Friday, September 22, 2017

ROUTE 66 - Desert Photo and Video Essay

Watch the Video!

Our recent tour of the American Southwest ended over a fall weekend in Laughlin, Nevada. Coming home, we didn't want to deal with the Las Vegas traffic so we detoured along Route 66 through the desert and the community of Amboy, home of the Amboy Crater.  

Here are some pictures of that journey (be sure to check out the video too, at the top of this post)...

Coming into Needles, California with the Colorado River in the distance.

Another view of the river with jet skiers having some fun.

You don't need anything fancy to have fun at the river. Just pull over and jump in.

Along the Route in Needles, I'm guessing an old hotel or boarding house.

The Amboy Crater, a near perfect cinder cone from an ancient volcano.

A close up of some of the lava field surrounding the crater.

Another view of the crater.

...and one more view of the lava spreading across the desert.

Copyright 2011 - Darryl Musick
All Rights Reserved.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

TRAVEL TIP: Making Sure You Get Your Money's Worth Out of Your "Budget" Hotel

A few years ago, my mom asked me to arrange a trip to New York for her (note: I am not a travel agent, I was just doing a favor for my mom...please don't ask me to book a trip for you).

"I want a cheap hotel," was the request she gave me.

I told her that "cheap" in New York...especially Manhattan...would be well north of $100 per night if she wanted her own bathroom.  She let me know that would be too much and to find something cheaper.


An extensive search throughout the island of Manhattan revealed little. The best I could find was the Hotel Penn on sale at $109 per night.  Too much, find something cheaper came the command.

After much bickering and back-and-forth, I found a Howard Johnson's in East Orange, New Jersey for $49 per night (after a senior discount because $52 was too much).

The first night there, "How could you put me in this neighborhood? This is awful!"

She checked out and found better, more expensive, hotel that was more to her liking.

The problem here is that my mom was concerned about one thing, and one thing only - the price.  The money you spend on a hotel is one thing but you need to take in the whole picture to make sure you're getting the best value for your lodging.

What was wrong for my mom? The hotel was in a bad neighborhood and she didn't feel safe. It was cheap, but not a bargain by any stretch of the imagination.

So don't go on price alone to see if your hotel is a bargain.  Here are some things to consider...

As in my mom's case, check to see if the hotel you're interested in is in a good area. If you don't know what the good and bad areas are ahead of time, check review sites such as and to help you out.

Are the rooms nice and big enough for you? The hotel website or travel sites like and can help you here. Pay attention to the description. Do you sleep on a king size bed at home? My wife and I do and a full size or double bed is just not going to cut it for us, we need at least a queen size to feel comfortable on.  Are you traveling with kids? Check to make sure there will be enough bedding for them too.  Many rooms now include sofabeds that can come in handy for kids to sleep on as well.

Will there be food included? A lot of hotels will throw a few snacks on the table in the lobby and call it breakfast...usually a "continental" breakfast. Some will include a full breakfast with cooked eggs, meat, fruit, breads, and more. In Bakersfield, I can pay $60 a night for a small room with little to no amenities at the Motel 6 or I can pay $80 a night for a suite at Springhill Suites that includes a full breakfast, among other goodies...which one is the better bargain?

Are there affordable restaurants in the area? Within walking distance? A check on will show you a map of the area, the restaurants nearby (with price points), and reviews.

Do you want to swim? It's pretty easy to find a pool in the United States, other countries might be a bit more of a challenge but think the weather going to be nice enough to pay a premium for it? Is it an indoor pool that might be filled with noisy kids, echoing off of the walls? Can you get a nice hotel without a pool for less? (Also note that in the U.S., at least, it is mandatory now for hotels and motels to have pool lifts for those with mobility issues)

Another consideration is how noisy a hotel is. This may be hard to ascertain before you get there but review sites can help out here. Also, pay attention to the description...exterior hallways are usually noisier than interior halls. A hotel I stayed at recently boasted about its hardwood floors which, we found out, amplified and echoed noise...carpet eats a lot of sound.

Beware of hotels that also "boost" the room to more than it is. A junior suite is usually just a room. We stayed in one that the only thing that made it a suite was a small, 3 foot tall wall between the bed and couch.' We've even had rooms listed as suites where it is just a room. Maybe a bit larger than normal, but just a room. Look for 'two room suites' in the description.

Lastly, look for extras included in the room that will make it cheaper or easier to go on vacation. A kitchenette with a stove and refrigerator will allow you to cook some of your meals, saving money on restaurants. A hair dryer means you can leave yours home...ditto with an ironing board and iron. Is parking included? Is there a resort fee? If so, what does it cover? One of the Holy Grails of hotel amenities is a washer and dryer in your room.

Hotel loyalty programs can come in handy, too, if you find a chain that you tend to stay in more than others. Hilton, a chain we're currently accumulating with, throws in a ever-expanding list of perks as you accumulate points like free premium wifi, free room upgrades, late checkout, free bottled water and snacks, extra points and free nights with extended stays as you work your way up the latter. 

Check with the hotel you're staying at and see about getting a loyalty account. They're free and can add up over time.

These are just a few things to consider when deciding what a bargain is in a hotel. Would a $60 room at the local Super 8 or TraveLodge be as good as paying $80 - 90 for a room that has some or all of the amenities listed above?

Keep that in mind when booking your next room.

Copyright 2012 - Darryl Musick
All Rights Reserved

Monday, September 11, 2017

A Capital Adventure - The Finale

NOTE: If you need to catch up before reading the final report of this trip, use the following links:

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3

Today, we’ll drive over to the capital and visit Old Sacramento. We’re staying seven miles east in Rancho Cordova. It’s a short drive to downtown then…

Watch the Video!

Crunch time.  Getting close to Old Sacramento, the traffic comes to a stand still. I can’t believe the place is this popular, even on a Sunday, that traffic is backed up for a mile. We bail out, head to the next bridge north, cross the Sacramento River, and go over into West Sacramento.

Next to Raley Field, we see a large, mostly empty parking lot. There are no signs saying “No Parking” or any other restrictions and about 20 cars are already parked there. It’s just a very short walk across the Tower Bridge to Old Sacramento, so we park and head on our way.

Once on the other side of the bridge, we find the reason for all the traffic.  It’s time for the Sacramento Music Festival, a three-day blowout of non-stop music in and around Old Sacramento.

This isn’t what we’d planned for, we just thought we’d spend some time here, having a few samples at Candy Heaven, and maybe grabbing a meal.

The streets are crowded with festival goers, the shops packed wall to wall, and music coming from here and there.

We do get into Candy Heaven, where you can sample til you’re sick, get some candy and walk around the festival.

There’s a really good high school jazz band playing on the dock next to the old steamboat. An old acquaintance, Bob Ringwald (he’s the dad of Molly), is playing across the street in the Marriott but the showtime doesn’t mesh with our schedule.

We find La Terraza has an elevator so we head up to the balcony for drinks.

The restaurant reserves two of its best tables for handicapped customers so we got a great table outside with a wonderful view.

Some folklorio dancers came up to entertain as we drank our margaritas and ate our nachos.

Quite an entertaining afternoon.

After lunch, we headed back out to Folsom, this time for the town, not the prison.

It’s an old town with many old Western shops along the boardwalks. Usually, this would spell trouble for the wheelchair but Folsom has ramped everything. It’s very accessible now.

In the plaza is an old train turntable, next to a historical museum in a recreated village.

Watching the blacksmith, imagining the old steam locomotives, and browsing the antiques are fun, as is the short hike we took at the adjacent lake.

Dinner would be here at the Fat Rabbit Pub. It’s a pretty authentic English pub, down to the hand-drawn taps of English bitters.

Over a dinner of fish and chips and chicken pot pie, we sip sour ales and English bitters while relaxing after a long day.

It’s a trip that started on the down side, with bloody sheets and a lonely truck stop motel, but turned into a fun, music filled weekend full of wine, history, and old West spirits.

After commiserating over what was and what could have been, we settle in for the night to rest up for the long drive home tomorrow.

Hand Picked Special Occasion Wines delivered to your door.- Wine of The Month Club

Copyright 2013 – Darryl Musick
All Rights Reserved

Friday, September 8, 2017

The Folsom Blues

Due to events beyond our control, our Memorial Day weekend in Lodi has become a weekend in Sacramento instead. Finally getting some quality sleep on the comfortable beds in the real suites of the Hyatt House hotel just east of the capitol in Rancho Cordova, we head downstairs to the bountiful breakfast buffet offered here.

It’s a nice hotel. The suite is big, spacious, comfortable and accessible (note: we opt for the bathtub equipped room but roll-ins are available). The beds are truly sleep inducing and, incredibly, it’s very quiet.

Incredibly, because the hotel is full of 8 to 14 year olds in town for a Little League tournament. Those hungry boys and girls do their best to decimate the hotel’s breakfast serving ability but we’re able to get a very decent breakfast before heading out.

Watch the Video!

The pool and spa have lifts for those who need them but we didn’t try to…after a night of heavy use by the kids, the spa is a deep green and surrounded by yellow tape. The pool looks better but the water’s cold and it’s still full of the kids who turned the spa green.  Better safe than sorry…

Our plans are scrambled so we look around for a new plan. Just up the road is Folsom.  Could it be?

Not well advertised but finally finding it is infamous Folsom Prison. Just inside the outer gate is the prison’s museum.

We park at the visitor’s reception center. Since we’re not going into the prison proper, there’s no need for us to go through the metal detector and be searched.

I notice a limping deer behind our car. I follow him to the gate where a prisoner-trustee mans the booth. He feeds the deer and tells us it’s part of a family that comes down from the surrounding hills for a free handout.

In the small museum, the exhibits run from the gruesome...a well-used hangman’s noose and a collection of shanks…to the kitschy…we documented pictures, CDs, and even dolls dedicated to the two concerts performed here by Johnny Cash.

A replica cell is located in the back and the volunteer on duty points out to a visitor, “you know my uncle Chuck that works here? He was stabbed in the neck one time by an inmate. That’s the knife up there,” she points out on the wall of prisoner-made shanks on the wall.

The docents also point out the best spot where we can legally take pictures of the prison’s imposing stone walls, gates, and tower. Another engages me in a long conversation about earlier prison industries and entertainments…most of which are long gone. The only industry left is the metal shop that makes all of California’s license plates.

Out of prison, we continue back up the road to Amador County and follow the maze of backroads until we get to Story Winery.

Sitting on a hillside at the top of Consumnes River Canyon, the winery is having special tastings and live music for Memorial Day weekend. We’d stopped at Andrae’s Bakery in Amador City on the way up to pick up some bread and cheese for a picnic.

The band, 30 Years After, is playing a selection of Credence Clearwater Revival, Beatles, Eagles, and other 60s and 70s music. Someone in the crowd heckled up that maybe they should be called 40 Years After.

It’s very relaxing sitting on the deck, enjoying our picnic with the winery’s outstanding zinfandel.

Down the hill, it’s back to Lodi for Saturday night in downtown where I find this perfect Austin Healey.

A stroll around the area, doing a little window shopping, before ending this evening with another dinner at Lodi Beer Company, having some samplers and comparing notes with the table next to us.

Tomorrow, we’ll conclude this trip by doing some historical touring before heading down into the capital for some candy. We’ll see you then.

Hand Picked Special Occasion Wines delivered to your door.- Wine of The Month Club

Copyright 2013 – Darryl Musick

All Rights Reserved

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

A Day at the Races: Tim and Darryl Take on Santa Anita Park

Picture courtesy of Wikimedia
Magnus Manske under CC BY 2.0 license

NOTE: Racing starts this year on September 29th and runs for a month before starting again the day after Christmas and running through June.

I love horse racing. I grew up not far from here and it wasn't uncommon for my dad to take us to the races now and again. Santa Anita, in Arcadia, California, wasn't his favorite track. He said it was too uppity for him. He preferred the more downscale Los Alamitos for the quarter horses racing at night.

For me, Santa Anita is perfect. Glorious mountain views, outstanding art deco architecture, and mighty thoroughbreds racing for the gold.  I never found it too intimidating, I always seemed to fit right in.

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Later on, I'd get a job during high school at the mall next door. It was very common to meet jockeys, trainers, and other staff from the track who would always be willing to chat about the ponies and let me know who they thought would win. They were also a wealth of horse racing knowledge and taught me a lot about this ancient sport.

A coworker got to know one of the racing stewards (equivalent to a referee in other sports) and he would give us free passage into the club house whenever we wanted.  Lunch breaks would find me heading across the massive parking lot and placing a few bets.

In those days, racing was in it's prime. Talk to any locals of a certain age and they'll remember the massive traffic jams leading to the track on race days. On one particularly big day, it took me two hours to negotiate the last couple of miles to my job at the mall.

Now, you can bet on horses anywhere including your own living room. Back in the day, you had to actually go to the track to do that. Off-track betting has killed attendance at our tracks and, let's face it, horse racing is a dying sport around here.

We've lost two local tracks...the fairgrounds and Hollywood Park...leaving their racing dates to be divied up among the three remaining...Los Alamitos, Del Mar, and Santa Anita.  While Los Alamitos claims to be able to turn a profit with it's paired-down facility and Del Mar also runs a very popular fair at a spectacular oceanfront setting, the company that owns Santa Anita is no stranger to the bankruptcy court.

For now, Tim and I are going to spend a day at this 81 year old grand dame of the racing scene while we still can.

Online, you can find lots of packages and discounts. On, I find a two for one clubhouse deal where Tim and I can go and sit in the great club house (as opposed to the general admission area) for $10. What a deal.

The worker who scans our tickets and stamps our hands points out the gate a few feet away where we can catch an elevator up to the club house level. Although it was built in 1934, much of the facility is wheelchair accessible.  

We do a little exploring and find the best and most convenient place for us to watch the races is the apron in front of the general admission grandstand. There is a nearby bridge over the tunnel where the horses enter the track that separates the club house from the general admission area so we devise a strategy where we'll relax in the club house between races, scoot across the bridge to watch it, and return to the club house to repeat the process.

The first two races are a loss to us. We take a break for lunch and have a very nice, custom carved roast beef sandwich at the carvery counter in the club house. Another rash, low dollar wager puts us another couple of dollars in the hole when I find out I've misplaced our program and racing form.

Tim comes up with the strategy of picking a horse via the number that is closest to his uncle's favorite number, 7. The 7 horse is scratched for this race, so he defaults down to 6. We place a wager on that horse and I also pick an exacta for the 6-9 horse combination (the next closest number to 7 - an exacta is a bet where you pick the first two horses in the order that they will finish).

It's a few minutes to race time and we head back out to our spot.  The horses are off...number 6 leaps out to an early lead and keeps it. As we watch the horses heading for home, there are two horses ahead of the pack, nose-to-nose. It's 6 and 9 and 6 just noses out 9 for the win.  

We finally hit a bet although with only four horses in the race, the payoff is not what dreams are made of...$49.80 for a combined $10 bet.

Still, it gets us out of our hole but we'll drop back down as we lose another $10 on the last race of the day for us.

It's a fun day out for this father and son duo and also very inexpensive. Even though we did end up slightly on the losing side of things, having fun with your son is pretty priceless so I thought it was a very good deal.

Santa Anita Park is about 15 miles northeast of downtown Los Angeles in Arcadia. It's just south of the 210 freeway at the Baldwin Avenue offramp. Foothill Transit and Metro both provide accessible bus transportation to the track.

Normal adult admission is $5 for general admission and $10 for the club house.

Hand Picked Special Occasion Wines delivered to your door.- Wine of The Month Club

Copyright 2015 - Darryl Musick
All Rights Reserved

Monday, September 4, 2017

Getting Unstuck In Lodi

Not even wanting to take advantage of the hotel’s meager breakfast bar, we share a McDonald’s breakfast next door with one of the area’s homeless gentlemen before picking up the pieces of our broken trip.

It’d been a bad night of sleep at an overpriced and cleanliness challenged hotel way outside of our destination of Lodi along a barren stretch of Interstate 5 at the intersection of highway 12. Realizing that we couldn’t make a vacation of what is essentially a truck stop, and not a very good one either, we promptly cancelled the rest of our stay (see our previous report for the details).

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Now, it’s Memorial Day weekend and we have no place to stay in Lodi. I quickly get out the laptop and take advantage of the local WiFi and start looking. Everyplace I check in Lodi is booked up.

I remember a few years ago, we stayed at a nice all-suites hotel in Rancho Cordova, just east of nearby Sacramento. I find the hotel, now a Hyatt House hotel (It's since been extensively renovated and is now a Doubletree hotel - Ed), and they have a reasonably priced room that I can cancel as late as 4pm that day without penalty.

I book it to have a guaranteed nice place to sleep if we are unable to find a hotel up in Amador County’s gold and wine country, where we are headed to today.

Just south of Lodi along Highway 88, is the town of Lockeford. This pleasant little village is home to Lockeford Meat Company, which is world-famous for their sausage. Since Monday will be a holiday, this will be our only chance to stop to pick up some chorizo, Okie sausages, jalapeno sausages, and…their claim to fame…the smoked Dakota bratwursts.

I’ll need to stop at a nearby Rite Aid to get a cheap ice chest and keep these chilled for a couple of days.

Letty likes to browse at the pawn shop at the corner and I don’t mind visiting with the friendly folks of Lockeford Jewelry and Loan, who are also very accommodating and understanding of wheelchair user’s needs. It doesn’t look accessible but there’s a ramp around the back where you also get to see the treasures in the back room.

Sausaged up, we continue on up to Highway 49 and go straight to Plymouth and the Shenandoah Valley, our go-to wine country experience.

We’ve gone here many times, and it’s still a great place to taste and buy wines, especially the big red that our state is known for, Zinfandel.

Sipping some reds at Shenandoah Vineyards helps guide us to the perfect mixed case. We get a pasta buffet at Villa Toscano along with a case of old vine zin and another case of pinot grigio. 

A drive to the nearby Shenandoah Inn reveals two very nice accessible rooms with wine country views to die for. Unfortunately, they do not have availability on Saturday night, which is right in the middle of our stay.

Our trip to Lodi has become a weekend in the capital.

Still, we came to see Lodi and Lodi we will see. The rest of Amador’s wineries will wait until tomorrow; we’re headed down the hill.

After checking into the Hyatt, and making sure the room is good (it is), we head south on Sunrise Boulevard for a scenic, back road way into Lodi that skips the capital and saves us about 10 miles.

Downtown Lodi has undergone quite a renaissance. About a dozen local wineries from the Lodi AVA have tasting rooms here. Restaurants and watering holes ranging from funky dives to gourmet, white tablecloth dining rooms dot the landscape. Live music comes out from everywhere.

We’d come to hear some music at one of the tasting rooms but the extreme decibels blow us back out the door. Instead, we head across the street to Ollie’s Pub…one of the afore mentioned dives…which is next to Field Family Wines. We could avail ourselves of the live music from Field’s, while watching the A’s and Giants playing on big TVs, drinking a cold brew, and getting to know some of the locals…some more sober than others.

A stroll around downtown tells us that the latest Fast and Furious sequel is a big hit at the local multiplex and you can meet a lot of girls sitting on the bench outside of the Take 27 bar when they come out for a smoke break…hey, Tim’s still single!

For dinner, it’s the Lodi Beer Company at the other end of downtown where we have what Letty claims is the best mac ‘n cheese she’s ever had. Tim has a burger and I get the French dip. Both are good, as is some of their signature brew made in the center-room brewery sitting about 10 feet away from our table.

It’s dark when we leave on this Friday night but the area is far from sleepy. The sidewalks are crowded with daters, teens, and people just enjoying the music wafting out of every other bar.

Since it’s been a long day after a close to sleepless night, we make our way back up to the Hyatt to rest up for the rest of our trip to Lodi, which has now become a weekend in Sacramento.

Stay tuned.

Hand Picked Special Occasion Wines delivered to your door.- Wine of The Month Club

Copyright 2013 – Darryl Musick

All Rights Reserved

Friday, September 1, 2017

We're Stuck in Where? Lodi, California

Was a murder committed here?

No, not quite that bad but that sure looks like some blood stains on this sheet. At any rate, the housekeeping staff of this particular hotel has been neglecting to change the sheets on the sofabed in this room.

It’s been a rough drive. Leaving on a Thursday night to avoid the Memorial Day Weekend Friday night traffic jam, it was smooth sailing over the Grapevine and into Bakersfield.  Soon, we hit the multi-lane closure at Famoso

OK, we’re past that but then the multi-lane closure at McFarland, and the multi-lane closure at Delano, and the multi-lane closure at Pixley, and the multi-lane closure at Visalia…and on and on all the way to Stockton.

What should have been a fairly uneventful 5 or 6 hour drive stretches to 8 as we finally arrive in our destination of Lodi after midnight.

We’re in town but can’t find the hotel. Finally, we pull over and fire up the Kindle to map it out. It’s another 10 mile drive west when we finally find the hotel on an empty part of the Central Valley along Interstate 5, far away from the town the hotel’s website said it was in.

I complain to the night desk clerk about it, “you’re nowhere near Lodi. How can you say you’re located there?”

“We get that a lot,” the clerk replies.

“I want to cancel the last three days of our reservation,” I tell him.

“You’ll have to take it up with the manager in the morning,” he tells me.

Very tired but not willing to put Tim to sleep in a dried up pool of someone else’s blood, I head back down with another complaint, “no one has changed the sheets on the sofabed.”

“Can I move you to another room?” he asks.  Not unless it’s an accessible room I tell him.

Five minutes later, the desk clerk is in our room making the bed offering profuse apologies.

In the morning, we put the bags back in the van, march into the front office, and promptly check out before walking next door to McDonalds for a quick breakfast of Sausage McMuffins before traveling on. 

This was to be a trip to Lodi, now we’re stuck here (hey, sounds like a song) with no room on a very busy holiday weekend.  How will this work out?

Stay tuned…

Hand Picked Special Occasion Wines delivered to your door.- Wine of The Month Club

Copyright 2013 – Darryl Musick
All Rights Reserved