Friday, July 29, 2016

Adventures in the Far North...of California: Redding, Part 2

Catch up on Part 1 on this trip here.

"It's 700 feet down to the water. It goes down a lot deeper than that but I can't tell you that."

"There's a lot more security than you can see. Believe me, it's very secure but you can't know how."

"I can't shake your hand because that would leave me vulnerable to be taken down."

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So goes the conversation, not that I asked any of those questions, to the body-armored clad and well armed guard on top of Shasta Dam. 

"Don't worry, I won't try to shake your hand...I'll just give you a wave."

"I can't shake hands."

So I've heard...

"I do like showing off the dam to people like you, though. It was built during World War II. These things over hear pump cold water up the dam to the spillways to help the fish downstream.  You should take a look at the exhibits in the visitor's center."

It's a bit of a strange conversation with the guard manning the top rim of the dam but he's nice and means well. We continue along to reach the other side.

Above us, we hear the shrieks of a few osprey. Several nesting pairs live around the dam and they like to fish near the structure.  Eagles command the rest of the lake, so they stay out of the bigger birds way.

The weather's warm but nice. A stiff breeze blows off our hats now and again and the views of the source of the massive Sacramento River are stunning.

Back in Redding, after a swim in the hotel pool, we head over to the local minor league field behind the library to take in a game.

The Redding Colt 45s are hosting the Redding Tigers at the field they both call home. The teams are part of the Far West League, a summer league formed to give serious college players a place to ply their trade during the summer.

Still waiting to hone their skills to the point where a major league team might draft them, the FWL serves as an independent minor league slotted between college play and the regular minor leagues.

For five dollars, we get great front row seats about 10 feet from home plate.

We soon discover that this little stadium behind the library serves one of the top three hot dogs we've every had at a ball game, along with a decent little selection of craft beer to wash it down.

It's a very fun time and a good game.  It's close for the first six or seven innings but the 45's pull away in the end to crush the Tigers 15 to 4.

With that, we retire back to our hotel to relax and get ready to head down highway 99 to our next destination.

Copyright 2016 - Darryl Musick
All Rights Reserved
Photos by Letty Musick
Copyright 2016 - All Rights Reserved

Monday, July 25, 2016

Adventures in the Far North...of California: Redding, Part 1

We haven't even left the state but, with a stop in San Jose to evaluate a new travel wheelchair, it's taken us 2 days and 560 miles to get to our latest destination, Redding, California just an hour south of the Oregon border.

Our hotel for this trip is Oxford Suites. We've had wonderful stays at this small, west coast chain of hotels at their Pismo Beach and Chico locations.  This one is not quite on par with those two.

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After a breakfast at the crowded hotel dining room, we head down the road a bit to Turtle Bay Exploration Park. We find that Turtle Bay is just a small part of a bigger park that is anchored by a pretty stunning pedestrian bridge across the Sacramento River.

That would be the Sundial Bridge (note, you do not have to pay admission to Turtle Bay to access the bridge), a functional piece of art spanning the river with a glass deck, suspended by cables attached to a tall spire that is an actual sundial.

We take a slow stroll across the bridge, stopping to admire the view and to watch a few rafters drift underneath. There was a race here earlier for kayakers that started at the bridge and ended up in Chico, a hundred miles away. Our path is much shorter, maybe another hundred yards.

There's music at the other end of the bridge, sounds very live, but no band in sight. I guess they just have a great stereo system and speakers.

I show Tim the large arc of time points and tell him how the sundial works. It's configured to be correct on the day of the summer solstice.

We wander a little bit on some of the trails. We've been here before, years ago, when we came to visit Lassen Volcanic National Park but much of this area was undeveloped. There's a small bridge over a nearby creek, shaded by stands of oak and sycamore.

The main trail continues on to the banks of the river and doubles back under the bridge. An accessible platform there allows wheelchairs to go right to the edge of the water.

A band is playing under the bridge, taking advantage of the acoustics it offers. So that's where the music was coming from.

I ask a lady playing with them if it's okay if I take some video of them playing. She tells me it's okay and that they're having a 45 year reunion of a group that used to just get together here and play once a week.

She asks where we're from and I say Los Angeles. She used to live there and knows that's a very generic term so she asks specifically where. I tell her the San Gabriel Valley.

"Oh, really? I used to teach school in South El Monte," she tells me.

"I grew up in South El Monte," I respond.

"I taught at Dean Shively School."

"I went to Dean Shively School."

"Do you remember a Mrs. Salazar?"

"Yes, she was one of my teachers."

"I used to be Mrs. Salazar."

Fate had brought us back together 45 years later. Just a fluke turn and an interest in their music led to a reunion with my elementary school teacher.

We spent the next few minutes catching up with each other's lives. She divorced, moved to Redding, met and married her current husband, then moved up to the Seattle area.

Just by chance, she was here this weekend to have that reunion with her bandmates. It really is a small world sometimes.

After that impromptu reunion, we head back across the bridge to visit Turtle Bay. Part zoo, part museum, part educational center, part aquarium, part garden, this is Redding's biggest attraction right now.

Inside, we go through a faux cave meant to evoke Shasta Caverns to the north. This is the only wheelchair accessible way to 'visit' Shasta Caverns, by the way. At the other end of the cave is an aquarium meant to represent the Sacramento River with examples of the different species of fish and animals that call it home.

Trout, salmon, ducks, and even a less than eager beaver are in this display.

Outside, an elevated and accessible boardwalk takes us over to the zoo where we see an animal show.

We are warned strictly to take a seat and do not move during the entirety of the presentation because these are still wild animals and we do not want to spook or distract them.

The show goes on with a couple of trainers and a menagerie of critters such as foxes, porcupines, and skunks along with some hawks, a vulture, and a raven.

After a day of wandering around the river, we head over to downtown and have a nice lunch at Mary's Pizza Shack before ending up back at the hotel where while waiting an hour for the pool lift to be fixed, the quiet swimming area became a small pool populated by a large swarm of noisy kids.

Oh well, we'll just call it a day at that point and pick up where we left off tomorrow.

Copyright 2016 - Darryl Musick
All Rights Reserved
Photos Copyright 2016 - Letty Musick
All Rights Reserved

Monday, July 4, 2016

Colorado Springs, Colorado

Taking a break from Denver, I get the hotel to shuttle me over to nearby Littleton where I can pick up an accessible rental van from Wheelers. No problems getting there on time or getting the van out. It’s a Chevy Venture with a powered ramp on the side and a Q-Strain tie down system.

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The van is a little worn around the edges…it has over 80,000 miles on the odometer, the hood does not like to stay closed, you have to heave your weight against the automatic sliding door to get it to shut, and the “Check Engine Light” came on before we had to turn it back in.

It’s also expensive. At $230 for two days, with a 400 mile limit (plus about $50 in gas), it’s about 3 times as much for a decent rental car.

Still, it didn’t break down and got us where we needed to go, with Tim in his chair the entire time.

I take the van back to the hotel to pick up Letty and Tim and we’re off…

About an hour’s drive south of Denver is Colorado Springs, famous as the home of the Air Force Academy and the U.S. Olympic Training Center. It’s also famous for the giant 14,000 foot, snow covered mountain…Pike’s Peak…that hovers over it.

We had originally planned on driving up the toll road to the top of Pike’s Peak but the heavy snowpack has closed the road short of the peak. Instead, we head to the Garden of the Gods.

The Garden of the Gods is a stunning collection of red rocks sticking out of the ground south of town and just east of the peak. It’s also one of the few free or cheap attractions in the area being completely admission free.

We start off at the visitor’s center, across the street from the main entrance, and get a free map from one of the workers. She points out a hidden handicapped parking lot, about a quarter mile past the first big lot, where there’s a trailhead to a paved, accessible trail.

There’s also a deck outside perfectly situated to get views of the park with the massive Pike’s Peak behind it.

We grab a couple of snacks from the café, get back in the van, and head in.

It’s not hard to find our parking lot. There are about a half dozen handicapped spaces…all empty…and we park right next to the trailhead. There is 1.5 miles of this accessible trail winding through the central garden area, home to almost all of the park’s main features.

The first big rock we walk by has a natural arch at the top. Because of its shape, it’s called the “Kissing Camels.” It looks like a couple of dromedaries locked in a smooch.

Just beyond this is a large plaque dedicating the park to free public use forever where there is also a lot of historical graffiti scratched into the rock.

Across the way, several climbers are working their way to the top of another big rock. If you’re an experienced technical climber, with all the proper equipment, you can get a permit to climb at the visitor’s center.

Continuing on, there are points on the path where we can get up close to the rocks and touch them or even get inside some of the nooks and crannies.

We see about a dozen species of birds on the walk, some who stay still for pictures and others who are a bit more fidgety.

After our hike, we get back into the van and go to the other end of the park where there is a huge boulder balancing on top of another rock.

Letty climbs up to get the obligatory pictures but I notice that there are two large deposits of concrete under the rock. Let’s just say that the park staff wants to make sure this rock balances for perpetuity.

It’s one last look at Balancing Rock and then back in the van.

We drive to the high point of the park and see these jets, probably from the nearby Air Force base, practicing over the park.

After a couple of more pictures, we head out.

A few miles away, we drive through an old part of town. There seems to be a medical marijuana outlet on every corner. I’m thinking to myself, it’s already a mile high here…how much higher do you want to be?

Beyond that, we get to our next destination, Seven Falls.

This is another park full of natural beauty but unlike the Garden of the Gods it is not free. In fact, it’s $9.95 per person, which seems a bit steep to look at a waterfall and there is no discount for the disabled. We were able to secure a dollar off coupon on our map of the Garden of the Gods so we at least got that.

There is a gorgeous and very narrow canyon at the entrance. This is also the location of the only restrooms in the park so make sure you stop here first or else it’s a long walk back down.

At the top, there are three handicapped spots and a visitor’s center. A ramp will get you up into that building and to the plaza behind it where you can get up close to the bottom of the falls. There is also a stage here where Native Americans sometimes put on shows.

Next to the visitor’s center is a pool where large trout live. There are vending machines where you can buy fish food for fifty cents.

A toss of the food on the water creates a feeding frenzy.

You’re not supposed to do it, but the local chipmunks will also eat that food right out of your hands. We didn’t do it but many other visitors did.

Across the parking lot from the visitor’s center is a tunnel into the mountain. To the left are some railroad tracks rusting away on the mountainside. These are the remains of an old funicular that took guests up the mountain to a viewing platform.

Today, there’s an elevator at the end of this tunnel.

Visitors can now ride up the lift to the platform and see the complete set of falls.

This is also the accessible way to see the falls.

If you’re strong and able, there is a very long staircase that takes you up to the top of the falls.

We spend a little time up here, soaking in the views, before heading back down, checking out the gift shop, and then heading out of the park.

Originally, we had planned to drive to the top of Pike’s Peak via the toll road there. The toll is just under $40 as of this writing but the snowpack had the road closed short of the peak. I also question whether our little van with the check engine light would have made it up to the 14,100 foot peak.

That plan scratched, we head over to the nearby town of Manitou Springs and visit the Cog Railway. We didn’t take the train, with a cost of over $100 for the three of us, but a special train with a cog to grip the steep slope takes visitors to the top of the mountain.

It looks like a lot of expensive fun. It’s wheelchair accessible but with only two spots on the train, reservations are essential. Call a couple of days ahead to book your space.

The gift shop here is a notch or two above the others in the area so we actually buy a few things here from the very friendly staff.

On the way out of town, we see this big inn and snap a picture. This is Miramont Castle, originally built as a home to the priest who ran the local sanitarium. Quite a residence for someone who’s taken a vow of poverty.

You can now tour the castle and have tea there. We didn’t but there have been lifts installed to help visitors in wheelchairs to see all the levels.

With that, our day trip to Colorado Springs is over and it’s back in the van to return to Denver.


Copyright 2011 – Darryl Musick
All Rights Reserved

Sunday, July 3, 2016

THE COCKTAIL HOUR: Denver Pub Crawl, Part 2

Last week, we started the crawl with three pubs on or near the 16th Street Mall.  Today, we'll finish it with a couple of joints in LoDo and then move onto our last stop on Colfax Avenue, just east of downtown.

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Going upscale for our first stop, it's the Denver Chophouse and Brewery which is adjacent to Coors Field in the old Union Pacific building.

This is no ratty dive bar. It's a very nice restaurant, with great food, that happens to also brew you do in Denver. The food is awesome.  We have a lobster club sandwich, Cesar salad, new york steak, fries, sweet potato fries, and a bacon-cheeseburger for Tim.

The beers are all in-house brews.  We have a Dortmunder lager, a crisp refreshing German style beer, and their wheat ale, which is filtered unlike most of your wheat beers and has a clear, clean look.  Both were very good, the bitterness of the Dortmunder just right...even Letty liked it...and a very crisp taste to the wheat ale.

Next, it was a quick hop over to Blake Street for one of our favorite stops on the tour, the Falling Rock Tap House.  Not a brewery but what a selection! Their slogan is "No Crap on Tap" and it's fitting.  You'll not find the likes of Bud, Bud Lite, Miller, or even the state's biggest beer, Coors.  Like sitting in someone's converted garage, we relaxed on worn leather chairs while the fresh air wafted in from the large doors.

 Tim and I had New Belgium's Mothership Wit, a wheat beer very similar to Hoegaarden, and Letty had the La Folie, also from Boulder's New Belgium, a tart, sour ale which turned out to be her favorite of the trip.  A bit too sour for me and way to sour from Tim (be sure to see his reaction in the video above, it's priceless).  Letty, always a fan of the sours, really seemed to like it.

Our last stop was supposed to be our first stop last week.  We had trouble finding it but found I had transposed a couple of numbers on the address.  The Cheeky Monk on Colfax, about 4 blocks east of the capitol, is a Belgian Cafe with a large number of great Belgian brews on tap.

We were lucky to get there between 11 and 2 when almost everything is half price and there's a great selection of delicious lunch plates for only $5.99.

To eat, Letty and I had a penne with a gorgonzola cream sauce and bacon, while Tim had sliders with a side of fries cooked in truffle oil.

Our first round of beers was two dubbels...Maredsous for Tim and La Trappe for me.  Both had a musty, yeasty, and smooth taste that were almost identical.  Letty had a Bacchus sour ale, which she liked, but it just had an initial jolt of sour, which quickly dissapated.

Next, I had a St. Bernardus Quadrupel, which had a banana taste and weighed in at a hefty 12% ABV.  Tim had an Ommegang Rare Vos, which again was quite smooth and delicious, while Letty had a Kasteel Rouge, another Flanders sour ale but this one was actually way more sweet than sour, tasting like a fermented Dr. Pepper.

 And that's the end of the crawl, be sure to check out the video embedded above to follow our exploits across the pubs and breweries of downtown Denver.


Friday, July 1, 2016

Denver, Colorado - Part 3

In Part 1 of our Denver report, we made it to our 21st Major League Stadium by taking in a Rockies game at Coors Field, tried out Denver’s nice but imperfect light rail system, and had a very..VERY…good dinner at the Wyncoop Brewery. In Part 2, we spend some time exploring downtown and start a pub crawl. We also got to the Denver Zoo which is a zoo, frankly, with all the field trip kids there.

Watch the Video!

Yesterday, we took a day trip to Colorado Springs (report coming soon). The Springs doesn’t have great public transportation so we went ahead and rented an accessible van from Wheelers Van Rentals. The van itself wasn’t cheap…$230 for two days…and looked to be ridden hard and put away wet.

Still, it got the job done and got us where we needed to go.

We get a hot breakfast buffet included in our rate at the Drury Inn and Suites. The choices are scrambled eggs, biscuits & gravy, sausage, cereal, waffles, bagels, and toast. It’s the exact same selection every day. We’re getting a bit burned out on it.

Skipping the hotel breakfast, we head to Colfax Avenue east of downtown to Pete’s Kitchen. Pete is a bit of a restaurant legend in this town who immigrated from Greece, opened a diner, and parlayed that into a mini restaurant empire here in Denver. There’s Pete’s Kitchen, Pete’s Sapphire Lounge, Pete’s Gyros, Pete’s Greek Diner, and more.

His kitchen is a retro diner masterpiece but there’s no room for a wheelchair in the small, original diner space so we sit at a table in the room that was added on. Today we feast on a green chile breakfast burrito, pancakes, eggs, bacon, hash browns, and French toast. It’s very delicious and just a bit more than cheap.

Back on the road, we head east of Denver to Morrison, home to Red Rocks Park. Like the Garden of the Gods in Colorado Springs, this is a public park full of great red rock features. The best known of which is the Red Rocks Amphitheater.

The theater is world renowned for its striking beauty, attracting artists as varied as Willie Nelson, U2, and the Beatles.

There are no big acts playing while we’re in town, so we can just stroll in and wander around. Today, a couple of hundred teenagers are running around the place in between practicing for their graduation ceremonies which will be taking place later in the week.

Tim and I head to the top row where we can get a striking view down to the stage. If you’re in a wheelchair at this 70 year old venue, you can either sit in the top row or the first row. There is nothing accessible in between.

From our perch on the top, it is soon apparent that there is no accessible route down to the stage so we get back in the van and find the handicapped parking area near the park’s trading post.

To get to the stage from here, there’s a long ramp that hugs the side of a red rock cliff.

It’s a steep ramp and luckily Tim has his power chair. If he’d had his manual chair, I don’t know if we’d have made it up. Even so, I’m huffing and puffing a bit when we finally make it up.

A set up crew is moving equipment onto the stage for the graduation ceremonies, but we’re able to go around them and spend some time onstage via a ramp at the end.

It’s quite a thrill to be standing in front of the 10,000 seats…right on the same spot as John & Paul, Willie, and Bono to drop just a few names.

The view from the stage must be quite inspiring to these performers.

Our time here is up and we head back down to visit the trading post. While there, a bit thunderstorm hits and we have to navigate our way back to the van through a downpour of pellet sized hail.

We continue on to Golden but the weather doesn’t cooperate and we’re only able to get a few pictures of the town and the massive Coors brewery.

Heading back into town, glancing to the north of downtown, I see a funnel cloud and ask Letty if that’s what she sees too. In town, there’s just a slight drizzle and we head to the Cheeky Monk for a quick bite. Afterward, back in the car, we turn on the radio just in time to get the Emergency Broadcasting System’s announcement of a tornado warning.

Luckily, it’s a few miles north of us and we’re heading south. Back to our cozy suite at the Drury Inn where we can relax in the warmth, pack up, and catch the taxi back to the airport in the morning.


Copyright 2011 – Darryl Musick
All Rights Reserved