There are many legends who’ve left their imprint in the forests, meadows, and peaks of the Sierra Nevada, but besides John Muir, no other has waxed so eloquently as Mark Twain. He may be known for talking about “Old Man River”, but his rise to fame happened in the High Sierra. Just like many before him, he came to try his hand at prospecting, but his talents were elsewhere… writing. Get a better appreciation of Mark Twain by exploring some of the places he experienced and see how this land shaped his words.
It all started here. The spark of inspiration from a tale he heard spun at the Angels Hotel saloon in the town of Angels Camp. The story of a frog that could out jump any competitor. “The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County” was published in 1865 and was his first success. The picturesque historic downtown in California’s Gold Country is pretty much the same as it was during his time. It’s also home to the annual frog jumping jubilee!
Prior to Samuel Clemens’ fame, he was a journalist whose journeys lead him to the mining town known as Bodie. To get to it, he stayed at the old Bridgeport Inn. Which makes sense as it was the stop for stagecoaches and buggies, on the last leg to the mining town.
Historic Town Of Bodie
Mark Twain described Bodie as “the breakup of one winter and the beginning of the next,” which claimed as many lives as did bullets. And the town was proud of its wild character! He even makes a reference of “the bad man from Bodie.” Now a true ghost town of the High Sierra with the last resident leaving in the 50’s, in 1962 it was designated as a historic park. Have fun exploring it yourself or take a daily guided tour (especially during the annual Friends of Bodie event complete with reenactment).
Arguably one of the most famous quotes of all time about Lake Tahoe was penned by Mr. Twain himself. The quote reads:
“As it lay there with the shadows of the mountains brilliantly photographed upon its still surface, I thought it must surely be the fairest picture the whole earth affords.”
It was when he moved to Nevada in 1861 with his brother and during a hike from Carson City he came upon a view of the lake. It stirred him so much to the point that he wrote this. To read about where this viewpoint is and a few other legendary locations he visited in the Lake Tahoe Basin, check out the Tahoe South article: “Step Where Mark Twain Walked.”
It’s just like the chicken or the egg conundrum. Was it the High Sierra and its wildness that shaped Mark Twain? Or, was it his words that painted a viewpoint of this place? Who knows, but maybe it’ll be the motivation for another to become the next great American author.