Expert advice: See a bear, make some noise

This bear wandered off before I had a chance to say, “Boo!” I promise. (Photo: Tom Adkinson)

GREAT SMOKY MOUNTAINS NATIONAL PARK — Bill Stiver, a wildlife biologist at Great Smoky Mountains National Park, wants me to do something that goes against every outdoor-loving fiber of my body. If I’m lucky enough to see a black bear, the symbol of America’s most visited national park, he’d appreciate it if I would make a ruckus, startle the bear and make it run away into the woods.

“Can’t I take a picture first?” I implored.

He smiled, didn’t answer directly and repeated what he said earlier about making a big noise.

Stiver, of course, was being theatrical – I think – but his point was clear. He doesn’t want bears to associate humans with anything good, even benign neglect. He wants bears to go the other way when they see a human.

The problem isn’t the bears. It’s the humans who aren’t smart enough, or respectful enough, to keep their distance from bears and understand that they are guests in the bears’ home, not that the bears are there for their amusement, photographic or otherwise.

Stiver explained that the absolute worst thing a human can do is try to feed bears or to leave human food or trash where bears can get to it. That’s especially important in campgrounds and at backcountry campsites in the park and at the vacation cabins that are near the park’s boundary.

“The saying is true that ‘a fed bear is a dead bear’,” Stiver said, explaining that bears that associate humans with food are a danger and that he has successfully lured a nuisance bear into a trap using a single M&M as the bait. Stiver and other wildlife professionals will trap and relocate nuisance bears, but if they continue to return to where they interact with humans, euthanizing them can be the result.

Great Smoky Mountains National Park is home to about 1,500 bears spread throughout its 522,000 acres in Tennessee and North Carolina. Even under normal circumstances, your odds of seeing one are slim, and you won’t have much opportunity to be a noisy visitor or to take a photo anyway.

Signs for Life in a Chinese Canyon

Three of 12 waterfalls. (Photo: Tom Adkinson)

Three of 12 waterfalls on a hike in China’s Tongling Mountain National Forest Park. (Photo: Tom Adkinson)

WENCHENG COUNTY, China – The forest resembled Great Smoky Mountains National Park, and the waterfalls could have been in Yosemite, but the signs along the trail were pure China.

They told us a bit about where we were, and despite mangled syntax and odd spellings, they made it perfectly clear that if we fell off a cliff, it was our own fault. We’d been warned.

We were about three hours’ drive inland from the coastal metropolis of Wenzhou and in a range of rugged mountains blanketed with deciduous trees and accented by a crashing river we heard long before we could see it.

We were eager to explore Tongling Mountain National Forest Park and begin a promised hike. We had a hint of what lay ahead because of the winding and steep ascent to the trailhead in a tour bus, but that didn’t quite prepare us for our walk down a canyon wall, rock-hopping river crossings and a protracted hike back up a gorge.

Stone staircase to start the trail. (Photo: Tom Adkinson)

Stone staircase to start the trail. (Photo: Tom Adkinson)

Timbers underfoot for a portion of the trail. (Photo: Tom Adkinson)

Timbers underfoot for a portion of the trail. (Photo: Tom Adkinson)

The hike began inauspiciously on a solid stone staircase that would have made the Civilian Conservation Corps proud. A sign portended a change. It read:

“It is not my fault to reflect magic

and dangerous with steep and narrow,

it is your fault that forget your safety

while enjoy the sight.”

The translation was clear:

“If you’re so absentminded

 that you fall off the edge,

you’ve only yourself to blame.”

The trail actually wasn’t bad at all, and it was a marvel of backcountry construction. In places, it was a catwalk suspended over open space.

The wide stone steps morphed into circular timbers, then planks of wood and then into steel mesh resting on steel rods driven into the rock walls of the gorge. Handrails were common – and welcomed. The amount of human labor (almost none of this could have been done with machinery) was impressive.

Why did the Chinese go to such lengths? The answer was in the signs – the trail builders appreciated nature’s glory. One sign with three messages offered these thoughts:

“Here, the nature’s uncanny workmanship has created the mountains, rivers, forest and valley.”

“Here, let us make appoint far away with the mortal life!”

“Here, people will be intoxicated by the harmony of the voice of wind, water and birds.”

Again, the translation was clear:

“Drink in the beauty of these mountains. Enjoy a respite from your daily life.”

7-three-part-signWhat surrounded us soon shifted from merely impressive to outright spectacular. The cascading river far across the canyon had blasted out one beautiful plunge pool after another.

It was a thing of pure beauty – a narrow white waterfall crashed into a blue-green pool, which led to another waterfall and another pool, over and over again – 12 times in all.

Waterfall after waterfall. (Photo by Tom Adkinson)

Waterfall after waterfall. (Photo by Tom Adkinson)

Views at every turn of the trail. (Photo: Tom Adkinson)

Views at every turn of the trail. (Photo: Tom Adkinson)

We finally reached the bottom of the canyon, took the obligatory group photo (our Chinese hosts insisted on group photos absolutely everywhere we went), crossed the river on a bridge made of circular stone steps resembling pier pilings and began the climb back up.

Step by circular step across the river. (Photo: Tom Adkinson)

Step by circular step across the river. (Photo: Tom Adkinson)

This time, however, the trail was immediately beside the waterfalls and plunge pools. Signs provided the names of each pool, which the Chinese called ponds. We climbed along Gourd Pond, Belle Pond and Dragon Princess Pond. A favorite was Connect Heart Pond, so named because its outline resembles a heart.

At the top of the climb – after walking across a small dam and admiring a reservoir where golden koi flashed in the still water – was a manmade surprise, a teahouse in the middle of nowhere.

A teahouse in the middle of nowhere. (Photo: Tom Adkinson)

A teahouse in the middle of nowhere. (Photo: Tom Adkinson)

Green tea, peanuts and tofu snacks. (Photo: Tom Adkinson)

Green tea, peanuts and peculiar tofu snacks. (Photo: Tom Adkinson)

Green tea, peanuts and peculiar tofu snacks were our reward – along with time to contemplate two signs we had passed:

“Civilization lives with mountains and waters, and harmony coexists with landscapes.”

“Protrcting the environmenr is a responsibility.

“Caring for the environment is a virtue.”

Spelling be damned, the day’s message was clear.

"Civilization lives with mountains and waters."

“Civilization lives with mountains and waters.”

Responsibility and virtue. (Photo: Tom Adkinson)

Responsibility and virtue. (Photo: Tom Adkinson)

Super Hiking above Wenzhou

trailhead

Daluo Mountain’s trail start at this lakeside village. (Photo: Tom Adkinson)

WENZHOU, China – Most Americans who have even heard of this city of 9 million know it as a manufacturing and export city, but it is trying to enhance its leisure visitor credentials and has one attraction of major proportions.

Towering above Wenzhou, a coastal city between Shanghai and Hong Kong, is Daluo Mountain, a trail-laced retreat from a bustling metropolis where the best job may be leasing construction cranes. The number of high-rise buildings under construction is almost indescribable, but those manmade towers can’t rival Daluo Mountain.

My group of American and Canadian convention attendees kept looking out the windows as our bus charged up a two-lane road hugging the side of the mountain as the city grew smaller and smaller.

Daluo Mountain is in a region of ridges and valleys. (Photo: Tom Adkinson)

Daluo Mountain is in a region of ridges and valleys. (Photo: Tom Adkinson)

The bus dropped us at a little village tucked into a divot in the mountain just 12 miles from city center. Vendors had lively businesses selling snacks, water and a few souvenirs. Westerners, of course, are unusual here. The trails’ primary users are locals. Especially evident when we visited were college students, presumably from a sprawling campus at the base of the mountains.

East met West on the trail. (Photo: Tom Adkinson)

East met West on the trail. (Photo: Tom Adkinson)

Some local hikers had colorful accessories. (Photo: Tom Adkinson)

Some local hikers had colorful accessories. (Photo: Tom Adkinson)

An hour-long, calf-challenging ascent was primarily on a concrete walkway through bamboo corridors and along ridges of deciduous trees that should have been showing autumn colors but that hadn’t started turning.

As we neared the crest of our chosen trail, views opened to several vistas that showed Daluo Mountain was part of a sizable ridge and canyon region.

Most of the trail was staircases concrete. (Photo: Tom Adkinson)

Most of the trail was staircases of concrete. (Photo: Tom Adkinson)

Instead of doing an about-face for the expected out-and-back hike, guides told us to press on. We noticed that almost all of the local hikers who had been with us earlier had returned the way they came.

Our continuation was on a more traditional natural-surface trail, and our reward was a placid mountaintop lake, which popped into sight when we emerged from a stand of trees.

We didn't expect a placid lake on the mountaintop. (Photo: Tom Adkinson)

We didn’t expect a placid lake on the mountaintop. (Photo: Tom Adkinson)

The descent from the lake put us back on concrete staircases similar to those at the start of the hike, testing a different set of leg muscles. A stream that flowed from the lake provided a soundtrack for part of the downhill walk.

Our hike became almost a full loop. Our motorcoach met us a few hundred yards up the road from the trailhead in the village we had left about three hours earlier.

Urban planners have a grand scheme for cable cars, trams and visitor facilities, but what’s available now works quite nicely.

"Enjoy the excellent journey," indeed. (Photo: Tom Adkinson)

“Enjoy the excellent journey,” indeed. (Photo: Tom Adkinson)

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Dancing in the Daylight

(Photo: Tom Adkinson)

(Photo: Tom Adkinson)

ZHANGYE, China — If you’d told me a month ago that I’d wake up one morning in the middle of China and shoot photos of a plump, matronly woman wearing a white mask, red shoes, red gloves, and a red jacket while wielding a gleaming silver sword as she danced before a smiling golden Buddha draped in what appeared to be a Go Big Orange beach towel, I’d have said, “Nah, never happen.”

(Photo: Tom Adkinson)

(Photo: Tom Adkinson)

(Photo: Tom Adkinson)

(Photo: Tom Adkinson)

Ducking Donald and Hillary

Tai chi in Wenzhou. (Photo: Tom Adkinson)

Tai chi in Wenzhou. (Photo: Tom Adkinson)

The People’s Republic of China shielded me from 95 percent of the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign’s final three weeks. For that, I am grateful to the Chinese.

A business trip took me to Wenzhou, a city you’ve probably never heard of, but its 9 million residents have a hefty impact on world commerce. A journey out the ancient Silk Road followed.

CNN and the BBC were on most hotel TV menus, and only occasionally was access blocked to the Washington Post and New York Times websites, but why bother with the acrimony and drama of Donald and Hillary when diversions were so abundant?

For instance:

  • Hiking Daluo Mountain above Wenzhou
  • Admiring the waterfalls of Tongling Mountain National Forest Park near Wencheng
  • Encountering Buddha inside a mountain at the Guanyin Temple
  • Inspecting a street vendor’s produce in Zhangye
  • Laughing at the young couples shakily trying to navigate the city wall of Xian on bicycles built for two
  • Being captivated by the graceful moves of a tai-chi master teacher
  • Riding a camel across the desert dunes
  • Pondering why a cell tower was “disguised” in an evergreen tree in the Gobi Desert

Part of the 5 percent intrusion of American politics came from a 20-something tour guide in Shanghai, who surprised my traveling group crammed into a too-small minivan when she declared, “I tell you joke. You tell me if funny.”

The setup: “Donald Trump and Hillary both fall off a ship in the middle of the ocean. Who survives?”

The punchline (after a perfectly timed pause): “America.”

The minivan erupted in laughter.

Along the Daluo Mountain Trail above Wenzhou (Photo: Tom Adkinson)

Along the Daluo Mountain Trail above Wenzhou (Photo: Tom Adkinson)

Many Buddhas in Guanyin Temple (Photo: Tom Adkinson)

Many Buddhas in Guanyin Temple (Photo: Tom Adkinson)

A waterfall selfie at Tongling National Forest (Photo: Tom Adkinson)

A waterfall selfie at Tongling Mountain National Forest Park (Photo: Tom Adkinson)

Bicyclists along the ancient city wall in Xian (Photo: Tom Adkinson)

Bicyclists along the ancient city wall in Xian (Photo: Tom Adkinson)

Street vendor in Dunhaung (Photo: Tom Adkinson)

Street vendor in Zhangye (Photo: Tom Adkinson)

Camels along the Silk Road (Photo: Tom Adkinson)

Camels along the Silk Road (Photo: Tom Adkinson)

Gobi Desert "hidden" cell tower (Photo: Tom Adkinson)

Gobi Desert “hidden” cell tower (Photo: Tom Adkinson)

Not One Darn Fish! (But I Had a Great Time)

Hot Creek's setting is a picture-perfect mix of meadow and mountain. (Photo: Tom Adkinson)

Hot Creek’s setting is a picture-perfect mix of meadow and mountain. (Photo: Tom Adkinson)

MAMMOTH LAKES, California (July 2016) – Labeling a totally unproductive fishing trip a good experience conjures up memories of Michigan State football coach Duffy Daugherty, who said, “A tie is like kissing your sister.”

It’s totally counterintuitive, but that’s still my assessment of three days on Hot Creek and the upper stretches of the Owens River just outside the resort village of Mammoth Lakes, California, the community that’s the capital of a massive, multi-sport outdoor recreational area in the Eastern Sierra.

This is mountain, canyon, meadow, stream, and lake territory. People come to ski, ride mountain bikes, photograph birds and wildflowers, hike, snowshoe, and fish.

The scenery alone was enough to stop me in my tracks, but I wanted to meet a trout.

And no wading, either, in Hot Creek. (Photo: Tom Adkinson)

And no wading, either, in Hot Creek. (Photo: Tom Adkinson)

There was promise at the start standing beside Hot Creek. Good stream flow, an excellent trout guide, blue sky. I was with two others. One of them – a total novice – hooked a hefty brown trout while our guide was giving her the most basic fly rod instruction. Of course, she didn’t know how to play the fish and didn’t land it, but that episode was within minutes of arrival.

“This is going to be great,” I declared out loud, but that was not to be.

Three days and hundreds, maybe thousands, of casts later, the scorecard showed a big, fat zero, and I had no images of a 20-inch rainbow or brown trout to show off back home in Tennessee. Zero, zilch, nada, nothing, strikeout, goose egg.

It’s usually a sad situation when all you can say is that you got a couple of half-hearted strikes.

This, however, was far from sad. The setting in the Eastern Sierra was so stunning, and so absolutely alien to me, that I wasn’t totally bummed out by not catching any trout. It was easy to paraphrase Dorothy from “The Wizard of Oz” by saying, “Toto, I’ve got a feeling we’re not in Tennessee anymore.”

Hot Creek and the Owens River are modestly sized streams that in places flow through sprawling meadows that collide with snow-capped mountains. In one direction are the Glass Mountains, and in another other are the Eastern Sierra.

Mammoth Mountain in the Eastern Sierra tops out at 11,053 feet, and the streams are at about 7,000 feet. It’s almost a challenge to pay attention to the water when the landscape is so beautiful.

Hot Creek adds some extra visuals by sliding into a narrow canyon. It’s a serious downhill hike to get to the supposedly trout-laden water.

When Hot Creek drops into a canyon, it's a steep walk to the water. (Photo: Tom Adkinson)

When Hot Creek drops into a canyon, it’s a steep walk to the water. (Photo: Tom Adkinson)

I really don’t doubt trout guide Scott Flint, who said stream surveys indicate 7,200 fish per mile of Hot Creek. Flint leads the guide service at the Troutfitter in Mammoth Lakes and has been fishing Hot Creek, the Owens River and other area streams and alpine lakes since 1990, so he knows his stuff.

Trout guide Scott Flint coaches a fisherman on the upper Owens River. (Photo: Tom Adkinson)

Trout guide Scott Flint coaches a fisherman on the upper Owens River. (Photo: Tom Adkinson)

He kept my expectations low from the start, although he was confident my friends and I would catch fish.

“Realize this,” he said. “This the most sophisticated fishing in the world. These fish are wary. The saying here is that the fish have PhDs.”

I recited another fisherman’s saying to him as we parted:  “That’s why they call it ‘fishing,’ not ‘catching.’”

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Information about all the calorie-burning activities in the area is available from VisitMammoth.com. Mammoth Lakes is south of Yosemite National Park and about three hours from Reno, Nevada, and five hours from Los Angeles.

 

Where Mucking Is a Competitive Sport

Muckers

The sign that makes you look twice upon entering Tonopah, Nevada. (Photo: Tom Adkinson)

TONOPAH, Nevada – A chance conversation led to my meeting a mucking champion, and that’s no typo. It happened in the desert town of Tonopah, Nevada, which is in the middle of nowhere between Las Vegas and Reno.

Me: “I saw a sign up the street that says ‘Tonopah, Home of the Muckers.’ Is that the nickname of the high school sports teams?”

She: “Absolutely. Want to know what a mucker is? I can tell you because I held the state record for female mucking for 22 years.”

Who could say “No” to a question like that?

My local lingo teacher was Donna Otteson, manager of the Mizpah Hotel and owner with her husband of Otteson’s World Famous Turquoise, a tourist-oriented mining business.

Donna Otteson: 22-year Nevada female mucking champion. (Photo: Tom Adkinson)

Donna Otteson: 22-year Nevada female mucking champion. (Photo: Tom Adkinson)

Donna was behind the hotel front desk, and the only possible improvement on our conversation would have been if I had met Donna at the hotel bar. She had a two-beer story.

Tonopah was – and is to a certain extent even today – big mining country. Settler Jim Butler got people stirred up in 1900 with a silver ore discovery, and by 1901, there were enough mines in the area to produce $750,000 worth of gold and silver, according Tonopah’s online history.

Muckers, she explained, were the guys in the old days of underground mines who loaded ore (muck) into ore cars so it could be rolled to the surface and processed.

Muck is a mix of silver (very little by volume), rock and dirt. Shoveling loads of muck was backbreaking, uninspiring work.

Backbreaking and uninspiring though it may be, mucking can get exciting if you introduce competition to the shoveling, and that’s what happens every Memorial Day week during Jim Butler Days. Donna described the festival competition this way:

“See that pile of muck? Shovel it into the ore car as fast as you can. That’s it,” she said rather matter-of-factly.

Men shovel one ton; women shovel half a ton. There also are team mucking events and events for youngsters. The first age category is 3-6. The kids in Tonopah must be tough little critters.

In 1992, Donna flew through her half-ton of muck in a time of 2:04. That’s two minutes and four seconds, not two hours and four minutes. It was a record that stood for 22 years when someone shaved three second off her time.

“I come from a very competitive family,” she deadpanned, offering only that to explain her success. She acknowledged that leg strength is more important than back strength, but the very thought of shoveling a half-ton of anything in two minutes makes me hurt all over.

Did she have a magic shovel, or even a special one?

“Nope. I used a regular rounded shovel, not a square one. You sometimes hit rock, and the round edge is better when that happens,” she explained.

So there you have it. My mucking curiosity led to a great conversation and an encounter with a champion. Discovering silver out in the desert would have been a bigger thrill, but meeting a champion was still a treat.

Tonopah information is at TonopahNevada.com, and Jim Butler Days information is at JimButlerDays.TonopahNevada.com. Because Tonopah is so far from big-city lights, it is considered one of the best places in America for stargazing.

Tonopah is known for mucking . . . and dark night skies. (Photo: Tom Adkinson)

Tonopah is known for mucking . . . and dark night skies. (Photo: Tom Adkinson)

 

 

 

Big Mouse, Little Mouse in Southern California

SANTA ANA, California – There’s more than one mouse to visit when you go to Southern California. The internationally recognized Big Mouse, of course, is named Mickey, and he’s in Anaheim. The not-nearly-as-well-known Little Mouse is in Santa Ana and definitely is worth finding, too.

The Big Mouse has Cinderella’s Castle and an encounter with Pirates of the Caribbean, while the Little Mouse has baguettes, macaroons in a dozen flavors, colorful fruit tarts, and croissants that would make you slap your French mama.

A rainbow of macaroons and fruit tarts brighten the pastry case. (Photo by Tom Adkinson)

A rainbow of macaroons and fruit tarts brighten the pastry case. (Photo by Tom Adkinson)

La Petite Sourie (the Little Mouse) is a tiny French bakery that’s an anomaly at one end of a collection of strip mall fast food establishments. It’s off W. MacArthur Blvd. near South Coast Plaza.

Without being tipped off, you’d not even notice La Petite Sourie, located as it is next to Pick Up Stix for Asian food, Wing-Stop for chicken wings, Subway for sandwiches, and Philly’s Best for cheesesteaks. In a world of ubiquitous fast food, there stands a genuine French bakery.

Make a croissant the first course at breakfast. (Photo by Tom Adkinson)

Make a croissant the first course at breakfast. (Photo by Tom Adkinson)

It’s the domain of baker Christian Chereau, a slim man with sparkling eyes and a big smile. Reading his bio on the bakery’s website is an exercise in French awards and world geography. Chereau has worked in and owned bakeries throughout France and in Morocco and Vietnam. In 2012, he packed his spatula and headed for California.

He fills a spacious display case at La Petit Sourie every day with carefully crafted fruit tarts and a rainbow of macaroons, offers crusty baguettes ($1 and $2), and somehow manages to prepare omelets, soups, quiches, and salads, too. Then, in the middle of the night, he starts all over again.

It seems an inordinate amount of work, but he explains it all with a shrug, a smile and this comment: “It’s small, it’s busy, it’s fun.”

It’s also worth all the calories you can consume.

La Petite Sourie is the lone independent in a strip of franchise restaurants. (Photo by Tom Adkinson)

La Petite Sourie is the lone independent in a strip of franchise restaurants. (Photo by Tom Adkinson)

 

 

Touches of Disney Magic on a Dreary Day

ANAHEIM, Calif. – Even if you arrive at the Disneyland Resort on a chilly, drizzly afternoon, it’s easy to encounter magic touches that brighten the day.

When the bellman at the Grand Californian Hotel detected my anxiety about his putting my computer case in storage, he quickly put a “FRAGILE/Handle With Care” sticker on it.

DSCN5154

After hours on my feet, it was a treat to find an unusual bathroom amenity – a tube of mint foot rub. “Cooling mint and marine extracts instantly soothe tired feet and rapidly smooth away dryness,” says the label.

DSCN5153

Who wouldn’t brighten up a bit when the pianist at the grand piano in the hotel lobby elicits memories of “The Sound of Music” with a cheery rendition of “My Favorite Things”?

DSCN5148

You don’t need sorcerer’s apprentice to cast a spell to feel better when you pull an easy chair near a crackling fire, enjoy some quiet conversation and nurse a nice cocktail.

DSCN5140(All photos by Tom Adkinson)

 

 

 

To Market, to Market in Sacramento

SACRAMENTO, California – In a state known for celebrities, food is the real celebrity in the capital city, Sacramento – especially on Sunday mornings and despite the fact movie star governors aren’t unusual.

Your choices are limited only by what's in season. (Photo: Tom Adkinson)

Your choices are limited only by what’s in season. (Photo: Tom Adkinson)

The reason is the Sacramento Certified Farmers’ Market, the official name of what most locals call the Sunday Farmers’ Market Under the Freeway. The casual name comes because all of the cantaloupe fondling and tomato pinching happens underneath an elevated portion of U.S. 80 at 8th and W Street. After awhile, you don’t even notice the rumble of the cars and trucks overhead.

It’s quite the spectacle. As many as 110 farmers, plus four bakeries and two fish sellers, artfully arrange tables of guaranteed-fresh California produce and try to entice some of the wandering thousands of shoppers to take their food home. The four-hour event (8 a.m. until noon) can attract 12,000 people.

Dan Best. (Photo: Tom Adkinson)

Farmers’ market coordinator Dan Best. (Photo: Tom Adkinson)

“This is direct from the farm, direct from the field, with cash straight to the farmers’ pockets,” said market coordinator Dan Best, who declared he’d probably be a volunteer helper if his paying job with the Certified Farmers’ Markets of Sacramento County didn’t exist.

Some of America’s most fertile cropland is right here in California’s Central Valley, producing 230 crops that get shipped all over the country and internationally. (Trivia: California exports more sushi rice to Japan than Japan grows for itself.)

Imagine how much fresher and better the produce is at the Sunday Farmers’ Market Under the Freeway than at your local supermarket.

Produce often comes with good conversation. (Photo: Tom Adkinson)

Produce often comes with good conversation. (Photo: Tom Adkinson)

Those brilliantly orange carrots, those firm bell peppers and those tempting tomatoes probably spent no more than an hour or two in the beds of their growers’ pickup trucks before going on display. Know, too, that the farmers can bring delicate items to the market, ones never meant for packaging and shipment nationwide.

“Our purpose is saving the small-acreage farm. We put a face on people’s food,” Best said.

Not all broccoli is created equal. (Photo: Tom Adkinson)

Not all broccoli is created equal. (Photo: Tom Adkinson)

Indeed, talking with the farmers is one of the treats of visiting the market. Learn about Romanesco broccoli (that peculiar-looking vegetable was new to me), ask about the flavor of the honey or get coached about which avocado to buy.

You might think that the farmers’ market is strictly for locals, but think again. Even if you have a plane to catch the next day, you can load up a picnic basket with whatever fruits are in season, a loaf of fresh bread, a jar of honey, a bag of pistachios and other treasures and head for a picnic table at Old Sacramento, where Sacramento’s boom town days are recalled, or a bench in a city park. Some items make great gifts for the folks back home, too.

The Sunday Farmers’ Market Under the Freeway operates every Sunday of the year and is the largest in California. It has sister markets scattered around Sacramento County other days of the week. Some are open year-round, while others are seasonal.

Honey is a year-round good choice for a traveler's "souvenir" from the farmers' market. (Photo: Tom Adkinson)

Honey is a year-round good choice for a traveler’s “souvenir” from the farmers’ market. (Photo: Tom Adkinson)

Sacramento cultivates the nickname of America’s “Farm to Fork Capital,” a reputation that restaurants such as Mulvaney’s B&L, Grange, Blackbird Kitchen Beer Gallery, Kru and Ella Dining Room and Bar verify to visitors every day.

However, you can get even one step closer to the farm with a visit to the Sunday Farmers’ Market Under the Freeway.

Tips for a good farmers’ market experience in Sacramento

  • Bring cash in small denominations. Don’t expect farmers to take your American Express card.
  • Explore before you start buying. The farmers are competing, so you may find a better price for an item in the second place you look.
  • Trying to bargain for small items isn’t well received.
  • If the farmer isn’t too busy, enjoy some conversation about his farm and livelihood.
  • Keep track of your car keys. Market officials say keys are the No. 1 lost-and-found item. (Shoppers often find them in a produce bag, dropped there inadvertently after buying some of those beautiful veggies and fruits.)

Go to VisitSacramento.com for farmers’ market details, farm-to-fork suggestions and other ideas for exploring California’s capital city.

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