One State Park a Week – That’s All We Ask!

Remember that advertising campaign from Blue Diamond Almonds? “One can a week, that’s all we ask.” The same could be said for California’s State Parks. If everyone visited a state park each week, the perilous situation our parks are facing would change dramatically. Of course, it’s certainly not realistic to expect busy Californians to visit a state park every week: Maybe once a month would be possible?

Over Memorial Day Weekend, I visited four state parks, none of which I had visited before: Boethe-Napa State Park near Calistoga, Robert Louis Stevenson State Park, Bale Gristmill State Park, and Jack London State Park. All were wonderful. I camped with my wife and two children (along with three other families) in Boethe-Napa. One of only two state parks with a swimming pool, the other being Hearst Castle, the park is in the process of being taken over by the county park system which is already working to make the park more marketable for year-round visitation. During our stay we observed members of the California Conservation Corps building “yurts” for more comfortable winter-time camping. We also paid a visit to the pool and looked through the small visitors center with its adjacent Native American garden.

From our home base at Boethe-Napa, we hiked a short trail to nearby to Bale Gristmill State Park, also now being managed by the county park system. On weekends, the gristmill is going full-tilt with tours. Pass from the rustic museum into the mill itself and enjoy a wonderfully informative talk by the onsite miller. One jerk of a chain to allow water to pass over the largest working water wheel west of the Mississippi River, and the belts, cranks, gears and millstones of the mill come alive. The not only does the mill still grind corn, wheat, and buckwheat, it supplies several area restaurants!

At nearby Robert Louis Stevenson State Park, we tramped along trails frequented by the famous author during his honeymoon. The Napa Valley was one of his favorite locations in the world. Of course, he wasn’t the only famous author to fall in love with the area. Next door in the valley of Sonoma County, Jack London built his dream house only to see it succumb to fire days before he moved in. He died before he had an opportunity to restore it. His widow lived the rest of her life at the first home on the site and then gifted the home and land to the state. Today the old home serves as a museum dedicated to her husband and a short trail leads down the mountain to the ruins of the home that was never occupied.

Look for Sports Leisure to offer daytrips to all these locations in the near future. Without our state parks, our history continues to be forgotten as well as our inspiration.

We Can’t Wait to Introduce you to Moloka’i

“Yeah, I see the van from my desk. You guys just turned right. We are here on the corner. See you in an hour. You have to go all the way to the airport to get your car and then get back.” That was Julie-Ann Bicoy, the Director of the Molokai Visitors Association. Mark and I met her this past spring in NYC at the NY Times Travel Show and after Mark interviewed her, I promptly recorded another interview over the top of it. So, two weeks ago I found myself out in the Pacific Ocean on the small island of Molokai, The Friendly Isle, to meet with Julie again.

We were greeted with kukui nut leis, a warm smile, and jeers about our navigational skills. As for the hour we lost finding the place, who cares? We were on island time!

And what an island! The place just oozes charm and REAL Hawaii. There are no flagship designer stores such as Prada, Gucci, or Luis Vuitton as in Waikiki. There are no sprawling mega resorts that you’d expect to find on Maui. There are real people, real life, and a real down home “hang loose” kind of feeling. The “downtown” has a real working man’s feel to it. It is only about three or four blocks long with a post office, a few local eateries (fried rice with bacon and Portugese Sausage anyone?), and a general store or two. Nothing fancy….but that is what makes this place so special.

So, you may ask, what is there to do? Answer? About anything you wish if you are creative. Molokai has an entirely different approach to tourism. Where on the other islands you are barraged with hawkers trying to sell you a luau with a discounted snorkeling package, here they simply ask…what do you WANT to do? When we were asked, we really had no answer.

Looking around Julie’s office I spied a sign about a lady that makes culinary sea salt. Julie just nodded and said that she would call Nancy and let her know we were coming. That’s it…that simple. So, off we went to see Nancy and visit her salt farm. She personally took us around and explained the process by which sea salt is harvested and allowed us to taste salt that “rolls the tongue”. It was just Mark and I, no set itinerary, no charge, just Nancy sharing with us her passion. Perfect.

Molokai is probably best known for Father Damien and the leper colony, Kaulapapa. This town still exists but to respect the privacy of those still living there, tourists are not permitted in without special invitation. However, a short drive takes you to a paved walking path where you can look out over the small settlement. Interpretative signs explain the history and story of Father Damien and his incredible work with a group of people that had simply been cast away by society because of their unfortunate illness. The place has a definite feeling; the sadness of the history, yet optimism. Today, the disease is now treatable and no longer requires patients to be quarantined. I don’t know if it is the sheer natural beauty seen from this vantage point, but all seemed right with the world as I stood there looking out over the town and over the ocean.

Our last mission was to find a place to stay on Molokai. It was easy enough to narrow down the hotel. There’s one. Yep, one. It’s called the Hotel Molokai, and a gentleman named Michael Drew runs the place. Michael’s story is very fitting of the vibe of Molokai. He worked for years in Southern California in the hotel industry. He got the opportunity to come and run this hotel in Molokai with the understanding it would only be for one year. One year has turned into five and he shows no signs of leaving. It’s obvious he loves the place and takes great pride in his hotel.

He has begun, individually and personally, to remodel each of the A-framed buildings that make up the hotel compound. Let me tell you a little more about the hotel. It has a rustic charm that is befitting of the island. The rooms are open air (no A/C). Who needs it when there is constant tradewind? Though on the small side, rooms are nicely appointed with new flat screen TVs. Again, who needs a TV when you can hang out at the seaside restaurant that is only steps away from your room while you take in the sunset over a mai tai? It would make for a memorable ending to any trip.

As I sit here under the fluorescent lights of the office I am looking at my new tan and missing the islands. Sports Leisure has been going to Hawaii for years and we pride ourselves on being able to offer new, different experiences that would interest those that have visited the islands before. Well, this trip will be unlike anything we have offered for quite a while. We will give you the option to add two days to visit Oahu and take in Doris Duke’s home, Shangri-La, plus visit the newly revamped Valor in the Pacific Memorial at Pearl Harbor.

Then it’s off to luxurious Maui and trust me, there is a lot more to Maui than golf courses and day spas…but there will be time for that too if you should desire. We will explore the interior of the island and learn about the burgeoning agricultural business (How about a stop at a lily pad farm?), see a homegrown performance called U’lalena, depicting the history of the island through music and dance; and there has to be a stop for Ululani’s Hawaiian shave ice! Lastly, “camping” at the Hotel Molokai for one night rounds out the perfect Hawaiian vacation. Leave the tent at home and come along with us as we “rough it” in paradise! It’s Hawaii the way it used to be, and you can’t find it with any other tour company.

Watch for details in our catalog in August. The trip will take place next spring. Maui and Molokai. Who knew there was so much to discover?

You can checkout an episode of The Travel Guys which featured Moloka’i by clicking here!