Monday, August 31, 2015

CALIFORNIA - Our Highway 395 Road Trip Moves Into the Cold Country

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Although the area seems relatively flat, the snow and trees give a clue. Just a few miles after leaving Mammoth, highway 395 hits the altimeter at 8,036 feet at Deadman Summit.
An exit leads to June Lake Loop, a back country of lakes, campgrounds, and the June Lake ski area, also owned and operated by the same folks back in Mammoth. We’ve yet to try it out but I’m told if you don’t like the crowds at Mammoth, June Lake makes a great alternative.

Coming down the other side of the summit a very large lake looms in the distance. This is Mono Lake, a brackish, fragile eco-system full of alien looking towers called tufa. 
As L.A. took all the water in this area, they also diverted the streams feeding the lake which has no outlet.  Mono Lake shrunk to the point where islands that supported nesting birds became peninsulas giving predators a bridge to the tasty birds.
Many court battles later, the streams are no longer being diverted and Mono Lake is making its comeback.

The tiny town of Lee Vining sits to the west of the lake, a nice rest stop along the highway.  Closer to the lake, fans of Clint Eastwood movies might recognize the area of the town he had painted red in High Plains Drifter.

At the south end of town, highway 120 begins its westward trek toward Yosemite National Park. Better known as Tioga Pass, this road is blocked by snow and rubble for much of the year. It’s only in the warmer summer season and into fall that you can actually drive that route.

Just north of town, you can pull off to see the crazy tufa formations at the Mono Lake Tufa State Reserve.
Past Lee Vining, we’re climbing again. This time to the 8,138 foot height of Conway Summit, the highest elevation along 395.  Coming down from the summit, if you’re here in the peak of summer,you might want to take the detour to Bodie, one of the best preserved ghost towns in the country, a few miles to the east. Now, in the winter, the high country road is closed.

The next big town we come into is Bridgeport, a very pretty little high country town in a valley alongside the Bridgeport reservoir.  I’d been coming here for years…all in the winter…before I realized there was a lake here.  Mostly, I’ve seen the town under a deep blanket of snow where the gas prices will take your breath away.

It gets so cold up here that the Marines maintains their cold weather and mountain training facility to the west of town.  This is not the California of beaches and palm trees you see on the post cards.
Past Bridgeport, we become partners with the Walker River adjacent to the road.  The canyon narrows as we get closer to the state border, a lonely spot with the requisite small casino, Topaz Lake. The Best Western here actually looks like it’d be a great place for a get-away-from-it-all weekend.

After crossing into Nevada, we stop in Gardnerville to have dinner at the Overland Hotel. It’s a creaky old place with a bar and a dining room serving Basque fare.
Being seated, we are given a small carafe of wine, salad, soup, beans, and spaghetti before we’re even asked what we want for an entrée.  We get our steak and fish next, along with some great fries before having a little ice cream for dessert. All very good and filling.
Well fed, we head out back to our car where we join a short Frisbee toss with the kids living behind the hotel. It’s a short drive to our next overnight stop, Carson City, the capitol of the state where we’ll spend the night with owls, deer, and bullfrogs on an alfalfa farm.
Copyright 2012 – Darryl Musick
All Rights Reserved.

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Friday, August 28, 2015

SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA: Highway 395 Kicks it Into High Gear - The Northern Owens Valley

It's been 275 miles on the road, probably time to think about somewhere to lay our head. That would be the heart and soul of the Owens Valley, Bishop, California.

With a population of just under 4,000, Bishop is the big city of Owens Valley. It's here that you'll find the major services...stores, hospital, casino, fairgrounds, and lodging. You can get clean, comfortable rooms starting at around $60 at the peak season of summer, up to the $140 dollar rooms at the Best Western Creekside Inn, the prettiest and most expensive place in town.

It's your choice but we'll not spend too much here...Bishop is unpretentious and uncomplicated. We'll keep it simple and cheap.

In Bishop, travelers stock up for the trip ahead. Sporting good stores cater to fishermen and hunters who flock to the local lakes and forests. It's said that you can walk across Crowley Lake, just north of town, by stepping from boat to boat on opening day of trout season. Campers get groceries and road trippers top off the tanks and drain the bladders for the road ahead.

While many just stop for a minute and continue on, Bishop rewards those who linger a little longer.  

Schatz Bakery is the busiest place in town where you can get varieties of bread and baked goods that range from mediocre to delicious. Grab a lunch to go and cross the street to the pretty city park where you can picnic on the banks of the creek, watching ducklings trying to keep up with mom.

You can get cheap gas and gamble for awhile at the Indian casino at the north end of town.

As we leave Bishop on highway 395, we also say goodbye to the Owens Valley.  42 miles north, although it seems much closer, we come the next big attraction...and I mean BIG.

Local DWP hydrographer Dave McCoy set up a number of rope tows to facilitate his love of skiing in the winter. In 1942, he finally found a good, snowy spot and persuaded the forest service to give him a permit to open a ski area. Mammoth Mountain was born.

The name is apt, the mountain is huge and easily accommodates the thousands of skiers and snowboarders that crowd the town of Mammoth Lakes on winter weekends.

Snow can come down hard's not uncommon to drive the streets of this town in winter with walls of snow ten feet high on either side.

Skiing ranges from the easy bunny slopes to the truly scary and expert slopes of the 11,000 foot cornice.

It's not cheap to ski here.  As of this writing, an adult full day lift ticket is $89.  Rooms average around $200 a night in season, although we once found a small basement room for around $90. The closer to the lifts, the more expensive they get...easily topping $500 a night for a room next to a lift.

For that price, you will get one of the world's great skiing experiences. Mammoth also operates an adaptive ski program run by Disabled Sports Eastern Sierra that runs around $150 for a full day of skiing and instruction, click on that link for more information.

Back on 395, heading north, we leave all traces of desert behind as we travel through the snowy Alpine forests of the Sierra, Mammoth, and June Lake.  Where we're going is not the sunny California that everybody is thinking of.

We'll be swinging through the Siberia of the west coast in the next leg of this trip.

Copyright 2012 - Darryl Musick
All Rights Reserved

Monday, August 24, 2015

SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA: Highway 395 Kicks it Into High Gear - The Historic and Beautiful Southern Owens Valley

Either you bring the water to L.A. or you bring L.A. to the water.” – Noah Cross (John Huston) in Chinatown (1974).

It helps to know the importance of Owens Valley when you travel to it. What was rich farmland in the beginning of the 20th century became the main water source for the city of Los Angeles a couple of decades later. The thirsty city to the south drained much of the water that was here, turning much of it into desert. The Owens River ran dry which turned Owens Lake at the south end of the valley into an alkali flat.

Through much litigation and struggle, the city is slowing returning some of the water but it will never be the same in our lifetime.  Even so, this is one of the most ruggedly beautiful and historic areas in the state. The geography runs from  the highest point in the lower 48 to the lowest point in the entire country.

Coming up from the desert below on highway 395, you pass up some impressive lava formations at the Coso Mountains, on the east side of the highway past Pearsonville on up to Little Lake.

There is a beautiful little lake at the tiny town of Little Lake, marking your entrance into the southern end of the valley.  We’ll be here for another 140 or so miles before we exit via the northern end.

I like to divide the valley into two parts…the southern half and the northern half. Today, we’ll tackle the southern end.

The next town of any size along the highway will be Lone Pine.  This pretty little town sits between those two points of extreme, Mt. Whitney and Death Valley. Just to the west of town, amidst a collection of spires, sits the summit of Mt. Whitney, the highest point in the continental United States at 14,497 feet.

From the middle of town, you can drive up Whitney Portal Road quite a ways up the side of the mountain to the trailhead where hearty hikers can go the rest of the way.  We like the large waterfall here where on warmer days you can have a nice picnic. In the winter, if you can get up here, the waterfall is a spectacular frozen column of ice.

On the way back to town, you’ll see some familiar looking rock formations to the north of the road. These are the Alabama Hills and the recreation area is great to roam around, scramble on the rocks, and even have a picnic. Many, many movies, TV shows, and commercials have been filmed here which is why they look so familiar. You can download a map from the Lone Pine Chamber of Commerce to see where some of the more famous movie locations are.

It’s about 85 miles southwest from the nearly 15,000 foot peak of Mt. Whitney to the Badwater in Death Valley. At 282 feet below sea level, it’s the lowest point in the United States.  You can go back to Owens Lake and take highway 190 over to this spectacular national park but, for us, that’s a trip for another day.

After a slice of pizza and a sandwich at the Pizza Factory in town, it’s back on the road. Just north of Lone Pine on the east side of the road you’ll see a small hill with a wooden fence, a monument, and a historical marker (no. 507) sign.

Sixteen bodies lay under the dirt here in a mass grave, the result of a massive earthquake in 1872. About 80 structures stood in town, mostly made of adobe which crumbled readily during the shaking. Only 20 structures were left standing and 27 people were left dead. Those that weren’t buried in their own services were interred here.

Seven miles north of town lies another melancholy site. Manzanar National Historic Site covers the area that was the Manzanar Relocation Center. During World War II, 10,000 people of Japanese descent were rounded up and put here for the duration of the war.

Manzanar in 1942

The camp was closed and mostly dismantled in 1945. For years, it was left alone out here in the bottom of the valley. We’d stop in and have the 550 acres to ourselves to explore. In 1985, forty years after it was shut down, it was declared a National Historic Site.

Manzanar today

Today, you can still explore the grounds, see the foundations of the barracks, see the couple of remaining structures like the gymnasium and the guardhouse, and visit the accessible interpretive center.

Continuing north, we come into the county seat of Inyo County, the town of Independence. Be sure to make a stop to see the old courthouse in the center of town. It was here, a group of vagrants were brought for hearings after being arrested in a remote area of Death Valley. One of them was named Charles Manson, who would eventually be taken to Los Angeles for the murder trial he is infamous for.

On the drive north, it takes little reminding to enjoy the view. The mountain ranges on either side…the steep, abrupt eastern escarpment of the Sierras and the gentler slopes of the White Mountains on the right…both rise over 14,000 feet. In the winter the view doesn’t get any better.

Passing out of Independence, we continue on this classic and legendary highway heading toward the northern half of the stark, barren, and exceptionally stunning Owens Valley.

Copyright 2012 – Darryl Musick
All Rights Reserved

Friday, August 21, 2015

SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA: A High Desert Drive up Highway 395

While the world rhapsodizes about the mother road, Route 66, many old time state residents also remember another road...Highway 395.

We’re working our way up this old road but we’ve yet to actually put the rubber on that road. After some time exploring the area between the L.A. Basin and the desert in the mountains of the Cajon Pass, it’s back on Interstate 15…395’s replacement here…to finish the climb to the desert.

That’s right…climb.   Southern California has two distinct deserts going informally by the low desert and the high desert.  The low is an extension of the Sonoran desert and truly does get low…way below sea level near the Salton Sea. The high desert is the Mojave desert and averages around 3,000 feet in elevation. It can get bone-chillingly cold here in winter and regularly gets dusted with snow. As we exit the Cajon Pass , we’re at just under 3,200 feet.

Just before civilization, the sign of the Outpost Café tells us we’ve finally found the road. Highway 395 cuts a line due north from this junction, bypassing the towns of Hesperia and Victorville.  When real estate prices were booming, thousands of families came up here to escape the high prices down below. A large portion of them commute hours each way to jobs in Los Angeles and beyond.

Adelanto is the first town along this road. Home of historic George Air Force base (now a civilian airport) it’s not too far to the west where space shuttles would occasionally land on the dry lake at Edwards Air Force base when Florida weather was bad.  You’ll pass the stadium for the minor league High Desert Maverick’s baseball team as you head out of town.

Shop at

As we leave Adelanto, we also say goodbye to the last remnants of Los Angeles’ suburbs. We are truly beyond civilization now.
After driving several miles, the next spot that can be called civilization is Kramer Junction where 395 intersects with highway 58 connected Barstow to the east with Bakersfield to the west. You can stop here for expensive gas and a snack but we’ re just moving on.

The old mining town of Johannesburg is a photographer’s delight with all the rusting mine equipment strewn about. Just beyond that, the huge China Lake Naval Weapons facility supports the town of Ridgecrest. It’s not uncommon to see military planes taking target practice to the right of the road as you pass through.
Someone had to have been sick of traveling through this large desert to found the next little spot on the road called Dunmovin.  It, and the other town nearby, Pearsonville, mark the end of the desert drive for us. Now it’s a climb up the hill to Olanch, Little Lake and the start of the next part of our 395 adventure, the historic and very important Owens Valley.

That's the next big stop on this road trip.

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Copyright 2012 – Darryl Musick
All Rights Reserved

Monday, August 17, 2015

SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA: Cajon Pass and Searching for a Legendary Road

This is shaky country. The mountains on either side are there because one of the earth’s great faults passes through the neighborhood. Fires regularly scorch its sides, traffic jams it roads, and the majority of L.A.’s rail freight passes through it.

Cajon Pass threads its way through sparsely populated gap separating the San Gabriel Mountains to the west and the San Bernardino Mountains to the east. The modern superhighway, Interstate 15, channels tens of thousands of cars through here every day of the year. Multiple sets of rails carry a few thousand more rail cars towards the massive rail yard in Colton, destined for the warehouses of Southern California. At the bottom of the canyon, a not-old-looking four lane blacktop sits unused.
While the world rhapsodizes about the mother road, Route 66…that road in the bottom of the canyon...many old time state residents also remember the other number assigned to that road.  Highway 395.
Formerly stretching from border to border, the stretch here heading south has been replaced by the interstate.  It is just as legendary as the Mother Road but in a more understated manner.

It’s not a long drive through the pass…much shorter than the other big pass to the west, Tejon Pass (also called The Grapevine), and when traffic’s running smooth, it’ll only take you around 20 to 30 minutes to make the passage from Devore to Hesperia.
In between those two points is another world that most locals never see.
The intersection of Interstate 15 and state highway 138 is the midpoint of the pass and your portal to the land time forgot.  Head east and you’ll be headed towards the manmade Lake Silverwood.  Beyond that, the windy, climbing highway heads up the mountains to Crestline, Lake Arrowhead, Running Springs and Big Bear in the distance.
Boaters and fishermen love Silverwood.  Crestline is a small, quiet little community popular with hang gliders who launch off of a point west of town. Lake Arrowhead has a nice little village but the lake itself is private and reserved for residents only. Running Springs and Big Bear are popular snow skiing areas and Big Bear Lake is another lure for boaters and fishermen.
While we do have some good times in this eastern portion…Tim goes to camp each year in Crestline, I’ve misspent much of my youth on the slopes of Bear Mountain and Snow Valley ski areas, and we’ve rented a cabin a time or two in Big Bear…turning west on highway 138 is where I’m more likely to go.
Mormon Rocks Courtesy of Wikimedia
Photo by Takwish under CC BY-SA 2.5 License

The first thing you might notice are the rocks. Giant, red rocks tilted at strange angles to the sky.  Little caves dotting the sides, sitting there by themselves, off to the side, all pointing the same way. These are called the Mormon Rocks.
It’s an otherworldly sight. Several miles to the west of here, a collection of these rocks have been turned into a park where Hollywood has used them countless times as backdrops to commercials, TV shows, music videos, and movies from westerns to The Flintstones.  Legend has it that the infamous outlaw Tiburcio Vasquez hid here and the park, Vasquez Rocks, is named after him.

The rocks jut the way they do because the big San Andreas Fault lies just beneath, exerted its upward pressure.  Letty and I have had many picnics under this awe-inspiring view.
Turning left on highway 2 will put you on Angeles Crest Highway and soon you’ll be entering the town of Wrightwood. This cute little village straddling the line between desert and alpine offers some good eats and shopping in its little downtown.
Moving just west of town and you’ll hit Mountain High, one of the area’s biggest ski areas covering three separate mountains. 

Shop eBags Back to School Sale

There’s not a lot of lodging here in Wrightwood, but there does seem to be enough for visitors who’d like to spend the night.

Jackson Lake Courtesy of Wikimedia
Rennett Stoweunder CC BY 2.0 License

If you’re inclined to keep going down the highway, a right turn on Big Pines Highway will take you to pretty little Jackson Lake, where kids have a ball bluegill fishing, and the desert down below where Devil’s Punchbowl park invites hikers and rock climbers to explore its canyon walls.
Highway 2 will take you all the way back to La Canada and Los Angeles if you have the time and the highway is open, but we’re heading back the way we came, back over to highway 138, Interstate 15, and pointing ourselves north out of the pass looking for that legendary road…
Copyright 2012 – Darryl Musick
All Rights Reserved

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

IT'S AN OLYMPIC YEAR : When Los Angeles Hosted the Games - 1984 & 1932

My hometown of Los Angeles hosted two summer games, 52 years apart.  The 1984 games were known for their budget frugality.  Some venues were recycled from the earlier the coliseum...and the games actually earned a profit, which is used to fund local sports charities.  It was also known for the "Olympic Miracle" where, due to much scaremongering, people stayed off the streets and traffic was a dream for two weeks - kind of like what happened during "Carmageddon" last year.  It is also the games where much of the Communist world stayed away in retaliation for the U.S boycotting the Moscow games four years earlier due to the Soviet Union's involvement in Afghanistan.

Picture courtesy of Wikimedia
Bobak Ha'Eri under CC-BY-SA license

The coliseum is now used for USC home games and few other events.  Many in the area have dreams for another NFL team to move in here, but reality states that will never happen.  USC seems happy with it and every now and then wrestles for total control of the facility, which is run by a commission made up of state and local interests.

Picture courtesy of Wikimedia
Pelladon under CC-BY license

Next door is the Sports Arena, which was the venue for boxing at the 1984 games.  It is also the original home of the Lakers (when they moved to L.A.) and the Clippers, both of whom have moved on to Staples Center up the street.  It's in pretty shabby condition these days, hosting lingerie football, car shows, and other minor events.

It is scheduled to be demolished soon.

Adjacent is the swim stadium from the 1932 games, which is still in use as a public pool. 

The Expo Line light rail, which just opened a few months ago, goes right by these three venues. It's also the new home of the space shuttle, Endeavour.

Picture courtesy of Wikimedia
kla4067 under CC-BY license

Sitting on top of a hill overlooking downtown Los Angeles is Dodger the third oldest Major League Baseball stadium still in use...which was the site of the baseball competition.  It is also the only major baseball stadium that I know of that is almost completely lacking in public transportation access.

Picture courtesy of Wikimedia
Ellen Levy Finch under CC-BY-SA license

One of my favorite places in the area is Santa Anita Park racetrack in Arcadia where many of the equestrian events took place in 1984.  Still open and still racing, crowds have really thinned out over the last few years as satellite wagering has expanded.  Magna, the company that owns it, has been in and out of bankruptcy.

Picture courtesy of Wikimedia
Dan(golfpro1) under CC-BY license

In 1932, it was the Riviera Country Club which hosted the ponies.  Today, it's host to the L.A. Open PGA Golf known as the tournament that Tiger Woods dropped out of when his scandal hit the news.

Picture courtesy of Wikimedia
Bobak Ha'Eri under CC-BY-SA license

Other venues farther out hosted some more events in 1984.  The Rose Bowl in Pasadena hosted soccer.  Of course, it is still used every New Year's Day (except for Sundays) for the Rose Bowl game and UCLA uses this as their home facility for football.  It's also home to a very large flea market each month.  It's in a beautiful setting in the middle of Brookside Park, just north of Suicide Bridge.

Lake Casitas, in the mountains above Ventura and near Ojai, provided the water needed for rowing and canoeing.

Picture courtesy of Wikimedia and Arnold C (Buchanana-Hermit)

Our tour ends down in Anaheim, across the street from Disneyland, at the Anaheim Convention Center which was used as the wrestling venue for the 1984 games.  For those of you who have attended the Abilities Expo while it was in Anaheim, this place is in that same complex.  Dating from 1967, it is also the venue for the first concerts I ever attended...Merle Haggard for country and western; Loggins and Messina for rock 'n roll with Argent as the lead-off group.

Hope you enjoyed this Olympic Tour and will join us again tomorrow as we get ready to wrap up Olympic Week here at The World on Wheels.


Sunday, August 9, 2015

CLASSIC TRIP: Scottsdale, Arizona, 2001

    The arbor at Taliesin West
When will some business people start to realize that if give a customer what they want and provide satisfaction, they will spend more than they planned?  I ask this because started off writing this report by doing what I usually do last...figuring out the budget.  This is because I felt I spent more than I planned and I was right.  About $120 more than what I figured before the trip.  

But you know what?  I don’t care because it was money well spent.

I know I’ve consciously avoided spending money on vacation at places where they don’t get this point.  The Congress Hotel in Chicago is a prime example of this.  By trying to squeeze every penny out of me and not providing what was agreed to, they lost more in the long run than they save...penny wise and pound foolish.  Whereas the merchants we visited in Scottsdale kept us happy and we spent money freely...more than we planned.  Those guys made out like bandits.

Which brings us to our trip report.  In short, these three days in the Valley of the Sun were much more fun than an entire week in the windy city.

Friday afternoon...a Memorial Day getaway from L.A.  A routine trip to the dentist delays our exit, so we get stuck in the peak of holiday travel traffic.  The jam lasts until Banning making what should be a 5 ½ hour drive into a seven hour trek.

We make it to the Quality Suites in Scottsdale around 11:00pm.  Check-in goes smoothly and we are soon in our room after a quick complimentary lemonade courtesy of the front desk folks.  

We are tired from the long drive and turn in immediately.

After a restful night, we head down for a complimentary fully cooked breakfast.  Love that word...complimentary.  You hear it a lot at this hotel.  In addition to breakfast, there is complimentary beer, wine, and soda in the evening.  After that, it is complimentary milk and cookies.  Round-the-clock it is complimentary lemonade.  The business center sits right off the lobby where there is a PC set up for complimentary Internet access.  Local calls are also no charge.  In fact, other than the in-room movies and small souvenir shop, it was hard to find anything to spend money on here.  All this was $59 per night plus tax and $10 for an extra rollaway bed.

And yes, they have accessible rooms too.

After eating, the three of us head north to Taliesin West.  In his last years, Frank Lloyd Wright used his 640 acres in the Arizona desert as his winter home and architectural school.  Apprentices would tag along and create their own shelters in the desert.  Wright and his disciples would test their theories here. (See pictures above and below)

Taliesin West 

What they have created is a marvelously ingenious compound of living spaces, studios, theaters, and landscape that is beautiful and practical.  Originally more of a camp, the buildings had no windows.  Canvas flaps covered the openings while in season.  During the summers, the canvas was removed and the building interiors were left to the elements.

Wright’s wife didn’t enjoy the cold that produced or sharing space with local wildlife such as snakes and scorpions and demanded her husband install windows and other shelter from the elements. 

We take the grand tour (there are 1 hour and 1 ½ hour versions of the tour) and found in completely accessible although some of the ramps were a bit steep.  In addition to being a museum and historic site, Taliesin West is still an architectural school, residence, and architectural firm.  The apprentices still live in shelters of their own design and construction scattered throughout the land (if there in winter, be sure to take the apprentice shelter tour).
It was a highlight of the trip and very beautiful except for the nearby power lines that mar the view.  Wright went all the way to President Truman to try to have the lines buried underground to no avail.

Afterward, it’s lunch at the Coyote Grill near the Scottsdale airport.  It is so delicious we make reservations to come back for dinner.  After an afternoon of swimming at the hotel, we come back for apple baked pork loin, pasta, and grilled fish while sitting on the wonderful patio here.  See what I mean about a satisfied customer spending more than they planned for?  Coyote Grill is definitely worth the trip. (Unfortunately, Coyote Grill is no longer there, it's now a place more like Hooter's - Ed)

Tim wanted to see the rides at Coasters ‘n Castles, an amusement park in north Phoenix.  We go but it is very cramped and none of the rides are accessible.  At least it didn’t cost us anything to find out.  I can’t really recommend this place to anybody with a disability.

The next morning we take in the Phoenix Zoo at nearby Papago Park.  An accessible tram provides guests with a quick overview of the zoo.  It also doubles as mass transit around the zoo for those who find walking a great distance too much.  There are four handy stops on the route and one fare allows you to board and alight from the tram as many times as you want.

The tram at the Phoenix Zoo is wheelchair accessible 

We are real impressed with the recreated Columbian rain forest here.  Starting off in a recreated Columbian town, an accessible dirt trail leads through the jungle where many animal inhabitants await such as Columbian bears, pirana like fish, alligators, monkeys, and many birds.  Misters do double duty making it more jungle like and cooling off the Arizona desert at the same time.

Lunch today would be at the Sugar Bowl in downtown Scottsdale where ice cream is the star of the show although they also serve sandwiches.  Family Circus cartoonist Bil Keane is a regular here and his cartoons and doodles are very much in evidence.

As the temperature climbed into the afternoon, we settled into the cool waters of the Quality Suites pool where we swam the afternoon away.

Dinner tonight was at the Reata Pass Steakhouse in the northeast corner of Scottsdale.  This place is a real hoot.  Dining is outdoors where your steak is cooked over an open fire.  An Aussie by the name of Gary Lloyd serenaded the diners with some real good country western music and the steaks themselves were succulent and juicy. A flight of stairs will stop you in your tracks but just check with the bartender for the  accessible route to the dining area. 

This would be our last night here and all agree that there was way more fun in Scottsdale than we had time for.  Another weekend here is definitely in order.

Copyright 2001 - Darryl Musick
All Rights Reserved

Friday, August 7, 2015

On the Back Roads of the Motherlode

Highway 49 connects the historic towns of California's Gold Country. This artery of history tells the story of our modern state. Get off this road and you find even more, mysterious places. Many that time forgot, such as when we went to the almost-ghost town of Hornitos.

Today, we're making the circle around the upper hills of Amador county, from Jackson, to Volcano, down through Fiddletown, and ending up at the wineries of the area.

Watch the Video!

Not long after I turn off the highway, I see a bramble of blackberries on the side of the road. Luckily, there's a nice pull out where I can park and go over to see if I can find any to pick.

Wild blackberries abound on the sideroads throughout the state.  You have to be very careful because they grow in big thickets, full of thorns. Also, poison oak is a close mimic of the blackberry plant so you need to be extra cautious to be sure that this painful plant is not growing within it.

Gingerly, I look through the thorns and find enough ripe blackberries to fill my bowl while also snacking on these tart but sweet fruits.

I give Letty and Tim a few to taste and we move on.

We come upon the town of Volcano where not much is open besides the bakery.  It's a pretty little place with old building situated in a tree-filled glen.  Letty and Tim are not wanting to go through the trouble to find a wheelchair accessible parking spot and then have to get him out and back in so we move on.

Fiddletown is even smaller, the one business we'd want to stop at, another dessert emporium, is closed because they've got a booth at the county fair this weekend.

The road eventually empties us back out in the Shenandoah Valley where we stop in to see the friendly folks at Sobon Winery. I give the lady at the counter a couple of my blackberries and she gives me a thank you and a small glass of wine.

A mixed case later, we're off to the other end of the valley to have a picnic at Story Winery.  It's always nice to visit with the staff here and have another excellent meal under their shady oaks among the old vines.

The rest of the day is spent swimming in the pool at the hotel before eating some pizza from the local Pokerville Market.

In the morning, we check out and head down highway 49 for some more Motherlode car touring. From the almost empty New Melones Reservoir, we head through the famous frog jumping town of Angel's Camp, followed by Sonora, before coming down from the hills to highway 99 and home.

Copyright 2015 - Darryl Musick
All Rights Reserved

Monday, August 3, 2015

A Fair Time in The Motherlode

You would think, that being in the middle of one of the state's oldest wine producing areas, that the county fair would sell wine.

You'd be wrong.

At least when we're there, the wine bar is closed. Beer and margaritas are free flowing, however.

We're at the Amador County Fair in the heart of California's Gold Country in Plymouth. We've been wanting to come here for years.  A few years ago, we had a trip planned but work got in the way. Last year was another attempt but a large forest fire in the area made it a no-go.

Finally, we're settled in to the great Shenandoah Inn and we're set to go.

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It's a small fair, two hours will pretty much get you through everything.

It's got great displays of 4H raised animals like sheep, cows, and goats.  Horsemanship competitions are going on in the arena throughout the day. A midway full of rides awaits the adventurous fairgoers.

After deciding we'll probably have the fried calamari as our fair food later, we head to the back of the grounds where hobbyists have restored tractors and engines on display.

A small steam engine runs a wood shop complete with lathe and drill press while other smaller engines just sit there running and popping,  awaiting something to use they're power.

One gentleman has hooked his up to a hand-pump and is recycling water from a bucket on a trailer. When I ask his why he did this (it obviously has no practical purpose) he said simply, "because it's fun."

A giant boiler, with smoke that can be seen over the entire fairground, runs an historic lumber mill via steam power.

Pieces of furniture sit on the lawn nearby, products of the lumber produced here.

The sawdust is recycled and used as bedding in the animal barns while the trash wood is cut up and burned in the boiler.

We have our calimari (just so-so) and a couple of beers while we check out our haul of freebies from the exhibit halls. The shady trees of the beer garden make a nice place to watch the parade of antique tractors go by.

Afterward, we go across the street from the fair to Amador 360 to taste some wine and even buy a case.  A very nice dinner at Taste, an incredibly delicious restaurant in downtown Plymouth, caps the day.

Copyright 2015 - Darryl Musick
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