Posts Tagged ‘California’

Last summer I did a tour of the Pacific coast from California to Tillamook, Oregon.  We stopped at two lighthouses but if you are traveling by auto it would be fun to see all nine of the surviving lighthouse stations since they have been added to the National Register of Historic Places.
Seven of the lighthouses are available to visit during the summer months, many manned by volunteers.  Over two and one half million people stop each year at these extraordinary links to the past.
All of the structures have been unoccupied since modern technology took over in the 1960s which allowed for installing automated beacons.  The lighthouses are built on prominent headlands near major rivers where commercial fishing and shipping is prominent.
I will tell you a little about each one so if you cannot see them all, you can at least pick and choose which ones sound the most interesting.

Staring from just north of the California border the first one is Cape Blanco.

This lighthouse stands 256 feet above the ocean and is located nine miles north of Port Orford off of Highway 101.  It is the oldest standing lighthouse on the Oregon Coast.  It was commissioned in 1870 because of the gold discoveries and lumbering going on in the area.
Two miles north of Bandon in Bullards Beach State Park is the Coquilee River Lighthouse.  It was commissioned in 1896 to guide mariners across a dangerous bar.  It was decommissioned in 1939 but restored as an interpretive center in 1979.
Cape Arago Lighthouse is twelve miles south of Coos Bay and North Bend.  It stands 100 feet above the ocean on an inlet.  It is the newest of the lighthouses, illuminated in 1934 but is not opened to the public.  However if you visit, there is a very unique foghorn you might hear.
Next up is the Umpqua River Lighthouse located three miles south of Reedsport  above the entrance to Winchester Bay.  This is the second lighthouse on this spot.  The first one fell into the river four years after it was built in 1861.  This one sits sixty five feet above the ocean overlooking sand dunes.  It took 240,000 bricks to construct the lighthouse tower and if you mention this you will get a discount on the tour cost.
Heceta Head Lighthouse located twelve miles north of Florence has a sixty five foot tower that sits 205 feet above the ocean.  It was first illuminated in 1894 but today the beacon can be seen for twenty one miles, making it the brightest light on the Oregon Coast.  The lightkeepers house built in 1893 now operates as a bed and breakfast.

This lighthouse has been undergoing renovation since 2012 and is closed to the public but just below it is a wonderful beach with parking.  This is where I stop on the motor coach so everyone gets a chance to wade in the Pacific Ocean if so desired. Also it is very near the Sea Lion caves.  There is a charge to see the caves but it is a pretty awesome sight and worth the visit.
You can find two more lighthouses near the Newport area.  One is the Yaquina Bay Lighthouse and the other is the Yaquina Head Lighthouse.  The one on the bay is the second oldest lighthouse in the state.  It has a ninety three foot tower and stands 162 feet above sea level.  There are a lot of seabird nesting sites around this lighthouse and I also like to stop here when I can.
As you continue driving the Cape Meares Lighthouse is ten miles west of Tillamook and US Highway 101.  It stands 217 feet above sea level. This structure was first illuminated in 1890 and automated in 1963.  There is a trail that leads from the parking lot to the lighthouse and there are viewpoints people like to stand on to see sea lions or also for whale watching.
Finally the last one is the Tillamook Rock Lighthouse just south of Seaside.  It stands 133 feet above sea level on a rock islet.  Because it is exposed to fierce storm waves it was given the name “Terrible Tilly.”  There is no public access and was placed here just south of the Columbia River.  However it is visible in a nearby state park.
Even if you don’t get to one of the lighthouses, which would be a shame, just driving the Oregon Coast is an awesome experience.  At any turn in the road you can see waves pounding the shore or the giant monolith rocks that stand like sentinels in the water close to the shore.  It is a truly amazing sight to behold. To me this should be another great area to add to your bucket list.


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I recently did a tour up the coast of the Pacific Northwest and there is so much beauty in that area it inspired to write about a few of the wonderful sites I saw.  First up is the giant Redwoods of California.

Along the coast of Northern California is Redwood National Park as well as several Redwood State Parks.  Starting north of San Francisco as you go over the Golden Gate Bridge you will be astounded by Muir Woods.  As you walk through the grove of Redwoods over one hundred feet tall, you can’t help but marvel at the old growth forest

If you have been to Yosemite National Park, which I have written about in a previous article, the trees living there are the giant sequoias.  They are slightly shorter but more massive than the trees in Muir Woods and along the coast.

The trees in Muir Woods and as you travel up the California Coast are called Coast Redwoods.  These trees grow in the moist climate of this area with winter rains and summer fog.  They keep so much water in their trunks that even a fire won’t burn them down.

About 120 miles south of Crescent City, which is close to the Oregon border, is where all the Redwood Parks begin.  Coming from San Francisco the first park you enter is the Humboldt Redwoods State Park, the largest remaining old growth forest in the world.  This park has a road that parallels Highway 101 for 32 miles and is called “The Avenue of the Giants.”

If you have all day you can make many stops but if your time is limited I would recommend two stops.  A third stop you might want to consider is where you drive through a giant redwood tree.  I have never been able to do that because I always go through the area on a motor coach and it can’t fit through the tree.

A very important stop in this area is the Humboldt Interpretive and Welcome Center where Charles Kellogg’s “Travel Log” is on display.  Kellogg was a vaudeville performer who imitated bird songs.  He later campaigned for the protection of the California redwood forests.

Kellogg constructed a mobile home, called the “Travel Log”, out of a redwood tree, and drove it around the country to raise awareness of the plight of the California forests. Its maximum speed was 18 mph.  Looking at it you can just picture the man driving around in his log.

There is also a lot of other information about the redwoods at this visitor center and a short but very nice trail you can walk through just across the street.

I also like to make a stop at “The immortal Tree.”  It is so massive and has been hit with lightening and floods but just keeps on growing.  There is also a nice gift shop there where you can actually purchase Redwood products.  There are several other stops you may enjoy but with our limited time, these are the two stops I make.

Coast Redwoods are the tallest known tree species in the world.  They can average from 150-250 feet tall and some are even over 350 feet tall.  They can have diameters of 12-20 feet.  Sometimes it’s fun to take a picture of several people around one of these massive trees.  I not only do this to show the height but especially to see how many people it takes to form a ring around the tree.

These trees can live several hundred years with some even living over 2,000 years.  The bark can be over one foot thick and has resin making for a strong resistance to disease and fire.  However the shallow root system grows latterly rather than down so they are susceptible to high winds and flooding.

Lightening can cause the trees to hollow out and I stood in one once that was totally hollow but standing over 100 feet tall.  It was a very unique experience.

Redwood has a rich red bark and is easy to work with and resistant to rot.  With the lumber industry so important in this area it is amazing there are so many groves left today.  Thank goodness the state of California preserved these giant wonders by creating so many state parks.

So if you are ever out in San Francisco or anywhere in northern California take a detour up the coast to see these giant wonders. It will definitely be worth your while.

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Reno, “The Biggest Little City In The World” as it bills itself is a fun area to visit.  It doesn’t have the glitz of Las Vegas but it is at the base of the Sierra Nevada Mountains in a high desert.  Because of this, winters are somewhat mild and although summers can be hot, it always cools down at night.

The population is a little over 225,000 making it the second largest city in the state.    My brother used to live in both Carson City and Reno and we would visit him.  It was always amazing that he could keep his windows opened with no screens.  There were no bugs in that semi dry atmosphere.  But just to the west of Reno are the mountains and they are quite spectacular which makes this area a fun place to visit even if you aren’t interested in gambling.

The University of Nevada–Reno is located in the city and although there are some big gambling resort hotels, with the advent of Indian gaming in nearby California and Oregon, Reno lost its reputation of a gambling mecca second to Vegas.

There also used to be dude ranches and many women came and stayed for 6 weeks to establish residency to get divorces.   That practice no longer exists.    There are still some glitzy gambling places downtown on the main drag but the large casinos that were a block off Virginia Street, have now been converted to condos.  And the condos along the Truckee River can be quite pricy since there is a brass and marble Truckee River Walk with a park for entertainment as well as a budding arts district with many boutiques.

You can also find the National Bowling Stadium which brings in conventions as well as the National Automobile Museum.    But, to me, half the fun of Reno is the surrounding cities.  Not far from the city is Lake Tahoe, the second deepest lake in the US and 16th in the world.

As you drive the interstate west you come to the town of Truckee, an old Western railroad town with lots of charm.  But what makes Truckee well known is the Donner Memorial State Park only two miles away.  This is where the 89 person party died and were eaten to survive by the remaining people during the winter of 1846-47.

From there it is just a hop, skip and jump to the north end of Lake Tahoe.  There are a few casinos here but mostly people come for the winter and summer sports.  My favorite place to take my travelers as we drove around the lake was the Cal Neva.  The resort is now closed for renovation but this place was owned by Frank Sinatra and in its hey day the Rat Pack partied hard here.  You could even see Marilyn Monroe’s old cottage when the place was opened.

I liked taking passengers in to the Cal Neva for two reasons.  If you went to the back bar you saw the outside swimming pool.  A line ran through the bottom to indicate Nevada and California sides.  You could just imagine the Rat Pack partying around that pool.  Also there is another room with a large fireplace where the two state lines went through.  I would have my travelers straddle the two sides and take pictures of them standing in the two states at the same time.  The renovation is going to take over a year and I look forward to the reopening of this historic place.

South Lake Tahoe is where the majority of people go.  You can take a cruise on the lake to Emerald Bay and see a castle called Vikingsholm, a 38 room reproduction of a 9th century Norse fortress.  To visit the castle you have a steep one mile walk, however.  But most people come to this area for the water sports and in the winter the excellent nearby ski runs.

From South Lake Tahoe, you can go north and East and you will find yourself in the Capital, Carson City. (Note: you can leave Reno and head south and west, too.  Either direction will get you to Lake Tahoe.  Although the way in to the lake from Carson City is a pretty steep mountain road.)    Carson City was founded in 1858 and became the capitol in 1864.  At the time Nevada did not have enough population to be a state but Lincoln overroad this.  He was fighting a war and needed the silver for bullets that was coming out of the Comstock Lode in Virginia City, fifteen miles northeast.

The federal government established a mint for coining the silver and even the Capitol has a silver dome.  If you visit, the Nevada State Museum is also an interesting stop on your journey.    When you are in Carson City you will be traveling on Highway 50.  This road starts past Salt Lake City at the Nevada border and parallels the interstate somewhat.  It was once part of the Pony Express Trail and with towns only about 100 miles apart US 50 has been dubbed “the Loneliest Road in America.”

It’s 588 miles from Salt Lake to Carson City and I drove it once.  I saw no humans but about four so-called towns and one coyote crossing the road in this desert area called “The Great Basin.”

If you visit the area don’t forget to stop in Virginia City.  In the 1870’s with almost 30,000 residents, more than 100 saloons, many banks, churches, theaters and the only elevator between Chicago and San Francisco, this mining metropolis near the Comstock Lode ran 24 hours a day.  Mark Twain and Bret Harte worked as reporters for the newspaper.

Today if it wasn’t for tourism, Virginia City would be a ghost town.  But many of the buildings have been preserved and you can visit the Delta Casino and Saloon where you can see Suicide Table, Comstock Fireman’s Museum, Mackay Mansion, Piper’s Opera House, the Bucket of Blood Saloon, and the Silver Queen Saloon and Hotel.  On display there is a 15 foot tall dress made of 3200 silver dollars and a belt made of $5 gold pieces.  It is a climb in and out of the mountains to get to Virginia City, but well worth the trek.

Actually the whole area is worth seeing.  You can go by car or fly or even more fun, you can take Amtrak.  No matter how you get there, I think you’ll agree, the Reno area was well worth your visit.

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“Twenty-six miles across the sea, Santa Catalina is awaiting for me.  Santa Catalina, the island of romance, romance, romance.”   And so the song from the 1950’s begins.  However from what I can determine Catalina is only 22 miles from the mainland but still a fun or romantic place to visit.  The island is very Mediterranean in appearance and although you feel far away from the U.S., this island, part of the Channel Islands, belongs to California. So if you find yourself in Los Angeles sometime, think about a trip over to the island.

Catalina is a 76-square-mile island about 80% undeveloped.  This is partly due to the semi arid desert soil filled with cactus, especially prickly pear.  The temperatures are pretty steady year round with winter averages about 65 degrees and summer around 75 degrees with lows between 50-60 degrees.  The island gets about 14” of rain a year and this is crucial since the water supply is dependent on the rainfall.

The only town on the island is Avalon with a population of 3,800.  However weekends and summer the population swells to 10,000.  Avalon was named for an island paradise in the King Arthur legend.  There is also a rustic village called Two Harbors (with a population of
150) which has a B&B and a campground.

From Avalon, there are vehicles that can take you the eighteen miles to Two Harbors
on the only road that cuts through the island but your best option is to take a boat or helicopter from the “airport in the sky.”

Boats and helicopters are, of course, the main way you arrive on the island.  An occasional cruise ship stops but there is not a deep enough pier so you have to tender to get to shore.  There are four different places to catch the high speed ferries that will take you a little over an hour to reach Catalina.  They are San Pedro, Long Beach, Newport Beach, and Dana Point.  There are
also three airports that have helicopter service: Long Beach, San Pedro and Orange County.

However you get there, when you see the Green Pier, you know you have arrived.  And if you decide to stay overnight you have a choice of oceanfront hotels, usually three or four stories high, private condos, beach houses, B&Bs, or camp sites.  However, I suggest a reservation, especially on weekends and peak times.  And then there is the Inn on Mt. Ada.  In peak times it might take you up to a year to get a reservation in this Wrigley Mansion of yesteryear.  The Inn has won awards from Conde Nast, Fodor’s, Trip Advisor, and Forbes.  A complimentary golf cart (the main means of transportation on the island) is included in your stay as well as breakfast and lunch.  However no children under 14 years of age are allowed.

The island was inhabited by Native Americans for over 7,000 years but the first known European explorer came in 1542.  Sixty years later another explorer from Spain named the island after St. Catherine of Alexandria.

Modern day development did not begin until The Banning Brothers purchased the island
in 1894.  In 1898, the Avalon Tuna Club, the oldest fishing club in the U.S., was founded and begin attracting many famous men like Zane Grey, John Wayne, Cecil B. DeMille, Charlie Chaplin, and Winston Churchill.

After a devastating fire in 1915, the brothers never recovered their investment and
sold the island in 1919 to William Wrigley, the chewing gum magnate.  He used his wealth to develop Avalon into one of the most unique island resorts in the country.

In 1921, Wrigley started bringing the Chicago Cubs for spring training and this
continued for thirty years.  Fourteen buffalo were brought to the island to film a classic Zane Grey movie and still roam around today in the back country.

In 1928 Wrigley started construction of the famous Catalina Casino which
took a year to complete.  The building was designed with a ballroom over a 1200 seat movie theater in the Moorish Alhambra style with Art Deco fixtures.  In the 1940’s and 1950s all the famous Big Bands played at the Casino on weekends.  It is such a unique looking building; it,
along with the green Pier, is a symbol of Catalina.

Many Hollywood stars in the 1940s and 1950s came to play on the island.  Humphrey Bogart was often seen and Norma Jeane lived on the island before she became Marilyn Monroe.  This is also where Robert Wagner and Natalie Woopd’s boat was anchored when she drowned.

There are many events on the island from music to races to sports and something seems
to be going on every weekend.  There is no place like the casino for the JazzTrax Festival and every September the Catalina Film Festival takes place there.

Besides sitting back and relaxing what can the average tourist do on the island?  In addition to relaxing on the beaches, you can rent a golf cart for a two hour ride around the hills of Avalon—but watch out for all the tourist drivers.  For those who like water adventures there is a glass bottom boat, a semi-submersible submarine tour, kayaks and paddleboards, snorkeling, diving, jet skiing, fishing, or parasailing.  For land adventures there is hiking, biking, a climbing wall and a zipline.  You can also visit the Wrigley Memorial and Botanic Garden or the Nature Center in Avalon Canyon.

As the song continues, “water all around you everywhere” Catalina is a relaxed
friendly island easy to explore on foot or golf cart.  And while you are there, don’t forget to eat
some fresh seafood found in most restaurants.

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I am visiting my son in Yuma, AZ for the  winter so I thought I would write about a few places out in this area, especially since I come here on tour quite frequently.

            First up, Palm Springs, CA.  But before we talk about this city, a little bit of knowledge about the Southwestern deserts is probably in order.  There are four deserts that comprise what we call the Southwestern Desert region and so in no particular order…
            First up, The Great Basin Desert encompasses most of northern Nevada, western and  southern Utah, the southern tip of Idaho, and a bit of eastern Oregon. It’s the  most northern of the Southwestern U.S. deserts and is know as the “cold desert.”   This desert has mountains, valleys, lakes and,  of course, basins.  Some of the plant life found here is mountain mahogany, juniper, quaking Aspen  and many types of pine. In addition to plant life, the Great Basin also has a  variety of animals, including jackrabbits, mule deer and mountain  lions.  This is where you find the fabulous National Parks of Bryce and Zion, some of my favorite to visit.
            Just below this desert is The Mohave Desert which includes southeastern and central California, southern portions of Nevada and Utah, and  northwestern Arizona. The Mojave is home to many popular areas, including  Las Vegas, Death Valley and Los Angeles
            Many cacti plants live in the Mojave as well as the desert lily and star,  juniper and prairie clover. The Mojave also has a variety of lizards and  snakes, as well as coyotes, jackrabbits, tarantulas and bighorn  sheep.
            Another desert, The Chihuahuan Desert, encompasses a small part of southeastern New Mexico and  western Texas, and extends south into Mexico. This is the second  largest desert (after the Great Basin) in North America.  Common plant life in the Chihuahuan includes agave, peyote and mesquite and is also know for its yucca.  If you are not sure of what yucca looks like, think small palm tree.  The animals found here are the scorpion, kangaroo rat and  the elf owl.
            The fourth desert, The Sonoran Desert, is located just south of the Mojave Desert. The Sonoran covers  large sections of southern California, Arizona, Baja, California and parts of  northwestern Mexico and Palm Springs is located in this desert.
            It is the hottest desert in North America and it would take two countries of England to fit into it.  It is home to the only Jaguar population in the U.S.  Other animals of the Sonoran Desert include: the tortoise, kingsnake, desert  iguana, coyote and 350 species of bird., including hummingbirds. The desert is also home to the saguaro cactus,  prickly pear and bur sage.
            When people think of deserts, they always think of the giant saguaro cactus with it’s protruding arms, but these cactus are only found in the Sonoran desert and I’ll talk a little more about them in my Tucson article.
            Palm Springs has been a fashionable resort and its mineral springs have attracted visitors for years.  It’s population is only around 45,000 and because of its smallness, Hollywood stars have always been attracted to the area.    I had an area guide tell us that locals will walk down the street and not pay any attention to the celebrities they see.  Because of this the rich and famous are comfortable hanging out here.
            Perched high on a mountain is Bob Hope’s home.  It was a second home for him and is now on the market for only $50 million.  I would always look up and see the house when on the motor coach and wondered about all the people and parties that went on there.
             The 23,366-square-foot home was designed in 1973 by the California Modernist architect John Lautner. It was built to resemble a volcano, with three visorlike arches and an undulating concrete roof, a hole at its center opening a courtyard to the sky. The roofline has been described as one of the most distinctive works of architecture in the area. The house has also been likened to a giant mushroom but it also looks like a UFO. Its has 6 bedrooms, 10 bathrooms, 3 half baths, indoor and outdoor pools, a pond, putting greens and a tennis court.
             Frank Sinatra has a home in the mountains for sale for about $4 million but you can drive right by his first home.  It is very unpretentious and is now in line for historic landmark designation.  You can imagine all the wild happenings that went on in that house, especially during the JFK heyday.  You can also wind through the streets and see Elvis’ house, Marilyn Monroe’s, Peter Lawford’s, Liberace’s and the list goes on and on.
            You can visit the Palm Springs Air Museum or take a ride 2 and 1/2 miles up the San Jacinto Peak on the Aerial Tramway.  You will be over 8,516 feet when you get to the top.  This is a really fun ride because the floor of the tram slowly revolves 360 degrees on its journey up the mountain which gives you views of the mountain and desert floor below.
            The Living Desert is another great attraction where you will find desert plants and animals and can even ride a camel.  And, don’t forget to stop at a date farm for a nice cold date shake.
            No trip to Palm Springs would be complete without going to the Fabulous Follies.  However after 23 years of entertainment, sadly this is the final year.   So I guess you better put Palm Springs at the top of your travel list, and if you want to venture further, both San Diego and Los Angeles are a hop, skip or jump away.

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