Friday, January 31, 2020

Plymouth Rocks: California's Motherlode

See part one here.

While there is no Plymouth Rock in this west coast version, it is rocks that are the foundation of this sleepy Gold Rush town located half-way between Placerville to the north and the county seat of Jackson to the south.

Specifically, it was the gold-veined quartz rock that miner dug out of the ground during the state's 19th century Gold Rush. In fact, this area was among the richest in the Motherlode, pulling out 185 million dollars in mineral wealth, 85% of that in gold. Just to the south of here, in Sutter Creek, the Lincoln Mine was still in use up until March of this year  2014 when the Sutter Gold Mining Company suspended operations and put the mine in mothballs. Tim and I panned for gold there a few years ago.

They still run an open mine in Mexico.

This is beautiful, scenic country. One of our favorite destinations in this state full of them. Tourists have really yet to discover it.

On weekends, dozens of wine fans come up and some even take limo tours to visit the old vines of zinfandel in the valley and taste some of the best reds made here.  Restaurants open up, musicians liven up bars, the few hotels and inns up here fill up and innkeepers can charge premium rates.

We're here on Tuesday when that's not so much the case. We get a hefty 30% off the high weekend rate, 80% of the restaurants and wineries are closed, and tourists are so rare everybody asks us what relatives we're visiting up here.

Still, we are determined to find ways to pass our time.

Ken and Marie are the very friendly owners of the Shenandoah Inn, our home for this trip. Ken even allows me to store ice packs in the utility room freezer (for a stop we'll make later on the way home) but the hotel's very basic continental breakfast just isn't going to do it for us.

At the bottom of the hill, just below the hotel, is Speed's Diner. Nothing fancy. Basic tables and chairs with car and cowboy pictures on the walls.  The food is outstanding. (Note: The owner retired and Speed's is no longer there. It is now a donut shop - Ed)

Letty has the cowboy benedict (biscuits and gravy instead of English muffin and Hollandaise), pancakes 'n eggs for me, and some biscuits and gravy for Tim.

Nice perk is that Shenandoah Inn guests recieve 10% off of their bill here, too.

It's not far to the town of Jackson, where we like to browse the pawn shops, kitchen store, and boutiques.  While Letty takes her time in a couple, Tim and I retire to The Fargo Club bar, across from the historic National Hotel (Note: The Fargo Club has moved two blocks to the west and is now called Jackie's Hideaway - Ed).

It's just Tim, the bartender, and myself for a few minutes until the day's barfly shows up out of the bathroom. We sip our two dollar Amberbocks chatting with the barkeep and the local.

She asks if we're there to visit relatives. No, we're just here for a fun trip.

"In Jackson?" she exclaims excitedly.'s historic, there's old gold mines to explore down the street, old Native American villages, and great wine.

The barfly agrees with me. Seems he's ready to confess something he keeps secret...he grew up in he knows what boring is (actually, we've had some good times in Fresno but the opinion is his).

Letty shows up after a bit. The bartender pours her a beer too and we have a nice chat with the locals before moving on our way.

The thermometer is moving towards 90 as we get back to Plymouth. We change into our swimsuits and head outside. Ken shows us how to operate the lift and we deposit Tim into an inner tube with its help. It's much easier than carrying him down slippery stairs.

The pool, while small and ordinary, sits at the edge of the foothills rolling off into wine country. It's an extraordinary view.

There's something about it that makes me never want to leave. We spend a couple of hours in the 80 degree water before calling that a day. I go over to Amador Market on Main Street for some sandwiches and we head back out to the pool for dinner with a view.

Ken has some contractors here renovating rooms. At the end of their day, he brings them out to the pool area with a cooler of beer and a handful of cigars.

It's an impromptu party as we all celebrate this wonderful place, waiting for the sun to go down.

2020 UPDATE: Well, we liked Amador County so much that we moved here a year ago. It's no longer a vacation destination for us, it's home.

Copyright 2014 - Darryl Musick
All Rights Reserved

Pictures by Letty Musick
Copyright 2014 - All Rights Reserved

Monday, January 27, 2020

Innroads Into the Motherlode

(Originally published in 2014...)

It's been a hell of a year so far on the day-job front. My boss went on a vacation that he never returned from (he died in the Phillipines), throwing our IT department into chaos. Then, our most competent tech took a transfer to Denver and now we're down by two with probably a six month replace them.

I delayed any time off during the depths of our office turmoil and decided to take a few extra days at Memorial Day to get my mind off of it.

To tell the truth, I was burned out. I wasn't even looking forward to the trip, it seemed like more work then just sitting at home with a cooler of beer and puttering around the garden. Not that I told Letty and Tim any of this, I didn't want to put a damper on the travel for them. Besides, Tim was looking forward to seeing a new stadium and what will probably be the only baseball game we go to this year.

So off we went.  San Francisco was crazily crowded...although La Rocca's Corner was a whiskey-soaked oasis in the middle of it...and the Oakland Coliseum was an outdated dump but the team is on fire and the game was great.

It was a tightly timed drive to the Jelly Belly factory, then a more leisurely commute across the Delta until we hit the incongruously high speed limit, two lane Highway 124 in Ione (65 MPH, used to be 70) where we shot up quickly to the highway of gold, Highway 49, just outside of Drytown.

Five minutes later, we're pulling into the driveway of the Shenandoah Inn in tiny Plymouth, California.

Yes, we've been up here in Amador County countless times but we usually stay 45 minutes way in the Sacramento suburb of Rancho Cordova...the closest place where we can get a really good and inexpensive suite. This time, we decided on this mom 'n pop motel on the side of the highway based on a quick drop-in we did last year to inspect the accessible rooms.

There are two here, both with King size beds, a sofa (no sofabed), low-step bathtubs with transfer chairs and shower-on-a-hose, and a view to die for of the Shenandoah Valley wine country.

Out back, there's a pool, spa, two barbecues, picnic tables, and a pool lift. It even works!

While it's not quite roll-in shower and we'll have to squeeze a rollaway bed in for'll be adequate.

It's time to unpack.  I know my wife is going to say "only two nights? I wish we could have one more day up here," so I called Ken...the owner...ahead of time and extended it to three so I can surprise her.

I'm going to head over to Main Street and pick up a pizza from the only restarant in town that is still open at this time of 8:15pm.  We'll catch up tomorrow and start exploring.

Copyright 2014 - Darryl Musick
All Rights Reserved

Pictures by Letty Musick
Copyright 2014 - All Rights Reserved

Sunday, January 26, 2020


Here's a great and extremely easy beer cocktail to make for those upcoming warm days on the patio. We're partying with a dirty blonde!

Watch the Video!

First, get a can or bottle of a blonde ale and a bottle of brown ale.

Fill half a glass with the blonde and top off with the brown.

That's it, enjoy.


Friday, January 24, 2020

The Aquatic Fauna of the Sacramento Valley

Shape-shifting clouds of starlings weave in and out across highway 104 as we speed westbound through the rural landscape. A hillside of goats and one shaggy guard dog go by on the left. The decommissioned Ranch Seco Nuclear Power Plant's giant cooling towers sit ominously on the horizon.

Past the small city of Galt and then hard by Interstate 5, we reach our destination - the Consumnes River Preserve.

It's late October and the annual migration of Sandhill Cranes has hit the area. These tall and slender birds are attracted to the corn fields around the preserve and spend a couple of months here at harvest time. The preserve has trails leading through the wetlands that these birds call home while they're here.

A one and a half mile accessible trails leads out from the visitor's center, across the street to several ponds of wetlands. A half mile boardwalk leads out to a remote viewing platform.

We only see a few of the cranes, in the distance on the other side of a large pond, because in the middle of the day they're off eating corn at nearby farms. Still, we see plenty of other birds.

Thousands of Canada Geese dot the water and occasionally take flight to circle overhead for a few laps before plopping back down in the water.

Mud Hens troll  for insects and worms and a lone kingfisher sits on a log looking for a juicy fish to each.

After the wide open wetlands, the trail continues across the street near a busy set of train tracks.

It continues into a lushly wooded area with a few more ponds before crossing a bridge back to the visitor's center.

We would have liked to see some more of the cranes but it's still a very nice hike through nature. It's time for us to head on to another destination but first, a stop for lunch.

In nearby Lodi, it's a delicious and cheap lunch at A&W Root Beer. The burgers and fries are washed down with that delicious root beer in large, glass mugs.

While that might sound rather ordinary, what makes this special is that this is the oldest A&W stand in the world. A&W started here in Lodi in 1919 when Roy Allen purchased a root beer recipe from a pharmacist in Arizona. Using that recipe, he opened a stand at a local parade to sell it for a nickel.

Seeing how successful this was, he join forces with Frank Wright to open a drive-in restaurant four years later. This is now the location on Lodi Avenue, which features a display case full of company memorabilia, along with shelves of old A&W stuff up on the walls.

Hunger sated, it's back on the road...up the 99 to highway 50 in Sacramento. East to Folsom, then north to the American River next to the Nimbus Dam, which holds back Lake Natoma.

It's because of this dam that our next stop is here. When built, the dam blocked the migration of the native steelhead trout and chinook salmon. The Nimbus Fish Hatchery was built to help the fish survive and to keep them from becoming extinct.

We're here three days before they open the ladder. When the salmon return from the ocean to spawn, weirs in the river guide the fish to the entrance of the ladder, where they climb up into the hatchery.

Eggs are harvested from the females, fertilized with milt harvested from the males, and the eggs are hatched factory-style in the hatchery. When the fish are big enough, around 4 million are released back into the river to head out to sea.

Down at the entrance to the ladder (a sign says it's not wheelchair accessible but it is nicely ramped and Tim had no problem getting there), we see thousands of excited salmon waiting to get in.

Next door is a rainbow trout hatchery, where we go and see hundreds of thousands of fish being reared to releasable size.

Both destinations we visited are accessible and free to visit. Click on the links above to find directions and other information for the preserve and hatchery.

Darryl Musick
Copyrght 2020 - All Rights Reserved

Wednesday, January 22, 2020

ACCESSIBLE ATTRACTIONS: Sacramento, California

Our ratings are...

Fully Accessible - You can access all of the attraction, with no problem, in any type of wheelchair.

Mostly Accessible - You can access most of the attraction, and all of the important parts of it, with your wheelchair.

Partially Accessible - You can access a good deal of the attraction but some parts are inaccessible and some important parts you'll miss.

Inaccessible - Kind of speaks for itself, avoid if you're in a wheelchair.

Here's Sacramento, California...

HISTORIC FOLSOM: Fully Accessible. At the eastern terminus of Sacramento's light rail system lies this three block long historic section of downtown Folsom. Although old, the wooden boardwalks and sidewalks have been fully ramped.

FOLSOM POWERHOUSE STATE PARK: Mostly Accessible. First AC powerhouse on the west coast. Not a far walk from Old Folsom get to it pretty easily on public transit.

OLD SACRAMENTO: Mostly Accessible. Not to be confused with Old Folsom, above, this original part of Sacramento lies riverside next to the Sacramento River. Some bumpy boardwalks to navigate plus older buildings might not be 100% accessible. A nice surprise, however, is the upstairs balcony of La Terraza which is completely accessible including the management reserving the tables with the best view for wheelchairs.

SUTTER HEALTH PARK: Fully Accessible. (Note - pic shows Raley Field but the name was changed recently) Home of the minor league Rivercats baseball team, accessible seating abounds in all levels. It's also easily accessible by a walk from downtown Sacramento via the...

TOWER BRIDGE: Fully Accessible. The south side of the bridge has a wheelchair accessible walkway. Pay attention, though. Don't get stuck in the middle when the sirens go off or you may find your self stranded on the rising part of this drawbridge until the river traffic goes through.

SUTTER'S FORT: Mostly Accessible. Historically dressed docents on the weekends are the best time to come to John Sutter's Sacramento headquarters. Remember that gold wasn't discovered here but about an hour's drive east in the Sierra foothill community of Coloma, just north of Placerville.

CAPITOL BUILDING: Mostly Accessible. At the tour desk in the basement, you'll most likey be assigned a personal tour guide to get you to places that are not normally accessible to the public, like the chamber floors of the Assemby and Senate. If you're a California resident, contact your Assemblyperson or Senator's office and they can arrange a free, personal tour for you.

OLD SUGAR MILL: Mostly Accessible. South of the city, in delta city of Clarksburg, this old sugar mill is home to several wine tasting rooms specializing in Lodi appelation wine.

FOLSOM PRISON MUSEUM: Partially Accessible. The prison Johnny Cash made famous. Mainly just a stop for the small museum and gift shop and picture taking locations nearby. You'll need a personal vehicle to come here.

Copyright 2015 - Darryl Musick
All Rights Reserved

Monday, January 20, 2020

The Goat Brew...A Trip Through The Gold Country of Placer County

Sacramento is not only the capital of California, it's also a great hub for exploring the northern half of the state. It's a pretty, tree-shaded city that is...for now...a less hectic and cheaper alternative to staying in the San Francisco area.

Although there is a lot to see and do in the city itself, one thing we like to do is use it as a base to explore nearby.  Within a couple of hours, you can get to San Francisco, Napa Valley, the Delta Region, Lake Tahoe, Chico, the Motherlode region, and much more.

Today, we're venturing northeast of the city to visit with some friendly and hungry goats and, via a scenic drive, to the county seat of Placer County - the vibrant and historic Gold Rush era town of Auburn - before ending up at an electrifying bit of history in Folsom.

Going east of Sacramento, on Interstate 80, you pass through a great urban sprawl. Getting off in Roseville, we head north to the town of Lincoln. Even here, you see development on an unrelenting march to tame the rural stretches into suburbia...the Capitol area is one of the fastest growing in the nation.

We're able to get past that to Wise Road, about 3 miles north of central Lincoln. A couple of more miles east and we're at our first destination...Goathouse Brewing.

My wife, Letty, looking for things to do in Northern California found this gem. It combines two things I love, beer and goats.

The brewery here makes excellent beer (I especially like the red ale) and, outside, you can sit in a nice beer garden which sits in a goat farm. You can buy a cone of goat food for a buck , head over, and feed the goats.

It's great fun and there's usually a food truck here if you're hungry. Goathouse Brewing is open Friday through Sunday and is completely wheelchair accessible.

Getting our fill of the goat, we continue east on Wise, winding through the hills of Placer County on our way to Auburn. Yep, we could have saved a few minutes by heading back to Interstate 80 but this is the scenic route. And very scenic it is.

A sign beckons "farm fresh fruit ahead on right." We stop in and find the ladies of Urban Dreamer farm.

Some persimmons and spaghetti squash are on sale. My wife gets some persimmons and the ladies throw in a squash. There also an array of baked goods so we take some of those for a snack later.

Onward to Auburn, the county seat of Placer County. A good spot to park where we could deploy our ramp in downtown is hard to find today but after three times around the block, we find one.

Feeling like pizza, we head over to a nearby parlor but they've just seated a party of 50 (!) so we go to the brewery next door instead for some decent burgers.

Lastly, it's a trip down through the hills to Folsom where we stop at the Folsom Powerhouse State Park.

Due west of the infamous prison on the American River, this old preserved generating station was the first AC powerhouse in California. Dating back to 1895, it provided electricity to Sacramento kicking off the electrification of the state.

We're in time for a quick tour where we're told the water powered turbines and generators are still in working order, although the water to power them no longer flows through.

Flat, paved trails provide good access throughout the small park although you can ask for the gate at the visitor's center to be opened and you can drive down the small, sloped driveway if you think it might be too steep for you.

We're fine with Tim's power chair and we climb back up to see the holding ponds for the water before climbing back in the van to head back home.

Darryl Musick
Copyright 2020 - All Rights Reserved

Friday, January 17, 2020

Historic Dining: Eating in Some of the West's Oldest Restaurants

Snow flurries make wispy clouds across the pavement. Train passengers are told the Truckee Pass is closed with heavy snow and they’ll have to make due here on a cold Reno night until the California Zephyr can continue on the rails to Oakland.

Wearily, a passenger wanders down the street from the downtown station until he sees a cheap, basic looking hotel. Getting a clean but Spartan room for the night, the desk clerk tells him dinner is served downstairs starting at 5:00.

Showing up early, he has a stiff cocktail at the bar before being shown to a seat at a long table in the next room.  Other stranded strangers are seated with him at the table, even though the room is more empty than full. A pitcher of red wine and glasses are on the table for the diners to help themselves to and to lubricate the dinner banter.

As polite conversations start up, the food is brought out. The pea soup is exquisitely hot on this cold night. The large salad bowl has more than enough for everybody. The beans are savory. And, what’s this?  Small, thin strips of meat are served with jack cheese.

“Pickled tongue,” the server explains.

With wrinkled nose, but curious, the traveler takes a bite.  “Delicious,” he admits.

Thick lamb chops are brought, some of the best he’s ever had. After dessert, sated and maybe just a bit tipsy, the tired traveler sleeps easily until the train can resume its trip over the mountains to the San Francisco bay.

Scenes like this have played out for over a century in Nevada’s other city but at one place, you can still get a taste of that experience. The old SantaFe Hotel, behind the mammoth Harrah’s casino, still rents basic rooms and still serves a seemingly endless Basque meal…family style…in its unchanged dining room.

This is a bit of history that you can experience now. It’s not recreated, it’s not trendy… it’s just the way it’s always been.

I like to call it historical dining.

One of my favorite ways to eat is to find these old gems and have a meal the same way diners did 30, 40, maybe even 100 years or more ago. California (and a bit of Nevada) is sprinkled with such geriatric establishments.

On the corner of Geary and Van Ness lies the 70ish year old Tommy’s Joynt. It’s basically just a beer and sandwich hall.  Locals come in to get roast beef, sliced to order, and a cheap beer to wash it down.

Not fancy or pricy, but just good, solid food served the same way today as it was when it opened in 1947. Where else in The City are you going to get a solid sandwich and a mug of Anchor Steam for less than $12? The ancient dining hall and quirky décor are just gravy on top of that.

While you may not want to drink your lunch, La Rocca’sCorner in San Francisco is an old dive bar with legends about mob hits and nefarious doings in its back rooms and basements. Don’t worry about food, though. The owner usually puts out a spread that the bar flies help themselves to.

It is a true and authentic dive and the crowd here is among the friendliest you’ll find.  Not much has changed in this circa 1934 bar. Leo Larocca is no longer with us, so he doesn’t play is guitar or accordion in the corner anymore and there are a couple of TVs for sports.

You’ll still find Sy behind the bar dishing out drinks, feisty banter, and hugs for the ladies.

Going east, up high into the Sierras near Lake Tahoe, you'll find the Gold Rush era Kirkwood Inn near the ski resort of the same name on highway 88, the Carson Pass.

Since 1864, this little cabin has been keeping high country travelers warm and well fed. Have some prime rib or a satisfying sandwich as you belly up to the same bar that Snowshow Thompson sat at.

Down in the Central Valley, ice cream fans can satisfy their sweet tooth at a couple of century old creameries.

Superior Dairy in Hanford dishes out giant servings of a few flavors in their ancient shop across from the town square. Their SOS sundae is truly a sight to see.

Bakersfield’s Dewars Ice Cream and Candies has a more extensive menu in both its original location downtown and a new, more modern branch on the west side of highway 99.

Philippe’s in downtown Los Angeles is well into its second century of serving its signature French dip sandwiches (which are said to have been invented here but an equally old Cole’s nearby begs to differ) is still the place where you sit with strangers on long tables, sawdust on the floor, with a news and candy stand by the door.

Expert servers at the counter serve such delicacies as purple pickled eggs and pig’s feet from an extensive menu. And the hot mustard, oh-the hot mustard, on each table takes that basic sandwich to new heights.

Down at the beach, the Bull Pen still serves a thick and delicious prime rib in a 65 year old dining room disguised behind a dive bar in Redondo Beach.  Locals come early to imbibe and hear corny jokes from the bartender.

Well hidden in a Redondo Riviera strip mall on a block progress has passed by, somehow people find it and fill it up every night. Some of them might even be the original customers.

For more refined tastes, hungry customers head east to Rancho Cucamonga where the 1848 era Sycamore Inn delights with its steak Dianne and extensive wine list while its younger (only 70+ years) neighbor, the Magic Lamp, serves superb crab cake, steaks, and chops in its wonderfully whimsical building…built by the Clearman family of Northwoods Inn fame…fronted by a large lamp shaped sign, belching out real flames nightly.

While in the Inland Empire, after spending a day on Route 66, tasting olives from the historic Graber farm in Ontario or sipping wine from the old Galleano Winery in Mira Loma, we like to end our day as we started this story, with another Basque meal at the old Centro Basco in Chino.

Also starting life as a boarding house for lonely shepherds from the old country, the almost 80 year old restaurant has shed its rooms-for-rent, although it kept the handball court out back for pickup games. 

Run by the heirs of the Basque family that has owned it for generations, it also has dinners with others at long tables but most customers these days prefer the more traditional restaurant seating in the back half of the restaurant.

Again, diners are brought out heaping bowls of soup (their split pea is among the best I’ve had), salad, cheese, beans, pasta, vegetables, and entrée.  Tongue is only by request here but is also one of the best things on the menu.

These are just a few of the dozens of old, sometimes musty, dining and drinking rooms sprinkled throughout the west. You may find one of your own on a slow road trip sometime.

With all the establishments listed here, one of the best things is sitting back with your full stomach, reveling in the unchanged dining experience that you’re amazed still exists in this modern age.

© 2016 – Darryl Musick
All Rights Reserved