California Flying: Go to GOO for gold

April 1, 2008

The Nevada County airport (GOO), also called Grass Valley Airport, is located in the Sierra foothills 50 miles northeast of Sacramento. It should be on every California pilot’s list of must-visit airports. Here’s why.

Up in the piney foothills

Grass Valley Airport is located atop a ridge that is aligned perpendicular to the prevailing winds near the small communities of Grass Valley and Nevada City. The airport is in great shape, fuel prices are reasonable, and the local attractions are compelling and varied. That being said, pilots need to be aware of some non-standard operational items.

The runway is on a two-degree slope—the end of Runway 25 is 90 feet higher than the end of Runway 7. Rising terrain to the east, and the slope dictates that takeoffs are made from Runway 25. The California Department of Forestry flies heavily laden fire suppression airplanes from their base at GOO from June through the end of October. Because of their need to fight fires in a timely manner, they land on 7, take on a load of suppressant, and immediately takeoff on 25. Monitor the CTAF (122.725) and keep an eye peeled for traffic when flying into and out of GOO. Night operations are restricted with landings only on Runway 7 and takeoffs only on Runway 25.

There are three obstruction lights mounted atop poles close by the northern edge of the runway. These obstruction lights are mandated by FAA regulation because of the non-standard terrain fall-off and trees along the north side of the runway. Normal winds flow from south to north and are usually across the runway. The transient aircraft parking area is just to the west of the small terminal building. Cost is $5 a night.

Even though the airport elevation is more than 3,000 feet above sea level, summer temperatures can top 100 degrees F. Beware of decreased aircraft performance because of density altitude when flying into GOO during hot weather. Now for the good stuff. One local pilot said, “It’s one of the few small airports that’s actually pretty.” As soon as you land, you’ll understand what he is talking about.

Two towns

Tall pine trees cover the hills and valleys of Nevada County. Buildings in each of the little towns seem to crawl up the hillsides from valley roads. Enterprise and Hertz both provide rental car services so visiting pilots can drive down off the airport ridge and go to Grass Valley, or uphill to Nevada City. They’re only four miles apart. Skiers often fly into GOO, rent a car, and drive up State Highway 20 to ski areas such as Sugar Bowl, Soda Springs, Boreal, and NorthStar.

Both Grass Valley and Nevada City are small enough to be walkable—each chamber of commerce prints walking-tour pamphlets that highlight the local historic landmarks. Both towns were formed during the middle of the nineteenth century and many of the local buildings date from that era. There are treasures aplenty for history and gold mining buffs within a few miles of the airport.

Nevada City historical sites include Firehouse Museum #1, the Miners Foundry Cultural Center, the Nevada County Narrow Gauge Railroad and Transport Museum, and the Nevada Theater, an 1865 brick structure that is the oldest building in the state. Many of the Victorian-era homes have been converted into bed-and-breakfast establishments, which provide modern visitors with an opportunity to imagine what a comfortable home of the nineteenth century must have been like. Three additional resources in Nevada City—the Nevada County library Foley branch, the Searls Historical library, and the California Gold Jewelry store—contain country records, photographs, newspapers, and manuscripts relating to the history of the area.

Dining possibilities cover a wide spectrum with Szechuan, steak and seafood, deli items, organic, Thai, sushi, and Mexican restaurants filling the bill.

Grass Valley is the bigger of the two towns. This walking tour includes the art deco Del Oro Theater, the homes of famous nineteenth century entertainers Lola Montez and Lotta Crabtree, as well as the Emmanuel Episcopal Church, which was built in 1858. Other mid-nineteenth century structures include the William Campbell residence (now the Swan-Levine house bed and breakfast), the Coleman house, the Hotel de France, and the Beatty House-Quick Building. The walking tour covers 47 different buildings.

The Holbrooke Hotel in Grass Valley and the National Hotel in Nevada City date back more than 130 years and are listed on the National Registry of Historic Places. Both offer visitors the opportunity to spend time in the same rooms as some of the most famous and infamous names in western history. The Holbrooke claims that its Golden Gate room holds the honor of being the longest continuously operating bar west of the Mississippi.

Gold mines and outdoor adventures

There are four state parks in Nevada County. The South Yuba River State Park at Bridgeport is California’s first river corridor park. It’s located along a 20-mile corridor of the south Yuba River. It’s a great spot for river swimming and kayaking, and is home to the longest single-span combination truss/arch covered wooden bridge in the country.

The Malakkoff Diggins state historical park contains more than 3,000 acres of oak woodlands, pine forest, and meadows. It is the site of the largest hydraulic mining pit in California and the restored Gold Rush village of North Bloomington.

The Empire Mine State historic park is located a few miles southwest of Grass Valley. This 800-acre park shows how miners from the tin and copper mines of Cornwall, England, worked vertical or inclined shafts sunk deep into the Earth’s surface. More than 5.8 million ounces of gold were extracted from 367 miles of underground passages.

Where?

Nevada City and Grass Valley are located on the western slope of the Northern Sierra Nevada, midway between Sacramento and Lake Tahoe, on State Route 49, “The Golden Chain Highway.”

Adjacent to the mine exhibit is an English Manor cottage used on occasion by the Bourn family who owned the mine from 1877 until 1929. The cottage sits amidst 13 acres of gardens that feature historic floral specimens from around the globe. Local nurseries sell plants that grow in the garden.

This doesn’t begin to cover all the attractions in Nevada County. There are more museums, there are wineries, and biking, riding, and hiking trails, in addition to a long and varied calendar of events planned for 2008. There are golf courses, a thriving local theater scene, the Sierra story telling festival in late July, and both Victorian Christmas and Cornish Christmas celebrations beginning just after Thanksgiving. For a complete list of events or a visitor’s guide to the area go to either the Grass Valley Chamber of Commerce or the Nevada City Chamber of Commerce.

E-mail the author at steve.ells@aopa.org.