How ‘Bartell’s Backroads’ Finds California Travel Scoops

How ‘Bartell’s Backroads’ Finds California Travel Scoops

John Bartell starts at the gas station. Without fail, gas guards have the best information. “I took on the old Bartell charm,” he says. Ask questions. Find common ground. Make people laugh.

Next thing you know, Bartell and his crew are uncovering California’s best-kept secrets for “Bartell’s Backroads,” an ABC10 travel show that spans all 58 California counties and localities from Modesto to Quincy. Bartell, an industry veteran and one of five reporters on the special projects team, has covered them all multiple times.

A passionate and charismatic storyteller, Bartell’s incessant curiosity and positive nature have paved the way for the success of his award-winning show.

During production, he spends an average of six hours a day on the road in an effort to describe the various personalities and places of California, such as Modesto’s Jacob Gaddam and Placerville’s three-wheeled cars. “I like to tell people I have the best job in California,” Bartell says.

His knowledge of the state is recognized — “John knows more about California than any other Californian,” says Gonzalo Magana, his executive producer on the special projects team — but Bartell grew up on an 80-acre cattle ranch in another state.

Outside the Bigfoot Museum in Willow Creek.

Outside the Bigfoot Museum in Willow Creek.

Courtesy of John Bartell

Imbler, Oregon is, in Bartell’s words, in the “tip top corner of the state,” and that’s where his first brush with storytelling began. When he was 15 years old, his motorcycle broke down next to a railroad track, in a canyon surrounded by forest. As he waited for it to cool down and start up again, he caught sight of a large, dark-haired creature waltzing down the hillside.

We made eye contact, he says. “It was the typical Bigfoot look.” When he reached his home turf, his mother became the first confidant to hear of the meeting. As she listened with an open ear, Bartell isn’t sure if she believed him or not. Regardless, that hasn’t stopped him from covering other Bigfoot-related stories, such as Felton’s Bigfoot Discovery Museum.

Bartell is the son of a nurse and a small business owner, and refers to himself as a farm boy. “I come from a very simple background,” he says. “You’re not going to see us dressed up in our Sunday best.”

On weekends, Bartell’s father, a traveler at heart, took the family on road trips through Oregon, Washington and Montana, instilling in Bartell a sense of exploration and curiosity. At home, Bartell and his friends created their own entertainment, thinking they were the next cast of “Jackass” as they filmed each other jumping on cows or pulling a surplus fender behind a four-wheeler to see how much air they could catch. . “I was always making movies as a kid,” Bartell says.

Fascinated by history, he once cast his classmates in a historical film he made about Lewis and Clark. But with a graduating class of 18, he was ready to break away from his hometown.

“‘Bartell’s Backroads’ is a history lesson disguised as a travel story,” says a colleague.

Courtesy of John Bartell

Bartell chose to attend Southern Oregon University, which was the furthest he could get from home while still qualifying to teach in the state. Hoping to become a film director, he studied video production.

He gravitated towards captivating images over writing due to his dyslexia and found himself guided by the work of Steven Spielberg and Mike Rowe. Bartell’s first weekly television show, “John Bartell’s Half Hour of Power,” which he describes as “a late-night sketch comedy show,” allowed him to hone his skills by interviewing individuals like the school janitor or the star football player.

“I think I’ve figured out how to get people’s emotions and let them know that I’m actually interested in what they’re talking about,” Bartell says. It was then that he realized his true passion was not rooted in Hollywood, but rather in television.

Since his “Half Hour of Power” days, Bartell has reported a wide variety of issues. He began his career in Medford, Oregon, as a camera operator on a fishing segment and went on to write features for Blue Ridge Cable in Pennsylvania’s Pocono Mountains. He later got an investigative reporting job in McAllen, Texas, where he mainly covered border issues. While there, he won an Emmy for his investigation into the corruption of the Progreso Police Department.

Although the work was meaningful, investigative reporting took a toll on Bartell. “It showed me a new confidence in myself, but it also gave me a kind of bitterness towards humanity,” he says.

When Bartell’s contract expired in Texas and his partner, another journalist, got a job in California, he applied to various stations and got the thumbs up from Channel 10 in 2016. He was lucky.

John Bartell braved the elements while reporting on the gold mining ghost town of Bodie State Historic Park in 2019.

John Bartell braved the elements while reporting on the gold mining ghost town of Bodie State Historic Park in 2019.

Courtesy of John Bartell

“If you’re a person who can take responsibility, throw out ideas and be self-sufficient, they’ll let you do it,” says Bartell. Although initially assigned to cover incidents such as fires, shootings or accidents, Bartell always went the extra mile to present stories as well. The campaign department took note of Bartell’s hard work and eventually coined the name “Bartell’s Backroads.”

“‘Bartell’s Backroads’ is a history lesson disguised as a travel story,” says Magana. “Bartell has a deep passion for highlighting small communities that you don’t typically see in the news.”

For example, Bartell has made an effort to cover Native American cultures and reported on the Hoopa Tribe’s White Deer Skin Dance after many months of building trust and correspondence. Photojournalists and colleagues Rory Ward and Tyler Horst describe him as extremely dedicated and one of the most outgoing reporters at ABC10. When he’s not on the road, Bartell can be found at his desk writing scripts or zooming in on Google Maps to find areas of California he hasn’t yet covered.

The bones of a good story, according to Bartell: “There’s an element of my curiosity, the visuals and finding the right character,” he says. “I love quirks. People who are doing their own thing or have gone through a lot of adversity.” But sometimes, he admits, the story isn’t there right away.

“It’s the most mundane thing you have to do as a TV reporter to tell people it’s snowing. You’re welcome. Look at the snow, says Bartell. But it’s “what else?” which allows him to strike gold.

The Point Reyes shipwreck in Inverness on Tomales Bay, 2019.

The Point Reyes shipwreck in Inverness on Tomales Bay, 2019.

Courtesy of John Bartell

What a person sees as a boring place they’ve lived their whole life, Bartell finds fascinating. He remembers one time in Soda Springs when, after some digging, a local told him about an ice cave down the street.

“Long story short, I went out there and it ended up being the Donner Summit Train Tunnels, a historic tunnel that was abandoned. They made the most spectacular icicles, gigantic ones. At the end of it, there was a bunch of backcountry snowboarders who did flips.”

“Bartell’s Backroads” has already covered an impressive amount of terrain, as the interactive map shows. So where are you going next? Bartell’s longtime goal of landing in every corner of California is nearly complete after filming a segment at 93-year-old Jacques-André Istel’s Center of the World in Felicity. Stories from the other corners are awaiting post-production and will be completed this year.

Other than that, Bartell plans to return to counties that he feels “need more love,” such as Tehama, Solano and Plumas counties. “California is the most diverse state I’ve ever experienced,” he says, adding that the redwoods and eastern Sierra stand out as favorites. “There is plenty of room for everyone to find their own little corner.”

Travel newsman John Bartell joined ABC Channel 10 Sacramento in 2016.

Travel newsman John Bartell joined ABC Channel 10 Sacramento in 2016.

Courtesy of John Bartell

Cayla Mihalovich is a freelance writer based in Portland, Oregon. Her work has appeared in Airbnb Magazine, Flaunt Magazine and PSFK.

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