Wildlife safaris and photography in and around San Joaquin County

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A mother sea otter feeds her pup at Moss Landing.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Silver Lake, looking southeast from Kit Carson Lodge.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Hiking and paddling in San Joaquin County’s wilderness!

Enjoy paddling or hiking right in San Joaquin County’s wilderness!

With two newly purchased kayaks loaded atop my SUV, my friend and I were in search of wilderness paddling, right in San Joaquin County. Several fellow kayakers told us of the Cosumnes River Preserve, a place where I had hiked several times and taken grandkids for both hiking and bird watching. This day, kayaking was our planned mode of travel.

To beat summer’s heat, we met at the Preserve at 8 AM, located just three miles north of Thornton. The Preserve stakes out its 50,000 acres around the confluence of the Cosumnes and Mokelumne Rivers. The land remains much in the condition that Native Americans would’ve found it, hundreds of years ago. On weekends and holidays, stop at the visitor’s center for a map and docent insight.

Friend Gary Pierce paddles on quiet Snodgrass Slough, headed for the Cosumnes River.

The preserve is rich in flora and fauna, particularly waterfowl, (depending on time of year, egrets, snowy plovers, geese, Greater and Lesser Sandhill Cranes, Northern Pintail ducks, eagles and scores more can swarm the Preserve’s many waterways and flooded marshes), making it a bird-watcher’s paradise. Deer, raccoons, skunks, bobcats and many other animals call the place home.

With over 11 miles of paved and dirt hiking trails along the riparian waterways, it’s also a prime destination for scenic hiking; weekdays, you can hike for miles without seeing another person. This time of the year, wild blackberries can be found along many of the trails, providing fixin’s for tomorrow’s flavorful pancakes or waffles (take plastic bags)!

Gary paddles past a local kayaker, hoping to take some fish on a “low tide day”
(he was not having much luck, he noted).

From the visitor center, we carried our kayaks about 200 yards to reach the Preserve’s dock, and put in our light craft on Snodgrass Slough. From here, we headed south about 3/8 of a mile, then paddled east up the wide but shallow and slow-moving Cosumnes River. Had we turned west on the Cosumnes, we would have shortly reached the faster-moving Mokelumne River (we saved this for another day).

Along the slough and river banks, we spotted a dozen snowy white egrets and several fat turtles longing on driftwood. A local in another kayak noted that fishing is often good, but he had arrived late and a low tide made catching a bit slow to his liking!

An egret lands near a pelican (Chuck Higgs photo)

Just across the Mokelumne River at the intersection of the slower-moving Cosumnes River, listen carefully for the ghosts of old Mokelumne City calling out from the historic river city. Founded in 1850 and fueled by the gold rush, the city had boomed by 1861 to the second largest town and port in San Joaquin County, supplying goods from San Francisco to the gold and silver mines up the river.

A huge flood inundated the entire San Joaquin Valley in 1862 (including much of downtown Stockton), washing all of Mokelumne City’s wood buildings miles downstream – the city disappeared, never to be rebuilt. Rumor has it that the remains of the original two-story brick Mokelumne City Hotel remain, now repurposed as a barn – alas, it’s now private property.

Author’s grandkids, from left, Hunter, Jack and Jessica, pick wild blackberries, growing in many places throughout the Preserve.

The Preserve’s website calendar shares several upcoming events, including a guided nature walk on August 3, a river walk bird survey and tour, August 10, both a tall-forest bird survey and tour and a guided paddle tour on August 17 and a guided photography walk, August 24.

Visitors sample olive oils and wines at Consumnes River Farms.

Exiting the Preserve, a favorite stop is just a half-mile south, Consumnes River Farms, where visitors can sample olive oils, balsamic vinegars and wines. The first two tastings are free, while wine tasting is is a modest charge (waived if you purchase a bottle). This is a fine place to sample the local products and take a break at the outdoor patio.

Thornton is an old farming town with a Portuguese heritage. The town hosts a large bull-ring, hidden behind the Catholic Church, hosting bloodless bull-fighting in October each year! We made our way to Primo’s Bakery, an authentic Mexican bakery with scores of delicious baked goods, coffee, soft-drinks, all very reasonably priced.

San Joaquin County offers many other places where the Delta can be accessed for both hiking and/or kayaking/canoeing. Consider Lodi Lake Park, where kayakers can paddle into the adjoining Mokelumne River, the Calaveras River just west of University of Pacific or trekking out into the Delta from the very west end of Hammer Lane, where levee hiking offers a choice of four or nine mile routes into quite wild country. South County’s Caswell Memorial State Park, split by the winding Stanislaus River just before its juncture with the San Joaquin River, is another fine destination for these active pursuits.

Author’s grandkids Hunter, Jessica and Jack, hiking Shima Tract, accessible from west end of Hammer Lane in north Stockton.

For more information: Cosumnes River Preserve, 13501 Franklin Blvd, Galt, Cosumnes.org, (916) 684-2816; Consumes River Farm, 28305 N. Thornton Road, Thornton, consumnesriverfarm.com, (209) 334-5544.

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

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Cruising the Mississippi; Echoes of Huck Finn and Civil War ghosts around every bend!

Cruising the Mighty Mississippi with the Prossers; Echoes of Huck Finn and ghosts of the Civil War around every bend!

American Duchess taking on passengers in Memphis, TN
(credit for all photos to Craig Prosser).

Craig and Fern Prosser are old hands at cruising; after ten ocean voyages they just enjoyed their first river cruise. The mighty Mississippi River, made more so with record floods and setting weekly high water marks, made for exciting times during their time on the river.

They cruised on the American Duchess (part of the American Queen Steamboat Company’s fleet) from May 26 to June 3, adding two additional nights at cruise-end in New Orleans. The American Duchess is a real paddle wheeler (which also has diesel auxiliary engines). It was built in the 1990s and carries 130-140 passengers, a far cry from ocean-going cruise liners, many of which have passenger capacities in the several thousands.

On the cruise, the Prossers got to know many of their fellow travelers (smaller passenger list and morning tours made it easy). They also befriended the four on-board entertainers, including a banjo player who doubled as the boat’s (they explained that river boats are just that, “boats” – not ships – because they don’t have keels) ‘riverlorian’, who gave daily lectures on the history and culture of the river.

A barge and pilot boat make their way up the flood waters of the Mississippi River.

The cruise route took them from Memphis, Tennessee, to New Orleans, (the published itinerary was altered, due to the high water forcing the boat to bypass two stops, West Helena, Arkansas, and Nottoway Plantation in Louisiana). The Prossers spent the first night in the stately Peabody Hotel in Memphis, enjoying “the ducks on the roof,” ducks trained by the bell hops over the years to march from their roost to the elevators and down to the fountain in the lobby daily at 11 AM.

Before boarding the boat the couple took a bus tour of Memphis focusing on the historical landmarks of the city’s legendary music scene, places where Elvis Presley, BB King, Johnny Cash and others got their starts. Memphis was one of the largest cities in the Antebellum South, a robust market for lumber, agricultural products and the slave trade prior to the Civil War.

Statue of Elvis Pressley stands in Memphis, noting his presence and
impact on the city’s and nation’s music scene.

A highlight of the cruise was the stop in Vicksburg, Mississippi, where the Prossers joined many of their fellow passengers in touring the Vicksburg National Military Park. Vicksburg was ‘the Gibraltar of the Confederacy’; Confederate President Jefferson Davis noted, “Vicksburg is the nailhead that holds the South’s two halves together.”

For 18 months Union and Confederate Forces jockeyed for control; from May 18 to July 4, 1863, Union General US Grant held the Confederate Army and city of Vicksburg under a hard and brutal siege before the city fell to Union forces.

Cannon and monuments to states and their Civil War regiments stand on the ramparts in Vicksburg National Military Park.

At a later stop in Natchez, Mississippi, the Prossers crossed the river into Louisiana for a tour called “The Story of Cotton.” They visited the Frogmore Plantation, a large cotton growing and ginning operation, where as a sideline the owners have created a replica of a 19th century plantation complete with antique cotton gins and quarters for the slaves (later sharecroppers who would have worked the place).

Recreation of the slave quarters at Frogmore Plantation,
part of the Story of Cotton tour.
USS Cairo, a Union ironclad warship, on display in Vicksburg.

Food on the cruise was uniformly good at the casual buffet or in the dining room, with three delicious meals each day prepared by the boat’s American crew. Passengers also had the choice of dining ashore but usually just for lunch since the American Duchess was typically underway and heading for the next town by 5 PM.

Dress was “resort casual” on board, no suits, tuxes and fancy dresses required and no formal nights. The riverboat generally cruised during the evening and overnight hours and spent the days tied up in the river towns. Free “hop-on, hop-off” bus tours of local landmarks and shopping opportunities were offered at each stop in addition to longer more elaborate tours for which an extra fee was charged. The Vicksburg Military Park and the Story of Cotton were among those that cost extra.

The Mississippi was out of its normal banks for the entire route of the cruise with thousands of acres of land underwater, but except for an occasional cancellation or rescheduling it had little affect on the passengers’ enjoyment of the trip. The captain elected to dock overnight in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, because flooding prevented landing at the final stop on the cruise. Passengers who had booked a tour of the Nottoway Plantation at that stop were bused to the location from Baton Rouge.

The flooding Mississippi overtakes part of a road in this shot.

The Prossers booked two extra nights in New Orleans after the cruise, finding a nice place on Decatur Street close to the river and about three blocks from Bourbon Street. Before checking in to the hotel they took one last bus tour covering most of the popular sites in the city from the French Quarter to Lake Ponchartrain. New Orleans is, of course, a food lover’s paradise. Oysters, Shrimp and grits, gumbo and beignets; Craig says he was there just long enough to try them all.

The scene on Bourbon Street in New Orleans.
Fern and Craig Prosser enjoy dinner during their Mississippi River excursion.

Stocktonians will remember Craig as a long-time broadcaster with KOVR CBS 13 News. Prosser, from Columbus, Ohio, graduated from The Ohio State University; his first news assignment on the air was in Saigon, Vietnam in 1963-64, with Armed Forces Radio, the station made famous by Robin Williams in the movie “Good Morning Vietnam”. He completed his 45-year broadcasting career with 35 years at KOVR. He and spouse Fern have lived in Stockton since 1970; they have two sons and three grandchildren.

Author’s note: Credit for the writing of this article is shared by both me, and by Craig Prosser, who authored portions and provided deep detail on the Prosser’s adventure. All photos were taken by Craig Prosser.

For more info: americanqueensteamboatcompany.com.

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

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Cool kids in a hot city! Summer fun for kids in Stockton and SJ County

Help your kids be cool; Stockton, San Joaquin summer-time destinations for the kids…

As summer heats up, your kids and/or grandkids are likely seeking things to do to break the monotony that often settles in on summer vacation. Here are kid-tested and approved adventures that will keep the young ones cool.

Consider scanning the virtual tours of many Stockton attractions at the visitstockton.org website. A good place to start an actual summertime tour is downtown Stockton, along the Stockton waterfront. Park near the Waterfront Warehouse, 445 W. Weber, where the adjoining Stockton Marina rents kayaks and peddleboards.

The Stockton Marina, looking south from behind the Stockton Ports Ballpark.

Across Weber Avenue is the Stockton Children’s Museum (childrensmuseumstockton.org, where kids can play on a fire engine, prowl in a police car and fly a helicopter). From the Waterfront Warehouse, follow the Joan Darrah Promenade along the waterfront which
skirts the historic Hotel Stockton, downtown Stockton Cineplex and Weber Point, containing a big kids play area on the south side and the outline of Captain Weber’s home on the southwest side of the park (alas, the Point’s Interactive water fountain is out of commission, awaiting repairs).

The Stockton Children’s Museum is a hit for kids 10 and under!

On the north side of the channel the Stockton Arena and Ports Ballpark present fun events and baseball throughout the summer (coming up this Saturday, the second annual Stockton Kidz Fest at the Arena, see information below). For more downtown info, downtownstockton.org.

Additional iconic Stockton kid’s destinations include Pixie Woods (stockton.gov/pixiewoods) in Lewis Park, with their interactive water feature, boat rides on the Pixie Queen paddlewheel steamer, train rides on the Pixie Express Train or join scores of families on the carousel. Don’t overlook the indoor ice arena at Oak Park, where a spin around the rink will cool off anyone on a hot summer day.

Author’s grandson Jack enjoys the Pixie Woods dragon fountain!

Pack a picnic lunch and visit the air-conditioned Haggin Museum, one of the west coast’s prime museums and art collections anchoring lovely Victory Park. Second Saturdays offer up special programming for families with kids.

The museum features the city’s history from Native Americans, the Miwuk and Yokuts peoples, city founder Captain Weber, to more modern leaders like Benjamin Holt (inventor of the Caterpiller-type tractor), Tillie Lewis (the “Tomato Queen”), and Stephens Brothers wood boat builders. Its art exhibits are world-famous in their own right, and throughout the month art events allow hands-on learning (see the museum website, hagginmuseum.org).

History of Stockton’s indigenous people are recounted in the Haggin Museum.

North San Joaquin County offers a host of kid’s attractions. Lodi’s downtown features a lively Cineplex surrounded by shops and eateries and the nearby World of Wonders Science Museum (wowsciencemuseum.org), featuring hands-on activities for both kids and adults. Check the museum’s website for a number of scheduled summer time activities and special events.

Micke Grove Park, just south of Lodi, offers the Micke Grove Zoo (mgzoo.com), Japanese Gardens and San Joaquin Historical Museum (sanjoaquinhistory.org). The park is an undiscovered playground, perfect for picnics with stately Valley Oaks providing shade and cooler temperatures while the Zoo and adjacent Fun Land provide attractions for almost any age.

Kayakers head out on the Mokelumne River (Ava Simpson photo)

History comes alive at the San Joaquin Historical Museum, rich in Native American, pioneer, gold rush and agricultural history and including the original Calaveras School building, circa 1866 and Charles Weber cottage dating to 1847. Weekends through end of August, kids can pet farm animals a’plenty at the Critter Corral.

Hiking and biking options can be found throughout the county. The centrally located Calaveras River Bike Trail offers a fun start on the campus of the University of Pacific, pedaling or walking west out to Buckley Cove Park on the Delta, or, walk or pedal south from UOP on Kensington for a snack or treat along Stockton’s Miracle Mile.

Author’s grandkids, Jessica and Jack, get a kick out of old farm truck loaded with vintage fruit crates at the San Joaquin Historical Museum in Micke Grove Park.

For more hiking or water fun, consider Lodi Lake Park for swimming or hiking along the Mokelumne River in Lodi, or the Cosumnes River Preserve (consumnes.org) just north of Thornton, where hiking trails take walkers through riparian wilderness areas and the kayakers can paddle the waters of either the Cosumnes or Mokelumne River estuaries.

Further explore the San Joaquin River Delta on foot or bike, accessing it at the west end of Hammer Lane in Stockton (here, you can tour a four mile loop, or almost nine miles, around Shima Tract, surrounded by the Delta on three sides). Make sure someone packs a plastic bag; blackberries are thick along delta waterways and make for tasty pancakes the following morning!

A hike along the Delta; here, author’s grandkids on Shima Tract, accessible from the west end of Hammer Lane, Stockton

Coming up: the 2nd annual Stockton Kidz Expo, featuring stars from the Disney hit show Raven’s Home, Saturday, July 20, 11 AM – 4 PM, at the Stockton Arena.

Featuring The Smurfs and Spiderman and offering activities such as facepainting, inflatables, puppet show, games, entertainment and costumed characters galore, the Kidz Expo is sure to please young and old. Tickets on sale at Stocktonkidzexpo.com.

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

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

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Exploring the Donner Pass area; one historic and scenic square mile!

One historic and scenic square mile; exploring the Donner Pass area

Most readers have crossed Donner Pass on Interstate 80 dozens of times, headed to Reno and destinations east. Far fewer have taken the Norden exit onto the old Donner Pass Road/historic Highway 40 to discover one of the state’s most significant square miles in its history.

View from Donner Pass, looking east from the Rainbow Bridge overlook (that is Donner Lake in the distance).

This old Donner Pass Road section, centered on the pass, highlights Native American history, the first horse and wagon crossings of Donner Pass, the pioneering First Transcontinental Railroad, First Transcontinental Highway and first Transcontinental Air Route. In addition to all of this evocative history, scenic hikes and spectacular Sierra vistas come with the territory.

Make your first stop at the Donner Summit Historical Society, at intersection of Donner Pass Road and Soda Springs Road. Here Society guru Norm Sayler (former owner of Donner Ski Ranch), presides in a tidy building jammed with artifacts from railroad, early skiing and highway history, reflects on the good old days before Interstate 80 bypassed the area, and offered a variety of informational flyers. Norm happily spins yarns for visitors young and old.

The historic Rainbow Bridge was the first US concrete bridge to feature a compound curve; it helped speed lumber delivery from the Tahoe Basin into Sacramento.

Native American history is represented by petroglyphs spread throughout the Donner Pass area, offering insight into Native American life some 800 to 1500 years ago. You’ll find one significant petroglyph area just below the historic Rainbow Bridge, an easy hike off old Highway 40.

The first horse and wagon train road was blazed in 1844 by the Stephens-Murphy-Thompson party, the first wagon train to reach California and cross Donner Pass. At the party’s camp in Big Bend on the Yuba River, a few miles west of the pass, the first Caucasian baby was born in California, Elizabeth Yuba Murphy. With the discovery of gold at Coloma in 1848, the gold rush would greatly accelerate traffic on the wagon road, as well as other Sierra passes.

The old Summit Tunnel was part of the Transcontinental Railroad, and is located just below the Donner Ski Ranch, just off Donner Pass Road.

By the mid-1860s, the First Transcontinental Railroad was blasting its rugged path through the Sierra, as thousands of Chinese workers braved avalanches, accidents and average 35 foot snowfalls to build one of the most hallowed rail routes in the world. The railroad opened in 1869 and, suddenly, it took only days to get to California, instead of months.

On both sides of Donner Pass, just off old Highway 40, you’ll find both the current rail line (covered by miles of rugged snowsheds) and remnants of bypassed sections of the old transcontinental railroad. The historic Summit Tunnel, just 400 feet below Donner Ski Ranch, offers a 3/8s mile-long tunnel that can be hiked through (take a flash-light). Don’t worry, it was bypassed by a newer route, though the old tunnel impresses visitors, realizing the several years it took to blast through solid Sierra granite.

By the early 1900s, automobiles were beginning to make their appearance in California and Nevada, and the old wagon Road was improved, to become part of the first transcontinental highway in 1913. The nation’s first coast to coast road, the Lincoln Highway included a jaw-dropping stretch through Donner Summit Canyon. Find remnants of the old wagon road and improved sections of the Lincoln Highway, just off old Highway 40.

Railroad snowsheds trek along the Sierra crest; you’ll also find sections of the old highway in the same area. Once, autos would use one of the rail tunnels, having to listen carefully to avoid a car/train disaster!

Stop to admire the Rainbow Bridge, built by the US Forest Service in the 1920s (at eastern end, a lovely viewpoint, complete with informational plaques). It was the first concrete compound curve bridge, a significant engineering feat at the time, and helped speed lumber from the Tahoe Basin region to Sacramento and points west. The improved and paved road soon began to bring more tourists to the Truckee and Lake Tahoe area, as well.

The First Transcontinental Air Route also used the Donner Pass area. Though no longer in place, a beacon and small building housing a weather station once sat atop Signal Mountain just above Donner Ski Ranch. Its roof was marked one side with “Donner”, the other, “SL – SF”, marking the air route between Salt Lake City and San Francisco, long before radar existed.

Serious hikers can trek a marvelous historical trail, starting at the Pacific Crest Trail head on Donner Summit. Take the Sugar Bowl Road turn off to the old Donner Summit Road and drive up to the PCT trail head. The hike is 3.5 miles downhill with many photo opportunities (including petroglyphs, the old wagon road and transcontinental railroad) and picnic spots, taking one down almost to the shore of Donner Lake. If time, the Donner Memorial State Park lies at the east side of Donner Lake, offering mute testimony to the 81 travelers, only 47 of whom survived when stranded in deep snows in 1846.

Places to stay: The Soda Springs/Norden area hosts several rustic old lodges; but for style, check the Clair Tappaan Lodge, a rustic retreat run by the Sierra Club (open to the public). Truckee, just two miles east, offers a host of new and old hotels, motels and B&Bs (we’ve enjoyed stays in the old Truckee Hotel, four floors, no elevator!).

Food, drink: Summit Haus, offering food, drink and craft beers at top of Donner Pass; and the Soda Springs Store, on Donner Pass Road, just west of Soda Springs Road (with a good variety of sandwiches, sides, drinks for take-out).

For more information, Donner Pass, donnersummithistoricalsociety.org; Clair Tappaan Lodge, clairtappaanlodge.com; Truckee, truckee.com.

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

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Staycations: exploring Stockton and San Joaquin County from a tourist’s viewpoint

Exploring Stockton and SJ County from a tourist’s perspective; enjoy a staycation!

Stockton’s Ava Simpson runs her own graphics/marketing business; between work, family, volunteering for organizations like the Peace and Justice Network, she does not have time for a traditional vacation this summer. But, in a recent chat, I realized she is planning several “staycations”, a term popular in recessionary times when folks had neither time nor money to spare but still desired to see the sights and take a break from actual work.

Take part in a tour of the Fox CA/Bob Hope Theatre, which goes hand-in-hand with classic movies shown monthly at the stately film palace!

So, let’s explore staycations, defined by Merriam Webster as “a vacation spent at home or nearby”. Pluses include saving money on accommodations, meals and travel expenses and the option to see local sites that you’ve never gotten around to. The minuses include the danger of continuing working and/or frittering away your vacation time without much to show for it.

So, here are suggestions; they include seeking out hands-on learning experiences; particularly tied to hometown history and local visitor attractions. Splurge a few times – dine out at local favorites and visit nearby attractions (you’re saving a ton of money by not traveling out of the area).

Simpson suggests, “I think we should all treat our home towns as if we were visitors and not wait…thinking I’ll do that next year.” She adds, “tour the Stockton waterfront; start at the Waterfront Warehouse. The interior of this former grain storage facility is spectacular and vintage pieces of large machinery are well labeled. Sample Mexican food at Nenas or try out the new dessert shop”.

Huge wind art is part of a walking/strolling tour of the Stockton waterfront; location here is on water behind the Stockton Ballpark, home to the Ports Baseball Team.

“Walk the Joan Darrah Waterfront Promenade to the Hotel Stockton and Downtown Cineplex, stop by the Visit Stockton offices (125 Bridge Place, 2nd floor) and pickup both their Stockton Activities Guide and materials for the Walking with Weber self-guided tour of downtown Stockton. The pre-recorded audio tour offers insightful commentary by seasoned tour guide Manuel Laguna. On the tour, check out newer restaurants like Cast Iron Trading Company and check out historic murals on historical buildings”.

Continuing her nautical theme, she notes, “a favorite local water destination is kayaking from Lodi Lake into the calm, winding Mokelumne River. Renting kayaks and gear from Headwaters Kayak in Lodi is the stress free way to go, not too pricey. My favorite time is early morning; the Wednesday night group paddles are fun. The sensation of gliding on the calm water immediately relaxes me. Mornings or sunset are the best times to see birds, turtles and even deer (Lodi Lake also a good place for easy hikes, as well)”. She adds that the Cosumnes River Preserve, just north of Thornton, is another treasure for hiking, paddling and watching flora and fauna.

Kayakers head out of Lodi Lake onto the (usually) placid Mokelumne River.

Marilyn Togninali is a local accounting professional who heads the Fox California/Bob Hope Theatre board. She suggests, “find the time to enjoy downtown Stockton. With new restaurants opened and many places to explore, downtown is undergoing a rebirth. Take in the Fox California/Bob Hope Theatre, which offers the monthly classic film series (Sundays, 2 PM, July 14, Star Wars; August 11, Bullitt with Steve McQueen, both impressive on the Fox’s huge screen).

She continued, “spend a day at Micke Grove Park and visit the Zoo, Japanese Gardens and the San Joaquin Historical Museum with such extensive agricultural history. If young kids are part of the tour, a picnic and Funderland are a must. Don’t overlook Stockton’s Pixie Woods; the carousel is at the top of my list of things to enjoy there”.

Kids enjoy the old farm truck, loaded with Lodi-area fruit and vegetable crates, at the San Joaquin Historical Society and Museum in Micke Grove Park.

I’ll add a few more local favorites. Delve into the history of our area’s indigenous peoples, with full exhibits at both the Haggin Museum and the San Joaquin Historical Museum. Reflect upon and revisit the city and county’s thriving cultural scene (the Stockton Symphony, Stockton Civic Theatre, shows/acts coming to the Fox CA/Bob Hope Theatre and Stockton Arena, our gold rush history and classic architecture.

We’ve already mentioned an active waterfront and Delta location (the Calaveras, Mokelumne and San Joaquin Rivers, offering hiking, cycling and paddling options). At the west end of Ben Holt, grab breakfast at Bobs at the Marina, or a sunset dinner on Garlic Brother’s deck and reflect on the adjoining Village West Marina, our Delta and views of Mt. Diablo to the west.

The Stockton Children’s Museum on Weber Avenue is a great destination!
A sunset dinner on the Garlic Brothers Restaurant deck, west end of Ben Holt Drive, Stockton, is a great way to show off the Delta’s extensive waterways and Mt. Diablo to the west!

Make a stop, shop and dine at one of the fine restaurants along the Miracle Mile, the city’s first suburban shopping center that blossomed in the 1950s and 60s. Cocoro, Mile Wine, La Palma and Valley Brew are all inviting options along the Mile.

Tour the Lodi/Woodbridge Wine Appelation centered around Lodi; make a point to visit several of the smaller of the 80-plus wineries. If you’re looking for a late lunch, stop at Phillips Farms on Highway 12, just west of Lodi, for a delicious farm-focused lunch, along with adjoining farmstand full of local produce, wine and gift options.

Abundance Vineyards, off Turner Road, offers shady, classy wine tasting, representative of the Lodi-Woodbridge Wine Grape Appellation.

Find time to reacquaint yourself with the Stockton Ports baseball team; a good night to start is the 4th of July game, with fireworks, when the Ports play the Modesto Nuts at 6:10 PM. An evening at a game is the perfect reminder to better explore your hometown with family (and friends visiting during summer months).

For more information: Downtown Stockton Alliance, downtownstockton.org; Haggin Museum, hagginmuseum.org; San Joaquin Historical Museum, sanjoaquinhistory.org; Visit Lodi, visitlodi.com; Visit Stockton, visitstockton.org.

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

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The Eastern Sierra; June Lakes Loop and Mammoth Lakes Basin

Eastern Sierra: June Lakes Loop, Mammoth Lakes Basin

Towering peaks, secluded, eerie and stunning scenery…

Where can you travel just over 200 miles, pass through arguably the world’s greatest national park and reach a land of contrasts, deserts split by towering peaks, other-worldly attractions yet offering quiet seclusion?

Your destination is the June Lakes and Mammoth Lakes area in the Eastern Sierra, just beyond Yosemite National Park and in the long shadow of Mount Whitney, California’s tallest peak. John Muir, speaking of this intriguing area, described it in 1864, as “a country of wonderful contrasts, hot deserts bordered by snow-laden mountains, cinders and ashes scattered on the glacier-polished pavement, frost and fire working in the making of beauty”. It’s all that and more.

June Lake, with the snow-capped Sierra and Carson Peak in distance.

A few weeks ago, we made the trip – though Highway 120/Tioga Pass through Yosemite Park was still closed by snow, so we followed Hwy. 88 east. This year the Sierra retained plenty of snow above 7000 feet, and our camping in the June Lake area was a bit chilly with those stunningly scenic, snowcapped Sierra peaks looming in several directions, streams running full and waterfalls thundering.

Make this a multi-day trip, for campgrounds abound along the way, and the towns of June Lake in Mammoth Lakes offer marvelous motel, bed and breakfast accommodations and restaurants a-plenty. There is so much to see and do, you’ll need serval days or more to appreciate all the area has to offer.

Silver Lake with Carson Peak, on the June Lakes Loop.

With Highway 120 now open through Yosemite Park, that’s the scenic option to get you to the Eastern Sierra. Your route will take you through the park, over lofty Tioga Pass and intersect US Highway 395 at Lee Vining. It’s a cute town, with hotel, motel and restaurant options, and lies almost on the shore of the intriguing Mono Lake, one of the oldest lakes in North America.

With no outlet, it’s fed by six major streams; infused with minerals over the millennia it’s 2.5 times saltier than the ocean, making it extremely buoyant. Fish can’t live in the alkaline waters but it’s flush with millions of brine shrimp and alkali flies, offering sustenance to thousands of migratory birds. Tour Mono’s shoreline in several places to see the tufa gardens, offering a unique experience like nowhere else.

Mono Lake’s eerie tufa towers rise like ghost ships along lakeshore.

Over eons, springs rising up from the lake floor deposited minerals as they grew upwards. Once 30 to 50 feet under the lake surface, the lake level dropped as Los Angeles water interests siphoned off much of the tributary stream flow, revealing these alien creations. With the lake service lowered by 60 feet, tufa towers rise up along stretches of the lake shore, looking like a ghost fleet and making for a visit that will long live in your imagination.

Continuing southbound on 395, you’ll soon reach the June Lakes Loop, a string of high mountain lakes in the shadow of the Sierra, with picturesque campgrounds and resorts encircling these lovely destinations. We camped at a beautiful forest service campground on the end of Silver Lake, with delightful Silver lake Resort (offering a store, quaint restaurant and fishing boat rentals) right across the street. Fisherman were plying their skills both from the shore and from boats. Circling the loop, you soon reach the pretty resort town of June Lake, named for the nearby lake and offering motels, B&Bs and numerous restaurant options.

Just 20 miles further south on 395 is the town of Mammoth Lakes. Huge Mammoth Mountain Ski Area lies just above, one of the largest ski areas in the west (skiers/boarders schussing the slopes at least until the Fourth of July with the huge snow pack remaining in the Sierra). It’s also a huge Mecca for mountain bikers in the summertime. Climb higher into the mountains Just south of the city to the Lake Mary Loop, offering six lakes and multiple campgrounds at about 9000 feet, all interconnected by hiking and bicycling trails.

Twin Lakes in the Mammoth Lakes Basin; lots of snow at 8,000 feet a few weeks ago!

The town of Mammoth Lakes caters to tourists year-round with plenty of lodging, retail and sports shops and restaurants for almost any taste. The Mammoth Brewing Company, side-by-side with the aptly named Eatery is one of our must-stops, offering fine craft beers and some of the best brewpub food we’ve seen in our travels. We shared a flat-bread goat cheese pizza, topped with spinach, chicken and drizzled with balsamic vinegar that was truly memorable.

From Mammoth Lakes, follow Highway 203 north, past the ski area, to Devils Postpiles National Monument. Here, a half mile level trail follows a beautiful stretch of the upper Middle Fork San Joaquin River to the postpiles. 80,000 years ago basalt lava flowed from beneath the earth’s surface; as it cooled and contracted, it split into symmetrical vertical, hexagonal columns unique to only a few places in the world. Hike a bit further down the river to Rainbow Falls, plunging over 100 feet. This is near the headwaters of the San Joaquin as it courses through the Sierra, heading eventually to the San Joaquin Delta and into Stockton.

Devil’s Postpiles lie just a dozen miles beyond Mammoth Lakes.
Lake Mary in the Lake Mary Loop, photo taken several summer ago.

For more information: Mono Lake Visitor Center, fs.fed.us/r5/Inyo, (760) 873-2408; June Lake, junelakeloop.com; Mammoth Lakes Chamber of Commerce: mammothlakeschamber.org, (760) 934-6717; Devils Postpiles National Monument, nps.gov/depo, (760) 934-2289. For camping, recreation.gov.

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

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Exploring the “old pioneer trail”, from Old Sacramento to Folsom

Find adventure and history along the “old pioneer trail”, from Old Sacramento to Folsom

Let’s explore the old trail along the American River, from Old Sacramento to Folsom. Hundreds of years ago, Native Americans traveled trails up and over the Sierra (one of those early trails would become the Immigrant Trail) to trade and share tribal lore. Eastern and Mid-western settlers, crossing the Sierra, would bring news from home, the short-lived Pony Express accelerated mail delivery and the Transcontinental Telegraph and the Transcontinental Railroad further speeded mail and timely communications; thus insuring that California would become a vital partner in the growing nation.

Find history and family fun in a one-day jaunt from Old Sacramento and east 25 miles to Folsom (start your tour on either end). Your adventure can be done via automobile, or, take the light rail trains running seven days a week by Sacramento Regional Transit. If you’re into biking, bring your bikes, which can be transported on light rail. And, for serious cyclists, our outlined tour parallels the American River Parkway and Jedidiah Smith Bike Trail, connecting Old Sacramento to Folsom and beyond. Make a note for a future long-distance bike tour!

Waterfowl make the American River their home near Rancho Cordova.

Let’s begin in Old Sacramento, with so much to see and experience. Old Sacramento preserves well over 50 historic buildings; it’s the perfect place to explore the heart of the state’s Native American and Gold Rush history while browsing unique shops and sampling delicious eateries and drinking establishments. It’s both a walker’s and bicyclist’s paradise, with low traffic and plenty of shady places to take a break.

When gold was discovered in January, 1848 in Coloma (just 47 miles away), Sacramento was in the perfect position to become a boom town. Serving as one of two inland ports to the Sierra mines (Stockton being the other), it soon became the western end of the Pony Express, the first Transcontinental Telegraph and the terminus of the Transcontinental Railroad. By 1860 Sacramento would become the second largest town in the west, behind only San Francisco.

Front Street is the heart of Old Sacramento. Here, cyclists tour the old town.

A good place to start your tour is the Sacramento History Museum, 101 L St., sharing insights into the Native American peoples who prospered in the area, years before Spanish, European and American settlers arrived. A variety of galleries, with docents dressed in period-correct costumes, offer insight into what daily life was like, 165-some years ago.

Just steps away is the California State Railroad Museum, 111 L St., one of North America’s finest and most complete rail museums. Admire the famed “golden spike” that connected the two segments of the transcontinental rail system, be amazed by a 1,000,000 pound cab-forward steam locomotive, salivate in a beautiful dining car with elaborate China settings and delight in a swaying Pullman sleeping car.

Western Pacific Locomotive 913 takes on passengers as it prepares to depart from the California Railroad Museum in Old Sacramento.

A block south of the museum on Front Street, find the statue honoring the Pony Express. The hallowed service operated only from April, 1860 to October, 1861, before the transcontinental telegraph made it redundant. If you are tracing the Pony Express route, you’ll find historic markers near the south end of the Guy West Bridge on the Cal State Sacramento campus, on Sutter Street in old Folsom and in Placerville.

In addition to the Pony Express, both the transcontinental telegraph and the transcontinental railroad made their western terminus in Old Sacramento. Nearby, check out the Delta King steamboat, built in Stockton, which once connected San Francisco and Sacramento for mail and passenger service.

The Delta King steamboat, built in Stockton in 1926, is a floating hotel, restaurant and museum on Old Sacramento’s waterfront.

Folsom dates to the 1840s, founded as Granite City by Joseph Libbey Folsom, who connected a railroad to the city from Sacramento. The town became a jumping off point to the mines in the Sierra, just east. When Folsom died in 1855, the city was renamed in his honor.

The city also boasts the old railroad station, now a museum, with an old locomotive and rail cars. Bordering the Sutter Street Historic District, the Rail Museum celebrates the Sacramento Valley Railroad, with both displays and a huge recreated round table.

Diners and visitors enjoy the walkway along Sutter Street in old Folsom.

The Sutter Street Historic District anchors the old city’s downtown, with a six block-long stretch of historic buildings, shops and boutiques and a wealth of restaurants. From gourmet food to family style, you’ll find it on Sutter Street. Check out the Sutter Street Grill for American favorites, the Hop Sing Palace next-door for Chinese dishes, Snooks Chocolate Factory for killer chocolate concoctions and Pizzeria Classico for family dining. You will find the historic plaque for the Pony Express Station near the west end of Sutter Street.

If time, visit the Folsom Powerhouse State Historic Park, on the eastern edge of downtown. The powerhouse opened in 1895 and was the first power plant west of the Mississippi. It used water from the American River to power turbines and send electrical power 22 miles into Sacramento – a distance unheard of at that time.

The old Folsom Powerhouse pioneered early electricity production and its delivery to Sacramento, 20 miles away.

For fun diversions the Sacramento State University Aquatic Center is just west of Folsom, offering picnic areas and beach, rentals of kayaks, sailboats and standup paddleboards; the Sacramento Children’s Museum is just 10 blocks off the light rail line in Rancho Cordova.

How to get to Old Sacramento: From Stockton, go north on I-5 to Sacramento and watch for signs into Old Sacramento, it’s 45 miles and about 45 minutes. How to get to Folsom: From Stockton, go north on I-5 to Sacramento, then east on Hwy. 50 to Folsom; it’s about 70 miles and 1.25 hours.

Swimmers and kayakers enjoy Lake Natoma from the Cal State University Aquatic Center.

For more information: Old Sacramento State Historic Park, parks.ca.gov/?page_id=497; Visit Folsom, visitfolsom.com, (916) 985-2698; Folsom Powerhouse State Historic Park, parks.ca.gov, (916) 985-4843.

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

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