Tiny trailering; see the country in small, cozy travel trailer!

Friends Christine and Steve Lewis and dog Alice with their T@B trailer.

Tiny trailering; see the country in small, cozy travel trailer!

Our classic ’64 Serro Scotty in Yosemite; these other trailers are just a bit larger and heavier than our trailer.

My spouse and I have spent the last 10 years or so crossing the US and Canada using three tiny travel trailers – two of them the tiniest, teardrop trailers – and more recently, a 13 foot ‘64 Scotty classic trailer. As we’ve grown older, we tired of the hassle of tent camping compounded by my wife’s fear of bears tearing through the side of the tent. Small hard-sided trailers solved both those problems; our trailers are packed and ready to go but for tossing a few food items on board, and it would take a pretty crazed bear to be able to break into either of them.

With spring fast approaching, here are some suggestions for newer tiny trailers that fill the bill on comfort, coolness, frugal trailering and relatively inexpensive purchase prices. All of them are available locally and used versions can be found on Craigslist or eBay.

Favorites, from discussions with fellow campers in campgrounds and several friends or family who own them, include T@B, R-pod, Casita and A-liner trailers. The first three trailers range in length from about 17 to 20 feet, while the A-liner is a hard-sided pop-up trailer.

Spouse Tim, married to my cousin Anne, relaxes by their R-pod by Forest River.

These tiny trailers share common attributes; they are small, easy to maneuver into tight campsites, can be towed with many four and most six cylinder vehicles (yielding pretty fair gas mileage) and offer creature comforts for up to a family of four. For retiree couples like us – plenty of room to spare!

If purchased new, these trailers cost from the high-teens to mid-$20,000 range, depending on length and options. Most have inside bathrooms, with showers and inside-kitchens. If you’re willing to search online, you can find used versions of these trailers at 25 to 40% discount compared to buying new.

T@B trailers have been around for well over 10 years, and are one of our favorites in campgrounds, both based on their retro look and lots of positive owner comments. Friends Steve and Christine Lewis of Carmichael, CA, travel as a twosome with one big dog in a T@B trailer towed with a six-cylinder Toyota SUV. I asked Steve how they came to purchase their trailer a year ago. Steve notes, “We’ve been kicking tires on trailers for years; we just saw this one and kind of fell for it, just the right size, we thought. We purchased from Folsom Lake RV and liked the idea of a new trailer”.

Another R-pod trailer, spotted in Bryce Canyon National Park.

He added, “It’s cute and gets lots of looks in campgrounds. We like the size of 18 feet which is the maximum for a lot of special camp sites like DL Bliss on Lake Tahoe. We both thought this was the smallest self-contained trailer that actually is practical. Lastly and really important is we can park it alongside our house in not all that big a space”.

A newer Casita fiberglas trailer, with an Airstream profile, spotted in the Lake Tahoe area.

R-pod trailers (built by Forest River) are also a favorite, and offer the additional space amenity of slide-outs. My cousin Anne Linton and husband Tim of Bend, OR, travel both in sunny summertime and cold seasons with several dogs.  Anne notes, “We went to an RV show and really loved the R-pod 179 with slideout (at almost 18 feet, the slideout gives them even more internal room). We have found the R-pod light and easy to transport. We also wanted a kitchen and bathroom inside so the really small trailers were not enough. When we bought it we had two dogs so needed a little extra space; we absolutely love it as a four-season trailer!”.

Casita trailers are new fiberglass trailers, looking a bit like the classic Airstream shape.  Several owners have raved about their Casitas, including Bill Palmer, happy to show off his trailer in Bryce Canyon National Park, noting he tows with a six-cylinder Toyota Tacoma pickup. Likewise, we have met owners delighted with hard-sided pop=ups like the A-liner – most of them also noting that they fit handily into their garages when not in use.

A newer A-Liner Ranger model, a hard-sided pop-up trailer, spotted in Death Valley National Park. Nice thing about these trailers – they fit in your garage!

Before purchasing a new or used trailer, be sure your intended tow vehicle can handle the weight of both trailer and the contents of the tow vehicle.  As example, if your Suburu is rated at 2500 lbs. tow capability, and your trailer weighs 1800 pounds, when its loaded with camp goods and you pile two adults and additional camp items in the car – you may exceed the car’s tow abilities.

Like our 13 foot classic Scotty, all of these trailers fit easily into national park and national forest campgrounds, often built 50 or more years ago when most trailers were no longer than 20-some feet. Hence, the big modern behemoths can’t get into some of the nicest spots. I’ve always been aghast to see a huge pick-up pulling a 36 foot fifth wheel arrive, disgorging two adults no larger than the two of us. I always wonder what in the world they need all that extra room for? And, the smaller trailers allow close to 20 miles per gallon from the tow vehicles, while the giants get – maybe – 6 to 8 MPG.

For more info: Local dealers like Pan Pacific Trailers in French Camp carry the R-Pod, tent-trailers and smaller tear-drop trailers; several dealers in Sacramento like Folsom Lake RV offer more choices including the T@B and Casita lines. For purchasing used, small campers, see Craigslist or eBay (put up a daily search for “classic trailer”).

Read more from Tim Viall’s travel blog, follow him on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter; or, email him at tviall@msn.com. Happy travels in your world!

Posted in Alaska, Canada, Eastern, Canada, Western, Central California, East Coast US, Europe, Hawaii, Midwest US, Mountain West (Montana, Wyoming, Utah, Colorado), Northern California, Pacific Northwest USA (Oregon, Washington, Idaho), Sacramento/Capitol region, San Francisco Bay Area, Sierra Nevada, Southeast US, Southern California, Southwest USA (Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico, Texas), Stockton/San Joaquin County, Teardrop and tiny travel trailers | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

On-line travel features in the Record offer a 300+ destinations and travel topics!

Search on-line travel features in the Record; a huge variety of destinations and travel topics!

Did you know the Record offers a wide variety of travel features, approaching 300 articles, which can be selected by “Category” (various portions of the USA and Canada)?

Hence, you can go to the Stockton Record’s blog site, choose ‘Valley Travel: Little Places That I Know’, go to the upper right-hand corner of my home page (under my winsome picture, as you will see, above), and you’ll find “Categories”.

You’ll find this portion of my blog in upper right hand area of the blog home page.

Find the “Categories” option in the upper right-hand corner of my travel blog home page, then click on the appropriate selection. Those categories include:

Canada, Eastern,
Canada, Western,
Central California,
East Coast US,
Midwest US,
Mountain West (Montana Wyoming, Utah, Colorado),
Northern California,
Pacific Northwest USA (Oregon, Washington, Idaho),
Sacramento/Capital region,
San Francisco Bay Area,
Sierra Nevada,
Southeast US,
Southern California,
Southwest USA (Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico, Texas),
Stockton/San Joaquin county,
Teardrop and tiny travel trailers,
United States beyond

Hence, if you’re headed to the Pacific Northwest, click that category and you’ll find dozens of articles on places and special sites in Oregon, Washington and Idaho. If you have a hot spot for teardrop and tiny travel trailers, click that category for scores of articles about touring the US and Canada in tiny, efficient travel trailers. Freshen your travel planning with advice on just those places you want to go, places you’d like to get to, or modes of travel! Just into a New Year; time to freshen up your travel “bucket list”!

Read more from Tim Viall’s travel blog, follow him on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter; or, email him at tviall@msn.com. Happy travels in your world!

Posted in Alaska, Canada, Eastern, Canada, Western, Central California, East Coast US, Europe, Hawaii, Midwest US, Mountain West (Montana, Wyoming, Utah, Colorado), Northern California, Pacific Northwest USA (Oregon, Washington, Idaho), Sacramento/Capitol region, San Francisco Bay Area, Sierra Nevada, Southeast US, Southern California, Southwest USA (Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico, Texas), Stockton/San Joaquin County, Teardrop and tiny travel trailers, United States beyond! | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Dog sled adventures; Pull power…traveling at the speed of dog!

We spotted this Dog Sled Adventures kennel truck in front of Whitefish Mountain Lodge a year ago; the friendly huskies peeking out invite a dog sled adventure!

Adventures in a Montana dog sled; awesome pull power, traveling at the speed of dog!

Dog Sled Adventure's huskies being hooked to the tow rope of our sled before our lively ride through Montana's Stillwater State Forest.

A year earlier, we’d seen the kennel truck, with dog sled strapped to the top, of Dog Sled Adventures parked in front of Whitefish Mountain Lodge, Whitefish, MT. Five friendly sled dogs poked their heads out of the side of the truck, eager for attention. I’d snapped a picture, and happily, the name and phone number of the operation was on the back of the truck. Prior to this visit to Whitefish, MT, an alpine and cross-country skiing mecca and gateway to Glacier National Park (more on those attributes below), we called the number and booked our adventure.

Another team of sled dogs being hooked up to a second sled.

Dog Sled Adventures is located in the Stillwater State Forest, 20 miles northwest of Whitefish in foothills of the Rockies. From Whitefish we passed through deep dark forest and I was reminded of the adventure novel by Jack London, Call of the Wild, set in the Yukon during the Klondike gold rush of the 1890s when strong sled dogs were in high demand. The central character in the novel is a dog named Buck, able to pull many times his weight in deep snows.

As we navigate the half mile driveway to Dog Sled Adventures compound, scores of sled dogs put up wolf-like howls and yelps. They recognize visitors and the coming opportunity to hit the trail.

Owners Jeff and Signa Ulsamer greet our group of three couples, adding insight about their 130 dogs, huskies and husky mixes. Jeff calls them “Alaskan huskies, a mix of husky, wolf, greyhound and shepherd – mutts. About 40% of our dogs are rescue dogs”. Musher Seth adds, “they love to run and pull sleds, that’s why they are so happy to see you folks”. The dogs will prove both friendly and marvelously high-energy.

Susan and I warming up in the lodge before our sled ride.

Jeff, Signa and Seth will be our mushers today, and they and another handler prepare three 100 pound dog sleds, attaching 9 to 10 huskies to each sled. It’s almost unreal the energy these dogs exhibit, leaping 3 feet off the ground, pulling at the tethered sleds, eager to hit the trail. We are bundled into the Sled, wrapped In blankets under an elk robe, hands free to take pictures.

Our sled, with Jeff as musher, hits the trail with his command “I-eeep! Good dogs!” Our team with nine eager huskies quickly accelerates, led by Labou and Kodiak, with team members Manny, Lady, Brownie, Lurch and several more. Lurch is the oldest, age 15, and brings up the right rear with his long and powerful legs.

As we speedily cover the 12+ mile track, Jeff shares “dogs are retired at age 17; we have about 30 retired dogs; since they get regular exercise and high-protein diet, many of these dogs live to be older than 20. At the end of the run, dogs get hot meat broth, and at day’s end, larger dogs get three pounds of meat and fish, smaller dogs two pounds”. The operation requires 120,000 pounds of meat and fish yearly.

In business for 39 years, 29 years in Olney, Jeff adds, “in an average year we do about 500 sled trips, last year was an exceptional snow year and we did 880! We can load our large sled with a family of four, using additional dogs to pull it”.

This photo falls short in representing the exhilaration of rounding a bend doing 20 MPH behind a lively team of energized dogs, looking forward to their after-ride snack of warm meat broth! The hot chocolate and cookies awaiting us were also properly motivational!



The trail through the Stillwater State Forest, 12+ miles, looks almost like a bobsled track, about 5 feet wide with 3 foot curved sides sloping up to snow level. The forest, thick with towering firs and spruce, is home to wolves, elk, deer, moose, eagles and coyotes. The sled dogs, working as a team, are trained to follow the lead dog – not to chase after wildlife they might spot in the adjoining woods.

Owner Jeff Ulsamer mushes a team of huskies.

Each of our team’s nine dogs can pull his or her own weight, so two adults, the musher and 100 pound sled is no problem.  As we charge down hills hitting speeds over 20 MPH (“the speed of dog”, notes Jeff), I’m thankful Jeff has a brake to slow the sled! As we charge back to the kennel area, the team looks forward to their hot meat broth – eager for a mid-day snack. They’ll get their several pounds of meat and fish at the end of the day.

For us sled passengers, we are exhilarated by such a memorable afternoon; hot chocolate and home baked oatmeal cookies are a fitting end to our adventure, sitting around the fire and exchanging “tall tails” with Jeff. As to an adventure by dog sled; if you get the chance to take a tour, do it!

Whitefish Mountain towers over the town of Whitefish, MT.

Whitefish lies at the foot of Whitefish Mountain, a major ski resort offering over 100 runs, 2500 vertical feet and an almost 5 month ski season. We’re staying at the Grouse Mountain Lodge, wrapped on two sides by Glacier Nordic Center, offering miles of scenic cross-country ski trails. Both offer free skiing to adults 70 and over – a big attraction to our group of retired national ski patrollers. Glacier National Park, offering additional cross-country skiing and marvelous views of Lake McDonald and the towering Rockies, lies just 30 miles to the east, a winter wonderland in its own right.

For more information: Dog Sled Adventures, dodsledadventuresmontana.com, 406–881–2275; Whitefish Mountain, skiwhitefish.com; Glacier National Park, nps.gov/glac/; Grouse Mountain Lodge, glacierparkcollection.com.

Yes, we were bundled between blankets and an elk robe in the sled mushed by owner Jeff; the experience was one of life's memorable events!

Glacier National Park's snowy entrance lies just 30 miles east of Whitefish, MT.

Read more from Tim Viall’s travel blog, follow him on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter; or, email him at tviall@msn.com. Happy travels in your world!

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Yellowstone National Park in winter’s majesty

Elk munch grass in Yellowstone Park, just on the edge of town of Gardiner and blocks from the Roosevelt Arch.

Venture into Yellowstone National Park for a huge display of winter’s majesty

A bighorn sheep stares back from his craggy perch outside Yellowstone Park's north entrance.

We just returned from our fifth visit to Yellowstone National Park in the winter; literally no crowds and abundant wildlife in a park blanketed by winter’s majesty. It’s almost the opposite of summer, when huge crowds frighten many of the wildlife into the back country and finding a place to spend the night or camp is virtually impossible. And, spoiler alert, I met my future wife as we were both summer park employees in the late 1960s and we each returned for two additional summers – so Yellowstone and the adjoining Teton National Park have long been favorites.

On this trip we were headed for Whitefish, Montana to ski with a bunch of veteran ski patrol pals; going by way of two sides of the US’s oldest national park, at West Yellowstone and the north entrance of the park at Mammoth Hot Springs, wasn’t much out-of-the-way.

West Yellowstone is 900 miles from San Joaquin County and we prepared for a cold, snowy trip. We have an all-wheel drive SUV, took cable chains and extra blankets, just in case (on a West Yellowstone visit two years ago, overnight temperatures descended to 40 below zero, and even AAA had a hard time helping us get our car started that next morning). We pulled into West Yellowstone, at 6200 feet, to find about 4 feet of snow on the ground, balmy temps in the teens and 20s and a passel of snowmobilers who fan out from the town both into the park and surrounding National Forest land.

Author's spouse Susan beside stuffed grizzly bear in the Stagecoach Inn in West Yellowstone.

The next day, I made to the city’s eastern edge, where I took a cross-country ski track along the Riverside Trail (snowshoes also welcomed), through a snowy forest and to the banks of the lovely Madison River. I could’ve gone further, but I’m not that much of a cross-country skier. From West Yellowstone, one can arrange snowmobile trips or snowcoach trips into the park’s inner-sanctum, such as the Old Faithful area. We spent too cozy nights in the Stagecoach Inn, and dined out at Bullwinkle’s, a lively pub serving savory food, including bison burgers and steaks.

We then journeyed northward, past the huge Big Sky Ski Resort to the town of Bozeman, where I attended school for one year in the late 60s. From there, we turned east 30 miles to Livingston, a quaint, historic railroad town, then 60 miles due south to the town of Gardiner on the northern edge of Yellowstone. We entered the park through the historic Roosevelt Arch, its cornerstone laid by President Theodore Roosevelt in 1903, and followed the road four miles to Mammoth Hot Springs.

Gardiner and Mammoth Hot Springs are wintering grounds for much of the park’s wildlife. This side of the park is at lower elevation than the balance of the park, so less snow makes for easier access for elk and bison to feed on grass.  Just outside the park, we spotted two bighorn sheep on a rocky escarpment, scores of elk both inside and outside the park, herds of bison at almost every turn and several sightings of coyotes.

Mammoth Hot Springs vents steam into a crystal blue Montana sky.

The next day we toured, on foot, the boardwalks around the massive Mammoth Hot Springs, with fumaroles and steam vents spitting scalding clouds into the sky and huge hot springs cascading from the hillsides above the historic town. Those with cross country skis or snowshoes can also take a ski trail around the Hot Springs area.

Bison carefully cross the Lamar River, east of Mammoth Hot Springs, along Montana Hwy. 212, the only road open inside the park to auto traffic in winter.

In mid-afternoon we drove east along Montana Hwy. 212 through the Lamar Canyon and Valley, hoping for sightings of wolves which prosper here. We continued to see many elk throughout the valley, and several large herds of bison, including a memorable view of one of the herds carefully crossing the Lamar River.

Alas, it wasn’t our day to see wolves. Talking briefly to more seasoned wolf aficionados, we found they travel with spotting scopes, telescopes and huge telephoto lenses mounted to their cameras, more able to see wolves from miles away. Our binoculars just weren’t up to the task; next trip, we resolved!

From Mammoth, the park concessionaire runs modern snowcoaches into the park, to destinations of Canyon Village and Old Faithful. We took the snowcoach tour into Old Faithful five years earlier, a magical place made more stunning in the depths of winter.

Modern snowcoaches like this one take visitors into the depths of the park like Old Faithful and the Canyon Village areas.

Where to stay: In West Yellowstone, we have enjoyed the Stagecoach Inn (http://yellowstoneinn.com/; in Gardiner, the Park Hotel is a classy, nicely appointed 120 year-old hotel with nine cozy suites. Inside the Park, the Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel or the Old Faithful Snow Lodge are the only winter choices, yellowstonenationalparklodges.com/.

For more information on Yellowstone Park, nps.gov/yell/.  For snowcoach service into the park, the West Yellowstone Chamber of Commerce can offer choices of private snowcoach providers, (406)ot646.7701.  For Yellowstone’s North park entrance (Mammoth Hot Springs) and south park entrance (Flagg Ranch/Teton Park) snow coach service, Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel and Old Faithful Snow Lodge stays, contact park concessionaire Zanterra, yellowstonenationalparklodges.com.

Read more from Tim Viall’s travel blog, follow him on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter; or, email him at tviall@msn.com. Happy travels in your world!

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Valentine’s Day destinations close to home!

The rugged California North Coast, just above Salt Point State Park.

Celebrate Valentine’s Day with these classy destinations close to home!

The historic Hotel Stockton is home to Bella Vista Restaurant in the southwest corner.

Valentine’s Day is just around the corner – if you’re seeking adventuresome and romantic destinations in northern California here are several recommendations from my wife, several friends and me, both locally and further afield. With the holiday falling this year on a Wednesday, you can celebrate on either “before or after weekends” or on the day itself.

If you are seeking a fine dining option locally, these are local restaurant favorites: Prime Table, Papapavlos and Market Tavern, in Lincoln Center, CoCoRo on Miracle Mile, Bella Vista in the old Hotel Stockton, downtown, and Wine and Roses in Lodi. All offer fine dining, classy décor and that vibe just right for romance. If you are staying local, don’t forget the Lodi Wine and Chocolate event, February 10 & 11, 2018, 11 AM to 4 PM – with choices of 50 wineries for tasting and chocolate sampling.

If you’re looking for an overnight destination, I’ve learned that such special destinations should offer these attributes: semi-secluded, scenic, with fine restaurant(s) nearby, classy lodging if we are spending the night and, a sense of history – my own inclusion.

The historic Murphys Hotel, always a gold rush favorite!

These destinations measure up and are within three hours of San Joaquin County.

Sutter Creek's historic Main Street and Hotel Sutter.

Sierra foothill favorites offer both fine dining and cute, historic gold rush towns to explore. Murphys is one of our favorites, with an eight block stretch of historic shops and hotels, featuring wine tasting, shopping and fine dining. Restaurants like Alchemy and the Murphys Hotel offer good options for fine food. Further south on Highway 49 you’ll find Sutter Creek with a 10 block stretch of old Main Street complete with bed-and-breakfasts, tasting rooms, shops and restaurants. The Hotel Sutter on Main Street is a fine place for lunch or dinner; marvelous pizzas can be found at Gold Dust Pizza, just off Main on Eureka Street.

The California coast from Bodega Bay, the Russian River and north is rugged, secluded and offers a variety of lodging and restaurant choices. If you are a Hitchcock fan, tour inland a few miles to the town of Bodega and see the old schoolhouse filmed in ‘The Birds’ movie, starring Tippi Hedren and Rod Taylor, a classic flick shot in 1963. Dine at the Tides Wharf and Restaurant in Bodega Bay or the River’s Edge in Jenner, each with lovely views of the Pacific and fine seafood.

Big Sur coast and Bixby Bridge, constructed in 1932, just before Highway 1 opened.

The Big Sur coast, just 2.5 hours to our south west, has long been a favorite of romantics. This section of the rugged California coast coffers secluded getaways, rocky coastline around every corner, lovely resorts, classic campgrounds if you’re camping and marvelous restaurants. The Spanish called it “El Sur Grande”, the Big South, for the vast reach of rugged and treacherous coastline. Mexico offered land grants in the early 1800s, but settlers in numbers would not arrive until just one hundred years ago.

Highway 1 was only completed in 1937, opening the coast to growing tourist visitation. We recently toured south of Monterey and Carmel, passing several spectacular state parks (with a Mediterranean climate – camping is possible and often sunny this time of year).

You’ll find scenic campgrounds here; Andrew Molera State Park is just 20 miles south of Carmel; 4800 acres with a variety of exploring opportunities from beaches to the Big Sur River, as well as Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park and Lime Kiln State Park. Kirk Creek Campground is a bit further south, a gem perched on the bluff overlooking the Pacific – first come, first served and run by the US Forest Service.

Ragged Point Inn on a bluff high above the ocean is a favorite, high on a bluff with ocean spreading in several directions.  With views, motel, cabins and restaurant surrounded by gorgeous gardens, it offers grandeur and solitude. Another favorite restaurant is the Big Sur Roadhouse, getting rave reviews for breakfasts or lunch and less expensive than some of their competitors.

Snow-shoers and cross-country skiers tour with ranger at Sugar Pine State Park on Tahoe's western shore.

Journey just north and see elephant seals at Ano Neuvo State Park (reservations for Ranger-led tours required) and at the six-mile long Piedras Blancas rookery, just north of San Simeon, with parking right off Highway 1, a short walk and no reservations required to view these massive animals.

Touring to the snowy Sierra, North Lake Tahoe always offers adventure; headquarter your visit in lovely Tahoe City on Tahoe’s north shore. Fabulous skiing includes nearby destinations of Alpine Meadows, Squaw Valley, Homewood, Northstar and Diamond Peak. Snowshoeing and cross-country skiing are also popular. Sugar Pine Point State Park features historic buildings, beautiful views of the lake and was site of several events for the 1960 Squaw Valley Olympics. Check out the small Olympic Museum building at Sugar Pine Park to refresh your memory of Olympic history at this beautiful park on Tahoe’s western shore. Tahoe City also offers a host of motel options and Airbnb choices. For the best breakfast or lunch, try Rosies, and for a beautiful, romantic dinner, Plumpjack at Squaw Valley Resort.

For information: Lodi Wine and Chocolate event, lodiwineandchocolate.com; Murphys, visitmurphys.com; Sutter Creek, suttercreek.org; Bodega Bay and California’s north coast, bodegabay.com; Big Sur, bigsurcalifornia.org; North Lake Tahoe, gotahoenorth.com.

Contact Tim at tviall@msn.com and follow him at recordnet.com/travelblog. Happy travels in your world!


Posted in Central California, Northern California, Sierra Nevada, Stockton/San Joaquin County | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Dodge Ridge opens for the 2017/18 season on Saturday, January 27, 2018

Dodge Ridge's slopes are groomed and ready for skiers and boarders. Photo courtesy Dodge Ridge.

9” of new snowfall gets the season underway on lower mountain lifts and terrain; Dodge Ridge opens on Saturday, January 27, 2018

Pinecrest, Calif. – Jan. 26, 2018  – The ski and ride season is underway at Dodge Ridge following the recent  snowfall which delivered 9 inches. Chairs 1, 2 and 6 along with the rope tow and the Magic Carpet conveyors in the Children’s Learning Area will be open accessing beginner to intermediate terrain. Lifts are scheduled to run at 9:00 am till 4:00 pm.

All Dodge Ridge services will be available Opening Day including a full line of group and private lesson programs for all ages 2 and above. To ensure availability, reservations are recommended for all lessons and can be made by calling (209) 965-3474 or on DodgeRidge.com. The rental shop will be in full operation offering  ski, snowboard and helmet rentals for all ages. The Sport and Tech Shop will open early at 7:30am for equipment tunes, waxes and essential ski and ride gear. The Creekside Lodge and North Fork Bistro will open with a limited Opening Day menu for breakfast, lunch and beverages.

The Tuolumne County Ski Bus will be in full operation for Opening Weekend, including every other weekend and holiday this season, for only $10 round trip, you can catch a ride from Sonora to Dodge Ridge with numerous stops along the way. Advanced reservations are encouraged by calling (209) 532-0404 or you can book online.

Dodge Ridge is the closest snow and easiest drive from Central Valley and Bay Area locations. “We have a great team here at Dodge Ridge,” said Jenni Smith, General Manager. “We have a unique history as a family owned and operated resort founded in 1950, and this legacy of family continues today with the Helm family, who have been running the resort since 1976. Generations of families have grown up skiing and riding here.”

Dodge Ridge relies 100% on natural snow and will open additional terrain when Mother Nature delivers the next significant round of winter storms. As always ski and ride with care as obstacles and thin coverage exist. For more detailed information on mountain safety pick up the Mountain Safety Guide at Guest Services and go online to the DodgeRidge.com safety page. Opening Week lift tickets will be priced at  $59 for adults, $44 for teens, $15 for youth and $39 for seniors.

For more info: for updates on new snowfall, road conditions, news and events by going online to DodgeRidge.com or by calling the Dodge Ridge Snow Phone at (209) 536-5300.

Read more from Tim Viall’s travel blog, follow him on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter; or, email him at tviall@msn.com. Happy travels in your world!


Posted in Central California, Northern California, Sierra Nevada, Stockton/San Joaquin County | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Frugal travel – recommendations for saving cash “on the road”

The Elk River in Canadian Rockies, not far from our ATC hosts in Baynes Lake, BC.

Frugal travel – recommendations for saving cash “on the road”; use “cheap travel” to extend your vacation time!

Seattle's Spaceneedle and city skyline, not far from our first house-sitting assignment on the base of Queen Anne Hill.

Let’s assume you have plenty of vacation time, or, are retired with lots of time – and desire to travel extensively. Here are suggestions for cheap travel allowing maximization of your travel explorations.

First suggestion: Focus first upon your region, state, the US and Canada. I’ve always been somewhat aghast at friends who notch their belts counting foreign countries visited, yet have only toured a handful of states in the wonderful US, and often skip both Canada and Mexico. Hence, visit your current region and country first – there is so much to see in the west and throughout the United States.

If you adopt that goal, you can see most of the west, or, all of our country via private auto. We’re into travel with smaller autos (ours, a Ford Focus and Ford Escape, 40 and 30 MPG, respectively), and lightweight and/or classic travel trailers (up to 27 MPG towing our teardrop trailer). Use the same approach for rental cars; smaller cars use less gas and cost less to rent. If you find you’ve chosen a rental car too small, you can always upgrade on the spot (and, frequently rental agencies will upgrade the size you have asked for).

On longer trips, don’t hesitate to ask friends or family along the way to host you for the night. Most of us maintain an extra bedroom/guestroom just for that purpose.  If you’re booking a motel, we’ve found websites like Priceline.com or Booking.com allow us to reserve a night’s lodging from the road (often for that same night), saving 40 to 50% over a reservation made days earlier.

David and Nancy Marchant, Baynes Lake, BC, our lovely hosts for our first Affordable Travel Club visit. David cooked a lovely steak dinner, offered a sumptuous breakfast and insisted in giving us a local tour of their scenic country!

If you like to meet people and learn about local lore, consider joining a club like the Affordable Travel Club (affordabletravelclub.net). We have been members of ATC for three years; our yearly $65 membership allows us to email or phone one of the ATC’s 3,000 members nation or worldwide, get a night’s lodging and a sumptuous breakfast, tipping the host just $20 on departure. In addition to overnight accommodations with a lovely host – saving big bucks over staying at a chain motel – you learn so much about the community with hosts proud to share details.

The ATC also offers a bulletin board offering housesitting assignments. In the last two years, we have spent two weeks housesitting a beautiful condo on Seattle’s Queen Anne Hill, a month housesitting in Edmonds, Washington, near Puget Sound and affording us travel to many parts of the Pacific Northwest. This past spring, three weeks housesitting a beautiful home in Tucson, Arizona allowed side trips to many Arizona highlights. Sometimes these assignments come with plants to water or pets to feed, but zero cost for beautiful lodging is hard to beat.

We have three weeks housesitting coming up in Taos, New Mexico in April, and 2 1/2 weeks in June in St. George, Utah, a stone’s throw from Zion and Bryce Canyon national parks. With most of these, we take along our tiny travel trailer, to camp along the way and on the way home. Traveling with small, classic travel trailers is another story in its own right; I will save that for another day.

Save on meals: At Seattle's Pike Place Market, we split a lunch salad and clam linguine at the Athenian Restaurant - plenty of food for two!

For meals, we take advantage of continental breakfasts offered by motel chains (and pack an apple, banana for mid-day snack), and travel with granola and a cooler full of milk and drinks for breakfast, drinks and snacks in route. If we’re dining out at nice restaurants, we often split a salad and main course – with America’s often huge portions – we’ve never left hungry and cut our bill by almost half. For a quick lunch stop on the road, two McDonald’s McDoubles and two senior coffees have never left us hungry – less than $5.

If you are traveling by air, consult Conde Nast Traveler (cntraveler.com) or other on-line travel resources for best day/time of week and how far in advance to purchase airline tickets and save considerably over last-minute airline purchases. Conde Nast recently offered the best day to purchase airline tickets is Sunday, especially if booking more than 21 days in advance; the cheapest days to fly are Tuesdays and Wednesdays.

When flying, pack light, with a carry-on roller-bag and a back pack – avoiding paying for checked bags, the long line to retrieve baggage off the carrousel or, worse, lost luggage. Take snacks or lunch for your time in the terminal or on the flight; better food and cheaper than you’ll buy at the airport.

Grand Circle Cruise Lines 'River Harmony' at anchor on the Main River in Germany.

If you’re into luxury cruises (we’ve done several European small ship cruises with Grand Circle Cruise Lines), we go to Grand Circle’s web site, gct.com, search for Ways to Save, then Last Minute Travel Deals (“last minute” generally means you’ll depart in 6-8 weeks; we retirees have that luxury). In December, a 15 day adventure “Christmas Markets on the Rhine”, with airfare and three additional days in Basel, Switzerland, cost the two of us $7,078 total – well under the over-$10,000 regular pricing. Other cruise lines also offer “last minute departures” with significant savings

Some may call us cheap; I prefer “frugal or smart” (and, we travel in style more than most)!

Read more from Tim Viall’s travel blog, follow him on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter; or, email him at tviall@msn.com. Happy travels in your world!

Posted in Alaska, Canada, Eastern, Canada, Western, Central California, East Coast US, Europe, Hawaii, Midwest US, Mountain West (Montana, Wyoming, Utah, Colorado), Northern California, Pacific Northwest USA (Oregon, Washington, Idaho), Sacramento/Capitol region, San Francisco Bay Area, Sierra Nevada, Southeast US, Southern California, Southwest USA (Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico, Texas), Stockton/San Joaquin County, Teardrop and tiny travel trailers, United States beyond! | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Bucket list travel updates in the Western United States for the new year, Part 2

Crater Lake's azure blue waters frame Wizard Island at the lake's southwest corner.

Western US travel “musts”, update your bucket list for the new year, Part 2

Over the last two weeks we have offered 12 ultimate travel destinations in California and half a dozen additional western state’s destinations, suggested month by month. Here are the final six suggestions for the western US:

Mount St. Helens thunders into the Washington sky on May 18, 1980.

August, the Volcano tour: Take in the “ring of fire” with Oregon’s Crater Lake National Park and Mount Hood, then cross the mighty Columbia for Mount St. Helens National Monument and Mt. Rainier National Park. There are just a few places I rate as “jaw-droppers” for stunning scenery in the west: Yosemite, the Grand Canyon, Grand Tetons, Glacier Park – and Crater Lake National Park and Mount St. Helens rank right up there.

Crater Lake filled the collapsed Mt. Mazama volcano’s caldera some 7,700 years ago and is the bluest blue you’ll ever see.  The lake, 5 miles across, and 6 miles long, features two islands, Wizard Island, the larger, and Phantom Ship, at the lake’s north end. Tour the 33 mile Rim Drive, by auto, or by bicycle. Surrounding park and National Forest lands offer campsites and classy lodges for overnighting in any of the four volcano showplaces. Crater Lake is just 400 miles and 7 hours from Stockton, Mt. Hood adds another three hours, Mount St. Helens about three additional. They are awe-inspiring as well as “hot properties”!

The rugged Oregon coast is almost all public lands, so access is outstanding for hiking, camping and beach-combing.

September, Oregon Coastal tour: Oregon has set aside most of its coast in public trust, making access unbeatable compared to California or Washington. Heading north, stop at Harris Beach State Park on the northern edge of Brookings, OR (a town with an active fishing harbor, tourist amenities and great seafood). Further north, stop by Umpqua Lighthouse State Park (the historic lighthouse now part of a Coast Guard station), where gray whales, up to 53 feet in length, are spotted just off-shore. Pass scenic Haceta Head Lighthouse, and just south of Newport on Yaquina Bay, overnight at South Beach State Park, another pristine park, with hiking along the ocean beach and nearby harbor seals bellowing throughout the night! All of these towns offer plenty of motels and B&Bs for those not into camping.

Newport offers a dynamic fishing fleet, scores of shops and restaurants and the original, iconic Mo’s and Mo’s Annex Restaurants (on the harbor). Space precludes insight on other coastal towns headed north, like Florence, Yachats, Lincoln City and Depot Bay; each will land a special place in your heart.

Cape Flattery, a typical rainy day, on the Olympic Peninsula, is the US's most northwestern point for the contiguous 48 states.

October, Olympic Peninsula and National Park, WA: Make this a week-long drive trip, or fly into Seattle and rent a car and journey to the most northwestern point of the contiguous United States, Cape Flattery, on the Olympic Peninsula. South down the wild and untamed national park is Kalaloch Lodge, just south of Kalaloch Campground offering 170 camp sites right on the ocean. The Park also offers historic Lake Quinault Lodge and the Lake Crescent Lodges, both exuding history and cozy accommodations. On peninsula, prep for rain; it’s one of the wettest places in the US. From the peninsula, take the Bainbridge Island Ferry right into the heart of Seattle to cap your trip!

November, Grand Coulee Dam and Dry Falls in eastern WA: this is the “sleeper” of my suggestions. Some 13,000 years ago, near end of the last great ice age, ice dammed water inundating much of western Montana, reaching the capacity of Lake Erie and Lake Ontario combined. When the dam broke a 200 foot high wall of water thundered through eastern Washington, carving the Columbia River Gorge and creating a waterfall four times the size of Niagara Falls. See Grand Coulee Dam, the US’s largest concrete structure and hydroelectric plant, impounding the mighty Columbia. Just south, tour Sun Lakes-Dry Falls State Park and be awed by the massive former waterfall. The cosmopolitan town of Spokane, just east, is worth a visit in its own right!

Dry Falls in north central Washington was once four times the size of Niagara Falls.

The Giant Logs Trail in Petrified Forest National Park.

December/California and Arizona desert: December visits to S. California desert parks like Death Valley or Joshua Tree National Parks or Anza Borego State Park, or Arizona destinations  like Sonoran Desert National Monument south of Phoenix, Saguaro National Parks, Tucson, and Petrified Forest National Park in north-central Arizona promise balmy weather and other-worldly plantlife and wildlife. Plan early, since others have discovered these “beat winter” destinations!

January, Yellowstone Park in winter:Of all our trips over the last 10 years, a winter trip into Yellowstone National Park’s Old Faithful area was the most memorable. You’ll have park virtually to yourself; often bison and elk will outnumber humans! It does take a bit of planning.  You can reach West Yellowstone, the north entrance at Mammoth Hot Springs or south entrance near Teton National Park by car. Only in Mammoth Hot Springs can you drive miles into the park, including the Lamar Valley, home to wolves and other wildlife. From West Yellowstone or the south entrance, with internal roads closed, you must take either snow coach or snowmobile into the park, requiring pre-planning. I still remember our first evening at Old Faithful; on  a 10-below but clear evening, we watched the sun set behind Old Faithful Geyser as it thundered into the sky – seen by my wife and I, one other human and a lone coyote on the snow-covered boardwalk. Breathtaking!

Old Faithful Geyser erupts into a cold, clear Wyoming sky in January.

For the first six suggested western states travel destinations, see my blog from last week!

For more information: Crater Lake, nps.gov/crla/; Mount St. Helens, fs.usda.gov/giffordpinchot/; Oregon, traveloregon.com; Washington, experiencewa.com; Olympic National Park, nps.gov/olym/; Grand Coulee Dam, usbr.gov/pn/grandcoulee/; Sun Lakes-Dry Falls State Park, parks.state.wa.us/298/Sun-Lakes-Dry-Falls/; California, visitcalifornia.com; Arizona, visitarizona.com; Yellowstone Park, nps.gov/yell/.

Read more from Tim Viall’s travel blog, follow him on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter; or, email him at tviall@msn.com. Happy travels in the west!

Posted in Mountain West (Montana, Wyoming, Utah, Colorado), Northern California, Pacific Northwest USA (Oregon, Washington, Idaho), Southern California, Southwest USA (Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico, Texas), Teardrop and tiny travel trailers | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Free admission, national parks, national monuments across the US!

Visitors to Yosemite gaze at Half Dome from Glacier Point.

Free admission, national parks, national monuments across the US for MLK holiday and three more dates…

Machete Ridge is backbone of Pinnacles National Park, just south of Hollister, CA.

National parks, monuments and other federal lands which charge entrance fees will be free on Monday in honor of Martin Luther King Day.

Additional no-fee days in national parks include April 21 (first day of National Parks Week), September 22, (National Public Lands Day) and November 11 (Veterans Day).

On these days you’ll save, on average, about $25 per vehicle at the National parks including nearby Yosemite, Pinnacles, Death Valley, Joshua Tree, Sequoia, Kings Canyon and Lassen National Parks in California.

Reach Tim at tviall@msn.com. Happy national park travels!

Posted in Central California, Northern California, Pacific Northwest USA (Oregon, Washington, Idaho), Sacramento/Capitol region, San Francisco Bay Area, Sierra Nevada, Southern California, Southwest USA (Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico, Texas), Stockton/San Joaquin County | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Update your travel bucket list for the Western US in the new year!

Kauai's Waimea Canyon, looking down from 4,500 feet into the lush and mighty "Grand Canyon of the Pacific".

Bucket list updates in the Western United States for the new year

Last week I suggested tuning up your travel bucket list with 12 ultimate destinations in California. This week, here are the first half of a dozen additional western state’s destinations, suggested month by month (next week, another six). Since we’re into the new year, I’ll start with February.

February, Kauai (and Maui): It’s not too late to plan a winter trip to Hawaii. After 16 annual trips to Maui, we finally visited Kauai this past September and it’s our new favorite. The “Garden Isle” Is the longest inhabited and oldest of the Hawaiian islands, yielding a tropical paradise of lush vegetation and rugged beauty. Tour Waimea Canyon, “the Grand Canyon of the Pacific“, where a ridge-back highway takes you to 4500 feet with most marvelous views down to the mighty Pacific on one side and the canyon on the other.

The next day, hike the storied Nepali Coast on the north end of the island or take a cruise along this wild, roadless 15 mile coast. Hike to the base of Hanakapi’a Falls, a highlight of the Jurassic Park movies. Take a kayak trip up the Wailua River to the base of Opaeka’a (Secret) Falls, tumbling 125 feet into a beautiful catch basin inviting swimming and wading.

Other options include the Kauai Coffee plantation tour, with 4 million coffee trees planted in the last 30 years replacing the island’s former sugarcane industry. Find monk seals reclining on beaches near the old town of Kapa’a, a town lined with old shops and interesting eateries. To the south west, find Spouting Horn where pounding waves enter lava tubes, sending water spouting 30 feet into the air.

Saguero cactus blossom in late spring to early summer outside of Tucson.

Lodging? Try Vacation Rental by Owner (VRBO.com), on Kauai and Maui we found beachfront luxury lodging for $105, average, per night.

March, Arizona desert: Stay warm in March with a tour of the Phoenix and Tucson areas. Phoenix offers golf courses and Major League Baseball’s spring training. In March it’s home to 16 MLB teams, where you can see the San Francisco Giants play the Cleveland Indians or 14 other teams. Tucson bisects halves of Saguaro National Park spotlighting the Sonoran desert. With towering Saguaro cactus, prickly pear cactus, creosote bush and electric green Palo Verde trees yielding a tall and remarkably lush desert environment like no other.

Tour to the northeast to take in Petrified Forest National Park, where millions of years ago sediments buried an ancient forest, leading to its petrification yielding hundreds of petrified, colorful logs and the formation of the stunning Painted Desert.

Azaleas frame the iconic Portland Rose Garden in spring.

April, Portland and the Columbia Gorge: Portland is arguably the most visitor-friendly big city on the West Coast (San Diego and Seattle might dispute that). Located at the confluence of the Columbia and Willamette Rivers, shadowed by lovely Mount Hood, it’s known for its bicycle paths, parks and bridges, coffee houses and microbreweries.

The city offers a fine light rail system, a beautiful waterfront and pretty Washington Park. It’s a town of gourmet restaurants and down-home eateries (don’t miss Voodoo Donuts), the lush Rose Garden, Japanese Garden, Portland Zoo and iconic Powell’s Bookstore. Travel east up the rugged Columbia River Gorge for lofty waterfalls tumbling from Mount Hood.

Bryce Canyon's Hoodoos balance precariously, result of eons of wind and water erosion.

May, Utah National Parks: Of Utah’s five inspiring national parks, Zion is closest to California. We suggest traveling just east and camping or moteling in Bryce Canyon National Park, where, at the North Campground you’re right on the edge of this scenic wonder. Then, take a day trip back to Zion to see the deep canyons and special places like “the Subway” and “the Narrows”, winding slot canyons carved like subway tunnels by eons of flowing water.

Continuing east you’ll find Capital Reef, Arches and Canyonlands National Parks, each with their special geography and allure. Spend a few days in Moab, a town billing itself as the Utah adventure center, between Arches and Canyonlands. You’ll find Arches amazing, with 2000 natural bridges throughout the park, and the vast Canyonlands celebrating the deep canyons created by confluence of the Green and Colorado rivers.

Visitors look out from Moran Point into the Grand Canyon's majesty.

June, Grand Canyon, South Rim: Go early to beat the crowds of mid-summer. I defy you not to tear-up when to stand for the first time at Mather Point and gaze into this 5,000 foot deep canyon of red, yellow, ochre and brown hues, stretching on for miles. You can trek along the south rim, visit Native American village ruins at Tusayan, a bustling outpost 1,000 years ago, and hike into the canyon for other-worldly views. If you’ve already seen the Grand Canyon’s southerly sights, visit the North Rim for a new set of jaw-dropping vistas.

July, explore the “Loneliest Road in America”: Hwy. 50, featuring Native American history, Pony Express stops and high desert scenery, crosses Nevada and reaches Great Basin National Park. The park celebrates Wheeler Peak, towering 13,063 feet, with ancient forests of Bristlecone Pine. The park’s Lehman Cave, one of the most spectacular caves in the western United States, offers underground tours that will delight the youngest to oldest travelers.

Wheeler Peak, with Bristlecone Pines in foreground, anchors Nevada's Great Basin National Park.

For more information: Kauai visitor info, gohawaii.com/islands/Kauai; Maui, visitmaui.com, Petrified Forest National Park, nps.gov/pefo; Saguaro National Park, nps.gov/sagu; Portland, travelportland.com; Utah national parks, nps.gov/state/ut/index.htm and visitutah.com; Grand Canyon, nps.gov/grca; Great Basin National Park, nps.gov/grba.

Read more from Tim Viall’s travel blog, follow him on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter; or, email him at tviall@msn.com. Happy travels in the west!

Posted in Hawaii, Mountain West (Montana, Wyoming, Utah, Colorado), Pacific Northwest USA (Oregon, Washington, Idaho), Southwest USA (Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico, Texas), Teardrop and tiny travel trailers | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment
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    Tim Viall

    Viall is a local travel writer who retired in late 2012 after 10 years as executive director of Stockton, CA's, Emergency Food Bank and six years with the Downtown Stockton Alliance. Previously, a 21-year career in daily newspapers helped shape his ... Read Full
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