Touring Sitka the Land of Eagles

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Sit eagles volcano x800Stepped in history and culture, and surrounded by picturesque forested islands, towering mountains, a distant volcano, and soaring eagles – Sitka is what most tourists imagine when they think of Alaska’s natural wonders.

Founded by Russian explorers in the eighteenth century, Sitka (once called New Archangel) is within easy view of Mt. Edgecombe, an extinct volcano that adds drama to an already rich and colorful landscape.

Sitka before Juneau

The city of 9,000 residents was the capital of Alaska between 1867 when the United States purchased “Seward’s Icebox” from Russia and until 1912 when the territorial seat of government was moved to the current state capital, Juneau. The site where the transfer of ownership of Alaska took place is a brief walk from the cruise-tender dock on Sitka Bay.

Things to do in Sitka

100_3371A visit to Sitka offers the traveler an opportunity to participate in Russian cultural tours, and outdoor activities that include fishing, hiking, biking, kayaking, and nature walks and other attractions.

Visit the cemetery

IMG_1281We always try to offer up something a little different in our travel reviews, and our choice for Sitka is the Old Russian cemetery, which dates back to the early 1800s.

100_3348Noted on tourist maps, but not on any organized tour, the old burial ground is located a short walk from the center of town.

Sit cem x800The graveyard entrance is not conspicuously marked, and judging by the narrow footpaths, it is not frequented by many visitors.

100_3358The cemetery was built on a difficult landscape of densely forested hills – along dark winding paths lined with moss and ferns – not particularly conducive to carrying a casket.

The grounds are not maintained. Most of the century’s old weathered headstones have sunk into the wet peat soil and rest at odd angles to the surrounding terrain – resulting in a macabre geometric mélange of ghostly forms. If you like reading Poe, you will enjoy a visit to this eerie yet enchanting graveyard.

Eagles everywhere

Sit eagles signs x800The last time we saw a bald eagle was at Big Bear Lake in California, when a fellow tourist spotted one soaring high above the water. The sighting caused quite a stir among the onlookers.

Sit eagles school x800Contrast that single sighting experience to Sitka where there are bald eagles everywhere – hundreds of them.

Sit eagle soar2 x800The proud and beautiful American symbol with the white head and huge wingspan is an integral part of life in Sitka.

Sit eagles tree cabin x800Bald eagles soar overhead – constantly, and look like white Christmas ornaments as they perch in the tall evergreen trees that line the shore.

How to get there

100_3364Sitka is situated midway up the Inside Passage in the Alexander Archipelago on Baranof Island, and is frequented by most of the cruise ships that sail the Passage.

Sitka is also serviced by the Alaska Marine Highway ferry fleet, and Alaska Airlines.

Sit boat mts x800If you travel the Inside Passage, be sure that Sitka is on the itinerary. You will not be disappointed.

Happy travels.

**************************

“Get out there, but be prepared.”

Whenever we travel, we are protected by Allianz Global Assist travel insurance.

You can plan your trips with Google Maps.

The opinions expressed in our articles are the journalists’ alone, and have not been reviewed, endorsed or approved by any entity.

© Travels with Wayne and Judy Bayliff

Photos © Judy Bayliff

Fabulous Family Fun on 101 in Florence, Oregon

The famous San Francisco sea lions that occupy prime dock space on Pier 39 first appeared there shortly after the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake. Then in 2009 they mysteriously disappeared for three months. Where did they go? 

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Oregonians believe that the celebrity sea lions headed north to holiday on the turbulent and exciting shores of the central coast of Oregon. To be exact, they headed for the famous Sea Lion Caves in Florence. 

As evidence, the Oregon locals point to the massive increase in the annual sea lion population soon after the SF lions turned off the lights in their famous City by the Bay. 

Sea lions everywhere 

Sea lion fans rejoice. Currently, nature is providing ample amounts of the odoriferous mammalia to go around.

Along with the flabby fellows comes the infamous sea lion aroma. The gamey bouquet is pervasive on the famous California pier, and is inescapable in the celebrated Oregon cave. Take heart, most people recover rapidly from the first initial shock.

When they are in Oregon 

From about December to August the jolly lions inhabit the largest sea cave in America, which is located just 11 miles north of Florence, and some 200 feet below the roadbed of busy US Highway 101. 

The cave is 25 million years old, tall as a 12-story building, and about a football field in length. It’s big.

30-buildingThe building entrance to the cave sits on a curve in the road that during the summer months percolates with tots and teens under the watchful gaze of parents – all anxious to view the famous pinnipeds in their natural habitat.

14-walkway Once you have paid your admission fee inside the gift shop, it’s a relatively-short and scenic walk down to the elevator pavilion. 

15-elevatorThe elevator was installed in 1961, and today it’s fun to watch people cheerfully bunch into the hoist that transports them 208 feet down to the giant sea grotto below.

22-displaysThe cave’s resident Steller and Northern Sea Lions are viewed in their natural habitat from behind a metal mesh screen, which can be a challenge for picture taking, but it is doable. 

Now you see them and now you don’t 

08-sea lionsThe lions come and go from the Sea Cave on a loose schedule determined by Nature. The choice rock space begins to fill up around December 1st of every year, and the last of the several hundred cave inhabitants usually have somewhere else to go by mid-August. 

10-empty caveEven when there are just a few – if any – sea lions in the cavern, the Cave is a worthwhile experience. 

?Over the years, the owners of the Sea Cave have embellished the attraction with ample parking and a great topside gift shop (try the delicious homemade fudge – yummy). 

What you will find down under 

07-displays2Look for the natural rock room where the public can view an engrossing film about the sea, cave, and the flora and fauna of the area.  It’s interesting to note that there are several species of endangered birds nesting in the cave.

Additionally, there are educational displays, and creative colors and lights that are conducive to the grotto setting.

23-stairs2From the subterranean sea lion viewing level, walk up the staircase to the observation platform.

11-heceta viewThere you will find a dynamic panorama of the sea – an excellent place from which to view the historic Heceta Lighthouse* perched on a cliff just a few miles north of the cave. 

18-walkway judyThe Sea Lion Caves is a fun family activity. We suggest you give it a go.

Where to stay 

06-front of hotelOn this visit we chose to stay in Florence at the Driftwood Shores Resort, the only oceanfront hotel in the area. 

The view astonishes

31-driftwood_shores_room_961Every room and suite at the Driftwood Shores has a spectacular view.

02-hotel beachAll the rooms overlook miles of pristine beach, and the fresh air, and roar of the crashing waves is a welcome sleep inducer.

32-driftwood_shores_room_102In addition to the usual hotel conveniences, our generous lodging had a full size kitchen,

05-sunset 3and a front row seat to breathtaking sunsets from our private balcony. 

Other unique amenities include an indoor aquatic center, and an electric car charging station.

01-hotel parking lotThe resort offers ocean cuddling accommodations from single rooms, to one bedroom suites, and three bedroom condos. It is a comfortable base from which to explore the many attractions and activities offered in this scenic part of the Oregon coast. 

The Driftwood Shores Resort would be a great venue for a wedding, large family, or small corporate gathering. There’s ample gathering space for about 100 people. 

It’s a beachy-keen accommodation that we think you will like.

Where to eat

33-Restaurant_1The Surfside Restaurant and Lounge is located right on property. The food is first rate. Open seven days a week, the restaurant is a celebration of the region’s produce in a striking setting with panoramic views.

If you go 

For more information about Sea Lion Caves reach out to their website at http://www.sealioncaves.com 

To check on current specials or make reservations at the Driftwood Shores Resort click here

*To read our story about the historic Heceta Lighthouse look here

Happy travels! 

**************************************** 

“Get out there, but be prepared.” 

Whenever we travel, we are protected by Allianz Global Assist travel insurance

You can plan your trips with Google Maps

The opinions expressed in our articles are the journalists’ alone, and have not been reviewed, endorsed or approved by any entity.

Copyright © 2016 Visit great vacation destinations with Wayne and Judy Bayliff 

Photos Copyright © 2016 Judy Bayliff – some Driftwood Shores facility photos courtesy of Driftwood Shores Resort.

Cruising Through the Rainforest of New Zealand’s Fiordland National Park

The “Other Down Under” destination of New Zealand is on the Bucket List of many Americans — and justly so. Problem is, New Zealand is a long way from anywhere U.S.A. Consequently, most tourists want to see as much as possible on their first visit. Our suggestion for an orientation trip to New Zealand – book a cruise.

The rationale

A cruise will visit several ports on the two islands of New Zealand, which is a great way to get a taste of the entire country – and all without packing and repacking. And, if you fancy an endless array of delicious gastronomical delights included in the price of your vacation, all the more reason to choose a cruise.

On our fourth trip to Australia and New Zealand we blocked out time for a voyage on one of our favorite ships, the Golden Princess.

There is not enough space in this brief article to adequately describe all the picturesque ports-of-call we visited in New Zealand, so let’s just concentrate on one very special destination…

Fiordland National Park

Established in 1952, New Zealand’s largest national park (3 million acres) was formed over the eons by gigantic glacial flows that gradually crushed and moved the earth into the sea leaving deep navigable canyons of water in the South Island coast.

The park fiords are lined with steep cliffs from which giant fingers of gushing water emerge to crash-dive into the sea below.

This park is extraordinary because of its almost incomprehensible size and unsurpassed isolation. Much of the flora and fauna found in the rainforests of the park are just as they were many thousands of years ago.

Entering the park

On the previous night, the ship’s captain alerted us that we would be entering the park at the break of day.

100_1572We woke about 5:30 and walked up to one of the observation decks just as the sun started to peek over the majestic mountains on our port side.

100_1596The sea was quiet, and there was a veil of still mist in the air.

100_1567At first we could only hear, but finally did see, our first waterfall. There were “oohs,” and “ahhs,” aplenty.

Watch for the bears

DSC02269We had a naturalist on board who narrated our passage through this otherworldly wilderness. He jokingly entreated the passengers to keep a keen eye out for bears along the nearby rocky shoreline (there are no bears in New Zealand). A fellow passenger retorted, “Bears hell, look out for dinosaurs.” It’s that kind of place.

100_1619At sunset we left the park for the open sea.

That evening at dinner, we joined a group of passengers celebrating the experience of spending a day cruising through time. None of us will soon forget the primitive beauty of Fiordland National Park.

If you go

The New Zealand Department of Conservation administers the fiords, lakes, mountains, and rainforests of the Fiordland National Park. Check out their website here.

100_1629The next sailing with our exact itinerary on the Golden Princess will be January and March 2017, but you needn’t wait because Princess has other ships that cruise throughout New Zealand. Check out other dates and itineraries here.

Happy travels!

If you have an interest in cruising, the authors suggest reading their four other articles involving Princess Cruises and the Golden Princess.

A Table Rendezvous with Italy’s Chef Ottavio Bellesi on the Golden Princess

The Sweetest Suites for two on the Golden Princess

Luxury Cruising from San Francisco to Hawaii on Princess

Princess Cruise Ship Rescues Canadian Yachtsman

******************************************

“Get out there, but be prepared.”

Whenever we travel, we are protected by Allianz Global Assist travel insurance.

You can plan your trips with Google Maps.

The opinions expressed in our articles are the journalists’ alone, and have not been reviewed, endorsed or approved by any entity.

© Travels with Wayne and Judy Bayliff

Photos © Judy Bayliff

Driving in Italy: Gardone Rivera and The Shrine of Italian Victories

By Bob and Janice Kollar

A Surprise Discovery in Gardone Rivera

We selected the town of Gardone Rivera on the shores of Lake Garda because of its proximity to the Sirmione Peninsula, and the archaeological site of well preserved “Roman Ruins”.

We usually plan some “open time” in our travel itineraries to allow us some flexibility to explore an interesting town, or museum, or just take a spontaneous side trip.

The “Vittoriale degli Italiani” (The Shrine of Italian Victories) Museum worked out perfectly and it was only five minutes from our hotel.  We actually discovered a fascinating introduction to one of Italy’s most famous, as well as, interesting personalities… Gabriele D’Annunzio.

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D’Annunzio’s Villa

 The final residence of Gabriele D’Annunzio is now a museum dedicated to his life and accomplishments.  A review of this incredible man’s life makes an excellent read, and provides an entertaining glimpse into the political side of Italy’s history leading up to World War II.

In the era before World War I, he was one of Italy’s most influential politicians, and a charismatic leader adored by his followers.  He served valiantly in the Navy, Air Force, and Army as a true war hero known for his boldness and outright courage. His many medals and awards are on display in the museum.

D’Annunzio was also regarded to be a national treasure.  A “Renaissance Man”… he did it all as an artist, poet, journalist, playwright, and one of Italy’s most popular, as well as, controversial writers of the 20th Century.

But another part of his lore was derived from his legendary affairs as he boasted to have seduced over 1,000 women.  Being married to a young aristocrat with three sons did not stop him from his constant affairs (sometimes multiple at once) throughout his adult life.

At 5’ 4” and not terribly attractive (some said ugly) he possessed a sexual magnetism that proved to be quite irresistible.  Perhaps this attraction also attributed to his outlandish, exhibitionist lifestyle, his purported suave Italian demeanor, and presumably his many erotic publications that may have peaked their interests… it had to be something!

The Era of the Fascist Regime

During World War I D’Annunzio became a powerful figure and began asserting his very strong ultra-nationalist doctrine.  But at the same time Benito Mussolini was developing his movement with a more extreme right leaning tilt.  After the dust settled, Mussolini had more power, influence and aggression than D’Annunzio and created a more dominant form of Fascism.

musolini

The Dictator and The Poet         

Photo Credit —  Vogue Italia  —  Corbis

D’Annunzio supported Mussolini and his rise to power but did not participate in the Fascist political party, remaining neutral. One consistent thing; he did not like Germans and the Nazi movement and continually counseled Mussolini to avoid an alliance with Hitler… to no avail.

 Eliminating the Competition

On the evening before a fateful assembly to determine the “meeting for national pacification”, the Poet was thrown out a window of his Lake Garda Villa onto the courtyard and his active career came to a bone crushing halt.

Two months later, Mussolini did his march on Rome and took control of the country. IMG_7242

The Bone Crushing Courtyard Landing Zone

 Mussolini and his followers adopted a great deal of D’Annunzio’s ideas, his approach to government, his skills with motivating and influencing masses of people, the elaborate nationalistic ceremonies, etc… right down to the Roman Salute.

 Maintain and Control

The Dictator kept D’Annunzio on the side lines and out of his way.  Mussolini was known to have said… “With a rotten tooth, you either pull it out, or fill it with gold!  With D’Annunzio I have chosen the latter treatment.”

So he vastly enhanced D’Annunzio’s villa into a monumental residence, and provided him a constant supply of cocaine… in essence he literally paid him to remain out of politics… the window drop would have done it for me!

IMG_7250

Vittoriale degli Italiani

IMG_7210

Entrance to the Auditorium

IMG_7226

Garden Sculpture atVittoriale degli Italiani”

IMG_7211

Amphitheater

Also on display at the museum are his books, uniforms, medals and art work as well as a few of his war relic mementos… such as a torpedo boat, the front half of an armored cruiser, and even the hero’s airplane.

IMG_7235

D’Annunzio’s Actual Combat Aircraft IMG_7227

One of Many Military Installations

 On March 1, 1938 D’Annunzio died at the age of 75 of a cerebral hemorrhage.  His funeral was a large Fascist state affair and Mussolini walked with his coffin.

Mussolini was quoted to say… “You may be sure Italy will arrive at the summit you dreamed of.”

In Summary

The visit to Lago di Garda and the town of Gardone Rivera provided us with memories of beautiful scenery, excellent cuisine, and exposure to the absolutely wonderful, warm and friendly people.

A definite highlight was the surprise history lesson.  By leaving some “open spots” in your daily itinerary, it is amazing what rewards come your way.

Please follow us in the next article… Exploring the Roman Ruins of Lago di Garda.

After all, what is the hurry… be inspired.

© 2016 Inspired Travel Itineraries with Bob and Janice Kollar

© 2016 Picture Credits Bob & Janice Kollar

A pleasant drive is just one reason to stay in Jim Thorpe, Pennsylvania

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The name “Jim Thorpe” may no longer be a household name in America, but in the early 1900s there was nary a child or sports fan that did not know of his legendary sports achievements.

02-02-02-IMG_3802-001

Enrolled in the Carlyle Indian Industrial School in Pennsylvania in 1904, the Sac and Fox Native American from Oklahoma, was destined to become one of the most celebrated athletes of the 20th Century.

Pop Warner and company 

Coached by the famed Pop Warner, a team led by Jim Thorpe from the little known Carlyle school became a national football powerhouse in 1907. The “Indians” regularly competed and won against eastern Ivy League colleges like Brown, Harvard, Princeton, Yale, and also Army and Navy. In 1911, the little Indian school posted an impressive 11-1 gridiron record against much better-known colleges.

In 1912 the Indians won a highly publicized football game against a nationally ranked Army team and its celebrated linebacker – Dwight D. Eisenhower.  The future general – and president-to-be was injured in the contest and never played football again.

The world’s greatest athlete

After reviewing his extraordinary sports achievements, Jim Thorpe was awarded the title of “The Greatest Athlete of the 20th Century” by an Associated Press poll in 1950, and again by ABC’s Wild World of Sports in 2000.

For starters, Jim Thorpe had won both the grueling five-event pentathlon and ten-event decathlon in the 1912 Olympics. Further, he excelled in all track and field events, as well as boxing, golf, hockey, rowing, and swimming.

As a professional, Jim Thorpe dominated the early days of pro-football (he was also the first President of the NFL), and additionally played professional baseball and basketball during his phenomenal career.

The town of Jim Thorpe

Thorpe was a true sports legend, and when he died in 1953, two small towns in Pennsylvania – located 100 miles from his old Carlyle school – wanted to capitalize on his fame for tourism and commercial purposes. They made an agreement with Thorpe’s widow, and in 1954, the neighboring boroughs of Mauch Chunk and East Mauch Chunk, Pennsylvania, merged to become Jim Thorpe, Pennsylvania.

The new municipality entombed Thorpe’s remains, and erected a stately monument with two statues in his memory. The monument sits on soils from his native Oklahoma, and from the Stockholm Olympic Stadium where he won his gold medals.

Worth a visit

010-010-010-IMG_5197We planned to visit the borough of Jim Thorpe primarily because of the sports legend, but also because we heard the town was charming – and offered a unique perspective on Pennsylvania coal-country Americana. We decided to spend a few days there, and hoped it might turn out to be a worthy destination to write about. It was.

109-109-109-IMG_529929-29-P1000741The now quiet hamlet is teeming with exciting stories about big coal throughout the 19th century, early tourism in Pennsylvania, and the famous hangings of the Molly Maguires in 1877.

The town stats

085-085-085-IMG_5275Jim Thorpe has a population of approximately 4,700, and is peacefully situated in a valley under craggy Mount Pisgah with its many hiking and biking trails.

Nestled in the Lehigh Valley Gorge, and alongside the Lehigh River, the little town is a photographer’s potpourri of interesting landscapes and 1800s architecture. There is much to discover about Jim Thorpe that is not immediately obvious.

Where we stayed

065-065-065-IMG_5255A subscriber to our travel stories, had recommended a local hotel because of its well-preserved architecture and period charm. We found the hotel a gentle step back in time and quite delightful.

The Inn at Jim Thorpe

035-035-035-IMG_5223As we climbed the outside entry stairs and passed through the old wooden doors, we knew we had chosen the right place to compliment the classic character of the town.

022-022-022-IMG_5209039-039-039-IMG_5229We checked in and ascended the long-serving staircase to our second floor room.

004-004-004-IMG_5191Like the hotel entrance, our room and furnishings were a perfect extension of the town’s yesteryear aura. We quickly became immersed in the subject of our work.

007-007-007-IMG_5194Sitting on the hotel’s veranda on Broadway was an enjoyable way to take in the activity of the town below.

018-018-018-IMG_5205The Inn was re-built in the commercial center of town after a fire in 1849. Like most 19th century lodgings the Inn at Jim Thorpe has had several names, seen good and bad times, and had many opportunities for rebirths. The latest took place in 1988 when the Drury family purchased the Inn and faithfully restored it to its early glory.

If you enjoy the unassuming ambiance of small historic hotels with a very different vibe from your run-of-the-mill lodging establishments, this one is for you. 

Don’t forget to eat

033-033-033-IMG_5221The Broadway Grill and Pub is owned by, and adjacent to the Inn at Jim Thorpe. It is a friendly bar serving both local brews and top-shelf spirits. The tempting menu includes some local favorites.

For dinner we indulged in a traditional Pennsylvania dish. Haluski, which consisted of fried cabbage and kielbasa, sautéed with onions and a touch of sauerkraut. The entrée included a glass of smooth Yuengling Lager. Close your eyes and you could be dining in a bistro in Central or Eastern Europe!

051-051-051-IMG_5241Our daily breakfast, the “Broadway Breakfast,” consisted of two farm-fresh eggs, bacon (but available with sausage, ham, corned beef hash or scrapple), served with fresh garden potatoes, toast, coffee and juice. At the time, just $10. Yummy!

If you go

137-137-137-IMG_5327Jim Thorpe has been called the “Switzerland of Pennsylvania,” as well as the “Gateway to the Poconos.” That should give the reader some idea about the scenic value of a visit.

043-043-043-IMG_5233There is plenty of cultural and outdoor activity in and around Jim Thorpe. Check out the Jim Thorpe Visitors Guide, and the town website for an up to date review of things-to-do.

For more information about the Inn at Jim Thorpe click on their website *here*.

If you have an interest in differing styles of Pennsylvania and Pocono Mountain lodgings, we invite you to read our other articles on the subject:

The Fabulous Lodge at Woodloch

Rustic Luxury at the Bear Mountain Lodge in Wellsboro

The Main Street Boutique Hotel in Kutztown

PA Jim Thorpe PosterIf you have an interest in the man and athlete that became a 20th century sport’s icon, you will enjoy the 1951 movie classic “Jim Thorpe – All-American.” The film stars Burt Lancaster in the starring role and features some archival footage of Thorpe’s Olympic feats. Charles Bickford is excellent as Glenn “Pop” Warner, who was Thorpe’s lifelong friend and mentor.  

Happy travels!

*************************************

“Get out there, but be prepared.” ​

Whenever we travel, we are protected by Allianz Global Assist travel insurance. You can plan your trips with Google Maps.

The opinions expressed in our articles are the journalists’ alone, and have not been reviewed, endorsed or approved by any entity.

Copyright © 2016 Visit great vacation destinations with Wayne and Judy Bayliff

Photos Copyright © 2016 Judy Bayliff

On Your Next Drive to Yosemite Park the Ahwahnee Hotel Signs May Be Gone

The grand Ahwahnee Hotel

The Ahwahnee Hotel photos by Judy Bayliff

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Because of a legal dispute over trademarks, some of the best-known places in Yosemite National Park may soon change their names. If something is not done, the historic and world-famous Ahwahnee Hotel will become the Majestic Yosemite Hotel.

This is not simply a name change, it is another gross humiliation for the people of America. A case where an ineffectual federal government squanders 100 years of American history and heritage through incompetence and maladroit negotiating.  The people who love our national parks are rightfully angry.

An extraordinary feat and justifiably celebrated name

Stephen T. Mather was the first Director of National Parks in the United States. He accepted the position in 1915 when there were only 16 national parks – today there are 58. Mr. Mather used the iconic Ahwahnee Hotel in Yosemite Valley to propel the success of the entire National Park System. Here’s how it all happened.

The Ahwahnee History

Mather built the Ahwahnee Hotel in his favorite park in Yosemite, California in 1927. It was to be the Crown Jewel of National Park Hotels, and for a very good reason.

Interest the rich and benefit the masses

Stephen Mather wanted his Yosemite hotel to be a wilderness destination for the rich. Not because he wanted to cater only to the wealthy, but because he knew that if he could interest influential people in the National Park System, he could build better parks for everyone. His plan worked beautifully.

The Ahwahnee was built with the best of everything, from newly invented electricity to bathrooms in each guestroom, and an elaborate kitchen that would provide extraordinary dining to the hotel’s privileged guests.

Two electric elevators were installed and manned by staff operators.

Noise reducing plaster was applied to interior walls to assure that guests were not disturbed by the roar of nearby Yosemite falls.

The siding and beams appear to be wood but are actually cement

The Ahwahnee Hotel structure looks to be made of rock and timber, but in reality the primitive looking exterior siding, balconies, and beams that appear to be timber are actually constructed from cement castings superbly stained to match the surrounding redwoods and pines. We have visited the Ahwahnee Hotel many times over the years, but until we did the research for this article, we had no idea the exterior walls were indeed made of cement.

Building the Ahwahnee Hotel was a monumental undertaking

It was the largest such task for the burgeoning young American trucking industry of the 1920s. Trucks ran on dusty roads day and night, seven days a week for over a year to bring materials to the Ahwahnee worksite.

All building materials for the six-story hotel were imported from outside the park. That meant hauling nearly 700 tons of steel I beams along with 5,000 tons of building stones, and 30,000 feet of lumber and logs with early model trucks along bumpy dirt roads. Add to that the many tons of hotel furnishings, and the kitchen and maintenance equipment necessary to run a luxury hotel. It was a huge undertaking for more than 250 drivers, workers, and artisans to create the timeless lodging masterpiece that we now so revere.

Stephen T. Mather did himself, and America proud.

The hotel had its grand opening on July 14, 1927.

The dining room

Dining was important to the wealthy, and in the Ahwahnee Hotel, the master architect Gilbert Underwood provided Mather with one of the most memorable grand dining rooms in the world.

The dining room stretches 130 feet from the elevator lobby toward Yosemite Falls and spans 51 feet from side to side. Its vaulted ceiling crowned with stripped pine rafters and trusses is 34 feet high.

Imagine the difficulty of trucking the dining room’s 11 plate glass windows that are 24 feet high on early California furrowed roads up to the building site of the Ahwahnee. One can only guess many windows were broken along the way. Consider also that once the windows arrived on site they had to be positioned without the aid of modern moving equipment – fascinating.

The great dining room timbers are huge bare pine columns that support a weighty truss ceiling. Unknown to the observer is that the pine columns are actually hollow concrete encased steel pillars. Once again, the genius of the architect is displayed. The rustic appearance of the dining room echoes the overall woodsy splendor of the plan. The immensity of this magnificent room dwarfs the 350 guests it can seat.

The dining room alcove – a magical place

 Located at the far end of the dining room, the alcove appears as an add-on to the vast main room before it. It has one of the 24-foot high glass windows, and in this instance, the window provides a showcase for the Upper Yosemite Falls and makes for an unforgettable setting.

The alcove has hosted many historic events including a round table dinner with Queen Elizabeth and Price Phillip during their visit in 1983. The Queen and Prince hosted a small dinner in the alcove after attending services in the park’s historic little wooden chapel.

When not arranged for special events, there are a number of tables for two set up in the alcove. The window center table is often reserved by newlyweds. Your authors had the distinction and privilege of having dinner at that special honeymoon table on their wedding night many years ago.

As we did on that night, we have often thought about the destinies of the hundreds – perhaps thousands of newly married couples that toasted and celebrated their future at that very spot over the last 90 years.

The beautiful Ahwahnee Hotel is host to about 200 weddings per year. If you are planning a wedding – it is an incredible venue.

The Ahwahnee Hotel design theme

The Ahwahnee has a Native American theme, and the chosen decorators did a superb job of blending the furnishings with the overall character of the property. Much of the furniture at the Ahwahnee is original with only subtle changes in fabric and design made to please contemporary tastes.

The Ansel Adam years 

When the stock market crashed in 1929, the number of visitors to the national parks dwindled, and the Ahwahnee fell on hard times.

The president of the Yosemite and Curry Company (YP&CC) decided that publicity would boost the Ahwahnee occupancy rate and he hired a young aspiring concert pianist, who was also a part-time photographer, to photograph and promote the hotel and the Yosemite experience. The young man’s name was Ansel Adams. The rest is history. His work, like that of John Muir will live as long as there is a Yosemite Valley.

Adams was in love with the beauty of Yosemite from an early age. He finally moved from San Francisco to Yosemite in 1937, and although he created visual masterpieces in other parts of the west, he remained intimately connected with the valley and the Ahwahnee Hotel for over 40 years. He retired in 1972 and died in 1982. He left behind a treasure trove of photographs of natural wonders.

The war years

The US Navy appropriated the Ahwahnee Hotel to be a convalescent hospital for sailors in June 1943. Before it was returned to the YP&CC in December of 1945, more than 6,700 patients had been treated at the Ahwahnee.

When the Navy vacated they left behind many buildings including a bowling alley, gymnasium, machine shop, pool hall, and foundry. The buildings were quickly dismantled and the salvage was put to good use in the valley.

Other changes through the years

The guest elevator was automated in 1963.

A small swimming pool was added in 1964 in a non-obtrusive space next to the bar.

Air conditioning was added, and all the windows in the guestrooms were replaced in 1976.

There was a golf course, but it was removed before 1980 in order to preserve the primordial nature of the surroundings.

TVs made their first appearance in the guestrooms in 1989.

The Ahwahnee Hotel was put on the National Register of Historic Landmarks in 1977.

The American Automobile Association (AAA) has designated the Ahwahnee a Four Diamond Hotel.

If you would like to read more detail about the Ahwahnee Hotel there are two short, but excellent books on the subject. . The Ahwahnee – Yosemite’s Grand Hotel, by Keith Walklet and The Ahwahnee – Yosemite’s Classic Hotel, by Shirley Sargent. Both books are available from Amazon.com.

If you go

Road to Glacier Point

There are several entrances to Yosemite Park and you can choose your route from the park website.

As you drive through the park, watch for signs to the Ahwahnee Hotel. A magnificent stone gatehouse at the entrance to the hotel gives the visitor an exhilarating sense of arrival. The leafy, tree-lined drive beyond the gateway increases the anticipation, and the Sequoia lined parking area provides a warm welcome to all visitors.

You are privileged to be about to enter one of the grandest rustic hotels in the world. Whatever it is eventually named, it will always be the “Ahwahnee,” to many generations of proud Americans.

Happy travels.

*************

“Get out there, but be prepared.”

Whenever we travel, we are protected by Allianz Global Assist travel insurance.

You can plan your trips with Google Maps.

© Travels with Wayne and Judy Bayliff

Photos © Judy Bayliff

Drive to Oregon, Visit the Heceta Lighthouse, Stay at the Lightkeeper’s Residence

©Travel Photo Interact – Place your cursor over any photo to enhance it – click to enlarge.

54-IMG_1957-002We had heard so many fascinating stories about lighthouses along the scenic Oregon coast that we decided to make a road trip from San Francisco to visit one. Here’s what we did.

Breaking up a long drive

Ours was to be a considerable drive of 552 miles, estimated to take approximately 9-hours, so we decided to break our journey into two days. 

The first thing we looked for was a convenient bed and breakfast along the route.

07-IMG_5742We contacted the Old Thyme Bed and Breakfast, 217 miles north of San Francisco in the town of Redding, which came recommended by a subscriber to our articles.

The inn is just minutes from Interstate 5, where we spent most of our driving time, and gave us the perfect break in our travel.

After a super slumber and a delicious breakfast, we were ready for the final leg of our adventure.

On the road again

Interstate 5 traffic continued to be light from Redding to Weed, California, and the scenery improved with each passing mile. The intermittent views of Mt. Shasta from I-5 were often breathtaking.

55-IMG_2102The most picturesque route to the central Oregon coast begins after leaving I-5 at exit 136 and connecting to Oregon state highway 138. Be sure to make the drive along 138 in the daylight, because you do not want to miss the panoramic blend of lush forests and verdant mountains.

We arrive

57-20151026_123929By mid-afternoon we were approaching the coastal town of Reedsport, Oregon. From there it’s a quick 20-minute drive along historic highway 101 north to the art-deco inspired Siuslaw River Bridge that spans the river running along the Florence waterfront.

It was a beautiful crisp day on the Oregon coast.

60-6-P1010968We took lunch at the Bridgewater Ocean Fresh Fish House in the quaint “Old Town,” section of Florence.

58-2-P1010962Our selections were fish and chips and fried oysters. Exceptionally fine sea food at reasonable prices.

61-7-P1010973The ambiance of Florence is “American Quaint,” and we were immediately comfortable with the town and our surroundings.

On to the lighthouse

49-IMG_1922-001One of the reasons we chose Florence for our base camp was its close proximity to the Heceta Lighthouse.

History

In 1891 President Benjamin Harrison reserved a coastal headland known as Heceta Head, in Lane County, Oregon, for the sole use of a lighthouse, which was subsequently constructed and dedicated three years later.

46-IMG_1904-001The lighthouse, boasts a 1.2 million candle power light — the most powerful on the Oregon coast. It can be seen from far out at sea, and also, from various points along Hwy 101. 

The last keeper left when the giant light was automated in 1963. Thereafter, the keeper’s notably unique residence went vacant.

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The Heceta lighthouse keeper’s dwelling was put on the National Register of Historic Places in 1973.

20-IMG_1674-001Twenty-two year later in 1995, Lane County opened the building for tours and a six guestroom B&B.

29-IMG_1723-001We had the privilege of spending two nights in the Mariner II (the one we recommend) guestroom at the Heceta Lighthouse Keeper’s Bed and Breakfast.

30-IMG_1728-002Our room was one of three with an en suite bath. If you enjoy traveling back in time, this is a place you will not want to miss.

26-IMG_1705-001Painstakingly furnished with period antiques, the vintage Queen Ann style keeper’s house is a giant step back to the late 1800’s.

16-IMG_5790-001The house is reputed to be haunted, and the setting is perfect for the phenomenon, but alas, we did not see any ghosts.

31-IMG_1742-001The view from our room was inspiring. The windows were like a powerful lens through which our expectations of the beauty of the rugged Oregon coastline became a reality.

33-IMG_1761-001A stay at the Keeper’s home includes a house tour, lighthouse tour, wine and cheese social, and a gourmet breakfast. All worth the price of admission.

See the lighthouse in daylight and after dark

19-IMG_1670-001

38-IMG_5867It’s a brief walk from the keeper’s house to the lighthouse atop the craggy knoll.

53-IMG_1949There is also a cliff trail that rises above the lighthouse.

47-IMG_1910-001The view from that vantage point invites your gaze over the shimmering ocean and the southern aspect of the Siuslaw National Forest and its rocky shoreline.

A flashlight is provided in every guestroom in the inn, along with encouragement to climb the easy trail after dark.

36-IMG_1845-001At night the lighthouse is showcased in the dramatic glow of its illuminated Fresnel lens, which tirelessly scans the sea under the gaze of a million stars.

Do not miss breakfast

Original innkeepers Mike and Carol Korgan are both certified executive chefs. They are retired now, but their daughter Michelle, and partner Stephen have upheld the tradition of fine dining at the house.

39-IMG_1853-001A seven-course day-opening meal awaits each guest. At this table, delicious food keeps coming until every guest is fully nourished and satisfied.

42-IMG_1867-001Accompanied by rousing coffees and teas, the multi-plate tapas style breakfast was a great way to start the day. The experience was further enhanced by the congeniality of our fellow guests.

Our recommendation

37-IMG_5856-001For those heading to Oregon and ready for an authentic 19th century lighthouse keeper’s experience accompanied by a gourmet-envy seven-course breakfast, we think you will enjoy the Heceta Head Lighthouse B&B. Learn more about it here.

Because this vintage B&Bs has very few guestrooms, be sure to make reservations several weeks in advance to avoid disappointment.

18-IMG_5834Happy travels!

********************************

“Get out there, but be prepared.”

Whenever we travel, we are protected by Allianz Global Assist travel insurance.

You can plan your trips with Google Maps.

The opinions expressed in our articles are the journalists’ alone, and have not been reviewed, endorsed or approved by any entity.

© Travels with Wayne and Judy Bayliff

Photos © Judy Bayliff