Bicycling in your county and Sierra foothills; and take in the Sea Otter Classic!

Stockton Bike Club members crest Patterson Pass on recent ride.

Stockton Bike Club members at start of February’s Pedaling Paths to Independence ride.
LSD (long, slow distance) riders head north on Thornton Road.
Cross country cyclists in Ft. Ord National Monument backcountry, part of the Sea Otter Classic.
SJBC riders stop at Consumnes River Farms, Thornton, to sample olive oil.
Thousands of consumers course through the huge Sea Otter Classic trade fair.
Sea Otter Classic dual slalom course offers great spectator viewing.

Bike touring in your county and nearby foothills, and take in the Sea Otter Classic

With spring in full-bloom, residents of San Joaquin County are contemplating getting outside and hitting the road on their road or trail bikes. A host of options await cyclists, with many local rides each month, the huge Sea Otter Bike Classic coming mid-April to Laguna Seca Regional Park near Monterey and the Amgen Tour of California planning a Stockton visit in May. So, dust off those bikes, air up the tires and prepare to ride. Two local bike clubs offer a wealth of opportunities to ride locally or regionally, meet fellow cyclists and learn new cycling insights.

The Stockton Bike Club is a group of enthusiastic recreational cyclists. Most of club rides start in San Joaquin, Calaveras and Amador counties, where quiet roads through scenic country are the norm. The club has five scheduled club rides each week (plus holidays). Tuesday’s start in Lockeford, while Thursday begins in Wallace and is fairly hilly. Saturday’s ride tends to be hilly and challenging with longer options available for the mileage junkies, while Sunday’s ride is generally a flat to rolling route and starts closer to Stockton. And now that spring is here, the Club has a Wednesday ‘after work’ ride from Bear Creek High School.

You do not need to be a member of the club to join the rides. We welcome new riders, and unless you are a complete beginner you will probably be fine and have an enjoyable time. If you are looking for some new roads to ride and new folks to ride with, consider riding with (and joining) the Stockton Bicycle Club, stocktonbikeclub.org/ or Stockton Bicycle Club on Facebook. You’ll find the monthly Ride Zone newsletter, ride schedule and info about joining the Club.

The San Joaquin Bike Coalition offers its own selection of rides right in Stockton, offering over a dozen rides each month. Their LSD (Long, Slow, Distance) Ride continues under Matt Beckwith’s leadership, with a group gathering at Bear Creek High School the first Saturday each month, starting on McNabb Street, north edge of campus.

Four weekly rides, most led by Tyler Young (formerly of Performance Bikes) are offered. Saturday mornings the “Fun” group ride meets at 9:00 AM at Empresso Coffee in College Square on Pershing, and heads out for roughly a 13 mile jaunt through Stockton. This is a “no drop” ride, suitable for anyone looking to get involved with group riding.

On Sundays, the Intermediate/Advanced Roadie ride meets on McNabb Street at Bear Creek High School and heads out into the countryside. Route varies, but is typically a faster paced, 40+ mile group ride. For those with a need for speed, the Roadie Night Ride meets at Empresso every Tuesday at 6:30 PM, and averages 20 miles at a 17-19mph pace. Finally, a Wednesday Dirt Ride leaves at 3 PM from Empresso.

Popular monthly Full Moon Rides will also resume on April 20th, leaving from Janet Leigh Plaza in downtown at 6 PM. This ride is suitable for all ages, abilities, and bikes. May is National Bike Month, and SJBC presents the Best Ride Ever Ride on May 11th; the Amgen Tour’s return to Stockton on May 14th, and Stockton’s annual Bike to Work Day celebration is set for May 15th.

Details on each ride can be found on SJBC’s website, sjbike.org. Specific ride routes and details are shared weekly in our facebook group, facebook.com/groups/sjbikecoalition/. Stockton and the surrounding area are making progress at becoming more bicycle friendly. SJBC welcomes input, feedback, and volunteers to help with all of these efforts and rides and can be reached at sjbikecoalition@gmail.com.

The 29th annual Sea Otter Classic takes place April 11-14, 2019 at the Laguna Seca Recreation Area, Monterey, California. The four-day Sea Otter, a “Celebration of Cycling”, hosts nearly 9,000 professional and amateur athletes and 72,000 fans. Location is just a 2.5 hour drive from San Joaquin County, and presents cycling fans with a host of races to watch, demo bikes to try out and access to a huge trade fair offering new and proven goodies for cycling enthusiasts.

Nearly 1000 brands will be represented at the Sea Otter Classic, cycling’s largest consumer trade show. Companies travel from as far away as Europe, Australia, China, and South Africa to exhibit. Nearly 40 e-bike companies will be in attendance; over 800 demo bikes will be on hand for consumers to try out. Notes Sarah Timleck, Expo Sales and Marketing Director for the Sea Otter Classic, “Facility improvements by Monterey County allowed us to significantly increase our expo footprint; cyclists, campers, children, families and more come together to enjoy this four-day festival”. For more information, visit seaotterclassic.com or call (800) 218-8411.

And, mark your calendars to attend the Amgen Tour of California in Stockton, May 14th.

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

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

California wildflowers and Gold Rush history; start with gold’s discovery along American River

California poppies blanket a hillside near the Mokelumne River last March.

Towering Foresthill Bridge passes 730 feet over the North Fork, American River, just outside Auburn.
The historic Slate Mountain Mine stamp mill, used to crush quartz rock for its gold content, stands on edge of downtown Georgetown, CA.
Docents Terry and Gayle Gay are ready to share Gold Rush lore in Marshall Gold Discovery State Park.
Sutter’s Mill replica stands beside the American River in Marshall Gold Discovery State Park in Coloma.

Gold Rush and wildflower exploration; start with gold’s discovery in Coloma

With recent rains and warmer weather, the Sierra foothills are a verdant green and soon to burst forth with blankets of wildflowers. Plan a tour in the next few weeks, and also touch on the heart of Gold Rush history. Your exploration should include Sutter’s Mill in the James Marshall Gold Discovery Park, just 80 miles from Stockton and a great place to tour nearby historic towns and find fields of wildflowers.

Last March, the hills above Sierra streams were a blanket of bright orange poppies, so take your binoculars and cameras. California Poppies, lupine, mule ears, dogwood and more all come into flower, depending on rainfall, exposure and rising temperatures. Check with El Dorado or Stanislaus National Forests for up-to-date forecasts and best viewing locations.

John Sutter, a Swedish immigrant, received a Mexican land grant in 1839 giving him rights to develop a good portion of the Sacramento and American River Valleys. As his empire expanded from Sutter’s Fort in Sacramento, he needed lumber to fuel his construction projects. Partnering with James Marshall to find and build a nearby lumber mill in the Sierra foothills, California’s history was about to change.

Marshall, with John Sutter’s Native American guide, Nerio, found accessibility in the valley of the Cul-Luh-Mah, plenty of pine trees and a river (the South Fork of the American) flowing strong to power a sawmill. Since the area around Sutter’s Mill was beyond his grant, he signed an agreement with the Nisenan Indians.

Sutter’s Fort in Sacramento received the first boards milled in March, 1848, though millwork would continue until only 1850. Marshall found gold in the tailrace of the mill on January 24, 1848; with the discovery, the Gold Rush was on and the land soon became too valuable. California’s population would quadruple in the next ten years and land around the mill was sold for gold claims. The mill’s dam was removed, the mill fell into disuse and the floods of 1862 destroyed what remained.

Docents usually staff the park, like Gayle and Tom Gay, to offer the story not only of Sutter’s Mill, but of gold mining in the Sierra from 1849 until the latter part of that century. They can explain the Nisenan Village and how Sutter’s expedition lived and worked with Native Americans, who would soon lost control of their ancestral land.

The park features the huge nozzle of an hydraulic water monitor (cannon) to wash down the hillsides so gold could be placer-mined. After streams, rivers and even the San Francisco Bay began to silt-up, hydraulic mining was outlawed by the state in 1884. To reach nearby Georgetown, established August 7, 1849, head 12 miles north on Marshall Road for more wildflower exploration options. The old city offers a quaint walkable downtown and features a huge stamp mill from the Slate Mountain Mine, used to crush gold-laden quartz rocks to extract the precious mineral. From Georgetown, follow CA Hwy. 193 back to CA Hwy. 49, then head north to Auburn.

Auburn, the county seat with stately historic courthouse, circa 1894, offers shops, boutiques and restaurants galore in its courtly downtown. If a hot day, stop at Tango Yogurt, 940 Lincoln Way, for a cool treat; nearby Awful Annie’s, 13460 Lincoln, is a fine lunch choice. Head east on Foresthill Road to the towering Foresthill Bridge, crossing 730 feet above the North Fork of the American River, for a breathtaking finale.

Should you choose to return to San Joaquin County via Hwy. 49, a host of lovely Gold Rush towns await. Plymouth, with several blocks of Gold Rush history also features the regionally-acclaimed Taste restaurant –reservations usually required. Nearby Shenandoah Valley features 40+ wineries for sampling of Zinfandel and other regionally noteworthy wines.

Heading further south on Highway 49, Amador City and Sutter Creek are worthy stops. Amador City was home to the Keystone Mine, organized in 1853, eventually producing $24 million in gold before closing in 1942. Portions of the old mine, including the rusty headframe, can still be seen towering on the hillside above the town’s visitor parking lot. The city offers a quaint five-block walking tour including the Amador Hotel, the Imperial Hotel, the Amador School House, a host of old homes and the mine. A fine place for lunch or dinner in the city is the Imperial Hotel and Restaurant.

Just two miles away is a favorite, Sutter Creek. The old city offers a 10 block stretch of old Main Street complete with bed-and-breakfasts, tasting rooms, shops and restaurants. The Hotel Sutter on Main Street is a fine place for lunch or dinner; great pizzas can be found at Gold Dust Pizza, just off Main on Eureka Street. Columbia State Historic Park further south along Hwy. 49 is a wonderfully preserved Gold Rush town.

How to get to Marshall Gold Discovery Park: From San Joaquin County, take I-5 or Hwy. 99 north to Sacramento, then head east on Hwy. 50 to Placerville, then north 8 miles on Hwy. 49 to the park.

For more information: Coloma and Marshall Gold Discovery Park, parks.ca.gov/?page_id=484, (530) 622-3470; El Dorado National Forest, fs.usda.gov/eldorado, (530) 622-5061; Stanislaus National Forest, fs.usda.gov/stanislaus, (209) 532-3671.

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

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

Tent and car campers; moving up to small trailer camping!

Our 58 Scotty Junior reproduction teardrop, on Oklahoma's old Route 66.

The “after” photo of our 64 Scotty Sportsman; two years of on-again, off-again work to rebuild from the frame up.
A “before” photo of our 64 Scotty Sportsman, after the aluminum skins were removed; extensive dryrot, from leaking roof seams, made this little trailer a BIG project. Word to the wise when shopping vintage trailers, “for all the water damage you can find, multiply by 10”.
A new “retro” Shasta Airflyte, just reissued; where old is new!
A sleek new T@B trailer, owned by our friends Christine and Steve Lewis.
A classic Airstream Caravelle, and equally classic tow vehicle, at Fallen Leaf Lake a year ago.
A newer A-liner is a hard-sided trailer that folds flat for easy towing and storage.

Moving from tent and car camping to small trailer camping…

Many folks have been back-packing fans or car campers over the years, enjoying the joys of unfettered camping, ease of packing, set-up and leaving a small carbon footprint with their travels. But, with advancing age, more folks consider modest upsizing and potential comfort-gains that can be found with small travel trailers. Here is a short primer on some of the options if you are thinking of small trailering:

Teardrop trailers: Teardrops are light-weight (800 to 950 pounds), easy to tow (we get 26+ miles per gallon behind our four-cylinder car), stow in the garage or behind a fence and are easy to maneuver into the tiniest of campground spaces. They’re comfortable and allow rear hatch storage of camping gear – making it easy to go at a moment’s notice. Downside (at only 4 to 5 feet wide, 4 feet tall, 8-10 feet long): no standup room, not a lot of fun if you get caught on a rainy weekend and no inside cooking or bathroom facilities. Small makes them inexpensive, going from about $5,000 up to about $10,000; cheaper for used models.

Small trailers: These include modern hard-sided tent trailers in a variety of formats, and some very cool camping trailers. New trailers include the A-liner, T@B, Casita, R-pod, Airstream and other trailers – offering standup room, sleeping for four adults, inside cooking/eating facilities, and often a bathroom and/or shower. Downside: they’re more expensive, in the $15,000-25,000+ range (new), won’t fit in a garage and a larger tow vehicle is required (resulting in reduced miles per gallon). Shasta Airflyte and Terry trailers are out with new, retro models designed to look like classics from the 60s. And, a wide array of slightly used small trailers can be found at big discounts over buying new.

Small, vintage trailers: Classic trailers are increasingly popular, as vintage rallies have proliferated across the West and the US. If purchased wisely, a vintage trailer allows the owner to enjoy them for a number of years, and, if sold years later, get about the same price paid, or even more. The cool classics also make you the talk of most campgrounds, allow entry into classic trailer rallies and you bask in the glory of enjoying a recycled product! Prices for good reconditioned trailers range from $6,000 to over $25,000. Downside, if not purchased wisely, can be extensive rebuilding expense and time investment.

As an example, six years ago, I found “a deal” on our small ‘64 Scotty Sportsman, at $900. However, after discovering hidden dryrot necessitating a total rebuild, I invested about 500 hours and $5,500 into the trailer rebuild. I would shop harder for a fully reconditioned classic, if I were to do it again!

If shopping for a used trailer, or an older vintage model, be prepared for some serious inspection. Take a friend who knows woodworking and trailers for your inspection. Also, a flashlight to look into all hidden corners and underneath the trailer – you’re looking for any signs of water damage, either at the base of the walls, the floor, around the interior windows and roof seams. A rule of thumb: “whatever water damage you can find, multiply by 10”!

Here’s a sampling of newer and small classics we’ve seen in recent years, offering quality, collectability and proper “coolness quotient”, starting with newer trailers. T@B, R-pod, Casita and Airstream are popular choices, and friends and family own and love the first two mentioned.

If shopping vintage trailers, these are popular in the west:

Airstream: These aluminum trailers offer the iconic shape, starting with the tiny Bambi and offering a number of slightly larger trailers that can be towed with mid-size vehicles. They can be buffed to a high sheen and are often the talk of a campground; they are also the most expensive to purchase.

Shasta trailers: These classic “canned hams” were originally made in southern California, so you’ll find lots of them spread around the west. They sprouted the cute Shasta wings in 1958, continuing through the mid-80s. The new Shasta Airflyte was just “re-issued”, as well.

Serro Scotty trailers: Made in the late ’50s to the ’80s with basic construction (making them easiest to rebuild), our 64 Scotty Sportsman provides room for two, with double bed in back, small dinette seating for four that converts to another bed, and center cooking area with small sink and two-burner stove.

Other popular vintage choices include Boler, Little Caesar, Corvette, Kenskill, Starcraft, Aristocrat and Mobile Glide. They range in size from about 13 to 25 feet in length, and a good reconditioned trailer costs anywhere from $6,000 to about $25,000 depending upon make and model. Bought wisely and well cared for, one can recoup the investment years later, perhaps seeing some appreciation in value.

Then there are new trailers I define as “classics”; classic design, small and cute. They include Shasta (which recently released a retro-model, the Shasta Airflyte), Terry and T@B trailers, all with the old-fashioned teardrop shape.

For more information: Web sites offer insights into buying or rebuilding, including Tin Can Tourists, tincantourists.com; Airstream, airstreamclassifieds.com; Serro Scotty, nationalserroscotty.org; Shasta, vintageshasta.net. Pick a classic and find an owner’s group! To purchase slightly used or vintage trailers, regularly scan Craigslist and eBay.

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

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

A guide to Yosemite and Hetch Hetchy in late winter and spring!

Bridalveil Falls is the first big water feature seen upon entering Yosemite Valley.

Yosemite Falls thunders into a sunny, blue-bird day.
Snowshoers head for a scenic outing to Dewey Point (photo courtesy Andria Hernandez).
Icicles hang precariously off the Majestic Yosemite Hotel.
Majestic Yosemite Hotel, with snowy Glacier Point Overlook towering 3,000 feet above.
Cross-country skiers near Glacier Point (photo courtesy National Park Service).
Horsetail Falls peers out of the snowy, treed landscape.

Plan a spectacular trip into Yosemite and Hetch Hetchy in late winter and spring!

We made a recent trip to Yosemite on a sunny Friday 10 days ago – our first winter trip into the park where snow blanketed Yosemite Valley. And, did it ever!

We came in on Highway 120 – a lineup of cars at the park entry portal foretold a good crowd. Chain controls were up, though there weren’t too many places where the roads were tricky and our four-wheel-drive Ford Escape made driving sure footed. But, with two to four feet of snow piled beside the road, and snowy vistas and icy buttes towering above, the always spectacular Yosemite scenery was even more so.

Or first stop in the valley was to snap some pictures of Bridalveil Falls, pouring a wide stream of winter snow melt from the snowy bluffs above. Another stop along the Merced River give us a good view of the river and boulders topped by crowns of snow, with El Capitan looming in the background.

Photo opportunities present themselves at almost every corner, though, in winter, with several feet of snow beside the road, places to pull off, for a short walk or photo-taking, are more limited. We proceeded up the valley, stopped for a picture of the snowy chapel and could soon see Yosemite Falls thundering across the valley.

We made our way through Yosemite Village to the Majestic Yosemite Hotel (formerly the Ahwahnee), with huge icicles hanging from the eaves. Sumptuous lunches always await in the hotel’s spectacular dining room or bar. Another dining and overnight option is nearby Yosemite Lodge, where food is a little less spectacular and somewhat less expensive. One campground in the valley remains open year-round, and we noted a number of trailer campers and several tent campers enjoying the snowy vistas.

With about 16 inches of snow on the ground and the Glacier Point Overlook towering above the hotel, we could look across the adjacent valley meadow to see a handful of cross country skiers enjoying the snowy trail. The snow in the valley presents many cross country ski or snowshoe opportunities, and many of the main trails are packed by enough foot traffic to make general hiking a possibility – though some of the trails like Vernal Falls are closed due to snow and ice dangers.

Downhill skiers, cross country and snowshoe folks will want to head to Yosemite Ski and Snowboard Resort (formally Badger Pass) up the Wawona Road from the valley, where downhill skiing is an option. From the ski area parking lot, skinny skiers and snowshoers can head down the Glacier Point Road. For truly hardy outdoor enthusiasts, Glacier Point is 11 miles ahead, with arguably some of the world’s most spectacular scenery. Other destinations like Dewey Point make for good options.

If you’re a fan of Hetch Hetchy Valley, the county maintains the 20 mile Evergreen Road to O’Shaughnessy Dam and the valley. It’s usually open in the winter, other than just after the most severe storms. Best to phone ahead if that is one of your planned destinations.

Hetch Hetchy is a sister valley to the mighty Yosemite – and was the scene of one of the most epic environmental battles more than 100 years ago, as John Muir, the Sierra Club and other environmental groups fought to keep this valley pristine. Unfortunately, they lost the fight and the dammed valley now provides water for the City of San Francisco. But a trip to the dam, and the trail just beyond, adds stunning views almost the equal of the Yosemite Valley.

In late afternoon, as we headed out of the Yosemite valley on the exit road, we passed a big crowd below Horsetail Falls. They were waiting for their chance to snap pictures of the “Firefall”, which happens in late February where the rays of the setting winter sun light the falls, making it look like it’s on fire. We were too late to park anywhere nearby, so made a note to book two days next February for a chance to see and photograph this spectacular phenomenon.

With Sierra snowpack already in the 150 percent of normal range, more snow to come in March and the falls in the park already blasting away; this spring should be a stunning time to visit. So, make your travel plans.

How to get there: From Stockton, it’s about 120 miles and 2.5 hours. Take Hwy. 4 east to Copperopolis, go right on O’Byrnes Ferry Road and follow Hwy. 120 past Chinese Camp and Groveland (two great Gold Rush towns) into Yosemite. To reach Hetch Hetchy: from Hwy. 120, turn north on Evergreen Road to O’Shaunessy Dam.

For more info on Yosemite: nps.gov/yose; (209) 372-0200.  Camping can be booked through recreation.gov, (877) 444-6777.

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!

Posted in Central California, Northern California, Sierra Nevada | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

California Auto Museum with vintage, classic cars galore is unsung Sacramento gem!

Stockton, Woodbridge and Sacramento visitors swarm a 1913 Ford Model T for photo op (several cars are available for hands-on and photo taking ops).

Depression-era display features, from right, 1931 Ford Model A Roadster next to a sleek 1935 Chrysler Airflow.
1960 Nash Metropolitan and 1966 Ford Shelby Cobra compete for attention!
Docent Steve Helmke offers insights to Tom Wilson, Ralph Womack, Mansoor Soleimani and Gary Pierce of Stockton and Woodbridge.
1933 Lincoln KB Sedan was personal auto of the founder of Bank of America.
1966 Chevy Camaro convertible, fire-engine red, of course!
Docent Gary Stringfellow offers insights to Stocktonians Tom Wilson and Mansoor Soleimani.

Visit the California Auto Museum for vintage, classic cars galore; an unsung Sacramento gem!

With wet and blustery weather, you may be thinking of nearby destinations where one can tour indoors and discover what made America great.  Consider a day trip to the California Auto Museum and nearby Old Sacramento.

The California Auto Museum was originally the Towe Ford collection in Montana, and moved to its current location in the late 1980s.  It’s just blocks south of Old Sacramento, making an auto museum tour, linked with a stroll through Old Sacramento a natural (with short distance, the two are walkable or bikable)!

A Depression-era display, featuring a range of cars from 1931 Ford Model A Touring, the 1935 Chrysler Airflow and more, showed the dramatic technical advances made during the 1930s, despite the crippling Depression that gripped the country and reduced new car sales by almost 80 percent.

The Auto Museum offers a unique collection of over 130 classic American and foreign autos, ranging from late-19th century to recent day.  And, the museum hosts regular traveling displays of specialty cars so your experience changes by the visit. A wide-ranging microcar exhibit, will run March 15 to August 5 featuring a still-building group of tiny autos and vans, with many powered by 700cc engines or smaller, as well as electric models.

From early, affordable cars like 1886 Benz Patent-Motorwagen replica, Henry Ford’s 1896 Qaudricycle replica, to the long-lived Ford Model T, you’ll find scores of early ground-breaking autos. With luxury cars like Cadillac, Lincoln and Packard, muscle cars like Mustang, Camaro, Corvette, Thunderbird and Avanti, exotic models like Ford Cobras, Ferraris and Lamborghinis, the collection has cars that you, your parents and grandparents once drove or lusted over.

One of the more 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 America, it featured 150 horsepower, every creature comfort of its day and cost $4500 (a huge sum for the time).

Walking through the expansive museum buildings, we saw specimen examples of 1960’s pony cars: a 1965 Mustang, 1969 Boss Mustang, 1966 Camaro convertible (bright red, or course) and 1966 Pontiac GTO. Models showing off Detroit’s excesses include a 1959 Cadillac and its epic tailfins which grew progressively larger in the 1950s.

A deep lineup of old Fords includes a replica of Ford’s 1896 Quadricycle and more than a dozen early to late 20s Ford Model As up to Model Ts.  These hardy autos evoke the words of Henry Ford: “I will build a motor car for the great multitude. It shall be large enough for the family but small enough for the unskilled individual to easily operate and care for… It will be built of honest materials… But it shall be so low in price at the man of moderate means may own one – and enjoy with this family the blessings of a happy hour spent in God’s great open spaces”. Ford was true to his word, first producing the venerable Model T for $800, and through mass production bringing the price down to an every-man price of about $250 by the mid-1920s.

On a recent tour with six Stockton and Sacramento friends, museum docents Gary Stringfellow and Steve Helmke shadowed us and provided unique insights along our two hour tour. Insights included the hood ornament that doubled as a radiator thermostat, the first electric starter on a 1912 Cadillac and how to tell a 1967 Ford Mustang from a 1968 (the Federal government required side marker lights beginning in 1968), hence the defining difference.

Next ongoing exhibit at the museum is All About Microcars, running March 15 to August 5. Featured vehicles will represent the 1940s to the present and cars with less than 1500cc (or under 50kW for electric motors). The museum celebrates the “little guys” with a big bash; join the fun with microcars, microbeers, and little bites on March 29, 6:00–9:00pm! Monthly 3rd Saturday celebrations include April 20, when guests can ride in the museum’s convertibles.

Nearby Old Sacramento experienced dramatic “Gold Rush Fever” in the 1850s and grew rapidly; today, much is preserved for visitors! It was the world’s seaport to the gold mines, birthed the Pony Express, anchored the Transcontinental Telegraph and the western terminus of the Transcontinental Railroad.  Old Sacramento is home to a half-score museums (including the Delta King Riverboat, built in Stockton in 1927), quaint shops offering period-authentic goods, plenty of kid’s activities, scores of inexpensive to upscale restaurants and a variety of places to stay overnight.

Plan a visit to the Auto Museum and Old Sacramento – with classic cars, bustling shops and eateries, living history amid world-renowned museums, fun for kids and adults!

How to get there: From Stockton, take I-5 north 45 miles to Sacramento, exit on J. Street and follow signs to Old Sacramento.  From Old Sacramento, go south on Front Street a half mile to the Auto Museum.

For more info: California Auto Museum; calautomuseum.org, 2200 Front St., Sacramento, (916) 442-6802. Open six days a week, 10 AM to 5 PM (closed Tuesdays).  Admission, $10 adults, $5 youth (5-17), kids 4 & under free, $1 off for seniors, students and military.

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!

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

Whitefish, MT, is winter hub for skiing, dog sledding and Glacier National Park

Group of National Ski Patrol veterans poses for picture in the Grouse Mountain Lodge, Whitefish, MT.

Whitefish Mountain towers over old Great Northern Raliway bus, beside the Stumptown Museum, downtown Whitefish.
Group of Spokane, WA skiers prepares to hit slopes of Whitefish Mountain Resort.
Dog Sled Adventures (Olney, MT) heads out with two tourists for a 1.5 hour sled tour of Montana forests.
Bison cross the Lamar River, Lamar Valley, just east of Mammoth Hot Springs, Yellowstone National Park.

Make Whitefish, Montana, your winter hub for skiing, dog sledding and exploring Glacier National Park

My family and I have been routinely visiting Montana’s Flathead Valley and Glacier Park area for over 40 years, both summer and winter. To continually sharpen our latent skiing skills, we have made Whitefish a regular stop in the winter time for its splendor, proximity to the national park and location at the base of Whitefish Mountain Ski Resort. Few destinations in the US can offer such spectacular scenery and family-fun options.

The ski resort, located on Big Mountain just north of town, is routinely ranked in the top 20 ski resorts in the Western United States. With 2400 vertical feet, over 3000 skiable acres, a dozen lifts and reputation for lots of “cold smoke” (Montana powder snow), it is a skiers Mecca. This year did not disappoint, with over 250 inches of snow received to date and new snow during our week. Additionally, lift prices are cheap compared to anything in California, and, for kids or seniors over age 70 – they ski free!

The Glacier Nordic Club caters to cross-country skiers and snowshoers right in Whitefish. They operate the Glacier Nordic Center at the Whitefish Lake Golf Course (right across Hwy. 93 from Grouse Mountain Lodge) and groom the upper trails in the Big Mountain Nordic Trail network.  A smaller ski area, Blacktail Mountain, is just 30 miles south of Whitefish, offering a more intimate ski experience and even less expensive lift tickets.

Whitefish, with more than 7000 year-round residents and just north of larger town Kalispell, retains its quintessential small western town feel. Its compact downtown is full of western and outdoor gear shops, boutiques, family and upscale restaurants, nightspots and the Stumptown Museum (in the old Great Northern rail station) pays homage to Whitefish and its long affiliation with the Great Northern Railway. Favorite eateries include the Whitefish Lake Lodge, featuring fine food in a beautiful 85-year-old log building, Abruzza’s Italian Kitchen and Latitude 48, each restaurant offering unique food and wonderful dining vibes, as well as the Great Northern Brewery.

With its shops and galleries, Whitefish offers plenty of exploration opportunities. Be sure to stop at the historic Great Northern Railway Station and the Stumptown Historical Museum inside the station for the history of the railroad and the lumbering industry in these parts. The station remains an active Amtrak stop.

Whitefish is known as the western gateway to Glacier National Park, just 25 miles east. West Glacier, the adjoining Apgar Village area and Going to the Sun Highway are plowed and open in the winter, as far into the park as the Lake McDonald Lodge. From any of these points, cross country ski trails offer incredibly scenic short or long touring inside the park beside Lake McDonald (or, snowshoeing). Services inside the park are very limited during winter, so be prepared to have Whitetail deer as your companions, rather than people. Continue on Highway 2 along the south side of the park, to the Isaak Walton Inn in Essex (isaakwaltoninn.com, 406-640-4649), an inviting stop for a meal or over-night. The inn is an old Great Northern Railway Hotel, with comfortable lodging in the hotel as well as a number of refurbished cabooses, club cars and locomotive engine in the woods! The inn is surrounded by cross country ski and snowshoe trails.

In Whitefish, we have overnighted for a number of years at the Grouse Mountain Lodge (glacierparkcollection.com; 844-868-7474), a full service resort with large, well-appointed rooms, on-site restaurant and bar. The lodge staff is highly guest-focused, offering shuttle rides to the ski area and Whitefish shops, restaurants and nightspots, just minutes away. The city offers a host of additional motels and B&Bs for almost any price range.

For a real western thrill, consider a dog sled ride or horse-drawn sleigh ride. Dog Sled Adventures (dogsledadventuresmont.com; 406-881-2275), located 20 miles north of Whitefish in Olney, offers a company with nearly 100 Alaskan huskies to pull sleds, offering daily 10 AM, 1:30 PM and 3:00 PM departures to couples, families or groups, $150 for adults, tours travel about 12 miles over 1.5 hours through Montana forests. Reservations are required, with cocoa and cookies following. Horse-drawn sleigh rides are offered at Bar W Guest Ranch at the base of Spencer Mountain, about 15 miles northwest on Hwy. 93; (thebarw.com, 866-828-2900). Reservations required, $55 each, kids 3 and under free; each ride requires a four guest minimum; cocoa and cookies follow each ride!

The Flathead Valley, with Whitefish near its north end, is surrounded by the Rocky Mountains and a host of major lakes like Whitefish Lake, Flathead Lake, Hungry Horse Reservoir and many more, making for open water and ice fishing during winter and spring months.

For those seeking a winter experience in Yellowstone National Park, the park is 8-9 hours south of Whitefish. In the winter, one can drive into the Mammoth Hot Springs area and continue through the Lamar Valley – buffalo, elk and even wolves (in the Lamar Valley) are often sighted. West Yellowstone also offers additional park access, but only to those with snowmobiles, cross-country skis or snowshoes. Both towns offer snow coach tours into the park for amazing winter tours of this natural wonder.

For more information: Whitefish, MT visitation, explorewhitefish.com; Whitefish Mountain Ski Resort, skiwhitefish.com; Glacier National Park, nps.gov/glac/.

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!

Posted in Mountain West (Montana, Wyoming, Utah, Colorado) | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Glacier, Yellowstone National Parks in winter splendor!

Izzac Walton Lodge, an old Great Northern Railway hotel, is open for lodging, dining and cross-country ski touring in Essex, MT, on very south side of Glacier Park.

Going to the Sun Highway, closed in winter but for snowshoers and cross-country skiers, at Lake McDonald Lodge inside Glacier Park; Logan Pass just 21 miles ahead!
Lake McDonald, Glacier National Park, looking northeast from Going to the Sun Highway.
Bighorn sheep ram poses for photo in Gardiner, Montana, just north of the park entrance.
Elk can be found in the hundreds around Gardiner and Mammoth Hot Springs/Yellowstone National Park.
Bison cross the Lamar River in the Lamar Valley, Yellowstone National Park.

Plan now for winter splendor in Glacier, Yellowstone National Parks!

Two weeks ago, we headed north up Interstate 5, across Central Oregon and central Washington, meeting friends in Spokane, then caravanning with additional friends to Whitefish Mountain Resort, Whitefish, Montana, just west of Glacier National Park. Our intentions were two-fold, both to enjoy and ski Whitefish, and see the two majestic national parks in their winter glory.

Whitefish is just 25 miles west of West Glacier, MT, with drive-in access along 11 miles of Going to the Sun Highway beside Lake McDonald, to Lake McDonald Lodge where the highway is closed by snow in the winter.

I took a short cross country ski tour along marked trails around Apgar Village which fanned out along McDonald Creek and the lakefront. Then, I drove my car 11 miles to Lake McDonald Lodge, parked, and skied about a mile up the closed Going to the Sun Highway. Those with real energy could continue another 20 miles to Logan Pass – not for me, however. Additional cross country and snowshoe trails also tour along the northern edge of Lake McDonald.

Returning west along Lake McDonald, I stopped at numerous turnouts for stunning photos along this lovely lake, seeing only a few other visitors inside the park. Two mule deer provided comic relief, skittering across a closed, icy road and into the woods. Had I been smart enough to bring my binoculars, I’m sure several of the large raptors soaring overhead were bald eagles.

US Highway 2 skirts the southern edge of this huge park, and one can drive about halfway across the southern boundary to the tiny town of Essex and stop at the Izaak Walton Inn, an old Great Northern Railway hotel converted to lodging both within the hotel and in converted cabooses and locomotives spread throughout the woods. The Inn offers an extensive set of cross country and snowshoe trails fanning out into the park’s Southern reaches. Meals in the Inn’s dining room are a treat, and a night spent in an old caboose a lovely pleasure.

After several days of skiing and noshing at Whitefish Mountain Resort, we headed southbound to Yellowstone National Park, about an 8 hour drive away. Coming from Glacier, our options were to head into the north entrance, to Mammoth Hot Springs, which we have done the last three or four visits, or, head to West Yellowstone stone on the parks west side.  Due to time constraints, we chose the West Yellowstone option, and headed for our favorite hotel, the Stagecoach Inn. Cross country ski and snowshoe trails extend along the parks western edge, and into the eastern portion of the park where both elk and bison are occasionally spotted, just blocks from the hotel.

A variety of concessionaires offer guided tours in cozy coaches into the park, as well as snowmobile tours into the park, all the way to the Old Faithful area. A word to the wise – on this trip, temperatures in western Montana stayed around -15 to +5° most of the time we were there. Three years earlier, we spent the night in West Yellowstone when the temperature reached 40 below zero. Even AAA has a hard time jumpstarting cars in those temperatures. Prepare, and dress, accordingly.

A year earlier, we also spent two days in the park’s Gardiner, MT/Mammoth Hot Springs entryway. We found a lovely hotel, the Park Inn Yellowstone, right across from the park boundary. In winter, roads are open through the Mammoth Hop Springs thermal features, and US Highway 212 is plowed all the way to the Park’s northeast entryway, allowing unfettered access to the Lamar Valley and frequent wolf sightings. That year, as we had experienced in several previous winter visits, we counted hundreds of elk, scores of bison and a handful of bighorn sheep. Don’t be surprised to be stuck in a traffic jam caused by 2000 pound bison lumbering along snowy roads.

What to take: Binoculars and camera, of course, all of your cold-winter clothing, and skis or showshoes if you are into that.  Chains for your vehicle, even if you have a 4-wheel drive; jumper cables make sense if temps are predicted down to -20 or lower!

Where to stay: In Whitefish, the Grouse Mountain Lodge (grousemountainlodge.com/, 406-897-4960) is a superior choice for cozy and classy accommodations in a lodge-like setting (Whitefish offers other good motel choices).  On the southern edge of Glacier Park, no more unique inns exist than the Izaac Walton Inn (izaakwaltoninn.com/).  In West Yellowstone, we have enjoyed the Stagecoach Inn (yellowstoneinn.com/; 406.646.7381) several times; in Gardiner, the Park Hotel Yellowstone, parkhotelyellowstone.com, 406-223-7007; in Yellowstone Park the Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel and Old Faithful Snow Lodge are the only winter choices (yellowstonenationalparklodges.com/).

For more information on Glacier National Park, (406) 888-7800, nps.gov/glac/planyourvisit/winter.htm.  For snowcoach service into the park, the West Yellowstone Chamber of Commerce can offer choices of private snowcoach providers, (406) 646.7701.  For Yellowstone’s North park entrance (Mammoth Hot Springs) and south park entrance (Flagg Ranch/Teton Park) lodging and snow coach service, and Old Faithful Snow Lodge stays, contact Zanterra, yellowstonenationalparklodges.com, (307) 344.7901.

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!

Posted in Mountain West (Montana, Wyoming, Utah, Colorado) | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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!

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

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!

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

  • Archives