Sunday, October 31, 2010

California Wine Country (Napa and Sonoma Valleys)

Having recently visited Napa Valley for the first time, we now know that California’s wine country is a place where we’d like to spend more time! We had no idea how much the winemakers had been invested in their showcases. They make an appeal to more than just the senses of taste and smell. (Photo from

Del Dotto Winery
The first winery we visited was the new, Venice-inspired Del Dotto Estate Winery and Caves in St. Helena.  (Photos below from ScheckTrek until otherwise noted.)





The tour at Del Dotto takes place entirely within the "caves," but for me this was an entirely different definition of the word! These caves are lined with Italian marble and ancient tiles.  The chandeliers are Venetian.

We received nine generous tastings of wines that averaged over $100/bottle.  However, at Del Dotto the tastings aren’t poured from the bottle.  Instead, the tour guide takes them directly from the barrels, using what’s called a wine thief. This enables the taster to experience the differences between French and American oak, or toasted and untoasted barrels.





Beringer Vineyards
After the tour at Del Dotto, we weren’t ready for another round of wine, but we did enjoy taking a turn around the grounds at Beringer.






 The Culinary Institute of America
And before it got too dark, we were also able to make a stop at The Culinary Institute of America.




Chateau Montelena
We’d hoped to have time to see Chateau Montelena, the winery featured in the 2008 movie Bottle Shock. The shock was because a California wine, Chateau Montelena’s 1973 Alexander Valley Chardonnay, won first place in the “Judgment of Paris” wine competition. The win over French wines was significant enough that a bottle of that vintage is on display in the Smithsonian.


(Photo courtesy Chateau Montelena)


Unfortunately, the inn where we stayed, Christopher’s Inn in Calistoga (Napa Valley), had some issues that preclude our recommending it. But even at its best, it would not have been on the level of the ones below, which are actually in Sonoma Valley.

Les Mars Hotel
Honorable mention for accommodations in California’s wine country goes to Les Mars Hotel, a Relais and Chateaux property in the town of Healdsburg. It’s done in a French/European style.  (Photos of Les Mars Hotel from

Les Mars is very, very elegant, and it is perhaps that second “very” that is the reason it is only the runner-up. (Well, that plus the fact that it’s difficult to lift many photos of Les Mars off the Web, and that always frustrates me!)

ScheckTrek Pick: Kenwood Inn and Spa
The ScheckTrek pick for California’s wine country is the also-elegant, but earthier, Kenwood Inn and Spa. (Photos of this hotel from hotel website unless otherwise noted.)

I think this place could almost make guests believe they’d been magically transported to Tuscany.




(Photo from



Sunday, October 24, 2010

Crater Lake, Oregon

Okay, I admit it. I like really nice hotels/vacation accommodations. And aside from my personal preferences, I try to maintain high standards for an esthetically pleasing blog--presenting architecture, interior design, and landscaping that not only reflect the culture of its locale, but that are beautiful in their own right. As long as this is virtual travel, what does it matter if our pick for Marrakech rents for 4000 euros per night? It looks great on the blog, and it costs us nothing to enjoy the view!

This occasionally presents me with a dilemma, however. There are some spots on this earth that boast incredible, almost unbelievable, natural beauty, but the area’s accommodations aren’t necessarily up to par in terms of man-made attractiveness. I’ve actually passed up putting some of these destinations on the blog because I felt the lodging options were sub-standard. As I said, it is a dilemma, and one that I’ll probably continue to grapple with.

Having said that, we recently visited Crater Lake in southern Oregon, and I knew it would have to be a ScheckTrek stop, less-than-ideal accommodations notwithstanding!

Here’s the overview in a nutshell:

1. There’s not a lot to see in the area.
2. Depending on your interests and the time of year, you may not feel there’s a lot to do.
3. There aren’t any really special places to stay that I could find.
4. There are very few restaurants in the area, especially open past September. The one at Crater Lake Lodge is expensive (but not highly rated), and reservations are imperative.
5. Crater Lake can have snow 9 months out of the year. Transportation to or from could be challenging, or in some areas, impossible.  (This provides a live view to check weather and is refreshed every 10 minutes:
6. You do want to see Crater Lake! In spite of everything I said, it is definitely worth it. On the plus side, it doesn’t take long–one day will suffice unless you plan to do some hiking–and you’re not likely to ever forget the depth of its beauty!

The following photos were taken on our visit.  It will perhaps be obvious why I'm a fan.

After witnessing the chipmunk feeding, another tourist warned that you can get fined $1000 for feeding them. We didn’t see any signs to that effect, but who knows? Another person commented, “Good way to get rabies.” If there are rabid chippies running rampant, I think that would be good sign to have too!  But whatever, I guess feeder beware.

Some interesting facts about Crater Lake:

• It’s 1,943 feet deep (over 1/3 mile).

• It’s the deepest lake in the United States, and the seventh deepest in the world.

• It lies inside a caldera, or volcanic basin, created when the 12,000 foot (2-1/4 mile) high Mount Mazama collapsed 7,700 years ago following a massive eruption.

• The distance across the lake is about 4.5 to 6 miles.

• The surrounding mountains rise up to almost 2,000 feet.

• The lake has no inlets or outlets.

• Its water is said to be some of the clearest in the world.

• The lake receives an average of 533 inches (over 44 feet!) of snow per year, and snow can be seen even in June or July.

• In spite of the run-off from snow, the lake doesn’t get any deeper because of seepage and evaporation.

 Of the snow, Wikipedia says, “...Rim Drive is only open during the summer due to the heavy snowfall. In most places, the road is covered by more than 20 feet (6.1 m) of snow with drifts as deep as 60 feet (18 m) in some areas. Sensors buried in the roadway help snow removal crews locate the center of the road under the accumulated snow.”


The government’s website on Crater Lake ( also provides the following information:

The calm beauty of Crater Lake obscures the violent forces that formed it. Crater Lake lies inside the collapsed remnants of an ancient volcano known as Mount Mazama. Its greatest eruption, about 7,700 years ago, was the largest to occur in North American [sic] for more than half a million years. Though the mountain has now been dormant for five thousand years, geologists do expect it to reawaken someday.”

The website further suggests that the eruption of Mount Mazama was responsible for the layers of ash that are found in the soil as far away as Alberta, Canada, more than 1,000 miles away. “In all, 12 cubic miles (50 cubic kilometers) of material poured out of the volcano, draining the magma chamber beneath it.  [Editorial note: By comparison, this was 100 times the half a kilometer that Mount St. Helens spewed in 1980!]  As the underlying support for the mountain was lost, the walls of the volcano began to collapse inward. The top of a mountain that was built over hundreds of thousands of years probably ‘disappeared’ in a day.”

Scientists “periodically make geodetic measurements and look for tilting or swelling of the caldra area that might forewarn of renewed volcanic activity.” The website did say, however, that “Another eruption as big as the caldra-forming event…is unlikely.” But if something did happen, “Caldras filled with water can also produce tremendous flooding if the caldera wall fails. Crater Lake show [sic] no signs of imminent caldera-wall failure…” Good thing.  With the deepest lake in the United States, one could only imagine…!


While in Oregon we stayed at the Running Y in Klamath Falls, about an hour’s drive from Crater Lake. The Running Y has a wide assortment of housing options, from their lodge to condos to chalets to larger vacation rentals. As many are privately owned, the quality varies. We stayed in a condo which, while certainly not luxurious, was spacious, attractive, and well suited for our family’s visit. It did take some considerable sleuthing, however, to find out exactly what it was that we would be renting; and unless there were other reasons for considering Klamath Falls, you may not feel it warrants the hour+ drive. Or you may.  Of note for golfers is that the resort boasts an Arnold Palmer golf course, considered to be in the top 100 in the country.

Farther away from the lake, but with more housing and restaurant options, is Ashland.

The best housing I could turn up at Crater Lake itself is the Crater Lake Lodge. (Crater Lake Lodge photos from unless otherwise noted.)

The lobbies are somewhat reminiscent of Yosemite’s Ahwahnee, albeit on a smaller scale. 

It was the first time I’d ever seen bark lining the underside of a staircase. (ScheckTrek Photography)

The public areas are certainly impressive, and you can’t beat the view from its veranda.

The downside is the guest room décor (rather loosely so-called, I'm afraid).  The lodge’s website quotes rates of $157-217 (or $283 for the loft, which I didn’t see pictured).  I don’t know what the breakdown is for view/non-view rooms, but this is an example of what your money will buy you.

This was seemingly one of the larger rooms.

I was more impressed with what I could see of the bathroom, especially if one’s assigned room would have that view!

There are caveats to this hotel in addition to the room décor.  The rooms have no air-conditioning, TV, phones or Internet. (Maybe the latter three are a plus?)  Cell service is spotty. The hotel does have pay phones. Several former guests complained about the miserableness of the mattresses. As for food, a TripAdvisor reviewer put it this way: “One note: there is literally almost next to no place to eat or buy food here other than their grossly overpriced restaurant that serves mediocre food at best. So be forewarned to spend a lot of money to eat, or bring into the park some of your own food. There aren't any businesses outside the park for 50 miles!”

Farther afield from the lake, about 45 minutes away, is Point Comfort Lodge at the foot of the Cascade Mountains, on the shore of upper Klamath Lake. Built in 1912 by a railroad and lumber tycoon, this country house sits on 3 acres of land and has 7 bedrooms and 5-1/2 baths. Following a 7-year restoration the property was listed on the National Registry of Historical Places. Accordingly, the price is commensurate with the size and quality. But the lodge will sleep 16 and has dishes for 30, so if you’ve got a crowd to share the cost and cooking (again, not many restaurants in the area!), this could be a memorable place to stay.  (Photos from except as noted.)

(Photo by Ashley Scheck)

We were at Crater Lake during a heat wave in September so didn’t see snow, but I couldn’t resist including this photo from

According to, “No place else on earth combines a deep, pure lake, so blue in color; sheer surrounding cliffs, almost two thousand feet high; two picturesque islands; and a violent volcanic past. It is a place of immeasurable beauty…” The beauty is indeed immeasurable – and, if need be, worth a few challenges with accommodations in order to experience it.