Saturday, November 12, 2016

Gold Rush Crusin' in the Sierra foothills; Highway 49 offers look into the

Gold’s discovery in Coloma and nearby Gold Rush history...
With the extended Thanksgiving holiday fast-approaching and family/guests in town, take a day's tour of California's Gold Rush history. Your exploration should include Sutter’s Mill in Coloma's James Marshall Gold Discovery Park, just 80 miles from Stockton, and a scenic tour down Highway 49 through a handful of historic cities on your return home.
Sutter's Mill, site of gold discovery, in Marshall Gold Discovery State Park.

John Sutter (also plan a visit to Sutter's Fort in central Sacramento), 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, he needed lumber to fuel his construction projects and he partnered with James Marshall to find and build a nearby lumber mill in the Sierra foothills.

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

The first boards destined for Sutter’s empire in Sacramento were milled in March, 1848 and millwork would continue until only 1850. Marshall would discover gold in the tailrace of the mill on January 24, 1848. Due to gold's discovery, the land soon became too valuable, the Gold Rush was on, California’s population would quadruple and land around the mill was sold for gold claims. The mill's dam was removed, the mill fell into disuse and floods in 1862 destroyed what remained.
Interior of Mormon Cabin, millworker's abode, in Marshall Gold Discovery State Park in Coloma.

The Marshal Gold Discovery Park tells the story not only of Sutter's Mill, but of gold mining in the Sierra from 1849 until the latter part of that century. In the park are re-creations of the Arrastre, powered by horses or mules and used by early Spanish settlers to crush rock for gold and small and large crude stamp mills to pulverize rock to release the gold.

Nearby is the huge nozzle of an hydraulic water monitor (cannon), used to wash down the hillsides so the 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.

The Marshall Gold Discovery State Park is located on Highway 49, 8 miles north of Placerville. From San Joaquin County, go north on Interstate 5, east on US Highway 50 to Placerville, then north on Highway 49 to the park.
Hydraulic water monitor (canon) in Marshall Gold Discovery State Park, Coloma.

From the gold discovery Park, return southbound on Highway 49 come across Highway 50 and tour downtown Placerville, offering 10 blocks of quaint, historic shops and restaurants.

Continue south on Highway 49 to Plymouth, with several blocks of Gold Rush history and eateries, including the regionally-acclaimed Taste restaurant – wonderful food but reservations required. The nearby Shenandoah Valley offers 40+ wineries for sampling of Zinfandel and other regionally noteworthy wines.

Heading further south on Highway 49, take the old Hwy. 49 turn-off to Amador City and Sutter Creek.
Old photo showing hydraulic mining; after washing down silt into the American, Sacramento Rivers and into San Francisco Bay, the practice was outlawed in 1884.

Amador City was founded when Jose Maria Amador, pioneer settler and farmer, mined along an unnamed creek in 1848 and 1849 and found gold. After the easily accessible gold was removed, deep rock mines began to multiply. The Keystone Mine, organized in 1853, became the city's most famous and eventually produced $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.

Amador City offers a quaint five-block walking tour of livable history, including the Amador Hotel, the Imperial Hotel, the Amador School House, a host of old homes and the Keystone Mine. A fine place for lunch or dinner in the city is the Imperial Hotel and Restaurant at the end of the historic district. The hotel offers nine refurbished rooms while the restaurant offers regionally-acclaimed food in a classy, historic setting.

Just two miles away is our favorite gold rush town, Sutter Creek. The old city offers a 10 block stretch of old Main Street complete with bed-and-breakfast, 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.

Sutter Creek's Main Street and historic Hotel Sutter.

Your tour will cover almost 200 miles and offers plenty of diversions.  Plan an early start, pack your walking shoes and binoculars and enjoy a tour of the scenic foothills and the history that put California on the world map in 1849!

Nearby attractions: Indian Grinding Rocks State Park offers additional insight into Native Americans, Murphys and Ironstone Winery offer more history, Black Chasm Caverns affords an opportunity for would-be spelunkers to ply their craft and Columbia State Historic Park further south along Hwy. 49 is a wonderfully preserved Gold Rush town.

For more information: Coloma,, the Marshall Gold Discovery Museum and Visitor Center, 310 Back Street, Coloma, CA 95613, (530) 622-3470; Plymouth,; Amador City,, (209)267-0682; Sutter Creek,; (209) 267-1344.

Read more from Tim Viall's travel blog, follow him on Facebook or Twitter; or, email him at Happy travels in the west!

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Lake Tahoe for Valentine’s Day, or, anytime; take the sunglasses and binoculars!

Emerald Bay on Lake Tahoe's western shore is perhaps the most photographed point around the stunning lake!

The Tower of Nations at entrance to Squaw Valley is testimony to the countries that took part in the 1960 Winter Olympics.
Several friends, and my wife, upon reading my recent Record feature and blog about romantic Valentine’s Day destinations in northern California, all noted “you omitted Lake Tahoe?”.  OK, perhaps a big oversight.  Revisiting my list of destinations within a few hours of the Central Valley, let’s include that lovely destination.

Six weeks into winter, and the "big storm" dumping mainly rain at the lake…Lake Tahoe and the surrounding Sierra have little snow.  The ski areas are surviving primarily on man-made snow on selected runs, and motels, hotels and restaurants are running at reduced capacity.  With little snow in the forecast, and days reaching into spring-time 65 degree temps, it’s a great place for a one-day or weekend Valentine’s Day road trip!   Take your hiking shoes, sunglasses and bikes!

For the most scenic drive (admitting in advance we like Tahoe’s  north shore), from Sacramento, go east on US Highway 50 into South Lake Tahoe, then go  north on Highway 89, trekking up the magnificent lake’s west shore.  A fun and romantic place for libation on the way include Camp Richardson’s Beacon Restaurant for lunch, always a fine lake-front restaurant with views of the almost snowless Sierra across the lake. 

And, make time to stop above Emerald Bay and take in the view that has been the subject of a billion photos over the years!  You will find gorgeous views all along the lake's western and northern shore; stop and enjoy the scenery with your sweetheart!

A bit further north, consider a detour off Hwy. 89 into Granlibakken Resort, Tahoe’s oldest ski and tubing area since 1922.  With only a small ski and tubing hill, it offers historic lodging and another good place for lunch.

Our favorite destination is the Tahoe City area and the stretch further northeast to King’s Beach.  In and around Tahoe City, and at Squaw Valley, you can discover ghosts  of the 1960 Winter Olympics, which took place on the lake's western shores (for cross-country and biathlon events) and at Squaw Valley for the balance.  That stretch of lake shore also offers multiple lodging choices, from vintage motels, bed and breakfasts to upscale hotels.

Favorite places to dine, particularly for Valentine’s Day: Plump Jack at Squaw Valley, River Ranch Lodge and Restaurant on the Truckee River at entrance into Alpine Meadows Road and Gar Woods on the lake at Carnelian Bay.  For perhaps the finest breakfast on the north shore in a rustic setting, try Rosie’s at Tahoe City; get a table near the fireplace and order a Bloody Mary!

Hence, if you're seeking a weekend, romantic getaway, consider North Tahoe (or the Russian River/N. CA coast, Gold Country like Murphys or Sutter Creek, or Old Sacramento, all profiled in my previous post) – but,  book soon, lest all the good lodging and restaurant options are sold-out!

How to get there: From Stockton: go north on I-5 to Sacramento, then east on Highway 50 to South Lake Tahoe, take Hwy. 89 north to Tahoe City; it’s about a three hour drive.

What to take: Binoculars, camera, good walking shoes and snacks for the trip. Bikes if you are a cyclist; for all these old towns are bike-friendly!

For more information:  Tahoe City Visitor Information Center, 100 North Lake Blvd, next to the Fanny Bridge at the Wye in Tahoe City, CA 96145; (530) 581-6900;

For additional travel destination inspiration, see my blog:; to contact me,

Happy travels in the West!
The view from the Squaw Valley tram, looking down on the base area and the main site for the 1960 Winter Olympics!

Friday, February 6, 2015

Valentine's Day destinations for you and your sweetheart in Northern California

The Delta King, built in Sacramento in 1927, is now a floating hotel and restaurant,
 moored on the Sacramento River at Old Sacramento.

Docents and members of the Sacramento Historical Society stroll the Old Sacramento boardwalks during Easter weekend in 2014.

Sutter Creek has one of the Gold Rush country's best preserved main streets.

The historic Murphys Hotel anchors a main drag with quaint shops, wine-tasting establishments and fine restaurants.

The Point Arena Lighthouse is one of the more photographed portions of the
California coast above Jenner and the Russian River

Another wind-swept view of the rugged California coast just north of Jenner and the Russian River.

Valentine's Day is fast approaching – if you're looking for special destinations in Northern California, several pop quickly into my wife's and my mind!  In 45 years of marriage, my wife has taught me that a special Valentine’s destination has these attributes: scenic, somewhat secluded, fine and somewhat-dressy restaurant(s) nearby, nice lodging if we are spending the night and a sense of history (the latter, my inclusion).  Include flowers and candle-lit dinner, and she is happy!

These destinations are, respectively, to our northeast, just north and east of Stockton and the Valley; each are 2.5 hours or less to reach and a scenic drive gets you there!

The Russian River and Northern California coast are less than three hours to our northwest.  The Russian River and its valley offers an epic romantic getaway, lined with vineyards, deep forests and spritely old towns, and the California coast north and south of the river provides a stunning bonus. The river offers several lovely towns like Guerneville and Jenner, complete with nice restaurants, motels and bed and breakfast accommodations.

The north coast above Jenner offers more of the same with ongoing quaint towns like Gualala, Albion, Mendocino and Fort Bragg, in addition to a stunning, rocky and windswept coast. Just above Jenner, you'll find the old Fort Ross Salt Point State Park and the Point Arena Lighthouse all worthy of exploration.  Or, head south of Jenner to find the towns of Bodega Bay and Bodega (those swooping gulls and blackbirds will remind you of Hitchcock’s ‘The Birds’, filmed in both towns!).

Favorite restaurants for that special Valentines meal include Rivers End in Jenner, looking down on the mouth of the Russian River and a resident sea lion colony, and further north, Sea Ranch, with first rate accommodations and a fine restaurant looking out over the ocean.  Bodega Bay offers The Tides Wharf Restaurant, right on the bay where sea lions often frolic outside your window! The Jenner Inn and Sea Ranch are upscale places to stay, and, for winter campers, beautiful state park campgrounds can be found both north and south of the Russian River.

Gold Rush country and its quaint, historic towns lie just an hour east of Stockton.  With an ongoing non-winter, it's virtually like late spring in the Highway 49/Gold Rush corridor. Of several score of historic towns, two wonderfully preserved and walkable cities, Murphy's and Sutter Creek, top our list.

Both are centers of wine-growing regions and offer a number of winetasting locations right on main streets, lots of interesting shops, fine restaurants and both are rich in history and evidence of the Gold Rush in the 1850s and 60s. Each are eminently walkable with boardwalks and lightly traveled main drags, and offer nearby lodging, from bed-and-breakfasts to cozy motels.  Each town celebrates and preserves its history, when many 49ers made fortunes by placer and hard-rock mining over 150 years ago.

Favorite restaurants include both The Murphy's Hotel and Alchemy in Murphy's and the Hotel Sutter and Susan’s Place in Sutter Creek (all very Valentine’s Day worthy!).  Pizza Plus in Sutter Creek is not only the cleanest pizza place in the Sierra foothills, but also offers great pizza and wonderful service!

Old Sacramento, an historic and gourmet destination, is closest to Stockton and due north just 45 miles. Old Sac is a long-time favorite, with 20 some square blocks of Sacramento's founding history preserved, plenty of great restaurants and cafés, the California Railroad Museum on the north end, the western terminus of the Pony Express in the middle, California Auto Museum to the south, and the Crocker Art Museum just a few blocks walk to the southeast.  Several miles of old boardwalk and plenty of cute shops make it a stroller’s delight!

For a spectacular and romantic place to stay, the old Delta King riverboat moored on the waterfront is a favorite, including a scenic and quality restaurant. A number of other fine restaurants are located in Old Sac, including several we treasure, as will other sweethearts; The Firehouse, Fat City and River City Cafe.  Include Steamers along the waterfront for a cozy café that includes great baked goods to start your morning!

Old Sacramento shops offer bike rentals, hospitality guides share maps and insights on want to see and what to do and the mighty Sacramento River rolls steadily by on the west.   Hornblower Cruises offers river tours, or hop a horse-drawn carriage for a romantic ride through the old city!

Lastly, if you are staying close to Stockton, I can recommend the Stockton Kiwanis Crab Feed, Saturday, Valentine’s Day at St. Basil’s Church, March Lane in Stockton, 6 PM (email me for info)!  My wife isn’t so keen on that idea, so I will take her out to a sweetheart dinner on the 13th, perhaps CoCoRo on Stockton's resurgent Miracle Mile!

Hence, if you're seeking a weekend, romantic getaway, consider these destinations and book soon, lest all the good lodging and restaurant options are sold-out!

How to get there: From Stockton: for the Russian River, take Hwy. 12 west out of Lodi all the way to Sebastapol, then Hwy. 101 north to Santa Rose, then Hwy. 116 to Guerneville and Jenner.  For Murphys, take Hwy. 4 east to Murphys, for Sutter Creek, take Hwy. 88 northeast, go north a mile on Hwy. 49; for Old Sacramento, go north on I-5.

What to take: Binoculars, camera, good walking shoes and snacks for the trip. Bikes if you are a cyclist; for all these old towns are bike-friendly!

For more informationRussian River,, 877.644.9001; Murphys,, or email; Sutter Creek,, 209.267.1344; Old Sacramento,, 916.442.8575.

For additional travel destination inspiration, see my blog:; to contact me,

Happy travels in the West!

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Spring training; Arizona's Cactus League brings Giants, A's, Indians and 12 other major league teams in early February!

Cleveland Indians warm up across the field from the San Francisco Giants in this March, 2014 Cactus League game.

Member of the Indians signs autographs and chats with fans before game against the Giants.

Chicago Cubs new field in Mesa opened in 2014, allowing the Cubs to set a Cactus League attendance record.

Scoreboard in Sloan Field, with happy fans, in new ballpark in Mesa, AZ.

Author's spouse, Susan, posed next to Welcome to Old Town Scottsdale sign. Scottsdale has a stylish old town, a throwback to the 1960s.  For a great lunch, try the nearby Pink Pony Restaurant!

Red rocks and stark bluffs surround the quaint, artistic town of Sedona, just 130 miles north of Phoenix.

The Grand Canyon is also north of Phoenix, and makes for a good detour on way from California.
The Super Bowl is now history, we’ve thankfully finished those interminable college football bowl games, and the NBA and NHL are in full swing.

But, for diehard baseball fans, spring training in Arizona and Florida will soon be underway! For fans of the San Francisco Giants, Oakland A's, San Diego Padres, Seattle Mariners, Cleveland Indians and 10 other teams – the Phoenix area is Spring Training Central, in mid-February through end of March.

Said owner Bill Veeck in 1976, “That's the true harbinger of spring, not crocuses or swallows returning to Capistrano, but the sound of a bat on a ball.”

The Cactus League, as spring training in Phoenix is called, is home to half of major-league teams; the other half train in Florida’s Grapefruit League. In Phoenix, the teams spend their workouts and competitive Cactus League games at 11 ballparks, with several teams sharing the same park.

Ball fans can frequently take in two games in one day by visiting the same park for a day game, followed by an evening game, or take in games at two different parks, just miles apart.

During spring training, fans can see players up-close and personal. Our experience last spring was that members of the San Francisco Giants and the Cleveland Indians chat alongside the fence, joke and have a good time with fans. We watched as the Giants took a 10-2 lead over the Cleveland Indians (yes, I am an Indian’s fan), then the Indians came back to take the game, 11 to 10. Players on both teams chatted with fans between innings, and acted as if they delighted in the game.

All the Phoenix-area ballparks are much smaller than MLB stadiums, and more intimate, seating about 10,000 fans – not a bad seat in the house. Ticket prices are lower, and a cold beer seems to taste better amid such intimate and pleasant surroundings.  And, no alligators as in Florida!  In Spring Training, 1921, in St. Petersburg, FL, Yankees Manager Miller Huggins ordered a young Babe Ruth, resting on the bench, “What are you doing here on the bench?  You’re supposed to be running in the outfield to get your legs in shape,” Huggins said.  The Babe replied: “I ain’t going out there anymore…There are alligators out there!” 

For the Giants, pitchers and catchers are scheduled for the first workout on February 18; the first full squad workout is set for February 23. Their first competitive Cactus League game is set for March 3 with a two game series against the Athletics. They conclude their spring training season with an April 1 game against my favorite, the Cleveland Indians.

The Giants return much of their world championship team, but will work to fill the third-base void left by Pablo Sandoval (departed to Boston) with Casey McGehee signed to fill that spot. Fans are looking forward to the continuing development of second baseman Joe Panic and dominant pitching of Madison Bumgarner and veteran presence of Tim Lincecum, Tim Hudson and Jake Peavy.  Relief pitching should remain strong, and manager Bruce Bochy will be busy rotating new faces into the lineup and filling Sandoval’s vacated clean-up spot.

The Oakland Athletics have pitchers and catchers reporting February 18 and the first full squad work out on February 24. Their Cactus League opener is against the Giants on March 3 and their final Arizona exhibition game is April 1 against the Los Angeles Angels.

The A’s, shaking up the roster for a stronger playoff run, made 10 trades involving almost 30 players.  Gone are their best player, Josh Donaldson, and several stellar pitchers including Jeff Samardzija and Jon Lester. But the A’s brought in new and younger blood, with a new infield including Brett Lawrie and Ben Zobrist. With returning star pitchers Sonny Gray, Drew Pomeranz and Scott Kazmir, several vets back from surgery and new, young arms, pitching won’t be the club’s challenge.

The Giants and the As square off in a three game “Bay Bridge” exhibition series, at AT&T Park and Coliseum, April 2-4, with the regular season then getting underway for both teams immediately following.

The Phoenix area has plenty to offer, in addition to the Cactus League. It's a golf Mecca, and Scottsdale's quaint Old Town shops and unique restaurants are always a pleasure. Dine at the Pink Pony in Scottsdale for a real treat, and be transported back to the city in the 1960s. Greater Phoenix offers the Desert Botanical Garden to explore desert plants, the Heard Museum offering world-class insights into Native American culture and art and the Phoenix Art Museum. 

For kids and family activities, the Phoenix Zoo, Arizona Science Center and Children’s Museum are featured attractions. This region is centered in the lush and colorful Sonoran Desert surrounded by tall mountains; plenty of hiking and biking trails will take you to new and alien places!

Another idea, for California travelers, is to couple the spring training visit with a stopover in a national park such as Grand Canyon, several hours to the north. We did just that, camping several nights along the south rim of the canyon, then touring south through the artistic town of Sedona, then into the Phoenix area. It made for a spectacular week-long trip.

Both Joshua Tree and Death Valley National Parks are also along the route to Phoenix. The spring is the perfect time to visit these natural wonders, when wildflowers typically blanket the otherwise arid landscape!

How to get there: From Stockton, Phoenix is about 710 miles and a bit over 10.5 hours.  A natural detour can include a stop at the Grand Canyon, then traveling south to Sedona, before reaching Phoenix.  The Giants play in Scottsdale Stadium, 7408 E. Osborn Road, Scottsdale, AZ 85251; nearby, the As play at renovated Hohokam Stadium, 1235 N Center St, Mesa, AZ 85201.

What to take: Binoculars, camera and snacks for the trip. And, your favorite team’s hat and jersey!
For more information:  For Cactus League teams, stadiums, schedules: For Phoenix vacation planning:
For additional travel destination inspiration, see my blog: travel; to contact me,
Happy travels in the West!

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

"Do you know the way to San Jose?", downtown San Jose, via ACE commuter rail!

San Jose's old Post Office is now part of the San Jose Museum of Art

Mom takes photo of young explorers in "the Tech" in San Jose.

Kids scramble from approaching Mars Rover in "the Tech" exhibit.

The San Francisco 49ers new Levi's Stadium is just blocks from the Santa Clara ACE Station.

Special ACE rail car is equipped to hold half passengers, and half bicycles.

ACE riders load bikes on ACE Train in Livermore.

ACE locomotive idles at Stockton's Robert Cabral ACE/Amtrak Station just before dusk.

“Do you know the way to San Jose? I’ve been away for so long.  I may go wrong and lose my way,” went the popular 1968 song by Dionne Warwick.  It sold over a million copies and won Warwick her first Grammy.

My pals and I had not been to downtown San Jose for almost 25 years, but had heard how revived and visitor-friendly the town had become.  And, as a center of the Silicon Valley and high-tech, San Jose justified our trip on the ACE (Altamont Corridor Express) Train from Stockton.  Our plan was take the ACE train, all the way to San Jose to explore and see what had changed.  It’s a scenic, memorable and relaxing way to cover the 90-some miles! And, true to what we had heard, downtown San Jose is full of interesting, high-tech and visitor-friendly attractions.

With the ACE train, the latest morning train departs Stockton’s Robert Cabral Amtrak/ACE station at 7:05 AM, with stops in Manteca, Tracy, Livermore, Pleasanton, Fremont, Santa Clara and into downtown San Jose's historic Southern Pacific Diridon Station a little after 9 AM.

The two hour train ride traverses a number of old downtown areas, climbs over the Altamont Pass and through beautiful Niles Canyon and the southern border of the San Francisco Bay.  Stunning scenery presents itself at many a stretch, just out of sight of autos - adults and kids will delight in the train ride portion of the adventure!

In the final two miles of the train ride, one passes the new 49ers Levi's Stadium in Santa Clara, a new stadium being built for the San Jose Quakes (professional soccer) and, two blocks from the Diridon station, the SAP Arena, home of the San Jose Sharks hockey team. For 49ers games, ACE runs a Sunday train from Stockton to Santa Clara.

The earliest return on ACE is 3:35 PM – it is a commuter rail line, after all.  There are also three later departures in the afternoon. The ACE train has virtually all new rolling stock, immaculate rail cars, including one equipped to hold about 15 bicycles. So a tour of San Jose with your bike is another option. 

A free DASH shuttle bus takes you to many intriguing downtown San Jose stops, so no money is required to take the bus. Along the route are the Martin Luther King Library, San Jose State University, the Tech Museum of Innovation, the San Jose Museum of Art and a number of interesting historical buildings, hotels and unique restaurants such as Original Joe's.

Our primary destination was the Tech Museum of Innovation, San Jose’s world-class museum dedicated to innovative and creative spirits that inspired Silicon Valley.  Special exhibits at “The Tech” include the Tech Studio, Social Robots, the Earthquake Platform (we adults and a passel of kids were awestruck by the simulation of the 1989 San Francisco earthquake and other more recent temblors), Moon-landing simulator, Body Metrics, the Tech Virtual Gallery, Health and Biotech Gallery, the Silicon Valley Innovation Gallery and much more. 

This is a center for youngsters and teens; it was impressive to see Stanford University present with a Genome exhibit, enthralling a dozen young future scientists!  The entire three floors of The Tech are kid-friendly, designed to be hands-on; all four of our adult tourists were energized to plan a future visit with grandkids of all ages. The Hackworth IMAX dome theater (inside The Tech) is the largest in the west; an additional fee is required to see movies on the massive circular screen.

Shopping highlights of San Jose’s downtown include the Historic District, with a number of unique boutiques and eclectic shops, interesting shops at both the museums, and a variety of stores at the San Jose Market Center on Coleman Avenue. We picked up a copy of Silicon Valley Metro, a free weekly paper at the train station; it’s loaded with activities, night spots, restaurant recommendations and “what to see and do”; they also have a slick web site full of similar info:

Just two blocks from the Tech Museum of Innovation (“The Tech”), we found the ornate and historic Cathedral Basilica of St. Joseph at the corner San Fernando and Market. The San Jose Museum of Art, with Café and museum store, (originally the 1892 San Jose Post Office), is just across the street.
DASH offers free shuttle to various points around downtown, including Martin Luther King Library, San Jose State University, San Jose Convention Center and the aforementioned shopping areas. 

All in all, it’s a pretty, historic and tourist-friendly destination, enhanced by the ease of getting there on the ACE train!  Though, the ACE Train service, except for San Francisco 49er’s games, is not available on weekends.

For those seeking further rail exploration, the San Jose Diridon Station is served by CalTrain, the rail line that runs north to San Francisco (seven days a week), and one can also take Amtrak from San Francisco to Stockton, and vice versa.  All three rail lines are “bike friendly”, as well. Hence, a several day rail excursion can make for even more fun!

So, purchase your ACE ticket, “find your way to San Jose”, and do some innovative exploring!

What to take: Binoculars, camera and snacks for the trip and good walking shoes.

For more information: The Tech Museum of Innovation, 201 South Market St., San Jose 95113, phone 408–294–8324, the; opens daily at 10 AM, groups save up to 25%, IMAX films and special exhibits require a separate fee. Downtown San Jose Association, 28 North First Street #1000, San Jose, Ca 95113; (408) 279-1775;  ACE Train: Robert Cabral Station, 949 E. Channel Street, Stockton, CA 95202;; fares, adults, round-trip, $24.50, kids 6 to 12 and seniors 65 and over, half price or $12.25 each.  CalTrain rail service from San Jose to San Francisco,

For additional travel destination inspiration, see my blog: travel; to contact me,

Happy travels in the West!

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Hetch Hetchy Valley and Reservoir; undiscovered but stunning part of Yosemite!

Hetch Hetchy Valley and Reservoir, looking east from trail on the north shore trail of the reservoir.

The trail along the north shore of Hetch Hetchy Reservoir, looking back towards the dam.

The Hetch Hetchy Dam, started in 1919, completed in 1923 and further heightened in 1938, it now floods the valley and creates a reservoir that is 8 miles long, and up to 300 feet deep.

Hetch Hetchy Watershed at top, the much-more visited Yosemite Valley (to the south) at bottom of map.

The Hetch Hetchy Valley and free-flowing Tuolumne River, in the early 1900s, before the dam was approved.

A portion of the ferocious Rim Fire of a year ago, that burned vast swathes of forest in and around Yosemite Park; this view looking to the northeast, into the Tuolumne River drainage, with Hetch Hetchy in distance.

The old post office in Chinese Camp, part of a three block Gold Rush ghost town, right on Hwy. 120, on the way to Hetch Hetchy and Yosemite Valleys.

Hetch Hetchy Reservoir and the Tuolumne Valley are close cousins to the mighty Yosemite Valley, virtually undiscovered and almost equally stunning.  Hetch Hetchy is just 115 miles and a scenic day-tour from Stockton!

The Hetch Hetchy Valley was the scene of one of the most epic environmental battles 100 years ago, as John Muir, the Sierra Club and other environmental groups fought to keep this valley pristine and free of development.

Muir's exploration of both Hetch Hetchy and Yosemite, and writings in the influential Century Magazine, helped to get Yosemite National Park established in 1890. However, the much less-visited Hetch Hetchy Valley portion of the park remained in peril.

San Francisco had eyed the valley for extending its water supply since the 1890s and applied several times to the federal government for water rights but was denied. The huge San Francisco earthquake in 1906, when much of the city burned, underlined the city's need for more water and turned the political winds in the city’s favor.

In 1908, US Secretary of interior Garfield granted the city the rights to development of the Tuolumne River, provoking a multi-year environmental battle led by the Sierra Club and John Muir. Muir observed, "Dam Hetch Hetchy! As well damn for water tanks the peoples’ cathedrals and churches for no holier temple has ever been consecrated by the heart of man".

In 1913, writing to Robert Johnson of Century Magazine, he pressed his argument, noting "The Hetch Hetchy Valley is a wonderfully exact counterpart of the great Yosemite, not only in its sublime cliffs and waterfalls and it's peaceful river, but in the gardens, groves, meadows and campgrounds on its flowery park-like floor". He would continue to fight the city of San Francisco to his death in 1914.

Muir's writings are archived at the University of Pacific and can be read online at

In 1913, the US Congress passed and President Wilson signed the Raker Act, which permitted the flooding of the valley. Muir died the following year, bitter to have lost the fight. Construction on the O’Shaughnessy Dam would begin in 1919 and end in 1923; it was further heightened in 1938 and now supplies water to almost 2.5 million San Franciscans.

What remains is a still stunning valley and pristine 8-mile long reservoir, nearly the equal of Yosemite Valley, and visitors have this part of the park almost unto themselves and can still appreciate the treasure that so stoked John Muir’s soul.

One can drive to the parking lot right beside the O'Shaughnessy Dam. Views from the dam are memorable, but hike a half-mile or several miles along the north side of the reservoir for the most indelible views.  Hetch Hetchy’s relatively low elevation makes for one of the central Sierra’s longest hiking seasons, but, check weather forecasts for winter trips.

Looking up the valley, on the right one sees the massive Kolana Rock, on the left, the Hetch Hetchy Dome. The view extends east, up the reservoir and through the Tuolumne Valley; serious hikers can continue even further east into the Tuolumne Meadows area. Hikers will find varied views both remarkable, and reminiscent of nearby Yosemite Valley.

Crossing the dam, our trail took us past the base of Tueeulala Falls, dry for lack of snowmelt, and to the base of Wapama Falls, surging mightily with early snow melt. It's about a 2 mile hike from the dam to Wapama Falls on an easy, well-maintained trail (note to self: return in April or May to admire these falls when more water is flowing!).

The discussion over water supplied to San Francisco, and ongoing battle over restoration of the valley by removing the dam, continues – but entering our fourth year of California drought, probably won't gain traction in the near-term. Until then, pack your binoculars and camera and set forth on a serious day tour, or longer!  If you are planning a longer trip to Yosemite in general, include a day to tour Hetch Hetchy!

One of the side benefits of such a trip is you pass through a couple of historic towns worth a stop. Chinese Camp is a true Gold Rush ghost town, right on Highway 120. Take the walk down the three block stretch of Main Street, with an old abandoned hotel, post office, merchant’s buildings, rooming house and homes slowly moldering away. Just up the hill on Main is the St. Francis Xavier Mission Church/cemetery, established in 1854.  You will find family plots and pioneer tombstones dating to the 1860s.

Groveland is closer to Hetch Hetchy, also on Hwy. 120, a quaint Gold Rush town catering to tourists with the historic Groveland Hotel, jail dating to 1854 and Groveland Pizza, on north edge of town, a fine family food stop.

Camp Mather and Mather Family Camp, just nine miles from Hetch Hetchy, offers a store, restaurant and variety of accommodations, from cabins to lodge, in a bucolic wooded setting. Vast stands of scorched forest along Evergreen Road, both before and after Camp Mather, offer mute testimony to the ferocious Rim Fire of a year ago.

How to get there: From Stockton, 115 miles, 2.75 hours. Take Highway 4 east to Copperopolis, turn right on O'Byrnes Ferry Road, take a left on highway 120/108 and follow Highway 120 past Chinese camp and Groveland. Then, left on Evergreen Road to the reservoir.  Leave early, particularly if you want time to see Chinese Camp and Groveland; and this portion of Yosemite closes at 5 PM.

What to take: Pack cold weather gear, binoculars, camera and snacks for the trip. Fishing rods and your CA fishing license!
For more information: Yosemite National Park, go to; call 209/372-0200 (then dial 3, then 5) or by mail: Public Information Office, PO Box 577, Yosemite, CA 95389 (the park does charge a day-use fee).
For additional travel destination inspiration, see my blog: travel; to contact me,
Happy travels in the West!

Sierra snows; skiing, boarding, XC, snowshoeing or sledding, just two hours from Stockton or Modesto!

View from Bear Valley's Day Lodge, looking northwest towards the Mokelumne River Valley.

A hungry lunch crowd enjoys the colorful Day Lodge at Bear Valley Resort.

Members of the 'Ski Bears' enjoy a lesson, with Bear Valley's Day Lodge in distance.

New skier takes the gentle carpet lift in front of the Dodge Ridge Family Lodge.

Members of the Dodge Ridge 'Kid's Club' enjoy a lesson on a sunny day.

A family of five enjoys both the snow and the scenery in the Boulder Creek Canyon area of Dodge Ridge Ski Area.
For Christmas, perhaps you received new skis or a snowboard, snowshoes or cross-country skis and want to try them out. Or, now that the holidays are past, you finally have time to get up to the Sierra snow country.

From Stockton, the two "closest snows to home" are Dodge Ridge Ski Resort 30 miles east of Sonora on Highway 108, and Bear Valley Ski Resort, 50 miles east of Angel’s Camp on Highway 4.

From my home in North Stockton, Dodge Ridge is 98 miles, Bear Valley, 106 miles – considerably closer than other options in the Sierra and Lake Tahoe areas Each resort is family-friendly, generally less expensive than resorts in the Tahoe area, offer good conditions at this point in early January – with each only about two hours from Stockton or Modesto.

Bear Valley Ski Resort is just off Hwy. 4, sports a top elevation of 8,495’, a mid-way day-lodge at 7,750’ and bottom elevation (the Grizzly Chair) of 6.595’.  Bear offers 1680 acres when fully open; with 8 chairlifts (one a high-speed quad) and two carpet lifts, with snow-making on some of its upper slopes.  Currently Bear has a 34+ inch base, is running six chairs and is about 47% open with packed powder conditions.
For scenic runs, try several off of Bear Top, where views can stretch south to Dodge Ridge and down into the Mokelumne River Valley.  Additionally, the Bear Valley Cross-country Center at Bear Valley Village (el. 7,100’) offers XC skiing and snowshoeing; they also rent platters, tubes for snow play.

Bear Valley spokesperson Rosie Sundell notes that “excitement is in the air, with recent new ownership by Skyline Investments.  Despite just acquiring the ski area, Skyline has invested in additional snow making equipment and has moved quickly to offer live music each weekend (Tracy native Megan Slankard plays on the Martin Luther King weekend; see Bear’s web site for a listing of coming events)”.

Bear Valley offers a variety of food and drink choices at its mid-way Day Lodge, including delicious outdoor BBQ when we visited last week.  Several dining options are offered nearby.  In Bear Valley Village, the Lodge offers light fare in the Grizzly Lounge and steaks and seafood in the classy Creekside Dining Room and has recently updated the Lodge’s Trattoria, with pizza, pasta and libations, for taking a large family with big appetites! 

A bit closer to the Valley, one can find numerous dining options in Arnold, and even more good eats in Murphy’s, including the highly rated Alchemy Restaurant and the historic Murphy’s Hotel.  Arnold and Murphys both offer a variety of hotels and motels for overnighting.

Dodge Ridge Ski Resort is just off Hwy 108 above Pinecrest Lake, with 8 chairlifts (one quad), one T-bar, two carpet lifts and a rope tow, a top elevation of 8,200’, base of 6,600’; 67 runs and 862 acres when fully open.  Earlier this week, the area reports sunshine, packed powder, plenty of groomed runs and 75% of their terrain open, including chairs 7 and 8.

Spokesperson Sean Waterman notes the area was “delighted to have opened on December 17, and experienced a fun and busy holiday season”.  He notes that the mountain is gearing up for several events, and the fast-approaching Martin Luther King’s birthday weekend. “Bring the family, we look forward to seeing you”, he adds!

Dodge Ridge prides itself on being a family-focused area, further enhanced when it opened its new Family Lodge a few years ago.  The area offers a variety of gentle slopes for beginning skiers and snowboarders and challenging “double black diamond runs” off Chair 8 in the Boulder Creek Canyon area. Check the stunning scenery serviced by Chair 8, with both easy and energizing runs and a view north into the Sierra that is spectacular.  Graceland is a favorite run, scenic, rated “blue” (more difficult) and a family favorite for both schussing and photos!

A number of cross-country ski trails emanate from the Dodge Ridge base area and access road. 
The resort is not permitted for sledding or tubing, but you can visit the Family Lodge, have lunch or hot chocolate and consider skiing, snow-boarding or a fun lesson.  The area around Pinecrest Lake (just below Dodge Ridge) offers several places where you can use those sleds or inner tubes, as does Leland Snow Play area, seven miles further east, just off Highway 108!

Dodge Ridge offers a number of dining options at the ski area, including the Creekside Lodge and Café, with a large variety of food and drink. On weekends and holidays, the North Fork Bistro in the Family Lodge is a great place for families to dine, and slopeside dining is also offered at Local’s Café, with tasty BBQ at the bottom of Chair 7.

Other reliable dining options are found nearby: The Pie Pizza in Sugar Pine, Mia’s Italian in Cold Springs or The Steam Donkey (steaks, seafood, pastas) in Pinecrest. Overnight lodging is found at Pinecrest Lake Lodge or Pinecrest Chalet in Pinecrest, the Christmas Tree Inn in Mi Wuk Village or the Long Barn Lodge in Long Barn, all along Hwy 108. 

If you are seeking snow play, with sleds, tubes or platters, you can find areas on the approach to both ski areas; however snow levels can vary by the day.

How to get there: The start of the route from Stockton is the same for both destinations; take Highway 4 east to Copperopolis.  There, to reach Dodge Ridge, go right/south on O Bryrne’s Ferry Road, then left/east on Highway 108 to the ski area. For Bear Valley, stay on Hwy. 4 all the way to the ski area.

What to take: Pack cold weather gear, binoculars, camera, snacks for the trip and chains are always advised for winter weather.

What’s nearby: Calaveras Big Trees State Park along Hwy. 4; Columbia State Historic Park just off Hwy. 49 (a Gold Rush town preserved) and Jamestown’s Railtown 1897 (the Sierra Railroad) just off Hwy. 108.

For more information: Bear Valley Ski Resort,, 209.753.2301; Dodge Ridge Ski Resort,, 209.965.3474.

For additional travel destination inspiration, see my blog: travel; to contact me,

Think snow, and happy winter travels in the West!