Exploring the wild East Bay, from Byron to Mt. Diablo State Park

 

The view from Mt. Diablo, looking west off North Gate Blvd, from about 2,500 feet. On this day, Bay Area smog cut the impressive view; pick a clear day for a drive to the top!

A scenic trail heads into the oaks, along Marsh Creek at the Round Valley Regional Preserve.
Wildflowers cover the hillside on Marsh Creek Road, about six miles east of Mt. Diablo.
A lone cyclist heads for Mt. Diablo along Hwy. 4 in the Delta.

You’ve probably seen those iconic twin peaks of Mt. Diablo on our western horizon, but many have not explored this large park – the reward at the end of this day-trip!  With the recent rain settling the dust in our hills, reducing fire danger and helping clear the air – it’s a fine time for doing a little creative exploring between Stockton and the “wild East Bay Area”.  

Take the 60 mile scenic drive from Stockton, west on Hwy. 4, south to Byron, west again towards Mt. Diablo and you discover arguably the prettiest and one of the shortest routes to the East Bay, Concord and Walnut Creek.

On this adventure, you’ll cross about 15 miles of our scenic Delta, be amazed by our agricultural bounty and meander through the wild and beautiful foothills leading to Mt. Diablo. The route eventually drops you into Concord and Walnut Creek – it’s hard to find a more picturesque way to get there.

From Stockton, just 10 miles west on Hwy. 4, you will pass Union Point Restaurant (beside the old bridge of same name); it’s a fine lunch stop, right on a scenic Delta waterway.  Next Delta crossing is the Old River Bridge, you’ll then pass Discovery Bay and turn south to Byron.  Heading west from Byron toward Mt. Diablo you pass stellar attractions including Los Vaqueros Reservoir and Round Valley Regional Preserve, and can climb Mt. Diablo for some of the best views in northern California!

All three are home to incredible wildlife diversity, including California ground squirrels, deer, desert cottontails, the San Joaquin Kit fox and pocket mouse, coyotes, reclusive mountain lions and red foxes.  Nesting golden eagles and burrowing owls can also be sighted.

Likewise, a wide variety of trees inhabit portions of the parks: oaks of the blue, valley, interior live, coast live and black oaks. Native and non-native grasslands abound, and wildflowers burst forth in the springtime.

Los Vaqueros reservoir and watershed (a few miles off Camino Diablo Road) is only a few years old; the pretty lake was just increased in capacity to 160,000 acre-feet by raising the damn 35 feet; it stores water pumped from the Mokelumne River for Eastbay residents. The impoundment is regularly stocked with rainbow trout, largemouth and striped bass, catfish and more; loaner rods are available for first-time anglers (a daily fee of $4.50 per angler, and CA fishing license is required).  The park is also a hiking and bicycling Mecca; with a variety of trails/roads in the hills surrounding the reservoir.

Next up on your scenic drive is Round Valley Regional Preserve, which offers trails that take you deep into the East Bay foothills.  Scenic hiking trails abound and bikes are allowed (but not on singletrack); sorry, no dogs allowed.  Hiking trails take you deep into these scenic foothills, and connect to neighboring Morgan Territory Preserve.

Beyond Round Valley, your scenic drive takes you over the northeast flank of Mt. Diablo and drops you into the little town of Clayton: an old town but updated with new housing, bike trails and quaint shops.

To reach Mt. Diablo, continue west on Marsh Creek Road to Concord, turn left on Ygnacio Valley Road, then left on Oak Grove Road to the park’s North Gate Road entrance. North Gate Road into Mount Diablo State Park yields an incredibly scenic drive with some of the best views in all of Northern California. Try to make your visit on a day where the skies are clear – smog can detract from the experience. 

The park offers three campgrounds (Juniper, at 3,000 feet, offers spectacular vistas and star gazing), gorgeous picnic areas, over 150 miles of hiking trails.  Of course, the view from the twin Diablo peaks is to die for.

Night-time star-gazing is high on visitor’s lists; on October 25, 5:30 PM, the park offers a public astronomy program “Why Earth?”, using the parks 14 inch Celestron Telescope, at the lower summit parking lot.

How to get there: From Stockton, go west on CA Hwy. 4 just past Discovery Bay, take Byron Highway south one mile to Byron, go west on Camino Diablo which connects with March Creek Road.  Los Vaqueros Watershed and Lake is just south of Camino Diablo (turn left on Walnut Creek Blvd.), while Round Valley Preserve is right off Marsh Creek Road.

What’s nearby: the Morgan Territory Regional Preserve abuts Round Valley Preserve on its southwest flank.  Another wild destination is Black Diamond Mines Regional Preserve, to the north, just west of Antioch.

Dining, camping options: On your way along Hwy. 4 is the Union Point Restaurant; in Clayton, restaurants of note include Mudville Grille and Moresi’s Chophouse for tasty respites.  Camping is offered in Mt. Diablo Park (details below).

What to bring: Binoculars, camera, good hiking shoes and cold weather gear for about any type of weather!

To plan your visit: For information on Los Vaqueros Watershed, www.ccwater.com/losvaqueros, 925.240.2440; for Round Valley Regional Preserve, www.ebparks.org, 1.888.EBPARKS; for Mt. Diablo State Park, www.mdia.org, 925.927.7222. Both Los Vaqueros and Mt. Diablo State Park charge an auto admission charge. For camping in Mt. Diablo State Park, www.reserveamerican.com, or 800.444.7275.

For more inspiration on other travel destinations in California and the west, see my blog, http//blogs.esanjoaquin.com/valleytravel, or contact me at tviall@msn.com. 

Happy travels in the West!

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Children’s Museum, Pixie Woods; child-friendly treasures in our backyard!

 

The Children's Museum is all "hands-on", complete with RTD bus, police car, fire engine and ambulance - here grandson Jack is right at home as a bus driver!

The Children’s Museum’s water maze fascinates young and old alike. By moving the baffles, kids can redirect the current and move boats through the maze in different directions!
Giant nutcrackers pose outside Stockton Children’s Museum; grandson Jack was very impressed!
Grandson Jack and other kids cavort in the Pixie Woods “Dragon water feature”, just right on a 90 degree day!
The Pirate’s Lair is one of the places visited on the boat ride through the Pixie Woods Lagoon!

We had planned a day-trip with grandson Jack, age 4, to Apple Hill, east of Sacramento – but the Sierra forest fires, casting a pall over that portion of the Sierra, put the trip on a back burner. What to do?  We decided to revisit kid-friendly destinations, right in our backyard.  Pixie Woods, the Weber Point water fountain and the Stockton Children’s Museum were substituted and off we went over a two-day weekend.

We had not been to Pixie Woods in years, but found the venerable kid’s playground not lacking in interest for four-year olds, and, offering a few newer attractions that grabbed both spouse Susan and Jack’s attention. 

Four dollars for each of us got us in (boat, carousel and train rides are extra) , and we trekked through the impressive, shady park.  First stop, the Rabbit exhibit, complete with husky black and spotted rabbits, who occasionally showed themselves.  Then it was off to the playground, complete with a huge cartoon characters that caught Jack’s attention.

New was the Dragon water feature, a large water fountain made in shape of a coiled dragon, just right for kids to run and splash through.  Jack got soaked (we brought a change of clothes) along with another dozen kids, all of them hugely enjoying themselves on a 90 degree September day.  Then it was off to play “shop keeper” with grandma Susan in Pixie Woods Town, where both enjoyed sticking their heads through caricatures for cute photo ops.

Next was a boat ride on the Pixie Woods Lagoon, taking us past the Pirate’s Lair, a Dinosaur forest that was quite realistic, turtles, egrets and more – this was possibly Jack’s favorite ride in the park.  The railroad, usually running, was idle that day, to my chagrin.  Next time!

The next day, our destination was the Stockton Children’s Museum ($6. each for admission).  We had been previously with our two older grandkids, but not for six or so years.  The museum, founded as a memorial to the 1989 Cleveland School shootings, did not disappoint.  It offers scores of hands-on exhibits and activities that four year-olds cannot resist.

Our first stop – a number of reptile exhibits, with jack locking onto the lizards and snakes and grandpa Tim trying not to imagine future nightmares he might have (Tim, not Jack).  Then onto the race car track, where Jack and grandpa built their race cars with Legos, then raced down a long, four-abreast track.  Only when Jack discovered that the more Legos he layered on his car (to overcome friction) could he beat his grandfather – which elicited a gleeful “you lose, grandpa” from Jack!

Next, the water maze, where Jack could move a variety of baffles in the moving water and redirect boats following the current.  Both grandson and grandfather found this riveting for about 20 minutes.  Then it was onto the grocery store exhibit, where jack could pick his own groceries, and build his own sandwich from the salad bar. A quick stop at the face-painting station allowed him to get his face painted, none too creatively, by grandpa Tim.

Jack and a host of other kids finished up with tours of the real fire engine, police car (Jack quickly found delight in turning on the flashing lights), ambulance and Regional Transit bus; with Jack quickly acclimating himself to being a real bus driver.  After a few hours, both he and grandparents were pooped, and headed for a nearby snack break on the way home.

On both days, we also stopped at the Weber Point water fountain, long a popular mecca for kids on hot days.  On each day, despite a City web site noting the fountain will run from 11 AM to 7 PM through September 28, no water.  Quite disappointing to scores of families and kids; call Stockton’s Community Services Department before making a special trip.

How to get there: For Pixie Woods, go one mile west on Monte Diablo, from Interstate 5 to 3121 Monte Diable and watch for signs to the park.  For the Children’s Museum, address is 402 W. Weber Avenue just off the downtown Stockton waterfront.

Dining options: Pixie Woods has an on-site food and drink kiosk; for the Children’s Museum, the Waterfront Warehouse is right across the street, with Dok Shoon’s Hot Dogs, Nena’s and several other good eateries.

To plan your visit: For information on Pixie Woods, go to: www.stocktongov.com/government/departments/communityServices/attPixWood.html.  For the Children’s Museum: http://www.childrensmuseumstockton.org/.

For more inspiration on other travel destinations in California and the west, see my blog, http//blogs.esanjoaquin.com/valleytravel, or contact me at tviall@msn.com. 

Happy travels in the West!

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Safe bicycle riding in Stockton and San Joaquin County (Bike Fest is this Saturday, Sept. 27)

 

Downtown Stockton's waterfront is the destination as these cyclists depart UOP campus at the 2013 Bike Fest.

Riders, young and old, prepare for fun cylcing at UOP last year.
Three women prepare for the 2013 San Joaquin Bike Fest.

An estimated 2/3s of our county residents have one or more bikes stored at home.  Many are dusty and in disuse; why, you might wonder?  The biggest concern in a recent poll of current and potential riders is “where can I safely ride in our city for fun and exercise”?

On September 16, a new state law went into effect requiring vehicles to give bikes in the same lane a three foot buffer when passing, Violators can be fined $35 for an infraction, and, If a cyclist is hit due to a violation, the fine increases to well over $233; court costs can add hundreds more.  This new law does not automatically make the streets safer, but in other states with similar laws and education shared with drivers and law enforcement it has helped avoid close calls and reduced accidents. 

Many already realize that Stockton and San Joaquin County are close to a bicyclist’s dream! Our cities and county offer many cycling benefits; lovely weather almost year-round, few hills, a variety of safe and scenic routes to flex those leg muscles and several clubs that cater to new and veteran cyclists!

Whether it is riding on quiet Lodi-Woodbridge roads through vineyards, biking through quaint tree-lined Stockton streets to the historic downtown waterfront, or cycling along Manteca’s paved biking trail that offers a bridge that crosses the Stanislaus River into our neighboring county – cyclists rate San Joaquin County as a solid biking destination and one with even greater potential for the future.

The north end of the county offers tours of over 80 wineries to the west, east and north of Lodi – and downtown Lodi and Woodbridge offer a host of places to stop for a beverage or for lunch along the way.  Many of Stockton’s rides are anchored by the University of Pacific campus, which is blessed with the Calaveras Bike Trail running east and west through UOP’s north side.  The quaint Miracle Mile is a marvelous place to peddle to on Stockton’s sunny weekends.  Manteca and Tracy also offer special bike trails with a number of options to start, finish and take a biking break, mid-ride.

Some might wonder about safety of cycling on city streets.  A couple of tips: Always anticipate that drivers don’t see you – ride defensively.  Follow the laws, and ride with traffic, not on sidewalks or against traffic.  Wear the brightest colors you can find – day-glo yellow, red or orange.

Invest in a rear-view mirror for about $20 – mine offers me peace-of-mind as I can see drivers approaching from the rear.  And, study city maps to determine the safest routes.  For Stockton, see the city’s web site with a downloadable map profiling current and planned bike trails and routes.

I originally got tips from the Stockton Bike Club as to how to ride north and south in the city; my route to downtown winds through University of Pacific’s lovely campus, goes south on Kensington and Baker to the waterfront.  It’s a pretty ride, on quiet and historic residential streets – typical of rides in other county cities for folks willing to explore safe routes.

The San Joaquin Bike Coalition offers monthly rides that tour both the city and the county; on the first Saturday each month is an LSD (“long, slow distance”) Ride, which offers short and longer tours of varied portions of the county.  The organization also offers a shorter Family Ride on second Saturdays, designed for families with kids and more novice riders – those without group-riding experience.  For details, go to the Bike Coalition’s Facebook page, https://www.facebook.com/SanJoaquinbike.

A special event is coming soon; the ‘San Joaquin Bike Fest’, on Saturday, September 27, 9 AM to 2 PM at University of Pacific (formerly the ‘Bike and Hike to End Hunger’)!  It’s your opportunity to tour both the Calaveras Bike Trail’s West and East routes and a scenic and historic route to the downtown waterfront.  Bike Coalition members will act as tour guides on these flat, non-competitive rides. 

Kari McNickle, Vice Chair of the SJ Bike Coalition, adds “Join hundreds of families and singles for this fun, family tradition; three scenic bicycle routes begin and end at the University, offering choices of routes from 6.5miles, 7.5 miles and 9.5 miles (link them all for a 25 mile ride).  A Kid’s Safety Village and short “activities course” will make a fun diversion for kids from 2 years and up, as well as novice riders”!

The Bike Fest jazzes up the rides by offering music by ‘Pushers and Thieves’, good food and soft drinks to all participants. A beer garden, offering beer by Stockton’s Abbey Trappist Pub, and classic bikes makes the Bike Fest event a lively, family tradition. 

Registration opens at 7 AM; rides begin at 9 and 9:30 AM and music, food and the beer garden will be ready for fun and lively action at 11 AM; the event concludes at 2:00 PM.  Proceeds support the Emergency Food Bank’s nutrition programs and the educational programs of the San Joaquin Bicycle Coalition; participants help end hunger in Stockton & San Joaquin County, and, educate motorists and cyclists about safe bike travel!

For more information on the Sept. 27 San Joaquin Bike Festival, go to www.sjbikefest.org.  Register in person on Thursday and Friday, Sept. 25 or 26, Noon to 6 PM at Fleet Feet-Lincoln Center, register on-line at http://www.eventbrite.com/e/san-joaquin-bicycle-festival-2014-tickets-12315352551, or call (209) 969.3875. 

For insight into the San Joaquin Bike Coalition and their monthly rides and activities, go to their Facebook page, https://www.facebook.com/groups/sjbikecoalition/.  For info on the Stockton Bike Club, go to www.stocktonbikeclub.org.  For Stockton Bike Route maps go to: http://www.stocktongov.com/government/departments/communityDevelop/cdPlanBikeRte.html.

Happy and safe peddling!

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High Sierra fall finery: Hwy. 108, Twain Harte to Kennedy Meadows!

 

Pinecrest Lake’s chilly waters made for bracing wading by author’s grandson Jack Taylor

Clark Fork River meets the Middle Fork of the Stanislaus just 25 miles east of Pinecrest.
Kennedy Meadows Resort offers cabins, camping, horseback riding, hiking and cute store and tasty restaurant.
Huge talus pile below Columns of the Giants are sure to intrigue four year-olds like Jack, and adults!
Pack horses await early morning cowpokes at kennedy Meadows Resort.

Where do you go for a scenic, accessible and family-friendly tour of the high Sierra?  My wife and I wanted to take our grandson camping, fishing and hiking, so kid-friendly was on our list.  Jack, four years old (“and three weeks”, he is quick to add) had been camping once with his parents, but had not been deep into the Sierra.  We recently chose Hwy. 108, targeting a place just 10 to 60 miles east of Sonora – Twain Harte up to the Kennedy Meadows area.

We assumed camping would be wide open (it was), the weather would be stunning (yes, 80 degree days, 45 degree nights!) and the fish would be biting (pretty slow, actually). After 21 years on the Dodge Ridge National Ski Patrol, with 300 some trips both winter and summer, I had a pretty good idea of where to go.

With our teardrop trailer in tow, we headed first to the cutest of several quaint towns, Twain Harte, developed and named for two famous authors who both lived in the state, Mark Twain and Bret Harte. Our choice for lunch, The Rock (voted top hamburger and brewery in Tuolumne County), always a dependable place, kid-friendly with five choices for $5 kid’s meals (and, coloring menus, always a hit).

We then trekked about 15 miles further up Hwy. 108, and spent the early afternoon at Pinecrest Lake, long a favorite of Stocktonians and our family.  Jack found time to go wading (though the water was a bit chillier than he expected, with the lake level still quite high despite the drought).  After a short hike around the south west end of the lake, we decided to find our campsite.

We arrived late afternoon at Clark Fork Campground, just off the highway, with only six of its 28 spaces taken while we were there.  Best of all, it is only miles from the entrance to the Carson-Iceburg Wilderness Area.  The beautiful Sierra scenery is there for the taking (or, hiking), with a number of shorter hikes, as well as much more strenuous trails into alpine backcountry. 

That night, it was mac and cheese around the campfire, with s’mores the dessert hit!  Four year olds make the best of campgrounds, with rocks for leaping, fallen trees as “balance beams” and being mesmerized by evening campfires!  We all slept well that night!

The next day, it was a hearty, delicious breakfast and exploration at Kennedy Meadows Resort, long a back-packing and horse-packing favorite for trips into the Emigrant Basin Wilderness Area.  The resort boasts camping, rental cabins, horse and mule rides and access to some of the best hiking in the central Sierra.  Jack was smitten by some of the 65 horse/mule herd; the resort offers 1 ¼ hour rides for $25 each.

We later returned down Hwy. 108 and did the short, paved-trail hike into the Columns of the Giants.  These huge hexagonal columns were formed thousands of years earlier when hot lava flowing from a crack in the Sierra then cooled, creating one of the world’s most intriguing wonders.  Jack found the 3/8 mile hike fun, the giant columns interesting, and the two pineapple-sized pine cones from huge sugar pines of high intrigue!

Fishing was reportedly slow in the Clark Fork River and both the South and Middle Fork of the Stanislaus, as well as in Beardsley Reservoir and Pinecrest Lake.  So, we did a bit of practice dry casting, and decided we would try fishing at a later date.  Jack returned to an earlier activity, throwing stones into the Clark Fork, and seemed happy enough.

This entire stretch of Hwy. 108, from Pinecrest to Kennedy Meadows, offers views extraordinaire, glimpses of trees turning their fall colors, a wealth of National Forest campgrounds (half off with a Federal Senior pass) and many hiking options just right for families with kids.  And, weather is generally sunny and beautiful into October (though, check weather forecasts and prepare for changeable conditions). 

At the end of our several day camping adventure, Jack noted “way cool; let’s do it again and bring more s’mores!”.  So, we shall plan a return when the fish are really biting!

When to go: Highway 108 east of Strawberry is often closed by snows around November 1; Kennedy Meadows Resort closes on Columbus Day (October 13).

How to get there: From Manteca, go east on CA Hwy. 108 to Sonora (the largest town, for provisioning), then continue about 60 miles further east to Kennedy Meadows.

Dining, lodging, camping options: Favorite restaurants along Hwy. 108: the Rock and Eproson’s House in Twain Harte, The Pie Pizzeria in Sugar Pine, the Steam Donkey in Pinecrest and the Kennedy Meadows Resort restaurant; for lodging: the Christmas Tree Inn in Sugar Pine, Long Barn Lodge in Long Barn, Pinecrest Resort, Pinecrest Chalet and Strawberry Inn and Kennedy Meadows Resort.  You will find about a dozen campgrounds east of Strawberry; though check with Stanislaus Forest for seasonal closings.

Hiking: From the Kennedy Meadows area into the Emigrant Wilderness, the Carson-Iceburg Wilderness, Columns of the Giants (2 miles west of Kennedy Meadows); around Pinecrest Lake, or (from Strawberry) the old Sugar Pine rail-trail along the South Fork of the Stanislaus River (also ideal for mountain biking).  Stop at the Stanislaus Summit Ranger Station in Pinecrest, for flyers and Maps.

What to bring: Binoculars, camera, good hiking shoes and gear for about any type of weather!

To plan your visit: For information on camping or hiking in the Stanislaus National Forest  go to www.fs.usda.gov/stanislaus/, or contact the Summit Ranger District, 1 Pinecrest Lake Road, Pinecrest, CA 95364; (209) 965.3434.  For information on Kennedy Meadows resort, www.kennedymeadows.com, or call (209) 965.3900.

Next week, we explore Apple Hill, that pretty slice of the Sierra just above Placerville, home to scores of apple orchards and wineries –ripe for touring in the fall!

For more inspiration on other travel destinations in California and the west, see my blog, http//blogs.esanjoaquin.com/valleytravel, or contact me at tviall@msn.com

Happy travels in the West!

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Head for the High Sierra in next few weeks; weather is perfect for touring!

Columbia's old firehouse was rebuilt to withstand fires, complete with tin sheathing.

Kids, including author’s grandson Hunter, curly hair, can pan for gold and agates at Columbia State Historic Park!
The Wells Fargo Stagecoach offers rides through Columbia State Historic Park!

A couple of reasons to head for the High Sierra in the near future:

For a great excuse to visit Calaveras Big Trees State Park (up Hwy. 4), on Saturday, September 20, 10 AM to noon, a free seminar “Going Batty” will be held. Dave Johnson, a wildlife ecologist will speak about the often misunderstood bats of the world. The seminar is free, but there is a fee for entering into the park. For more information, call Calaveras Big Trees Association, 209-795-3840 or www.bigtrees.org.

A favorite destination, Kennedy Meadows Resort, about 25 miles east of Pinecrest on Hwy. 108, is open until October 13, offering a wealth of camping in the area, cabin rentals for as little as $77/night, horseback riding and packing, hiking and fishing.  A fine on-site restaurant can make your trip very civilized!

For a good reason to visit Columbia State Historic Park (just a few miles from Sonora off Hwy. 49), ghost tours will be hosted by Friends of the Park on October 25 at 3 PM. Tours are $10 and reservations can be made by calling 532-3184. Spooky…!  And, the historic park is open seven days a week, the weather is lovely, and plenty of activities for kids make it a worthwhile destination, any day!

And, the weather in the Sierra remains sunny, with cool nights and warm days, the fish are still biting and the summer crowds have dwindled. So plan that trip and head for the hills!

On Wednesday, with still a good six weeks before snows hit the Sierra, we offer insight into weekend delights up Hwy. 108 east of Sonora, CA . 

For more inspiration on other travel destinations in California and the west, see my blog, http//blogs.esanjoaquin.com/valleytravel, or contact me at tviall@msn.com. 

Happy travels in the West!

 

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Mount St. Helens, fiery volcanic monster is part of Sierra/Cascades “ring of fire”

Mt. St. Helens belched ash and gases up to seven miles high into the atmosphere on May 18, 1980, raining two inches of ash on Yakima, some 70 miles away, and about a 1/4 inch of ash on Spokane, almost 250 miles distant (photo courtesy NFS).

Mt. St. Helens gaping crater looms over Windy Ridge and Spirit Lake. The catastrophic eruption unleashed almost a cubic mile of rock, earth and gases, raising the level of Spirit Lake 200 feet and leveling forest for up to 20 miles distant.
This view of Spirit Lake shows a small isle, all that is left of the high ground that once was home to the Spirit Lake Lodge and owner Harry Truman.
The Miner’s Car Memorial lies almost nine miles from Mt. St. Helens; the two owners and their nephew were killed in the explosive eruption, along with Harry Truman and 53 others.
Stripped and denuded trees stand nine miles from Mt. St. Helens, in mute testimony to the explosive eruption in 1980.

Mount St. Helens, WA, just northeast of Portland, OR and south of Mt. Rainier, had been menacing with volcanic activity for months prior to May 18, 1980.  The young volcano (compared to other volcanic peaks in the Cascades like Mt. Hood, Mt. Rainier) had released steam, sent plumes of ash miles into the atmosphere, the north side of the 9,677 foot asymmetrical peak had begun to bulge and small earthquakes were being felt.

Hence, the US Forest Service had every reason to be wary as the peak flashed its volcanic temper early in 1980.  In April, as activity increased, safety zones, both red and blue, had been established around the volcano.  No one was to be in the red zone and only by signing a waiver could businesses enter the blue zone.

Sunday, May 18 dawned bright and sunny.  Eighty three year-old Harry
Truman, owner of the Spirit Lake Lodge at the foot of the volcano on the beautiful lake, had been a resident for 54 years.  He refused local official’s efforts to evacuate.  Volcanologist David Johnston was readying for another day of surveying the rumbling peak, from Coldwater Ridge. Miners Donald and Natalie Parker, with nephew Rick, had signed the waiver, driven their 1972 Pontiac to a trailhead eight miles from St. Helens and hiked to their cabin to work their Black Rock claim. 

None of them expected what happened that morning at 8:32 AM.  With little warning, a 5.1 earthquake was the prelude to Mt. St. Helens’s northside erupting with immense force.  Almost one cubic mile of the mountain’s north and northeast side exploded, releasing a pyroclastic flow that reduced the once grand 9,677 foot peak to  8,365 feet, leaving a gaping, one-mile-wide horseshoe crater.  The explosion sent a huge surge of earth, rock, ice and gases surging at 300 miles per hour, devastating an area about six miles wide and 20 miles in length.

Truman and his beloved  Spirit Lake Resort were blown away, as earth and rock filled Spirit Lake, initially raising the lake level almost 200 feet.  Johnston had time to radio “Vancouver, Vancouver, this is it” before the cataclysm reached his lookout post.  Soon the eruption reached the Parkers, scorching their vehicle and killing all three.  The bodies of Truman and Johnston were never recovered.  Over 7,000 large game animals (bear, deer, elk) and millions of fish were killed and thousands of huge trees were leveled  The eruption offered a lesson in volcanic studies; of the 57 people killed, 53 of them were outside the blue zone – in areas that experts believed were safe from volcanic impacts.

Our most recent visit to the Mt. St. Helens Volcanic National Monument took us north of Portland on Interstate 5, then east on WA 503.  This route runs south of the volcano and up the east side.  Once one turns onto NF 99, the Windy Ridge spur road, the might of the eruption becomes graphically apparent.  One soon enters the area where huge trees were flattened like matchsticks, or their limbs denuded, leaving only skeleton trunks.

The Miner’s Car memorial, where the Parker’s rusted and flattened Pontiac remains, lies as mute testimony of the volcano’s might.  Traveling nearer the base of St. Helens, most of the terrain remains much as it was 34 years ago, barren and devastated.  Varied turnoffs look down on Spirit Lake, its northeast end still littered with the floating trunks of huge fir trees blown into the lake.  Visible near the lake’s west end is a small island, once the high ground that once was the home of Spirit Lake Resort.

NF 99 ends about two miles from the base of the volcano, where a gated road is open to hikers who want to trek closer to the peak.  We chose to hike to the top of the Windy Ridge overlook, up about 400 steps.  From here, one gains a true perspective of the explosion’s immensity, seeing the horseshoe crater, mile-upon-mile of devastated ridges and forest, Spirit Lake, and the Johnston Ridge Observatory, across the valley at the end of the Spirit Lake Highway.

When to go: The monument is open year-round, but many access roads are often closed by snows around November 1. 

What’s nearby: Portland is the largest city south, on I-5, offering provisions and lodging.  Mt. Rainier is just 50 miles north; we reached it the same day as our tour of St. Helens, and spent the night at our favorite Rainier campground, Ohanepekosh (and, that evening, drove up to the Paradise area). 

If you have additional time plan a “ring of fire” trip – taking in Mt. Lassen National Park (just east of Redding, CA), Mt Shasta and Crater Lake.  A more extended trip could take in Mt Hood, OR and Mt. Adams in Washington, all majestic peaks and part of the volcanic chain of the north Sierra and Cascade ranges.

Dining, lodging, camping options: The monument offers little in visitor services; nearby towns like Woodland, Cougar and Randle offer dining and lodging options, surrounding National Forest offers selected camping options.

What to bring: Binoculars, camera, good hiking shoes and gear for about any type of weather!

How to get there: To reach Mt. St. Helens from the Stockton area, 740 miles and 14 hours, go north on I-5 past Portland, then east, then north on WA 503 to reach NF 99, the Windy Ridge spur road.  Another option is to visit the volcano’s Johnston Observatory on the north side, reached by taking the Spirit Lake Highway off I-5.

To plan your visit: go to http://www.fs.fed.us/pnw/mtsthelens/index.shtml or call (503) 808-2592.

Next week, with still a good six weeks before snows hit the Sierra, we offer insight into weekend delights up Hwy. 108 east of Sonora, CA . 

For more inspiration on other travel destinations in California and the west, see my blog, http//blogs.esanjoaquin.com/valleytravel, or contact me at tviall@msn.com. 

Happy travels in the West!

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San Joaquin County is a bicycling mecca…dust off those bikes!

 

LSD ("long, slow distance") Rides take cyclists on rides from 12 to 30 miles, as this group explored in a recent ride through Lodi wine country!

Family members gather for the “second Saturday Family Ride”, staged monthly by the San Joaquin Bike Coalition.

Some of you realize that Stockton and San Joaquin County are a bicyclists dream! Our cities and county offer many cycling benefits; lovely weather almost year-round, few hills, a variety of safe and scenic routes to flex those leg muscles on and several clubs that cater to new and veteran cyclists!

Whether it is riding on quiet Lodi-Woodbridge roads through vineyards, biking through quaint tree-lined Stockton streets to the historic downtown waterfront, or cycling along Manteca’s paved biking trail that even offers a bridge that crosses the Stanislaus River into our neighboring county – cyclists rate San Joaquin County as a solid biking destination and one with even greater potential for the future.

The north end of the county offers tours of over 80 wineries to the west, east and north of Lodi - and downtown Lodi as well as old Woodbridge offer a host of places to stop for a beverage or for lunch along the way.  Many of Stockton’s rides are anchored by the University of Pacific campus, that is blessed with the Calaveras Bike Trail that runs east and west through the north side of the campus.  The quaint Miracle Mile is a marvelous place to peddle to on Stockton’s sunny weekends.  Manteca and Tracy also offer special bike trails, and offer a number of places to start, finish and take a biking break, mid-ride.

Some might wonder about safety of cycling on city streets.  A couple of tips: Always anticipate that drivers don’t see you – ride defensively.  Follow the laws, and ride with traffic, not on sidewalks or against traffic.  Wear the brightest colors you can find – day-glo yellow, red or orange.  Invest in a rear-view mirror – mine offers me a lot of peace, as I can see drivers approaching from the rear.  And, study city maps to determine the safest routes.  For Stockton, see the city’s web site, it offers a downloadable map that profiles current and planned bike trails and cycling routes.

Let’s take Stockton, my home town.  I originally got tips from the Stockton Bike Club as to how to ride north-south in the city; today the San Joaquin Bike Coalition offers monthly rides that tour both the city and the county (on the first Saturday each month is an LSD (“long, slow distance”) Ride, that offers short and longer (up to 30 miles) tours of varied portions of the county.  The organization also offers a shorter Family  Ride on the second Saturday, designed for families with kids and more novice riders – those without group-riding experience.  For details, go to the Bike Coalition’s Facebook page, https://www.facebook.com/SanJoaquinbike.

A special event is coming soon; the  ‘San Joaquin Bike Fest’, on Saturday, September 27, 9 AM to 2 PM at University of Pacific (formerly the ‘Bike and Hike to End Hunger’)!  Here is your opportunity to tour both the Calaveras Bike Trail West and East routes, and a scenic and historic route to the downtown waterfront.  Join hundreds of families and singles for this fun, family tradition on Saturday, September 27 at the DeRosa Student Center, University of Pacific, 901 Presidents Drive, Stockton. 

Three scenic bicycle routes begin and end at the University, offering choices of routes from 6.5miles, 7.5 miles and 9.5 miles (link them all for a 25 mile ride).  A Kid’s Safety Village and short “activities course” will make a fun diversion for kids from 2 years and up, as well as novice riders!

Continuing this year: Music by ‘Pushers and Thieves’, good food, soft drinks to all participants (a beer garden, offering beer for purchase hosted by Stockton’s Abbey Trappist Pub) will make the Bike Festival event more festive, a true family tradition.  Come in “1980’s retro costumes” if you like, enjoy a display of classic 1980s and retro bikes, and enjoy the spectacle! 

Registration opens at 7 AM; rides begin at 9 and 9:30 AM and music, food and the beer garden will be ready for fun and lively action at 11 AM; the event concludes at 2:00 PM!

This annual event offers fun for entire family; these are scenic bike routes and tours – it is not a timed event.  Best of all, proceeds support the Emergency Food Bank’s nutrition programs and the educational programs of the San Joaquin Bicycle Coalition; so you help end hunger in Stockton & San Joaquin County, and, educate motorists and cyclists about safe bike travel! 

For more information on the Sept. 27 Bike Festival, go to www.sjbikefest.org; or register on-line at http://www.eventbrite.com/e/san-joaquin-bicycle-festival-2014-tickets-12315352551 or call (209) 969.3875 or (209) 464-7369 for more information.  For insight into the San Joaquin Bike Coalition and their monthly rides and activities, go to their Facebook page, https://www.facebook.com/SanJoaquinbike.  For info on the Stockton Bike Club, go to www.stocktonbikeclub.org.

Next Wednesday, find insight on touring north to Mt. St. Helens and Mt. Rainier, WA, part of the fiery volcanic legacy of the Pacific Northwest.  For more inspiration on other travel destinations in California and the west, see my blog, http//blogs.esanjoaquin.com/valleytravel, or contact me at tviall@msn.com. 

Happy peddling, and enjoy your travels in the West!

 

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Crater Lake National Park; azure blue waters, jaw-dropping vistas!

Wizard Island is itself an extinct volcano in the caldera of Crater Lake, now an island as the Mazama Volcano's collapsed volcano filled with water over the last 7,700 years.

 

Challenge your kids to find Phantom Ship, the smaller of two isles in the midst of Crater Lake's azure waters!

After visiting the park Visitor Center, the Crater Lake Lodge is a great place to start your tour of the 33-mile Rim Drive. Also a fine place to stay, and for fine food, too!
The lobby of Crater Lake Lodge is just the place to curl up by the fire and catch up on your reading!
Our Scotty teardrop, comfortably settled into a very nice Mazama Viallage campground, just six miles away from the Crater Lake Rim Drive.

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.  Crater Lake is close enough for a 3-4 day excursion (just seven hour’s drive from Stockton) and September to early October are some of the best times to visit.

“It is unlike any other natural wonder in the world.  It is the Jeweled Sapphire of the Cascades, set in a matrix of peaks and castled walls; we may look upon it but once then wear it in our hearts forever”, said author and poet Stanton C. Lapham in 1931.

We were there a few weeks ago for three days, on a longer trip through the Cascades, Pacific Northwest, Idaho and Montana (Glacier Park) and Canada’s Rocky Mountains.  Once again, Crater Lake burned itself into our long-term imagination!

We drove north, with a detour to Lassen National Park and a back route over Mt. Shasta; just past Klamath Falls, OR, is the turnoff to Crater Lake.  We arrived a day earlier than expected, found the Mazama Campground full, and were directed to several nearby National Forest campgrounds where we settled our teardrop trailer. 

We relocated to the Mazama Village campground which we had reserved for our final two days in the park (it includes a cafeteria, store, showers, ranger talks in evening, fire rings and 200 spacious trailer and tent sites).  We do our own meals, though the park has several other places to purchase prepared food like Crater Lake Lodge.

Our first day in the Park, we drove to the Crater Lake Lodge area on Rim Drive’s southside.  The old lodge is a treasure in itself (celebrating its 100th anniversary in 2015); treat yourself to a meal there!  Walking to the crater’s nearby rim, that first view remains always inspirational.  Crater Lake, which filled the collapsed volcano’s caldera some 7,700 years ago, is the bluest blue you’ll ever see.  The lake is 5 miles across, and 6 miles long.  Two islands appear from the crystal waters, Wizard Island, the larger, and Phantom Ship, at the lake’s north end.

There are several “must dos” while enjoying the park. Stop at Steel Visitor Center at park headquarters and watch the graphic film that explains the chain of volcanic events that formed Crater Lake, and presage a future eruption!  Then tour the 33 mile Rim Drive, by auto, or by bicycle (though, with almost 4,000 vertical feet of elevation gain, one best be in good biking shape; we saw scores of cyclists). 

Rim Drive offers 30-some different vantage points around the old volcano, each with incredible perspectives.  Most have educational story-boards that tell the tale of the volcano’s thundering eruption and eventual collapse of the once 12,000 foot peak to form the caldera.  Take a picnic lunch and drinks and enjoy some of the most dynamic dining scenery in America!

Many of the park’s volcanoes are extinct and can be climbed: Wizard Island, Mount Scott and Union Peak.  Cloudcap can be reached by auto, ending on top on the highest paved Oregon road at 7,865 feet!  And challenge your young visitors to discover the park’s youngest volcano (tip: it erupted 4,800 years ago, but under the waters of Crater Lake, so you can’t see it!).

Another fun tour takes you to the park’s north end; hike down into the caldera (about 700 vertical feet down – and up).  Then wet your feet, fish, swim or take the several hour boat tour; a park ranger does a great job of narrating the dramatic events that formed this national treasure.  One can also stop at the larger island, Wizard Island, itself an extinct volcano within the lake’s perimeter, and hike to the top!

If traveling with kids, challenge them to find Phantom Ship, a strange volcanic isle at the lake’s northeast corner – it looms out of the blue waters like a ghost pirate ship.  Another stop sure to wow young or old travelers is to visit the Pinnacles, on a spur road off Rim Drive which takes one to multi-hued volcanic formations from the same volcanic eruption that birthed Crater Lake itself.

When to go: The park is open year-round, but the North Entrance and much of the Rim Road is not open after about November 1.  Best time to visit is September to early October – though weather can come early at 7,000 feet elevation!

What’s nearby: Klamath Falls is the largest city south, on Hwy. 97, offering provisions and lodging.  Diamond Lake and Diamond Lake Resort are just 30 miles north of the park; a very pretty high-altitude lake, with great fishing and fine breakfasts.  If you have a few additional days, plan a “ring of fire” trip – taking in Mt. Lassen National Park (just east of Redding) and Mt Shasta.  A more extended trip could take in Mt Hood, OR and Mt. St. Helens, Mt. Rainier and Mt. Adams in Washington, all majestic peaks and part of the volcanic chain of the north Sierra and Cascade ranges.

Dining, lodging, camping options: Mazama Village offers dining, camping and cabin rentals, while Crater Lake Lodge offers 70 rooms and fine dining.  Mazama Village Campground offers 200 year-round campsites.

How to get there: To reach Crater Lake, just 400 miles and 7 hours from Stockton, go north on I-5 to Weed, CA, then northeast on Hwy. 97, then take Oregon Hwy. 62 to the park entrance.

To plan your visit: go to http://www.nps.gov/crla/planyourvisit/hours.htm, or call the park’s Public Information Officer, (541)594-3091.

Next week, insight on touring north to Mt. St. Helens and Mt. Rainier, WA, part of the fiery volcanic legacy of the Pacific Northwest.  For more inspiration on other travel destinations in California and the west, see my blog, http//blogs.esanjoaquin.com/valleytravel, or contact me at tviall@msn.com. 

Happy travels in the West!

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Stockton by bicycle…San Joaquin Bike Fest is coming Sept. 27!

Cyclists head for the downtown route at last year's Bike Festival!

Bikes and bikers of all types gathered at UOP in 2013!
Family cyclists prepare to depart the UOP campus in 2013.

Stockton by bicycle…flat, sunny, tour-worthy!  A special event comes, end of September, for folks don’t know where to go to safely and scenically bicycle!

Stockton offers many cycling benefits; lovely weather almost year-round, very few hills, and a variety of safe and scenic routes to flex those leg muscles on!

A special event is coming soon; the  ‘San Joaquin Bike Fest’, Saturday, September 27, 9 AM to 2 PM at University of Pacific (formerly the ‘Bike and Hike to End Hunger’)!  Here is your opportunity to tour both the Calaveras Bike Trail West and East routes, and a scenic and historic route to the downtown waterfront.  Join hundreds of families and singles for this fun, family tradition on Saturday, September 27 at the DeRosa Student Center, University of Pacific, 901 Presidents Drive, Stockton. 

Four scenic bicycle routes begin and end at the University, offering choices of routes from 1.5 miles, 6.5miles, 7.5 miles and 9.5 miles (link all for a 25 mile ride).  A Kid’s Safety Village and short “activities course” will make a fun diversion for kids from 2 years and up, as well as novice riders!

Continuing this year: Music by ‘Pushers and Thieves’, good food, soft drinks to all participants (a beer garden, offering beer for purchase hosted by Stockton’s Abbey Trappist Pub) will make the Bike Festival event more festive, a true family tradition.  Come in “1980’s retro costumes” if you like, enjoy a display of classic 1980s and retro bikes, and enjoy the spectacle! 

Registration opens at 7 AM; rides begin at 9 and 9:30 AM and music, food and the beer garden will be ready for fun and lively action at 11 AM; the event concludes at 2:00 PM!

Fun for entire family; these are scenic bike routes and tours – it is not a timed event.  Best of all, proceeds support the Emergency Food Bank’s nutrition programs and the educational programs of the San Joaquin Bicycle Coalition; so you help end hunger in Stockton & San Joaquin County, and, educate motorists and cyclists about safe bike travel! 

For more information, go to www.sjbikefest.org; or register on-line at http://www.eventbrite.com/e/san-joaquin-bicycle-festival-2014-tickets-12315352551 or call (209) 969.3875 or (209) 464-7369 for more information. 

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A walk in the clouds…Glacier National Park

Clouds fill Glacier's valleys, leaving the peaks above about 7,000 feet all that is visible from on high...!

Grinnell Glacier in Glacier Park, slowly retreating as are all the park’s glaciers. Still stunning!
Another view of Glacier from about 7,500 feet!
Glacier from on high, with wildflowers in high bloom…!

I’d like to say these photos are mine, but they’re taken by two of my nieces, Emily and Sarah Viall, on a recent tour, and multiple hikes of Glacier National Park.  We met my brother John, spouse Anne and his two daughters there, and spent a lovely almost four days together (other than an absolutely stunning, ferocious thunder storm that descended upon on campsite on our last night there – the power of nature at it’s most compelling!).

These two alpinists are usually mild-mannered healthcare professionals, hailing from Cincinnati and now both working in Washington, DC. They both had the energy to do a number of serious hikes, up to almost 12 miles, much above 7,000 feet, in the clouds.

Enjoy these great photos; and thanks to Emily and Sarah for sharing!

Our next feature will offer insights and photos of a recent trip to Crater Lake National Park, with a side trip to Lassen National Park and Mt. Shasta along the way.  Stay tuned!

For additional travel destination inspiration, see my blog: http://blogs.eSanJoaquin.com/valleytravel; or contact me, tviall@msn.com. 

Happy travels in the west!

 

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    Tim Viall

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