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  • Five Natural Wonders of Tuolumne County

    Yosemite Falls from Glacier Point PiicmonkeyYosemite Falls from Glacier Point. Photo: DNC Parks & Resorts at Yosemite, Inc.

    TASTE News Service 26 Aug 2014 - Tuolumne County is two and a half hours east of San Francisco and is home to the the northern half of Yosemite National Park.  In addition to Yosemite, Tuolumne County is home to Gold Rush towns, two state parks, eclectic shopping, wine tasting, fun dining, four-season recreation, a variety of excellent lodging opportunities and some incredible scenery including many unique geologic formations.

    The County's Historical Society's Landmark Committee set out to identify the seven wonders of the area. What they ended up with was 21 wonders – 10 natural and 11 man-made. Five of these natural wonders include:

    • Yosemite National Park is considered one of the most beautiful locations in the world.   John Muir called it one of nature's most majestic cathedrals and devoted his life to protecting it.  This year Yosemite celebrates the 150th Anniversary of the signing of the Yosemite Grant Act by Abraham Lincoln.  This Act placed federal protection around this special place so that it would be an inspiration for generations.  Yosemite remains one of the most inspiration places on earth with iconic features like Half Dome, El Capitan, Tuolumne Meadows and Yosemite Falls.  Lesser known but just as spectacular locations within the park include The Tuolumne Grove of Giant Sequoias and Hetch Hetchy Valley.

    • Donnell Vista is located in Tuolumne County High Country just off of Highway 108.  The short walk to the scenic overlook is well worth the stop.  Visitors will see sweeping views of the Dardanelles, Donnell Lake and Niagara Creek Falls. Basalt formations which are part of the Carson Iceberg Wilderness can also be seen at this vantage point.  These formations are made up of volcanic remains of the lava flows that started at the top of Sonora Pass and flowed down the river canyon prior to the start of the Ice Age.

    • Trail of the Gargoyles provides visitors with a look at evidence of glaciations, with erratic boulders of granite rock that glaciers left perched on top of younger volcanic rocks.  There are two trails – the North Rim Trail and the South Rim Trail.  Both are 1 ½ miles long.  Easy to get to, the Trail of the Gargoyles is located off Herring Creek Road, nine miles east of Strawberry (above Sonora) on Highway 108.Ken Brunges Caretaker of the Bennett Juniper PicmonkeyKen Brunges Caretaker of the Bennett Juniper. Photo: Lisa Mayo

    • Columns of the Giants are a rare example of columnar hexagonal basalt rock finely polished by previous glacial ages.  Basalt, a hard, black volcanic rock with less than 52 percent silica, is the most common rock type in the Earth's crust.  The low silica content allows for flow over long distances.  Crystals can form because the lava cools slowly after erupting out of a volcano, sometimes taking months or years to cool all the way through.  The Columns of the Giants are located next to Pigeon Flat Campground, 24 miles east of Pinecrest on Highway 108.

    • The Bennett Juniper is an 86-foot high unrivaled specimen of a Western Juniper, America's largest.  Located near Eagle Meadows, it is estimated to be between 3,000 and 6,000 years old.  At last measurement it had a circumference of 480 inches and had a 58-foot crown spread.  On windswept meadows in the Stanislaus National Forest at 8,500 feet, the gnarled and knotted tree has withstood centuries of drought, hard winters and lightning strikes.   Visitors to the Bennett Juniper often meet up with Ken Brunges, who since 1988 has been the caretaker of the Bennett Juniper and surrounding acreage.  To get there:  There is no official signage.  Head up Highway 108, about one hour east of Sonora halfway between Strawberry and Dardanelle Resort.  Take Forest Road 5NO1 most of the way; the road is informally know as Eagle Meadow Road, although it goes far beyond Eagle Meadow.  A 4-wheel drive vehicle is recommended and a full tank of gas.  Take water and a camera and note that there are no public facilities.

    Editor's Note: If you're thinking of visiting Tuolumne or any of the counties in the Yosemite area, check out the High Sierra listings at Taste California Travel's Resource Directory. There you will find links to the websites of hundreds of Lodging and Dining opportunities, as well as links to craft beer purveyors and wineries that aren't too far away.

  • Architecture Finds a New Home in Palm Springs

    Palm Springs Art Museum PicmonkeySoon to open Palm Springs Art Museum

    TASTE News Service August 25, 2014 - As one of the best destinations in the world for midcentury modern architecture and the international architectural and design movement of the mid-20th century, Greater Palm Springs is getting ready to welcome a new museum dedicated to the art of architecture.

    The Palm Springs Art Museum, which purchased the historic 1961 Santa Fe Federal Savings & Loan building in downtown Palm Springs, is finishing up rehabilitating the iconic building. Set to open in fall 2014, the iconic building will house the new Palm Springs Art Museum Architecture and Design Center, Edwards Harris Pavilion. Designed by renowned midcentury modern architect E. Stewart Williams, the building was constructed in classic midcentury international style and was recently designated a protected Class I Historic Site. It features a ground level glass pavilion space that will showcase architecture and design exhibitions and will house a store and curatorial offices. The building's lower level will contain a vault, storage space, kitchen, restrooms and more than 13,000 square feet of meeting space. When completed, the center will be the country's first free-standing architecture and design museum housed in a historic, midcentury modern building.

    Desert Modernism

    Midcentury modern art/architecture in Greater Palm Springs is particularly noted for its own regional offshoot, known as Desert Modernism, which features a distinctive style that includes ample glass walls and windows, open floor plans, dramatic rooflines and the flow between interior and exterior spaces. In addition to the new architecture center, visitors may celebrate the area's distinctive form of midcentury modern architecture by attending the annual event known as Modernism Week, held every February, or by participating in customized area tours.

    Elvis Honeymoon Hideaway PicmonkeyElvis Presley's Honeymoon Hideaway

    Modernism Week

    The hugely popular annual event, Modernism Week, which celebrates all things midcentury, including design, architecture, art, fashion and culture, is an exciting 11-day festival held every February. The celebration features more than 100 events including home tours, films, lectures, double-decker architectural bus tours, Modernism Show, nightly parties and live music, walking and bike tours, a prefab Showcase and Modern Living Expo, tours of Sunnylands, vintage fashion, classic cars, garden tours, a vintage travel trailer exhibition and more. In addition to the events in February, Modernism hosts a “Fall Season Kick-Off” during Columbus Day weekend in October. Partner organizations collaborate to produce a “mini Modernism Week” to commence the season in Greater Palm Springs.

    Architecture Tours

    Local companies, The Modern Tour and Palm Springs Modern Tours, offer guided itineraries that are packed with information about the meticulously preserved historic neighborhoods that capture the glamour, sophistication and flair of California's swingin' midcentury modern lifestyles.

    Palm Springs Modern Tours: Personally guided small group tours (maximum 6 guests) share the stories of the talented architects, designers and builders who contributed to the city's modernist legacy and the sun-loving Southern Californians who lived and played here in the 1940s, 50s and 60s.

    The Modern Tour: Michael Stern, author of the best-selling book “Julius Shulman: Palm Springs,” leads small group tours that showcase some of Greater Palm Springs' finest examples of midcentury modern architecture, while discussing the works of such noted architects as Richard Neutra, John Lautner, Donald Wexler, E. Stewart Williams and William Cody, to name just a few. The 2 ½- hour tour uniquely includes visits to residential interiors of selected homes on the tour.

    Editor's note: More information about Palm Springs architecture can be had at www.visitpalmsprings.com. If you're planning a visit, check out the Desert listings in Taste California Travel's Resource Directory. There you will find links to the websites of hundreds of Lodging and Dining options, as well as links to area craft beer specialists and Southern California wineries.

  • August 22, 2014 Beer Pick of the Week

    Dust Bowl Red IPA pint Picmonkey

    Red IPA


    Dust Bowl Brewing Co.

    Turlock, CA

    Style: Red IPA

    Alcohol: 6.8%

    IBUs: 70

    Serving Style: Kegs

    Availability: Produced intermittently throughout the year. Good distribution in Northern California.


    Appearance:  “An amber or reddish shade. Appealing and really a seductive color.”

    Aroma:  “Definitely draws your attention. Not like a conventional, mass-produced ale. A unique aroma that draws you in.”

    Taste:  “Delicious. Like a good steak. A beer that stays with you, but doesn't overwhelm the tasting experience.”

    Food Affinity:  “Would work with a wide range of foods—from tacos to a good American hamburger.”

    Phil Pantages Picmonkey



    Reviewer Phil Pantages, though not yet retired, says he's someone “who is old and in the way.”

  • August 22, 2014 Wine Pick of the Week

    ValleyMoon Rosato 2012 Picmonkey

    2012 Rosato di Sangiovese


    Valley of the Moon Winery

    Sonoma Valley

    Alcohol: 13.9%

    Suggested Retail: $18


    “The linguistically-challenged can translate Rosato di Sangiovese as a rosé wine made from Sangiovese, the grape variety responsible for wonderful Chianti in Italy, but one that hasn't reached those heights as grown and vinified in California.

    “Color is fairly deep—we'd describe it as between salmon and hot pink. Aromas of Maraschino cherries and an orange slice as found in a Shirley Temple, followed by flavors of Bing cherries and strawberries. There seems a little residual sugar, but it gives a richness and full-feeling in the mouth, without any cloying in the finish. (At 13.9 alcohol, this wine isn't big by California standards, though quality rosés from Europe would be a point or point-and-a-half lower in alcohol.) This rosato could be appropriate as an aperitivo or poured with a main course.

    “We wish we could encounter more wines like this one. Shop around—we found it at $7.99 at one big retailer.”

    Food Affinity: “Reviewer enjoyed this wine with grilled pork chop, but kept thinking it would be great with Lobster Newburg, that classic dish from another era.”