California’s central coast; elephant seals, stunning coast, Hearst Castle and Morro Bay

Lots of beautiful sunsets await campers and visitors to places like Morro Strand State Beach!

Hearst Castle’s Grand Mansion, looking up from the outdoor pool area. The mansion houses most of William Randolph Hearst’s extensive art collection.
Hearst Castle’s beautiful pool looks out over the Santa Lucia Mountains along the California coast;
the complex also includes a huge indoor pool!
Several hundred elephant seals lounge on beach in early April, just four miles north of San Simeon – and only a 150 foot walk from parking right beside Hwy. 1. In late May and June, even more seals are expected on the beaches in this area!


Morro Strand State Park offers camping just blocks off the ocean and just north of Morro Rock. Here, author's spouse Susan enjoys a campfire next to our Serro Scotty teardrop camp trailer!

Morro Rock has anchored the central California coast for eons, marking the way for ancient seafarers (and, today’s modern horsemen/women)!


Last week, I shared updates on the wild coast, elephant seals, sea otters and visitor services on the Big Sur coast.  I did not have room to mention several iconic places just south of Big Sur, so here are notes to take you south to Hearst Castle and Morro Bay.

On the south end of Big Sur (and just four miles north of San Simeon) you will find several beaches home to thousands of massive elephant seals. You’ve found the six-mile long Piedras Blancas rookery, home to these lumbering giants that can reach 5,000 pounds!  Adult females and juveniles begin to depart to the sea towards the end of May; in the summer months, sub-adult males – those who have reached puberty but not yet of the size to command respect for breeding – begin to arrive for their molt. They are followed in August and September by adult males.

Visitors will find Friends of the Elephant Seals docents at the beach 10 AM to 4 PM, and, no reservations required and no fees!

Just south is Hearst Castle, rising regally in the hills overlooking the ocean and Santa Lucia Mountains.  This huge estate owes its origin to the staggering profits of the Hearst newspaper and publishing business in the 1800s and early 1900s. 

George Hearst initially acquired  40,000 acres in 1865, and son William Randolph Hearst enlarged the estate to 250,000 acres and constructed a huge and palatial home of 165 rooms, spectacular grounds and world-class art.  With the help of architect Julia Morgan, Hearst created what he called La Cuesta Encantada, Spanish for “Enchanted Hill”.

The main house, Casa Grande, offers over 60,000 square feet of grandeur.  Featuring 56 bedrooms, 61 bathrooms, a theatre, indoor and outdoor pools and a 127 acre estate with tennis courts, airfield and private zoo complete with zebras, it was one of the largest and most grandiose private homes in the United States.

William Randolph Hearst would use his ranch to entertain political glitterati and Hollywood stars on a regular basis. Among the more notable were Calvin Coolidge, Franklin Roosevelt and Winston Churchill, Bob Hope, Charlie Chaplin, Cary Grant, Clark Gable, Joan Crawford, Greta Garbo and James Stewart. He maintained three sumptuous guest houses on the estate for just such purposes.

Hearst’s art collection rivals many of the world’s top museums; it, and the surrounding gardens make the visit well worth the trip to see it.  Fees do apply and reservations are a must, so see the Hearst Castle web site before planning a venturesome trip to this lovely destination.

Just south of the Hearst Castle, you’ll pass through the lovely coastal towns of San Simeon, Cambria,  Cayucos and on to Morro Bay.  Here, Morro Rock stands as a huge sentinel (many describing it as the Gibraltar of the Pacific coast), marking the central California coast to ancient and today’s mariners. 

Morrow Bay is a pretty town with just over 10,000 population and is named after Morro Rock, the huge granite volcanic plug just off shore. Morro Bay offers an active harbor and fishing industry, and oysters, halibut and salmon remain mainstays on local plates.  Harbor-view restaurants and surrounding vineyards make this small town memorable.

The area was settled by the Chumash people in prehistoric times near Morro Creek; the Spanish Portola expedition visited in 1769. A Franciscan missionary noted “we saw a great rock in the form of a round morro”, a Spanish word that is part of many place names where a huge rock formation is prominent. Today, the 576 foot tall volcanic remainder is visible for miles in all directions.

Today, the town boasts pretty beaches, an active commercial fishing fleet that searches for rockfish, soul, halibut and albacore and is also tourist-friendly. You’ll find a number of restaurants with harbor views, delicious seafood and close-up vistas of the huge rock (two favorite eateries are Galley Seafood Grill and Bar, and Windows on the Water, both on Embarcadero)!.

Morro Rock was once surrounded by water; during World War II, a US Navy base was constructed on its north side so that sailors could practice landing craft skills.  The breakwater was built to protect the harbor and is today maintained by the Corps of Engineers. While Morro Rock can be reached on foot, it is off-limits to visitors, as a home to protected peregrine falcons.

The town is ringed by some of California’s nicest state parks including Montana de Oro State Park and Morro Bay State Park to the south, Morro Strand Park to the north – offering camping and nearby beach access. When we visited recently, a portion of the beach and dunes were cordoned off to protect nesting Western Snowy Plovers. All these seaside parks get crowded in the summer, so if you are planning to camp, reserve a campsite well in advance.

You’ll find delightful places to stay, eat and camp in and near several of these towns.  Hence, extend your visit to our stunning California coast by visiting these wonderful places just south of Big Sur.

How to get there: The most direct route to Hearst Castle, 260 miles from Stockton, is to take I-5 south, go southwest on Hwy. 41, to Hwy. 46, then turn  north on Hwy. 1.  It’s a little over four hours.

What’s nearby: to the north are Big Sur, Carmel and Monterey; San Luis Obispo and Pismo Beach are just  south.

For info: Elephant Seals, Friends of the Elephant Seal,, PO Box 490, Cambria, CA 93428; Hearst Castle,; Morro Bay,; for campsite reservations,

For additional travel destination inspiration, see my blog: travel; to contact me,

Happy travels in the West!


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Big Sur; elephant seals, sea otters, wild coast and Hearst Castle!

Several hundred Elephant Seals lounge on the beach, just off Hwy. 1, four miles north of San Simeon.

Two male Elephant Seals joust for supremacy on beach just north of San Simeon!
The iconic Bixby Bridge on Hwy. 1, constructed in 1932.
Ragged Point Resort, with restaurant, motel and cabins – and flowers in full bloom in early April!
McWay Bay, and McWay Waterfall, in Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park.
Big Sur coast looking north from Hwy. 1
Big Sur coast, looking south from Hwy. 1; no surprise it was California’s first designated “Scenic highway”!

What is wild, scenic, home to thousands of huge Elephant Seals and contains some of the state’s finest campgrounds, restaurants and resorts?  Just 170 miles southwest of Stockton, it’s Big Sur, that relatively undiscovered paradise of rocky coast, bucolic coves, deep redwood forests and history that runs deep, spread along Highway One from Carmel south to San Simeon!

The Spanish called it “El Sur Grande”, the Big South, for the huge swath of rugged, unexplored and treacherous California coastline. Though Mexico awarded several land grants in the Big Sur area in the early 1800s, none were settled and it would not be until 100 years ago that permanent settlers arrived in the area. Soon, a lively logging economy began to thrive, with timber shipped up the coast to San Francisco.

Highway One was not completed until 1937 after 18 arduous years building this rugged highway; it opened the coast to a spectacular tourist destination.

A recent visit to Big Sur revealed an amazing experience for my wife and me. Just four miles north of San Simeon, we spotted a beach signed “Elephant Seals” and we turned off Hwy. 1. The beach is part of the six-mile long Piedras Blancas rookery, and home to some of 23,000 resident elephant seals (depending upon time of year). 

A 100 foot walk took us to a boardwalk – and about 250 elephant seals lounging in the sun, with the males occasionally jousting for supremacy.  Another mile north, another beach, and, 100 more of these fascinating creatures!

Elephant seals are much larger than harbor seals or sea lions.  Males can reach 5,000 pounds and 16 feet in length, females up to 1,800 pounds and 12 feet; pups are born at about 70 pounds and 3-4 feet. These huge creatures spend the majority of their lives at sea, diving as deep as 3,000 feet to forage for food, and spend several months on these beaches!

In May, juveniles and mothers who’ve been at sea arrive on the beach for a month of molting.  While in the rookery, the seals fast, eating no food and drinking little water – it’s much quieter on the beach than in the birthing and breeding, in the months just previous.

In June, July and August: as adult females and juveniles begin to depart to the sea, sub-adult males – those who have reached puberty but not yet of the size to command respect for breeding – begin to arrive for their molt. They are followed in August and September by adult males. The beach is quieter than in the months previously! Visitors will find docents at the beach 10 AM to 4 PM, and, no reservations required and no fees!

Some of the state’s finest parks and campgrounds are found in Big Sur. Andrew Molera State Park, just 20 miles south of Carmel offers 24 walk-in sites (first come, first-served), where you park and hike about 1/3 mile to camp sites that will hold up to four folks. With 4,800 acres, the park offers a huge variety of exploring options, from beaches to the Big Sur River to the rugged coastal mountains. This is relatively undeveloped acreage; if you are seeking a wilderness experience, this is pretty close!

Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park, 26 miles south of Carmel, offers 169 sites, picnic options and plenty of hiking and swimming opportunities. The park covers over 1000 acres of redwoods, oaks, cottonwoods and conifers and offers glimpses of wildlife including deer, skunks, raccoons and a variety of sea birds. The Big Sur Lodge also offers lodging, if you don’t desire to camp. Reservations:

Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park, 37 miles south of Carmel, offers two hike-in campsites, which can be reserved through Hiking options are abundant, with options from the Big Sur Coastline up into the rugged coastal peaks. The Overlook Trail takes one on a stunning hike along the coastline, leading to the McWay waterfall, which drops almost 100 feet into the McWay Bay.

Limekiln State Park, 56 miles south of Carmel, is one of our favorites. Carved into the Big Sur coast, if offers 716 acres and 33 developed camp sites, many with stunning Pacific views and mighty redwoods. Remains of historic limekilns, which produced copious amounts of lime for construction many years ago, are to be explored..

Kirk Creek Campground is a bit further south, a gem perched on a bluff overlooking the coastline, but, first-come, first-served, run by the US Forest Service. For more info, call (805) 434-1996.

Big Sur restaurants and dining range from the subtle to the sublime, from inexpensive to $$$$-rated! Featuring some of California’s top-rated restaurants and many other fine dining choices, our recent favorites are Big Sur Roadhouse opened two years ago, getting rave reviews and a bit less expensive than some competitors and Ragged Point Inn.  Located on Ragged Point, a bluff high above the ocean coast with spectacular views in three directions, the restaurant, motel and cabins are surrounded by gorgeous flowers when we were there in early April!  Try the Cinnamon French Toast!

Take your binoculars and enjoy Big Sur’s spectacular coastal views (with plenty of overlooks), soaring bridges (thanks to CalTrans) and endless beaches. Watch for wildflowers almost always in bloom, California Sea Otters cavorting in secluded coves and legions of sea birds – if you are lucky, you may see a California Condor soaring overhead on their seven foot wingspans.

How to get there: Take I-5 south, go southwest on Hwy. 152, to Hwy. 156, to Hwy. 1

What’s nearby: to the north are Carmel and Monterey; San Simeon, Hearst Castle and Morro Bay are south.. Mission San Antonio (one of California’s 21 Spanish missions) and Pinnacles National Park are just east (though, circuitous and wild, scenic drives are required to reach them)!

For info: Elephant Seals, Friends of the Elephant Seal,, PO Box 490, Cambria, CA 93428; Big Sur restaurants and lodging, Big Sur Chamber of Commerce,; (831) 667.2100.

For additional travel destination inspiration, see my blog: travel; to contact me,

Happy travels in the West!

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Cycling in San Joaquin County; Tour of California, Best Ride Ever are motivators!


The peloton for Stage 2 of the Amgen Tour of California, just north of Rancho Murietta, headed to finish in Lodi.

These four riders had a fun time on the longer route of the Best Ride Ever (Matt Beckwith photo).
Group of riders on the longer route pose for picture (Matt Beckwith photo).
Consumnes River Farm, just north of Thornton on Thornton Road, made for a popular rest stop at Mile 15.
Tim Viall, Mary Kay Driscoll, Joe Flores and Christine and Steve Lewis prepare to ride the 25 mile route.
L to R, Steve Lauchland, Kari McNickle and Cassidy Thomas, board members of the San Joaquin Bike Coalition, ham it up prior to start of the ride!
150 riders both local and from other counties signed up at Lange Twins Winery!

The Tour of California Bicycle Race started on Sunday in Sacramento, with Stage Two finishing on a bright, crisp and sunny Monday afternoon in Lodi, in front of a crowd estimated at over 20,000 cheering spectators. One hundred and fifty world-class professional cyclists peddled that stage, from Nevada City to Hutchins Street Square in Lodi, before moving onto Stage Three in San Jose.

A day earlier, over 150 local riders, dressed in their finest cycling gear, gathered at Lange Twins Winery in Acampo (just north of Lodi), for the Best Ride Ever. With the choice of 25, 62 and 100 mile scenic rides, great food, music and wine tasting – there was something for all! And, both events coincide with our local Bike to Work Week  – so, triple the energy to get us on our bikes!

Both events showcased the stunning scenery of Northern California, and each underlined that by highlighting the bucolic wine-country back roads that surround Lodi on four sides.

I was particularly taken by a small slice of our local cycling territory when the Best Ride Ever stopped at Consumnes River Farm, 28305 North Thornton Rd., just north of Thornton.  The Farm offers wine and olive oil tasting in a beautiful setting with a shaded outdoor patio and plenty of seating to share wine and good times!

Best of all, it’s just mile north of Thornton, and a 1/2 mile south of the Consumnes River Preserve. Thornton is a cute little town on the north edge of our county, with a new bakery and several stops for coffee.

Just north of the Farm is the Consumnes River Preserve, which showcases the intersection of the Consumnes River and Mokelumne Rivers. The preserve offers hiking and biking trails that take you through low-lying country around both rivers, showing off a portion of California much is it looked like to Native Americans hundreds of years earlier.

The several mile stretch is a great place to bike ride, sample local wines and olive oil, and appreciate the rivers that feed the San Joaquin Delta, and the flora and fauna that thrive in such an environment.

So plan a day, take the bikes, pack a picnic lunch and enjoy this beautiful country between Lodi and Thornton, in our backyard!

For more info: Amgen Tour of California,; Bike to Work Week events,; City of Stockton bike routes,; San Joaquin Bike Coalition, “like” their Facebook page and see their web site,; Stockton Bike Club,; Consumnes River Farm, 28305 N. Thronton Rd., Thornton, 209.334.5544,,

Next week, highlights of a recent tour from Morro Bay up CA Hwy 1 to Big Sur.  For other inspirational destinations in CA, see my Record blog:!

Happy travels in the West!

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Yosemite updates; and, Chinese Camp and Groveland, CA, take you back into Gold Rush history!


Old Catholic Church in Chinese Camp is surrounded by graves and family plots dating to Gold Rush days in the early 1850s!

Old boarding house on Chinese Camp’s Main Street is slowly mouldering away!
Old Chinese Camp Hotel, right off Hwy. 120 on Main Street – stop and tour the three blocks of old town on your way to Yosemite!
Groveland’s old jail, dating to 1854, when the town was a lively Gold Rush stomping ground!
Historic downtown Groveland, Gateway to Yosemite; that’s the old Groveland Hotel, on far right in photo (great food).

A couple Yosemite National Park updates, from my Record newspaper article and blog posting of a week ago.


First, Tioga Road has now opened, the earliest opening in recent memory; testimony to thin snow fall this past winter.  Many of the campgrounds off the road have yet to open, and highway construction may mean traffic delays, but (barring a late spring storm), you can cross Tioga Pass.  And, the cables have been installed for climbers wanting to climb Half Dome!

And, if heading to Yosemite, or Hetch Hetchy, don’t miss two wonderful diversions along the way.  If you have traveled to Yosemite National Park from Stockton or Modesto on California Hwy. 120, you have rolled through Chinese Camp and Groveland!  One of the side benefits of such a trip is you pass through a couple of historic Gold Rush towns worth a stop. You don’t even have to leave Hwy. 120, just pull over and take a leisurely stroll through dramatic history.

Chinese Camp is a true Gold Rush ghost town, right on Highway 120. The town in the 1850s once numbered 5,000 Chinese miners, merchants and other folks looking to make their fortune in the Gold Rush.

Take the walk down the three block stretch of Main Street, with an old abandoned hotel, post office, merchant’s buildings, rooming house and homes slowly moldering away. Just up the hill on Main is the St. Francis Xavier Mission Church and Cemetery, established in 1854.  You will find family plots and pioneer tombstones dating to the 1860s.

In 1856, history tells us that four of the six Chinese protective associations staged the first tong war, at a location a few miles distant, near the intersection of Red Hills Road and road J-59.  The city boomed in the 1850s, but placer mining was tailing off by the 1860s.  Though the town remained robust until into the 1870s, it faded quickly into a footnote on Gold Rush history.  Several million in gold came out of this area, a huge fortune for those times!

Groveland is closer to Hetch Hetchy and Yosemite, also on Hwy. 120, a quaint Gold Rush town catering to tourists with the historic Groveland Hotel, a jail dating to 1854 and Groveland Pizza, on north edge of town, a fine family food stop.  The old Hotel also is a grand dining destination, and a slew of shops await inveterate travelers!

Hetch Hetchy and Camp Mather: Take the time to take the 20 mile detour to see Hetch Hetchy Reservoir and the mighty Hetch Hetchy Valley, sister to Yosemite.  On the way, you will roll through Camp Mather,  just nine miles from Hetch Hetchy, with a store, restaurant and variety of accommodations, from lodge to cabins, in a bucolic wooded setting. Try the restaurant/bar at Evergreen Lodge for the best Reuben and barbecued tri-tip sandwiches we have had in years!  Vast stands of scorched forest along Evergreen Road, both before and after Camp Mather, offer mute testimony to the ferocious Rim Fire of 1.5 years ago.

How to get there: From Stockton, Chinese Camp is  65 miles, 1.6 hours; Groveland is about 20 miles further on Hwy. 120. Take Highway 4 east to Copperopolis, turn right on O’Byrnes Ferry Road, take a left on highway 120/108 and follow Highway 120 to Chinese camp and Groveland.  To reach Hetch Hetchy, turn off Hwy. 120 at Evergreen Road (it’s about a 30 minute drive to reach O’Shaunessy Dam and the Reservoir.  Leave early, particularly if you want time to press onto Yosemite National Park!

What to take: Pack cold weather gear, binoculars, camera and snacks for the trip. Fishing rods and your CA fishing license!

For more information: Yosemite National Park, go to; call 209/372-0200 (then dial 3, then 5) or by mail: Public Information Office, PO Box 577, Yosemite, CA 95389 (the park does charge a day-use fee).

For additional travel destination inspiration, see my blog: travel; to contact me,

Happy travels in the West!

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Yosemite and Hetch Hetchy Valleys in a dry water year; still not to be missed!


A two-mile hike, climbing 700 vertical feet from the valley floor takes one to the base of 300 foot Vernal Falls, still impressive even with reduced water flows.

Hanging Rock juts from Glacier Point, with Yosemite Falls, running low on water, across the Yosemite Valley.
Tourists hang from Glacier Point observation walk, with Half Dome looming in background.
O’Shaunessy Dam, completed in 1923 and heightened in 1938, impounds Hetch Hetchy Reservoir and floods Hetch Hetchy Valley, for water bound for San Francisco,
Wapama Falls thunders 1,080 feet in three segments into Hetch Hetchy Reservoir.
John Muir’s letter to magazine publisher Robert Johnson, in 1913, makes the case for saving Hetch Hetchy Valley (photo courtesy of UOP Holt-Atherton archives)
Hetch Hetchy Reservoir, with Hetch Hetchy Dome on left, Kalana Rock looming on right.

John Muir, gazing at the Yosemite landscape in 1869, wrote, “I gained the noblest view of the summit peaks I have ever yet enjoyed. Nearly all the upper basin of the Merced was displayed, with its sublime domes and canyons, dark upsweeping forest and glorious array of white peaks deep in the sky, every feature glowing, radiating beauty that pours into our flesh and bones like heat rays from fire”.

My brother, visiting from Ohio two weeks ago, and I had Muir in mind, and only two days to visit the park.  Despite our fears that this lowest of all Sierra winter snowpacks would leave the area a shadow of its former self, we departed on a whirlwind trip to Yosemite and Hetch Hetchy.

We packed the rudiments for hiking and camping; a simple tent, sleeping pads, sleeping bags, good footwear, binoculars and a change of clothing.  We had checked and found that the RV campgrounds in Yosemite were booked, but Camp 4, the tents-only campground (favored by backpackers and rock climbers) had plenty of room.

So, we embarked early-morning, with a quick coffee stop in Groveland on the Hwy. 120 approach to the park, and made Yosemite Valley about 11:00.  I had never hiked to Vernal Falls (brother John had), and we both wanted to see the falls up close, despite water flowing about 30% of what might be normal for April.

The falls remains spectacular, even at lower water levels; the trail from the valley climbs about 1,000 vertical feet in two miles. From the top of Vernal Falls, one also has the option to climb to Nevada Falls, another 900 vertical feet.  Due to shortness of time and breath, we decided to save it for another visit!

We then trekked some of the trails in the Yosemite Valley (14 miles of lovely trails, virtually flat, circumnavigate the valley; bring your bikes!) and stopped in a meadow near the Merced River, running low but still beautiful, below El Capitan. El Cap is the largest granite monolith in the world, and, with binoculars, we searched its mighty face for climbers.  Seeing none, we searched across the valley to the south, watching two inching their way up Cathedral Spires.

We had a late pizza dinner at the Yosemite Lodge, delicious after hiking about six miles and admired nearby Yosemite Falls!  Onward to nearby Camp 4 after dinner, where we pitched a tent for $3 per head. Later that night, we would listen in on climber’s campfire chat, who were readying for assaults the next day on Yosemite’s mightiest monoliths.

The next morning, we were up early for a breakfast at Yosemite Lodge, then off to drive to Glacier Point.  This spectacular road takes you 3,200 feet above Yosemite Valley. Jaw-dropping views of Upper and Lower Yosemite Falls, Vernal and Nevada Falls, the Merced River, El Capitan, Half Dome and the mighty Sierra, extend for 50 miles in three directions.  Muir himself would have stood in awe as the sun arched higher into blue skies, casting subtle shadows over some of God’s greatest creations!

From Glacier Point, we returned to Yosemite Valley, headed northwest on Hwy. 120 and made for Hetch Hetchy Reservoir and Valley.  It’s a sister valley to the mighty Yosemite – just 20 miles off Hwy. 120 on Evergreen Road.

Hetch Hetchy Valley was the scene of one of the most epic environmental battles 100 years ago, as John Muir, the  fledgling Sierra Club and other environmental groups fought to keep this valley pristine.

Muir’s exploration of both Hetch Hetchy and Yosemite Valleys and writings in the influential Century Magazine helped to get Yosemite National Park established in 1890. However, the much less-visited Hetch Hetchy valley remained in peril.

San Francisco had eyed the valley for extending its water supply since the 1890s and applied several times for water rights. The huge San Francisco earthquake in 1906 and fire underlined the city’s need for more water.

In 1913, Muir noted “The Hetch Hetchy Valley is a wonderfully exact counterpart of the great Yosemite, not only in its sublime cliffs and waterfalls and it’s peaceful river, but in the gardens, groves, meadows and campgrounds on its flowery park-like floor”. To his chagrin, Congress passed the Riker act in 1913; O’Shaughnessy Dam would begin construction in 1919, be completed in 1923 and heightened in 1938.

What remains is a still stunning valley and pristine reservoir, nearly the equal of Yosemite Valley. The drive takes one through Camp Mather, with store, restaurant, lodge and cabins. Try the Evergreen Lodge’s Reuben and barbecue tri-tip sandwiches – some of the best we’ve had in years!

One can drive to the parking lot right beside O’Shaughnessy Dam. Views from the dam are memorable, but hike a half-mile or several miles along the north side of the reservoir for the most enduring views.

Looking up the valley, on the right one sees the massive Kolana Rock, on the left, massive Hetch Hetchy Dome. The view extends east, up the reservoir and Tuolumne River; serious hikers can continue further east into the Tuolumne Meadows area.

Our trail took us past the base of Tueeulala Falls, dry for lack of snowmelt, to the base of Wapama Falls, dropping 1,080 feet with surging snow melt. It’s about a 2.5 mile hike from the dam to Wapama Falls on a well-maintained trail.  At the end of day two, we had hiked about 13 miles and seen much of the most spectacular scenery in the west!

How to get there: From Stockton, 115 miles, 2.5 hours. Take Hwy. 4 east to Copperopolis, turn right on O’Byrnes Ferry Road and follow Hwy. 120 past Chinese camp and Groveland (two great Gold Rush towns) into Yosemite. To reach Hetch Hetchy from Hwy. 120, turn north on Evergreen Road to O’Shaunessy Dam.

For more info: Go to:  The park headquarters is at PO Box 577, Yosemite National Park, CA 95389-0577; phone: 209.372.0200.  Camping can be booked through, or 877.444.6777. 

Next week, highlights of a recent tour from Morro Bay up CA Hwy 1 to Big Sur.  For other inspirational destinations in CA, see my Record blog:!

Happy travels in the West!

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Bicycling Stockton and San Joaquin County miscellany

Matt Beckwith leads a group of LSD riders in Lodi wine country.

Matt Beckwith’s scenic South County ride, about 75 miles, +/-!

My Wednesday blog post, and feature in Thursday’s Record newspaper, offered a host of options on bike riding within San Joaquin County and Stockton.  I missed an offering by the iconic Matt Beckwith, who recently rode every inch of every street and byway in Stockton, logging over 1,100 miles from January to end of March.  Matt passed along his favorite rides:

“There are many great rides around town and the county that I love. One ride I have done more times than I can count is a ride from north Stockton out to the bike path at Weston Ranch and then back to north Stockton. Sure, Stockton is flat but I always try and push hard over Center Street Hill (and again on the way back on El Dorado Hill). The Weston Ranch bike path is just under 3 miles and it’s one of my favorites in town. From north Stockton, it’s a total of about 30 miles.

A few times each year I venture out on my favorite south county ride. From north Stockton, I ride out to French Camp and then head west on Mathews Road. I ride through Tracy and then out to South Kasson Road to the edge of San Joaquin County and then ride through Manteca on my way back to Stockton. This ride is 75-85 miles, depending on if I add a few extra roads, and is a great way to see parts of Tracy and Manteca that many people don’t see”.

Thanks, Matt, great comments!

And, still time to sign up for the Best Ride Ever, on May 9, at Lange Twins Winery in Lodi, choices of 25, 63 and 100 miles, great food, music, SAG support, cool shirt, and proceeds benefit the bike advocacy programs of the San Joaquin Bike Coalition.

And, in the previous article and blog, I inadvertently overlooked a leading local bike club, the Stockton Bike Club.  Each week this club offers a variety of local rides, and just this Sunday staged the Delta Century, which, each year, attracts hundreds of riders and allows the club to donate $7,000 or more to local charities.  You’ll find their web site, below.

My Record article elicited comments from Mr. X in Lodi, who writes:

“Hello Tim.  In response to your letter in this mornings Record, concerning riding a bike.  Even the pic in the paper is incorrect in that it shows people riding outside the white line and not in single file as per the California Vehicle Code.  The pic was taken on De Viers (sic) road which is very narrow and should not allow bikes, most dangerous to cars, bike riders, let alone large trucks that travel that road at harvest time. My main compliant (sic) is bikes are not paying for their share to use the road, as cars pay the lion’s share in the form of a gas tax to keep the road in proper shape for cars.  I myself have had discussions  with bike riders who will ride 2-3 abreast and will not comply with the rules of the road.

The safe cycling rules to live or die by made me laugh. Of all that are posted the most laughable is anyone riding a bike by law is required to stop at a stop sign.  I live on a busy street, at Elm and Lockeford there is a 3 way stop.  In all the years of walking my dogs at that intersection I have never observed anyone on a bike stop, as they continue to peddle through, cars are not much better.  Riding a bike has rules, however rules were ment to be broken and bike riders are excellent at breaking the rules.  Ride on a road that has a bike lane and the chances of reaching your destination improves 100%.   Though I do not agree, a good article for those who observe the rules”.  Regards, Mr. X  in Lodi.

My reply to Mr. X:

A couple additional comments to my earlier “thanks for reading” response:

Cyclists have the same right to ride on roads, as do cars – with the exception of most Interstates.

They’re not required to ride only in bike lanes, or only on roads with bike lanes, nor to the right of the white stripe on any given road.

The majority of our scenic bike options within the county are on roads without bike lanes. I ride them, frequently, myself. If there’s room I ride on the shoulder.  Often, there is no shoulder, or just inches to right of the white line.  I have a right to ride in the lane with traffic, just as does an auto or truck.  I do ride with a rearview mirror – and attempt to be very deferential to vehicles approaching from my rear.

A new state law requires passing motorists to give a rider a three foot margin; happily, most drivers already do that.

I took the picture on DeVries road – all those riders were riding single-file, with the exception of one who was passing on the left-hand side of the single file group. All of that was legal – and those riders maintained single-file riding during the 12 mile distance we rode that day.

Once again, thanks for reading! Tim V.

And, I should have added that bicycles predate the first autos by more than 100 years, and the first roads paved in the USA were paved for the benefit of bicycles!  Bikes add so little wear and tear to the roads that to claim bike riders (about 99% are auto owners and pay gasoline tax) don’t pay their fair share is ludicrous!

For more info: Amgen Tour of California,; Bike to Work Week events,; City of Stockton bike routes,; San Joaquin Bike Coalition, “like” their Facebook page and see their web site,; Stockton Bike Club,

Next week, highlights of a recent tour to Yosemite and Hetch Hetchy Valleys.  For other inspirational destinations in CA, see my Record blog:!

Happy travels in the West!

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Ease of travel with a teardrop trailer; it’s David vs. Goliath!

Our Scotty Junior on the N. California coast!

Our Scotty at home in the Pinnacles National Park campground, amidst the behemeth trailers and fifth-wheels. All those owners want a tour of our little trailer!
Rear galley with plenty of storage room; some teardrops have built-in gas stove or sink, this one does not.
The back interior cabinets of our 58 Scotty offer lots of storage space; and, yes, you can sleep in there!
Our 58 Scotty Junior repro teardrop, with builder Tom Scott of W. Virginia, who constructed this trailer in 2011

I have been writing travel stories and posting several travel blogs for almost two years; we have been touring with a teardrop travel trailer for over seven years. These little trailers, besides being conversation starters (“can you really sleep in there?”), are easy to tow, keep your gasoline bill down (we tow with a compact car), and store easily in your garage or yard (no storage expenses).

We actually have two teardrops, a reproduction 58 Serro Scotty Junior that we have used extensively the last 1.5 years, and a classic 64 Serro Scotty Sportsman needing a lot of work, jammed inside my garage while inspiration comes to me.  Hence, the Scotty Junior sits under a tarp, behind a fence so as to not violate the sensibilities of our neighborhood homeowner’s association.

But you really appreciate these little travel trailers when it’s time to hit the road.  For us, it’s pretty simple since the trailer is already loaded with Coleman stove, lantern and other camping gear like chairs and small tables, bedding is ready-made and the interior cabinets are loaded with other camping miscellany like headlamps, wet weather gear, CDs, batteries and such.

Our first move; unlock the gate beside the garage, pull the tarp off the trailer, and push it to the driveway.  Since the teardrop only weighs about 750 pounds, loaded, and has a tongue-wheel, its easy for my wife and I working as a team.   Hook it to our Ford Focus tow vehicle and we’re about ready to hit the road.

We merely have to load a few other items: ice chest with food and drink, a plastic storage container loaded with dry goods, canned goods and non-perishable food, our clothing duffels and a backpack.   Most of these are also pre-loaded; we merely check to be sure our supplies are up-to-date (would not want to get to a national park without binoculars, or a corkscrew!).

A question: Can you cross the USA by auto, California to Florida and back, spend 30 days on the road for $2,000, including gas, food, lodging?  Well, pretty close.  We recently completed a 30 day tour, from Stockton, CA to Florida (including Key West), toured the “old South” – our costs for gasoline, 16 nights in campgrounds, seven nights in inexpensive motels (and seven nights with friends/family).  We made many lifelong memories and spent about $2,100.  Not bad for seeing the country, up close and personal!


So, off we go, with our “motel behind us”; getting 27 mpg and smugly passing giant pickups and monstrous fifth-wheel trailers lugging along getting 8 mpg.  We often camp next to them in the campground; we pull out our portable chairs and tables – and sit right beside them!  And, yes, if the fifth-wheel owner has six kids, I can understand the need for size.  But often, it is a retired couple, who strain to back their behemoth into a parking spot, then hit the button so their slide-outs pop out, up goes their satellite dish – and we don’t see them until they depart the next day.

That, as any small trailer aficionado will attest, is not camping!

Watch this travel blog for weekly tours of California’s National Parks, many other destinations in the west and throughout the USA (sometimes, even Canada!); go to  And, happy travels!

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Bicycling Stockton and San Joaquin County; Tour of California offers inspiration!


LSD ("long, slow distance") riders peddle north up DeVries Road, headed for Lodi wine country. This ride is usually held the first Saturday of the month by the San Joaquin Bike Coalition.

Second Saturday Family Rides usually start at University of Pacific and peddle portions of the Calaveras Bike Trail; here a group stops at Buckley Cove Park for a photo.
Cyclists met on the Stockton Calaveras Bike Trail near UOP for a recent group ride.
Cyclists doing a group ride aroiund the downtown Stockton historical district.
A couple of cool riders prepare to depart University of Pacific for the San Joaquin Bike Festival in September.

A recent Record article highlighted Lodi’s “tour de force” – landing the second stage of the Amgen Tour of California this May, the US’s most prestigious bicycle race.

Take a moment to consider the positive aspects this event attracting the world’s best cyclists will bring to bicycling in our city and county. 

Local media are publicizing and building excitement, leading right up to the start of the tour on May 10.  The tour starts with stage one in downtown Sacramento; stage two starts in Nevada City and finishes in Lodi at Hutchins Street Square on the afternoon of May 11, in front of a crowd estimated to top 20,000!

A bright light will be shone on that pretty country, and our Lodi vineyards and orchards, as the tour winds its way to Lodi.  And, the Tour also coincides with “Bike to Work Month” – that local event will help energize people to continue riding long after the tour itself fades into memory.

Also consider that some of the nicest months for riding occur in the months following May – we have pretty nice riding weather almost year-round.

As for safe riding and scenic options, look to the area to the west, north and east of Lodi for scores of quiet back-country roads through beautiful vineyards and orchards, and search other cities (like Stockton’s website) for it’s map of bike trails, bike lanes and relatively safe cycling routes.

We asked several local bike advocates for their suggestions for new or veteran riders.  Kari McNickle, President of the San Joaquin Bike Coalition noted, “Bike to Work Month events (May) offer a variety of incentives to begin, or resume, riding.

Of particular note: the Stockton event (May 13) will feature guided “bike pools” for those wishing to ride with a buddy, and the Lodi event (May 14) will include a short ride led by city manager Steve Schwabauer.

Bike to Work Week offers the usual prize drawing incentive/Bike Month challenge as well for anyone who pledges to ride at least one day in May. Details can be found at:

Stockton’s Miracle Mile will be hosting a “Bike Week”, May 17-23, with merchant specials for those arriving on bike. The Miracle Mile’s Third Thursday Wine Stroll on May 21 will also offer bike valet parking and $5 off wine stroll tickets for cyclists.

Bike to Work Month is a great opportunity for people to try biking or walking to work, whether they’re new to it, old pros, or even just out of the habit and want to get back in it. We hope to encourage people towards happier, healthier commutes”.

She adds, “the Bike Coalition’s Best Ride Ever, Saturday, May 9, is a great introductory road ride.  It’s the most fun you can have on 2 wheels for $35 dollars! Plus, great food, music and cool shirt, all at Lange Twins Winery!”.

Kristine Williams, Exec Director of the Bike Coalition, shared her favorite rides, “my experience in riding centers more on commuting routes since I use my bike to get around town more than recreational riding.

Midtown Stockton offers some of the nicest urban routes in the city. Baker, Kensington or Allston offer good north/south alternatives to Pershing and Pacific avenues and give a nice tour of the different neighborhood architectural styles. You’re also likely to run into a park or two along the way (e.g. American Legion, Caldwell or Victory on the west side of Pershing). The wider streets and less traffic make for calm riding – a good choice for those looking to learn to ride with traffic.

The Calaveras River Bike Trail, just north of UOP, provides one of the city’s only separated bike routes and is a great east/west ride. On weekends you’ll be in good bicycling company. The separation from the road makes this ride a good choice for those with kids as well.  The San Joaquin Bike Coalition leads free monthly rides for newer cyclists as well as veterans, emphasizing safe and fun cycling in the county and the city of Stockton”.

Several other favorite local rides: From Bear Creek High School, ride North up Thornton Road to DeVries Road.  That route takes you into Lodi wine country, with destinations such as Thornton or the Cosumnes River Preserve.  Not to be overlooked, Manteca and Tracy also offer quiet city streets and bike trails for new or veteran riders!

Additional cycling favorites are just north:

  •    American River Bike Trail, Old Sacramento to beyond Folsom Lake.
    • Sacramento River Parkway; start in Redding at the iconic Sun Dial Bridge, ride to Shasta Dam.
    • The Bizz Johnson Trail runs from Westwood to Susanville in Lassen County.

Here are a few safe cycling rules to live by:

• Be aware of new CA law that requires motorists to give cyclists 3 feet when they pass, but realize many drivers don’t know or won’t follow the law.  As a rider, obey the law (ride with traffic, not on the sidewalk; stop at stop signs, red lights).
• Youth under 18 must wear a helmet (state law); adults are advised to do the same!
• Study your city’s bike lanes/paths and, while driving, pick out safe, low-traffic cycling routes; by the same token, check your bike’s tires and brakes before setting out!
• Wear bright colors and invest in a rear-view mirror, or eyeglasses mirror (you’ll have some margin of safety seeing drivers approaching you from behind).
• Use hand signals when turning, so motorists know your intentions.
• Never assume a driver approaching, or on a side street, sees you until you make eye contact with the driver. When passing parked cars, watch for a sudden door-opening!

For more info: Amgen Tour of California,; Bike to Work Week events,; City of Stockton bike routes,; San Joaquin Bike Coalition, “like” their Facebook page and see their web site,

Next week, highlights of a recent visit to Yosemite and Hetch Hetchy; see what the valleys look like in a very dry spring!  For other inspirational destinations in CA, see my Record blog:!

Happy travels in the West!

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Get your kicks on Route 66, in Arizona and California! (2nd of 2 Installments)

Rt. 66 ended at the ocean in Santa Monica, CA, just blocks from the Santa Monica Pier and Boat Harbor.

The Ocean Lodge, just three blocks off Rt. 66 as it ends in Santa Monica, CA, is typical of the style of motels one would find in the 1950s.
Vintage Aztec Hotel, with Mayan Revival architecture, circa 1925, is on Rt. 66 as it passes through Monrovia, CA.


Old gas station is preserved on Shamrock in Monrovia, CA.

Only the huge signs remain from the Foothills Drive-in Theater in Azusa; now part of parking for Azusa Pacific University students.
The Glendora, CA McDonalds picks up on the Rt. 66 theme with ’57 T-bird tables, old jukebox and Rt. 66 signs!
The El Garces Hotel was once one of the iconic Harvey House Hotels, in Seligman, AZ.
Rt. 66 guidepost sign in Williams, AZ, reflects the historic essence of the old road.
Shops along Rt. 66 in Williams, AZ, are themed to the “Mother Road”!

“Get your kicks on Route 66” went the lyrics of the 1946 hit, recorded by the King Cole Trio. It celebrated the historic Route 66, which began in 1926 when the Bureau of Public Roads created the first Federal Highway, by linking existing local, state and national roads. 

The result was a meandering 2,400 mile highway that began in Chicago, IL and crossed Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and ended in Santa Monica, CA. Aggressively promoted by the US 66 Highway Association as  “the shortest, best and most scenic route from Chicago through St. Louis to Los Angeles”, travelers poured westward!  

Last week, we shared towns and businesses along the Oklahoma and Texas portions of the highway; today we tour Arizona and California Route 66. Though World War II caused a dramatic downturn in travelers along Route 66, traffic increased dramatically at war’s end. Auto ownership grew from 25.8 million at war’s end, to 52.1 million by 1955.

With more and more families headed west on Route 66, California, 5.68 million people in 1930, mushroomed to 20 million by 1970. Arizona with 435,000 residents in 1930 blossomed to 1.78 million by 1970; many of the new residents arrived by the increasingly popular “Mother Road”, Route 66!

Construction of a new, Federal four-lane highway system in 1956 that would become today’s Interstate system resulted in new Interstates (I-55, I-44, I-40, I-15 and I-10) which would steadily replace Route 66 over almost 30 years.  In 1985 Route 66 was decommissioned as a Federal Highway. Today, individual states and towns have elected to preserve and reinvigorate the old highway, and many stretches of 66 retain the nostalgia and appearance of times gone by.

A recent cross-country trip allowed us to drive the old highway from Oklahoma to California.  After a short detour off to Grand Canyon National Park, we turned south 55 miles to Williams, AZ, with a wonderfully re-created historic Route 66 right through the center of the town. Auto traffic on Route 66 steadily cut into railroad traffic – the Santa Fe once brought thousands of passengers into Williams from East and West and the Grand Canyon Railway took them to the Canyon rim. The Grand Canyon Railroad still runs, but now mostly caters to tourists who arrive by car who take a day trip on the historic railroad.

Seligman, AZ, is the next town west doing a good job preserving historic route 66. In front of the town’s lively Copper Cart/Route 66 Motoporium, we find a group of Japanese tourists lying down in the middle of the old highway, having their individual pictures taken! Though, once you get off Seligman’s main Route 66 drag, the town, both south and north, looks semi-deserted. The towns of Oatman and Kingman also offer Route 66 memories, just before entering California.

California’s desert area marks all their Route 66 historic stops on Interstate 40, beginning with Needles.  Needles has captured much of their historical essence, and a Chamber of Commerce rep offers us a brochure, highlighting the grand old El Garces Hotel (an old Harvey House Hotel), built in 1906, the Needles Theatre, circa 1930 and old Union 76 and Texaco gas stations.  Just behind the Route 66 Motel are the moldering remains of the old Carty’s Camp Motor Court, featured in the Grapes of Wrath movie.

We began our tour of Los Angeles  area’s Route 66 sites in Glendora. We found their McDonald’s ties into the Route 66 theme, with a 57 Thunderbird-themed set of tables, an old classic juke box with 50s and 60s hits, and plenty of historic route 66 signage throughout the restaurant.

Finding LA remnants of historic Route 55 is a bit more difficult as we follow the route, realizing quite a few of LA’s suburban towns have virtually rebuilt the commercial buildings on both sides of Route 66 – so it’s often difficult to identify old landmarks.

In Azusa, we found the old Foothills Drive-in Theater retro signage; while the iconic signs remain, the old theater property is now parking for Azusa Pacific College.  Across the street, the Stardust Motel, from the 50s, proudly carries on the old motor court tradition.

Trekking further west to Monrovia, we followed the 66 route up Shamrock and found a mostly preserved old gas station, dating to the 1940s. Back on Foothills Boulevard, we turned south on Myrtle to admire the classy, well preserved old downtown of Monrovia. Its lively old downtown spans about 15 blocks on Myrtle, with restaurants, pubs, bakeries, shops and an active farmers market on Friday evenings – offering a lovely vibe.

We stumbled upon the old Aztec Hotel on Foothill Boulevard in Monrovia, (built 1924, opened 1925), closed for renovations in 2012 with its future uncertain.  The Aztec is an historical landmark building, once a 44 room grand example of Mayan Revival architecture.  Designed by noted architect Robert Stacy-Judd, its unique architecture is worth a stop.

Moving further westward, we came to Pasadena, the old 66 route now on Colorado Boulevard. We found the old Angels Theater, repurposed to a new retail use and many other buildings dating to the 1920s. Nearby is the historic Pasadena Playhouse, built 1925, seating 688 and still hosting an active local arts and theater scene.

We now headed for the end of old Route 66, Santa Monica. Through Hollywood, and west, we followed Santa Monica Blvd. past classy old theaters and stopped at the Café 50’s – offering a great selection of old Americana breakfast and lunch specials – and then into Santa Monica.
Here we took in a variety of old historic buildings in the final 10 blocks, including the stately Mayfair Residences; here the city’s popular Third Street Promenade crossed the old Mother Road. Route 66 ended on Ocean Avenue – just two blocks from Santa Monica’s historic Pier.

Ocean Avenue still sports historic motels, like the Ocean Lodge, just a block from the Pier, where new arrivals, could, indeed, “get their kicks on Route 66”!

What to take: Camera and binoculars, good walking shoes and Route 66 notes or brochures.

For more info on Route 66: Overall historic Route 66:; Arizona,; California,

Next week, highlights of recent tour from Morro Bay up CA Hwy 1 to Big Sur.  For other inspirational destinations in CA, see my Record blog:!

Happy travels in the West!

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Route 66, the “Mother Road”, miles of Americana from Oklahoma to New Mexico (Part 1 of 2)


Map of Route 66, from its start in Illinois to the east, and heading west 2,400 miles to an eventual finish on the Pacific Ocean, in Santa Monica, CA.

Old Gulf gas station in Sapulpa, OK, preserves an age when gas went for 19.9 cents per gallon!
Vintage Red Barn, Arcadia, OK, was built in 1898; our teardrop travel trailer in the foreground!
The famed Rock Restaurant in Stroud, OK, was made of rock excavated when Route 66 was built.
An abandoned gas station on a quiet stretch of old Route 66; it closed when gas prices were in the 29 cent/gallon range!
A vintage Phillips 66 station in McLean, Texas, on Route 66.
The iconic Leaning Tower, Groom, Texas on old Route 66.

U.S. Highway 66, popularly known as Route 66, has a special place in the hearts of Americans.  For me, it stems from a 1962 trip when my mom packed my two brothers and me into the back of a Ford station wagon, towing a tiny tent trailer, and headed out of Ohio bound for California. 

Long before the advent of Interstate freeways, we followed Route 66 from Chicago all the way to the LA area (my dad flew into LA to join us). To this day, I remember many of the cute towns, campgrounds and many arguments between three brothers!

In the Roaring 20’s, with Ford, GM and Dodge churning out inexpensive autos amid the economic boom times, Americans were progressively into automobile vacation travel, and many were relocating to the west in hopes of even better times.

Fueled by increasingly mobile Americans, Route 66 began in 1926 when the Bureau of Public Roads created the first Federal Highway, by linking existing local, state and national roads.  The result was a meandering 2,400 mile highway that began in Chicago, Illinois and crossed Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and ended in Santa Monica, CA. Aggressively promoted by the US 66 Highway Association as  “the shortest, best and most scenic route from Chicago through St. Louis to Los Angeles”, travelers poured westward!  

Businesses and towns along the newly christened Route 66 looked at the road as an opportunity to promote and expand their offerings, and restaurants, motor courts, gas stations exploded.  Though World War II caused a dramatic downturn in travelers along Route 66, traffic again increased dramatically at war’s end. Auto ownership grew from 25.8 million at war’s end, to 52.1 million by 1955. Fueled by post-war prosperity, more and more families headed west on Route 66.

However, President Eisenhower, who had noted the success of the German Autobahn during the war, launched the construction of a new, Federal four-lane highway system in 1956 that would become today’s Interstate system.  Five new Interstates (I-55, I-44, I-40, I-15 and I-10) would steadily replace Route 66 over almost 30 years, and in 1985 Route 66 was decommissioned.

Today, individual states and towns have elected to preserve the old highway, and many stretches of Route 66 retain the nostalgia and appearance of times gone by.

Near the end of a recent auto trip to Florida and back, we elected to follow much of the highway, from Oklahoma back to California (we have Illinois to Kansas targeted for 2016).  Just into Oklahoma on I-40, an Oklahoma Welcome Center provided a gorgeous Oklahoma Route 66 tour brochure.  A staffer extolled the scenic old road, and we headed 60 miles north to reach the eastern portion of Oklahoma’s piece of the “Mother Road”.

We intersected Route 66 at Sapulpa, OK, then turned southwest.. In Sapulpa, a town of about 900, we found an old downtown themed to the old route and a reborn Gulf gasoline station, reflecting gas, once just 19.9 cents a gallon!

Touring west, we admired the old red brick industrial buildings south of Kellyville, and in Bristow, we found miles of old red brick streets and a former Chrysler-Plymouth dealership with  a towering neon sign, now an oil distributorship. Chandler, OK, is home to the Route 66 Interpretive Center, well worth the visit.

In Arcadia, we toured the old Arcadia Red Barn, built 1898, and refurbished and reopened in 1992.  It’s a huge, circular barn, with a second floor used for dances and family gatherings, right on old Route 66, steeped in old memories.

We crossed into Texas and followed the old highway into Shamrock, admiring the newly restored U-Drop Inn, housing the Shamrock Chamber of Commerce, and then motored west to McLean.

There we find the McLean Prisoner of War Camp historical site and the Route 66/Devil’s Rope Museum, also housing the Old Route 66 Association of Texas. You’ll also find the first Phillips 66 station built and the old Avalon Theater.

In Groom, TX, we spot the second largest cross in the Western Hemisphere (concrete, 190 feet tall), and nearby, Route 66’s iconic Leaning Tower. We stopped at The Grill, newly reopened, for a good home cooked meal; here, Texan Amy Connors notes “Route 66 brings our little town a lot of traffic – we’re working to make it even more interesting from an historical perspective”.

A Texas Welcome Center offers a nice brochure on Texas Route 66, with the attendant claiming that Amarillo does a nice job showcasing the old highway. We head off to see that city, but find their one-mile themed stretch of old Route 66 (6th Street) is mostly antique dealers, a few old buildings and one restaurant/bar surrounded by 150 Harleys – we choose not to make that stop!

Further west, Vega offers a nice slice of old Americana, with the old 1940s-era Vega Motel, on the National Historic Register.  Vega offers a host of old, vintage motor courts and eateries.  You’ll soon realize that many of the frontage roads parallel to I-40 are original sections of old 66, complete with historic bridges for those with sharp eyesight!

Just before entering New Mexico, we decided to tour off old Route 66, and head northbound to the Four Corners area (where Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico and Nevada all meet) and then into Grand Canyon National Park – so New Mexico’s Route 66, featuring stretches through Albuquerque, Santa Fe and smaller towns, will have to wait.

What to take: Camera and binoculars, good walking shoes and Route 66 notes or brochures.

For more info on Route 66: Overall historic Route 66:; Oklahoma,; Texas,; New Mexico,

Next week, we resume our tour of Route 66 in Williams, Arizona (just south of the Grand Canyon) where old Route 66 heads west to Santa Monica, CA. 

For other inspirational destinations in CA, see my Record blog:!

Happy travels in the West!

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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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