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Mariposa Butterfly Festival will take flight May 1 to 3

Mariposa is the Spanish word for "butterfly," and the town's butterfly theme is ubiquitous: Colorful butterflies can be found on street murals and sidewalks, in store window displays and on countless business logos.

May 1 to 3, the town will host its annual Mariposa Butterfly Festival. There will be live butterfly releases, a parade, art show, butterfly hat contest and live music. To make sure the courthouse's vintage clock rings throughout the weekend, the clock will be hand-wound on Friday afternoon and again first thing Monday morning.

Indeed, visitors to the butterfly fest will find that Mariposa, 45 miles southwest of Yosemite Valley on California 140, is a step back in time in many ways. There's that clock, of course. Any county that sends an employee up two ladders into a county courthouse attic so he can hand-crank a clock from the 1800s must take its heritage pretty seriously.

Three times a week, maintenance worker Matt McElligott makes his way to the top to hand-wind a clock that can be heard throughout town.

"I take it as a privilege because it's such a special, one-of-a-kind thing," McElligott says of his old-fashioned chore.

Despite being the county seat, the town of Mariposa has no stoplight. There's one fast-food restaurant (a Burger King) and not a Starbucks in sight. Mariposa revolves around tourists coming to and from Yosemite National Park.

The town's bustling Main Street has a variety of antique and gift shops sandwiched between clusters of hotels. Visiting from Germany, Harald and his wife, Anja, stopped in Mariposa for lunch while on their way to Yosemite.

"It's a nice little charming place," he says after photographing some old buildings.The town offers places to eat on any budget. Options range from a bean and cheese burrito at Sal's taco truck ($1.25) to roasted garlic cream scallops ($22) and lemon mousse ($5) at stylish Savoury's.

Across the street, the newly opened Butterfly Cafe serves a Half Dome Burger ($8.95) with avocado, bacon and blue cheese.

The courthouse itself is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and was once photographed by Ansel Adams.

The Mariposa County Chamber of Commerce sponsors free weekend tours of the courthouse starting in mid-May. For those in search of more history, Mariposa has two museums. The California State Mining and Mineral Museum at the Mariposa Fairgrounds is a state park that showcases minerals from around the world. Highlights include the Fricot Nugget, the largest existing piece of crystallized gold from California's Gold Rush, and a display of benitoite, the state's official gem.

In the center of town, the Mariposa Museum and History Center -- focusing on Mariposa's rich Gold Rush history -- receives visitors from around the globe.

"A trip to the past!" one Los Angeles resident wrote in the museum's guestbook. Another visitor referred to the museum as a time machine.

During the Mariposa Butterfly Festival, the museum will host a "pioneer fashion show" featuring Gold Rush-era clothing along with a "quilt turning," where the history behind century-old quilts will be told.

Rosa Vasquez-Wenrich and her husband, both retired Los Angeles County deputy sheriffs, moved to Mariposa in 2003. For them, part of the town's appeal is that it's peaceful and safe. "Lately, most of the break-ins at homes have been because of the bears," she says with a laugh.

Mariposa Butterfly Festival takes place throughout the day Friday, May 1, through Sunday, May 3. Festivities: live butterfly releases, parade, art show, butterfly hat contest, car show, live entertainment and more. Admission: Free. Information: (209) 966-3232,

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