Gold Rush history lives on in ghost town gems along the Mother Lode, CA Hwy. 49

A replica of Sutter's Mill stands at the site of California's gold discovery in January, 1848.

Discovering ghost town gems along the Gold Rush Highway, CA Hwy. 49

Hydraulic mining like this washed entire hillsides into streams and rivers, eventually silting up the San Francisco Bay, until outlawed by the state in 1884.

Recent rains have cast our Sierra foothills in a verdant shade of green, perfect for exploring our state’s gold rush legacy. I always suggest starting in the place of gold’s discovery, just 80 miles northeast of Stockton, at the tiny town of Coloma and site of Sutter’s Mill where John Marshall discovered gold in the mill’s tailrace in early 1848. The ensuing golf rush would lead to the world’s largest mass migration, and California’s population would increase by over four-fold in the 1850s.

Start your exploration at the Sutter’s Mill replica in the James Marshall Gold Discovery Park, Coloma. John Sutter, a German-born Swiss immigrant, received a Mexican land grant in 1839 giving him rights to develop a good portion of the Sacramento and American River Valleys. From his Sacramento fort, Sutter needed lumber to fuel his construction projects and partnered with James Marshall to find and build a nearby lumber mill in the Sierra foothills.

Marshall, along with John Sutter’s Indian guide, Nerio, found a site in the valley of the Cul-Luh-Mah Native Americans, plenty of pine trees and a river (the South Fork of the American) strong enough to power a sizable sawmill.

The California Stamp, a huge timber and iron mill, was used to crush ore into powder, from which gold would be separated out.

The first boards destined for Sutter’s empire in Sacramento were milled in March, 1848 but millwork would continue until only 1850. Marshall had discovered gold in the tailrace of the mill on January 24, 1848; with gold’s discovery, the land soon became too valuable and the Gold Rush was on. The mill’s dam was removed, the mill fell into disuse and floods in 1862 destroyed what remained.

The Marshal Gold Discovery Park tells not only the Sutter’s Mill story, but of gold mining in the Sierra from 1849 until the latter part of that century. In the park are re-creations of an Arrastre, powered by horses or mules and used by early Spanish settlers to crush rock for gold, as well as small and large stamp mills to pulverize rock to release the gold. The huge nozzle of a hydraulic water monitor (cannon), used to wash down the hillsides so the gold could be placer-mined, is displayed. After streams, rivers and even the San Francisco Bay began to silt-up, hydraulic mining was outlawed by the state in 1884.

From Coloma, follow Hwy. 49 south, passing through Placerville and Plymouth. From Plymouth take the six mile drive to Fiddletown, established by prospectors from Missouri in 1849. It quickly grew in the 1850s and 1860s as a center of trade for many mines located nearby.

The Chew Kee Apothecary is a rammed-earth building dating to the 1850s in Fiddletown.

During the dry season when water for their hydraulic mining ran low, miners were known to just “fiddle around”, hence the town’s name.  During the city’s boom years, it numbered two dozen businesses, a handful of boarding houses, taverns, blacksmith shops, bakeries and restaurants. With a post office, church and school, it was a full-fledged city. From Fiddletown Road, take a right on American Flat Road, just 3/8s of a mile to a well preserved one-room schoolhouse and, across the road, a large cemetery where you can wander through gravesites of old miners and merchants dating to the 1850s.

Fiddletown wood grow to over 2,000 residents, over half Chinese, who worked the mines and established many of the early businesses (some of these still stand, though in a state of arrested decay; the local Fiddletown Preservation Society is working to refurbish several structures). While touring the several remaining blocks of old Fiddletown, be sure to check out the Chew Kee Apothecary (a rare “rammed earth” building dating to the early 1850s), several nearby Chinese merchant buildings, C. Schallhorn’s Blacksmith and Wagon Store and the Fiddletown Community Center with the giant fiddle over the door! Today only several hundred residents remain.

Fiddletown's Community Center features a huge fiddle over the entryway.

Plymouth traces its history to the 1870s, when prospectors searched for quartz and gold. The city has a cute public park with bandstand, the old Plymouth Hotel and other eateries, all grouped along several old-town blocks. For gourmet travelers, the Taste Restaurant in Plymouth is a fixture, drawing rave reviews from around the region. Both Fiddletown and Plymouth are known as “Gateways to the Shenandoah Valley” with over 30 wineries.

Following Hwy. 49 south, pass through delightful Gold Rush towns like Amador City, Sutter Creek, Jackson and Mokelumne Hill, all worthwhile historical stops on your way to another favorite, Columbia State Historic Park. Columbia was founded March, 1850 when Dr. Thaddeous Hildreth and others settled here and began prospecting. Soon, Hildreth Diggin’s had found the precious metal and miners descended on the area. Renamed Columbia and today preserved as a state historic park, it’s a museum of living history!

Wells Fargo stagecoach rolls through Columbia State Historic Park.

Columbia’s business district is closed to cars – foot- and horse-traffic only – and businesses, shops and volunteers bring the town to life, much as it appeared in 1855!  Join a free tour led by period-dressed docents, pan for gold, take a stage coach ride, visit blacksmith and livery shops, grab lunch or an ice cream and take in life as it was more than 150 years ago! Best of all, admission, parking and tours are free, open seven days a week all year – a day spent here is easy on the wallet!

Kids pan for gold and agates in Columbia.

For more information: Marshall Gold Discovery State Park,, (530) 622-3470; Columbia State Historic Park,, (209) 588-9128.

Contact Tim at, follow him at Happy travels in the west!

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

Wildflower blooms, wildlife and scenery in the California desert!

Wildflowers bloom in perfusion in February in northeastern part of Death Valley.

Death Valley, Joshua Tree National Parks offer wildflower blooms, wildlife and other-worldly scenery

Tired of chilly mornings and frosty windshields? Use the late winter/spring to take a road trip to the California desert for wildflower blooms, exotic wildlife and stunning scenery. Our destination includes two stunning national parks, Death Valley and Joshua Tree, and several national monuments and state parks.

More color accentuating Death Valley!

We’re headed to Death Valley and Joshua Tree National Parks. Take the scenic route over the Sierra via California Hwy. 88 where you’ll see snow above 6000 feet and descend the Eastern Sierra, past Mono Lake and it’s other—worldly tufa columns and Manzanar, the Japanese forced resettlement camp during World War II. Further south is Death Valley, just 425 miles and seven hours from Stockton.

Death Valley was named during the 1849 California gold rush. A member of an immigrant wagon train from the Midwest died, attempting to cut across the arid valley; looking back one said “goodbye, Death Valley”; the name stuck.

In the valley, watch for desert tortoise, roadrunners, hummingbirds and bighorn sheep. A year ago, we found the greatest panorama of wildflowers about 15 miles north of Badwater Basin.

If you are tracking desert wildflower blooms, a variety of factors is at play, including rainfall, temperature, topography and elevation.  A good website that offers updates on desert blooms is It suggests that, through mid-April at lower elevations (valley floor and alluvial fans), the best areas are Jubilee Pass, Highway 190 near the Furnace Creek Inn, base of Daylight Pass, where you will often find desert star, blazing star, desert gold, mimulus, encelia, poppies, verbena, evening primrose, phacelia, and various species of cacti (usually well above the valley floor).

Water tanker and borax wagons at Harmony Borax Works in the park.

Death Valley also offers considerable history, both of native peoples who settled nearby thousands of years ago, and more recent exploration. Silver was discovered in the park in 1873 and Panamint City would swell to more than 5000 residents. While the silver played out about four years later, “white gold” was discovered, borax. A stop at the Harmony Borax Works reveals the refinery huge 20 mule team wagons and more which operating from 1883–88. These huge wagons would haul 36 tons of refined borax over 160 miles to the nearest railhead – the operation lasted only five years due to competition outside the desert area. The Keane Wonder Mine has been reopened after safety modifications, a gold mine that boomed from 1907 to 1912, producing over $1 million in gold inside the park.

In 1904, gold was discovered just east of the park, leading to the last real American gold rush. While the gold saw thousands of miners, several roads and a railroad built into the Rhyolite district; a financial failure led to the end of the era by 1912. Rhyolite is one of the more interesting ghost towns in the west, located on the eastern edge of Death Valley.

Abandoned railroad station in the ghost town of Rhyolite, eastern side of Death Valley.

The park offers many other points of interest including Golden Canyon – just a short hike off Highway 190 takes you to this truly golden canyon – a hike is 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 and another short hike takes you to this natural wonder. Don’t miss Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes, a vast sandy desert expanse, wonderful for photo taking.

A 30 foot-tall Joshua Tree stands in the northern section of its namesake park.

After admiring the wildflowers and scenic splendors of Death Valley National Park, head south to Joshua Tree National Park (it’s another 280 miles and 4.5 hours). We entered the park from the north side, adjacent to Twentynine Palms, featuring a number of motels and restaurants. The park offers a number of scenic campsites; our favorite is Jumbo Rocks, featuring Friday and Saturday Ranger talks in a large amphitheater.

The park’s nearly 800,000 acres are at the confluence of several ecosystems. With more rainfall on the higher, northern part of the park, the Mojave Desert prevails – the habitat of the park’s namesake Joshua Trees. As one moves south through the park, steadily dropping in elevation, the Colorado desert prevails, sprinkled with wildflowers depending upon rain and temperature, and 18’ tall, spindly Ocotillo plants with slender red flowers, Brittlebush, Smoketree, Mojave yucca and the strange Cholla cactus – we never imagined such creations. In the park’s westernmost section, above 4000 feet, the Little San Bernardino Mountains offer habitat for Pinyan Pine and Juniper.

Other destinations in California that offer wildflower blooms and evocative desert finery include the huge Anza Borrego Desert State Park, south of Palm Springs, the Carrizo Plain National Monument, take the I-5 exit at Buttonwillow and go west on Hwy. 58, and Pinnacles National Park, 30 miles south of Hollister, CA (more on those parks in future). Be sure to take camera and binoculars and sunscreen, hat, plenty of water and snacks for hiking.

Chollo Cactus Garden stands in Joshua Tree's lower elevations, at home in the Colorado desert within the park.

Where to stay: In Death Valley, for lodging inside the park, Panamint Springs, Stovepipe Wells and Furnace Creek offer both lodging and camping. Additional smaller campgrounds dot the park; most are first come, first served. For Joshua Tree, motels are found in Twentynine Palms, and lovely campgrounds are situated at impressive locations inside the park.

For more information: Carrizo Plain National Monument,, (805) 475-2131; Death Valley National Park ,, (760) 786–3200; Joshua Tree National Park,; or phone 760.367.5500; Pinnacles National Park,; (831) 389-4486.  Camping at federal campgrounds can be booked through, (877) 444-6777.

Contact Tim at or follow at Happy travels in your world!

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Dodge Ridge re-opens on Friday, March 2; Bear Valley also celebrates big storm!

Family takes in the view in Boulder Canyon off Dodge Ridge's Chair 8.

Dodge Ridge re-opens for the season on Friday, March 2; Bear Valley also receives huge snow fall

Dodge Ridge Ski Resort will reopen on Friday, March 2.  Wednesday evening delivered a significant storm with three feet of new snow expected by Friday evening. With this significant snowfall, Dodge Ridge will have a majority of terrain open with chairlifts 1, 3, 5, 6 and 7 scheduled to operate with chair 8 on a possible early morning delay for Friday. Lifts are scheduled to operate from 9:00 am – 4:00 pm. As always ski and ride with care and always ski and ride with a buddy and keep your buddy in view.

Skier enjoys the Sonora Glades at Dodge Ridge.

“We are excited to open and get back to skiing and riding!  It’s been a long wait and we are looking forward to welcoming our employees, guests, and the community back to the mountain.” said Jenni Smith, General Manager. “Opening day is always a fun time, and to open on a powder day with great conditions is a terrific way to celebrate and we expect to open 85% of our skiable terrain!”

For the reopening weekend with powder conditions, lift tickets will be priced at $74 for adults, $59 for teens, $25 for youth and $54 for seniors.  All Dodge Ridge services will be available including a full line of group and private lesson programs for ages 2 and above. To ensure availability, reservations are recommended for all lessons and can be made by calling (209) 965-3474 or online from The rental shop will be in full operation, offering ski, snowboard and helmet rentals for all ages and The Sport and Tech Shop will be open for equipment tunes, waxes and essential ski and ride gear. The Creekside Lodge and North Fork Bistro will be open serving up breakfast, lunch and beverages for guests.

The Tuolumne County Ski Bus will be running every weekend of the season for only $10 round trip, offering their easy-ride shuttle service from Sonora to Dodge Ridge, with numerous stops along the way. Advanced reservations are encouraged by calling (209) 532-0404 or you can book online.

Dodge Ridge partners with participating Save Mart & Lucky’s Supermarkets throughout the Bay Area and Central Valley offering discount lift ticket vouchers for your trip to Dodge Ridge. You can see the full list of participating supermarkets from the Deals Page at

Dodge Ridge relies 100% on natural snowfall and will be skiing and riding on epic powder conditions for the reopening weekend. Always ski and ride with care and for more detailed information on mountain safety pick up the Mountain Safety Guide at Guest Services and go online to the safety page.

Get complete updates on new snowfall, road conditions, news and events by going online to or by calling the Dodge Ridge Snow Phone at (209) 536-5300.

Family prepares to enjoy the new snows at Bear Valley Resort.

Bear Valley Resort is also touting over three feet of new snow; a large part of the overall Bear Valley Mountain is now open with marvelous skiing conditions. This season, the resort celebrates a new high-speed chairlift; the first six-pack in the Central Sierra. The chairlift will transport six passengers at a time from the mid-mountain ski lodge to the top of the mountain. The new lift replaces the Bear chairlift, increasing guest uphill capacity of the mountain’s main artery. For more info and snow report, go to

Another storm is expected to add another foot of new snow in the next 48 hours; so, get those skis and boards and head for the Sierra!

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

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Be cool; moving up from tent camping to a classic travel trailer

This classic '57 Corvette trailer was rebuilt from the frame up at a cost of about $6,000. Beautifully redone, it was for sale recently, in the price range of $12,000.

Thinking of moving up from tent camping to a classic travel trailer? Be cool with the classics!

Classic Airstream Caravelle, and its truly classic tow vehicle, seen in the Lake Tahoe area last summer.

Last week, I shared thoughts about moving from tent camping to small, newer travel trailers.

I offered that small trailers share special qualities; they’re easy to maneuver into tight campsites, easy to store and can be towed with many four-cylinder and almost all six-cylinder autos/SUVs, yielding good gas mileage. Several additional pluses come with classic travel trailers; they’re cool, and if purchased properly, you won’t lose money should you sell them a some years later. Bought wisely and well-maintained, many of these classic trailers from the 50s through the 70s actually will appreciate, should you later desire to sell them.

For a twosome, or a family with several kids, classic trailers can be found in the range of 13 to about 20 feet offering plenty of room for up to four or five. Airstream, Shasta, Serro Scotty and other models can be found throughout the west. Search online and you’ll find a variety of classic trailer shows spread throughout the spring and summer where you can see these classics, check with the owners and determine what you like. Also scan the Tin Can Tourist website, the websites of classic trailer owners groups like Airstream, Shasta or Scotty and join the Facebook groups of the same trailer brands. My suggestion: watch your newspaper and put up daily searches on both eBay and Craigslist for “classic travel trailer” and see what pops up.

Classic early 60s Shasta, complete with iconic wings, seen at Fallen Leaf Lake last summer.

When you find the trailer you like, be prepared for some serious inspection. If you have a friend who knows woodworking and trailers, take him/her along. Also, a flashlight to look into all hidden corners and underneath the trailer – you’re looking for any signs of water damage, either at the base of the walls, the floor or around the interior windows and roof seams. Some classic owners are good at putting cosmetic touches to hide water and dryrot damage; repairs like this can be expensive and time-consuming.

Years ago, I found a cute ‘64 Serro Scotty trailer for sale in Oceanside, thinking it needed merely paint and a bit of rear-end patchwork. I finagled the price down to $900 – but shortly discovered extensive dryrot necessitating a full re-build. After about 700 hours of work, and another $4500 the trailer is finished -but I wouldn’t want to tackle a project like this again. It would’ve been a lot easier to have searched a bit longer and found a trailer ether in better shape, or fully rebuilt, and paid $6000.

Classic Boler fiberglass trailer, seen in upstate New York two falls ago!

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

Airstream: These aluminum trailers offer the iconic shape, starting with the tiny Bambi and offering a number of slightly larger trailers (like the Caravelle, pictured) that can be towed with mid-size vehicles. They can be buffed to a high sheen and are often the talk of a campground.

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

Serro Scotty trailers: Made in the late ’50s to the ’80s with pretty basic construction (making them easiest to rebuild), they also offer the classic canned ham profile. Our 64 Scotty Sportsman provides plenty of room for two, 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.

‘57 Corvette: Bob Hughes, of Camino, Ca, rebuilt this 1957 Corvette trailer. Purchased for $600 and a two-years labor-of-love, it features an extended frame, rezinced the windows and cost about $7000 into the rebuild, including a beautiful blue and white paint job.

Our '64 Serro Scotty Sportsman trailer pictured in Yosemite recently, cost only $900. With extensive water damage and dry rot, rebuild took about 700 hours and another $4,300, rebuilt from the frame up.

You can find small classic trailers on sites like e-Bay and Craigslist; popular out west are those already noted, as well as Boler, Burro, Little Caesar, Hunter Compact, Kenskill, Layton, Mobile Glide and Scamp. They range in size from about 13 to 25 feet in length; a good reconditioned trailer can set you back anywhere from $5,000 to about $25,000 depending upon make and model. Bought wisely and well cared for, one can recoup the investment years later, perhaps seeing some appreciation in value. With any of these classic trailers, you’ll be “snug as a bug”, get good gas mileage getting there and be the toast of the campground!

Then there are new trailers I define as “classics”; classic design, small and cute. They include Shasta, which has just re-issued a retro, new Shasta Airflyte (in the upper teens as to price), and T@B and R-pod trailers that I profiled last week, with the old-fashioned teardrop shape.

For more information: A variety of classic trailer web sites offer insights into buying or rebuilding, including Tin Can Tourists,; Airstream trailers,; Serro Scotty trailers,; Shasta Trailers, Pick a classic and find an owner’s group! To purchase, scan your newspaper as well as Craigslist and eBay.

Contact Tim at, follow at Happy travels in your world!

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Tiny trailering; see the country in small, cozy travel trailer!

Friends Christine and Steve Lewis and dog Alice with their T@B trailer.

Tiny trailering; see the country in small, cozy travel trailer!

Our classic ’64 Serro Scotty in Yosemite; these other trailers are just a bit larger and heavier than our trailer.

My spouse and I have spent the last 10 years or so crossing the US and Canada using three tiny travel trailers – two of them the tiniest, teardrop trailers – and more recently, a 13 foot ‘64 Scotty classic trailer. As we’ve grown older, we tired of the hassle of tent camping compounded by my wife’s fear of bears tearing through the side of the tent. Small hard-sided trailers solved both those problems; our trailers are packed and ready to go but for tossing a few food items on board, and it would take a pretty crazed bear to be able to break into either of them.

With spring fast approaching, here are some suggestions for newer tiny trailers that fill the bill on comfort, coolness, frugal trailering and relatively inexpensive purchase prices. All of them are available locally and used versions can be found on Craigslist or eBay.

Favorites, from discussions with fellow campers in campgrounds and several friends or family who own them, include T@B, R-pod, Casita and A-liner trailers. The first three trailers range in length from about 17 to 20 feet, while the A-liner is a hard-sided pop-up trailer.

Spouse Tim, married to my cousin Anne, relaxes by their R-pod by Forest River.

These tiny trailers share common attributes; they are small, easy to maneuver into tight campsites, can be towed with many four and most six cylinder vehicles (yielding pretty fair gas mileage) and offer creature comforts for up to a family of four. For retiree couples like us – plenty of room to spare!

If purchased new, these trailers cost from the high-teens to mid-$20,000 range, depending on length and options. Most have inside bathrooms, with showers and inside-kitchens. If you’re willing to search online, you can find used versions of these trailers at 25 to 40% discount compared to buying new.

T@B trailers have been around for well over 10 years, and are one of our favorites in campgrounds, both based on their retro look and lots of positive owner comments. Friends Steve and Christine Lewis of Carmichael, CA, travel as a twosome with one big dog in a T@B trailer towed with a six-cylinder Toyota SUV. I asked Steve how they came to purchase their trailer a year ago. Steve notes, “We’ve been kicking tires on trailers for years; we just saw this one and kind of fell for it, just the right size, we thought. We purchased from Folsom Lake RV and liked the idea of a new trailer”.

Another R-pod trailer, spotted in Bryce Canyon National Park.

He added, “It’s cute and gets lots of looks in campgrounds. We like the size of 18 feet which is the maximum for a lot of special camp sites like DL Bliss on Lake Tahoe. We both thought this was the smallest self-contained trailer that actually is practical. Lastly and really important is we can park it alongside our house in not all that big a space”.

A newer Casita fiberglas trailer, with an Airstream profile, spotted in the Lake Tahoe area.

R-pod trailers (built by Forest River) are also a favorite, and offer the additional space amenity of slide-outs. My cousin Anne Linton and husband Tim of Bend, OR, travel both in sunny summertime and cold seasons with several dogs.  Anne notes, “We went to an RV show and really loved the R-pod 179 with slideout (at almost 18 feet, the slideout gives them even more internal room). We have found the R-pod light and easy to transport. We also wanted a kitchen and bathroom inside so the really small trailers were not enough. When we bought it we had two dogs so needed a little extra space; we absolutely love it as a four-season trailer!”.

Casita trailers are new fiberglass trailers, looking a bit like the classic Airstream shape.  Several owners have raved about their Casitas, including Bill Palmer, happy to show off his trailer in Bryce Canyon National Park, noting he tows with a six-cylinder Toyota Tacoma pickup. Likewise, we have met owners delighted with hard-sided pop=ups like the A-liner – most of them also noting that they fit handily into their garages when not in use.

A newer A-Liner Ranger model, a hard-sided pop-up trailer, spotted in Death Valley National Park. Nice thing about these trailers – they fit in your garage!

Before purchasing a new or used trailer, be sure your intended tow vehicle can handle the weight of both trailer and the contents of the tow vehicle.  As example, if your Suburu is rated at 2500 lbs. tow capability, and your trailer weighs 1800 pounds, when its loaded with camp goods and you pile two adults and additional camp items in the car – you may exceed the car’s tow abilities.

Like our 13 foot classic Scotty, all of these trailers fit easily into national park and national forest campgrounds, often built 50 or more years ago when most trailers were no longer than 20-some feet. Hence, the big modern behemoths can’t get into some of the nicest spots. I’ve always been aghast to see a huge pick-up pulling a 36 foot fifth wheel arrive, disgorging two adults no larger than the two of us. I always wonder what in the world they need all that extra room for? And, the smaller trailers allow close to 20 miles per gallon from the tow vehicles, while the giants get – maybe – 6 to 8 MPG.

For more info: Local dealers like Pan Pacific Trailers in French Camp carry the R-Pod, tent-trailers and smaller tear-drop trailers; several dealers in Sacramento like Folsom Lake RV offer more choices including the T@B and Casita lines. For purchasing used, small campers, see Craigslist or eBay (put up a daily search for “classic trailer”).

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

Posted in Alaska, 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 | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

On-line travel features in the Record offer a 300+ destinations and travel topics!

Search on-line travel features in the Record; a huge variety of destinations and travel topics!

Did you know the Record offers a wide variety of travel features, approaching 300 articles, which can be selected by “Category” (various portions of the USA and Canada)?

Hence, you can go to the Stockton 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, as you will see, above), and you’ll find “Categories”.

You’ll find this portion of my blog in upper right hand area of the blog home page.

Find the “Categories” option in the upper right-hand corner of my travel blog home page, then click on the appropriate selection. 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 Pacific Northwest, click that category and you’ll find dozens of articles on places and special sites in Oregon, Washington and Idaho. 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. 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! Just into a New Year; time to freshen up your travel “bucket list”!

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

Posted in Alaska, 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! | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Dog sled adventures; Pull power…traveling at the speed of dog!

We spotted this Dog Sled Adventures kennel truck in front of Whitefish Mountain Lodge a year ago; the friendly huskies peeking out invite a dog sled adventure!

Adventures in a Montana dog sled; awesome pull power, traveling at the speed of dog!

Dog Sled Adventure's huskies being hooked to the tow rope of our sled before our lively ride through Montana's Stillwater State Forest.

A year earlier, we’d seen the kennel truck, with dog sled strapped to the top, of Dog Sled Adventures parked in front of Whitefish Mountain Lodge, Whitefish, MT. Five friendly sled dogs poked their heads out of the side of the truck, eager for attention. I’d snapped a picture, and happily, the name and phone number of the operation was on the back of the truck. Prior to this visit to Whitefish, MT, an alpine and cross-country skiing mecca and gateway to Glacier National Park (more on those attributes below), we called the number and booked our adventure.

Another team of sled dogs being hooked up to a second sled.

Dog Sled Adventures is located in the Stillwater State Forest, 20 miles northwest of Whitefish in foothills of the Rockies. From Whitefish we passed through deep dark forest and I was reminded of the adventure novel by Jack London, Call of the Wild, set in the Yukon during the Klondike gold rush of the 1890s when strong sled dogs were in high demand. The central character in the novel is a dog named Buck, able to pull many times his weight in deep snows.

As we navigate the half mile driveway to Dog Sled Adventures compound, scores of sled dogs put up wolf-like howls and yelps. They recognize visitors and the coming opportunity to hit the trail.

Owners Jeff and Signa Ulsamer greet our group of three couples, adding insight about their 130 dogs, huskies and husky mixes. Jeff calls them “Alaskan huskies, a mix of husky, wolf, greyhound and shepherd – mutts. About 40% of our dogs are rescue dogs”. Musher Seth adds, “they love to run and pull sleds, that’s why they are so happy to see you folks”. The dogs will prove both friendly and marvelously high-energy.

Susan and I warming up in the lodge before our sled ride.

Jeff, Signa and Seth will be our mushers today, and they and another handler prepare three 100 pound dog sleds, attaching 9 to 10 huskies to each sled. It’s almost unreal the energy these dogs exhibit, leaping 3 feet off the ground, pulling at the tethered sleds, eager to hit the trail. We are bundled into the Sled, wrapped In blankets under an elk robe, hands free to take pictures.

Our sled, with Jeff as musher, hits the trail with his command “I-eeep! Good dogs!” Our team with nine eager huskies quickly accelerates, led by Labou and Kodiak, with team members Manny, Lady, Brownie, Lurch and several more. Lurch is the oldest, age 15, and brings up the right rear with his long and powerful legs.

As we speedily cover the 12+ mile track, Jeff shares “dogs are retired at age 17; we have about 30 retired dogs; since they get regular exercise and high-protein diet, many of these dogs live to be older than 20. At the end of the run, dogs get hot meat broth, and at day’s end, larger dogs get three pounds of meat and fish, smaller dogs two pounds”. The operation requires 120,000 pounds of meat and fish yearly.

In business for 39 years, 29 years in Olney, Jeff adds, “in an average year we do about 500 sled trips, last year was an exceptional snow year and we did 880! We can load our large sled with a family of four, using additional dogs to pull it”.

This photo falls short in representing the exhilaration of rounding a bend doing 20 MPH behind a lively team of energized dogs, looking forward to their after-ride snack of warm meat broth! The hot chocolate and cookies awaiting us were also properly motivational!



The trail through the Stillwater State Forest, 12+ miles, looks almost like a bobsled track, about 5 feet wide with 3 foot curved sides sloping up to snow level. The forest, thick with towering firs and spruce, is home to wolves, elk, deer, moose, eagles and coyotes. The sled dogs, working as a team, are trained to follow the lead dog – not to chase after wildlife they might spot in the adjoining woods.

Owner Jeff Ulsamer mushes a team of huskies.

Each of our team’s nine dogs can pull his or her own weight, so two adults, the musher and 100 pound sled is no problem.  As we charge down hills hitting speeds over 20 MPH (“the speed of dog”, notes Jeff), I’m thankful Jeff has a brake to slow the sled! As we charge back to the kennel area, the team looks forward to their hot meat broth – eager for a mid-day snack. They’ll get their several pounds of meat and fish at the end of the day.

For us sled passengers, we are exhilarated by such a memorable afternoon; hot chocolate and home baked oatmeal cookies are a fitting end to our adventure, sitting around the fire and exchanging “tall tails” with Jeff. As to an adventure by dog sled; if you get the chance to take a tour, do it!

Whitefish Mountain towers over the town of Whitefish, MT.

Whitefish lies at the foot of Whitefish Mountain, a major ski resort offering over 100 runs, 2500 vertical feet and an almost 5 month ski season. We’re staying at the Grouse Mountain Lodge, wrapped on two sides by Glacier Nordic Center, offering miles of scenic cross-country ski trails. Both offer free skiing to adults 70 and over – a big attraction to our group of retired national ski patrollers. Glacier National Park, offering additional cross-country skiing and marvelous views of Lake McDonald and the towering Rockies, lies just 30 miles to the east, a winter wonderland in its own right.

For more information: Dog Sled Adventures,, 406–881–2275; Whitefish Mountain,; Glacier National Park,; Grouse Mountain Lodge,

Yes, we were bundled between blankets and an elk robe in the sled mushed by owner Jeff; the experience was one of life's memorable events!

Glacier National Park's snowy entrance lies just 30 miles east of Whitefish, MT.

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

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Yellowstone National Park in winter’s majesty

Elk munch grass in Yellowstone Park, just on the edge of town of Gardiner and blocks from the Roosevelt Arch.

Venture into Yellowstone National Park for a huge display of winter’s majesty

A bighorn sheep stares back from his craggy perch outside Yellowstone Park's north entrance.

We just returned from our fifth visit to Yellowstone National Park in the winter; literally no crowds and abundant wildlife in a park blanketed by winter’s majesty. It’s almost the opposite of summer, when huge crowds frighten many of the wildlife into the back country and finding a place to spend the night or camp is virtually impossible. And, spoiler alert, I met my future wife as we were both summer park employees in the late 1960s and we each returned for two additional summers – so Yellowstone and the adjoining Teton National Park have long been favorites.

On this trip we were headed for Whitefish, Montana to ski with a bunch of veteran ski patrol pals; going by way of two sides of the US’s oldest national park, at West Yellowstone and the north entrance of the park at Mammoth Hot Springs, wasn’t much out-of-the-way.

West Yellowstone is 900 miles from San Joaquin County and we prepared for a cold, snowy trip. We have an all-wheel drive SUV, took cable chains and extra blankets, just in case (on a West Yellowstone visit two years ago, overnight temperatures descended to 40 below zero, and even AAA had a hard time helping us get our car started that next morning). We pulled into West Yellowstone, at 6200 feet, to find about 4 feet of snow on the ground, balmy temps in the teens and 20s and a passel of snowmobilers who fan out from the town both into the park and surrounding National Forest land.

Author's spouse Susan beside stuffed grizzly bear in the Stagecoach Inn in West Yellowstone.

The next day, I made to the city’s eastern edge, where I took a cross-country ski track along the Riverside Trail (snowshoes also welcomed), through a snowy forest and to the banks of the lovely Madison River. I could’ve gone further, but I’m not that much of a cross-country skier. From West Yellowstone, one can arrange snowmobile trips or snowcoach trips into the park’s inner-sanctum, such as the Old Faithful area. We spent too cozy nights in the Stagecoach Inn, and dined out at Bullwinkle’s, a lively pub serving savory food, including bison burgers and steaks.

We then journeyed northward, past the huge Big Sky Ski Resort to the town of Bozeman, where I attended school for one year in the late 60s. From there, we turned east 30 miles to Livingston, a quaint, historic railroad town, then 60 miles due south to the town of Gardiner on the northern edge of Yellowstone. We entered the park through the historic Roosevelt Arch, its cornerstone laid by President Theodore Roosevelt in 1903, and followed the road four miles to Mammoth Hot Springs.

Gardiner and Mammoth Hot Springs are wintering grounds for much of the park’s wildlife. This side of the park is at lower elevation than the balance of the park, so less snow makes for easier access for elk and bison to feed on grass.  Just outside the park, we spotted two bighorn sheep on a rocky escarpment, scores of elk both inside and outside the park, herds of bison at almost every turn and several sightings of coyotes.

Mammoth Hot Springs vents steam into a crystal blue Montana sky.

The next day we toured, on foot, the boardwalks around the massive Mammoth Hot Springs, with fumaroles and steam vents spitting scalding clouds into the sky and huge hot springs cascading from the hillsides above the historic town. Those with cross country skis or snowshoes can also take a ski trail around the Hot Springs area.

Bison carefully cross the Lamar River, east of Mammoth Hot Springs, along Montana Hwy. 212, the only road open inside the park to auto traffic in winter.

In mid-afternoon we drove east along Montana Hwy. 212 through the Lamar Canyon and Valley, hoping for sightings of wolves which prosper here. We continued to see many elk throughout the valley, and several large herds of bison, including a memorable view of one of the herds carefully crossing the Lamar River.

Alas, it wasn’t our day to see wolves. Talking briefly to more seasoned wolf aficionados, we found they travel with spotting scopes, telescopes and huge telephoto lenses mounted to their cameras, more able to see wolves from miles away. Our binoculars just weren’t up to the task; next trip, we resolved!

From Mammoth, the park concessionaire runs modern snowcoaches into the park, to destinations of Canyon Village and Old Faithful. We took the snowcoach tour into Old Faithful five years earlier, a magical place made more stunning in the depths of winter.

Modern snowcoaches like this one take visitors into the depths of the park like Old Faithful and the Canyon Village areas.

Where to stay: In West Yellowstone, we have enjoyed the Stagecoach Inn (; in Gardiner, the Park Hotel is a classy, nicely appointed 120 year-old hotel with nine cozy suites. Inside the Park, the Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel or the Old Faithful Snow Lodge are the only winter choices,

For more information on Yellowstone Park,  For snowcoach service into the park, the West Yellowstone Chamber of Commerce can offer choices of private snowcoach providers, (406)ot646.7701.  For Yellowstone’s North park entrance (Mammoth Hot Springs) and south park entrance (Flagg Ranch/Teton Park) snow coach service, Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel and Old Faithful Snow Lodge stays, contact park concessionaire Zanterra,

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

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Valentine’s Day destinations close to home!

The rugged California North Coast, just above Salt Point State Park.

Celebrate Valentine’s Day with these classy destinations close to home!

The historic Hotel Stockton is home to Bella Vista Restaurant in the southwest corner.

Valentine’s Day is just around the corner – if you’re seeking adventuresome and romantic destinations in northern California here are several recommendations from my wife, several friends and me, both locally and further afield. With the holiday falling this year on a Wednesday, you can celebrate on either “before or after weekends” or on the day itself.

If you are seeking a fine dining option locally, these are local restaurant favorites: Prime Table, Papapavlos and Market Tavern, in Lincoln Center, CoCoRo on Miracle Mile, Bella Vista in the old Hotel Stockton, downtown, and Wine and Roses in Lodi. All offer fine dining, classy décor and that vibe just right for romance. If you are staying local, don’t forget the Lodi Wine and Chocolate event, February 10 & 11, 2018, 11 AM to 4 PM – with choices of 50 wineries for tasting and chocolate sampling.

If you’re looking for an overnight destination, I’ve learned that such special destinations should offer these attributes: semi-secluded, scenic, with fine restaurant(s) nearby, classy lodging if we are spending the night and, a sense of history – my own inclusion.

The historic Murphys Hotel, always a gold rush favorite!

These destinations measure up and are within three hours of San Joaquin County.

Sutter Creek's historic Main Street and Hotel Sutter.

Sierra foothill favorites offer both fine dining and cute, historic gold rush towns to explore. Murphys is one of our favorites, with an eight block stretch of historic shops and hotels, featuring wine tasting, shopping and fine dining. Restaurants like Alchemy and the Murphys Hotel offer good options for fine food. Further south on Highway 49 you’ll find Sutter Creek with a 10 block stretch of old Main Street complete with bed-and-breakfasts, tasting rooms, shops and restaurants. The Hotel Sutter on Main Street is a fine place for lunch or dinner; marvelous pizzas can be found at Gold Dust Pizza, just off Main on Eureka Street.

The California coast from Bodega Bay, the Russian River and north is rugged, secluded and offers a variety of lodging and restaurant choices. If you are a Hitchcock fan, tour inland a few miles to the town of Bodega and see the old schoolhouse filmed in ‘The Birds’ movie, starring Tippi Hedren and Rod Taylor, a classic flick shot in 1963. Dine at the Tides Wharf and Restaurant in Bodega Bay or the River’s Edge in Jenner, each with lovely views of the Pacific and fine seafood.

Big Sur coast and Bixby Bridge, constructed in 1932, just before Highway 1 opened.

The Big Sur coast, just 2.5 hours to our south west, has long been a favorite of romantics. This section of the rugged California coast coffers secluded getaways, rocky coastline around every corner, lovely resorts, classic campgrounds if you’re camping and marvelous restaurants. The Spanish called it “El Sur Grande”, the Big South, for the vast reach of rugged and treacherous coastline. Mexico offered land grants in the early 1800s, but settlers in numbers would not arrive until just one hundred years ago.

Highway 1 was only completed in 1937, opening the coast to growing tourist visitation. We recently toured south of Monterey and Carmel, passing several spectacular state parks (with a Mediterranean climate – camping is possible and often sunny this time of year).

You’ll find scenic campgrounds here; Andrew Molera State Park is just 20 miles south of Carmel; 4800 acres with a variety of exploring opportunities from beaches to the Big Sur River, as well as Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park and Lime Kiln State Park. Kirk Creek Campground is a bit further south, a gem perched on the bluff overlooking the Pacific – first come, first served and run by the US Forest Service.

Ragged Point Inn on a bluff high above the ocean is a favorite, high on a bluff with ocean spreading in several directions.  With views, motel, cabins and restaurant surrounded by gorgeous gardens, it offers grandeur and solitude. Another favorite restaurant is the Big Sur Roadhouse, getting rave reviews for breakfasts or lunch and less expensive than some of their competitors.

Snow-shoers and cross-country skiers tour with ranger at Sugar Pine State Park on Tahoe's western shore.

Journey just north and see elephant seals at Ano Neuvo State Park (reservations for Ranger-led tours required) and at the six-mile long Piedras Blancas rookery, just north of San Simeon, with parking right off Highway 1, a short walk and no reservations required to view these massive animals.

Touring to the snowy Sierra, North Lake Tahoe always offers adventure; headquarter your visit in lovely Tahoe City on Tahoe’s north shore. Fabulous skiing includes nearby destinations of Alpine Meadows, Squaw Valley, Homewood, Northstar and Diamond Peak. Snowshoeing and cross-country skiing are also popular. Sugar Pine Point State Park features historic buildings, beautiful views of the lake and was site of several events for the 1960 Squaw Valley Olympics. Check out the small Olympic Museum building at Sugar Pine Park to refresh your memory of Olympic history at this beautiful park on Tahoe’s western shore. Tahoe City also offers a host of motel options and Airbnb choices. For the best breakfast or lunch, try Rosies, and for a beautiful, romantic dinner, Plumpjack at Squaw Valley Resort.

For information: Lodi Wine and Chocolate event,; Murphys,; Sutter Creek,; Bodega Bay and California’s north coast,; Big Sur,; North Lake Tahoe,

Contact Tim at and follow him at Happy travels in your world!


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Dodge Ridge opens for the 2017/18 season on Saturday, January 27, 2018

Dodge Ridge's slopes are groomed and ready for skiers and boarders. Photo courtesy Dodge Ridge.

9” of new snowfall gets the season underway on lower mountain lifts and terrain; Dodge Ridge opens on Saturday, January 27, 2018

Pinecrest, Calif. – Jan. 26, 2018  – The ski and ride season is underway at Dodge Ridge following the recent  snowfall which delivered 9 inches. Chairs 1, 2 and 6 along with the rope tow and the Magic Carpet conveyors in the Children’s Learning Area will be open accessing beginner to intermediate terrain. Lifts are scheduled to run at 9:00 am till 4:00 pm.

All Dodge Ridge services will be available Opening Day including a full line of group and private lesson programs for all ages 2 and above. To ensure availability, reservations are recommended for all lessons and can be made by calling (209) 965-3474 or on The rental shop will be in full operation offering  ski, snowboard and helmet rentals for all ages. The Sport and Tech Shop will open early at 7:30am for equipment tunes, waxes and essential ski and ride gear. The Creekside Lodge and North Fork Bistro will open with a limited Opening Day menu for breakfast, lunch and beverages.

The Tuolumne County Ski Bus will be in full operation for Opening Weekend, including every other weekend and holiday this season, for only $10 round trip, you can catch a ride from Sonora to Dodge Ridge with numerous stops along the way. Advanced reservations are encouraged by calling (209) 532-0404 or you can book online.

Dodge Ridge is the closest snow and easiest drive from Central Valley and Bay Area locations. “We have a great team here at Dodge Ridge,” said Jenni Smith, General Manager. “We have a unique history as a family owned and operated resort founded in 1950, and this legacy of family continues today with the Helm family, who have been running the resort since 1976. Generations of families have grown up skiing and riding here.”

Dodge Ridge relies 100% on natural snow and will open additional terrain when Mother Nature delivers the next significant round of winter storms. As always ski and ride with care as obstacles and thin coverage exist. For more detailed information on mountain safety pick up the Mountain Safety Guide at Guest Services and go online to the safety page. Opening Week lift tickets will be priced at  $59 for adults, $44 for teens, $15 for youth and $39 for seniors.

For more info: for updates on new snowfall, road conditions, news and events by going online to or by calling the Dodge Ridge Snow Phone at (209) 536-5300.

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


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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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