Madera County Museums: You Gotta See 'Em.

Museums specializing in everything from ancient fossils to the gold rush are located through California's Gateway to Yosemite.

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A Wooly Mammoth skull hanging in the Fossil Discovery Center in Chowchilla

All roads lead to Raymond.

Madera County, CA (Vocus) April 14, 2010

This region of central California, known as California’s Gateway to Yosemite, is rich in history. Numerous museums throughout Madera County highlight the history, and prehistory, of the region. With the area’s busy season approaching, museums are gearing up for another great year, which includes an all new facility opening soon.

Madera County is a diverse region, with fertile farmlands in the west, turning to rolling hills with green grasses and sprawling oaks, before rising to the foothills of the mighty Sierra Nevada with towering pines. The history is almost as diverse as the scenery, as people came to the region to make their fortunes in gold or logging.

It’s logging that helped make the county’s capital, Madera, become a bustling community it is today. At the turn of the century, Madera was the gathering point for wood felled in the Sierra National Forest in the eastern half of the county. The city, and county’s name, is even Spanish for Lumber.

The Madera County Courthouse Museum walks guests through life at the turn of the century in the fledgling community. Built in the county’s original courthouse, this beautiful granite structure is full of photos, items and more documenting life in the region. From the miners who traveled through, to the lumberjacks who road the flume down from the mountains, each story is told in riveting fashion.

The county’s newest museum is also the one that goes furthest back in time. Opening this June, the Fossil Discovery Center in Chowchilla will display numerous fossils discovered on site. The region is home to the largest Pleistocene era fossil beds in the country, with numerous saber toothed cats, wooly mammoths and other prehistoric denizens on display. The museum has a Facebook page with videos and updates on the center’s development, which had a sneak preview for a lucky few in April. http://www.facebook.com/?ref=home#!/pages/Chowchilla-CA/Fossil-Discovery-Center-of-Madera-County/309947328372?ref=ts

Oakhurst, located just 14 miles south of the popular Highway 41 entrance in to Yosemite National Park, has several museums. The Children’s Museum of the Sierra is a hands-on learning center for kids aged 2-12, although parents are welcome. The exhibits and programs are designed to encourage visitors to learn by doing. The exhibits expose kids to various fields, from medical to natural history, in a fun and engaging manner. http://www.childrensmuseumofthesierra.org/

Fresno Flats Historic Village and Park recaptures the flavor of 19th Century life in the Sierra Nevada foothills and mountains of Central California. People came to the region not just for gold, but to build lives and families are farmers, merchants and more. http://www.fresnoflatsmuseum.org.

The Little Church on the Hill began as the only place of worship in Fresno Flats in 1896. The church was moved to the Oakhill Cemetery in 1957. There it remains in use, and as one of the most photographed spots in the foothills. This historic structure has stood for over 100 years, and recent efforts from local philanthropists have ensured it will stand for 100 more. http://www.southyosemitemuseums.org/lcoh.

The Wild Wonderful King Vintage Museum has been called a step back in time. It recently played host to the Abraham Lincoln: Self Made in America traveling exhibit, one of only four museums in all of California to hold the display. Year round, however, the museum has fashions, military uniforms, shoes, war memorabilia and more from as far back as the 1700s. http://www.kingvintagemuseum.org.

Just south of Oakhurst is the small community of Coarsegold. Named after the coarse gold found in the nearby streams, this town is home to the Coarsegold Historic Museum, home to a collection of artifacts and buildings dating back to the 1800s. One of the buildings on the site is a packed-adobe structure that is more than 110 years old. The building served as a way station for stages before the development of Highway 41. http://www.coarsegoldhistoricmuseum.org

Those interested in the tribal history of the region can visit the Sierra Mono Indian Museum in North Fork. This small mountain community, also known for being the exact geographic center of California, holds this museum that is an impressive display of traditional Native American arts, wildlife dioramas and more. An annual Pow Wow is held the first week every August, an excellent chance to see tribal life firsthand. http://www.sierramonomuseum.org.

The even small community of Raymond, located south west of Oakhurst, is home to the Charles Miller House. Built in 1886 and listed in the California registry of historic places, this board and batten homestead answers why in 1886 and 1946, people often said “All roads lead to Raymond.” http://www.southyosemitemuseums.org/rm.

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