The term "Mother Lode," sometimes used to describe sites of the original California Gold Rush mining settlements, is a misnomer. The Mother Lode is actually the rich vein of gold ore that runs from Georgetown, near Placerville, to Mormon Bar, southeast of Mariposa. The mines north of this area extended to Sierra City, the southern mines terminated at Coarsegold. The term “Gold Country” is now used commonly to inclusively describe this entire almost 300 mile long area.
The snow melt-off on the western side of the Sierra Nevada range trickles into small creeks and becomes larger streams traversing the Gold Country in a southwesterly direction. These eventually join the Sacramento River north of the Delta, the San Joaquin River to the south, and both rivers empty at the Delta's mouth into Suisun Bay, an estuary of San Francisco Bay.
After the gold seekers made their way to San Francisco, the Sacramento and San Joaquin were the most efficient means of transport for miners and their supplies, and aspiring entrepreneurs and their wares. The waters of the rivers' tributaries yielded the gold found so plentifully during the first few years of the Gold Rush.