Friday, August 31, 2018

Big Trees, Raisins, and Baseball - Fresno and Sequoia, California


No, my eyes did not deceive me…that was a 9MM Glock semi-automatic pistol strapped to the fireman’s knee. I had to know…”why are you packing?” I asked him.

“Our police can’t go along on every call with us so the city decided to arm us,” he replied.

Welcome to Fresno.

Equal parts gritty and interesting, the city lies in the heart of the produce belt of California’s Central Valley.  It’s located along highway 99, about halfway between Bakersfield and Sacramento.

Two excellent and highly recommended accessible hotels lie in the northeast part of town next door to each other, the Springhill Suites and Homewood Suites. Both offer two-room, accessible suites with roll-in showers available. Each comes with a hot breakfast and, best of all for those beyond 100 degree days in the summer, swimming pools with disability access lifts.

Springhill will cost a bit less than Homewood. We stay at the Springhill.

This is the raisin capitol of the world, it’s also in the very heart of California’s heartland with miles of farms and ranches spreading out in all directions. The office of tourism can provide you with a fruit trail map to visit the different farms, fruit stands, ranches, and farmer’s markets of the area. If you’re here spring through fall, you’ll definitely want to try some fruit picked right off of the branch.

After a good night’s rest, it’s a little over an hour east to our next destination, Sequoia National Park. The scenery beautiful, the rivers frothing with white water, the wildlife flitting about…it’s all spectacular…but what sets this park apart from others are the legendary trees.


Big trees. Huge trees. Trunks the size of houses trees. Living before Jesus trees.

Out of the hundreds of giant trees in the park, one stands alone as the biggest of them all, old General Sherman in his own fenced off plot.


You can park in an upper lot closer to the tree or park a little lower and take a paved, accessible trail up to the grove. We park in the bottom lot.

Sequoia is not new to us. We’ve camped here dozens of times but the trees still amaze. Along the trail is what looks like a downed tree with a nine-foot thick trunk about 50 feet tall. Only it’s not a tree, it’s just a branch that broke off of the General.

The Sherman tree is massive. Just the bark alone is over a foot thick.  The truck is over 20 feet thick. The age is estimated to be between 2,300 and 2,700 years old…and counting. If you could, you’d climb over 275 feet before you reached the top. By volume, it is the largest single trunk tree in the world.

It may be the star of the show, but there are many more specimens in the park that, unlike the General, you can actually go up and touch.  Some, burned out from ancient fires, you can even stand inside of.

It’s lunch in the park, then back down into the valley below.

Just west of downtown is Chukchansi Park, home of the Fresno Grizzlies. They are the AAA affiliate of the current world champions, the Houston Astros. Tonight, we’ll go and see them play the Las Vegas 51s, the farm team of the Toronto Blue Jays.

Before the game, a couple of colorful cars are parked across the street handing out free energy drinks. They’re parked next to the Fire Department headquarters which, of course, entices a few firefighters outside to take advantage of the free drinks.

This is when I notice how Fresno’s firefighters don’t go on calls unarmed.




On to the game itself, we score some accessible seats directly behind home plate. Misters attached to the bottom of the second deck keep things cool in the valley heat. In the outfield, some lucky group is frolicking in the pool in deep center field.


The food is good, the gift shop well stocked, the prices decent, but the beer is limited to a few bland domestics with Tecate being served as the premium brew.  You can see more information on the stadium on our Chukchansi Park Fields of Dreams review.

After a fun evening of baseball, we turn in for the night.

Going south on the 99, we have one more stop to make. As you drive along, sign after sign entices you…best cheese you’ll ever have, ice cold soda, mouthwatering cheeseburgers, fresh fruit, cold milk shakes…by the time you get to the Traver exit, you just about have no free will left and have to stop at Bravo Farms.


A little traveler’s oasis, Bravo’s claim to fame is making cheese. You can watch the cheese makers in action, and then sample the many varieties.

Outside, you can walk over to the fruit stand and sample some delicious donut peaches. Back at the store and café, have a burger followed by that cold milkshake.


Save a little time to go out back, feed the goats, shoot a little pool, and relax in their garden.

It makes for a great little stop to recharge our batteries as we head on south towards home on the 99. 

-Darryl
Copyright 2011 – Darryl Musick
All Rights Reserved

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

ADVENTURES CLOSE TO HOME: The Commute


(NOTE: The busiest bus station west of the Mississippi is in my hometown of El Monte. It turns 45 years old this year. When first opened, back in 1973, it seemed so futuristic, with the buses pulling into it's 6 berths and the dispatcher announcing the buses and destinations.  With the advent of newer, longer buses, the station grew outdated and the whole thing was demolished. A new, replacement station opened in 2012. 

This is a 'day in the life' of commuting from that station from 2015. Since that time, two things have happened...I switched my work commute to the Gold Line light rail train in 2016 and then retired completely earlier this year.  

Other than the now $2 a day charged for parking, I'm sure the following is still pretty true...)

It's ten minutes, more or less, from my front door to the bus station. Only a few slowpokes that are easily passed. Don't see the guy in the Fiero who goes 50 mph and heads straight for the fast lane and there are just a few of the double gravel haulers that tend to clog up the 605 as they bring their loads out of the quarries of Azusa and Irwindale.  A sea of red lights up ahead just past the Santa Anita exit on the 10 but the bus station is at that exit so I avoid that mess.

Construction takes a chunk out of the parking lot. Luckily I start very early so I don't get shut out of the musical chairs of the late parking lot. Up on the upper level of the station, more construction awaits, taking away half of the upper deck.


The tamale cart is setting up like it always does at this time of day. I'm always too early to take advantage of that $1.50 breakfast. In the afternoon when I come home, they're taking it down.

It's a cloudy day as I enter the almost new station.  For the first time in a week, the escalators are working so I hop down to the bottom.



During construction, my bus...the 481...has been relocated downstairs.  Of course, if I make it ontime, the 6:20 bus is nowhere to be seen. Either it left early (judging by the lack of line, this is my guess) or the driver called in sick on a Monday again after a grueling weekend.


6:23 and still no bus in sight, I hustle upstairs to catch the Silver Line, which I can take to another stop one block farther from my usual one. It's also packed to the gills.



Luckily, I get one of the last seats, squeezed in by my seatmate like a bad economy section on a plane. They're all here this morning...the lady talking to herself; the gentleman with hygiene issues; the gang banger with the prison tattoo peeking over his collar...but we're in luck this morning because none of the usual suspects makes any problems.



It's no fun being squeezed into this standing-room-only bus but those Metro drivers and their lead feet make it just a 10 minute ride to the other end of the busway and my stop.



Not so bad this morning but the things I have seen on rides...the guy in the far back corner sipping on his tall boy Budweiser thinking no one notices, the other guy on a well air conditioned bus opening all the windows yelling that he's being poisoned (and hitting anyone that wants to stop him), the hygienically challenged, the guy who has to do an exercise routine the whole ride, the seatmate who thinks they can just lean on you and take a nap, seeing a bus overturned, the just released jail inmates who talk their way onto the bus without any fare, the sniffly sneezy coughy person sitting next to you...the list goes one. It can be entertaining but, mostly, it's just annoying. Rarely, it can be dangerous.



I make it to my stop, navigate around the homeless and the trash and walk the two blocks to work.



The afternoon finds me taking the Silver Streak home. This is not to be confused with the Silver Line. The former is run by Foothill Transit, the latter is Metro. Newbies often show up at the bus stop, a bewildered look on their face..."Do I take the Silver Line or the Silver Streak?"...but with time, they're able to tell the difference (the Silver Streak runs from Montclair on the San Bernardino County border to downtown L.A. while the Silver Line runs from El Monte to Torrance. Both go via El Monte and the San Bernardino busway so the mid portions of their runs are almost identical).



It's almost empty, a nice sight at the end of a long day but...what's this?...a jailbird pleading with the driver to get on with no money. Of course, the driver lets him. They always let them and wonder what went wrong when they start causing problems.

Today, he wanders to the back of the bus and starts talking loudly and obscenely to himself but, other than that, doesn't cause any more problems. At least until El Monte, where I get off the bus and drive home.

All in all, thankful for a relatively peaceful commute. I'll pick it up again in the morning and cross my fingers that it goes well again.

Darryl
Copyright 2015 - Darryl Musick
All Rights Reserved



Monday, August 27, 2018

California's Central Coast - Morro Bay and Avila Beach



While strolling along the commercial fishing wharf in Morro Bay, we encountered a couple from Germany and got to talking.  We talked about our love of Munich and Bavaria and then asked what they thought of this little town.

“It is very beautiful,” they replied, “but what is THAT?”

Watch the Video!

They were pointing at the one thing that keeps this little seaside town from becoming a real tourist mecca, the large power plant that mars the view on the north end of the bay.  They were aghast, mostly because they thought it was a nuclear plant plopped right into the middle of town.  Not to worry about that, I told them, it’s just a conventional plant that’s been there for half a century…I think they were confusing it with the Diablo Canyon nuclear generating station, which is located several miles south of here.

The Power Plant is Hard to Miss

Ignore the plant and you have a great, scenic, and reasonably priced seaside getaway.  It may just be because of that plant that the prices here are as low as they are.

Morro Bay lies due west of Bakersfield on California’s Central Coast.  This is the section of the state’s coastline that extends roughly from Santa Barbara on the south to just below San Francisco on the north end.  Many of the state’s gems lie along this route: Big Sur, Hearst Castle, Monterey, and Santa Cruz just to name a few.

We start off in Bakersfield and take Highway 46 over the coastal hills.  This is a lonely, scenic road and is historically one of the area’s more dangerous roads…it was nicknamed “Blood Alley” for the large number of head-on collisions.  About halfway over the hills, in a pretty little valley is the intersection with highway 41, is the spot where the most memorable of these crashes occurred.


Here on September 30, 1955, actor James Dean…on his way to race his Porsche Spyder at Laguna Seca Raceway in Monterey…crashed head-on into a truck that crossed into his lane.  He died a short time later when he was taken to the War Memorial Hospital in Paso Robles.

Just up the road is a small diner where a memorial to Dean sits in the parking lot.  Walk around the back…signs warn you to watch for rattlesnakes…and you’ll see a line of trees.  That is the spot where the San Andreas Fault cleaves the state in two.

Driving carefully over the rest of the route, we arrive at Highway 1 just north of Harmony and turn south.  Somewhere in the hills to the left, another black day in the state happened when fired airline employee, David Burke, burst into the cockpit of PSA flight 1771 and shot the pilots dead.  The plane dove into the ground at full speed, killing all 44 aboard including the supervisor who fired him.

After this tour of gruesome California history, we see our destination shrouded in fog up ahead with Morro Rock poking through the low-hanging cloud.

Our hotel for this trip is the Best Western San Marcos Inn, just two blocks from the waterfront.   Barrier-free rooms with two queen beds are available and the hotel serves a free light continental breakfast along with a wine and cheese mixer every evening in the lobby.  There is no pool but instead a large hot tub with views of the bay.  Just about everything in town is within walking distance.



After checking in and taking in the view from our room, we head down to the water to have a look around.  Weaving in and out around the buildings on the wharf is a walkway where everyone can walk along and drink in the gorgeous ocean views.  The town has gone one step further and made this entire walkway wheelchair accessible.  It’s not a straight line, but you can stroll along the entire waterfront from the huge Morro Rock in the north  to the marina at the south end of the bay.  It is a very common site to see sea lions and otters frolicking in the water along the way. 


And the rock?  It’s the town’s signature feature.  A morro is a volcanic plug where the surrounding mountain has worn down exposing the rock underneat.  There are nine of these ancient domes in the area, Morro Rock being the most famous, spectacularly sitting between the town and the waves.


Dinner tonight will be at the Hofbrau where you can get a delicious beef dip sandwich, custom carved right in front of you.  There are a few German beers available, along with the usual suspects on tap.  We get some of these delicious sandwiches and sit next to the windows overlooking the water.  It’s a very inexpensive, good restaurant with a view.  That’s pretty rare.



The next morning we have a delicious breakfast of omelets and pancakes at Dorn’s, a nice restaurant sitting atop a small hill overlooking the waterfront.  After eating, we head out to the rock. 


An unpaved, but fairly smooth path allows wheelchair to get a little ways around the rock toward the ocean.  Soon, however, the path will get too rocky to allow access all the way to the water.  For birders, looking up will reveal hundreds of nooks, crannies, and little caves where gulls and peregrine falcons nest.  We came upon a small group of watchers with telescopes set up on tripods who allowed up to look at a mother falcon guarding her brood.


A drive across town leads us to Morro Bay State Park where another morro, White’s Point, sits next to the visitor’s center.  A path leads around the rock but the last hundred feet or so to the top is too steep to make wheelchair accessible.  Back at the visitor’s center, several spectacular views of the bay are barrier free.  The center is also undergoing a makeover to make it more accessible to wheelers.


Back in town, we take a bay cruise on a boat with windows under the water.  It’s not wheelchair accessible but Letty and I take a quick ride to get pictures for Tim.  Another cruise operator at the north end of the wharf, Chablis Cruises, offers accessible tours on a more traditional boat.

After the cruise, we stroll around looking at the shops.  A garden center across the street has quite an array of custom fountains.  I come close to buying one for the yard, but decide not to when I think of how I will get it home.


Today is the Morro Bay Music Festival and several bands are rotating through the main stage set up in a parking lot across from the wharf.  Up on the hill in the downtown section, there’s a great farmer’s market with more live bands…seemingly playing in every bar and corner.  It’s a very musical day here in Morro Bay. 

I buy some fruit and cheese for a lunch snack as we sit back and listen.  An orchid greenhouse nearby provides a quiet getaway from all the action on the streets.

Dinner tonight will be at Tognazzini’s, an out-of-the-way restaurant nestled in with the commercial fishing fleet at the north end of town, based upon a recommendation from the skipper of the tour boat.  We are not disappointed with the fish and pasta dinner that we have.  


Afterward, we stroll along the fishing fleet as we take our last sunset views of the town.


Checking out in the morning, we head south to the town of Avila Beach.  Formerly a run-down, funky ocean side enclave of hippies, fishermen, and surfers…the town is undergoing a renaissance thanks to a huge settlement and remediation given to them by the Union Oil Company whose oil facility leaked hazardous waste under the town for decades.  The oil company demolished a huge part of the town, removed the tainted sand, and rebuilt from the ground up.  Still funky but no longer run down, the waterfront is a sparkling jewel sitting on a beautiful beach.


We have breakfast at my favorite omelet place in the world, The Custom House.  The previous incarnation here had a patio out back overflowing with plants and exotic birds in cages.  With the new building, the birds are gone and the new patio, while still beautiful, seems a little sterile without the birds.  The food is still great, however.

Nearby is the Harford Pier, built in 1873, where another local restaurant…Fatcats…sits on the hillside.  Many people, including my parents, swear by this little diner.  It is very good, but the linguica omelet at the Custom House always beckons me.


Being one of the very few piers in California that actually let you drive on it, we head out to the end where we find a handicapped spot and unload.  A nice but pricey dinner house, The Olde Port Inn, sits atop a bustling little fish monger shop.  At the end is a large platform where people set up to fish, no license required.

When I was a kid, we had a family reunion type party here and the several of us fishing caught 250 red snapper and netted dozens of crabs for the boilers we set up on the camp fire.  I don’t think there’s that much to catch anymore, but it’s still a nice place to drop a line.


Down below on the boat dock platform, a dozen sea lions lounge on the wood.  Off of the pier, several more of the illiterate animals sit on a platform with a sign begging users to close the gate to keep the sea lions off.


Refreshed and relaxed, we climb back into the van and head south along the ocean on Highway 101 back into L.A. and home.  It just dawned on me that I haven’t thought about that damn power plant at all since we talked to that friendly couple from Germany…just soak up Morro Bay and you’ll put it out of your mind too.

The Far Side of Morro Rock

Darryl
Copyright 2010 – Darryl Musick
All Rights Reserved

Saturday, August 25, 2018

A Trio Going for a Trio of Tapas, AKA Another Gold Line Pub Crawl


We doing something a little different. Instead of our usual Saturday night out-to-dinner, we've decided to take advantage of a rare spell of cooler weather here in Los Angeles.

In place of one big meal for dinner, we're heading out on the Gold Line light rail train to have a mini pub crawl, this one only visiting three stops where we'll have an appetizer and a drink before moving on.


First stop is at the Chinatown Station in downtown Los Angeles. We cross the street and head into some desolate looking territory.


No worries, though, because at the other end of that dusty lot is Highland Park Brewery.


Our app here is this delicious sausage plate featuring their mild housemade chorizo with some salsa verde, pickles, okra, and some very delicious slices of bread.


This, along with the house lager...Refresh beer...whets our appetite to continue on and get some more.


The next stop is the Highland Park Station, where a short walk takes us to...


...the Highland Park Bowl, a very retro cool bowling alley with a nice, overwhelming steampunk vibe to it.


App here is calamari, serviceable but not my favorite.


It's washed down with a wit beer made back in downtown L.A. at Boomtown Brewery, one of our favorites.


Back on the train to Pasadena where we get off in Old Pasadena and take the short walk to the Blind Donkey, a tavern that is starting to get a nice, divey sheen to it.


It's happy hour! Our discounted selection includes another wit beer, this one from Pasadena's own Craftsman Brewery, a pilsner from New Belgium, and a tequila sour.


This is our last stop so we pull out a few stops and have more than one app. Here's fritos and salsa with garlic parmesan fries.


Letty shared the fries with Tim and also had some elote.


Tim and I shared the fritos along with some delicious Vienna Beef corn dogs.

That's our limit today, so we hop back on the train to go home and watch the Angel game.

Stop by the Musick Channel Garage Sale to pick up your own copy of some of our classic vinyl LPs. Click on the link, above, for more.



Darryl Musick
Copyright 2018 - All Rights Reserved