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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Big trees, gold rush towns, summertime resorts and high alpine lakes – it’s Highway 4 in the high Sierra!

Sunset view from Cougar Rock above Arnold (courtesy, Arnold Rim Trail Association).

Lake Alpine is a high Sierra gem, just above Bear Valley Resort on Hwy. 4.
Huge redwood trees reach over 250 feet tall in Calaveras Big Trees State Park.
Historic Murphys Hotel anchors quaint Main Street in downtown Murphys, CA.

Find big trees, gold rush towns, summertime resorts and high alpine lakes – take Highway 4 to the high Sierra!

Giant redwood trees, towns exuding gold rush history, resorts packed with family activities, high Sierra lakes and views – all strung like jewels along Highway 4. And, this summer wonderland is just an hour or two from San Joaquin County.

Highway 4, from Murphys and east, offers a wealth of family fun primed for summer or fall. We started our tour at Murphys, long a favorite among gold rush afficianados. It’s Main Street is a star of historic preservation and offers many places to dine or spend an overnight. Favorite eateries include the historic Murphys Hotel and, just down the street, the highly-rated Alchemy Restaurant. A variety of quaint shops, B&Bs and wine-tasting outlets (Zucca Mountain Vineyards, Twisted Oak and Milliare are favorites) intersperse a pleasant five-block, shady walk. And, the popular Ironstone Vineyards and Winery is just a few miles above Murphys, offering fine wines and outdoor entertainment.

Heading east, plan a midday stop at Calaveras Big Trees State Park, home to scores of towering redwoods reaching up to 250 feet tall. Largest, in the park’s South Grove, is the Louis Agassiz tree, reaching over 250 feet in height and 25 feet in diameter. In the nearby North Grove find the Empire State Tree, almost as large. The park offers camping among the redwoods, cabins for rent and tours led by Rangers offering big tree’s insight.

Emanating around the town of Arnold, find the increasingly popular Arnold Rim Trail (arnoldrimtrail.org). Timed around full moons, popular docent-led sunset hikes take families up 900 vertical feet on a 4 mile round-trip hike to the top of Cougar Rock for marvelous sunset views spreading across the Sierra foothills. Be sure to take a jacket, headlamp or flashlight, for the tours finish with a descent in the dark.

Bear Valley Resort continues it’s summertime focus on family fun with a host of adventure packages and variety of lodging options. With an adventure park, hiking, biking, swimming, kayaking, kids activities, archery, outdoor movies, good food and live music, it’s a mecca for families.

The resort continues to offer it’s popular ‘glamping tent’ options, with expedition-style tents pitched with a stunning view into the Mokulumne River Canyon. The tents are fully furnished with queen bed, bedding, rugs, chairs, tables, lamps and heaters, perfect for couples or small families (with additional sleeping options). RV camping and hotel accommodations are also offered.

Shuttle service connects Bear Valley Village, Bear Valley Mountain and nearby Lake Alpine to assist visitors desiring to venture out into the scenic mountain country. The area is a boon for hiking, fishing, cycling, kayaking, rock climbing and camping.

Lake Alpine, just east of Bear Valley, is a high sierra jewel set at 7,388 feet, featuring fishing, kayaking and the Lake Alpine Resort as well as nearby campgrounds in the Stanislas National Forest. For a challenging hike, take the trail up to Inspiration Point for great sunrise or sunset views. From Lake Alpine, you can also head south on the Slick Rock 4WD Trail to reach both Utica Reservoir and Union Reservoir.

Inveterate travelers will push higher, to historic Ebbetts Pass at 8,736 feet. It’s reputed to be the first Sierra pass crossed by a non-Native American, when Jedediah Smith crossed the Sierra in spring, 1827. The Pacific Crest National Scenic Trail crosses here, offering high altitude hiking options going north or south with the most alluring Sierra views.

How to get there: Take Highway 4 east to reach Murphys, Calaveras Big Trees, Bear Valley and Lake Alpine. Murphys is about 60 miles and 1.5 hours from Stockton.

For more information: Arnold Rim Trail, arnoldrimtrail.org, Bear Valley Resort, bearvalley.com, (209) 753-2301; Calaveras Big Trees Park, parks.ca.gov/?page_id=1146, (209) 795-2334; Lake Alpine Resort, lakealpineresort.com, (209) 753-6350; Visit Calaveras, gocalaveras.com, (800) 225-3764.

Contact Tim at tviall@msn.com, or follow his blog, blogs.esanjoaquin.com/valleytravel. Happy travels in your world!

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Utah’s Arches and Canyonlands National Parks; side trip to Grand Canyon North Rim

Arches National Park's Balanced Rock stops thousands of visitors each week in this lovely park, home to over 2,000 arches and strange landforms.

Author and spouse Susan pose in front of Landscape Arch, spanning well over 300 feet with its delicate arch.
Arches Park visitors trek fo Sand Dune Arch on short, flat trail through slot canyon.
Our Horsethief Campground, maintained by the BLM just outside Canyonlands, was scene of several evocative sunsets. 
John Wesley Powell pioneered the exploration of this vast tract of the new nation.
A couple takes in the other-worldly view of Canyonlands, with the Green and Colorado Rivers in distance.

Tour to Utah’s Arches and Canyonlands National Parks, with a side of Grand Canyon North Rim!

This is the third in a three-part series on the evocative national parks of Utah (see my blog for the previous two weeks). We’ve been blessed by our house sitting assignment in St. George, UT, allowing us a base camp to get started. We toured to Zion National park and Cedar Breaks National monument on day-trips, separate trips took us to Bryce Canyon, Capitol Reef and onto the final two Utah national parks.

If you’re doing a clockwise circuit of the five parks, as we’ve done, start at Zion, then Bryce and on to Capitol Reef. From there it’s roughly another 200 miles to Arches and Canyonlands, just 30 miles from one another. You can camp, or use the lively town of Moab, Utah as your base camp for these two parks.

Arches offers Devils Garden Campground (which can be booked in advance) and Canyonlands offers Island in the Sky and The Needles campgrounds, both first-come, first-served. The Bureau of Land Management presents a number of nearby campgrounds; we found Horsethief Campground, on edge of Canyonlands Park, almost as handy to Arches National Park and just $8/night. We spent three nights, took in the two parks and were treated to the most stunning of sunsets over the Green River Canyon.

In two days we hiked to 15 of Arches National Park’s 2,000 arches (yep, 2,000!); the visitor center helps plot your destinations in this amazing park. Treks to Turret Arch, South and North Arches, then Double Arch (at 144′ wide, 112′ tall, 3rd largest in park) were eye-openers. Later that cloudy, cool day, we climbed from the Arches campground to Tapestry Arch – and had it all to ourselves.  We continued onto Broken Arch, following three hikers – equally impressive – logging 3.5 miles hiking over all. That night we enjoyed spectacular starry night skies above our campsite.

Our second day, we started early to hike Arches’ Devils Garden area.  Our reward was the Landscape Arch; a 1.4 mile hike to this famous arch, tall, thin and spanning over 300 feet, attracts a large crowd.  Spur trails to nearby Tunnel and Pine Tree Arch both proved memorable.

Our final hike into Sand Dune Arch carried us through towering sandstone fins and slot canyons. By 2 PM we had covered three miles, and, avoiding hot mid-day sun, took a late lunch at The Spoke Restaurant in Moab (just three miles from Arches Park), where chicken wings, pulled pork and libations sated our appetite and thirst!  Moab is a busy town, humming with restaurants, motels, bike shops and canyon tour-providers!

Nearby Canyonlands National Park offers the most impressive canyon vistas yet on our journey. Until 1869, the huge Green and Colorado River watershed was uncharted on U.S. maps; John Wesley Powell, a geologist and one-armed Civil War major, set off in May, 1869, with four boats and nine novice boatsmen to explore the Green and Colorado rivers –  to make their fortunes and chart “the great unknown”.

When he reached the rivers’ canyon country in July, Powell noted the party had entered a “strange, weird, grand region” of naked rock, with “cathedral shaped buttes, towering hundreds or thousands of feet, cliffs that cannot be scaled and canyon walls that shrink the river into insignificance”. He would finish the harrowing journey three months later with two boats and six men and a tale of exploration that would capture the nation’s imagination.

We visited the northeast “Island in the Sky” section of Canyonlands; overlooks such as Grand View, Buck Canyon and Green River evoked the spirit of Powell as he contemplated this alien territory 149 years earlier. Mesa Natural Bridge, the Whale (a 500 yard hump-backed sandstone formation shaped like a huge orange whale) and the blue, red and pink colors of the vast Green River and Colorado River Canyons that converge here are not soon-forgotten.

In nearby Horse Canyon, ancient Puebloan people’s ruins can be toured, with stone homes and food storage built into a ledge far-up the canyon wall.  Pictographs left by the ancients are also found throughout many of Canyonland’s dry washes.

If your schedule permits, return on a southerly route to the Grand Canyon’s North Rim. With only about 10% the visitation of the southern rim, it, too, is a spectacular destination! On the approach, you’ll likely see some of the 400 herd of bison that make that part of Arizona home. Your return to California will also take you past Pipe Spring National Monument, Mono Lake, and, If you like, a final night camping on the edge of Yosemite – plotting future travel explorations!

For more info: For Utah travel insights, visitutah.com; Arches, nps.gov/arch, (435) 719-2299; Canyonlands, nps.gov/cany, (435) 719-2313; Camping can be booked through www.recreation.gov, or 877.444.6777.

Note: Two free travel-related programs coming up this week: Tuesday, July 10, 6 PM, award-winning Record photographer Cliff Oto presents a program on improving your photo skills; on Thursday, July 12, 6 PM, Record travel writer Tim Viall presents “The nine national parks of California”, both hosted at the Quail Lakes Clubhouse, 3808 Quail Lakes Drive, Stockton, and, both are FREE.

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

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Spectacular Utah: awe-inspiring Bryce Canyon and Capital Reef National Parks

Hoodoos by the thousands, carved by water and wind for eons, line Bryce's canyon walls.

Natural Bridge in Bryce Canyon NP.
Ascending The Wall trail amongst rock escarpments and strange Hoodoos.
Tourists hike up Grand Wash in Capitol Reef NP.Bryce Canyon.
Spires climb skyward from Capitol Reef National Park in Utah.

Watertank holes, up a dry wash from Grand Wash in Capitol Reef NP, is site where I slipped and fell into the larger of the holes, dunking my iPhone!

Southwest Utah: spectacular Bryce Canyon and Capital Reef National Parks

We’ve spent 2.5 weeks housesitting in St. George, Utah (through membership in the Affordable Travel Club), and done day trips to Zion National Park and Cedar Breaks National Monument.  The other four of Utah’s stupendous national parks lie just a bit further east.  Here are highlights of several.

Bryce Canyon National Park: Approaching Bryce from the west, we skirted Red Rock Canyon, rocks ablaze in the same color, noting an 8.6 mile bike trail paralleling much of that scenic area (find time during your visit to double back to this beautiful state park). Arrive Byrce early in the morning, if camping, and make for the North Campground (first come, first served) at 7800 feet.  This large campground is right on Bryce Canyon’s rim; wonderful views and the campground amphitheater are just steps away.

Mormon settlers Ebenezer and Mary Bryce homesteaded the area in 1862 in nearby Pine Valley where Bryce constructed the Pine Valley Chapel, the oldest Mormon Chapel in continuous use in Utah.  After moving to Paria Valley, next door to Bryce Canyon, he noted the compelling canyon behind his homestead was “a tough place to lose livestock”!

Make your first stop the North Entrance Visitor Center, for a 25 minute Bryce Canyon movie explaining the canyon’s formation, seasonal changes and visitor highlights. Then, tour the length of Hwy. 63 along the canyon rim, 16 miles south to Rainbow and Yovimpa Points. Here we stopped to admire incredible views, which repeated in succession at Aqua Canyon, Natural Bridge, Farview Point, Swamp Canyon, Bryce Point, Inspiration Point and Sunset Point.

Find time to dine at the Bryce Canyon Lodge, opened in 1926 by the Union Pacific Railroad, with lodge rooms and 15 outlying cabins and a large, homey restaurant open at 5 AM for early morning hikers. The breakfast exceeded our expectations; exceptional service was also delightful.
In the evening, hike the Rim Trail, just 150 feet from our campsite – with evening light, you’ll get both best views and marvelous photos!

Bryce offers compelling hiking, both along the canyon rim and down into the canyon. Thousands of Hoodoos will wow you (strangely-shaped pillars of rock in multi-hued colors of white, red, yellow and blue, left standing after millennia of erosion).  Take the Queens Garden/Navajo combination loop starting at Sunset Point, a 2.9 mile trek descending 600 feet from the Rim Trail down into the canyon.
Ranger programs offered daily at 7 PM include presentations on astronomy in the parks, native fauna, like Utah prairie dog colonies, hundreds of mule deer, pronghorn antelope (fastest animal in world, behind the cheetah), mountain lions and bears, early pioneers and other topics. Kids always love ranger talks, no matter the subject.

Capitol Reef National Park is just 120 miles from Byrce. Some 65 million years ago, a huge upheaval in the earth’s crust warped a 100 mile-long “Waterpocket Fold”, creating an abrupt “reef” of colorful red, yellow and white domes, cliffs, monoliths, canyons and arches, etched by the meandering Fremont River. This made for a fertile crescent in Utah, quickly discovered by Mormon pioneers in the 1860s.

The park’s single 70-site campground can fill early; several Forest Service campgrounds just 12-18 miles up Hwy 12 offer pretty campsites at about 8000′, only $6 with our American the Beautiful federal senior discount! Early the next day, we made Capitol Reef’s campground early and had our choice of sites.

Visit the nearby Visitor Center, where rangers will offer tips on best hikes and sights, then tour the scenic road to Capitol Gorge and then onto Grand Wash. Here a shady hike presents about three miles overall, along a flat canyon trail with sandstone walls rising colorfully hundreds of feet. I ventured up a side trail, skirting the edge of several naturally-carved water tanks, with 3 – 4 feet of clear water, and managed to slide into one, dunking my new iPhone (happily, it still works).

The campground itself is set in the park’s pretty Fruita Historic District, settled in the 1860s by pioneers and planted with a variety of still-producing apple, peach and pear orchards. Take a break at the historic Gifford House, which sells tasty pies and other edibles. Nearby orchards allow one to pick your own fruit.

Bryce and Capital Reef and the state’s other national parks are part of the Colorado Plateau, an area spanning four states. It was formed 20 million years ago when the earth’s crust uplifted a huge plateau several thousand feet above surrounding landforms. Eons of water and wind erosion of underlying limestone and sandstone have created the stunning geography of these national parks. Next week, we’ll finish our Utah tour with tips on touring Arches and Canyonlands National Parks.

Special Note: On Thursday, July 12, 6:00 PM, attend my free travel presentation, “Touring the nine national parks of California”, at the Quail Lakes Clubhouse, 3808 Quail Lakes Drive, Stockton. You’ll receive tips on when to visit, what to see and how to get there!

For more info: Affordable Travel Club, affordabletravelclub.net; Bryce Canyon National Park, nps.gov/brca; (435)834-5322; Capital Reef National Park, nps.gov/care, (445) 425-3791;   Utah travel insights, visitutah.com; Camping, recreation.gov, or 877.444.6777.

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

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Zion National Park, Cedar Breaks National Monument, star attractions in southwest UT.

Hoodoos, the lofty spires along Cedar Breaks red rock amphitheater, are visible and remind us of the hoodoos that make Bryce Canyon such a popular attraction.

Another view of Cedar Breaks lofty amphitheater, offset by cloud formations.
Cedar Breaks National Monument’s red rock amphitheater is three miles across, and almost a 1/2 mile deep. From the observation points on the rim drive, well above 10,000 feet, temperatures can be cool during summer!
View in Zion National Park, where the Virgin River has carved out a lofty canyon full of wonderous sights!
Water cascades from the brow of Zion’s Weeping Wall, just a short uphill hike from the park’s shuttle bus.
Zion tourists huddle under the Weeping Wall alcove, where shade and constant moisture drips keep the temperature well below that in the valley, below.

Zion National Park, Cedar Breaks National Monument, just north and east of St. George, UT.

We’ve been in St. George, UT, the past two weeks (staying at a beautiful home garnered through a house-sitting assignment), touring nearby attractions like old town St. George, the stunning Snow Canyon State Park and taking in the Broadway show Matilda the Musical at the memorable Tuacahn Amphitheater nestled in the red rocks south of Snow Canyon. We’ve hiked daily in the Banded Hills just southeast of the home we are staying in. But our plan is to visit loftier destinations, including nearby national monuments and national parks.

I have long been a fan of our national monuments, often the equal of our national parks. National monuments present monumental views, wildlife viewing and marvelous photography opportunities with more modest entry fees and a fraction of the tourists drawn to national parks.  Our hosts and several other locals tell us not to miss Cedar Breaks National Monument.

Hence, a Friday tour takes us the 75 miles to Cedar Breaks National Monument. Cedar Breaks web site offers a host of information and “what to see” suggestions, noting that two years earlier, the monument feted just 890,000 annual visitors (as we will discover, Zion National Park hosts almost five times that traffic each year)..

A pretty drive takes us through Cedar City and up several canyons to the national monument. We watch the outside temperature drop from the mid-80s at St. George drop to the high 50s – that’s what the park’s observation points will do, ranging from 10,300 to over 10,600 feet in elevation. Take a jacket; many fellow visitors cut their time short, not prepared for cool temperatures.

Cedar Breaks National Monument encompasses almost 7000 acres, centered on a vast red rock amphitheater three miles across and almost a half mile deep. The amphitheater is more eroded but similar to Bryce Canyon National Park and Red Canyon in the Dixie National Forest.

The monument is home to ancient Bristlecone Pine, with some specimens reaching over 1600 years, and sub-alpine meadows spread out from the amphitheater rim. Mule deer, marmots golden-mantled squirrels, porcupines and other animals make this home. At this elevation, the air is usually clear, you can see 100 miles and nighttime stargazing is a big attraction. On the amphitheater wall you’ll find excellent examples of hoodoos, those tall, spindly spires created by erosion, which make Bryce Canyon such a compelling experience.

Clark’s nutcrackers, violet-green swallows and ravens are birds frequently seen. Wildflowers generally blanket the canyon rim beginning in June, and we saw larkspur, Colorado columbine and scarlet paintbrush along our short hikes. Longer hikes are also available, decending into portions of the red rock amphitheater.

It’s the amphitheater that generates the “wow” factor. Located at the west end of the vast Colorado Plateau, it covers the west side of the smaller Markagunt Plateau, the same rock that forms part of Zion National Park. Earth’s uplift, followed by erosion, formed the canyon over millions of years from the shale, limestone and sandstone once part of the lakebed of ancient Lake Clarion that once inundated this area.

Early the next Monday (thinking we would beat summer crowds), we were off to Zion National Park, just 44 miles from St. George. Zion is noteworthy for its vertical cliffs carved by the Virgin River in shades of red, white and blue hues, owing to iron and manganese shading the limestone. Lush valleys fed by the river make an other-worldly contrast; unlike Cedar Breaks NM, where you are mostly looking down, in Zion, you are usually looking skyward. Craning-your-neck-skyward, that is.

Alas, approaching from the park’s south entrance, we found the park’s parking lots posted “full”, with visitors queuing up at the park entrance through Springdale. Hence, we parked just outside the park, walked through the pedestrian entrance where our America the Beautiful Senior Pass (now, just $20 for life) saved us the entry fee. We then waited about an hour to get on the free shuttle that takes you up into the valley carved by the Virgin River and the park’s main attractions.

From the shuttle, we disembarked and hiked the Lower and Middle Emerald Pools Trail, steep with several hundred vertical feet elevation gain, but fairly short, then the Grotto Trail above the Virgin River, then back to the free shuttle. Another short ride and we hiked the short trail to Weeping Wall, a pleasant, misty and drippy respite on a day that pushed temperatures into the upper 80s by Noon.

If you have the time and energy, don’t miss the hike to The Narrows.  This section is the narrowest of the canyon, with walls towering thousands of feet, in places only 20 to 40 feet wide.  Choices of hikes range from short to long, much of the hike wading through the generally placid Virgin River. But, heed weather forecasts and potential for flash floods; days after our first visit two years earlier, violent thunder storms created flash floods in Zion, killing six tourists who were trapped in a slot canyon.

We finished our day at the brew pub near the South Visitor Center, where a snack and cold drinks quenched our thirst. What else can we explore in Utah?

For more info: For St. George, visitstgeorge.com; for Utah, visitutah.com; Cedar Breaks National Monument, nsp.gov/cebr/; Zion National Park, nps.gov/zion; camping can be booked through www.recreation.gov.

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

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St. George, Utah, base camp to Utah state, national parks and outdoor adventure!

Tuachan Center for the Arts is nesteled in the red rocks on north edge of St. George; concerts and Broadway shows make home here in summer and fall.

The Washington County Courthouse in downtown St. George dates to the 1860s and is open for tours.
Top, Washington County Courthouse in St. George dates to the 1860s; bottom, red rocks are a staple of a tour through Snow Canyon State Park.
Jenny’s Canyon is the reward for a short hike in Snow Canyon State Park, UT.
Brigham Young’s winter home, in the 1870s, in St. George, UT.

Mormon Tabernacle in St. George is the longest opertating Mormon temple in world.

Make St. George, Utah, your gate way to Utah national parks, north rim of the Grand Canyon:

Little did Mormon leader Brigham Young realize when he sent 300 Mormon families south from the Salt Lake area in 1861 to establish a cotton-growing empire – that he was establishing a beautiful town that would become gateway to southeast Utah’s stunning state and national parks.

St. George, Utah is all that and more. Located in the Mojave Desert next to the Colorado Plateau and Great Basin, it’s surrounded by red rock and yellow brown escarpments, cleaved by the Virgin and Santa Clara Rivers and is rich in outdoor activities, history, culture and family fun.

The town provides a gateway to bordering state parks like Snow Canyon, Sand Hollow and Coral Pink Sand Dunes parks and nearby national parks such is Zion, Bryce Canyon and the north rim of the Grand Canyon.

It’s a town full of family activities, historical consequence and cultural diversions. The city offers a dozen golf courses, many of them located in challenging red and yellow rocky gorges and offers 70 miles of separated bike trails as well as a bike share program. Outdoor activities are a year-round focus, from beautiful city parks, reservoirs for swimming and boating, pickleball and tennis courts and hiking trails on the city edges.  St. George is home to many annual sporting events, like golf, softball tourneys and the Utah Senior Games in October.

Visit the downtown Daughters of Utah Pioneers Museum to get a handle on early civilization, from the Anasazi and later the Paiute tribes of Native Americans, to the Mormon settlement beginning in 1861. The nearby Washington County Courthouse, built from 1866 to 1876, is also open to tours.

Make your next stop the beautiful Mormon Tabernacle; completed in 1876, it was originally constructed to serve as both church and courthouse. It is the oldest continuously active Mormon Temple in the world and is active with concerts and programs as well as Mormon services. Just blocks away, take a tour of the winter home of Brigham Young, which he acquired in the 1870s and lived in until his death in 1877. The home gives a good feel for what life was like in the early days of this picturesque desert town.

You need not travel far to find grand scenery. Snow Canyon State Park is just 8 miles north, providing a great tour of the Mojave Desert, split by red rock carapaces, yellow and brown rock formations and washes wet only in winter months.  The park offers 16 miles of hiking trails, rock climbing, horseback riding and you’re around camping as well as wildlife-viewing and photographic opportunities galore. Take the short hike into Jenny’s Canyon to find a dead-end slot canyon with red rock walls towering many stories over your head. Just across the road, a short hike takes you into the Sand Dunes area, where coral sand blankets the base of red rock cliffs. Additional state parks like Coral Pink Sand Dunes, Quail Creek, and Sand Hollow Parks make for an unending trove of family adventures.

In the next few days we will head east, first to the closest national park, Zion (just 45 miles distant) and then to Bryce Canyon (140 Miles) a few days later. We’ve been to both a few years ago, but we want to explore a few other nooks and crannies in those two superlative national treasures. Heading to the Southwest the north rim of the Grand Canyon lies just 145 miles away. More on those destinations in coming installments.

Saint George offers plenty of cultural opportunities. With a symphony orchestra, Children’s Museum, St. George Art Museum, a wealth of museums of varied history and several choices for theater. Next Tuesday evening, we’re headed to the Tuacahn Amphitheater, set into the red rocks on the south edge of Sand Canyon State Park, for the Tony award-winning production of Matilda the Musical.

St. George offers several score hotels and motels, and a wide variety of family-focused and more upscale restaurants. Don’t miss the Painted Pony Restaurant, on the edge of the downtown historical district, for a classy dining experience with food rated highly by gourmets.

How to get there: To reach St. George you have two choices. One is to cross the Sierra, either east on Highway 108 or Highway 120 (through Yosemite), a scenic 600 miles and 10.75 hours. A bit longer though a bit faster is to take the interstate route, down the San Joaquin Valley to Bakersfield, then east past Las Vegas and up to St. George, 635 miles and 9.5 hours.

For more information: Saint George, visitstgeorge.com; Zion National Park, nps.gov/zion; Snow Canyon State Park, stateparks.utah.gov.

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

Posted in Mountain West (Montana, Wyoming, Utah, Colorado), Southwest USA (Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico, Texas) | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Exploring Stockton and San Joaquin County with out-of-town guests!

 

Sunset, with Mt. Diablo in distance, graces the outdoor dining deck at Garlic Brothers Restaurant in north Stockton.

Giant wind-art adorns the Joan Darrah Promenade behind the Stockton Ports Ballpark on the Stockton Deepwater Channel.
A tour group admires the Fox California/Bob Hope Theatre, circa 1930, in downtown Stockton.
The Haggin Museum graces Victory Park and features huge art collection as well as Native American and pioneer Stockton history exhibits.

Kids admire vintage farm truck loaded with historic fruit crates at the San Joaquin Hisstorical Museum near Lodi.Exploring Stockton and San Joaquin County with out-of-town guests,

A 48 whirl-wind tour of Stockton:

With a thriving cultural scene, gold rush history, stunning architecture, an active waterfront and San Joaquin River Delta location, Stockton is a perfect town to share with family and friends visiting during summer months. If you have two days to share with out-of-town guests, here are suggestions how to maximize their experience.

Start with a sunset dinner on the deck at Garlic Brothers Restaurant, west end of Ben Holt Drive (Holt revolutionized Delta agriculture with the invention of the Caterpillar tractor, more on Holt, below). Garlic Brothers overlooks a thriving marina and you’ll revel in a sunset over Mount Diablo, 40 miles across the Delta.

Next day, explore downtown Stockton’s waterfront by taking a walk on the Joan Darrah Promenade along the Deepwater Channel. Gazing west, you’ll see portions of the Port of Stockton, the eastern-most inland port in California, and a huge economic driver for the region (big ocean-going ships give it away). Just east of the Deepwater Channel, the historic Hotel Stockton, the Fox/Bob Hope Theatre, Bank of Stockton, California Building and others dating to the late 1800s beckon for a walking tour (the Downtown Stockton Alliance provides historical walking tour maps).

If your tour group includes youngsters, consider a stop at the Stockton Children’s Museum on West Weber Avenue, or Pixie Woods Amusement Park in Louis Park, with rides and fun for all ages.  If you are seeking a bite or libation, consider Cast Iron Trading Company and Channel Brewing in the old Belding Building, or old favorites like CanCun or Casa Flores, all within 1.5 blocks of the Hotel Stockton.

Following your tour of downtown and the waterfront, plan an afternoon stop at the Haggin Museum. Anchoring stately Victory Park, the museum features extensive art collections as well as Native American and pioneer history. The museum graphically tells the story of Ben Holt’s agricultural and manufacturing innovations, as well as the city’s storied boat-building history with Stevens and Colburg Yachts, among other shipbuilders.

Later that evening, consider dinner at one of the fine restaurants along the Miracle mile, the city’s first suburban shopping center that blossomed in the 1950s and 1960s. Cocoro, Mile Wine, La Palma and Valley Brew are all inviting options along the Mile.

For evening entertainment, check the Visit Stockton website for shows/performers which may be playing at the Fox/Bob Hope Theatre, the Downtown Arena, the Stockton Civic Theater and several other local theater producers.  Or, take in a Stockton Ports baseball game at the downtown waterfront Ports Ballpark.

The next morning, consider a quick tour to the Lodi/Woodbridge winegrape appellation, centered around Lodi, just 15 miles north. Start with an early breakfast at the 50s-retro Richmaid Café, on Cherokee Lane in Lodi, then tour northwest to the Cosumnes River Preserve to see what the Delta looked like before pioneers settled the area. You’ll find native plants in their glory, and a variety of waterfowl in their native surroundings.

Backtracking, stop at Cosumnes River Farms for both olive oil sampling and wine tasting. You also have a choice of some 70 other wineries spread throughout this highly-regarded wine-growing region; see Visit Lodi for a map of wineries and other attractions. If you’re looking for a late lunch, stop at Phillips Farms on Highway 12, just west of Lodi, for a delicious farm-focused lunch, along with adjoining farmstand full of local produce, wine and gift options.

If you still have energy and want to further explore agricultural and pioneer history, take in the San Joaquin Historical Museum in Micke Grove Park, on the south edge of Lodi.  Learn more about Native American history, our earliest pioneers and 160 years of local agricultural innovation. During summer months, the ever-popular petting zoo lets kids get up close, and pet, a wide variety of farm animals on Saturdays and Sundays.

You’ve now completed a 48 hour whirlwind tour, and shown off many of the city’s highlights.  What have we missed? Add your own favorites…and, we’re off!

For more information: Children’s Museum of Stockton, childrensmuseumstockton.org; Downtown Stockton Alliance, downtownstockton.org; Haggin Museum, hagginmuseum.org; Pixie Woods, stocktongov.com/pixiewoods; San Joaquin Historical Museum, sanjoaquinhistory.org; Visit Lodi, visitlodi.com; Visit Stockton, visitstockton.org.

Contact Tim at tviall@msn.com; follow him at recordnet.com/travelblog. Enjoy showing off your town!

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

Frugal travel across the US, Canada, the world: Affordable Travel Club and Evergreen Club

The Elk River and Canadian Rockies were just north and east of the Marchant's home in British Columbia.

David and Nancy Marchant, of Baynes Lake, British Columbia, were our first Affordable Travel Club hosts.
Judy and Ward Lowrance, who introduced us to the Affordable Travel Club and invited us to split a house-sitting assignment in Seattle.
A natural bridge slowly forms in Zion National Park, our destination in a week or so!

Frugal travel across the US, Canada, the world;

New mode of thrifty travel for world travelers: Affordable Travel Club and Evergreen Club

My spouse and I have been retired for five years and have discovered a new mode of travel that has allowed us to double our high-end travel, while keeping costs almost ridiculously low.

We depart Monday morning, by auto, for two and a half weeks in St. George, Utah. We will spend our nights at a lovely home in the hills above the city, and our days touring the spectacular southern Utah scenic area, including Zion and Bryce Canyon National Parks and other-worldly wonders. The cost of this 18 day trip will be close to nothing, other than the cost of gas and a few meals out. We will be housesitting a lovely home, and touring the parks on a national park senior pass – both, zero expense.

The key in the lock for many of our past and future frugal travels is the Affordable Travel Club, a world-wide club with membership in about 40 countries and 3000 members who offer two options. The first is to connect on housesitting gigs like the one in Utah, while the other is even more immediate. Email or call ahead to various members across the US, Canada or foreign countries and ask the host to put you up for the night.

When the connection is made, the host provides you comfortable lodging, a nice breakfast and shares the wonders of their city; you tip them $20 ($30 in Canada) on your departure. We’ve met a Baker’s dozen families this way in the last few years, and hosted a number of couples or singles touring through the Stockton area. Several host couples have become fast friends, including a couple from England who have invited us to spend several days with them when we get to that country.

Through the club we have also landed six house sitting assignments, including Seattle and Edmonds, WA, Taos, NM, Tucson, AZ, this coming trip to St. George and an October housesitting date outside Boulder, CO. We have a standing notice on the club housesitting bulletin board, and 6-8 requests annually, asking if we can housesit in places like Coeur d’Alene, ID, Oklahoma and the like. We choose based on this criteria: do we want to visit that area, is it a nice home (we check Google earth to see what the house looks like), how long is the assignment and does it include pet or plant sitting? Our St. George assignment comes with a 12-year-old border collie/spaniel mix, and we will take the dog for walks most days we’re there.

The basics of the Affordable Travel Club, and others similar like the Evergreen Club, is this: join, pay an annual membership fee ($65) and gain access to almost 3,000 members across the US, Canada and other countries. Hosts provide you a night’s lodging, breakfast the next morning and considerable insight into the area they live in. The house-sitting option is a useful, additional benefit.

On a recent two month tour across Canada, we spent three nights with Canadian couples, one in British Columbia, one in Alberta and another in Saskatchewan. The process is pretty simple; scan the club’s web site and map of members, find a member near our driving route, contact them by email or phone 10 days or a week in advance, and ask if they could put us up.

Our first night stay was with David and Nancy Marchant in the little town of Baynes Lake, British Columbia, on the west side of the Canadian Rockies. It came with the benefit of a full steak dinner upon arrival, when, a few days prior to our visit, David noted there were no restaurants anywhere near their home and invited us to dinner. The following morning, the Marchants provided breakfast and David happily took us for a tour of his small town and surrounding British Columbia.

Couples in Medicine Hat, Alberta and Regina, Saskatchewan were equally fine hosts, giving us tours of their property and offering suggestions of what to see in their portions of Canada.  Our insight into our Canadian neighbors is all the richer due to these three visits. In addition, we discovered what they thought about their country, their government and their health care options – certainly enlightening.

On the Stockton front, we have hosted about 10 couples or singles passing through our town. Acting as hosts allows us to expand our network of fellow travelers, and several guests have included Oregonians who will put us up next time we are headed north to Washington or British Columbia. While hosting, we get the chance to show off Stockton highlights, and extoll the delights of California living.

Of course, we practice other money-saving ideas to stretch our travel bucks: we travel with efficient autos (like a Ford Focus that gets 38 MPG highway), we often split a main course in high-end restaurants, carry our own auto snacks and soft-drinks and we utilize our federal senior pass for free entrance to national parks and monuments and half-off on campgrounds. Such practices, and membership in the Affordable Travel Club, allow us to travel about five months of the year without breaking our bank account.

For more information: Affordable Travel Club, affordabletravelclub.net; Evergreen Club, evergeenclub.com.

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

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, United States beyond! | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Pedaling the American River Bike Trail and rides in your hometown!

Rider heads east past Hagen Park on the American River Bike Trail, with the placid American River on right side of photo.

Friends help Rich Fowler ride 75 miles on his birthday on the American River Trail.
Performance Bike Saturday morning rider group gathers outside the store prior to their ride in north Stockton.
Shadow rider on Weston Ranch bike trail (Matt Beckwith photo).
Full moon riders gather on a balmy evening in downtown Stockton.
Long, Slow Distance (LSD) riders head out into Lodi wine country.

Bike touring on the American River Bike Trail and your own hometown…

Summer fast approaches and what better way to be active, get fit and explore nearby California gems? Dust off those bicycles, check them for road-worthiness and get pedaling to nearby nifty destinations.

Let’s start with the granddaddy of nearby bike trails, the American River Bike Trail that stretches from Old Sacramento on the west all the way up to and past Folsom Lake on the east, following the course of that mighty river, the American. The trail offers more than 40 miles of paved, relatively flat cycling through stunning riparian scenery, with miles of additional side trails for hiking, mountain biking or horseback riding.

On a recent outing, we started at the Lake Natomas Fish Hatchery, just off Hazel and Highway 50 and took a leisurely pedal up the American River to Folsom, stopping for a late brunch at Mel’s Drive in, then peddled back to our starting point. It was only about a 9 mile total ride, but somewhat justified our Saturday brunch. Well, almost. Another nearby destination is the old Sutter Street Café in historic downtown Folsom, offering tasty breakfasts and lunches in a wild West setting. Explore a new addition to the bike trail network, the Johnny Cash Trail, which starts at the old Folsom Bridge and heads to the southeast, past Folsom Prison and new destinations into the California foothills.

Another starting Point is Old Sacramento, which preserves Sacramento much is it was during the 1850’s Gold Rush. Here, catch the west end of the American River bike trail, pedal east through Discovery Park and continue on as far as you care to crank, then do a U-turn and return to your starting point. Old Sacramento offers a half dozen museums, bakeries, cafes and fine restaurants to recharge your batteries.

Closer to home, Stockton and San Joaquin County are blessed by quiet and relatively safe places to pedal. We’re graced by a year-round cycling climate, almost no hills and lovely by-ways to accommodate peddlers.

Where to start: If you’re not sure of your bike’s fitness, or how you fit your bike, visit a local shop like Performance or Robbie’s and get a quick tune-up. Increase your safety on city streets with a rearview mirror or eye-glasses mirror – seeing cars approaching from behind will give you more confidence. For your bike’s safety, carry a good cable lock, so your favorite doesn’t get snatched when you take a break.

When pedaling on the roadways, obey all traffic laws, pedal with traffic and stop at stop signs/traffic lights. Never, ever assume a motorist sees you until you make direct eye contact. Kids under 18 are required by law to wear a helmet; smart adult cyclists also wear a helmet; chose bright colors to make yourself visible to approaching motorists.

If you’re new to bicycling, or haven’t toured recently, many options exist. Consider doing short cycling trips around your own neighborhood on quiet urban or suburban streets. Performance Bicycle in Lincoln Center offers both Saturday and Sunday rides accommodating beginners all the way up to more experienced cyclists.

Want to increase your mileage from five miles to 10 miles or more? The San Joaquin Bike Coalition offers “long slow distance (LSD) Rides” the first Saturday each month starting on the north side of Bear Creek High School on McNabb Street, and heading north into Lodi wine country. The SJBC’s Full Moon Rides in the evening kick off on Tuesday, May 29th for the year. Each of these rides proceeds at a leisurely pace so you won’t get left behind.

Already a serious distance cyclist? Join the Stockton Bike Club for their weekly rides, including many that ascend into the Sierra foothills for rides featuring stunning scenery and robust hills!

The county offers a wealth of cycling destinations. Stockton’s Calaveras Bike Trail, on the north edge of University of Pacific, provides one of the city’s most interesting bikeways; visit UOP’s DeRosa University Center for a refreshment break. From UOP, take the Calaveras Trail west to Buckley Cove Park past Brookside, or east all the way to Cherokee Lane. Or, cycle south on shady Kensington and then Baker Street, all the way to downtown Stockton and the Deepwater Channel (to take in a Stockton Ports game or to pedal around the Joan Darrah Waterfront Promenade).

Lodi is surrounded by quiet roads through vineyards – offering lovely places to bike with little traffic. North Stockton, Weston Ranch, Manteca and Tracy all offer additional separated bike paths.  For insight into where to ride, check Bike Lodi, Visit Stockton and local chambers of commerce for favorite local rides.

In Stockton and Lodi, the San Joaquin Bike Coalition and Bike Lodi have worked tirelessly with their cities to upgrade the cycling master-plans and broaden the cycling community in their cities. Both cities are discovering how bike tourism leads to more business and how cyclists add to the fabric of their communities – in Lodi new Bike Lodi signs brand the city as bike-friendly and offer a handy spot to lock-up your bike.

For more information: American River Bike Trail, regionalparks.saccounty.net; Bike Lodi, facebook.com/bikelodi/; Performance Bike Shop, performancebike.com/Stockton; San Joaquin Bike Coalition, sjbike.org or their Facebook page, facebook.com/groups/sjbikecoalition/; Stockton Bike Club, stocktonbikeclub.org; Visit Stockton, visitstockton.org; or phone local chambers of commerce for suggested ride routes.

Contact Tim Viall at tviall@msn.com; follow him at recordnet.com/travelblog. Safe pedaling in your town!

 

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

High Sierra adventure; Hwy. 108, Sonora to Sonora Pass offers fun and adventure!

Senator Curtin's stately Victorian home in Sonora; he ran for California governor in 1914.

Pinecrest Lake, at almost 5,700 feet, attracts crowds of both swimmers and fishermen to its clear, cold waters.
Relief Reservoir shines its azure blue waters about 2.5 miles up the trail from Kennedy Meadows Resort.
The high Sierra, looking northeast from Sonora Pass; great hiking from this vantage point!
Horsemen and pack animals from Kennedy Meadows Resort head up the trail to Relief Reservoir.
Author’s grandson Hunter attacks a Sloppy Joe Burger at Kennedy Meadows Resort.

Hwy. 108, pathway to high Sierra fun and adventure!

With late winter Sierra snows melting away below about 8,000 feet, it’s time to revisit our favorite part of these mountains, Highway 108 from Sonora up to Sonora Pass. This route takes in Native American and gold rush history, stunning scenery, fishing and swimming opportunities and hiking and biking options galore. Several towns offer comfy lodging, and more than a dozen campgrounds offer picture-postcard places to spend a night, or a week.

Start in Sonora, long a crossroads for Native Americans as well as gold rush prospectors and pioneers. Located at the intersection of the gold rush highway, 49, and Hwy. 108, it’s a bustling yet historic town with all the amenities. You’ll find plenty of great restaurants, several local theaters and shops lining its historic stretch of Hwy. 49.

Tour the old Sonora Jail, 158 W. Bradford, now the Tuolumne Historical Society/Museum, first built in 1857, burned and rebuilt in 1866 and serving continuously until 1960. Each of the 10 jail cells house mini-museums, focusing upon our native American forebears, early townspeople and miners, the area’s lumbering history and the importance of water to both agriculture and gold mining. Your kids will get a kick out of the old jail, as well – lock ‘em in the clink!

The old courthouse is just blocks away, and nearby museums include the Sonora Fire Museum at 125 North Washington, the Veterans Memorial Hall and Military Museum, 158 W. Bradford and the St. James History Room at 42 W. smell. Six old cemeteries circle the city – the historical society offers maps.

It’s a town lined with old Victorian homes along many streets, including the Sugg-McDonald house, built 1857 on property of a former slave and the beautifully restored 1897 home of J. B.  Curtain, attorney, state senator and 1914 candidate for California governor.

Downtown’s Washington St./Highway 49 futures dozens of the historic buildings dating to the 1850s, including the spectacular Opera Hall, 1885. Walk the 10 walk stretch of history, window shop and stop at Coffill Park on Sonora Creek, were a 22 pound Gold nugget was discovered.

The Sonora area was also a major source of lumbering with several huge mills nearby including the Standard Mill, adjacent to Sonora and the huge Westside Lumber in Tuolumne City, just 6 miles to the south east. Each mill built narrow gauge railways deep into the Sierra; shay engine number 3, a 60 town locomotive that begin operations in 1910 is on display at the entrance to the Mother Lode Fairgrounds on Stockton Road, just a mile from downtown.

Beyond Sonora, head up Hwy. 108 and stop in Twain Harte, a lovely mountain resort town featuring dependable restaurants like a Sportsman Café (breakfast), and The Rock (regularly voted the best hamburgers and fries). Back on Hwy. 108, head east past Miwuk Village, Sugar Pine, Long Barn and Cold Springs before reaching the delightful resort town of Pinecrest, wrapped around the lake of the same name.

Pinecrest’s PG&E reservoir at 5,679 feet offers a bucolic setting for cabins, fishing, sandy beaches and family fun. Overnight lodging is offered by the Pinecrest Lake Lodge and Pinecrest Chalets, and dependable family restaurants are nearby, including Mia’s (Italian, pizza) and the Steam Donkey (fine food in a rustic family setting).

A picturesque 4 mile hike around the rocky lake shore is fun family entertainment, and hiking and bicycling trails fan out into the Sierra in all four directions. Just above Pinecrest is the ski area of Dodge Ridge, presenting more bicycling and hiking options at higher elevations. Pinecrest is home to two nice campgrounds, and from May through summer, outdoor movies are offered nightly at the Pinecrest Amphitheater on the lake shore.

Heading higher into the Sierra, pass-through the small town of Strawberry, where the Strawberry Inn offers good food and lodging, then find additional lakes like Beardsley, Donnell and Relief Reservoir strung among 10 campgrounds along the Stanislaus and Tuolumne Rivers. Here additional hiking and backpacking trails are extensive; favorites include the Trail of the Gargoyles, Pinecrest Peak and Sonora Peak and trails into the Carson-Iceberg Wilderness. Our favorite campground is the USFS Clark Fork Campground on the Clark Fork River – clean air and clear night skies make for amazing stargazing.

The Kennedy Meadows Resort features a nice lodge, restaurant and cabins and is a great focal point for horse packing trips and hiking into Kennedy Meadows. Above is Sonora Pass, with additional hiking options both north and south – though the almost-10,000 feet elevation and scenic vistas will literally take your breath away! Take your camera, hiking and fishing poles!

For more info: Tuolumne Historical Society/Museum, tchistory.org, (209) 532.1317; Sonora Chamber of Commerce, sonorachamber.com, (209) 694-4405; Tuolumne County Visitor’s Bureau, visittuolumne.com, (800) 446-1333.

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

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

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