I beckoned my aunts (on a visit from Manila) to the waiting car as I prepped the engine for our trip to the Black Oak Indian reservation casino situated in Tuolumne, California — about 8 miles east of Sonora.
The day started on a misty note as the sun never showed up in Fremont on that Tuesday morning – Dec 14. There was a mild fog as we traversed Altamont Pass along Highway 580 as our car hummed steadily towards the low-lying plains of Tracy.
After about an hour of driving, we encountered a little drizzle along Highway 108 as we approached the town of Oakdale. Time for gas and time to relieve my bladder when we were right in the heart of Oakdale. The place is noted for its fine furniture (naturally, made of oak) as well as for being the heart of the vast and fertile valley of Central California…an area that supplies almost the entire U.S. all the almonds it needed.
From Oakdale, it was simply 45 minutes of stress-free driving, punctuated by undulating hills and vistas that seem to know no borders. It is one of those places where you will feel the vastness and, perhaps, greatness of good, old U.S of A. As a bonus, the sun suddenly showed up as we approached the area where 108 forked into 120 –the main artery that will lead you to the majestic Yosemite National Park.
From 108, there was a new exit ramp that led to a 9-mile feeder road (mostly uphill) where the Tuolumne Band of Me-Wuk Indians situated their new gambling mecca this side of California. The place was undergoing expansion, so that we had to park in an area where you will have a view of the hills that surround the place.
Even though it was high-noon when we arrived, the place was cold — like it used to be, all throughout the season. Even the nickel and quarter slot machines we played were also cold. We were still lucky to eke out a few dollars in winnings even though we just hang around the place in under three hours.
Nothing much had changed in the place when we first set foot on it during its opening day in 2001. Except, maybe, for the hot, roast-beef sandwich (with a marvelous side dish of mashed potatoes) which we washed down with soda and coffee that was excellent.
Even that alone, was worth the drive!