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!

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Wildlife safaris and photography in and around San Joaquin County

Grab your camera for wildlife safaris in and around San Joaquin County

In recent years, I have come to appreciate the excellent photography of a handful of locals, most notably Chuck Higgs, a former Record advertising manager and recently retired from management of another daily newspaper group. On Facebook, I have sent more “outstanding photo!” comments to Chuck for his nature photography than anyone else. Since he travels to lovely local and nearby destinations, his suggestions make for fine travel exploration. And, whether you plan to take telephoto pictures, or just watch wildlife and enjoy spectacular scenery, these destinations should make your list (all photos courtesy Chuck Higgs).

Over lunch recently, Chuck explained, “Timing is everything with these areas. For the ducks, geese and other water fowl, November through March is ideal. Once the water starts to dry up, the birds leave. Some area like the Yolo Bypass keep some areas flooded and those attract the birds.

Photography equipment depends on your purpose. A good DSLR camera and a long lens is ideal for shots like these. Cell phones can be used but I don’t think the pictures will be to your liking. If you are birdwatching, a scope or binoculars are a must. Check with the destination agency; often there is a club or someone that is familiar with the birds and can point them out to you”.

Three snow geese prepare to land at Merced National Wildlife Preserve
(all photos courtesy, Chuck Higgs).

Chuck also recommends taking water, snacks and appropriate clothing. His favorite destinations include:

Lodi Lake: Chuck notes, “Something is always happening there year round. Best to take the trail east of the lake; follow it all the way along the river to Pig’s Lake. I have found herons, egrets, turtles, river otters and ducks there. Along the trail I have spotted hummingbirds, deer and a raccoon. I once spotted a fox but only for a few seconds”.

Looking beyond the county, Higgs recommends the South San Joaquin Valley, the California coast and Sacramento Valley:

Merced National Wildlife Reserve: Notes Higgs, “Down Hwy 99 to Merced and then head west. Best time to visit the preserve is November through March to find 30,000 to 40,000 Snow and Ross’ Geese spending their time there. If you are patient enough you can see or photograph thousands of these geese taking to the air at one time”.

San Luis Preserve: Chuck adds, “The preserve offers an auto tour through the park; November through March is the ideal time to see the various water birds that spend the winter at the preserve. San Luis also has a fenced area that is the home to a herd of majestic Tule Elk”.

A bull Tule elk poses at San Luis National Wildlife Preserve.

Colusa National Wildlife Preserve: Says Higgs, “It’s about 1.5 hours north of Sacramento on Interstate 5, offering an auto tour – the best part of Colusa is a viewing deck that sits on one of the ponds. It’s a great place to watch ducks and geese but also provides a great opportunity for photographer to capture Snow and Ross’ geese and White-fronted geese landing nearby. Again, being patient, you’ll witness thousands of geese taking off all at once. Usually a loud noise or a hawk flying over will cause them to fly.

Just north on I-5, also find Sacramento National Wildlife Preserve; the preserve offers a small museum and gift store. An auto tour through the park, November through March, is again the ideal times to see many of the birds”.

A Northern Shoveler take to flight from Sacramento National Wildlife Preserve.
Three white-fronted geese lift off from Colusa National Wildlife Refuge.

Moss Landing. Higgs exudes, “This is a great place to watch and photograph otters. Moss Landing is about 20 miles north of Monterey. It’s easier to see and photograph the wildlife since Moss Landing is more of a working area than a tourist destination. Taking the road off Hwy 1 and going around the beach you’ll be able to see a raft of male sea otters sleeping in the middle of the bay and watch pelicans dive for food. You can usually see otters diving for and then eating their catch; with luck you can find a mother sea otter and her pup. Most of the sea otters in this area are males (most of the females stay farther south, near Big Sur). You can also catch a whale watching tour out of Moss Landing. Another interesting ride is the Elkhorn Slough boat that takes you up the slough. Both whale watching and the Elkhorn Slough boat have people on board that are knowledgeable about local wildlife”.

A mother sea otter feeds her pup at Moss Landing.

Higgs recently visited the Yolo Bypass Wildlife Area, adding, “Just west of the I-80 bypass bridge, take the Chiles Road exit. Go under the freeway and up on the levee and then down to a series of roads. There is a lot of water there and find egrets, herons, seagulls and ducks. They keep several areas flooded so a lot of water birds stay around. I’ve also noticed that they offer bat tours”.

Bodega Bay: Higgs notes “it’s a great place if you want to go to the ocean. I’ve only found birds and sea lions in that area. It’s beautiful scenery”. If time, explore the town and nearby Bodega for locations in the iconic Hitchcock film, “The Birds”.

Take Chuck’s advice; grab your camera, binoculars and get traveling!

For more information: Bodega Bay, marinescience.ucdavis.edu: Colusa National Wildlife Preserve, fws.gov/refuge/colusa; Lodi Lake, lodi.gov/348/Lodi-Lake; Moss Landing, dfg.ca.gov/lands/wa/region4/mosslanding.html; Merced National Wildlife Reserve, fws.gov/refuge/merced; Sacramento National Wildlife Preserve, fws.gov/refuge/sacramento; San Luis Preserve, fws.gov/refuge/san_luis; Yolo Bypass, dfg.ca.gov/lands/wa/region3/yolo.

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

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How we get around; insights from the CA Railroad Museum and CA Auto Museum

How do we get around? Consider the year 1900; depending upon your age, many of our parents, grandparents or great grandparents were born around that time. If you lived in the city (and Stockton’s population was only 17,501 in 1900) you had several choices to get around the much smaller town. You could walk, you could ride a bike, you could catch an electric streetcar or, if your family was wealthy, you could ride a horse or hitch up a buggy. A one mile journey would take anywhere from 20 minutes to much longer.

If you wanted to visit other cities, your choices were generally taking the railroad, a steamboat (if the other city was on a Delta waterway), a stagecoach, horseback or buggy or a long walk. If you wanted to connect with relatives in the Midwest, your choice was primarily the railroad.

Thanks to the evolution of both railroads and automobiles, our lives have changed immeasurably. Two nearby places to appreciate how much those inventions have changed our lives lie within a half mile of one another, the California Railroad Museum and the California Automobile Museum in Sacramento, 45 miles from Stockton. Touring both of the museums can be done in one day, but, start early. Each offers marvelous exhibits, an array of historic artifacts, vintage locomotives, rail cars, automobiles and limos, and both are staffed with docents delighted to talk about their museum’s finest displays.

Visitors will find docents like Steve Helmke (at left) eager to discuss vintage displays at both the CA Railroad and CA Auto Museums.

Start at the California Railroad Museum, which celebrates railroads’ huge impacts on California’s state-hood, Gold Rush and subsequent growth boom. In the 1840s, rail began to be developed with short-line railroads. Theodore Judah came west to help build the Sacramento Valley Railroad, finished 1856, connecting Sacramento to Folsom and the Gold Rush boom.

The Governor Stanford served Californians from the mid- to late-1800s before larger and more modern steam, coal and oil-burning engines took its place.

Desiring a connection to California’s gold, President Lincoln signed the Pacific Railroad Act in 1862 and the race to complete the Transcontinental Railroad began! The Central Pacific Railroad built east across the Sierra into Nevada while the Union Pacific Railroad forged west from Omaha. The two railroads met on May 10, 1869 at Promontory Summit, Utah, completing the nation’s first Transcontinental Railroad; a special display notes that the new rail-line changed a 3-4 month journey by wagon train into a trip that took just days.

Step back in time to the locomotives that powered California’s expansion from the 1850s. A prime exhibit is Central Pacific Railroad locomotive No. 1, the Governor Stanford. This 40 ton, wood-burning steam locomotive was built in Philadelphia in 1862, shipped around Cape Horn and served Sacramento from 1863 until retired from service in 1895.

The Promontory Point meeting of the two railroads in Utah completed
the Transcontinenal Railroad in 1869.

A number of noteworthy locomotives are on display. Amazing in size and length is Southern Pacific cab-forward locomotive No. 4294, built 1901. The distinctive cab-forward design allowed engineers to see around tight mountain corners and avoid coal smoke asphyxiation in the long tunnels and snowsheds that tunneled through the snowy Sierra.

A sleek dining car is one of several specialty cars on display. Santa Fe’s No. 1474 went into service in 1936 and displays the classic china and silverware settings of a dozen different railroads. A volunteer Porter allowed delighted kids to sound the chimes, calling train-goers to a fine dinner (a 1937 menu included swordfish steak for $.75 and sirloin steak dinner for two for $2.75).

Refrigerated cars like this Fruit Growers Express allowed San Joaquin Valley growers to ship vegetables and fruit to the Midwest and East coasts.

Other railcars offered distinct benefits to San Joaquin Valley agriculture; the Fruit Growers Express refrigerated car No. 35832 is typical of the early refrigerated cars allowing California produce to be shipped to the Midwest and East Coast – greatly expanding markets for San Joaquin growers. The museum offers scores more exhibits, including model trains ranging from Lionel, American Flyer, Gilbert and many more.

The California Auto Museum is just a dozen blocks south of the rail museum. One of the first displays presents a replica of Henry Ford’s 1896 Quadricycle in front of a life-sized horse, foretelling the auto’s quick displacement of horse-drawn transport. The museum offers more than a dozen Fords from 1896 up through the 1920s, when reliability, low cost and assembly-line production made Fords half the cars on US roads.

A replica of Henry Ford’s 1896 Quadricycle sits in front of a full-sized horse replica at the California Auto Museum.

The museum offers a unique collection of over 130 classic American and foreign autos, ranging from late-19th century to recent day.

A special display of British-built vintage autos will be featured August 23 through January. With luxury cars like Cadillac, Lincoln and Packard, muscle cars like Mustang, Camaro, Corvette, Thunderbird and Avanti, exotic models like Ferrari, Lamborghini and Ford Cobra, you’ll find cars that you, your parents and grandparents once drove or desired.

A special display of vintage British autos kicks off on August 23, through January,
like this 1933 Morgan three-wheeled sportscar.

Walking through the expansive museum buildings, we saw specimen examples of 1960’s pony cars: a 1965 Mustang, 1967 Camaro convertible (bright red, or course), 1966 Pontiac GTO and 1969 Boss Mustang. Models showing off Detroit’s excesses include a 1949 Cadillac and its introductory tailfins, which grew progressively larger in the 1950s.

The California Auto Museum displays diverse models like this 1960 Nash Metropolitan in rear, and 1966 Ford Cobra in the foreground.

One of the most impressive is a huge 1933 Lincoln KB Salon, with V12 engine, one of only 50 built. Owned by A. P. Giannini, founder of the Bank of Italy/America, it featured 150 horsepower, every creature comfort of its day and cost $4500 (a huge sum for the time).

Plan a visit to the Auto Museum and Railroad Museum – amongst vintage cars and locomotives, kids and adults will better appreciate how we get around!

A 1933 Lincoln KB Salon, with V12 engine, was owned by A. P. Giannini,
founder of the Bank of Italy/America,

For more info: California Auto Museum; 2200 Front St., Sacramento, calautomuseum.org, (916) 442-6802, open six days a week, 10 AM to 5 PM (closed Tuesdays); California Railroad Museum, 125 “I” Street, Sacramento, csrmf.org, (916) 323-9280; open daily from 10:00 am to 5:00 pm.

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

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Kit Carson and Silver Lake leave lasting impressions along scenic Highway 88

Scout Kit Carson and Silver Lake leave lasting impressions along scenic Highway 88

For 30-plus years, we’ve been taking long weekend trips up to South Lake Tahoe and the western shore of that dramatic lake, often choosing Highway 50 out of Sacramento for access. Almost as frequently, we have elected a return along Highway 88; but not until the journey just a two weeks ago had we actually overnighted along Highway 88 for several nights, hiked and checked out the lodging, dining and scenic options along the venerable highway.

Silver Lake, looking southeast from Kit Carson Lodge.

In the winter of 1844, the Fremont Expedition was encamped in Nevada’s Carson Valley when guide Kit Carson suggested heading west to reach Sutter‘s Fort in Sacramento for supplies. Washoe Indians told them of a route but warned them not to attempt to cross during the snowy winter. Fremont ignored the advice, the expedition slogged through heavy snows, and, unable to find game, had to subsist by eating horses, mules and dogs; miraculously, they reached Sacramento in early March with no fatalities.

With almost nine-year-old grandson Jack, spouse Susan and I recently set off to explore Highway 88 by heading north east along the highway, made a stop in the Gold Rush town of Jackson at the historic National Hotel and had soft drinks and a the snack in the hotel’s Stanley’s Steakhouse before beginning the steady ascent towards Carson Pass, elevation 8,574 feet.

Following east along Highway 88, you quickly reach the turn off to Jackson Rancheria Casino, a very popular gambling stop complete with big hotel and its own campground for visitors (and cheap gas). The town of Pioneer is just beyond, with quaint shops and several eateries – make a stop just past the town at the Amador Ranger Station to get good maps and insight as to lakes, trails and campgrounds in the higher elevations.

Grandson Jack tests the sea-worthiness of his kayak on Kirkwood Lake.

We were towing our Scotty travel trailer, so we checked out campgrounds along the Lower Bear River Reservoir and the east end of Silver Lake (making notes for a future camping return) before finding a marvelous small campground just a half mile west of the turn off to Kirkwood Ski Resort. Kirkwood Lake’s small campground, only 12 sites, sits adjacent to the lake, offering secluded campsites, spectacular scenery both to the west and north and the delightful lake for testing our recently-purchased two kayaks.

Jack and I took a short paddle following the shore of Kirkwood Lake, pronouncing the kayaks eminently sea-worthy, before Jack began his late afternoon climb in the towering granite boulders and modest cliffs surrounding the campground. Framed by purple lupine and a variety of red and yellow wildflowers, our young climber was in seventh heaven.

Jack finds climbing the granite boulders near our Kirkwood Lake Campground to be both invigorating and scenic!

The following two days we would explore the area around both Silver Lake and Caples Lake, two large and beautiful alpine lakes approaching the summit of Carson Pass. Silver Lake offers the most visitor amenities, with Plasse’s Resort and Stockton Municipal Camp on the lake’s west end and Kit Carson Resort on the east side.

Plasse’s Resort dates to Plasse’s Trading Post, circa 1853, with the resort built in 1900 and run by the Plasse family until 1979. The resort offers cabins, fishing boats and a small restaurant. Just beyond is Stockton Municipal Camp, featuring cabins, dining room and family amenities where generations of Stockton families have enjoyed crafts workshops and a large campfire circle for evening gatherings, sharing tall tales and smores preparation.

Kit Carson Lodge at Silver Lake’s west side offers accommodations right on the lake, boat and kayak rentals and a lovely restaurant.
Stockton Family Camp’s welcome center is at west end of Silver Lake.

The next day, we returned to Silver Lake, torn between kayaking out to Treasure Island in the middle of the lake, and taking the 1.6 mile hike to Shealor Lakes. Jack opted for the hike, and off we went, headed mostly north on a well-marked trail, through an alpine forest then over a glacier-smoothed granite ridge and down to the string of small Shealor Lakes, dotted along Tragedy Creek.

The route offers marvelous views of the Sierra above Silver Lake, as well as the rugged mountains looking north. We then retired for a late lunch to Kit Carson Lodge, a resort with a fine restaurant, cabins and rustic motel-room choices right on the shore of the lake. Two nearby Forest Service campgrounds, Silver Lake East and Silver Lake West (more scenic, nicer restrooms), offer wooded campsites within walking distance of Kit Carson Resort and the lake.

Susan and Jack pose for picture above the Shealor Lakes area (it’s a 1.6 mile hike from near the east end of Silver Lake).

The next day, we explored Kirkwood Ski Resort, pretty quiet during the summer season, and had lunch at a nearby favorite, the Kirkwood Inn (an historic former stagecoach stop). Seeking more high-alpine scenery and hiking options, we continued east past Caples Lake and turned right to reach Woods Lake. Woods lake, at 8,240 feet elevation, just below the late July snowline, offers hiking trails around the lake, taking trekkers over snow drifts to Winnemucca Lake, equally scenic.

Woods Lake, just southeast of Caples Lake, makes for find hiking and marvelous scenery!

Continuing east on Highway 88, it’s only a few miles further to crest Carson Pass, with additional hiking trails running north and south along the Sierra Crest and a visitor center and docents offering maps and personal insights as to best routes (just below the pass, Kit Carson carved initials into a tree in 1844). By now, you have quickly realized that this stretch of the Sierra offers plenty of reasons for future visits.

For more information: El Dorado National Forest, fs.usda.gov/eldorado; Kit Carson Lodge, kitcarsonlodge.com; Plasse’s Resort, plassesresort.com; Stockton Municipal Camp, stocktonfamilycamp.org.

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

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