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Heritage Days at Fresno Flats Historic Park
Wild West Histories & Mysteries
Visit Yosemite Madera County
Itineraries Wild West Histories and Mysteries

Wind through time and the High Sierra on this Wild West itinerary. The southern Yosemite territory has a history dating back millennia. From the ice ages that carved this landscape to the stories of the first men, the native people that thrived in this plentiful region. 

Later, the discovery of gold brought a wave of immigrants from across the globe in the 1800s. These newcomers began to transform the land and tame the wilds that surrounded them. Logging, mining, and building fortunes from innovative businesses that supported the 49'er generation. California has had a "start-up" culture for a lot longer than you might think. 

By the early 1900s, conservationists succeed in protecting some of these wild places. These forward-thinking leaders gave a gift to the next generation, and to those seeking a little inspiration and a whole lot of wonder.

Madera is the Spanish word for "timber," and the tall sugar pine trees that supported the logging industry in this region give Madera County its name. The first stop on our journey through the region, the Yosemite Mountain Sugar Pine Railroad. This historical line uses three-foot-wide, narrow-gauge rails and follows a portion of the Madera Sugar Pine Lumber Company's original railroad line. At the height of operation, the railroad once had seven locomotives and 140 miles of tracks that climbed to the nearby mill. From the mill, wood was transported over 50 miles via a water-filled, lumber flume to Madera, California. The flume is partially operational today and can be carefully explored by the adventurous and able.

Reborn in 1961 as an authentic attraction, the Yosemite Mountain Sugar Pine Railroad is a journey back into earlier times. As you listen to the conductor recount the tales of loggers and bandit raccoons, keep a keen eye out for views of the Nelder Grove of Giant Sequoias (currently closed for restoration, estimated to reopen 2024) on the horizon (you can see the tops of some of these giants sticking up above the surrounding tree canopy). Take advantage of outdoor eating, open-air rail cars, special moonlight programs, and live music echoing in the great outdoors. The sweet smell of bear clover will fill your nose and the nostalgic romance of the High Sierra will envelop you. Experience the perfect summer moment as the steam train whistle blows through the vast expanses of the Sierra National Forest.  Open seasonally April thru November - depending on snow.

Yosemite Mountain Sugar Pine Railroad

The Yosemite Mountain Sugar Pine Railroad is a nostalgic ride through time and the high Sierra.

Just five miles south of the railroad, along the Southern Yosemite highway pay a visit to Sierra Sky Ranch Resort. Stop in for a cowboy-gourmet dinner at the Cowboy Tavern, with hearty portions and flame-grilled classics. This historical ranch is sure to become your family's favorite local haunt. Speaking of haunts, many paranormal investigations of the property have yielded fascinating results.

Established in 1875 as a cattle ranch, then converted to a rehabilitation hospital for the wounded in World War II, in 1946 it made its most recent transition to a guest house and inn. Visitors from around the world enjoy the slow, relaxing pace and the natural beauty that surrounds the ranch. Celebrities like John Wayne and Marilyn Monroe vacationed here. 

Interestingly, several patrons and staff enjoyed it so much they decided to stay - in the afterlife. There are two spirits in the kitchen who are annoyed with each other. There are reports of a uniformed soldier spending time in the library and a lady in white. Guests of the living variety report wonderful hospitality from Sierra Sky Ranch, so it's easy to imagine why the ghosts of the past would return here, also. 

This old west throwback is the perfect marriage of modern comfort and old-school Americana. 

The Madera County region is steeped in rich history as settlers first started making their way during the Gold Rush of 1849. The result is numerous sites of historical significance and many that are considered by paranormal researchers to be haunted. Fresno Flats Historic Village and Park recaptures the flavor of 19th-century life in the Sierra Nevada foothills. The outdoor museum is built around two picturesque homes that were built in the 1870s.  According to researchers investigating reports of ghost activity at Fresno Flats, some of the structures are the home to spirits still attached to the historic buildings.

“When we first started investigating we didn’t get too much evidence because of the type of spirits. It’s family-oriented and we got the feeling they thought we were invading their space. When they got familiar with us, with Laura (Huddleson, facility caretaker) telling them we were there to get to know them, they started communicating with us,” said Peggy Armer. She said the spirits now have really started opening up, and as a result, they have captured numerous Electronic Voice Phenomena or EVPs.

Huddleson echoed Armer’s statements that the spirits are family-oriented and friendly, as she said guests are left with a positive feeling. “We’ve talked to several people here that say based off of EVPs and other equipment that it’s a happy, contented place. You don’t get weird feelings, nothing mean or angry. Just happy, positive spirits.”

Open to the public for self-guided tours. Learn more about Fresno Flats Historical Society

The docents at Fresno Flats Historic Village bring the wild west to life.

Another popular attraction in Oakhurst, California is the Golden Chain Theatre (GCT). GCT was originally formed back in 1967 to revive and promote the classic live art form of melodramas as a tourist attraction. It is now renown for its musicals, dramas. comedies, and family favorites like"Annie", "Oliver", "A Christmas Story" and "Mary Poppins". The theater has brought entertaining productions to Oakhurst for over 50 years. Mary Lou Finley, GCT's renowned long-time former house manager, used to say that in addition to the memorable stage experiences, many guests take home stories of other, more supernatural, experiences.

“We have a huge cast of people who were in shows over the past five decades, and on occasion, even those that have departed still want to come and visit. The way in which they visit is both exciting and positive,” said a theater stagehand who went on to say that many of the experiences usually are associated with spirits producing cold spots and turning lights off or on.

Some performers and stagehands have spent countless hours backstage and never experienced anything out of the ordinary. Others have come away with great tales. Visit their website to see creative ways their cast will be entertaining you this season.  

With full production professional features such as "Little Women The Musical", the Golden Chain Theatre has your live entertainment needs covered.

In the small town of Ahwahnee, California, remnants of the past live on preserved by the southern Sierra Miwok people at the Wassama Round House State Historic Park. Native American people thrived in these lands for over 8,000 years.  Southern Sierra Miwok foraged acorns and native plants, they hunted deer and birds, and they fished for trout in creeks.  The traditions, beliefs, and practices of these people were an integral part of their culture.  In 1849 California's gold rush attracted a flood of miners and businesses of industry.  The impact of these newcomers to the Sierra Nevada was devastating to the Miwok.  By 1905 the entire population of southern Sierra Miwok people was only 664 persons.

Wassama means "falling leaves" in Miwok.  The impossibly tall oak trees and meadows filled with tall wildflowers and golden grass remind visitors that this is a holy place.  The first recorded roundhouse, or hangi, documented at this site was 1858.  However, oral historical accounts describe many hundreds of generations filled with harvest dances, mourning rituals, and spiritual practices at this important gathering place.  Experience the natural world through the eyes of the native peoples when you visit.

The Wassama Round House is a gathering place for the Southern Sierra Miwok people.

Driving south to the historic village of Coarsegold, California, keep a keen eye out for "The Miner." He greets travelers from his temporary home at the entrance of the Broken Bit Inn (not currently operational). This landmark is not marked, and traffic on this section of road moves swiftly, so use caution when stopping for a quick photo with this weathered gold seeker.

The Coarsegold Market has everything a traveler needs to resupply the picnic basket. Pro tip: the rotisserie chicken from the deli is known locally as the best of the best. Parts of the building date back to the 1800s, check out the detailed mural that beautifully adorns the entrance of the market. It's a terrific representation of the storied past of this region. Next door, chili-cheese hot dogs, burgers, shakes, and fries await the hungry travelers. Take advantage of the walk-up window and outdoor eating at Robert's Frosty. Nearby Wild Fig Kitchen, has drool-worthy recipes, outdoor seating, and a takeout menu that will make your taste buds tingle, just reading it.  

Across the street at the only stoplight in this one-horse-town is a memorial to the fallen heroes of the United States Army (need to check this exact wording). Coarsegold Historic Village has drive-thru coffee, fashionable clothing, jewelry, charming antiques, and nostalgic mementos. Wide outdoor walkways and tree-shaded seating areas make this an ideal rest stop. The safety of the public is the highest priority, so social distancing guidelines have determined updated occupancy limitations in all the small shops of Madera County.  

Typically, Memorial Day and Labor Day weekends in Coarsegold are for Peddlers Fairs, and to celebrate the autumn season, the last weekend before Halloween brings the Tarantula Awareness Festival to the Coarsegold Historic Park and Village. Find classic vinyl records, home décor, curious trinkets, and all manner of collectibles, plus delicious food and entertainment. It's a party atmosphere. 

Presently, due to Covid-19, events, and gatherings have been restructured. The visitor center staff at Visit Yosemite | Madera County is a dedicated resource for sharing updated event information. Keep an eye on our events page for updated event information as it becomes available.

Another educational moment nearby is the Coarsegold Historical Society and Museum. The 130-year-old adobe building dates to the stagecoach days when it functioned as a weigh station for the horse-drawn freight wagon road. Imagine life as an early settler, witnessing teams of horses winding their way into the Sierra searching for resources and adventure. Also on-site, the one-room schoolhouse, known as the Picayune School, has been thoughtfully restored and proudly displays artifacts from the original period. 

The dust of time has settled in these rolling foothills, giving visitors a glimpse of a time before the gas engine, and computers.

Shop around the adorable stores in the Coarsegold Historical Village.

A tour of Madera County's curious history would be incomplete without a stop in Raymond, California. Present-day Raymond has fewer than 1,000 residents. However, during the years of 1886 – 1906, the Southern Pacific Railroad operated a line for travelers to Yosemite National Park. Originally named Wildcat Station, from this junction, all train passengers transferred to horse-drawn stagecoach for their passage through the narrow mountain passes into Yosemite National Park. Locally it was said, "all roads lead to Raymond", they do and for good reason. 

President Theodore Roosevelt was photographed here, and famous landscape artist Thomas Hill died here. Discover the past at the Raymond Museum, located at 600 and 608, open on Sunday from 12 -4 pm. If you miss the short operational hours at the museum, fear not, a stop into, the century-old Raymond General Store will transport you to another place in time. In this present day, half-saloon / half-market, still in operation, visions of Wildcat Station as, spur clinking, wild west, boomtown are not far away.   

History is preserved for posterity. Raymond was the end of the line for the Southern Pacific Railroad. 

Travel back in time over 780,000 years to the middle-Pleistocene era to Chowchilla, California, and the Fossil Discovery Center. Marvel at the lifesize skeletal remains of Saber-toothed Cats, huge Dire Wolfs, Camels, Giant Sloths, and massive ten-ton Columbia Mammoths.

The center is located directly across the road from the Fairmead landfill. This site has particular significance for California, as it is one of the largest fossil excavations in North America. But it didn't start that way. In 1993 the current dig site was simply the location of a refuse dump. When excavators accidentally turned over the first mammoth tusk, all of that changed. Now, this educational center brings attention to prehistoric life in the San Joaquin Valley during the last ice age.

Little ones will flip for the "mock dig" site, and everyone can enjoy an educational stroll along the nature path lined with bird habitats and native plant species unique to the wetlands that used to occupy much of California's central valley in the time before agriculture. While you're there, check out cultural artifacts from the Sierra Mono Museum on temporary loan to the Fossil Discovery Center and learn about the practices and traditions Native American people that called this place home for millennia, the Yokut people.  

Recently reopened according to the strictest local safety guidelines, the Fossil Discovery Center will inspire the imagination of young and old alike. 

Fossil Discovery Center Chowchilla

A lifesized Columbia Mammoth welcomes visitors to this amazing experience. 

Madera County isn't just the southern gateway to Yosemite National Park, it's your gateway to so much more.

Yosemite Mountain Sugar Pine Railroad and Thornberry Museum

Take a ride on the logger with your family. Explore the Thornberry Museum and enjoy the open air.  (Hint: Find a Ricky trading card for the Yosemite Adventure Contest here.) 

Sierra Sky Ranch Resort

This charming inn will have you dreaming of yesteryears. The Branding Iron Restaurant is a favorite haunt for locals. 

Fresno Flats Historical Park

The wonderful thing about Yosemite is that it can help you to disconnect from the digital and get in touch with something older. History can be experienced in person at this endearing landmark.  

Golden Chain Theatre

Shows are currently on hiatus, however, we hope to welcome you back soon!

Wassuma Round House

This cultural precious gem tucked away in the heart of bear country proudly preserves the traditions, practices, and stories of the Southern Sierra Miwok people. 

Coarsegold Historic Village

With food, gifts, collectibles and plenty of space to stretch your legs, this roadside attraction is the perfect spot to pick up souvenirs.

Coarsegold Historical Society and Museum

An amazing window into the past at this museum and historical society that occupies the historic buildings at this site.  

Raymond, California

If the writers of old westerns had a place in mind for inspiration, it looked like Raymond, in the 1890s. This western town throwback has a sleepy vibe. 

Fossil Discovery Center

Discover prehistoric animal fossils brought to life in this interactive and educational center. Centrally located near the plentiful farmlands and fruit stands along Highway 99.  


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Our annual Visit Yosemite | Madera County Visitors Guide can answer all your questions about visiting California's Gateway to Yosemite. From the park itself to the museums, wineries, art galleries and more throughout Madera County, our guide can help you plan the perfect vacation. Please note that we mail to the USA only, but anyone can download the guide.
Visit Yosemite - Madera County
Oakhurst Visitor Center, 40343 Highway 41, Oakhurst, CA 93644
(559) 683-4636
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