View Full Version : Contemplating a move to the Sierra Nevada foothills, Twain Harte

Jim Fitzgerald
28-Jan-2014, 09:09
I'm not sure where to post this but here goes.

We are thinking of moving to Twain Harte just east of Sonora. What can I expect living in the mountains at about 4,000 feet? I know snow, wild life and such but there are some costs that I know I'll miss. Heating, electric etc. Anyone familiar with this area? I know it is a couple of hours to Yosemite on the west side. If things work out I'll be setting up a darkroom and facilities for the large format community and teaching carbon transfer. I'm also planning on installing enlargers etc. for others to use. People could stay and work on the property for a small fee. Would there be any interest if I did this?

We are in the planning stages. Any input would be great.


28-Jan-2014, 09:25
Hey Jim,

I can't comment much about living in Twain Harte, but I have a D5 base and column you're welcome to for your darkroom.


28-Jan-2014, 09:43
The mountains are where you belong. We both know it.

28-Jan-2014, 09:54

Twain Harte is a nice town about 20 minutes east of Sonora. Snow amounts can vary widely, depending upon the year, and it can get pretty warm in the summer. Some older homes are not well insulated since many were built for summer use, so you'll need to ask about that when you talk with a realtor. As is typical of the higher foothills, gasoline, propane for heat, and food are more expensive than in lower elevations. A great many people who live up there shop in Sonora, but Twain Harte does have a full service market and other shops.

Here's a link to the Twain Harte Chamber of Commerce (http://www.twainhartecc.com/).

Since you are planning to offer printing workshops, you might consider contacting Columbia College about offering your classes through their Community Education program. Classes in this program are 'fee-funded'. You can contact the college at (209) 588-5100, or write to them at 11600 Columbia College Dr., Sonora, CA, 95370.

I live in Columbia, so I'm only 40 minutes from TH. I'd certainly be interested in learning carbon transfer printing. If you do come up this way to look around, give me a holler.


Jim Noel
28-Jan-2014, 09:57
One of our daughters lived in Twain Harte for a few years. An absolutely beautiful part of the country. When she was there I had exactly the same idea as you . My thought was to get a piece of property with a good barn on it which would be used for gallery and darkroom. I was also looking for space to allow workshop participants to camp on the property. Such spaces are available in the area around Twain Harte, but I didn't find such immediately in the village. I gave up when she had to move for economic reasons.
Once there, I don't believe you will have too much difficulty luring participants for workshops. There is so much really good scenery up the Sonora Pass I could easily photograph in there every day. Two hours to Yosemite Valley with great locations along the way.
More power to you. As far as I am concerned this is one of the photographically under-explored areas of the country.

Drew Wiley
28-Jan-2014, 10:10
I'm from that part of the world myself, though a much more rural and rugged area further south. My nephew has a small ranch in those mid-elevations, slightly into the snowline. I really prefer the mid-range, above the fog in the winter, but below the snow. You won't escape the summer heat either way - ya gotta be up around 7000 ft to do that. Sonora itself is, uh, getting too suburbanized for my taste - a bit overdeveloped like much of the hill country. But there are basic services. My wife was recently offered a job there, but she's a city girl and wouldn't care for all the heat and bugs. Lots of people retire into the hills. But one has to become accustomed to the delay of emergency services in certain areas, and the very significant demands of keeping property secure from forest fires - which can amount to a LOT of
work each year. I think the scenery of the hill country exceeds that of Yosemite Valley itself, though it might be an acquired taste. But you'd be close to both.
Depending on the neighborhood, you might or might not go into culture shock. Just depends. There are still some hillbilly types here and there, and you have to be
very careful about any proximity of meth or pot operations. Not trying to scare you - just do your homework first, before choosing property. And the number one
key to any rural lot is water, water, water. If you don't have a reliable well, you have nothing. And ... in my opinion, people who buy property right into the woods
are just setting themselves up for another disaster equivalent to last years fires. It's just a matter of time. You need property with true defensible space between
housing and trees. Those of us who have lived thru catastrophic wildfires understand that this subject cannot really be exaggerated.

Jim Galli
28-Jan-2014, 10:30
I kind of dreamed for years of a spot across Hwy 395 from the big Mono Lake visitor's center purposed similarly. Bottom line is we're probably too specialized in our disciplines to derive any kind of real living. You wind up a whore giving workshops to vacationers in bermuda shorts with Nikon D65's if steady rent and food on the table is a necessity. OTOH if you've solved those sorts of problems and have 'other' income to sustain yourself, sounds like fun. Go for the dream. We ain't gettin' any younger.

Drew Wiley
28-Jan-2014, 10:44
Yeah.. you need some kind of reliable base income or pension. If you want to make money in that part of the world open a chainsaw sharpening service or a decent
little Mexican restaurant. ... art ain't going to do it unless you're routinely selling prints somewhere else. The good new is that you can buy a ranch for what a rusty
camper shell propped up on bricks would cost here on the coast. But putting in a reliable well can often cost more than the house itself, and there's no guarantee you'll have a predictable well even after sinking your life savings into a hole in the ground. And the water will be hard, so plan for filters on you darkroom lines, and keeping lots of distilled water on hand for critical applications. It can also be very difficult in rural areas to find competent help. So it helps to understand all the basics of wiring, plumbing, carpentry, etc. Those lower elevation woods tend to have lots of coyotes, bobcats, a few bear and mtn lions. That changes somewhat
lower down (more bugs). Lots to photograph, that's for sure, but making a buck at it in that part of the world will be quite a challenge.

John Kasaian
28-Jan-2014, 11:38
We get lots of people from Los Angeles moving to the Oakhurst area. The biggest complaint is that some medical services that used to be taken for granted will be far. far away(like Fresno or in your case, Stockton) so if that applies to you, be forewarned. Outside of that, they generally love it in the foothills. The air is still going to be polluted until you get above 5,000 ft elevation though and the fire hazard needs to be taken seriously---a swimming pool or pond is feature that will make your insurance company happy.

28-Jan-2014, 12:30
Neat idea, Jim! I'll be setting shop along those lines up here.

I'll add that waste management needs to be taken into consideration, as does water conservation. Perhaps some sort of gray water (minimal chemical content) storage, so that it can be used in the gardens in the summers.

Leszek Vogt
28-Jan-2014, 12:52
Certainly true what John is saying. My friends, who live in Bakerspatch, wanted to get away from all the SF and valley (read: chemicals from the fields) imported pollution and live in the hills closer to Sequoia or above Fresno. They decided to stay, since the hosp is there.

As Drew indicated, and I think too that it may be difficult to set up something in that particular part of the world. Hmmm, don't think it would be much different on the other side of the pass and closer to Rte 395. Considering the fact that Stockton was the closest to collapse (totally) economically....I'm pretty sure the residues still seem to have a certain grasp....if not perpetuation of that dark hour. Don't want to sound negative, but Lodi does not seem like a artistic mecca and the nearby frog-jumping contest could be your all encompassing local art gathering ;).

No doubt that you'll find plenty of nature to photograph, particularly those stressed Bristlecone Pine stumps (near the pass)...and you don't need to do a 20 mile hike journey to find them. I've been to the nearby camp with bunch of kids from S. Jose....but that was in previous lifetime. Indeed, the fire danger is always there (and with the drought ?) unless you have a break from the trees and I'd go even step further of having a sprinkler system that would protect the outside of the house and hooked up to a sizable water container. Excuse for sounding semi esoteric, but I've seen this show too many times when I was a firefighter in AF....and not to mention first hand when many expensive structures perished in S. Barbara canyon fire. The insurance is incapable of covering the worth of your negatives. Anyway, I'd explore the whole thing with caution.


Drew Wiley
28-Jan-2014, 13:22
John.. I thought Oakhurst was part of Fresno. Too developed for my taste. I lived across the River at the OTHER end of the "narrow winding road" sign. Oakhurst does have a small clinic. But a buddy of my nephew's got snakebit down below the Sycamore Rez (above the Kings Riv). They kept his limb in the creek to keep it cool, but it was a two or three hour hike to a phone, then another three hours to get him on a chopper. They managed to save his hand, but for two weeks it was the size of a baseball glove. ... But proximity to "Yosemite" (the Valley per se, in most people's estimation) is relative. The Bass Lk timeshare and realty crowd like
to state how close they are, just like Oakhurst... but it's still a pretty slow drive into the Valley. I really wanted to buy a wonderful old Wells Fargo bank bldg in Mariposa and turn it into a gallery; but back then "Boss Hogg" was still running the town and it wasn't a very pleasant place, then when someone finally bought the
bldg they pulled out the paint and turned into a gift shop with one of those gaudy "painted ladies" color schemes, destroying all the wonderful orginal patina on the adobe and original steel vault doors. Made me sick to see that, but most hill people don't give a damn about their own historical or scenic heritage. It's just another
piece of real estate "meat" to lots of them. The entire town of Copperopolis has been largely destroyed on that mentality. Sonora still has a bit of downtown, but
I could do without the neo part of it, and the WalMart and McDonalds. Got sick of Oakhurst years ago, but I do remember when everything in that part of the world
was utterly leveled by forest fires.

28-Jan-2014, 14:04
Since I live in the area, there are a few things I'd like to address that came up in previous comments.

Fire Protection: The Twain Harte area is served by the Twain Harte Fire Protection District which is staffed 24/7. There is also the Cal Fire station right in town. Additional resources are less than ten minutes out. Local fire fighters and Cal Fire personnel are either Medical First Responders or EMT's. Average response time in Twain Harte proper is ten minutes, or less. The USFS and Tuolumne County fire have stations in the area, as well. You will have to comply with PRC 1492-Defensible Space. Twain Harte proper is in good shape, so if you're there, it shouldn't be a big issue. As was pointed out, if you settle further out, creating and maintaining a defensible space could be a lot of work.

Water/Sewer: Most of the Twain Harte area is served by the Tuolumne Utilities District. The water is of excellent quality. Hooking up new service is expensive, but that's true of anywhere, these days.

Medical and Hospital: Sonora Regional Medical Center has most services. It has an excellent ER. Paramedic ambulance service in the county is excellent. Some injury/illness patients are flown to Modesto, or other facilities when needed. There are excellent doctors for GP, as well as specialties, including cardiac and oncology, in the county.

The local economy is improving, and we do not have issues anywhere nearly as severe as in the Valley. Secondly, there is a very active art community in both Tuolumne and Calaveras counties. Columbia College has an excellent art department that includes film/darkroom photography. Tuolumne County, like most of the national park/national forest 'gateway' counties depend heavily on tourism: no getting around that.

Air Quality: In general, it's pretty good, even in summer. We are in the path of the Delta Breezes which helps a lot--the air is much less stagnant than in areas further south. It can get hazy, though. Twain Harte is on the edge of the thermal belt, so summer high temps will vary depending on the strength of the high.

Honestly, I would have left here a long time ago if the region wasn't to my liking, across the board. Yeah, Sonora is more built up, and there is more traffic than I came here in 1974, but it's very doable. The proximity to Sonora Pass, Calaveras Big Trees, Yosemite, and the East Side are big plusses. BTW, Les, there are no Bristlecones at Sonora Pass: they are western juniper :-).

Jim, this will be a big move for you, so, as others have said, research carefully. It's a lovely and varied area with much to offer.


Drew Wiley
28-Jan-2014, 14:30
Yeah... it's hard to decide sometimes, Preston. My wife was considered for a surgical position at that clinic, but we would have had to relocate at a not very practical time, and we already know about life in the hills. I can't keep up with that kind of ranch work anymore, even though I enjoyed it. I might want to buy a
little acreage someday way back in a canyon somewhere, as long as I just have a well and utility hookup, but would want it to be so far back in that there would
no sounds excepts for birds and coyotes, and no lights except the stars. ... just a little retreat. But I can do that camping and backpacking. The Sierras aren't very
far away from here anyway. But I don't think non-locals understand just how much a competitor Sonora Pass is with Tioga in terms of beauty, or how much there
is to see in the foothills as they madly speed past on their way to Yos Valley.

28-Jan-2014, 16:01
It's a great idea, Jim, and I support you in any endeavor you pursue. If I were going to move to a new area, I would take it slow and rent something before making the commitment to purchase a property to get a feel for the area, the locals, and the way of life there. But that's just me. Living in the country is a way of life, and when you're ready for it you know it.

Drew Wiley
28-Jan-2014, 17:21
The desert 395 side and the west side of the range are very different, esp with reference to forest fire risk, though pinyon burns too. It is easy to make wonderful
friends in the hills these days because so many different types of people are retiring up there, and even certain professionals are able to work via internet from
home. But there are some entrenched pockets of real rednecks too, and a surprising number of druggies in certain places. So it's just a matter of homework. And of
course, once a local realtor knows someone is potentially coming from a more expensive part of the state, they'll naturally try to show you the overpriced "resort"
properties first. And something else, that hasn't be noted yet, is that it can be VERY difficult to get fire insurance at a realistic rate, since almost all this part of the world is classified as high risk, esp if you're in the woods. Inside a town per se, it might be easier. And there is a significant logistical difference between a somewhat suburban setting you might find in a town like Sonora and true country living. A few of my tenants in one of my houses, coming from SoCal suburbs
learned that the hard way. First night there the coyotes ate their poodle.

Jim Fitzgerald
28-Jan-2014, 18:06
Hi everyone. Back from work. This has been a great read. My concerns for fire, water and medical are something to consider. June has submitted her credentials to Columbia College. She is an English professor. If she get's the job I'll retire so I can work on my photography full time. Money will not be a problem. So this move would be so we can be closer to my favorite place to shoot and dedicate the rest of my life to what I love. Photography!

We don't have to live in Twain Harte as I'm not a mountain man per say. Drew brings up many great points and I value everyone's input. My concern about not moving next to a meth lab or some red neck's is a big concern. June is from the Philippines and we all know that racism still exists in this country. Ventura is not a problem but I do not know the attitudes up there. Would Sonora or Columbia be okay? Most likely. I'm not looking to live off of the grid.
Preston, I forgot that you lived in Columbia. I will contact you when we get ready to head up to check the area out. Knowing an excellent photographer who's work I love and respect in the area would be a real plus. I would approach the College about offering workshops. Still a lot to consider. Even if June does not get a tenured position ( school politics, etc. as she is very qualified) we may move to the area so I can work.
I want to thank everyone for all of the information and please if you have any suggestions for areas please let us know. Trying to plan the future. Oh, if anyone knows a good realtor that I can trust that would be great.

Leszek Vogt
28-Jan-2014, 18:07
BTW, Les, there are no Bristlecones at Sonora Pass: they are western juniper :-).

My bad, Preston. They looked somewhat similar and I grouped them that way. Intend to check out both in Sept, the Brislecones and the junipers around Sonora Pass. Nonetheless, there are considerations and I wish Jim success in this endevor.


28-Jan-2014, 21:11

It will be a big transition from Ventura, but if you're up for it you'd be moving to a really beautiful area. We have a second place not far from there in Groveland. We don't expect to move there full time, but we sure enjoy it when we're there, and want to spend more time there. If you're ready for it full time, go for it.

Some things will be more expensive, but overall you will find the cost of living lower. And yes, you will be dealing with things like defensible space, but I wager it will be less than the time you now spend looking for parking spots. The lower pace of the rat race is palpable--it's the reason many people settle there or stay there.

If you get your workshops going, be sure to let us know. I, for one, will sign on.

Jim Fitzgerald
28-Jan-2014, 22:28
Paul, thanks. I've been looking in many of the towns in the area and I have a few homes in the Groveland area bookmarked. We are considering many things. My wife will teach I hope and may want to be in a more traditional area like Sonora. Not sure if she could handle snakes, coyotes, bears, lions, bobcats fires etc. Right now we are trying to figure out when we can come up for a look.

29-Jan-2014, 00:34
I'm not sure where to post this but here goes.

We are thinking of moving to Twain Harte just east of Sonora. What can I expect living in the mountains at about 4,000 feet? I know snow, wild life and such but there are some costs that I know I'll miss. Heating, electric etc. Anyone familiar with this area? I know it is a couple of hours to Yosemite on the west side. If things work out I'll be setting up a darkroom and facilities for the large format community and teaching carbon transfer. I'm also planning on installing enlargers etc. for others to use. People could stay and work on the property for a small fee. Would there be any interest if I did this?

We are in the planning stages. Any input would be great.


Jim, renting or spending time there or any new place is good plan. Good luck!

Jim Fitzgerald
29-Jan-2014, 08:38
Looking at all of the options. Renting and buying. Renting at first makes sense. Need to find resources as well. Google will have to be my friend. Trying to figure out when we can take a road trip to check things out. Any more suggestions would be very helpful.

29-Jan-2014, 09:26

Renting is a pretty good option. Rents have trended upwards due to the foreclosure mess, but they've stabilized somewhat. Below are some areas in Tuolumne county to look at:

Gold Springs (Columbia)
Willow Springs (Soulsbyville)
Mono Vista (Soulsbyville area)
Lambert Lakes (East Sonora)
Jamestown area; Lime Kiln Road, Algerine Road
Pine Mountain Lake (Groveland) (Fairly long commute to Sonora/Columbia)
Mi Wuk Village (a few miles east of Twain Harte)
Wards Ferry Road area just south of Sonora.

Critters are less of an issue than one would think, unless you're in a very rural or remote area. I have seen all the critters you mentioned above, but only rarely. Like anywhere else where the wild is adjacent to built-up areas, vigilance is called for, but run-ins are infrequent in the areas I mentioned.

As far as a good time to come up for a look-see, I would say in the spring after Sonora Pass opens, assuming photography is on your list of things to do when you come up this way. Early spring, before the pass opens is also a nice time.

On another note: I have a long standing relationship with Columbia College. I got my AA there and worked there as an administrator at the fire department for 15 years. The school is fairly small enrollment-wise, the campus is beautiful, and the people there are very friendly and helpful. I hope your wife does well on the application review process.


Drew Wiley
29-Jan-2014, 09:57
Preston knows that specific area better than me, but one relevant difference I'd add, is that real estate prices are still close to historic lows, but probably won't stay
that way as our coastal pricing rapidly recovers upwards, and that part of the world is near the I-80 corridor, so overly-familiar to Bay Area emigrants looking to retire
elsewhere. In other words, it's not as cheap as other hill country above the Central Valley, and prices will probably rise more quickly. Angels Camp is an interesting
area too, but well below the pine belt. I'd personally be utterly paranoid by the lower pine belt under the best of circumstances. It's a flagrant tinder box.

Jim Fitzgerald
29-Jan-2014, 10:15
Preston and Drew, thanks. We are looking to come up for a look sometime in February just to check the area out. Like I said earlier even if June does not get the job we will be okay financially. Could be a great place to retire for the both of us. Still she wants to teach. It is her passion like us with our photography. Preston I have several places bookmarked on Trulia checking prices for homes and there are some amazing values out there. At least on the surface. The devil is in the details when it comes to buying a home, any home but especially something in the woods. We don't want total isolation up the canyon by ourselves kind of living so Sonora and Columbia are not out of the question either. Preston, we may be neighbors at some point!

Drew Wiley
29-Jan-2014, 10:28
If you do buy, here's a helpful trick if you haven't sold your SoCal home first: try to get your previous agent to write both insurance policies. What is trending in the
hills is that some agents are actually being incentified to cancel policies, not write them, then refer their clientele to a different insurance company at much higher
premiums based on higher fire risk. Naturally, the same company that happens to be canceling also happens to own the expensive company, so there's a fly in the ointment. But they've also undergone huge losses in that area, and will inevitably undergo more. So it helps to have an agent who isn't part of the local game per se, or whom the local think you can trust. The Forest Service calls for a defensible space of twenty feet or so. Ha! I kept three acres of mowed and green around the house, a tin roof, and far more acreage cattle-grazed low around that, and it was still a close call at times. I've seen hot ash rain down for days, for many miles around, like an eruption of Vesuvius. And that pine belt above Sonora came darn close last year, and has indeed had a few mid-sized fires in recent years.

Jim Fitzgerald
29-Jan-2014, 10:34
Drew, some excellent points. We are renting right now. Ex got the house! But I do have renters insurance! You brought up a point that I forgot to ask about fire danger. When was the last time fires went through this area? I know that with our terrible winters lately it will make things much worse than ever. The defensible space called for seems crazy and it makes common sense to have more like what you are talking about plus your own water source and some kind of fire suppression system if that is even feasible, let alone cost effective. So much fun!

29-Jan-2014, 11:01
My wife and I looked around Groveland (Pine Mountain Lake) ten years ago. My overwhelming impression was that those communities were not to my taste, but most of all, even with all the talk of having their own fire department, it looked ripe for a major and dangerous burn. I suspect many residents now feel the same after last summer. Frankly, I've become scared ----less of any western Sierra mid-elevation conifer forested regions since the onset of recurrent drought conditions, year around fire seasons, and a world full of irresponsible, self entitled nut jobs. But, ya' gotta live somewhere.

Since you mentioned medical, I'll caution you about one anecdotal thing at living at elevations higher than 4,000 feet. I lived and trained full time in Squaw Valley (6,000+', I know, Drew) for a few years in the early '80s. When I got sick, I stayed sick for easily twice as long as I did at sea level, and I was one of the fittest high altitude athletes around at the time. I was happy to return to lower elevations and forego the 2 month long cold and flu. Fresno anyone?

Drew Wiley
29-Jan-2014, 11:07
The defensible space rules contain some anomalies. For one thing, your own space applies to your structures up to your property line. If a neighbor happens to
have a flammable junk pile immediately adjacent, tough luck (and in the hills, backyard junk lots are abundant - photogenic, but often a real headache to neighbors).
There have been several fires right off Hwy 108 in recent years, but that giant fire outside Yosemite last year could have easily jumped into the MiWuk or Long Barn area, and have become even bigger. Once the fires hit the canyons, they're extremely difficult to fight, and can spread almost explosively. No way you can actually fight them with a home water system if the power lines burn down first, and your well pump can't work. But in those big fires, evacuation won't be elective anyway.
And there will be more of them. Another thing with rural lots, esp if city-style developers have been involved ... make sure your neighbor's leach line isn't leaching
into your own water source and visa versa. Sounds silly? Nope. Happens all the time when bottomland or otherwise permeable soil is too closely developed. Five
acres is a bare minimum. Unless you're on a town water system, don't ever buy anything without hiring a legit hydrologist first. You photographer's dream home
will be worthless if your well goes dry or gets contaminated. I know this not only from direct experience (I had two good wells and even sold water to adjacent
properties), but also have a serious background in geomorphology itself. And this is a vital subject which local realtors naturally tend to avoid. Water is everything,
and in this current drought, that fact is becoming blatantly apparent. ... Otherwise, given some common sense, it's a wonderful area to live and photograph. I have a major body of work from that area, mostly in Cibachrome.

29-Jan-2014, 11:11
Coastal Humboldt County -- so moist that moss grows on the north side of a campfire...

Raining today! Not hard enough, but we'll take what we can get!

29-Jan-2014, 11:55
I grew up in Ventura county and have lived about seven miles up the hill outside Sonroa proper for the last seven years. I presently work in silicon valley for a company that expects me to sit in a cubicle down in Sunnyvale so, don't get home much lately but, work remotely whenever possible.

If you are serious about moving up here,
First and foremost, I would strongly urge you to come up here and stay for a few WEEKS to get a feel for the culture. You are in for a very big culture shock.....I'll just leave it at that so as to stay well clear of politics and religion...

Here are a few practical matters that you might also give some thought to...

Heating: Most homes up here have a wood burning stove as the primary heater. Some may also have a small gas unit. There is no natural gas pipe line - as far as I know, all gas fired furnaces use propane which must be delivered to the house by truck....it gets expensive.

Fire: My house is situated on 1/3 acre. It isn't a big lot but compliance with the local fire safety rules is a lot of hard, sweaty work and must be done and redone all throughout the summer.

Insurance: Getting home owner's insurance is an issue. It is available but, again due to the extreme fire risk, it is expensive and can be very difficult to get.

Water: Do not even think about buying a home up here that is not on city water. Wells and septic systems are a major issue. As mentioned, the city water quality is fantastic...but, again, the water is expensive!

Technology: There is no cable tv/internet, there is no Verizon FIOS, there is spotty cell phone coverage (AT&T is better than VZ up here but, not much). We have DSL from AT&T....folks have satellite dishes for cable tv.

Devil Weed: a very nasty, aggressive invasive weed is taking over much of the Chaparral Habitat (below about 4000ft). Sounds dumb...believe me, after doing battle with this weed for a few summers, you will understand what I mean.

Twain Harte and MiWuk village are primarily filled with vacation homes for rich bay area people. This has several implications...some good and some not so good. You can get much more house for the money being just down the hill from these two places. I cannot really even go into all of the others.

(EDIT:) This sounds overly negative...sorry for that. I do love it up here and long for the days when I once again can work remotely most or all of the week. The beauty above 4000 feet just kinda assaults you whereas the beauty in the Chaparral is much more subtle. The desert lilacs in spring time, The wind in the summer afternoons, the sunrises and chill mornings. It is all very beautiful and wonderful but go into with both eyes open to the realities too...

Jim Fitzgerald
29-Jan-2014, 12:28
So living in town is a better idea? Sonora, Columbia? The political and religious reasons are interesting to me and if you wish to pm me I'd love to hear it. I'm not an overly religious person or political so I guess I'm a little on the liberal side but with common sense. My basis for mentioning Twain Harte was because I saw some homes there that looked good to me. So maybe it should be the area in general. We don't have a problem living in the city. If June gets accepted to teach at the Yosemite Community College District she could end up in Modesto as well. A lot to consider and thanks for the info Brad.

Drew Wiley
29-Jan-2014, 12:47
Well, uh, ahem... yeah, culture shock... let's just say that if something is inappropriate to discuss on a public forum like this specific one, use caution in the hills.
It's a very very different demographic than on the coast, and you'll likely encounter dramatically different views about politics, race, and any number of other things.
But don't let this scare you off... there will be a still sufficient variety of people around to be comfortable, and after awhile you will learn to appreciate the simplicity
and sincerity of people you might not intellectually dovetail with. Places like Sonora and Oakhurst aren't really backwoods. And I'm only aware of one true white
supremacist colony up that way, and it's not in the Sonora environs. But up the hwy, a lot of the cabins and so forth are indeed owned by Bay Area people, and
the ski resort and Emigrant Wilderness area are also seasonal Bay Area magnets. It gets quieter once you get uphill closer to the pass. Some of the old timers in
the ranch areas can be a bit suspicious of neophytes, but once you get to know them you'll discover a fascinating amount of experience and a very colorful
disappearing culture. But I could personally do without the parasitic kind of development going on around the Lake and Copperopolis. Downhill you'll have places
like Knight's Ferry... I won't give away all my favorite places, but all ya gotta do in the Spring in wander off Hwy 49 here n' there. Being a drought, this won't
be much of a wildflower year, but many years the canyons can be incredible. Like I already suggested, some of the beauty is an acquired taste.... so don't expect
Yos Valley to remain the star attraction in the long haul....

Drew Wiley
29-Jan-2014, 13:12
Modesto is utterly different. You'll be in California's version of the Midwest, so in for culture shock there too, but amidst mindless suburban sprawl, smoggy hot summers, and clammy tule fog winters. The hill country and Yos are a reasonable drive from there, as is the Coast.... and the farmlands outside of town can be
lovely certain times of year.... otherwise.....

Darin Boville
29-Jan-2014, 13:23
You'll be in California's version of the Midwest, so in for culture shock there too,

Or at least someone's TV-inspired version of what the Midwest is like... :)


Drew Wiley
29-Jan-2014, 13:38
Not exactly ... I do know any number of people who have moved from this area to the Midwest due to some job offer they simply couldn't refuse (like young couples
actually being able to afford a nice house), but believe me, they all go into culture shock, big time. And some parts of California are even more, well.... (narrowly dodging a "politico/controversio" bleep from the moderators)... I have a close friend who recently relocated from UCB to head up the new UC Merced, and culture
shock is an understatement. After a couple of years he finally got academically comfortable... But when you first discover that ethnic food in that part of the world
equates to Kentucky Fried Chicken .... I can remember all the talk of seceding from the US in my ole hometown... and that keeps coming up from time to time.
Vaughn would understand... I think he's some kinda bigwig in the Republic of Jefferson himself

Jim Fitzgerald
29-Jan-2014, 13:39
Drew, you are a wealth of knowledge and I appreciate that. To have such great advice is priceless so thanks a lot. Since we are a mixed race couple one has to not be blind to prejudice and attitudes. We can get along with anyone both being teachers. So I guess this begs another question to expand the search. If my wife does not get the position we can go just about anywhere. I'm working on some long term projects in and around Yosemite Valley so hence Sonora, etc. What do you think of other areas that give access to Yosemite, The Sequoias, the Redwoods? If you had a choice of somewhere close to these areas where would it be? Or... is this area a good spot?

Drew Wiley
29-Jan-2014, 13:59
Well, I'm in a mixed race marriage myself, Jim... And yeah, some people in the hills don't like that... so that would affect where my wife would be comfortable. But
after awhile people get accepted. Simple people are often just afraid of the unknown, and they learn. Even in my old haunt, which is a lot lot more rural and rednecky than the Sonora area, after a few sideways glances, people just adjust. I wouldn't worry too much about that in the formal towns around there, including Twain Harte. Modesto would be no problem either, unless you lived next door to some biker types. The farm towns lower down seem to be more inflexible. And meth freaks up in the hills look just like meth freaks in the city, so are easy to avoid. Just make sure they aren't going to be neighbors first. In small towns it seems that everyone is either your best friend or your worst enemy. But some of the really simple people don't have any phobia about being photographed just as they are. It's not like the burbs, where people try to keep up appearances.

Drew Wiley
29-Jan-2014, 14:23
I'm bouncing back and forth between work tasks, Jim, so be patient, cause I might respond to a few things in spurts... A lot depends on how you feel about a hot
climate. You won't get away from that above Sonora (except camping or hiking), but at least you'd be above the miserable winter fog in the Valley. Being on the
edge of the fog can be magical from a photographic standpoint, but the particular elevation of that keeps changing as the day wears on. Sonora and Columbia are
relatively civilized, as is Oakhurst. But trying to make a living in any these places can be a challenge. Lots of people I know have tried to open art galleries in Oakhurst, since that's a major corridor to Yosemite too, but probably all of them ended up commuting to Fresno to make ends meet. West Coast Imaging has a special niche, so has survived. Mariposa gets a lot of tourists on good years who board buses into Yosemite. But the problem is, those of us who aren't really into
stereotyped touristy photography aren't going to pick up customers in such places, and the types who do show up are more likely to expect to spend $25 on a
print and not $2500. So really, hill life is more realistic if you already have some kind of income cushion from retirement. Some of the remnants of the old downtowns can be very tempting, but you'd have to be into some kind of art-colony concept analogous to an auto-row to attract outside buyers. It would be very
difficult to survive on a workshop basis too. I'm in the same boat myself... contemplating supplementing retirement income with print sales, but not replacing my
sum income, which would be a stretch for anyone on the West Coast. But the main towns per se along Hwy 49 (going S to N) are Oakhurst, Mariposa, and Sonora,
with all being adjacent to Yosemite.

Jim Fitzgerald
29-Jan-2014, 14:30
Drew, no problem with the spurts. I'm heading out of my home office to make some calls and will be back. The fog in the lowlands is a bitch! Man I hate that Tule fog. Sonora and Columbia seem to be in the middle of my shooting area. I've sold my work via the internet and don't expect to have any huge print sales regardless of where I live. I really do appreciate your help.

Lenny Eiger
29-Jan-2014, 14:43
The reason I haven't done this already is culture. I live in the Bay area where values are on the left side of things, which pleases me. Every time I have ventured out of the major cities I come across people who don't share my views about life in general. You also have to deal with a little cold in the winter....

i would add a couple of things to the already good advice you've been given. There is at least good food in Murphys, up on route 4 (some sort of an indication of at least a part of culture). I have also enjoyed photographing up rte 4, the last time standing out in the middle of a frozen Mosquito Lake. Exhilarating! I can't speak to rte 108, as I have only been there once in a blue moon.

The other thing I would say is that while I don't know a thing about Columbia College, generally speaking college towns have culture, other intelligent people and the kind of acceptance that would make you and your wife comfortable. There are plays, concerts, probably some naturalists to talk to, etc. And other photographers.

One last note: I currently live around a golf course. We had to move quickly, back in '99, and this was available, looked nice, etc. True, the house is nice, but living here is horrible. The homeowners association is annoying beyond belief and people that live around a golf course are the kind that want everything just so. They are jealous of my time in the darkroom, they want me to spend it working on my yard! They are generally people who favor the rule book instead of making one's own rules based on kindness and other good values, and they have never traveled anywhere. Neighbors are sort of friendly, but its like living in some some of cardboard culture-less place. The houses are all painted some variation of being and I can't wait until the real estate prices go back up so I can leave here.

The next place I live in will likely be in a college town, it won't be anywhere near a damned golf course, and there won't be a homeowner's association. Did I mention that they wrote me a letter compiling about my yellow garden hose? Only green or gray allowed... ggrrrrrrr.

Good luck,


29-Jan-2014, 14:49
Aren't you guys worried about the supervolcano under Jellystone Park that is getting ready to explode? Of course, if/when it finally does, nothing east will exist either, such as Chicago, Cleveland, New York, etc. :(


Darin Boville
29-Jan-2014, 14:53
It's funny. A lot of us seem to have a general notion of moving up to one of the mountain towns, somewhere near Yosemite, and doing some sort of workshop, gallery, something. I've been casually looking at property up there, too, for similar reasons. I'm very much enjoying this thread.


Roger Thoms
29-Jan-2014, 15:02
Hey Jim, sounds like all kinds of good advice so far. I don't have a whole lot too add other than it sounds like exciting times for you and June. I have no doubt that with the energy you put into things it will all fall into place. Good luck with your new adventures.


Drew Wiley
29-Jan-2014, 15:10
I'm not going to move back... but I might be open to participating in some sort of high-end co-op gallery under realistic circumstances. It's an easy enough day drive
from here to anywhere along Hwy 49, and there are lots of lovely old buildings.... BUT, being fairly expert in what can be involved in remodeling such things...
And that won't stop me from attempting to do something more serious in this area, but around here the financial logistics are far more daunting, cause we all gotta
compete with the local gazoonionaires for available properties. Several spots being contemplated as potentially becoming local art magnets simply got purchased in
whole at top dollar, and are now unaffordable to anyone but a major tech firm, or some alleged philanthropist whose real objective is to enshrine himself... But
getting appropriate clients to stop in somewhere en route to Yosemite can be even more daunting. But its being done by the wine and cheese genre all kinds of
places, so I guess it could be done in the arts too... Or is my dementia just accelerating?

Leszek Vogt
29-Jan-2014, 17:32
Don't know how many of you recall this incident....I left this particular base several months prior to this occurrence. Anyway, this is one example what could happen and yet the water (Pacific) is nearby.

"Crown fire" can be particularly insidious and with the current conditions in the hills the brush could become right down explosive. In the above case, and from what I've been told, it was the wind change that created this tragedy. It pinged in many hearts of firefighters - mine too.

Yet, I'll still visit Sonora and the area on the other side of the pass (this Sept)....hoping not to see any ashes raining down.


matthew blais
29-Jan-2014, 17:46
Just be sure to research the local single women so your buddy will have more enthusiasm to visit you in the boonies.

Jim Fitzgerald
29-Jan-2014, 18:02
A lot of great information here. Lenny a yellow green hose with a grey roll up thing is the ticket! HOA is a pain in the ass!

I'm not necessarily looking to do or have to do workshops all the time and set up a gallery but it could be nice. I teach carbon transfer printing out of my two bedroom apartment when anyone needs it. Would it be nice to have a coffee/wine/cheese/gallery/workshop where people could come and spend money? Yes but then I'd have to hire someone to run it as my goal is to photograph more and print more. Just trying to get closer to the action.... wherever that may be. I would not be opposed to having the great group here and very talented I might add be a part of a co-op gallery of some kind. Making money would be.. well difficult to say the least. We all have dreams but I deal more in reality now. We will see in time but the ideas are wonderful so thanks everyone.

I could make it a place for my friends here to stop and rest, stay a while if they wish almost like a base camp if the place is big enough. Many ideas as I say and a lot of research ahead.

29-Jan-2014, 18:10
Just be sure to research the local single women so your buddy will have more enthusiasm to visit you in the boonies.

College town!

Jim Fitzgerald
29-Jan-2014, 18:15
College town!

Columbia I'm thinking!

29-Jan-2014, 23:04
College town!

LOL!!! Columbia is not a college town...well, not like you guys are thinking.
Colombia, the town, is a state historic park though....they have a pretty decent candy store. :)

I have to say the Colombia College campus is lovely, intimate and....well, also not at all like a college campus in my mind. It's almost like a bunch of oversized cottages in the woods.

Jim, I cannot tell you whether it would be better to live in town or further up the hill....I, myself cannot fully decide. In summers, I mostly wish I lived further up the hill...much further. But in the winter, I am very happy that we're only at 3100 feet... We get snow - sometimes lots of it...but it doesn't hang around very long and, I have never had to put the chains on the car. That would not be the case if we were just another five miles up the hill where putting the chains on and taking them off is a regular exercise for at least a few weeks of the year.

I'm also happy with the proximity to Sonora. The city proper is just a quick ten minute drive down the hill where one can find many of the usual conveniences. It just makes everyday life easier.

The culture thing....well, there are lots of very friendly people up here too. An easy smile and a firm hand shake still go a long way toward making friends. It is refreshing to notice that folks, despite some of them having totally whacked-out religious-political views, are still largely very considerate of each other....This stands in stark contrast to the Bay Area where inconsiderate seems to have become the norm....

I could go on and on...let me now if you have specific questions.

Jim Fitzgerald
29-Jan-2014, 23:14
Brad, thanks. As the questions come up I will be sure to ask them. We have no problem living in Sonora or East Sonora. June likes the heat more than I but I can manage with it. The cold it is the other way around. 4wd may be in the future if we move here.

evan clarke
30-Jan-2014, 05:57
Actually, Jim, Buy a place and I will make a sacrifice and live there for you :)

Jim Fitzgerald
30-Jan-2014, 08:54
Evan I'm sure you are not the only one with that idea. Finding the "right" place is the key for us. Some of the homes have separate downstairs living quarters with an extra kitchen! How nice would it be to have an entire downstairs for printing, darkroom, gallery and workshop areas. Many possibilities. Workshop students could stay on the property.

neil poulsen
30-Jan-2014, 09:07
I lived in Pollock Pines for three years, when I worked for Intel down the hill. That's about 45 miles north, and it's right at the 4000 foot level. Most beautiful place I've ever lived. I sometimes think about moving back; but, I was born and raised in Oregon.

We had about 3-4ft of snow every year. All those places had wood stoves, so if we ever lost power, we'd put on a pot of chile. Wasn't really a problem. Pollock Pines is right off of 50, and we lived within blocks. We could always get to the freeway and down to Sacramento and beyond. But, traffic was frequently stopped because of snow right at Pollock Pines going east to Tahoe.

This area is dead center to the old gold country along 49. Very photogenic. Also was about 60 miles from Tahoe to the east. Placerville is about 15 miles and 1500 vertical feet down the road. Beautiful and photogenic. And, 49 is a treat between Sonora and Navada City. Apple Hill was also a draw for us, with all the stands, cider, etc. It's on the way to Placerville from Pollock Pines. We could take 50, or we could take the scenic route on either side of 50 down to Placerville. The American River was also a neat place and about a 3 minute drive from our house. Also, Jamieson Lake.

Oh, and the climate at 4000ft was fabulous, a lot like Oregon. Maybe over 100 degrees a couple of times a year. Otherwise during the summer, 70's, 80's 90's.

The one nagging worry I experienced where the pine and fir trees met the foothills was the possibility of forest fire. As I say, an absolutely beautiful area. But, part of this beauty was having the properties intermingled among the trees. We never had a a problem; nor did a fire ever get close. But as I say, this was something that nagged me.

Just responding to this thread gets my juices going. How cool would it be to move back.

Jim Fitzgerald
30-Jan-2014, 09:19
Neil, thanks for your insight. Fire is the main concern for anyone living in the transition zone. As many have said you have to be ready all the time especially now. More research later today.

Drew Wiley
30-Jan-2014, 09:32
Preston already noted how the heat is not as bad as in the arms of the Central Valley, because those particular passes do seem to funnel some air thru the Delta.
So being from SoCal that might not be such an issue. I sure would be for me, since I've lived on the coast most of my adult life, and don't seem to be comfortable
in the Sierras in summer until I'm at least at 8000ft, and preferably high than that. My home here is typically in the 50's in the summer due to the coastal fog. So
when I'd commute up to my ranch on the weekends, I'd get up there around midnight but have to start all the weedeating and tree work no later than 5AM the
next morning, because by 9 or 10 AM it would already be in the 90's. Fortunately, that part of the world was a lot steeper than around Yosemite or Sonora, so
one could just jump in the truck and rapidly arrive at a high-altitude trailhead to cool off in the afternoons. But I lived thru multiple catastrophic fires in that area,
and its nothing to be underestimated. The trees are chaparral are engineered to burn, and both droughts and suburbanization only increase the frequency. People
forget that for millenia the Indians lit up the woods just before they transmigrated to higher elevations for the summer, and that this kept meadows etc open
and not overgrown like nowadays. I still have one family member living in the hills, near Bootjack. That's a relatively nednecky area, but in the specific area he
lives, most of the neighbors are like him, professionals who periodically commute elsewhere, but otherwise do their work at home on the internet. He does appelate
and supreme court law, so has to fly out of state for trials etc anyway, but still keeps a small apt in Sacto where his formal law office is, and commutes there
a couple days a week. But he's had half a dozen helicopters at a time stationed almost in his meadow, while they were fighting another huge fire just up the hill
just a few years ago, which got out of control in the Canyon below El Portal. I've watched those crown fires simply leap hundred of yards at a pop, with trees
simply exploding far ahead of the fire line. They're nothing to underestimate. So there is a bit of logic to either taking of residence in a town near a highway, or
having far more defensible space than the minimum mandated by the Forest Service.

30-Jan-2014, 18:02
Modesto Junior College has a great photo dept.

Jim Graves
30-Jan-2014, 20:42
Jim ... If I had no issues and unlimited money ... there are two places I'd choose to live: 1) San Luis Obispo/Moro Bay and, 2) the Sierra foothills ... from 2500' - 3500' .... anywhere down the Hwy 49 route... both are gorgeous, temperate, and unspoiled.

It's a no-brainer ... especially for a photographer.

Jim in Sacramento

Jim Fitzgerald
31-Jan-2014, 00:00
Well, we re still researching and I appreciate all of the answers and real concerns.

evan clarke
31-Jan-2014, 05:54
Evan I'm sure you are not the only one with that idea. Finding the "right" place is the key for us. Some of the homes have separate downstairs living quarters with an extra kitchen! How nice would it be to have an entire downstairs for printing, darkroom, gallery and workshop areas. Many possibilities. Workshop students could stay on the property.
My darkroom is the basement but it is about 1800 square feet..an incredible luxury. Would have to die without it.

John Kasaian
31-Jan-2014, 07:40
Check out the wineries! Chatom, Greenstone, Twisted Oak. If the photography biz tanks, at least there's plenty of good drink up there:rolleyes:

Jim Fitzgerald
31-Jan-2014, 07:46
I would die for a real darkroom! My apartment bathroom is all I know. Now, the wine idea is great! Make it a coffee spot in the morning and wine in the afternoon. Nice idea!!

Drew Wiley
31-Jan-2014, 12:48
The San Louie/Paso Robles area used to be dirt cheap, but ever since the wine n' cheese types have moved in, real estate has skyrocketed. Most of the hill country
is still a bargain, unless you're along the I-80 corridor or in some official resort development. ... But some of those resorts have private community water and are
already going dry. A list of desperate towns was published in the paper yesterday, and several are in or near the Mother Lode. ... they won't even be able to bathe
in the lakes, cause some of them are dry too!

31-Jan-2014, 15:52
The San Louie/Paso Robles area used to be dirt cheap, but ever since the wine n' cheese types have moved in, real estate has skyrocketed. Most of the hill country
is still a bargain, unless you're along the I-80 corridor or in some official resort development. ... But some of those resorts have private community water and are
already going dry. A list of desperate towns was published in the paper yesterday, and several are in or near the Mother Lode. ... they won't even be able to bathe
in the lakes, cause some of them are dry too!