Sierra snows; skiing, boarding, cross country and sledding, just two hours from Stockton!

After several years of below average snows, skiers and boarders are dreaming the predictions of an El Nino winter come true.  Early storms are allowing opening of nearby ski areas and the two “closest snows to home”, Dodge Ridge and Bear Valley ski resorts, are opening November 25 and 28, respectively.

Dodge Ridge Ski Resort, 30 miles east of Sonora on Hwy. 108, and Bear Valley Ski Resort, 50 miles east of Angel’s Camp on Hwy. 4, are closer than other options in the Sierra/Lake Tahoe areas. Both are family-friendly, less expensive than resorts in the Tahoe area, and are noting good conditions for their early openings. From my north Stockton home, Dodge Ridge is 99 miles, Bear Valley, 106 miles – each only two hours away!

Family stops mid-run on Graceland, off Chair 8, in the scenic Boulder Canyon area.

Kid's Club ski group prepares to polish their ski skills at Dodge Ridge.

Dodge Ridge Ski Resort will open for the season on Wednesday, November 25, the 10th time in 40 years that Dodge Ridge has opened prior to the Thanksgiving holiday.

“We feel very blessed to have this kind of a start to the winter” said CEO Sally Helm. “Lots of families have gotten their season passes this year knowing we have an El Niño pattern in the forecast. I’ll be on that first chair with them on Wednesday!”

With another storm predicted for this week, the majority of the lifts are expected to run on Wednesday, accessing about 70% of the mountain. Lifts will open at 9 a.m. with the Creekside Café opening at 7 a.m. for breakfast. Dodge Ridge offers a 1,600 foot vertical drop, 67 runs, 12 lifts and 862 acres of skiable terrain.

Skier schusses the trees in Dodge Ridge's Sonora Glades area off Chair 8.

The resort prides itself on being family-focused, further enhanced when it opened its Family Lodge a few years ago.  The area offers a variety of gentle slopes for beginning skiers and snowboarders as well as “double black diamond runs” off Chair 8 in the Boulder Creek Canyon area. Check the stunning scenery serviced by Chair 8; Graceland is a favorite run, scenic, rated “blue” (more difficult) and a family favorite for both schussing and photos!

A number of cross-country ski trails emanate from the Dodge Ridge base area and access road. Sledding and snow play areas can be found in the Pinecrest Lake area below Dodge Ridge and at Leland Snow Play area, about seven miles further east of Dodge Ridge off Highway 108.

Dodge Ridge offers a number of dining options at the ski area, including the Creekside Lodge and Café, with a large variety of food and drink. On weekends and holidays, the North Fork Bistro in the Family Lodge is a great place for families to dine, and slopeside dining is also offered at Local’s Café, bottom of Chair 7, with tasty BBQ.

Other reliable dining options are nearby: The Steam Donkey (steaks, seafood, pasta), Pinecrest, Mia’s Italian, Cold Springs and The Pie Pizza in Sugar Pine. Overnight lodging is offered at Pinecrest Lake Lodge or Pinecrest Chalet, Pinecrest, the Christmas Tree Inn, Mi Wuk Village or the Long Barn Lodge in Long Barn.

Bear Valley's slopes, looking northwest from the day lodge.

Bear Valley Ski Resort is just off Hwy. 4, sporting a top elevation of 8,495’, a mid-way day-lodge at 7,750’ and base elevation (the Grizzly Chair) of 6,595’, 1680 acres, 8 chairlifts (one a high-speed quad) and two carpet lifts, with snow-making on 100 acres of upper slopes.

Trio of kids in "Ski Bear" lessons, with day lodge in background.

Bear Valley’s opening day is Saturday, November 28; and opening weekend includes Winterfest celebration, a hiring fair and more.  Lifts will start turning at 9 a.m. and guests will have the opportunity to enjoy an entire weekend of skiing, snowboarding and family activities.

Family prepares to enjoy Bear Valley Ski Resort!

Recent weather brought more than 12 inches to Bear Valley, yielding more than 25 inches for the season. Additional snow making on the mountain covering 100 acres of terrain has started and another expected weather system will have the destination in terrific condition for opening day.

“We’ve been out packing snow throughout the mountain to ensure great coverage and a solid base. Meanwhile temperatures have become great for snow making, and we’re excited about opening over Thanksgiving weekend.” said Mattly Trent, Director of Guest Safety.

Winterfest at Bear Valley kicks off Thursday, November 26 with a Thanksgiving Dinner and the weekend will continue with a new backcountry film on Friday. November 27.  The weekend includes live music, a bonfire and open house events.

Bear Valley Mountain offers ski and boarders 1,680 acres of varied terrain, more than 70 trails, two terrain parks featuring more than 18 features, and 1,900 vertical feet.  Bear Valley Village is home to a variety of services, shops, restaurants and a wide range of accommodations.  Winters provide skiing, snowboarding, cross-country skiing, sledding, snowshoeing and snowmobiling.

Bear Valley offers a variety of food and drink choices at its mid-way Day Lodge, including delicious outdoor BBQ when we last visited.  Several dining options are offered nearby.  In Bear Valley Village, the Lodge offers light fare in the Grizzly Lounge and steaks and seafood in the classy Creekside Dining Room and has recently updated the Lodge’s Trattoria, with pizza and pasta for  families with big appetites!

Closer to the Valley, one can find numerous dining options in Arnold, and even more good eats in Murphys, including the highly rated Alchemy Restaurant and the historic Murphys Hotel.  Arnold and Murphys both offer a variety of hotels and motels for overnighting.

How to get there: The start of the route from Stockton is the same for both destinations; take Highway 4 east to Copperopolis.  There, to reach Dodge Ridge, go south on O Bryrne’s Ferry Road, then east on Highway 108 to the ski area. For Bear Valley, continue on Hwy. 4 all the way to the ski area.

For more information: Dodge Ridge Ski Resort,, 209.965.3474; Bear Valley Ski Resort,, 209.753.2301.

Contact Tim Viall at Follow him at Think snow, and happy travels in the West!

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Traveling…equipment and gear for the trip

Several readers have asked me “what are your basics for traveling gear”, so, thought I would start with my “go to”, and my airline carry-on – a small to mid-sized backpack.

My small backpack, with key items to pack, and/or carry on to a plane.

See photo, from center of the backpack, clockwise: a collapsible lightweight water bottle, spare baseball cap, red bandanna, Logitech Bluetooth keyboard for iPhone, iPhone and spare charger pack (with mini tripod underneath phone), bag of electronic headphones and the like, mini stuff-sack, spare reading glasses, pens, a clothespin, small binoculars, lightweight first aid kit, medications you can’t do without, a real compass and whistle, business cards (I am a travel writer) and a couple of books.

This will be my first trip (we’re off to Europe in a few weeks) without packing a laptop computer; I am going to work with that Logitech Bluetooth keyboard, and type notes right into my iPhone 6.  It will save me the weight of a four-pound laptop, and the bulk of carrying it around. And, I have quit taking my fancy Nikon digital camera, finding pictures taken on my iPhone are both marvelous and fine for publication.

If we’re touring/hiking in the west, we add two trekking poles, a bear bell, small pepper spray, multi tool, mini flashlight, additional water bottles and good topographic map(s).

If you (or we) are traveling out of the country, I have a more extensive checklist – email me,, and I’ll send it to you!

For additional travel destination inspiration, see my blog: travel; to contact me,  Happy travels in the West!

Posted in Central California, Mountain West USA (Montana, Wyoming, Colorado), Northern California, Pacific Northwest USA (Oregon, Washington, Idaho), Southern California, Southwest USA (Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico, Utah), United States beyond! | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Discovering Native American history in San Joaquin County; Haggin Museum’s and San Joaquin Historical Society’s Native People’s galleries

In San Joaquin County, there are several places to learn of the history of our Native American people. One is Stockton’s Haggin Museum, another is the San Joaquin Historical Museum in Micke Grove Park, Lodi. With holiday breaks coming, time for touring our history!

Recreation of a Native American village at the Haggin Museum.

Yokuts weaver Wahnomkot showing how a burden basket was utilized, circa 1923 (this is the same basket on display at the Haggin).

These haunting words are found in the Haggin Museum’s California Room:

This will be the last song
of our people,
the first people
in this, the first world.

People, you will be going.
For you it will be hard,
you faultfinders and fighters.

But I am not sorry
the first world is passing.
People of the next world
will not be long in coming…

The same burden basket in the 1923 photo, on display at the Haggin.

- the opening verses in the Ah-nik-a-del, the History of the Universe by the Mod-des-se Indians in 1928.

Visitors discuss the 1859 Elliott Prairie Schooner at the SJ Historical Museum.

Exec Director explains the new talking bench in the Native People's Gallery at the SJ Historical Museum.

A Yokut's basket-weaver, from the Haggin Museum.

The Haggin’s Native American Gallery outlines that, when Spanish missionaries entered California in 1769, they found an estimated Native American population of over 300,000, the densest population of Native people in the entire North American continent, north of central Mexico. California was home to 105 indigenous tribes, speaking 125 languages or dialects.

Their prosperity related to the diversity of food sources, from the oceans and their bounty, to our inland waterways, to the marshes of the San Joaquin Deltas, tule elk and other game and Valley oaks producing acorns, a food staple of all of these tribes. The following 150 years would produce massive changes in the landscape and population, uprooting the native populations.

Exec Director Dave Stuart explains the Native American mural at the SJ Historical Museum to visitors.

Tod Ruhstaller, the Haggin’s CEO, recently discussed the Haggin Museum’s Native American collection. He noted “the Spanish mission in San Jose had greatest influence on tribes in the San Joaquin County area.” The Haggin’s displays note that our county was shared by North Valley Yokuts and South Plains Miwok tribes.

The varied Yokuts tribes settled the San Joaquin Valley and adjoining foothills. In the Stockton area, the Yachicumne Yokuts established villages along Mormon Slough, the Stockton Deepwater Channel and Bear Creek. Here they prospered on fish, game and acorns. Museum exhibits bring to life the culture and lifestyle of the native people”.

In 1826, Jedidiah Smith was the first white trapper to appear in our area, foretelling annual visits by trappers from the Hudson’s Bay Company out of Ft. Vancouver, WA.   In 1833 a malaria epidemic swept through the Native American population, decimating children and adults. Carried by mosquitoes throughout the Delta, over 20,000 Native Americans died in one six month period.

California Room exhibits outline how the Mexican government ceded vast tracts in the form of ranchos, including 46,000 acres to Captain Weber with the El Campo de las Franceses, practices which further marginalized and endangered Native Americans. You’ll find maps and artifacts in the Haggin’s galleries that trace how the county grew with missionary’s incursions and land-grant growth due to new settlers.

The Mexican American War ended with Mexico ceding California to the US, just eight days after discovery of gold at Coloma in 1848.  The Gold Rush would see California’s population more than quadruple by the early 1860s. From the Native American Indian Gallery, the Haggin’s California Room exhibits trace the city and the county’s dynamic growth to modern times.

The San Joaquin Historical Museum recently expanded its Native Peoples Gallery. The gallery offers insight into the Native Americans who have been living in what is now San Joaquin County for more than 13,000 years.

The museum traces the Miwok- and Yokuts-speaking people, all with very rich cultures and lifestyles. Native peoples here put up the greatest resistance to the Spanish-Mexican missions and fought battles with the largest army formed in Spanish-Mexican California.

“Native people are such an important part of our County history that we expanded the exhibit space devoted to them and now tell their stories in an up-to-date way,” noted David Stuart, Executive Director of the San Joaquin County Historical Society. “We added videos showing traditional basket making, acorn preparation, and deer hunting—we hope folks will associate artifacts displayed in the exhibit cases with those shown in the videos.”

The second room of the Native Peoples Gallery has a circular wooden bench; with the push of a button, Museum visitors can sit and listen to three recorded messages. In one recording Glen Villa, Jr. (Northern Miwok/Plains Miwok) tells about the First People and a traditional creation narrative. Another recording is of a traditional Yokuts story, told by Sylvia Ross (Chukchansi Yokuts). A third tells of the Indian freedom fighters led by Estanislao, for whom the Stanislaus River and County were named.

The new room also has hands-on activity for younger visitors, a cannon barrel like the ones used by the Mexican army that fought against Estanislao and his patriots, and a large mural of an Indian man and woman bedside a lush riverside. “The mural is a photo-mosaic made up of more than 7,000 small photos, with small photos depicting important plants, animals, landscapes, and so on—representing the connections that Native peoples have with their homelands,” added Stuart.

“The new exhibits work perfectly with the other exhibits in the Erickson Building,” said Stuart. “Visitors can go in chronological order from the Native peoples who first inhabited the area, to an exhibit on the early trappers and the founding of French Camp, the first non-Indian community. Continue on to a new exhibition on the early American settlers, then on to exhibits on the Gold Rush, a hands-on children’s gallery, and the adjacent Weber Gallery.

Other destinations for Native American history in our area include Indian Grinding Rocks State Park (which houses the Chaw’se Regional Indian Museum) just east of Jackson, CA, and the Sonora Historical Society in Sonora.

For more information: Haggin Museum, in Victory Park, 1201 N. Pershing, Stockton,, (209) 940-6300, open Saturday and Sunday, Noon to 5 PM and Wednesday through Friday, 1:30 to 5:00 PM (closed Nov. 26-27, and Dec. 24, 25), coming events include ‘Santa Sunday’, Dec. 6 and the ‘Framed, Step into Art’ event; now through January 3; San Joaquin Historical Society, Micke Grove Park, 11793 N. Micke Grove Road, Lodi,, (209) 953-3460, open Wednesday through Sunday, 11 AM to 4 PM, closed Nov. 26, 27 and Dec. 24, 25), coming events include ‘Festival of Trees’, Dec. 5, 6. Both museums charge modest admission fees.

Contact Tim Viall at Follow him at Happy travels in the west!

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All those cows, county ag tourism and Hilmar Cheese Factory…!

All those cows…  San Joaquin County has scores of dairy farms, and thousands upon thousands of dairy cattle. You’ll see them along Interstate 5 and Hwy. 99, and on many of our back roads throughout the county. If you get your kids or grandkids talking, you’ll realize that these dairy cows provide many of the products we buy on our grocery shelves, week-in and week-out, such as milk, butter, ice cream, yogurt, nonfat dry milk and more.

Cows line up to feed along Liberty Road in northeast San Joaquin County.

With holidays coming (and kids out of school for several breaks), consider a local agricultural tour to boost knowledge and show off our ag production might to both kids and adults. Several of us recently visited Hilmar Cheese Factory, just south of Turlock and learned a lot about milk, cheese production and sampled the delicious output of this huge industry!

California, bolstered by San Joaquin County dairies, has been the nation’s leading dairy state since 1993, when it surpassed Wisconsin in milk production. California is ranked first in the U.S. in the production of total milk, butter, ice cream, yogurt, nonfat dry milk, lactose powder and whey protein concentrate. California is second in cheese production.

Display at Hilmar Visitor's Center shows how cows are milked.

In our county, the 2014 agricultural report points up the impact of our local agriculture, with dairies coming in #2 in value.  Total San Joaquin County agriculture production yielded $3.23 billion – the first time over $3.0 billion. Milk and milk products were valued at $541 million, ranking second in the county, just behind # 1, Almonds, at $579 million, and ahead of #3, Walnuts, $500 million and #4, Grapes, $481 million. When other categories such as hay, corn silage, and calves/cattle are combined with milk, those cows, cattle and milk products rank number one!

Kids can dress as a veterinarian or cheese worked at the visitor center.

A good place to start is a tour of Hilmar Cheese Factory, just south of Turlock and less than an hour down California Hwy. 99. It’s a sprawling complex, covering over 20 acres; the Hilmar Visitor Center offers a large factory store and spacious deli on the first floor and an interactive tour replete with numerous exhibits on the floor above.

The visitor center’s second-floor captures the attention of both kids and adults. Interactive displays show how milk cows interact with their environment and nutrition to produce milk – a milk cow can produce about 20,000 pounds of milk each year!

Kids can dress up as veterinarian or factory cheese worker at Hilmar Cheese Visitor Center; yes, cute enough to show, twice!

Kids can dress in the uniform of veterinarians or production plant workers and get into the feel of how cows are such vital partners in our daily nutrition, producing milk, cheese, yogurt, ice cream and much more.

Other displays demonstrate how calves grow up to become the cows that produce milk. Farmers spend two years taking special care of each calf before she produces milk for the farm to sell. They receive special treatment, special foods and visits from the vet to ensure healthy herds. Breeds of dairy cows within our county range from Guernsey, Ayrshire, Milking Shorthorn, Holstein, Red Holstein, Brown Swiss and Jersey.

Each year cows must be a mother before she will produce milk. After calving (giving birth to a calf), she will produce milk for 10 months, called lactation. The cow will then rest for two months before her next calf is born. Cows are milked two or three times each day during their ten-month lactation.

Breeds of dairy cows, left to right: Holstein, Brown Swiss, Red Holstein, Guernsey, Ayrshire, Milking Shorthorn and Jersey.

Another display shows how pasteurized milk is pumped into cheese vats, where good bacteria are added to give cheese its flavor and texture. Other ingredients like peppers (for pepper jack cheese) are added as the cheese is pumped to cheese towers. Ultimately, 20 and 40 pound blocks of cheese are the result. Kids enjoy watching mascot Daisy’s movie and seeing plant workers package the “big cheese” – 640-pound crates of cheese.

Employees work at stacking the "Big Cheese" at Hilmar Cheese Factory.

Byproducts of cheese making include whey protein and lactose. Liquid whey is separated from the cheese curds, and proteins are filtered and dried to make whey protein powder – used in infant formula, protein bars and health drinks. Lactose is pumped to a lactose plant where lactose is removed and dried to make lactose powder, used in baked goods, infant formula and candy.

Technology fans will also see how methane digesters are used by most central valley dairies to convert cow manure into methane gas, burned as fuel to generate electricity.

Hilmar Cheese Deli and Restaurant inside their Visitor Center makes for a delicious lunch stop following a tour!

The day we visited, most of their cheeses on the first floor were half off and (after sampling numerous varieties available for tasting) we stocked up on our favorites. The spacious deli also had a lively lunch crowd, with meals made from cheese produced at the plant.  We saved lunch for last and were delighted in the flavor of sandwiches made with real, fresh California cheese.

Hours, and how to get to Hilmar Cheese: Admission is free; self-guided tours of the Visitor Center are available anytime. Open 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday – Saturday, 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Sunday; weekend tours – 10 a.m. and 11 a.m. The upstairs exhibit area can be closed Saturday or Sunday after 11:30 a.m. for private events. The Visitor Center is closed on Thanksgiving Day and Christmas Day and New Year’s Day. From Stockton, take Hwy. 99 south to Turlock, then go south on Hwy. 165 to Hilmar and Hilmar Cheese.  It’s 60 miles and about a one hour drive.

For more info: Hilmar Cheese,, for the Visitor Center call (800) 577-5772 or (209) 656-1196; local dairy farms that arrange tours include Bartelink Dairy, 12637 S. Van Allen Rd, Escalon, phone: (209) 838- 2151 and Kaehler Dairy Farm, 1025 Armstrong Rd., Lodi, phone 209-333-0502. For a directory of other farms and ranches open to tours, go to (and search for our county). For a great place to start for San Joaquin agriculture’s history and growth, visit the San Joaquin Historical Society and Museum in Micke Grove Park, 11793 N. Micke Grove Road, Lodi,, (209) 953-3460.

Contact Tim Viall at Follow him at Happy travels in the west!

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Exploring the northern California, Oregon and Washington coasts in the late fall

Seattle skyline taken from the Bainbridge Island Ferry.


Klalock Beach, just below Klalock Campground with 170 lovely sites, is one of the gems of the Olympic National Park in Washington.

Exploring the northern California, Oregon and Washington coasts in the late fall can be quiet, scenic and intoxicating.  Gone are the maddening crowds of summer, and weather in November and early December can be sunny, with crisp, clear days. It can also be wet, as we discovered along the Olympic Peninsula in Washington.

Rugged Oregon coast, just off Hwy. 101, looking north in central Oregon.

On your way to Northern California’s redwood coast, we were stunned by the myriad of state and national parks set aside to preserve our “big trees heritage”.  You pass thousands of tall trees, fast-flowing river canyons, rugged coastal views and ancient wilderness; though a large part of the fun of this trip are plenty of quaint, small towns dotting the landscape.

North of Leggett on Hwy. 101 are numerous state parks and reserves celebrating portions of the once extensive old growth redwood forests.  When serious logging began in the 1850s, two million acres of old growth redwood forests covered the river valleys and mountains; today only five percent of that remain (35% of the remaining old growth forest is protected in Redwood National and State parks).

Haceta Head Lighthouse guards the south central Oregon coast for ancient and today's mariners.

This stretch of the highway has a string of state and private campgrounds, homey lodges and motels, many beside towering redwood trees and picturesque rivers.  The parks offer a wide array of diversity, from coastal surf crashing upon secluded shores, tall mountains shrouded in fog and massive redwood forests reaching to the skies! Here is home to Coast Redwooda; Sequoia Sempervirens is a close cousin to the Giant Sequoia and the tallest trees in the world.

Chandelier Tree in the California Redwoods area allows vehicles to pass through the hollowed out huge trunk (photo courtesy Blair Hake).

Three nearby towns of particular interest are the well preserved company logging town of Scotia on Hwy. 101, another company mill town, Samoa, further north and the quaint town of Ferndale (preserving scores of Victorian homes, a favorite of shutterbugs), three miles west off Hwy. 101 near Fortuna.  Stop and admire the old Scotia Hotel and nearby logging park, in Samoa, make time for a sumptuous lunch at the Samoa Cookhouse, which has been continuously serving meals, first to resident mill workers, then to the public, for over 120 years (it’s adjoining museum is worth the stop)!

We were now bound for the legendary Oregon coast (and had to pass quickly through other coastal cities with unique allure, including Eureka, Arcata, Trinidad and Crescent City). Oregon had the wisdom to set aside most of its coast in public trust, so access is unbeatable compared to California or Washington. Our first stop was Harris Beach State Park on the northern edge of Brookings, OR (a town with an active fishing harbor, tourist amenities and great seafood).  Harris Beach was the first of Oregon state campgrounds to receive an A rating from us, with electric, water, cable, free showers, and, right on the ocean.

We spent the next night at Umpqua Lighthouse State Park (the historic lighthouse now part of a Coast Guard station), where gray whales, up to 53 feet in length, migrate 10,000 miles just off-shore each year, from December to January, returning February through March.

Headed north, we passed scenic Haceta Head Lighthouse, high on a bluff above the Pacific, and stopped at Cape Perpetua Visitor Center, which explains the history of the coast and provides telescopes from the deck – popular with whale watchers.  Along the parking lot we picked Oregon blackberries…yum.

Historic Carson mansion in Eureka. Also check out Ferndale, just off Hwy. 101, featuring many stately Victorians and a delightful, historic downtown area (photo courtesy Blair Hake)

Just south of Newport on Yaquina Bay, we overnighted at South Beach State Park, another pristine park, hiked along the ocean beach and heard nearby harbor seals bellowing throughout the night!

Mo's and Mo's Annex in Newport, OR (photo courtesy Blair Hake).

Newport is, aguably, the quintessential Oregon coastal town, with a dynamic fishing fleet, scores of shops and restaurants, and, home to the original Mo’s and Mo’s Annex Restaurants (on the harbor). Entering town, you cross the graceful Newport Harbor Bridge and turn right to the active fishing harbor.  We dined on Mo’s clam chowder, fresh fish and seafood salad sandwiches, with a view of the busy harbor outside the window. You’ll find other Mo’s at Cannon Beach, Lincoln City, Florence and Otter Rock (seasonal).

Space precludes insight on many more Oregon coastal towns headed north, like Florence,
Yachats, Lincoln City and Depot Bay.  Each offer unique attractions, wonderful vistas and marvelous seafood to fuel your trip.

We crossed the Columbia River into Washington on Hwy. 101 at Astoria, and soon passed Fort Columbia State Park, home of the Chinook nation and their chief Concomly.  Captain Robert Gray dropped anchor nearby in 1792 after his discovery of the mighty Columbia. It served as a fort to guard the fur trade in the early 1800s, and as a coastal fort guarding the Columbia from 1896 to World War II.

Nearby is the Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center, offering insights into the camp where Lewis and Clark’s expeditionary force wintered after their cross-country expedition.

Touring north we skirted Willapa Bay, where the quaint town of Oysterville preserves the area’s past as supplier of Washington oysters to the state and all the way south to San Francisco.

Our final coastal destination was the Olympic Peninsula, where we had tent-camped numerous times when our kids were much younger. We stopped inland at one of the national park’s campgrounds, where rain hammered us for the evening and night.  The next day dawned hazy, becoming bright, and we reached Klalock Lodge on the ocean for a delicious lunch.  It’s just a few miles south of Klalock Campground, with 170 camp sites right on the ocean. We walked along the gorgeous coastline, all the more wonderful because the sun was peeking through the clouds.

In Olympic National Park, we admired the Lake Quinault Lodge and the Lake Crescent Lodges, both exuding history and cozy accommodations, vowing to return.  Now heading east, we took the Bainbridge Island Ferry, only $25.30 including our little trailer, right into downtown Seattle!

How to get there: From Stockton, Redwoods National Park is about 380 miles and 8 hours; heading north on Hwy. 1; Hwy. 1 eventually intersects Hwy. 101, continue north on 101. Brookings, OR, is about 3 hours further north on Hwy. 101

For more info: Redwood National Park, CA,,  phone  (707) 465-7335. For Oregon travel,, (800) 547-7842; for Washington travel,, (800) 544-1800. For Olympic National Park, WA,, (800) 833-6388.

Contact Tim Viall at Follow him at Happy travels in the west!

Posted in Northern California, Pacific Northwest USA (Oregon, Washington, Idaho), Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Ski season and El Nino; scientific and hopeful prognosis!

For you downhill skiers, XC trekkers and snowshoers, here’s a both a scientific and hopeful report, passed along by Dodge Ridge Ski Area, on the expected, near-term El Niño winter for the central sierra.

Hence, aficionados of skiing or snowshoeing in the Dodge Ridge/Highway 108, or Bear Valley/Hwy. 4 corridors, should have high expectations. And, as a 23 year member of the National Ski Patrol at Dodge Ridge, I can tell you about big winters versus light snow years. We’re all mindful of how the last one or started strong, then abruptly petered out about Christmas time. Here’s the insight, sent along by Dodge Ridge Ski Area:

Weather forecasters predict 102-136% of average snowfall for Dodge Ridge this winter

El Niño weather pattern likely means more storms and more snowfall for skiers + riders to enjoy.

The Dodge Ridge Kid's Club is a popular option for small and growing skiers!

Pinecrest, Calif. – Oct. 27, 2015: While news of a building El Niño pattern in the Pacific Ocean has been celebrated by Northern California skiers and snowboarders for months now, ski resort-oriented weather forecasting service OpenSnow recently released its prediction that Dodge Ridge will receive between 102-136% of its average snowfall this winter.

According to OpenSnow’s ‘Winter Ski Forecast for 2015/2016’: “While NOAA and other forecast services produce winter outlooks that focus on temperature, precipitation, and snowfall trends across the United States, no organization (that we know of!) has taken on the challenge of making a long-range snowfall forecast specifically for ski areas.”

OpenSnow’s forecasting team is basing its predictions for a snowy winter ahead for California largely on the El Niño pattern building in the equatorial Pacific.

Family enjoys the view and the skiing in Boulder Creek Canyon at Dodge Ridge Ski Area.

The El Niño effect at Dodge Ridge: Researchers with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) have said that the El Niño currently building in the Pacific looks to be the strongest such pattern in a generation – strong enough to rival those experienced during the 1997/98 and 1982/83 winters, a proclamation which gives skiers and snowboarders cause for excitement.

During the 1997/98 winter, Dodge Ridge received a total of 475 inches of snowfall at its base elevation of 6,600 feet – 146% of average (based on an average annual snowfall of 325 inches at the base) – and was open for a 131-day season from Dec. 10, 1997 through April 19, 1998. In 1982 the mountain opened on November 11, another epic El Niño year.

Only two days left for Dodge Ridge Season Pass Sale:  With weather forecasters lining up behind the idea that the 2015/16 El Niño-fueled ski season will be a good one, now is the time to invest in a Dodge Ridge unlimited season pass. Passes are on sale at preseason rates through Saturday, Oct. 31, with Adult/Teen passes for just $259, Child passes for just $99 and Senior passes for just $159.

Dodge Ridge notes that a season pass pays for itself in less than four visits, and comes with no blackout dates or restrictions. And all Dodge Ridge season passes come with additional bonus perks. For more information or to purchase, please see or call (209) 965-3474.

About Dodge Ridge Ski Resort: Located in Pinecrest, California, off Hwy. 108, Dodge Ridge is one of the closest skiing and riding options to Stockton and other Central Valley locations. The resort offers 1,600 vertical feet, 67 runs, 12 lifts and 862 acres of skiable terrain. For reservations and additional information please visit or call(209) 965-3474. I would add that Dodge Ridge prides itself in being a family ski resort, with marvelous learning programs for youth and a bright, airy Family Lodge to welcome families.

Watch for my update on skiing and “what’s new” at both Dodge Ridge and Bear Valley Resorts, and other skiing options in the central Sierra, coming soon when snow begins to fly!  Contact Tim Viall at Follow him at

Happy travels in the West!

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Traveling on foot; running and walking in Stockton and San Joaquin County

Runners head west on Weber Avenue at the Run and Walk Against Hunger (Tim Ulmer photo).

Walkers make up the majority of entrants at the Run and Walk Against Hunger on Thanksgiving morning (Mario Supnet photo).

Start of last year's 10th annual Run and Walk Against Hunger on Fremont, in front of Stockton Arena and Ballpark.

Costumed as holiday turkeys, two runners have fun at the Thanksgiving Run and Walk.

A solitary runner heads out the levee trail on Shima Tract in northwest Stockton.

Costumed runners set for the Resolution Run, held each January 1 (Fleet Feet photo).

Two year old Elijah Dennison and grandfather Randy Dennison get some exercise walking in the Quail Lakes area.

Today, travel by walking and running, for health, to reduce auto miles, to see more of your city and county.  To really see the scenic parts of your city or county – you can’t do it from the seat of the car. You have to walk, or as many do, run, to get to the incredible places in San Joaquin County. Each of the four compass points is full of options, if you’re willing to explore.

We talked to a couple of experts on the topic of walking and running – Tony Vice of Fleet Feet-Stockton, and Ralph Womack, race director of the Run and Walk against Hunger on the Stockton waterfront, Thanksgiving morning (and longtime member of Sundance Running Club).

Vice notes, “We have so many great areas to run in San Joaquin County. One of our favorites is to explore the levee behind Brookside, then up on the Calaveras Bike Trail following the river into the heart of the city – sharing the trail with some cyclists. From the bike trail, make your way over to the University of the Pacific. The campus is beautiful and on early Sunday morning runs, the students are all fast asleep – probably recovering from the weekend.

Another of our favorite runs is to make our way over to Lodi Lake and run the nature area. Taking in all that nature has to offer us – in the city! Deer, rabbit and squirrels are awake, long before we are. Once you have completed the 3 mile loop within the lake grounds, make your way to the town of Woodbridge and then out on the roads past the vineyards. Head North, South, East or West – there are vines in every direction! I tell you, watching the sunrise come up over the vines is just a beautiful site, or, evenings, watch the sunset over Mt. Diablo.

Every Tuesday we do 3 and 5 mile loops into Lincoln Village from Fleet Feet Stockton – heading into the neighborhood, past Lincoln High School, into the Parkwoods neighborhood to finally head back to Lincoln Center. From neighbors, you get  waving, smiles, “good evenings” and “hello’s” as we run the streets. When you see someone watering their lawn, don’t be afraid to ask of a squirt or a pull off the hose for some hydration. We called that being thirsty and having our own water fountain, when we were kids.

No matter where you run or where your loop takes you – the best runs happen because of the company you keep. I most enjoy running when I’m with my training partner. Telling stories, sharing laughs and making plans. Time just melts away and you are finished in no time”.

Ralph Womack added his favorites: “I suspect that there are many more places to run in Stockton than people think. One of my favorite locations is the Shima Tract loop in northwest Stockton. The whole loop is 8 miles.  It is a dirt/gravel trail on top of the levee, totally away from traffic of the street.  The early morning is my favorite time (since I’m an early bird). The air is fresh and the birds are starting to sing and you can see hawks, eagles and Snowy Egrets .

To get on the levee drive to the west end of Hammer Lane and turn left on Lighthouse, go right when Lighthouse forks and immediately go  right on the court that ends against the levee.  Park there (don’t leave any valuables in your car). Walk up the levee and go either direction, an 8 mile loop.  If you prefer less distance just cut across and return on the road that intersects at about 2 miles if you go left or 5 miles if you go to the right.

I also recommend the downtown Stockton waterfront. And the perfect opportunity to see it is by participating in the Thanksgiving Day Run and Walk Against Hunger. Enjoy the exercise and support the work of the Emergency Food Bank.  It starts at the Stockton Arena, heads east on Fremont to Center, south on Center to Weber then west on Weber to Morelli Park. Circle the parking lot and retrace your steps to the start.  This is about 3.1 miles/5k.  Want 10k or 15k?  Do the loop twice…or three times!”.

I add a few more favorite routes: The Bear Creek Trail – start at Bear Creek High School, go south on Thornton and then west on the trail, heading west to Trinity Parkway,  continuing on the levee, paved for another mile – and unpaved beyond, west into the beautiful Delta. Check out Manteca’s walking and running trails, complete with bridge across the Stanislaus River into our adjoining county. Tracy and Lathrop also have a variety of options, some right along Delta waterways. Or, trek to the eastern side of the county for options in rolling foothills and along Lake Comanche. Your best choice is often right outside your front door, in your own neighborhood!

Special Note:  The 11th Annual Run and Walk Against Hunger, Thanksgiving morning, November 26th is expected to draw over 2,500 participants. The 5K (3.1 mile) Run and Walk and 10K (6.2 mile) Run, both beginning at 8:30 AM, follow a scenic route on both sides of the Stockton Deepwater Channel – flat, scenic and fast. Kids (9 and under) have their own ¼ Mile Run, starting at 8:00 AM.

Register on line at or in person at Fleet Feet Sports, 277 Lincoln Center, Monday through Wednesday, Nov. 23-25, 10 AM to 6 PM. For more information,, or contact Emergency Food Bank, 7 W. Scotts Ave., Stockton, CA  95203, PH: (209) 464-7369.

For more information on several organizations that promote walking/running: Delta Tule Trekkers;; 1819 Cheyenne Way, Stockton, CA 95209; Sundance Run Club,; PO Box 629002, Stockton 95269-1002; Fleet Feet,; 277 Lincoln Center, Stockton, 95207.

Contact Tim Viall at Follow him at Happy travels in the West!


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Classic travel trailers – is refurbishing or rebuilding one right for you?

Inside, the right rear quarter panel at foot of the bed; overhead water damage had so dry-rotted the wall that a finger could remove what remained - the blue behind is the trailer's aluminum siding!

The Scotty's front dinette; the wild wall fabric concealed water damage.

The Scotty has a full-sized bed in back, behing cabinets that contain a two-burner stove and sink (we are adding new, as well as a microwave). A good eye will see water damage along ceiling panels.

Our '64 Scotty Sportsman, shortly after purchase. Looks cute, eh?

The dry rot of the Scotty necessitated taking it down to the frame and rebuilding the floor and trailer walls and roof. Here the auther sands the solid trailer frame before undercoating it. Yes, quite a project!

For the past 11 years, my spouse and I, having aged gracefully out of the tent and car-camping expeditions of our youth and middle age, have traveled extensively in the US and Canada in two small teardrop camp trailers. We have had great fun in those tiny campers (both reproduction models of a late 1940′s Kit Kamper and a ’58 Serro Scotty Sportsman Jr.), but, each four feet wide, four feet tall and eight feet long; well, they do have their limitations.

Hence, three years ago I determined to find a slightly larger classic camper – but one that was small, easy to store in a garage and thrifty to tow.  One of the clear “small, classic trailer options is the Serro Scotty brand, made from 1958 up through the 1980s.  So, after months searching Craigs List and eBay, I found a ’64 Scotty Sportsman for sale in Riverside, CA.  After purchasing it for $900, it sat wedged into our garage mostly untouched for the past 35 months - to my wife’s chagrin.

When I bought the little trailer, it was apparent that it had dry rot in the rear, and in the right rear quarter panel. A lesson learned: for any dry rot you can see, multiply by 20 when the trailer is stripped down for repair. About 30 months ago, I pulled the trailer windows and door out – and discovered a case of near-terminal dry rot, from leaks in the trailer roof, and from water intrusion along the bottom sides and rear of the trailer.  I closer I looked, the daunting reality of a total rebuild sank in.

A frame-up rebuild means tearing the trailer apart, salvaging the aluminum skins, some of the interior appliances and, perhaps, cabinets – but rebuilding the balance of the floor and trailer body.  So, a tear-down, all the way to the steel frame!  Yikes…can I handle this project?

Finally, with encouragement from spouse Susan, and two wood-working savvy friends, I started the project on October 1.  Happily, it is moving along pretty well.

By a week ago, we’re down to the original floor – dry rot on most of the four sides. Now working on the sub-floor bracing, and hope to have new floor down within a few days, then undercoated.  With a bit more luck, the body of the new trailer shell will be rebuilt with skins and roof panels on, by sometime next month. We have rebuilt two of the three cabinets already, the third in the next week or so. It helps to have a tough cookie for a spouse, and two friends with woodworking skills and all the tools!

Thanks to wood-working friend Tom Wilson, to Gary Pierce for more wood expertise and some good borrowed tools, we tore off the old floor. Fortunately, we found a sturdy frame with not much rust, thought the old floor was attached with permanence! Undercoating below also helped stick the old floor on. Susan, Tom and I finally got it off, and I wire-brushed and undercoated the frame.

The last few days, the goal is rebuilding the floor; then new linoleum, then, trailer body.

Words to the wise, when de-constructing a trailer – take more pictures and go overboard in taking measurements – I spent most of yesterday sorting through the trailer “junk pile”, taking deconstructed pieces, measuring floors, the old under-structure and reconstructing (in diagram-form) how this trailer should go back together again.

I am in hopes that by sometime in November it’s starting to look like a Scotty again! Stay tuned for weekly updates as progress – hopefully – moves forward! Follow my Record blog; each Sunday, I will attempt to post progress reports on the rebuild!

For more information and a variety of tutorials and videos on rebuilding classic Serro Scotty trailers, see the website of the National Serro Scotty Organization,

Contact Tim Viall at  Follow him at

Happy travels in the West!


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Murphys, Ironstone Vineyards and Columbia…footprints in history

Wells Fargo stagecoach offers rides to Columbia State Park guests.

Kids pan for gold and agates at Columbia State Park.

Murphys Hotel, in operation since 1856, anchors historic Main Street in Murphys.

44 pound sample of crystalline gold, on display at Ironstone Vineyards, is priceless!

Entrance into Ironstone's wine caves, where 60 degree temperatures make for fine wine fermentation.

Ironstone Vineyards 14 acres of manicured grounds are stunning as fall changes colors of the trees.

Bob Hall, Tasting Room Host at Ironstone Vineyards, shares history of the winery while offering samples of white and red wines.

Our daytrip was to feature a tour of the historic town and famous wine-making region, in and around the town of Murphys, California. With leaves in the foothills starting to change to their autumn colors, the one hour drive provided marvelous scenery.

One of our party suggested starting with a tour of Ironstone Vineyards. We met and chatted with Tasting Room Host Bob Hall, who noted “the vineyard was formerly Kramer Ranch, a 1500 acre cattle ranch owned by John Kautz’s spouse’s family. Kautz, a second generation Lodian with several thousand acres of vineyards in the valley, aimed to make a showplace vineyard and winery in the foothills”. The winery begin construction in 1990, opened in 1994, and is one of the grandest wineries in all of the west.

In the center of the cattle ranch, hard-rock minors blasted wine caverns into the rock formation. Miners declared the rock was “like iron” – from this came the name “Ironstone”. The caves maintain a constant 60° temperature for proper wine fermentation.

The grounds contain 100 acres devoted to vineyards, and 14 acres maintained as gorgeous gardens (home to many weddings). Flowers, including 500,000 daffodil bulbs, bloom from February through the late fall.

The outdoor amphitheater can seat up to 6000, with a summer concert series running May through September, and the Concours d’Elegance (a fine auto show) showcased at the end of the season. On weekends, youngsters can pan for gold – with gold discovery almost guaranteed!

The winery itself is a showplace. The tasting room features a huge main bar, built by the Brunswick Bowling Company of New York in 1907 and features a 42 foot tall, 16 foot wide fireplace. With an on-site restaurant, one could spend a good part of the day here.

Other floors feature demonstration kitchen, the 3800 square-foot Music Room complete with a Robert Morton theatre organ built for Sacramento’s Alhambra theater in 1927 and an adjoining bar and reception area.

Make a special stop at the museum and jewelry shop. In addition to artifacts, pictures and good explanation of Native American culture in the area and the early prospectors – tourists will also gaze in awe at the 44 pound specimen of crystalline gold. The largest known in the world, it was mined in the 1990s by the nearby Sonora Mining Company and is priceless in value.

Murphys Diggins began as a miners tent encampment in the early days of the gold rush, 1848. Within three years, Murphys numbered 3000 residents! The Sperry and Perry hotel opened in 1856, burned, was rebuilt and renamed the Mitchler Hotel in 1882, then renamed the Murphy’s Hotel in 1945. The hotel is one of the longest in continuing operation in the state and is a registered California historic landmark; along the town’s shady Main Street are several score other buildings dating back to the Gold Rush days.

We had planned to have lunch at the well-known Alchemy Restaurant, but found it closed on Wednesday. We retraced our steps to the old hotel, and enjoyed a hearty lunch on the shady patio.

The town is both a history lover and wine aficionado’s dream. Inside the hotel, we picked up a map directing the way to 24 nearby tasting room. A favorite is Zucca Mountain Vineyards, with the tasting room a block east of the old hotel at 431 E. Main Street (the winery itself is in Vallecito). Pick up a brochure with winery map and addresses for the Calaveras Winegrape Alliance, or consult their informative website,

Frommer’s Guides named Murphy one of the “top 10 coolest small towns in the US”. It keeps its vibe by staging such annual attractions as the Holiday Open House, the first Friday in December, with Santa and Mrs. Claus on hand to cater to the kids, join the parade and light the town’s tree. In October, Moaning Caverns stages Halloween at the Cavern and leading into the holidays, most all the wineries stage special events. While visiting Murphys, take the time to see the Old-timers Museum, Murphys Pokey and stop for a break in Murphy’s Community Park on Murphys Creek, just off Main Street.

Nearby attractions include the Ebbetts Pass National Scenic Byway, connecting Calaveras Big Trees State Park, the Stanislaus National Forest and Bear Valley Mountain Resort. Also close are Moaning Caverns Adventure Park and Columbia State Historic Park – all within easy driving distance.

History buffs will also be entranced by Columbia State Historic Park, just 13 miles from Murphys. Columbia was founded March, 1850 by Dr. Thaddeous Hildreth and others who settled and began prospecting. Soon, Hildreth Diggin’s had found the precious metal and more than a 1,000 miners descended on the area. Renamed Columbia, the Park preserves the town as a museum of living history!

Columbia’s business district is closed to cars – foot- and horse-traffic only – and businesses, shops and volunteers bring the town to life, much as it appeared in 1855!  Pan for gold, take a stage coach ride, visit blacksmith and livery shops, get a free tour led by period-dressed docents, grab lunch or an ice cream and take in life as it was more than 150 years ago!

How to Get There: From Stockton, reach Murphys by heading east on Hwy. 4 about 60 miles; it’s about 1.3 hours.

For more information, Ironstone Vineyards,; 1894 Six-mile Road, Murphys 95247; phone (209) 728–1251; for Murphys,; PO Box 2034, Murphys, CA 95247; Columbia,, phone (209) 588-9128.

Contact Tim Viall at Follow him at Happy travels in the west!

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Classic trailers are “the show” at Trailerfest at Tower Park Resort, CA!

'48 Curtis Wright Clipper is a show-stopper; very valuable!

Classic small Airstream with equally classic tow vehicle!

Interior of a 60-something Serro Scotty Sportsman Sr., similar to our trailer we are restoring.

Interesting paint job...I guess!

Classic Polish trailer; missed the year.

Early 60s Ultra Van, powered by a Corvair engine.

German classic Eriba Puck offers standing room, front kitchen and queen bed in 800 compact pound trailer!

Cute decorating ideas!

64 Aloha

56 Shasta

Our '58 Scotty Sportsman, Jr. teardrop, a reproduction, at Jenner, CA.

Recently, almost 250 classic trailers were on display for the fifth annual Trailerfest event, at Tower Park Marina just west of Lodi. We walked through several dozen, particularly admiring and walking through small trailers from the feet up to about 15 feet in length.

The argument for small, classic trailers is large.  They are small (hence, easy to store), offer most of the amenities of the much larger trailers, are lighter so your tow vehicle can be smaller with better gas mileage and can be bought at a reasonable price and resold later for what (or more) than you paid for it! And, you are the “talk of the campground”!

My spouse and I have been retired for three years – we’ve been touring the US and Canada with a small teardrop trailer, a reproduction of a ’58 Scotty Sportsman, Jr.

We’re currently working on a larger ’64 Serro Scotty trailer, a full 13 feet with tongue, offering more room than the teardrop. Hence, we were looking for finish details and decorating ideas. And, we got plenty.

Here are some of our favorite small trailers.  We wanted inspiration – we found it at Trailerfest.

Owners are tickled to show off and offer tours of their little darlings. Keep in mind, late fall and winter are the best times to purchase a classic trailer, for prices drop – and the weather makes for the best time to do remodels or rebuilds.

So, pick your favorite trailer, post a “search” on Craigslist and eBay, and scan classic trailer web sites (like Tin Can Trailers, National Serro Scotty Organization and the like).

Happy travels in the west!

Contact Tim Viall at Follow him at

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    Tim Viall

    Viall is a local travel writer who retired in late 2012 after 10 years as executive director of Stockton, CA's, Emergency Food Bank and six years with the Downtown Stockton Alliance. Previously, a 21-year career in daily newspapers helped shape his ... Read Full
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