Finding gold, God, and the Sierra Garden of Eden in California’s Gold Country.
On a recent trip through Gold Country, I not only found gold, I also found God…hiding in some bushes.
On the slopes of the Sierra foothills, nestled among aging oaks and soaring pine trees sits Alta Sierra Biblical Gardens, a quiet place for meditation, reflection and retreat. Maps to the gardens and trails can be found along the bridge near the entrance.
The non-denominational gardens operate as a non-profit organization.
Donations, endowments, and income from renting out the Gardens for special events (weddings, baptisms and memorial services) assist with the maintenance and care of the property.
Jesus is a knocking, are you ready to let him in?
The Gardens were first opened in May of 1976, by John and Verna Sommer.
John’s vision to bring the light of Jesus to the mountain began after watching a sunset here in June of 1971.
Earlier that morning he felt an inner desire to leave his home in Sacramento and drive to the foothills near Grass Valley to look for a parcel of land.
He searched all day but saw nothing that met up to his expectations.
As he was heading home something urged him to stop at a real estate office along the way, where a young man was just closing the office.
John apologized, saying he was sorry to be so late, when the man stopped him and said, “I’ve been waiting for you.” After touring the property at sunset, John knew he had found the place he was looking for.
Ten days later, the property was in escrow and John began to transform it into the lush biblically themed gardens it is today.
In 1996, Paula and Maskey Heath of Nevada City, CA visited the gardens for the first time and fell in love with the property.
As they were leaving they saw a for sale sign and within three days they met with the Sommers, made an offer for the property, and eventually became the new owners of Alta Sierra Biblical Gardens.
The self-guided walking tour takes approximately 1 1/2 hours but I was easily able to complete it in less the 45 minutes since I was the only one there on the day I visited.
I had planned to visit the Gardens on two prior trips through Gold Country but something came up on each of those trips that forced me to cancel.
On my most recent road trip through the area, I left my Airstream Airbnb in Sonora, CA at 5am on a weekday morning in order to arrive at the Gardens when they opened at 7am. After leaving the Gardens, I was able to spend the rest of the day exploring Gold Country as I made my way back to my Airbnb. I’ll share those adventures with you here in future posts and also on my Vimeo channel, which you should be following if you’re not doing so already.
There’s another large bridge along the trail that crosses Rattlesnake Creek. Halfway across the bridge is a guest book.
Make sure you take the time to say a few words before continuing on to “heaven.”
Speculations about symbolism in Leonardo da Vinci’s “The Last Supper” are plentiful. For example, many scholars have discussed the meaning of the spilled salt container near Judas’s elbow. Spilled salt could symbolize bad luck, loss of religion, or refer to Jesus as the salt of the earth but if you ask me, I think Judas probably just spilt the f*cking salt.
Not sure why this particular Jesus was placed behind a chain link fence but you’ll be happy to know that the rest of the Jesuses remained fence free for the remainder of the hike.
Words of Wisdom
Are you ready?
But wait, there’s more…loud noises and BBQ’s are also not allowed, all children must be accompanied by adults at all times, all trash must be removed, flowers must not be picked, all guests must remain on the paths and no one is allowed to play in the creek. Worried about forgetting any of the above rules while visiting Alta Sierra Biblical Gardens? Don’t worry, there are signs posted around every corner plus the owners will be happy to remind you if they see you break any of the rules via their CCTV system hidden throughout the property. Beware, God isn’t the only one watching.
Endowments and donations given in memory of loved ones can be found throughout the property and go towards the ongoing development and maintenance of the gardens.
A beautiful outdoor chapel sits near the entrance.
It can accommodate up to 150 people and is available for memorials, weddings, and baptisms. Book now!
The chapel’s alter includes white picket fencing, framed stained glass windows and a suspended cross.
You know what the say about big hands don’t you? Good, keep it to yourself, we’ve got enough sinners around here already.
Jesus — Now with wings!
No need to drive all the way to Kentucky to see the Ark Encounter. This version is much more closer to home and a hell of a lot cuter if you ask me.
The original owners did a pretty good job of clearing out most of the poison oak along the trails but it’s pretty much growing everywhere else, so be careful. Jesus may be able to save your soul but he’s probably not going to make that rash you got any less painful if you disobey the rules and stray off trail.
The line for sinners starts here.
Judas and the Pharisees
It may sound strange but this was probably one of the most beautiful Crucifixion displays I’ve ever seen. The former Baptist child in me definitely had a little moment here.
Not what I expected heaven to look like…
…especially since it was located right next to the bathrooms but you know what, it sure felt like heaven after using them.
Garden confessional. Be careful, God may not be the only one who’s listening.
“The 11 circuit labyrinth is replicated from the Chartres Cathedral Labyrinth in France built in the 13th century. The labyrinth is an archetype, a Divine imprint, of wholeness. Walking the Labyrinth is an act of pilgrimage, a moving meditation or prayer path. It becomes a metaphor for the life journey allowing us to deepen personal experience and conscious contact with the Divine. The walk is also an interfaith, shared journey which builds community and opens us to healing and growth.” – Source
Alta Sierra Biblical Gardens is open sunrise to sunset daily however, they are closed during the winter months so please call (530) 272-1363 to verify the hours prior to your visit.
Driving Directions: From I-80 take CA-49 east for approximately 17 miles and then turn left on Auburn Road. Alta Sierra Biblical Gardens are located on your right in about .7 miles @ 16343 Auburn Rd.
Grass Valley, CA 95949