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Introducing Dunsmuir

If for no other reason, stop here to quench your thirst at the public fountain. This could easily be - as locals claim - ‘the best water on earth.’ And while you’re at it, stay and eat. Surprisingly, tiny Dunsmuir has a better selection of restaurants than anywhere else in the region.

Built by Central Pacific Railroad, Dunsmuir was originally named Pusher, for the auxiliary ‘pusher’ engines that muscled the heavy steam engines up the steep mountain grade. In 1886 Canadian coal baron Alexander Dunsmuir came to Pusher and was so enchanted that he promised the people a fountain if they would name the town after him. The fountain stands in the park today.

A more apt name for the town may have been Phoenix however. Rising from the ashes (sometimes literally), this town has survived and triumphed over mythic-sized woes. Over the past century Dunsmuir has been subjected to avalanche, fire and flood; and in 1991, a toxic railroad spill damaged the river’s aquatic life and people’s morale. Long since cleaned up, the river has been restored to pristine levels and the community now prospers like never before.

Today artists, naturalists, urban refugees and native Dunsmuirians make up a thriving community. In its bawdy Gold Rush heyday five saloons and three brothels crowded downtown. Today shops, cafés, restaurants and galleries line Dunsmuir and Sacramento Aves.

The Dunsmuir Chamber of Commerce (530-235-2177, 800-386-7684; www.dunsmuir.com; 4118 Pine St; 10am-4pm Mon-Sat, noon-4pm Sun) has free maps, walking-guide pamphlets and excellent information on outdoors recreation.