Approaching the start of the new year, and seeing friends and family – it’s the ideal opportunity to discuss family travel plans. As you interact over the holidays, plan a discussion of favorite trip destinations as well as hopes and dreams for travel in 2023. This column offers travel destinations within 3-4 hours by auto, suggesting several “one-tank vacations” that our state offers.
From San Joaquin County, let’s look north, to Lassen Volcanic National Park. Lassen Peak is part of the “Pacific ring of fire,“ a string of volcanoes surrounding the Pacific Ocean. Lassen formed about 27,000 years ago from a volcanic vent on the flank of Brokeoff volcano (which is about a half million years old), resulting in one of the world’s largest plug dome volcanoes, rising to 10,457 feet. From 1914 to 1917, a series of small to massive eruptions blasted huge boulders miles to the east off the volcano.
The visitor center explains the four types of volcanoes found throughout the world, all of which can be found within the park. Those include composite volcanoes (Brokeoff Volcano), plug dome (Lassen Peak), shield (Prospect Peak) and cinder cone (Cinder Cone). Mature children and teens will have an interesting time attempting to identify these four types of volcanoes on the park’s horizons. Along the park’s mail road, you’ll find smelly sulfur springs, hissing mud pots, and steaming fumeroles.
Explore the Bumpass Hell trailhead where a 3.5 mile round trip hike takes one down and into the valley called Bumpass Hell. In 1864 mountaineer and explorer Kendall Bumpass first discovered this hissing, steaming hydrothermal area. He and his partner, Major Pearson Reading filed a claim with the intention of developing it as a tourist attraction and mining its minerals. Soon thereafter, Bumpass broke through the thin crust into a boiling mud pot at nearly 240°, causing severe burns and the loss of his leg, interrupting his development dream. The park is much like a smaller Yellowstone Park, and offers hiking and exploration options galore. If time, take a side trip to McArthur–Burney Falls State Park, a beautiful 129 foot tall spectacular falls running strong even in dry summer months.
Exploring east, Take Highway 88 across the mountains to the eastern Sierra, and head south on Highway 395. This most marvelous, relatively quiet highway will take you to one the west’s finest ghost towns, Bodie State Historical Park, where the old gold mining town is maintained in a state of “arrested decay“ by the state park. Just further south, the eerie, Mono Lake is a must-stop, with its strange, tufa towers rising out of the southern shoreline, like ghost pirate ships.
Continue south on 395 to the lovely June Lakes/Mammoth Lakes area, where a bonanza of lovely, campgrounds and resort towns await, with Mammoth Lakes also featuring the Mammoth Mountain Resort. Just past the resort turn off is Devils Postpile‘s National Monument, the headwaters of the San Joaquin River and a picturesque 101 foot waterfall. Continuing south, you’ll find the Manzanar National Historic Site, featuring Camp Manzanar, where, sadly, 10,000 Japanese Americans were interred during World War II, and the storied Alabama Hills area, site of scores of Hollywood western movies and a hiking/camping Mecca, with Mt. McKinley and the Sierra as a stately backdrop.
Casting our gaze south, two national parks stand out. First, Sequoia/Kings Canyon National Parks actually come “two for the price of one”, sharing a common border amongst the huge giant sequoias and lofty Sierra peaks. Since winter shuts much of the two parks access, we’ll save our comments until spring.
Pinnacles National Park, however, is just three hours away to the south, 30 miles south of Hollister, one of the less-visited and more unique of our national parks. It features the remnants of an ancient volcano, birthed eons ago just north of Los Angeles, and slowly moving several inches northward each year on the San Andreas Fault. The park features California condors soaring in the lofty wind currents above the blank mountains, and several talus caves, offering unique exploration for those with flashlights or headlamps. Forty miles of scenic, hiking trails invite investigation. It’s also in a sheltered, warmer part of the coastal mountains, with a warmer, drier climate than much of northern California, so great for winter and early spring trips.
Looking west, consider a unique tour of San Francisco’s worldly highlights – via public transit. Drive your car to Oakland’s Jack London Square, have breakfast at the Oakland Grill, or other nearby restaurant options, park your car in the Square’s covered parking garage and take the ferry across to San Francisco’s lovely, renovated Ferry Building (circa 1910), getting a free harbor tour as part of the package. From the historic Ferry Building, with a host of shops and delectable restaurants, either walk or hop an historic trolley up the Embarcadero to the Pier 39 and Fisherman’s Wharf.
Explore the Hyde Street Pier and National Maritime Museum, where seven historic sailing, harbor and ferry boats offer a glimpse into San Francisco Bay’s storied past. From here, hop a cable car for a ride into downtown San Francisco, the return to the Ferry Building and the return trip back to Jack London Square. It’s a lovely way to see the historic highlights of the city, skipping the traffic and hunt for elusive, expensive parking.
For more information: Eastern Sierra, californiahighsierra.com; Lassen Volcanic National Park, nps/gov/lavo; Pinnacles National Park, nps/gov/pinn; San Francisco, sftravel.com.
Contact Tim, firstname.lastname@example.org. Happy New Year!