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Area families look for help in Hawaii as airlines close

Friday, April 18th, 2008

 Wailea Beach, Maul

Photo Courtesy Ultimate Resort – Wailea Beach, Maui

Contra Costa Times Article Launched: 04/18/2008

As the cabin door closed on Aloha Airlines Hawaii-bound flight from Oakland Airport, Val Pettegrew’s angst took hold and it had nothing to do with a fear of flying.  “If the word had gotten out that they were shutting down, we would have never gone,” lamented Pettegrew.  While they had a gorgeous ocean view room, their vacation was consumed with logistical calls to find available seats to the Bay area as their airline carrier had filed for bankruptcy.  Odds of finding open seats were lessened when ATA Airlines shutdown operations two days later.

The Aloha spirit was not in the air for numerous Lamorinda families who found themselves stranded in paradise over spring break.  Dawn Hess and her family were not able to return to Moraga as scheduled, same goes for the Reineckes and Baldwins of Lafayette.  “I think the airline shake out is going to continue,” notes Hess.

There were no crowded airports for our vacation as we hit the open road.  Our trusty Honda van logged 1,614 miles as we traveled from Lafayette to the Grand Canyon via Las Vegas, Nevada. Our AAA vacation specialist recommended Circus Circus Hotel for our 12 and 16 year old.  We were located in the older Skyrise Tower at the end of the Strip.  It reminded me of Tijuana more than glitzy Vegas. 

Hoover Dam

We left the neon lights and trapeze acts behind us and steered toward Hoover Dam and mighty Lake Mead.  While not a wonder of the world, Hoover Dam is one of the greatest engineering works in history.  If you have time, check out the Powerplant or Dam Tour

Majestic Grand Canyon

The Grand Canyon did not leave us disappointed.  We opted for the Rails to Rim Package which included a night at the Grand Canyon Railway Hotel before and after our stay at Maswik Lodge.  Anyone traveling with kids will appreciate the cheesy Wild West show in Williams, Arizona before taking the train to the South Rim.  FYI, seven miles of Hermit Road will be closed until November 2008 for safety upgrades.

 Tallman Hotel Dining Room

 Tallman Hotel’s Dining Room

Closer to home, readers unfamiliar with Lake County are in for a treat.  A recent Unique Inns road trip took me from the Inn at Occidental to the historic Tallman Hotel in Upper Lake.  The 1890’s main building has been restored by owners Lynne and Bernard Butcher to its original glory, housing 17 rooms, suites and cottages on the property, while eco-friendly solar panels and Japanese Ofuro soaking tubs differentiate the place.  The location would be ideal for a family reunion with its meeting room and swimming pool.  Next door, the Blue Wing Saloon serves good food and microbrews at affordable prices.  Lynne Butcher told me that Lakeport’s Disney Boat Rentals will take care of all your water sport needs.

 Ceago Vinegarden

 Lavender Rows Lead To Ceago Vinegarden

Central to wineries, boating and hiking, the Clear Lake region offers more than a venue for aging rock stars at Konocti Harbor.  Accessible by float plane and car, Ceago Vineygarden  is located between the village of Nice and Lucerne on Clear Lake’s north shore.  Owner Jim Fetzer’s organic and biodynamic grapes go into Ceago wines.  Framed with olive trees, the lavender-lined paths are in full bloom now.  Eventually, Fetzer plans to unveil a spa and restaurant on the property. 

Travelers enjoy a touch of Midas

Friday, November 30th, 2007

Contra Costa Times

Forty five miles northeast of Winnemucca and eight miles from the Nevada ghost town of Midas, is a place Cory Brown calls, “Man land.”  At 5,000 to 7,300 feet elevations, Jim Bowers is familiar with this desolate, high desert country as he hunted this area in his youth.  He noted that his childhood memories are triggered by his sense of smell and that being back in the area awoke those memories. 

“It’s one of the few places you can hear yourself think,” states Bowers.  “It’s one of the few places on earth you can do what you want to do without being bothered by anyone. There’s never a moment in this area where we live where you can say that.” 


Stanley middle schoolers Evan Brown and Grant Sivesind joined their fathers and two other Lafayette friends in October for a long weekend of Chukar hunting.  Chukars are from the partridge family and these little birds are fast.  And for the animal rights activists reading this column, the hunters only brought back one bird.

“The camp experience was extremely rustic,” reflects first-time hunter Jim Straw. “During the night you’d wake up to strong winds blowing, coyotes howling and owls.”  He noted that the area was very remote with steep mountains and lava rock climbing.

 “We were pretty much out in the middle of no where,” commented Grant Sivesind.  “We saw mule deer and prong horn antelope.”

“This was a difficult hunt because there are no trails and the terrain is really steep.  But I was with friends, my dog and guns.  What’s not to like?” laughs Evan Brown.

 There was nothing desolate or remote about the town of Passignano, Italy on Lake Trasimneo according to Leah Bullen.  The resort town of 3,000 has a disco that held 5,000 people including Acalanes graduates Lauren and Rachel and sophomore Ryan.   The Lafayette family flew into Rome and then traveled by train.  “We did day trips around the region to Rome, Tuscany, Florence and Corneto.  We went to Assisi, home of Saint Francis, San Francisco’s sister city. We visited Umbria, the center of the boot; north of Rome and south of Florence,” explains Bullen. Another town she liked was Perugia, a college town, two train stops over from their home base. 

This was the kid’s first time to Italy.  “You can’t go to Italy without going into Catholicism.  Every little town is built around the church,” notes Bullen.  “The food was terrific and the wine was a bargain!”  During their three week stay they learned Italian cooking from their landlord.  The stone building they stayed in was built in the year 1,000 and was nice and cool.  “It was charming,” adds Bullen. 

 Next month I’ll be in Las Vegas learning about Ecotourism, luxury hotel trends and what’s hot in Peru during the Luxury Travel Expo at Mandalay Bay.  I look forward to attending this conference as a sola traveler.  I can dine by myself, attend a show I select and am only accountable to myself.  I recently met Beth Whitman who has made a career out of traveling solo.  Beth has ridden a motorcycle through Central America and is currently Couch Surfing her way through California promoting her book, “Wanderlust and Lipstick.”

If you are venturing out on your own, check out World Hum’s website which offers an e-mail roundtable with four accomplished female travelers discussing the ups and downs of hitting the road alone.  I would love to hear from Lamorinda solo travelers.  In fact, if you tell me about your solo travel you’ll be entered into a drawing for Whitman’s book.

 You can read more of Nancy Brown’s travels at http:blogs/ Send news of your adventures to