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Stark beauty just minutes south of Manteca

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Visitors take in Caswell State Park’s winter colors along the Stanislaus River.

HIME ROMERO/The Bulletin

POSTED January 2, 2013 12:20 a.m.

You aren’t going to find any snow at Caswell State Memorial Park.

The light dusting of tree branches that looks like it was applied by a pastry chef – a January staple of places like Tahoe and Mammoth – is nowhere to be found.

And many of the popular activities that make it a popular summer destination for valley residents that enjoy the cool and cozy Stanislaus River go out the window the first time it rains in late fall.

But that doesn’t mean that winter majesty is something that one can’t find at the hidden jewel at the end of Austin Road.

Tucked in deep beneath a strand of oak trees, Caswell proves to be that diamond in the rough that constantly surprises – whether it’s welcome relief on a hot summer day or the crisp smell of wet foliage in early winter.

It’s also a place you can find true solitude.

The crowds of people that flock to the campsites during the warm months – many of them from the Bay Area – disappear when the weather first starts to turn.

Leaves change colors and begin to fall. The natural beauty and wonder of the Central Valley is on full display.

A trek to the snow-covered mountains of the Sierra takes just over an hour by car, spending a day taking in the wild trails of the rustic park can be enjoyed in our own backyard.

Fortunately it’s still a place that people can enjoy.

When the State of California was facing huge budget deficits Caswell was one of several sites on the chopping block. It  narrowly escaped closure that shuttered several Northern California parks.

But it was spared. It lives on. It continues to provide the bounty of the great outdoors without the long day trips and the treacherous mountain roads.

And despite cold temperatures, life abounds in the trees and the grass and along the meandering corners of one of the region’s most attractive rivers.

Nature flourishes.

After a cold winter rain there might be fewer places in the area that are quite as beautiful as standing beneath those canopies – hearing the drips fall onto the ground – and breathing in fresh, clean air most people associate with the pines of the high country.

Whether you’re an avid outdoorsman or just somebody looking to escape the mundane routine of daily life, Caswell offers a little bit of something for everybody.

It isn’t Yosemite, but that’s part of the allure – a place with natural beauty that doesn’t have busloads full of people constantly flowing in regardless of the time of year.

If it’s solitude that you seek, consider Caswell your nirvana.

There’s nothing else like in San Joaquin County.

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