Exploring Lake Superior: Ontario to north, the upper Michigan Peninsula to south…

Exploring Lake Superior: Ontario to the north, the upper Michigan Peninsula to the south…

The ‘Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald’, waterfalls and wild country!

We are exploring the north and south shores of mighty Lake Superior, the largest fresh water lake in the world, while joining a classic Scotty travel-trailer caravan for a tour of the upper Michigan peninsula.

Mighty Kakabeka Falls, the 'Niagara of the North', plunges 130 feet into deep gorge in Ontario near Thunder Bay.

We entered Ontario, Canada from the west, and spent a rainy night in Kakabeka Falls Provincial Park, west of Thunder Bay, OT.  The next morning we explore Kakabeka Falls, nicknamed “the Niagara Falls of the North”. At 200+’ across and more than 130′ tall, it’s an impressive sight as the river thunders into the deeply-cut gorge below.

We then follow Canada Hwy. 17 along the north coast of Lake Superior to Sault Ste. Marie, OT. The rain followed us for more than 400 miles through a string of mountains and foothills dropping rapidly into Lake Superior.

It’s a beautiful drive, passing scores of large lakes with names like Desolation, Loon, Henry, Salter, Rabbit Blanket, Mom and Orphan Lakes – with nary a boat or cottage on any! Here, too, are other intriguing features: Old Woman Bay and River, Bald Head River, Rainbow Falls Provincial Park and Pukaskwa National Park. The road travels high above the huge lake, occasionally dropping down to follow its rocky shores and infrequent sandy beaches.

Upper Tahquamenon Falls, 200' across and 50' tall, plunges, headed towards the lower falls four miles distant.

We make Sault Ste. Marie, OT and spend the night at a dumpy Howard Johnson Motor Inn to dry off. The next day, after an hour long bridge and border crossing into Michigan, the dividing line between Lake Superior and Lake Huron, we are into Sault Ste. Marie, MI, established in 1668. Gas, at $2.37/gallon, is about 60% of Canadian prices, and a Walmart provides relatively cheap groceries to restock our travel pantry.

We move onto picturesque Tahquemenon Falls State Park, MI to meet up with our Scotty trailer group and an eight day tour of the upper Michigan peninsula. Our Scotty travel-trailer tour group includes three classic Scotties from the 60s and 70s, our 58 reproduction Scotty teardrop, a classic Boler, a Little Man teardrop, an R-pod and a couple with a “62 Scotty, not quite ready for the road” (so they are tent camping with us).

Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum commemorates over 300 ships lost off Whitefish Point on Lake Superior.

Next day activities include a drive due north to Whitefish Bay and the Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum. The museum is housed in a complex including a grand lighthouse and former Coast Guard facility. Here, over 300 shipwrecks lie offshore, taking 320 lives. One of the more recent, the 730’ freighter Edmund Fitzgerald, went down with 26,000 tons of iron ore in a ferocious 1975 November storm, killing all 29 crewmembers, made more infamous by the Gordon Lightfoot ballad.

We moved on to both lower and upper Tahquamenon Falls, a state park offering miles of hiking trails, three campgrounds and the two lovely falls. The lower falls is a series of cascading torrents and several falls about 6 to 9 feet tall – perfect for families wading in the shoals.

The upper falls, 200 feet across and 50 feet tall, is quite striking. The two falls are separated by a 4 mile hike, a shuttle ride or, you can drive your vehicle to the two different destinations. Well worth the trip, heralding six coming days of Michigan waterfalls!

Three classic Serro Scotty trailers in our caravan, the oldest, a 1967 model, is the one painted teal in the middle.

Our caravan of classic trailers moved on to Pictured Rocks National Seashore, and our tour group took the evening cruise along 14 miles of the stunning seashore.  Later, it was onto Seney National Wildlife Refuge and its lovely 7 mile “outback” drive through the refuge where we saw Trumpeter Swan’s, Canadian geese, an eagle and a variety of other wildlife.

Then, it’s on to Munising where we spend two days at a municipal park right on Lake Superior; the weather remains sunny and temperatures around 80 – we took a bracing swim in Lake Superior and then a short drive to Munising falls. Its falls cascade about 90 feet into a picturesque, moss covered gorge. We realized that our short hike was on a small portion of the North Country National Scenic Trail, a 4,600 mile, almost-completed trail across the northern boundary of the United States.

Scenic Pictured Rocks National Seashore, photo from sunset cruise by fellow Scotty caravaner Ed Kowalski.

On our fifth day, it’s on to Porcupine Mountain State Park, via a circuitous, picturesque and very wild 200 mile drive through northern Michigan’s pine forest. We’re camped on the far north shore of Lake Superior, with a rough, slate beach just below our campsite.

We visited Presque Isle River on a day where a steady drizzle tracks us. This consistent rainfall results in green, lush and dark forests, leading down to where the river runs into the great lake. On the lakeshore, we watch as a three-year-old in her blue windbreaker pokes a long pine bough at the small waves pushed in by the offshore breeze.

On day six of our tour we depart Porcupine Mountain on a wet, rainy morning, and log almost 300 miles across Michigan to the east, through thunderstorms and constant rain, to Mackinaw City. We cross the majestic Mackinac Bridge in light rain, take the first exit off I 75 to tour the Old Mackinac Point Lighthouse – with the giant bridge barely visible through the rain and fog.

Old Mackinac Lighthouse in foreground, mighty Mackinac Bridge in distance.

Once we arrive our campsite (nice, private Mackinac Mill Creek Campground), we hear the thunder storms to the south may breed tornadoes – overnight, winds whip Lake Huron just off our campsite into a frenzy and our trailer awning is flattened by high winds at 5 AM!

Fortunately, the next day dawns cloudy, but clears by late morning, and several of our group take the ferry over to Mackinac Island, home to grand Victorian summer homes, carriage rides (no autos on the island) and the stately Grand Hotel (with the temerity to charge $10/person to tour through).

Mackinaw City offers several other tour-worthy destinations: the historic Michilimackinac Fort, the Mill Creek Historic Discovery Park, the old Mackinac Point Light and views of Lake Huron on one side, Lake Michigan on the other. From here, we are soon to enter back into Canada, bound for Nova Scotia. See my Record blog for more insight on Friday, regards historic Michilimackinac Fort, the Mill Creek Historic Discovery Park.

For more information: Kakabeka Falls Provincial Park, Ontario, ontarioparks.com; Tahquamenon Falls State Park, Michigan, michigandnr.com; Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum, Michigan, shipwreckmuseum.com; Pictured Rocks National Seashore, Michigan, nps.gov/piro; Porcupine Mountain State Park, Michigan, michigandnr.com; Mackinaw City, Michigan, mackinawcity.com.

Mike's lovely 1967 Scotty custom Sportsman, taken during the Michigan Upper Peninsula tour.

For more insight into acquiring or restoring a vintage Serro Scotty travel trailer, see the National Serro Scotty Organization web site, nationalserroscotty.org.

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

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Canada’s Great Plains: Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba, grain silos, lakes, mosquitos a’plenty!

From last week, our journey of exploration continues, from British Columbia’s Rocky Mountains, we are headed east, towards Nova Scotia, Canada, via the Trans-Canada Highway. We will log about 9,000 miles in 69 days, returning through the USA’s East Coast, Midwest and historic Rt. 66.  towing a tiny Scotty teardrop travel trailer.

Frank Slide, where Turtle Mountain's huge landslide buried 70 miners and townsfolk in 1903.

From British Columbia, we climb over 4500′ Crowsnest Pass on Hwy. 3 and are welcomed into Alberta overnight with a crashing thunder and lightning storm, dropping about 1 inch of rain on our trailer in a campground just off the highway.

Descending the Continental Divide the next morning, we come quickly to Frank Slide; in April, 1903 the side of Turtle Mountain broke loose and thundered down  on the town of Frank, killing 70 miners and townsfolk and sending boulders the size of a house up the other side of the valley. It’s a sobering stop at the overlook, gazing at the place where these people were buried 113 years ago.

We steadily descend out of the mountains to the rolling plains, with wide-open grasslands for pasture, wheat fields starting to appear and huge wind turbines capping windy ridges. Corn, canola, soy beans and sun-flower fields cover the landscape, though wheat fields dominate. We learn that Saskatchewan produces 10% of the world’s exported wheat.

Lethbridge's High Bridge carries the Canadian Pacific RR across the Oldman River.

Now on the Trans-Canada Hwy. 1, our first big city stop is Lethbridge, Alberta, famed as an early coal mining region, Fort Whoop-up (a fort dating to the 1880’s, where whiskey was traded to Native Canadians for beaver pelts), the world’s highest/longest steel-trestle bridge, 307 feet tall, more than a mile across carrying the Canadian Pacific Railroad across Oldman River. Following Hwy. 1, we seem to be on a path of “world’s largest”, finding the world’s largest teepee, at 215’, created for the 1988 Winter Olympics, rising from the prairie at Medicine Hat.

1/4 mile long pivot irrigation system irriagates thousands of acres of wheat, corn.

Along the Trans-Canada Highway, grain silos and wind turbines stand out. Corn, wheat, beans and canola; aided by spindly center-pivot irrigation systems, a quarter-mile long, produced by agri-business giants Zimmatic and Valley. It’s a wonder to me that, with computers and sensors, these huge machines can rotate over rocky ground, pilot themselves around square corners, and not tangle themselves into a pile of scrap metal. In tiny Burdette, AB, we spot, on display, the first pivot irrigation system, just 180’ long, introduced there in 1962.

We continue east into Saskatchewan, with rolling grassland prairie – half expecting to see a huge herd of buffalo appear on the horizon. Fields are planted with canola, alfalfa, corn and wheat (Saskatchewan produces 10% of the world’s exported wheat). In Moose Jaw, we tour downtown historic murals and see a variety of Canada’s armor (tanks, field artillery) on display at the local armory, home to the Saskatchewan Dragoons.

We are hosted in Regina by Canadian friends, a city of 210,000, home to the province’s stately Parliament building with shiny copper dome and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police Heritage Center (on display, a shiny 1992 Chevy Camaro Z-28, one of eight highway-interceptor cars used by the RCMP in the early 90s).

1992 Chevy Camaro Z-28 interceptor, one of eight used by the RCMP in early 90s.

It’s also home to the Saskatchewan Roughriders, a member of the Canadian Football League, (with two side-by-side football stadiums rising out of the prairie, the new iteration not yet open). Our friends, noting the small size of the market, compare their team to the NFL’s Green Bay Packers.

Pressing eastward into the province of Manitoba, we spot a 30’ tall Indian head, related to the town of the Indian Head, a town boasting several huge grain silos and a fading downtown. On the edge of town is the historic circular Bell Barn, built of fieldstone, 92′ in circumference and dating to 1882. Our tour reminds me that almost all of Canada’s cross-roads, beyond large municipalities – are dirt and gravel, not paved.

30' tall caricature represents Indian Head, SK.

Heading east across Manitoba, the country grows increasingly wild and lightly settled. Tiny towns with weathered grain silos and tidy homes like Belle Plain, Balgonie, Qu’Apelle and Portage la Prairie fly by.

It’s a long day’s drive through rolling prairie to Winnepeg, Manitoba and we begin a slow climb into the Precambrian Shield country to Whiteshell Provincial Park. Here the rocky ground is folded into hills and ridges filled with scores of large lakes. Past Jessica, Red and Brereton Lake and a dozen others we reach White Lake just in time for a stunning sunset. The many lakes breed hardy mosquitoes; we are fortunate to have a can of ‘Off’ to abate the invaders.

Close to White Lake is Rainbow Falls, a cascading torrent out of Falcon Lake that earns its name on this misty, sunny morning. With many more lakes and trails to explore, we make a note to return someday to more fully see this spectacular, wet and wild country.

Rainbow Falls in Whiteshell Provincial Park, Manitoba.

We are now headed to Onterio; 20 miles west of Thunder Bay we overnight at Kakabeca Falls Provincial Park, dozing off to patter of intermittent rain on our trailer roof. Tomorrow, we’ll tour the huge falls (nicknamed the Niagara of the North, which thunders 130 feet into a deep gorge, laced with 1.6 billion year-old fossils).and circumnavigate the northside of Lake Superior!

For more information: for Alberta tourism, travelalberta.com; for Saskatchewan, tourismsaskatchewan.com; for Manitoba, travelmanitoba.com ; for Whiteshell Provincial Park, whiteshell.mb.ca.

White Lake sunset within Whiteshell Provincial Park, Manitoba.

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

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The Mighty Rocky Mountains; Montana, Glacier National Park and the Canadian Rockies!

As I noted in last week’s feature, we’re on a journey of exploration: California to Nova Scotia, Canada, via the Trans-Canada Highway and a return through the USA’s East Coast, Midwest and historic Rt. 66.  We will log about 9,000 miles in 69 days, towing a tiny Scotty teardrop travel trailer.  We will camp about 2/3s of the time, and stay with family, new friends or at motels the balance.

Susan and our Scotty teardrop settle in for three days in Glacier National Park's Apgar Campground.

We caught the small-trailer bug about 12 years ago, after spotting tiny and larger classic travel trailers in campgrounds. Spouse Susan and I had reached the age when tent camping was “too rough”, we liked the idea of a trailer already “packed and ready to go”, is light and can be towed with four-cylinder car, allowing 26 MPG.  And Susan fears bears in campgrounds – so the hard-sided teardrop solves that worry.

In our second week on the road it’s our chance to explore the Montana and Canadian Rocky Mountains and their summer majesty. We depart Spokane, WA, headed east into Idaho, past gorgeous Coeur d’Alene Lake, the Silver Mountain Ski Area (with long tram right beside Interstate 90), and stop just beyond at old Wallace, ID, an historic, quaint downtown tracing its origins to the Idaho silver-mining boom.

Shortly after, we turn north off I-90 at St. Regis, Montana, and head up to the Flathead Lake region, then Kalispell and Whitefish, and east into Glacier National Park. The mighty Rocky Mountains stand tall to the east, like stalwart sentinels extending north into Canada.

Lake McDonald, looking east from Apgar Village.

If you arrive to find Glacier in-park campgrounds sold out as we did, double back a mile from West Glacier to privately owned Glacier Campground– with 190 nice campsites, in-forest setting, nicely maintained and reasonably priced.

The next day at 8 AM we head into Glacier’s Apgar Campground – you can see by the tags on the  200+ campsite posts when the current residents depart – and quickly find several empty sites. We’re here for the next three days.

The next day, we follow Going to the Sun Highway, up McDonald Creek and the most lovely 16 mile drive with jaw-dropping sheer cliffs off the right-hand side. It takes a half-hour to find a parking spot in Logan Pass parking lot – we should have arrived much earlier than noon! Better idea; take the free tram from Apgar or Lake McDonald Lodge and save the drive and hassle.

Hidden Lake is about a 3 mile hike from Glacier Park's Logan Pass, offering stunning views.

It’s a lovely, sunny day (with clouds only on the far horizons). We choose the hike to Hidden Lake; the trail climbs about 500 vertical feet and then descends to the lake. At the overlook, we eight Mountain goats bask in the sunshine, trail-side. Below, Hidden Lake glistens, with snow-capped Gunsight Mountain rising in distance. On the return trip we see several more goats, just off the trail. Jackson, Blackfoot and Pumpelly Glaciers look to have receded from our last summer visit, two years ago.

Another fun hike the next day, a steep several miles up, is to scenic Avalanche Lake, closer to our campground, with time for early coffee and time to admire historic Lake McDonald Lodge and its towering four-story lobby decked out with stuffed animal heads. Our final day in Glacier allows us time to explore the Apgar Village area, at the west end of Lake McDonald, and we enjoy a huckleberry ice-cream cone as we watch visitors test their paddleboard skills on the lovely high-mountain lake.

Mountain goats take their leisure, just 30 feet off the Hidden Lake Trail in Glacier National Park.

After our Glacier Park stay, we head up Montana Hwy. 93, through Eureka, MT where a huge annual quilting fare is taking place. We cross the border into Canada at Roosville, BC. Our first stop, just 20 miles north of the border, is Baynes Lake and the home of Affordable Travel Club members Dave and Nancy Marchant.

Affordable Travel Club members (affordabletravelclub.net) offer other members an overnight stay and breakfast for a $20 gratuity, a wonderful deal. David and Nancy, noting no nearby restaurants, provide a full steak dinner, and a morning breakfast complete with strawberry crepes – they may be the top meals of our nine-week journey!

With the bargain come hosts anxious to share insight about their home and region. David, a 50 year-vet of the Canadian National Ski Patrol (I have 34 years with the US’s National Ski Patrol) gives us a tour of nearby Koocanusa Lake, the Kootenai River dammed just above Libby, MT, which backs up well into Canada – hence, the name.

We leave the Marchants with deep thanks, an extra $10 gratuity and a bottle of Lodi zinfandel wine.

Elk River is framed by the Canadian Rockies just west of Fernie, British Columbia.

Our next stop is Fernie, in British Columbia’s Elk River Valley, with a lovely historic downtown framing a view of Fernie Alpine Ski Resort just west of town. It’s one of six towns in the Elk River Valley, home to five huge open-pit coal mines. Canada’s towering Rockies seem to frame every view, in any direction.

Historic downtown Fernie, BC, frames the nearby Fernie Alpine Ski Resort just west of town.

At Sparwood, further up the Valley, we find the world’s largest truck, used by Teck Industries in one of those five coal mines. The Titan-33, 23 feet tall, 67 feet long and 25 feet wide, carries a 350 ton pay-load of rock or coal, dwarfing a 6 foot tall photographer in the picture I took.

We continue east to Canada’s continental divide, cross Crowsnest Pass at 4500 feet, and find a nearby campground.

The Titan 33, world's largest truck, is on display in Sparwood, BC. It was used in nearby open-pit coal mines.

That night, a crashing thunder and lightning storm welcomes us to Alberta. It’s on to the Canada Great Plains, our home for the next six days. Follow our journey in next week’s Record, and on my blog!
For more information: for Glacier National Park, nps.gov/glac, for Fernie, BC and the Elk River Valley, tourismfernie.com.

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

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Pacific Northwest’s Crater Lake, Grand Coulee Dam, Dry Falls and Spokane make for wonderful week of exploring!

Our destination: California to New Brunswick and Nova Scotia, Canada, via the Trans-Canada Highway and a return through the USA’s East Coast, Midwest and historic Rt. 66.  We sketch out a 9,000 mile, 69 day trip with a tiny Scotty teardrop travel trailer, fresh vistas to explore and new people to visit. Along the way we will attend two classic travel trailer rallies, two family reunions and one high school reunion – both spouse Susan and I looking forward to such a journey of exploration!

On our first day of the trip we head due north on I-5, past regal Mount Shasta, and turn onto Hwy. 97, stopping for a brief tour of the intriguing Veterans Memorial Sculpture Garden, just 10 miles north of Weed, CA. At Dorris, CA, we admire the world’s tallest flag pole, 200 feet, with huge flag flying at half-staff, constructed by the Dorris Lions Club in 1996.  This former dusty, hard-scrabble lumber town is hustling for some sort of recognition! Crystal clear blue skies, 99° temperatures follow us into Oregon.

Just past Klamath Falls, we stop at the old Ft. Klamath site, on Hwy. 62 on the approach to Crater Lake. Ft. Klamath was founded in 1863 to protect settlers and prospectors from the Modoc, Klamath and Northern Piute tribes and grew to four dozen buildings including a stockade, sawmill, stores and barracks. The fort hosted a post office beginning in 1879, though by the mid-1880s, the Army’s protection was no longer needed and the fort closed with the 14th Infantry Regiment’s move to Vancouver Barracks in 1890.

We continued onto Crater Lake, used our America the Beautiful senior pass to gain free admission into the park ($10 for life, offers free admission into national parks and ½ price on most federal campgrounds!).

Wizard Island, a volcano within a volcano, floats in the cobalt waters of Crater Lake

At our first stop at the Crater Lake overlook, I am reminded of the wdords of prospector John Wesley Hillman, who, searching for gold in 1851, discovered Crater Lake. “I knew when I gazed upon Crater Lake that even though the West was filled with undiscovered wonders, Crater Lake would hold its own”. Shortly after, a young women exiting a car from Indiana exclaims,  “honey, look at this – it’s absolutely overwhelming”. Crater Lake’s cobalt blue waters and almost as blue skies never fail to impress.

Native Americans witnessed the crater’s formation about 7,700 years ago, when the towering 12,000 foot-plus volcano thundered with a huge eruption that collapsed the huge mountain into the crater below. Now, the crater, fed by rain and snow, is the deepest and arguably the purest lake in the USA. We enjoyed a delicious dinner at Crater Lake Lodge, and spent a quiet night at Mazama Campground, seven miles below Rim Road. The next day, we toured the 33 miles of Rim Road overlooks above this stunning lake.

Old McCormick tractor, Chevy and Chrysler lie in weeds with old Hotel Shaniko in background.

Heading north through Central Oregon we stop at Shaniko and Kent, Oregon (neighboring ghost towns) on bone-dry Hwy. 97. Shaniko developned believing the railroad was about to reach their town – the rail-line was rerouted and this interesting town with huge hotel, two-room schoolhouse and scores of buildings has become our favorite Oregon ghost town.

We descend into the Columbia River Gorge, turn east on I-84, finding the river laced by huge dams, the gorge becoming low, rolling hills with huge wind turbines standing 200 feet tall. At Umatilla, OR, we skirt the vast Umatilla Army Depot, with hundreds of ammunition bunkers lining the hillsides to fuel our country’s war machine.

Our Scotty teardrop in front of Grand Coulee Dam – with the North Power Plant in distance.

We pass Connell, WA, a class B basketball state powerhouse, with rolling wheat fields stretching as far as the eye can see. Grand Coulee Dam and Dry Falls State Park are on our circuitous route to Spokane, WA. Grand Coulee Dam, constructed 1933 to 1950, was, until recent years, the largest concrete structure in the world. Almost a mile wide and 400 feet tall, it dams the mighty Columbia, impounding vast Lake Roosevelt, extending 145 miles upstream almost to Canada. The huge dam generates enough power to satisfy two cities the size of Seattle and provides irrigation water to tens of thousands of arid acres for growing wheat, alfalfa, beans and lentils.

Dryfalls, once the largest waterfall in the world at the end of the last ice age!

Twenty miles to the southwest is Dry Falls State Park. Near the end of the latest ice age, some 20,000 years ago, ice dammed both the Clearwater River and Columbia River, with trapped waters inundating much of northeastern Washington, Idaho and western Montana. Melting ice unleashed this huge lake, thundering down Grand Coulee and over Dry Falls, creating a raging waterfall five times the length of Niagara Falls and scouring a deep gorge.  After the huge lake’s release, water returned to the earlier Columbia channel and the falls ran dry.  It’s a truly spectacular and sobering landscape, allowing your imagination to visualize the huge ancient waterfall.

We spend two nights in Airway Heights, WA, just west of Spokane, a sprawling city tied to Fairchild Air Force Base, in a huge Indian casino, Northern Quest with nine-story hotel – emblematic of the new Native American culture in north eastern Washington. The casino is hosting my spouse’s 50th high school reunion, she a Spokane native.

Friends Janet, Diana and Chuck Boehme pedal past 'little red wagon' in Spokane's Riverfront Park

Then it’s on to two days with old friends in Spokane, WA, boasting one of the most fully-developed biking and jogging trail systems in the country for a town its size. We pedaled along the Spokane River, through its lovely downtown Riverfront Park, once home to Expo 74, the world’s fair that brought 6 million visitors. Beautiful views, interesting statuary and a huge ‘little red wagon” dot this 100 acre city park.

The Centennial Trail runs through the Park, and extends west for 15 miles and 30-some miles east to Coeur d’Alene Lake, connecting with another 100 miles of trails along rivers, lakes and into the mountains of Idaho. The trail system is a bikers or runner’s delight! The city is currently revamping Riverfront Park, repaving downtown streets and adding new downtown residential to the old Spokane Chronicle building and Bon Marche building. Plan to visit – and bring your bikes!

For more information: Crater Lake National Park, nps.gov/crla; Grand Coulee Dam, usbr.gov/pn/grandcoulee; Dry Falls State Park, parks.state.wa.us/298/sun-lakes-Dry-Falls; Spokane, WA, visitspokane.com.

Tomorrow, it’s on to Idaho, Montana, Glacier Park and soon up into British Columbia.  I hope you’ll follow our voyage of exploration in coming weeks. Contact me at tviall@msn.com; or follow us at recordnet.com/travelblog. Happy travels in your world!

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Shenandoah Valley wineries and Gold Rush history make Amador County a “must visit”

Where, in about 10 square miles, can you discover fine wines, dining, cooler temperatures, beautiful scenery and Gold Rush history? It’s the Shenandoah Valley and Amador County wineries, just 55 miles to the northeast of Stockton and San Joaquin County.

Whimsical bicycling art in Karmere Vineyards.

Following gold’s discovery in 1848 in nearby Coloma, new mining communities burst upon the scene and in the next two decades, more vineyards blossomed in the Sierra Nevada than anywhere else in the state. As the gold fields panned out in the late 1800s, the old Zinfandel vineyards endured and, almost a century later, paved the way for new pioneering wines, drawn by soils and climate ideal for fine wines.

Today, more than 40 wineries offer wine tasting, events and gorgeous views, clustered along California Hwy. 49, the Gold Rush highway, and in the Shenandoah Valley which expands into the Sierra foothills from the highway to the north. Gold Rush towns like Sutter Creek, Amador City, Drytown, Fiddletown and Plymouth offer tasting rooms, places to stay, rich Gold Rush history, shopping and fine dining to complement your visit.

View from Karmere Vineyards, looking southeast over the Shenandoah Valley to the Sierra foothills.

The Shenandoah Valley, ranging in elevation from 2000 to about 3000 feet above sea level, is home to decomposed granite and volcanic soils, wonderful for wine grapes. Paul, the host at Karmere Wineries elegant French-château tasting room, explained that in the last 30 years, local growers have introduced Italian, Rhone and Spanish varietals to the foothills, leading to renowned Sangiovese, Tempranillo, Barbera, Syrah and Viognier wines.

The area is always degrees cooler than the San Joaquin Valley, and offers views to please your senses while the wines satisfy your taste buds.

Amador City Street Dance attacts big crowd of both locals and tourists!

For a host of events, check Amadorwine.com to plan for your wine tour, and special events. A very fun activity for young to old is the Amador City Street Dance, Saturday nights, 6 to 9 PM, on August 6 with the Spotted Dog Band, and August 13 with the Full Circle Band (and, the dances are free). Coming the first weekend in October to the Shenandoah Valley wineries is The Big Crush, with special tastings, activities and food tied to the harvest.

With 40-plus wineries, you have a marvelous selection, and most tastings are no charge in the valley.  Some of our favorites include:

Live music performs most Fridays at Helwig Winery in the Shenandoah Valley.

Helwig Winery offers industrial-chic winery buildings on a scenic hilltop with marvelous views and cool wine cave tours.  Each Friday evening through September, enjoy live music in their Pavilion with a modest cover charge and catered barbecue; or join for outdoor concerts at their terraced amphitheater for larger performances, with Greg Rolie on July 30 and Christopher Cross, August 27. Story Winery offers wonderful views and vineyards dating to the 1890s, featuring Zinfandel, Mission, Barbera, Sangiovese and Primitivo grapes.

Karmere Winery features cute bicycling art through the grounds and is a frequent location for weddings with a great view of vineyards and the foothills to the southeast. Their French-chateau-like tasting room features bold Syrahs, Zins, Barberas and Nebbiolos.

Stunning sunset over the Helwig Winery on recent Saturday night.

Turley Vineyards features single vineyard Zinfandels and Petit Syrahs in a lovely setting accentuated by period-correct antiques. Dobra Zemlja Winery produces robust Viognier, Barbera, Syrah, Grenache and Zinfandel wines – and features the valley’s first wine cave, featuring a cooling 56 degrees, housed in a 19th century barn. At the east end of the valley, visit Mt. Aukum for marvelous views from the highest point in the region (in the valley, you have about 20 more winery choices, all of them unique).

Tasting rooms abound in Sutter Creek, Amador City, Drytown and Plymouth. Gold Rush history, with museums, former mining sites and quaint retailers, fill all these old towns. Sutter Creek is the largest town, with an eight-block stretch of the old downtown almost completely preserved as it looked 150 years ago (it also features the most tasting rooms).

While no tasting rooms grace Fiddletown, stop on the several block remainder of the once bustling downtown to see the old blacksmith shop, Fiddletown Community Center, two red-brick buildings that housed historic Chinese retailers, and an 1850 rammed-earth adobe building housing the apothecary of Dr. Yee. Here you will also find a gem of a candy/confection store, Brown’s English Toffee, with a host of tempting sweets.

Dr. Yee's Chinese Apothecary in Fiddletown, in a rammed-earth adobe dating to 1850.

In case you wondered about Fiddletown’s name, in the late 19th century, it was a Gold Rush boomtown, but only when the seasonal creek flowed. During the warm summer and fall months, when the creek ran dry and placer mining reached a standstill, the miners took time off and just “fiddled around” – hence, the town’s name.

For good food, Plymouth, Amador City and Sutter Creek offer a variety of restaurants. Don’t miss Taste, in Plymouth, known as one of the top restaurants in the entire Sacramento Capital region (reservations strongly suggested).

Amador City's free street dance is held on Saturday evenings and brings out hundreds!

How to get there: Take CA Hwy. 88 from Lodi, to Hwy. 49, then go left/northeast to Sutter Creek, Amador City and Plymouth (the major entryway into the Shenandoah Valley).  It’s about 55 miles and one hour from the Lodi area.

For more information: for Amador wineries, Amadorwine.com; for information about local activities, dining and lodging, Amador County Tourism, TourAmador.com.

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

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Stockton and San Joaquin County “must sees” for visitors and residents…

Updating your local travel “bucket list”!

A few weeks ago, I postulated on “must visits” in Stockton and San Joaquin County for kids out on summer break.

Since that article appeared, a number of folks have asked what would be on an “adult bucket list” for our city and county? In other words, the places you’d take guests to, while visiting, or, the places you shouldn’t miss if you really want to discover the heart and soul of our community.

The stately Haggin Museum, with regional and city history and world-class art collection, anchors Victory Park.

I put out the call, via email and phone, to about 30 friends, city leaders and tourism experts. In most cases, their suggestions matched up to mine. And, a couple gems make the list I hadn’t thought of. So, here we go, suggestions from my wife and me, and additions from local friends in the know:

Stockton's Children's Museum is guarded by huge toy soldiers.

The most frequently mentioned places were the Haggin Museum, historic downtown Stockton and its waterfront and (for kids), the Children’s Museum and Pixie Woods. Notes veteran Stocktonian and author Sharon Nordstrom, “The Haggin Museum is a precious gem with educational and delightful exhibits.  Pixie Woods has to be one of the most charming play lands in all of California”. I would add the Haggin is a great place to start for local Native American history, Stockton’s early pioneer and agricultural history and additionally features a world-class art museum.

Downtown Stockton historic walking tours, including the interior of the 1910 Hotel Stockton, are organized by the Downtown Stockton Alliance.

Several suggested touring downtown Stockton, for learning downtown history, attending events and shows and dining at local eateries. Ben Saffold, Stockton marketing manager, and Marilyn Togninali, head of Friends of the Fox Theater, both made that suggestion. The Downtown Stockton Alliance hosts regular historic walking tours, and they can be made by reservation.

Marilyn adds, “classic movies at the Fox California/Bob Hope Theatre include a tour of the venerable movie palace – one of the last great theaters remaining in the San Joaquin Valley”. And both suggest dining out before or after your downtown visit, at locale institutions like Cancun, Casa Flores, On Lock Sam or Angelinas.

University of Pacific's campus is anchored by the DeRosa University Center; it's just 100' off the Calaveras Bike Trail, for mixing a campus bike tour and river bike ride!

Mike Klocke, Record editor, suggests exploration of the University of Pacific campus. Mike notes, “I’ve visited college campuses all over the country, and Pacific has what I would call ‘compact beauty’. Lovely to walk and small enough you can see a lot in a short time”. The Ivy League-like campus has been the location of some 70 movies and TV shows.

UOP is also bordered by the Calaveras River Bike Trail, for a walking or bicycle tour of both the campus and the Delta, with the trail heading west out to Buckley Cove on the San Joaquin River.

Stockton is rich in the arts (Stockton Civic Theater, Stockton Symphony, UOP and San Joaquin Delta College theater, events and shows at the Bob Hope Theatre and Stockton Arena), deep in ethnic, local food at special places like Casa Flores or Cancun for Mexican, On Lock Sam and Dave Wong’s (Chinese), Siamese Street (Thai), Saigon (Vietnamese), CoCoRo (Japanese) and hundreds more. And don’t miss the growing vibe on Miracle Mile, with Mile Wine, the Ave, Centrale, the Abbey, Valley Brew and more.

The Stockton Ports baseball team plays on the water at the modern Stockton Ball Park on the historic Banner Island site.

Sports on the waterfront includes Stockton Ports baseball or Stockton Heat hockey, while UOP and San Joaquin Delta College offer a host of sporting events in the college game; local festivals at Weber Point Event Center, San Joaquin Fairgrounds and other venues offer lasting memories (VisitStockton.com has a full calendar).

Many friends recommend the San Joaquin/Sacramento River Delta, with our city and county bordered by many of the thousand miles of waterways of this spectacular natural attraction. Nearby access to the Delta includes the Downtown Deepwater Channel and the Joan Darrah Waterfront Promenade and, just west, the Port of Stockton.

Include Delta dining for a fun outing, with scenic meals served at Nena’s in the downtown Waterfront Warehouse (formerly the historic Sperry Flour Mill), Garlic Brothers or Bob’s at the Marina (the latter two nestled beside Village West Marina at west end of Ben Holt Drive).

The historic Ryde Hotel, a former speak-easy, hugs the banks of the Sacramento River and can be part of a Delta auto tour!

The Delta offers boating, fishing and auto touring to destinations like the lovely Delta Loop (go west on Hwy. 12), and unique nearby Delta towns like Walnut Grove, Locke and Rio Vista. On your tour, seek out a score of historic draw-bridges, the historic Ryde Hotel and the route that offers two free auto ferries across bucolic waterways bordered by Valley Oaks and Delta vineyards.

Nearby communities have to make our list. The Lodi – Woodbridge wine grape appellation, with 80+ wineries; downtown Lodi, with the World of Wonders Science Museum, almost a score of wine-tasting rooms and charming restaurants makes for a marvelous small town ambiance. Nearby Micke Grove Park may be the county’s most underrated gem, with the San Joaquin Historical Society and Museum, Micke Grove Zoo, Japanese Gardens and more. In south county, don’t discount the Tracy Grand Theater, Manteca murals and Dos Reis Regional Park as reasons to look southward.

The Stockton Cambodian Buddhist Temple is most intriguing (photo courtesy of Visit Stockton).

And for arguabley the “most unique attraction”, the Stockton Cambodian Buddhist Temple has to be one of the most unique cultural places to visit in all of California!

For more information: Haggin Museum, hagginmuseum.org; Children’s Museum, childrensmuseumstockton.org; Pixie Woods, stocktongov.com; Downtown Stockton Alliance, downtownstockton.org; Fox California/Bob Hope Theatre, foxfriends.org;
University of Pacific, pacific.edu; Calaveras River Bike Trail, visitstockton.org; Stockton Civic Theater, sctlivetheater.com; Stockton Symphony, stocktonsymphony.org; San Joaquin Delta College, deltacollege.edu; Bob Hope Theatre and Stockton Arena shows, stocktonlive.com; Miracle Mile, stocktonmiraclemile.com; Stockton Ports baseball, milb.com; Stockton Heat hockey, stocktonheat.com; Visit Stockton, visitstockton.com; San Joaquin/Sacramento River Delta, californiadelta.org; Delta Loop, deltaloop.net; Lodi – Woodbridge Winegrape Commission, lodiwine.com; Visit Lodi, visitlodi.com; World of Wonders Science Museum, wowsciencemuseum.org; San Joaquin Historical Society and Museum, sanjoaquinhistory.org; Micke Grove Zoo, mgzoo.com; Stockton Cambodian Buddhist Temple, watdhammararanbuddhist.org.

A Delta sunset dinner is just the way to end a day of touring Stockton; photo taken from Garlic Brothers Restaurant outdoor deck on the Delta.

What special places did I miss? Email me and I’ll mention in my Record blog; contact me at tviall@msn.com; read more from Tim Viall’s travel blog, follow him on Facebook or Twitter. Happy travels in the west!



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Exploring the East Bay; the ghosts of old coal miners haunt Black Diamond Mines Regional Preserve north of Mt. Diablo

Ghosts of old coal miners haunt the East Bay foothills!

Somersville town site and Markley Canyon from Rose Hill Cemetery (look closely, see tailings from old coal mines).

From the 1850s to early 1900s, the largest coal mining area in California was the Black Diamond Mines District just northeast of Mount Diablo. The 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 about an hour and 10 minutes from Stockton. A lovely drive, a good hike (or bike) and loads of historical perspective await, located just northeast of Mt. Diablo and south of Antioch. The area was once home to three Bay-area Miwok-speaking tribes. With the arrival of Spanish, Mexican and American settlers in the early 1700s, the Miwuk lifestyles were dramatically altered.

Old coal-mining ore car is hidden in weeks, just off Nortonville Road Trail.

Coal was discovered in the 1850s and kept over 900 miners busy for 50 years. Towns including Somersville, Nortonville, Stewartville and two more blossomed in the district, home to miners, their families, merchants and saloon-keepers. At the peak of operations in the late 1870s, the coalfield’s population was the epicenter of Contra Costa County.

Scores of mines were tunneled into the Contra Costa foothills, with miners digging shafts into the hills, yielding tailings (waste rock piles) still visible from miles away. The Pittsburgh Railroad serviced the mining district, taking coal to Pittsburgh docks where it could be shipped to San Francisco, Sacramento and Stockton.

Due to rising production costs and new energy sources such as oil, the coal mines ceased operations in the early 1900s. By the 1920s, sand mining began in the district, supporting the Hazel-Atlas Glass Company in Oakland and foundry sand for the Columbia Steel Works in Pittsburgh.

Rose Hill Cemetery, high in Contra Costa foothills, contains burial plots of over 230 miners and their family members.

We visited early on a sunny morning recently, after a scenic trip across the Delta. During summer, start early for it can get very hot by noon!

Beside the preserve’s parking lot are the remnants of the Independent Mine shaft. A large depression marks the site of a 700 foot sealed shaft and a boiler explosion in 1873 which killed two men and scattered boiler parts more than a quarter mile.

We could look high up the hills and see the Rose Hill Cemetery overlooking Markley Canyon. We grabbed a map from the visitor’s kiosk, and begin the roughly half-mile, uphill hike, past the old Somersville town site and several tailing piles from old mines to the cemetery.

Rose Hill was a Protestant cemetery and burial ground for many of the Welsh immigrants. Here lie over 230 burial plots, of children who died of epidemics (smallpox, scarlet fever, diphtheria, typhoid), men who died in mining disasters and women who perished in childbirth. Only 80 gravestones remain today, the result of vandalism or others that were wood and lost in fires; some gravesites were not marked.

Old mining machinery line the preserve's access road.

The gravesites carry eerie history, like plot 46, the grave of William Gething.  He died aged 36 in a Black Diamond Mine explosion in 1876, killing him and nine others – seven of the men are buried nearby. Nearby, plot 6, is the grave of Sarah Norton, wife of Noah Norton for whom the town of Nortonville was named. Sarah was a midwife who delivered over 600 babies; at age 68, in route to a birth in nearby Clayton, she was thrown from a buggy and killed instantly.

Another half-mile past the cemetery is the Nortonville town site, though neither Somersville nor Nortonville retain any of their buildings, with many dismantled when the towns were abandoned and others lost to fire. If one stops along the Nortonville trail and gazes over the cemetery, tailings and town site, you can almost hear the voices of miners and their families whispering in the trees.

Back in the valley, fairly short and relatively level hikes take you to the Greathouse Portal, which houses the visitor center within the old sand mine. Nearby is the Eureka Slope, an incline shaft entrance to the Eureka coal mine which produced 150,000 tons of coal out of a steeply inclined shaft descending 300 feet.

Preserve docent and friend await a grade school class to tour the Hazel-Atlas Portal into the old sand mine.

We walked to the Hazel Atlas Portal, another sand mine that operated until the 1940s. We chatted with a preserve docent, who was awaiting a first grade class to tour the shaft, which tunnels horizontally into the hillside for more than a quarter-mile. Tunnel tours are offered on the weekends, by reservation (bring a flashlight and jacket, the old mines maintain a temperature in the high 50s within their confines).

The preserve offers about 60 miles of trails traversing grassland, foothills, woodlands, evergreen forest and exotic plantings of the miners including pepper trees, almond, eucalyptus and black locust. The trails are ideal for hiking, biking or horseback riding (the park offers two backpack campsites).  Take your binoculars and keep a watchful eye for rabbits, deer, raccoons, skunks and occasional bobcat, fox, coyote and mountain lion sightings. Over 100 species of birds make the area home, including rare golden eagles. Mt. Diablo State Park is just miles south, but that trip is for another day!

How to get there: Take Highway 4 west through the Delta, to Summersville Road exit in Antioch. Go south on Somersville to the preserve entrance.

For more information: East Bay Regional Park District, EBParks.org, (888) 327–2757.

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

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Stockton, San Joaquin summer-time destinations for the kids

Get the kids out of the house and into summer adventure!

OK, your kids are just weeks into summer vacation, and, they are B-O-R-E-D! What to do…? Let them scan this list of kid’s favorites, polish their own list and get them out of the house and into the community’s wonderful attractions!

Here’s a running start, based on experience of three grandkids and tips from other kids and parents:

The Water Fountain at Weber Point always draws big crowd of kids to its cooling waters!

Downtown Stockton: the downtown Stockton waterfront from the Ports Ballpark and Stockton Arena on the north channel-side to Weber Point, the Cineplex/Hotel Stockton at the head of the Channel out to the Children’s Museum and Morelli Park on south channel, it’s the heart and soul of Stockton.  Once the Gold Rush port to the Mother Lode, it brought miners, merchants and helped build an agricultural empire second to no other in the US.

Start your tour near Weber Point, where the outline of Captain Weber’s home rests on the southwest side of the park (and, dip a toe in the Weber Point Interactive Water Fountain). Walk the Joan Darrah Promenade, rent a kayak at the Stockton Marina, and take in a Stockton Ports baseball game or an event at Stockton Arena.  For more info, downtownstockton.org.

Stockton’s Children’s Museum, Pixie Woods, Haggin Museum: Mark both the Children’s Museum in downtown Stockton and Pixie Woods at Lewis Park as places for fun for kids of all ages.

Author's grandson Jack enjoys driving a Regional Transit bus at the Children's Museum.

The Children’s Museum (childrensmuseumstockton.org) lets the kids play on a fire engine, fly a helicopter, prowl in a police car and discover so much about the world they reside in.  At Pixie Woods (stockton.gov/pixiewoods), take a boat ride on the Pixie Queen Paddle wheel steamer, ride the rails on the Pixie Express Train or join scores of families on the carousel.

Pack a picnic for Victory Park and take in the stately Haggin Museum (hagginmuseum.org), one of the west coast’s prime museums and art collections and has anchored Victory Park for 83 years.  Second Saturdays offer up special programming for families with kids.  The museum focuses on the city’s history from Native Americans, the Miwuk and Yokuts, city founder Captain Weber, to more modern leaders like Benjamin Holt (inventor of the Caterpiller-type tractor), Tillie Lewis (the “Tomato Queen”), and Stephens Brothers wood boat builders.

Among its art collections are scores of paintings by 19th and 20th century American and European artists, and breathtaking panoramas of the Yosemite Valley.  Ongoing special showings of art make the Haggin experience one that varies by the month.

Jack builds a miniture city at World of Wonders Science Museum in downtown Lodi.

Lodi’s downtown: Movies at the new Cineplex, nearby World of Wonders Science Museum and a quintessential small-town vibe make Lodi a place to stroll and enjoy a summer’s day. The World of Wonders Science Museum (wowsciencemuseum.org) is a hands-on activities center for kids and adults. Located in historic downtown Lodi, the museum offers hands on, creative science exhibits to energize and amaze the minds of all ages.

Check the special events option on the museum’s website, including the Maker Fest, July 30, with toy dissections, Artwork Alley, Crafting Corner, Kid’s Construction Zone and more fun. Other specials include Free Fridays (bring a friend on the last Friday each month, and your friend gets in free). The museum is located near the Cineplex, at 2 N. Sacramento Street.

Micke Grove Park with the Zoo, San Joaquin Historical Museum and Japanese Gardens: This is one of our county’s undiscovered gems, a huge park set amidst towering Valley Oaks that contains the Zoo, Japanese Gardens and the San Joaquin Historical Society and Museum.  History comes alive at the San Joaquin Historical Museum(sanjoaquinhistory.org). With nine large exhibit buildings packed with Native American, pioneer, Gold Rush and agricultural history, and four historic buildings including the Charles Weber Cottage dating to 1847 and the Calaveras School, 1866, it’s one of the state’s best historical museums. And, weekends through end of August, kids can pet farm animals a’plenty at the Critter Corral!

Kids get a kick out of antique farm truck loaded with produce packing crates at the San Joaquin Historical Museum.

Within the large park you’ll also find the stunning Japanese Gardens, the Fun Town Amusement Park and the Micke Grove Zoo (mgzoo.com), surrounded by lots of picnic areas placed amongst the oaks. Special Zoo events include Zoomaginations, July 11-15 and Wild Water Play Days, July 18-22. Pack a picnic lunch; the park offers so many options in addition to the zoo and museum, you’ll spend a long day.

Hiking, Biking: Pull out those walking shoes or dust off the bikes and head for places like the Calaveras River Bike Trail, with neighboring University of Pacific campus, makes for a great place to start either a walk or ride.  From UOP, one can walk or pedal to the Miracle Mile or the Haggin Museum through wide, shady residential streets.  Explore the Delta, accessing it at the west end of Hammer Lane or the Cosumnes River Preserve (cosumnes.org) north of Thornton. Make sure someone packs a plastic bag; blackberries are thick along delta waterways and make for tasty pancakes the following morning!

Author's grandkids Hunter, Jessica and Jack, hiking on the Delta's Shima Tract.

Explore the San Joaquin/Sacramento River Delta: Take Highway 12 west out of Lodi, and tour the Delta Loop, just past Bouldin Island, or Eight Mile Road west to tour Delta waterways and several busy marinas. Or, follow Hwy. 4 west (extension of Charter Way in south Stockton).  Explore Delta back roads, count how many historic draw bridges you cross, and watch the varied agricultural bounty, as well as boats or big ships all along the way.

Cultural celebrations: Throughout the summer, our city and county offers up scores of fun celebrations of our cultures and many ethnicities, including Lincoln Center Live, July 15 and August 19, Taste of the Delta at varied Delta locations, July 30, the Stockton Obon Festival, August 6, 7 at the Stockton Buddhist Temple, Stockton Con, August 20, 21, Reggae on the Delta, August 27 and many more.

While you are enjoying local entertainment, don’t overlook Wednesday night free concerts in Victory Park through end of August, the monthly free movies at Weber Point and classic films presented monthly at the Bob Hope/Fox CA Theatre. Go to visitstockton.org for a list of community events.

Stockton's downtown waterfront is a great place to walk or bike! Take in a movie, see a Stockton Ports game, too!



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

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American the Beautiful senior pass: the best deal in camping and touring in National Parks and other federal attractions

I just got lucky and scored a campsite for two nights at lovely Pinecrest Lake up Hwy. 108, 25 miles east of Sonora.  The on-line reservation asked for my federal senior pass number, which I typed in.  I had forgotten this was a Forest Service campground – and with the 50% discount, we scored two nights for only $25!

Pinecrest Lake on Hwy. 108 above Sonora, lovely in summer with several pretty Forest Service campgrounds nearby!


If you are 62 or older, get the America the Beautiful federal senior pass, just $10 for life, offering you free entry into National Parks like Yosemite and Pinnacles and half-off most federal campgrounds!

America the Beautiful senior pass, deal of a lifetime!

America the Beautiful senior pass: They are available for in person purchase at the entrance to national parks and many national monuments, the America the beautiful senior pass, for those 62 and older, is the best deal in travel.

The pass gains you free admission into national parks, national monuments and other federal facilities. It saves you half price on most National Park, Forest Service, Corps of Engineers, Bureau of Land Management and other federal campgrounds. And, get 1/2 off admission charges to many attractions (such as the caves and much more) in some of our national parks.

Between national park admission fees, and half-off on campgrounds – we probably have saved $1500 in the last 3+ years. I just booked the campground at Pinecrest Lake, forgetting it was in the national forest and had to pay only $25 for two nights, a lovely place and only a short walk to the pretty lake.

In person they cost $10 – for life – online you pay $20, again a pass for life. Here is the detail from the National Park Service web site:

1.   You can buy a Senior Pass in person from a participating Federal recreation site or office. See Site Locations that issue the Senior Pass.

2.   You can buy a Senior Pass using the USGS online store. Applicants must fill out the Online Application and upload proof of residency and age. This may be done by photographing your document and uploading it to the order. You will need to provide a credit card payment of $20.00 ($10.00 fee for the Senior Pass, and an additional $10.00 document processing fee). Once the documentation is verified and payment is received, a pass, with the pass owner’s name pre-printed on it, will be issued to the applicant. If you cannot order a Senior pass online, you can submit a Paper Application by mail to the USGS using the paper application and enclosing the same documents and $20 fee.

Online Senior Pass applications are processed and shipped within 3-5 business days from the day they arrive at USGS. Transit time varies, and is dependent upon the service selected:

• USPS – typically 5-10 business days
• FedEx Ground – typically 3-5 business days
• FedEx 2nd day – typically 2 business days
• FedEx Overnight – typically 1 business day

If you need your pass within 15 days or less,  it is recommended that you either obtain your pass at the first site you visit, or request expedited shipping services for your order.

3.   What is the Senior Pass?

A $10.00 lifetime pass that provides access to more than 2,000 recreation sites managed by five Federal agencies, with up to 100% of the proceeds being used to improve and enhance visitor recreation services.

For more information: The America the Beautiful federal senior pass, see above; purchase in person at entrances to our national parks, or purchase on-line at: the Online Application; for more info on the National Park Service Centennial, nps.gov/subjects/centennial/index.htm.

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

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Enjoy Lake Tahoe in summer and avoid the crowds…find hidden corners of the lake!

Beat Lake Tahoe’s summer crowds; focus on quiet places along Tahoe’s south and southwestern shore…

Lupine frames Mount Tallac, off Hwy. 89 north of South Lake Tahoe.

Sure, Lake Tahoe can be jammed by tourists in summer months. But, you can still find quiet, secluded places near the lake, hang out for three or four days and mostly avoid the warm-weather crowds. We’re on a budget, so camping was our answer to keeping expenses down. Here’s our latest adventure.

Campgrounds abound, including Forest Service and state parks. Fallen Leaf Lake is our favorite, just off Lake Tahoe on an almost equally impressive Fallen Leaf Lake. A Forest Service campground, the federal America the Beautiful senior pass (just $10, age 62 and up), cuts the price in half, just $16.50/night.  It’s a forested, spacious campground, with 200+ sites, with nice shower facilities and a bike trail to the Lake Tahoe shore.

Pick up a map of hiking/biking trails from the Forest Service Supervisors Office in South Tahoe. We started with a fairly easy hike, right out of the south end of Fallen Leaf lake campground, the Moraine Trail, which winds along the edge of Fallen Leaf. It’s a forested, shady trail, easy – along our trek, a coyote followed us for 100 meters through a thick forest swale.

Another option is the paved bike trail that heads north out of the campground towards Lake Tahoe and interconnects with the bike trail following the lake’s shore along the Tallac Historic District.

Eagle Creek thunders down towards Emerald Bay, just off Hwy. 89. One can hike up the creek to pretty Eagle Lake.

The next day we departed early and drove north on Highway 89 to Emerald Bay, parked and hiked up the Eagle Creek Trail to Eagle Falls, thundering with snow melt. It’s only about 1/2 mile to the spectacular falls, though fairly steep; the trail continues on to Eagle Lake, scenic and very pretty with snow remaining on high.

Or final trek was the toughest, a portion of the Mount Tallac Trail. From South Lake Tahoe, looking north, Tallac is the broad peak, 9700 feet, still thick with snow above 8500 feet. The trail, in its entirety, is 9.5 miles and climbs 3100 vertical feet. We began at the trailhead, about a mile and a half off highway 89, and quickly started up.

Snow plant brightens the Mount Tallac Trail heading up towards remaining snow fields.

Our hike led us up a long, steady slope on an exposed breezy ridge, with views of both Fallen Leaf Lake and Lake Tahoe. Plenty of wildflowers, from crimson-red snow plant, purple Lupine and Indian paintbrush enlivened the trail. As we got closer to Mt. Tallac’s snowfields, the views became even more dramatic. The thinning air and our relative lack of fitness precluded continuing on – but even this portion of the trail ranked high in our hiking experiences.

Tahoe is laced with dedicated bike and hiking trails, throughout South Lake Tahoe, just north heading up Highway 89, further north along 89 starting at Homewood and along both the Truckee River and Tahoe’s north shore. Hardy cyclists can tackle the entire 72 mile loop around Lake Tahoe, though it has its share of narrow, twisty turns and several steep vertical climbs -  not for the faint of heart.

The beach adjoining the Tallac Historic District looks north to Baldwin Beach, with Mount Tallac looming in the background.

Tahoe lakefront options, for sunny beaches, hiking or cycling, are rich, indeed.  Camp Richardson is a favorite stop, with historic hotel, cabins, store, ice cream shop, bike rental and a lovely beach. Part of that beachfront scene is the Beacon Restaurant – dine on the beach, have a drink and sample the fish and chips. Later in the summer, music Wednesday through Sunday on their deck makes for an even more fun vibe.

Just north of Camp Richardson is the Tallac Historic District. Stop at the Forest Service Visitor Center, get details on these three historic former luxury waterfront estates, the Baldwin Estate, the Pope Estate and Valhalla. Then walk the paved trail to view what life was like for Tahoe’s glitterati in the 1920s and 30s. Here you can also walk to the sandy beach for incredible lake views.

Further north on Hwy. 89 is Emerald Bay, perhaps the most photographed place on the lake. On the bay is the lovely Vikingsholm estate, built in 1929. A steep hike down to the bay allows tours of the old mansion and close-up views of this highly-visited portion of the lake. Eagle Creek thunders into the bay nearby, heavy with snow-melt.

Wildflowers frame Lake Tahoe in distance, and Fallen Leaf Lake, right, from trail up to Mount Tallac.

We usually breakfast at our campsite, and occasionally pack a lunch for our daily tours. For dining out, our favorite restaurants in this part of Tahoe include The Beacon and Lakeside Beach House and Artemis Lakefront Café in South Lake Tahoe. Though we didn’t get up to Tahoe City, our favorite breakfast place in the entire Tahoe area is Rosie’s – try it!

A variety of upcoming Tahoe events make for good reasons to pick travel in the next several months. Truckee Thursdays run every Thursday evening, June 9 to August 18 with a beer garden, live music, farmers market and craft vendors. Information, TruckeeThursdays.com. The Valhalla Art, Music and Theater Festival kicks off June 22 and concludes August 31 with a variety of music, art and theater. Information, ValhallaTahoe.com.

Music on the beach can be found at the South Shores Lakeview Commons on Thursday evenings; Kings Beach offers free music on Fridays and Tahoe City’s concerts at Commons Beach take place on Sundays through much of the summer. Harveys in South Tahoe offers big shows and concerts at their Outdoor Arena, information, Caesars.com/Harveys-Tahoe/shows.

The Lake Tahoe Shakespeare Festival in its 44th season features two mainstage productions, “The Comedy of Errors”, and “Forever Plaid” at Sand Harbor State Park. Information, LakeTahoeShakespeare.com. Tickets start at $15 and offer classy plays right on Tahoe’s magnificent shore.

Tahoe Queen and MS Dixie II prepare for scenic cruises of the lake from Zephyr Cove. Midday, sunset and dinner cruises are options for this delightful tour of the azure lake.

A variety of higher-priced options abound, from ziplines, renting jet skis, SUPs, boats, golf and taking in big acts at the casinos. If you haven’t taken a Tahoe paddlewheel excursion, consider taking the several hour cruise on the MS Dixie II or Tahoe Queen out of Zephyr Cove on the Nevada south shore.

Heavenly Valley’s new Epic Discovery Summer Adventure Park debuts, promising lively activities like Alpine coaster, ziplines, canopy tour, rock climbing, ropes courses, 4×4 expeditions and interactive learning stations. Check it out at ski heavenly.com/epicdiscovery.

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

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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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