Jaw-dropping Chihuly Garden and Glass anchors the Seattle Center; Space Needle, MoPOP nearby!

The Glass Forest, an early work by Chihuly from the 1970s, is first to greet you as you enter the exhibition galleries.

Chihuly Garden and Glass anchors the Seattle Center; home to Space Needle, MoPOP, Monorail near downtown Seattle

The Sealife Tower reaches 15 feet in height, evincing Chihuly's love of the sea and Puget Sound.

Imagine, a life-size Glass Forest with ghostly blue and pink light glowing from the trunks. Picture a Sealife Tower, 15 feet tall exuding iridescent primary colors emulating the sea floor and Puget Sound. Turn into another gallery and stand under the Persian Ceiling, with overhead Persian glass art aglow in kaleidoscopic red, orange, ruby and yellow. Exit the galleries into the Glasshouse, and find, floating 30 feet above, a 100 foot-long art installation of a colorful palette featuring yellow, orange, brown and amber glass – framing the Space Needle towering 605 feet over head.

After an hour, we’re nearing virtual sensory overload as our eyes and minds work overtime to take in these stunning, ethereal art objects exploding with light and colors.

Our place of wonder is Chihuly Garden and Glass, a long-term art exhibition that opened in 2012. Located at the base of the Seattle Space Needle, it helps anchor Seattle Center, the home of the 1962 World’s Fair that since has brought Seattle art, sports and excitement of almost every stripe.

In the Glasshouse, a 100 foot long Chihuly installation frames nearby the Space Needle.

Dale Chihuly, born in 1941 in Tacoma, WA, began his infatuation with glass while studying at the University of Washington. He then enrolled in the first glass program in the country at University of Wisconsin and continued to study at the Rhode Island School of Design.

Since, he has become world renowned with art housed in over 200 museums worldwide and major exhibitions staged in Jerusalem, the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, the Garfield Park Conservatory in Chicago and Royal Botanic Gardens near London.

The Persian ceiling is a colorful homage to Persian art.

He’s exhibited at the deYoung Museum in San Francisco and one of his works hangs in the lobby of the San Joaquin County Administration Building, at Weber and San Joaquin Streets in downtown Stockton. Chihuly’s work is testimony to his talent, and that of his team, of extending the possibilities and boundaries of glass as art, in both execution and presentation.

The Chihuly Garden and Glass experience includes eight galleries, a centerpiece Glasshouse and a lush outdoor Garden. After spending about an hour and a half in the indoor galleries, our senses swimming with color and vibrancy, we took a break outdoors and watched three Chihuly contemporaries work together to blow a delicate pink glass vase on a milky white pedestal. Best of all, they were working out of a 1962 Airstream travel trailer, converted to house two glass-blowing furnaces reaching 2200°.

A Chihuly contemporary works on blown-glass from a 2200 degree furnace.

After the glassblowing demonstration, we then walked through a light drizzle in the outdoor Garden to admire four major installations that dominate a landscape that contains daylilies, dogwoods, camellias and a variety of trees to add to the Crystal and Icicle Towers and the installation of Reeds on Logs. At the center, backed by the Space Needle, is the giant Sun, bursting with oranges and yellows.

After almost three hours at the Chihuly exhibition, we walk under the Seattle Monorail (another vestige of the World’s Fair) to see nearby attractions like the Museum of Pop Culture (MoPop), just a block away. With its roots in rock and roll, it serves as a entryway museum with innovative galleries such as Sound Lab, Sky Church (a concert venue with the world’s largest LED screen and high-tech lighting and sound) and a huge collection of over 100,000 historical objects including about 75% of all music generated in the Northwest in the last 100 years. MoPop is housed in a flowing 140,000 square foot building designed by Frank O. Gehry – the building itself is well worth seeing!

Seattle Center was home to the 1962 World’s Fair and contains Key Arena, the Space Needle, Seattle Children’s Museum, Seattle Children’s Theater, MoPOP, Chihuly Garden and Glass, Pacific Science Center and Boeing IMAX theater, a number of theaters and much more.

This colorful art installation towers over visitors in one of the galleries.

Seattle’s Monorail is just steps from the Chihuly Garden and MoPOP; for those with energy to spare, hop the Monorail to downtown Seattle and its terminous, just three blocks from the ever-popular Pike Place Market.

A big part of finishing this feature was working to pick the top 6-8 photos of this mind-blowing exposition, from the over 100 wonderful shots my wife and I have taken! Make Chihuly’s work a part of your next trip to the Seattle area!

Reeds on Logs, one of the lovely art installments in the outdoor Garden area.

How to get to Seattle, WA: From Stockton, take I-5 north; it’s 810 miles and 12.5 hours; or, fly into SeaTac Airport.

For more information: Chihuly Garden and Glass, chihulygardenandglass.com, (206) 753-4940; Seattle Center, seattlecenter.com; for Washington State tourism, experiencewa.com.

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

The Frank Gehry-designed Museum of Pop Culture (MoPOP) is just a block away.

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LaConner and Skagit River Valley; waterfront, seafood and spectacular colors of daffodils and tulips!

LaConner's iconic Rainbow Bridge frames the city's waterfront, with Mt. Baker looming on the horizon (photo credit to C. Coleman and the LaConner Chamber of Commerce).

Prior to our departure to the Seattle area, the majority of our Seattle friends all told us “you must visit the LaConner/Skagit Valley area to see the daffodils and tulip fields”.

Daffodils in spring bloom frame an old barn (photo courtesy of Pam Headridge).

The Skagit River area was settled thousands of years ago by the Swinomish tribe on the banks of the river; along the west side of the Swinomish Channel we toured past a huge tribal totem pole, part of the Swinomish Indian Reservation and location of a multi-tribe gathering each summer. A nearby tribal Chevron station offered, with no Federal or state taxes, gasoline about 25 cents less than other nearby choices.

Huge totem pole marks the Swinomish Indian Reservation.

The area was settled by pioneers in the early 1860s; fishing, farming and logging were the city’s early underpinnings. Today, an historic downtown stretches for eight blocks along the Swinomish Channel, home to a host of shops and interesting restaurants. Fishing boats routinely depart looking for Dungeness crab and shellfish. In addition to a walking tour that takes in a number of historic town buildings, the Museum of Northwest Art, Skagit County Historical Museum and LaConner Quilt and Textile Museum share the town’s early history.  Several hostelries dot the landscape; the Channel Lodge and Hotel Planter B&B look interesting for lodging.

LaConner tulips stretch almost to the horizon at RoozenGaarde farm.

We stopped first at the LaConner Chamber of Commerce seeking insight and suggestions – chamber volunteer Lisa Judy (Judy owns an artist cooperative currently being remodeled) provides a wonderful information resource! In addition to a variety of maps and guidebooks. Notes Lisa, “it’s been a cold, wet winter, so plant blooms are running late”, and she shows off the Chamber’s website, offering a “bloom map” which shows daffodils, tulips and their stage of bloom, to help gauge your most colorful visits to the flower fields.

The town, with both history and waterfront adventure making it a romantic get-away, also offers a host of events for repeat visits.  They include the Daffodil Festival in March, the Tulip Fest in April (with April 8 Tulip Festival Parade in La Conner), the May 6 Opening Day Boat Parade, the Hometown 4th of July Celebration and the August 5 La Conner Classic Boat & Car Show.

LaConner's First Street is lined with historic buildings, shops and waterfront restaurants.

Channel-front restaurants line the city’s 1st Street, from Nell Thorn Restaurant, LaConner Waterfront Café, LaConner Pub and Eatery and more. We chose LaConner Prime Rib and Seafood – due to the low tourist season we were one of the few couples in this fine restaurant for lunch. Marvelous fresh codfish and chips, chowder and a fine spinach salad set us up for a post-lunch stroll (even some sunshine!) along the waterfront boardwalk and back along the town’s historic main drag.

Local activities include fishing, birdwatching (Trumpeter swans and snow geese visiting 16,000 acres in LaConner and the Skagit Valley), hiking, bicycling and kayaking. LaConner makes a fine gateway to the San Juan Islands and the 400 mile Cascade Scenic Loop. The town is only 8 miles from Anacortes, a larger fishing and lumbering city with a host of motel and hotel options, with ferry service to four San Juan Islands.

We were also planning to tour the western end of the Cascade Loop, a 400 mile scenic route that includes the San Juan Islands and Puget Sound, up through the rugged Cascade Mountains and back to the waterways.  Hence, we made our next stop Anacortes, just eight miles away, a town big enough for provisioning and offering its own set of attractions.

'America's Finest', a huge fishing boat, in drydock at Anacortes shipyard.

Anacortes is much larger with commercial shipyards, boatyards and plenty of commercial fishing and pleasure boats. Lumberyards still provide employment to townsfolk. We admired about 10 blocks of historic buildings and wandered into Anacortes Hardware for antiques, marine goods and hardware in the 1891 Olson Building. The city offers blocks of historic buildings, a number dating into the 1800s with shops, boutiques and restaurants, as well as a large choice of hotels, motels and VBROs.

From Anacortes, we continued south  across Fidalgo Island on WA Hwy. 20 towards Deception Pass, where a stately bridge carries you over the Deception Pass channel to Whidbey Island. Stopping to photograph the bridge, eight US Navy Jets screamed overhead, doing practice runs from nearby Whidbey Island Naval Air Station. We pass through a large variety of state parks and campgrounds, headed south along Whidbey Island, where we switch to WA Hwy. 525 to reach Clinton.

The historic Deception Pass Bridge connects Fidalgo Island to Whidbey Island.

Towns along the island like Oak Harbor, Coupeville, Greenbank and Freeland offer scenic waterfronts, respites for food and drink and views of the Saratoga Passage to the east and Admiralty Inlet on the west. We make notes to take a summer journey along much the same route.

At the south tip of the isle, we book passage on the Clinton-Muckleteo Ferry, $7.45 for a vehicle and two people, gaining a 20 minute scenic ferry ride, with Mount Baker looming in the distance. Then we’re back on the mainland at Muckleteo and headed down to Edmonds for future explorations.

How to get to LaConner, WA: From Seattle, take I-5 north and exit WA Hwy. 536; it’s about 70 miles.

For more information: LaConner and the Skagit Valley: LaConner Chamber of Commerce, lovelaconner.com, (360) 466-4778; Cascade Loop, cascadeloop.com; for Washington State tourism, experiencewa.com.

Tulips of every hue grace the Skagit River Valley.

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


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Seattle; north of Lake Union and the Ship Canal; University District, Fremont, Ballard are heart of waterfront, food, drink and Seattle vibe!

Houseboats line eastern side of Lake Union, where scenes of the 1993 hit movie Sleepless in Seattle were filmed.

Water, boats, views, history, tasty dining and lots of tourist destinations; it’s Seattle just north of Lake Union and the Ship Canal!

Sax player enlivens the University District Farmers Market near University of Washington.

We’re spending five weeks in Seattle, house-sitting a home in Edmonds, 18 miles north of Seattle. It’s our time to explore new options in the greater Seattle area and the Pacific Northwest.

Despite some 40+ prior visits to this marvelous city (we lived in Spokane for 13 years and vacationed here often), we had never spent much time in the University of Washington District, Fremont or Ballard, all fronting an active waterfront. This lively part of Seattle is separated from the main city by Lake Union and the beautiful Lake Washington Ship Canal.

Don’t miss walking or biking the Burke-Gilman Trail, an urban delight that winds its way through the University of Washington campus, along the Ship Canal and Lake Union, passing through Fremont and Ballard, beside the Chittenden Locks and onto Shilshole Bay on the west. The relative bicycling safety and cool views along this trail helps make Seattle residents some of the more active folks in the west!

Spectacular colors of tulips show off at the University District Farmers Market.

The Vashon Glacier sculpted Lake Washington, Lake Union and surrounding hills in Fremont and Ballard 13,000 years ago; the Duwamish tribe initiated human settlement about 3,000 years ago. The Denny party arrived at Seattle’s Alki Point, a few miles to the southwest, in November, 1851; David Denny later claimed hundreds of acres including neighboring lower Queen Anne Hill several years later.

Cyclists que up at the Fremont Sunday Farmers Market (it's right off the Burke-Gilman Trail along the Lake Washington Ship Canal).

Fremont Brewing Company, near the Burke-Gilman Trail, is a vibrant stop for craft beers and pizza.

On a recent Saturday tour, moving east to west, we began by wandering the hundred vendors at the Saturday University District Farmers Market, which turns out a crowd of both locals and University of Washington students.  Despite a breezy, 45 degree day, the noon crowd (market runs 9 AM to 2PM, at University Way NE and 51st Street) was vibrant and many enjoyed a sax player while touring the food, crafts and produce vendors.

Heading west we were soon into the Fremont District; on this day, we stopped by the Fremont Brewing Company, with several score craft beers, pizza and salads – a large brewpub catering to a lively, bohemian crowd.  It’s located next to the bike trail and just blocks from “the Old Troll under the Aurora Bridge”, a huge concrete sculpture of an ancient troll with hand wrapped around a ‘70s Volkswagen Bug!

Stroll the old streets of Fremont for topiaries cut in shapes of dinosaurs, eclectic shops and scores of Fremont eateries and brewpubs. Celebrate with a big Sunday Farmers Market, 10 AM to 3 PM at N. 34th Street and Evanston Ave. N.

The "Old Troll under the Aurora Bridge" grasps a '70s-era Volkswagen Beetle in his left hand!

Fremont runs into Ballard, also home to a serious collection of micro-breweries, related eateries, trendy shops and outdoor sports outfitters.  Check out acclaimed Rueben’s Brews; to eat, try Ballard Pizza or Frelard Pizza (another outlet of Ballard Pizza) for seriously good pizza and suds. We enjoyed a marguerita pizza and local craft beers at Frelard Pizza on a recent outing, enjoying the crowd scene and passing cyclists. Ballard’s Sunday Farmers Market runs 10 AM to 3 PM at 22nd Avenue NW and NW Market Street.

Large fishing vessel navigates the Hiram Chittenden Locks at dusk, on its way west to Shilshole Bay.

Trekking west along the Ship Canal brings you to the Hiram Chittenden Locks and adjoining Carl English, Jr., Botanical Gardens. Stop and watch large commercial ships and smaller pleasure craft navigate through the locks, see salmon climb the fish ladder and wander through the adjoining botanical garden full of lovely blooms; best of all, the locks and gardens are free. Within steps of the locks/garden entrance are two worthy places for food, the Lockspot Café and Red Mill Totem House.

Just west of the Chittenden Locks is Shilshole Bay, with the Olympic Mountains towering in the distance.  If seeking a more upscale dining experience, you can’t go wrong at Ray’s Boathouse, right on Shilshole Bay, with wonderful fish dishes and the most glorious of sunsets. Choose Ray’s second floor for more casual dining, a bistro menu and lower prices.

Sunset over the Olympic Peninsula, taken from Ray's Boathouse on Shilshole Bay.



If you have time, explore Lake Union (home of Sam/Tom Hanks in the 1993 hit movie Sleepless in Seattle) lined with houseboats, pleasure boats big and small and a host of waterfront restaurants with lovely views of downtown. Well worth a stop is the Center for Wooden Boats, with 100-plus historically-significant boats (you can rent boats and kayaks here); next door is the Museum of History and Industry. Adjoining Lake Union to the west is the classy, historic Queen Anne Hill District, worthy of another day-tour!

Where to stay: from the University District to Ballard, a host of hotels, motels, B&Bs and VRBOs offer upscale to laid-back lodging options.

How to get to Seattle: From Stockton, take I-5 north; it’s 810 miles and 12.5 hours, or, fly into SeaTac Airport.

For more information: Seattle visitors, visitseattle.org and search for districts like Fremont or  Ballard neighborhoods; for Washington State tourism, experiencewa.com.

Contact Tim Viall at tviall@msn.com; follow him at recordnet.com/travelblog. Happy travels in your world!

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Tiny touring; seeing the USA with a small, comfy travel trailer!

Touring in a tiny trailer; seeing the USA with a small, comfy travel trailer…

Our '58 Scotty teardrop with Mt. Saint Helens, WA in background.

Last summer, Susan and I spent nine weeks crossing Canada on the Trans-Canada Highway to their Maritime Provinces, turned south down the New England coast to Maryland and headed back across the USA on historic Highway 50. We toured with a small auto and an 8 foot long teardrop travel trailer, camping 42 nights and staying with friends, family or in motels the balance.

Susan, reading inside Scotty.

It was a voyage of discovery; we had the time and the desire to see many off-the-beaten-track sights many will never see.  We also saw every stripe of travel trailer and fifth wheel imaginable. Towing our little trailer weighing less than 900 pounds, we managed 26 miles per gallon – about 4 times better than those travelers towing big trailers. Hence, our travel budget went that much further.

With camping season fast approaching, many have asked for more inspiration, hence, the little trailers, below!  They make me wonder why folks would ever purchase and navigate huge motorhomes or giant fifth wheel trailers.

These little trailers share common attributes; small, easy to tow with a four or six-cylinder vehicle, easy on gas, simple to store and all quite comfortable.  Best of all, they are relatively inexpensive to purchase, and if bought wisely, can be sold years later for nearly what you paid for the little camper.  Not everyone is cut out for a teardrop trailer and we saw a number of somewhat larger campers with more elbow room and creature comforts. Here are highlights of the smallest to larger trailers.

Our little Scotty teardrop, a reproduction ’58 model, is the prototypical teardrop – 8 feet long, 4 foot tall and wide, weighing under 1,000 pounds. Scotty offers convenient storage for all our camping and clothing needs, and a sleeping compartment with most of the comforts. We added an awning to extend shaded/rain-proof living space.

A T@B trailer, retaining teardrop style, sleeps four.

We spied our share of newer, somewhat larger teardrops like the T@G and Little Guy tears. These come in both five and 6 foot widths, and nine or 10 foot length, and sport many of the creature comforts of much larger trailers (like AC, sinks, microwaves). They remain lightweight, easy to store and offer good gas mileage for their smaller towing vehicles.

A step up in size, but retaining slick, aerodynamic lines are trailers like T@B, Casita, R-pods and Burros (we’ve chatted with scores of owners who swear by these manufacturers). By moving up to trailers like these, you get full standup room, usually a bathroom, shower, dinette seating and sleeping for 4 to 6 people. These trailers remain small enough to be easy to tow, maneuver and store when not in use and nice used versions can be found on-line.

An aerodynamic Casita, towed with a small pickup truck.

Refurbished, classic trailers from the 60s and 70s are increasingly popular. They are well-built, aerodynamic and stop traffic in campgrounds from those who want to see these cool retro trailers. Scores of old manufactured trailers can be found; popular are Scotty, Shasta, Airstream and more.

A word of caution – be particularly nosy when buying. I’ve had a cute, ’64 Scotty jammed in my garage for four years; I am slowly reaching the end of a frame-up rebuild. Little did I know the dry rot I spotted when purchased was about 10 times more dramatic. Better had I spent more and gotten a truly refurbished classic.

A classic Airstream Caravelle, with retro tow vehicle.

Modern versions of old tent-trailers also offer aerodynamic lines and low-cost of towing and ownership. New models like A-liners offer hard-sided shells – so the spouse doesn’t worry about bears and the like in national parks.

Owners of these little trailers are just as comfortable (well, almost) as neighboring couples in 25 to 38 foot motorhomes and fifth-wheels; the air, sunshine, views and campfires are identical!

On our cross-Canada/US trip, we cruised 13,000 miles, paid about $1,100 for gasoline, and averaged $12/night for camping (in US national parks, Forest Service or Bureau of Land Management campgrounds, get half-off with a federal ‘America the Beautiful’ senior pass, just $10 for life!). For more efficient and scenic travel, camping in a small, maneuverable trailer is truly hard to beat.

An A-Liner, a hard-sided pop-up camp trailer.

For more info: For good resources for purchasing used, small campers, see Craigslist or eBay (put up a daily search for “teardrop” or “classic trailer”). Local dealers like Pan Pacific Trailers in French Camp carry tent-trailers, the R-Pod and smaller tear-drop trailers (several dealers in Sacramento offer more choices). If thinking of a classic trailer, consult group sites like that for Serro Scotty owners, nationalserroscotty.org (Shasta, Airstream and other retro trailer owners have similar group sites). Camping can be booked in national parks and federal campgrounds through www.recreation.gov, 877.444.6777.

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

Posted in 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/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, Uncategorized, United States beyond! | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Classic car buff? Visit the Vintage Reserve Garage in Lodi, CA!

Sleek '37 Chrysler Airflow on display

If you are a car buff, or have kids/grandkids moving in that direction, stop in and tour the Vintage Reserve Garage, 121 S. Cherokee Ln. in Lodi. Owner Mark Lange welcomes visitors to drool over his vehicles, for sale or on consignment.

Newer 350 cu. in. V8 under hood of a cherry red '68 Camaro convertible.

The building was built in 1947 as a Studebaker/Packard dealership. Currently in stock, a ’68 cherry red Camaro convertible, a sleek silver ’37 Chrysler Airflow, ’69 Chevy Chevelle, a VW Thing, a vintage Rolls Royce and about 25 other classic autos and motorcycles. And, the building has been remodeled to resemble a beautiful ’40s Gasoline Alley garage complete with neon signs from the era and plenty of memorabilia.

Stop across the street at the retro Richmaid Restaurant for breakfast or lunch and make a day out of a Lodi tour!

For more info: Vintage Reserve Garage, 121 S. Cherokee Lane, Lodi, vintagereservegarage.com, (209) 333-CARS.

Stately Rolls Royce awaits your purchase!

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


'69 Chevy Malibu and VW Thing.



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

Yellowstone National Park in winter; no crowds, stunning wildlife!

Yellowstone National Park: A wonderland where animals are spectacular, crowds non-existent!

American eagle feasts on carrion near the Madison River, north of the Earthquake area.













On this trip to Yellowstone National Park, we approached West Yellowstone from the northwest on Hwy. 287 (coming down from Whitefish/Glacier National Park, MT) along the Madison River, where several fly-fisherman and two bald eagles worked on catching the river’s fabled trout.

Just 15 miles outside the park, we motored through the somber Earthquake area where a quake measuring 7.4 on the Richter Scale struck in August, 1959. The monster temblor brought down the side of a mountain, burying 28 campers and tossing boulders the size of buses high on the other side of the Madison River Valley. The quake rubble damned the river, creating Quake Lake – still foreboding almost 58 years later.

The mountain that collapsed in the 1959 earthquake, killing 28 campers and damning the Madison River to create Quake Lake.

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

The next morning, we took a short drive around the quaint old western town, then I checked out the Riverfront Trail on the town’s east side, which takes cross-country skiers/snowshoers into the park, headed for the lovely Madison River a mile distant, where both elk and buffalo are frequently seen. Visitors also have the option to head into the park on snowcoaches or snowmobiles.

One year earlier, we entered the park through the north entrance, Mammoth Hot Springs, the only entrance which accommodates auto traffic inside the park (other roads in the park are closed by snow from November until mid-April).  Just inside the park, several small herds of buffalo, grazing in grass and about a foot of snow, lounged beside the main park road. Pictures taken from just 10 feet of these noble animals are dramatic, as they chomp and snort almost within reach.

Buffalo and calf, Midway Geyser Basin, near Old Faithful area.

We proceeded along the entry road to the Mammoth Hot Springs area and were soon stopped in a line of autos, as another herd of buffalo numbering about 40 sauntered along the highway. Both bison and elk prefer walking on the roads rather than wading through chest-deep snows.

At the Mammoth Hot Springs area we took a walking tour on snow-covered boardwalks along the Hot Springs Terrace area. Hot springs and steam vents bubbled and snarled, melting the snows, as steam ascended hundreds of feet into the clear blue skies; thrilling!

Extensive snowshoe and cross country ski trails meander for even more expansive viewing in the Upper Terrace area. The park concessionaire also offers snow coach tours deeper into the park, including the Canyon Village and Old Faithful areas. We savored our final afternoon in the Mammoth area with a late lunch in the historic Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel dining room.

Old Faithful erupts at dusk into a cloudless Wyoming sky; with only my spouse and I, and a lone coyote. to see it.

On our very first trip into winter Yellowstone in early January a few years earlier, we took a snowcoach from West Yellowstone into the Old Faithful area and spent three lovely days at the Old Faithful Snow Lodge, a quarter mile from Old Faithful Geyser.  It’s a four-star hotel, with 150 rooms and a cozy, full-service restaurant.  We chose the Frontier Cabin option, vintage cabins a block out back and less expensive than the lodge.

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

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

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

The morning of our departure, a friendly coyote followed seeking a handout; he’ll have to await our next visit!  We marveled at elk by the score; our departing snowcoach had to navigate through 60 elk sleeping on the snow-packed road!

Bull elk near Mammoth Hot Springs.

Nearest park access: West Yellowstone is 900 miles distant; south park/Teton entrance, 990 miles and Gardiner/Mammoth Hot Springs entrance, 1,065 miles.  Visitors have the option of flying into Bozeman or West Yellowstone, MT or Jackson Hole, WY airports.

What to take: Binoculars and camera, winter clothing, skis/showshoes, chains for your vehicle, even if you have a 4-wheel drive.

Where to stay: In West Yellowstone, we have enjoyed the Stagecoach Inn, several times; in Gardiner or Mammoth Hot Springs, both the Absaroka Lodge (Gardiner) or Mammoth Hot Springs Lodge are good choices;  the Old Faithful Snow Lodge is the only winter option deep in the park – Zanterra books both the Mammoth and Old Faithful lodges (see below).

Trumpeter swans congregate on the Fire Hole River just north of the Old Faithful area.

For more information on Yellowstone National Park, nps.gov/yell;  (307) 344-7381. For West Yellowstone lodging and snowcoach service into the park, the West Yellowstone Chamber of Commerce, (406) 646.7701.  For Yellowstone’s north park entrance and south park entrance lodging and snow coach service, and Old Faithful Snow Lodge, contact Zanterra, yellowstonenationalparklodges.com, (307) 344.7901.

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

Sadly, Yellowstone Park Company retired these classic Bombardier snowcoaches about a year ago; we journeyed from West Yellowstone to Old Faithful in the one on the left a few years back..

Newer Yellowstone snowcoach takes visitors throughout snowy park roads, closed to automobiles until about mid-April.

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

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

Did you know the Record offers a wide variety of travel features, well over 270 strong, that can be selected by “Category”?

Hence, you can go to the 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”.

On-line travel features in the Record offer a huge variety of destinations and travel topics; here I have chosen 'Mountain States' for Montana, Wyoming, Colorado and Utah features!

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 Mountain States, click that category and you’ll find many articles on places and special sites in Montana, Wyoming, Utah and the like. 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 tviall@msn.com. Happy travels in the west!

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! | Leave a comment

Winter adventure in northwest Montana; Glacier National Park, Whitefish Mountain Resort in Whitefish!

Glacier National Park, Whitefish Mountain Resort in Whitefish make for exciting winter times!

Whitefish Mountain ski runs tower over Whitefish, MT.

We spent six days in Whitefish, in northwestern Montana, beginning on Super Bowl Sunday, for skiing and catching up with old National Ski Patrol pals. The area had been hammered by a big snowstorm just before our arrival, which continued the first day we were in town.

Whitefish, a quintessential western town expanding fast due to ski and golf tourism (and, nearby Glacier National Park), offers a host of lodging opportunities. We’ve stayed a number of times at the Grouse Mountain Lodge on the west edge of town, nice, roomy accommodations for around $100 per night. Another popular option chosen by friends is the Inn at Whitefish Lake.

Whitefish Lake Lodge offers great service, fine food in 80 year-old log building.

The town offers a variety of upscale, trendy and down-to-earth dining options; our favorites include the Stillwater Fish House, two miles west of town, the Whitefish Lake Lodge, featuring a beautiful 80-year-old log building, Caio Mambo, a lively Italian place, the Craggy Range Bar and Grill and the Great Northern Brewery.

With a host of shops, galleries and bars, many offering live entertainment, Whitefish offers plenty of exploration opportunities. Be sure to stop at the old Great Northern Railway Station and the resident Stumptown Historical Museum for the history of the railroad in these parts.

Cross-country skiers head out onto Whitefish Lake Golf Course trails on west side of Whitefish.

Whitefish Mountain Resort just north of town offers 3,000 acres, 105 marked trails, almost 2,400 vertical feet and vast bowl and tree skiing. It’s a huge ski area even by Western standards, located a few miles outside Whitefish. Be forewarned that temperatures can range from a balmy 40 degrees to 25 below zero, so come prepared for any kind of weather.

Monday skiers found 16 inches of fresh powder; the next day they groomed the slopes and a four inches of new snow covered the groomed runs – truly ego-building skiing. During peak season, night skiing is offered Friday and Saturday on four lifts.

Ski magazine continually rates Whitefish Mountain Resort in the top 20 in the country, high in service, friendly staff, kids’ programs and value. A huge benefit -seniors 70 and over ski free! It’s the only resort I know in the west that offers such a option for senior skiers.

The Great Northern Depot in Whitefish also houses the Stumptown Historical Museum.

About 30 miles south of Whitefish, skiers can also choose Blacktail Mountain Ski Area, with 1,000 acres, 1,440 vertical feet and inexpensive lift tickets – $40 for adults, $28 for teens, $18 for children 8 to 12 and seniors, and free for children seven and under.

Cross country skiing options abound. On the Whitefish Lake Golf Course, 15 km of trails are laid out, including 4 km lighted for night skiing. A variety of other trails lie just outside of town, as well as in nearby Glacier Park. For those wanting to try snowmobiling, a number of local companies cater that activity.

Winter visitors to Glacier National Park can drive 10 miles into the park, to Lake McDonald Lodge on Going to the Sun Highway. There the road is blocked in winter, but one can continue on cross-country skis or snowshoes along McDonald Creek for a true winter experience. Or, choose the North Fork Road, along the park’s west boundary, all the way to Pollbridge. Grab a hot cup of Joe at Pollbridge Mercantile and a renowned bear claw. Other cross country trails head up the north side of Lake McDonald, as well.

This old railway locomotive is available for overnight stays at the Isaac Walton Inn in Essex, MT.

If one continues on Highway 2 along the south side of the park, the Isaac Walton Inn is an inviting stop for a meal or lodging. An old Great Northern Railway Hotel, comfortable lodging is offered in the old lodge as well as a number of refurbished cabooses, club cars and a locomotive engine! The inn is surrounded by cross country ski trails, a true winter wonderland.

For a novel experience, consider a dogsled tour. Dog Sled Adventures (406) 881-2275, located 20 miles north of Whitefish in Olney, offers a company with nearly 100 Alaskan huskies to pull sleds, catering daily to couples, families or groups. Other operators include Base Camp Bigfork and Winter Woods Dogsled Tours. Winter horse-drawn sleigh rides are another popular option, offered at Bar W Guest Ranch (406) 863-9099, just 4 miles west of Whitefish on Highway 93.

Old barn is framed by snowy Montana peaks heading south from Whitefish, headed to Yellowstone Park.

For those seeking a winter experience in Yellowstone National Park, it’s about eight hours south of Whitefish. In the winter, you can drive several miles into the Mammoth Hot Springs area before the road is closed – buffalo and elk usually abound in the area surrounding the other-worldly hot springs and fumeroles. West Yellowstone also offers additional park access, but only to those with snowmobiles, cross-country skis or snowshoes. Both towns offer snow coach tours into the park for amazing winter tours of this natural wonder.

For more information: Whitefish, MT visitation, explorewhitefish.com; Whitefish Mountain Resort, skiwhitefish.com; Glacier National Park, nps.gov/glac/.

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

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Rainy day respites for kids and young adults in Stockton/San Joaquin County

“Indoor fun in San Joaquin County”, in a wet winter!

Grandson Jack builds water maze at Stockton Children's Museum.

We’re six weeks into winter, with massive amounts of rain in Stockton while the Sierra has recorded epic snowfalls.  If you and kids or grandkids are getting cabin fever and desire to get out of the house and do something, consider a few outings right in your backyard.

We polled our three grandkids, as well as friends with their own kids or grandkids, and asked “what’s to do in Stockton and San Joaquin County”.  Here’s a pretty fair list to get you started.

Our family favorites include the Haggin and San Joaquin County Historical museums, Stockton’s Children’s Museum, the World of Wonders Science Museum in Lodi, the new Sky Zone trampoline palace at Sherwood Mall, movies (including the Fox theater classics) and Stockton Heat hockey games.

At the Haggin Museum in Victory Park, Stockton, 2nd Saturdays are for families, with special hands-on activities for kids age 5-12; from now through April 2, it’s also the annual McKee Student Art Exhibition (hagginmuseum.org). The museum also offers insight into our Native American and the city’s founding history, as well as world-class art.

The San Joaquin Historical Museum (along with Micke Grove Zoo) in Micke Grove Park, just south of Lodi, can make for a full day’s activities. The museum offers marvelous exhibits on our Native American forebears and the early days of our current agricultural empire, including the tractor barn with 40 historic and huge tractors for up-close and personal inspection (sanjoaquinhistory.org). The zoo is just blocks away, if you and kids have energy to spare.

Kids get a kick out of historical exhibits at the San Joaquin Historical Museum.

The Stockton Children’s Museum, 402 W. Weber, Stockton has long been a popular choice of both kids and parents. Currently it’s hosting the “Smokey Bear and Woodsy Owl” exhibit, sure to delight youngsters (childrensmuseumstockton.org).

Oak Park Ice Arena, 3545 Alvarado Ave. in Oak Park is a fine place to rent skates and take to the ice, or, take in a professional Stockton Heat hockey game at the Stockton Arena (stocktonlive.com for both options). Stockton Ports professional baseball, 404 W. Fremont, Stockton, offers low-priced family fun starting in early April (milb.com)

Movies are popular options; don’t discount the Fox California/Bob Hope Theater, 242 E. Main, Stockton, for classic movies followed by a tour of the historic, huge old vaudeville and movie palace. Mark your calendars for the March 26 showing of the Wizard of Oz (foxfriends.org).

Lodi is a favorite not just for the San Joaquin Historical Museum, but for several other special places. The World of Wonders Science Museum, 2 N. Sacramento Street, Lodi offers a wealth of hands-on exhibits to delight kids age 3 to 19 (wowsciencemuseum.org). Its downtown location also offers a host of nearby restaurants for a meal break.

Kids enjoy vertical windtunnel at World of Wonders in Lodi.

For older kids, inspect 40+ classic cars/motorcycles for sale at the Vintage Reserve Garage on 121 S. Cherokee Ln., Lodi; start with breakfast at Richmaid, a classic family-style restaurant across the street (vintagereservegarage.com). The garage is modeled on a ‘gasoline alley-era’ old garage from the 40s, truly worth the tour.

Stockton offers a number of additional options for kids, including exhibits at the Mexican Heritage Center, Art Classes at Millie’s Art Korner and the stately University of Pacific campus for basketball games at Spanos Center, spring-time sports like baseball and movies at Janet Leigh Campus Theatre (uop.edu).

For live theater, a number of choices abound, including the Stockton Civic Theatre, Showbiz Theatre and Kudos Children’s Theatre.

Kids will love the Sky Zone trampoline park at Sherwood Mall Shopping Center (skyzone.com), roller skating and roller hockey at the Stockton Indoor Sports Complex, 3251 Ad Art Rd., Stockton (siscsports.com) and the Zap Zone, 1578 Hammertown Dr., Stockton offering kids and families an exciting laser tag outing (zapszone.com).

Don’t overlook bowling as a wet weather respite, with nearby Pacific Avenue Bowl and West Lane Bowl. The Serpentarium, 1117 W. March Lane offers a variety of snakes and snake-care supplies, for an other-worldly tour (snakemuseum.com).

Grandkids Hunter, Jessica and Jack enjoyed a three mile hike around Shima Tract.

Weather improving? Go hiking or biking in Stockton; favorite places are the Calaveras River Bike trail between University of Pacific and Brookside (suggest parking on the UOP campus, walk past the DeRosa University Center, a great place for snacks and drinks), walk across the pedestrian bridge and head west on the Calaveras Trail out to Brookside and back. Other destinations include the downtown waterfront promenade, starting at Stockton Ballpark, heading east to Weber Point, then west out to the Waterfront Warehouse; or the Shima Tract hike or mountain bike option at west-end of Hammer Lane; or Bear Creek hike and bike trail (access from Trinity Parkway or Thornton).

Take your binoculars and go birding, at Cosumnes River Preserve two miles north of Thornton, or the Eisenberg Preserve on Woodbridge Road, 2 miles west of Interstate 5; where sandhill cranes and a huge variety of migratory birds visiting the Pacific Flyway can be found in February and March.

For more offerings on kid-friendly options, also see Visit Stockton’s calendar, visitstockton.org.

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

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

Winter destinations for warm weather, camping and hiking in California!

Death Valley and Joshua Tree National Parks and Anza Borrego State Park offer desert serenity, winter blooms and quiet exploration!

Harmony Borax Works tankers in Death Valley National Park.

In January, our nearby Sierra mountains received over 400 inches of snow, while our valley was pelted with rain like we haven’t seen in years.  If you’re suffering cabin fever and long for sunny, warm touring, you have nearby warm California destinations within a day’s drive.

Probably the iconic destination for warm February/March travels is Death Valley National Park; just eight hours away and offering warm climate and a “soon-to-burst-forth” wildflower bloom.  We were there last February and the colors were simply stunning.  The Park Service suggests that with recent rains, this year’s bloom should be spectacular!

Death Valley offers historic interest, as well. During the California Gold Rush, several wagon trains of 49ers attempted to cross the valley – after one party suffered a death, the group looked back and said “goodbye, Death Valley”, hence the name.

A profusion of wildflowers grace Death Valley last February.

From Stockton, you’ll enter at Panamint Springs, where one drops below sea level; the land continues to sink, eventually reaching its nadir at Badwater Basin, 282 feet below sea level, the lowest point in the US.  In 1873 silver was discovered in the park and Panamint City swelled to 5,000 residents. The silver played-out about four years later, leading to Death Valley’s “white gold” discovery, borax.  Stop at the Harmony Borax Works, including the old refinery which operated from 1883-88.

Gold was discovered east of the park in 1904, leading to the last great American gold rush. The gold drew thousands of people and saw several roads built to the mining district of Rhyolite – financial failure led to the end of the era by 1912.

It’s the desert bloom that draws many visitors, but the park offers many other points of interest including Golden Canyon – just a short hike off Highway 190 – with your hike best taken in late afternoon when the setting sun offers spectacular colors. A few miles south is Natural Bridge, a short drive off the main road. Explore old historic remnants of the park’s early history, such as the Ballarat ghost town on the west edge of the park, the Eureka Mine site and charcoal kilns within the park.

Author and spouse Susan at Badwater Basin, 282' below sea level, in Death Valley.

If seeking lodging inside the park, Panamint Springs, Stovepipe Wells and Furnace Creek offer lodging and camping. Additional smaller campgrounds dot the park; most are first come, first served.

Joshua Tree National Park lies several hours further south, just east of Palm Springs.  It’s home to a wild and alien assortment of plant life: 18’ tall, spindly Ocotillo plants with slender red flowers, Brittlebush, Smoketree, Mojave yucca and the strange Cholla cactus – we never imagined such creations. At elevations above 3,000’, the park features the “Mojave desert” – where stately Joshua Trees proliferate. These tall, rangy trees can reach 40’ tall and are actually a species of yucca adapted to high, arid lands.

As you venture south, the “Colorado Desert” makes its appearance – dry desert at 3,000’ elevation and below, home to the Mojave yucca, but not the Joshua Tree.

Joshua Trees are found at higher elevations in Joshua Tree National Park.

Here, see the Cholla Cactus Garden and Jumbo Rocks area (it’s also a favorite camping spot; the park offers nine campgrounds). If seeking motels, try Twenty Nine Palms on the park’s northside.

Anza Borrego Desert State Park is 90 miles south of Palm Springs, about a 10 hour journey from Stockton.  It’s huge at 634,000 acres,  larger than the other 269 California parks combined! Borrego is Spanish for “lamb”, though only about 200 of the park’s endangered Peninsular Bighorn Sheep remain inside the park.

The park’s rugged features are “Colorado Desert”; this is where, millions of years ago, the Colorado River met the Gulf of California. Today, thousands of tourists are peering into the Grand Canyon, wondering where all that dirt and rock went. To Anza-Borrego, of course!

Set off for the Palm Canyon trailhead early to beat the heat; a mile and a half up a stark, bone-dry canyon – watch for snakes and Bighorn Sheep. About a mile up the trail, having climbed about 300 vertical feet, we hear water running and come upon a pretty stream and increasing vegetation, eventually reaching a green oasis above that couldn’t be imagined, or viewed, from the dusty desert below.

A chollo cactus garden in Joshua Tree National Park.

On the trail and throughout the park, we could identify California Fan Palm, Indigo Bush, Brittle Bush. Creosote Bush, Blue Palo Verde (reaching 30 feet tall, with yellow flowers), Chollo Cactus, Barrel Cactus in bloom, Hedgehog Cactus, Mohave Yucca and our favorite, the Ocotillo, a rangy plant that shoots spindly shafts skyward 12-15 feet and blooms with spectacular red flowers right after light rains!

The park is home to a wide array of wildlife, from the Peninsular Bighorn Sheep, snakes including Rattlesnakes, Roadrunners, Black-tailed Jackrabbits, coyotes and a wide variety of lizards. Anza Borrego has a fine campground for both tents and RVs; several additional primitive and back-country camps offer options.  Motels are found in Borrego Springs.

California Fan Palms await hikers to Palm Oasis in Anza Borrego State Park.

For more information: Death Valley National Park, nps.gov/deva, (760) 786–3200: Joshua Tree National Park, nps.gov/jotr, (760) 367-5500; Anza Borrego Desert State Park, www.parks.ca.gov/?page_id=638, (760) 767-5311.

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

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    Tim Viall

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