BLAUERT: Enjoying outdoors in luxury can be affordable, cozy

July 9, 2013 

— Often I write about remote, challenging and rugged destinations.

If that's not your thing, but you still want to "get away" — here's another nearby mountain destination that might be a better fit for you.

Black Oak Casino recently opened a luxurious new 148-room, smoke-free hotel at its casino in Tuolumne City. A couple of weekends ago I got the chance to spend a couple of nights there while enjoying the outdoors of Tuolumne County.

No doubt some of you are surprised by this recommendation. I usually go on trips to enjoy the outdoors and to learn about history. I don't gamble. Despite what might seem like a mismatch for a vacation, I had a great time.

The main reason why I scheduled my visit for when I did was because that weekend Dave Stamey was playing at Black Oak's concert venue, the Willow Creek Lounge. It's a great place to enjoy a show.

We got there about a half hour early and were able to claim a table right in front of the stage. This show, like many others at Black Oak, was free. With the hotel right there you're just a few steps from a good night's rest and no one has to worry about getting home safely.

Not only is the hotel clean, fresh and inviting, it's also really quiet. Located away from any major highway, there's no road noise. The hallways also seem to have much better-than-average insulation. I got a really good night's sleep on a good mattress — just what I needed on the weekend directly following the end of a busy school year.

Less than 70 miles from Merced, Black Oak Casino is an easy weekend trip. It's also close to a lot of outdoor activities.

Most of the Emigrant Wilderness trails I described three weeks ago are less than an hour's drive away. The same is true for the historic gold rush towns of Sonora, Columbia, Jamestown, Murphys and Angels Camp; skiing at Dodge Ridge in the winter; trail riding at Aspen Meadows Pack Station; the Tuolumne and Stanislaus Rivers; and the wineries and caverns of Calaveras County.

The casino offers an entire smoke-free level designed for families with a large arcade, 24 lanes of bowling and a sports-themed restaurant. Construction of a swimming pool is scheduled to begin soon. The whole casino complex is tastefully designed and well-maintained.

The food selection is pretty impressive, too. The average meal at Black Oak Café, The Mill Sports Bar or Kingpins (burgers and pizza) is both tasty and affordable.

The best by far is the gourmet dining at Seven Sisters — the most impressive meal that I've had in a long time. Seven Sisters is a great place for a special celebration. A wedding was going on in the hotel's conference area during my visit.

The hotel offers 6,000 feet of event space including two meeting rooms and a board room. Oak-shaded Heritage Park, located directly in front of the casino provides outdoor wedding space. On-site catering is available. Black Oak also offers a gas station, fitness center, and is the only hotel with a concierge service in Tuolumne County. Vallet parking for the hotel is free. Black Oak offers the largest nonsmoking gaming area of any casino in California. For more information, a live music schedule and reservations, visit www.blackoakcasino.com or call (877) 747-8777.

The casino is located on land purchased as a reservation for landless Indians of Tuolumne County in 1910.

Since 1966 the Tuolumne Band of Me-Wuk Indians has hosted an annual Acorn Festival in September. Scheduled to coincide with the traditional fall acorn harvest, the two-day event features traditional dancing, arts and crafts, food, a hand games tournament and an inter-tribal powwow. The event is open to the public.

In the spring an annual Indian Market offers Native American vendors and demonstrations of traditional activities and cultural traditions. For more information, visit www.mewuk.com.

The Rancheria and the casino are located in historic Tuolumne City — an old logging company town, now home to about 1,800 people. It has appeared in movies and TV, including "High Noon" and "Little House on the Prairie." The local history museum is open on weekends from 1-4 p.m. For more information, visit www.tuolumnemuseum.wordpress.com or call (209) 928-3516.

Blauert is a correspondent to the Sun-Star. He's an avid outdoorsman who enjoys fishing, backpacking, and exploring the western states. He can be reached at adamblauert@yahoo.com.name hereADAM BLAUERTOUTDOORS

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