29. June 2012 20:29
I know that the excitement of approaching Yosemite National Park can tend to block out thoughts of stops along the way, no matter how attractive they might be. But the small town of Coulterville is such a picturesque, interesting and unspoiled reminder of California’s famed Gold Rush that it surely merits your consideration if you are traveling to the park from Manteca or Modesto on CA 120 or 132, or from Merced on CA 140. Located 10 miles south of Moccasin, Coulterville has somehow managed to elude the commercialism that now characterizes such other (but still very interesting) Gold Rush towns as Jamestown, Sonora and Angels Camp.
Coulterville (population 200) is the real thing; so don’t expect everything here to be neat and freshly painted. The historic Hotel Jeffery is pretty much the center of town, and is about as close of a throwback to the “Old West” that one is likely to encounter in 2012. The Hotel Jeffery has a large, quite charming dining room, which is the place in town for a group lunch. However, don’t miss the opportunity to also at least see the hotel’s adjacent and highly traditional Magnolia Saloon, if you don’t also decide to “belly up to the bar” for a cold one. Using the hotel as a base, everything else worth seeing in Coulterville is within easy walking distance.
Right across the highway (surely not a heavily traveled route) is the Northern Mariposa County History Center. Although I have explored more than my share of dusty old museums with little to spark my interest, this facility, contained in two adjoining historic buildings, definitely does not fall into that category. The museum contains quite a few fascinating (and largely dust-free) exhibits on the Gold Rush and area pioneers, including a detailed scale model of the original Coulterville Hotel.
Adjacent to the History Center is the small, narrow-gauge steam engine “Whistling Billy,” dating from 1897, as well as a properly weathered sign explaining the origins and history of the town, originally called Banderita in 1850 when George W. Coulter opened his store here. On the opposite side of the highway, and down the street from the Hotel Jeffery, are several interesting shops, a couple of general stores, a “Bed & Breakfast” and varied other enterprises offering selections of obviously well-worn items. Be assured that you are not likely to mistake any of these establishments for emporiums that could be found in Beverly Hills, but you are not likely to find me in Beverly Hills, either!
Magnolia Saloon in the historic Hotel Jeffery
Model of the original Coulterville Hotel in the Northern Mariposa County History Center
Unique shopping opportunities
29. June 2012 20:26
Crater Lake National Park is an important component of any quality tour exploring the splendid Beaver State. Since most groups are likely to reach the park via OR 62, the historic and quite picturesque Union Creek Resort, just about a mile south of the junction with OR 230, makes for a great rest or meal stop.
Close by is the splendid Rogue River Gorge, right off the highway and free of admission charge. So if you happen to make a day trip to the Crater Lake, you can make stops at Union Creek in both directions.
The Union Creek Resort was one of the original places where early motorists heading for Crater Lake could spend their vacation adjacent to the Rogue River and dense, old growth Oregon forests. The property, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, consists of a main lodge (be sure to see the impressive stone fireplace), general store, a variety of rustic cabins, recreational facilities and the small but charming Beckie’s Café. Beckie’s, which offers excellent meals and is renowned for home-baked pies offered in many flavors, is very popular among the locals and knowledgeable visitors. Even though the café is just large enough to handle a full motorcoach if there are no other patrons in the house, they are happy to accommodate tour groups as long as they receive advance notification, so make sure to let them know when you will be coming.
The Rogue River Gorge is an outstanding scenic wayside administered by the U.S. Forest Service, just a short distance up the road from the resort. A flat, short and easily accessible trail leads to several viewpoints overlooking the rushing Rogue River as it cascades over an impressive waterfall and through the gorge itself.
Whitewater in the Rogue River Gorge
Rogue River rushing into the gorge
29. June 2012 20:22
Those who remember my discussion of Mount Rainier National Park here last October already know that this is one of my favorite NPS sites. If one approaches the park from the west via WA 7 and 706, the small community of Elbe (population 30) can be found at the junction of the two highways.
Originally settled by German-speaking Lutherans, their historic 1906 “Little White Church” (the operative word here is “little”) in the center of town is a National Historic Landmark that is open to sightseers. Immediately adjacent, however, is the depot for the Mt. Rainier Scenic Railroad, the attraction that brings most of Elbe’s visitors. In fact, the entire town, situated on the east end of Alder Lake, has a railroad atmosphere, with a bar, restaurant and sleeping accommodations available in a series of retired train cars, although these are not really suitable for most tour groups. Even the bell in the church steeple was removed from an old locomotive!
As the longest continuously-operated steam tourist railroad in the Pacific Northwest, the Mt. Rainier Scenic Railroad offers excursions on restored vintage coaches and open cars, pulled by one of several historic steam logging locomotives. Although holiday trips (Easter, Mother’s Day, Halloween and the Christmas season) are offered, their regular schedule runs from Memorial Day through October, with multiple departures on Saturdays and Sundays, plus additional Thursday and Friday trips during the peak summer months.
Regular excursions are attractively priced, run about two hours (just about the right length) and are quite scenic. The train travels through a succession of lush green forests and meadows, alongside mountain streams and across rivers on wooden trestles. A 20-minute stop is made at Mineral Lake, where special summertime barbecues are also served at an all-weather dining area on Fridays and Saturdays during July and August. On clear days, Mt. Rainier can be viewed from the train en route.
The trip to Mineral Lake on the Mt. Rainier Scenic Railroad
The Mt. Rainier Scenic Railroad engineer explains the unusual vertical cylinders of the historic Willamette steam engine
Over the river and through the woods on the Mt. Rainier Scenic Railroad