Favorite Streets: Stockton’s Miracle Mile was first suburban shopping district in 1945!

 

Stockton’s Miracle Mile, a stretch of Pacific Avenue running from Harding Way on the south to the University of Pacific on the north, was Stockton’s first suburban shopping center.  The Stockton Empire Theatre opened in 1945, and a host of shops and restaurants surrounded it.  Today, it remains a quaint, interesting, robust and nostalgic shopping district.

Many shops line the one mile stretch, from specialty shops, antique shops, florists, home improvement shops and many more.  The 10 block portion, from Harding Way north to Castle, is eminently walkable and full of surprises; just right for strolling and finding that special gift or treasure!

Some of the city’s best and locally-owned restaurants and night spots are located on “The Mile”.  Here’s an incomplete list, running generally from south to north, of our favorites: Manny’s, Taste of Korea, Saigon (Vietnamese), Whiskey Barrel Tavern, CoCoRo (Japanese), Centrale, The Ave, Whirlow’s, the Abbey Trappist Pub, Mile Wine Company, Valley Brew, La Palma (Mexican), Sam’s Café and Siamese Street (Thai). 

Take the time to tour this slice of Americana; for more information, go to the Miracle Mile Improvement District, www.stocktonmiraclemile.com, or call 209.948.6453.

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

Happy travels in the West!

 

 

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Rethink your California “Bucket List for 2015″; epic destinations!

The General Sherman Tree, in Sequoia National Park, is largest tree in the world, and always draws an admiring crowd!

We live in, arguably, the most spectacular state in America. With all the wonderful destinations at your beck and call and the start of a New Year approaching, I suggest you update your bucket list of California destinations for 2015.  To whet your appetite, here are some of our favorites – most of them in N. California.

Of California’s nine wonderful national parks, several stand out: Pinnacles, due to its close proximity to the valley and stunning topography.  When you journey to places like Pinnacles National Park, explore the surrounding countryside, which will yield other extraordinary places like Mission San Antonio just 30 miles south, and, across the scenic coastal range, the Big Sur coast.

Have you made it to Lassen National Park, perhaps the most impressive park of volcanic and thermal features in the country? With mud pots, fumaroles and a volcano that exploded huge boulders for miles less than 100 years ago, it has to be on your list!  Further south, Death Valley is stunning for its austerity, particularly impressive in the spring when rains bring wildflowers in abundance.

California’s State Parks can’t be overlooked, from Mt. Diablo State Park – you’ve seen it for how many years on our western horizon, but have  you been to the top, camped in it, and admired the 100 mile views?  How about Calaveras Big Trees and it’s towering Redwood groves, or Big Basin State Park, northwest of Santa Cruz in the coastal mountains, oldest of the state’s parks and home to towering Coast Redwoods.  Spring is a fine time to visit these parks, with seasonal streams flowing full and wildflowers coming into bloom.

Have you fully explored San Francisco’s unique waterfront? The City offers special places for walking, bicycling, public transit or auto.  Start at the Golden Gate Bridge and explore Fort Point, the only Civil War fort on the West Coast. Travel east past Crissy Field, through the Marina District and stop and explore the San Francisco Maritime Museum and the Hyde Street Pier where a dozen historic ships await your arrival, with Fisherman’s Wharf right next door.

Skip SF’s tourist-stop Pier 39, continue on the Embarcadero to reach the renovated historic Ferry Building and explore a wealth of cute shops and eateries. Here you can take the ferry to Oakland and return, or take a Hornblower scenic cruise on the bay. Continue south, past AT&T ballpark, across the Lefty O’Doul Bridge into Mission Bay; soon you’re in the heart of several commercial shipyards where you can see big ships lying in drydock for repairs. Unique ocean and bay vistas present themselves at every mile of such a trip!

Don’t ignore the treasures of our San Joaquin/Sacramento Delta.  From backwater river towns such as Rio Vista, Walnut Grove and Locke, fishing for striped bass, salmon and crayfish, to scores of bucolic orchards and vineyards – you’ll find surprises around every turn.

California’s Gold Rush history brings tourists from around the world. The site of California’s Gold discovery in 1848 is in nearby Coloma; Mother Lode Gold Rush sites march south down the Sierra. Here you’ll find wonderful, historic towns just waiting to be explored. Start at Coloma, include Placerville, Fiddletown, Sutter Creek, Columbia, Sonora, and finish your day tour in Jamestown’s Railtown 1897 (the “movie railroad, with locomotives appearing in scores of movies and TV shows).

Dig into your hometown’s history, such as Stockton’s. Line up a downtown historic walking tour (call the Downtown Stockton Alliance, 464-5246) and explore the Haggin Museum and San Joaquin Historical Society and Museum.  Discover historic nuggets such as Mokelumne City, which rivaled Stockton for both population and shipping supremacy before a huge flood wiped it off the map in 1861. You will find our city and county’s roots are deeply intertwined in the storied history of our state and region.

The magical Sierra offers so much to see and do. From Lake Tahoe, Yosemite, Sequoia and Kings Canyon national parks to big-time ski areas, with fishing, hiking, biking and camping opportunities close at hand.  Camp or hike at such meccas as Pinecrest Lake, Lake Alpine and the Arnold Rim Trail, all within 1.5 hours of town.

When traveling, watch for unique “by accident finds” like the Salton Sea, just south of Death Valley and Joshua Tree National Parks. A former barren valley well below sea level similar to Death Valley, it became an environmental disaster in the early 1900s when the flood-stricken Colorado River overflowed its banks and flooded the dry Salton Sink, forming a landlocked sea now 35 miles long and 25 miles wide.  The Salton Sea is surrounded by five ghost resorts, created in the 1970s after two very wet El Nino winters raised the lake level by 10+ Feet, flooding homes and ruining casinos.

Pick a favorite movie shot in California, even in Stockton, and explore the film locations. Sideways, which won an Academy Award in 2004, affords a fine day tour of the Santa Barbara County area, yielding film locations including the Hitching Post Restaurant, Los Olivos restaurant and a motel in Buellton, where much of the film was shot.  In Stockton, one can claim film locations such as the Lido Hotel, the old downtown bus station, the Hotel Stockton, University of Pacific and more, sites used in movies like Fat City, All the Kings Men and Raiders of the Lost Ark.

Visit California’s north coast in the winter or early spring when you can have stunning ocean vistas all to yourself. The coast north of Bodega Bay is amazing, from quaint towns like Jenner and Mendocino, to beautiful oceanfront campgrounds to old Fort Ross dating back to Russian explorers.  Further north, you find Redwoods National Park and continuing California majesty.

So, take the New Year’s start to update your own California bucket list – and, get exploring! No list can ever be complete, so polish up your own and share notable destinations that I have missed.  I’ll publish other reader favorites in my upcoming Record Valley Travel blogs!

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

Happy travels in the West!

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Reader shares his thoughts about winters in Montana, and the 1959 Yellowstone Earthquake!

Quake Lake in Montana, looking west to the side of huge mountain that slid in the earthquake of 1959, killing 29 campers at its base.

After my last blog post and article in the Record, about Yellowstone, Glacier National Parks and Montana in the winter, reader Gene Beley offered these thoughts; outdoors readers will find them of interest!  Gene writes:

Tim, that was a very good article you wrote about your Montana trip, “Room to Roam”. 

My sister and brother in law lived just outside of West Yellowstone for a few years after they retired.  They built a lake front home on Hebgen Lake.  We grew up in Bozeman and Billings.  Yellowstone Park was like our backyard in our childhood.  Our parents would drive from Bozeman to the Gallatin Gateway Inn to take us to dinner to teach us how to act in a nice restaurant.  My younger sister leaned over and asked my mother very quietly, “Where do little girls throw their milk when they don’t want it?”

My sister Patty and her husband, Mel Knutson, left the West Yellowstone area because the winters were just too brutal. It was tough when most of the population leaves in the winter and one has to travel 90 miles to Bozeman to do any major shopping like even for groceries.  And that Gallatin Canyon between Bozeman and West Yellowstone is an extremely dangerous road unless it has recently been changed.  When I went to see my mother in Billings just before she died at 92, a big oil tanker overturned in that canyon and blocked the entire road.  I had to stay overnight in a motel that night.

If you ever go to West Yellowstone in the summer, be sure to take a side trip to the Earthquake Information Center on Hebgen Lake.  That is the site of one of the largest earthquakes in North American history.  We felt the impact 300 miles away in Billings.  Boulders were thrown across a canyon and a new lake was created. People were buried at the site where the earthquake information center is now.  One of my classmates lost her parents in that mountain coming down on top of their campsite.

Clothes were ripped off people due to the air being sucked out when a mountain crumbled.  Don’t ask me to explain the physics on that.  There is a small book available through that earthquake information center that I keep saying I’ll buy.  Someone should have made a movie out of that disaster but never did. 

A tsunami was created on the lake where lakefront cabins were grabbed and tossed over the dam and redeposited in a valley below the dam.  Amazingly, most of them were right side up!  You can see those there today.

At the time of the earthquake, I was writing an article in our Billings basement for the weekly YELLOWSTONE NEWS (for our Yellowstone County).  I thought I was getting sick because the walls seemed to be going back and forth. I went upstairs to tell my parents I was ill. They were sitting outside on the porch, totally confused themselves, as were many others up and down the block, because Montanans had not experienced earthquakes! 

Anyhow, it would be well worth a trip back in the summer for you just for that experience alone.

Personally, I do not like Montana because I hated the snow and cold so much and felt like I was lucky to escape it when I migrated to San Jose in 1961.  When I saw the palm trees and girls in shorts on the San Jose State campus on Jan 2, 1961, I thought I had died and went to heaven.  I ended up marrying a San Jose girl and I told our children, if they wanted to go to the snow,they’d have to go with someone else.  They did and even all learned to ski.  So everyone was happy.  But if you are a skier, like you and your wife, that’s the key.  It’s all in the mind. In high school I was a water skier and it didn’t make sense to wait for just three months of summer and endure freezing cold and blizzards the other 9 months. The final straw was 40 below weather in Missoula my freshman year of college.  That’s when I began shopping for a California college.

Keep up the good work, Tim!  Gene.

I will second Gene’s recommendation that Montana visitors visit the scene of the 1959 Yellowstone Earthquake, which brought down the side of a huge mountain, claimed the lives of 29 campers at its base, caused the formation of Quake Lake, and tilted huge Hebgen Lake about 12 feet, inundating cabins on one side of the lake.  Truly an awe-inspiring place.

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

Happy travels in the West!

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Montana, Glacier and Yellowstone National Parks, scenic, cold and uncrowded in winter!

 

 

Old Faithful Geyser erupts at dusk, to a crowd of two, my spouse and me!

Last January,  we headed to Whitefish, MT, to join a group of ski patrol friends to ski at Whitefish Mountain (formerly, Big Mountain), tour into Glacier National Park and make our way south to Yellowstone National Parks.  I suggest such a winter trip should be on the bucket list for any outdoor enthusiast!

Whether the trip is to ski, to see our national parks or to take in the majesty of the west in winter, this trip does not disappoint.  We drove, from central California, through Nevada, north into Idaho and up through western Montana.  Most of the scenery is spectacular, roads are good and a host of inexpensive motels line the stunning route!

We made Whitefish, MT on a sunny, clear but -5 degree, which got our attention (little did we know that would be the warmest day in the next five!).  Some of our group boarded the Monday morning shuttle to Whitefish Mountain, while my spouse and I slept in, then grabbed our cross-country skis and did a few laps on the cross country ski track, right outside our cozy lodge.  

The next day, five of us toured into Glacier National Park, just 28 miles to the northeast.  Temperatures had reached 13 below zero, and keeping warm was high on everyone’s list. During the winter, most of the roads in Glacier Park are not plowed, and closed to vehicular traffic. 

From the western park entrance we were able to drive 11 miles into the Park on Going to the Sun Highway, ending at the boarded-up Lake McDonald Lodge.  Here, hardy snowshoers or cross country skiers can continue east along the closed road. 

The tour along the southern shore of Lake McDonald offers simply stunning views.  We stood on the shore of the lake, with a wind-chill down to about -25, and listened to the slapping of white caps breaking on the shore, framed by the rugged snow-capped mountains across the lake. 

We then headed east along the park’s southern border.  In the town of Essex is the delightful Izaac Walton Inn, a unique year-round resort that caters to skiers and snowshoers in the winter.  The old inn is a Great Northern Railway hotel with inviting rooms, and it is surrounded by renovated cabooses and a Great Northern locomotive, all turned into cozy accommodations, with numerous ski trails leading to incredible scenery!

After our several frigid days in the Glacier Park area, it was time to head south to West Yellowstone and Yellowstone National Park.  Hwy 93 takes one south along the western shore of Flathead Lake, with snowy peaks framing the lake at every vantage point.  We turned east on I-90, past Missoula to Bozeman, as my spouse checked the Weather Channel app on her iPhone, noting that West Yellowstone was forecast to reach -25 degrees by the next morning.  Brrrrrr! 

We reached West Yellowstone just before dark, and spent the night at the Stagecoach Inn.  In January, but for snowmobilers, not a lot is going on (only a handful of restaurants and motels are open), so we had pizza across from the Stagecoach, turned in fairly early and waited for the coming cold morning.

The next morning, a motel attendant noted the temperature had reached -40 degrees overnight.  Sure…he must be exaggerating!   Shortly, I went out into the sunny morning to start my car – it would barely crank – the dashboard display registered -38 degrees!  After running down my battery, I called AAA.  Awaiting their arrival, I returned to the car 15 minutes later to get my hot cup of coffee, only to discover it frozen solid!

More than an hour later, AAA was able to start my car.  We learned that the Park Service was halting all entrants into the park (via snow coach or snowmobile) until the day warmed up to -25 degrees! 

Yellowstone Park can be entered in winter via three entrances, but only by snow coach or snowmobile.  Choices are from West Yellowstone (the west entrance), Mammoth Hot Springs (north) or from Jackson Hole/Flagg Ranch (south). 

On an earlier trip, we spent three days at the Old Faithful Snow Lodge, a quarter mile from Old Faithful Geyser.  It’s a four-star hotel, with 150 rooms and a cozy, full-service restaurant.  We chose the Frontier Cabin option, vintage cabins a block out back and less expensive than the nearby lodge.

We packed our cross-country skis, but used them only sparingly.  While several feet of snow was on the ground, plenty of walkers/snowshoers had packed the snow-covered miles of boardwalk so that we were able to hike the thermal basins and up to the Old Faithful overlook shod only in winter footgear.

During our stay we saw stunning Trumpeter Swans on the Firehole River and shaggy bison throughout the park, including a huge bull just 20 feet off the boardwalk on one of our walking tours (they come down to the geyser basins for warmth in winter). 

Old Faithful Geyser, only a short walk from our cabin, and the park’s many thermal features warmed our hearts during several brisk hikes – often, we would be the only observers when a geyser erupted!

We marveled at elk by the hundreds; in winter, they prefer to wander the park roads rather than wade through deep snow.  The morning of our departure, a coyote followed us out the morning we left, seeking a handout; he’ll have to await our next visit! 

How to get there: From central CA, we headed east on Interstate 80, then north on Hwy 95 through western Idaho, then Hwy 12 over Lolo Pass, north on Hwy 93 through Missoula and past beautiful Flathead Lake to Whitefish.  Hwy 2 east from Whitefish will take you to Glacier National Park.

What to take: Binoculars and camera, of course, lots of winter clothing, and skis or showshoes if you are into that.  And, chains for your vehicle, even if you have a 4-wheel drive; jumper cables make sense if predictions of temps down to -20 or lower! 

Where to stay: In Whitefish, the Grouse Mountain Lodge (http://www.grousemountainlodge.com/) is a superior choice for cozy and classy accommodations in a lodge-like setting (Whitefish offers other good motel choices).  On the southern edge of Glacier Park, no more unique inns exist than the Izaac Walton Inn (http://www.izaakwaltoninn.com/).  In West Yellowstone, we have enjoyed the Stagecoach Inn (http://yellowstoneinn.com/; 406.646.7381) several times; in Yellowstone Park the Old Faithful Snow Lodge is the only winter choice (http://www.yellowstonenationalparklodges.com/). 

For more information on Glacier National Park, (406) 888-7800, http://www.nps.gov/glac/planyourvisit/winter.htm.  For snowcoach service into the park, the West Yellowstone Chamber of Commerce can offer choices of private snowcoach providers, (406) 646.7701.  For Yellowstone’s North park entrance (Mammoth Hot Springs) and south park entrance (Flagg Ranch/Teton Park) lodging and snow coach service, and Old Faithful Snow Lodge stays, contact Zanterra, www.yellowstonenationalparklodges.com, (307) 344.7901.

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

Happy travels in the West!

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Travelicious: Favorite holiday happenings in Stockton/San Joaquin County, December, 2014

 

 

It's a Wonderful Life, with James Stewart and Donna Reed, plays in big screen splendor at the Fox/Bob Hope Theater, December 14.

For many, the Christmas holiday is a favorite time of the year.  Here are some of our favorite things to do, in and around Stockton, during the holiday season:

Christmas lights on Meadow Avenue, between Pershing and Alexandria, Stockton

No city street has more Christmas lights and fun for the family than touring the lights on this six-block stretch of Meadow Avenue in Stockton.  Take a thermos of hot cocoa, and make an evening stroll with other families.  Best of all, it’s free!

Festival of Lights at San Joaquin Historical Society, Micke Grove Park, south of Lodi
With more than 70 beautifully decorated unique Christmas trees, the San Joaquin County Historical Museum’s 23rd annual Festival of Trees is Saturday and Sunday, December 6 and 7, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the museum (located in Micke Grove Park south of Lodi about one mile west of Highway 99 and south of Armstrong Road).

Visitors will be greeted by docents in vintage Victorian and pioneer clothes, lending a feeling that guest have stepped back in time to celebrate Christmas! The museum’s exhibit buildings will overflow with scores of festive trees, each decorated according to a unique theme by different individuals and groups from throughout San Joaquin County.

The festival also features holiday exhibits, entertainment, model trains, and many activities including vintage craft demonstrations like wood carving, woodturning, jewelry making and quilting. Children can partake in numerous hands-on activities including decorating cookies, making cornhusk dolls, dipped candles, and punched tin ornaments. A nominal fee is charged for children to make the crafts. Kids will be able to visit Santa and Mrs. Claus, and families can purchase photographs of their children with Santa.

Entertainment fills both days; food and drink will be available for purchase.  General admission tickets are $10, and $1 for children 2 to 12 years old (kids under 2 are admitted free). Tickets may be purchased at the event or in advance at the Music Box in Stockton and Lodi or by calling the museum at, (209) 331-2055 or 953-3460, or www.sanjoaquinhistory.org. By getting tickets in advance, the $6 parking fee into Micke Grove Park is waived.

Christmas Tree Lighting at Weber Point Event Center, Saturday, December 6, 2014, 4:30 PM to 6:00 PM.

Enjoy live caroling, Frosty the Snowman, and a tree lighting ceremony with the family!  Weber Point Event Center, Center Street and Miner Avenue, Stockton, California,  FREE! The City of Stockton will hold its annual holiday tree lighting ceremony on Saturday, December 6, 2014. Gates open at 4:30pm and the Tree Lighting is at 5:45pm. Traditionally, the mayor lights the holiday tree for the entire community. This year members of the Lincoln High School Choir will perform, under the direction of Paul Kimball. The ceremony will take place at Weber Point Event Center, located at Center Street and Miner Avenue.

Go Fishing!

With this mild weather, plenty of time for nearby comfy fishing, says the Record’s Pete Ottesen: Go to his Fish Finder for latest updates: http://www.recordnet.com/article/20141202/SPORTS/141209884/101019/A_SPORTS.  And, your license probably expires in January, so get in a trip or two!

 

Stockton Civic Theatre presents “The Sound of Music”
Enjoy live musical theatre with the 3rd longest continuously operating community theatre in the US! Stockton Civic Theatre, 2312 Rosemarie Lane, Stockton. A variety of shows through December 14, 2014, contact the theatre for details; http://sctlivetheatre.com/boxoffice_calendar.html#Sept13.

Polar Express Train Rides and tours for the family at Railtown 1897 in Jamestown
Just 60 miles from Stockton is an operating steam railroad, complete with 100 year-old steam engines, the oldest continuously operated roundhouse in the West and movie history literally dripping from the rafters!  Railtown 1897 State Historic Park, on the edge of Jamestown, CA, is open for the holidays and makes a great place to let kids explore!  Toss in the Gold Rush history of Jamestown itself, and you have a full day’s worth of memories just waiting for you!

The popular Polar Express holiday train rides operate now through Christmas, offering kids and adults an hour-long trip to the North Pole on an old train decorated for the holidays on Fridays through Sundays, December 5-7, 12-14 and 19-21, departing at 4, 6 and 8 PM.  Once the train reaches the “North Pole”, Santa will come on board to give each passenger a silver sleighbell!  Hot chocolate and cookies are also provided in route! Tickets for the Polar Express are $40 Coach and $55 First Class, with kids under 2 free (must be seated on adult’s lap).
Jamestown itself is a stalwart holdover from the Gold Rush.  Both a site of gold diggins itself, and a stopping off point for the Mother Lode mines, it grew to quite the city with numerous restaurants, saloons and hotels.  Many still survive, preserving their history dating to the 1860s. 

Railtown 1897 State Historic Park is open daily through March, 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., and April through October, from 9:30 a.m to 4:30 p.m., (closed Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s Day). The Polar Express train operates though the next three weekends. To get there, go east on State Hwy. 4 to Copperopolis, then southwest on O’Byrnes Ferry Road, then east on Highway 108 to Jamestown (it’s about an hour’s drive from Stockton). For more info: Regular admission: $5 adults; $3 youths ages 6-17; children ages 5 and under are free; if purchasing excursion train ride tickets, admission is included in the train ticket price.  See Railtown’s website for hours and special programs, www.Railtown1897.org; write Railtown 1897, PO Box 1250 / 18115 5th Avenue, Jamestown, CA 95327; or call (209) 984-3953.

It’s A Wonderful Life – Sunday, December 14; Santa, entertainment at 1, movie at 2 PM at the Fox/Bob Hope Theatre, downtown Stockton                                                                   
James Stewart and Donna Reed star in the Christmas classic about a man who wishes he had never been born. Things really get interesting when he tries to kill himself but is rescued by an angel who gives him a tour of what the world would have been like without him. Thomas Mitchell, Lionel Barrymore, Ward Bond, and Beulah Bondi have great supporting roles in this 1948 film directed by Frank Capra.

Santa is in the lobby (for photos) and the Barbershoppers singing Christmas carols at 1:00, the “Mighty Morton” organ concert at 1:30 and movie at 2:00 PM. Complimentary wine, snacks, bottled water and soft drinks served in the lobby (donations accepted).  Purchase your tickets at the box office (open 1 PM) for admission and raffle tickets, day of the show.  Theatre is located at 242 E. Main, Stockton.

Miracle Mile Third Thursdays on Pacific Avenue
See Santa and enjoy carolers, wine tasting, and merchant specials on the Mile on Thursday, December 18, 2014, 5:00 PM to 8:00 PM. Join the fun with participating businesses on the Miracle Mile, Pacific Avenue & Adams Street, Stockton, California.

Ho, Ho Holiday Bicycle Rides are December 18 and December 23, 6:00 PM!
“The Ho, Ho Holiday Bicycle Rides” will take place on Thursday, December 18 and Tuesday, December 23,  6 PM.  The December 18 ride starts at Valley Brew, 157 W. Adams; the December 23 ride begins in front of Performance Bicycle, Lincoln Center South, 6555 Pacific Avenue, Stockton.  Both rides are presented by the San Joaquin Bicycle Coalition and are free to participants.

Rides will be at a leisurely pace; the December 18 ride will tour through nearby neighborhoods and the Miracle Mile, to admire the Christmas lights along the route; the December 23 ride will tour the lights of Lincoln Center.  Participants are urged to decorate their bikes with lights and holiday decorations.  All riding levels will be accommodated; youth under age 18 must ride with helmets; adults are strongly encouraged to ride with helmets. 

Riders will return to Valley Brew around 7 PM, for no-host libations and snacks. At Performance Bikes, participants have a choice of night spots to toast the holidays.  Last year’s event drew about 50 families; more are expected this year!

For additional events and activities, see: VisitStockton.org; for more travel destination inspiration, see my blog: http://blogs.eSanJoaquin.com/Valley travel; to contact me, tviall@msn.com

Happy travels in the West!

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Railtown 1897 and historic Gold Rush-era Jamestown make for fine day-tour!

 

Huge turntable, constructed 1922, can direct locomotives or rolling stock into historic roundhouse for repairs.

 

 

 

Just 60 miles from Stockton is an operating steam railroad, complete with 100 year-old steam engines, the oldest continuously operated roundhouse in the West and movie history literally dripping from the rafters!  Railtown 1897 State Historic Park, on the edge of Jamestown, CA, is open for the holidays and makes a great place to let kids explore!  Toss in the Gold Rush history of Jamestown itself, and you have a full day’s worth of memories just waiting for you!

We recently paid Railtown’s modest admission, and wandered through the old station’s waiting room, noting many of the movies like “High Noon” that were shot using the Sierra Railroad’s vintage steam engines and rolling stock.  We were soon met by cheerful docent Bill Baum for the afternoon tour. 

The tour took us behind the scenes, where we could climb up into the cabs of several mammoth steam engines, marvel at the huge drive wheels and learn what was a “sand dome” (the portion of the locomotive loaded with sand, for sprinkling sand on the track for additional traction). 

Bill explained the Sierra Railroad: It started to the west in Oakdale in 1897, and ran as the main trunk line to connect the lumbering railroads of Pickering Lumber, West Side Lumber and the Hetch Hetchy Railroads to the major rail lines that came to Oakdale.  Ore, lumber and marble were its main freight (the marble quarry in Columbia is now part of Marble Quarry RV Park)

One of the earliest films shot here was “The Virginian”, filmed in 1929 in Jamestown and the Sonora areas.  Starring Gary Cooper (who had previously appeared in several silent films) who was cast as the Virginian; it was his first leading role in a western and his first talkie. Hundreds of other films and television shows have used the Sierra Railroad’s engines and rolling stock for such classics as “High Noon”, “My Little Chickadee”, “Petticoat Junction” and many more. 

The addition of stunning Sierra and foothills scenery (and proximity to Hollywood) have made the railroad the most famous “filmed railroad” in America; you can see film clips and movie posters of many of these epics in the Railtown visitor center.  The support of the movie industry helped spare their engines and rolling stock in World War II, where a lesser operation might have had those old locomotives melted down for recasting as tanks and armored vehicles!

Our roundhouse tour included Engine 3, with much film history and Engine 2, from Lima, OH, a shay engine built for hilly and sharp turn tracks in the lumber industry of the Sierra. Engine 28 stood stolidly nearby; sold many years ago to a customer but never picked up!

In the roundhouse you will also see a 1920’s Model T Ford and a 1920’s White truck, both creatively converted to rail work-party vehicles. One can walk through old Pullman passenger cars, see an old Caboose up-close, and admire the huge turntable that shunted locomotives and cars from tracks to roundhouse bays.

Part of the tour includes the delightful Railtown store, with railroad conductor’s and engineer’s hats, a variety of cute railroad t-shirts and micellanious goods and the most extensive set of railroad history books I have seen

The popular Polar Express holiday train rides operate now through Christmas, offering kids and adults an hour-long trip to the North Pole on an old train decorated for the holidays on Fridays through Sundays, December 5-7, 12-14 and 19-21, departing at 4, 6 and 8 PM.  Once the train reaches the “North Pole”, Santa will come on board to give each passenger a silver sleighbell!  Hot chocolate and cookies are also provided in route! Tickets for the Polar Express are $40 Coach and $55 First Class, with kids under 2 free (must be seated on adult’s lap).

Jamestown itself is a stalwart holdover from the Gold Rush.  Both a site of gold diggins itself, and a stopping off point for the Mother Lode mines, it grew to quite the city with numerous restaurants, saloons and hotels.  Many still survive, preserving their history dating to the 1860s. 

We lunched in the Willows Steakhouse and Seafood, once part of the old Hotel Willow, down the street the National Hotel and Hotel Jamestown still host guests.  Take the time to walk the five-block long Main Street for another step-back-in-time (just two blocks from Railtown)!

When to go: Railtown 1897 State Historic Park is open daily through March, 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., and April through October, from 9:30 a.m to 4:30 p.m., (closed Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s Day). The Polar Express train operates though the next three weekends.

How to get there: Go east on State Hwy. 4 to Copperopolis, then southwest on O’Byrnes Ferry Road, then east on Highway 108 to Jamestown (it’s about an hour’s drive from Stockton).

What to take: Good walking shoes, your camera and binoculars!

Where to eat, where to stay: We had a fine lunch at the Willows Steakhouse and Sea Food; a number of other dining options can be found along Main Street, as well as several hotels/motels.

For more info: Regular admission: $5 adults; $3 youths ages 6-17; children ages 5 and under are free; if purchasing excursion train ride tickets, admission is included in the train ticket price.  See Railtown’s website for hours and special programs, www.Railtown1897.org; write Railtown 1897, PO Box 1250 / 18115 5th Avenue, Jamestown, CA 95327; or call (209) 984-3953.

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

Happy travels in the West!

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Festival of Trees makes December perfect time to visit San Joaquin County Historical Museum near Lodi, CA

Anytime is a good time to visit our county’s historical museum in Micke Grove Park south of Lodi, but December is the “put it on your calendar” time! In December, the museum complex comes alive with both Christmas cheer and the stunning Festival of Trees! 

With more than 70 beautifully decorated unique Christmas trees, the San Joaquin County Historical Museum’s 23rd annual Festival of Trees is Saturday and Sunday, December 6 and 7, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the museum (located in Micke Grove Park south of Lodi about one mile west of Highway 99 and south of Armstrong Road).

Visitors will be greeted by docents in vintage Victorian and pioneer clothes, lending a feeling that guest have stepped back in time to celebrate Christmas! The museum’s exhibit buildings will overflow with scores of festive trees, each decorated according to a unique theme by different individuals and groups from throughout San Joaquin County.

The festival also features holiday exhibits, entertainment, model trains, and many activities including vintage craft demonstrations like wood carving, woodturning, jewelry making and quilting. Children can partake in numerous hands-on activities including decorating cookies, making cornhusk dolls, dipped candles, and punched tin ornaments. A nominal fee is charged of $1 to $3 for children to make the crafts. Kids will be able to visit Santa and Mrs. Claus, and families can purchase photographs of their children with Santa.

Entertainment fills both days; food and drink will be available for purchase. In addition to all the holiday festivities and decorated trees, visitors will enjoy the museum’s historical exhibits. The county museum features one of the largest collections of tractors, agriculture equipment and tools west of the Mississippi.

General admission tickets are $10, and $1 for children 2 to 12 years old (kids under 2 are admitted free). Tickets may be purchased at the event or in advance at the Music Box in Stockton and Lodi or by calling the museum at, (209) 331-2055 or 953-3460. By getting tickets in advance, the $6 parking fee into Micke Grove Park is waived.

For more information, call the museum, Lodi: (209) 331-2055, or Stockton: (209) 953-3460, or go to www.sanjoaquinhistory.org. For additional Weekend Getaway destinations, see http://blogs.esanjoaquin.com/valleytravel.

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Nazi Germany haunts European river cruise; Part 2 of 2 blog installments

 

 

We recently completed an 800 mile river cruise on Grand Circle Cruise Lines, from Vienna, Austria to Amsterdam, Netherlands.  The voyage took us through about 700 miles of Austria, south and central Germany.  History reaching back over a thousand years, stunning scenery, and, almost everywhere, remnants of Nazi and the Third Reich’s awful reign. 

I am a history major, and had read the Rise and Fall of the Third Reich by William Shirer, and other World War II tomes – but was not prepared for the somber tone invoked by seeing the devastation foisted on these countries by the Nazis.  In my blog of November 21, I shared our experiences with the history of the Nazis we encountered in our first week’s voyage (Nuremberg, other towns); this is a short report of what we experienced in our final week in Germany and upon entering Amsterdam, Netherlands.

We cruised to Regensburg at the confluence of Danube and Regens River.  With Roman/Italian influence, it is Germany’s largest medieval city with buildings dating back 1,000 years.  Much of the city was devastated in the war.  When my first column ran in the Record newspaper, local reader Craig Hubbard sent me an interesting email – with his permission, it is reprinted below:

Your column brought back so many memories that I had to respond. Over many years my wife and I took about 13 Grand Circle trips. We always found they were the best. We took The Great Rivers of Europe tour quite a few years ago and enjoyed it very much.

Your column brought back some great memories. When in Regensburg our guide explained how, in 1945 during WWII, the Nazis destroyed a section of the big bridge to prevent the allied armies from advancing. However the Americans just built a pontoon bridge and kept on going.   I suggested that he could add that it was completely dark that night, it was raining and it was really unseasonably cold. I remember it very well because I spread my sleeping bag out on the big wide, and warm, hood of my half-track and rolled over that scary floating bridge–having told my driver that if he drove us into the Danube he would be in big trouble.  (If you are wondering how I could be here to remember that night I am 91 years old.) 

The second mention was of stopping at Passau. We tied up right at the city square and there was a lot of confusion because the “New Nazi Party” was holding a rally and a large group of anti-Nazis were there to challenge them. I heard that there were 2,000 police in the city to maintain the peace. I left the ship and followed a police officer who was taking pictures of the mob and I followed along taking my own pictures. When I returned to the ship my fellow travelers suggested that it was dangerous to go down there. I told them the last time I was in Passau they were shooting at me.

So much for my stories. I just wanted to tell you that I have read and enjoyed all of your travel series and have made many of the same trips. Keep up the good work!

Craig Hubbard, Stockton.

We made Frankfurt, another industrial city almost totally destroyed in the war, and took a bus tour through the city and onto Heidelberg (“blueberries mountain” in translation), in the warmest portion of Germany.  With the old Heidelberg University and a big army base, it was favored by the Allies and not destroyed in the war, retaining its original centuries-old charm).

We docked in Koblenz, passing multiple historic and crumbling castles. Koblenz is home to the massive Fortress Ehrenbreitstein (the largest in Europe), which controlled the valley from the 10th century until destroyed by French in 1700s. We were moored near the German Corner, with its huge statue of Emperor Wilhelm I, at the confluence of the Rhine and Mosul Rivers.  This is a country controlled for centuries by war-lords, though World War I and World War II were of entirely different scope and terror!

Our final day in Germany was in the old Romanesque town of Cologne, one of largest and most powerful medieval towns with 14,000 citizens, today Germany’s fourth largest city. Another industrial center, it was 98% destroyed in World War II and completely rebuilt with an eye towards preserving it’s storied history.  We walked through the mighty cathedral, and around the neighborhoods, seeing pictures of these neighborhoods lying in smoldering ruins just 69 years ago.

Our final port of call was Amsterdam, where we booked three additional days on our own.  Water, canals, boats and bicycles everywhere!  And, invaded and occupied for several years by the Nazis, Third Reich influence hangs heavily over the city. Over 103,000 Amsterdam Jews were arrested and sent to concentration camps by the Third Reich; most of them perished.

We toured the Secret Annex, for over two years home to Anne Frank, her sister and parents and four more, in hiding from the Nazi invasion. After their arrest, only one of the eight, father Otto Frank, would survive brutal treatment by the Nazis.  The former hideout and adjoining museum is worthy of hours of contemplation on the terrible times that Nazi Germany brought upon so many European countries.

On our final day, we toured the Amsterdam Museum (housed in a former orphanage) and the huge Rijksmuseum; with Van Goghs, Rembrandts, Manets and many more.  Each museum houses somber memorials to the Netherlands and World War II’s impacts on its citizens.

For more insight on our European river cruise, and my earlier blog on Third Reich history, see my blog; http://blogs.eSanJoaquin.com/Valleytravel. Thanks for voyaging with us; consider adding European river cruising to your future travel adventures!

When to go: For best deals on river cruises, going early or late in the season (I.e., January-March or October/November), and booking “Last Minute” can save big bucks.  We booked our November 1-15 cruise six weeks out, got airfare to Europe included in the tour price and saved about 45%.  

What to take: Good walking shoes, clothing for changeable weather, your passport and camera and binoculars!

Where to eat, where to stay: These river cruises come with a full gourmet breakfast, lunch and dinner included on board your floating hotel (the ship); several “off-ship dinners” are also included in historic restaurants! In Amsterdam, we booked a nice motel near the Amsterdam airport for about 70 Euros per night, and found convenient transit back into the city.  Working out of a Rich Steve’s Amsterdam Guide, we found all the attractions and a number of good restaurants.

For more info: Grand Circle Cruises, go to www.gct.com, or (800) 221-2610.  For best prices, search “Ways to Save” on their web site.

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

Happy travels in your world!

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Cruising the grand rivers of Europe/central Germany to Amsterdam, 2014: Part 2 of 2

 

Bamburg's old City Hall, dating to the 14th century, stands resolutely on an island in the River Regnetz.

 

 

[This is the second of two parts on cruising the great rivers of Europe; Vienna, Austria to Amsterdam, Netherlands]

With only one previous trip to Europe (Paris, 15 years ago); we had long dreamed of a fun and efficient way to see Europe after we retired.  Relying on recommendations from friends, we booked a river cruise from Vienna, Austria to Amsterdam, Netherlands.  This report shares the second half of our 16 day journey aboard the River Harmony, a 340 foot, three-deck luxury river cruiser.

We began a week ago in Vienna, with time to tour the city by coach and on foot.  Vienna, long home to the Habsburg Alliance, Strauss, music and majesty!  The Danube is Europe’s second longest River (at 1794 km), beginning in Germany’s Black Forest and emptying into the Black Sea (Russia’s Volga is longest).

In following days we cruised up the grey Danube, through the Wachau Valley, with cliffs, vineyards, bucolic river towns and old castles, past Linz and the stunning Melk Abbey and Monastery in Austria (the first monks began the monastery in 1089!). 

Our next stop was Passau, Germany; across the river high on a bluff was a huge fortress, dating to 1499 – the Veste Oberhaus, overlooking the three rivers that merge here (the Danube, Ilz and Inn Rivers). Overnight, our ship cruised to Regensburg; with Roman/Italian influence, it is Germany’s largest medieval city.  At the confluence of Danube and Regens River, here buildings date back 1,000 years to Roman times. 

At Kelheim, we entered the Main/Danube Canal (opened in 1992) and soon crossed the European “continental divide”, where water flows north in the Main River to the North Sea, or south in the Danube to the Black Sea. Soon we reached Nuremberg, where the Nazi legacy still stands in mute testimony to those terrible times, from huge Third Reich citadels to Room 600, home to the war criminal trials.

At Bamberg, we reached the Main River.  A delightful old town, it is part of the Franconia area of Germany. The old City Hall (portions dating to the 14th century) on an island in River Regnitz is truly memorable; the Imperial Cathedral, Romanesque style; with architecture of 15-18th centuries was also not to be missed. 

We sailed into Wurzburg on November 9, the anniversary of the Berlin Wall coming down 25 years ago.  Wurzburg was a vital medieval city, shaped in large part by its Baroque prince-bishops, whose Residence built in 1720 to 1744 is truly stunning in both its size and art gallery, with 14th to 19th century masterpieces.  The town’s old bridge, dating to the 15th century, is ornamented by Baroque figures and also noteworthy by having a delightful wine bar on its north end! 

Further down the Main, we made Frankfurt, another industrial city almost totally destroyed in the war, and took a bus tour to Heidelberg (“blueberries mountain” in translation), in the warmest portion of Germany, with the old Heidelberg University, 30,000 students and a big army base (favored by the Allies, the town was not destroyed in the war, retaining its original centuries-old charm).

We cruised by Wiesbaden (connecting to the Rhine River), an international town known for its spas for health and bathing, then past Rudesheim, another medieval town known for its fine dining, Reisling and red wines and several castles dating back 1,000 years.  By now, the immensity of Germany’s history was almost overwhelming, with each old river town rivaling the other!

We made port in Koblenz, passing multiple historic and crumbling castles. Koblenz is home to the massive Fortress Ehrenbreitstein (the largest in Europe), which controlled the valley from the 10th century until destroyed by French in 1700s. We were moored near the German Corner, with its huge statue of Emperor Wilhelm I, at the confluence of the Rhine and Mosul Rivers.

Our final day in Germany was in the old Romanesque town of Cologne, today the fourth largest German town (it was one of largest and most powerful medieval towns with 14,000 citizens). Another industrial center, it was 98% destroyed in World War II and completely rebuilt with an eye towards preserving it’s storied history.  We walked through the mighty cathedral, and around the neighborhoods, seeing pictures of these neighborhoods lying in smoldering ruins just 69 years ago.

Our final port of call was Amsterdam, where we booked three additional days on our own.  After bidding goodbye to our crew and fellow ship-mates, we settled into a nice motel near the airport, and took the train into the central Transit Center.  Water, canals, boats and bicycles everywhere!  The Transit Center has parking for thousands of bikes, the city offers bike lanes set apart from autos and pedestrians and almost everyone cycles!

Another day, we toured the Secret Annex, for over two years home to Anne Frank, her sister and parents and four more, in hiding from the Nazi invasion.  Over 103,000 Amsterdam Jews were arrested and sent to concentration camps by the Third Reich; most of them perished.

We walked through the Red light district and passed coffee shops with open marijuana sales, quite the liberated society!  On our final day, we toured the Amsterdam Museum (housed in a former orphanage) and the huge Rijksmuseum; with Van Goghs, Rembrandts, Manets and many more.

I will offer up more detail on the Anne Frank story, and our time in Amsterdam, on my blog on Friday; http://blogs.eSanJoaquin.com/Valleytravel. Thanks for voyaging with us; consider adding European river cruising to your bucket list!

When to go: for best deals in river cruises, going early or late in the season (I.e., January – March or October – November) and booking “last-minute” saves big bucks. We booked our November 1–15 cruise six weeks out, got airfare to Europe included in the tour price, saving 40%.

What to take: walking shoes, clothing for changeable weather, visa, camera and binoculars.

Where to eat, where to stay: River cruises offer a full gourmet breakfast, lunch and dinner on board your floating hotel; and several “off-ship dinners” are also included in historic restaurants.

For more info: Grand Circle Cruises, go to www.gct.com, or (800) 221–2610. Find best prices by searching “Ways to Save”, seeking last-minute offerings.

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

Happy travels in your world!

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Nazi Germany haunts European river cruise (an addition to my earlier blog)

Hitler addresses a crowd of 800,000 troops and Hitler youth at a huge rally at the Nuremberg Zeppelin Field.

 

 

 

 

 

 

We recently completed an 800 mile river cruise on Grand Circle Cruise Lines, from Vienna, Austria to Amsterdam, Netherlands.  The voyage took us through about 600 miles of south and central Germany.  History reaching back over a thousand years, stunning scenery, and, almost everywhere, remnants of the Nazis and the German Third Reich’s awful reign. 

I am a history major, and had read the Rise and Fall of the Third Reich by William Shirer, and other World War II tomes – but was not prepared for the somber tone invoked by seeing the devastation foisted on these countries by the Nazis, when touring through Austria, Germany and the Netherlands.

Our cruise and tour began in Vienna, Austria, long home to the Habsburg Alliance, Strauss, music and majesty! We toured St. Stephan’s Cathedral and enjoyed the city, a marvel of old medieval structures, baroque classics, the Imperial Palace and many other mansions of colossal proportions. Here is where Hitler chose to make his first foray into annexation of nearby countries by warfare, having been born in Austria and feeling long-slighted by his childhood home.

Our tour took us past the Heldenplatz (Square of Heroes), the grand ediface where in March, 1938 Hitler delivered the Anschluss, annexing Austria into Germany. Hitler was born in Braunau, Austria near the German border, and with a miserable up-bringing, had felt slighted by his home-country from his childhood.  Cheering crowds of German/Austrian citizens welcomed the Wehrmacht’s invading troops; and no shots were fired.

Soon, we entered into Germany on the Main/Danube Canal (opened in 1992), crossing the European “continental divide”, at 1332’, where water flows north in the Main River to the North Sea, or south with the Danube to the Black Sea. 

We sailed through Germany past a number of old towns devastated during the war, but none more so than Nuremberg. This city was once the capital of the Roman Empire, and Hitler chose to make his mark on this area in particular.  The city was also a natural industrial complex, and had ability to both accommodate and help fund some of his heinous projects.  Nuremberg was almost totally leveled by Allied bombing, but portions of Hitler’s dreams remain.

Remnants of Nazi architecture are found throughout the city; the Luitpoldhein, a huge Zeppelin Field  and exhibition grounds, which hosted huge gatherings of 250,000 to 800,000 troops, members of the Hitler Youth, and other party faithful.  Nearby is the Luitpold Arena, never finished, which was to have been an indoor, 50,000 seat, show-place arena!  It is now used as the Hall of Records for war data.  Included in our tour, the huge red brick SS Barracks, with balcony for Hitler to welcome troops. 

Our tour took us past the Grand Hotel, home to 300 journalists who were covering the Nuremberg Trials at the end of the war.  And, the notorious Court Room 600, where the trials took place from November, 1945 to October, 1946, was nearby.  Nazis on trial saw only the adjoining prison, elevator and courtroom for a year.  Hemingway, Marlena Dietrich and other celebrities attended the trials. Hitler, Himmler and Goebbels were dead; but  Speer, Hess, Krupp, others were tried here; the onset of the Cold War ended the trials early.

Wurzburg, Frankfurt, Cologne, we visited them all – each devastated by Allied bombing and battles to drive Germans back.  In each case, the cities were rebuilt, with an eye to preserving the architectural integrity and structures that were destroyed in the war.

Next week, we will bring you more on our Germany and Netherlands river tour, and another installment on the Nazi devastation brought upon Germany and the Netherlands, and, in particular, the family of Anne Frank (and more than 100,000 other Amsterdam Jews rounded up by the Germans).

When to go: For best deals on river cruises, going early or late in the season (i.e., January-March or October/November), and booking “Last Minute” can save big bucks.  We booked our November 1-15 cruise six weeks out, got airfare to Europe included in the tour price and saved about 45%.  

What to take: Good walking shoes, clothing for changeable weather, your passport, camera and binoculars!

Where to eat, where to stay: These river cruises offer full gourmet breakfast, lunch and dinner is included on board your floating hotel (the ship); several “off-ship dinners” are also included in historic restaurants!

For more info: Grand Circle Cruises, go to www.gct.com, or (800) 221-2610.  For best prices, search “Ways to Save” on their web site.

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

Happy travels in your world!

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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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