Glacier National Park and the Canadian Rockies; towers of rock stand sentinel over frigid landscape!

On a recent trip to Whitefish, Montana to join friends for a ski vacation, we ventured into nearby Glacier National Park for two days of exploring. We then trekked north another 350 miles into British Columbia and Alberta to see Kootenay and Banff National Parks. This is the story of these three grand parks in their winter splendor.

Near Glacier, dog sled dogs vie for affection from the cages of their mobile home!

Glacier National Park is located on the Montana/Canada border, encompassing over one million acres and more than 130 lakes.  It contains portions of two rugged mountain ranges and some of the US’s remaining glaciers.

Glacier National Park has limited winter access – but that does not mar its icy splendor. We reached Apgar Village area on the park’s west side, and skied on trails along the edge of Lake McDonald (snowshoers also welcome). Longer trails take one high above the lake on its north side, allowing a view into the park’s interior.

From Apgar, we drove 10 miles east on Going to the Sun Highway, barricaded in winter at Lake McDonald Lodge (skiers and snowshoers can continue on). This grand lodge, shuttered in the winter, sits eerily abandoned. The views looking east along the lake into the park are memorable, and to have these vistas almost all to ourselves was remarkable.

Izaak Walton Lodge, Essex, MT, is on south edge of Glacier National Park and offers cabooses and locomotives for winter lodging!

Montana Hwy. 2 runs along the southern border of the park – here we found the little town of Essex and the Izaac Walton Lodge. Built by the Great Northern Railroad in 1939 to house railway workers, the lodge offers rooms, several cabooses, railway club cars and a locomotive, all converted for cozy lodging. The lodge is surrounded by cross country ski trails to take one above the park for stunning winter scenery.

Returning from Essex, we noticed a set of nine white crosses beside the highway – site of the worst highway accident in Montana history. Entering Montana, a sign at the border explains the crosses, each denoting a fatality on that stretch of highway over the years. Individual and multiple crosses are grim memorials – but, nine?

Nine white crosses mark the location of Montana's most serious vehicle-related fatality.

On January 21, 1984, members of the Whitefish High wrestling squad, cheerleaders and coaches were returning from a match in Browning. On this snow-choked stretch of Hwy. 2, just west of Essex, the bus collided with a gasoline tanker-truck – killing nine wrestlers, cheerleaders and coaches and injuring 18 – testimony to the treacheries of winter driving.

From Whitefish, we headed north into British Columbia and Alberta – take Glacier National Park and multiply by 100! Towering, rocky peaks extend northward for hundreds of miles. We soon were following the western edge of Kootenay National Park, with the Kootenay River framed by these jagged spires. The river churns southwestward where it joins the mighty Columbia coursing through Washington towards the Pacific.

Kootenay National Park covers 543 square miles in the Canadian Rockies, with craggy peaks ranging above 11,000 feet. Kootenay is one of the four contiguous mountain parks in the Canadian Rockies; the others are Banff National Park, east, Yoho National Park, north, and Jasper National Park, 300 miles further north.

Kootenay River frames rugged peaks in Kootenay National Park, British Columbia.

We followed BC Highway 93, the Banff-Windermere Highway, through the park and stopped mid-park to admire Radium Hot Springs, testimony to the volcanic activity that helped form the park and remains active below the ground. With reservations in Banff, we regretted we could not explore more.

We were soon into Banff National Park, sharing a common border with Kootenay, and vast at 2560 square miles.  The park was established in 1885, two years after three railroad workers discovered a cave and hot springs near the town of  Banff.  The original discovery site is preserved as Cave and Basin Historic Site, just across the river from downtown Banff – here we also discovered a series of cross-country ski trails leading north from the site.

Canada’s Trans-Canada Highway splits the park, and soon we were into Lake Louise headed for the lake (ringed by towers of rock and ice) and historic Chateau Lake Louise.  The Canadian Pacific Railroad was instrumental in developing the national parks, building the Chateau and Banff’s even-larger Banff Springs Hotel to attract tourists.

Author's wife Susan stands in front of ice palace on Lake Louise, Alberta.

We happened upon the lake and Chateau just 10 days after their ice-sculpting festival; a large ice house was built out on the frozen lake and ice sculptures adorned the grounds.  Happily, it had remained cold since they were carved and the frigid art was holding up well.  After walking on the lake and admiring the art, we retired to the Chateau’s bar, where libations further enhanced the view of the setting sun the frozen scenery.

We spent two nights and days in Banff, where the Canadian exchange rate made nice, inexpensive motels downright cheap. The town has scores of restaurants to match its motel culture, and we found the Juniper Lodge Bistro, top rated by Trip Advisor, to be sublime, with a stunning view of the mountains.

Our second day, we toured the cross-country trail from Cave and Basin through the lovely Bow River Valley, then made a quick tour of the stately Banff Springs Hotel. The historic hotel, home to royalty and diplomats through the years, exudes English-style, with High Tea served daily in its opulent setting.  Nearby ski areas, including Mt. Norquay, Sunshine Village and Lake Louise offer skiing adventure for the younger set.

The morning of our departure dawned with a raging snowstorm; we were delighted to be headed down to the plains of Calgary, and left the snow behind as we headed south to Montana and Yellowstone Park.

Author Tim on XC skiis on trail in Banff, Alberta.

Where to stay: In Whitefish, the Grouse Mountain Lodge ( for cozy accommodations in a lodge-like setting.  On the southern edge of Glacier Park, no more unique inns exist than the Izaac Walton Inn,  In Banff, we found the Red Carpet Inn by searching Kayak, nice accommodations and a great value.

For information: Glacier National Park,; Kootenay National Park, British Columbia and Banff National Park, Alberta, go to Parks Canada website,

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

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Nine crosses: dramatic testimony to young lives lost in Montana

Nine crosses: When one enters Montana, a sign at the border explains the white crosses dotting Montana roads, each marking a fatality on that stretch of the highway over the years. Individual and multiple crosses are grim memorials – a harsh reminder that life can be short.

These nine crosses mark the location of the worst vehicle accident in Montana history.

We toured past West Glacier on Hwy. 2, to the Izaac Walton Inn in Essex for lunch, cross-country skiing and sightseeing. On our way back, we noticed this set of nine crosses – site of the worst vehicle accident in Montana history.

On January 21, 1984, members of the Whitefish High School wrestling squad, cheerleaders and coaches were returning from a match in Browning. On this snow-choked stretch of Hwy. 2,  just west of Essex, the bus collided with a gasoline tanker-truck that skidded broadside across the narrow mountain roadway – killing nine and injuring 18.

Here is the full, depressing story:

Life is short, don’t let days slip by.

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


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Valentine’s Day destinations: Big Sur, North Lake Tahoe and Old Sacramento offer romance, adventure!

Valentine’s Day is just around the corner – if you’re seeking adventuresome and romantic destinations in northern California here are several recommendations from my wife, several friends and me.

In many years of marriage, I’ve learned that such special destinations should offer these attributes: be somewhat secluded, scenic, with fine restaurant(s) nearby, classy lodging if we are spending the night and, a sense of history – my inclusion.

These destinations measure up, and are within 2 1/2 hours of San Joaquin County.

Bixby Bridge, circa 1932, on the rugger Big Sur coast.

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

Highway 1 would not be completed until 1937, opening the coast to growing tourist visitation. We recently toured south of Monterey and Carmel, passing several spectacular state parks (with a Mediterranean climate – camping is possible and often sunny year-around).

Andrew Molera State Park is just 20 miles south of Carmel; 4800 acres which offers a variety of exploring opportunities from beaches to the Big Sur River to the rugged coastal mountains. Venturing further south takes you past several other parks, including Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park and Lime Kiln State Park. You’ll also find Kirk Creek Campground a bit further south, a gem perched on the bluff overlooking the Pacific – first come, first served and run by the US Forest Service.

Ragger Point Resort in Big Sur offers lodging, fine dining and spectacular grounds high above the Pacific.

A favorite inn and restaurant with staggering coastal view is the Ragged Point Inn on a bluff high above the ocean.  With views in three directions, the motel, cabins and restaurant are also surrounded by gorgeous gardens. Another favorite restaurant is the Big Sur Roadhouse, open just three years, getting rave reviews and less expensive than some of their competitors.

Take your binoculars – you can see elephant seals at Ano Neuvo State Park on the north end of Big Sur (reservations for Ranger-led tours required) and at the six-mile long Piedras Blancas rookery, just north of San Simeon.  With parking right off Highway 1, a short walk and no reservations required to view these massive animals, opt for Piedras Blancas if you are that far south.

As a footnote, we would rank the coast from Bodega Bay, the Russian River and north an equal to Big Sur – rugged, secluded, with a variety of lodging and restaurant choices – but that was one of my recommendations a year ago (you can find that Valentine’s Day offering on my blog archive).

Snowshoers gather on Lake Tahoe shore for tour out of Sugar Pine Point State Park on Hwy. 89.

Looking at the snowy Sierra, North Lake Tahoe always offers adventure; headquarter your visit in lovely Tahoe City on Tahoe’s north shore. Fabulous skiing includes nearby destinations of Alpine Meadows, Squaw Valley, Northstar and Diamond Peak – but don’t overlook Homewood, just south along the lake shore on Hwy. 89, for real value and the most spectacular view of the lake from its slopes.

Snowshoeing and cross-country skiing are also popular. Friend Kari McNickle notes a recent adventure in the area, “Sugar Pine Point State Park was a great stop with only a $5 parking charge. Historic buildings, beautiful views of the lake, and site of several events for the 1960 Squaw Valley Olympics”. Check out the small Olympic Museum building at Sugar Pine Park to refresh your memory of Olympic history at this beautiful park on Tahoe’s western shore.

Kari adds “Paige Meadows was another recommended area, courtesy of staff at Tahoe Dave’s in Tahoe City and other locations (very reasonable rental rates and good local knowledge). Rolling hills and open woods, and once you hit the meadows after 1.5 miles of snowshoeing, a view of the backside of Alpine Meadows Ski Resort”.

We would also note that Tahoe City offers a host of motel options and Airbnb choices. For the best breakfast or lunch, try Rosies, and for a beautiful, romantic dinner, Plumpjack at Squaw Valley Resort.

Sacramento History Museum members out for a Sunday stroll in Old Sacramento.

I would be remiss if I did not mention Old Sacramento and our state capital as a top-notch Valentine’s destination.  Just 45 miles north, Old Sacramento offers more than a dozen quality restaurants, including favorites The Firehouse and Rio City Café.  The old Delta King Riverboat, built in Stockton in 1927, is moored on the Sacramento River, for both historic lodging and dining.  The Embassy Suites, next to the old Tower Bridge, is another fine overnight choice.

Within blocks are a half-dozen tourist-friendly museums like the California Railroad Museum, the Sacramento History Museum, the California Auto Museum just to the south and the Crocker Art Museum just a few blocks to the east. Venture into the Mid-town area for scores of additional restaurant and night-life options – Old Sac and our capital city offer a wealth of exciting and romantic options!

If you are staying local, don’t forget the Lodi Wine and Chocolate event, February 13 and 14, 11 AM to 4 PM – with choices of 40 wineries for tasting and chocolate sampling. Delicious meanderings, right in our backyard!

The Delta King, built in Stockton in 1927, offers lodging and fine dining on the Old Sacramento waterfront.

For information: elephant seals, Friends of the Elephant Seals,; Big Sur restaurants and lodging, Big Sur Chamber of Commerce,, (831) 667-2100; North Lake Tahoe,, (530) 581-6900; the Old Sacramento Business Association,, (916) 442-8575; Lodi Wine and Chocolate event,, (209) 367-4727.

Contact Tim Viall at Follow him at Happy travels in your world!

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Travel: 13 tips for traveling near and far in the next year

My spouse and I have always been good travelers, even in the days when we both worked. We would use holidays for extended weekend trips, and vacation time to tour the Pacific Northwest, British Columbia and Alberta, and once pieced-together enough vacation for a five week trip from Spokane all the way back to the East Coast, when our kids were 7 and 9.

Since we have been retired, we have vowed to travel near, far and frequently (70,000 miles with US travel in three years, two European trips) – while we have energy and good health. We are trying to live by the motto “travel near, travel far, travel frequently – life was not meant to be lived in one place”.

Here are some suggestions for freshening your approach, and energizing your travels:

1. Get started from where you left off. Bet you have travel brochures from recent travels that you’ve meant to get around to. Or, Friends and family have told you love wonderful destinations. Or, you’ve been to places like Pinnacles National Park (amazing and just 2.5 hours from STOCKTON) like we have, and vowed to get back, but haven’t done it yet.

2. Contact your family or nearby friends who like to travel – just chatting can probably lead to a short or longer trip with family or friends and double your pleasure.

Collect all your key travel gear and stow it in one easy to "grab and go" backpack. On airline trips, make the backpack your carry-on bag.

3. Gather your key travel gear and store it in an organized backpack. Same with other key travel items you’d usually put in a suitcase – pack it. If you own a travel trailer, clean it and store key provisions so it’s as easy as “hook up and go”. At the same time, think “traveling light” and don’t over-pack.

4. Get out your travel atlas (or smart phone/tablet and open your map) and consider how much there is to see within 30 miles of your home. Lodi Lake Park, historic downtowns like Lodi or Stockton, the San Joaquin Historical Museum, Caswell State Park just south of Manteca are all nearby and offer travel adventures.

5. Expand your drive time destinations to several hours and you’re looking at Pinnacles National Park, Big Sur and Monterey, Santa Cruz coast, San Francisco and Oakland, Mt. Tam and Point Reyes National Seashore, Bodega Bay and the Russian River, Sonoma and Napa Valleys and the wonders of the San Joaquin and Sacramento River Delta to explore. Consider Sacramento (Old Sacramento and all the Capital City’s other famed attractions). Looking to the Sierra, Lake Tahoe beckons, as does the gold rush/Highway 49 corridor, Yosemite National Park, Sequoia and Kings Canyon and much more.

Bled Castle towers over Lake Bled in the Julian Alps of Slovenia.

6. Start a travel log: now that you’ve looked at where you’ve been, where you’d like to go back to and where you should’ve been long ago – start a list of short-term travel targets and more distant destinations. Share your list with family and friends – you’ll find others with similar interests – and probably energize some of them, as well.

7. Expand your thoughts to more distant travel “bucket list” destinations. Whether it’s Portland or Seattle, Crater Lake Park or Mt. Rainier, Yellowstone/the Grand Tetons, Colorado or spring training in the Phoenix area for the As or Giants in March, build a well-thought list. Reach just one of those destinations in the next year – you’ve got a lifetime ahead of you but it’s time to get energized.

8. Add your international targets. Perhaps you’ve dreamed of touring British Columbia and Alberta or a cruise to Alaska. Or, perhaps England and Ireland, Germany and Austria, Spain and France, or the Balkins and Adriatic Sea. Write them down and prioritize.

General Sherman tree draws big crowd in Sequoia National Park.

9. Invite a few well-traveled friends to dinner and discuss what style travel they have used. You’ll probably find a few backpackers, auto and trailer travelers, ocean-cruisers or tour-users in your circle of friends. Pick their minds as to good value, what they liked and didn’t like. Again, you might discover mutual interests that lead to a joint venture.

10. Learn to appreciate simple and frugal travel. Those day-long or two-day trips to local destinations can be done for less than a tank of gas and a packed picnic lunch or cooler with snacks. If you once tent-camped consider modern tent accoutrements – a bigger tent, a blowup air mattress can give you almost the comfort of a motel – at 25% the cost. Or, if you’ve moved beyond tent and car camping, consider a tiny or classic travel trailer, which gives you hard-sided security and yet is easy to store and tow behind smaller vehicles.

11. Learn to travel within your means. Don’t save for several years and blow your bucks on a multi-week international trip – where the same dollars might fund a half-dozen closer US or Canada destinations.

12. And if you are touring long distances – consider “last minute deals”; as an example, we’ve taken two European cruises on Grand Circle Cruise lines. If you can pick a destination on one to two months notice – the company working to fill their ship – you’ll save 35 to 40% off normal prices. See, search for Ways to Save, then go to Last Minute Deals. Similarly, search the web for a variety of cheap travel websites and save big bucks!

12. See my Record blog ( for over 120 local, US and international destination features, and a variety of “how to” articles.

13. Don’t put off your travels. We see scores of people who can hardly get from auto to airline, much less walk when they reach their destination. Travel while you’re energetic and have good health.

14. Get started! Where can you go this weekend that you’ve not been to; where can you tour to next month that’s a little further afield? Prioritize your more distant destinations, and search the web for smashing deals that will make it affordable.

Get moving – life was not meant to be lived in one place!

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

Posted in Central California, Mountain West USA (Montana, Wyoming, Colorado), Northern California, Pacific Northwest USA (Oregon, Washington, Idaho), Southern California, Southwest USA (Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico, Utah), United States beyond! | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Winter activities for kids, grandkids in San Joaquin County

With an El Niño winter pelting San Joaquin County with rain and winds, you may wonder where to take the kids and/or grandkids on these blustery days. Here are several local destinations, kid-tested with our three grandchildren over this year and last. You and the kids will find them all compelling, relatively inexpensive (or free) and marvelous for making memories.

Grandson Jack, and huge toy soldiers, guard entrance to Children's Museum.

The Stockton Children’s Museum was founded as a memorial to the 1989 Cleveland School shootings offers scores of hands-on exhibits and activities that kids cannot resist.

On a recent visit, our first stop was a number of reptile exhibits, with grandson Jack locking onto the lizards and snakes and me trying not to imagine future nightmares (mine, not Jack).  Then onto the race car track, where Jack built race cars with Legos, then raced them down a long, four-abreast track.

After a quick stop at the face-painting station, we moved on to a climbing tour of a real fire engine, a 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.

Jack prepares to drive his Regional Transit bus at the Children's Museum.

The Children’s Museum is located at 402 W. Weber Avenue just off the downtown Stockton waterfront; it’s open Wednesday to Friday, 9 to 4, Saturday, 10 to 5 and Sunday, 12 to 5, general admission is $6.

The Mickey Grove Zoo just south of Lodi is a wonderland for kids.  The zoo offers Zoo Tots, offering toddlers a WILD adventure, learning through doing.  Tots are engaged in a variety of hands-on activities such as an art project; games; crafts; stories and possible live animal encounter depending on the topic.  This program is offered every Tuesday from 10:00AM-11:00AM.

A regular Kid’s Corner offers hands-on activities for older kids. The zoo is home to both exotic and native animal species, including the Black and White Ruffed Lemur and the Cotton Top Tamarin.

The zoo is located in Micke Grove Park, 11793 N. Micke Grove Rd., Lodi, CA 95240; open every day of the year from 10:00am-5:00pm except for Christmas Day. Admission is $5 for adults (ages 14 and up); $3 for children (ages 3-13) and free for children 2 years and under.

Giant clamshell dredge dwarfs grandkids Jessie and Hunter at SJ Historical Museum.

The San Joaquin Historical Museum is also located in Micke Grove Park. This sprawling museum offers lots of exhibits with appeal to youngsters, such as the old Calaveras School House, Blacksmith Shop and the Tractor Building full of huge and historic farm tractors. Recently expanded is the Native Peoples Gallery, offering insight into the Native Americans who have been living in San Joaquin County for more than 13,000 years.

The Gallery traces the Miwok- and Yokuts-speaking people with very rich cultures and lifestyles.  “The new exhibits work perfectly with the other exhibits,” notes Dave Stuart, Director. “Visitors can follow the Native peoples, to early trappers and founding of French Camp, the first non-Indian community. Continue on to the early American settlers, then to exhibits on the Gold Rush and the adjacent Weber Gallery.

The museum is located at 11793 N. Micke Grove Road, Lodi; open Wednesday-Sunday, 11 AM to 4 PM.  Admission is $2 for kids 6-12, $4, teens 13-17, $5 for adults, $4 for seniors 65+.

Jack builds a miniture city with magnetized building blocks at World of Wonders.

The World of Wonders Science Museum is a hands-on activities center for kids and adults. Located in historic downtown Lodi, the museum offers hands on, creative science exhibits to energize and amaze the minds of all ages.

Check the special events option on the museum’s website, including this Saturday’s Bug Event. Kids will get a chance to handle creepy and crawley critters and become a “bugologist”. The event runs 10 AM to 3 PM, Saturday; in addition to being able to touch and see bugs up-close, the museum will offer arts and crafts, face-painting and a bug-eating station! Other specials include Free Fridays (bring a friend on the last Friday each month, and your friend gifts in free).

Kids gather at vertical wind tunnel at World of Wonders Science Museum.

The museum is located at 2 N. Sacramento St., Lodi, open Wednesday to Monday, 10 to 5, closed Tuesday; admission is $4 for kids aged 2–17, $6 for adults, kids under 2, free.

When it’s raining in the valley, it’s usually snowing in the mid-elevations of the Sierra. Take the young ones up to the snow line for sledding, tubing, snowball fights or making a snowman. Two popular destinations only about an hour from Stockton include Calaveras Big Trees State Park on Hwy. 4 and the area known as Little Sweden on Highway 108 (about four miles east of Long Barn).

The state park charges $10 per carload entry, but offers hiking among the sequoias and other big trees, and several sledding and tubing areas. A cozy warming hut is available, with roaring fire and free hot chocolate or cider for kids and adults.

The Little Sweden area (until a few years ago, an old lodge by that name stood here, now removed) is free and you can park on both sides of this four-lane stretch of 108, though heed the “no parking” signs on a section of the highway – the Highway Patrol will ticket violators.

For hiking and exploration when the weather is nice, take in downtown Stockton’s waterfront (from the old Waterfront Warehouse at 445 W. Weber, then east around the Promenade through Weber Point, and west along the water out to the Stockton Arena and Ballpark), Lodi Lake Park, on Turner Road in Lodi or the Cosumnes River Preserve, two miles north of Thornton. Each destination offer miles of trails to explore, birds to see and critters to track (take the binoculars).

Where else can sledders and tubers slide in middle of Giant Sequoias; Calaveras Big Trees!

Pixie Woods Amusement Park in Stockton is also a great choice, opening for the season in early May.

To plan your visit: For the Children’s Museum,; Micke Grove Zoo,; San Joaquin Historical Society,; Calaveras Big Trees State Park,

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

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Stockton Restaurant Week; Dine local January 15-24, 2016!

Passing along this fun event from Visit Stockton; bring your appetites and sample new eateries…

Stockton Restaurant Week; Dine local January 15-24, 2016!
Join us this January for the 7th Annual 10-day dining extravaganza!

It’s easy–no tickets needed! Stockton Restaurant Week gives local foodies and families the opportunity to enjoy unique fixed-price specialty menus from many participating restaurants throughout Stockton.

From January 15-24, dine at participating restaurants and you’ll get the chance to enjoy food from Stockton’s best eateries at a price that won’t break the budget. From three-course dinner offerings to two-course lunch specials, you’ll enjoy some great deals while “shopping local” and supporting local restaurants and businesses. Other specials may also be available during the week at participating restaurants.

Check out the menus below. Stockton has amazing restaurants from corner to corner–now it’s time to unite all Stockton food lovers and restaurants! Thank you for supporting our local restaurants. Find out more about Stockton Restaurant Week here!

Visit us on Instagram! Don’t forget to use hashtags #visitstockton #stocktonrestaurantweek when you dine out and snap a photo of your meal!
NEW! Check out our Stockton Restaurant Week videos on YouTube!

Participating Restaurants:
The Abbey Trappist Pub
Angelina’s Spaghetti House
AVE on the Mile 
Bud’s Seafood Grille
Canal Street Grill & Bar at The Hilton Stockton
Centrale Kitchen and Bar
CoCoro Bistro
Delta Bistro at The University Plaza Waterfront Hotel
DeVega Brothers Italian Cuisine
French 25
Kyodai Sushi
Lincoln Cellar
Masa Contemporary Japanese Lounge
Midgley’s Public House
Mile Wine Company
Papa Urb’s Grill
The Reserve at Spanos Park 
Seoul Soon Dubu
Squeeze Burger
And more to come!

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Comfortable, frugal travel – think tiny trailers in the New Year!

This article is for those of you who have the time and energy to travel extensively in the United States and Canada. My spouse and I have been retired three years, and have toured about 70,000 miles through these two wonderful countries.

If you are blessed with both the time and desire to travel extensively, it seems you have three choices. Two of them include traveling by personal vehicle, either by touring and overnighting in hotels or motels, or, touring and choosing to camp in a variety of public or private campgrounds. Another option is traveling as part of a tour group – though that’s not part of this discussion.

Our '58 Serro Scotty Junior teardrop trailer at St. George Island Lighthouse, FL.

In our earlier years, we have done our share of touring and overnighting in motels/hotels. The upside is you can choose some pretty nice accommodations, and, you get comfortable accommodations and a bathroom as part of the package. The downside is the expense, the need to purchase most of your meals and the fact that the hotels/motels often are located miles from your ultimate destination, such as national parks.

So, let’s explore the idea of touring with a personal vehicle and camping much of the time. Camping often comes with scenic locations – in Bryce Canyon or Arches National Parks, those wondrous rock formations are just feet away from your campsite.

Camp sites are also much cheaper than a motel stay, and afford you the option to cook many of your own meals, saving your additional money. If you are 62 or older, get the America the Beautiful federal senior pass, just $10 for life, offering you free entry into national parks and half-off most federal campgrounds!

Tent camping can be either done very lightly, such as the lightweight tents and sleeping gear used by backpackers, or car camping with a larger tent, queen-sized air mattress, and many more of the comforts of home. Over the years, we have done both – but as we’ve gotten older, we prefer more comfort and my spouse likes the feeling of security we get in a hard-sided camp trailer.

Spouse Susan reading inside our Scotty Junior teardrop.

We caught the small-trailer bug about 10 years ago, after spotting tiny and larger classic travel trailers in campgrounds. We found a small teardrop trailer on Craig’s List in Sacramento (for only $3500) and we’ve been touring with a teardrop trailer since.  We are also at work rebuilding a slightly larger classic travel trailer.

With a teardrop or larger classic trailer you get pride of ownership and openings to many classic trailer rallies with similar aficionados. Downsides include requirement to store it someplace and teardrops and some very small trailers have no bathroom and/or shower. Towing a trailer requires some expertise and you lose 15 to 30% on gas mileage (depending upon size and weight of your trailer).

Teardrop travel trailers became popular right after World War II, and were originally built on a platform using 4’ X 8’ plywood – hence, 4 feet wide, 4 feet tall and 8 feet long.  That makes for a pretty tidy little trailer – but one that packs a lot of features into a small space.

The niceties also include light weight (they can be towed by small vehicles getting good gas mileage), easy storage (they fit in a garage or behind a gate beside your home) and they are the talk of any campground (“can you really sleep inside that?”).

The down-side of teardrop trailers are several-fold.  You can’t stand up in them and they offer no bathroom or shower.  My spouse will rightfully tell you that there aren’t a lot of women her age who will travel thousands of miles with such a small trailer – so we include motel stops occasionally for those benefits.

Our '64 Serro Scotty Sportsman; currently being rebuilt by yours truly!

Let’s take a look at both teardrop and larger classic trailers.  We are touring currently in a reproduction ’58 Serro Scotty Junior teardrop, built in 2011 by a West Virginia shop teacher, and found on eBay just prior to a drive trip to Gettysburg, PA.  We picked it up in route to the battlefield, and have toured twice across the country, several times up into Canada and numerous shorter western trips since.

Teardrop trailers are wonderful when the weather is nice – you want to sit outside, enjoy the scenery and take in your campfire – but a bit less so when weather turns inclement. Realizing that, and seeking a bit more comfort and amenities, we found a larger classic trailer (a 10 foot long, ’64 Serro Scotty Sportsman) several years ago, and are in process of rebuilding it currently. Our larger trailer will afford my spouse the ability to stand up inside, includes a small range and sink and cozy dinette upfront – but, alas, no bathroom.

T@B trailers are built in the classic style, can be bought new or used.

Classic travel trailers come in larger packages, ranging up to 30-feet or more in length. Many classic trailers in the 12 to 20 foot range offer all the amenities, including bathroom and/or shower and the options to sleep four or more. If bought refurbished and well-cared for, they can be resold years later for the same price you paid for them.

Several manufacturers also make new trailers in the classic style, such as T@B, Casita and R-Pod trailers (R-Pods are sold at Pan Pacific RVs in Lathrop). Modern pop-up trailers like the A-liner afford amenities in a hard-sided trailer, as well.

This A-liner is a hard-sided, pop-up trailer offering ease of towing, storage and light-weight.

2016 is the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service, so our 59 stunning national parks will be offering special programming. Upgrade and extend your travel experience in the New Year!

For more information: Most classic travel trailers have their own national organizations, offering trailers for sale, purchasing and rebuilding advice.  See National Serro Scotty Organization,, or Tin Can Tourists, For the America the Beautiful federal senior pass,; National Park Service Centennial,

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

Posted in Central California, Mountain West USA (Montana, Wyoming, Colorado), Northern California, Pacific Northwest USA (Oregon, Washington, Idaho), Southern California, Southwest USA (Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico, Utah), Uncategorized, United States beyond! | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Comfortable yet light travel in the New Year!

This article is for those who have the time and energy to travel extensively in the United States and beyond.  Spouse Susan and I have been retired three years and have toured about 65,000 miles through the US and Canada.  We have also been privileged to make two European small ship cruises (Grand Circle Cruise Lines) in the last 12 months.  Each of our journeys has taught us lessons in comfortable and increasingly light travel.

Here are some of our suggestions for easing your travel burden, whether done in the states or around the world.

Susan and Tim Viall in ship's lounge; "upscale casual" is rule, no need to pack sports coat or fancy clothes!

Well before your departure, create a written checklist, set it aside for several days and re-think it. Consider how long you’re going for, where you’re headed, the weather you may run into and the like. Don’t pack for worst-case winter weather; you can always purchase more fleece if you need it!

Completely pack a few days before you have to depart. Lay all your items out on a bed, recheck a few days later and ask yourself “do I really need this”? If you’re not sure, don’t take it. That’s probably my biggest failing – I either don’t pay attention to what I need until the day we depart, or I let my wife pack items for me.  Invariably I, or she, take more than I’ll ever need.

Think small: instead of a 4 pound laptop and charger, sync your android or iPhone with a portable Bluetooth keyboard. On a recent three week trip to Europe, I dictated into my iPhone, edited a bit on a portable keyboard – and filed stories straight from the phone – saving about 3 1/2 pounds of unneeded weight. I also no longer had to worry about my laptop being stolen out of a hotel room or public place.

For your checked bag or bags, purchase those that can expand if needed.  Ours have an extra zipper; if we acquire foreign goods to bring back, the bag can expand about 20 percent.

in foreground, Brooks exercise jacket made of synthetic fiber, under a Goretex shell with a hood and lots of pockets, is about all you need for blustery, outdoor trekking.

Instead of a carry-on bag, I make mine a backpack and I insure that it is well stocked with “must haves”. Those include any specialty gear like winter clothing,  deflatable water bottle, a real compass if you’re a hiker (for when your cell phone has no reception and only a Compass will work), small but quality binoculars, plastic bag containing your first aid supplies and any required medicines, a cell phone extra battery pack, cell phone tripod (eliminating those annoying “selfie sticks” too many use incessantly) and wireless keyboard to connect with my iPhone.

“Non-color coordinate” your basic garments. Think gray, black and off-white. If your undergarments, shell, pants and the like are black or gray, they will go with anything else you have (and they hide dirt well). And, in Europe, everybody’s wearing only gray and black!

Invest in several multi-purpose garments – a well-built outer shell made of water-repellent material like Gore-Tex (but not a bulky parka), a light under-jacket made of synthetic fiber to wick away moisture, and a good set of travel trousers that zip off of the knee (if you need shorts).

Backpack, clockwise from right rear: stocking cap, baseball cap, pair of light wool gloves, deflatable water bottle, reading glasses and writing tools, a real compass if you're a hiker (for when your cell phone has no reception and only a Compass will work), 30 SPF or better sunblock and lipgloss, stuff sack, binoculars, plastic bag containing your first aid supplies – pills, headache medicine cold lozenges, Band-Aids and bandages, bandanna. At center, left to right, cell phone rechargeable battery pack, cell phone tripod, cell phone and wireless keyboard.

Susan almost packed a heavy winter coat for our December trip down the Adriatic Sea – and we had 18 days of sunshine and 55-60° plus weather. Should you run into really cold weather on a winter/spring trip, it’s always easy to buy a fleece pullover to wear under that Gore-Tex windbreaker.

Don’t forget you can do laundry on a several week trip. Hotels and cruise ships all offer laundry service – plan to wash undergarments a week into the trip and you’ll pack much less.

On small ship cruises, whether the rivers or oceans of Europe, “upscale casual” is the rule. I took a nice sports coat, but did not need it.  Blue jeans or slacks and a sweater were the rule, so dump those dressier clothes.

Think frugal and inexpensive: instead of paying through the nose in airports for snacks on those long flying days – pack several sandwich bags full of almonds or walnuts and purchase a few beef sticks. It’s better nourishment, and healthier, than what you can usually find in airports. Also make sure you save your empty water bottle – refill it from drinking fountain and avoid $3 for bottled water.

If a skiing or snowboarding trip, a scuba or a surfing trip – you’re often better to rent that equipment at your destination rather than suffer the hassle of checking it. You avoid the risk of theft or lost baggage, and get a chance to check out some new equipment at your destination.

As you contemplate future travel plans, keep Mark Twain in mind:

“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”  - Mark Twain, a frugal and light traveler.

Update your travel bucket list, plan your journey and pack light!

For more information on European ocean and river cruises, see Grand Circle Cruises,

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


Posted in Central California, Mountain West USA (Montana, Wyoming, Colorado), Northern California, Pacific Northwest USA (Oregon, Washington, Idaho), Southern California, Southwest USA (Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico, Utah), United States beyond! | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Skiing and boarding off to wonderful winter start at Dodge Ridge Ski Resort!

Strong start to the New Year at Dodge Ridge Ski Resort

Skiing and riding conditions are excellent with over 3 feet of new snow since Jan. 1st!

The 2015-16 Winter Season at Dodge Ridge, Pinecrest, CA, started over six weeks ago on November 25th and the early season snowfall has continued with a series of strong, cold, winter storms delivering over 14 feet of snow to the slopes of Dodge Ridge, creating the best conditions in 5 years. “We are thrilled to be off to such a strong start with over 75,000 guests since we opened before Thanksgiving” notes Dodge Ridge CEO Sally Helm. “Currently the entire mountain, including Granite Bowl off of Chair 8, is open for skiing and riding with a base of 4 to 5 feet of natural snow blanketing the mountain top to bottom. It’s really great to see so many familiar and happy skiers and riders enjoying the extraordinary conditions at Dodge.”

Family of five on the Graceland Trail, off Chair 8 at Dodge Ridge Ski Resort.

Meteorologists on Open Snow forecast the snowfall at Dodge Ridge to be 102% to 136% of normal this winter. These statistics match up well with the actual snowfall in the  El Nino year of 1997/98. During the 1997/98 winter, Dodge Ridge received a total of 475” inches of snow at the base of the mountain and was open for skiing + riding from Dec.10 through April 19.

This season’s ample snowfall allowed Dodge Ridge to open 100% of the mountain earlier than expected, accessing 1,600 vertical feet of terrain with 30 to 40 runs groomed nightly. After a couple of days of mostly sunny skies this week snowy weather is expected to move back into the area with the next winter storm predicted to arrive on Wednesday with up to a foot of new snow setting the conditions up perfectly for the long Martin Luther King Weekend.

Dodge Ridge is well known for introducing hundreds of thousands of people to skiing and snowboarding and their PSIA-certified ski and snowboard instructors specialize in introducing children as young as two years old to the excitement of winter sports. With the busy MLK Holiday Weekend quickly approaching now is the time to reserve your group or private Snow Sports School lesson. For more information on the Dodge Ridge Snowsports School or to make a lesson reservation, please call (209) 965-3474 or make your reservation on line at Dodge

Be the first to know when the powder arrives and sign up for Dodge Ridge Powder Alerts! Simply text the word POWDER to 62687.  Stay current with Dodge Ridge updates by liking the resort on Facebook, following the resort on Twitter and Instagram@dodgeridge, visiting or calling the snow phone line, at 209-536-5300.

Opened in 1950, Dodge Ridge Ski Resort is located off Highway 108 in Pinecrest, CA, and  is the closest skiing and riding to Stockton, Bay Area & Central Valley locations. The resort offers a 1,600 foot vertical drop, 67 runs, 12 lifts and 862 acres of skiable terrain.

For reservations and additional information: Go to or call (209) 965-3474.

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

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Travel bucket list; update your travel plans for destinations close to N. California

We central Californians are blessed by close proximity to an amazing world just outside our door. Last week we ushered in a New Year with suggestions to update your bucket list of US and worldly travel destinations.  This week we offer suggestions within California.

August 25, 2016 marks the 100th anniversary of our National Park Service and each park will be offering celebrations and special programs, so we start with national park suggestions. Of the USA’s 59 national parks, California leads with nine parks (perhaps make a plan to visit all!).

Hetch Hetchy Valley, part of Yosemite National Park, is not to be missed.

Californians first thoughts often fall to our most-visited national park, Yosemite. Real Yosemite explorers urge you to tour to lesser known corners of the park, such as hiking along the north shore of Hetch Hetchy Valley (John Muir called it Yosemite’s twin), just across the O’Shaunessy Dam, or hiking west along the Tuolumne River from Tuolumne Meadows. Get off the beaten path and discover new wonders of Yosemite’s Sierra.

Smashing as Yosemite is, don’t overlook other nearby wonders such as Pinnacles, Sequoia/Kings Canyon and Lassen National Parks.

Machete Ridge in Pinnacles National Park is the remnants of an LA-area volcano, slowly moving northward on the San Andreas Fault.

Pinnacles is both the closest to Stockton – only 2 1/2 hours away, just south of Hollister, CA, and our newest national park. It’s a portion of an old volcano, steadily moving about 3 inches north each year on the San Andreas Fault – distancing itself from the mother volcano north of Los Angeles. Pinnacles is a land of jagged volcanic spires, narrow slot canyons, tallus caves ripe for exploration (bring a headlamp or flashlight) and offers a moderate climate good for camping even in winter months.

The General Sherman Tree, the largest tree in the world, always draws a crowd in Sequoia National Park.

Sequoia and Kings Canyon share a common border, and are just 90 miles south of Yosemite.  Both parks are home to the mighty Sequoia, with the General Sherman Grove in Sequoia, and the General Grant Grove in nearby Kings Canyon.  Here you can drive your car under a mighty fallen giant, or tour to the end of Kings Canyon, with Mt. Whitney looming in the distance.  Both parks offer picturesque campgrounds and lovely lodges.

Manzanita Lake, with Mt. Lassen looming in background, also shelters a lovely campground on its shores.

Lassen Volcanic National Park is just four hours north of Stockton, and offers dramatic testimony to the 1915 volcanic blast that blew the top off Mt. Lassen. Lassen is part of the “Pacific ring of fire”, a ring of volcanoes that surrounds the Pacific Ocean, and is one of the four types of volcanoes found throughout the world, all represented here.  They include plug dome (Lassen), cinder cone (Cinder Cone), shield (Prospect Peak) and composite volcanoes (Brokeoff Volcano).

Take time to explore Lassen’s Sulphur Works, an area full of eerie hot springs and burbling mud pots. Until the 1950s, it was a privately owned sulfur works and tourist spa destination. Continuing up Highway 89, one comes to Bumpus Hell; a one mile hike takes one to this lively area full of thermal wonders; it’s only a bit further to Cold Boiling Lake. Further along Highway 89 is the Devastated Area, which will wow the kids. An easy hike takes tourists past 25,000 pound boulders blasted off the summit of Lassen in 1915, landing three miles away and knocking down miles of forest like they were matchsticks.

Rare Bighorn Sheep can be spotted in the mountains in Anza Borrego State Park.

Southern California deserts make for marvelous spring destinations: State parks like Anza-Borrego, or national parks like Joshua Tree and Death Valley national parks each offer unique allure. With the start of a damp, promising El Nino winter, the parks offer promise of stunning wildflower displays, come April and May.

Anza Borrego is an hour south of Palm Springs, CA and as large as the other 200+ state parks combined. The park’s rugged features are “Colorado Desert”; millions of years ago, the Colorado River met the Gulf of California here. Today, thousands of tourists are peering into the Grand Canyon, wondering where all that dirt and rock went. To Anza-Borrego, of course.

Take the early morning hike to up Palm Canyon – a mile and a half up a stark, bone-dry gulch – where you’re likely to spy both snakes and Bighorn Sheep. At the apex, a beautiful California Fan Palm oasis emerges (fan palms are California’s only native palm tree).

Joshua Trees, the namesake of Joshua Tree National Park, are just one of many strange plants in this park.

Joshua Tree and Death Valley National Parks are located, respectively, east and north of the Palm Springs area. Joshua Tree offers a wild and other-worldly assortment of plant life.  From 18’ tall, spindly Ocotillo plants with slender red flowers, to Brittlebush, Smoketree, Mojave yucca and the strange Cholla cactus – we never imagined such creations.

The north-bound route through the park slowly climbs in elevation, past old mining roads, patches of Ocotillo, the Cholla Cactus Garden and through the Jumbo Rocks area (a very scenic campground at the Rocks).  Here a jumble of boulders and rock slabs is thrust into the sky like pick-up-sticks – a kid’s wonderland of climbing opportunities.

In the hundreds of years prior to California’s 1849 gold Rush, the Timbisha Shoshone people populated the Death Valley area.  It’s a land of extremes – the driest, the hottest, the harshest and the lowest lands in the USA.

Wagon trains of 49ers attempted to short-cut across the valley at the beginning of the Gold Rush – after one miner died, the group looked back and said “goodbye, Death Valley”, hence the name.  Entering the park at Panamint Springs – with elevation of sea level – the land continues to drop, eventually reaching its nadir at Badwater Basin, 282 feet below sea level – lowest point in the US.  Make this year your time to explore these desert gems, all just eight or so hours south and east of Stockton.

Author and spouse Susan stand in Badwater Basin, the lowest place in the USA.

Next week, we’ll bring you suggestions within 90 minute’s drive of Stockton, like Big Sur coast just south of Monterey. Use the New Year’s start to update your travel plans, get the kids (or grandkids) involved, and plot new destinations for 2016!

For more information: National Park Service Centennial,

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

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    Tim Viall

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