Monday, September 26, 2016

CLASSIC TRIP - Yosemite Ski Trip, California 1998

This report is dedicated to the late Nic Fiore, a legend in Yosemite, who taught over 100,000 people to ski during his 50+ years at Yosemite, including the day described below...

How about a ski trip? Yes, you can do it if you're in a wheelchair.  To prove it, we present a ski trip we took back in 1998.  Enjoy...

It's February and El Nino has finally hit as advertised. We have received over a year's worth of rain in just this one month.

The month has also started off gloomy with two people we know passing on and a million things to do with little time to do them. We're wet...we're depressed...we need a vacation.

  Luckily, the second half of the month perks up with Tim's birthday and our wedding anniversary. To celebrate, we decide to head back up to visit with Jon and Lois Moroni at their great bed and breakfast, the Restful Nest, up in Mariposa.

Are we tempting fate in this extra wet month? The weather reports for the area don't hold a lot of promise as the anticipated President's Day weekend is upon us.

Crossing our fingers, we load up our tire chains, cold weather clothes, and skis and head on up. To tempt fate even further we left at 3:00pm on Friday, February 13th.

The good weather in L.A. held up until we reached the summit of Tejon Pass (the Grapevine) where we promptly hit wind and rain. The rain stayed with us the rest of the way to Mariposa.

We stopped for a quick bite to eat at the In 'n Out in Fresno and to gas up before heading into the hills. Those hills were a gorgeous emerald green. It was not hard to think we had somehow been magically transported over to Ireland. Arrival in Mariposa was at 8:30pm.
Casey the Wonder Pooch
Jon, Lois, and their black lab Casey greeted us on arrival with a hot bowl of soup and a glass of wine. After exchanging greetings and catching up a little bit from our last trip, we unpacked into our room and went to bed.

Saturday dawned with even more rain. Lois cooked up a superb breakfast that included fresh fruit, bacon, eggs, waffles, muffins, and homemade rolls. This was washed down with some great hot coffee and fresh orange juice.

Today, we headed up to Yosemite Valley. It's about 40 miles from the B & B to the valley floor. The rain made even the tiniest of creeks into raging rivers of muddy water. Driving up the Merced River gorge towards Yosemite, we easily saw a hundred waterfalls...literally at each bend in the road.

The level of the river stayed below last year's flood levels. Once in the valley we saw numerous signs pointing out the high point of last year's flood...a level that was at least 3 feet above our heads!

Although it was still raining in Yosemite Valley, there was plenty of snow on the ground. This made for some seriously cold, wet, and slushy conditions. Determined to make the best of it, we drove a loop around the valley before settling down a bit at the store in Yosemite Village.

From there we took a walk over to Yosemite Falls on one of the few clear paths the wheelchair could take that day. Tim had a ball doing power slides through the patches of snow on the pavement.

Even in this wet and cold weather, Yosemite loses none of its majesty. The falls were spectacular and the walk nice but wet. We came back to the village and decided to do the rest of our sightseeing that day from the comfort of our heated auto. On the way out we pulled over to snap this picture of a coyote walking along the shoulder of the road.

Back in Mariposa, we stumbled onto the neighborhood herd of deer...who graciously posed for our camera...

That evening...being Valentine's Day...the Moroni's made a sumptious dinner for the inn's guest which had grown to include a race car driver and his wife from Newark, a policeman and his family from Vacaville, and another couple from Mill Valley.
The Restful Nest
Jon served a dinner of homemade French onion soup, salad, and stuffed shells. It was very good and very filling. Certainly we were not going to be losing any weight this weekend.

After dinner, the two couples went to the inn's spa while we family types retired to our rooms to watch videos and the olympics.

After another huge breakfast on Sunday, we headed back up to Yosemite. Today, the weather had cleared and we headed up to Badger Pass for an afternoon of skiing.
Nic Fiore, a young-at-heart 76 year old ski instructor at Badger Pass, had arranged for Tim to spend the afternoon skiing with one of the resort's instructors in a sit-ski. Fiore, who just celebrated his 50th anniversary at the resort, operates one of just 4 complete adaptive ski programs in California here at this little ski area located above the valley floor.
We met Tim's instructor, Jerry, who outfitted him with his equipment and took off with him for some serious slope time. This left my wife and myself with the afternoon to ourselves to explore the slopes of this mountain.

While small...the vertical from top to bottom is a mere 800 feet (you can see the entire mountian in the top photo)...the conditions were perfect and the uncrowded slopes gave us a lot of time to explore. The Pass was a comfortable if not exactly challenging place to ski.

The only downside to this day was having to put on tire chains to climb up the road to the ski area. Nic and his crew made sure Tim had the time of his life and in doing so also allowed his mother and I to have a good time as well.

Coming back down to the valley, we stop at Tunnel View to snap this picture of the view that just floored us.

Back down the mountain we went with a stop at the Pizza Factory in Mariposa for dinner. The food was good here but the kid with the ear-piercing scream was a bit much (note to the kid's parents: once maybe an accident and cute but to keep egging the kid on should be cause for criminal action!).

On arrival at the inn, we soaked our weary muscles in the hot spa...sipping a glass of good California Sangiovese while marveling at the millions of stars over our heads.

After sleeping like logs we had one more giant breakfast and spent some time in conversation with Lois while Tim played fetch with Casey. One more walk down to the inn's pond and one last breath of the fresh mountain air and then time to head home.

Another weekend in God's country leaves us with our spirits healed and ready to face another day of reality.

Copyright 1998

Friday, September 16, 2016

CLASSIC TRIP - Montana and Yellowstone 2002, Part 2

A friend from work had just been royally screwed by the company that runs the national park lodging. He'd just come home his mother's funeral in Croatia physically and emotionally exhausted and called up the Furnace Creek Inn in Death Valley and reserved their best room. His family would go with him and have some much needed R&R in the desert park.

When he arrived, he had found that they had overbooked and substituted him at a nearby motel...with no break in the price. Luxury room pricing for a lousy little motel room. Understandably, he has no pleasant thoughts about how he was treated.

I bring this up because he related his story to me right before I left for our trip to Yellowstone National Park and had made reservations specifically for an accessible room with a roll-in shower. I was apprehensive about what would greet me at arrival...

We left from Big Timber, Montana right after breakfast. From here, it's a 23 mile drive on Interstate 90 to the town of Livingston. A 75 mile drive south on highway 89 takes us to Gardiner, Montana and the original entrance to Yellowstone National Park on the north side of the park.

We pass under the circa 1903 Roosevelt Arch and head to the small entrance station. There are about 10 cars in front of us and the line is moving very slow. After not moving for about 10 minutes, a ranger starts walking along the cars asking people to roll down their windows. When he gets to us, we find he is sending those who have passes around the entrance station. Since we have a Golden Access Pass, we happily comply.

If you're disabled and don't have one, get a Golden Access Pass the very next time you go to a national park or monument. This free pass allows you and everyone in your vehicle to enter national parks at no charge. In addition to saving you a ton of money (Yellowstone's entrance fee is $20), you might just get to skip ahead as we did.

Our plan is this...we have two nights here in Yellowstone park. Our first day, we want to get to the Old Faithful geyser area and explore it. The next day we want to seek out the park's wildlife and see any other sights we can find.

We intend to make a beeline to Old Faithful after getting in. It's a 51 mile drive from the entrance station. Two and a half hours later we arrive. Several things delay us along the way: people stopping in the middle of the road to photograph animals (at one point, a lone moose was surrounded by about 30 people with cameras like paparazzi), cars driving 10 miles an hour in a 45 mile per hour zone, and when that was passed, about 20 miles of single-lane road construction with a 15 mile per hour limit.

Finally, at 2:30pm we pull into a parking spot about 200 yards away from Old Faithful itself (parking hint: there are three handicapped spots right in front of the Old Faithful Inn that no one knows is there). The thunderstorms that were predicted for the afternoon are threatening and a light rain starts to fall. On the bright side, the next predicted eruption of Old Faithful is only five minutes away, so we won't have to wait in the rain for very long.

About a minute after we find a good viewing spot on the paved trail, the geyser goes off with a huge fountain of steaming water lasting about 7 minutes. It's quite a show. Now the rain is starting to come down harder so we beat a hasty retreat to the adjacent Old Faithful Inn just as the lightning and thunder start.

Inside, the inn is a spectacular sight. The lodge, built in 1906, has a big lobby that soars several stories. Thin logs seemingly support the whole thing but in reality, a steel, load-bearing rods placed in the logs actually do the work. A multi-storied rock hewn fireplace with a custom pendulum clock anchors the area where you can relax in comfortable morris chairs while reading a book or newspaper. (Another hint: past the public Men's room and Ladies room, there is a large, unisex and very accessible bathroom for wheelers.)

We haven't had lunch yet so we head to the dining room. There's no wait for a table and the service is very good. My hamburger was a bit bland but my wife and Tim had french dip sandwiches that were very good. It was also pretty reasonable at about $7 per person.

Its still raining and there are several really well stocked gift shops in the inn and the surrounding area. We take our time hunting for souvenirs before finally heading down the road to Grant Village where we have reservations for the next couple of nights.

Back at Old Faithful, the old inn and the Old Faithful Snow Lodge were extremely nice and architecturally stunning (if possible, try to get an accessible room in the Old Faithful Snow Lodge for the best accessible rooms in the park). Here at Grant Village, the lodge is lackluster...looking like worn-out 1970's condos...needing a coat of paint badly. (I tried for the Snow Lodge, but they were already booked when I called in May to make reservations. The room prices are identical at both locations.)

Whoever designed this lodge needs a kick in the rear with handicapped parking that could not be any farther from the accessible room. We had to walk, lugging our luggage, all the way through the building. It was a miserable journey.

On the bright side, the bathroom was great. Roomy, with grab bars on the toilet, a roll-under sink, a sliding accordion door, of all....a roll-in shower with bath chair. The bathroom made up for the run down condition of the place and the extra small beds. I do have to admit that when making reservations, the agents did not promise any more than what we got and, knowing that the beds would be small, we brought along a twin-sized air mattress so that we'd all have plenty of I don't feel that I had been taken advantage of.

There is little in the way of any amenities in the room. No TV, no radio, no A/C. There is a small heater and a telephone and the toiletries were just a touch above par for most motels. Certainly, the room is not where you'd want to spend a lot of your time and maybe that's for the best...forcing you out to see the beautiful park.

There are several levels of dining available to you at Grant Village. A coffee shop in the general store has fast food with table service, a restaurant overlooking Yellowstone lake offers moderately priced pizza and pasta, and the Grant Village dining room is the upscale, reservations-only location serving full-service meals.

We opted for the dining room. Service here was just a bit slow but the food was delicious. I had a pork chops while my wife had salmon and Tim had a chicken dinner. A very tasty cream of asparagus soup started the whole thing off. Another waiter in the restaurant is also doing a tour of the major league ball parks and wanted to compare notes. After dinner, we spent another half hour with the friendly guy talking baseball and stadiums. Pricing here is comparable maybe to a Cracker Barrel.

The next morning, we awoke to a bright and sunny day. With no TV or radio, we did not have a weather report so we crossed our fingers that it would stay this way. It did.

After a marvelous breakfast at the general store coffee shop, we headed back to the Old Faithful area to hike the geyser basin that we'd been rained out on the day before.

The Upper Geyser Basin (home to Old Faithful) has a wonderfully accessible three mile plus trail that gets you up close and personal to the largest concentration of thermal phenomena in the world.

We started off at Old Faithful and walked up the paved trail. Along the way, we saw such famous sights as the Castle Geyser and the Riverside Geyser which regularly shoots a 75 foot stream of water over the Firehole River. At the end of the paved trail is the second most famous feature of Yellowstone Park, the Morning Glory pool.

A boardwalk allows you to get right on top of the Morning Glory pool, a hot spring with crystal-clear water shaped and colored as such that it looks like a morning glory. Visitors over the years have not been kind to the pool...many have thrown money and other assorted trash into it, clogging up it's vent and allowing bacteria to grow in it. An orange rim around the spring attests to this.

To combat the pollution, back in the 1970's the park service relocated the road away from the springs and geysers and set back the boardwalk around the pool. It's helped, but the park service still pulls much trash out of the Morning Glory pool during its annual cleanup.

On the way back, we take the boardwalk and see the geyser field. There are mud pots, hot springs, and geysers galore along the accessible boardwalk. The old wooden boardwalk is gradually being replaced by recycled plastic boardwalk as it wears out. The plastic sections are very smooth for wheelers.

It's great to see a TV-jaded kid like Tim really get into the geyser field. He's really impressed when he gets within 10 feet of the ever erupting Sawmill Geyser. A big bison named George lounges in a small meadow nearby...George gored somebody last week, we're told, when they tried to push him into a shot with Old Faithful. Some people never learn...

At the end of the trail, there is one steep section (that can be detoured - check with a ranger before hiking to find the smoothest path for you) after crossing the bridge over the Firehole River. On the other side, we end up on the backside of Old Faithful where we stop and wait about thirty minutes for the next eruption. It's big and spectacular. It's also a fitting end to our visit of the Upper Geyser Basin.

We have lunch at the Old Faithful Snow Lodge dining room. Here's another hint for you: the fast food place in the lodge is only about a dollar or two cheaper for lunch than the dining room but it's very crowded and you wait a long time for service. For just a couple of dollars more, the dining room is a much better place to eat and unwind with full table service and no wait.

Back in the van, we make the 40 mile trek to Hayden Valley where we're told we're almost guaranteed to see wildlife. But first, as we leave the Old Faithful area we see a large herd of elk nibbling the grass of a nearby meadow.

Hayden Valley does not disappoint. Large herds of bison roam everywhere. Too far away for a good camera shot, they do show up good with binoculars. As I scan the valley and the Yellowstone River bisecting it, I see something odd. I move down about 1/4 mile to get a better view and look through the binoculars again to make sure. Is it....? Yes, it's a bald eagle resting on a branch over the river looking for a juicy trout. Looking around, I see it's partner soaring high over the valley. It's the first and only bald eagle I've ever seen in the wild.

We return to Grant's Village and after dinner in the coffee shop, head down to the amphitheater for the evening campfire ranger presentation.

Mosquitoes are everywhere. Thankfully, my wife brought along some high-powered DEET that we slather on. We don't smell too good, but the bugs don't bite. Others at the campfire are fiercely swatting as the extra high-powered Yellowstone mosquitoes dive bomb them.

The ranger tells us that mosquitoes are not among the park's protected wildlife, so feel free to swat, smash, and kill. They are a renewable resource she assures us...

The evening's presentation is a slide show showing how conservation and scientific techniques started in Yellowstone have caught on around the world. It was interesting, but I missed the old sing-alongs around the campfire of my youth. Couldn't we just have a couple of songs to go with the slide show? Oh well, it was still fun and educational to boot.

That was the last night of the trip. The next morning we exited through West Yellowstone, Montana where we saw a coyote and some more elk and bison before exiting. One thing we did not see was Yellowstone's most famous animal resident...a bear. When we arrive home a week later, there are three black bear sightings in our neighborhood. Is it now more common to see bears in our neighborhood that in our national parks?

Copyright 2002 - Darryl Musick

Monday, September 12, 2016

CLASSIC TRIP - Montana and Yellowstone 2002, Part 1

A Montana Collage - Gallatin National Forest

Be careful what you wish for, right?  My wife wanted to really get away (we were having our kitchen remodeled and we were stressed) so I found what, so far, has been the most out-of-the-way and as-far-away-from-civilization accessible lodging in the country - 14 miles from the nearest town and 7 miles from the nearest paved road...the last mile was the driveway into the lodge.  She also had never been to Yellowstone so we put together this trip.  So let's go back to 2002, shall we?

Right up front, let's just say that you need a little extra determination to get here and then get around...especially if you use a wheelchair for mobility.

The state's major airports at Bozeman, Billings, and Helena just don't show up on major airlines radar screens so direct flights from most of the country is not an option. What flights you do find are not going to be cheap. Once you arrive, accessible public transportation will be a challenge to find as will accessible van rentals.

We decided to drive. From L.A., this is not a quick and easy road trip especially if you have trouble sitting in the car for long spells. After 3 nights on the road, we were finally at our destination....Big Timber, Montana, about 50 miles east of Bozeman. We needed some time to just not drive any more.

Researching for a place to stay yielded the Burnt Out Lodge, a bed and breakfast run by Ruth Drange on her family's cattle and sheep ranch. The lodge is accessible with three ramps leading into the building. The area around it is not, so you will need your own private van or car to get there.

The reason you need your own ride is because it is remote. In fact, for a wheeler, I cannot think of a more remote accessible accommodation that I have ever come across. The lodge is located at the farthest reach of the three thousand acre ranch abutting the Gallatin National Forest.

Only 7 Miles to go to the Burnt Out Lodge

To get there, you first drive seven miles beyond Big Timber. Then, it is up six miles of dirt road to the first gate. Someone must get out of the car to open the gate (an attendant here is really necessary for all but the most hardy wheelers), drive through, return to close the gate lest any cows escape the ranch. One more mile of bumpy road is necessary to navigate before you reach the lodge building where one more gate must be opened and closed.

It takes a pretty major effort just to get here.

Once here, it is pretty easy to go up a ramp into the building and into your room. The lodge has a vast open public area with a two story fireplace to warm up at. Five rooms are all on the first floor and each will allow access for a wheelchair easily. One room in particular has been built with bars for the toilet and bathtub for access. There is no roll-in shower, however. Plastic chairs are available for use as bathing chairs.
The View from the Room
We stayed in the accessible room, although as the only guests at the inn Ruth offered us our choice of any room. The room is huge and very open and airy. A twenty foot ceiling reinforces that feeling. It is furnished sparsely with just a bed, two night stands, a small table and two chairs. It was sparkling clean and comfortable, but it does take a bit of getting used to.

Our first day had started in West Yellowstone, Montana after we had stopped there for the night. Along the way to Big Timber, we stopped at Nevada City, a recreated Ghost Town where authentic buildings had been moved to from other areas. It was a quiet and not unpleasant stop but not exactly enthralling either.

In Big Timber, we had dinner at Prospector Pizza in a pretty little downtown area before bedding down for the night at the Burnt Out Lodge. We saw dozens of deer along that 7 mile access road up to the lodge.

After sleeping pleasantly in our large room with all the windows and the front door open (great things to do when you're several miles from the nearest road), we had our breakfast and decided to do a little sight seeing.

This morning, that would entail heading up the Boulder River valley from Big Timber. We stopped when we got to Natural Bridge.

A short hike lead us to a bridge and several viewing platforms built into the rock. The paths are accessible but be careful of the hundred foot drop off of the sides when heading to the platforms. The bridge path is not as scary.

From the bridge and the platforms, you can see the natural bridge when the water level is low, as it was when we visited in July. In a spectacular display, the river drops down a hole and travels about one hundred yard before emerging from a shear cliff face.

When the water level is higher, the hole is underwater and the river flows over the natural bridge but you can still see the other waterfall emerging from the hole in the cliff.

After our tour up the valley, we headed back to Big Timber. It was over one hundred degrees when we hit town so we decided to spend the afternoon in the community pool. A buck fifty was all it took to get all three of us in where we lounged around for an hour and a half...until the lifeguard's shrill whistle told everyone to immediate evacuate the pool. A thunderstorm was approaching fast.

We took quick shelter in the small pool house where I took the opportunity to give Tim a shower in the only roll-in shower we would see in Montana. Now that's what I call thinking on my feet!

We changed back into our street clothes and headed out of town. The rain had let up enough so that we could visit Prairie Dog Town State Park. This is a small area set aside for these large, barking rodents where you can see them in a wild setting to your heart's content. Outside the park's perimeter, the critters are fair game for the farmers and ranchers who shoot these animals as pests when they see them.

A shower and a nap back at the lodge refreshed us and we headed back into town for dinner at the City Club, a combination steakhouse, bowling alley (six lanes!), bar, and casino. We had some delicious Montana steaks...better than the steaks we payed three times as much for on the way home in Las Vegas.

The town turns in pretty early and try as we might, we couldn't find too much to do after 7:30pm. We missed the only showing (7:00) at the local theater but we'd already seen Lilo 'n Stitch back home. A trip back to the lodge where we could reach out and pat a cow's behind as we drove by was in order.

Another night with the fresh Montana air wafting through the room and we were ready to tackle another day. After breakfast, we drove fifty miles to Bozeman to visit the Gallatin County Fair's opening day.

This is a very small fair where everybody was giving out freebies or samples. Everybody had candy bowls out for quick little nibbles. A local political group opposed to an upcoming ballot measure gave us a huge sports cup (with their logo on it, natch) filled with ice cold water with a local chiropractor matching that with a big bottle of spring water out of an ice bucket...perfect for the 105 degree day.

A few local sportmen's groups filled our bag with free fishing tackle...lures and bobbers. A candy maker threw in some free samples of fudge. A local mine even gave us some raw rocks that they grind into talc...along with ruler, pens, pencils. Another local politician running for office gave out free American flags.

We were in hog heaven with all the goodies and we got to see all kinds of livestock and eat that great, greasy fair food while watching some country and western concerts. It was a great day and we met a lot of friendly local folks.

After the fair we ate dinner at McKenzie River Pizza in the beautifully restored downtown area of Bozeman, where some workers recognized us from the fair earlier. It was good pizza and even better beer.

Tonight would be our last night at the lodge. We had one more open-air night before our last breakfast with Ruth.

A deer walked by one foot outside the dining room window while we at our morning meal and a marmot rooted around outside. Before it got too cute, Ruth whispered to us that the marmot was a pest and she would have to shoot it if it returned. Ah, the ways of the Montana cattle ranch life.

Stay tuned for part 2...Yellowstone!

Copyright 2002 - Darryl Musick

Friday, September 9, 2016

CLASSIC TRIP - Salt Lake City, Utah - 2002

If you've been following our Montana and Yellowstone trip from earlier this week, you might be interested that we drove up from Los Angeles.  Along the way, we spent a little time in Salt Lake's that part of the report.

Another Olympic city, Salt Lake City became known as the "corruption" games when it became known that the IOC accepted gifts from the local committee in exchange for considering them for approval for the 2002 winter games.  Here is a trip we took in 2002.

Arriving in Salt Lake City after a day and a half of driving. We're on our way to Montana and in need of a little break. Our hindquarters will develop calluses soon if we don't stop. We park at an underground structure for a mall downtown. It's quite expensive at a dollar per twenty minutes. Later, we found we could have parked at the curb around the corner for free.

There's a heat wave going on. 106 degrees at Temple Square. Our lunch server at JB's tells us this is an all-time record. We just left a heat wave in L.A. and were hoping for cooler weather up here and in Montana.

After lunch, we head next door to the Family Records Center, the famous Mormon run genealogical archive. We get a quick lesson on how to look up our family tree and then are ushered into a room where a volunteer gives us a 10-minute Powerpoint presentation on how to use the center's resources.

They used to show a film instead of the presentation. I thought the old film was more interesting, especially how it explained why genealogy was so important to the church. The world's eyes were on Salt Lake City for the Olympics this year and the center felt the film was outdated and created a more modern introduction for the new millennium.

After our brief stay there, we crossed the street to Temple Square, the Vatican of the Church of Jesus Christ, Latter Day Saints. Try saying that a few times and you see why people just shorten that to the Mormon Church.

The crosswalks here have helpful letters, 6 feet tall, printed on the crosswalk telling you to LOOK both ways before crossing. The walk signs have countdown displays telling you how much time you have left to get to the other side of the street.

In Temple Square, young Mormon volunteers from around the world are everywhere to answer questions, greet visitors, and - if they get a chance- tell you why the Church is the way for them. Most will guide you to the Visitor's Center where you can learn more about the Church's history and message.

We're just passing through, so our hostess tells us the way and we excuse ourselves. We take a quick look in the Tabernacle where you can see the world famous choir perform on Sundays and find that the wheelchair entrance is at door number 10.

Outside, the Tabernacle looks like a big bug but inside it's quite beautiful.

After some shopping in the mall across the street, we retrieve our van and head to our lodging for the night, the Comfort Inn in Layton, Utah just a few miles north of Salt Lake City proper.

It was very easy to find the Comfort Inn as the exit from Interstate 15 practically emptied into its parking lot. I had reserved an accessible room with two queen beds. The room was minimally accessible. It had a very large bathroom with a roll-under sink, a toilet with grab bars, and a bathtub equipped with bars. The bathrooms was so large it cut into the room size leaving us a 1" clearance on each side of the wheelchair to get by the beds in any direction....yes, I measured! It was very limiting but we would be here just one night and not spending any extra amount of time in the room beyond hygiene activities and sleeping so it would do...just barely.

After a delicious dinner at the local Cracker Barrel, we turned in for the night.

The next morning after breakfast at the local IHOP (tasty too!), we headed back in the direction of Salt Lake City to visit the local amusement park, Lagoon, in neighboring Farmington. An empty Coke can granted us a five dollar discount so admission came to just $24.95.
We arrived at Lagoon at 10:00am. just in time for the parking lot to be opened. After scoring the best parking spot...the van-accessible handicapped spot directly adjacent to the ticket booths...we purchased our tickets and waited at the gates. At 10:45am, the gates finally opened and we got to wait a few minutes more in the midway adjacent to the souvenir stands until the ride park opened at 11:00am. There is also a complete water park here that opens at the same time and is included in the price of your ticket.
Ramps are nicely located at each ride for access though, like most parks, you need to bring someone along to help you into the rides. Lagoon has a policy of letting disabled riders stay on rides for two circuits instead of one. This really helps cut down on the lifting your attendant needs to do during the day.

We went on our first ride, an old wooden roller coaster generically named Roller Coaster. It was bumpy with good air time on the first hill after the first drop. After that point, it runs a bit slow but bumpy all the same.
A portable steel double-looping coaster is also here called Colossus (or Fire Dragon depending on which sign you see). A long ramp leads to the platform where we had great fun riding this very smooth coaster.

There's a miniature steam train that makes a circuit around the park's lake (or "lagoon") which is the only way you'll see the park's collection of animals in its zoo.

My wife went on the swinging chair ride and we finished up with a ride on Rattlesnake Rapids, a very good and very wet river raft ride.

After the rides, we stepped over to Pioneer Village, a recreation of an old Utah town, to have some ice cream and see some of the small museums housed there. We also marveled at the beautiful views of the Wasatch mountains directly behind the park.
We didn't hit a lot of the park's attractions such as the giant ferris wheel, the log ride, the water park, or the fun house but we did have a lot of fun and most of the staff was nice although some of the service was a bit on the slow side.

Although not a destination for us on this trip, Salt Lake City did make for a very interesting break from the road. Now it was back in the van where we continued our trek to the big sky country.

NOTES: Salt Lake City and the area has very good accessible public transportation. UTA provides accessible bus and trolley service. The trolley service was put in just in time for the Olympics. If arriving by train, the trolley can be caught directly in front of the station and provides service to all downtown areas, the university, and all the way to Sandy in the suburbs. Many Olympic sites can be reached this way. Buses take up the slack to the airport, Lagoon, and other SLC areas.

Accessible taxis, shuttles and buses are available from the airport. Wheelchair Getaways has an office here if you'd like to rent an accessible van.

Although there are plenty of pay parking lots downtown that will be happy to relieve your wallet of extra cash, we found out there is plenty of street parking available in the area.

Accessible restrooms abound in the downtown area at the mall, department stores, Temple Square, and the Family Records Center. Lagoon's accessible restrooms are a bit on the small side.

Copyright 2002

Monday, September 5, 2016

CLASSIC TRIP - East Cost Odyssey - Columbia and Charelston, South Carolina 2001

Stay with me, the good stuff starts below after we leave Columbia...

It took us two days to drive down here from Pittsburgh. Of course, we took the scenic route down the Ohio River during a driving rain storm, narrowly avoiding an ominous funnel cloud in Virginia before spending the night in Hickory, North Carolina (I highly recommend the Comfort Suites there, by the way). It was a much more pleasant drive the second day into Columbia.

First of all, I don't recommend taking your South Carolina vacation at the end of August. Unfortunately, I didn't have a choice because this whole trip was predicated by the need to be in Columbia for the last week in August because of a conference I had to attend. It is very hot and humid, oppressively so, at this time of the year.

That's not to say that Columbia is a bad place to visit. It's a pretty town, very southern, situated on the lovely banks of the Congaree River. In any other season, it's a great place to be.

Our lodging would be at the Whitney Hotel, about one mile northeast of downtown. I wish more hotels could be like this one. Our suite had two bedrooms and two bathrooms separated by a large living room. There was a balcony, a dining area, a full-sized kitchen (with full-sized stove and refrigerator), and my favorite feature, a separate laundry room with washer and dryer in our suite. Plus pool, cable TV (two!), A/C, phone, and dataport. Our price? $79 per night...including a full, hot breakfast.

Although accessible rooms are available, we stayed in a regular room with no ill effects other than the narrow bathroom door. If you have a wide chair, make sure to get an accessible room.

Now comes another bad point about Columbia, especially if you can't drive, or have access to, a car. Public transportation here is atrocious. For some reason, the buses are run by the local gas and electric utility. They obviously don't take their mandate very seriously. Buses are frequently broken down, have no markings on them (to let you know who they are or where they are going), and getting information about routes and schedules is just about impossible.

There are two accessible trolley routes that connect the downtown area with the two most popular hang-out areas (the Vista and Five Points). They provide decent service at a good price (25-50cents) but only run a couple of hours in the afternoon and then again during the evening.

We had a rental car. My wife would drop me off at my conference in the morning and then play tourist with Tim during the day.

We arrived on a Sunday. I checked into my conference and then we checked into the hotel. After a drive around town to show my wife where everything was, we had dinner and then settled down for the night.

Monday morning. The bad thing is now I'm back at work and have to wake up early. My wife and Tim drop me off and head to the Riverbanks Zoo. They tell me it was a very nice zoo with lots of neat animals and good accessibility. A lot of it is under construction due to an expansion there. I should be top-notch in a year or so.

I spent my lunch break taking in the McKissick Museum of Art at the University of South Carolina (home of the Gamecocks...boy, does that make for some interesting school clothes. Think about it.). It's an interesting and free museum, if a bit small, located on the historic Horshoe of USC. This is the original part of the campus that dates back hundreds of years.

That evening we had dinner at the New Orleans Riverfront Restaurant. The view was spectacular and the food wasn't so bad, but we've had better New Orleans style food back home.

Tuesday, the wife and kid puttered around town looking for things to do and shops to visit. We met at lunch. We visited the Columbia Museum of Art and had sandwiches across the street at Rising High Bakery.

The museum has a pretty extraordinary collection of art and furniture dating back to the 1400's. The galleries are arranged around time periods including a great collection of original Tiffany glass, original Remington sculptures, and paintings from Dutch masters to contemporary Americans. I only had an hour and a half here. I wished I had much more time.

The Rising High Bakery had great sandwiches with some pretty poor service at the counter. Hmmm.

Picture courtesy of Wikimedia
Akhenaton06 under CC-BY-SA license 
After lunch, the wife and kid returned to the museum and I drudged on with the conference. That evening we had a wonderful steak dinner at the Longhorn Restaurant in the Vista area. This area is full of restaurants, clubs, and shops. It feels much more lively than the actual downtown area where we were earlier. After dinner, we took in some live jazz at a small festival around the corner. This was a nice evening.

Thursday, the wife and kid said they'd seen and done everything they could think of in Columbia and said take the car to the conference, we'll just chill at the hotel. That evening, we took in some minor league baseball as the Capitol City Bombers took on the Columbus Red Sticks.
There was hardly any fans in attendance, maybe 100 people tops. As you can see, I was able to commandeer some really cool seats. It was a blast, but a bit buggy after dark. (The team has since moved away...I wonder why - Ed)

Thursday, wife and kid are pretty bored now. They tried to take a long walk during the day, but the August heat in Columbia just saps your energy. The air conditioner at the hotel was better. I'm pretty bored by the conference.

We walk over to the Five Points area (kind of a grungier Vista) a few blocks south of the hotel for pizza.

Friday. It's finally over. The conference ends at 11:30. While Columbia is pretty, it's also pretty sparse on things for visitors to do. Three days here would be great, five is stretching it a bit. Well, now it's on to our ultimate, and much more exciting, destination...Charleston.

Ah, the conference is over. Time to rejoin my family on our vacation.

While I spent the last three hours counting the minutes until the last speaker shut up, my wife and Tim were packing the bags at Columbia's Whitney Hotel.

You know...why do they even bother to have a speaker for the last morning of a conference? People are just attached to the cell phones...trying to bump up a flight...looking for an excuse to duck out early...arranging a ride to the airport...all we hear of the person up from is "blah, blah, blah." Wouldn't it be better just to end it the day before...the last full day?

Oh well, it's finally 11:30 and I'm zooming back to the Whitney. The family is already in the lobby with the bags. We toss 'em into the car and off we go.

It's a ninety minute drive over to Charleston and I'm in a different world. Columbia's a fine city but it can be a bit staid, the public transit is terrible, and there's just not a whole lot to do over a full week. Charleston has a fine transit system, hundreds of top-notch historical sites, great restaurants and bars, and a joyful, fun atmosphere.

See our first trip to Charleston here.

Again, as in our last trip here, we stay at the Quality Suites. Unfortunately, the quality of the hotel had gone down markedly from our last trip. To see what I mean, you can check out this review that I wrote for Epinions - .

This evening we have another great dinner at the Southend Brewery and Smokehouse.

Afterward, we walked over to the office of the Original Charleston Walks and saw what kind of tour was being offered tonight (last time we really enjoyed the Ghost Walk). This time, our journey into Charleston's rich tapestry of history would be focusing on the pirates who had lived, plundered, and died here.
A Former Pirate Brothel, Now the Oldest Building in Charelston

As with all their tours, this group meets at the beautiful gas-lit park next to its office. Our guide takes us out the back entrance of the park as we quickly get to the first stop, an art gallery that is the oldest building in Charleston (circa 1695-?) where pirates drank and caroused in the brothel.

Also along the tour is the building (now a private residence) where pirates where tried and sentenced, the spot on the battery where their tarred corpses were hung as a warning to others, and spots around town where Edward Teach (Bluebeard) showed up from time to time.
All the walking tours are wheelchair accessible and I highly recommend them for an intimate look into this fascinating city.

Last time we were here, we visited Fort Sumter in the bay, the recipient of the first shot fired in the Civil War. This time we visited the other end of the trajectory, Fort Moultrie on Sullivan's Island.

It's much quieter here and you can take in many of the batteries that comprised the shoreline providing shore-based defenses for over a hundred years. There are spots where a wheelchair could get to the upper level but the thick ramparts will block all but the very hardy from getting a view across to Fort Sumter. There is a very interesting template in the visitor's center showing just how cramped it was in the Confederate submarine Hunley. The submarine itself has been found and recovered since our last trip and now has its own museum.
Patio Dining at Slightly Up The Creek

Our last evening here and we have a superb dinner with shrimp-boat views straight out of Forrest Gump as we dined at Slightly Up The Creek, situated along the banks of Shem Creek in Mt. Pleasant. As these pictures show, we had one last sunset break on us for our odyssey.

Then is was over.  The next morning, after 17 days on the road...two countries, 8 states, and too many miles to count... we turned in our trusty rental car at the Charleston airport and flew home.

Copyright 2001 - Darryl Musick

Friday, September 2, 2016

CLASSIC TRIP - East Coast Odyssey - Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

After Ohio's Amish country, we head east to the Keystone State, Pennsylvania. The next three night's worth of lodging will be at the Amerisuites Inn in Cranberry Township about 10 miles north of downtown Pittsburgh.

Driving in from West Virginia, it seems as though every freeway is under construction and our map from Yahoo! Maps is woefully inadequate. Luckily, our AAA map of Pennsylvania is more up to the task of navigating us over to Cranberry.

Cranberry Township seems like one of those suburbs that grew way too fast for the infrastructure to keep up. The main streets are clogged, strip malls abound, and construction is everywhere. A few barns dot the landscapes pointing out the doomed farms they reside in.

Unfortunately, our AAA Pennsylvania Tourguide is not up to par with the AAA map and we cannot find Amerisuites. I have to find a pay phone to call them. The woman answering the phone gives me cryptic directions to continue down the street I'm on and look for the Long John Silver's across from Eaton Park.

That's all I could get out of her after several tries, so I drive on to see what I can find. About three blocks later, I see a Long John Silver's across from an Eat 'n Park drive in diner (shouldn't that really have been named Park 'n Eat? Never mind...). I turn in the adjacent access road and there it is, the Amerisuites Inn.

I cannot rave enough about this hotel. A huge two room suite with a full kitchen and separate dining area. In room ironing board, full refrigerator (not an honor bar), and an on-site laundry room. In theory, the indoor pool sounds nice but is just too noisy to enjoy.

We are treated to a daily newspaper and a continental breakfast that includes pancakes and waffles.

We were very comfortable here. The rate was about $80 per night and we slept like babies, although the room did not have a roll-in shower.

The next day we take a drive around the area to see what's there. We arrive in the little town of Zelionople about 10 miles north of Cranberry. It's a cute little town with an incredible amount of traffic flowing through it. Imagine being on Main Street in Disneyland with the traffic of the 405 freeway flowing down the middle. It was incredibly noisy.

The Zelionople Diner provided us with lunch. What an unbelievable bargain this place was. It's a sit down place with friendly service. I had a meat loaf dinner with mashed potatoes and dinner rolls...$2.75. My wife had a tuna casserole dinner...$3.00. Tim had a hot dog...75 cents. Sodas were extra at 75 cents each with free refills. It was all delicious. Try to match that at any McDonalds.

After lunch, we return to the hotel for a nap...we have a big night ahead of us.

Next, we drive over to downtown Pittsburgh and park across the river adjacent to the baseball stadium. Tim is a transit buff and wants to try every mass transit system he comes across. Pittsburgh has a small trolley system. Downtown it's in a subway. All downtown stops are accessible and transit in the downtown area is free.

We ride around for awhile seeing the sights at the different stops. There's a massive stone jail connected via an enclosed stone bridge to an equally massive courthouse. There is a pretty fountain at Steel Plaza. There are some department stores to see.

In all, downtown Pittsburgh looks like an area that is slowly coming back to life after an extended nap. The city seems to be shaking off its rust belt doldrums. It is a pleasant place, but still has a ways to go. I look forward to seeing it again in the future.

We walk over to the baseball stadium, PNC Park, to see it there are any tickets left for tonight's game against the Houston Astros. The game is sold out except for standing room only tickets. Tim really wants to see the stadium to add to his quest to see them all. Already on this trip he has added three and this is the last city we'll be at with a major league field. We go ahead and get the tickets.

There are still over two hours till game time. It's back across the river (which is beautiful, by the way) to the Renaissance Hotel where we build up a tab in the Bridge bar.

When it's time for baseball, we head across the bright yellow Roberto Clemente bridge. It has now been closed to traffic and only pedestrians and sidewalk vendors inhabit its lanes. Directly on the other side is PNC Park.

In we go. Of course, we have nowhere to sit, so we take the pregame time to make a circle tour around the stadium. It's small, capacity 38,000, and every seat is good. The view from home plate takes our breath away. It's a perfectly framed view of downtown Pittsburgh with the Roberto Clemente bridge in the foreground looking like the Yellow Brick Road leading into Emerald City. I look at the picture included here and think that it's so pretty it looks fake. Nope, that's the real view, folks.

The View From Home Plate at PNC Park

Ushers tell us where the best places are to stand during the game. Other ushers tell us to watch for empty seats after the first inning because there will be season ticket holders who don't show up.

We decide to while away the rest of the pregame time in the Outback Steakhouse built into the stadium's left field side.

There are two rooms here at the Outback. One with a view of the field and one with a view of the city. You are not required to have a game ticket to enter either one (though you need one to exit out into the stadium). Since you can watch a free baseball game with your meal, guess which room was more crowded.

We just want to have a few drinks, so we choose the relative solitude of the city view room which does have closed-circuit TV's to keep tabs on the game action.

I have three beers (Iron City Ale and Yeungling's of course) and my wife has two glasses of wine. Tim has a Coke. The anthem has been sung and "Play ball" is commanded, it's time to head back out into the stadium. I'm dreading the bar tab but am very pleasantly surprised to see that it's only $18. For you baseball fans, you know that's a bargain. For the rest of you, that's what the three beers alone would cost in most stadiums.

Outside the exit of the Outback, I see a wheelchair accessible section near the third base side of the left field foul pole with three seats wheelchair spot in the middle of two seats. We go ahead and sit there, mindful we may have to move if the ticket holders show up.

After 4 innings, it's apparent that we will not have to move and enjoy the rest of the game. This is just a wonderful place to see a ball game. The food is wonderful with those grilled sausages, pirogies, and 15 inch kosher dogs. I now have a new favorite baseball stadium. Too bad the Pirates are not playing up to the same level.

Accessibility is also very good with wheelchair seating sprinkled liberally throughout. There is even a front row reserved for wheelchairs next to the Pirates dugout.

This is a brand new baseball-only stadium which replaces the old dual-purpose Three Rivers Stadium. The next day, the Steelers will take the wrappings off of their new stadium, Heinz Field, for an exhibition NFL game.

Not for us, though. We head south through the gorgeous countryside of southwestern Pennsylvania. Our destination today is Fallingwater, Frank Lloyd Wright's signature house design.

Along the way we see there is something called Fort Necessity National Monument. Not being one who can pass up a place like this, we stop in. I'm very glad we did.

Those of you who have read our trip reports here will know I'm a lover of history. Fort Necessity is a very historical place so I am in heaven here.

What is it? It's just a little meadow off the side of the road with a small circle of upright logs making up the fort. It just happens to be the spot where a young British colonel by the name of George Washington fought his first battle two and a half centuries ago in the French and Indian War.
Fort Necessity

It's one thing when you plan to go to a historical site such as Fort Sumter. It's a another thing completely when you stumble upon such a major historical spot completely unaware that it's there.
Docent Demonstrating a Musket at Fort Necessity

We listen as docents in period dress describe what the conditions were like and what lead up to that fateful encounter with the French troops that day long ago (Washington lost this battle in case you're keeping score). Another demonstrates the arms of the day including a musket firing. A native American docent gives the Indian view of the times in another tour. I am in complete awe.

We continue on to Fallingwater. This is a masterpiece of American architecture. I'm sure just about everybody has seen a picture of this house Wright designed for Pittsburgh department store magnate Edgar Kaufman. It sits spectacularly over a waterfall.


Unfortunately, Wright did not design it with wheelchairs in mind. Tim and I are limited to the living room, dining room and kitchen while my wife continues on the complete tour. I am a bit miffed that the foundation still charges the full $15 for the tour even when you cannot physically get past the first two rooms. They do offer to show you a video of the rest of the house, but it's just not the same.

Afterward, it's back to Pittsburgh where the three of us, hungry for dinner, stop off at the Ponderosa Steakhouse. I'll save you the details...the Ponderosa is the absolute worst restaurant we have ever had the misfortune to eat at. You know that episode on the Simpson's where the kids are stranded on the island and the girls says "I'm so hungry I could eat at Arby's"? Well, I'd have to be near death to ever set foot in a Ponderosa again.

Well, that's it for Pittsburgh. We had another wonderful night at Amerisuites, drove nine hours the next day to Hickory, North Carolina, stayed at the wonderful Comfort Suites there, ate at the Cracker Barrel (which is as good as the Ponderosa is bad), and continued on to our next stop...

Copyright 2001 - Darryl Musick