The year was 1865, and the California gold rush had been dead for a decade. Mark Twain-a minor success as a newspaperman, a major failure as a prospector-wandered into the town of Angels Camp and listented to bartender Ben Coon's tale about a tale of leaping frogs. Twain, of course, transformed the story into "The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County." Though Twain thought it "a villainous backwoods sketch," the story catapulted him-and Calaveras County-to national fame.
Base yourself in Angels Camp, where today SUV-driving week-enders hold a decided edge over revolver-touting ruffians, and where organic veggie scrambles have replaced the frontier soups that Twain labled "Hellfire," "General Debility," "Insanity," and "sudden Death." Largely unchanged is the surrounding country, which builds from foothills to the forested ridges, alpine lakes, and granite peaks of the Central Sierra. In Roughing It, Twain's fictionalized account of his five years in the West, he described tha Stanislaus River region as "woodsy, balmy, delicious," to which one might respectfully add "thrilling." The Stanislaus offers one of California's steepest rafting runs, careening between granite walls and gargantuan redwoods on a day trip that commences at Board's Crossing. The river cascades over stair-step waterfalls and through boulder gardens, and has nine Class IV rapids. You'll take out at Calaveras Big Trees State Park, renowned for its 250-foot giant sequoias. Head to the uncrowded South Grove, where a short trail leads to a deep-forest gathering of towering giants. Back in Angels Camp, the CalaverasJumping Frog Jubilee is held every May. Find a frog and you can enter, but don't expect easy amphibious glory: The current record jump, set in 1986 by one Rosie the Ribbeter, stands at 21 feet 3.75 inches.
Contacts: For Stanislaus River trips, go with O.A.R.S.