“Fat tire” mountain biking in and around Stockton and San Joaquin County

Wondering where you could ride your mountain bike in or nearby the Stockton/San Joaquin County area, and go beyond where road bikes with their skinny tires can go? So was I; here are suggestions from local bikers, from Facebook friends and from me:

You never know who you might meet on a mountain bike!

Patrice Perkins offers: Try the levee off of Eight Mile Road next to the park (Tim’s note: it begins where the Pixley Slough paved levee trail ends; get on the paved portion of the trail at Trinity Parkway and McAuliffe, just south of Walmart in Spanos Park, then head west. The gravel trail continues west to Paradise Point Marina and other interesting spots on the Delta). Patrice adds: Lots of Delta water out there and a great view of Mt. Diabolo on clear days. Good spot for dogs, as well.

Patrick Dean suggests: I ride New Hogan Reservoir trail every couple weeks; it’s about a 45 minute drive though. You can also get to Auburn/Forest Hill trail system in about an hour and Napa Skyline Park in about an hour.

Several riders suggest: check with Tyler at Performance Bicycle in Stockton; he leads a mountain bike ride every Wednesday from the shop. He knows many trails and levies to ride on in the area.

I suggest: the  Hammer Lane/Shima Tract levee at the west end of Hammer Lane; go to the west end of Hammer, take a left at the light on Mariner’s Drive then a right and park in Voyager, a little dead-end street up against the levee. The trail, which loops Shima Tract, is about 9 miles, nicely graveled and gets into scenic Delta backcountry on the far side.

Round Valley Regional Park, about 35 miles west of Stockton. Go west on Hwy. 4; just past Discovery Bay, take a left at the light on the Byron Hwy., to the town of Byron, then go west on the Camino Diablo Rd. which becomes Marsh Creek Rd. to the park (19450 Marsh Creek Rd., Brentwood). Large parking area, and access to beautiful trails in the foothills on the east side of Mount Diablo.

Group of riders readying for the Calaveras Trail, near UOP. This trail connects to 'fat tire' mountain bike options both on its west and east ends - taking one to levy-top trails fit just for mountain bikes.

Another suggestion, if you want more trails and real hills, Black Diamond Mines Regional Park, just south of Antioch, CA (the park is also the site of the amazing history of California’s coal and sand mines, that ran from the 1850s into this century).

What other mountain biking treks in the Stockton/San Joaquin County area would you suggest? Send your suggestions to me, tviall@msn.com, and I will share them!

Read more from Tim Viall’s travel blog, follow him on Facebook or Twitter; or, email him at tviall@msn.com. Safe pedaling in the west!

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Bicycling in Stockton/San Joaquin County…freshen up your summer!

Liven up your summer, have fun, get more active with local cycling!

Ah, the first days of summer are upon us. You and your family probably have bikes stashed in your garage, perhaps dusty and seldom used.

San Joaquin Bike Coalition's LSD Ride participants, June, 2016.

Why not make this your summer to increase your fun quotient and your physical activity? Dust off and start riding those bikes! It helps that Stockton and nearby towns like Lodi are lovely towns to cycle in (Lodi has recently hosted a finish and a start for stages in the Tour of California, Stockton offered a start some years earlier for this big-league cycling event).

Where to begin? Pull those bikes out and dust ‘em off. If they need air in the tires, that’s easy. Check to make sure the brakes function properly and that all bolts on your bike are tightened. If you’re unsure about your bike’s fitness, or how you fit the bike, take it to a local shop like Performance, REI or Robby’s and get a quick check.

Where to ride? Pedal quiet neighborhood streets to get your bike legs. Do you often drive to the store near your home? Consider cycling – put on your helmet and away you go. For getting kids into the cycling habit, target several days a week, either cool mornings or evenings, and make a refreshment stop along the way.

Group of riders on Calaveras Bike Trail, near University of Pacific.

Venturing further, the Calaveras River Bike Trail, just north of UOP, provides one of the city’s separated bike routes and is a great east/west ride. Stop into UOP’s DeRosa University Center for a refreshment break, and continue south on Kensington and then Baker, all the way to the Deepwater Channel.

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

Matt Beckwith of the SJBC leads a LSD Ride group into the Lodi wine country.

Local cycling groups offer lots of help to make your riding more regular. Here are options:

I joined the San Joaquin Bike Coalition’s recent LSD (long, slow distance) Ride held the first Saturday, monthly, 8 AM starting on north side of Bear Creek High School, and chatted with SJBC board member Matt Beckwith.  Matt offered these tips, “with wonderful weather for most of the year (except those first few days of the year when temps hit triple digits) and little elevation change, Stockton is a wonderful city in which to ride a bike. Just off the arterial roadways, many neighborhood streets make it easy to get through town – Kensington and Baker, south of University of Pacific, are great examples”.

Matt added, “the city is currently working on the update to the bicycle master plan (http://www.stocktongov.com/plan4bikes). A number of community forums have been held as well as targeted focus groups and surveys in an attempt to find what residents are interested in related to cycling in Stockton. The SJBC has been a part of all of these meetings and are actively encouraging our members and the community at large to join in the conversation. The city project team recently demonstrated the first live preview of a possible cycling amenity, a two-way cycle track on several blocks of Center Street”. While the LSD Rides have grown popular, so too have the new Full Moon Rides in downtown Stockton – watch their website for next dates.

Brent Presser, left and Tim Stone shared their favorite rides.

Two LSD riders shared favorites.  Tim Stone, of Stockton, has been riding regularly since 1984, cycling several times a week from his home near Lincoln High School to work at San Joaquin General Hospital. Tim adds, “my favorite ride is from Lincoln High School to the Bear Creek Bike Trail, and out into Lodi-area vineyards. House of Coffee, on Ham Lane in Lodi is a favorite stopping off point for me and many cyclists”.

Brent Presser, of Lodi added, “I ride regularly in the area with SJBC and the Performance Bike groups. My favorite rides are throughout the Lodi area in the vineyards that surround town; my favorite stop for libations is also House of Coffee in Lodi; and the American River Trail in Sacramento”.

Performance Bike Shop in Lincoln Center South offers several weekly group rides. I visited Tyler Young, part-time employee and ride leader, who said, “we offer beginner/intermediate rides every Saturday, 9 AM at the store. The route for this morning’s ride tracked south to the Calaveras River Bike Path, to University of Pacific, south down Kensington, a stop at the Miracle Mile for refreshments, and return”.

Tyler Young, of Performance Bike in Lincoln Center South, front, left, prepares to lead a Saturday morning ride from the store.

He added, “it’s the most popular group ride, although an alternate route is sometimes taken out to the Brookside area, Buckley Cove Park, Lake Lincoln and western Stockton. Our Saturday morning ride started two years ago, has grown to 30-some riders and has become a model for other Performance Bike stores throughout the US”.

Stockton Bike Club, a group for more serious riders, also offers weekly rides, with many trekking through the Sierra foothills east of San Joaquin County.

Here are a few safe cycling rules to live by:

• While a new CA law requires motorists to give cyclists 3 feet when they pass, realize drivers may not know that or won’t follow the law.
• As a rider, obey the law (ride with traffic, single file, not on sidewalk; stop at stop signs, red lights).
• Youth under 18 must wear a helmet (state law); adults are advised to do the same!
• Wear bright colors and invest in a rear-view mirror or eyeglasses mirror (you’ll gain peace of mind, seeing drivers approaching from behind).
• Use hand signals when turning, so motorists know your intentions.
• Never assume a driver approaching, or on a side street, sees you until you make eye contact with that driver.

Riders stop at Consumnes River Farms, north of Thornton, for wine tasting and olive oil sampling.

And, check my Record travel blog this Friday; I’ll share some tips and suggested “best rides” for you fat tire, mountain bike riders, right in Stockton/San Joaquin County and locations nearby.

For more information: Performance Bike Shop, performancebike.com/Stockton, (209) 951-5665; San Joaquin Bike Coalition, sjbike.org or their Facebook page, facebook.com/groups/sjbikecoalition/; Stockton Bike Club, www.stocktonbikeclub.org.

Read more from Tim Viall’s travel blog, follow him on Facebook or Twitter; or, email him at tviall@msn.com. Safe pedaling in the west!

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What makes your Stockton/San Joaquin County Bucket List?

Stockton's Deepwater Channel, courtesy of Visit Stockton.

I’m working on a “Stockton/San Joaquin County Bucket List”, for a future article in the Record newspaper and my travel blog.

Here’s your assignment:  Assume you have special guests in town:

1. What are the two most special places or activities you would show off to guests, in Stockton or San Joaquin County?

2. For your favorite, please share a sentence as to “why this makes your list”, and,

3. Please share your name and which town you live in.

Grandson Jack Taylor poses outside Stockton's Children's Museum.

I will use some of these suggestions in my article; please email suggestions to, tviall@msn.com.  Thanks!

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 westy!

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Five glorious parks within four hours of San Joaquin County; beat the heat and crowds!

Beat the summer heat and crowds while basking in nature’s glory in these five close-at-hand parks!

Trail in Pinnacles National Park leads to eerie talus caves (bring a flashlight or headlamp!).

We’re less than a week from the start of summer, it’s getting hot in the valley – and you haven’t made your summer travel plans yet? Let’s consider some of the nearby parks and natural wonders that can take you out of San Joaquin County’s heat, yield incredible adventure and are only a few hours away.

We will pass over several close-at-hand gems, which become especially crowded in the summertime. Yosemite National Park and portions of the Lake Tahoe area are best saved for September and October when the crowds die down. We recommend three nearby national parks, a national recreation area and the high Sierra.

A favorite, Pinnacles National Park is only 2.5 hours from Stockton and remains one of the least visited of all the national parks in the west despite its eerie allure. Long a national monument, it was just elevated to national park status in 2013.

Just 30 miles south of Hollister, California, Pinnacles features the remnants of an ancient volcano – a volcano located 160 miles to the south near Los Angeles. The Pinnacles volcanic area has been moving slowly but steadily several inches north each year on the San Andreas Fault, distancing itself from the mother volcano.

Pinnacle's Machete Ridge, the remnants of an ancient volcano located near LA!

It’s a land of strange rock formations, talus caves, abundant wildlife and frequent sightings of the California condor. Located in the California coastal mountain range, the cooling Mediterranean breeze coming off the nearby Pacific keeps the park consistently cooler than the nearby California Central Valley.

Pinnacles is a park made for short or longer hikes (take a headlamp/flashlight if you want to explore the talus caves) in the rugged volcanic spines and valleys of these mountains, with lots of greenery to provide shade. The park offers two campgrounds and overnight accommodations can be found in nearby Hollister. For additional adventure, tour south to Mission San Antonio, and continue west on a winding road over the Santa Lucia Mountains, dropping you in the center of Big Sur on the California coast.

Sequoia's General Sherman tree, with a 40' diameter trunk is, by volume, the world's largest tree!

Sequoia/Kings Canyon National Parks share a common border and are just 100 miles south of Yosemite in the high Sierra. Approaching Sequoia, you’ll climb from near sea level in the San Joaquin Valley to 7000 feet, passing numerous Sequoia groves and unfolding views of the towering Sierra, deemed the ‘Range of Light’ by John Muir.

Amongst thousands of huge sequoias, the General Sherman sequoia stands out.  Its trunk is 40 feet in diameter, 275 feet in height and is the largest tree in the world in total volume. The nearby General Grant sequoia in Kings Canyon is nearly as large – both attract crowds in the summertime.

Sequoia National Park also offers plenty of hiking opportunities, along with Moro Rock and the Auto Tree where you can drive your car through a huge, downed sequoia. Kings Canyon is several thousand feet deeper than the Grand Canyon, a favorite of rock climbers and, like Sequoia, offers plenty of hiking and camping options. The two parks offer several classic lodges for those who want more traditional lodging.

Lassen Volcanic National Park, just four hours to our north, is second only to Yellowstone National Park as a volcanic and thermal wonderland. It’s also more compact than Yellowstone, as well as within a single days drive. Just 100 years ago, Mount Lassen exploded, hurtling large boulders for 3 miles and leveling the forest miles further.

Frozen Lake Helen, with Mt. Lassen in the background.

The park offers mud pots and fumaroles; those and the Devastated Area will thrill youngsters to seniors alike. Check the park’s Hwy. 89 road report; it cuts through the park, rises high on the flank of Mount Lassen and sometimes can be snowed in until late June or July. Nearby Chester offers lodging and the park offers several scenic campgrounds. Sleeping giant Mt. Shasta is just north, allowing an extended adventure to its surrounding campgrounds and quaint towns.

For a cool summer retreat, just north of the Golden Gate Bridge, plan a trip to Pt. Reyes National Seashore. Walk the beach where Sir Francis Drake claimed California in 1579 for Queen Elizabeth, see whales offshore, tour a spectacular lighthouse and spot tule elk and elephant seals.

Pt. Reyes Lighthouse is a beacon for ships on this rugged CA coast.

Stop at the Drakes Bay Visitor Center and then walk the beach (we found a huge elephant seal on a recent visit). Continue west along the Point Reyes Peninsula, reaching the Point Reyes lighthouse at the very tip of the peninsula, open for tours, though closed Tuesdays through Thursdays.

Looking to the south, you’ll see the Farallon Islands on a clear day, 20 miles away. Don’t miss the classic little town of Point Reyes Station, set among historic farms dating back to 1859. You can find several places to purchase oysters along the way, and several cute restaurants in the town itself.

Lastly, a plug for our Central Sierra just east of San Joaquin County.  Accessed by Highways 88, 4 and 108, each road takes you high into the Sierra at altitudes up to 10,000 feet where clean air, cool temperatures, pristine lakes, fishing and hiking options abound.  You’ll find special attractions like Calaveras Big Trees, the Arnold Rim Trail, Lake Alpine and Pinecrest Lake, depending upon your route.

Horses from Kennedy Meadows Pack Station, on trail to Relief Reservoir, just off Hwy. 108 in the Sierra.

El Dorado and Stanislaus National Forests encompass this broad area, with campgrounds strung along rivers and lakes like jewels. With the federal America the Beautiful pass, for seniors 62/older, you’ll get free admission to all national parks and half price on most federal campgrounds; it’s just $10 for a lifetime pass!

For more info: Pinnacles National Park,  www.nps.gov/pinn, phone: 831.389.4486; Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks, www.nps.gov/seki; or phone  559.565.3341; Lassen Volcanic National Park, www.nps/gov/lavo, phone, 530.595.6100; Point Reyes National Seashore,  nps.gov/pore,  (415) 464-5100; for the high Sierra, check the El Dorado and Stanislaus National Forest sites, respectively, fs.usda.gov/eldorado, fs.usda.gov/stanislaus. For national parks and forest service campgrounds, www.recreation.gov, or call 877.444.6777. Purchase the America the Beautiful senior pass in person at NPS units, or on-line, store.usgs.gov.

The America the Beautiful senior pass (for those 62 and older) gets you into national parks for free, and saves you 50% off most federal campgrounds. Just $10 for life, it has probably saved us $1500!

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 westy!


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Historic mystery buildings, just east of Jackson, CA on Hwy. 88 – what were they?

Old brick house on the east, what seems to once have been an old boarding house on west, with barn behind. What were they?

We just spent five days in the south and west Lake Tahoe area. Going up, and coming back, we usually take Hwy. 88 to the beautiful Hope Valley, then Highway 89 to Hwy. 50 and into South Lake Tahoe.

We’ve done this route multiple times over the years – and every time I pass the buildings pictured, I wonder what they are or were. On the west, hidden in trees is what looks like an old boarding house, a few feet further east is a small, old brick home, and in the back is what looks to be an old barn. All three look like they haven’t served any purpose for many years. They are located about a mile and a half east of the turnoff to the Jackson Rancheria Casino, and about 3/4 mile west of W. Clinton Road.

Closeup of the old house.

Do any of you Hwy. 88 buffs know the backstory to these buildings? Are you the sleuth who can solve this mystery?

Watch my blog in about 10 days, and the Record newspaper, for a story about our exploration of Southwest Lake Tahoe (and an answer to this riddle, if I find it!).

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!

An old boarding house, perhaps, on the west side of the complex?

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Maui on a budget; fun, adventure, good food without breaking the bank!

Maui fun, adventure, history and good food without breaking the bank

Sugar Beach on Maui's central west side offers bathing or walking options, all the way north to the boat harbor some 6 miles distant.

This is a primer on enjoying Maui on a frugal budget. It emanates from 14 visits over the past 15 years in which we’ve done almost all of the tourist options, from no cost to very expensive.

First, realize Maui is known for its beaches, walking/hiking options, Haleakala volcano, good food and laid-back vibe. So let’s concentrate on these areas and not break the bank.

Here are basic ways to save on such a trip. International travel publications suggest booking your flight about 55 days out, on a Tuesday for the best pricing. For a rental car, consider some of the budget options like Advantage or Maui Rentals, almost as convenient as big names like Avis and Hertz. And, book a compact (save on gas).

Consider skipping a rental car; take the airport shuttle to your hotel/motel, and use either public transit or Uber to get there. Plenty of Uber drivers on the island, local concierges tell us.

Hawaiian war canoes on Sugar Beach glint in the morning sunshine.

Stop at Costco or Walmart just outside the Kahului airport – stock up on food and drink you’ll need for your stay, and cheaper pricing than local markets. Purchase the book ‘Maui Revealed’ or download the app for your phone – full of tips about good deals, secret beaches and insider tips.

Here are recommendations for fun and savings:

Beaches: Free, sparkling public beaches encircle the isle, like Wailea Beach (between the Grand Wailea and Fairmont luxury tourist hotels), Makena State Beach or Secret Cove further south. The beaches in the Kanapali area are narrower and rockier; they become wider and sandier from Kihei south.

Author's spouse Susan hiking the King's Highway about one mile south of La Perouse Bay.

Snorkeling is also free off beaches such as the southern portion of Wailea Beach. Renting snorkel mask and fins goes for a $1.50 a day, or about $10 for a week; cheap thrills! Consider a Hawaiian war canoe trip offered by the Kihei Canoe Club, Tuesday and Thursday mornings, just $25.

Walking/hiking options: Stroll old town Lahaina. It’s the former whaling and territorial capital before it moved to Oahu. Loaded with history, the giant banyan tree, stylish shops and boutiques and a host of reasonable to expensive restaurants along the waterfront, don’t miss this quaint and historic town.

Hiking options are found around the island, from short and scenic to long and strenuous. Walk the beaches; as example, from the north end of Kihei, one can walk all the way to Ma’alaea Boat Harbor on firm sands for six miles.

Trek stretches of the old Kings Highway: it was built to circumnavigate the island by ancient Maui kings, so they could circle the island to collect taxes and move goods. For a great example, take the Kihei Road south to La Perouse Bay – a marvelous adventure in its own right – and then hike several miles, or up to 5 1/2 miles, of the old highway that winds its way through the stark lava flows.

We startled 25 wild goats, saw a few hikers and lovely views at almost every turn on a recent 2.5 mile out-and-back. Plan to take water – for this can be a hot and dry trek. The bay is also a great snorkeling destination, but arrive early in the morning when the water is still calm.

View from top of Haleakala Volcano, looking east into the yawning crater to the east.

Haleakala volcano: Head to the massive Haleakala volcano for incredible views and hiking (better views and far cheaper than helicopter tours). On a recent climb up to the 10,000 foot peak, white clouds were rolling across about 4000 feet. Stop for breakfast at the Kula Lodge at 3200′, always a pleasure (try the cinnamon-swirl French toast).

The national park Ranger recommended the Halemau’u Trailhead, at 8000 feet, about 1.2 miles to the volcano crater. Off we went, into the cloudbank. Half-mile in, fairly steady light drizzle; making the crater rim, cloudier; into the old crater, driving rain. Be forewarned that weather can change rapidly on this huge volcanic peak (check weather forecasts)! If you plan to see the sunrise, you’ll need to hit road by about 2:30 am, and expect a crowd at the summit.

Food and drink savings: If you’re a couple, consider splitting a salad and a main course. We’re retirees, not huge eaters – we’ve never been hungry with this option. A second choice, dine during happy hour for appetizers at half price and discounted drinks at a variety of places, such as Five Palms, the Hula Grill and many others, generally running from 3-6 pm and after 9 pm.

Five Palms Happy Hour deal, sashimi and coconut prawns (half price) and discounted drinks, right on the ocean - tasty!

Third, pack a picnic: at almost every turn, Maui offers a beautiful beach or park for a stunning waterfront dining backdrop.

Other options offer savings: If you are willing to sit through a timeshare presentation (about 90 minutes), the reward is usually something like a $150 gift card, or two trips on a snorkeling boat or the like. You can always politely turn down the presenter; who knows, you might even be intrigued enough to buy a timeshare and spend more time here!

Inexpensive touring: tour the historic Iao Valley or take the Upcountry drive – find the goat farm, the lavender farm and Maui’s only winery for tours – all are free but for the cost of gas (and modest Iao Valley entry fee).

Drive the road to Hana, exciting and very scenic, with “hiking to waterfall” options around almost every turn (plan the better part of a day for the Hana tour). And, early in the drive, just past the popular but very expensive Mama’s Fish House, stop at the Ka’a Point Beach, the best kite-surfing beach in the world.  A protected cove allows world-class kite surfers to zoom up to the beach, for marvelous photo opportunities.

Old VW van along Sugar Beach typifies the laid-back Maui lifestyle that comes with the world's most visited island!

If you want to take in a show, see the Elvis “Burn’n Love” review or the Warren and Annabelle magic show in Lahaina; we’ve enjoyed each twice.

For more information: Maui Visitor’s Bureau, visitmaui.com, (808) 244-3530; for Maui Revealed phone-app, hawaiirevealed.com.

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


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Maui’s old and ancient roads make for interesting trekking!

Author's spouse Susan on the ancient King's Highway as it winds through lava fields a mile south of La Perouse Bay.

We own a timeshare in Kihei, and get to Maui almost every year since our purchase in 2001.  Our recent May, 2016 visit allowed us to do some trekking and exploring of Maui’s old roads and ancient highways.

I have long been a fan of old roads, growing up in a family whose father loved to explore back roads and talk about the predecessors to those roads that can be found beside many of today’s modern highways. As young kids, my two brothers and I did not then appreciate my dad’s frequent detours with the comment, “let’s see where this road will take us”!

We found the most compelling hike (along the ancient King’s Highway) through lava fields, south of La Perouse Bay, including a multi-mile stretch on the old King’s Highway.

Here are two of Maui’s several stellar examples:

The Kings Highway: this was built to circumnavigate the island by ancient Maui kings, so they could circle the island and collect taxes and homage from the natives. It wound around Maui’s rocky and steep volcanoes, cutting through lava fields, high upon rocky bluffs and was a wonder of early engineering skills!

Author on a shady portion of the King's Highway south of La Perouse Bay.

A great example of a stretch of the old Kings Highway is to take the Wailea Road south to its deadend at La Perouse Bay – a marvelous adventure in its own right – and then hike several miles, or up to 5 1/2 miles, of the old highway that winds its way through the most recent lava flows.

We went about two miles out and back, probably saw 25 wild goats, only a few hikers and lovely views of the ocean at almost every turn. Plan to take water – for this can be a hot and dry trek. The bay is also a great snorkeling destination, but get there early in the morning when the water is still calm.

The old Pali Road, built about 1900, by prison labor, offered over 100 hair-pin turns in its rocky five-mile length.

The old Pali Road: Heading north on the island, from the Ma’alaea Boat Harbor to Lahaina, you can find about 5 miles of the old Pali Highway. It parallels the modern road; you’ll see old rock terraces, sections of the old highway, culverts and several bridges remaining from the road, built by prison labor right around 1900. I’ve hiked several stretches of the old highway – it’s blacktop still in good shape in a number of places – but only about 1 1/2 lanes wide, featuring over 100 sharp turns jammed into that brief mileage. It must’ve been a multi-hour, pokey but scenic drive back in the day. The tunnel on the new highway is marked “1951″, so I’d assume the new road opened then and orphaned the old, slower roadway.

It remains a good hike – and also intersects the old King’s Highway, so additional trekking options present themselves.

Read the Record and my Record blog next week for my full feature on our recent Maui visit – “exploring Maui on a budget” (it can be found on the blog site early next Wednesday, and in the Record newspaper on Thursday!).  Thanks for reading!

Old Pali Road winds a rocky, over-grown way through Maui's rocky hills, headed to Lahaina.

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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Stockton/San Joaquin road trip on a budget…Adventure, mystery, history, good wine and great food

The Cosumnes River Preserve offers plenty of hiking along riparian waterways, much as they were for the Miwuk tribe hundreds of years ago.

Adventure, mystery, history, good wine and great food…close to home!

A long-time Stocktonian recently said to me “there’s not much to do in this town, unless you’ve got a lot of money”. I responded with “come-on, two people could find adventure, mystery, history, good wine and great food for about $50″, and offered several suggestions.

This is the story of my wife’s and my adventure, in an attempt to do just that.

Our full-day’s journey would include an early morning trek at Cosumnes River Preserve (adventure, mystery), exploration of our county’s historic underpinnings at San Joaquin Historical Museum in Micke Grove Park, for great olive oil, balsamic vinegar and wine, Consumnes River Farms and for good food, Garlic Brothers Restaurant, on the Delta in Stockton. To keep expenses down, we packed a picnic lunch.

Off we went to the Cosumnes River Preserve, three miles north of Thornton (a cute town, including a bull-ring!). The preserve centers on the confluence of the Cosumnes and Mokelumne rivers and remains much in the condition that Native Americans would’ve found it, hundreds of years ago. Stop at the visitors center for a map and docent insight.

The preserve is rich in flora and fauna, particularly waterfowl, (depending on time of year, egrets, snowy plovers, ducks, geese, sandhill cranes, eagles and scores more) with miles of paved and dirt hiking trails along the riparian waterways. As one parallels the Mokelumne River, the ghosts of old Mokelumne City call from across the river. Founded in 1850, the city had grown by 1861 to the second largest town and port in San Joaquin county. A huge flood in 1862 washed all of the wood buildings miles downstream – the city disappeared, never to be rebuilt.

Consumnes River Farms, just south of the Cosumnes River Preserve, is a fine place to sample olive oil, balsamic vinegars and wines!

Exiting the preserve, we stopped just a half-mile south at Consumnes River Farms to sample olive oils, balsamic vinegars and wines. The first two tastings are free, while wine tasting is five dollars (waived if you purchase a bottle). We purchased a tasty bottle of flavored olive oil, but passed on the wine-tasting, having further to journey.

Another nearby option for classy wine tasting: Jessie’s Grove Winery on Turner Road. It’s long been a favorite, due both to the shady, historic grove of valley oaks it’s nestled in and that they host a series of rollicking summer concerts (June 4, Jackson Michelson, pop country; June 25, Spazmatics, 80’s hits).

Museum Director Dave Stuart offers insights to visitors for the Native American People's gallery.

To make more sense of the agricultural underpinnings of our county our next stop was the San Joaquin Historical Museum at Micke Grove Park south of Lodi. The museum recently expanded its Native Peoples Gallery, offering insight into the Native Americans who have been living in what is now San Joaquin County for more than 13,000 years.

The museum traces the Miwok- and Yokuts-speaking people, all with very rich cultures and lifestyles. Native peoples here put up the greatest resistance to the Spanish-Mexican missions and fought battles with the largest army formed in Spanish-Mexican California.

Entrance to the new Innovators in Agricultural exhibit.

“We added videos showing traditional basket making, acorn preparation, and deer hunting—we hope folks will associate artifacts displayed in the exhibit cases with those shown in the videos”, notes museum director Dave Stuart.

An inter-active circular wooden bench allows visitors to listen to three recorded messages. In one recording Glen Villa, Jr. (Northern Miwok/Plains Miwok) tells about the First People and a traditional creation narrative. Another recording shares a traditional Yokuts story, told by Sylvia Ross (Chukchansi Yokuts), a third of the Indian freedom fighters led by Estanislao, for whom the Stanislaus River and County were named.

“The new exhibits work perfectly with the other exhibits in the Erickson Building,” said Stuart. “Visitors can go in chronological order from the Native peoples who first inhabited the area, to an exhibit on the early trappers and the founding of French Camp, the first non-Indian community. Continue on to a new exhibition on the early American settlers, then on to exhibits on the Gold Rush, a hands-on children’s gallery, and the adjacent Weber Gallery.

A new agricultural exhibit recently opened, Innovators of Agriculture.  It features the development of intensive, irrigated agriculture in the county beginning around 1900. Six crops are the focus: dry beans, asparagus, cherries, walnuts, canning tomatoes and truck farming (growing of fruits and veggies, trucked to local markets). If you want insight into why our county is so ag-centric, start at this museum wonder!

A tasty beverage on the Delta, on the deck at Garlic Brothers Restaurant (photo courtesy of Blair Hake).

We ended the day at our favorite Stockton restaurant, Garlic Brothers, at the western end of Ben Holt. Hard against the San Joaquin Delta, it offers a wonderful view from the deck of pleasure boats anchored at Village West Marina and the afternoon’s setting sun over Mt. Diablo. For out-of-town guests, it’s a must.

This evening, we’ll stretch our budget with a margarita pizza, a draft beer and a Pinot Noir – $31. including tip. A wonderful view, Stocktonians reveling in the Delta and, as luck would have it, a gorgeous sunset to cap a busy day!

Get exploring in your hometown; find your own excellent adventure!

Our day’s expenses, Cosumnes River Preserve, free; Consumnes River Farms for olive oil, balsamic tasting, free; San Joaquin Historical Museum, $6. Park admission, $4. each museum senior admission, total $14.; Garlic Bros., $14 Marquerita pizza, $7 for Pinot Noir, $6. beer, $4. tip, total $31; gas; 67 miles, 2 gallons @$2.50/gallon, $5.00; grand total $50.

For more information: Cosumnes River Preserve, 13501 Franklin Blvd, Galt, Cosumnes.org, visitor center open 9am to 5pm weekends and holidays; Consumes River Farm, 28305 N Thornton Road, Thornton, (209) 334-5544, consumnesriverfarm.com, open Thursday-Sunday 11:30am to 5:00pm; Jessie’s Grove Estate and Home Winery, 1973 West Turner Road, Lodi, open Daily 12pm-5pm; San Joaquin Historical Society and Museum, Micke Grove Park, 11793 N. Micke Grove Road, Lodi,  sanjoaquinhistory.org, (209) 953-3460, open Wednesday through Sunday, 11am to 4pm; for other Stockton/San Joaquin adventures, Visit Stockton, visitstockton.org, (209) 938-1555.

Visitors to Garlic Brothers Restaurant will often be treated to great sunsets over the Delta and Mt. Diable in the distance (photo courtesy of Blair Hake).

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!

Author’s note: Special thanks to friend Blare Hake, for allowing use of the last two photos (both taken at Garlic Brothers Restaurant).  Blare is one of the best Delta “fun photographers”, regularly shooting great shots of his adventures on the San Joaquin Delta, and some of the best sunset shots I ever see!).


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Seattle’s nearby western Washington gems…

Snoqualmie Falls thunders 270 feet into the gorge below in the Cascade Mountains.

Snoqualmie Falls and John Wayne Pioneer Trail, Mt. Rainier/Mt. St. Helens and Olympic Peninsula…

OK, you’re planning a vacation in the Seattle area.  Once you’ve seen the top tourist draws of this lovely city (Space Needle, Pike Place Market, Pioneer Square, the piers, aquarium and Ferris wheel along Elliott Bay, Queen Anne Hill, a ferry boat ride), what else might you want to include within a 100 miles or so?

Here are suggestions, based on our current visit and many previous tours of this emerald, aquatic empire:

Snoqualmie Falls and John Wayne Trail: With mountain bikes, we had to take a trip to the lovely Cascade Mountains. From Seattle, we toured to Snoqualmie Falls and continued further east to the John Wayne Pioneer Trail. Our initial destination was about 50 miles from Seattle – Snoqualmie Falls, the adjacent Salish Lodge for a delicious lunch, then into the little town of Snoqualmie, home to the Northwest Railway Museum, trainmuseum.org.

Cyclist rides on the gentle grade of the John Wayne Pioneer Trail, the former Milwaukie Railroad roadbed.

Iron Horse State Park is 14 miles further east along I-90, centered on the John Wayne Pioneer Trail. Once the Milwaukee Railroad, it’s the longest rail trail conversion in the US, at 285 miles (though, much of the Eastern Washington portion is undeveloped). We accessed the gravel trail near pretty Rattlesnake Lake – here the City of Seattle constructed a masonry dam to enhance the Cedar Falls hydroelectric plant in 1915, flooding the old town of Moncton and forcing its 200 residents to relocate.

Peddling southwest on the trail we quickly found the concrete foundation of the old Cedar Falls railroad substation, where hydroelectricity once powered electric engines used to push heavy freight trains up and over Snoqualmie Pass. Following the easy railroad grade through pristine cedar forests, it’s another 18 miles to Snoqualmie Tunnel – bring your headlamps!

Mt. St. Helens gigantic crater looms over Spirit Lake (view from Windy Ridge).

Mount St. Helens and Mt. Rainier, fiery volcanic monsters: From Seattle, you can visit both Mt. St. Helens Volcanic National Monument and Mt. Rainier National Park in one 250 mile scenic loop. Go south on Interstate 5, then east on WA 503.  This route runs south of Mt. St. Helens and up the east side.  Turn onto NF 99, the Windy Ridge spur road, where the might of the eruption becomes graphically apparent.

Mount St. Helens, just south of Mt. Rainier, had been menacing with volcanic activity for months prior to May 18, 1980.  The young volcano (compared to other volcanic peaks in the Cascades like Mt. Hood, Mt. Rainier) had released steam, sent plumes of ash miles into the atmosphere, the north side of the 9,677 foot asymmetrical peak had begun to bulge and small earthquakes were being felt.

On May 18, 8:32 AM, a 5.1 earthquake was prelude to Mt. St. Helens’s north slope erupting with cataclysmic force.  Almost one cubic mile of the mountain’s north and northeast side exploded, releasing a pyroclastic flow that reduced the once grand 9,677 foot peak to 8,365 feet, leaving a gaping, one-mile-wide horseshoe crater.  The explosion sent a 300 miles per hour surge of earth, rock, ice and gases, denuding an area about six miles wide and 20 miles in length.

The Miner's Car memorial commemorates the three miners who lost their lives when the volcanic eruption struck at 8:32 AM on May 18.

The eruption offered a lesson in volcanic studies; of the 57 people killed, 53 of them were in areas that experts believed were safe from danger. A monster ash cloud rose six miles skyward and dropped ¼” of volcanic ash on Spokane, 250 miles away (we were in our Spokane backyard at Noon, when the volcanic cloud turned the sky black for the next day).

From Hwy. 503, take NF 99 to the Miner’s Car memorial, where the miner’s rusted and flattened Pontiac remains mute testimony of the volcano’s fury.  Traveling nearer the base of St. Helens, most of the terrain remains much as it was 36 years ago, barren and devastated.  Varied turnoffs look down on Spirit Lake, its northeast end still littered with the floating trunks of giant fir trees blown into the lake.

NF 99 ends about two miles from the base of the volcano (a gated road is open to hikers who want to trek closer to the peak).  We chose to hike to the top of the Windy Ridge overlook: about 400 steps up one gains a true perspective of the explosion’s immensity, seeing the horseshoe crater, mile-upon-mile of devastated ridges and forest, Spirit Lake, and the Johnston Ridge Observatory, across the valley at the end of the Spirit Lake Highway.

Mt. Rainier, just 50 miles north of Mt. St. Helens, stands in icy splendor in the Cascade Mountains.

Mt. Rainier’s majestic 14,410 foot volcanic peak is 50 miles north; we reached it the same day as our tour of St. Helens, passed our favorite Rainier campground, Ohanepekosh and headed up to the stunning Paradise area, high on Rainier’s southern flank.  If you plan to do this eerie and scenic loop in one day, plan to leave early!

Olympic National Park and Peninsula: Another scenic destination is Olympic National Park, where we had tent-camped numerous times when our kids were much younger. On a recent visit, the day dawned hazy, becoming bright, and we reached Klalock Beach and Campground, with 170 camp sites right on the ocean (Klalock Lodge is nearby for a delicious lunch).  We walked along the gorgeous coastline, all the more wonderful because the sun was peeking through the clouds. Take the time to tour up to Hurricane Ridge, to admire the towering Olympics and resident glaciers; be warned that weather can be very changeable!

The Klalock Beach area in Olympic National Park, looking north on a hazy morning.

Also within the Park, both Lake Quinault Lodge and Lake Crescent Lodge exude history and cozy accommodations, prompting our plan to return soon.  From Port Angeles on the peninsula, you also have the option to take the ferry over to lovely and provincial Victoria, B.C. (bring your passports). We headed back by the Bainbridge Island Ferry, right into downtown Seattle!

For more information: John Wayne Pioneer Trail, trail’s website: johnwaynepioneertrail.org; Mt. St. Helens National Monument, fs.fed.us/pnw/mtsthelens/, (503) 808-2592; Mt. Rainier National Park, nps.gov/mora/, (360) 569-2211; Olympic National Park, ww.nps.gov/olym/, (800) 833-6388; Washington travel, experiencewa.com, (800) 544-1800.

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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Queen Anne Hill; the wonders of historic buildings and modern neighborhoods!

View of Space Needle on hazy day, from Kerry Park on Queen Anne Hill.

I have written earlier about our two week visit to Seattle, housesitting a nice condominium on 13th Ave., West near the base of Queen Anne Hill.

Queen Anne is loaded with tourism delights. When you visit, plan to walk or bike several miles, including Parsons Gardens and Kerry Park on Highland Drive, then north along Queen Anne Avenue for a quaint and delectable retail and restaurant dining area and admire stately homes dating to the 1890s. Finish your trek near sundown along 8th Avenue North, with stunning views west to the Olympic Mountains across Puget Sound.

The building at 10th West and Howe, with the 10th West Restaurant on right.

Along the walk up Queen Anne Hill, we found the 10th West building (we’ll call it that for now) at 10th and Howe. We noticed 10th West Restaurant in the building at the corner, open 8 AM to 2 PM for breakfast or lunch. We stopped in this morning for a delicious breakfast and had a nice chat with restaurant owner Linda Clegg, who pulled out about six black-and-white photos of the neighborhood from the 1930s.

Linda’s estimate is that the building went up in the late 1920-30s; you’ll see a picture of her building, about 1930, and the same building today – isn’t it delightful to see historic buildings reused for both retail on the street and apartments above? The restaurant anchors a neighborhood surrounded by several quaint shops and many homes of the same, or even older, vintage.

The building at 10th West and Howe, about 1930.

Just five blocks further east is the main Queen Anne retail district and a host of restaurants on Queen Anne Avenue North. From Highland Drive to Boston Street, south to north, we found Charleston, SC, 5 Spot, Domini’s Pizza and bar, Chocolopolis, El Diablo Coffee Company next to Queen Anne Bookstore, Samurai Sushi, Nana’s Mexican, Zeke’s Pizza, Paragon Bar and Grill, Queen Anne Cafe, Hilltop Ale House, Grappa Restaurant, Orrapan Thai, Bounty kitchen, Homegrown, How to Kill a Wolf (Italian), Storyville Coffee House, and yes, of course, Starbucks.

We have sampled Orrapan and Paragon, both delightful, and plan to check out a few more before we depart. Take a sunny morning or afternoon, or all day, and wander Queen Anne Hill; memorable in so many ways!

I was also noted earlier, the area adjacent to Queen Anne Hill that offers equal interest. To the north, the Lake Washington Ship Canal offers the Chittenden Locks and adjoining Carl English, Jr., Botanical Gardens. Stop and watch small to large ships navigate through the locks, take in the fish ladder and stroll through the adjoining botanical garden full of lovely blooms. To the east, Lake Union, and just south east, Seattle Center with the Space Needle and so much more! See my previous post, with a full run-down on the many delights of the Queen Anne Hill neighborhood!

An apartment building on 10th West, built 1928.

For more information: For Queen Anne Hill, queenannechamber.org; Pike Place Market, pikeplacemarket.org; the Space Needle, spaceneedle.com; Washington State tourism info, 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!

Posted in Pacific Northwest USA (Oregon, Washington, Idaho) | 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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