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Small alpine community with big attractions

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A giant heavy equipment is dwarfed by the majestic mountains – sprinkled by a dusting of snow in early fall - that nearly encircles world-famous skiing destination Kirkwood Resort.


POSTED February 24, 2012 8:51 p.m.

KIRKWOOD – Kirkwood is a small alpine community that is home to less than 200 people.

But it enjoys a world-size reputation as a destination for top-notch winter recreation and facilities as well as year-round attractions for the whole family – among many others that this pristine high-elevation location offers both in creature comforts and respite for the soul.

If you happen to have the luxury of spending more than one day in Kirkwood and your stay is blessed with a clear night, step outside and treat your sight and your soul to a spectacular view of the heavens that you’ll never see in light-polluted cities and even small communities. In the total darkness the sky, encrusted with billions of stars, glows and appears to descend to earth at such close range you are almost tempted to extend your arm and touch the sparkling bejeweled sky.

For the adventurous and athletic souls who wish to enjoy the amenities and luxuries that money can buy, the world-renowned Kirkwood Mountain Resort offers plenty of opportunities for these. While the resort is a favorite destination for avid snowboarders and skiers alike in the winter, the spectacular horseshoe-shaped resort that is roughly 30 miles south of its famous cousin, Lake Tahoe, also boasts many attractions for the whole family in spring, summer and fall when the place comes alive with a variety of activities that include art and entertainment venues.

Home to only 158 residents – the figure is based on the last 2010 census – Kirkwood has a colorful history that goes back to an adventuresome and brave pioneer who left his name to this high place of 7,800-foot elevation. Just outside Kirkwood Mountain Resort on Highway 88 is the Kirkwood Inn and restaurant located, interestingly at one time, at a point where the three counties of Alpine, El Dorado and Amador converge. That happened when the borders of the three counties were redrawn. A subsequent redrawing of the counties’ borders took the inn outside of El Dorado County. Nonetheless, the original sign post at the business establishment that pointed to that historical fact has been preserved.

Kirkwood’s historical highlights include such figures as Kit Carson and John C. Fremont. An introductory entry in a recipe book cum history tome titled, A Taste of Kirkwood: Kirkwood Community Cookbook, notes these connections in the following paragraph in the two-page article on Kirkwood, Then & Now:

“In the 1840s, guided by frontier scout Kit Carson, John C. Fremont brought the U.S. Geological Survey across the West. Their second exploring expedition traversed the backside of Kirkwood. At the time, these explorers had no idea that the trail they blazed was soon to become the principle (sic) highway into California during the gold rush. In the 1850s thousands of fortune seekers and emigrants crossed the Sierra on their way to the gold fields following the route that came to be called the Mormon Emigrant Trail.”

Geographically, Kirkwood is neighbors with Caples Lake to the east and Silver Lake to the west which provide plenty of fishing and sailing adventures, with the Kirkwood Valley surrounded by National Forest and Mokelumne Wilderness lands.

How to get there

The road to Kirkwood is an easy ride from Manteca. Head up Highway 99, exit at Cherokee Lane and connect with Highway 88. That will take you to Kirkwood in three hours, or four hours if you prefer a more leisurely drive to take in all of the breathtaking views that Mother Nature offers in abundance along the way.

— Rose Albano Risso
city editor

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