Wednesday, May 30, 2018


Tim's latest acquisition is a model of the ship we recently cruised on. 
See some more of his collection in the video below. 

We go on vacation to create memories.  How do you remember vacations?  For us, a variety of ways.  We take pictures and videos, look for restaurants that serve the kind of food we had, and we write about it (as in this blog).

Another way is to bring home a physical souvenir that reminds you of the trip every time you see it.  Sometimes it's practical, such as the hats Tim and I bought in London.  They're great for cold weather and we think of that great British city every time we wear them.

Watch the Video!

Sometimes it's more whimsical.  Just something fun to collect as a reminder of your time away.  In the video above, Tim shows you what he collects...models of iconic structures of the cities he visits.  Click on the play button and Tim will take you on a tour of his little city.



Copyright 2010 - Darryl Musick
All Rights Reserved.

Monday, May 28, 2018

Lake Tahoe and the Motherlode, California & Nevada


On our third day, we ended up wasting a lot of time because some locals told us the best swimming lake in the area was Bear River Lake high up in the mountains above Jackson.  After a two-hour drive, we find out that there is no wheelchair access.  At all.
Back down we went.  Nice drive, but disappointed in not being able to do anything.

Watch the Video!

Yesterday was wine tasting day (part 2) where we ended up spending just about all day at Story Winery.  Not complaining at all because it’s one of my favorite places but we did miss one winery I had wanted to visit, Vino Nocetto.
Vino Nocetto is known for their sangiovese.  They make several varieties and vintages of the grape Italians make into Chianti.  It’s a nice little winery and I love the little hot dog stand statue they rescued and now display.
The wines themselves, however, are ok but not as spectacular as I’d expect someone who specializes in it to be.  The sangiovese we had yesterday at Drytown Cellars is definitely much better.  Still, nice people, good wine, and they press some outstanding olive oil.  We made sure to take some of that with us.
Back in Sutter Creek, we make it back to J&D’s Steakhouse.  This time I actually have some appetite so I split a rib eye with Tim.  What an excellent, succulent, tender, and moist piece of meat that was.  If you’re anywhere in the area, make sure you stop here for a meal or two.   After dinner, we head back to the hotel done with the day.
We’re getting an early start today.  Letty is skipping her morning run so we can go.  It’s just some fruit, coffee, and milk from the hotel’s tiny little breakfast bar, grabbed on the way to the car.
Why?  It’s a 90 mile, two hour drive to today’s destination, the jewel of the Sierras, Lake Tahoe.
I have some history with the lake.  Back in my earlier days, I was a competitive skier.  I’d hit the slopes 2 to 3 times a week during the winter (yes, an expensive habit that turned into an expensive sport).  My buddies and I would always celebrate the end of the season by spending our spring breaks getting a cheap hotel room by the casinos and skiing at a different Tahoe resort each day.
For a time, it was actually my goal to relocate to Truckee when I finished college and live the life of a ski bum.  Then I met my wife to be and got real.
As you can tell from above, most of my Tahoe travels have been in the winter.  Today is two days before Labor Day, the last blast of summer.
From our base in Sutter Creek, you have your choice of two routes.  Highway 88 has some spectacular scenery and goes over a high pass.  Highway 50 is a bit shorter and can handle near freeway speeds for much of the route.  Still a nice drive scenically but has a tight, hair-raising, cliffside descent into the Lake Tahoe area.  50 is the quicker route which is more important than scenery today.
A benefit from spending so much time here in my youth is that I know the local’s shortcut.  Coming into the lake from the south, you’ll hit all the tourist traffic if you keep following highway 50 all the way to the Nevada border.  You’ll skip a lot of that and save a ton of time if you turn east on Pioneer Trail before you get to the airport.  It’s an easy back road that skips all the lakeside traffic and rejoins highway 50 just before it hits the border.
We drive past the casinos and just beyond where the main part of civilization ends.  Our destination is up ahead on the left, Round Hill Pines Beach.
Down a little road through the forest, we reach the parking lot and pay our $8 parking fee (the fee changes periodically due to the expected crowds.  It can range from $7 to $10).  Two handicapped spots are available.
We arrive at 10:00am.  Our plan was to eat when we arrived but an employee tells me they don’t start serving food until 11:30.  The bathroom is tiny, barely accessible, with no privacy at all so I change Tim into his swim trunks in our van. 
Our first task is to take a walk around and scope out the area for things to do and wheelchair accessibility.  There is an accessible pier out into the water.  It is a bit narrow and has no railing or bumpers at all.  You need to exercise extreme caution if you are to roll your chair on it.  At least the water is crystal clear so the rescuers can find your body easily if you go off the side.
On this side, there is no way to get a wheelchair onto the sand but at the other end of the building that houses the bar and snack bar, it looks like there is a driveway onto the beach that would be suitable for a wheelchair.
On the other side of the parking lot from the beach is a heated pool.  At first glance, it does not seem to be wheelchair accessible with stairs leading up to the gate.  On closer inspection, we notice a side gate.  It’s unlocked, so we open it and there is a 3 inch step into the pool area.  Nearby is a wood shed and I find a thick piece of plywood that makes a great impromptu ramp so in we go.
There is no lift or ramp into the pool.  In situations like this, I take Tim in his chair to the edge of the shallow end of the pool and ease him over the side.  It’s a bit of a challenge, but I get his legs through the inner tube we’ve brought along that allows him just a bit of independence in the pool.  Don’t worry, I’m in there with him watching like a hawk.  Thank God I’m strong enough to lift him if need be.
We’ve got the pool to ourselves at this early hour.  It’s kind of dead but I also have room to work and time to do it.  An hour or so of swimming around and then we’ll head over to the beach.
Drying off, we leave the pool and head over to where we saw the driveway to the beach earlier.  Gingerly, Tim takes his chair down the packed dirt ramp to the sand.  On the sand, it is firm enough to drive on for a bit so we head towards the lake until the sand starts to soften.  We get about 15 yards out before we decide that the sand is getting too soft for the heavy power chair.  I think if we had his lightweight manual chair, we could have gotten very close to the water.  No worries, that’s why we went swimming in the pool first anyway.
Letty and I get our beach chairs and towels from the car and set up on the beach.  We’re in prime real estate in front of the grill and the bar.  Slathering on the sunscreen, we get some hot dogs, a sandwich, and some fish tacos & pina coladas from the bar.
It’s a bright, beautiful, and sunny day on this gorgeous stretch of sand on the edge of Lake Tahoe.  The mountains rimming the lake still have a few veins of snow and the water is crystal clear.  I decide to take a dip and get up to my knees before deciding that this glacially provided melt water is just too cold.  Another reason that visiting the heated pool first was a good idea.
Canadian geese mingle among the beach goers while we soak up the sun, watch the boats ply the waters, and gaze out among our fellow visitors to the sand.
If you’d like a bit more shade, large day tents are for rent for $25.  Want some more adventure?  You can rent jet skis and kayaks.  Parasailing is also available and for a more relaxed adventure, you can take a tour of the lake on one of the larger vessels.
To sum up, you can relax on a beautiful semi-private beach…cold adult drink in your hand, swim in some of the purest crystal clear water you’ll ever see, take some laps in a heated pool, and enjoy some outstanding mountain views, all for the price of parking.  At the state park down the road, where you’ll only get half of this, you’ll pay $5 for parking so the three extra dollars are certainly worth it.
Yes, it could be just a little more accessible but if you’re with friends or family, you’ll manage.
We leave after a late lunch and head back down to the Motherlode.  Going back up the grade on Highway 50, we notice that traffic is backed up for miles.  Lucky we started early or we’d never have made it to the beach.
Back in Sutter Creek, we make our way over to the Sutter Creek Gold Mine, about a quarter mile from our hotel.  It’s a still working gold mine here in the Gold Country.  The tours into the mine are generally not accessible but if you call ahead, they can arrange a tour where you’d transfer into a seat in the mine vehicle and stay there for the entire tour.
We’re not here to do that today.  Instead, we buy a couple of bags of dirt from the gift shop and head outside.  A flume of water is rushing by and some pans are lying about.  We grab one and…following the directions in the bag…dump our little baggie of dirt in and fill it with water from the trough.  It takes time but after much swishing in the rushing water, we find a few tiny little nuggets of gold left behind when all the dirt is washed away.  With our second bag, we find a few more and put the 9 or 10 little nuggets into the little test tube full of water that was provided.  With that, our career as gold miners is over.
Since the hotel’s close by, we head back to rest up for our last dinner.
After a rest and showers, we head back to Plymouth to the Dancing Bear for dinner.  In part 2 of this trip, you might remember that the owner invited us back on Saturday to hear the great guitarist he had playing there.  We enter through a back side gate into their lovely patio.  The hostess says no tables are available.  Luckily, the owner remembered he’d invited us and he felt obliged to live up to his word.  Tables were re-arranged and enough room was found so that we could sit and have dinner.
The guitarist was good and the setting sun also set the mood.  A bottle of local wine was brought out and we ordered some samples of their barbecue, smoked for hours on the adjacent smoker.  Brisket, chicken, and wings were all brought out.  Only problem was that they ran out of the delicious, bacon wrapped smoked jalapeno poppers we had the night before.  More were in the smoker but it would be another hour before they’d be ready.
No problem, we said, it would make a great dessert!  Bring ‘em out when they’re ready.
As the food came out and the music played on, we dined on the very good chicken.  The brisket was good, especially in the fatty ends, but a little bland in the middle.  The smoked wings were incredibly delicious.
A nearby couple had order a bottle of local barbera but only drank one glass and donated the rest to our table.  We traded some tastes of our zin with them and waited for the main event…the smoked poppers.
Finally, after we’d just finished the rest of the food, out they came.  Just as incredibly good as it was a couple of days ago.  Hot, smoky, spicy, and creamy.  We had some outstanding food this week but we crown this item the best we had.
Finishing up the trip, we recount the times we’ve had.  Great baseball in Sacramento; steak and wine at J&D’s in Sutter Creek; wine tasting across Amador County; smoked bacon wrapped jalapenos in Plymouth; a great day at the beach in Lake Tahoe; and finishing up trading tastes with locals at the Dancing Bear. 

(NOTE: The Dancing Bear has since closed)
On the way home, I have a couple of more things I want to take care of.
First, I head out via highway 12 out of Jackson.  After stopping by a local fruit stand, we end up in the little town of Lockeford.  This town is known throughout the state for its little meat market…Lockeford Meats…and their vast array of sausages.  It’s not uncommon for lines to form down the block as people wait to get to the butcher counter.

Not too bad today, I only have six people in front of me.  We get some of their famous Dakota smoked bratwursts, some Bavarian sausage, Italian sausage, jalapeno sausage, and some jerky for the ride home.  The meat goes into our cooler while we head across the street to have big cowboy lunch at the Country Café.

Leaving Lockeford, we gas up and head south to Bakersfield for our last stop.  Whenever we come this way and head home, it’s time to clean up so I have to always stop off at the best car wash in the state, Cruz Thru on Coffee Road.  It’s like having my own pit crew as I pay my $5, the attendant takes my trash and gives us coffee and lollipops, the crews scrubs down our car, and we head home shiny and sparkly.
Copyright 2010 – Darryl Musick
All Rights Reserved

Friday, May 25, 2018

Amador County Wine Country, California

In Part 1 of this trip, we have a very enjoyable day of baseball and candy in Sacramento before heading up to the Motherlode country for a mediocre hotel, a great little steakhouse, a nice kitchen shop, and a slightly depressing Gold Rush era downtown.

Watch the Video!

Today, we’re heading for wine country.  My pick for the best wine country experience has always been Amador Country.  It’s one of the oldest grape growing areas of the state and is home to California’s oldest continuous operating winery.

Between our hotel in Sutter Creek and the highway lies the tiny town of Amador City, population 213…the smallest incorporated city in California.  It does have a downtown and the five cars that make up the rush hour are parked at Andrae’s Bakery.  Inside, fresh coffee, cooked to order breakfasts, bakery treats, artisan cheeses, fine wines, and Belgian beers await.  We pick up a baguette and a couple of hunks of cheese for later and some coffee for now.

We start off at Drytown Cellars.  Winemaker Allen Kreutzer is pouring tastes at the counter to spell the usual woman who works there while she’s on a little break.  We start with the whites, which are crisp and refreshing and are on sale…today all whites are $10 a bottle.  The lady returns and Allen steps a few feet away and continues to fill the oak barrels from the fermenting tanks.  We start on the reds.  Zinfandel, barbera, and sangiovese.  All are very good and the sangiovese will be the best we have on this trip. 

A couple of dogs wander around and one goads us into a game of fetch.  The other, a Jack Russell terrier, takes exception and steals the ball, growling at anyone who might want to take it away.
A half case purchased and put into the car and we’re off to the next stop.
In Plymouth, we make the right turn to head east into the Shenandoah Valley, the county’s main grape growing and wine making area.  Over two dozen wineries dot the back roads here.

Our next stop takes us off the main highway, then off of the secondary road leading to the bulk of the wineries here, off of a spur at the edge of the Consumnes River canyon, and down a one lane road to the dirt and gravel parking lot of Story Winery.
This is just about my favorite winery anywhere.  In an old miner’s shack…past the sign reminding you to beware of rattlesnakes…is the tiny little tasting room.  That sign is not in jest…last year, Letty and I spent time here when I helped the ladies in the tasting room look for a rattler that was wandering around the entrance.  The serpent slithered under the shack, never to be seen…by me at least…again.
We see none today.  One thing I really like about Story.  It’s frequently hot and dry here in the Sierra foothills.  Whenever you walk into to the tasting room, the first thing they offer…before the complimentary tasting…is a free glass of chilled champagne.  Not only does it really hit the spot on a hot day, it gets you in the mood quickly for tasting.

While we all start off with our sips, Letty quickly gets sidetracked talking with the lady behind the counter.  It all goes back to last year, they used to sell some of the best chocolate chip cookies you’ve ever tasted here.  My wife asked who made them and the lady that did wasn’t in that day.  Today, she’s manning the tasting counter.  When Letty finds out it’s her, she immediately sets in to grill her and compare recipes and completely forgets about the wine.
Oh well, Tim and I continue on.  Another aside is that Tim is not a fan of wine tasting, at least until today.  I think that had to do with the fact that in the past when he was a child, he’d have to wait while the adults would have their fun.  Now that he’s an adult, he can join in. 

He starts off a bit bummed but then something happens…this wine stuff actually doesn’t suck!  Soon, he is in a much happier mood and we’re all having fun together.

We make our purchase and take a chilled bottle of their chenin blanc out back to the picnic area with some borrowed glasses.  Just downhill a bit from the tasting shack is a shaded area with picnic tables right on the edge of the vineyard that rolls down the hill into the canyon.  It’s a spectacular sight and my favorite picnic area.

Some bread, cheese, and a couple of those Jelly Belly packets from the ball game are our light meal to go with this great bottle of wine.  We just snack, talk, and generally have a good time just hanging out together in this wonderful place for a couple of hours.

Batteries recharged, we head down the road as the time is slipping away.  Most of the wineries are now closed for the day but we have 30 minutes before Villa Toscano closes so we pull in. 

With Andrea Bocelli wafting over the speakers, this recreation of a Tuscan villa holds the tasting room here.  There’s also a bistro next door, but it is already closed for the day.  The gentleman behind the counter is jovial and helps us with our tastings.  Another group at the end of the counter belongs to the wine club here, so the guy behind the counter quickly introduces us.  Now, he says, we can qualify for the member’s prices on the wines because they extend it to their friends.  Since we were introduced, we’re now their friends.  I get a case of their great zinfandel…usually over $200…for $99.  About $8.25 a bottle.

That’s how it goes here in Amador County.  The winemakers are laid back.  They still offer free tastes of their wines.  Nobody has any pretentiousness and it is no sin if you haven’t the slightest clue about the wines.  Exceptionally good red wines with most wineries willing to cut you a deal if you’re serious about buying.
Next, it’s over to downtown Plymouth where we will spend the rest of our evening.

In the town’s little central park, there’s a farmers market going on.  Actually, there are only 3 stands selling produce, all vegetables with the exception of a few clusters of grapes at one of them.  Another stand sells a buffet dinner for $10 and Sobon Estate winery offers five samples of their wines for $5.

A singer accompanies himself with a CD player and we browse through local honeys, cookbooks, and see if the singer knows any of the songs we request.

Afterward, we walk across the street to the Dancing Bear Bar in the old Plymouth Hotel (1883) and have a Margherita pizza from their wood-fired oven.  It is delicious but we’re still hungry.  We get an order of their jalapeno poppers.

(NOTE - Since our visit, the Dancing Bear has closed. Shame, it was a great restaurant. - Ed)

The server brings our order.  The peppers are just about black, actually not too appetizing, but we give them a try anyway.  Oh my…what great poppers these are.  It turns out that the jalapenos are stuffed with chile infused cream cheese, then wrapped with bacon, and smoked out back for two hours.  Incredibly smoky with that creamy heat coming from each pepper.  I’ve never had a popper taste like this before.
Soon, a tall man comes over and asks how we liked them.  After waxing on about how great they were, he tells me he’s the owner and he takes me out back to see the smoker.  It’s a large, industrial metal oven that he’s feeding oak logs into the bottom.  He opens the door and there’s briskets and chickens rotating on trays over the low heat smoke.
“I’ve got a great guitarist that plays on Saturday night,” he says and invites us back to see that and to have some more of their barbecue.  Whatever we’re doing, we’re going to be sure to be back here at 6:30 Saturday night.
Keep an eye out for the finale of this trip, coming soon!
Copyright 2010 – Darryl Musick
All Rights Reserved

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Amazing Places - Rachel Carson National Wildlife Refuge, Maine

One of the places we referenced in our Maine report is the Rachel Carson National Wildlife Refuge.  If you're ever in the southern area of sure to check it out.  Below is an article I wrote for a publication a few years ago.

On a crisp fall day in Southern Maine, we wheel up to the bulletin board of the Rachel Carson National Wildlife Refuge. Tacked to it is a ruled notepad and a pencil on a string. Here, guests are invited to write down what wildlife they’ve seen on their visit. It makes for some fascinating reading and whets the appetite for what’s to come...

“Two squirrels, 4 blue jays, one deer...”
“a hawk, 3 chipmunks, 4 sparrows...”
“3 squirrels and two dead mosquitos...”

We had been in Maine for the past week, in the midst of the peak fall color. So far, the crowds have been very sparse...we had been expecting that the area would be swamped with leaf-peepers. On a brilliantly cool and sunny day, fortified with some delicious local lobster and chowder, we head over to the visitor’s center...just south of Kennebunkport.

Packing up some water and our binoculars, we head out onto the 1 mile trail that leads off into the forest. The trail is hard packed dirt with wooden borders. Today, it is covered with a thin layer of fallen leaves, muffling our sounds so that only those of the surrounding forest are heard. The trail is relatively flat and easily negotiable for any wheelchair. Interpretive stations are sprinkled throughout along with pullouts where the weary can rest.

The first third of the trail winds through shady forest where there are squirrel habitats, creeks, stations interpreting the local plant life. Chipmunks and squirrels abound. Curiously, birds are almost absent as we made our way quietly towards the sea.

The trail opens up onto a coastal marsh with a breathtaking display of color with bright red sugar maples highlighting the yellows of the birch trees with the evergreen pines outlining their brilliance with their contrasting green. The designers of the trail thoughtfully have installed a pullout with a bench, knowing you will want to spend time here absorbing the view.

Shore birds flit around the saw grass at the edge of the marsh. We stop to sip some water, searching the horizon with our binoculars. Surely there must be some wildlife in the refuge today but the biggest mammals we see are the ever-present squirrels.

About 3/4 of a mile out, the trail turns back in, following the line of the tide back into the shady deciduous forest. Soon, we meet up with the original trail and are back in the parking lot adding our entries into the log...

“Many squirrels, 6 chipmunks, 2 blue jays...”

The Rachel Carson National Wildlife Refuge flows through several seaside towns in Southern Maine. The visitor’s center and the mile long wheelchair accessible trail is between Wells and the Kennebunks on Route 9 near Deer Run Road just north of the junction with Highway 1. Signage is very limited, watch carefully for the entrance.

Beside the trail, other accessible features include portable toilets, parking, and a small visitor’s center accessible via a ramp.

Copyright 2000 - Darryl Musick
All Rights Reserved

Monday, May 21, 2018

Sacramento and the Gold Country, California


When traveling, the question is “fly or drive?”  Today, we are traveling to Sacramento from the Pasadena, California area…a distance of 407 miles.  Flying time would be an hour.  Arriving at the airport, an hour before takeoff.  Being with a wheelchair, add another hour to that to make sure airline and airport staff can get you on the plane and seated together.  Another 40 minutes to an hour to drive to the airport, then a half hour to collect your baggage and another to get to the hotel…if it is nearby.  You might also need to rent a car if public transit options are not suitable (but in Sacramento, they are pretty good).

Watch the Video of This Trip!

So, we’re talking about an investment of five hours…at least…and around $350 for three people flying.  The drive is six hours…not counting food, fuel, and bathroom stops…plus you can easily take your power chair and have your car with you when you get there.  Gas would be about $150.  Road trip it is!

Today’s drive is uneventful with stops in Bakersfield for the delectable tacos at Los Tacos de Huicho and then again at the Love’s gas station in Ripon for fuel, bathroom, and snacks.  I have credit for a free night at Marriott, so we cash them in at the Springhill Suites just north of downtown Sacramento.
We have an accessible room, which here means a bathtub with shower bench.  Roll-in showers are available but you give up the living room of the suite to get one.  With the bench, I can easily transfer Tim, give him a shower, keep the living room space, and save the roll-in for someone who needs it more.  A roll-in would be a little more convenient, but…for me…I give up too much for the trade off here.

But…there’s no bench in the shower.  I bring this up to the front desk’s attention.  There is another room with a shower bench and they want to move us there.  I ask, “why don’t you just bring to bench to our room?”  The manager says it has to go into an accessible room only.  I tell her that we are in an accessible room but she still insists we need to move.  Some back and forth, including taking her up to our accessible room to prove it, and she finally relents.  It turns out our room had a bench but whoever had the room before us took it with them.

Please, people…leave the stuff in the room.  Someone, maybe you someday, is going to be in a situation where you need it and it won’t be there because you were selfish.

Once that’s settled, we have a nice room and have dinner before bedding down for the night.

The next day, we head over to West Sacramento and Raley Field, home of the River Cats.  The River Cats are the AAA minor league team affiliated with the Oakland A’s that play here.  Being baseball fans, we take in games at new stadiums a lot on our travels (see our Fields of Dreams page for reviews).

We park the van behind the home plate entrance and the happy parking attendant gives us several little packages of Jelly Bellies to take in with us.  We get here early because we don’t have tickets yet and want to get the best seats we can.  Unfortunately, there are not too many wheelchair accessible seats left so we have to settle for seats on the first base side but out a bit in right field.

Since we’re early, we walk over the nearby Tower Bridge.  This shimmering, golden bridge has an accessible walkway on its south side.  Just as we start to cross, a siren erupts and lights flash.  The drawbridge is about to be raised.

We get as close as we can get and watch the deck go up.  No boats are in view, so I guess that they just raise the bridge every morning at 10:00.  I’ve seen other drawbridges where this is the case…if you’re in a boat, you just want to make sure you’re there at that time.

Just a few minutes later, the deck comes down and we complete the crossing. 

On the other side is Old Sacramento State Park, a preserved neighborhood of historic buildings on the edge of the Sacramento River.  We spend some time eating the free samples at Candy Heaven, a large candy store on the edge of the area that has just about any candy you can think of.  Letty buys some candy to take with us and we take just a quick walk through this end of the park before walking back.

The game is a lot of fun and our seats are next to a lemonade and churro stand.  I make use of it to get Tim a drink and a bag of their kettle corn without having to leave our seats.  Letty and I later go to get some regular food and beer.

The food here is among the best we’ve had at a baseball game and the beer selection is incredible but the prices are pretty high for a minor league game.  Tim and I split the ½ pound Dinger Dog you see above.  It was very good.  Letty had a chef’s salad that was also delicious.  That Blue Moon I’m holding costs $11 though.   That’s more expensive than the same beer I bought at Angel Stadium earlier this month.

Prices aside, it’s a great game in a great park.  We even got to see a true baseball legend, Hall of Famer Rickey Henderson, coaching first base.  He was also very nice…especially to the ladies who wanted to take pictures with him between innings.

After the game, we were done with this very quick trip to our state’s capitol.  Now, we’re heading up to the Motherlode. 

It’s not a long drive up highway 50 where we turn off on highway 49 in Placerville and head south.  Highway 49 is the ribbon of road that connects all of the Gold Rush towns of the Motherlode.  Highway 49…forty-niner…get it? 

About 40 miles south of Placerville, we pull past Amador City and then into the small town of Sutter Creek, which will be our base of operations for the next few days.  Our hotel will be the Days Inn at the north end of town.  We get a suite, which was probably a waste of extra money, because the layout has the living room way off to the side, with no TV, and is not really conducive to using for anything other than an extra sleeping area for Tim.

The sofabed is lumpy…Tim says it’s comfortable, which is fortunate because it sure didn’t look or feel that way when I sat on the edge.  No sheets were provided for it and when I asked the front desk for a set, they brought it but didn’t want to provide a pillow for it.   When I insisted, the manager borrowed a couple of pillows from a vacant room.  We only needed one, they didn’t want to provide it, and when I complained, they brought two?

There’s a slight mildew smell to the room but other than that, the room is adequate and will give us a reason to not be there more than we have to.

After settling in, we head to downtown for dinner.  It’s about a 4 block walk from the hotel, but the sidewalks look iffy for wheelchair access, so we drive.  Upon further inspection, it was accessible for a wheelchair, if a bit bumpy, but there are many sections in the Gold Rush era downtown that are not and would require wheelers to detour into the street.  A good place to start would be to park by City Hall at the north end and walk from there…it’s the most accessible of the routes.

Looking on before the trip, I made up a list of restaurants that looked interesting to try.  Tonight, we’re going to J&D’s Steakhouse, right in the middle of downtown Sutter Creek.  It’s happy hour when we arrive so we order some of the delicious red wine they’re pouring tonight for just $3.  Next, it’s on to an appetizer of jalapeno chips that remind us a bit of fried pickles.  The peppers are sliced up, battered, and deep fried.  They’re served on a heaping plate with ranch dressing and are very good.    Tim has a burger and Letty has the pasta primavera.  I’m not really hungry, so I just subsist on the jalapenos, wine, bread, and Tim’s leftovers.  It’s all very good and we want to come back here again if we have time.
NOTE: J and D's has closed since this 2010 visit

The next morning, we head over to nearby Jackson, the county seat.  Breakfast is a delicious spread of waffles, pancakes, eggs, bacon, and sausage at the Waffle Shop on the south end of town on highway 49.

After breakfast, we take a stroll around downtown.  One of Letty’s favorite kitchen shops is located here, the Home and Farm Supply store.  Don’t let the name fool you, it’s just a really nice kitchen shop, no farm implements are to be seen.

After years in a tiny building with almost no parking by the fire station, the owners bought this vintage building up the block and have turned it into something worthy of Williams Sonoma.  Well worth a stop if you’re into cooking and the gadgets that go with it.

Walking around town afterward though reveals an old town getting ravaged by the recession.  Many storefronts are empty with “For Lease” signs on them.  Even the old Jackson Hotel, built in 1862, has a for sale sign on it.  Closer inspection reveals that the ABC has revoked their liquor license for an infraction, so that could have something to do with it as well.

The two busy businesses here today are the pawn shop and the liquor store.  Hardly a great scene.  It’s a bit depressing but luckily things will pick up once we leave Jackson behind.

Stay tuned for that part of the trip.

Copyright 2010 – Darryl Musick
All Rights Reserved

Friday, May 18, 2018

Summer in Lake Tahoe - Part 3

For all you north shore people, this part is for you. Previously, we drove up highway 395, had some great Basque Food, and went hiking. Then, we drove over the mountains to Amador County to taste some superb wine and dine among history. Today, we’re going over to the other side of the lake.

Highway 50 on the east shore leads to highway 28 at Spooner Junction taking us past some crystal-clear water on our way to Incline Village. Past Incline is King’s Beach where we see a farmer’s market in progress by the beach. Parking is $8, but the friendly parking attendant lets us know that it’s free on the street, so that’s where we park.

Another days worth of fruit is bought and we take a little time on the beach here to enjoy some of it. Placer County Waste Management is also handing out cloth shopping bags so we take a few of those, which come in quite handy when we go shopping back home.

I drive a little east on the highway until I can turn left to go around the block…sort of a fat, lazy U turn…to go the other way. It’s the easiest way on this busy stretch of road.

The little side street…just feet from the main highway…is filled with trailers and run down houses. I think we’ve just found the poor side of town, just out of the view of the tourists on the main drag. It’s a reminder that not everybody up here is rich.

We turn north on highway 267, just past the town, and head over to Truckee. This old railroad town still hums with the sound of locomotives and has some fun shops and restaurants in its old downtown. After an hour of browsing here, we head back to the lake via highway 89 along the Truckee River, which meets back up with the lake in Tahoe City.

At the intersection of 89 and 28, there are a few businesses. We buy a couple of sandwiches here and head over to a public picnic area where the Truckee River flows out of Lake Tahoe. There are plenty of picnic tables in this gorgeous area. Our sandwiches are delicious, along with the fruit we got earlier at the farmers market.

Just a few feet away is a small dam that regulates the flow into the river. In the stretch between the dam and highway 89 (a very short distance) is a school of some of the biggest rainbow trout you’ll ever see. We’re told that no fishing is allowed within 200 yards of the dam, so these fish have learned that this is the place to be. A local sporting goods shop has set up a couple of fish food vending machines doing very good business.

There’s a bike trail along the river that starts here so we decide to go hiking. A sign at the beginning of the trail says that pedestrians should stay on the left and bikes on the right, which sounds fine in theory, but there’s only two small lanes…what happens when a bike is coming the other way? It seems that most people just stick to the “keep right” philosophy but my wife keeps insisting that we stay left. After a few too close encounters, I finally get her to see it my way but she’s tired of keeping out of the way of the bikes, so we head back to the car.

Travelling on along the north shore, we go to the CalNeva Lodge. This should be more of a landmark. It was owned for a time by Frank Sinatra and one of the cabins along the shoreline was where President Kennedy had his trysts with Marilyn Monroe. It’s changed hands a few times since then, in fact, my wife handled one of the sale escrows back when she was in the business.

We had originally planned to stay here for a cheap north shore room but had second thoughts as we learned that the present owners were gathering a reputation for not keeping the place up and lost it to the bank in foreclosure. A sale never materialized, so the bank now runs the place.

My wife tells me why it didn’t sell…the property’s key claim to fame is its location. CalNeva means that the state line runs right down the middle of the place. You can see the state line drawn on the wall inside with the casino starting on the Nevada side. The pool also has the state line down the middle. Sounds neat, until you think of the nightmare of sorting out a property sale not only in two cities and counties, but in different states. It wasn’t one of her easier escrows, to be sure.

Inside is a beautiful bar with a giant Tiffany glass ceiling. The place looks old…in a retro kind of way…but not too worn out. We have a couple of drinks served by a friendly bartender. Afterward, we blow a few bucks on slot machines in the sparsely populated casino. It’s the middle of the day and all the table games are closed. They’re only open during the evenings, Thursday through Sunday.

We walk around to see the cabin that Kennedy used, walk into the old showroom, see the pool with the border in it, and the big room that served as a dance hall in the early days. It’s neat, but very quiet and no buzz here so off we go.

As we wind our way back to the south side, I remember about the Ponderosa. In the 60’s and 70’s, we used to watch Bonanza all the time. On the show, Ben Cartwright owned pretty much all the land on the eastern side of Lake Tahoe. After a couple of years on the show, a set was actually built between Incline Village and Spooner Junction, which became a little theme park open to the public.

I didn’t recall seeing any signs for it on the way to the north shore so I started looking on our way back. Soon, I saw a large parking lot with an old Conestoga wagon next to it. A large fenced off area was up the hill but there were no signs. We drove around to the back part and saw the unmistakable Cartwright ranch house along a western themed streetscape. We’d found the Ponderosa. It had gone belly up and was just rotting alongside the road. The website is just a tombstone…”The Ponderosa Ranch is now closed to the public. There are no plans for it to be reopened.”

Coming back into the Stateline area, we decide to do a little gambling. Parking in the back of Harrah’s, we wander along highway 50 and walk into Bill’s Casino, which had a $1.50 microbrew and hot dog special. We make our way into the bar, which had just a few locals in it. We inquire about the deal and get served but the bartender makes sure to tell us that “there are no free drinks just because you gamble here.” Okay then.

We make our way out onto the gaming floor. Besides us, there are exactly 4 people in the casino. Not exactly a lively place. Bill’s closed down last month (January, 2010). Doesn’t surprise me in the least.

We went over to Harrah’s next. Played a little roulette and some slots. More players here but still not a large crowd. No energy at all. We take the tunnel that runs under the street to Harvey’s (built for the cold winter days they have here) but it’s no different. Gambling is just a major letdown on this trip.

I do need to note that we were here at the very depths of our current recession, so I guess it should not be too surprising.

Coming out to go back to the hotel, we see a couple of homeless guys trying to get enough money for a tall boy. Boy, the Nevada side of things was sure depressing today.

For dinner tonight, we head on over to Café Fiore, near the base lodge for Heavenly Valley. It’s hard to find, hidden behind another larger restaurant, but this small (7 tables) intimate Italian bistro is such a find.

I have a plate of veal saltimboca while my wife gets linguine fra diavolo, a plate of pasta liberally infused with different seafoods. An appetizer plate of sauerkraut and veggies are accompanied by a delicious breadbasket. I was not a sauerkraut person, but a taste of theirs turned my opinion around. Just in time as we’d be in Germany in a couple of month’s time.

Charming, delicious, and relaxed. The restaurant is so small that by the end of dinner, you know everyone in there. The contractor up from Santa Clarita with his wife. The schoolteacher on a weekender from Simi Valley. The law firm partner with his wife from Newport Beach. Great fun. I highly recommend Café Fiore when you’re in the area. Reservations are essential in this tiny little café.

The next day we have one last wonderful breakfast and check out. We head west on highway 50 and make our way home down the Central Valley.

Copyright 2010 - Darryl Musick