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Bandits, stagecoaches and gold under the parking lot of Columbia State Park

A state park in Tuolumne County allows you to still experience the joys of the Gold Rush.

COLUMBIA, Calif. — Rustic. Dated. Old fashion. Those are just a few words that describe the buildings, the businesses and even the people at Columbia State Park

You don’t need a stagecoach to get through Tuolumne County, but as soon as you exit Highway 49 into Columbia, Calif., a stagecoach might just pick you up. 

Ticket taker Dave Kelly rides a stagecoach into Columbia every day. There’s not traffic, but there are bandits. 

“Never know when you’re going to get held up,” Kelly said.

If you do make it into town with money, Park interpreter Kelly Leage will tell you why there’s so many bandits and what’s below the ground in the parking lot. 

“Actually, the biggest gold discovery was in our town in the parking lot,” Leage said. 

Gold was discovered in Columbia back in 1850. A town of 5,000 was practically built over night. By 1860, miners discovered more than $87 million worth of gold. 

“The rumor that went back east was that if you covered yourself in bear grease and rolled down a hill you would be covered in gold,” Leage said.

By 1945, gold in Columbia had been picked clean. To avoid turning into a ghost town, resident’s gave old town Columbia to California State Parks under the condition the community’s gold rush history would be preserved. Today, the blacksmith shop, the old printing press and even the candy shop operate the same way they did when they opened.

So much has not changed in Columbia that a resident ghost from the past never left the Fallon hotel. The gold may have brought people to Columbia, but history kept it alive and in the case for this boomtown, change is not a good thing.

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