California coastal touring in fall, winter; Big Sur to Morro Bay!

Bixby Bridge, circa 1932, is a fixture on the scenic Big Sur Coast.

McWay Cove in Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park is highly photographed.
Ragged Point Resort in Big Sur offers beautiful gardens.
Hearst Castle’s Casa Grande mansion is quite the place.
Sunsets are often spectacular at Morro Bay!
Horseback riders enjoy a sunny afternoon with Morro Rock and Bay in background.

Take a California coastal tour this fall, winter; Big Sur to Morro Bay!

With fall upon us and winter quickly approaching, too many people shelve their road trip, camping and resort travels until warmer weather arrives. My suggestion – think the California coast during these cooler days. The combination of warmer air off the ocean, frequent sunny days, reduced crowds and stunning scenery is enough to keep your travel juices flowing.

Start with Big Sur, lying along the rugged California coast just south of Monterey, a favorite destination for both families and romantics. Warmed by the Pacific, Big Sur offers rocky coastline, lovely resorts, secluded getaways, frequent sunny days, classic campgrounds and marvelous restaurants. Stunning photo ops lie around almost every turn on the iconic CA Hwy. 1.

The Spanish called it “El Sur Grande”, the Big South, for the miles of difficult to reach, unexplored and treacherous California coastline. Today, 90 miles of Big Sur extends from Monterey to San Simeon, home to Hearst Castle.  Though Mexico awarded several land grants in the early 1800s, it wasn’t soon settled. Eventually, a lively logging economy began to thrive, with timber shipped to San Francisco and south to Los Angeles. Highway 1 was completed in 1937, after 18 arduous years building this rugged and scenic highway, leading to today’s thriving tourist-driven economy.

Pretty and secluded campgrounds track south down the coast, from Andrew Molera State Park, Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park, Lime Kiln State Park and Kirk Creek Campground, a Forest Service gem perched on the bluff overlooking the Pacific. Julia Pfeiffer Burns is a favorite, for seclusion, the stream that runs through the campground and nearby access to the Pacific coast.

For motels/resorts, many choices abound, from expensive to very pricey. Ragged Point Inn, high on a bluff above the ocean, is a favorite, offering both lodging and a fine restaurant. Seasonally, Elephant seals can be seen at Ano Neuvo State Park (reservations required) and at the six-mile long Piedras Blancas rookery.

Don’t overlook Pinnacles National Park, which can be visited on the way to the coast. Pinnacles leaps up from the Gabilan Mountains 30 miles south of Hollister, CA, the rugged remains of an ancient volcano – a volcano located 160 miles south, near Los Angeles!  Pinnacles sits on the San Andreas Fault and is moving a few inches north each year, distancing itself from the mother volcano!

Visitors will find a stunning landscape of rugged spines, deep canyons, eerie talus caves, verdant foliage, streams and wildlife from deer, wild turkeys and bobcats, to the majestic California Condor with wingspans up to seven feet.   Take flashlights or headlamps, for the park’s talus caves are perfect for family exploration.  Pinnacles has a sunny campground; motels are found in Hollister to the north, and King City, south.

Just south of Big Sur lies San Simeon and Hearst Castle, rising regally in the hills overlooking the ocean and Santa Lucia Mountains.  This huge estate owes its origin to the dramatic profits of the Hearst newspaper and publishing business in the 1800s and early 1900s.  George Hearst initially acquired  40,000 acres in 1865, while son William Randolph Hearst enlarged the estate to 250,000 acres and constructed a huge and palatial home of 165 rooms, spectacular grounds and world-class art.

The main house, Casa Grande, offers 60,000 square feet of grandeur.  With 56 bedrooms, 61 bathrooms, a theatre, indoor and outdoor pools and a 127 acre estate with tennis courts, airfield and private zoo complete with zebras, it was one of the largest and most extreme private homes in the United States.

Hearst’s art collection rivals many of the world’s top museums; it, and the surrounding gardens make the visit well worth the trip to see it.  Now a state park, fees do apply and reservations are a must, so see the Hearst Castle web site before planning your trip to this memorable destination.

The lovely coastal towns of San Simeon, Cambria, Cayucos and Morro Bay lie just south of Hearst Castle.  Morro Rock stands as a huge sentinel (many describing it as the Gibraltar of the Pacific coast), anchoring the central California coast to ancient mariners.

Morro Bay is a pretty town with just over 10,000 residents and is named after Morro Rock, the huge granite volcanic dome off shore. Featuring an active harbor and fishing industry, oysters, halibut and salmon remain mainstays on local plates.  Surrounding vineyards and harbor-view restaurants and beautiful beaches make this quaint city one to remember.

Morro Rock was once surrounded by water; during World War II, a US Navy base was constructed on its north side so that sailors could practice landing craft skills.  While Morro Rock can be reached on foot, today it is off-limits to visitors, as a home to protected peregrine falcons.

Nearby are some of California’s nicest state parks including Montana de Oro State Park and Morro Bay State Park to the south, Morro Strand Park to the north – offering camping and nearby beach access.
All these seaside parks can get crowded on weekends, so reserve a campsite well in advance; the city offers an assortment of motels and B&Bs.

For more information: Big Sur coast, bigsurcalifornia.org; Camping can be booked through recreation.gov;  Friends of the Elephant Seal, elephantseal.org, Hearst Castle, hearstcastle.org; Morro Bay, morrobay.org; Pinnacles National Park: nps.gov/pinn.

Reach Tim at tviall@msn.com, or follow at blogs.esanjoaquin.com/valley travel. Happy travels in the west.

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Touring the “Mile-High City” of Denver and central Colorado

Denver's popular 16th Street Mall is lined with shops, restaurants and brew pubs!

Author, under the Rocky Mountain High Dispensary sign (Colorado an early state to allow recreational marijuana sales)
The Blue Bear, a true photo op, at Denver’s Colorado Convention Center (photo courtesy of Visit Denver).
The archway to the lovely and historic downtown of Golden, in foothills of Rockies above Denver, a gold rush town and home to the huge Coors Brewery.
Huge bull elk, left, monitors his herd in Rocky Mountain National Park.
Snow begins to show on the upper slopes of Steamboat Springs Resort in N. Colorado.
The colors of fall brighten the Colorado River between Steamboat Springs and Vail.
Fall color lines the stream running through Vail Village.

Take a tour with us of the “Mile-High City” of Denver and central Colorado!

We had the luxury of house-sitting (through our club, affordabletravelclub.net) a nice home in Broomfield, outside Denver. Hence, an opportunity to explore both the Mile-high City and much of central Colorado, chock-full of mountains and adventure-related things to do.

We begin our tour in large and bustling downtown Denver. What better place to start, than a location designated a “mile high”? Stop at the State Capitol; stand on the west steps at exactly 5,280 feet above sea level – one mile high – then climb to the Rotunda for a western panoramic panoply of 200 snow-capped peaks, some over 14,000 feet.

Many other sites await your downtown visit, including:

16th Street Mall: This beautiful one mile stretch helps make Denver the fourth most walkable downtown in the US, with hundreds of street trees and thousands of flowers, with outdoor cafés and marvelous people watching. Architect I. M. Pei designed the pink and gray granite pathway; a free shuttle bus can take you back if you tire. We parked on Wazee Street: the nearby Rocky Mountain High Dispensary quickly reminded us we were in a state that pioneered recreational marijuana use. Along the Mall, we found The Blue Agave for Saturday brunch (and $5 margaritas ‘till 2 pm).

The Mall is anchored by the Daniels and Fisher Tower, built in 1910 as part of the city’s largest department store. At 325 feet tall it was then the tallest building between St. Louis and California. When the department store was torn down in 1971, the tower was saved, now home to shops and apartments and a lofty observation deck.

LODO Historic District: the Lower Downtown district is filled with historic buildings, home to restaurants, rooftop cafés, and scores of brewpubs and sports bars. Don’t miss Wynkoop Brewing Company, Denver’s first brewpub. The next day, we returned down town for Sunday brunch at La Loma, packed with Broncos football fans, directly across the street from the historic Brown Palace Hotel.

US Mint: Learn how the US stamps 50 million coins each day, with a tiny little “D” denoting Denver, offering free guided tours daily.

Colorado Convention Center and the giant Blue Bear: The 40 foot tall Blue Bear, by Colorado artist Lawrence Argent, offers great photo-taking opportunities. If you are a sports fan, nearby Coors Field,  home to baseball’s Rockies and the NFL’s Bronco’s Stadium are part of downtown.

Downtown Denver also offers the transformed Denver Union Station, a 1914 train terminal now a favorite for restaurants, shopping and entertainment. Other downtown stops include Larimer Square, a block of stately Victorian buildings, Confluence Park, featuring the Downtown Aquarium, Children’s Museum of Denver and the Platte River Trolley. Additional highlights include Denver Museum of Nature and Science, the Denver zoo and Denver Botanic Gardens; we had not time for all.

A fine day-trip takes you through Boulder, Lyons and Estes Park, the eastern entrance to Rocky Mountain National Park (see my article on the park in last week’s Record, or my blog). We did not have time for the state’s other two national parks, Great Sand Dunes (five hours south of Denver), and Mesa Verde National Park (eight hours to the Southwest).

Golden, just 20 miles west into the foothills, was capital of the Colorado Territory from 1862 to 1867. Founded in the 1850s as part of the Pikes Peak gold rush, it’s home to the huge Coors Brewery (self-guided tours daily, and samples to those over 21), Colorado School of Mines, National Earthquake Center, California Railroad Museum and an historic downtown with shops, restaurants and brewpubs spread throughout.

We spent a day in Lakewood, a Denver suburb, visiting the headquarters and small ski museum of the National Ski Patrol, then had a late lunch at a quaint brew pub nearby, Colorado Plus.

Seeking mountain scenery, off we went for a two-day tour to visit the state’s big ski areas and mountainous interior, starting with a back-roads trip to Steamboat Springs. Plan a downtown stop at F. M. Light and Sons, an historic western shop crammed with everything needed to deck you, or your kids, out as a Colorado cowboy . After overnighting there, the next morning we toured down to Vail, passing by other major ski resorts and beautiful countryside, admiring changing fall colors in the valley along the Colorado River.

Plan on weather variables: when we arrived in Colorado, coming down from Wyoming, we were met with a few days in the mid 80s, followed by cloudy, gray and 40 to 50° weather for five days, followed by a sunny 70° day. Then temperatures dropped into the mid-20s and it snowed four inches in time for the Broncos football game, the coldest October game in the team’s history. If planning a long stay, bring cold-weather gear, and, perhaps cable chains for your car.

Colorado appears prosperous, with new office buildings, apartment complexes and spotless homes; in the mountains, thousands of spectacular homes, cabins and condominiums cover valleys and hills within 10 miles of the state’s dozens of ski areas. I spotted no graffiti, but for one building on edge of downtown, in two weeks.

For more information, Colorado, Colorado.com; Denver, Denver.org.

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

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Best road trips for Fall color in Northern California and the Central Sierra

Don't ignore Fall sunrises and sunsets, this sunrise over Meadow Lake, Stockton, last November.

Sierra mountainside is alive with yellows and oranges, off Hwy. 88.
Ironstone Vineyards, just above Murphys, offer yellows, ochres and reds during the fall.
Aspens turn bright yellow, dusted by light snow, near Ebbett’s Pass on Hwy. 4.
Oranges and reds dot this Sierra mountainside near Tuolumne Pass.

Plan a road trip for best Fall color in Northern California and the Central Sierra!

Need a perfect reason for a road trip? The late fall season of changing colors of yellows, oranges and intense red in Northern California and our Central Sierra provides an excellent adventure, capped by those stunning fall colors.

Depending on your destination, you’ll find elderberries changing colors, California ash, tiny cones of incense cedar with red berries and leaves turning gold, willow and aspen, soon to change from green to gold, even poison oak turning scarlet (don’t go there!). Students of color will often overlook high mountain meadows changing from green to ochre and yellow; don’t, for that’s where early color is frequently first spotted.

Depending on your destination you’ll find Idyllic vistas of deer or antelope, horses or cattle grazing in meadows below lofty mountains and snow beginning to make an appearance on the highest of the Sierra peaks. Native American and gold rush historic sites are found on almost any route you choose. If you are a camper, you’ll find memorable camping opportunities reaching into late October or early November, and bed-and-breakfasts and classy old hotels dot these highways, sprinkled with memorable restaurant stops.

Hence, check local visitor’s bureaus and go to California Fall Color, Californiafallcolor.com, a marvelous website with pictures, current conditions, predictions of coming color palettes and links to several dozen websites offering insight. Then, get out your maps or consult your GPS and plot that road trip. All of these suggestions are within several hours, more or less, of San Joaquin County. Here are our favorite road trips, ranging from south to north running up the Sierra.

Highway 140 takes travelers to and through Yosemite national Park, winding through the Tuolumne Meadows area and down the Eastern slope to Lee Vining on Highway 395. The route is a scenic and always spectacular option despite the fires near Yosemite; most of the park itself was untouched, and black oak, maple and dogwood in the valley and above were not touched.

If you venture over to the Eastern Sierra, check the area both north and south of Lee Vining on Highway 395. Just north, explore the colors on the road up to Bodie State Historic Park, one of the coolest of the old west ghost towns, preserved in a state of “arrested decay“. Just south, stop at Mono Lake and marvel at it’s strange tufa columns rising like ghost ships along the lake shore. Heading south down Highway 395, the June Lake Loop and roads in the Sierra just above Mammoth Lakes offers color aplenty as well as high mountain views and alpine Lakes galore.

Highway 108, heading east above Sonora and past Pinecrest Lake, is a favorite. At Pinecrest, the Steam Donkey restaurant is always a great place for lunch or dinner (as is the Dodge Ridge ski resort, just 3 miles above Pinecrest, open on weekends – get your early season pass!). Then head up 108 into the high Sierra past changing stands of ash and aspen, and also see the sobering result of the Donnell Fire, which burned thousands of acres, several score vacation cabins and torched the old Dardanelle Resort. Just above Kennedy Meadows, the highway steeply ascends towards Sonora Pass – marvelous views and guaranteed striking colors on both sides of the pass.

Choose Highway 4, with a stop at Murphys, and drive the several miles up to Ironstone Vineyards for a pleasant stop, snack and wine tasting and see changing colors on the winery property. Heading higher, you’ll pass Calaveras big trees State Park, home to some of the largest sequoias on the western Sierra slope, into the forests and through the meadows of Bear Valley and the ski resort just above. Highway 4 continues east, where Lake Alpine Resort offers a good lunch stop as the road ascends towards Ebbott’s Pass; always offering jaw-dropping vistas and changing colors.

Hwy. 88 offers the option to stop in gold rush historic gems like Jackson, where Stanley’s Restaurant in the lower level of the National Hotel provides respite and a quick history lesson. Continue east, past Pine Grove, pretty Mount Zion State Forest and Pioneer (both towns offer dining options), and reach Kirkwood Resort and its meadows and changing color scene (the Kirkwood Inn is a great place for lunch). Head further east, into the Hope River Valley, and find one of the ultimate destinations for both Sierra scenery and changing aspen, ash and other foliage palates.

Don’t overlook your local fall color scene, including city street trees, changing colors in vineyards from Zinfandel, Chardonnay and Cabernet grapevines (almost anywhere just north of Stockton and around Lodi and Woodbridge), as well as fall sunrises and sunsets, often right outside your door.

For more info: Check Tuolumne and Calaveras Visitor Bureaus web sites for tips (visittuolumne.com, gocalavaras.com), and the California Fall Color map site, (californiafallcolor.com), for current conditions, predictions of best times for viewing and links to several dozen other color sites.

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

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Visit Rocky Mountain National Park, as fall moves into winter…

Majestic bull elk monitors his herd of about 25, just off Hwy. 36 in the park.

Rockies to the northwest, looking from the Many Parks Curve area on Hwy. 36.
Hikers set off on snowy trail into Hidden Valley in the park.
Rockies to southwest of the park show snow descending at elevations above 9,000 feet.
A splash of color remains at lower elevations of the park as winter approaches.

Find majesty in Rocky Mountain National Park, as fall moves into winter…

We were staying in Denver/Broomfield, CO, for all most two weeks (house-sitting through the Affordable Travel Club) and used the time to take our first late fall trip to Rocky Mountain National Park, just 60 miles to the north west. The park is a majestic place, with peaks rising to 14,000 feet highlighting high alpine meadows. The fact it was also the season for the elk rut also offered unique opportunities to see these majestic animals up close.

We took US Highway 36, through Boulder and Lyons, two prosperous looking towns before ascending into the bowl of Estes Park, picturesque on the shores of Lake Estes, at 7,523 feet elevation. The Beaver Meadows Visitor Center and entrance station into the park is just on the edge of town.

One quickly has a choice to take a left and follow the Bear Lake Road all the way to Bear Lake, crowded with mid-October visitors as we reached the zenith of the road that dead-ends at the picturesque lake. We discovered two campgrounds (with mule deer posing for photos) on this road for a summer or fall visit, Moraine Park and Glacier Basin – noting them for a summer return (one can reserve these popular campgrounds, online, through recreation.gov – but only six months in advance).

We retraced our steps back to the main road and turned west on Highway 36, seeing elk below the road, then, a few miles further, a larger herd in the midst of elk rut, with a large bull elk attempting to keep his flock intact.

Touring west, our view, both left and right, was of towering peaks, with clouds and snow billowing, from 10,000 up to about 13,500 feet – the sun and cobalt blue skies making it a sparkling drive. Here and there we found stands of colorful ash and aspen, though the best of the fall colors reportedly was a few weeks earlier.

The route continued past Beaver Meadows with a big variety of hiking trails fanning out in westerly directions, up to you Rich and past the Deer Mountain trailhead, past Beaver Ponds wayside and up to Hidden Valley.

Hidden Valley was the site of a former small ski area, which, when deconstructed due to its inclusion in the park lent its old timbers to construction of buildings throughout the park. Here the road steeply ascended, covered in snow and ice on portions, causing vehicles without four-wheel-drive or chains to abandon their climb.

Just a few miles above, we hit the winter-end of the road, Many Parks Curve, a lofty 9,640 feet with spectacular views of snowy peaks extending over 270°. For hikers, snowshoers or cross country skiers, the road continues ever higher. In the summer and early fall, one choice is the Old Fall River Road, which ascends to more than 11,800 feet, the highest paved road in America.

The park features three distinct ecosystems, montane (below 9,000 feet) subalpine (9,000 to 11,400 feet) and alpine (above 11,400 feet). You enter the park through the Montane ecosystem at any of the three entrances, through forests of ponderosa pine, lodgepole

pine and Douglas fir. Juniper, current and choke cherry bushes blanket valleys, with birds and insects at work. Elk gather here in the fall to rut, eating aspen leaves and soft inner bark.

The subalpine zone gets more precipitation and Engleman spruce begin to make an appearance. Blueberry, wax current and huckleberry bushes are found, and a proliferation of wildflowers can blanket the summer and fall slopes.

The alpine zone, with thin soil, intense ultraviolet light, drying winds and colder temperatures make for a tundra-type environment. Here you’ll find marmots, bighorn sheep and White tailed ptarmigan, a bird that lives all winter in this zone.

On our return down, we came upon a herd of about 25 elk Deer Ridge Junction, just steps off the road – leading to our first “elk jam” as visitors parked helter-skelter, some in the middle of the road, and scrambled to take photos. We all watched a huge bull elk, much larger than its younger male competitors, react with majestic alacrity to keep its herd in check.

Estes Park Is a delightful town for motels, restaurants and shops, and offers almost all provisions one might need. The Estes Park Brewery made a good stop for lunch and libations, including a blueberry-infused ale with blueberries straight from the park!

An optional entrance at park’s westside, the Grand Lake entrance on US Highway 34, allows similar access and closes for winter, mid-October, at the Colorado River Trailhead (in summer and early fall, the road from here to Many Parks Curve is open for some of the most exciting driving, hiking and exploration).

If you are visiting in late fall or early winter, bring your winter gear, binoculars and telephoto lens for your camera. The park is about 1200 miles east of San Joaquin County; we took Hwy. 50 to reach the Denver area, following the ‘Loneliest Road in America’, a favorite destination in its own right.

For more information: Rocky Mountain National Park, nps.gov/romo; (970) 586–1206; Colorado, visitcolorado.com; national park and forest service campgrounds, recreation.gov.

Reach Tim at tviall@msn.com, or follow at blogs.esanjoaquin.com/valley travel. Happy travels in the west.

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Shenandoah Valley wineries, gold rush history make Sierra foothills the place to visit!

View of Shenandoah Valley vineyards from Karmere Winery.

Our out-of-town guests Janet and Patricia sample wines at Karmere Winery’s tasting room, done in French chateau style.
Band entertains at Helwig Winery in the Shenandoah Valley.
Fiddletown’s Community Center features a giant fiddle over the doorway.
The old Imperial Hotel in Amador City also boasts a fine restaurant.
Old Wells Fargo stagecoach thunders down Main Street of Sutter Creek.

Shenandoah Valley wineries, gold rush history make Sierra foothills the place to visit this fall!

What do Plymouth, Amador City, Sutter Creek and the Shenandoah Valley in the Sierra foothills have in common? The answer is a heavy dose of early California and Gold Rush history, fine wines and stunning scenery – all linked by a scenic stretch of California Highway 49. These destinations, only an hour to 90 minutes from Stockton, offer all that plus changing fall colors of the Sierra as we head into late summer/early fall.

Let’s start with the most distant point, the Shenandoah Valley in Amador County, positioned at 1,200 to almost 3,000 feet above sea level, and offering those changing seasonal colors. The valley, composed of granite and volcanic soils, quickly became a growing wine-producing area during the California gold rush in the 1850s.

The Shenandoah now hosts over 40 wineries; many of them also feature wine tasting rooms in surrounding cities like Plymouth, Amador City and Sutter Creek. Our favorites in the valley include Helwig Winery, offering industrial-chic buildings on a picturesque hilltop. With valley-wide views and live music on Fridays and Saturdays, it’s a favorite first stop. Another is Karmere Winery, featuring an elegant French-château tasting room and offering the history of local growers who introduced Spanish, Italian and Rhône varietals to the foothills, resulting in renowned Sangiovese, Barbera, Tempranillo, Viognier and Syrah wines.

Turley vineyards offers single-vineyard Zinfandels and Petit Syrahs in a lovely setting accentuated by period-correct antiques. Dobra Zemlja Winery produces robust Syrah, Grenache, Viognier, Barbera and Zinfandel wines – and features the valley’s first wine cave, a cooling 56 degrees, entered through a 19th century barn. Story Winery is intimate and offers inspiring views and vineyards dating to the 1890s, featuring Zinfandel, Mission, Barbera, Sangiovese and Primitivo grapes.

Plymouth, located on Highway 49 on the southwestern edge of the Shenandoah Valley, is growing in stature and offers historic buildings and shops along its compact Main Street. Of special note is the regionally-renowned restaurant, Taste, and recently opened boutique 16-room hotel next-door, Rest. We’ve sampled Taste several times, finding it memorable. Friends recently stayed at Rest, enjoying its afternoon wine-tastings and morning breakfasts.

Though no tasting rooms grace Fiddletown, this is one of our favorite hidden-gems of California gold rush repute. Located just a few miles from Plymouth and the Shenandoah Valley, take Fiddletown Road to the  several-block remainder of the once bustling downtown to see the old (name needed) blacksmith shop dating to 1859, the Fiddletown Community Center with giant old-time fiddle standing tall over the entrance, two red-brick buildings that housed historic Chinese retailers, and an 1850 rammed-earth adobe building housing the apothecary of Dr. Yee. Fiddletown, with no tasting rooms nor restaurants, thankfully offers a gem of a candy/confection store, Brown’s English Toffee, with a host of tempting sweets.

If you wondered about Fiddletown’s name, in the 1860s and 70s, it was a gold rush boomtown, but operated only when the seasonal creeks flowed. During the warm summer and fall months, when the creeks ran dry and placer mining could not be accomplished, miners took time off and just “fiddled around” – hence, the town’s quaint name.

Heading southeast on Highway 49, Amador City is one of the earliest gold rush boom towns and preserves much of its history.   A nicely-outlined historic walking tour offers glimpses of life in the 1850-60s era, and many of the town’s oldest buildings and mining sites are preserved.  As one of California’s smallest incorporated cities, it offers a compact footprint that is fun to walk and photograph!

Gold was first discovered in nearby Drytown in 1850, and soon mining claims and mines cropped up along Amador Creek; Amador City soon grew to thousands of miners, shopkeepers and restaurants/saloon workers.  In 1853, the Keystone Mine was formed by consolidating several smaller claims and produced over $25 million in gold; soon the main shaft would reach some 2,600 feet into the Sierra hillsides. Today the city boasts many historic buildings now home to overnight accommodations, boutiques, antique stores, a soda fountain, upscale bakery and dining options.

Just a few miles further on the old stretch of highway 49, you reach the largest of nearby gold rush towns, Sutter Creek. Walk the 10 block stretch of Main Street featuring the Hotel Sutter, the oldest continuously operating hotel in the state and a fine place for lunch or dinner. Other noteworthy eateries include Cavana’s Bar and Grill with good pub food and a classy oak bar and, around the corner, Gold Dust Pizza for fun family dining.

Main Street features several classy bed-and-breakfasts, cute shops and restaurants interspersed with more than a dozen wine tasting rooms. The old Sutter Creek Theatre, open most weekends with live entertainment and the historic Knight Foundry, recently reopened for Saturday tours, make Sutter Creek a special stop along the Gold Rush Highway, Hwy. 49. The Knight Foundary, the only water-powered foundry in the US, was in continuous operation since 1873 until just a few years ago. Sam Knight designed the water wheel which was used world-wide, powering early hydroelectric plants throughout California, Utah and Oregon.

For more information, Amadorwine.com to plan your wine tour; TourAmador.com for insight into activities, dining and lodging.

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

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Upgrading from tent or car-camping to a new or classic travel trailer

Classic lines of a new T@B trailer, owned by our friends the Lewises, at Redwood National Park.

A sleek Casita trailer, at Bryce Canyon National Park.
A-liner Ranger trailer, a hard-sided pop-up, at Death Valley National Park.
Classy old Shasta trailer, shot at Fallen Leaf Lake, CA.
Vintage Airstream trailer and its equally classy tow vehicle, Fallen Leaf Lake, near South Lake Tahoe.
Author’s ’64 Serro Scotty trailer with Yosemite Falls in background.

Is it time to upgrade from tent or car-camping to a new or classic travel trailer?

The classic silver Airstream, pulled by an equally gorgeous 50’s woodie wagon, rolls through the Fallen Leaf Lake campground, and nearby campers ogle as the polished duo make their way to a campsite near ours. We’ll learn later the owner is from the Bay Area and has lovingly rebuilt both the trailer and tow vehicle some 10 years earlier.

Over the last dozen years, we have studied both new and classic small travel trailers, those under 20 feet in length. Today’s retiring baby boomers and smaller families have discovered small trailers as an alternative to tent camping. For us baby-boomers now retiring, many have aged out of the desire to set up a tent and sleep on the ground. A side benefit, our little trailer is packed, ready to go and stored beside our garage – it’s easy, quick to “hit the road”!

Let’s consider why a small trailer, then we’ll share some of the options. Small trailers share special qualities; they’re easy to maneuver into tight campsites (many national park and national forest campgrounds, built many years ago, don’t accommodate today’s giant fifth-wheel trailers, often approaching 40 feet in length). Small trailers are easy to store (some even fit in your garage) and can be towed with many four-cylinder and six-cylinder autos/SUVs, yielding good gas mileage.

Several additional pluses come with small, retro travel trailers; they’re cool, and if purchased properly, they will retain much of their value over the years – they won’t depreciate as quickly as do the boxy, non-descript trailers that proliferate in campgrounds. Finally, these small trailers are hard-sided campers – your spouse will no longer worry about bears tearing through a tent.

Classic campers, generally those built in the 1950s to the 1970s, offer much of the same attributes, plus, they’re even cooler than retro trailers. Bought wisely and well-maintained, many of these classic trailers actually will appreciate, should you later desire to sell them.

For a twosome, or a family with several kids, modern retro and classic trailers can be found in the range of 13 to 20 feet, with room for up to four, even five.

Here’s a recap of our favorite new trailers, classically-styled. They include the A-liner, T@B, Casita and R-pod – offering standup room, sleeping for 2-5, inside cooking/eating facilities, and often a bathroom and/or shower.

Downside: they’re more expensive, in the $16,000 to $30,000 range (new), won’t fit in a garage (with exception of the A-liner) and a larger six cylinder tow-vehicle is required (resulting in reduced miles per gallon). Find a lightly used model and save.

They include:

A–liner trailers: A modern version of the tent trailer, with hard-sides for bear-proofing, sleeps four.

T@B trailers: Classic teardrop shape, owned by friends in Sacramento just purchased for a bit over $20,000, sleeps 2-4 adults.

Casita trailers, slick, fiberglass trailers with virtually all the amenities, sleeping up to four adults.

For true classics, Airstream, Serro Scotty, Shasta and other models can be found throughout the west. Check websites and Facebook sites of Tin Can Tourists and varied classic trailer groups for insight. Ready to buy? Watch your newspaper and put up daily searches on both eBay and Craigslist for “classic travel trailer” and see what pops up.

When you find the Classic you like, be prepared for some serious inspection. Water and dry-rot damage can be papered over; repairs like this can be expensive and time-consuming.

Six years ago, I found our ‘64 Serro Scotty trailer for sale in Oceanside, thinking it needed merely paint and tail-end rebuild. I finagled the price down to $900 – but soon discovered extensive dryrot necessitating a full re-build. After 700 hours of work, and another $4500 the trailer is finished, thanks to help from two handy pals and my spouse. I’d avoid a project like this again; easier to have searched longer and found a trailer either in better shape, or fully rebuilt, and paid $7000 or so.

Here’s a sampling of beautiful classics we’ve seen in recent years, offering quality, collectability and proper “coolness quotient”:

Airstream: Aluminum trailers with the iconic shape, starting with the tiny Bambi and offering a number of slightly larger trailers that can be towed with mid-size vehicles. They are the talk of a campground, generally the most expensive.

Serro Scotty trailers: Made in the late ’50s to the ’80s with basic construction (making them easiest to rebuild), they also offer the classic canned-ham profile. Our 64 Scotty Sportsman provides room for 2-3, featuring a double bed in back, small dinette seating for four that converts to another bed, and center cooking area with small sink and two-burner stove. We built a Porta-pottie into one of the dinette seats – strictly for emergencies!

Shasta trailers: Classic “canned hams”, Shastas were originally built in southern California, so lots of them throughout the west. They sprouted the Shasta wings in 1958, continuing through the mid-80s.

For more information: A-liner, aliner.com; T@B, nucamprv.com; Casita, casitatraveltrailers.com; a variety of classic trailer web sites offer insights into buying/rebuilding, including Tin Can Tourists, tincantourists.com and Serro Scotty trailers, nationalserroscotty.org. To purchase used, scan newspaper classifieds, craigslist and eBay for “retro trailer” or “classic trailer”.

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

Posted in Central California, Mountain West (Montana, Wyoming, Utah, Colorado), Northern California, Sacramento/Capitol region, Sierra Nevada, Stockton/San Joaquin County, Teardrop and tiny travel trailers | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Stockton’s Christy and Alan Lenzi tour Jerusalem

The Lenzis at the entrance to the "Tower of David," part of the citadel on the old outer wall.

Dinner at the Armenian Tavern, the Lenzi’s favorite place to eat in Jerusalem.
Responding to adhan, the call to prayer, residents of the Muslim Quarter hurry through the streets of Jerusalem’s Old City toward the Dome of the Rock to perform maghrib, sunset prayers, which will break their daily fast during this first week of Ramadan.
A pile of colorful prayer rugs outside the Dome of the Rock.
Dome in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher.
Praying at the Western Wall, considered holy due to its connection to the Temple Mount.

Prayer notes tucked into crevices in the Western Wall by pilgrims to the holy site.

The view of the tombs, and the Garden of Gethsemane on the Mount of Olives, from outside the Old City's Southeastern wall.

Stockton’s Christy and Alan Lenzi tour Jerusalem

In May, 2018, Christy and Alan Lenzi of Stockton toured Jerusalem. Christy is author of Stone Field, a young adult novel, and works/studies at University of Pacific. Husband Alan is chair of UOP’s Department of Religious Studies. In preparation for a class about Jerusalem, Alan was awarded a UOP grant to travel to the city for 10 days. This is their story; they did their tour self-guided, though employed for one day a local guide named Gilad found via the Internet  — a  good investment.

Throughout their visit, note the Lenzis, day-time temperatures were often in the 90s, with pleasant evenings and nights. Jerusalem is built on a series of hills, hence, each day of touring required plenty of energy. They did not anticipate the need for cash, a requirement for using taxis. Jerusalem, from the Damascus Gate to the farthest point, is about a 25 minute walk. Much of the surrounding city was built in the 19th century. The city’s population is large, with 882,000 residents; the metro area, 1.25 million. Demographics are approximately 64% Jewish, 35% Islam, one percent other; the town boasts an Israeli mayor and a Palestinian mayor.

Located on a plateau in the Judean Mountains between the Mediterranean and the Dead Seas, Jerusalem is one of the oldest cities in the world and holy to three major religions – Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Both Israel and Palestine maintain their government institutions there; the US recently moved its embassy there, from Tel Aviv.

A UNESCO world heritage site since 1981, the city has been completely destroyed several times, besieged 23 times, attacked more than 50 times and captured and recaptured over 40 times. The part of Jerusalem called City of David was settled in the fourth millennium BCE; in 1538, city walls were rebuilt for the last time around Jerusalem, defining the Old City, divided into four quarters, known as the Armenian, Christian, Jewish and Muslim Quarters.

Despite being only roughly .35 of a square mile, the Old City is home to many sites of the highest religious importance, including the Temple Mount (with its Western Wall, Dome of the Rock, and al-Aqsa Mosque)  and the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. Just outside the Old City is the Garden Tomb and many other sites of religious importance. Many Jewish tombs from the Second Temple Period lie just outside the Old City, including the Tombs of the Sanhedrin, with 63 tombs cut into the red rock.

Just east of the old city in the Kidron Valley lie the Tomb of the Virgin, Absalom’s tomb, and Zacharias’ Tomb. Farther east at the foot of the Mount of Olives they toured the Garden of Gethsemane, with olive trees centuries old. The Mount of Olives itself is home to the Tomb of the Prophets, several churches, and thousands of graves.

Church of the Holy Sepulcher is open dawn to dusk, and an amazing place. The Temple Mount (Haram esh-Sharif, to Muslims) is sometimes open, but hours are sporadic. Arrive early. For visiting the Western Wall and Temple Mount, women need to wear head coverings, men a hat and slacks.

The ancient Jewish temple was destroyed in 70 CE, and has only one remaining wall, the Western Wall (avoid calling it the “Wailing Wall”). Generally, the Temple Mount is accessible to tourists, though only Muslims may enter the mosques. Modesty is paramount. Avoid public displays of affection. On Friday evening, thousands of Muslims streamed to the sacred site.

From Friday sunset to Saturday sunset is the Sabbath, when many Jewish-owned businesses are closed.

The Lenzis booked an apartment on AirBNB for the trip (nine nights, about $120 per night) up several flights of stairs, offering a pleasant terrace and nighttime views of city lights. With grocery stores located just outside the walls of the Old City, the Lenzis often bought food for a midday picnic. Other meals, enjoyable, were procured at local restaurants in walkable neighborhoods. To bone up for the trip, they read Dan Bahat’s ‘The Carta Jerusalem Atlas’.

Christy adds, “Museums of note include the Bible Lands Museum, which explains the archaeology of the ancient lands, and the Israel Museum, which includes a sculpture garden, the Book of the Shrine (Dead Sea Scrolls), and a huge outdoor re-creation of the Old City during the first century, focuses on Israeli and Jewish culture with noteworthy pieces from all over the world. Women should take a shawl, for the need to cover their head and shoulders. Men generally wear long pants, though male tourists sometimes wear shorts.” The Lenzis also visited the Islamic Art Museum and multiple houses of worship.

They flew San Francisco to Istanbul nonstop, then on to Tel Aviv and traveled the 40 miles to Jerusalem via shuttle – one cannot fly into Jerusalem. Language was not a challenge and for the phones, next time they would get a local Sim card. Israeli Defense Forces are numerous and frequently on patrol.

The Lenzis have lived in Stockton for 12 years, Missouri before. Alan received his doctorate from Brandeis in 2006. Christy is working on a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Studio Art at Pacific and published Stone Field in March, 2016. Her second book appears in fall 2019; she is writing a third.

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

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San Francisco and Oakland waterfront; showing off the Bay Area via public transportation

Historic Presidential yacht of Franklin D. Roosevelt lies at anchor next to the Oakland Ferry Terminal; it's open for tours.

Historic trollies offer quick transit on the Embarcadero.
Historic Ferry Builing, 120 years old!
Ferries arriving, departing at SF’s Ferry Building.
USS Pampanito in foreground, and Liberty Ship Jeremiah O’Brien, open for tours on Pier 45.

Share San Francisco and Oakland waterfront with guests; showing off the Bay Area via public transportation. 

You have guests from out of town and want to show off the Bay Area, but dread the bumper-to-bumper traffic and parking snarls. There’s a way around that, which offers you some of the most incredible waterfront views of both cities, no cost parking, historic buildings, delightful shops and restaurants with delectable food. Consider the public ferry system, the Embarcadero historic trolleys, even cable cars, to see the best of the Bay Area.

Our recent trip was on Monday, yielding smaller crowds than during the weekend (it’s doable, seven days a week). This is a day-long tour so plan accordingly. Head for Jack London Square on the east edge of Oakland and plan to park in the Square’s parking deck (get your parking ticket validated at entrance to the ferry, yielding free day-long parking). Walk two blocks to the old Produce District and the Oakland Grill, 301 Franklin St., for a bacon and spinach omelet, French toast, crab Benedict or other delectable meals. Then catch the ferry across to San Francisco (this trip is bike-friendly, with no hills and free ferry transport). Note the old Presidential yacht of Franklin D. Roosevelt is docked next to the ferry terminal.

The ferry departs the Oakland terminal with stops on the estuary at Alameda, then heads across the bay and under the Bay Bridge, offering wonderful views of the San Francisco skyline to your portside, and Oakland’s busy waterfront and Treasure Island to the starboard. The round trip ferry ride is a bargain ($14 for adults, half off for seniors 65+ and kids under 5 free).

Destination is San Francisco’s stately Ferry Building, 120 years old this year, revitalized about a dozen years ago and sporting wonderful shops, sit-down restaurants and a variety of grab and go eateries. The Hog Island Oyster Bar is a favorite for lunches, with a variety of seafood including oysters. Watch the ferries coming and going; you’ll also realize it’s a great place for people-watching.

With sunshine and temperatures in the high 60s, we chose to walk from the Ferry Building along the Embarcadero to Fisherman’s Wharf (you also have the option to take an historic trolley, imported from other US cities and foreign countries); we are planning to take the late afternoon ferry from Pier 41 back to Oakland.

Heading north along the Embarcadero at Pier 3 we found the Hard Water Café, offering specials on seafood chowder and Sauvignon Blanc – a tasty lunch for not a lot of dollars. Our trip took us the past the Exploratorium on Pier 15; with scores of exhibits it’s always an adventure for adults or kids. Explore the history and geography of the bay and other revelations that make San Francisco special.

We stopped at Pier 39 long enough to walk to its northwestern end, to see the sea lions that make the floating docks their home much of the year. This always attracts massive amounts of tourists, but our guests enjoyed themselves.

On Pier 45, we checked out the two World War II warships. The USS Pamponito, an attack submarine, and the SS Jeremiah O’Brien, the last surviving (of thousands built for service in the war) of the storied liberty ships are each open for tours.  The engine room of the Jeremiah O’Brien was used in the filming of Titanic a few years back, should you think it looks familiar. Then it was a short walk to the old Fisherman’s Wharf, where historic eateries and retailers compete with kitschy, gaudy shops across the street.

Just west of Fisherman’s Wharf, admire the historic old sailing and steam-powered ships at the adjoining Hyde Street Pier. If you have time, take a tour through the San Francisco Maritime Museum and walk along pretty Aquatic Park, home to two historic rowing/swimming clubs where you’ll always see die-hard swimmers in the Bay, year-round! Just a block away is the waterfront terminus of the San Francisco Cable Car system, for another optional adventure.

Beyond Aquatic Park, head west through Fort Mason and the Marina District, to the Palace of Fine Arts (stunning remains of the Panama Pacific Exposition of 1915, which celebrated the opening of the Panama Canal and it’s future impacts on California). Crissy Field, the old WW I airfield, and the Civil War-era Fort Point (under the Golden Gate Bridge) lie just further west.

At end of a day of discoveries, hop one of the later ferries from Pier 41 back to Jack London Square for the most stunning of evening harbor cruises.  Should you still have energy, dine on the waterfront at one of a number of Jack London Square restaurants (Scott’s Seafood a favorite).

How to get there: The Jack London Square waterfront is 75 miles from Stockton, about 1.5  hours.  Take I-5 south to Tracy, I-205 west to I-580 to I-238, then go north on I-880. Exit to Jack London Square on Broadway, and follow signs to Jack London Square parking.

What to take: Walking shoes, bicycles if a cyclist, snacks, drinks, sunscreen and binoculars!

More info: Jack London Square, jacklondonsquare.com; (510) 645-9292; San Francisco Ferry, sanfranciscobayferry.com, (415) 705-8291; Ferry Building, ferrybuildingmarketplace.com, 415.983.8030; Exploratorium, exploratorium.edu, 415.528.4444; Pier 39, pier39.com, (415) 981-7437; National Maritime Museum and Hyde Street Pier;  nps.gov/safr, 415-447-5000.

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

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Old Sacramento, born again as the place to begin Sacramento exploration!

Western Pacific locomotive 913 prepares for a departure from the California Railroad Museum.

Members of the Sacramento History Society take to the Old Sacramento streets.
Old buggy takes visitors past the California Railroad Museum in Old Sacramento.
The Delta King Hotel and Pilothouse Restaurant offers lodging, dining and a floating museum on the Old Sacramento waterfront.
The zenith of American auto’s tailfins is celebrated with this ’59 Cadillac at the CA Auto Museum.
’65 and ’66 Ford Cobras at the California Auto Museum.

Visit Old Sacramento, born again as the place to begin Sacramento exploration!

We recently had several old friends in town for my spouse’s birthday, and had the occasion to tour several through one of the state’s seminal historic sites, Old Sacramento, located on the Sacramento River on the west end of downtown Sacramento.

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), and soon would become 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.

Old Sacramento preserves almost 30 acres and is home to over 50 historic buildings. It’s the perfect place to explore the heart of the state’s Native American and Gold Rush history while exploring unique shops and sampling delicious eateries and drinking establishments. It’s both a walker’s and bicyclist’s paradise, with low and slow traffic and plenty of shady places to take a break.

A good place to start your tour is the Sacramento History Museum, 101 I St., which offers insights into the original 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, 160-some years ago.

Just steps away is the California State Railroad Museum, 125 I St., one of North America’s finest and most complete rail museums. Appreciate the famed “golden spike” that connected the two segments of the transcontinental rail system, be amazed by a 1,000,000 pound steam locomotive, salivate in a beautiful dining car with elaborate China settings and delight in a swaying Pullman sleeping car.

Even better, enjoy the rail museum with an excursion train ride, running every weekend and Monday holidays through September. Forty-five minute round-trips explore a 6 mile route along the levees of the Sacramento River, with tickets available at the railroad museum.

Within a few block walk are the Old Sacramento Schoolhouse Museum, 1200 Front St., a replica of a traditional one-room school house featuring vintage student desks and other furnishings of the period. The Wells Fargo History Museum, 1000 2nd Street, re-creating a 19th-century Wells Fargo Express office and displaying gold rush artifacts as well as the telegraph station, is nearby.

Don’t miss a visit to the Delta King Hotel and Restaurant, aboard the historic 1927 Delta King river boat, built in Stockton in 1927 along with its sister ship, the Delta Queen. Our guests spent two nights aboard the ship, in one of 44 luxury riverboat cabins, and enjoyed dining in the old Pilothouse Restaurant. In its heyday, the Delta King would depart San Francisco in the early evening, and deposit well-rested guests in Sacramento early the next morning.

Just a half mile south is a favorite, the California Automobile Museum, 2200 Front St., displaying over 150 vehicles ranging from the early 1900s, to the muscle cars of the 60s and 70s, up to the high tech wonders of modern autos.

During your exploration, sprinkled amongst over 50 unique shops, plan your epicurean stops. Reliable eateries, from expensive to more than reasonable, include Fanny Ann’s Saloon, Fat City Bar and Café, Firehouse Restaurant (inside an historic firehouse), La Terraza Mexican Restaurant (with second floor veranda for people watching down below), Rio City Café and the Pilothouse Restaurant on board the Delta King. For mouth-watering baked goods, stop at Steamer’s Bakery and Café.

How to get there: From Stockton, take I-5 north 40 miles to Sacramento, exit on J Street and follow signs to Old Sacramento parking.

What’s nearby:  To the north, the Jedidiah Smith Recreation/Bike Trail and Discovery Park; just east, the Golden 1 Center (home to the Sacramento Kings), the California State Capitol and Crocker Art Museum, to the west, Raley Field (home of the Sacramento Rivercats baseball team) just across the Tower Bridge.

Where to stay: Overnight lodging is available in Old Sacramento on the Delta King and the nearby Embassy Suites (beside the historic Tower Bridge).  Other nearby motels and hotels can be found in downtown Sacramento.

For more info: California Automobile Museum, calautomuseum.org, (916) 442-6802; California State Railroad Museum, californiarailroad.museum, (916) 323-9280; Downtown Sacramento Partnership, downtownsac.org, (916) 442-8575;  Old Sacramento, oldsacramento.com, (916) 442-7644; Sacramento History Museum, sachistorymuseum.org, (916) 808-7059;

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

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

Five cool places to beat summer’s heat, close to home!

Lake Helen, with Mt. Lassen in background, often remains frozen into July!

Caples Lake, near Kirkwood on Hwy. 88, is a favorite fishing and camping destination.
Pinecrest Lake, just off Hwy. 108, attracts big summer crowds to its cooling waters.
Big Sur’s Bixby Bridge dates to 1937 and allows access to the rugged coast.

Five cool places to beat summer’s heat, close to Stockton and San Joaquin County!

Temperatures are forecast to regularly exceed 100 degrees for much of July and August in the San Joaquin Valley.  So, where can a family get away for fun, adventure and cooling vibes in our wonderful state? Here are five destinations, selected for fun, cooler temps and offering thrifty weekend or longer vacation options for either overnight camping or at lodges/motels. They’re all within two to four hours, and are listed geographically, going north to south.

Let’s start with a wonderful national park, relatively lightly-visited, just four hours from San Joaquin County. Lassen Volcanic National Park, east of Redding, is part of the “Pacific ring of fire”, a ring of volcanoes that surrounds the Pacific Ocean. Mt. Lassen achieved national notoriety when, in 1914 and 1915, eruptions belched ash 30,000 feet into the sky and blasted huge boulders for miles.

Start a tour at the Kohm Yah-mah-nee Center explaining various volcano types and how they shaped the surrounding landscape. Beyond the visitor center, scenery becomes increasingly interesting, with views of Lassen looming in the distance. Soon you arrive at Sulphur Works, an area of eerie hot springs and burbling mud pots.

Continuing up Highway 89, find Bumpus Hell; an easy hike takes you to this lively area full of thermal wonders. The Devastated Area will wow the kids, offering an easy hike past 25,000 pound boulders blasted off the summit of Lassen in 1915, landing three miles away and knocking down many miles of forest like they were matchsticks.

A lovely campground is located at the northwest park entrance, on Manzanita Lake with a stunning view of Mount Lassen. The lake offers marvelous fishing (catch and release only) and a beautiful campground with secluded campsites, showers, store and museum. Two places offer food in the park, the Kohm Yah-mah-nee Visitor Center and at Manzanita Lake. The Drakesbad Guest Ranch, accessed from Chester via the Warner Valley, offers overnight lodging, with trails to Devils Kitchen and Boiling Springs Lake.

Closer to San Joaquin County, the High Sierra along any of our easterly California highways is a cool option. As you rise every thousand feet into the Sierra, temperatures generally drop three degrees. Hence, if your destination is 7,000 feet, temperatures will likely be about 20-some degrees cooler than in the valley. Plus, alpine forests and lakes make for a psychological cooling-off, as well. Here are recommendations:

Hwy. 88, heading east of Jackson: On this lovely stretch, you’ll climb past Lower Bear and Bear River Reservoirs, Silver Lake, featuring the hallowed the Silver Lake Stockton Family Camp (founded 1921) offering fishing, hiking, biking, camping and cool mountain air. Higher above, find Kirkwood Resort, offering summertime fun including hiking, biking, fishing and lovely accommodations and Caples Lake. Stop at the Kirkwood Inn, an historic log-cabin bar and grill, for down-home meals and drinks.

Hwy. 4, above Murphys: Heading up the highway lovely options await, like Calaveras Big Trees State Park, the town of Arnold and the Arnold Rim Trail for stellar hiking and view-finding, Bear Mountain Resort, offering just about every family-fun option, lodging and nice restaurants, and just beyond, regal Lake Alpine, with camping and resorts. Just beyond, Ebbetts Pass, crossed by the Pacific Crest Trail, for dramatic hiking and 100-mile views.

Hwy. 108, above Twain Harte: Twain Harte, at 3,700 feet, offers a cute town with fine lodging and dining options, but the real fun and cooler temperatures start further east at Pinecrest Lake, at almost 6,000 feet (and, just below Dodge Ridge Ski Area, offering its own hiking and biking options during summertime). Pinecrest Lake has nearby resorts and restaurants; for higher Sierra scenery, continue 25 miles east to reach the Kennedy Meadows area, with numerous Forest Service campgrounds, fishing, hiking and biking options. Lodging and horseback-riding is offered at rustic Kennedy Meadows Resort, making this area one of our favorites.

Big Sur along the California coast: South of Monterey (with Hwy. 1 just reopened, after being closed by a huge land slide just north of San Simeon for more than a year), lies a favorite destination for both families and romantics. Cooled by the Pacific, Big Sur offers secluded getaways, rocky coastline, lovely resorts, classic campgrounds and marvelous restaurants.

You’ll find scenic campgrounds here; Andrew Molera State Park, Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park, Lime Kiln State Park and Kirk Creek Campground, a Forest Service gem perched on the bluff overlooking the Pacific. Ragged Point Inn on a bluff above the ocean is a favorite, offering lodging and a fine restaurant. Elephant seals can often be seen at Ano Neuvo State Park (reservations required) and at the six-mile long Piedras Blancas rookery.

Special note: due to a forecasted devastating fire season, check with local authorities as to fire and/or smoke conditions (Yosemite Valley just closed due to nearby fire and smoke).

For more information: Big Sur coast, bigsurcalifornia.org, (831) 667-2100; Hwy. 4, Visit Calaveras, gocalaveras.com, (800) 225-3764; Hwy. 88, El Dorado National Forest, fs.usda.gov, (530) 622-5061; Hwy. 108, Tuolumne County Visitor’s Bureau, visittuolumne.com, (800) 446-1333; Lassen Volcanic National Park, www.nps/gov/lavo, (530) 595-6100; Silver Lake Stockton Family Camp, stocktonfamilycamp.org, (209) 227-0082.

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

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

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