"I built the fort in 1839 for people like you who are weary travelers," said Mr. Sutter, who was played by Carlos Barrera. Nearby stood Mariano Vallejo, played by Diego Ramirez. Sutter's friend John Bidwell, played by Vincent Xiong, occasionally turned to whisper with a friend in Hmong.
Scampering from one station to another around the fort, they heard about the travails of covered-wagon travelers, the economics of the hide trade, the mechanics of turning cattle fat into candles and soap.
For The Record
Los Angeles Times Tuesday, July 01, 2008 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 59 words Type of Material: Correction
Mexican California: An article in Sunday's Travel section said gold was discovered at Sutter's Mill in 1849; it was discovered in 1848. An accompanying article stated that Pio Pico became the first native-born governor of Alta California under Mexican control in 1832. The first native-born governor of Mexican Alta California was Luis Antonio Arguello, who took office in 1822.
For The Record
Los Angeles Times Sunday, July 06, 2008 Home Edition Travel Part L Page 3 Features Desk 1 inches; 60 words Type of Material: Correction
Mexican California: A June 29 article incorrectly reported that gold was found in 1849 at Sutter's Mill; it was found in 1848. A sidebar box stated that Pio Pico became the first native-born governor of Alta California under Mexican control in 1832. The first native-born governor of Mexican Alta California was actually Luis Antonio Arguello, who took office in 1822.
I've never seen California's 19th and 21st centuries as productively entangled. But I could only spend so much time in Sacramento, because I was due in the capital, 190 miles away.
DAY 3: MONTEREY
The Spanish made Monterey capital of their California, and by the time Mexico took over (the news took several months in arriving) it was the largest non-Indian community in California, with about 400 residents. Monterey still held on to its starring role.
But other things changed. The Spanish had scorned immigration and visits from foreign ships. The Mexicans welcomed both.
"It was the Mexican period that opened up the country," says Jim Conway, museum and cultural arts manager for the city of Monterey.
The town held on to enough clout to host California's first constitutional convention in Colton Hall -- which the city keeps open for visitors -- but once the Gold Rush was on, everything slowed. Nobody had much reason to "improve" or knock down the old adobes, so many survived, and the state runs nearly a dozen of them as Monterey State Historic Park.
As in Sonoma, the buildings are scattered around the old part of town, so you can meander between old and new. My hotel, the Hotel Pacific, was neighbored on one side by the state's first theater, on the other by an 1840s home. Heading into town from the northeast, I paused to prowl around San Juan Bautista, a 1797 mission and a sleepy, artsy main drag .
But the Monterey waterfront was key to everything in the old days, and to a degree it still is. With museums, marina views and cloud-cloaked hills all around, it's a fascinating exercise to confront the 1827 Custom House, where every arriving ship's captain needed to report.
This is where California met the world. It's also where I started my tour of the adobes. If you show up on a Wednesday, as I did, you can follow a state park guide through three in a row. Guide John Klein led us first into the Casa Soberanes, a two-story relic that stands behind a blue gate.
Next came the Larkin House, another two-story structure, this one built by the merchant who became the only man to serve as American consul to Mexican California. (Many consider the Larkin place the prototype for the Monterey colonial architectural style.)
Finally, we prowled the Cooper Molera Adobe, built by a man from New England who married into a Mexican family. It's not quite like time travel to poke through these buildings, because the parks people have left in furniture from various decades, up through the 1970s. (Many of the homes were in private hands until a few decades ago.) But just as in Sonoma, Petaluma and Sacramento, if you tread those groaning floorboards between thick adobe walls, you get a whiff of what this state used to be.
The Asian art and furniture remind you how much easier it was to reach Asia than it was to reach Europe. The art reminds you how Catholicism endured, even as the missions crumbled. The harps and fiddles remind you that if you wanted a tune, you had to pluck it out yourself.
And if those drawing-room recitals sound rather more sophisticated than the thumping sounds emanating from CDs and MP3s today, keep in mind that these same Californians turned out in droves to bet and cheer fights-to-the-death between bears and bulls.
The past, as some foreigner once said, is a different country. And ours really is.
Begin text of infobox
1769-1823: Led by Junipero Serra, Franciscan missionaries from Spain establish missions in Alta California, from San Diego (1769) to Sonoma (1823).
1821: After a decade of battles, Mexico wins independence from Spain. News reaches California in April 1822.
1828: Mexico allows California's governor to grant land to private owners. Over 20 years, those governors sell and hand out more than 8 million acres to military men, well-connected families and eager entrepreneurs.
1832: Pio Pico, born at the Mission San Gabriel to parents of European, African and Native American ancestry, becomes the first native-born governor. He serves briefly, then again from 1845 to 1846.
1833: Mexico secularizes the missions, stripping the missionaries of their land and cattle. As ranchers take over former missions, a global market grows for cattle hides (also known as "California bank notes") and tallow (cattle fat) for soap and candles.