Visiting Mendocino’s redwoods

by Bob Hoelscher 8. June 2012 20:48

I have found that one of life’s most humbling and least expensive pleasures is simply a walk under the canopy of majestic trees in a great forest, enhanced by the sounds of native birds and rushing streams. And while forests of the skyscraping firs and cedars of the Pacific Northwest run a close second, nothing equals a stroll through the towering coastal redwoods or massive giant sequoias found in California.

Although not as well known as Del Norte County’s redwoods, Mendocino County also offers a number of spectacular redwood groves for the visitor to explore. Among these are Hendy Woods and Mendocino Woodlands State Parks, as well as Montgomery Woods, Maillard Redwoods and Smithe Redwoods State Reserves. Unfortunately, some of these sites are a bit difficult for a full-sized motorcoach to access, plus California is currently in the process of closing quite a few of its lesser-utilized state parks due to budget woes.    

The good news is that there are two outstanding redwood forest areas in Mendocino County that are ideal for group visits. The first is free and definitely cannot be closed, since CA 128 runs right smack through the middle of Navarro River Redwoods State Park for almost 12 miles. This incredible, awe-inspiring scenic drive is every bit the equal of the famed “Avenue of the Giants” further north. 

Visitors will certainly want to pause at several of the many turnouts available along the way in order to delve even deeper into the forest on foot. Continuing east, past the park on 128, also leads to the lush Anderson Valley wine and fruit-producing region. Don’t miss it, if your tour is in the neighborhood! 

The second ideal opportunity for a redwood experience is into Jackson State Forest via the renowned “Skunk Train,” which departs both from Fort Bragg (drawn by a historic steam engine) from the west, and Willits (aboard classic diesel motorcars) from the east. Narration on these daily summer excursions is provided en route with a stop for lunch and exploring in the heart of the redwoods. Incidentally, the bad-smelling fuel that earned the train its unusual name back in the 1920s, happily, is no longer utilized.

Navarro River Redwoods State Park

CA Highway 128 in Navarro River Redwoods State Park

Skunk Train in Jackson State Forest

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Marvelous Mendocino County

Branson Scenic Railway

by Brian Jewell 18. April 2012 23:18

One hundred years ago, Branson was a newly incorporated town growing around a stop in the White River Line railway that connected Arkansas and Missouri. Today, visitors can experience a taste of historic transportation — as well as the scenery of the unspoiled Ozark mountains — during a ride on the Branson Scenic Railway.

When I took an afternoon excursion on the railway, I couldn't help but notice how the "Ozark Zephyr" seemed to transport me and my fellow passengers across space and time. The train ride starts at Branson Landing, a modern retail and dining complex on the banks of Lake Taneycomo. But as soon as I boarded the train, I found myself surrounded by a mid-20th century environment. The train features a collection of classic train cars, some of which have been in service for decades, and a couple of special dome cars that offer great viewing opportunities.

Once the train began moving, the business of Branson faded away, and the beauty of the Ozark Mountains came into view. As we chugged our way through thick forest and along the hilltops, we enjoyed the same landscape that rail travelers saw as they rode through this area 100 years ago. Along the way, we passed over a number of high trestles that gave us gorgeous views onto valleys and canyons below, as well as some tunnels carved out of the local limestone hills.

About two hours later, we pulled back into busy Branson and back into the 21st century. I found myself so relaxed by the ride and so enchanted by the scenery that I almost didn't want the ride to end.



Vintage train cars

Wrapping around a high trestle

A view from the railway's highest bridge

Electric trains and apple pies

by Brian Jewell 19. October 2011 20:48

In East Troy, a preserved electic railroad gives visitors a passage into some of the area's hidden treasures.

A short drive from Lake Geneva, East Troy is a small southeast Wisconsin town that has a 100-year railroad history. In 1907, the Milwaukee Electric Railway and Light Company brought the first electric railway through town, connecting the area to Milwaukee for freight and passenger shipping. Though rail is no longer the primary means of transportation, and much of the electric railroad in the area no longer exists, a stretch of electified rail extending from East Troy makes for great group excursions.

We began with a visit to the depot, which is now a museum detailing the history of the electric railroad. After a short introduction, our hosts helped us board a 1927 trolley car, restored to its original look and outfitted with vintage advertising. The car started on the ten mile journey, and our hosts told us more about their family history on the railroad as we passed through forests, corn fields and small villages along the way.

We stepped off at The Elegant Farmer, an orchard and bakery operation that sits right on the train tracks. This group of farmers has created an outlet store that sells area favorites such as Door County cherry products, cider-cured ham and traditional Wisconsin cheese curds. The Elegant Farmer's most famous product, though, is an apple pie baked in a brown paper bag. Owner Keith Schimdit walked my group through the store, and up to the production facility, where we saw workers kneading pie dough, coating carmel apples and preparing other fall products.

We had a great lunch at the Elegant Farmer, tasting a number of their products. The cider-cured ham was delicious, along with the bottle of fresh apple cider that came with lunch. A generous portion of fresh apple pie made the perfect end to a morning spent exploring these travel treasures of southeast Wisconsin.


Inside the historic electric train car

The Elegant Farmer's famous apple pie in a bag

A batch of freshly dipped carmel apples

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