San Francisco, California
As a globetrotter and travel journalist, I am often asked, “Where are your favorite places to travel?” It’s a hard question to answer because I love so many different places for so many different reasons. However, there is one place that consistently makes my top ten list and that is Yosemite National Park. I have been visiting there regularly for two decades and its majesty and magic have never lost their luster.
One of the strategies I use when traveling to places that I frequent is to design new and exciting ways to experience them. In applying that formula this year, I decided to take an alternate route from my home in Berkeley, California to Yosemite. To accomplish that task, I solicited the help of Jarrod Lyman, Media Relations Manager of the Yosemite Sierra Tourist Bureau, who crafted a journey that showcased the wonders of Madera County, including an opportunity to explore their wine trail, a pistachio farm, the Fossil Discovery Center, Bass Lake and even take a picturesque ride on the Sugar Pine steam train into Sierra National Park.
Not only did I have an absolutely remarkable time visiting Madera County, I was also reminded of another one of my travel strategies, try to come back a different way than I go. So my 3-day trip turned into a kind of a loop journey returning home by way of Groveland and Manteca, which provided me with a much wider variety of experiences and excursions than I usually have on my direct trip to and from Yosemite. It was an ideal way to maximize the experience.
On route to Yosemite: My Madera Region Highlights
Wine Trail (maderawinetrail.com)
Little did I know that the Southern Joaquin Valley region, of which Madera County is a part, produces 60% of California’s wine grapes. So it’s not surprising that their Wine Trail event is definitely worth exploring. They are held in February, May and November. I had the chance to visit a few of the trail member wineries as well as ApCal (Appellation California), Madera County’s premier wine tasting and visitor center. I thoroughly enjoyed many of the wines that I tasted and found a few of them to be irresistible, which resulted in my buying more bottles than I care to mention.
Fossil Discovery Center (maderamammoths.org)
This “new kid on the block” opened in September 2010 and houses actual fossils, bones and reconstructions of the prehistoric animals that roamed this area over 700,000 years ago. There are 37 species on display including a Columbian mammoth, saber tooth cats, sloths, dire wolves, horses and camels. (Horses and camels in primeval California…imagine my surprise!) They have an orientation film, hands-on displays and a museum store in addition to an adjoining mock dig site used to teach children the nuts and bolts of an archeological dig.
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