Road tripping; historic Route 66 through Arizona, California

The Copper Cart in Seligman, AZ, is a busy place for food or Route 66 miscellany.

The Hi-Line Motel in Ash Fork, AZ, once prospered but closed when I-40 skirted the small town.
An abandoned truck stop in Ash Fork, AZ, is within viewing distance of I-40, which bypassed it in the 80s.
The Canyon Club in Williams serves Mexican food and drinks a’plenty.
Author’s spouse Susan “standing on the corner in Winslow, AZ”.
The El Trovatore Motel in Kingman is a trip back to the Route 66 past.
The Wigwam Motel in Holbrook, AZ, “do it in a teepee” they advertised!

Road tripping; touring historic Route 66 through Arizona, California
Take the ‘Mother Road’ in bite-sized pieces!

Route 66, feted as “America’s Mother Road”, turns 93 this year and the Nat King Cole hit, “Get your kicks on Route 66″ celebrates 73 years. Each year, more and more Americans endeavor to tour all, or part, of the historic highway. To do it well, Chicago to Santa Monica, you’ll need 2 to 3 weeks. Better, for most, is to tackle the old highway in bite-size pieces.

The highway was dedicated in 1926 and brought millions of Americans west to Arizona and California; but, by the 1950s, its days were numbered. President Eisenhower, noting the success of the German Autobahn during the World War II, spurred the construction of a new, Federal four-lane highway system in 1956 that would become today’s Interstate system.  Five new Interstates (I-55, I-44, I-40, I-15 and I-10) would steadily replace Route 66 over almost 30 years, and in 1985 Route 66 was decommissioned (Williams, AZ was the last town bypassed).

We have been touring portions of Route 66 over the past six years. We tackled our first segment, from Williams, Arizona west to California’s border six years ago (and just revisited that stretch in January), followed by the Oklahoma, Texas and eastern New Mexico portion five years ago, then the Needles, CA to Santa Monica section four years ago, and, later, the stretch from St. Louis, Missouri through Kansas to Oklahoma. That means we still have the Chicago to St. Louis stretch to navigate – hopefully a meandering diversion on our next trip across the central US.

Without space to share all our favorite memories of the three-quarters of Rt. 66 we have toured, we offer sections.  Last week, we shared New Mexico memories, this week, we take you from Petrified Forest National Park, through Holbrook and Winslow, AZ (homes, respectively, to the Wigwam Motel and the Jack Rabbit Trading Post) and head west to California.

In many places, Interstate 40 directly overlaid Route 66; remaining portions of the old highway are well marked as exits off the Interstate. Visit Petrified Forest National Park, the only national park bisected by Route 66; where a short drive off 40 will take you to an exhibit highlighted by an abandoned 1932 Studebaker, marking the old highway’s right of way through the park. You’ll see the Painted Desert, evocative in deep reds and oranges, and the Petrified Forest. Heading west, stop in Winslow for “standing on the corner”, from the popular song “Take It Easy”, written by Jackson Browne and Glenn Frey, recorded by the Eagles.

Flagstaff, a big town relative to the others, owes its history to Route 66, railroads and lumbering. A good portion of the old highway is preserved in Flagstaff, with a number of businesses celebrating the old road. But Williams, just west, toasts the highway best. Blessed as the gateway to the Grand Canyon just 55 miles north, Williams would be the last town bypassed by the Interstate in 1984. Enjoy Williams several miles of preserved Route 66, with numerous shops and restaurants offering memories and memorabilia. You’ll find old filling stations, motels and vintage cars, looking much as they did in the 1950s. Stop at the Canyon Club for drinks and Mexican food, and explore blocks of retro downtown and the nearby Grand Canyon Railway!

Just west, Ash Fork, with abandoned truck stop and the town almost dried up, is sober testimony of a city that lost its luster when bypassed by the new Interstate. The remaining shuttered motels, dilapidated bars and homes offer a melancholy footnote to busier times.

However, the next town west, Seligman, offers an example of how a small town off I-40 can recapture much of its grandeur by focusing on the highway’s drawing power. Stop at the Copper Cart or Snow Cap Drive-in for a bite, and admire both the town and many tourists that make this such a popular diversion. It’s also on an unbroken stretch of Route 66, well-preserved, with interesting high desert towns of Peach Springs and Hackberry, all the way to Kingman.

Kingman is another town that goes out of its way to preserve memories of the old highway. We spent a recent night at the El Trovatore Motel, remaining much as it was in its heyday some 60 years ago. The owner provided us a good map of Route 66 highlights, and a 15 minute discussion of what to see and do. Stops include the Arizona Route 66 Museum and Route 66 Electrical Vehicle Museum, Kingman Railroad Museum and Mohave Museum of History and Art. Check out Locomotive #3759 in Locomotive Park, retired in 1957, which logged 2.5 million miles with a top speed of 100 MPH.

Follow the old highway west-bound into the low mountains and find old Oatman, with a wild-west themed downtown, and populated by scores of wild burros that wander the streets and raid snacks out of visitor’s purses!

Crossing into California, Needles boasts the grand old El Garces Hotel (an old Harvey House Hotel) built in 1906, the Needles Theatre, circa 1930 and old Union 76 and Texaco gas stations.  Just behind the Route 66 Motel are the moldering remains of the old Carty’s Camp Motor Court, featured in the Grapes of Wrath movie. The balance of the journey, with Route 66’s western terminus at the Santa Monica Pier, will await another installment.

For more info: Overall historic Route 66: nps.gov/nr/travel/route66; Arizona, azrt66.com; California, route66ca.org.

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

Posted in Southern California, Southwest USA (Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico, Texas) | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Road tripping; touring historic Route 66 through New Mexico and Arizona

Route 66 Arch, lit at dawn greets visitors entering or leaving Albuquerque on old Rt. 66.

The old El Vada Motel, west Albuquerque, has been repurposed into shops and eateries.
Historic KiMo Theatre, circa 1927, at dawn, Albuquerque’s Central Avenue.
Route 66 memorabilia lines an old building next to the 66 Diner in Albuquerque.
Old 1932 Studebaker marks roadbed of old Route 66 through Petrified Forest National Park.
Author and spouse Susan, “standing on the corner of Winslow, AZ”

Take the ‘Mother Road’ in bite-sized pieces; touring historic Route 66 through New Mexico and Arizona

My first experience with Route 66 was the summer of 1962, when my intrepid mother piled me, age 15, and my two younger brothers in the back of a 61 Ford station wagon towing a Nimrod tent trailer. We headed off from Ohio to Chicago, then followed Route 66 all the way to Southern California and it’s terminus at the Santa Monica Pier. My dad would fly into Los Angeles and join us, but those two weeks on Route 66 are forever locked into my memory.

I have advocated before for the fun of touring Route 66, and doing it in bite-size chunks along its eight state, 2,448 mile route. A recent housesitting opportunity in Albuquerque give us a chance to explore the New Mexico and Arizona stretches of the old Mother Road, headed west.

A bit of history: Route 66 was christened in 1926 with Americans clamoring for better, paved roads. The Bureau of Public Roads authorized the first Federal Highway, linking existing local, state and national roads – though it wouldn’t be continually paved until 1937. Result was a meandering highway beginning in Chicago, crossing Illinois, Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and California, ending in Los Angeles. The road was frequently realigned, and 10 years later the terminus was shifted to Santa Monica.

A combination of factors led to continual growth of US highway travel, including gasoline for $.18 a gallon, new Fords and Chevys being mass-produced for $350 and $525 respectively, the Depression and Dust Bowl which caused wholesale western migration from the center of the country, World War II and its aftermath. Result was millions of Americans heading west to start new careers and lives. With the end of the world war, many more Americans were ready to travel and see the west – Route 66 was the chosen alternative for a huge percentage of travelers.

A tour through New Mexico and Arizona deals with the reality of the interstate highway system, which took root under President Eisenhower in 1956 and slowly but steadily supplanted much of Route 66. In these two states, Interstate 40 often over-paved the old highway. It enters New Mexico from Texas, picked up its first sizable town in Tucumcari, and headed west. An early alignment went north to Las Vegas, then west to Santa Fe, then south to Albuquerque and west again.

During our Albuquerque stay, we took commuter rail up to Santa Fe and toured about a mile of the old 66 route through that oldest of all state capitals, admiring the stately Saint Francis of Assisi Cathedral, the historic La Fonda Hotel and more. From Albuquerque, we picked up Route 66 at the base of the Sandia Crest, just east of the big city, and then follow the old route past old, abandoned motels on the outskirts, and into Albuquerque on Central Avenue, Route 66’s path through the city.

This 10 mile stretch is rich in historic motels, many still operating, 50s and 60s eateries like The Frontier and Monroe’s Restaurants and historic buildings including the KiMo Theatre, circa 1927, open nightly for movies and live stage shows. On the city’s Westside, stop on the edge of the Rio Grande River for a bite at the repurposed El Vado Motel, now re-done with shops and restaurants and sporting classic neon. Also admire the Route 66 Arch greeting visitors heading into or out of the city.

Heading west, the road quickly becomes overtaken by Interstate 40, though Surviving segments of Route 66 are pretty well marked off the interstate. Just off this stretch of the highway are gems like Petroglyphs National Monument, Chico Cultural National Historic park and El Morro National Monument – alas, the federal government shutdown made access difficult, though I was able to walk into part of Petroglyphs NM.

Off interstate 40, we exited the highway to see you remaining sections of old 66 through both Grants and Gallup, New Mexico, each one once bustling with Route 66 traffic, now slowly moldering away as Interstate 40 bypassed traffic around the towns.

Our next stop was just across the state line in Arizona, with a delightful stop for the highlights of Winslow. The song “Take It Easy”, written by Jackson Browne and Glenn Frey, recorded by the Eagles, made famous the lyric “Standing on the corner in Winslow, Arizona, such a fine sight to see. It’s a girl, my Lord, in a flatbed Ford, slowin’ down to take a look at me“. You’ll find a classic small downtown, well-preserved, with theater, several quaint restaurants, two corners ripe for picture taking, an old Texaco service station and shops galore – nostalgia spread liberally over about 15 blocks.

Next week, we will continue our Route 66 tour through Arizona and into California!

For more info on Route 66: Overall historic Route 66, nps.gov/nr/travel/route66; Arizona, roadtripusa.com/route-66/arizona/; New Mexico, newmexico.org/things-to-do/scenic-byways/route-66-national/

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

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Albuquerque is the place (despite record snow, cold) for beauty, history and nostalgia!

The Route 66 Arch over Central Avenue greets visitors on the city's west side. Rt. 66 wended its way through the city on Central Avenue.

San Felipe de Neri Church, dating back to 1706, anchors the Plaza in Old Town Albuquerque.
Petroglyph National Monument lies on Albuquerque’s west side; though closed for the government shutdown, you could walk into the hallowed grounds.
The El Don Motel is one of several score old motels that date to Route 66′s heydey in the 40s, 50s and 60s in Albuquerque.
The Art Deco-Pueblo Revival KiMo Theatre, circa 1927, anchors Central Avenue in downtown Albuquerque.
Fried green tomatoes (left) and a blue-cheese spinach burger are specialties of The Hollar Restaurant in Madrid.
Old coal-mining truck stands guard over Madrid in the Sandia Mountains east of Albuquerque.
The Rail Runner commuter train loads passengers in Santa Fe for the run back to Albuquerque.
St. Francis of Assissi Cathedral in Santa Fe, NM.

For a distinctive Southwestern experience, Albuquerque is the place, despite record snow, cold!

Months ago we arranged a housesitting assignment in Albuquerque, New Mexico, just two blocks from the University of New Mexico campus. Dreaming of warm southwestern temperatures, we planned to explore the city and surrounding New Mexico countryside. Little did we know that the “blizzard of recent years” would hit the city on our arrival, New Year’s Eve, shutting down the town for two days and locking New Mexico in an icy grip for our two week stay.

Long being Route 66 aficionados, we entered the city from the west on the old highway, passing under the Route 66 Arch and following Central Avenue through the city to our destination just a few blocks off the old “Mother Road”. Route 66, christened in 1926 and decommissioned in 1985 when the system of Interstate highways took the lion’s share of traffic away, brought millions of people to New Mexico (including my mother, two brothers and me in 1962).

Beginning in Chicago, Route 66 wound through eight states, covering 2,448 miles on the way to Santa Monica, California. Nostalgia for the old highway still brings thousands of tourists through Albuquerque each year, searching for memories from the 1950s and 60s along Central Avenue.

Central preserves much of Route 66, including the grand arch on city’s west side, the Standard Diner and 66 Diner (with several surrounding buildings covered with Route 66 memorabilia). Route 66’s path through the city features many remnants of the highway’s, including the 1927 KiMo Theatre, 423 Central Ave, a wonderfully preserved Art Deco-Pueblo Revival theatre, open most nights for movies and live performances. Along the avenue, find many old Rt. 66-era motels like the Teva, El Don and Monterey Motels, all lit at night with traditional neon signage.

The University of New Mexico campus offers a destination for several miles of scenic walks, including stops at the campus student union, plaza with duck pond, bookstore and theater. A separate athletic complex several miles south offers a chance to see a wealth of sporting events at the major college level.

The Brick Light District lies across from University of New Mexico campus on Central, a quaint, brick-walked district including the Frontier Restaurant and a wealth of other unique eateries and night spots. We found the campus and district eminently walkable, and less than a mile from the house where we stayed. Just further east on Central is the historic and quaint Nob Hill District, with shops, boutiques, restaurants and additional evidence of Route 66’s heyday.

Old Town Albuquerque, just west of the downtown area, should be an early Albuquerque stop. Old Town includes the historic Plaza with San Felipe de Neri Church dating to 1706. The plaza is surrounded by several blocks of boutiques, galleries, ethnic and New Mexican dining options and exudes early Albuquerque history.

Albuquerque is known for authentic southwestern dining. Standout restaurants we sampled included Monroe’s and The Range for authentic New Mexican food, The Frontier (iconic restaurant with hundreds of selections across from University of New Mexico), the Standard Diner and the 66 Diner on Central and Jamba’s for African specialties.

Local cultural attractions include the Albuquerque Museum of Art and History, the Anderson–Abruzzo International Balloon Museum (with a direct connection to the huge October international balloon festival), New Mexico Museum of Natural History and Science, the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center and Explora in Albuquerque (Explora is a science center near Old Town, offering a hands-on learning experience for families, from young kids to inquisitive adults).

Nearby national monuments and nature centers include Petroglyph National Monument (on the city’s western flank) and the Elena Gallegos Open Space Park, though with the federal government shut down access was limited to Petroglyph NM and I was able to hike into only one canyon to admire the ancient Native American rock etchings. Suffice it to say that this part of New Mexico offers scores of outdoor natural history attractions, national monuments and scenic high desert destinations.

The Rail Runner commuter train offers a scenic and relaxing 65 mile trip north east to Santa Fe, the oldest city of all US state capitols. Best of all, seniors (62-up) ride the modern rail cars free on Wednesdays. Santa Fe, featuring Saint Francis of Assisi Cathedral, the old Plaza area, Statehouse and historic La Fonda Hotel is a “must“ day trip; the train makes it an easy one. The Plaza is surrounded with a wealth of shops, galleries, boutiques and restaurants to delight the most discriminating of shoppers.

Another fine day trip is the drive up to towering Sandia Crest via Hwy. 14, then continue northeast to old mountain towns of Golden and Madrid (a former coal mining center, now a tourist draw with galleries, shops and restaurants). The drive to Madrid will take a little more than an hour, and we suggest a lunch stop at the esoteric restaurant The Hollar – fried green tomatoes and the blue cheese spinach burger make it both a quaint and delectable stop.

For an immersive southwestern experience, plan your own trip to Albuquerque. If in winter, bundle up!

For more information: Albuquerque, visitalbuquerque.com; New Mexico, visitnewmexico.com.

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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Stockton Restaurant Week offers great opportunity to explore locally!

Michael's Pizza, with both creative and traditional pizzas, is part of Restaurant Week.

Couple a dining stop with a visit to the downtown Stockton Children’s Museum!
Bud’s Seafood in Lincoln Center is always a Restaurant Week favorite!
Use Restaurant Week to do local tourism, such as a visit to the always changing Haggin Museum in Victory Park.
America Waffles presents American standards.
Several restaurants along Stockton’s historic Miracle Mile are part of Stockton Restaurant Week.
Misaki Restaurant next door to the Downtown Cinema presents delectable fare!

Stockton Restaurant Week makes for a great opportunity to explore locally!

The most anticipated dining showcase in Stockton celebrates its 10th year: Stockton Restaurant Week returns January 18-27, making for an ideal time to dine out, enjoy new tastes and partake in local tourism right in your backyard.

For 10 days (including two weekends), more than 30 diverse Stockton eateries will offer pre-fixe breakfast, lunch, and dinner options during Stockton Restaurant Week. The list contains most of our favorites, and a number of newer restaurants we’ve been meaning to try.

Participating Restaurants for 2019 (as of 1/10/19): Accent Bar & Grill at The Reserve at Spanos Park, America Waffles, Angelina’s Spaghetti House, AVE on the Mile, Blackwater Café, Bud’s Seafood Grille, Cast Iron Trading Co., Central Bistro & Bar, De Vega Brothers, Deliberation Room, Delta Bistro & Lounge at University Plaza, Dream Ice Cream Parlor, Fat City Brew & BBQ, Finnegans Pub and Grill, Go Falafel Greek Food, Green Papaya Restaurant, Market Tavern, Mezzo, Michael’s Pizza, Midgley’s Public House, Midgley’s Public Truck, Midtown Creperie & Café, Mile Wine Company, Misaki Sushi & Bar, Papapavlo’s Bistro & Bar, Poke Salad, Port City Sports Bar & Grill, Prime Table, Seoul Soon Dubu, Squeeze Burger, Superfish Poke & Tea, Thai Me Up, The Creamery, The Downtowner, The Kitchen at Stonebrier, Whiskey Barrel Stockton, Yosemite Meat Market & Deli. For an updated list, go to stocktonrestaurantweek.com.

“Our goal has always been to highlight the diverse dining options our city has in store for all to enjoy. I can proudly say that Stockton Restaurant Week has consistently done that for a decade and this year is shaping up to be the best yet” says Wes Rhea, Visit Stockton CEO. He also suggests using the visitstockton.com for other Stockton attractions. The event gives locals, visitors and foodies alike an opportunity to try multiple dining establishments without breaking the bank. So, gather up family and friends, dine out and see some of the local sights at the same time! Here are suggestions:

The Stockton Civic Theater, January 16 to February 3, presents ‘Lend Me a Tenor’; directed by Shawn Carrington, play by Ken Ludwig, it’s a comedy of tenors in the cleverly written farce set in a posh Paris hotel suite In the 1930s. Stunning gowns and proper tuxedos share the spotlight with more skimpily-dressed actors in a rollicking tale of love and romance (rated PG13). The Stockton Symphony is also a fine coupling for an evening of dining and culture, with guest artist Sandy Cameron on Saturday, January 26, 6 PM in a program featuring Bernstein, Beethoven and Prokofiev.

Stockton’s Haggin Museum, on Thursday, January 17, 6:30 PM, presents international recording artist  Yukiko Matsuyama with a musical program bridging cultures and eras. An ongoing exhibit runs through January 27, Photographic Adrenaline: Works by Arturo Vera. Vera presents more than 40 images from street photography to florals, capturing life’s moments with a realistic and artistic eye.  The Haggin is always a fine place to gain understanding of local Native American history, Stockton’s early pioneer and agricultural history and it is long a world-class art museum.

Historic downtown Stockton and it’s waterfront makes a good place for a stroll, while taking in a movie at the Downtown Cineplex. Nearby, the Children’s Museum makes a great place to take kids. Check the Stockton Arena for ongoing Stockton Heat hockey and Stockton Kings basketball games as another incentive to tour amidst your foodie destinations.

Don’t overlook the stately University of Pacific campus, featuring both stage productions and sporting events and offering a lovely campus to stroll. Bordering the campus is the Calaveras River Bike Trail, for walking or bicycle tours that can take you all the way out to Buckley Cove on the San Joaquin River. Nearby San Joaquin Delta College offers theater and sporting events, as well.

One of the more unique attractions is Stockton’s Cambodian Buddhist Temple, one of the most unique and colorful cultural places to visit in all of California. While it’s a little too early for Stockton Ports baseball or the opening of Pixie Woods, keep them in mind for future local visits, and couple a visit with another stop at your newly favorite local eatery.

While Micke Grove Park is a bit north of Stockton, it is one of the county’s most underrated gems, with the San Joaquin Historical Society and Museum, Micke Grove Zoo, Japanese Gardens and more. Include a stop at a Stockton northside restaurant and make a day of it!

For more information: Haggin Museum, hagginmuseum.org; Children’s Museum, childrensmuseumstockton.org; Fox California/Bob Hope Theatre classic movies, foxfriends.org; University of Pacific, pacific.edu; Calaveras River Bike Trail, visitstockton.org; Downtown Stockton Alliance, downtownstockton.org; Stockton Civic Theater, sctlivetheater.com; Stockton Symphony, stocktonsymphony.org; San Joaquin Delta College, deltacollege.edu; Bob Hope Theatre and Stockton Arena, stocktonlive.com; Miracle Mile, stocktonmiraclemile.com; Stockton Heat hockey, stocktonheat.com; Stockton Kings basketball, Stockton.gleague.nba.com; Stockton Restaurant Week, stocktonrestaurantweek.com; Visit Stockton, visitstockton.com; San Joaquin Historical Society and Museum, sanjoaquinhistory.org; Micke Grove Zoo, mgzoo.com; Stockton Cambodian Buddhist Temple, watdhammararanbuddhist.org.

What special places did I miss? Email me and I’ll mention in my Record blog; contact me at tviall@msn.com; or follow at recordnet.com/travelblog. Happy travels in your backyard!

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

Two people, 63 days, 12,000 miles, nine Canadian provinces, 23 states, just $4400!

Grand Coulee Dam, central Washington, with our Scotty teardrop trailer, a few days before we headed up into British Columbia.

RCMP officer Walsh was delighted to share insights as to Canada’s Ottawa Parliament, and best place for Premier Trudeau sightings!
Peggy’s Cove on the Nova Scotia coast, simply stunning. However, a big tourist draw; be prepared to share the road to this pretty place!
Cherrystone Clam Linguini, locally sourced, made by Susan at our Acadia National Park campground, Maine. One of best meals of our two month trip!
Watkins Glen State Park, upstate New York, named for the evocative gorge cutting through the park.
Snow rolling into Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park in Colorado; winter a-comin’!

The Lunz duo; the father gave me a 15 minute ride on his huge John Deere harvester in Illinois. Fun!
Biker bar, with tables in Chesapeake Bay, near eastern terminous of Hwy. 50, just 2,500-some miles to Sacramento!

63 days, 12,000 miles, two people, nine Canadian provinces, 23 states, unparalleled scenery,  just $4400!

We have been traveling regularly in six years of retirement, but had never done a “two-monther”. And, we had a large part of Canada we wanted to see, as well as exploring more of the US east coast and heartland. Take two retirees, a yen to see Canada and the United States, add a dash of adventure, tow a tiny teardrop trailer and explore for more than two months – you have the makings of a classic road trip. To avoid breaking the bank, we traveled with a small car towing a 900 pound teardrop trailer, camped and planned to stay with family/friends where possible.

So, late in July we departed for the Pacific Northwest, across Idaho into Montana and crossed the border into British Columbia. We would follow the TransCanada Highway the length of that huge country, with side trips to the “Niagara Falls of the north“, Kakabeka Falls in Ontario, visit several stunning Canadian provincial parks like Whiteshell in Manitoba and Algonquin in Ontario, a side trip to Ottawa to see Parliament and a visit to historic Quebec City. We then pressed on to the three Canadian Maritime Provinces, spending eight days in New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island. Our only regret was that we had not more than the eight days to explore rocky, spectacular Canadian coastline.

However, we had pre-booked reservations in Maine’s wonderful Acadia National Park, so late summer found us heading down the US’s eastern coast to the park for several days, a stop in Boston with family and to revisit early American history. We then traveled west across the mountains of New Hampshire and Vermont, into upstate New York for a visit to Lake Placid (home to two Winter Olympics), Cooperstown‘s Baseball Hall of Fame and a four day rally with fellow classic Scotty trailer owners in Watkins Glen State Park. We then moved on to New York City, camping in a state park on Long Island. Our final push south took us to Delaware and Maryland to see family.

Dining on Maryland’s oceanfront, my brother pointed out the eastern terminus to Highway 50 was nearby Ocean City, Maryland. With my dislike of tedious US interstate highways, it was easy to plot a route back to California, covering almost every inch of historic US Highway 50, its western terminus, Sacramento. Along venerable Highway 50 are found scenic hairpin turns through West Virginia’s mountainous coal-mining district, Serpent Mounds National Historic Park in Ohio (with both effigy and burial mounds by Native Americans dating back 800-1300 years), the US’s longest historic covered bridge in Indiana and a ride aboard a huge John Deere harvester in Indiana.

At St. Louis, we did a 100 mile detour southwest on a section of historic Rt. 66, then cut back to Hwy. 50, across Kansas and into Colorado, with a visit to Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park – where driving snow flurries suggested summer was at an end – then onto scenic Utah and a chilly stop in Great Basin National Park in Nevada. Our final night was spent on eastside of Yosemite National Park, a fitting place to end our camping adventure.

Our trip added up to 63 days, 12,000 miles, $1,150 in fuel; 45 nights in campgrounds, averaging $19/night (using our Federal senior pass), $910; two free nights, a truck stop and rest area; Affordable Travel Club stops, three nights, $90 (a lovely travel club where hosts put you up, feed you breakfast and share insights on their town/region, you tip them $30 on departure, affordabletravelclub.net); six nights with friends or family, no charge; hotels, motels, four nights, $400; groceries, $800; eight nice meals out, $600 (usually splitting one entre and a salad); miscellaneous, including fast food, incidentals, $450. Our total, about $4,400.

Lessons learned on this trip included these:

Plan a bit less structure into your trip. There is no need to book campsites or motels far in advance (with a few exceptions like very popular Glacier and Acadia National Parks). With family and friends, give them a rough window of 4-5 days; allowing flexibility if you find a wondrous place like Nova Scotia where you might choose to spend several more days. On that theory, build an “unplanned day” into your schedule, every week or so.

Ask locals for recommendations. As example, Montanans were pleased to tell us the best restaurants along our coming route (like Stillwater Fish House just west of Whitefish), the Marchants in B.C., our Canadian club hosts raved about the mighty Columbia River and then gave us a tour of surrounding mountain majesty, Sargent Walsh of the RCMP who offered the best place to see Prime Minister Trudeau heading to the Parliament and top attractions and restaurants nearby (we never spotted Trudeau, but found Ottawa a very compelling capitol city).

Revel in local fare, both dining at independently-owned restaurants and fresh food purchased and prepared in camp. Several of our best meals occurred on back to back evenings, an $18.95 full course lobster dinner in Bar Harbor next to Acadia National Park, followed by fresh clams with pasta and green salad, purchased in the same city and prepared at our campground the next evening.

Contact Tim at tviall@msn.com; follow him at recordnet.com/travelblog.

Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park, as snow rolls in...

Posted in Canada, Eastern, Canada, Western, Central California, East Coast US, Midwest US, Mountain West (Montana, Wyoming, Utah, Colorado), Northern California, Pacific Northwest USA (Oregon, Washington, Idaho), Southeast US, Southwest USA (Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico, Texas), Teardrop and tiny travel trailers | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Must-do trips in the western United States for 2019

Crater Lake's Wizard Island juts up from the flooded volcanic crater.

Landscape Arch, with author and spouse Susan, spans over 300 feet in Arches National Park. It is one of 2,000 arches throughout the park!
Cedar Breaks National Monument offers views of its eerie hoodoos without the crowds that jam nearby national parks.
Grand Coulee Dam (with our Scotty trailer) was the world’s largest concrete project when built in the 1930s.
Seattle’s Space Needle stands watch over Elliott Bay (view from Kerry Park on Queen Anne Hill).

Bucket list for travels: Must-do trips in the western United States for 2019

We are pursuing the on-going theme, “Travel far. Travel wide. Travel close to home. Life is not meant to be lived in one place”. Last week we offered ideas on bucket list destinations within California; this week we expand our horizons to the western United States. Here are suggestions on different ways to think about your travels and expanding your travel bucket list to the states surrounding California:

Take road trips on iconic historic highways: Three fine candidates include the old Lincoln Highway (beginning it New York, it ran right through Lodi, Stockton and Tracy), Hwy. 50, the “Loneliest road in America” (which terminates in Old Sacramento with the Pony Express, transcontinental telegraph and trans-continental railroad) and Rt. 66, the “Mother Road” which ends at the Santa Monica Pier after a 2,448 mile route from Chicago. Interesting stops in California, Nevada, Arizona and New Mexico make researching these old highways interesting and visiting some of the historic highlights on each road a fun family endeavor. One can tour these old highways a short stretch, or a full state, at a time, then add additional pieces at a later date. As example, we’re going to explore old Route 66 through New Mexico this month, which will complete all of our exploration of the old highway (except for Illinois, which we’ll save for a future trip). Americana is on full display in the old towns and museums along these routes.

Seek spectacular lesser-known destinations in neighboring states: Great Basin National Park on the eastern side of Nevada features the state’s second-loftiest peak, Wheeler Peak, and Lehman’s Caves winding almost a half mile into the huge mountain. Or couple a Las Vegas trip with a visit to Arizona’s north rim of the Grand Canyon, which hosts only 10% of the visitors who jam the South rim, and yields equally jaw-dropping views into the mile-deep canyon. The north rim also features a herd of almost 400 Bison, which are not found on the south rim. Or, head north tracking volcanoes like Lassen Peak in Lassen National Park, past Mt. Shasta into Oregon to find Crater Lake National Park and other wonders of Southern Oregon like the Oregon Shakespeare Festival at Ashland. The first view of Crater Lake’s cobalt-blue waters, like one’s first gaze into the Grand Canyon, will last a lifetime.

Take an extended road trip linking spectacular places: Piece together a week’s vacation, a long holiday weekend and several extra vacation days to get 16 days on the road and visit places like Montana and Wyoming, where Tetons National Park, Yellowstone and Glacier Parks all reside, and head north into British Columbia and Alberta for big mountain tours of Banff and Jasper National Parks. Or chose Utah, with five national parks and lovely towns along the route such as St. George, Park City and Moab. Plot a trip with Denver as your base, with Colorado’s four national parks and mountain resort gems like Vail, Aspen, Steamboat Springs all within a day’s drive.

Do a circuit centered on both iconic towns and great scenery: Choose Seattle as a starting/end point for a tour that would include the Olympic Peninsula, Victoria B. C. and Mt. Rainier. Look east and include Grand Coulee Dam (when built in the 1930s, the world’s largest concrete construction project), Dry Falls State Park (a falls once five times the size of Niagara Falls), and North Cascades National Park. End your tour with a visit to Seattle’s Space Needle and toast a glorious sunset over Elliott Bay. Make Portland the center part for a tour of Mount St. Helens (which erupted violently in 1980), Mt. Hood and the Columbia Gorge to the east, and the lovely Oregon coast to the south.

Explore seaside scenery: Don’t overlook the coasts of California, Oregon and Washington for wonderful travel holidays. California Hwy. 1 packs ocean shore, state parks, early California history and marvelous resorts and delectable restaurants into its 600-plus mile scenic route.  Oregon’s Hwy. 101 explores more of the same, with easy public access to all of Oregon’s rocky coast. Washington’s Hwy. 101 offers the delights of the Olympic Peninsula and easy access to Victoria, B.C. or Seattle.

Don’t miss gems near iconic destinations: Do a good map search and talk to locals at your destination. Just west of Yellowstone Park you’ll find the eerie Earthquake Area, named for the 1959 temblor that collapsed a huge mountain, burying 28 campers and creating Earthquake Lake. Or, if circling Utah’s national parks, don’t miss other special stops like Cedar Breaks National Monument or Snow Canyon State Park, north of St. George, offering monster scenery but far smaller crowds.. Hovenweep National Monument near Bluff and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument near Kanab are additional special places, often overlooked.

Resources: Unique guidebooks like Atlas Obscura (by Fuer, Thuras, Morton) or state-specific guides like Weird  Washington (Davis, Eufrasio) or Weird Colorado (Getz) profile scores of interesting places; for state travel, use resources like Arizona’s, visitarizona.com or Nevada’s, travelnevada.com; for national parks and monuments, nps.gov.

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

Posted in Mountain West (Montana, Wyoming, Utah, Colorado), Pacific Northwest USA (Oregon, Washington, Idaho), Southwest USA (Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico, Texas), Teardrop and tiny travel trailers | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Bucket list suggestions for your 2019 California travels

Huge steam donkey provided power to skid and mill logs in the Tuolumne City area.

Back road’s discovery; Cosumnes River Preserve just north of Thornton and Lodi.
Atlas Obscura is a fine guide to weird and wacky treasures both in California and much beyond.
Wildflowers surround an old windmill near the entrance to Carrizo Plain National Monument, just a few hours south on Interstate 5 from San Joaquin County.
Discover Hetch Hetchy Valley and Lake, just a short detour off your next trip to Yosemite Valley.

Exploring California in the new year; bucket list suggestions for your 2019 California travels

In our years leading up to retirement, and particularly since, my spouse and I frequently reflect on the quote (author unknown), “Travel far. Travel wide. Travel close to home. Life is not meant to be lived in one place”.

This column shares ideas on “traveling close to home”, primarily in our great state of California. Here are a few tips and different ways to think about what you might want to see when you polish your travel plans within the Golden State:

Explore back roads: Ever since riding with my dad as a pre-teen in our 53 Plymouth,  remembering him saying “let’s see where that road will take us”, I have been a fan of exploring back roads. My motto: Avoid freeways, and particularly Interstates, if it all possible! As example, if visiting Lodi and surrounding wine country, back roads like Thornton Road will take you to a marvelous little bakery in Thornton, Consumnes River Farms for wine and olive oil tasting, and north to Cosumnes River Preserve, for spectacular bird-watching along the riparian banks of the Cosumnes River.

Our Sierra foothills are bisected by back roads gems: If you’re near Sonora, perhaps checking out Black Oak Casino, follow Tuolumne Road a bit further to Tuolumne City, tied both to gold rush history and several huge, now shuttered lumber mills. The city preserves some of the buildings of huge Westside Lumber, which closed in 1960 – it represents two bygone eras of the gold rush and timber production.

Take exploratory day trips: Use special events like the upcoming Stockton Restaurant Week (January 18-27, 2019, 30 participating restaurants) as a reason to dine at several new places and see elements of the city you’d forgotten about, including exciting new restaurants in downtown Stockton.

Or explore Lodi, starting with breakfast at a favorite, Richmaid on Cherokee, a throwback to the 1950s (with the Vintage Reserve Garage across the street, featuring 20 to 30 classic and vintage autos for sale), and check out local jewels like the San Joaquin Historical Museum, the World of Wonders Children’s Museum and the quaintest of reborn downtowns. Another idea, explore Oakland and San Francisco using public transit; the Bay Area ferries, street cars, cable cars along SF’s Embarcadero and waterfront.

Explore lesser scenic wonders near major attractions: Instead of the crowds that pack Yosemite and Sequoia/Kings Canyon National Parks, check out often overlooked national monuments like Carrizo Plain National Monument (several hours down Interstate 5, stunning in the spring with wildflowers a-plenty). Find historic Jolon and Mission San Antonio de Padua near Pinnacles National Park, itself an undiscovered treasure just south of Hollister.

Regional or state parks usually experience lighter crowds, like Black Diamond Mines Preserve in the East Bay (preserving remnants of California’s coal mining empire which prospered from the mid-1800s until the early part of the 20th century) or Mt. Diablo State Park (on a clear day, you can see 100 miles, camp overnight and enjoy miles of hiking trails). For a California desert experience, skip often-jammed Death Valley National Park and check out Anza Borrego State park, larger than the other 250 state parks combined, offering similar desert wonders as Death Valley, and the eerie Salton Sea just east.

If you’re off to iconic destinations, find gems along the way: On the way to Yosemite, look for interesting stops along Hwy. 120; walk the several blocks of gold rush town China Camp, once home to a huge Chinese mining and merchant population, now just a shadow of its former grandeur. Before reaching Yosemite, detour along Evergreen Road and check out huge O’Shaughnessy Dam and spectacular Hetch Hetchy Valley, which John Muir compared as an equal to Yosemite Valley. It gets about 4% of Yosemite’s traffic, and is a worldly wonder in its own right.

Prospect lesser-visited parts of the state: Explore the Eastern Sierra along Hwy. 395 including Bodie (one of the west’s iconic ghost towns), Mono Lake and its other-worldly tufa columns, Manzanar Internment Camp (were thousands of Japanese-Americans were sadly interned during World War II), beautiful Mammoth Lakes Area and the stark but scenic Alabama Hills area where scores of Hollywood westerns were filmed. California’s north coast, or the Big Sur Coast and points south offer equally interesting scenery and discovery potential.

Ask locals about secret wonders: On a tour of Death Valley, several locals suggested exploring just east of the park to Rhyolite, a once thriving silver mining city with its own rail station, numerous hotels and dozens of buildings and one-time almost 10,000 citizens, now slowly decaying since its abandonment in the early 20th century. We were tipped off about the Salton Sea while visiting Anza Borrego State Park (by the park’s campground host), California’s inland sea formed by huge floods from the Colorado River in the early 1900s, now site of failed resort towns and a growing man-made ecological disaster.

Use guide-book resources: Atlas Obscura (by Fuer, Thuras, Morton) or Weird California (Bishop, Oesterle, Marinacci) profile scores of interesting and amazing oddities that will make you a back roads aficionado.

And, remember to travel while you can; don’t put off your travels when you can start close to home, with some of the USA’s grandest destinations just a few minutes or hours away. Stay active and fit with brisk neighborhood or trail walks, and, “get traveling”!

Resources: the Guidebooks noted; for California travel, visitcalifornia.com, and local resources like Stockton travel, visitstockton.org.

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

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

New Year travel plans for the frequent but frugal traveler

Visitors admire Half Dome from Yosemite's Glacier Point. Yosemite makes a great place for a mini-vacation if you live in northern or central California!

The Marchants of Baynes Lake, British Columbia, Canada, were our first Affordable Travel Club hosts a few summers ago.
Close-to-home mini-vacations, like exploring Rose Hill Cemetary in Black Diamond Mines Regional Park in the East Bay area of CA. The cemetery is final resting place of over 100 miners and their families from CA’s coal mining district, which boomed in the late 1800s.
The America the Beautiful federal senior pass has saved is over $3,000 in last five years. Get all the discounts (AAA, AARP, travel clubs, annual passes) that you are entitled to!
Church of the Steps (circa 1859) interior, in historic Mt. Adams district, Cincinnatti, OH. Use surprise trips (like for an Ohio wedding) as opportunity for exploration!

Extend your New Year travel plans; ideas for the frequent but frugal traveler…

With the New Year approaching, many of us are contemplating our upcoming travel plans. I’m reminded of the Susan Sontag quote, “I haven’t been everywhere, but it’s on my list.” My wife and I are retired, but even if you’re still working, we will get creative to extend your travel days.

First, don’t overlook travel close to home, or in your nearby region. Take weekend overnight trips to the gems like the gold rush towns in the Sierra foothills, or to lovely nearby towns like Lodi or Modesto. Within two hours are the allure of Lake Tahoe, Napa/Sonoma wine country, the Bay Area and the Big Sur coast.

I’m also reminded of the quote, author unknown, “travel while you can”. We’ve known too many friends who stated “we’ve got big travel plans upon retirement”; their health or financial situation changed and those plans never reached fruition. Work at staying fit, take brisk neighborhood or trail walks or use a gym membership (paid for as part of our Kaiser Permanente membership) to maintain your traveling tone.

Should business travel or unexpected trips present themselves, use them to tour new places; a niece’s August wedding gave us a chance to explore Cincinnati, OH, and we discovered the history and unique neighborhoods of the old “Queen City” on the Ohio River.

Don’t hesitate to use all your allotted vacation; if you can, harness a vacation week with a three day holiday weekend, making it a 10 day vacation. Or, if you can save unused vacation over to the next year, bank the days for an extended, longer vacation.

Use discounts for all they’re worth. AAA, AARP and other travel clubs discounts will save you money on many purchases. If you’re a veteran, many places offer 10% discounts; ask! When booking hotel or motel rooms, wait until the day the room is needed, and book through Priceline.com or booking.com, saving up to 50%. We once thought we had to book our hotel motel rooms weeks in advance; we never do that and rely on same-day reservations for big savings – and have never missed out on a  room.

For extended stays look at VRBO.com or Airbnb.com. Over the last two years, we’ve booked weeklong stays at beautiful beachfront condominiums on Kauai and Hawaii’s Big Island for about $105 a night. If VRBO existed 20 years ago, we would never have bought two timeshares. And, with Uber and Lyft, do you really need a pricey rental car for a week’s stay in many destinations?

If you frequently visit national parks, monuments and other federal properties purchase an annual pass or, if age 62 and older, the federal senior pass. Our America the Beautiful senior pass offers half off entry fees to all national parks and monuments, and half off almost all campground fees – saving us more than $3000 over the last five years as we toured the US with our classic 64 Scotty travel trailer (another marvelous way to see the country and save money).

Booking airfares? Most experts suggest booking about 60 to 90 days out, with best prices usually posted on Tuesdays. Pack light and save on checked luggage. Take Uber or Lyft to the airport and save on long-term car parking fees.

Meal savings? We take advantage of motel breakfasts, can get a cheap lunch almost anywhere.  For dinner, Susan and I have become expert at dining early by sampling several happy hour dishes while savings on drinks. If we splurge on a real dinner, we ususally split a main course and a salad, and never leave hungry.

For frequent travelers, consider inexpensive travel clubs like the Affordable Travel Club, affordabletravelclub.net; or Evergreen Travel Club, evergeenclub.com. Membership is $65 a year; when you travel you email or phone ahead a week or so, spend a night or several with one of the 2500 members in cities and towns across the US, Canada and world; hosts offer a nice bed, breakfast in the morning and you tip them $20 on the way out the door. It sure beats a $140 Comfort Inn!

We have met 10 classy members that way, making new friends in the US and Canada, and hosted almost as many, including a retired couple from England who have offered to put us up when we get to their country. Club membership also opened the door to us to six housesitting gigs in the last three years, at wonderful homes in Seattle (twice), Denver, Tucson, St. George, Utah, (and three weeks in Albuquerque, NM coming up). Virtually free travel accommodations, if you have the time and don’t mind watering plants to watching over a cat or dog.

In the next two weeks we’ll bring you bucket list recommendations for both California and the western United States travel destinations. Use holiday family time to discuss and plan the coming year’s travel plans. “Get traveling!”, Rick Steves would note.

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

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California’s Riviera: where the endless summer lives on…

Family poses with Mickey Mouse for photo at Disneyland.

Balboa Island Ferry connects with a short hop to Balboa Peninsula.
The brig Pilgrim lies at anchor in the Dana Point Boat Harbor.
San Clemente Pier, home to surfers and Fisherman’s Restaurant!

Corona Del Mar State Beach is adjacent to entrance to the Newport Beach Harbor.

Visit California’s Riviera, where the endless summer lives on…

Continuing on our quest to find nearby warm weather destinations for touring, camping and sun-worshiping, this week we take you to the Orange County, CA, coast, 360 miles and seven hours down Interstate 5.

It’s a land defined as “California’s Riviera” since the early 1900s, when both sun-worshipers and Hollywood discovered this sun-kissed 42 miles stretch of sandy beaches offering respite to rich and poor, young to old. We’ve been heading down that way in winter or early spring, to recharge our batteries after too many grey, gloomy days of northern California winter.

The county is home to Disneyland, Knott’s Berry Farm, the LA Angels of Anaheim baseball team and Mighty Ducks hockey team and many other attractions, but it’s the beachfront towns which we’re tracking. Let’s pack our beachwear, hiking shoes and bicycles, and explore sunny Seal Beach down to San Clemente!

Seal Beach, northern most in the county, is home to a lovely 3/4 mile strand of sand popular with beach-goers, the Seal Beach National Wildlife Refuge and Hennessey’s Seal Beach, a great place for breakfast or lunch, indoor and outdoor tables, and only a couple of blocks off the water. The beachfront cycling trail also connects with the San Gabriel River Bike Trail, as well as continuing south down Huntington Beach Bike Trail.

Huntington Beach Long ago earned the nickname ‘Surf City USA’, featuring three beaches, Huntington City Beach, Huntington State Beach and Bolsa Chica State Beach, popular for volleyball, surfing, fire rings, even beachfront camping. Just across Highway 1 is Bolsa Chica’s almost 1500 acres of wetlands, the largest saltwater marsh between Tijuana, Mexico and Monterey Bay.

Huntington Beach features the International Surfing Museum and the Surfing Walk of Fame along Main Street. Walk out on the Huntington Beach pier and watch world class surfers both north and south.

The Santa Ana River separates Huntington Beach from Newport Beach and offers a lovely bicycle trail following the river about 25 miles inland, through urban vistas, past the Los Angeles Angels ball park and the Honda Center, home of the hockey team, and up into the foothills east of LA.

Newport Beach boasts the world’s largest small boat harbor, two walkable peirs, the Balboa and Newport Piers, along a sandy beach front and lively bike path. Take the Balboa island ferry, (pedestrians and bikes welcomed) for an all-too short voyage between Balboa Island and Balboa Peninsula, connecting two lovely communities of waterfront cottages, boutiques and restaurants. Take the time to tour the 1905 Balboa Pavilion on the peninsula side, home to harbor tours, whale-watching tours and Santa Catalina Island cruises. The lovely town of Avalon is only 26 miles and about an hour and a half by ferry and well worth the detour if you’ve not been there. Newport offers plenty of upscale restaurants, but check out a funky favorite, the Crab Cooker on Newport Bay, casual, inexpensive and just right for families.

Block off a morning or an afternoon for a foot or bicycle tour of Balboa Island, circled by a wide walkway lined with $4 to $5 million waterfront “cottages” and stop for a famous Balboa Bar, ice cream on a stick, dipped in chocolate and covered with your favorite toppings, drawing a crowd since 1945. Just beyond the Newport Beach harbor entrance is Corona Del Mar State Beach, one of the most popular beaches along this sunny stretch.

Not to be missed, the south end of Newport Beach features Crystal Cove State Park, with miles of trails along and above the Pacific. Within the park, the old beachfront town of Crystal Cove. preserves mostly-refurbished cabins, renting for $200 a night. Plan a sunset meal at Beachcomber’s Restaurant, anchoring Crystal Cove, and tour the small next-door museum that tells the story of the many movies shot in the 1930s to 80s, including Beaches starring Bette Midler, Herbie the Love Bug, Treasure Island, Son of Tarzan and many more. The park also offers the new Moro Campground on a bluff overlooking the ocean, a bargain if you can book a spot.

Heading south on Highway one, Laguna Beach is the next upscale town, offering many additional beaches, as well as the Laguna Art Museum and Laguna Playhouse. Across from the quaint downtown, packed with shops, restaurants and boutiques, is Main Beach Park.

Next town south is Dana Point and Harbor, popularized by Richard Henry Dana who wrote the 1840’s masterpiece “Two Years Before the Mast“. Tour the Dana Point Harbor, featuring well over 2000 boat slips, home to the Ocean Institute and Maddie James Seaside Learning Center, featuring replicas of the Pilgrim, the brig on which Dana sailed, and Spirit of Dana Point, a 1770’s privateer used during the American Revolution. It’s a photographer’s paradise.

At the southernmost end of the county is San Clemente, once home to President Richard Nixon, offering a lovely, 10 block long walkable downtown along Avenida Del Mar. Follow Delmar all the way to the beach and find San Clemente Pier, with shops and one of our favorite restaurants, Fisherman’s, right on the pier, perfect for delicious dinners blessed by incredible sunsets. San Clemente Beach State Park, with camping, is just south.

For more insight: Huntington Beach, surfcityusa.com; Laguna Beach, visitlagunabeach.com; Newport Beach, newportbeach.com; Orange County Visitor’s Association, visittheoc.com.

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

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California dreamin’… warm weather touring in Death Valley, Anza Borrego

Badwater Basin, salt deposits and stagnant water, at 282 feet below sea level.

Harmony Borax Works old water tanker and borax wagons in Death Valley.
The old Rhyolite railroad station stands sentinel over this large ghost town.
Sand dunes and knarly trees grace a portion of Death Valley National Park.
Bighorn sheep, high above Anzo Borrego SP.
Spindly Ocotillo plant in bloom, following light rain.
California Fan Palm oasis at top of rocky trail, Anza Borrego SP.

A California dreamin’ tour… find warm weather in Death Valley, Anza Borrego

Already tired of chilly mornings and frosty windshields? Use the winter and early spring to visit two of California’s more scenic and spectacular destinations, the desert wonders of Death Valley National Park and Anza Borrego State Park.

Take a tour of Death Valley and Anza Borrego, just 250 miles apart and perfect for winter touring for exotic wildlife, marvelous scenery and, later in the winter and spring, wild flower blooms.

Take the scenic route, up and over Highway 88, then down Highway 395 to reach Death Valley. Hwy. 395 will take you past a number of remarkable destinations, Including unique towns like Bridgeport, Lee Vining, Mammoth Lakes, Bishop and Lonepine (offering a number of low cost motels and B&Bs). Points of interest include Bodie, one of California’s most impressively preserved gold rush towns (though the access road is off closed in Winter), Mono  Lake with its eerie Tufa towers, the June Lake loop, Mammoth Lakes and the World War II internment camp of Manzanar, where Japanese citizens were sadly detained.

Heading to Death Valley from this direction, you’ll enter through the northwest portion of the park and the town of Panamint Springs, where you begin a steady drop in elevation below sea level. In the summertime, Death Valley is one of the hottest places in the world, with temperatures frequently reaching 125°F. In winter, it’s a pleasant place with temperatures in the high 60s and low 70s (though, chilly nights); winter rains begin to bring the desert plants to life.

Death Valley was named during the 1849 California gold rush when an immigrant wagon train from the Midwest suffered a fatality cutting across the arid valley. One of the 49ers, looking back, noted “goodbye, Death Valley” and the name stuck. As you tour the park watch for desert tortoise, roadrunners, hummingbirds and bighorn sheep.

Death Valley was home to native peoples thousands of years ago, and more recent settlers brought by the gold rush. But it was silver discovered in the park in 1873, causing  Panamint City to swell to more than 5000 residents. Silver soon played out, then “white gold” was discovered, borax. A stop at the Harmony Borax Works reveals the refinery and huge 20 mule-team wagons which operated from 1883–88.

Gold was also found within the park; the Keane Wonder Mine has been reopened after safety modifications, a gold mine that boomed from 1907 to 1912, producing over $1 million in gold inside the park. In 1904, gold was discovered just east of the park, leading to the last real American gold rush. Rhyolite, on the park’s eastern edge, is one of the more interesting ghost towns in the west. The town quickly expanded with thousands of miners, several roads and a railroad built into the district; a financial failure led to the end of the era by 1912.

Some of the park’s points of interest include Badwater Basin, 282 feet below sea level and Golden Canyon – just a short hike off Highway 190. Hike the canyon late afternoon when the setting sun offers spectacular colors. South is Natural Bridge, just off the main road and another short hike takes you to this natural wonder. And, tour Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes, a vast sandy desert expanse, wonderful for photo taking.

For wildflower blooms, a number of factors are at play, including rainfall, temperature, topography and elevation.  For updates on desert blooms, see desertusa.com, offering the best timing and locations to find often-stunning blooms of mimulus, encelia, poppies, verbena, evening primrose, phacelia, desert star, blazing star, desert gold and species of cacti (usually well above the valley floor). Death Valley boasts a number of campgrounds and hotel accommodations within the park.

Anza Borrego State Park, southeast of Palm Springs, is larger than the other 259 California State Parks combined. The vast park is named for Spanish explorer Juan Bautista De Anza and the Spanish word borrego, for bighorn sheep. The park is ringed by mountains and sand dunes, and, depending upon sparse rainfall, diverse wildflowers, exotic palm groves and a cacti prosper. The elusive bighorn sheep, Roadrunners, kit foxes, mule deer, chuckwallas, iguanas and rattlesnakes call the park home.

This is the Colorado Desert; millions of years ago, the Colorado River met the Gulf of California. When tourists visit today’s Grand Canyon and puzzle over where all that dirt and rock went – the answer is Anza Borrego. Park headquarters and visitor center offer insights and a developed campground is located on the edge of Borrego Springs, a city offering restaurants and motels.

For an adventure follow the Palm Canyon trailhead. The 1.5 mile hike up a bone dry canyon,  reaches a point where you’ll hear running water and find a pretty stream and increasing vegetation. At the top you’ll discover a beautiful California fan palm oasis (fan palms are California’s only native palm tree).

Sharp-eyed hikers may spot the elusive Peninsular bighorn sheep, as well as a variety of desert plants including indigo bush, brittlebush, creosote, blue palo verde (with yellow flowers), cholla, barrel and hedgehog cactus, Ocotillo and Mojave yucca. At nightfall, Borrego Springs, a Dark Sky community, provides outstanding opportunities for reveling in a wondrous star-filled night sky.

For more information: Anza Borrego State Park, parks.ca.gov/?page_id=638; phone (760) 767-5311;  Death Valley National Park , nps.gov/deva, (760) 786–3200.

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

Posted in Sierra Nevada, Southern California | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment
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    Tim Viall

    Viall is a local travel writer who retired in 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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