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The Mature Traveler

Leaving the Driving to the Antelope Herd

July 24, 1988|BILL HUGHES | Hughes is a 30-year veteran travel writer living in Sherman Oaks.

Mature travelers may have noticed some large herds of antelopes roaming Southern California--not the four-footed, antlered kind, but the big green-and-white, four-wheeled motor coaches of the Antelope Valley Bus Co.

They have been headquartered in Lancaster since the mid-'50s when Whit Carter founded a small transit and commuter bus service serving Edwards Air Force Base, Lockheed and other aerospace companies. Antelope has grown into one of California's largest family owned motor-coach charter and tour companies, with Whit's sons--Jim and Ron--heading the firm.

With its desert-based "herd" up to 59 coaches, Antelope serves the mature traveler in two ways. For nearly 30 years Antelope has provided quality motor coaches and drivers for senior groups on charter throughout Southern California with a program that includes planned tours with sightseeing, accommodations, special meals if required and escorts if necessary.

During this time span, Antelope claims it has logged more than 58 million miles and is licensed in the 48 continental states, plus Alaska and Canada.

In the family run operation, Jackie Carter, former President Jimmy Carter's wife, heads the large charter division.

New Tour Division

Just more than two years ago, the company started another division, Antelope Tours, a year-round program. These tours range from day excursions and overnighters to multiday tours within California and adjacent states, and a Christmas cruise in the Hawaiian islands.

"I'd say 95% of our passengers are mature travelers," says Vivian Merrick, an Illinois transplant with eight years of motor-coach tour experience who heads the independent tour program. "The others tend to be grandchildren, or other relatives or friends of senior passengers.

"And being out here in the heart of the desert," she adds, "most of our passengers for the day trips are from the desert area. But on all our longer trips we arrange for pickups in Culver City, Van Nuys, Newhall, Ventura, Oxnard, Camarillo and sometimes Santa Barbara."

Typical of the Antelope tours coming up is a five-day escorted tour to Mammoth Lakes and Lake Tahoe, Aug. 13-17, with two nights at the Sierra Nevada Inn at Mammoth and two nights at Caesars Palace at Lake Tahoe, the latter including a dinner show. Other stops include Carson City, Nevada and Sacramento.

The price is $400 per person double, or $515 for a single room. In addition to transportation and accommodations, that includes sightseeing tours, baggage handling, three breakfasts, three lunches and four dinners.

Coastal Swing

A tour program Sept. 9 to 13 includes a five-day motor-coach swing up the coast to San Francisco, then back inland through Yosemite National Park.

Accommodations include an overnight at the Peach Tree Inn in San Luis Obispo, two nights at the San Franciscan Hotel, San Francisco, and an overnight at the Best Western Yosemite Way Station, Mariposa.

Also included are sightseeing in San Francisco, Sausalito and Muir Woods; a ferry ride across the bay to Fisherman's Wharf; lunch at the Ahwanee Lodge, Yosemite; the Great American Melodrama, Grover City, and a tour of the Sunmaid Raisin Factory, Kingsburg. One breakfast and three lunches are included. The price is $320 per person double or $430 per person single.

Death Valley Overnight

"Fun in the Sun" is a five-day motor-coach swing through California, Nevada and Arizona planned by Merrick and set for Oct. 9-14.

Highlights include an overnight and tour of Death Valley, stopping at Furnace Creek Ranch and including a tour of Scotty's Castle. Then comes an overnight at the Flamingo Hilton in Las Vegas before heading into Arizona.

Stops include Hoover Dam, London Bridge Resort and Lake Havasu, then to Scottsdale for two nights' lodging at either the Scottsdale Hilton or Best Western Safari Resort, with sightseeing in and around Phoenix.

Including one breakfast, one lunch and two dinners, this tour is priced at $339 per person double, $559 single, or $325 per person for three in a room.

"I try to help out single seniors who wish to share a room and save that single supplement," Merrick says. "I gather all the information I can on such passengers, then put them in touch with each other so they can make any sharing decision."

Overnight Tours

Among Antelope's program of escorted overnight tours, including pickups in Van Nuys, Newhall and Culver City, in addition to the regular desert communities such as Tehachapi, California City and Lancaster, are:

San Diego, Sept. 18-19, including a stop at Lawrence Welk Village and a matinee performance of "Sweet Charity" in addition to San Diego and Sea World. From $155 per person double.

Inland Empire, Oct. 12-13, including Fallbrook, Calloway Winery, Temecula, overnight at Griswolds Inn and a performance of "Guys and Dolls," Claremont, plus Oak Glen. From $143 per person double.

Hearst Castle/Solvang, Dec. 2-3, which includes the annual Christmas parade in Danish-style Solvang, castle tour, overnight at Oak Park Inn, Grover City, and a special Christmas melodrama in Oceano. From $150 per person double. This trip also includes a pickup in Santa Barbara.

"We have also embarked on a cooperative effort with Joan Deskin, owner of Magic Carpet Tours in Victorville," Merrick says. "This way we can choose tours from their extensive offering of trips and add them to our program.

"Now we're developing our full program for next year."

Antelope Bus Co. is a member of STRAC, which fosters more and wider opportunities for mature travel in California.

For more information on independent Antelope Tours, contact Vivian Merrick, Antelope Bus Co., 660 W. Ave. L, Lancaster, Calif. 93534. Within California, call toll-free (800) 552-8287 or (805) 948-8421. For those wishing more information about Antelope's motor-coach charters, contact Jackie Carter.

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