Road trip: in search of California’s covered bridges

Road trip: searching for some of California’s historic covered bridges

As an 11 or 12-year-old, I remember my dad saying, on weekend drives, “let’s see where this road takes us”. Off we would go in a 1950’s stationwagon down an unknown country road to reveal its intrigue. And, one of my early memories of his discoveries was the historic covered bridge about three miles east of our house, in Bath, Ohio. Early bridges were built entirely out of wood, so more substantial bridges were enclosed and roofed, to weather the elements and last for decades.

I have continued that back roads legacy all of our married lives, occasionally irritating my spouse on these exploratory sojourns. But, we’ve discovered some wonderful treasures by doing that, including the longest historic covered bridge in the US, the Medora covered bridge, circa 1875, 461 feet long near Medora, IN, and just a few miles off US Highway 50.

The Medora Covered Bridge, near Medora, Indiana, is longest historic covered bridge in the US, at over 460 feet, dating to 1875.

Talking recently with my brother, Ned, we reminisced about the old covered bridge near our house in Ohio. That got me thinking of California’s Knights Ferry covered bridge, which I hadn’t been to in years, and wondering about other covered bridges in California. As I would discover, historic covered bridges come with interesting history, are usually close to an old town of consequence and spectacular scenery.

The Knights Ferry Covered Bridge, circa 1864, at 330 feet longest in California.

Hence, what better reason for a couple of road trips? On two separate day trips, off we went. First, to the Knights Ferry covered bridge, touring down the gold Rush Highway, State Highway 49 and then following south along the Stanislaus River to Knights Ferry. The town itself sprang up when gold was discovered; in 1849, Dr. William Knight (a member of the 1844 Fremont party) returned to a favorable river crossing, establishing a ferry there. Within a few years, a toll bridge was built, but washed away in the huge flood of 1862. The new bridge took its place in 1864, higher and more stout, the longest covered bridge in the state at 333 feet. Now part of a lovely state park, it’s perfect for exploring and swimming on summer or early fall days.

The Knights Ferry interior is open only to foot traffic today.

Adjacent to the bridge is the old Mill House, circa 1854, and the Tulloch Mill, a gristmill built after the big flood and converted to a hydroelectric plant in the late 1800s. The town grew to include several taverns, several hotels (one of which still stands dating to 1856), the International Order of Odd Fellows (IOOF) two-story hall, circa 1870, still in use today for community dinners and events.

The Mill House, circa 1854, at Knights Ferry, CA.

A few days later, after searching on-line for “covered bridges in California“ and finding a list of about 50 in California (both historic and more recently built), we headed north to the quaint gold rush town of Nevada City to find two nearby covered bridges. On the way to the first, the Bridgeport covered bridge, we passed by the Nevada County Museum.

Even though closed, the museum grounds were covered with old mining machinery and paraphernalia, indicating the huge impact that the gold rush had on this part of California. Imagine a cast iron waterwheel, standing 14 feet tall and weighing 26,000 pounds, or a “portable stamp mill”, 12 feet tall and weighing several tons, for crushing granite ore to free up the gold – both available to see, touch and “ooh and ahh” over.

The Nevada County Historical Society features lots of
gold mining machinery and mining goods.

When we arrived at the Bridgeport covered bridge, stretching across the South Yuba River at what was formerly Nye’s Crossing (another early ferry), we found its roof and siding removed, with the exoskeleton undergoing repair by the state of California. This bridge, connecting the two towns of Penn Valley and North San Juan, provided for an active trade route in the gold rush boom days. In its current state of exposure, the timber trusses and arch span are impressive, particularly realizing they were built in 1862, early in the Civil War days.

Bridgeport’s exoskeleton is exposed due to renovation of the 1862 covered bridge.

We then proceeded about 15 miles northeast, to the Freeman’s Crossing covered bridge over Oregon Creek on a very quiet road, an ideal place for picture taking and staging a few classic car pictures with the bridge as backdrop. The bridge dates to 1860 and, but for the original huge support timbers inside the bridge, is mostly new lumber due to recent reconstruction.

Freeman’s Crossing Covered Bridge over Oregon Creek lies about 15 miles north of the historic mining town of Nevada City.

We made our way to Nevada City, established in 1849 and soon becoming the most important mining town in the state, with Nevada County being the leading gold-mining county by the early 1850s. Today, it’s one of the more memorable of northern Gold Rush cities with buildings dating to the 1850s, quaint shops, nifty restaurants and (after asking several locals for a pub recommendation), the Three Forks Pub. Not only did the pub offer a number of tasty craft-made beers, but the place featured some of the best handmade pizza we’ve had in years.

Nevada City’s Main Street (checkout the Three Forks Brew Pub!).

Fun road trips, and, another dozen historic covered bridges in California to seek out. After that, what? One idea, tracking down some of the almost 10,000 historic IOOF halls sprinkled throughout the US!

For more info: California covered bridges, dalejtravis.com/cblist/cbca.htm; Knights Ferry, knightsferry.com; Nevada City, nevadacityca.gov.

Contact Tim at tviall@msn.com or follow him at recordnet.com/travelblog. Happy travels in the west!

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New York City; The ultimate people watching trip

Visit New York City; the city never sleeps, providing the ultimate people watching trip

We had not been to New York City for several years; armed  with air miles and Marriott points we booked a laid-back one week vacation for our wedding anniversary. Planning the ultimate people watching trip, we decided to focus on Times Square, the south end of Manhattan/Battery Park and the Staten Island Ferry, the 911 Memorial, High Line park, Brooklyn Heights Promenade, Central Park, Little Italy and splurge on a couple of luxury evenings. Those included the performance of Madame Butterfly by the Metropolitan Opera and the Broadway show Tootsie, along with several fancy dinners out.

First things first: fly into Kennedy Airport, buy the five dollar Air Train ticket to reach the Jamaica Station of the New York subway and buy a week-long subway pass. No need for a rental car; the subway will get you anywhere in the city within about four blocks. Subway stations are a treat by themselves, full of New Yorkers from all walks of life, talented street performers and a few decidedly-eccentric people. One of our early experiences included a subway singer with a good Frank Sinatra-type voice, who crooned a tune and then proceeded to cuss out nearby passersby for not giving him a donation. Seldom a  dull moment.

Spouse Susan, on New York Subway, heading home from dinner in Little Italy.
New York City Subway map; with a bit of practice, you can find a subway line that will take you anywhere in Manhattan or Brooklyn, within about 4-5 blocks.

On our first full day, we took the subway in the direction of the financial district and the 911 Memorial, found a nifty place for lunch, Nancy’s Whiskey Pub (neighborhood pubs with good food are found On almost every block), then walked to the 9-11 Memorial. As it has been on previous visits, always a sobering and heartfelt experience.

The 9-11 Memorial, at base of the North Tower.

We then walked south to the Battery, one of the four original forts surrounding Manhattan Island for security from invasion, and then took the Staten Island Ferry (it’s free) across to Staten Island, spent a little time and returned on the same craft. The views of the Statue of Liberty, adjacent Ellis Island and Freedom Tower are spectacular, making for great photo ops, as well as interesting people watching on the boat itself.

The Statue of Liberty, with a passing Staten Island Ferry,
shot from deck of another Staten Island Ferry (free rides)

We spent the next day shopping in the Times Square area, with towering bright lights and always packed with people from early morning right up to 11 o’clock at night. We checked out the TKTS ticket booth just before 3 o’clock, where many Broadway shows go on sale for that night, at 30 to 50% off. We would come back a few days later and buy tickets to Tootsie, a delightful show.

Susan, in Times Square, about to check the TKTS booth for discounts on that night’s Broadway shows.

In our seven days we dined at a number of restaurants, but the one you arguably shouldn’t miss is Carmines on 44th Street near Times Square, a boisterous, large Italian stalwart where the orders are huge – our plate of linguine and clams would feed four people. We took about 2/3 of the food with us to our hotel suite for lunch later in the week.

Another day we took an early afternoon subway over to Brooklyn and walked about five blocks to near the Brooklyn Bridge, then south to the Brooklyn Heights Promenade. This elevated, 10 block-long Park looks west across the East River for stunning views of the Manhattan skyline. We dined at a nice restaurant on Montague Street, the Custom House, then walked back to the Promenade after dark and reveled in an absolutely spectacular night view of Manhattan. A 9 PM ride on the subway was packed with both tourists and workers returning from their jobs.

Manhattan skyline, taken from Brooklyn Heights Promenade.

Central Park was on our destinations list, and we spent a half-day wandering through the woodsy trails, rock climbers climbing on the crags, enjoying street musicians, admiring horse drawn carriages, boaters enjoying The Lake, then headed west and walked a mile south along Columbus Avenue, lined with shops and eateries, where we dined in Guyer’s, a most interesting neighborhood bar, complete with a talkative Russian bartender doing her hair with a curling iron between pouring drinks.

Because it was our wedding anniversary, we splurged on tickets to Madam Butterfly staged by the Metropolitan Opera at Lincoln Center. It was a stunning production, full of pomp and majesty, though opera glasses would have improved our view from this huge, 4100 seat theater. Prior to the production, we dined at the Atlantic Grill, an intimate and impressive restaurant just a few blocks away from the opera.

Lincoln Center fountain, outside the showing of Madam Butterfly by the Metropolitan Opera.

Our week included several other adventures, including a morning hike along the High Line Trail, a marvelous city park converted from an elevated freight-train line, running from the Meatpacking District 1.5 miles north to Hudson Yards. Here the new art installation, The Vessel, draws huge crowds to admire its multi-tiered structure, and (for those who get a free online ticket), the chance to climb it’s hundreds of cantilevered steps for one of the best views on the west side. Alas, we had not ordered tickets in advance and they were sold out for the day.

Other options included a walking tour to the New York Public Library at 42nd St., with marvelous ceiling frescoes in its stately halls, nearby Grand Central Station and it’s cavernous food court complete with Oyster Bar and nearby Bryant Park where people congregate (the carousel will delight children). Or, do a subway ride/walking tour of the Brooklyn Bridge, then head north to the United Nations building along the East River. And with a host of sports teams, including baseball, basketball, hockey, soccer and football, never a dull moment!

The carousel in Bryant Park is a favorite for kids!
Crowd on the High Line Trail.

For more info: New York City, nycgo.com.

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

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California coastal road-trippin’ offers fall delights

Big Sur or North California coastal road-trippin’ offers fall delights

Fall road-tripping along the California coast; weather is often beautiful, summer crowds are gone, the ocean, rugged coast and adventure beckons. Here are two suggested road-trips, one south, one north of San Joaquin County. Each includes a one-way drive of three-plus hours, so, best to plan an over-night trip in a choice of several stunning locations.

The Big Sur coast, three hours southwest of Stockton, has long been a favorite of both explorers and romantics. This section of the rugged California coast offers secluded getaways, rocky coastline around every corner, photogenic historic bridges, lovely resorts, marvelous restaurants and spectacular campgrounds.

Bixby Bridge, circa 1932, on the Big Sur coast.

The Spanish called it “El Sur Grande”, the Big South, for the vast reach of rugged and treacherous coastline. Mexico offered land grants in the early 1800s, but settlers in numbers would not arrive until just 85 years ago. Highway 1 was completed in 1937, only then opening the coast to growing tourist visitation. We recently toured south of Monterey and Carmel, passing several spectacular state parks (with a Mediterranean climate – camping is possible and often sunny this time of year).

Special campgrounds are found here; Andrew Molera State Park is just 20 miles south of Carmel; 4800 acres with a variety of exploring opportunities from beaches to the Big Sur River, as well as Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park and Lime Kiln State Park. Kirk Creek Campground is a bit further south, a US Forest Service gem perched on the bluff overlooking the Pacific – first come, first served.

Elephant seas crowding the beach, just a few miles north of San Simeon.

Ragged Point Inn on a bluff high above the ocean is a favorite overnight and dining retreat, with ocean views spreading in several directions.  Offering motel, cabins and restaurant surrounded by gorgeous gardens, grandeur and solitude is a feature. Another favorite restaurant is the Big Sur Roadhouse, open just a few years and getting rave reviews for breakfasts or lunch, a bit less expensive than some of their competitors.

Ragged Point Resort on the Big Sur coast.

Journey just north and see elephant seals at Ano Neuvo State Park (reservations for Ranger-led tours required) and at the six-mile long Piedras Blancas rookery, just north of San Simeon, with parking right off Highway 1, a short walk and no reservations required to view these massive animals. San Simeon’s Hearst Castle is certainly worth the tour, if you have not been to this great palace in the coastal mountain range.

Bodega Bay north to Mendocino offers spectacular highlights of the north California coast.From Stockton, it’s both easy to reach (about three hours) and offers some of the most stunning waterfront in the United States! Fall weather makes it a go-to destination, for either a long day trip, or better, several days.

Granddaughter Jessica, spouse Susan in front of Bodega’s old church,
site of filming of the classic movie, ‘The Birds’ in 1963.

This portion of California offers impressive vistas, spectacular food, access to numerous Sonoma vineyards, wonderful places to stop for the night and great camping options.  Make Bodega your first destination (the town is different than Bodega Bay), just off Highway  116, site of the old school where part of the 1963 Hitchcock movie classic ‘The Birds’ was filmed.

Just six miles beyond is Bodega Bay, on the water, offering additional ‘Birds’ movie locations and home to a variety of fine restaurants, motels and several nearby beautiful campgrounds. Stop at the Tides Restaurant for delicious breakfasts or lunches, and check out a myriad of state parks for tenting or trailering options. A favorite, Wright’s Beach State Park, between Bodega Bay and Jenner, is right on the ocean!

Scenic California coast, just north of Jenner.

Heading north on Highway 1, cross the languid Russian River to reach the town of Jenner, where the Russian spills into the Pacific. Stop at River’s End Restaurant for great food and stunning views; looking down from their deck above the river, a cadre of harbor seals usually is visible sunning themselves on a sandy spit near river’s end (the restaurant offers a telescope for a closer view).

Just north is Ft. Ross, the old Russian outpost from the early 1800’s and worthy of a stop for an early history lesson, then pass through a host of cute coastal towns like Sea Ranch (the Sea Ranch Lodge offers lodging and meals), Gualala (St. Orres, a unique restaurant built in Russian style, featuring American dishes and seafood, and Gualala County Regional Park just south of town, with secluded campsites) and Point Arena (check out the Point Arena lighthouse, for stunning coastal views).

Point Arena Lighthouse on the California coast.

Further north, one passes through Manchester, Elk, Albion, then Mendocino. Mendocino is the quintessential California coastal town, with trendy shops and several restaurants – but don’t miss Mendocino Headwaters State Park, just west of town for superb ocean views and rocky bluffs. If you are camping, Van Damme State Park is just south of the city, with secluded campsites in deep riparian forest, and Ocean Beach just steps away, including kayak rentals!  Ft. Bragg is just north, if you have time to extend your journey on the gorgeous California coast!

Ocean Cove, site of a private campground north of Jenner, one of our favorite places – particularly if you can snag a campsite right above the ocean!

For more information: Big Sur coast, bigsurcalifornia.org; Camping, recreation.gov; Sonoma Coast, sonomacounty.com.

Contact Tim at tviall@msn.com or follow him at recordnet.com/travelblog. Happy travels in the west!

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San Francisco’s undiscovered gems, on the cheap

San Francisco’s undiscovered gems, on the cheap (best breakfasts, crookedist street, wave organ, and much more)

San Francisco, that grand city by the Bay, is not known as an inexpensive destination. With hotels and motels going for $300/night and up, parking almost non-existent and pricey restaurants on almost every corner – the question comes, can you still enjoy it, on the cheap?

Answer, is, yes, you can. There are plenty of both free and low-cost options for families to enjoy this world-class City.

Let’s consider, first, how you arrive and get around. The city is a great place to enjoy, on foot, by bicycle or by using public transportation. It even begs the question do you need to take your car into the city? One option is to park in the parking deck at Jack London Square in Oakland, and ride the ferry across the bay to the grand Ferry Building on the Embarcadero at the foot of Market Street.

San Francisco ferry boats coming, going to the Ferry Building.

The Ferry Building is home to a variety of interesting shops, restaurants and the constant commotion that comes with ferry boats, trolleys, peddle cabs and taxis coming and going. To cruise the Embarcadero, either north to Pier 39 and Fisherman‘s Wharf, or south to AT&T Park or the new Chase Center, use the historic trolleys to navigate the Embarcadero.

The historic San Francisco Ferry Building, home to shops, restaurants and the city’s major ferry terminal. Photo take from the Embarcadero, looking north.

Or, walk the Embarcadero, headed south (you’ll pass grand public art pieces and Fireboat #1) towards AT&T ballpark, and another mile south, the new Chase Center, home to the Golden State Warriors basketball team. Just beyond the new arena, our favorite restaurant, The Ramp, occupies a spot between a large boat yard full of yachts, and a commercial shipyard with two huge drydocks (an old cruiseship lying in one of them).

The new Chase Center arena, home to the Golden State Warriors.

Or, follow the Embarcadero north, passing the waterfront Exploratoreum (offering delightful discoveries for young and old), to Pier 39, Fisherman‘s Wharf, Fort Mason, the Marina District, Crissy Field (an early World War I airfield, complete with museum explaining its history) and all the way out to the Golden Gate bridge.

Next to Fisherman’s Wharf is Pier 45, where the USS Pampanito, a World War II submarine, and the SS Jeremiah O’Brian, last of over 5,000 liberty ships, both lie at anchor. Again, to walk along the pier and see these huge World War II era ships is free, though a fee is charged to tour the individual ships. Next door, the Franciscan Restaurant is always a favorite, with a great view looking out towards Alcatraz and the Bay, lively with ship traffic passing by.

USS Pamponito, World War II submarine (in foreground) with Liberty Ship Jeremiah O’Brien, both tied up on Pier 41 next to Fisherman’s Wharf area.

On the West End of Fisherman’s Wharf, spend some time on the Hyde Street Pier, lined with a variety of historic sailing and motor ships like the huge Balclutha. Walking the length of the pier is free, though a number of the ships require an admission fee.

The historic Balclutha, at Hyde Street Pier.

In the Marina District, find the Wave Organ, at the eastern end of Yacht Road, on a peninsula that includes the St. Francis and Golden Gate Yacht Clubs. Here, wave action plays an interesting melody on the world-acclaimed Wave Organ.

Fort Point, the old Civil War-era fort, anchors the south end of the Golden Gate bridge; it’s worth the time to tour the old fort (built in the same style as Fort Sumter, and designed to protect the bay from foreign invasion) and watch surfers navigate short but stout waves underneath the bridge.

Fort Point, the historic Civil War-era fort, lies directly under the south end of the Golden Gate Bridge. Part of the National Park Service, it’s free to enter!

If you’re looking for a healthy hike, tackle the Filbert Street steps, going down from Coit Tower (with a return on the Greenwich Street steps, a block to the north). Coit Tower itself is a fine destination with one of the city’s best views from the top – the steps make it even more interesting.

To prove your San Francisco roots, when you get near lovely Lombard Street, purportedly “the crookedest street in the world”, you can mention to casual visitors that just a few miles to the southeast, on Potrero Hill, is truly the crookedest street in the world, Vermont Street, which has more curves and is much less traveled than Lombard Street (check it out for yourself).
For a lovely no-cost destination, stop at the San Francisco Art Institute, 800 Chestnut Street – a favorite building in the city, open even at 10:00 at night, full of art like a museum, and, free.

The Vermont Street “crookedest street in the world”, on Potrero Hill.

A favorite breakfast place, in addition to The Ramp, is Boogaloo’s, on the corner of Valencia and 22nd Street. If you go on the weekend, you have to be there at eight sharp, when it opens; during the week, you have a little more slack.

Take the time to tour a portion of Golden Gate Park, featuring a small herd of bison, lovely grounds and walking trails and old Kesar Stadium, once the original home to the 49ers. Literally across the street is our favorite stately hotel, the Stanyan Park Hotel, reconditioned a few years ago and worth the price to spend the night.

From Golden Gate Park, walk the blocks of Haight Street, bustling with people, eclectic shops and food from around the world. It features several huge record stores selling, yes, vinyl records, eight track tapes, CDs and much more.

Haight Street, lined with eclectic shops and restaurants featuring fare from around the world, is also home to dramatic old facades like that of the Wasteland.

Take the time to explore San Francisco’s lovely free or low-cost attractions! For more info, sftravel.com.

Write Tim at tviall@msn.com; or follow him at blogs.esanjoaquin.com/valleytravel/. Happy travels in your world!

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Road tripping: fall foliage, wine-tasting and Sierra scenery

Road tripping: fall foliage, wine-tasting and Sierra scenery with a side of history.

Here’s a day-long road trip just outside of San Joaquin County for fall foliage viewing, several wine-tasting options, spectacular Sierra scenery and several segues into history. As to planning, if you really want to get serious about fall foliage exploration, consult one of several foliage change predictor maps, like smokymountain.com/fall-foliage-map/ to help plan best timing.

This road trip, if followed all the way to Hope Valley, is about 250 miles round-trip, so leave early, and check weather forecasts in case snow is predicted at high Sierra elevations.

Carson River, fall foliage in the Hope Valley area, just off Hwy. 88, in mid-October.

Start by heading northeast out of Stockton on California Highway 88, winding into the Sierra foothills. When you hit Highway 49 go left and then take the turn into a favorite Gold Rush city, Sutter Creek. Along its 10 block Main Street, venerable buildings dating back to the 1860s line the streets, interspersed with about 10 winetasting rooms.

The old Hotel Sutter (oldest continuously operated hotel in the state) offers both lodging and good food (as do nearby Cavana’s Pub and Grub and Gold Dust Pizza), and where a several block side trip on Eureka Street will take you to Knight Foundry, established in 1873 and the last water-powered foundry in California. Today, it is usually open weekends and staffed with docents to show how early mining equipment, water wheels and huge valves were cast.

The Knight Foundry in Sutter Creek is open most weekends for tours.

After a stop in Sutter Creek, follow the old Highway 49 north to Amador City, home to a variety of mines which made many instant millionaires during the Gold Rush (here, Andrae’s Bakery and the Imperial Hotel are noteworthy stops) and then follow 49 northeast to Plymouth. This town has a small historic district, and is anchored by the regionally renowned Taste restaurant, one of the finest eateries in the region (reservations a good idea).

From Plymouth, Shenandoah Road leads into the Shenandoah Valley, with 40-some wineries dotted through this scenic California valley. Favorite stops include Sobon Estate Vineyards in Plymouth (longest running winery in the area and their Shenandoah Valley Museum, with displays of historic winemaking equipment and techniques), and, in the valley, Karmere, Helwig and Shenandoah Vineyards. Young adults will enjoy a stop at Amador Flower Farm, 22001 Shenandoah School Rd., Plymouth, for both the corn maze for older kids and the hay-bale maze for younger children.

Fountain, Bella Piatza, in Shenandoah Valley.

Shenandoah Road continues through the valley, heading higher into the Sierra foothills. Just beyond River Pines the road becomes Mount Aukum Road; watch for Omo Ranch Road, and turn right/east on a meandering, scenic tour, eventually reconnecting with Highway 88. Throughout the journey, keep your eyes peeled for wild turkeys, deer and leaves changing color.

Cooler weather and elevation change generally influence the landscape; watch for aspens, cottonwoods, dogwood and other trees and shrubs yielding muted to bright yellow, oranges and reds. Caution: poison oak changes from green to bright red and can look beautiful climbing up tree trunks – avoid contact!

Heading for the high Sierra on Highway 88, both Cooks Station and Hams Station offer good food in their old roadhouse settings, and as you climb closer to the 8,000 foot elevation, look for the turn off to Mormon Emigrant Trail. This trail was one of the primary routes down out of the Sierra for settlers headed to California back in the 1850s and 60s (it’s now a nicely paved shortcut over to Pollock Pines on Highway 50).

Changing colors near the Carson Pass area of Hwy. 88.

Just off the intersection is what remains of the old Iron Mountain Ski Resort. A several block walk north from the intersection will take you to the top of the ski area, where you’ll find all of its buildings but one burned to the ground, with three of the abandoned ski lifts still offering mute testimony to the once busy, midsized Sierra resort (it last operated in 1994).

Back on highway 88, you’ll soon reach your first pass (with a lovely overlook into the granite Sierra to the north and drop down into the Kirkwood area, where the Kirkwood Inn, typically open Fridays to Sundays this time of year, offers great food from an old stage coach stop and log-cabin building. Head further up 88, past scenic Caples Lake, crest Carson Pass and shortly thereafter descend into the Hope Valley where some of central California‘s best scenery, fishing and fall foliage viewing Is found. Here Sorenson’s Resort is a favorite stop-over, for either meals or overnight lodging.

The Kirkwood Inn, open weekends, is a dependable lunch stop on Hwy. 88.

From Hope Valley, you have several choices: Returning to San Joaquin County on Highway 88, with stops in historic Pioneer and Jackson, or, follow Highway 88 back, then take the old Mormon Immigrant Trail to Pollock Pines and Highway 50, or, out of the Hope Valley, take Highway 89 north to connect with Highway 50 for a return through Sacramento.

For more info: Amador Flower Farm, amadorflowerfarm.com; Plymouth, historichwy49.com/amador/plymouth.html; Shenandoah Valley and Amador County wines, amadorwine.com; Sobon Estate Winery and Shenandoah Valley Museum, sobonwine.com; Sutter Creek, suttercreek.org.

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

Karmere Vineyards, Sierra foothills, in Shenandoah Valley.

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Winter majesty in Yosemite, Yellowstone, Glacier National Parks

Winter splendor in our national parks;

Yosemite, Yellowstone, Glacier – the time to plan is now!

Dreamt of touring your favorite national park in the dead of winter? Here are suggestions; the time to plan is now. We’ll start with nearby Yosemite, as well as the iconic parks of Yellowstone and Glacier.

Yosemite, only 2 1/2 hours from San Joaquin County, is easiest. While the Yosemite Valley is often snow free in the winter, prepare for snow. That means a 4 wheel drive vehicle, or taking chains. When we were there last February, chains were required over the pass on Highway 120, and there were 14 Inches of snow on the valley floor. The Ahwahnee and Yosemite Lodges were doing brisk business, and the Upper Pines Campground on the Merced River remains open year-round. We have visited the park in December and January previously, and it’s the first time we had snow on the valley floor. But, for all of these parks, plan on snow and potential chain controls. For booking lodging, consider booking now.

Icicles hang from the Ahwahnee Hotel last February;
saluting 14 inches of snow on valley floor.

In February, Yosemite’s falls are usually churning with the result of late fall/early winter rains and snows, and weather is usually crystal clear for stunning photography. In February, thousands of visitors will line up in the last several weeks of the month to catch the sun reflecting off of Horsetail Falls, creating the famous “fire fall”, while Bridalveil Falls thunders across the valley.

Cross-country skiers on Glacier Point Road (Park Service photo).

Roads to the Tuolumne Meadows high country and to Glacier Point are usually closed in the winter, though one can cross country ski on Glacier Point Road from Badger Pass Ski Resort in the park. If snow lies in the valley, cross country ski or snowshoe options abound and many of the main trails are packed by enough foot traffic to make general hiking fun – though some of the popular trails like those to Yosemite or Vernal Falls can be closed due to snow and ice dangers.

Yellowstone is open in the winter in a variety of ways. From the north entrance, one can drive in to Mammoth Hot Springs, finding dozens of elk and bison just off the roadways near the steaming hot springs. Follow Highway 212 all the way into Lamar Valley for sightings of wolves, in addition to elk and bison. Take high-powered binoculars or spotting scopes for best chance to view wolves. Mammoth Hot Springs Lodge In is open in the winter, as is a nearby Campground.

Bison and calf, Midway Geyser Basin, Yellowstone National Park.

From West Yellowstone, you can snowshoe or cross country ski into the park along the Madison River trails, or hire private concessionaires for snow coach or snowmobile trips into the park. The park concessionaire, Xantera, offers its own snow coaches from either the south entrance or Mammoth Hot Springs, all the way into the Old Faithful area, where Old Faithful Snow Lodge is open for winter visitors.

Several winters ago we took the snow coach into the Snow Lodge, and spent three of the most stunning days and nights of our lives. You could hike or cross country ski along the trails, with bison just feet away, Snow geese on the Firehole River, elk sleeping on the snow-packed main road and Old Faithful Geyser thundering into dusk sky with no one to see it except my wife and me, one other visitor and a lonely coyote. With fine food in a classy dining room and world-class scenery almost all to ourselves, absolutely a most memorable visit.

Trumpeter swans on Yellowstone’s Firehole River.
Old Faithful Geyser thunders into evening sky, with only three people (my spouse and I and one other tourist), and a lone coyote to watch the spectacle.

Glacier lies about 400 miles north of Yellowstone; reach Apgar Village area on the park’s west side by car, and, hike, snow-shoe or cross-country ski on trails along the edge of Lake McDonald. Longer trails will take one high above the lake on its north side, allowing a view deep into the park’s interior.

At Lake McDonald Lodge (eerily shuttered in winter) the “Going to the Sun Highway” is closed, though snowshoers and cross-country skiers continue deeper into the park. The views of the 12 mile-long lake, and Rocky Mountains just east are always memorable.

Spend the night in a caboose, or rail car, at the Izaac Walton Inn
on the south edge of Glacier National Park.

Montana Highway 2 skirts the southern border of the park – here you’ll discover the small town of Essex and the Izaac Walton Lodge. Built by the Great Northern Railway in 1939 to house railway workers, the lodge offers rooms, several cabooses, railway club cars and a locomotive, all converted for cozy lodging. Surrounded by cross country and snow-shoe trails to take one above the park, it’s a special place.

Where to stay: Glacier Park, find plenty of hotels, B&Bs in Whitefish (as well as Whitefish Mountain Ski Resort), the resort town just west of the park (explorewhitefish.com). Our long-time favorite for lodging is the Grouse Mountain Lodge, glacierparkcollection.com; Yellowstone Park, In West Yellowstone, we have enjoyed the Stagecoach Inn (yellowstoneinn.com/), in Gardiner, MT, next door to Mammoth Hot Springs, the Park Hotel is a classy, nicely appointed 120 year-old hotel with nine cozy suites (parkhotelyellowstone.com). Inside the Park, the Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel or the Old Faithful Snow Lodge are the only winter options, yellowstonenationalparklodges.com/; Yosemite Park: either the Yosemite or Ahwahnee Lodges, nps.gov/yose/.

The lobby of the Stagecoach Inn in West Yellowstone is a favorite of ours.

For more information: For Glacier National Park, nps.gov/glac; Yellowstone Park, nps.gov/yell/. For Yellowstone’s North park entrance (Mammoth Hot Springs) and south park entrance (Flagg Ranch/Teton Park) snow coach service, and Old Faithful Snow Lodge stays, contact Zanterra, yellowstonenationalparklodges.com. For snowcoach service into the park from West Yellowstone, the Chamber of Commerce can offer choices of private snowcoach providers, (406) 646.7701; Yosemite National Park, nps.gov/yose/. Camping can be booked through recreation.gov.

Contact Tim at tviall@msn.com; follow him at recordnet.com/travelblog. Happy travels in the west!

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Tiny trailering; touring the west in a classic travel trailer

Tiny trailering; buying or rebuilding and touring the west in a classic travel trailer

We’ve been camping and touring the western states for almost 40 years, and touring the entire United States extensively in three classic travel trailers the last dozen years.

Our early camping while spouse Susan and I both worked was a combination of tent or car camping, packing our two young daughters, an enlarging tent as they matured and often loading a canoe on top of the car. For 20-some years, we toured much of the western states and occasionally up into Canada in that nomadic mode.

Our first teardrop, a Kit Kamper reproduction, towed by our 1994 Nissan 300 ZX.

After our daughters married and started their own lives, we continued with a nicer tent, lighter-weight gear (and toyed with occasional backpacking). But as we moved into our 60s, tiny teardrop trailers captured our attention and we found one for sale in Sacramento for $3500. We camped throughout the west and up into Canada for five years, eventually acquiring a second teardrop, a 1958 Scotty Junior, then a bigger classic, a 1964 Scotty Sportsman, all of 13 feet in length.

This article attempts to capsulize our experience with two vintage teardrops, each 8 feet long, 4 feet wide and 4 feet tall, and the somewhat larger 1964 Scotty Sportsman we’ve grown into during the last year.

Teardrop trailers have the benefit of being easy to store in the garage or behind the backyard fence, can be towed with the tiniest of cars and yield good gas mileage in towing them. They’re cute; a lot of people will ask, “can you really sleep In that thing?” (yes, you can, quite comfortably). They also offer storage for most of your camp gear and a comfortable bed in a hard-sided camper (so you don’t worry as much about bears); hence, one can pack food and drink and be out the door quickly, headed for the Sierra.

Our ’58 Serro Scotty teardrop trailer.

What we like about our larger 1964 Scotty classic is a full-size bed in the back, two small center cabinets including a small sink, two burner stove and additional storage, as well as a front dinette that will accommodate, snuggly, four people with a decent sized table – the dinette also makes into another bed for a couple of kids or a large adult. The trailer remains small enough to store in the garage or behind a backyard fence; we tow with a four cylinder Ford Escape and get decent gas mileage. And, it’s packed and ready to go; but for food and cold drinks, we can be on the road in a few minutes, headed for the coast or the desert.

Let’s talk about buying; plan on extensive diligence and inspection. As example, I thought I was getting a deal on our ‘64 Scotty Sportsman, at $900, for a trailer requiring only simple cosmetic and some water damage repair. However, the previous owner did a pretty good job papering over the problems and I did haphazard inspection until after I bought it. After discovering it needed a total rebuild, we invested about $5,500 into the trailer rebuild – and untold hours over the last several years.

Our ’64 Serro Scotty Sportsman the day I towed it home after purchasing in Oceanside, CA. It looked, at the time, like it needed fairly simple rear-end water damage repair.

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 (which sell or rent new teardrop and small trailers), allowing inpection as to size and fit.

Our ’64 Scotty, with aluminum skins removed, indicated a bit more than “modest rear-end water damage repair”. It resulted in a two-year rebuild.

Here’s a sampling of vintage favorites:

The interior of our 64 Scotty, after the frame-up rebuild, looking from right rear to the front.

Serro Scotty trailers: Made in the late ’50s to the ’80s; pictured, our 64 Scotty Sportsman – you’ll see in the “before” photo that the trailer, once the aluminum skins were removed, had extensive dry rot, necessitating a full frame-up rebuild, involving about 500 hours and $5,000 in new materials and appliances. There were times, in the two years of rebuilding, that my spouse and I thought “we can’t do this”, but we pressed on and the ultimate result was worth the pain-staking effort (though, no, we would not want to do another one!).

Our 64 Scotty after the rebuild, with Susan in June Lakes, CA area.

‘57 Corvette: The Camino, Ca, owners of this 1957 Corvette trailer, purchased for $600 and requiring a two-year labor-of-love rebuild. The fram was extended, windows rezinced and about $7500 went into the rebuild, including a beautiful blue and white paint job.

A beautiful 57 Corvette classic.

‘55 Little Caesar, weighing just 1400 pounds. Owners from Shingle Springs, CA, noted “we paid only a few hundred dollars, invested $4000 and considerable time in the rehab, from the frame-up”. A cute, cozy trailer, garnering considerable attention when we see them in a campground.

Airstream, Shasta and other classic trailers are found throughout the west, and offer great camping and good investment potential. If found for a good price and well cared for, they can often be sold years later for more than you paid for them!

An Airstream Caravelle and its classic tow vehicle.

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

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

Posted in Central California, Northern California, Stockton/San Joaquin County, Teardrop and tiny travel trailers | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Maui; new experiences, and revisiting old haunts (for frequent visitors)

Maui; new experiences, revisiting old haunts for frequent visitors

We’ve been to Maui 18 times in the last 19 years, as well as visited Kawai and Hawaii, the Big Island. Since we own a timeshare in Maui, we’ve done just about everything you can do on the island (with the exception of zip-lining and parasailing – which have become less interesting as we’ve aged, and also seem a dumb way to spend money).

We’ve been to the summit of Haleakala a number of times, circled both ends of the islands including the road to and past Hana, snorkeled in numerous coves and cruises, done way too many luaus, seen the shows and trekked the waterfronts of Lahaina and Wailea. We have done a number of the hikes and explored a good bit of the native Hawaiian and natural history of the island.

Haleakala Crater, with clouds birthed by tradewinds just starting to spill in about 11 AM.

For this trip, finding our Kihei timeshare booked out, we were put up in another resort, the Gardens at West Maui resort, in Napili at the far northwestern end of Maui. So, we resolved to do a good job touring the new-to-us delights of this area of the island, as well as to revisit and better explore several old haunts. In addition to exploring our new area, we elected to better hike several locations on the volcano and La Perouse Bay, and to better explore Lahaina’s early history.

For exploring the area of Napili and West Maui, we quickly found the Kapalua Coastal Trail, connecting four lovely beaches along the rugged coast. The trail links Napili Bay and beach on the south end, heads north to Kapalua Bay and beach and, for folks wanting to go the distance, Oneloa Bay and beach and, eventually, Honokahua Bay and DT Fleming State Beach and Park.

The Kapilua Coastal Trail winds along Maui’s rugged northwestern coast.

The trail is partly paved and partly gravel through volcanic rock, and is about two miles from end to end. Views to the seaward side are magnificent, with Lanai and Molokai seen across the ocean channels and grand resorts on the land side. We eventually settled on Napili Beach, because it was both closest to our resort and great for people watching.

From DT Fleming Park, the Honoapiilani Highway continues north and east around the end of the island, through additional stunning scenery and pocket beaches before eventually reaching a portion that is gravel (and occasionally single lane), offering a nerve-racking return to Kahului. Scenery is stunning, though rental car companies (and my spouse) would suggest “not in their rental car”.

Our favorite, Napili Beach, with spouse Susan in foreground.
Pretty beach, fine people-watching and the classy Sea House Restaurant at north end!

We resolved to better explore the trails on Haleakala, the huge dormant volcano anchoring Maui’s southern portion. Just past the national park entrance, stop at the Visitor Center and chat with rangers and pick up a hiking route map. Short hikes fan out from the Haleakala Visitor center at 9,740 feet, with a short hikes along the crater rim, or a few blocks to view the Haleakala Observatories (closed to the public). Heading down, we stopped at the Leleiwi Overlook at 9,324 feet (we had a clear day, with clouds just beginning to enter the crater – offering stunning views).

The Haleakala Observatories, at very peak of the volcano (alas, not open to the public).

Hike into the crater on the Halemau’u Trail, featuring considerable elevation changes along its several miles. Suggestion: head for Haleakalā Crater fairly early in the morning – on many days, by 11 AM and later, rising tradewinds coming off the ocean cause clouds to build and eventually to spill into the crater, causing zero visibility, cooler temperatures and, occasionally, light rain high on the volcano. The Kula Lodge, on the main road at 3200 feet, is a delightful place to stop for breakfast or midday lunch. Another option is the Lahaina Pali Trail, which parallels the Pali Highway from Ma’alea Harbor headed north to Lahaina and offers stunning views of Molokini, Kaho’o’lawe and Lanai from high on the bluffs above the Pacific.

Another revisit from a few years earlier was the unique Hoapili Trail, located south of Wailea at very end of the Makena Road (State Highway 31), taking visitors through miles of jagged lava flow from the late 1700’s volvanic eruptions of Haleakala. The trail begins in La Perouse Bay (named for French explorer Jean-François de Galaup, comte de La Pérouse; in 1786 La Pérouse surveyed and mapped the area) and follows the old King’s Highway, built centuries earlier, circling the island, allowing ancient Hawaiian kings to traverse the island and collect taxes from their subjects.

Three of over 200 wild black goats seen on the unique Hoapili Trail,
just south of La Perouse Bay.

The trail winds through the jagged La Perouse Bay lava fields and along the coast, presenting breathtaking ocean views around every turn and sightings of scores of wild black goats which inhabit the area (we counted over 200 goats on our early morning, four-mile hike).

We resolved to better explore the native Hawaiian and colonial history of Lahaina, the old whaling capital, where the Lahaina Historic Trail, well-signed to lead you to dozens of sites and a half-dozen museums, including the Baldwin House, Plantation Museum, Wo Hing Museum along Front Street and Lahaina Heritage Museum in the Old Lahaina Courthouse. Don’t miss the Hauola Stone, “birthing stone”, just off shore where royal princesses would birth children in the healing waters.

The Baldwin House, on Front Street, one of several museums in Lahaina.

Nearby is the foundation of King Kamehameha’s 1802-03 English-built palace (north of the Old Courthouse) or the old Hale Pa’ahao Prison, built in the 1850s, at 187 Prison Street and the Seamen’s Hospital. For a respite on your trek, try Paia Fish Market on Front Street for delicious fish tacos and other treats; ice cream at Lahaina Ice Cream Parlour, Front and Market (featuring locally-made options like banana macadamia nut and kona coffee almond fudge).

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

The old prison in Lahaina, dating to the 1850s.

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

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Lake Tahoe’s hidden gems along Highway 89 and the western shore

Find hidden gems along Highway 89 and Lake Tahoe’s western shore

After the sampling the casinos and night life of South Lake Tahoe, head north on Highway 89 for some of the unsung delights hugging Tahoe’s west shore.

Within a few miles, you’ll drive through historic Camp Richardson, with stately hotel, cabins, big campground, bikes, kayaks and SUPs for rent, an ice cream shop and the nearby Beacon Restaurant on the beach. The Beacon is our first choice for both tasty fish and chips, salads and people watching along the lake’s lovely waterfront.

Crowd on the deck of the Beacon Restaurant enjoys music and the Tahoe beach scene.

Just north is the venerable Tallac Historic site, with Kiva Beach parking and access to Baldwin Beach’s Tallac Point where Taylor Creek enters the lake. The Tallac Historic Site offers a glimpse into the fabulous summer retreats of the very rich! Take the time to tour three wonderfully preserved grand estates, the former lake-front summer homes of the Baldwin Estate, the Pope Estate and Valhalla.

Just to the north of these huge homes the “Grand Resort of Tahoe” once stood, with hotel, casino, cabins and more. The resort and beautiful old homes anchored the entertainment capital of the Tahoe area, with well-heeled guests staying over for grand parties, fine food, bands, dancing and the like. The Tahoe Heritage Foundation along with the US Forest Service operate programs and events at both the Baldwin and Pope Estates. The Valhalla property, used regularly as the site for many Tahoe organizations’ events, is run by the Tahoe Tallac Association.

The historic Baldwin House, home to rich and famous family, is now a museum
at the lovely Tallic Historic Site on Lake Tahoe’s western shore.

The Baldwin Museum is the place to start your tour. Here you’ll find docents eager to share how life was enjoyed 100 years ago, explanatory videos, the Baldwin Room, the Washoe Room and a recreated 1930’s kitchen. A gift shop sells books and merchandise specific to the history of the home, as well as tickets to events and programs.

The many paved walkways are handicapped-accessible, and offer marvelous opportunities for easy, flat and scenic bicycling. The attractions all offer year-round access, though Tahoe snows may require cross-country skis or snowshoes in winter. Just beyond Camp Richardson, turn left to access beautiful Fallen Leaf Lake, and our favorite US Forest Service campground of the same name, less than a mile off Tahoe’s shore.

Good hiking abounds throughout this area, including the hike up to Mount Tallac, with snow still clinging to elevations above 9000 feet. A recent trek found spectacular snow plants at lower, shady elevations, and purple lupine just below remnants of snowfields still hanging on from the big winter. The views of Tahoe and Fallen Leaf Lake make this hike particularly rewarding.

Lupine frames Mt. Tallac and its remaining snow fields from the big winter.

Highway 89 soon heads up a series of switchbacks to reach Emerald Bay, probably the focus of more photos taken on the lake than any other site. One can park and hike down to Vikingsholm, an historic estate right on the shores of Emerald Bay.

Or, cross the highway for a hike that follows Eagle Creek up to Eagle lake, a 3.8 mile round trip that climbs about 500 vertical feet to the lovely lake, with snow melt still cascading down from higher elevations (go early to beat the crowds on this busy and scenic hiking route into the Desolation Wilderness).

Lovely Eagle Lake is the reward for a 3.8 mile round-trip hike into the Desolation Wilderness.

Continuing north, go past DL Bliss State Park, and onto Sugar Pine Point State Park, another fine campground and site of the cross country ski races and biathalon (skiing and target shooting) of the 1960 Winter Olympics. The cross country/biathlon venues ended at McKinney Creek Stadium (a 1,000 seat temporary arena where races started and finished, as well as the biathlon event, a 20 km skiing/shooting event, making its Olympic debut). Make a note early in your 2020 calendar and return for ranger-led hikes along the lake shore and tours of old Olympic trails.

Tahoe’s west shore is laced by bike trails and hiking opportunities, with plenty of bike rental shops along the way. Marinas and resorts all along Highway 89 rent kayaks and standup paddleboards, so fans of water sports won’t be disappointed.

Tahoe City is located on Tahoe’s north east shore, featuring Rosie’s Restaurant, our favorite for breakfast or lunch. Visit nearby Squaw Valley resort, Plump Jack Restaurant in the resort area is one of the finer restaurants in the region. At Squaw Valley, find memories and a few of the buildings remaining from the 1960 Winter Olympics.

Squaw Valley offered 2,850 vertical feet of elevation for the Olympics; American Olympian Penny Pitou took two silver medals on KT22 Peak, Squaw Peak and Little Papoose Peak. The men’s normal ski jump hill was built on Little Papoose Peak, opposite the Blyth Memorial Skating Arena and adjacent to the Olympic Village (both the jump hill and arena have since been removed). The US men’s hockey team would improbably beat the Canadians and Russians for the gold medal.

A compact Olympic Village was constructed at the north end of Squaw Valley, consisting of athlete dormitories, the Blyth Memorial Ice Arena, three outdoor skating rinks and a 400 meter outdoor speed-skating rink. Many of these facilities are gone, though a few of the 1960s buildings remain. Take the tram to the top of Squaw Peak and bask in memories of US skating gold medal winners David Jenkins and Carol Heiss, with stunning views of the Sierra.

This building at Squaw Valley is one of the survivors of the 1960 Winter Olympics.

For more info: Squaw Valley, squawalpine.com; Tahoe’s west shore, tahoewestshoreassoc.com; Tahoe Heritage Foundation, tahoeheritage.org; Valhalla and the Tahoe Tallac Association, valhallatahoe.com.

Contact Tim at tviall@msn.com or follow at recordnet.com/travelblog. Happy travels in the west!

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Flights of Fancy; the Aerospace Museum of California at old McClellan Air Force Base, Sacramento

Tour 40 planes at the Aerospace Museum of California, on the old McClellan Air Force Base, Sacramento

Deep in the bowels of the old McClellan Air Force base in McClellan, CA (just north of Sacramento) stands a gleaming, new, 30,000 square-foot hanger featuring historic civilian and military planes, engines, flight simulators and a nifty NASA exhibit. Outside the hanger another 35 airplanes are tightly packed, both civilian and Air force/Coast Guard/Marine/Army versions.

Planes and aircraft engines from every era, as viewed from the
second floor mezzanine of the museum.

For 8-year-old grandson Jack it was a chance to sample actual Air Force flight simulators, for my five friends, the chance to relive our Armed Forces experience, see some daunting aircraft and learn of the history of these remarkable aircraft and their courageous pilots.

The museum features over 40 aircraft, both military and civilian models. From a replica of the Wright Brother’s biplane that got manned-flight underway in 1903, to more recent biplanes, experimental aircraft and modern fighters and bombers, visitors will see muscular jets like the A-10 Thunderbolt, the famous “Top Gun” F-14 Tomcat, the US Navy’s Blue Angels fighter and, two Russian MIGs.

Grandson Jack Taylor is dwarfed by a huge Jolly Green Giant helicopter.

Additionally, a wide array of aircraft engines trace the earliest aircraft power plants, through development of huge V-12 engines that powered WW II fighters like the P-51, up to huge jet engines that helped power the 1969 Moon landing. A NASA exhibit offers video and artifacts of the lunar landing and the long-testing it took to make the flight a success.

Some of the more evocative aircraft and exhibits include:

Giant Allison V-12 engine powered many WW II fighter planes.

A Russian MIG- 21: Debuting in 1956 as a short range, supersonic interceptor, over 10,000 were produced and used in combat by the Soviet Union, North Vietnam and a handful of other countries. During the Vietnam War it was a most capable adversary, as US pilots battled them in F-105 and F-4 fighter aircraft (examples of these two are also on display). 85 MIGs were claimed shot down during the war. Grandson Jack gave the Russian plane an obligatory thumbs down.

Jack gives the proper “thumbs down” sign for the Russian MIG 17.

The A-10A Warthog debuted in 1972, designed to kill in enemy tanks. Equipped with the “Avenger“ 30 mm seven-barrel canon and capable of carrying up to 8 tons of external rockets under its fuselage, it was a formidable fighter, deployed during Operation Desert Storm in 1991.

The Sikorsky CH-3E, “the Jolly Green Giant” helicopter debuted in 1965 and deployed in Vietnam, later serving in a number of state side missions until its retirement in 1990. With a crew of three, it could carry up to 25 troops into battle (including me a couple times in 1971).

An A-10A Warthog fighter stands ready for visitors.

The F-86 Sabre, better known as the Sabrejet, an early transonic jet fighter which achieved a 14:1 kill ratio during the Korean War and demonstrated the growing future of jet fighter planes.

Standing out among a number of aircraft engines on display is an Allison V-1710, a huge, liquid-cooled V-12 engine, developed in the 1930s and used to power P-51, P-40 and P-38 fighters. In addition to more than a dozen piston-driven engines are several jet engines, including a huge model built by Aerojet in Rancho Cordova which helped power the lunar exploration.

An F-86F Sabre inside the modern hanger; visitors enjoy air-conditioned comfort.

Air Force flight simulators on the second floor held a special allure for young Jack. Alas, seeing the special simulator hall closed on a Wednesday, he noted, “grandpa, we have to come back for these when they are open” (they are open Saturday and Sunday)! Asked later what he thought of the museum experience, “Pretty cool bunch of fighter jets, but it’s a museum for grandpas…”. Ouch, guess that dates my other travel companions.

Outside, 35 planes, representing the armed services and commercial aircraft, feature several open for walk-throughs like the Fed Ex B-727 and a large Coast Guard seaplane, staffed by friendly docents eager to share details and their personal experiences (many of them former Air Force or Navy veterans).

Plan a late lunch at the nearby renovated Officer’s Club, 3410 Westover St., McClellan Park, CA; good food, reasonably priced and nicely understated – dine where “Top Gun” pilots once hung out!

A Coastguard seaplane is among 35 planes outside at the museum.

For more information: Aerospace Museum of California, 3200 Freedom Park Drive, McClellan, CA 95652, Aerospaceca.org, (916) 643-3192. Open Tuesday–Sunday, 10:00 am – 4:00 pm, CLOSED Mondays and Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and New Year’s Day. Other air museums nearby include Castle Air Museum, Atwater, with 60 restored WW II, Korean and Cold War aircraft and retired Air Force One that carried Presidents Reagan and Clinton, castleairmuseum.org; Travis Air Base Heritage Center, Travis AFB, with WW II, Korean, Vietnam and Cold War aircraft and educational exhibits, travisheritagecenter.org; USS Hornet, Sea, Air and Space Museum, Alameda, featuring the USS Hornet aircraft carrier and a variety of fighter, attack and anti-submarine aircraft, uss-hornet.org.

Contact Tim at tviall@msn.com or follow at recordnet.com/travelblog. Happy travels in the west!

Posted in Central California, Northern California, Sacramento/Capitol region | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment
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