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In an era when tourism has exploded like the American defecit of the 1980's, it has become harder and harder to find a good vacation spot. But I will let you in a little secret, I know a great place to take a vacation. This vacation spot, near Yosimite National Park, is called Columbia State Park, 4 miles directly north of Sonora, California. Trust me, it is a great place to take the family in the summertime (average 84 degrees Fahrenheit).

Columbia, which is in the heart of the Mother Lode (Gold mining in the Sierra Nevada's), was established in 1850. By one month into its early existence, over 6,000 settlers had taken camp there. By 1852, Columbia had over 150 stores, including a lot of saloons. Today, Columbia is unique because it is not only a state park, but also a living community. Many people have established a business, and possibly, a home within the city limits of Columbia.

When visiting Columbia, I recommend staying at one of two places. You can either stay at one of the two hotels located in the state park, the Columbia City Hotel and the Fallon Hotel, or stay at the Marbel Quarry RV Park. The 10 rooms at the Columbia City Hotel range from $115 to $95 per night, while the 14 rooms at the Fallon Hotel range from $115 to as low as $65 per night. Located in the center of historic downtown Columbia, it places you in the middle of all the excitement.

Now, if you are looking for a more rustic, down to earth scene, then the Marble Quarry RV Park is perfect for you. The RV park directly adjacent to Columbia is only 1/4 mile away from the park (with a simple trail to lead you directly to the park), making it ideal for the person with a little less cash. For a tent rate, the price is only $20, for a standard rate, the price is (water and electric hook-ups) $24.95, and for a full rate, the price is (water, electric, sewer, and TV hook-ups) $28.75 (all prices are for two people). It also offers much of its own enjoyment for its customers including: a volleyball court, horseshoes, a playground (for the children), and their famous marble quarry.

Columbia State Park offers as much excitement as one person can handle. The entrance to the park is free of charge, allowing the cutomer to look at historic downtown Columbia for free. But there is a small charge for most attractions. The three main attractions at Columbia are the paning for gold, tours of the park and the mines, and the stage coach ride.

When first arriving in the vistors' parking lot at Columbia, the first thing you come across is the paning for gold attraction. There is a small fee, but you get to keep whatever gold you are able to pan.

As for the tour guides, it lasts about 45 minutes, and cost 2 dollars per person. It takes you on a tour on all of the historic structures of Columbia State Park and the places where gold was mined.

Maybe the most exciting attraction in Columbia is the stage coach ride. It takes the customer on a wild ride, taking them back to the 1850's, when California was the wild, wild west. The ride starts at the stage coach business office in downtown Columbia. Then it takes the customer on a ride throughout the outskirts and wildernes of Columbia. This ride is a must if you want to feel the true excitement Columbia offers its customer.

If I had to rake this vacation on a scale of 1-10, 1 being the worst, and 10 being the best, I would give Columbia State Park a 9. Basically, to pass up Columbia would be to pass up perhaps the best opportunity to see how life really was in the wild west.