December 2004 Issue Explore Historic California - Magazine for Enthusiasts







Bill Becher, L.A. Daily News outdoor writer and photographer went to Bodie with us. Read what he wrote about the trip. Click the photo to link to the story.



By God, to Bodie and Golden Leaves trips, Sept. 2004. Click the photo to go to the  gallery

Click on the photo below to read more about Cerro Gordo.



Don't have a 4X and want to visit historic sites in Eastern California?

Capture the spirit of the past as it comes alive with true tales of pioneer families, prospectors, muleskinners, hero's and gunslingers. Listen to legends of lost gold, found wealth and superstitions. Journey back in time with Terri Geissinger - Historian, Interpreter and Guide

Click on Terri's yellow van for Terri's Ghost Town Tours or contact Terri by clicking here:


Jessie Benton Fremont's Christmas Fairyland

by Cecile Page Vargo

As a child, the daughter of  United States Senator Thomas Hart Benton was among the many fortunate children invited to attend the grand Christmas party thrown by Count Alexander de la Bodisco, the Russian minister to the United States. The night was snowy, and only beacon lights marked the path as one approached the hill to the Count's large and elegant house, as they did not yet have gas lights. In front of the house was an empty square with huge bonfires lit for the drivers of the guests coaches to warm themselves by. Once inside the house, Jessie Benton and her friends were treated to what she later described as "fairyland", with every room up to the third floor full of "wonderful red and gold swings, tables covered with toys, games, picture books, dolls, and stacks of little satin bags with 'Bon-Bons' in gilt letters." The dressing room was full of boxes complete with little white kid gloves, pretty fans, and bolts of colors of light ribbons. It was every child's dream of Christmas in the early 1800's.

Jesse Benton, circa 1835. She was the daughter of U.S. Senator Thomas Hart Benton.

A Suitable House

At the age of 17,  Jessie Benton met and fell in love with John C. Fremont,  who became famous as the "Great Pathfinder" who blazed trails across the North American continent from St. Louis to California . Once those trails were blazed, the couple settled in California, far from the East Coast where Jessie had experienced the "fairyland" Christmas of her childhood. Following a summer in a cramped cottage, Jessie turned down the offer to stay in two story brick housing near San Francisco, while a "suitable" house would be built near her husband's mining claims near Mariposa. 

It was only two weeks before Christmas, and there was much to be done to the cottage on twelve fenced in acres with park-like grounds of native grass and wildflowers, well laid out paths and a carriage driveway. Flowering shrubs, noble evergreen oaks, and towering pine trees provided a natural landscape on the property. In the garden and on sunny slopes surrounding the cottage, the fragrance of  pink rose of Castile was everywhere. The one story cottage was roomy, but not enough so for the Fremont family needs and wants.

The Madam's Christmas-Box

As first order of business, Jessie Benton Fremont oversaw workmen with ox-teams to move several large one room cabins from elsewhere on their property, so they could be attached to the main cottage. Her husband's bookkeeper had picked the men to do the job. A grizzled man from Maine who hauled the wood for the mills looked much like Kriss Kringle with his gray beard and bunched clothes, as he worked with his long team of oxen. A carpenter directed  where the planks and shingles should be placed. Men who sewed sacks for the ores were on hand to make new carpets and curtains once everything was put together. 

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Our Tours with Ecological 4-Wheeling Adventures

Our 2004 tour schedule is complete and

we're doing some less strenuous driving!

Please check back  for our 2005 tour schedule.

Explore Historic California!

     Not too many years ago, the family station wagon was the magic carpet to adventure. Today, that family station wagon is likely to be a four wheel drive sport utility vehicle or pick up truck. SUV's and other 4x4's are one of the best selling classes of vehicles. Ironically, industry statistics show that once purchased, few owners will dare to drive their vehicles off the paved highway. Click your mouse through our website and enjoy our armchair adventures and the histories behind them. If you are interested in taking one of our guided tours with your vehicle, please visit our ECOLOGICAL 4-WHEELING ADVENTURES.

     Several years ago, we bought our first SUV. We went to a one-night class at a local community college entitled "How to 4-Wheel Drive" by Harry Lewellyn. The following weekend we attended the hands-on day tour. We liked what we were doing so much that we began going out nearly every weekend and learned how to negotiate a variety of dirt roads. Our spare time was spent doing research on the history and ecology of our favorite areas. A one-day outing turned into 16 years of leading others on mini-vacations throughout Southern California and the Owens Valley.

     Our 4WD outings involve driving on easy to moderate dirt roads and are ideally suited to novice and intermediate level drivers. All tours are suitable for stock vehicles in good condition, although some tours do have vehicle size restrictions.

     Our tours are operated under permits issued by the Bureau of Land Management, U.S. Forest Service, and other authorities.

     We share our knowledge of the backcountry over the CB radio with our guests. We frequently stop to explore mining areas, old and new, and ponder the rocks, plants and animals we may encounter. We'll occasionally visit an old cabin or deserted mountain lookout.

     California has a fascinating history, from geologic unrest and prehistoric petroglyph scribes to the "Radium Queen of the Mojave" and the "Human Mole of Black Mountain." Load up your 4X, fasten your seatbelts and get ready to explore historic California.

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