Tiny touring; seeing the USA with a small, comfy travel trailer!

Touring in a tiny trailer; seeing the USA with a small, comfy travel trailer…

Our '58 Scotty teardrop with Mt. Saint Helens, WA in background.

Last summer, Susan and I spent nine weeks crossing Canada on the Trans-Canada Highway to their Maritime Provinces, turned south down the New England coast to Maryland and headed back across the USA on historic Highway 50. We toured with a small auto and an 8 foot long teardrop travel trailer, camping 42 nights and staying with friends, family or in motels the balance.

Susan, reading inside Scotty.

It was a voyage of discovery; we had the time and the desire to see many off-the-beaten-track sights many will never see.  We also saw every stripe of travel trailer and fifth wheel imaginable. Towing our little trailer weighing less than 900 pounds, we managed 26 miles per gallon – about 4 times better than those travelers towing big trailers. Hence, our travel budget went that much further.

With camping season fast approaching, many have asked for more inspiration, hence, the little trailers, below!  They make me wonder why folks would ever purchase and navigate huge motorhomes or giant fifth wheel trailers.

These little trailers share common attributes; small, easy to tow with a four or six-cylinder vehicle, easy on gas, simple to store and all quite comfortable.  Best of all, they are relatively inexpensive to purchase, and if bought wisely, can be sold years later for nearly what you paid for the little camper.  Not everyone is cut out for a teardrop trailer and we saw a number of somewhat larger campers with more elbow room and creature comforts. Here are highlights of the smallest to larger trailers.

Our little Scotty teardrop, a reproduction ’58 model, is the prototypical teardrop – 8 feet long, 4 foot tall and wide, weighing under 1,000 pounds. Scotty offers convenient storage for all our camping and clothing needs, and a sleeping compartment with most of the comforts. We added an awning to extend shaded/rain-proof living space.

A T@B trailer, retaining teardrop style, sleeps four.

We spied our share of newer, somewhat larger teardrops like the T@G and Little Guy tears. These come in both five and 6 foot widths, and nine or 10 foot length, and sport many of the creature comforts of much larger trailers (like AC, sinks, microwaves). They remain lightweight, easy to store and offer good gas mileage for their smaller towing vehicles.

A step up in size, but retaining slick, aerodynamic lines are trailers like T@B, Casita, R-pods and Burros (we’ve chatted with scores of owners who swear by these manufacturers). By moving up to trailers like these, you get full standup room, usually a bathroom, shower, dinette seating and sleeping for 4 to 6 people. These trailers remain small enough to be easy to tow, maneuver and store when not in use and nice used versions can be found on-line.

An aerodynamic Casita, towed with a small pickup truck.

Refurbished, classic trailers from the 60s and 70s are increasingly popular. They are well-built, aerodynamic and stop traffic in campgrounds from those who want to see these cool retro trailers. Scores of old manufactured trailers can be found; popular are Scotty, Shasta, Airstream and more.

A word of caution – be particularly nosy when buying. I’ve had a cute, ’64 Scotty jammed in my garage for four years; I am slowly reaching the end of a frame-up rebuild. Little did I know the dry rot I spotted when purchased was about 10 times more dramatic. Better had I spent more and gotten a truly refurbished classic.

A classic Airstream Caravelle, with retro tow vehicle.

Modern versions of old tent-trailers also offer aerodynamic lines and low-cost of towing and ownership. New models like A-liners offer hard-sided shells – so the spouse doesn’t worry about bears and the like in national parks.

Owners of these little trailers are just as comfortable (well, almost) as neighboring couples in 25 to 38 foot motorhomes and fifth-wheels; the air, sunshine, views and campfires are identical!

On our cross-Canada/US trip, we cruised 13,000 miles, paid about $1,100 for gasoline, and averaged $12/night for camping (in US national parks, Forest Service or Bureau of Land Management campgrounds, get half-off with a federal ‘America the Beautiful’ senior pass, just $10 for life!). For more efficient and scenic travel, camping in a small, maneuverable trailer is truly hard to beat.

An A-Liner, a hard-sided pop-up camp trailer.

For more info: For good resources for purchasing used, small campers, see Craigslist or eBay (put up a daily search for “teardrop” or “classic trailer”). Local dealers like Pan Pacific Trailers in French Camp carry tent-trailers, the R-Pod and smaller tear-drop trailers (several dealers in Sacramento offer more choices). If thinking of a classic trailer, consult group sites like that for Serro Scotty owners, nationalserroscotty.org (Shasta, Airstream and other retro trailer owners have similar group sites). Camping can be booked in national parks and federal campgrounds through www.recreation.gov, 877.444.6777.

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

Posted in Canada, Eastern, Canada, Western, Central California, East Coast US, Midwest US, Mountain West (Montana, Wyoming, Utah, Colorado), Northern California, Pacific Northwest USA (Oregon, Washington, Idaho), Sacramento/Capitol region, San Francisco Bay Area, Sierra Nevada, Southeast US, Southern California, Southwest USA (Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico, Texas), Stockton/San Joaquin County, Teardrop and tiny travel trailers, Uncategorized, United States beyond! | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Classic car buff? Visit the Vintage Reserve Garage in Lodi, CA!

Sleek '37 Chrysler Airflow on display

If you are a car buff, or have kids/grandkids moving in that direction, stop in and tour the Vintage Reserve Garage, 121 S. Cherokee Ln. in Lodi. Owner Mark Lange welcomes visitors to drool over his vehicles, for sale or on consignment.

Newer 350 cu. in. V8 under hood of a cherry red '68 Camaro convertible.

The building was built in 1947 as a Studebaker/Packard dealership. Currently in stock, a ’68 cherry red Camaro convertible, a sleek silver ’37 Chrysler Airflow, ’69 Chevy Chevelle, a VW Thing, a vintage Rolls Royce and about 25 other classic autos and motorcycles. And, the building has been remodeled to resemble a beautiful ’40s Gasoline Alley garage complete with neon signs from the era and plenty of memorabilia.

Stop across the street at the retro Richmaid Restaurant for breakfast or lunch and make a day out of a Lodi tour!

For more info: Vintage Reserve Garage, 121 S. Cherokee Lane, Lodi, vintagereservegarage.com, (209) 333-CARS.

Stately Rolls Royce awaits your purchase!

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


'69 Chevy Malibu and VW Thing.



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

Yellowstone National Park in winter; no crowds, stunning wildlife!

Yellowstone National Park: A wonderland where animals are spectacular, crowds non-existent!

American eagle feasts on carrion near the Madison River, north of the Earthquake area.













On this trip to Yellowstone National Park, we approached West Yellowstone from the northwest on Hwy. 287 (coming down from Whitefish/Glacier National Park, MT) along the Madison River, where several fly-fisherman and two bald eagles worked on catching the river’s fabled trout.

Just 15 miles outside the park, we motored through the somber Earthquake area where a quake measuring 7.4 on the Richter Scale struck in August, 1959. The monster temblor brought down the side of a mountain, burying 28 campers and tossing boulders the size of buses high on the other side of the Madison River Valley. The quake rubble damned the river, creating Quake Lake – still foreboding almost 58 years later.

The mountain that collapsed in the 1959 earthquake, killing 28 campers and damning the Madison River to create Quake Lake.

We reached West Yellowstone in late afternoon, and spent the night at the Stagecoach Inn.  In February, but for snowmobilers and snow skiers, not a lot is going on (only a handful of restaurants and motels are open), so we had pizza across from the Stagecoach, turned in fairly early and waited for the coming cold morning.

The next morning, we took a short drive around the quaint old western town, then I checked out the Riverfront Trail on the town’s east side, which takes cross-country skiers/snowshoers into the park, headed for the lovely Madison River a mile distant, where both elk and buffalo are frequently seen. Visitors also have the option to head into the park on snowcoaches or snowmobiles.

One year earlier, we entered the park through the north entrance, Mammoth Hot Springs, the only entrance which accommodates auto traffic inside the park (other roads in the park are closed by snow from November until mid-April).  Just inside the park, several small herds of buffalo, grazing in grass and about a foot of snow, lounged beside the main park road. Pictures taken from just 10 feet of these noble animals are dramatic, as they chomp and snort almost within reach.

Buffalo and calf, Midway Geyser Basin, near Old Faithful area.

We proceeded along the entry road to the Mammoth Hot Springs area and were soon stopped in a line of autos, as another herd of buffalo numbering about 40 sauntered along the highway. Both bison and elk prefer walking on the roads rather than wading through chest-deep snows.

At the Mammoth Hot Springs area we took a walking tour on snow-covered boardwalks along the Hot Springs Terrace area. Hot springs and steam vents bubbled and snarled, melting the snows, as steam ascended hundreds of feet into the clear blue skies; thrilling!

Extensive snowshoe and cross country ski trails meander for even more expansive viewing in the Upper Terrace area. The park concessionaire also offers snow coach tours deeper into the park, including the Canyon Village and Old Faithful areas. We savored our final afternoon in the Mammoth area with a late lunch in the historic Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel dining room.

Old Faithful erupts at dusk into a cloudless Wyoming sky; with only my spouse and I, and a lone coyote. to see it.

On our very first trip into winter Yellowstone in early January a few years earlier, we took a snowcoach from West Yellowstone into the Old Faithful area and spent three lovely days at the Old Faithful Snow Lodge, a quarter mile from Old Faithful Geyser.  It’s a four-star hotel, with 150 rooms and a cozy, full-service restaurant.  We chose the Frontier Cabin option, vintage cabins a block out back and less expensive than the lodge.

Though we packed our cross-country skis, we used them only sparingly.  While several feet of snow was on the ground, skiers/snowshoers had packed the miles of snow-covered boardwalk so that we were able to hike the thermal basins and up to the Old Faithful overlook shod only in winter footgear.

We saw shaggy bison throughout the park, including a huge bull just 20 feet off the boardwalk on one of our walking tours (they come down to the geyser basins for warmth in winter). Stunning Trumpeter Swans graced the Firehole River.

Old Faithful Geyser – only a short walk from our cabin – and the park’s many thermal features warmed our hearts during several brisk hikes; often, we would be the only observers when a geyser erupted!

The morning of our departure, a friendly coyote followed seeking a handout; he’ll have to await our next visit!  We marveled at elk by the score; our departing snowcoach had to navigate through 60 elk sleeping on the snow-packed road!

Bull elk near Mammoth Hot Springs.

Nearest park access: West Yellowstone is 900 miles distant; south park/Teton entrance, 990 miles and Gardiner/Mammoth Hot Springs entrance, 1,065 miles.  Visitors have the option of flying into Bozeman or West Yellowstone, MT or Jackson Hole, WY airports.

What to take: Binoculars and camera, winter clothing, skis/showshoes, chains for your vehicle, even if you have a 4-wheel drive.

Where to stay: In West Yellowstone, we have enjoyed the Stagecoach Inn, several times; in Gardiner or Mammoth Hot Springs, both the Absaroka Lodge (Gardiner) or Mammoth Hot Springs Lodge are good choices;  the Old Faithful Snow Lodge is the only winter option deep in the park – Zanterra books both the Mammoth and Old Faithful lodges (see below).

Trumpeter swans congregate on the Fire Hole River just north of the Old Faithful area.

For more information on Yellowstone National Park, nps.gov/yell;  (307) 344-7381. For West Yellowstone lodging and snowcoach service into the park, the West Yellowstone Chamber of Commerce, (406) 646.7701.  For Yellowstone’s north park entrance and south park entrance lodging and snow coach service, and Old Faithful Snow Lodge, contact Zanterra, yellowstonenationalparklodges.com, (307) 344.7901.

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

Sadly, Yellowstone Park Company retired these classic Bombardier snowcoaches about a year ago; we journeyed from West Yellowstone to Old Faithful in the one on the left a few years back..

Newer Yellowstone snowcoach takes visitors throughout snowy park roads, closed to automobiles until about mid-April.

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

On-line travel features in the Record offer a huge variety of destinations and travel topics!

On-line travel features in the Record offer a huge variety of destinations and travel topics!

Did you know the Record offers a wide variety of travel features, well over 270 strong, that can be selected by “Category”?

Hence, you can go to the Record’s blog site, choose ‘Valley Travel: Little Places That I Know’, go to the upper right-hand corner of my home page (under my winsome picture), and you’ll find “Categories”.

On-line travel features in the Record offer a huge variety of destinations and travel topics; here I have chosen 'Mountain States' for Montana, Wyoming, Colorado and Utah features!

Those categories include:
Canada, Eastern,
Canada, Western,
Central California,
East Coast US,
Midwest US,
Mountain West (Montana Wyoming, Utah, Colorado),
Northern California,
Pacific Northwest USA (Oregon, Washington, Idaho),
Sacramento/Capital region,
San Francisco Bay Area,
Sierra Nevada,
Southeast US,
Southern California,
Southwest USA (Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico, Texas),
Stockton/San Joaquin county,
Teardrop and tiny travel trailers,
United States beyond

Hence, if you’re headed to the Mountain States, click that category and you’ll find many articles on places and special sites in Montana, Wyoming, Utah and the like. If you have a hot spot for teardrop and tiny travel trailers, click that category for scores of articles about touring the US and Canada in tiny, efficient travel trailers.

Hence; freshen your travel planning with advice on just those places you want to go, places you’d like to get to, or modes of travel! We’re about to enter a New Year; time to freshen up your travel “bucket list”!

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

Posted in Canada, Eastern, Canada, Western, Central California, East Coast US, Europe, Hawaii, Midwest US, Mountain West (Montana, Wyoming, Utah, Colorado), Northern California, Pacific Northwest USA (Oregon, Washington, Idaho), Sacramento/Capitol region, San Francisco Bay Area, Sierra Nevada, Southeast US, Southern California, Southwest USA (Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico, Texas), Stockton/San Joaquin County, Teardrop and tiny travel trailers, United States beyond! | Leave a comment

Winter adventure in northwest Montana; Glacier National Park, Whitefish Mountain Resort in Whitefish!

Glacier National Park, Whitefish Mountain Resort in Whitefish make for exciting winter times!

Whitefish Mountain ski runs tower over Whitefish, MT.

We spent six days in Whitefish, in northwestern Montana, beginning on Super Bowl Sunday, for skiing and catching up with old National Ski Patrol pals. The area had been hammered by a big snowstorm just before our arrival, which continued the first day we were in town.

Whitefish, a quintessential western town expanding fast due to ski and golf tourism (and, nearby Glacier National Park), offers a host of lodging opportunities. We’ve stayed a number of times at the Grouse Mountain Lodge on the west edge of town, nice, roomy accommodations for around $100 per night. Another popular option chosen by friends is the Inn at Whitefish Lake.

Whitefish Lake Lodge offers great service, fine food in 80 year-old log building.

The town offers a variety of upscale, trendy and down-to-earth dining options; our favorites include the Stillwater Fish House, two miles west of town, the Whitefish Lake Lodge, featuring a beautiful 80-year-old log building, Caio Mambo, a lively Italian place, the Craggy Range Bar and Grill and the Great Northern Brewery.

With a host of shops, galleries and bars, many offering live entertainment, Whitefish offers plenty of exploration opportunities. Be sure to stop at the old Great Northern Railway Station and the resident Stumptown Historical Museum for the history of the railroad in these parts.

Cross-country skiers head out onto Whitefish Lake Golf Course trails on west side of Whitefish.

Whitefish Mountain Resort just north of town offers 3,000 acres, 105 marked trails, almost 2,400 vertical feet and vast bowl and tree skiing. It’s a huge ski area even by Western standards, located a few miles outside Whitefish. Be forewarned that temperatures can range from a balmy 40 degrees to 25 below zero, so come prepared for any kind of weather.

Monday skiers found 16 inches of fresh powder; the next day they groomed the slopes and a four inches of new snow covered the groomed runs – truly ego-building skiing. During peak season, night skiing is offered Friday and Saturday on four lifts.

Ski magazine continually rates Whitefish Mountain Resort in the top 20 in the country, high in service, friendly staff, kids’ programs and value. A huge benefit -seniors 70 and over ski free! It’s the only resort I know in the west that offers such a option for senior skiers.

The Great Northern Depot in Whitefish also houses the Stumptown Historical Museum.

About 30 miles south of Whitefish, skiers can also choose Blacktail Mountain Ski Area, with 1,000 acres, 1,440 vertical feet and inexpensive lift tickets – $40 for adults, $28 for teens, $18 for children 8 to 12 and seniors, and free for children seven and under.

Cross country skiing options abound. On the Whitefish Lake Golf Course, 15 km of trails are laid out, including 4 km lighted for night skiing. A variety of other trails lie just outside of town, as well as in nearby Glacier Park. For those wanting to try snowmobiling, a number of local companies cater that activity.

Winter visitors to Glacier National Park can drive 10 miles into the park, to Lake McDonald Lodge on Going to the Sun Highway. There the road is blocked in winter, but one can continue on cross-country skis or snowshoes along McDonald Creek for a true winter experience. Or, choose the North Fork Road, along the park’s west boundary, all the way to Pollbridge. Grab a hot cup of Joe at Pollbridge Mercantile and a renowned bear claw. Other cross country trails head up the north side of Lake McDonald, as well.

This old railway locomotive is available for overnight stays at the Isaac Walton Inn in Essex, MT.

If one continues on Highway 2 along the south side of the park, the Isaac Walton Inn is an inviting stop for a meal or lodging. An old Great Northern Railway Hotel, comfortable lodging is offered in the old lodge as well as a number of refurbished cabooses, club cars and a locomotive engine! The inn is surrounded by cross country ski trails, a true winter wonderland.

For a novel experience, consider a dogsled tour. Dog Sled Adventures (406) 881-2275, located 20 miles north of Whitefish in Olney, offers a company with nearly 100 Alaskan huskies to pull sleds, catering daily to couples, families or groups. Other operators include Base Camp Bigfork and Winter Woods Dogsled Tours. Winter horse-drawn sleigh rides are another popular option, offered at Bar W Guest Ranch (406) 863-9099, just 4 miles west of Whitefish on Highway 93.

Old barn is framed by snowy Montana peaks heading south from Whitefish, headed to Yellowstone Park.

For those seeking a winter experience in Yellowstone National Park, it’s about eight hours south of Whitefish. In the winter, you can drive several miles into the Mammoth Hot Springs area before the road is closed – buffalo and elk usually abound in the area surrounding the other-worldly hot springs and fumeroles. West Yellowstone also offers additional park access, but only to those with snowmobiles, cross-country skis or snowshoes. Both towns offer snow coach tours into the park for amazing winter tours of this natural wonder.

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

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

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Rainy day respites for kids and young adults in Stockton/San Joaquin County

“Indoor fun in San Joaquin County”, in a wet winter!

Grandson Jack builds water maze at Stockton Children's Museum.

We’re six weeks into winter, with massive amounts of rain in Stockton while the Sierra has recorded epic snowfalls.  If you and kids or grandkids are getting cabin fever and desire to get out of the house and do something, consider a few outings right in your backyard.

We polled our three grandkids, as well as friends with their own kids or grandkids, and asked “what’s to do in Stockton and San Joaquin County”.  Here’s a pretty fair list to get you started.

Our family favorites include the Haggin and San Joaquin County Historical museums, Stockton’s Children’s Museum, the World of Wonders Science Museum in Lodi, the new Sky Zone trampoline palace at Sherwood Mall, movies (including the Fox theater classics) and Stockton Heat hockey games.

At the Haggin Museum in Victory Park, Stockton, 2nd Saturdays are for families, with special hands-on activities for kids age 5-12; from now through April 2, it’s also the annual McKee Student Art Exhibition (hagginmuseum.org). The museum also offers insight into our Native American and the city’s founding history, as well as world-class art.

The San Joaquin Historical Museum (along with Micke Grove Zoo) in Micke Grove Park, just south of Lodi, can make for a full day’s activities. The museum offers marvelous exhibits on our Native American forebears and the early days of our current agricultural empire, including the tractor barn with 40 historic and huge tractors for up-close and personal inspection (sanjoaquinhistory.org). The zoo is just blocks away, if you and kids have energy to spare.

Kids get a kick out of historical exhibits at the San Joaquin Historical Museum.

The Stockton Children’s Museum, 402 W. Weber, Stockton has long been a popular choice of both kids and parents. Currently it’s hosting the “Smokey Bear and Woodsy Owl” exhibit, sure to delight youngsters (childrensmuseumstockton.org).

Oak Park Ice Arena, 3545 Alvarado Ave. in Oak Park is a fine place to rent skates and take to the ice, or, take in a professional Stockton Heat hockey game at the Stockton Arena (stocktonlive.com for both options). Stockton Ports professional baseball, 404 W. Fremont, Stockton, offers low-priced family fun starting in early April (milb.com)

Movies are popular options; don’t discount the Fox California/Bob Hope Theater, 242 E. Main, Stockton, for classic movies followed by a tour of the historic, huge old vaudeville and movie palace. Mark your calendars for the March 26 showing of the Wizard of Oz (foxfriends.org).

Lodi is a favorite not just for the San Joaquin Historical Museum, but for several other special places. The World of Wonders Science Museum, 2 N. Sacramento Street, Lodi offers a wealth of hands-on exhibits to delight kids age 3 to 19 (wowsciencemuseum.org). Its downtown location also offers a host of nearby restaurants for a meal break.

Kids enjoy vertical windtunnel at World of Wonders in Lodi.

For older kids, inspect 40+ classic cars/motorcycles for sale at the Vintage Reserve Garage on 121 S. Cherokee Ln., Lodi; start with breakfast at Richmaid, a classic family-style restaurant across the street (vintagereservegarage.com). The garage is modeled on a ‘gasoline alley-era’ old garage from the 40s, truly worth the tour.

Stockton offers a number of additional options for kids, including exhibits at the Mexican Heritage Center, Art Classes at Millie’s Art Korner and the stately University of Pacific campus for basketball games at Spanos Center, spring-time sports like baseball and movies at Janet Leigh Campus Theatre (uop.edu).

For live theater, a number of choices abound, including the Stockton Civic Theatre, Showbiz Theatre and Kudos Children’s Theatre.

Kids will love the Sky Zone trampoline park at Sherwood Mall Shopping Center (skyzone.com), roller skating and roller hockey at the Stockton Indoor Sports Complex, 3251 Ad Art Rd., Stockton (siscsports.com) and the Zap Zone, 1578 Hammertown Dr., Stockton offering kids and families an exciting laser tag outing (zapszone.com).

Don’t overlook bowling as a wet weather respite, with nearby Pacific Avenue Bowl and West Lane Bowl. The Serpentarium, 1117 W. March Lane offers a variety of snakes and snake-care supplies, for an other-worldly tour (snakemuseum.com).

Grandkids Hunter, Jessica and Jack enjoyed a three mile hike around Shima Tract.

Weather improving? Go hiking or biking in Stockton; favorite places are the Calaveras River Bike trail between University of Pacific and Brookside (suggest parking on the UOP campus, walk past the DeRosa University Center, a great place for snacks and drinks), walk across the pedestrian bridge and head west on the Calaveras Trail out to Brookside and back. Other destinations include the downtown waterfront promenade, starting at Stockton Ballpark, heading east to Weber Point, then west out to the Waterfront Warehouse; or the Shima Tract hike or mountain bike option at west-end of Hammer Lane; or Bear Creek hike and bike trail (access from Trinity Parkway or Thornton).

Take your binoculars and go birding, at Cosumnes River Preserve two miles north of Thornton, or the Eisenberg Preserve on Woodbridge Road, 2 miles west of Interstate 5; where sandhill cranes and a huge variety of migratory birds visiting the Pacific Flyway can be found in February and March.

For more offerings on kid-friendly options, also see Visit Stockton’s calendar, visitstockton.org.

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

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

Winter destinations for warm weather, camping and hiking in California!

Death Valley and Joshua Tree National Parks and Anza Borrego State Park offer desert serenity, winter blooms and quiet exploration!

Harmony Borax Works tankers in Death Valley National Park.

In January, our nearby Sierra mountains received over 400 inches of snow, while our valley was pelted with rain like we haven’t seen in years.  If you’re suffering cabin fever and long for sunny, warm touring, you have nearby warm California destinations within a day’s drive.

Probably the iconic destination for warm February/March travels is Death Valley National Park; just eight hours away and offering warm climate and a “soon-to-burst-forth” wildflower bloom.  We were there last February and the colors were simply stunning.  The Park Service suggests that with recent rains, this year’s bloom should be spectacular!

Death Valley offers historic interest, as well. During the California Gold Rush, several wagon trains of 49ers attempted to cross the valley – after one party suffered a death, the group looked back and said “goodbye, Death Valley”, hence the name.

A profusion of wildflowers grace Death Valley last February.

From Stockton, you’ll enter at Panamint Springs, where one drops below sea level; the land continues to sink, eventually reaching its nadir at Badwater Basin, 282 feet below sea level, the lowest point in the US.  In 1873 silver was discovered in the park and Panamint City swelled to 5,000 residents. The silver played-out about four years later, leading to Death Valley’s “white gold” discovery, borax.  Stop at the Harmony Borax Works, including the old refinery which operated from 1883-88.

Gold was discovered east of the park in 1904, leading to the last great American gold rush. The gold drew thousands of people and saw several roads built to the mining district of Rhyolite – financial failure led to the end of the era by 1912.

It’s the desert bloom that draws many visitors, but the park offers many other points of interest including Golden Canyon – just a short hike off Highway 190 – with your hike best taken in late afternoon when the setting sun offers spectacular colors. A few miles south is Natural Bridge, a short drive off the main road. Explore old historic remnants of the park’s early history, such as the Ballarat ghost town on the west edge of the park, the Eureka Mine site and charcoal kilns within the park.

Author and spouse Susan at Badwater Basin, 282' below sea level, in Death Valley.

If seeking lodging inside the park, Panamint Springs, Stovepipe Wells and Furnace Creek offer lodging and camping. Additional smaller campgrounds dot the park; most are first come, first served.

Joshua Tree National Park lies several hours further south, just east of Palm Springs.  It’s home to a wild and alien assortment of plant life: 18’ tall, spindly Ocotillo plants with slender red flowers, Brittlebush, Smoketree, Mojave yucca and the strange Cholla cactus – we never imagined such creations. At elevations above 3,000’, the park features the “Mojave desert” – where stately Joshua Trees proliferate. These tall, rangy trees can reach 40’ tall and are actually a species of yucca adapted to high, arid lands.

As you venture south, the “Colorado Desert” makes its appearance – dry desert at 3,000’ elevation and below, home to the Mojave yucca, but not the Joshua Tree.

Joshua Trees are found at higher elevations in Joshua Tree National Park.

Here, see the Cholla Cactus Garden and Jumbo Rocks area (it’s also a favorite camping spot; the park offers nine campgrounds). If seeking motels, try Twenty Nine Palms on the park’s northside.

Anza Borrego Desert State Park is 90 miles south of Palm Springs, about a 10 hour journey from Stockton.  It’s huge at 634,000 acres,  larger than the other 269 California parks combined! Borrego is Spanish for “lamb”, though only about 200 of the park’s endangered Peninsular Bighorn Sheep remain inside the park.

The park’s rugged features are “Colorado Desert”; this is where, millions of years ago, the Colorado River met the Gulf of California. Today, thousands of tourists are peering into the Grand Canyon, wondering where all that dirt and rock went. To Anza-Borrego, of course!

Set off for the Palm Canyon trailhead early to beat the heat; a mile and a half up a stark, bone-dry canyon – watch for snakes and Bighorn Sheep. About a mile up the trail, having climbed about 300 vertical feet, we hear water running and come upon a pretty stream and increasing vegetation, eventually reaching a green oasis above that couldn’t be imagined, or viewed, from the dusty desert below.

A chollo cactus garden in Joshua Tree National Park.

On the trail and throughout the park, we could identify California Fan Palm, Indigo Bush, Brittle Bush. Creosote Bush, Blue Palo Verde (reaching 30 feet tall, with yellow flowers), Chollo Cactus, Barrel Cactus in bloom, Hedgehog Cactus, Mohave Yucca and our favorite, the Ocotillo, a rangy plant that shoots spindly shafts skyward 12-15 feet and blooms with spectacular red flowers right after light rains!

The park is home to a wide array of wildlife, from the Peninsular Bighorn Sheep, snakes including Rattlesnakes, Roadrunners, Black-tailed Jackrabbits, coyotes and a wide variety of lizards. Anza Borrego has a fine campground for both tents and RVs; several additional primitive and back-country camps offer options.  Motels are found in Borrego Springs.

California Fan Palms await hikers to Palm Oasis in Anza Borrego State Park.

For more information: Death Valley National Park, nps.gov/deva, (760) 786–3200: Joshua Tree National Park, nps.gov/jotr, (760) 367-5500; Anza Borrego Desert State Park, www.parks.ca.gov/?page_id=638, (760) 767-5311.

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

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

Tomales Bay and Pt. Reyes National Seashore make a marvelous day or weekend trip!

Journey to Tomales Bay and Pt. Reyes National Seashore for an exciting day or weekend trip!

Huge bull elephant seal dozes on Drakes Bay in Pt. Reyes National Seashore.

Where can you see Elephant seals, Tule elk, watch whales, stroll the beach where Sir Francis Drake claimed California for Queen Elizabeth in 1579, tour a spectacular Pacific lighthouse and gorge on freshly shucked oysters – all just 2 1/2 hours from Stockton? It’s Tomales Bay and Pt. Reyes National Seashore!

Explorer Drake set sail in December, 1577 with a fleet of five small ships from Plymouth, England, sailing across the Atlantic and around the Horn of South America, turning north up the Pacific coast. Along the way he plundered riches of immense value; one captured ship, the Cacafuego, curried 26 tons of silver, a chest of silver coins and 80 pounds of gold – more value than Queen Elizabeth would earn in a full year of tax revenues. He lost all of his ships except the Golden Hind, which he sailed into the gorgeous, windswept bay named for him.

Drakes Bay, looking west, site of Sir Francis Drake's landing in 1579.

With his ship overloaded and leaking, Drake landed at Drake’s Bay on June 17, 1579, where he would remain for 36 days re-provisioning and repairing his ship.  After friendly interactions with the Coast Miwok Native Americans, Drake set sail for the two month trip across the Pacific, returning to England almost three years after the beginning of his world voyage.

To reach Drakes Bay, we first passed the lovely southern reaches of Tomales Bay, a long narrow estuary framed by Marin County and Hwy. 1 on the east and Point Reyes on the west. Drakes Bay lies along the southern shore of the long peninsula which is the Pt. Reyes National Seashore, with the final half-hour snaking along scenic roads lined with views of the ocean.  Stop first at the Drake’s Bay’s Visitor Center; just down the beach we happened upon a huge northern elephant seal, snoozing and paying no attention to our presence.  These animals reach a length of 12 feet and upwards of 2000 pounds!

Pt. Reyes Lighthouse, open for tours Friday through Monday.

Continuing further west along the Point Reyes Peninsula will take you to the Point Reyes Lighthouse at the very tip of the peninsula, open Fridays through Mondays, 10 AM to 4 PM.  The lighthouse offers incredible views over 270 degrees; looking southwest, one can see the Farallon Islands through the sea haze, about 20 miles away.  In February through March, whales can be spotted just off the lighthouse point.

For a late lunch, we backtracked to the town of Point Reyes Station, passing historic farms that date to 1859, set amidst green rolling hills and stunning shoreline views. The wind was howling that day, but sunshine and blue skies made for a tremendously rewarding trip. Bring binoculars – we saw numerous coastal deer and Tule elk along the drive on these bucolic roads.

In Point Reyes Station we made our way to the Pine Cone Diner, where fried oyster sandwich and shell fish dishes are highlights!  The Osteria Stellina, 11285 Hwy. 1, Pt. Reyes Station, is a highly-rated Italian restaurant for pastas, shell fish, salads and fine wines. This cute little town is just right for a four block walk along its historic streets with shops and galleries.

Fresh-shucked oysters from Tomales Bay!

Tomales Bay is one of the highlights of the trip; fishermen return to the bay in late morning to early afternoon loaded with freshly-farmed, live oysters, with diners eagerly awaiting a world-class feast. Several oyster farms offer a hands-on experience, and the little town of Marshall on Hwy. 1 offers more traditional indoor-dining experiences like next Nick’s Cove and the Marshall Store.

Tomales Bay Oyster Farm, 15479 Highway 1, Marshall, (415) 663–1243, allows visitors to tour the operation and buy oysters raised there. Take your fresh oysters to nearby parks like Tomales Bay State Park, a marvelous place to dine on raw or grilled oysters and admire the late afternoon sun’s hues on the waterfront. The Hog Island Oyster Farm, 20215 Shoreline Hwy., Marshall, (415) 663–9218, offers diners an outdoor oyster restaurant with raw and barbecued oysters along with snacks like bread and cheese and libation. Oysters and shellfish can be bought at the restaurant, and outdoor grills allow diners to barbecue their own dinner. It’s a popular place, reservations recommended.

Rugged shoreline off Pt. Reyes is photo-ready!

How to get there: From Stockton, we took I-5 North to Lodi and went west on Hwy 12; then west on I-80, then northwest on I-580 to San Rafael; south on Hwy 101 and west on Sir Francis Drake Boulevard.  Pt. Reyes Station is about 2.5 hours from Stockton.

Where to stay: Pt. Reyes National Seashore offers a host of year-round backcountry campsites; Tomales Bay State Park and Mt. Tamalpais State Park are close-by, offering campgrounds. The only lodging within the National Seashore is the Pt. Reyes Hostel, (415) 663-8811. The nearest campground for mobile campers is privately-owned Olema Campground, (415) 663-8106 and communities like San Rafael and Petaluma have a host of motel and bed and breakfast accommodations.

What to bring: Binoculars and camera, of course.  Since the wind frequently blows, bring warm clothing, a wind-breaker and a rain-coat should ocean squalls roll in!

For more information: Pt. Reyes National Seashore, the National Park Service’s web site offers a wealth of information on the park, hiking, camping, lodging and more: nps.gov/pore/, (415) 464-5100; for Marin County, visitmarin.org; (866) 925-2060.

Coast deer range freely through hills of Pt. Reyes; along with Tule elk.

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


Posted in Northern California, San Francisco Bay Area | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

8th annual Stockton Restaurant Week kicks off January 20th through 29th; eat out!

Travel and dine locally; that’s my suggestion as the 8th annual Stockton Restaurant Week kicks off January 20th and runs through January 29.

Restaurants across Stockton will come together for what has become one of Stockton’s most anticipated annual culinary events, Stockton Restaurant Week, January 20-29, 2017.

Stockton Restaurant Week gives local foodies and families the opportunity to explore fixed-price specialty menus from participating restaurants throughout Stockton. Participating locations will offer flavorful selections at a price that won’t break the budget.

Stockton Restaurant Week was created in 2009 to highlight Stockton as a diverse dining destination and give the growing number of local foodies, families, and food fans an opportunity to enjoy fixed-price menus from a wide selection of participating Stockton restaurants.

This delicious 10-day event allows diners to discover new restaurants and support their favorites while enjoying meals at reduced prices. Wes Rhea, CEO at Visit Stockton explains, “Stockton is stocked full of amazing restaurants. As a foodie myself, I enjoy seeing food lovers united with incredible eateries year after year. This year we have an even better variety of breakfast, lunch, and dinner options thanks to the record number of local businesses participating.” Visit Stockton is partnering once again with Visit California to present Stockton Restaurant Week during California Restaurant Month.

Participating Restaurants for 2016 (as of 1/18/17): America Waffles, Angelina’s Spaghetti House, Ave on the Mile, BellaVista Cucina Italiana, Bud’s Seafood Grille, Cast Iron Trading Co., Centrale Kitchen & Bar, Cocoro Bistro, De Vega Brothers, Delta Bistro at University Plaza, Finnegan’s Pub and Grill, Gusty’s Wings, La Palma Mexican Cuisine, Market Tavern, Mezzo, Michael’s New York Style Pizza, Midgley’s Public House, Midtown Creperie, Mile Wine Company, Misaki Sushi & Bar, Papa Urbs, Red Orchids Restaurant, Seoul Soon Dubu, Smitty’s Wings & Things, Squeeze Burger, Thai Me Up, The Abbey Trappist Pub, The Creamery, The Reserve at Spanos Park, and The Shadows Steakhouse.

For more information: The official Stockton Restaurant Week website, stocktonrestaurantweek.com, is being updated with participating restaurants and menus daily. Find additional promotions and giveaways on the Stockton Restaurant Week Facebook page.

So, travel locally, dine locally between January 20-29.  Connect your dining experience with a Stockton Heat hockey game, a visit to the downtown Cineplex, or a visit to the Haggin Museum or San Joaquin Historical Museum in Micke Grove Park. Yummmm!

On the final day, Sunday, January 29, go to breakfast or brunch, and take in Breakfast at Tiffany’s, the classic film with Audrey Hepburn, showing that day at downtown Stockton’s Fox California/Bob Hope Theatre (doors open at 1, movie at 2 PM).

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

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

Ashland, Oregon, home of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival

Quaint, affordable and just five hours up Interstate 5: Ashland, Oregon, home of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival.

The Allen Elizabethan Theatre at night, with full house.

A quaint, historic downtown with a plethora of unique shops and galleries, a variety of fine restaurants and places to stay, world-class theatre and just a mile off Interstate 5. That’s Ashland, Oregon, home to the Oregon Shakespeare Festival (OSF), just five hours up I-5 from Stockton, a penultimate destination for a long weekend!

The Oregon Shakespeare Festival is a non-profit professional theatre company active since 1935. It’s grown to a major western USA destination, drawing over 400,000 theater-goers, centered in lovely Ashland, Oregon.

The OSF offers three theatres, the indoor Angus Bowmer Theatre and Thomas Theatre, and their “throwback to old England” outdoor theater, the Allen Elizabethan Theatre (which opens in June).

The theatre season runs February through November. Beginning  February, these plays kick off: Julius Caesar by William Shakespeare runs February 17 – October 29, Shakespeare in Love, based on a screen play by Marc Norman and Tom Stoppard, February 18 – October 29 and Mojada; a Madea in Los Angeles by Luis Alfaro, February 19 – July 6. A number of other Shakespearean and contemporary productions open in April and July and with the opening of the outdoor Allen Elizabethan Theatre in June.

The Ashland Springs Hotel, built 1925.

Later in the season, the world premiere of Jiehae Park’s Hannah and the Dread Gazebo opens April 2, and April 23 a new musical by OSF ensemble-in-residence UNIVERSES—August Wilson’s poetry in UniSon—will have its world premiere. The outdoor Allen Elizabethan Theatre opens the weekend of June 16-18 with Shakespeare’s, The Odyssey (adapted and directed by Mary Zimmerman, from the translation by Robert Fitzgerald) and an innovative take on Disney’s Beauty and the Beast. Opening Saturday, July 9 is Shakespeare’s Henry IV, Part Two and the final show to join the 2017 rep is the world premiere of Randy Reinholz’s Off the Rails on July 30.

In its initial years, the OSF produced only Shakespearean productions in one theatre, the Elizabethan Stage (which had three different locations). With the opening of additional theatres (Angus Bowmer in 1970, the Black Swan, 1977, replaced by the Thomas Theatre in 2002), the production company expanded their offerings to include other mainstream playwrights as well as contemporary and new productions and lengthened the season.

We’ve seen a half dozen plays in recent years and take delight in that many of the Shakespearean productions are made more contemporary, such as Two Gentlemen from Verona, set in the 1950s complete with pink Cadillac that we saw a few seasons ago.

The Ashland Springs Hotel stately Beaux-arts interior.

But it’s not just live theatre that make Ashland special. It’s an historic, quaint downtown, anchored by Main street running a dozen blocks, featuring restaurants, shops, galleries, the theaters and anchored by the historic Ashland Springs Hotel. On the north edge of town is Lithia Park which meanders alongside Ashland Creek, a gorgeous spot for morning strolls and wildlife photography.

The old Ashland Springs Hotel and a number of motels and B and Bs are within walking distance of the theaters, such as the Best Western Bard’s Inn, The Windsor Inn, Plaza Inn and Suites and the Stratford Motel. We’ve found it particularly pleasant at some of the hostelries along Main Street, where one can stroll to the theatres and out to dinner.

Epicureans will delight in the choices of restaurants in the city. Restaurants receiving rave reviews include Morning Glory (a quaint American café, try their varied French toast options), Smithfield’s (steakhouse), Liquid Assets (contemporary American) and the dining room at the Ashland Springs Hotel. The old Beaux-arts style hotel, dating to 1925, is worth the visit and recently underwent a considerable renovation.

Pleasant mini-park on Main Street in downtown Ashland.

What’s nearby: Southern Oregon University, a public, liberal arts university, is located at southern end of Ashland.  Skiers will enjoy nearby Mount Ashland, just south of the city, and the wonderful Bear Creek jogging and biking trail running from Ashland north through the pleasant valley along the creek. The historic gold rush town of Jacksonville, Oregon, site of gold discovery in the 1850s, is just a 15 minute drive north. And, inveterate travelers can swing east into the Cascade Mountains and visit iconic Crater Lake National Park.

How to get there: From San Joaquin County, head north on Interstate 5; Ashland is 340 miles and five hours north.

For more information: Oregon Shakespeare Festival, osfashland.org; Ashland, ashlandchamber.com.

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

A couple strolls through Ashland's Lithia Park alongside Ashland Creek.

Posted in Pacific Northwest USA (Oregon, Washington, Idaho) | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment
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    Tim Viall

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