Category Archives: Road Trip

Happy 50th Avenue of the Giant Redwoods

50 years may be a lot to us, but it’s a mere blip to some redwood trees, the oldest of which live 2,000 years. (Most live 500-700 years.)

Regardless, the Golden birthday is nothing to sneeze at, particularly in regard to the Avenue of the Giants Parkway,  the 32-mile-long road that stretches from Garberville to Scotia, a bit inland from the Northern California coast, that is home to some of the oldest-growth redwoods in the world.

Originally a stagecoach road, the Avenue of the Giants was officially dedicated by CA Governor Edmund G. Brown on August 27, 1960. It seemed that the new,  high-speed Highway 101 allowed the Redwood route to become, in Brown’s words, “a serene drive where kids and families can cross the road at will, where traffic moves at a far slower pace.”

Luckily for us!

I had always wanted to take this drive, which my family did last summer. It was amazing to be in a tunnel of truly majestic redwoods.

We also visited one of the three world-famous drive-through coast redwoods, which I’d seen on postcards most of my life.

We drove through the Leggett Chandelier Tree.

We also got to walk through it.

The whole area is rich with wonderful and strange tourist stops, like the One Log House and Hobbiton, USA, both in Phillipsville, and various redwood-themed amusements and artisan shops along Highway 101.

I highly recommend driving the Avenue of the Giants and Highway 101, perhaps in conjunction with a trip to San Francisco, or the northern CA or southern OR coast.

The Save the Redwoods League offers fun activities to help families explore the Avenue of the Giants.

Photos by Susan Sachs Lipman

Bike to Work and School Day

May is an especially great month to be a biker. In the U.S., the weather generally cooperates, and there are plenty of Bike to Work and School Days declared. San Francisco cyclists enjoyed Bike to Work Day today. Washington, D.C. and others have declared Friday, May 21, to be Bike to Work Day. And the League of American Bicyclists has declared the entire month of May Bike to Work Month. Their site lists tons of bike-related events happening throughout the month from Anchorage, Alaska to Tallahassee, Florida that should make it easy for almost anyone to ride alone or with a group, take a class, and enjoy other fun activities.

Here are just a few of the fun events that are listed on the League of American Bicyclists page:

Chico, CA: A selection of stores is offering a discount for cycling shoppers through May 15.

Santa Monica, CA: Valet bike parking on Main Street and at the Santa Monica Pier, ongoing

Pueblo, CO: Free breakfasts and prizes for bikers Friday May 21.

Tampa Bay, FL: Bike workshops, and an urban bike restaurant hop on May 27.

Honolulu, HI: Free admission for bikers to the Honolulu Zoo May 16.

Iowa City, IA: Many events including a bike/bus/car race May 18.

St. Louis, MO: Guided bike tours over the bridges that cross the Mississippi June 6.

Trenton, NJ: Trenton bike tour May 22.

Saratoga Springs, NY: Bike to Work and School Challenge May 21.

Roanoke, VA: Various events throughout May, in English and Spanish.

Seattle, WA: Summer Streets Party May 21.

According to the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition, cyclists made up a whopping 75% of the traffic on SF’s Market Street this morning. Here is a great pic of that street’s big green bike lane.

Of course, anyone getting out biking wants to be safe. The League of American Bicyclists offers these tips for bike safety.

Another great resource for information about bike and pedestrian safety and school biking and walking programs is Safe Routes to Schools.

Enjoy biking to work and school and just for fun!

Photos: Top, my family in Acadia National Park, Maine. Above, two of the most inspirational bikers I know – my husband Lippy, who rides almost every day, and my good friend Victoria, who loves to ride more than anyone I know and organizes long, fun rides for herself and her friends.

All Aboard for National Train Day

Sunset Limited. Hiawatha. Empire Builder. Super Chief. I can’t hear the names of the great American train lines without finding myself completely smitten. The Romance of the Rails has gotten to me pretty much every time I’ve taken a train, even a lowly commute one. My first long-distance trip was on the Coast Starlight, a two-night journey (was it supposed to be one? I didn’t care) from San Francisco to Seattle. My daughter and I boarded about midnight, when many of the passengers were already asleep. We were given warm chocolate chip cookies as we tiptoed to our sleeping car. I stayed up most of the night, staring out the train window at the houses and yards as they passed by in slices, under a full moon, at just the right speed for contemplation. The train’s mournful whistle occasionally sounded onto the empty main streets. At rural stops, a passenger or two would come aboard, their drivers shuffling back to their hulking cars.

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In the morning, we ate on a table set with a white tablecloth, as the train circled a snow-covered Mt. Shasta. We’d later play games in the observation car, meet Europeans who talked politics and American father-son pairs touring the country’s ball parks, drink wine with a very knowledgeable and funny sommelier, watch movies in a beautiful, lower-level movie screening car, and continue staring out the window at the tiny logging towns, the green college towns, the gorge-filled Willamette Valley, and the fir-lined Cascade Mountains. We may have been a full day late getting into Seattle but, of course, we couldn’t have been happier.

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Richard Talmy, the sommelier, was indeed a trip highlight. He was encyclopedic about California wines and wine tasting, as well as train and Coast Starlight history, and he served all up with a great deal of verve, encouraging everyone to eat and drink up, to have fun, and to just acknowledge the fact that we’d “get on the train as passengers and leave as freight.”

Train Web writer and photographer Carl Morrison wrote a piece on parlor car wine tasting with Richard Talmy, where you can see the man in action and get a bit of the flavor of a tasting.

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I’ve learned since that first trip that the Coast Starlight is the only Amtrak route to feature a parlor car with wine tasting and a screening room. (And that the parlor car itself is a refurbished car from the historic El Capitan line of the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe.) Even so, last summer I had the pleasure of taking the Washington D.C. – New York train (which bore the unromantic name, Acela) and, truly, just a window seat and a garden burger were enough to make my day. Dusk and sunset didn’t hurt the mood, either, as I took in every aluminum-sided diner (themselves former train cars), corner tavern, brick row house, backyard swing set, hilly main street, church steeple, and pane-windowed factory building as the train swung through Delaware, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey, and finally to its resting place in a tunnel beneath Penn Station. Only the vaulted Grand Central lobby would have made the trip more complete. I could have come with this placard of warning: Beware romantic, yearning West Coast person experiencing train rapture.

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Our car attendant on that first trip was named Douglas and, like Richard, he seems to be a character of lore among Coast Starlight riders. From the cookie on, we knew we were in good hands. A big man, I’ll never forget him cruising through the dining car, about mid-morning, calling out “Hungry Man Walking.” His humor (and our laughter) continued the whole trip.

We slept in a “roomette”, really a closet with beds that hinged out from the walls. (I’ve since booked a family sleeping car, which is roomy and sleeps four, but sacrifices views.) What we didn’t have, apparently, was the grand-era Pullman sleeper car service and room. While George Pullman didn’t invent the sleeper car, it was he who realized there was a market in luxury, comfort and service, and he and his Pullman cars dominated the industry during its golden age, when everyone traveled by train. A key component of Pullman service was the Pullman porter. The porters were black men — the first ones were former slaves — and it is said that, even though some of the work could be demeaning, Pullman provided them with almost unequaled earning opportunity and job security for the times. During World War II, there were 12,000 Pullman porters. Their union was referred to as a Brotherhood. It’s shocking, then, that the last Pullman car would take a run on December 31, 1968, a victim of the plane and the car.

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Supreme Court justice Thurgood Marshall, former San Francisco mayor Willie Brown, and Olympic athlete Wilma Rudolph are just three famous offspring of Pullman porters.The last Pullman porters, many of whom are in their 80s and 90s, are gathered for last year’s Train Day celebration at Philadelphia’s 30th Street Station.

National Train Day commemorates the “golden spike” that was driven into the final tie that joined the Central Pacific and the Union Pacific railways, thus creating America’s first transcontinental railroad, on May 10, 1869. I salute Train Day, the Pullman porters and the grand era of rail travel, even if it comes in the form of a refurbished Parlor Car.

Washington D.C., Philadelphia, New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles are among the nearly 200 cities celebrating National Train Day with events, entertainment and exhibits at their train stations. Visit the National Train Day web site for complete event information and other resources about train history,

I suggest this site to get lost in some wonderful train sounds: dieselairhorns.com/sounds.

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Pullman Photo Courtesy of A. Philip Randolph Pullman Porter Museum
Early 1900s: Waiter John Larvell Dorsey, left, on Baltimore & Ohio Railroad.

Celebrate Christmas at CA’s Columbia State Park

Columbia State Historical Park, part of the California State Park system was the place to be during the California Gold Rush and it is the place to be more than 150 years later, perhaps especially at holiday time. That’s when this living historic town, just three hours from San Francisco in the Sierra Nevada foothills, puts on its lights and decorations, hosts a passel of events, and perhaps even provides a little snow, as it already has this season.

This special town, in which you literally step into history, offers costumed docents year-round, along with shops and activities, such as tours, mining cabins, gold panning, a working blacksmith, and stagecoach rides.

Holiday events this year include:

Miners’ Christmas, Sat and Sun., December 12th, 13th, 19th and 20th, from 1-4pm each day.

Miners will roast chestnuts, make coffee and cider, and tell stories around a campfire. Participants can partake in classic Christmas crafts and a visit by Father Christmas.

Merry Merchants, Fri. and Sat., Dec. 11th and 12th, 5-8 p.m.

Shops are open late in what is a complete antidote to the modern mall. Free carriage rides are offered on Main Street. Carolers sing and storytellers perform. Guests can warm themselves with roasted chestnuts, gingerbread and other specialties, and enjoy a visit by Father Christmas.

Equestrian Parade, Sun., Dec. 13th, 11 a.m.

Las Posadas Nativity Procession, Sun., Dec. 13, 5 p.m.

Enjoy this Spanish tradition that re-enacts the Biblical story of Mary and Joseph’s search for shelter in Bethlehem on Christmas Eve. The procession is a 25-year Columbia tradition which features many costumed townspeople, from Bibilical as well as mining-camp times. Luminaria and candles light the way for the special evening parade and performance.

For more information, visit the Columbia State Historical Park web site.

Photos by Susan Sachs Lipman

Fall Foliage is at its Peak

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It’s that time! Leaf peepers, chilly-weather walkers, outdoor enthusiasts, harvest hunters, Halloween haunters, fall cooks, and others wait all year for right now, mid-October, when nature is often at its most dramatic and crisp.

There are some great resources out there to help you enjoy the show where you are, or by taking a fun leaf-seeking trip.

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The Huffington Post has a lovely slide show of blazing Autumn foliage, in special spots around the U.S., from the Great Smoky Mountains to Oregon’s Columbia River Gorge.

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This New York Times list offers some more off-the-beaten-path places for finding dramatic color, without all the crowds, sometimes because fall’s show is a little more hidden, a little less expected. These include Ohio’s Wayne National Forest, Arizona’s Coconino National Forest, and the Lost Maples Natural Area in Texas.

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Indiana Leaf Cam is a super-fun interactive site that lets you peep at the fall color in real time, at different spots around the state, and provides plenty of practical visitor information for each. Thanks to reader Tracy Denny for alerting me to this fun project and the beauty of Indiana’s fall.

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Baldwin City, in eastern Kansas, hosts the annual Maple Leaf Festival, a 50-plus year tradition with craft exhibits, entertainment and a parade which is held the 3rd weekend in October, when the glorious Kansas maples are at their peak. I thank Alison Kerr at Loving Nature’s Garden for alerting me to the beauty of the Kansas maples.

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Seeking a festival in the southeast U.S.? The Georgia Mountain Fall Festival in Hiawasee, in northern Georgia’s Blue Ridge Mountains, offers days of concerts and activities while the leaves are at their peak.

Enjoy your weekend!

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Photos by Susan Sachs Lipman

Ken Burns’ The National Parks on PBS

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Ken Burns’ new series, The National Parks, America’s Best Idea, began Sunday night on PBS stations, and is slated to run for six nights. (If you missed the first part, don’t worry. There are ways to catch up online and on TV.) The photography is amazing, as is the poetry used to describe the scenery, and you’d be forgiven for sitting gape-mouthed, as I did, through the majestic tour and sweep of the parks’ landscapes and history.

The U.S. National Park System is truly a treasure, with more than 84 million acres in 400 parks around the country, most of them quite majestic and full of fun things to do and see and ways to relax amid impossibly picturesque nature.

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The National Park System began 150 years ago, spurred on both by the glory of California’s Yosemite Valley, and the specter of Niagara Falls, on the U.S./Canadian border, which at that early date had already had many of its scenic overlooks privatized by people charging tourists for the famous views.

It was John Conness, the junior senator from California, who introduced a revolutionary bill that proposed setting aside a large tract of natural land for the future enjoyment of everyone.

In the midst of the Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln signed the law to preserve an area he had never even seen. California took over more than 60 square miles of federal land, on the condition that the land would forever be preserved for “public use, resort, and recreation.” In years and decades to come, John Muir and then Theodore Roosevelt would champion the National Parks, further embedding them in Americans’ psyches and popularizing their use.

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The PBS National Parks web site is extremely rich with pictures, history and maps, so you can learn more and get out and explore a national park. The U.S. National Park Service web site is another great place to discover a park near you. It offers a great activity search tool, so you can also find some fun things to do once you get there.

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Photos: Acadia National Park, ME (two photos); Muir Woods, CA; Grand Canyon, AZ; Acadia National Park (a great, somewhat challenging, very rewarding bike loop, in addition to hiking); Grand Canyon (lots of good hiking trails in addition to the world-famous view); Acadia National Park, Grand Canyon, Muir Woods (on the recent National Day of Service.)

Rogue Creamery’s Blue Wins Top Cheese Prize

It would be achievement enough to be crowned Best Blue Cheese, but the Rogue River Blue from Rogue Creamery in Oregon did even better, winning Best of Show at the 26th annual American Cheese Society competition, which was held recently in Austin, TX. The blue cheese beat an astonishing 1,326 other entries in what is often billed as “the Super Bowl of cheese”.

Cowgirl Creamery, in Point Reyes, CA, took Second Place in the competition, for its superb Red Hawk washed-rind cheese.

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Days before the win, we visited Rogue Creamery in Central Point, OR, on our return from our road trip between San Francisco and Portland. We got a chance to chat with talented and passionate cheesemonger Tom Von Voorhees and to taste tons of special, hand-recommended cheeses.

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The blues were indeed a highlight, and we had many generous samples. Choosing a favorite was immediately impossible — it was always the last cheese tasted. The Oregon Blue, made with raw milk, was robust, bright and creamy, with lots of wonderful classic roquefort taste. The Oregonzola was also very tasty and had a harder texture. If pressed, I’d say my favorite was the Crater Lake Blue, which was very creamy, with an even stronger and more complex blue flavor than the others.

They’ve all won their share of awards.

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The new Caveman Blue, below, was also outstanding and flavorful and extremely creamy.

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Along with the cheese tastes, we enjoyed splendid Carpenter Hill wine from the nearby Carpenter Hill Vineyard. We especially liked the Tango Red, a warm, fruity mix of merlot and cabernet, and bought some to take home. Syrah leaves from Carpenter Hill are used to wrap the Rogue River Blue for aging up to one year. Lee Mankin from Carpenter Hill explained how the Syrah leaves are macerated in Clear Creek Pear Brandy made from locally picked pears, so that the cheese is a complete example of local terroir. We moved to the cheese counter, where we got talking to Tom about all things life and cheese, and we never tasted the ACS award winner! Based on the array of Rogue Creamery blues, it has to be terrific. I can’t wait to try it.

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We first tried the 4-year Noordhollander Gouda, which offered an extremely tasty mix of caramel sweetness and tangy bite, along with a wonderfully rich, crunchy texture.

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We really enjoyed Pholia Farm’s Pleasant Creek and Covered Bridge goat cheeses, which are made locally in Rogue River, OR. Both had a superb, strong goat taste and, were we not traveling by car in a heat wave, we would have picked up a bunch. If you are lucky enough to live near Pholia Farm, they offer farm tours and cheesemaking classes.

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From the Willamette Valley Cheese Co. in Salem, OR, comes this Perrydale cheese, a cow/sheep mix that was wonderfully sweet and delicately fruity.

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We were very impressed with this raw-milk Emmenthaler from Edelweiss Creamery in Wisconsin. It had a terrific taste and is made the traditional way in huge copper vats.

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I must mention that Rogue Creamery is also known for its cheddars. I was personally nearing my limit — Yes, there is one — so I didn’t cheddar up, but here’s a sampling, along with Rogue’s famous curds, which are very good, and the Caveman Blue.

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We snapped up some curds and the hardest (hardiest) cheese for the journey, along with some Rustic Bakery crackers, which come from our home county of Marin. They are extremely tasty. We first encountered them at a local Wine and Gourmet event, and fell in love. Rustic’s flatbreads were originally created specifically to compliment the complex cheeses being produced by artisan creameries.

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Rogue Creamery was started in the 1930s by Tom Vella, of Sonoma, CA’s Vella cheesemaking family. He learned blue-cheese-making techniques in Roquefort, France, and in 1957, produced the first cave-aged Blue Cheese west of the Missouri River.

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I was very enamored with both the creamery and the picturesque Rogue River Valley and plan to return to sample other local artisan foods. Congratulations again, Rogue Creamery, on your most impressive win.

Photos by Susan Sachs Lipman

Northern Spotted Owls Welcome us Home

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Our family just completed a wonderful road trip to Portland Oregon, with stops at the Drive-Thru Redwood Tree, near Leggett, CA; the historic Victorian houses of Eureka, CA; the Rogue Valley Creamery in Central Point, OR, the Enchanted Florist chocolate tasting bar in Ashland, OR; and numerous diners, coffee houses, sushi bars, vintage stores, bookstores,and fun neighborhoods along the way.

Many photos of our trip will be forthcoming.

When we drove back into our driveway, an owl swooped over our car, we believe to a nesting place in redwoods near our house. We stopped the car and quietly got out, to see two owls perched in a nearby tree. We stayed with them a bit, and one came even closer and sat on the railing of our front porch. He seemed especially interested in Anna — we didn’t know if it was her light blue shirt or her lightness of spirit.

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We all just watched them (and they us). It was amazing to be that close to an owl, and I wondered if it would ever happen again. The owl’s eyes were huge, black and blinking. He/she really did look wizened. The feathers formed a beautiful pattern. The whole head swiveled to see things.

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While we were watching, the largest (and closest) owl coughed up a whole pellet of a mouse or other rodent! It was large, black and wet.

We figured the owls had become comfortable in our absence, and hoped they’d continue to make our home theirs. (We’d seen Northern Spotted Owls before, in summer, but they never seemed to linger.)

Since seeing our owls, we’ve learned that they are on the government’s Endangered Species List, with fewer than 1,500 pairs left in their habitat, the Pacific Northwest, from Northern California through British Columbia. They thrive in old-growth forests that offer a combination of redwoods, cedar, and fir, and those are fairly rare, with many having been lost to logging. (So, indeed, this is the same owl that was made famous by logging/environmentalist feuds.) Marin County is said to be relatively dense with Northern Spotted Owls.

Update: We saw the owls again, a couple days later, still watching Anna. Perhaps they’ve nested here!

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Photos by Susan Sachs Lipman

Camping Trip: California’s Eldorado National Forest

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I just got back from a mother-daughter camping trip in California’s Eldorado National Forest. It was a new spot to me, and I highly recommend it. It’s a classic high-altitude conifer forest setting, in which every camp site is near a reservoir, lake or creek. Campers can fish (there’s a supply and bait store within the forest), swim, boat, hike, or bike on paved trails. Water and toilets are close. Facilities are well-maintained. The forest has a general store. It’s all located a little more than 3 hours from the Bay Area, northeast of Placerville and west of Lake Tahoe.

I felt immediately relaxed in the peaceful setting that provides something for everyone and ease of doing it. Our particular campground was called Wolf Creek, and was one of many on the Union Valley Reservoir. We could still see snow in the Sierras.

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A bike path ran around the reservoir.

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Here are the girls in the reservoir.

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There was a lot of bonding, in the water and in the tent. (As well as a few hands of poker.)

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Anna and Camille made beaded message bracelets and lanyards.

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Anna was the camp cook.

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Food just tastes better when made and eaten outdoors.

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Photos by Susan Sachs Lipman

Gone Fishin’

.. Or at least camping.

I’ll be away from my blog for a few days while I take a mother/daughter camping trip with another pair. We plan to explore the El Dorado National Forest and the Yuba River. I’ll be back in time for July 4. Have a great week, everyone!

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Photo by Susan Sachs Lipman

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