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

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

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

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

Waterfowl make the American River their home near Rancho Cordova.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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From hail stones to hot summer; how to beat the heat in the Sierra!

Hail stones morph to summer heat; where to head for cooler temperatures!

With hail stones and cold rain pounding Stockton and San Joaquin County just 10 days ago, I’m always amazed how hot summer weather can arrive so quickly. Here are ideas how to beat the summer heat, both in town and in the nearby Sierra foothills.

Cities within the county generally offer a community pool or several, and options like Lodi Lake Park provide places to go for a swim in a mostly natural setting. Or, consider taking in an air-conditioned movie (check the Fox California/Bob Hope Theatre for its monthly classic series), or, visit indoor respites from the heat like the Haggan Museum in Stockton or the San Joaquin County Historical Museum in Micke Grove Park, just south of Lodi.

The Haines-Houser Harvester, on display in Stockton’s Haggin Museum, makes for a cool indoor destination during Stockton’s hot summer days.

But, for a truly memorable experience, offering cool waters and incredible scenery, consider a day trip, a long weekend or multi-day visit to the Pinecrest Lake area, 30 miles east of Sonora on Highway 108. The “cool rule of thumb”: As you rise every thousand feet into the Sierra, temperatures generally drop three degrees. Hence, if your destination is 6,000 feet, temperatures will likely be about 18 degrees cooler than in the valley. Plus, lakes and Sierra scenery make for a psychological cooling-off, as well.

Pinecrest Lake Beach is a popular family destination in summer and early fall.

Long a family favorite is the Hwy. 108 stretch from Twain Harte up to the Pinecrest Lake area, offering extended day-trips to Sonora Pass. Pioneers from Ohio and Indiana blazed the pass in 1852; today, the area west of the pass is a summer and fall mecca for swimmers, fisherman, hikers, bikers and adventurers.

Add to your family fun by packing games, books, walking shoes, fishing poles, binoculars and makings for smores. Between swimming, fishing, hiking, biking and dinner around a campfire –this glorious country is made for family fun.

Pinecrest, at almost 6,000 feet, wraps around Pinecrest Lake, a PG&E reservoir, with Dodge Ridge Ski Resort just three miles above the lake. The area offers a dependable, family-friendly restaurant, the Steam Donkey, and lodging options at both Pinecrest Lake Resort and Pinecrest Chalet. Two nearby large campgrounds can fill fast during the summer, so book in advance if you wish to camp near the lake.

Author’s grandchildren Jessica, Jack and Hunter hike the 3.4 mile loop around Pinecrest Lake.

The lake is the big attraction; Pinecrest Lake Marina (pinecrestlakeresort.com) offers rentals of fishing boats, sail boats, kayaks and canoes. Slips are available for rent if you’re planning on bringing your own boat. The lake offers a 3.5 miles hiking trail along its shoreline; adventurous types one can venture up the stunning, rocky Boulder Creek Canyon from the lake’s east-side. If you are staying near Pinecrest Lake, outdoor movies under the stars are shown in the Pinecrest outdoor amphitheater, right Pinecrest Lake’s beach.

Follow the highway higher into the Sierra for another 10 campgrounds along the Middle Fork of the Stanislaus River; though last year’s forest fire has dramatically changed the scenery in some areas. The Carson-Iceberg Wilderness is just north of 108, up the Clark Fork River, offering a variety of hiking trails and fishing options. With abundant rivers, streams and lakes, the fishing in this region is some of the finest available; local favorites include many points along the Stanislaus and Tuolumne Rivers, and on Pinecrest, Beardsley, Donnell Lakes and Relief Reservoir.

The Stanislaus National Forest offers mountain bikers many options. Bring your own gear or rent mountain bikes from the Pinecrest Hub next to the Pinecrest Market. Popular choices include the old rail trail from Strawberry down to Fraser Flat, or continue even further down the trail along the Stanislaus, from Fraser Flat to Lyons Reservoir. Following the route of the old Sugar Pine Railroad, grades are a gentle 2 to 3%. The Dodge Ridge Ski Resort offers hiking and biking options on varied fire trails in and around the ski area.

The Dardanelle Resort was lost in recent forest fire; all that remains, sign and gas pump.

Hiking and backpacking trails are extensive here; favorite trails include the Pinecrest Loop, Trail of the Gargoyles, Pinecrest Peak, Giannelli Cabin, Sonora Peak, trails into the Carson-Iceberg Wilderness, Kennedy Meadows and hikes fanning out from the top of Sonora Pass. Stop at the Stanislaus National Forest office in Pinecrest for maps. Horseback tours are also available out of Kennedy Meadows Pack Station (kennedymeadows.com).

How to get there: From Stockton, take Hwy. 4 to Copperopolis, southeast on O’Byrnes Ferry Road and east on CA Hwy. 108 to the Pinecrest and the Sonora Pass area. From Stockton to Pinecrest Resort, it’s 95 miles and about two hours. Special note: Due to both late snow impacts, and a forecasted ominous fire season, check with local authorities as to road and air-quality issues.

Horses from Kennedy Meadows Pack Station take visitors high into the Sierra.

Dining and lodging: Favorites include the Steam Donkey Restaurant in Pinecrest and Mia’s in Cold Springs. For lodging, Pinecrest Lake Resort, Pinecrest Chalet, the Strawberry Inn and Kennedy Meadows Resorts are good choices.

For info: Stanislaus National Forest, fs.usda.gov/stanislaus/, or contact the Summit Ranger District, 1 Pinecrest Lake Road, Pinecrest, CA 95364; (209) 965.3434; for Tuolumne County Visitor’s Bureau, visittuolumne.com.

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

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Family fun in the high Sierra; Hwy. 4 from Murphys to Ebbetts Pass

Family fun in Sierra gold country; Hwy. 4, Murphys to Ebbetts Pass

Kids and young adults celebrate on Bear Valley Resort’s rope course.

Gold rush history, towering redwoods, high Sierra scenery, lakes, cooler temperatures, campgrounds and family resorts – what’s not to like about a tour up Hwy. 4, from Murphys east to Ebbetts Pass? This is a trip that can be managed in one day; but better done as a long weekend, or a family vacation get-away. Less than two hours from Stockton, you’ll save on both time and gas!

We begin our tour in Murphys, the quintessential Gold Rush town, founded by John and Daniel Murphy, part of the Stephens-Townsend-Murphys wagon train, the first immigrant wagon train to navigate over the Sierra Nevada to Sutter’s Fort in 1844. The Murphy brothers turned to mining, first in Valecito, then moving on to “Murphys second diggins”, which would become Murphys. The town focuses on its pioneer history, as well as regional wine making and providing hospitality to visitors; Main Street offers many places to nosh, dine and overnight. Favorite eateries include the highly-rated Alchemy Restaurant as well as the historic Murphys Hotel. Quaint shops and almost two dozen wine-tasting outlets (favorites are Twisted Oak, Zucca Mountain Vineyards and Milliare) are interspersed along a pleasant shady walk.

The historic Murphys Hotel offers lodging, bar and restaurant, anchoring downtown Murphys in the town founded due to the California Gold Rush.

The popular Ironstone Vineyards and Winery is just a few miles south of Murphys, offering fine wines, an on-site history museum including the world’s largest crystalline gold nugget valued at over $4.0 million and an outdoor entertainment venue attracting thousands to world class musicians.

The 44 pound crystalline gold nugget is on display in the Ironstone Vineyard’s on-site museum. It’s valued at about $4.0 million!

Calaveras Big Trees State Park, home to scores of towering redwoods reaching up to 250 feet tall, is east along Hwy. 4. Giant redwoods in the park’s South Grove include the Louis Agassiz tree, reaching over 250 feet in height and 25 feet in diameter. The nearby North Grove features the Empire State Tree, almost as large. Camping among the redwoods, cabins for rent and tours led by Rangers offering big tree’s insight make this a special state park – so impressive and magical, likely a national park if located outside the state!

Towering redwoods grace Calaveras Big Trees State Park.

Arnold is just further east, where the traveler will find provisions and restaurants. The town serves as a center for the growing-in-popularity Arnold Rim Trail (arnoldrimtrail.org), a trail over 7 miles long, for hikers, mountain bikers and equestrians. Timed around full moons, popular docent-led Sunset Hikes (June 15 and July 14, at 6:30 PM), 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. Take a jacket, headlamp or flashlight, for the tours finish with a descent in the dark.

Bear Valley Resort offers a wealth of family fun, with a host of lodging and adventure options with activities including “Glamping”, RV camping, an Adventure Park, swimming, hiking, biking, kayaking, kid’s clubs focused on soccer, lacrosse and archery, outdoor movies, live music and more.

Glamping tents offer a comfortable expedition experience and wonderful views into the Mokelumne River Valley outside your front porch!

Bear Valley’s Glamping tents return, offering fully furnished expedition tents with rugs, heaters, chairs, tables, lamps and complete bedding. The units are powered by renewable energy to provide many comforts of home. The glamping experience makes for an authentic mountain getaway with packages that include wine tasting, music events, meals activities and a spectacular view deep into Mokelumne Canyon. Nearby, RV camping is offered with access to Bear Valley showers, bathrooms and a guest lounge.

Bear Valley’s Adventure Park offers a bungee trampoline, a ropes course, a rock-climbing wall and swimming pool. A pass to the park includes access to an aerial suspension bridge, swinging tire traverse, cargo net wall, “a challenge course”, climbing ropes, rope and seat swings and an archery shooting gallery.

Mountain biking has grown in popularity both in and around Bear Valley; eco-bikes are available for rent (electric-powered mountain bikes sourced by solar energy). Electric bikes can make mountain biking a lot more pleasant when faced with 10-15% grades on rocky trails! 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 Mecca for hiking, fishing, cycling, kayaking, rock climbing and camping.

Lake Alpine, just east of Bear Valley, is just one of several high Sierra lakes. The lake, set at 7,388 feet, features fishing, kayaking, hiking and the Lake Alpine Resort as well as nearby campgrounds in the Stanislaus National Forest. For a challenging hike, take the trail up to Inspiration Point for great sunrise or sunset views. The Slick Rock 4WD Trail takes visitors to the nearby Utica Reservoir and Union Reservoir.

Lake Alpine, just above Bear Valley, offers hiking, fishing, boating and Lake Alpine Resort.

Push higher to reach to historic Ebbetts Pass at 8,736 feet (historically said to be the first Sierra pass crossed by a non-Native American, when Jedediah Smith crossed the Sierra in spring of 1827). The Pacific Crest National Scenic Trail crosses the pass, offering stunning hiking options headed either north or south, with the most alluring of 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, Bear Valley is about 45 minutes further east.

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; Ironstone Vineyards, ironstonevineyards.com, (209) 728-1251; 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 the west!

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California’s Riviera; featuring Santa Catalina Island, Crystal Cove, Lyon Air Museum

Santa Catalina Island, Crystal Cove, Lyon Air Museum add spice to California’s Riviera!

Orange County, affectionately known as California’s Riviera, runs almost 40 miles south of Los Angeles, boasting world-class beaches and coves, surfers and cyclists, entertainment options galore, vintage and exotic cars, sporting events and fine dining. We had vowed to show our Spokane, WA guests the sights, and add a new twist or two. Activities included showing off Newport Beach Harbor and its two upscale islands, taking the ferry over to Santa Catalina Island, sharing the lovely Crystal Cove State Park, and taking in the historic Lyon Air Museum adjacent to John Wayne Airport.

Newport Beach is arguably Orange County’s most upscale of these ocean-front cities. With the world’s largest small boat harbor and two historic fishing piers, Newport and Balboa Piers, sandy beach-front and one of the more colorful bike paths, Newport Beach offers a summer-time allure almost year-round.

Balboa and Lido Islands are surrounded by the harbor; we spent a day on Balboa Island, walking the wide walkway lined by $5 million dollar homes and wandered through quaint shops including several that offer delicious treats; frozen bananas (dipped in chocolate and toppings) and Balboa Bars (vanilla ice cream on a stick, dipped in chocolate, then covered with varied toppings like Oreos, invented 1945).

Also visit Corona Del Mar Beach by the Newport Harbor entrance, or Newport‘s Back Bay, a 10 mile long wild estuary, complete with migrating birds and crisscrossed with walking trails. A short auto/passenger ferry takes you from Balboa Island across to Balboa Peninsula (just $2 for car and driver, $1 each additional passenger), On the peninsula side of the ferry, tour the 1905 Balboa Pavilion, gabled and cupola-topped and home to harbor tours, boat excursions, whale watching and Santa Catalina Island cruises (the town of Avalon is only 26 miles and 75 minutes via ferry to Santa Catalina Island).

The Balboa Island passenger and auto ferry connects the island with Balboa Peninsula; it’s a short, cheap boat ride across the USA’s largest private boat harbor!
The Catalina Flyer takes about an hour to cover the 26 miles from Newport Beach to the lovely Santa Catalina Island and town of Avalon.

Santa Catalina Island’s rocky outline frames a 22 mile long, 8 mile wide island wonder, long home to the rich and famous. Our high-speed ferry delivered us to the historic harbor town of Avalon on a smooth ferry ride that featured large schools of dolphins following along. We meandered the city’s compact shopping district, with shops, boutiques, artist’s outlets and almost 30 restaurants. Steve’s Steakhouse offered a pleasant place on the second floor overlooking the harbor and the streetscape, with good food and fine service. Above us on the hillside stood the grand Wrigley House, built from 1919-1921 as a summer retreat for the Wrigley family of Chicago, who then owned 99% of the island. The Wrigleys lived in or visited the house until 1947; later it was donated to the University of Southern California and now is leased as a luxury hotel, known as the Inn on Mt. Ada.

Balboa Island’s classic homes and gardens make for excellent foot-touring with the broad walkway that circles the island.

Had we more time, we could’ve taken a tour to the island’s other side, where a herd of 120 bison reside, legacy of a 1920’s movie that brought a dozen of the animals to the island. To reach Catalina Island and Avalon, take the Catalina Flyer ferry, leaving Newport Beach Harbor at 9 AM daily, returning at 4:30 PM. Fares, round trip: $70 adults, $65 seniors, children 3-12, $53, under 3, $6, catalinainfo.com.

Huge “Fuddy Duddy” B-17 bomber is one of seven World War II-era warplanes on display at the Lyon Air Museum, Santa Ana, just blocks from John Wayne Airport.

For a new destination, we chose the Lyon Air Museum, near John Wayne Airport in Santa Ana, featuring exhibits of a war-time aircraft, vehicles and memorabilia themed to World War II, the Korean and Vietnam wars. Established by Major General William Lyon, the museum is on the west side of the airport and features such iconic aircraft as a huge B-17, A-26, C-47 and four more.

Hitler’s massive Mercedes Benz staff car was used by the dictator in 1939 and 1940, on display at the Lyon Air Museum in Santa Ana, CA.

Hitler’s staff car (where the dictator stood in the front seat to salute his legions) and other rare vehicles, both war-related and civilian, made for an interesting afternoon. We relaxed in the adjoining theater and watched a film about P-51 Mustangs and their celebrated pilots. The museum is open seven days a week, adults, $12, seniors and veterans $9. youth 5-17, $6, under 5, free, located at 19300 Ike Jones Rd. in Santa Ana, LyonairMuseum.org, (714) 210-4585.

Our tour would not be complete without a visit to Crystal Cove State Park and the old beach town. Located on the southern edge of Newport Beach, the park offers three miles of pristine beaches and four dramatic tidal pools. In addition, the former oceanfront town of Crystal Cove, location of several dozen movies and television shows, is contained in the park. The old town provided a tropical setting for filming of Beaches, Herbie the Love Bug, Son of Tarzan and Treasure Island, films featuring Bette Midler, Bogart and Bacall and John Barrymore. Over half of the 40 old beach-side cabins have been renovated and are available for rent per night in the $100-$250 range. An added bonus is Beachcombers Restaurant, a favorite for good food and sultry sunsets! Further south of Newport Beach, towns like Laguna Beach, Dana Point and San Clemente continue California’s “endless summer”.

Wildflowers lead the pathway to cabins for rent, and the Beachcomber Restaurant, in Crystal Cove State Park, Newport Beach, CA.

How to get there: Go south on I-5 to LA, take I-605 south and I-405 to Newport Beach; it’s about 385 miles and six hours from Stockton.

For more insight: Newport Beach, newportbeach.com; Orange County Visitors Association, visittheoc.com.

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

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Agri-tourism; discovering the history, source of food in the San Joaquin Valley

Farm to table; know how that food arrived at your table!

(Record blog, feature, May 13, 14, 2019)

Residents of San Joaquin County live in, arguably, the most productive agricultural region in the world. But, as cities expand, farming and food production is pushed further each year into the countryside; many residents seldom think where that food on the table comes from, much less how it is harvested and produced.

Author’s grandkids Jessica and Jack admire variety of old fruit crates on back of historic
farm truck at the San Joaquin Historical Museum in Micke Grove Park near Lodi.

To understand the agricultural underpinnings of our county, make your first stop the San Joaquin Historical Museum at Micke Grove Park south of Lodi. The museum story begins with an expanded Native Peoples Gallery, offering insight into the Native Americans who have been living in what is now San Joaquin County for over 13,000 years.

The museum traces the Miwok- and Yokuts-speaking people, all with rich cultures and lifestyles. Native peoples here put up the greatest resistance to the Spanish-Mexican missions and fought battles with the largest army formed in Spanish-Mexican California. Videos bring to life the intricacies of traditional basket making, acorn preparation, deer hunting and native life.

Visitors listen in on the talking bench of the Native People’s exhibit.

An inter-active circular display allows visitors to listen to recorded messages. In one recording Glen Villa, Jr. (Northern Miwok/Plains Miwok) tells about the First People and a traditional creation narrative. Another recording shares a traditional Yokuts story, told by Sylvia Ross (Chukchansi Yokuts), a third of the Indian freedom fighters led by Estanislao, for whom the Stanislaus River and County were named.

These exhibits work well with the other exhibits in the Erickson Building, and visitors can go in chronological order from the Native peoples who first inhabited the area, to an exhibit on the early trappers and the founding of French Camp, the first non-Indian community. Continue on to an exhibition on the early American settlers, then on to exhibits on the Gold Rush, a hands-on children’s gallery, and the adjacent Weber Gallery.

The Innovators of Agriculture exhibit features the development of intensive, irrigated agriculture in the county beginning around 1900. Six crops are the focus: dry beans, asparagus, cherries, walnuts, canning tomatoes and truck farming (growing of fruits and veggies, trucked to local markets). If you want insight into why our county is so ag-centric, start at this museum wonder! The museum is kid-friendly, with lots of “hands-on” options, and scores of huge tractors, harvesters and vintage farming equipment to wow even young visitors.

The Innovators of Agriculture exhibit offers insights into creative solutions of San Joaquin County farmers, ranchers and vineyard innovators.

Expand your agri-history tour with a visit to the California Agricultural Museum in Woodland, north of Sacramento and just off Interstate 5. Gene Muhlenkamp, a docent since 1996, took two hours to show my friends and I through much of the museum. Its collection stems from that of the Heidrick Brothers, farmers who built a substantial farming empire west of Woodland beginning in the 1930s. Inventive, they often concocted their own machinery to solve farming challenges and began an extensive collection of vintage and noteworthy agri-machinery.

The museum offers a unique collection of tractors, artifacts and interactive exhibits telling the history of California agriculture. Implements date back to the gold rush era and follow California’s evolution from horse-drawn Ag machinery, to steam-driven and then on to fuel-powered machines. Wander the collection of wheeled and track-type harvesters, tractors, combines, trucks and photo galleries. You’ll even find a Ford model T roadster converted to a farm tractor.

A Fordson Snow Devil engine was designed to haul mail in deep snows
during harsh winters on the Donner Pass Summit area.
A line-up of John Deere tractors is a highlight of the
California Agricultural Museum in Woodland.

Museum items with a Stockton connection include an old Samson Sieve-grip tractor, built in Stockton in the early 1900s, several huge Holt tracked-vehicles, built for the US military in World War I to haul artillery pieces and take the place of horses, killed all too often in action. The huge Holt tractor, armored for wartime, has a number of dents in its armor from bullet strikes.

A monster-sized Best steamer seems almost too large to be true, dwarfing my friends that joined for the tour. A giant Holt harvester (made in Stockton), all of wood and timber with iron fittings, was once hauled through fields with a team of two dozen horses and mules, before steam power would replace the horses.

A huge Holt harvester was built in Stockton and hauled by a team of horses and mules.

A display of vintage John Deere tractors, meticulously renovated, lines one long wall; down the center of the museum march a line of a dozen Caterpillar tractors, used both on the farm and in the construction industry. A midsized Fordson tractor, nick-named the “Snow Devil”, is equipped with spiral-ribbed pontoons, used to navigate deep snows of Donner Pass to haul 5 tons of mail during winter’s harsh storms.

Museum-goers with kids will find a special play area designed to harken back to simpler times when child’s play required imagination. Kids can play corn hole, enjoy the carousel and pedal tractors. A team of docents will tour you through the 45,000 square-foot museum gallery, noting that each tractor, wagon or harvester all have their unique stories.

For more information: The California Agriculture Museum, 1958 Hays Lane, Woodland, CA 95776; (530) 666-9700; Californiaagmuseum.org; open Wednesday – Sunday, 10 AM – 4 PM; San Joaquin Historical Society and Museum, in Micke Grove Park, 11793 N. Micke Grove Road, Lodi, sanjoaquinhistory.org, (209) 953-3460, open Wednesday – Sunday, 11 AM – 4 PM.

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

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The parks of summer and fall; avoiding the crowds, enjoying tranquility

Find tranquility and quiet in some of the busiest national and state parks during summer and fall; plan ahead!

Summer vacation is almost here, and families are plotting their summer (and early fall) destinations. If you are considering western state and national parks, you may soon discover that both campgrounds and in-park lodging accommodations are booked solid. Here are suggestions to work around that unpleasant circumstance.

First, plan – and reserve – ahead. Book your lodging or campgrounds well in advance, by using on-line reservation systems. For hotels, motels, we use Kayak.com or Priceline.com; for campgrounds, recreation.gov (for national park and other federal campgrounds) and reserveamerica.com (state and local campgrounds).

Also, consider your options a bit distant from the most loved (and crowded) parks. Instead of the jammed valley of Yosemite National Park, target the park’s Tuolumne Meadows area, with lovely campground, tent-lodging and dining hall, or the forest service campgrounds just east of the park along California Highway 395. The highway offers the lovely eastern Sierra, with the intriguing Mono Lake, ghost town of Bodie and resort area of Mammoth Lakes all nearby. You can still double back to Yosemite Valley for a day-trip.

Halfdome from Olmsted Point, on the road to Tuolumne Meadows in Glacier National Park.

Following Yosemite’s Highway 120 to Tioga Pass, you’ll pass the idyllic Tenaya Lake, capturing snowmelt from the remaining snows high in the surrounding Sierra. Stop at Olmsted Point for striking views of both Half Dome to the south and the lake ahead. Tuolumne Meadows offers either a 300-site campground or accommodations in the tent cabins there. Nestled at 8600 feet in a stunning granite valley, with wonderful scenery and hiking options.

The lofty high-alpine meadows are widely touted as the area that convinced John Muir to petition for the establishment of the nation’s second national park in 1890. Its stunning views, verdant greenery and dramatic granite horizons make it a memorable experience.

Tenaya Lake, looking northeast, Glacier National Park.

Find a marvelously scenic trail on the east side of Tenaya Lake, where more serious hikers can connect to the John Muir trail, all the way to the overlook of the Yosemite Valley. From the campground, you can walk along the meandering Lyell Fork of the Tuolumne River, adjacent to the campground. The campground offers evening campfire programs and features the nearby Tuolumne Meadows Lodge, Store and Grill with lodging, provisions and good meals for those who don’t want to cook in camp.

Other options from the campground include easy flat hikes through the Tuolumne Valley and a four-mile hike around Lembert Dome, a dramatic granite obelisk rising vertically from the meadow. More serious hikers can climb to the top of the dome for unrivaled views of the park.

Consider slightly less busy destinations: Save Yosemite for later and head straight to majestic Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks in the Sierra above Fresno. Sharing a common border and flush with the world’s largest trees, the Giant Sequoia, and cliffs and rocky heights to rival those of Yosemite, these parks attract only a third of the visitors of its often-jammed neighbor to the north.

The General Sherman Tree, largest by volume in the world, always draws a crowd in Sequoia National Park. Here a ranger explains the mighty tree’s long history.

To beat the crowds at Lake Tahoe in the summer and early fall, choose forest service campgrounds just off the lake such as Fallen Leaf Lake Campground, just up Hwy. 89 from South Lake Tahoe, just a mile off of Tahoe’s shore, and within walking distance of the lake of the same name. It’s a scenic, 2 mile-long alpine lake with good swimming and fishing options and nearby Camp Richardson offers cabins for rent, food and the lovely Beacon Restaurant, a favorite on Lake Tahoe’s scenic shore.

Lake Tahoe in summer offers plenty of quiet retreats, like Fallen Leaf Lake, just a mile off Tahoe’s shores and three miles from South Lake Tahoe.

For unique, uncrowded national Park experience that both kids and adults will love, plan a trip to Pinnacles National Park, just south of Hollister and only 2.5 hours from San Joaquin County. Or, head northwest several hours to reach Redwoods State and National Parks and cruise the Avenue of the Giants, lined with mighty coast redwoods towering over 300 feet in lofty height.

Machete Ridge in Pinnacles National Park offers hiking, several tallus caves for exploration and is home to mighty condors. Photo courtesy of the National Park Service.

For lovely summer or fall getaways, close to home, consider nearby destinations and surrounding forest service campgrounds like those near Pinecrest Lake, up Highway 108, just 30 miles east of Sonora, or continue a bit further to higher alpine grandeur found around Kennedy Meadows area, just below Sonora Pass. Or chose Lake Alpine, just beyond Bear Valley on Highway 4. Both destinations come with breathtaking scenery, hiking, boating and swimming options, and camping or lodging in the majesty of the high Sierra.

Even in peak month’s visitation, book campgrounds online, months in advance at even some of the most crowded destinations. Use Recreation.gov, for national parks, national forests and other federal campgrounds, or, reserveAmerica.com for state and local campgrounds. Consider booking months in advance to assure prime locations in your pristine campground of choice.

Horses on the trail, just above the Kennedy Meadows area off Hwy. 108.

You can still book a campsite for a night or two in Yosemite Valley, though you often have to book many months in advance. On the 15th of the month, they release campsites six months out (for the following 30 days); if you want a prime spot in October – this is your chance. The secret is booking at 7 AM sharp on the 15th, online. If you wait even a few minutes beyond that, most of the sites you’d like will be booked out.

For more info: For Redwoods National Park, nps.gov/redw; Pinnacles National Park, nps.gov/pinn; Sequoia National Park, nps.gov/seki; Yosemite, nps.gov/yose. 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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Fort Ord National Monument and Elkhorn Slough add excitement to Monterey visit!

Monterey offers treasure trove of adventure destinations, with Fort Ord backcountry and Elkhorn Slough!

Headed to the Monterey area? Hikers, bicyclists, mountain bikers, kayakers or campers will find two adventure destinations within 2.5 hours of San Joaquin County, in Fort Ord National Monument and Elkhorn Slough, each adjacent to Monterey, CA.

Lace lichen cascades from oaks in Fort Ord National Monument.

Fort Ord National Monument abuts Monterey offering world-class recreation for visitors to the Central California Coast. Lands of the former army fort offer 86 miles of trail on 7,200 acres – open every day from dawn to dusk for hikers, cyclists, mountain bikers, horseback riders, wildlife/wildflower photographers and nature enthusiasts. Visitors can choose to walk or ride the narrow single track trails atop the grassland hills or the shady winding trails through oak woodlands and maritime chaparral; a variety of paved roads also make the old fort a road-cyclists dream.

Wildflowers carpet hillsides in the old Fort Ord backcountry.

The national monument’s expanses of maritime chaparral with wild lilac, manzanitas and chamise supporting diverse plant and animal species, along with black-tailed deer, turkeys, bobcats, golden eagles, coyotes, red-tailed hawks, California quail and mountain lions. Watch out for rattlesnakes and poison oak, as well!

On a recent visit, we camped in the Monterey County campgrounds that surround Laguna Seca Raceway (bordering the monument); from there, we could bike out the back of Laguna Seca, on paved Barloy Canyon Road for miles into the Ft. Ord Monument’s backcountry.

Cyclist heads down a Fort Ord singletrack trail.

Another option for a cycling or hiking day-trip, make for the Badger Hills trailhead, right off Hwy. 68; from there, follow Guidotti Road up to Skyline Road for a wide variety of trails and stunning scenery with views of the entire monument and the mighty Pacific just to the west.

Old army roads are now fire roads, and interspersed with scenic singletrack trails leading into wonderous forests of oak and lichen, manzanita and plenty of wildflowers carpeting the hills. Occasionally you’ll find evidence of the former war-time use with sandy fire trails named Machine Gun Flat, or Engineer’s Canyon, but, generally, the former army uses are hard to find.

On Ft. Ord’s west side, a portion of the 1200 mile Juan Baustista De Anza National Historic Trail roughly parallels Hwy. 68. In 1775-76, Bautista de Anza set off from Nogales, Mexico with 240 friars and soldiers, 695 horses and mules and 385 Longhorn cattle, ending in San Francisco and starting the horse and cattle business in California. Hence, you’ll find historic consequence, as well.

If you are a cyclist and want to immerse yourself in the USA’s largest bicycling event, the huge Sea Otter Bike Classic takes over Laguna Seca Raceway, utilizing adjoining Ft. Ord backcountry trails (mark your calendars, April 16-19, 2020; see: seaotterclassic.com).

A second adventure option is Elkhorn Slough, at Moss Landing and just north of Monterey. The slough is a wonderous seven-mile-long tidal estuary and slough off Monterey Bay in Monterey County. The slough contains the largest tract of tidal salt marsh in the state and provides habitat for hundreds of plant and animal species. With over 340 species of birds, California’s largest colony of sea otters, bob cats, deer and seasonal visitors like rays and sharks, this estuary always offers exciting viewing and photo opportunities.

A variety of trails offer vantage points, and kayaks and canoes offer a unique way to explore this aquatic wonderland (rentals on site and nearby). It’s also easy to extend your stay by exploring Salinas and the Steinbeck Center, or the stunning coast along Monterey and Pacific Grove.

Southern sea otter dines on crab at Elkhorn Slough
(photo courtesy of Elkhorn Slough Foundation)

What’s nearby: Monterey is just a few miles west of Fort Ord, with Fisherman’s Wharf, Cannery Row and the Monterey Bay Aquarium, restaurants on the water and wonderful biking/walking trails right along the Pacific, extending north to the new Fort Ord Dunes State Park with spectacular views along the Pacific. Salinas is just northeast of Fort Ord, featuring the National John Steinbeck Center (the Steinbeck Festival is early-May, for detail: Steinbeck.com) as well as a host of nice motels and restaurants (less expensive than options in Monterey).

Camping: Campers can find nice campgrounds (with free showers!) surrounding Laguna Seca Raceway; contact Monterey County Parks, (888) 588-2267; for other nearby camping options, parks.ca.gov/. Pinnacles National Park, 30 miles south of Hollister, CA, is another fine camping and exploration option, about an hour from Fort Ord.

How to get there: Go south on Interstate 5 to Santa Nella, take Hwy 33 south, then go west on Hwy 152, then Hwy 156 to connect with Hwy 101. Go south on Hwy 101 to Salinas, then take Hwy 68 to the Ft. Ord National Monument. Elkhorn Slough is about 15 miles north of Monterey. Both are about 2.5 hours and 140 miles from San Joaquin County.

For more insight: Ft. Ord National Monument: blm.gov/programs/national-conservation-lands/california/fort-ord-national-monument; for Elkhorn Slough, elkhornslough.org.

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

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Mother’s Day adventures close to home!

Build a local or regional adventure outing for Mother’s Day…

The old Murphys Hotel anchors the town’s historic main drag.

Mother’s Day is just around the corner – if you’re seeking adventuresome and scenic destinations in northern California here are several recommendations from my spouse, several friends and me, both local and further afield.

If you are seeking fine dining and adventure in San Joaquin County, favorite local restaurants include Prime Table, Papapavalos and Market Tavern in Lincoln Center, CoCoRo on Miracle Mile, Bella Vista in the old Hotel Stockton, downtown Stockton and Wine and Roses in Lodi. All offer fine dining, classy décor and that vibe just right for special occasions. Couple brunch with a stop at the Haggan Museum in Stockton, or the San Joaquin Historical Society and Museum in Micke Grove Park (just south of Lodi) and you have a wonderful outing.

For an overnight trip, such special destinations should offer attributes including scenery, fine restaurant(s) nearby, classy lodging or memorable campgrounds and a sense of history – my own inclusion. These destinations, within three hours of San Joaquin County, measure up:

Wells Fargo stagecoach thunders down Sutter Creek’s Main Street.

Sierra foothill favorites offer both fine dining and cute, historic gold rush towns to explore. Murphys off Hwy. 4 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, as is Cavana’s Pub and Grill across the street. Pinecrest Lake, 30 miles east of Sonora on Hwy. 108 is another picturesque favorite, with the Steam Donkey Restaurant offering fine dining just a few blocks off the lake.

View looking down to Squaw Valley base area, from the dramatic tram ride to the top.

Touring to the still-snowy Sierra, North Lake Tahoe offers adventure and wildly flowing rivers; headquarter your visit in lovely Tahoe City on Tahoe’s north shore. Nearby Squaw Valley offers gondola rides to the top and fine dining at the base area, such as Plumpjack. Tahoe City also offers a host of motel options and Airbnb choices; for the best breakfast or lunch, try Rosies. Sugar Pine Point State Park, just south, 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 on Tahoe’s western shore; scenic camping is also an option.

The Point Arena Lighthouse, above Jenner, is site for dramatic photos!

Bodega Bay, the Russian River, Jenner and points north along the California coast feature rugged scenery and a variety of lodging and restaurant choices. For Hitchcock fans, 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 film from 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. You’ll find nice motels in both towns, and camping on the coast nearby.

The Bixby Bridge, circa 1933, frames the rugged Big Sur coast.

The Big Sur coast, just 2.5 hours to our south west, has long been a favorite. Just south of Monterey and Pacific Grove, this section of the rugged California coast coffers rocky coastline around every corner, lovely resorts, classic campgrounds if you’re camping and marvelous restaurants.

Called “El Sur Grande”, the Big South, by the Spanish for the vast reach of rugged and treacherous coastline, Mexico offered land grants in the early 1800s. Settlers in numbers would not arrive until just one hundred years ago, and Highway 1 was only completed in 1937, opening the coast to growing tourist visitation.

Heading south, scenic campgrounds include Andrew Molera State Park, just 20 miles south of Carmel, offering 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 further south, a gem perched on the bluff overlooking the Pacific – first come, first served, run by the US Forest Service.

Favorite restaurants include Nepenthe, Ripplewood Resort and the Big Sur Roadhouse. Ragged Point Inn on a bluff high above the ocean is a favorite resort, with ocean views spreading in several directions. With motel, cabins and restaurant surrounded by gorgeous gardens and coastal views, it offers both quiet and grandeur.

In Big Sur, 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.

For information: Murphys, visitmurphys.com; Sutter Creek, suttercreek.org; Pinecrest, visittuolumne.com; North Lake Tahoe, gotahoenorth.com; Bodega Bay and California’s north coast, bodegabay.com; Big Sur, bigsurcalifornia.org.

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

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Bicycling in your county and Sierra foothills; and take in the Sea Otter Classic!

Stockton Bike Club members crest Patterson Pass on recent ride.

Stockton Bike Club members at start of February’s Pedaling Paths to Independence ride.
LSD (long, slow distance) riders head north on Thornton Road.
Cross country cyclists in Ft. Ord National Monument backcountry, part of the Sea Otter Classic.
SJBC riders stop at Consumnes River Farms, Thornton, to sample olive oil.
Thousands of consumers course through the huge Sea Otter Classic trade fair.
Sea Otter Classic dual slalom course offers great spectator viewing.

Bike touring in your county and nearby foothills, and take in the Sea Otter Classic

With spring in full-bloom, residents of San Joaquin County are contemplating getting outside and hitting the road on their road or trail bikes. A host of options await cyclists, with many local rides each month, the huge Sea Otter Bike Classic coming mid-April to Laguna Seca Regional Park near Monterey and the Amgen Tour of California planning a Stockton visit in May. So, dust off those bikes, air up the tires and prepare to ride. Two local bike clubs offer a wealth of opportunities to ride locally or regionally, meet fellow cyclists and learn new cycling insights.

The Stockton Bike Club is a group of enthusiastic recreational cyclists. Most of club rides start in San Joaquin, Calaveras and Amador counties, where quiet roads through scenic country are the norm. The club has five scheduled club rides each week (plus holidays). Tuesday’s start in Lockeford, while Thursday begins in Wallace and is fairly hilly. Saturday’s ride tends to be hilly and challenging with longer options available for the mileage junkies, while Sunday’s ride is generally a flat to rolling route and starts closer to Stockton. And now that spring is here, the Club has a Wednesday ‘after work’ ride from Bear Creek High School.

You do not need to be a member of the club to join the rides. We welcome new riders, and unless you are a complete beginner you will probably be fine and have an enjoyable time. If you are looking for some new roads to ride and new folks to ride with, consider riding with (and joining) the Stockton Bicycle Club, stocktonbikeclub.org/ or Stockton Bicycle Club on Facebook. You’ll find the monthly Ride Zone newsletter, ride schedule and info about joining the Club.

The San Joaquin Bike Coalition offers its own selection of rides right in Stockton, offering over a dozen rides each month. Their LSD (Long, Slow, Distance) Ride continues under Matt Beckwith’s leadership, with a group gathering at Bear Creek High School the first Saturday each month, starting on McNabb Street, north edge of campus.

Four weekly rides, most led by Tyler Young (formerly of Performance Bikes) are offered. Saturday mornings the “Fun” group ride meets at 9:00 AM at Empresso Coffee in College Square on Pershing, and heads out for roughly a 13 mile jaunt through Stockton. This is a “no drop” ride, suitable for anyone looking to get involved with group riding.

On Sundays, the Intermediate/Advanced Roadie ride meets on McNabb Street at Bear Creek High School and heads out into the countryside. Route varies, but is typically a faster paced, 40+ mile group ride. For those with a need for speed, the Roadie Night Ride meets at Empresso every Tuesday at 6:30 PM, and averages 20 miles at a 17-19mph pace. Finally, a Wednesday Dirt Ride leaves at 3 PM from Empresso.

Popular monthly Full Moon Rides will also resume on April 20th, leaving from Janet Leigh Plaza in downtown at 6 PM. This ride is suitable for all ages, abilities, and bikes. May is National Bike Month, and SJBC presents the Best Ride Ever Ride on May 11th; the Amgen Tour’s return to Stockton on May 14th, and Stockton’s annual Bike to Work Day celebration is set for May 15th.

Details on each ride can be found on SJBC’s website, sjbike.org. Specific ride routes and details are shared weekly in our facebook group, facebook.com/groups/sjbikecoalition/. Stockton and the surrounding area are making progress at becoming more bicycle friendly. SJBC welcomes input, feedback, and volunteers to help with all of these efforts and rides and can be reached at sjbikecoalition@gmail.com.

The 29th annual Sea Otter Classic takes place April 11-14, 2019 at the Laguna Seca Recreation Area, Monterey, California. The four-day Sea Otter, a “Celebration of Cycling”, hosts nearly 9,000 professional and amateur athletes and 72,000 fans. Location is just a 2.5 hour drive from San Joaquin County, and presents cycling fans with a host of races to watch, demo bikes to try out and access to a huge trade fair offering new and proven goodies for cycling enthusiasts.

Nearly 1000 brands will be represented at the Sea Otter Classic, cycling’s largest consumer trade show. Companies travel from as far away as Europe, Australia, China, and South Africa to exhibit. Nearly 40 e-bike companies will be in attendance; over 800 demo bikes will be on hand for consumers to try out. Notes Sarah Timleck, Expo Sales and Marketing Director for the Sea Otter Classic, “Facility improvements by Monterey County allowed us to significantly increase our expo footprint; cyclists, campers, children, families and more come together to enjoy this four-day festival”. For more information, visit seaotterclassic.com or call (800) 218-8411.

And, mark your calendars to attend the Amgen Tour of California in Stockton, May 14th.

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

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California wildflowers and Gold Rush history; start with gold’s discovery along American River

California poppies blanket a hillside near the Mokelumne River last March.

Towering Foresthill Bridge passes 730 feet over the North Fork, American River, just outside Auburn.
The historic Slate Mountain Mine stamp mill, used to crush quartz rock for its gold content, stands on edge of downtown Georgetown, CA.
Docents Terry and Gayle Gay are ready to share Gold Rush lore in Marshall Gold Discovery State Park.
Sutter’s Mill replica stands beside the American River in Marshall Gold Discovery State Park in Coloma.

Gold Rush and wildflower exploration; start with gold’s discovery in Coloma

With recent rains and warmer weather, the Sierra foothills are a verdant green and soon to burst forth with blankets of wildflowers. Plan a tour in the next few weeks, and also touch on the heart of Gold Rush history. Your exploration should include Sutter’s Mill in the James Marshall Gold Discovery Park, just 80 miles from Stockton and a great place to tour nearby historic towns and find fields of wildflowers.

Last March, the hills above Sierra streams were a blanket of bright orange poppies, so take your binoculars and cameras. California Poppies, lupine, mule ears, dogwood and more all come into flower, depending on rainfall, exposure and rising temperatures. Check with El Dorado or Stanislaus National Forests for up-to-date forecasts and best viewing locations.

John Sutter, a Swedish immigrant, received a Mexican land grant in 1839 giving him rights to develop a good portion of the Sacramento and American River Valleys. As his empire expanded from Sutter’s Fort in Sacramento, he needed lumber to fuel his construction projects. Partnering with James Marshall to find and build a nearby lumber mill in the Sierra foothills, California’s history was about to change.

Marshall, with John Sutter’s Native American guide, Nerio, found accessibility in the valley of the Cul-Luh-Mah, plenty of pine trees and a river (the South Fork of the American) flowing strong to power a sawmill. Since the area around Sutter’s Mill was beyond his grant, he signed an agreement with the Nisenan Indians.

Sutter’s Fort in Sacramento received the first boards milled in March, 1848, though millwork would continue until only 1850. Marshall found gold in the tailrace of the mill on January 24, 1848; with the discovery, the Gold Rush was on and the land soon became too valuable. California’s population would quadruple in the next ten years and land around the mill was sold for gold claims. The mill’s dam was removed, the mill fell into disuse and the floods of 1862 destroyed what remained.

Docents usually staff the park, like Gayle and Tom Gay, to offer the story not only of Sutter’s Mill, but of gold mining in the Sierra from 1849 until the latter part of that century. They can explain the Nisenan Village and how Sutter’s expedition lived and worked with Native Americans, who would soon lost control of their ancestral land.

The park features the huge nozzle of an hydraulic water monitor (cannon) to wash down the hillsides so gold could be placer-mined. After streams, rivers and even the San Francisco Bay began to silt-up, hydraulic mining was outlawed by the state in 1884. To reach nearby Georgetown, established August 7, 1849, head 12 miles north on Marshall Road for more wildflower exploration options. The old city offers a quaint walkable downtown and features a huge stamp mill from the Slate Mountain Mine, used to crush gold-laden quartz rocks to extract the precious mineral. From Georgetown, follow CA Hwy. 193 back to CA Hwy. 49, then head north to Auburn.

Auburn, the county seat with stately historic courthouse, circa 1894, offers shops, boutiques and restaurants galore in its courtly downtown. If a hot day, stop at Tango Yogurt, 940 Lincoln Way, for a cool treat; nearby Awful Annie’s, 13460 Lincoln, is a fine lunch choice. Head east on Foresthill Road to the towering Foresthill Bridge, crossing 730 feet above the North Fork of the American River, for a breathtaking finale.

Should you choose to return to San Joaquin County via Hwy. 49, a host of lovely Gold Rush towns await. Plymouth, with several blocks of Gold Rush history also features the regionally-acclaimed Taste restaurant –reservations usually required. Nearby Shenandoah Valley features 40+ wineries for sampling of Zinfandel and other regionally noteworthy wines.

Heading further south on Highway 49, Amador City and Sutter Creek are worthy stops. Amador City was home to the Keystone Mine, organized in 1853, eventually producing $24 million in gold before closing in 1942. Portions of the old mine, including the rusty headframe, can still be seen towering on the hillside above the town’s visitor parking lot. The city offers a quaint five-block walking tour including the Amador Hotel, the Imperial Hotel, the Amador School House, a host of old homes and the mine. A fine place for lunch or dinner in the city is the Imperial Hotel and Restaurant.

Just two miles away is a favorite, Sutter Creek. The old city offers 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; great pizzas can be found at Gold Dust Pizza, just off Main on Eureka Street. Columbia State Historic Park further south along Hwy. 49 is a wonderfully preserved Gold Rush town.

How to get to Marshall Gold Discovery Park: From San Joaquin County, take I-5 or Hwy. 99 north to Sacramento, then head east on Hwy. 50 to Placerville, then north 8 miles on Hwy. 49 to the park.

For more information: Coloma and Marshall Gold Discovery Park, parks.ca.gov/?page_id=484, (530) 622-3470; El Dorado National Forest, fs.usda.gov/eldorado, (530) 622-5061; Stanislaus National Forest, fs.usda.gov/stanislaus, (209) 532-3671.

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

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