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Nut tree Blossoms Anew

VACAVILLE -- Many travelers along Interstate 80 have fond memories of the Nut Tree.

I remember many treks from the Bay Area to Lake Tahoe when my entire family piled into our old station wagon and headed out. As five sisters, we rode along not monitoring miles but measuring our trip based on landmarks. There was the Martinez Bridge over Carquinez Straits and it's view of the mothball fleet of retired Navy ships. There was the "eternal flame" burning at the Benicia Refinery (now Valero). And then there was the Nut Tree.

For us five gals, it was the perfect respite, a roadside oasis of shops and restaurants and rides. And it was the potty stop. (My Dad was the kind of guy who, once on the road, stayed on the road.)

We affectionately nicknamed the Nut Tree train "the little engine that would." And it was always easy to talk our mother into a muffin or a cookie (thanks Mom!), and it was -- last but not least -- the stop where our car seating assignments got to change. We all wanted to sit in the very back seat because it was the roomiest and it faced the rear. So much more elbow room and tons of fun watching the drivers behind us.

For us, the Nut Tree became travel heaven.

The Nut Tree opened as a fruit stand alongside a dusty road in 1921. The stand grew and expanded its services to include beverages, sandwiches and ice cream. In 1949, a restaurant was added. In 1952, the Nut Tree Railroad began transporting visitors around the park. Four years later the train began transporting pilots and passengers back and forth from the newly opened Nut Tree air strip.

For years the business flourished, serving hundreds of thousands of visitors until in 1996, after 75 years, the Nut Tree closed.

Well, closed no more. The Nut Tree has re-opened. Now travelers along Interstate 80 can enjoy a rejuvenated Nut Tree Family Park. The park opened in 2006. Guests can enjoy browsing, shopping or enjoying a bite to eat inside the Nut Tree Pavilion where agricultural roots run deep.

Touring the grounds can be fun especially aboard the original railroad. Engine No. 5 is back and looking great. Painted black and red, the engine pulls eight passenger cars around the perimeter of the park. Other attractions include bumper cars (appropriately named the I-80 Traffic Jammers), a carousel with 32 whimsical "creatures' and the Harvest Express Coaster (complete with "fruit crate" cars).

Visitors can also feed the Koi and pose for a photo where your face is magically put on one of the animals that once graced the grounds. Animal Land guests build their own bear or raccoon stuffed doll.

There is also a two-acre bocce ball grove where first-timers and experts alike can roll bocce balls under the shade of 60-year-old hackberry trees.

Again, as before, an afternoon at the Nut Tree is full of fun and adventure and can conjure up a slew of childhood memories. Welcome back, Nut Tree.

WHERE: 1681 East Monte Vista Avenue, Vacaville, right off Interstate 80.

WHEN: Beginning today, the park will operate under its fall and winter hours: Friday, Saturday, Sunday and Monday s 10 a.m.-4 p.m.; closed Tuesday-Thursday

COST: Admission to Nut Tree Family Park is free. Individual ride tickets are 85 cents each. Unlimited ride wristbands are $18.95.

GETTING THERE: Take Highway 99 or Interstate 5 north toward Sacramento. Near Lodi, go west on Highway 12 toward Rio Vista/Fairfield. In Fairfield, take Interstate 80 eastbound. Take the Allison Drive/Nut Tree Parkway exit toward Monte Vista Avenue. Turn left onto Allison Drive and then make a right onto East Monte Vista Avenue

DRIVE TIME: 1 hour, 42 minutes (Mapquest)

MORE INFO: www.nuttreeusa.com, 888-445-6411

Bee assistant librarian Karen Aiello can be reached at kaiello@modbee.com or 578-2392.

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