Plotting that perfect (well, almost perfect) road trip!

Roy's Motel and Cafe (and our Scotty teardrop trailer), historic Rt. 66 in Amboy, CA.

How to plan that perfect (well, almost perfect) road trip

We recently dined with old friends, including one couple where she had recently retired, and was looking forward to the retirement of her husband – and to them making those long-delayed road trips. Whether retired or planning that next vacation, here are suggestions for planning that perfect road trip.

Wheeler Peak, part of Great Basin National Park, just off Hwy. 50 in eastern Nevada.

Where to: gather your hopes and dreams, and, prioritize. For inspiration and how to map your trip, see this article on touring the top sites in the lower 48 states:

Plan your trip, but allow for flexibility: On longer trips, we’ve moved away from trying to plan every day’s destination in advance. We have found by taking back roads we find those pleasant travel discoveries, and can always find campgrounds by watching, or motels on-line.

Recently, planning to drive from Tucson to Petrified Forest National Park, we chose a circuitous route, up the east side of Arizona on Highway 191, taking two days to tour that scenic, high mountain drive. Our reward, an often stunning drive through Alpine forest, reminiscent of Wyoming or Montana, and finding that perfect campsite, a Forest Service campground at 8,000 feet. Days later we made an unplanned stop in Flagstaff – using the Kayak phone app, we quickly found a deal on multiple motel rooms, 40-50% off.

Remains of a '32 Studebaker mark the old roadbed where Rt. 66 once cut across the northern portion of Petrified Forest National Park in Arizona.

Maps, vs. GPS: Without spreading out my AAA map, noting its zigs and zags though tall mountains, we would not have discovered Hwy. 191 to Petrified Forest. You’ll get the overall layout of a state with a paper map, and, kids or grandkids can take part in helping plot a road trip route. Lastly, in western states, big swathes offer no cell phone signal – if you’re relying on cell phone GPS – you’re out of luck.

If kids/grandkids are part of the travel plan, allow kids to be part of the “where to, and what to do when there” planning. Pack a few games and establish, in advance, an electronics policy. Don’t forget the games of my youth, both license plate poker and “I spy”. Plan frequent and spontaneous breaks for both adults and kids, and allow a bit of time for all your passengers to stretch or get in a short hike if appropriate.  Pack a small cooler, keep healthy drinks iced down and avoid the travel urge to pack or buy junk food. You and your fellow travelers will feel stronger at day’s end and avoid that vacation weight-gain.

Eat “fancy” occasionally: I am pretty tight on food budgets when traveling, but, with Susan enjoying the occasional classy meal, we sometimes splurge. Check on-line coupons, and pick up the local entertainment weekly in a town you’re spending some time in. During a recent stay in Edmonds, Washington, just north of Seattle, Susan and I found a two for one coupon for Arnie’s, an upscale restaurant on Edmonds the waterfront, next to an active ferry terminal.  We dined like kings, enjoying a marvelous view, for about $70 including wine.

This stunning art creation is part of Chihuly Garden and Glass at Seattle Center, Seattle, WA.

Talk to locals for best places to visit, to eat, scenic drives: Without chatting with locals, as example, we never would’ve found our way to the Chihuly Garden and Glass exhibit in Seattle Center or the weekend farmers market and craft fair in the University of Washington district. Or, in Tucson, we would not have found our way to the best Mexican restaurant or to Saguaro National Park East near the city.

Take the road less traveled: Get off the freeway, explore older highways and byways. Whether it’s touring old sections of historic Rt. 66, enjoying the “loneliest road in America” (and, one of the more scenic), Highway 50 across Nevada, or Highway 191 in mountainous eastern Arizona – you’ll discover joys of road trips that you’ll never find sticking to interstate highways.

Your vehicle: take your car in for service, and, if it has some miles on it, have key items like fan belts and tires checked. Nothing like a breakdown to ruin a good road trip. Consider an AAA membership (for the maps, vacation planning assistance and the roadside towing service if your car conks out on you).

Making more space: First, work to pack light. If you’re on a long trip, you can always find time to wash some items, or buy a missing item on the road. If you’ve got a crowd in a tight vehicle, consider a rooftop cargo carrier to open up space inside.

Get your America the Beautiful Senior Pass (for those 62 and up) before the price increases later this year!

Take your valuables: Pack your passport (if going into Mexico or Canada), your Federal senior pass if you qualify, and make copies of your passport, key credit cards and the like if you were to lose them. If you are on medications, pack those meds and make a copy of the prescription. An easy way to make these copies is to take good photos on your smart phones.

Keep calm and enjoy the trip.  Realize that all the planning in the world won’t allow you to avoid a few hiccups along the way – so plan to enjoy the unexpected! Don’t let yourself get uptight; it’s your road trip and vacation!

For more information: Our national parks,; the Federal senior pass,; for Federal campgrounds,

Contact Tim at, follow him at Happy travels in your world!

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Hwy. 4, Calaveras Big Trees, Bear Valley and Lake Alpine offer a world apart!

The Murphys Hotel anchors historic Main Street in Murphys, CA. It's also a fine place to spend the night or dine!

Murphys, Calaveras Big Trees, Bear Valley and Lake Alpine – all on Hwy. 4 – offer a world apart!

Groves of redwoods, some up to 250 feet tall, grace Calaveras Big Trees State Park. Docent-led tours, camping and cabins for rent make this a marvelous destination!

Last week, I shared our favorite summer destinations on the Hwy. 108 corridor above Sonora; this week we offer recommendations for fun along Hwy. 4, from Murphys east to Calaveras Big Trees State Park, Bear Valley Resort and Lake Alpine.

Murphys has long been a favorite town on our state’s Gold Rush tour-route, noteworthy for its historic preservation, places to stay and dine, and growth in wine tasting rooms and cute shops along its old Main Street.

From Murphys east to Arnold, one can find numerous dining options; in Murphys, favorites include the highly rated Alchemy Restaurant and the historic Murphys Hotel.  Both towns offer a variety of hotels/motels and B&Bs for overnighting.

Calaveras Big Trees State Park is just east of Arnold. Home to towering redwoods, the largest is the Louis Agassiz tree, located in the South Grove, over 250 feet tall and 25 feet in diameter six feet above the ground! The largest tree in the North Grove is the Empire State Tree, over 18 feet in diameter; in about any other state, this gem of a park would receive national park status! The park offers cabins for rent, camping among the redwoods and walking tours led by Rangers to offer big tree’s insights.

Bear Valleyfamily fun expands with a host of lodging and adventure packages with activities including “Glamping” options, an Adventure Park, swimming, hiking, biking, kayaking, a Kid’s Club, archery, outdoor movies, live music and more.

New Glamping tents, with a stunning view into Mokelumne River Canyon, are new at Bear Valley Resort this summer. The accommodations offer most of the comforts of home in a stunning setting.

Bear Valley’s new Glamping tents are fully furnished with rugs, heaters, chairs, tables, lamps, complete bedding and a welcome basket.  The units are powered by renewable energy to provide many comforts of home.  Ideal for couples, the tents offer an authentic mountain getaway with packages that include wine tasting, music events, meals activities and a spectacular view of Mokelumne Canyon.

A section of Bear Valley’s parking lot offers parking for RV camping with access to Bear Valley showers, bathrooms and a guest lounge.

Kids and adults enjoy the ropes courses at Bear Valley Resort!

For those seeking challenging activities, the Bear Valley Adventure Park adds several new features.  In addition to a bungee trampoline, a ropes course, a rock-climbing wall and swimming pool, a pass to the park includes access to an aerial suspension bridge, swinging tire traverse, cargo net wall, “Ninja style challenge course”, climbing ropes, rope and seat swings and archery shooting gallery.

Mountain biking has long been popular in and around Bear Valley; new are eco-bikes available for rent, electric powered mountain bikes sourced by solar energy. Trust me, eco-bikes make mountain biking a lot more pleasant when faced with 10-15% grades on rocky trails!

Mountain bikers have always enjoyed the trails in and around Bear Valley; new this year are Eco-bikes for rent; bikes with an electronic assist!

A new Adventure Club offers activities for kids ages 4-12. Counselors will lead kids through adventure including active play, arts and crafts and education about their surrounding natural environment.  Kids can explore, learn about the native people, the Gold Rush, plants and local ecology. The Adventure Club will be available on weekends from 9:30 a.m. to 3 p.m, with lunch provided.

The newly renovated Bear Valley lodge hosts a variety of evening activities including campfires and s’mores, outdoor movies and music events. Bear Valley Village is home to a variety of services, shops and restaurants. A variety of dining choices include the mid-slope Day Lodge; in Bear Valley Village, the Lodge offers light fare in the Grizzly Lounge, steaks and seafood in the classy Creekside Dining Room and pizza and pasta in the Trattoria for families with big appetites!

Summer hikers head out on a trail within the Bear Valley Resort area.

“We’ve put together a tremendous roster of lodging, activity and event options for the summer designed to complement Bear Valley’s scenic location in the Sierra,” said Tom Hinojosa, Bear Valley Summer Recreation Director. “There’s so much to do in this area, and so many new ways to enjoy what is already a terrific year-round destination.”

Bear Valley’s free shuttle will service Bear Valley Village, Lake Alpine and Bear Valley Mountain to assist visitors desiring to venture out to the scenic reservoir covering 180 acres, or the scenic vistas and mountain bike trails located just minutes from the Bear Valley Lodge. The shuttle service includes a trailer to accommodate bikes, kayaks and stand-up paddleboards. The Adventure Park and shuttle service runs on weekends from 11:30am to 7pm, July 2 through September 3.

Bear Valley, surrounded by two of California’s largest federally designated wilderness areas, offers abundant outdoor activities. The ski and board area offers 1,680 acres of varied terrain, more than 70 trails and 1,900 vertical feet.  Hiking, fishing, cycling, rock climbing, kayaking, camping, glamping, adventure park, mountain biking and a variety of music concerts and cultural events make for lively summer activities.

Lake Alpine is just east of Bear Valley, and offers a pristine high-Sierra lake at almost 7,400 feet elevation!

Lake Alpine, just east of Bear Valley at an elevation of 7,388 feet, is a spectacular high-Sierra gem, offering fishing, hiking, the Lake Alpine Resort and nearby camping in a variety of campgrounds.

How to get there: Take Highway 4 east to reach Murphys, Calaveras Big Trees, Bear Valley and Lake Alpine. Bear Valley is about 95 miles and two hours from Stockton.

For more information: Bear Valley Resort,, (209) 753-2301; Calaveras Big Trees Park,, (209) 795-2334; Lake Alpine Resort,, (209) 753-6350; Visit Calaveras,, (800) 225-3764.

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

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Emergencies when “on the road”; seeking your input!

Our 2013 Ford Escape "on the rack", sans transmission, at Whitefish Ford, MT, in February.

Dealing with emergencies when “on the road”; seeking your personal horror stories…

I am seeking your insight into emergencies you might have suffered “on the road”; and I’ll make these into a future article in the Record’s travel pages.

What a disassembled Escape transmission looks like on a shop table (Ford Motors required the dealer to tear it apart, to determine if "fixable" or needing "total replacement"), which added 3-4 days in the process. Ughh.

So, what is your experience?  Have you had auto emergencies, trouble with passports/visas, medical emergencies, or totally screwed-up travel plans that left you stranded for unplanned days? Share the highlights/lowlights, and how you surmounted those challenges – and what you would do differently to preclude such disasters in the future.

A few weeks ago, I wrote a column on such travel challenges, highlighting a vehicle breakdown in Whitefish, MT in February that caused us a week-long, unplanned stay and caused us to trade in the vehicle on a new one.  Reader Steve Spatola of Stockton wrote to me with the suggestions below for avoiding transmission failure on a variety of vehicles.  With his permission, I am sharing his good advice:

Tim, Sorry to hear about your car eating a transmission. The amount of towing you do leaves you susceptible to such problems (I did note to Steve that the vehicle with failed transmission had done minimum towing).

Some good information to know. Most small new cars have what is known as a CVT (Continuous Velocity Transmission). Under most circumstances they are reliable. There are no planetary gears as in a normal tranny (aka bands) to wear out. The problem with that is when they go there are no repairs, just replacements and the amount is not cheap. Cars with CVT’s that are popular are usually the imports but Ford may have them in their “World Cars”, the Escape may be one and for sure the prior one was a world car. Cars known to have weak transmissions are Chrysler, Ford, VW and some Nissans and Honda’s

Another new thing to learn. Most new cars do not have transmission dip sticks to check your fluid levels. Bad in my opinion! Heat kills transmission in escalating degrees above what is normal. Just a few degrees can burn your fluid, especially conventional fluids.

I would suggest that you have what is called a BG Flush. That refers to the name of the company, BG that makes numerous products for engine wear as well as transmissions. Go to for one nearby. The only one in Stockton is Martin’s on Churchill and El Dorado street. Back to the lack of a dipstick, there is no tranny drain plug most often either. The shop will splice into your tranny line that enters your radiator and flush out all 14-16 pints of factory fluid and replace it with a synthetic transmission fluid. Not cheap but at the cost of a transmission it is actually very cheap.

At the same time have the shop add an external transmission cooler, one that exceeds your maximum towing capacity in rating. I.E. 4,000 lb. or so. That will take the load off your radiator to cool the tranny. This work will not affect your warranty as it is service work required at some point in your ownership. Dealer transmission service entails dropping the pan and letting the fluid drain in to a funnel. They clean the screen and replace the filter. The remaining 12 or so original pints remain in the transmission. Not exactly a big improvement. If you do these two things, you’ll be transmission worry free for a very long time.

Prevention is the essence of repair avoidance. Most cars today should exceed 200K with synthetic oils and good maintenance schedules.  I have used Mobil 1 for over 40 years and I have never had a tranny or engine failure due to lack of proper maintenance. I have pre-empted failures by rebuilding trannies and engines. One engine failed me because I was not aware of the oil composition no longer provided zinc in the oil. Using SL/SN additives to oils in catalytic convertor cars is bad for the cats but cars prior to 1994 with hydraulic cams and lifters need the zinc even if they have convertors. Know your fluids to include the coolants. Some factory ones, like GM’s, suck. They claim a 100K lifetime. BS! On aluminum engines that can spell disaster as heads warp and that is a major problem in today’s cars!

Steve Spatola, Stockton
Car Crazy, with 8 classic cars and a maintenance freak

So take Steve’s suggestions to heart; preventive maintenance might save us all future challenges.

And, send to me those woeful comments about emergencies you have suffered “on the road”.  Thanks!

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

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The high Sierra’s Hwy. 108, pathway to summer fun; from Twain Harte to Pinecrest/Dodge Ridge, something for everyone!

Pinecrest Lake brings crowds in the summer months!

Adventure for everyone; the high Sierra’s Hwy. 108, pathway to summer fun; from Twain Harte to Pinecrest/Dodge Ridge!

Seeking a cool oasis from the heat of the valley, where you, kids or grandkids can hike and fish or curl up with a book amidst stunning vistas? Plan a multi-day trip to the high Sierra and find an alpine heaven, just two hours from the valley!

Lauren Mackenzie and dog Booker pilot a SUP on Pinecrest Lake (photo courtesy of Brian Ogilvie).

A frequent choice for our family is Highway 108, from Twain Harte up to the Pinecrest Lake area, with day-trips to Sonora Pass. The pass was blazed in 1852, when 75 pioneers departed from Ohio and Indiana. Today, the area west of the pass is a summer and fall mecca for fisherman, hikers, bikers and adventurers.

For the family, bring games, books, walking shoes, fishing poles and chocolate, marshmallows and graham crackers for smores. Between hiking, biking, swimming, fishing and dinner around a campfire – family fun is easy in this glorious country.

Twain Harte's entry arch welcomes visitors to this quaint town in the Sierra.

Just above Sonora, stop and enjoy the quaint town of Twain Harte.  Beyond the iconic town arch, five blocks of shops, restaurants and family activities await.  Stop for lunch at The Rock Grill and Bar, then continue onto the Pinecrest Lake area.

Pinecrest is a self-contained resort area wrapping around Pinecrest Lake, a PG&E reservoir, with Dodge Ridge Ski Resort just three miles above the lake. The area offers a fine, family-friendly restaurant, the Steam Donkey, and lodging options at both Pinecrest Lake Resort and Pinecrest Chalet. Two nearby large campgrounds can fill fast during the summer, so book in advance if you wish to camp near the lake.

Author's grandkids Jessica, Jack and Hunter make the hike around the Pinecrest Lake Loop Trail.

Pinecrest Lake is the star; Pinecrest Lake Marina ( offers rentals of fishing boats, sail boats, kayaks, canoes and pontoon boats. Slips are available for rent if you’re planning on bringing your own boat. With rising popularity of stand-up paddleboarding (SUP) either bring your own boards or rent at Heidi’s Ski Shop ( in Cold Springs. Heidi’s also offers SUP yoga sessions on Pinecrest Lake throughout the summer months.

View from Sonora Pass, high on Hwy. 108.

If you are staying near Pinecrest Lake, every night starting in May and continuing through summer, The Pinecrest Theater offers outdoor movies under the stars in the Pinecrest outdoor amphitheater located right on the beach at Pinecrest Lake.

Higher into the Sierra, you’ll find another 10 campgrounds along the Middle Fork of the Stanislaus River; take the Clark’s Fork Road to our favorite, Clark’s Fork Campground with 80 campsites at almost 7000 feet. The road ends a few miles north at the Carson-Iceberg Wilderness, offering a variety of hiking trails and fishing options nearby.

With almost endless access along rivers, streams and lakes, the fishing in this region is some of the finest available; local favorites include many points along the Stanislaus and Tuolumne Rivers, and on Pinecrest, Beardsley or Donnell Lakes.

Relief Reservoir, high above Kennedy Meadows Resort.

Mountain bikers enjoy many options throughout the Stanislaus National Forest. Bring your own gear or you can rent mountain bikes from the Pinecrest Hub next to the Pinecrest Market. Gentle trails include the old rail trail from Strawberry down to Fraser Flat, or continue even further down the trail along the Stanislaus, from Fraser Flat to Lyons Reservoir. Both follow the route of the old Sugar Pine Railroad, so grades are seldom steeper than 2 to 3%.

The Dodge Ridge Ski Resort is soon to begin laying the groundwork for a system of lift-accessed mountain biking trails; current plans are to introduce the new trail system in the summer of 2018. In the meantime, one can hike and bike the varied fire trails in and around the ski area and enjoy the alpine scenery.

Road bicyclists have options along Hwy. 108 and around the Pinecrest/Strawberry areas, but the real test for serious bikers is the climb on Highway 108 over the 9,651 foot Sonora Pass Summit, though occasional stretches with up to 26% grades can wilt the most serious climbers.

Author's grandson Hunter about to dive into a chili-burger at Kennedy Meadows Resort.

Hiking and backpacking trails are extensive throughout the Stanislaus National Forest. Some of our favorite trails include the Pinecrest Loop, Trail of the Gargoyles, Pinecrest Peak, Giannelli Cabin, Sonora Peak, trails into the Carson-Iceberg Wilderness, Kennedy Meadows and hikes fanning out from top of Sonora Pass. Stop at the Stanislaus National Forest office in Pinecrest for maps.

For families seeking horseback riding adventures, single-day or longer options include several outfitters.  In the Pinecrest Area near Dodge Ridge trips start out of Aspen Meadows Pack Station (; further up Highway 108, tours are also available out of Kennedy Meadows Pack Station (

How to get there: From Stockton, take Hwy. 4 to Copperopolis, southeast on O’Byrnes Ferry Road and east on CA Hwy. 108 to Twain Hart, Pinecrest and the Sonora Pass area. From Stockton to Pinecrest Resort, it’s 100 miles and about two hours. Check with CalTrans – as of this writing, the 108 east of Strawberry was not yet fully open due to winter snows!

Dining and lodging: Favorites for eating out include the Steam Donkey Restaurant in Pinecrest, Strawberry Inn (also for lodging) and Mia’s in Cold Springs. For lodging, Pinecrest Lake Resort, Pinecrest Chalet and Kennedy Meadows Resorts are good choices. Beginning June 23, enjoy breakfast Friday through Sunday at the Bistro at Dodge Ridge, through September 3. Your pets can join on the pet-friendly outdoor patio, and  free WiFi is available.

Grades up to 26% can challenge even the most serious bicyclists on Highway 108 approaching Sonora Pass!

For info: Stanislaus National Forest,, or contact the Summit Ranger District, 1 Pinecrest Lake Road, Pinecrest, CA 95364; (209) 965.3434; Tuolumne County Visitor’s Bureau,

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

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Saguaro National Park, Petrified Forest National Park bring Arizona desert to life

Saguaro cactus in bloom in the national park of the same name.

Arizona desert comes to life at Saguaro National Park and Petrified Forest National Park!

Saguaro cactus in bloom; fruit will develop in a few months, a favorite of birds and other creatures!

We had the opportunity to do a 10-day housesitting gig in North Tucson (through the Affordable Travel Club) and used the trip to visit several old and new national parks and Native American sites. On the way to Tucson, we spent two days in favorites Joshua Tree National Park and three additional days near the Grand Canyon.

But it was the Tucson area that offered the appeal to us, since we never seen much of that part of this vast state before. We consulted our AAA maps (I prefer paper maps, over trying to plot destinations via GPS) and plotted a route to Saguaro National Park, Petrified Forest National Park and Canyon de Chelly National Monument, a bit further to the north.

Saguaro National Park is easiest to reach, since two park sections are separated by metro Tucson. The Western District is due west of the city, while the Eastern/Rincon Mountain District is just east. Together, they preserve 91,000 acres of the green and verdant Sonoran desert, including the park’s namesake, the saguaro cactus.

Prickly pear cactus also coming into full bloom!

This part of the Sonoran desert has two rainy seasons, July through August and December through January, receiving about 10 inches of rain throughout the year. Saguaro cactus, prickly pear cactus, fishhook cactus, barrel cactus, mesquite and creosote bush all thrive in this alien environment. The interesting Palo Verde tree, tall with electric green leaves and bark, makes for a tall and lush desert environment.

The park is also home to the American kestrel, Lucy’s warblers, cactus wrens, purple martins, rattlesnake, Gambels quail, road runners, redtailed hawks, desert tortoise and Gila monsters. We saw a fair share of road runners, a variety of birds and hawks, but none of the balance.

We were lucky, with both saguaro cactus in bloom, with big, creamy white flowers and prickly pear cactus bursting forth with lush yellow flowers. Eventually, saguaro fruit ripens in June and July, with each fruit containing as many as 2000 tasty seeds, popular with birds, coyotes, foxes, squirrels and javalinas.

Prickly pear blossoms are stunning, up close!

We toured the 8 mile loop road, stopping at a number of overlooks, with the option to walk back into the desert for best views and photos. The park offers 21 backcountry campsites, though no traditional drive-in campgrounds. Camping is available at nearby state parks, county parks and US Forest Service – pick up a flyer at the visitor center.

A number of easy hikes meander through the park, including the Freeman Homestead Trail, a one-mile round-trip, taking you into an old homestead and offering mute testimony on the hard life of pioneers in this rugged land.

From the Tucson area, we pressed east and then north to reach Petrified Forest National Park. It’s in remote Arizona country, leading to light visitation compared to many of the 59 national parks.

Petrified wood in Rainbow forest (National Park courtesy photo)

Petrified Forest National Park (about 250 miles northeast of Tucson) was established as a national monument in 1906 to preserve and protect the petrified wood for its scientific value, becoming a national park in 1962. Some 220 million years ago, sediments buried old tropical rain forests, when this property lay much closer to the equator.

Over the eons, minerals leached into the buried wood and rock layers were laid down over the dead trees, leading to their petrification. At the same time, that portion of the earth’s place was moving tectonically north, part of the ancient Chinle Formation, from which the colorful Painted Desert gets its name. Millions of years of erosion bared many of the old petrified trunks, which lie all over the park, perhaps no where more dramatic than the Rainbow Forest Trail near the park’s south entrance!

Huge petrified logs like this one, some 45 feet long, lie along the Rainbow Forest trail near the park's south entrance.

The park is recognized today, both for its incredible petrified wood, including from the Late Triassic paleo-ecosystem, and deep human history dating back thousands of years.  The park offers amazingly clear star-lit skies, a fragile grasslands ecosystem and colorful Painted Desert vistas.

Remains of Puerco Pueblo, dating back over 1,000 years, in Petrified Forest National Park.

Sharp-eyed visitors may see jackrabbits, collared lizards, pronghorn antelope, prairie dogs, tarantulas, several varieties of rattlesnakes and other wildlife in the park.

Over 13,000 years of man’s presence is preserved in the park, right up to a section of the old “Mother Road”, Rt. 66, that cut across the northern end of the park, helping send millions of Americans west from Chicago to California, from 1926 to the mid-1980s. But it’s early Native American people’s settlements, including Agate House and the Puerco Pueblo, that offers evidence of man’s ingenuity in living and prospering in a harsh environment.

Remains of an old Studebaker mark a section where old Route 66 once cut throught the north edge of the park; Petrified Forest National Park is the only national park to contain a portion of the old "Mother Road".

While the park allows back-country camping, it offers no developed, drive-in campgrounds.  A host of private campgrounds surround much of the park, and state parks in Arizona and New Mexico and Forest Service campgrounds can be found in this scenic part of the west.

What’s nearby: Colossal Cave Mountain Park is just south of Saguaro National Park East, Karchner Caverns State Park is further south and Chiricahua National Monument is to the east. Canyon de Chelly is about 150 miles north of Petrified Forest.

The colorful and vast Painted Desert lies just north of the park's North Entrance.

For more information: Affordable Travel Club,; Petrified Forest National Park,; Saguaro National Park,; Canyon de Chelly National Monument,; for camping on public lands,

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

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Exploring the High Sierra and Nevada while discovering a stunning national park you never heard of…

Relief Reservoir is a brisk 2.5 mile hike above Kennedy Meadows Resort in the Sierra.

Beat the Valley heat; exploring the High Sierra and Nevada while discovering a stunning national park you never heard of along America’s “loneliest road”…

Author's grandson Jack at Columns of the Giants in the Kennedy Meadows area.

We’re headed for a hot summer in the San Joaquin Valley. If you’re looking for a way to beat the heat, find cool, scenic and high-mountain camping, as well as discover a stunning national park you’ve never heard of – here’s a week’s adventure just right for summer.

Our route will take you up Highway 108 to the Kennedy Meadows area in the Sierra, two hours from Stockton, then continue across the loneliest road in America, US Hwy. 50, to Nevada’s east side and Great Basin National Park.

Both the High Sierra and Great Basin National Park received heavy snow and rain deep into spring so they’re green and cool compared to anything around Stockton. Both offer lightly-visited campgrounds, affording scenic campsites even during the rush of summertime vacations.

On the first day, head east out of Stockton, taking Highway 108 past Pinecrest lake – you can stop for a swim at the iconic lake, and continue 25 miles east where you’ll find a chain of a baker’s dozen forest service campgrounds, first come, first serve, in the area around Kennedy Meadows.

Horses take back-packers into the area around Relief Reservoir and Kennedy Meadows.

Kennedy Meadows Pack Resort offers overnight lodging and a nice restaurant; just beyond, a several mile hike will take you to Relief Reservoir, cobalt blue at 7500 feet elevation. Our favorite campground in the area, Clark’s Fork Campground on the river of the same name, is also just a few miles south of The Carson-Iceberg Wilderness area for exhilarating treks to virtually untouched Sierra vistas at 8000 feet and above.

Along Hwy. 108 you’ll find the mighty Dardanelles, sentinel mountains to the north of the Middle Fork of the Stanislaus River and Dardanelle Resort, with restaurant open Friday, Saturday and Sunday and lodging options. Nearby, stop at Columns of the Giants; where a quarter mile hike on an easy trail accesses the base of this natural wonder, where lava flows cooled thousands of years ago, creating vertical, towering basalt columns which almost defy imagination.

Spend a few days luxuriating in the beauty and cool temperatures of the High Sierra, then continue on Highway 108, down the Eastside and find your way to Highway 50, long described as the loneliest road in America as it crosses Nevada. We have now covered this route close to a dozen times, and, with each trek, we find new points of interest and natural beauty to be admired.

Eureka's historic Opera House along Hwy. 50.

Crossing Nevada on Hwy. 50, spend the time to admire old pioneer towns like Carson City (the state’s capital), Eureka and its historic Opera House, Grimes Point, with petroglyphs and etchings by ancient Northern Paiute peoples, the remains of New Pass Station, an old stagecoach stop in this wild country and a Pony Express station that prospered in the short life of the Pony Express.

Your reward some 270 miles from Sonora Pass for crossing Highway 50 to the eastern side of Nevada is Great Basin National Park, stunning in its beauty and particularly alluring with its Lehman Cave. The park is so lightly-visited you can find campsites during the summer, by reserving in advance or arriving early.

Great Basin's Wheeler Peak, over 13,000 feet, with ancient Bristlecone Pine forest in foreground.

Compared to Yosemite, with over 3.5 million annual visits, Great Basin gets just over 100,000 visitors. With few tourists its beauty is almost untrammeled; home to Nevada’s second tallest peak, Wheeler Peak at 13,063 feet, the park offers scores of hiking trails including several through ancient forests of Bristlecone Pine. The park offers a full palette of desert, sagebrush, fir and pine, jack rabbits, mule deer, mountain lions and darkest of night-time, starlit-skies.

The park’s Lehman Cave, one of the most spectacular caves in the western United States, offers underground tours that will delight the youngest to oldest travelers. Ranger-guided tours take you 1500 feet into the mountain side, past still stalactites, stalagmites, shields and otherworldly formations in its impressive rooms, grottoes and tunnels.

Ranger prepares to lead tour group into Lehman Cave in Great Basin National Park.

We typically camp several nights at Upper Lehman Creek Campground, green and pretty at 7700 feet where sunny and warm days can drop to chili evenings down to the low 40s. The park offers additional campgrounds including another higher on the mountain, at over 9000 feet.

How to get there: From Stockton, Hwy. 4 to Copperopolis, then the O’Byrne’s Ferry Road south to CA Hwy. 108, then east past Sonora (the largest town, for provisioning), past Pinecrest and to the Kennedy Meadows/Sonora Pass area. From Stockton to Kennedy Meadows Resort, it’s 120 miles and about 2.5 hours. For Great Basin, continue on Hwy. 108 across the Sierra, then go north on Hwy. 395 to connect to Hwy. 50 at Carson City, then Hwy. 50 east.

For more info: In the Dardanelles/Kennedy Meadows area, you will find almost a dozen campgrounds along the Stanislaus and Clark Fork Rivers, contact Stanislaus National Forest,, or the Summit Ranger District, 1 Pinecrest Lake Road, Pinecrest, CA 95364; (209) 965.3434; for Kennedy Meadows Resort, 209.965.3900; for Loneliest Road in Nevada highlights,; for Great Basin National Park,, address, 100 Great Basin National Park, Baker, NV 89311, phone (775)234-7331. Campingcan be booked in the park through, or 877.444.6777.

Huge stalactites, stalagmites are plentiful throughout Great Basin National Park's Lehman Cave!

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 Sierra Nevada, Southwest USA (Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico, Texas) | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Emergencies on the road; preventing them, dealing with them, enjoying them…?

Our 2013 Ford Escape on repair rack in Whitefish, MT.

Those pesky emergencies on the road; preventing them, dealing with them; perhaps enjoying them?

It's pretty daunting to see 1,000 pieces of your auto's transmission laid out at a Whitefish, MT, Ford dealership. Ouch!

Since we both retired a little more than four years ago, my wife and I have traveled across the US and Canada (three times), multiple short to mid-range trips throughout the west (logging about 100,000 auto miles), vacationed in Hawaii four times and done two delightful ship cruises through Europe.

We strive to live by the words of Mark Twain: “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”.

Having joined the ranks of frequent travelers, we work hard to minimize risk and avoid emergencies when we’re on the road. Here are some of our suggestions:

Automotive trips: Pre-trip maintenance is key; have your fluids changed and checked, vehicle tuned and belts inspected, as well as tires. Take a simple tool kit, flashlight, your AAA card or other auto club membership. If you’re traveling during winter, blankets, emergency food and water supplies are sensible items to pack in trunk. Until recently, despite all those miles traveled in the US and Canada, we had had no auto challenges more than an occasional flat tire.  All that changed on a February trip to Montana.

As we arrived in Whitefish, MT for a Superbowl party and a ski trip with friends, our 2013 Ford Escape’s transmission began to act up; we would learn later that week from the local Ford dealer that it had failed. Though the transmission repair/replacement was covered under Ford warranty, the Whitefish dealership was required to tear the transmission apart, determine if fixable or total replacement was required – leading to a potential 10 extra days in Whitefish.

The warranty would only cover lodging and meals for the extended stay up to $500. Looking over our transmission in a thousand pieces at the dealer, and facing another week-plus stranded in Whitefish, we took the option to purchase a new four-wheel-drive Escape, and trade-in the disabled vehicle; that’s not necessarily a best option for many.

Travel trailer: Ten months of the year, we tour with a light, small and fairly simple classic teardrop trailer.  About the worst that can happen with this trailer is to burn out a trailer bearing.  With that in mind, I take care to clean and repack the bearings once every 1-2 years – and because the trailer is a classic, I travel with a spare set of bearings should bearing failure ever befall us.

We take photos of key documents, like passports, front/back of major credit cards and the like, and store them on our two iPhones as backups, if we lose originals.

IDs, credit cards, prescriptions, passports: I take photos of each of these items, storing them on our smart phones (or, take separately stored hard copies), should they be lost. If a long trip overseas, we give hard-copies to one of our daughters reachable by phone, as a back up.

Safe-keeping of valuables: When you are in a crowd, carry your wallet in a front pants pocket, or a travel chest wallet under your clothes (making pick-pocketing difficult).  Another safety measure, splitting cash between the two of us (though, we try not to carry much cash). While on day-trips, or overnight, use the safes in hotel rooms on on-board ships to safe-keep your other valuables.

Medical: if you’re on prescription medications, get your doctor to prescribe your prescriptions or other medical aids to cover your travel time. Talk to your doctor about other medications which might be needed, such as air or seasickness medications. Check your health insurance to see what is covered when out of your normal service area.

Insurance:Check with your auto insurance agent on coverages, such as an accident with a rental car (as example, our State Farm insurance covers any damages to, or caused by, our rental car – so no need to buy additional rental car insurance). Also check for what your medical insurance covers, and how to handle payment for medical services when a long away from home.

Same idea, with prescription medications, should we lose our supply on the road.

Trip insurance: Consider it for distant and oversea trips, which can cover your losses or extra expenses should you face a travel interruption or serious health issue in a foreign land.

Despite all these precautions, if you suffer an emergency on the road – maintain your sense of humor. We tried to do that in Whitefish, spending an additional, mostly fun four days and purchasing a, new, unplanned Ford. We’ve not yet gone to battle with Ford Motor Company, to recover our $500 travel expenses. I’ll try to stay good humored during that exchange!

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

On-line travel features in the Record offer a huge variety of destinations and travel topics!

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hence, if you’re headed to the Pacific Northwest, click that category and you’ll find dozens of articles on places and special sites in Oregon, Washington and Idaho. If you have a hot spot for teardrop and tiny travel trailers, click that category for scores of articles about touring the US and Canada in tiny, efficient travel trailers.

Hence; freshen your travel planning with advice on just those places you want to go, places you’d like to get to, or modes of travel! We’re about to enter a New Year; time to freshen up your travel “bucket list”!

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

Exploring your town from the seat of a bicycle; cycling in Stockton and San Joaquin County.

San Joaquin Bike Coalition members cycle north on Thornton Road during an LSD Ride.

Cycling in Stockton and San Joaquin County; exploring your town from the seat of a bicycle…

A group of riders stops for a photo on the Calaveras Bike Trail near UOP.

Summer is almost upon us and, like me, I suspect many of you are thinking of becoming more active and dropping a few pounds.

Let’s make this summer your time to increase your physical activity and add the fun factor. Dust off those bicycles, get the kids or grandkids primed for adventure and take to the streets and bike paths near your homes.

San Joaquin County is blessed by quiet and relatively safe places to pedal. We’re graced by a wonderful, year-round cycling climate, almost no hills and lovely by-ways to accommodate those on two wheels.

Matt Beckwith leads LSD riders beside vineyards in Lodi area.

If you’re new to cycling, or haven’t pedaled in a number of years, many options exist. Consider doing short cycling trips around your own neighborhood on quiet urban or suburban streets. Performance Bicycle in Lincoln Center offers both Saturday and Sunday rides accommodating beginners all the way up to more experienced cyclists.

If you have some experience and want to increase your mileage from 5 to 10 miles or more, the San Joaquin Bike coalition offers “long slow distance (LSD) Rides” the first Saturday each month starting on the north side of Bear Creek High School on McNabb Street. Should you already be a serious distance cyclist, join the Stockton Bike Club for a number of their weekly rides, including many that trek into the Sierra foothills for rides featuring stunning scenery and robust hills!

So, where to start? Pull out those bikes, dust them off, add air to the tires, check the brake function and make sure all the bike’s bolts are tight. If you’re not sure of the bike’s fitness, or how you fit the bike, take it to a local shop like Performance, REI, or Robbie’s and get a quick tune-up.

For cycling on city streets, purchase a rearview mirror or eye-glasses mirror – seeing cars approaching from behind will give you more confidence and add additional safety to your ride. When pedaling on the roadways, obey all traffic laws, pedal with traffic, stop at stop signs/traffic lights – and don’t assume a motorist sees you until you make direct eye contact. Kids under 18 are required by law to wear a helmet; smart adult cyclists also wear a helmet and wear bright colors to make themselves obvious to approaching motorists.

Consider how your bicycle might replace a number of short auto trips, such as your grocery store, your favorite coffee shop, or to your gym – leave the car at home and pedal a few miles to get in the frequent cycling habit. Get kids or grandkids thinking in the same dimension; you’ll discover the fun and exhilaration while cutting down on air pollution.

Look a bit further afield for cycling destinations. In Stockton, the Calaveras Bike Trail on the north edge of University of Pacific provides one of the city’s most interesting bikeways; stop at the college’s DeRosa University Center for a refreshment break. Options from UOP include cycling south on shady Kensington and then Baker Street, all the way to the Deepwater Channel (to take in a Stockton Ports game or to pedal around the Joan Darrah Waterfront Promenade).

North Stockton, Weston Ranch, Manteca and Tracy all offer additional separated bike paths. Lodi is surrounded by quiet roads through vineyards – offering lovely places to pedal with little traffic. For insight into where to ride, check Bike Lodi, Visit Stockton and local chambers of commerce for favorite local rides.

New Bike Lodi signs denote a bike-friendly town and offer place to lock your bike.

In Stockton and Lodi, the San Joaquin Bike Coalition and Bike Lodi have worked tirelessly with their cities to upgrade the cycling master-plans and broaden the cycling community in their cities. Both cities are discovering how bike tourism leads to more business and how cyclists add to the fabric of their communities – in Lodi new Bike Lodi signs brand the city as bike-friendly and offer a handy spot to lock your bike.

The San Joaquin Bike Coalition has a number of fun events coming up. The ever-popular Best Ride Ever is Saturday, May 14 at Michael David Winery in Acampo, offering several routes through Lodi-Woodbridge vineyards and wine-tasting following the ride. Stockton’s Bike to Work Day is May 17, the group hosts a bike valet for the Stockton Ports game on May 21, Lodi’s Bike to Work Day is May 25 and the June LSD Ride is June 3. The Bike Coalition also offers a suggested list of local Stockton ride routes, at

A group of riders from the 2015 Best Ride Ever takes a shady break.

Bike Lodi offers a number of scenic routes, at On Saturday May 27, Bike Lodi will host a bike valet at Lodi Lake for Zinfest; on Sunday May 28, the group hosts a ride in conjunction with Zinfest, details at

For more information: Bike Lodi,; Performance Bike Shop,; San Joaquin Bike Coalition, or their Facebook page,; Stockton Bike Club,; Visit Stockton,; or phone local chambers of commerce for suggested ride routes.

Read more from Tim Viall’s travel blog, follow him on Facebook or Twitter; or, email him at Safe pedaling in your town!

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

Seeking your favorite vacation places! Or, would you like a travel speaker?

A Haleakola sunrise on Maui, one of our favorite places on earth!

Seeking your favorite vacation places! Or, would you like a travel speaker?

Frozen Lake Helen, with Mt. Lassen behind, is just four hours north of San Joaquin County!

For a future travel feature, we’re seeking your favorite destinations within an hour or two of STOCKTON for close-to-home long-weekends or vacations.

Send me your destination, why you like it, and if you have a favorite picture, attach that as well. We will share some of the suggestions in the future, both in the paper and on the Record’s website. Send your suggestions to me:


Travel program for your club, group or organization?

If your club or group would like a short, pictorial travel program on interesting destinations in the Stockton/San Joaquin and Northern California area, on California’s nine national parks or travels across the US and Canada – give me a holler. Happy to share a 30 minute Power-Point feature, and to field questions from you group’s members.

Choices for programs:

• ”One tank vacations”; great places to visit within a few hours of San Joaquin County
• The nine national parks of California
• Road Trippin; Cross-Canada to the Maritime Provinces, down East Coast, west on old Highway 50 travel log
• Updating your travel “bucket list” for the coming year.

Climbers at Hidden Valley in Joshua Tree National Park.

Contact me;, or call (209) 969-3875!

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