails too so that others can experience the back and forth which I think is integral to blogging.