November 27, 2017

An Old-Fashioned Thanksgiving at Wonder Valley Ranch Resort

15370028_1577423658938076_6657698327129249342_oPassengers ask me about Wonder Valley all the time on other tours. Mostly they want to know where it is and what’s it like. I am more than happy to tell them all about it. It is one of my favorite overnight tours with DayTripper. This was my third opportunity leading the Old Fashion Thanksgiving Tour to Wonder Valley Ranch Resort & Conference Center.

This was a four day tour that started on Tuesday and we returned home on Friday the day after Thanksgiving. As I spoke to each passenger as to what brought them on this tour, most of them either said that they didn’t feel like cooking, they wanted to do something different for Thanksgiving or they just didn’t want to be alone because family members were all doing something else. For other passenger’s, they had been to Wonder Valley before and couldn’t wait to return. There were actually two passengers on this tour that were with me in September for the Sequoia trip. They liked it so much they decided to come back with me for the Thanksgiving tour.

For day one of this tour we headed up Interstate 5 after all of our pick-up locations. Our first stop was in Bakersfield for lunch at the Hungry Hunter restaurant. We had our own private room and the staff was friendly. Passengers had a choice of Prime Rib, Roasted Salmon, Lemon Herb Chicken or Vegetarian Pasta which is decided when you make your reservation. It also included dessert. Once lunch was over we were back on the bus and heading to our next stop which would be Wonder Valley Ranch & Resort.

IMG_7700We were heading up U.S. highway 99 towards Fresno, CA. Wonder Valley Ranch sits at the base of the Sierra Nevada foothills about 30 minutes east of Fresno in a town called Sanger. Sanger has a population of about 25,000. It use to be a center for shipping grain, citrus and lumber. The Yokuts Native Americans also made Wonder Valley their home in the 1800’s. In 2005 Wonder Valley opened a museum on the property where you can see photos and artifacts from this era. Some photographs date all the way back to 1849.

The history of the dates back to 1846 when The McHaley family came to California from the Midwest. They were one of 50 oxen-drawn wagon trains that settled in what is now Centerville, about 12 miles southwest of Wonder Valley. The Judson Elwood homesteaded about 6,000 acres. From there George Pierson purchased part of the land in 1947 and started the George Pierson Dude Ranch. California’s very first dude ranch. He would later sell to the Webb family who changed the name to Wonder Valley Dude Ranch and then in 1973 to the current owners, the Oken family. I can’t say enough about the Oken family and everything they do for the surrounding community. They make everyone feel like family when you are there and they are very much ‘hands on” with regards to all the organized activities.

We arrived at dusk where along the way we had a beautiful view of the Kings River and Pine Flat Dam in the distance. There is a brief orientation of the property and everybody receives a map and the keys to their rooms. Our first evening included a hosted happy hour (each passenger gets 2 drink tickets per hour happy), a ranch buffet dinner, a magic show by none other than the CEO and President himself, Roy Oken. As many times as I have seen his tricks I still cannot figure them out. We also enjoyed the sounds of the singing cowboy Dale who has been a part of the Wonder Valley for many years. We all retired for the evening around 9:00p p.m. after a long day of traveling and fun.

IMG_7669Day two at Wonder Valley started with optional early bird coffee at 7:00 a.m., breakfast at 8:00 a.m. and then we departed for the town of Dunlap which was only about 30 minutes from Wonder Valley. We spent part of our morning at Project Survival’s Cat Haven, a facility that promotes the conservation and preservation of wild cats in their native habitat through education. We had two options, we could go on the walking tour to see the wild cats or stay behind in a classroom setting where a cat was brought in for us and we were able to ask many questions. There were about 10 of us that stayed behind and the others went on the walking tour that was about an hour with a guide. Fascinating place where you can really get up close to the cats, all in cages of course. You can’t pet them but you probably wouldn’t want to. After the tour we had a short time to make purchases in the gift store before we were off to lunch in the town of Reedley, California.

It took us about 40 minutes to get to The Bear club, a popular local restaurant where we ate lunch. There we had choices of Chicken Breast, Basa Basa (which I had never heard of), New York Steak or Charbroiled Veggies. The food was good and the staff was very nice.

After lunch we headed to downtown Reedley where we had time on our own to shop, visit the local museum which I could have spent at least 3 hours in. They had so many historical artifacts to look at. Some passengers went to the Mennonite Quilting Store where there was a Quilt museum upstairs. The only one of its kind in the world. There were quilts dating back to the 1700’s. Handmade and beautiful as ever. Truly amazing to see. My favorite was the bridal quilt.

After our time in Reedley we headed back to Wonder Valley for our 2nd Hosted Happy Hour, a Hay Ride and a Happy Hour concert with me. Every time I lead a tour to Wonder Valley I give a concert during happy hour for my passengers. It’s just a little something extra that I like to do that has become a tradition now and the Oken family is very accommodating. The passengers really enjoy it. They know that I sing from my introduction on the bus but many don’t realize that I sing professionally too. Most of the songs I sing are from the 1970’s. Familiar songs from artists like James Taylor, Carole King, Linda Ronstadt and I also threw in a Perry Como song this time. Each time I return to Wonder Valley I always try and add a new song or two.

After dinner that evening we had a country fair where passengers could win raffle tickets for prizes. That was a lot of fun watching everybody try and win as many raffle tickets as they possibly could. Another fun day at the ranch as we all retired to our room to get ready for the next day which was Thanksgiving.

IMG_7713We had a leisurely Thanksgiving Day at Wonder Valley ranch that included time on your own to go horseback riding, use of the swimming pools, tennis courts, basketball, horse shoes, pool, ping pong or even jump on a trampoline. There is also a lake where you can fish (catch and release only) or ride in a canoe. You could also go for a walk on the 75 acre property for a little exercise. We always felt like we were eating, which was not a bad thing but a little exercise did some of us good.

There were other activities too like a Scavenger Hunt, Turkey bowling (which was so hilarious) and some Thanksgiving trivia. All of these were opportunities for more raffle tickets for prizes. There are also many places on the property to just sit and relax. If those games didn’t interest you, then we also had some cookie and candle decorating. This is always fun because I love to see how talented my passengers are. So many hidden talents. And did I mention the weather was beautiful?

IMG_7735That evening we were treated to a wonderful Thanksgiving dinner with a live band where we danced the night away. It took us a little bit to get going on the dance floor but once we did it was really a lot of fun for everyone. I had one passenger, 92  years old who said she had not danced like that in over twenty years. She was an inspiration to all of us. We all had a great time. I also had a couple on board who were celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary on Thanksgiving. I tried not to embarrass them too much but later they thanked me for making it special for them. I won’t go into all the details of what I did, just in case you come along for your special occasion with me. I don’t want to spoil the surprise.

Well, day four is always the hardest at Wonder Valley. That is when we have to say goodbye. Nobody wants to leave. First we had another hardy breakfast, a surprise activity and then we took a group photo outside by the lake. We were on the road heading back to Bakersfield by 10:00 a.m. for a 12:00 p.m. lunch at Applebee’s. Again, we had a friendly staff, the service was good and the food was fantastic. Our choices were Fish & Chips, Top Sirloin, Chicken Ceasar Salad, Fiesta Lime Chicken or my favorite the Veggie Burger.

After lunch we were on the road again, with a rest stop on the way before we headed back to Orange County to drop off our El Toro passengers. The traffic was light going through Los Angeles because of the holiday, which was really nice for a change.

Before I said goodbye to everyone I did my closing song and I thanked everybody for spending their Thanksgiving with me. If you have ever thought about taking a trip to Wonder Valley you will not be disappointed. There are several dates every year with different side trips. Sometimes Yosemite and Sequoia National Park. Whichever one you decide to choose you will always be welcomed like family by the Oken’s and you will surely want to return again. Until next time Happy Trails to you!!


Donna D’Alia
DayTripper Tour Director

Tour: 4-day Old-Fashioned Thanksgiving at Wonder Valley Ranch
Date: November 21-24, 2017


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