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War Memorial, rustic river, & world-class cheese make for fun Sunday drive in 209
Neighboring the Great Valley Grasslands is a boat dock that offers a great source of picnic sites, and lovely scenery to enjoy. The river is serene, reflecting light from the bright sun. - photo by Brooke Borba

California’s Central Valley is often overlooked compared to other attractions offered within the state. The Central Valley, however, offers more than attractions and fake animatronics; instead, the land instills a genuine, rustic appeal that allows one to drive as in a reverie of life outside the urban geographic region.

One of the most recognizable, and interesting sceneries begins from I-5, in North Merced County, heading north towards Los Banos, or coming east of Highway 152.

As you hit Santa Nella, there will be an abundance of eateries that compromise of fast food. I would suggest to only pick up a seasonal coffee at the Starbucks, for there are superior highlights to be explored just down the road.

Transfer the route path towards Highway 33, and turn a quick left on McCabe Road. The trail looks barren, only hills and miles of agricultural scenery run in its wake. Don’t be alarmed. The out-of-the-way drive, with some twisty roads, leads to the Korean War Memorial that presents a beautiful display of plaques, sculptures, water fountains, and thick green grass carefully maintained for our fallen heroes.

There are several stages to the tour, and includes an administration office, bathrooms, and quiet services. The ambiance is not one of despair, but pride and satisfaction for America’s fallen brethren. Peace and tranquility reign the air, and ushers a consensus of unity and thoughtfulness.

As you leave the memorial, continue onto North Highway 33, and turn on Highway 140, which journeys directly towards the rustic country lifestyle that surrounds the Fremont Ford State park.  Neighboring to the park is a boat dock station that is a hole in the wall just to the right of the track. It’s location is hidden, but directly leads to a public restroom rest stop. There are parking spaces directly in front of the little location, and offers room for trailers hitched to trucks.

Head down towards the dock to see the running river that shimmers from the sun delicately as it trickles ahead, gently pushing fallen leaves by the small ripples rustled by the tender breeze. There are additional paths to explore, as the scenery offers shade, sun, and possible picnic options for those who wish to take their lunch abroad. It is an often overlooked station that reflects simplicity and a perfect swimming hole for a broad, warm afternoon.

If tired of the scenery, and wish for an urban landscape, follow 140 until you hit Lander Avenue 165. This street will take you towards small towns, each uniquely special for the attractions they recommend. After passing through the blossomed Stevinson territory, which offers a marshy golf club, Hilmar becomes the next town to offer services.

There are eateries on the way for both towns, however, I recommend stopping in at Hilmar Cheese Company. Not only does the sight procure a waterfall, but also has a grand outdoor patio. The building is large is size and scope, and offers holiday treats and gifts inside the wonderful shop. Tours within the building are free of admission. If unable to take a tour, there are machines behind glass walls that suggest how cheese is made from local cows. Hilmar Cheese also has a cafe with — you guessed it — the best grilled cheese around.

If cheese isn’t your thing, you are not far from Turlock, which offers fall festivities within its historic downtown area. Continue north on Lander Avenue until you reach East Main Street in Turlock.

Turn right, and you will find yourself directly downtown, where the streets are lined with vintage streetlights, walkways, and charming dining areas, including the Dust Bowl Brewery’s Tap Room, Wellington Station and Bistro 234.

After partaking of downtown Turlock’s culinary delights, a stroll through the six block area will offer antique shops, bakeries and a few boutiques — all among tree-lined streets.

209 reporter