The 209, how do I love thee?
I love thee for:
* The sweet elixir of almond blossoms carried on a gentle late February breeze.
* Lazy late summer raft trips on the Stanislaus River from Knights Ferry to Orange Blossom Park.
* Being able to watch grandkids go bonkers feeding pieces of bread to catfish and ducks at Turlock’s Donnelly Park.
* Endless wineries and vineyards from the Delta’s edge, on the valley floor, and in the rolling Sierra foothills.
* The Gallo Center in Modesto that hosts a repertoire of concerts and performing arts.
* Stunning sunrises over John Muir’s beloved Range of Light and early evening when the western horizon is often painted in orangish hues as the sun slips behind the Coastal Ranges.
* Orchards sleeping in winter devoid of leaves as a precursor to buds bursting as the days warm up with the approach of spring.
* Being able to look at the Deep Water Channel as you as pass by on Interstate 5 and marvel at ships being loaded with grain to take halfway across the world to Asia.
* Dry, summer days where you can work up a sweat and then enjoy a decadent cooling summer night courtesy of Delta breezes.
* Being for the birds especially at the San Joaquin National Wildlife Refuge south of Manteca and west of Modesto and the Merced National Wildlife Refuge.
* The Stockton Waterfront with its promenade, Banner Island Baseball Park, Weber Point events center, and Stockton Arena, all on the edge of the Delta for an urban setting unparalleled in the Great Central Valley.
* Majestic Yosemite Valley that lures more than three million people a year from around the world to the 209.
* A proliferation of farmers markets — and fruit stands — that brings the bounty of the most productive valley in the world for fruits, vegetables, and nuts straight to your table without detouring to the likes of a Safeway or being processed, canned, and frozen.
* Its early spring display of California golden poppies that seem to pop up everywhere but especially in Hite Cove as well as along Highway 140 in Mariposa County.
* Soil and a climate that allows virtual year-round natural beauty from almost every conceivable flower, bush, and tree.
* The world-famous 2,425-foot Yosemite Falls.
* The ability to buy cheese fresh from the “factory” whether it is in Hilmar at the “world’s largest single-site cheese and whey products manufacturing facility” or the more boutique Oakdale Cheese Factory.
* Railtown 1897 State Historic Park in Jamestown whose working trains appeared in a wide array of movies and TV series such as “Petticoat Junction”, “High Noon”, “Pale Rider”, and “Back to the Future” among others.
* Sunday drives on lazy curvy Delta roads.
* Native trees found in the riparian woodlands at Caswell State Park, blue oaks along Highway 120 between Chinese Camp and Don Pedro Reservoir, and Giant Sequoias in Yosemite National Park.
* Engineering marvels such as the California Aqueduct.
* Castle Air Museum in Merced with its nearly 100 aviation marvels from the Boeing B-17G Flying Fortress to the Mach 3 Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird.
* Endless takes on cuisine inspired from south of the border in family restaurant venues such as El Jardin that graces Manteca, Oakdale, Sonora, and Turlock with locations as unique as their food.
* Tule fog that encases Mother Nature in its winter slumber with its life giving moisture.
* Split pea soup at Andersen’s in Santa Nella.
* The wind farms gracing the Altamont and Pacheco passes as you make your way to the Bay Area.
* “Big rocks” such as El Capitan that awe more than the Hope Diamond.
* Institutes of higher learning ranging from the University of the Pacific dating back to 1851 making it California’s oldest university to the newest addition to the UC system, the University of California at Merced.
* Taking a spin on a paddleboat on the tree lined Lodi Lake and then heading across the street to get a half-and-half frosty at Sno-White.
* Spreading a blanket at Ironstone Vineyards, enjoying a summer feast and then taking in a world-renowned musical group or singer.
* Eating an orange picked fresh from a tree in February, enjoying the sweetness of a juicy apricot picked from a tree in June and savoring it on the spot, and then picking a crunchy apple from a tree in September.
* Skipping rocks on the Stanislaus River below the longest covered wooden bridge west of the Mississippi River that’s found in Knights Ferry.
* Repurposed movie houses of yesteryear — the Bob Hope Theatre in Stockton, the State Theater in Modesto, the West Side Theatre in Newman, the Merced Theatre in Merced, and the Grand Theatre in Tracy — with their robust offerings from concerts to art shows to live performances.
* An endless selection of street festivals whether it is the Ripon Almond Blossom Festival, the American Graffiti Festival in Modesto, the Crossroads Street Fair/Watermelon Festival in Manteca, or the Riverbank Cheese and Wine Festival to name a few.
* The long-running success stories of the Stockton Symphony, the Modesto Symphony, and the Merced Symphony.
* Driving through 1920s-1940s era neighborhoods in Turlock, Merced, Stockton, and Modesto with their stately sycamores and other towering trees and mixtures of homes that are anything but cookie cutter.
* Enjoying a summer evening meal on the patio at the Boat House at River Islands at Lathrop.
* The changing views of Mt. Diablo as the year works its way through the calendar.
* Getting drenched along the Merced River above Yosemite Valley while taking in arching rainbows on the Mist Trail heading to Nevada Fall and — if you have a permit — to keep going and scale Half Dome.
* Spotting a 1956 T-Bird convertible while driving down McHenry Avenue on an early evening in summer.
* A plethora of community theaters from the spacious Stockton Civic venue to the Gold Rush era theater in Volcano that seats 50.
* Bicycling along valley country roads, bicycling rolling foothills, and bicycling a quad busting grade past Kennedy Meadows on Highway 108 heading toward the edge of the 209 where it meets up with Mono County at Sonora Pass at 9,624 feet.
* Hitting the slopes at Bear Valley, Dodge Ridge, and Yosemite or enjoying a day with kids at the Leland Snowplay.
* Brisk walks on a windy day after a cleansing rainfall that serve as windshield wipers to clear the air to enjoy panoramic views to the east and the west.
* The Sierra Repertory Theatre in Sonora that has proven for over 30 years professional theater can not only survive but thrive outside of urban centers like San Francisco as they prove year in and year out on the East Sonora stage and the Fallon House stage in Columbia State Park.
* World-class hiking — and peak climbing — in our own backyard.
* Stepping back into time at Columbia State Park.
* Direct access to 1,000 plus miles of winding Delta waterways, rivers, and everything from alpine lakes to manmade reservoirs such as Woodward that are perfect for skiing, personal watercraft use, fishing or just taking a cool dip.
* Being able to hop an ACE train to San Jose.
* Strolling through Calaveras Big Trees State Park.
* Heading up to Jackson on a Sunday drive to enjoy a leisurely afternoon in historic downtown taking in the classic bookstore, making your sweet tooth happy at the candy store, browsing the shops and art galleries and enjoying a meal with friends.
* Living in a place where your neighborhood incudes immigrants, those that work with rocket scientists at Livermore Lab, people who assemble Teslas, farmers, truck drivers, Google employees, blue collar workers, and white collar as well.
* Knowing the list goes on and on and on.