Friday, November 27, 2020

Road trip wonders -- stopping to 'smell the roses' from Montana to California

 Jenny Lake in Grand Teton National Park can be worked into a driving trip east or west.

The Wapiti Valley on the approach to Yellowstone
National Park's east entrance, outside of Cody, Wyo.,
offers strange and beautiful rock formations.

CHIEF AMONG the pleasures of road tripping are the surprises. On this Thanksgiving week in America, we appreciate our country's roadside attractions.
We relish stopping to admire the landscape, perhaps exploring a bluff or bridge we haven't noticed before. We smell the roses, as Keller says, "as we stroll through the garden of life."
Often we pull over to give ourselves and the dog a break. This leads to taking a few photos, studying a roadside plaque or grabbing a milkshake at a newly discovered diner. 
An international array of visitors stopped the
day we did at the Piedras Blancas Elephant
Seal Rookery on the central California coast.
OUR RECENT driving trip included a side trip through Jackson Hole, Wyoming, a stop at Evel Knievel's Snake River jump site in Twin Falls, Idaho and a two-day layover to savor an ocean view and photograph the elephant seal Piedras 

Blancas rookery on the central California coast.
We treasure that "unplugged" feeling a road trip offers. For us, the trip is the journey and the destinations are part of the trip, enhanced by the experience of being together, visiting, listening to books on tape and studying the region with tour books and our Triple A literature.
THIS LATEST driving trip also included an overnight in Cody, Wyo., for a mock gunfight outside the historic Irma Hotel and an hour-long tour on Cody's entertaining trolley. 
We advise mapping your driving trip around interesting towns or stops where you'll have something to do -- whether it be a few hours in a
Buffalo Bill Center of the West has several world class
museums and is a great reason to overnight in Cody, Wyo.

museum, such as Cody's fabulous Buffalo Bill Center of the West, or an hour in a small historic museum such as the ones in Nevada towns.
With a bit of homework, you'll have an entertaining diversion or two during your nights on the road.
WHEN WE hit the road, we have hotels booked for each night, and we follow a strict rule that we go no further than 300 miles a day. Three or four hours driving time is our max, building in an hour or two for stops -- gas, meals, dog walk, miscellaneous discoveries. We find that after a few hours of driving, our attention spans diminish. Overnight breaks help keep us fresh and interested on our way!

Daredevil Evel Knievel's abortive attempt to jump the
Snake River is incorporated into a fine Twin Falls,
Idaho, museum, well worth a stop on a road trip. 

UP NEXT: While we're roadtripping, we're making a couple of stops for more in-depth stories. Evel Knievel is famous for his daring motorcycle escapades, including one that didn't quite work, over the Snake River, at left. We'll explore the legendary daredevil's jumps, including one that failed. Meanwhile, remember to explore, learn and live, and catch us Fridays for a fresh look at travel, nature, the arts, family and more: -- and share the links, please.



Friday, November 20, 2020

Plush Cavalier digs, elephant seals enhance cozy stop on Central California coast


The view from your private balcony at Cavalier Oceanfront Resort on the Central California Coast 
is stellar. You will find you don't want to leave your room, but there's lots to see if you do.


Small, clean, comfy, Cavalier Oceanfront Resort
has all the comforts of home -- plus ocean views.

YEARS AGO, we were looking for a mid-way stop between our niece's home in Redwood City and Port Hueneme's lovely harbor, where we'd spend a few days before heading into the home stretch for San Diego.
The beautifully rugged coastline of Central California has long been a favorite of ours, and during that long ago autumn, we discovered Cavalier Oceanfront Resort.  We've been regulars ever since. It's private, offers fresh air and spectacular views, and especially in these COVID times, it's a healthy way to travel, stay protected and safe without flying.
The town of San Simeon is most famous for the temporarily closed Hearst Castle, that stately and eclectic masterpiece designed by architect Julia Morgan for newspaper baron William Randolph Hearst. But while COVID has put a halt to castle visits, there is still much to recommend this beautiful area.
Gorgeous sunsets await in Central California,
where the ocean views and walking are tops.
CHIEF LURE for us is the resort, nestled on a scenic seaside bluff overlooking the Pacific Ocean. You'll never want to leave your room, with its comfy balcony rocking chairs, spacious relaxing interior complete with desk if you're on a work trip, and splendid day-long views.
   Located on picturesque Highway 1, the laid back but top service hotel is dog and family friendly.  It also attracts wedding parties and families on holiday or reunion.  And it's a favorite romantic stop for couples, including regulars like ourselves.  It's a great base for exploring beaches, the nearby Paso Robles wine country, and the quaint seaside village of Cambria with its fun shops, historic homes and fine restaurants. And yes, elephant on.
WE LOVE the Cavalier for its gorgeous ocean view rooms.  Among bountiful amenities are a welcoming fireplace, with unlimited wood blocks, a smart little bar-frig stocked with a dozen beverages, and plentiful munchies for a kicked-back stay. 
Ocean view rooms, a fireplace and comfy arm
chairs and balcony rockers so you can enjoy
the sea from inside or outside your room. 

Besides large rooms with comfy beds, we are delighted at the efficient room service with a surprisingly complete menu. (We dined in one night on a tasty Caesar salad, terrific clam chowder and decadent chocolate cake.)
The Cavalier has some interesting
touches, including this column,
once part of Hearst's collection.
an extra day so we could visit the amazing critters who inhabit Piedras Blancas Elephant Seal Rookery.  Since we discovered the hotel, we've made an annual pilgrimage to see these gentle giants up close and in their element. These magnificent marine mammals lie on the beach, and occasionally swim and frolic, just off Highway 1, along the coastline a few miles north of the Cavalier. The rookery is free, and open to the public, year-round. The rookery hosts the largest seal in the northern hemisphere, and these elephant seals migrate there twice each year.  While offshore, they spend eight or nine months diving down to 5,800 feet, feeding for hours at a time. The rest of the year, they mate, birth, molt, and rest onshore. What a life.
We see them right near the Cavalier, about 90 miles south of Monterey.
THE BUSY but not over-crowded viewing areas are open every day, are wheelchair accessible and free. The nicely designed viewing areas are part of the California Coastal National Monument, protected by the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary.

 The magnificent elephant seals of the Central California
Coast near Cavalier Oceanfront Resort are a wonderful sight.  
WE COUNTED several hundred seals of the estimated 24,000 the rookery hosts during the year.  We spotted several baby elephant seals and a couple giant 5,000-pound adult males, who sport that odd bulbous nose. Females weigh about 1,800 pounds, and newborn pups about 70 pounds. The animal's name comes from the male nose, which resembles an elephant’s trunk. This crazy looking proboscis impresses other males during during mating season when the guys sound a loud loud call to challenge one another. We heard a few!  
A stay on the Central California coast, at our choice,
Cavalier Oceanfront Resort, offers an opportunity to spend
time with the fascinating elephant seal, here snoozing.
 WHAT MAKES the rookery special to us is that the elephant seal is a real  comeback kid.  The species was almost wiped out by hunters. Like whales, they were slaughtered by the thousands from the 18th to the 20th century. Using blubber for oil nearly drove the elephant seal to the extinct list. At one point, only a single colony of 50 seals remained on an island in Baja.
IF YOU CAN pull yourself away from the Cavalier's ocean views, a first-class coffee maker in your room, cocktails in the frig, a fire place and that fabulous bed, the helpful folks at the front desk will guide you to the elephant seals, just a few miles up the road.
They'll also encourage a visit to Cambria, a nearby village worth a few hours. There's also beach time, wine tasting and hiking possibilities.
Even with Hearst Castle's temporary closure due to COVID, there's plenty to do and see. And you can always consider Cavaliar a friendly yet private place to just "plunk down" for a few days. The hotel is a lovely destination in itself.;

An uncrowded bird's eye view from a perch above the Pacific, 
near scenic Point Arena, in northern California.

UP NEXT: We've assembled some of our favorite scenic shots from this current road trip. Come enjoy the rivers, woods, beaches and off-road wonders that can be yours on a safety-minded, short or long driving trip during COVID times.  As we avoid the virus through healthy, cautious living, remember to explore, learn and live and catch us each Friday for a fresh look at travel, the arts, nature, family and more:

Please share the link, too! We appreciate the exposure.

Friday, November 13, 2020

'Jeopardy' host Trebek's passing leaves tall shadow on popular show


The set of "Jeopardy" is familiar to fans of the acclaimed daytime TV show.  Host Alex Trebek worked up until days
 before his death earlier this week. His final episode will air Christmas day.


Alex Trebek, right, will be remembered for his grace, perfectionism and kindness, staffers say.

Trebek, Burton photos courtesy studios
Speculation is that 96-year old announcer
Johnny Gilbert will not return.


of Alex Trebek's passing this week hit millions of us faithful viewers hard. He's been part of the family since the 1980s when he took over the job as the show's second host.
Although Trebek wasn't known for hyperbole or displays of emotion, he was visibly touched by a several contestants' comments in the past few weeks. One wrote for his final "Jeopardy" answer: "What is 'We love you, Alex'?" Another said he learned English while watching "Jeopardy" on his grandfather's knee.
I MET Trebek a couple times --  at a TV sweeps week and again at a fundraiser, both in Los Angeles. Then there we were -- front and center -- hearing Johnny Gilbert's familiar "This IS Jeopardy." Speculation is that the show's 96-year old announcer will retire now that Alex is gone. For his replacement, actor, children's TV host LeVar Burton seems to be leading the pack. 
He'd be a winning replacement, with his pleasing voice, genuine nature and stellar reputation in the business.
LeVar Burton is our pick for next
"Jeopardy Host." He is known for "Star
Trek," an imaginative children's show
and his debut "Roots" performance.
 MY "JEOPARDY" days began when the show debuted in 1964.  I was a high school freshman, and I watched with my grandmother Olive. She loved language, game shows, and critiqued the contestants. She thought actor Art Fleming handsome.  Indeed. The first "Jeopardy" host stayed with the show until its 1975 hiatus. It was briefly revived, then shelved in 1978.
LONG TIME HOST Trebek, was a reporter in his native Canada in 1984 -- covering everything from horse races to politics -- when creator Merv Griffin asked him to come on board. That was 20 years after Gran and I first blurted out answers and played that catchy theme on the piano. 

WE'LL MISS Trebek but are thankful to have spent several days at Sony Pictures Studios on the "Jeopardy" set, witnessing behind-the-scenes action of the hit game show. Trebek's grace, sincerity and kindness were what kept the show's ratings high and his reputation as a "nice guy" solid.

Fun travel tips, cruising, hotels, nature pieces, at whereiscookie

Photo right: Ken Jennings with Alex Trebek. Jennings earned over
a million dollars on the popular show.

  "Jeopardy" provided a departure from traditional quiz shows by asking contestants to give answers in the form of a question.
Cookie waited patiently with other fans
for a guide to take viewers to the studio.
Bottom right, she takes a spin on the set.
Johnny Gilbert works the house during
several breaks in "Jeopardy" filming.

JOHNNY GILBERT is a story in himself, a legendary game show host with more than 65 years in show biz. It was fun watching him work the house, joking with the audience during breaks for advertising. We watched make-up artists touch up the contestants and Alex joked with the audience, too, and a couple times crossed the stage to help contestants who were having trouble with the signaling device. Since several shows are taped during a day, we observed costume changes -- on both Alex and winners who advanced to more games.

We also enjoyed watching a panel of judges and consultants checking answers. Twice during our visits, Alex adjusted a contestant's score.   
MY GRAM WOULD be thrilled to know that with over 
6,000 episodes aired, "Jeopardy" has won a record 31 daytime Emmy awards and is the only daytime game show to be honored with the prestigious Peabody Award. In 2013, the program was ranked No. 45 on TV Guide's list of the 60 greatest shows in American television history. "Jeopardy" has also gained a worldwide following and has been the subject of hilarious sketches on "Saturday Night Live."
Because the show is taped weeks in advance, viewers will continue to see Trebek, until his last episode airs Christmas Day.
A touching eulogy was delivered Monday, before the show began, by its executive producer, Mike Richards:
"Today we honor Alex Trebek. For over three decades he brought integrity, humor and intelligence to his duties as host of "Jeopardy!" He will be in our hearts forever." 
Amen, and RIP, dear Alex.     

UP NEXT: While we're in a California frame of mind, we're stopping by the central California coast's elephant whale rookery near San Simeon. Thousands of these playful, enormous creatures return to the protected environment of the rookery each year.  We caught them recently on our way down the coast from San Francisco to San Diego.  Join us and remember to explore, learn and live and catch us Fridays for a fresh look at nature, travel, family and the arts. Please share the links you enjoy at:


Friday, November 6, 2020

Farm to table: California's fertile central valley feeds the country

Cookie shops for produce on an annual autumn road trip, here at a stand in the San Juaquin Valley.  


Rows and rows of farmland being worked meet the eye near Bakersfield.


DRIVING THROUGH California's Central Valley gives the tourist time to reflect on the importance of this fertile stretch of land and the hard working men and women who toil in the soil.
It's truly the salad bowl of America, growing tasty tomatoes, broccoli, beans, carrots, peas, celery, eggplant, herbs, and all manner of citrus, tree fruits, nuts, table grapes and grapes for wine.
THIS BEAUTIFUL and important stretch of land -- one of the most fertile in the world -- extends inland from and parallel to the Pacific Ocean between coastal mountains and the Rockies.
It makes up 11 per cent of California, covering 18,000 square miles and yielding half of the nation's produce.
If you enjoy green peppers in your scrambled eggs, homemade vegetable soup, guacamole or something more exotic, chances are it came from this part of California. That's thanks to an estimated half-million farmworkers -- some estimates are as high as 800,000 -- many from Mexico and Asia.
Farmer's markets are a huge recipient of the bounty.
James Hayes washes his daily harvest
at California's Purple Martin Farm. 

THIS ERA BEGAN began as a reaction to canned and frozen foods in post World War II America.  California cuisine emerged as a chef-driven movement highlighting fresh seasonal produce. It introduced America to a new way to cook, encouraging fresh ingredients.
While Boston based Julia Child was teaching us to use fresh produce in French cooking, the west coast brought us Alice Waters, America's farm-to-table pioneer and founder of Edible Schoolyard. 
This farmer's market is in Oxnard, California,
 the number of operating farmers markets
 has more than tripled in the last decade. 
In 1971, she opened Chez Panisse in Berkeley, California, and served only organic and locally sourced foods. She, like Child, studied in France, and America's culinary renaissance borrowed large chapters from both French and Italian cooking.
OUR NEPHEW James Hayes, and his partner Kelle Martin, run a small produce operation on their farm in northern California -- not part of the central "salad bowl" but typical of many of the small farm-to-table businesses which supply fresh vegetables and herbs for local restaurants.
More and more restaurants are proudly touting their use of locally sourced ingredients -- and many restaurants now even have their own herb gardens, supplemented by direct acquisition from farmers. These food trends naturally influence how we eat today.
A Hmong worker is among
thousands who help feed us.

A farm to table meal served by James Hayes
and Kelle Martin at their farm near Point
Arena. They grew everything but the lamb.

THE CENTRAL Valley is really two valleys: the San Joaquin to the south and Sacramento to the north. Nearly 450 miles long, the valleys extend from Bakersfield up to Redding, 60 miles at the widest. The area is as large as nine of our country's smaller states and is the world’s largest patch of "Class 1 soil," the best there is. The 25-degree or less temperature swing from day to night is an ideal growing range for plants and the sun shines nearly 300 days a year.  
HOW DID this arid chaparral land bloom? With water. More than 7 million acres of the valleys are irrigated via an extensive system of reservoirs and canals. The region's major cities include the state capital Sacramento, as well as Chico, Redding, Stockton, Modesto, Fresno and Bakersfield.  Two rivers -- the Sacramento and the San Joaquin -- drain their respective valleys and meet to form the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta, a large expanse of interconnected canals, stream beds, sloughs, marshes and peat islands. The delta empties eventually into San Francisco Bay and ultimately the Pacific Ocean. A drive through the valley renews one's appreciation for the beautiful nutritious food we take for granted.
Alex Trebek on his 79th birthday last year, a few
months after he announced his cancer diagnosis. 

UP NEXT: As we mourn the loss of "Jeopardy" host Alex Trebek, we wonder who will replace the dapper TV personality who waged a valiant war with pancreatic cancer and died Sunday morning. Speculation on his replacement has risen and while there will never be another Trebek, the show will go on. We remember our visits to the "Jeopardy" studio and our time with Trebek. Meanwhile, remember to explore, learn and live and catch us each Friday for a fresh look at the arts, travel, nature, family and more: