Lincoln Highway makes for historic travels in San Joaquin County!

Lincoln Highway sign on Maple, just off the Miracle Mile, Stockton.

History comes alive on Lincoln Highway; exciting and gourmet travels in SJ County!

I recently noticed red, white and blue Lincoln Highway signs popping up in Stockton, so I tracked down local Lincoln Highway historian Kevin Shawver to learn more about the historic highway and to plot a tour of its route through San Joaquin County.

Kevin Shawver stands beneath Lincoln Highway sign in Stockton.

Kevin noted the vast changes that the introduction of the automobile visited on our country, which accelerated when Henry Ford introduced the hugely popular and inexpensive Model T Ford in 1908.  Sales took off, and within a few years many Americans were plotting day-long and longer drives across the nation’s patchwork-quilt of roads, many unpaved.

Kevin noted that “the Lincoln Highway was once called the ‘Main Street across America’. Opening in 1913, the highway invigorated many smaller to midsized towns, bringing road improvements, roadside attractions, hotels, motels and restaurants, billboards and enhanced traffic to cities on the route.

It started in New York City’s Times Square, and wended its way westward, 3,389 miles to San Francisco’s Lincoln Park. The highway was the longest ‘thing’ in America, and was the first US memorial to President Lincoln, preceding the Lincoln Memorial in Washington DC. The highway helped inspired the term ‘tin can tourists’ – in the early century, gas had to be purchased in hardware stores or at auto dealers – there were very few gas stations. Tourists would discard the empty cans along the highway, leading to the term ‘tin can tourists’”.

The Lincoln Highway debuted in 1913, wending its way west from New York City to San Francisco (map courtesy of Lincoln Highway Association).

Lincoln Highway was cobbled together from existing highways and byways in 1913; the original route came through Sacramento, then turned south, heading through Woodbridge, Stockton, Lathrop, French Camp, Tracy and over the Altamont pass to San Francisco. Several realignments would later fine-tune the route, made primarily to eliminate dangerous railroad crossings.

One realignment shifted the route in our north county over to Highway 99, running down Cherokee through Lodi, though it has always run through Stockton. With the opening of the Carquinez Straight Bridge in 1927, the highway was realigned along a route roughly paralleling I-80, and traffic eased in San Joaquin County.

The Lincoln Highway's original route through California, neatly bisecting San Joaquin County (map courtesy of Lincoln Highway Association).

To tour the San Joaquin County route, a great place to start is at the historic marker at Lincoln and A Streets in Galt. From the monument, head south on Lower Sacramento Road in Woodbridge, with several substantial brick buildings pre-dating the original Lincoln Highway opening.  Woodbridge not only retains deep historical character with buildings dating back to the 1860s, it’s a gourmet’s delight.

The International Order of Odd Fellows Hall in Woodbridge, now home to Cactus Restaurant, anchored the Lincoln Highway's route through Woodbridge.

Here you will find restaurants like Woodbridge Crossing, a steakhouse in a brick building which dates to the end of the Civil War, 1865, Cactus, in the 1873 International Order of Odd Fellows Hall and the newest sensation, Woodbridge Uncorked, featuring fine wines, craft brews and delicious food by noted caterer Heather Lea. Across the street is the Woodbridge Inn.

History lives on at Woodbridge Uncorked in Woodbridge.

Continue on Lower Sacramento Road south from Woodbridge, which becomes Pacific Avenue in Stockton (Lower Sacramento was renamed Pacific to commemorate the opening of University of Pacific in Stockton in 1925). The Lincoln Highway helped turn the character of Pacific, once lined only with residences, into the Miracle Mile, a bustling commercial corridor due to the new automobile traffic. From Pacific, go one block west to 309 N. Regent, a lovely, historic home with flowing-roof, built on Pacific when it was all residential. As the commercial district began to grow, the home was moved several blocks to its current location.

Shawver notes, “The Miracle Mile district offers a host of restaurants for an historical stop (in buildings which existed at the time), including Midtown Creperie, Sam’s Café (originally a Scott’s Grocery during the highway’s time), stop for libation at Valley Brew just off the highway, or, stop for a snack at La Palma (originally, it’s banquet room was the Milky Way Malt Shop, an early fixture on the highway). The foyer of La Palma Restaurant features a number of historic Lincoln Highway photos, including several of the brand new Tuxedo Park (the first housing development north of Harding)”.

This notable, historic home at 309 N. Regent, Stockton, was originally built on Pacific Avenue. As traffic from the Lincoln Highway helped transform Pacific into a commercial corridor, the home was moved several blocks to its new location.

From Pacific, turn east on Maple and follow the highway route to El Dorado, then south, becoming Center Street, taking you into the center of old Stockton, where the grand Hotel Stockton (circa 1910) was a route highlight. For fine dining, try Bella Vista Restaurant in the hotel, or for breakfast or lunch, Casa Flores is a good choice, just one block east on Weber.

The Hotel Stockton was one of the grand hotels along the Lincoln Highway, now home to Bella Vista Restaurant.

The highway continued south on El Dorado (now Center Street), where it headed southwest on Turnpike, towards French Camp (where a few historic buildings lie moldering away), through Lathrop and into historic downtown Tracy on 11th Street, then followed Grant Line Road west and up over the Altamont Pass, headed to San Francisco.

So, pile the family into that “tin Lizzie” and follow the route of the Lincoln Highway through San Joaquin County!

For more information: Lincoln Highway, lincolnhighwayassoc.org; Visit Stockton, visitstockton.org/about-us/Lincoln-highway/.

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

Posted in Central California, Northern California, Sacramento/Capitol region, Sierra Nevada, Stockton/San Joaquin County | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

San Joaquin Historic Museum, Haggin Museum are cool summertime destinations!

The Holt Side-hill Harvester M30 sold for $3000 in 1928!

Cool destinations to beat summer heat and learn about our past…
San Joaquin Historic Museum, Haggin Museum

Author's grandkids Jessica and Jack admire olf farming truck loaded with local fruit crates.

With the balance of summer flying by, let’s go for a couple local “cool destinations”, which each offer cool temperature-controlled environments and places that most kids or grandkids rate as “cool”, once they get involved.

Our family favorites include the Haggin Museum and San Joaquin County Historical Museums, each packed full of insight into the history and economic underpinnings of both Stockton and San Joaquin County. Exhibits at each museum offer hands-on activities, and our grandkids take to the sense of history almost immediately!

Let’s start on the county’s north end, with the San Joaquin Historical Museum (along with Micke Grove Zoo) the major attractions in Micke Grove Park. Just south of Lodi, the park and museum 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.

The Innovators in Agriculure exhibit is fairly recent and brings today's San Joaquin agriculture heritage to life!

To start your day right, begin with breakfast at Richmaid, a classic family-style restaurant at 100 S. Cherokee Lane, Lodi.

A recent addition to the museum is the impressive Cortopassi-Avansino Building, featuring the “Innovators in Agriculture” exhibition. It illustrates the development of irrigated, intensive agriculture in San Joaquin County in the 20th century, focusing on six crops historically identified with the county: truck farming (small, diversified growing of vegetables and fruits), dry beans, asparagus, cherries, walnuts and canning tomatoes.

Jennifer Lind plays American favorites at the San Joaquin Historical Museum's annual dinner and concert on August 26.

In addition to large historic equipment and small historic artifacts, the exhibits feature large-screen videos, photo murals, and touch-screen videos. The simulated walnut shaker will make you feel like you are working this awesome machine deep in the county’s walnut orchards!

Jack and Jessica get up close and personal with donkey in the Critter Corral.

The Critter Corral is a special attraction through the end of August, on Saturday and Sunday, 10 AM to 3 PM, featuring live, cute farm animals to pet and visit, free with regular museum admission. Museum admission fees are adults (18-64), $5.00; seniors (65+) and teens (13-17), $4.00; children (6-12), $2.00. A per vehicle parking fee is due upon entering the park.

The Zoo is just blocks away, if you and kids have energy to spare.

The museum’s annual dinner and concert features Jennifer Lind and “a Journey through American Music”, on Saturday, August 26, with doors open at 6, dinner at 7 PM and concert following. A lovely evening on the museum grounds includes dinner of New York steak, beans, salad, rolls, dessert and beverage, $60 per person.

The Haggin's Yokut's Village is part of the Native American Exhibit.

Stockton’s Haggin Museum has been declared by Sunset Magazine “one of the unsung gems of California”. Notes Museum Director Tod Ruhstaller: “The Haggin is cool during summer, though the art galleries are being renovated. However our unique history galleries are open and packed with insight on our city’s history”.

Second Saturdays are for families, featuring special hands-on activities for kids age 5-12. The museum also offers insight into our Native American and the city’s founding history, as well as world-class art.

The Native American Gallery offers insights into the Spanish missionaries who entered California in 1769, finding an estimated Native American population of over 300,000, the densest population of Native people in the entire North American continent, north of central Mexico, with 100 indigenous tribes speaking 125 languages or dialects.

The Haggin's Haines-Houser Harvester is not only huge, it's mostly made of wood with iron fittings!

The Yokuts tribes settled the San Joaquin Valley and adjoining foothills. In the Stockton area, the Yachicumne Yokuts established villages along Mormon Slough, the Stockton Deepwater Channel and Bear Creek, prospering on fish and game”. Museum exhibits bring to life the culture of the native people.

Ruhstaller continues, “Our big ticket items remain accessible during construction, including the oldest harvester remaining, built by Holt, the old Stevens classic wooden boat and Willy the Jeep, commemorating Stockton High School students who held war bonds fund drives and raised money to supply 245 Jeeps for the World War II effort”. Tying in is a special exhibition, Call to Duty, featuring 70 historical World War I and II posters, through August 27.

While the Haggin’s art galleries are going through a Renaissance, the museum offers special pricing through fall; adults are just $5, students/17 or younger, free. If you’re looking for a hearty breakfast to start your day, consider Bob’s at the Marina, 6639 Embarcadero Drive.

Stevens classic wooden run-about is part of an exhibit that explains Stockton's long history of boat-building.

Stay cool and immerse your family in our city and county’s storied history with these two compelling destinations!

For more information: Haggin Museum, 1201 N. Pershing, Stockton, hagginmuseum.org, (209) 940-6300, open Saturday and Sunday, Noon-5 PM and Wednesday-Friday, 1:30-5:00 PM (open to 9 PM, 1st and 3rd Thursdays); San Joaquin Historical Museum, 11793 N. Micke Grove Road, Lodi, sanjoaquinhistory.org, (209) 953-3460, open Wednesday-Sunday, 10 AM to 4 PM.

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

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Folsom, California, family fun and gold rush history beside the cooling waters of the American River!

Author's grandkids and daughter pull their kayak into the Sacramento State Aquatic Center on Lake Natoma.

Family fun and gold rush history beside the cooling waters of the American River; it’s Folsom, CA!

The Sutter Street Historic District, looking east along old Sutter Street.

Recently, we sought a weekend destination to celebrate a daughter and a grandson’s overlapping birthdays. Our criteria took in the wish list of three grandkids, ages 6 to 17, two of their cousins, both our 40-something daughters and my wife and me.

Our checklist included:
• Kid’s activities to beat hot weather
• A walkable, compact destination
• Bicycling options
• Water sports and cooling waters
• Great food, both upscale and family style
• Historic points of interest (OK, that’s mine – not as high on the list of the others!).

Diners enjoy outdoor dining on the covered boardwalk outside the Sutter Street Grill, home to American favorites!

We settled on the lovely gold rush town, Folsom, on the American River and just 70 miles from San Joaquin county. We lived there in the late 1980s, and our kids had memories of the river as well as the old town.

We found much had changed. From a city of about 10,000, Folsom is now built-out with 76,000 residents and has lots of new housing surrounding the old town area. But it remains a quaint, historic city on the banks of the American River, offering scenery, history, water access, bicycling and plenty of kid’s activities.

Here are highlights of our recent visit:

Kid’s activities for hot summer days: The Sacramento State Aquatic Center, just off Hazel Avenue next to the Lake Natoma Dam offers a wonderful variety of water activities. Run by California State University students, the facility is a lovely complex offering shaded picnic areas, sunny beach, rentals of kayaks, small and larger sailboats, standup paddleboards (SUPs) and lessons if needed. Our grandkids delighted in paddling around Lake Natoma on one-person kayaks, larger kayaks and SUPs.

Swimmers and boaters enjoy Lake Natoma near Folsom.

The American River Bike Trail skirts the aquatic center, and circles Lake Natoma on both the north and south shores – both connecting to Folsom, just 3 miles away by bike. The bike trail also continues east to Folsom Lake, a much bigger water impoundment on the scenic American River. Hence, water activities, camping and fishing are available on one or both lakes. The city also offers 32 miles of additional biking trails, and along the American River Parkway and nearby Folsom Lake Recreational Area are miles more of hiking and mountain biking trails to offer lots of exploration options.

Folsom also offers the acclaimed Folsom City Zoo, the Folsom Aquatic Center with pools and water slide and ice-cream parlors sprinkled throughout the historic and enlarged town offer pleasant diversions.

Dining and Shopping: The historic center of old Folsom is the highlight for adults. The Sutter Street Historic District anchors the old city’s downtown; dating to the Gold Rush days it offers a six block-long stretch of historic buildings, shops and boutiques and a wealth of restaurants. From gourmet food to family style, you’ll find it on Sutter Street. Check out the Sutter Street Grill for American favorites, the Hop Sing Palace next-door for Chinese dishes, Snooks Chocolate Factory for killer chocolate concoctions and Pizzeria Classico for family dining.

The old Folsom Powerhouse was a cutting-edge power producer, operating from 1895 to the 1950s, and is now part of a state historic park on edge of old Folsom.

Gold Rush history: For those with an interest in history, you’ll discover Folsom dates to the 1840s, founded as Granite City by Joseph Libbey Folsom. Folsom succeeded in connecting a railroad to the city from Sacramento. The town became a jumping off point to the mines in the Sierra, just east, when Folsom dies in 1855, the city was renamed in his honor. Folsom was also the site of heavy dredge mining in the late 1800s; throughout the city, you’ll find massive piles of old cobblestones, evidence of the dredge mining on the American River flood-plane for elusive gold.

Worth a visit is the Folsom Powerhouse State Historic Park, on the eastern edge of downtown. The powerhouse opened in 1895 and was the first power plant west of the Mississippi. It used water from the American River to power turbines and send electrical power 22 miles into Sacramento – a distance unheard of at that time. The city also boasts the old railroad station, now a museum, with an old locomotive and round table, bordering the Sutter Street Historic District.

The old Folsom rail station is now a museum, just off Sutter Street.

More visitor options: the city boasts several performing arts groups, including New Star Children’s  Theatre, Sutter Street Theatre, Nicolson’s Musicafe and the Palladio Summer Concert Series (every Wednesday, 7 PM through August).

How to get there: From Stockton, go north on I-5 to Sacramento, then east on Hwy. 50 to Folsom; it’s about 70 miles and 1.25 hours.

For more information: Visit Folsom, visitfolsom.com, (916) 985-2698; Folsom Chamber of Commerce, folsomchamber.com, (916) 985-5555; Sacramento State Aquatic Center, sacstateaquaticcenter.com, (916) 278-2842; Folsom Powerhouse State Historic Park, parks.ca.gov, (916) 985-4843.

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

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Teardrop and larger classic travel trailers; class, comfort and a smart investment!

Our '58 Scotty Junior teardrop in front of the historic circular red barn on Oklahoma's memorable Rt. 66.

Classy, comfortable and a smart investment; teardrop and larger classic travel trailers…

Years ago, with kids in school, we would load them into a small car, pack our camping gear into a canoe, car-top the canoe and head off to Mount Rainier National Park or remote campgrounds on the Olympic Peninsula for a week or 10 days.

Classy '66 Scotty Sportsman, from our Scotty Michigan tour last year, almost identical to ours.

As we matured and the kids moved out, we added to our tent camping luxuries – meaning more gear piled into a car and more off-loading at the campground. As we approached our 60s, the idea of sleeping on the ground, and Susan’s concerns about bears, caused us to rethink our strategy.

We surveyed the market for small to midsize trailers; eventually finding on-line a tiny Kit Kamper teardrop trailer. Built from a kit about six years earlier, it was a cute little teardrop based on the original (popular in the 40s and 50s) teardrop platform using 4 x 8 sheets of plywood, yielding a trailer 4 feet wide, 4 feet tall and 8 feet long. Trailer is economical to tow, offering a comfortable sleeping compartment for two cozy adults and room in the rear hatch to load all your camping and cooking gear.

After five years with the teardrop, we decided to upsize, and sought a slightly larger ’64 Serro Scotty trailer, finding a classic for sale in Southern California. I purchased it, cheap, believing simple repairs would make it roadworthy.

Our '64 Scotty in the "total tear-down" mode, a year ago.

After getting it home, I found it needed much more extensive work, resulting in an ongoing frame-up rebuild. In the meantime, we purchased a second teardrop, a ’58 Serro Scotty reproduction, built by a West Virginia shop teacher in 2011.

Hence, after 10 years of trailer ownership, and 80% completed on the process of the rebuilding a classic, these observations on small and classic trailers are reality-tested.

Teardrop trailers: Light-weight, easy to tow (we get 26+ miles per gallon behind our four-cylinder car), stow in the garage or behind a fence and are easy to maneuver into the tiniest of campground spaces. They’re comfortable, allow rear hatch storage of all camping paraphernalia – making it easy to go at a moment’s notice. Downside (at only 4 feet tall), no standup room and not a lot of fun if you get caught on a rainy weekend. And, no inside cooking or bathroom facilities.

T@B trailers, available new for about $20K, used for less than half that.

Small trailers: Including tent trailers in a variety of formats, and some of the smallest hard-sided campers made today. They include the A-liner, T@B, Casita and other trailers – offering standup room, sleeping for four adults, inside cooking/eating facilities, and often a bathroom and/or shower. Downside: they’re more expensive, in the $15,000-20,000+ range (new), won’t fit in a garage and a larger vehicle six cylinder vehicle is required (resulting in reduced miles per gallon).

Classic mid-size trailers: classic trailers have become increasingly popular over the last 10 to 15 years, as classic rallies have proliferated across the West and the US. Classics allow, if purchased wisely, the owner to enjoy them for a number of years, and sell for about the same price they paid, or more, years later. The cool classics also make you the talk of most campgrounds, able to attend classic trailer rallies and allow you to bask in the glory of enjoying a recycled product! Downside, if not purchased wisely, can be extensive rebuilding expense and time investment.

A classic tow vehicle with a very classic, small Airstream Caravelle.

As example, I thought I was getting a deal on our small ‘64 Scotty Sportsman, at $900. However, after discovering it needed a total rebuild, we will probably invest $5,500 into the trailer rebuild – and untold hours over the last several years.

There are a number of resources if you’re looking at a trailer like these. They include craigslist and eBay for classic and used trailers, specific trailer-brand Facebook groups and trailer websites for virtually any manufactured trailer, as well as local dealers like Pan Pacific in Lathrop and Sacramento dealers.

Here’s a sampling of favorites:

Our ’58 Serro Scotty teardrop: Manufactured in 1958 and 59, this one a very accurate reproduction. We’ve three times crossed the US and made many trips in the western states and Canada with this little trailer.

Larger Serro Scotty trailers: Made in the ’60s to the ’80s; pictured, a friend’s 1966 Scotty Sportsman – almost identical to the one we are rebuilding.

A beautifully restored '57 Corvette; a true classic, better than new!

‘57 Corvette: Bob Hughes, of Camino, Ca, owns this 1957 Corvette trailer, purchased for $600 and a two-years labor-of-love rebuild. He extended the frame, rezinced the windows and put about $7000 into the rebuild, including a beautiful blue and white paint job. You never know the value of a classic until you sell it, but this wonderful rebuild is definitely worth more than double what Bob invested in it – and, he grabs all the attention in varied campgrounds!

Then there are new trailers I define as “classics”; classic design, small, cute. They include:

T@B trailers: Belonging to our friends in Sacramento, just purchased for a bit over $20,000, sleeps two adults. The T@Bs carry that retro, tear-drop look over to modern times with the slickest of new trailers.

Casita trailers, slick, fiberglass trailers with virtually all the amenities, sleeping up to four adults.

A slick Casita trailer; retro lines defined by new fiberglass construction.

A–liner trailers: A modern version of the tent trailer, with hard-sides for bear-proofing, sleeps four.

For more information: A variety of classic trailer web sites offer insights into buying or rebuilding, including Tin Can Tourists, tincantourists.com  and Serro Scotty trailers, nationalserroscotty.org. Pick a classic and find an owner’s group! To purchase, scan craigslist and eBay.

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

An A-liner "Mini" trailer, a hard-sided pop-up trailer.

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Humboldt Redwoods State Park; Avenue of the Giants!

Three visitors pose on a recently downed mid-sized redwood in Drury-Chaney Grove, located near the north side of this huge and majestic park.

Avenue of the Giants, with towering trees, are heart of Humboldt Redwoods State Park!

In past trips through Northern California, we had several times driven the old highway, aptly named Avenue of the Giants, through towering redwoods just three hours north of the Golden Gate Bridge. But until last week we had only stopped briefly, and never hiked or camped in Humboldt Redwoods State Park to truly admire these forest marvels. With old friends and their new T@B travel trailer, we joined them with our ‘58 Scotty teardrop camper for four days and three nights of delightful camping and touring.

Our Scotty teardrop trailer along the park's Avenue of the Giants parkway.

Located in Northern California, this lovely state park encompasses 53,000 acres, including 17,000 acres of old-growth redwood forest, much within easy walking or hiking distance along the 32 mile Avenue of the Giants parkway. The park owes its existence to the Save the Redwoods League, formed in the 1920s, and two donations of $1 million each by John D. Rockefeller in the late ‘20s, to purchase and set aside this wonderful treasure.

With over 100 miles of hiking and biking trails, 250 campsites and the Avenue of the Giants auto-tour, it’s a park with easy access to some of the largest trees and stunning vistas in the world. Most of the trails were broad and relatively flat, with good access even to those with disabilities.

Start with the Avenue of the Giants auto tour: at the start, or finish of the tour route, pick up a brochure that defines the eight noteworthy stops along the way. The tour, starting at the south end, begins just beyond Phillipsburg, and stops first at the F. K. Lane Grove, featuring the greatest accumulation of biomass (living and dead organic material) ever recorded in a coast redwood forest, the result of dense redwoods both growing and those toppled like ‘pick-up sticks’ by storms and lightning.

Sword ferns and redwood sorrel blanket the forest while redwoods tower 300' overhead!

Make a stop at the visitor center (just south of Weott), which explains that coast redwoods are taller than any living thing, reaching an age over 2000 years and able to withstand fires, floods and insects. Wander through the native garden area where you’ll see three species of redwoods planted for comparison, the Giant Sequoia, Coast Redwood and Dawn Redwood. Redwoods prosper due to both significant rainfall, 80 inches/year in this part of the state, and moist, foggy weather coming off the Pacific.

That heavy rainfall occasionally causes remarkable flooding. Along the Avenue of the Giants auto-tour, stop #4 highlights the town of Weott on the Eel River with evidence of the 1964 flood – a 35 foot-tall pole shows the high watermark of that frightening event. Dyersville, stop #6, once a stagecoach stop, crossroads town and shipping port, was completely destroyed by the flood of 1955.

Rockefeller Forest is directly west in the Bull Creek basin, along a bumpy Mattole Road. It’s the oldest coast redwood forest, preserved by Rockefeller with his donations almost 100 years ago. This forest is considered one of the finest in the world; a short walk takes you to Giant Tree, recognized in 1991 as the tallest in the world at 363 feet, with a circumference of 53.2 feet (it has since been beaten out by a slightly taller coast redwood in another part of the north state).

Big Tree, towering 363', is just a short hike into the Rockefeller Grove on the park's west side.

The Drury-Chaney Grove, stop #8 near the park’s north border, was our favorite, featuring a 2.5 mile loop trail through majestic, old growth redwoods and a forest floor carpeted in redwood sorrel and sword fern, making it look almost prehistoric. You’ll run the risk of developing a crick in your neck, gazing up at these giants, many over 300 feet tall.

We found Elbee Creek Campground six miles up Mattole Road (conveniently just a mile past the Rockefeller Grove), a lovely campground set amongst the huge redwoods. Additional campgrounds dot the Avenue of the Giants drive; the area also offers a number of private campgrounds and restaurants – a must stop is the Chimney Tree Grill with delicious food and inexpensive craft beers.

Several interesting tours are just beyond the park: Trek north to Scotia (about 15 miles north of the park on Highway 101), a factory town owned by Pacific Lumber, the county’s largest employer with 1600 employees. Admire the grand Hotel Scotia, and tour the museum flanked by a Pacific Lumber Company locomotive and two huge steam donkeys (oversized steam engines used in the forest for logging operations).

Friend Christine Lewis hugs Big Tree; it would take about 11 Christines to wrap the mighty tree's 55' circumference!

Another company mill town, Samoa, is about 35 miles north of the park, just off Hwy. 101 past Eureka.  Stop for a sumptuous lunch at the Samoa Cookhouse, which has been continuously serving meals, first to resident mill workers and loggers, then to the public, for over 124 years!  In addition to huge portions of delicious food served family style, the cookhouse has a full logging museum adjacent to the dining room. The history and meal are not to be missed!

The park is 260 miles from Stockton, roughly a 4.5 hour drive; take Hwy. 12 west from Lodi, then go north on Hwy. 101. Plan several days or longer to take in much of the majesty and diversity of this wonder of nature!

For more info: Humboldt Redwoods State Park, Humboldtredwoods.org, (707) 946-2409; for camping reservations in state parks, reserveamerica.com.

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

Samoa Cookhouse serves up hearty family-style meals in its 124 year-old dining room!

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6 more one-tank vacations close to Stockton and San Joaquin County

The General Sherman sequoia in Sequoia National Park always draws a crowd!

For six more one-tank vacations close to Stockton and San Joaquin County, you can’t go wrong with these!

Following last week’s recommendations, here are six other alluring summer destinations, all within about three hours or less from San Joaquin County, ranging from south to north.

Sequoia/Kings Canyon National Parks: These majestic parks share a common border, just east of Fresno, with access climbing quickly from the San Joaquin Valley to 7,000 feet in the Sierra, through endless stands of immense Sequoia groves and incredible views of the high Sierra, particularly in Kings Canyon!

The General Sherman sequoia is the show-stopper in Sequoia National Park, measuring 40 feet in diameter, 275 feet in height (the largest tree in the world)! The General Grant sequoia, nearly as large, is an anchor attraction in nearby Kings Canyon. With Moro Rock, the Auto-tree (drive your car through a huge, downed sequoia) and Kings Canyon (several thousand feet deeper than the Grand Canyon, surrounded by Sierra peaks ranging to Mt. Whitney’s 14,505 feet), plenty of campgrounds and classic lodges, your visit will be memorable.

Bear Gulch Reservoir offers a cool oasis in Pinnacles National Park.

Pinnacles National Park: Pinnacles, just 2.5 hours from Stockton, rising up from the Gabilan Mountains south of Hollister, CA, features the spectacular remains of an ancient volcano – a volcano located 160 miles south near Los Angeles! Pinnacles lies on the San Andreas Fault and is moving a few inches north each year, distancing itself from its mother volcano!

A landscape of rugged spines, deep canyons, eerie talus caves, verdant foliage and rushing streams hosts robust wildlife, from deer, wild turkeys, bob cats and feral hogs, to the majestic California Condor with wingspans up to seven feet.  Plan for moderate hikes to Bear Creek Reservoir or more serious hiking to the High Peaks; stay overnight in Hollister, or camp in Pinnacles Campground, the park’s only campground, with store, visitor center and showers.

Rose Hill Cemetery is home to 230 miners and family members in Black Diamond Mines Regional Preserve.

East Bay Parks like Black Diamond Mines Regional Preserve: From the 1850s to early 1900s, the largest coal mining area in California was the Black Diamond Mines District northeast of Mount Diablo. Almost 4 million tons of coal (“black diamonds”) were the product of over 900 miners, many of them immigrants from Wales. These black diamonds fueled power plant boilers, Delta steamships, railroad locomotives and warmed houses in winter.

It’s a beautiful regional park, only 45 miles and an hour from Stockton. Loads of historical perspective await; beside the preserve’s parking lot are the remnants of the Independent Mine shaft, once a 700 foot shaft where a boiler explosion in 1873 killed two men and scattered boiler parts more than a quarter mile. High in the hills is the lovely Rose Hill Cemetery, with burial plots of 230 miners and family members. Embrace the history, and make a longer outing by driving south to Mt. Diablo State Park and hike the summit on a clear day.

The historic Ferry Building on San Francisco's lively Embarcadero.

Oakland’s Jack London Square and San Francisco Embarcadero (by ferry): To beat the high cost and crowds of a Bay Area visit – start in the Jack London Square waterfront of Oakland and take the ferry across to the Ferry Building on the San Francisco Embarcadero.

Take your bikes or walking shoes and upon arrival you can bike (or walk) miles along the waterfront in either direction. Stop to explore the massive Ferry Building, recently renovated and full of restaurants, bakeries and shops, then hop the waterfront trollies to Pier 39, Fisherman’s Wharf and other San Francisco favorites. If you want to spend an overnight, lodging in both Berkeley and Oakland are far less expensive than San Francisco.

If you love the Napa Valley but don’t want to fight the crowds, vacation nearby in the Sonoma Valley. With more than 425 wineries, miles of rugged Pacific coastline, towering redwood forests and close proximity to San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge, Sonoma County is a wonderful vacation spot. You’ll find farm-to-fork dining, unique resorts and camp grounds, dozens of parks and fine wines. Highway 1 tracks the Sonoma coast, with rugged surf, sea lions, otters and all manner of outdoor adventure.

The Northern California coast, from Bodega Bay north beyond Mendocino is both easy to reach (about three hours) and presents some of the most stunning coast in the United States. Our first destination is usually Bodega Bay (the town is different than nearby Bodega, home to the old school where the 1963 Hitchcock classic ‘The Birds’ was filmed).

The Point Arena Lighthouse is a photographer's dream on the N. California coast!

Further north of Bodega Bay is the charming town of Jenner (River’s End Restaurant a favorite), Ft. Ross (the old Russian outpost from the early 1800′s) and Sea Ranch (stop at the Sea Ranch Lodge for breakfast or lunch).  Further north are Gualala, Point Arena (check out the Point Arena lighthouse, for memorable coastal views), and Mendocino.  Great campgrounds line the coast, offering extended visits. So, explore your lovely state, particularly northern California!

For more info: Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks, nps.gov/seki; Pinnacles National Park, nps.gov/pinn; Black Diamond Mines, ebparks.org/parks; Jack London Square/Oakland, jacklondonsquare.com; Sonoma County, sonomacounty.com; North California coast, northcoastca.com; For camping in national parks and forest service campgrounds, recreation.gov.

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

Posted in Central California, Northern California, San Francisco Bay Area, Sierra Nevada, Stockton/San Joaquin County | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

12 weekends of Summer; a dozen one-tank vacations nearby (Part 1 of 2)!

Lake Helen, still frozen in July, with Mt. Lassen in background.

Get ready, get set:  with 12 weekends of Summer, a dozen one-tank vacations nearby!

Summer is a week old; have you planned your weekends and vacation(s)?  If not, here are a dozen suggestions for the remaining summer weeks/weekends (six this week, six more next, starting a few hours north of Stockton and moving clockwise to the south and east). They all make for “one-tank getaways”, all as close as one to three hours. Check them off your bucket list!

Lassen Volcanic National Park: Lassen is arguably the most impressive park of volcanic and thermal features in the country (though, Yellowstone might debate that point). With mud pots, fumaroles and a volcano that exploded just 101 years ago, hurling huge boulders for miles, it will thrill youngsters to seniors alike!  Lodging is available in nearby towns like Chester, and the park offers several beautiful campgrounds. With Mt. Shasta just north, extend your stay and visit that huge peak, Burney Falls and surrounding quaint towns for a week of adventure. Best of all, at higher elevations, it’s cool during the summer and only 3.5 hours from Stockton. For both Lassen and Yosemite, check CalTrans road reports for they are still working to open stretches of Hwy. 89 and Hwy. 120 for access into these parks.

Redding's 13 year-old Sun Dial Bridge leads to walking and biking vistas along the Sacramento River.

Redding’s Sun Dial Bridge and the Sacramento River Trail: Since the opening of the iconic bridge 13 years ago, this “Gateway to Shasta” town has added world-class visitor amenities with the bridge, Turtle Bay Exploration Park and Sacramento River Trail for bicycling and walking. With the languid Sacramento River, it now draws thousands of visitors each month. A side benefit is that so many other nearby attractions are just an hour or so away, including Sierra and Cascade  mountain range scenery, Shasta Dam and Lake, Mt. Shasta, Lassen Park and the Trinity Alps Wilderness.  Toss in Gold Rush history and you have a destination worth a several day or week-long visit, just three hours north of Stockton.

Old Sacramento: Old Sacramento preserves the city much as it was in the 1850s and 60s; the world’s seaport to the gold mines, birthplace of the Pony Express, anchor of the Transcontinental Telegraph and the western terminus of the Transcontinental Railroad.

It’s pedestrian and bicycle-friendly, with blocks of shady boardwalks for strolling (you might run into period-dressed docents taking a leisurely walk!) and several miles of quiet old-time streets for bicycling.  The Jedidiah Smith Recreational Trail connects to Old Sacramento right beside the Sacramento History Museum – from there one can ride north to the American River and continue cycling all the way to Folsom!

Western Pacific locomotive 913 is one of the huge attractions at the CA Railroad Museum in Old Sacramento.

Old Sac’s many museums offer world-class attractions.  The California Railroad Museum is recognized as one of America’s top railway museums with weekend rail excursions in open air cars along the Sacramento River, pulled by old Southern Pacific locomotive 6051.  The Sacramento History Museum, housed in the beautiful 1854-constructed former City Hall, offers a wealth of insight as to how quickly Sacramento grew during the Gold Rush. Within a few blocks are the Delta King Riverboat (built in Stockton in 1927), the Huntington & Hopkins Hardware, the Old Sacramento Schoolhouse Museum and the Wells Fargo History Museum. Just south is the California Auto Museum with a stunning variety of classic and novelty autos, dating back more than a century, 2200 Front Street.

Sutter's Mill replica at the site of California's 1848 gold discovery in Marshall Gold Discovery State Historical Park, Coloma.

The Gold Rush Trail along Hwy. 49: Start at the site of California’s gold discovery in 1848, Coloma’s Marshall Gold Discovery State Park; Mother Lode Gold Rush sites march south down Hwy. 49 including Placerville, Plymouth, Sutter Creek, Columbia and Sonora. If you’re an old train buff, finish your tour in Jamestown’s Railtown 1897 Historic Park (the “movie railroad”, with their old locomotives appearing in scores of movies and TV shows).

Laurnn Mackenzie and dog Booker out for an evening SUP at Pinecrest Lake off Hwy. 108.

The Central Sierra, due east of San Joaquin County: The magical Central Sierra offers so much to see and do. Pick Hwy. 88, 4 or 108, and head east up into the cool, summer Sierra.  Camping, motel or lodge accommodations can lead to several days, or a week of scenic vacation fun. Hiking, biking and fishing at attractions like Silver Lake, Lake Alpine and the Arnold Rim Trail, or Pinecrest, all within two  hours of the valley, make for memorable family vacations (in recent weeks, I have profiled destinations/attractions along both Hwy. 4 and Hwy. 108, see my blog for detail).

May Lake, a short hike off Hwy. 120 on way up to the Tuolumne Meadows area in Yosemite.

Yosemite’s Tuolumne Meadows and Hetch Hetchy Valley: During summer’s high traffic, avoid the Yosemite Valley and head for the Tuolumne Meadows area. Nearby, luxuriate in the majesty of Tenaya Lake and Canyon. Said John Muir in his 1918 work Sleep Trails, “A grand old mountain mansion is this Tenaya region! … Clouds Rest (9926′) is 1000 feet higher than Tissiack”. Book a few nights in Tuolumne Meadows Campground, at 8600 feet nestled in a marvelously scenic granite valley. And take Evergreen Road off Hwy. 120 to visit O’Shaughnessy Dam and Hetch Hetchy Valley, which Muir compared in grandeur to Yosemite Valley before it was dammed for San Francisco water.

For more information: Redding, visitredding.com, (800) 874-7562; Lassen Volcanic National Park,  nps/gov/lavo, (530) 595-6100; Old Sacramento, info@oldsacramento.com, (916) 442-8575; Coloma’s Marshall Gold Discovery State Park, parks.ca.gov/?page_id=484, : (530) 622-3470; Yosemite Park, nps.gov/yose, (209) 372-0200.

I’ll bring you the final six suggestions next week! Read more from Tim Viall’s travel blog, follow him on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter; or, email him at tviall@msn.com. Happy travels in your world!

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

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

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

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

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

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

Where to: gather your hopes and dreams, and, prioritize. For inspiration and how to map your trip, see this article on touring the top sites in the lower 48 states: randalolson.com/2015/03/08/computing-the-optimal-road-trip-across-the-u-s/

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For more information: Our national parks, nps.gov; the Federal senior pass, store.usgs.gov/pass/senior.html; for Federal campgrounds, reserveamerica.com.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For more information: Bear Valley Resort, bearvalley.com, (209) 753-2301; Calaveras Big Trees Park, parks.ca.gov/?page_id=1146, (209) 795-2334; Lake Alpine Resort, lakealpineresort.com, (209) 753-6350; Visit Calaveras, gocalaveras.com, (800) 225-3764.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read more from Tim Viall’s travel blog, follow him on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter; or, email him at 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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