CD tour guides Stanislaus visitors to hidden gems

An unparalleled introduction to Patterson, Newman and the jagged hills to their west is about to be unveiled.

"The Wild, Wild Westside," a self-guided driving tour on compact disc, combines pioneer folklore with dramatic Coastal Range scenery and quaint Victorian architecture.

A drive up Del Puerto Canyon always has rewarded motorists with its rugged beauty. But few knew where to peer for caves that hid skeletons. Or the entrance to raider Joaquin Murrieta's secret box canyon hideaway. Or ancient Indian stoves. Or the spot where California's first discovery of dinosaur bones happened.

Until now.

Wandering through Newman's historic downtown neighborhood always has been a treat for those who delight in well-preserved homes dating back a century or more.

But few knew which was home to the banker charged with attempted murder after beaning a rowdy customer in the forehead with an inkwell. Or which was home to the hypocritical newsman who cursed alcohol in his column before strolling next door to down a cool one.

Until now.

Those less intrigued by history may get more excited at the tantalizing array of gourmet almonds in Stewart & Jasper's gift store or by seeing a production in the West Side Theatre at the end of the four-hour tour.

"The Wild, Wild Westside" is the fourth and final CD produced by the Regional Tourism Roundtable, a consortium of cities, chambers of commerce and visitor bureaus. Others in years past took drivers through Modesto; Oakdale and Knights Ferry; and Turlock, Ceres and Hughson.

In the roundtable's 10-year history, travel and tourism spending in Stanislaus County has jumped from about $300 million to $435 million per year.

"You don't think of Stanislaus County as a big tourism area like Yosemite. But there's some big money here," said Jim DeMartini, the county supervisor representing the West Side.

"Look at how much time and money we spend trying to generate jobs," said county Supervisor Dick Monteith at a Tuesday meeting in Patterson, where the CD was discussed. "Here we have something going on beneath our nose. It's an industry we've completely overlooked, yet it's one of the most successful stories we have in the county."

The series of self-guided tours has been a labor of love for Keith Boggs, the county's deputy executive officer who shrink-wrapped the first set at home with his children four years ago. The process since has gone to professional production, and all the mood and background music is produced by local teen musicians.

"Tourism is export dollars," Boggs said. "You come here with money earned somewhere else and you leave it here. It's just as sexy as if we made computers here and sold them somewhere else."

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More than a dozen narrators, including DeMartini, Patterson Irrigator photographer Elias Funez and Newman "dog park lady" Marlena Cardinal, guide listeners to points of interest while helping ghosts of yesteryear come alive.

Some tips for driving the tour:

Take the narrator's advice and start at Patterson's historic city-center roundabout. Otherwise, the directions won't make sense. You can't do it backward, for instance.

If possible, go with at least one other person, and of course, don't take a vehicle without a CD player. Listeners periodically are prompted to pause the CD, usually right after hearing a bell ring. More eyes on the road will help you spot bright yellow suns painted on pavement in the canyon, alerting you to points of interest coinciding with the audio.

About 90 minutes is spent out of cell phone range in the canyon. This part can be skipped but shouldn't be. Views of craggy cliffs are worth the drive even without all the amazing stories. For example, you'll see the oldest house in Stanislaus County, made of adobe, and hear about a corrupt schoolmaster who used timbers from an eight-pupil schoolhouse on his home after school let out for the year.

The timing of the CD's release neatly coincides with Patterson's centennial but should have occurred in early spring for the canyon drive, when bluffs are not dead brown. It's worth the drive now, but no one will blame you if you wait a few months.

Don't get too frustrated by somewhat confusing directions in Newman. Narrators frequently cite street numbers, allowing you to pause the CD and circle around to the right spot before resuming the tour.

Boggs wants to put the county's best foot forward, telling leaders Tuesday, "It's all about the spin. ... If we don't tell our stories, others most certainly will tell them for us in typically media-intensified sensationalism. ... How we are portrayed and perceived and imagined really does matter."

So the driving tour avoids the West Side's landfill, garbage-burning plant and site of a spectacular, toxin-spewing 1999 tire fire. Listeners may wonder at brown lawns, suggesting foreclosure, at two or three historic homes cited on the tour. Motorists are guided to an 1896 home in Newman with a "For Rent" sign out front, and the red-brick-stepped Carnegie building in Patterson, initially used as a library, sports a "For Lease" sign in the window.

Another drawback, though understandable: the CD avoids any mention of Gustine and its rich history. It sits only four miles from Newman but is left out because that city is in Merced County.

Stanislaus County contributes $40,000 annually in economic development money to the Regional Tourism Roundtable.

"The Wild, Wild Westside" can be had for $5 after Friday's CD release party.

"We had so much fun creating it, and I know people will have fun listening as well," said Adrienne Chaney, Patterson's director of parks and recreation. "It will really open your eyes; you don't even realize what treasures we have."

Bee staff writer Garth Stapley can be reached at or 578-2390.