Monday, April 27, 2020

Jailbreak! Escaping the Coronavirus for a Few Hours with a Sanity Drive

(Please read our Covid 19 Statement first - Ed) No, we're still not advocating you travel anywhere right now as that Covid 19 Statement you just passed would state, if you clicked on it (see what you missed?). And, no, we're not advocating you violate any social distancing guidelines in your area. But we do advocate doing some things that are safe but might be a tad out of the box for some shelter-in-place (SIP) warriors.

Here in California, our SIP order allows us to go outside and recreate. You can go for a walk, ride a bike, go birdwatching, etc., as long as you keep your distance from others (members of your own household do not need to social distance).

You are not allowed to go out where crowds would be like the obvious venues such as theaters, concerts, and sporting events. Some gray areas, like beaches and state parks, have been closed because of overcrowded conditions that don't allow for social distancing.

In between what's allowed and what isn't is a gray area that is pretty much undefined...while all state parks parking lots have been closed, many of the parks still remain open. Non-essential driving is discouraged but gas stations remain open (with bargain prices!) and many chambers of commerce...and even some local police departments...encourage people to shop at what few businesses remain open.

In our house, while we've been walking around town and I've been handling the procurement of the necessities, my wife and son have really been on lockdown. Neither have even been inside our car or outside of a few blocks from our house for over 30 days and it's starting to wear on them. 

The cabin fever needs a dose of outside medicine to relieve the symptoms.

With that in mind, I remember that wineries are still considered essential in our state. The wine club I belong to up the hill in Plymouth has a box for me that they'd like me to pick up. I'll bring Letty and Tim along and we'll take the 'scenic' route home.

It's a quick stop at Amador 360 to get my wine while Letty and Tim wait in the car. A few squirts of sanitizer on my hands, then back in the car. Away we go...

6 miles later, we're taking in the air at the tiny hamlet of Fiddletown on our way up to a loop through the Sierras. Letty masks up and and buys a tin of English toffee from a shop here who is also giving away a cloth face mask with each purchase.

There's an auditorium here that houses a fiddle competition each fall. It'll probably be dark this year.

We wind our way up into the mountains, making a wrong turn at one point, then it's back downhill along the curvy Ram's Grade Road into the old Gold Rush town of Volcano where we stop just long enough to point the camera out the window to capture a little scenery. 

We've got plans to do a further story on this fun little town once the SIP order is lifted. There are several forks in the road here...turn right to go across the mountains to Sutter Creek, left to go to the mountain town of Pioneer...where we go straight to climb up to the town of Pine Grove along California's Highway 88.

There's a burger spot here that we really like, Giant 88 Burgers, which is attached to, and owned by, a large Italian restaurant nextdoor.

They were open and doing take out business out of a side window with a sanitizer machine.

We got three burgers, went across the street to an empty but open park, and had a delicious picnic.

One more thing to see before heading back down the hill to home...we'd heard some wildflowers were in bloom along the Mokelumne River not far from where we were. 

Electra road runs along the river on our county's (Amador County) side. We were not disappointed. Thousands of orange poppies interspersed with purple lupines covered the hillsides. It's not a well known area so there were very few other people and it was easy to keep far away from each other.

On the way back into the town of Jackson, an even more impressive sight of several hills covered with millions of the orange blossoms greeted us.

Just a quick pullover to take a few pictures and enjoy the view. Like the river, not many people were here. This hill was on the news last night but, thankfully, they refused to divulge the location to keep the hordes away. It worked and there were just a few people, widely spaced apart (that's since changed and now this place is too crowded on weekends...PG&E closed Electra road. The bloom will soon be done, though, and the crowds will disappear - Ed).

Spirits lifted and rejuvenated, we went back home to go into our shelter in place quarantine which will hopefully end soon.

Darryl Musick
Copyright 2020 - All Right Reserved

Sunday, April 26, 2020

THE COCKTAIL HOUR: Sierra Foothill Wine Sip Off

This week, we're pitting neighbors against each other...Story and Villa Toscano wineries.  Both are located in Plymouth, California, about 2 miles apart from each other in the Shenandoah Valley in the heart of Amador County.

Watch the Video!

Story weighs in with a 2006 Miss Zin.  This is a blend of 50% mission grapes and 50% zinfandel.  Villa Toscano brings it with their 2008 old vine zinfandel.  Both wineries dry farm their zin grapes.  That means no water other than what Mother Nature provides.  Some of these vines go back over 100 years.  The area is intensely hot and dry in the summer, baking these vines and providing small, intensely flavored fruit.  It takes a little extra work to extract it.

The resulting wine is a heavy, jammy, spicy, tasting inky wine.  Done right, it's a sublime experience and holds up well to food with big, bold flavors like the steaks at JD's in nearby Sutter Creek or the smoked jalapeƱo, bacon wrapped poppers at the Dancing Bear in the historic Plymouth Hotel.

Both wines retail in the $20 range but the wineries will be willing to cut a deal in person.  Story has several six packs that can effectively cut the price in half.  I got a case of the Villa Toscano for $99, bringing their price to about $8.25.

Which one is best?  Watch the video, above.  We declared them a tie but we'd drink the heavy, bold Villa Toscano while sitting in front of a roaring fire on a winter night while the Story wine goes better in an outdoor setting thanks to the lightening effect of the mission grapes in their wine.


Copyright 2010 - Darryl Musick
All Rights Reserved

Friday, April 24, 2020


(Please read our Covid 19 Statement first - Ed) In the midst of Tim’s junior year of college, we finally caught a break…spring break, that is.  This year, it coincided with Spring Training, something we’ve never done but always wanted to try.
Tim had just turned 21, so we told him we’d take him to the casinos of Nevada to celebrate.  After a couple of days there (Tim actually had some luck on the Roulette wheel), we headed across Hoover Dam and into Arizona.
Looking at the Cactus League schedule for that time, we saw that our team…the Angels…were to be playing the Texas Rangers at the Ranger’s facility, Surprise Stadium.  The stadium was on the way, so we stopped by and picked up tickets for the next day’s game.

It was an easy and quick transaction at the box office and had no problems at all securing a wheelchair seat plus two companion seats about 2/3 of the way from home plate to first base at the top of the field level seating bowl.
It’s a bit of a drive from Surprise to Phoenix.  Everything is a bit of a drive in Phoenix.
Our hotel would be the Phoenix Inn and Suites, a decent place with large rooms and roll-in showers.  Now, it’s called Hampton Inn Biltmore.
For dinner, we went to Coyote Grill on Bell Road in Scottsdale, a very good place…at least it was.  It’s now been replaced by a Scottish-themed Hooter’s knockoff.
The next day was spent lounging around the pool, waiting for game time.  Tim likes to get to games right when the gates open, so we left the hotel around 5:00 for the 7:30 game.  Good thing we did because the freeways stopped a ways before Surprise.  Traffic was a nightmare on those surface streets that were just not designed for the amount of cars the ever-expanding Phoenix area was dumping on them. 
We arrived about 6:30, put on our red Angels shirts and hats, found our seats and settled in for the game. 
It’s a relaxed atmosphere at a spring training game.  The managers of the teams actually sit on the field behind home plate instead of the dugout to better see how their players’ forms are. After all, these are training sessions for them.
While a number of big stars take the field at the beginning, they are rotated off after a couple of innings so that new players, rookies, and minor leaguers can take the field and be assessed.

Still, it’s a baseball game.  Beer, hot dogs, 7th inning stretch…that’s all still there.  The night we went the crowd set a new attendance record at the stadium…over 12,000 in attendance with the majority wearing red and rooting for the Angels.
The Angels we on to win and we left happy.  As for the prices, it can get a bit spendy. I was expecting minor league prices but in actuality, it’s somewhere between what you’d spend at a minor league game and a regular season game.
The next morning, we drove over to Tempe to see the Angels’ facility at Tempe Diablo Stadium.  There was no game but the team was working out.  Watching the workout was free and the access into the seating bowl presents no barriers to those in wheelchairs.  In this pre-2008 season workout, it was easy to get up close and personal with such players as Vladimir Guerrero, Garret Anderson, and Chone Figgins who have all gone on to other teams or retirement.
It’s a loose and friendly atmosphere and you can actually chat with the players and coaches.  Many will come to the sidelines to autograph balls or other mementos.  First base coach Alfredo Griffin took a bucket of balls and a Sharpie which he used to sign balls and toss to fans in the stands one at a time.

It was a fun way to welcome baseball back for the year and to get excited for another season of our favorite sport.  The Angels would go on to win their division but get knocked out by the Red Sox in the first round of playoffs.
For more information, see our Field of Dreams report on Surprise Stadium and visit for Arizona Spring Training information.
Copyright 2011 – Darryl Musick
All Rights Reserved

Monday, April 20, 2020

Scottsdale and Phoenix: The Season of the Wolf

(Please read our Covid 19 Statement first - Ed) The weather is perfect, clear and heading to a high of 68. Great day for a walk. A quick Internet search reveals that there's a nice, long, wheelchair accessible trail in Papago Park by the zoo.

Either via hard packed dirt or paved with asphault, you can tackle this approximately 3 mile trail that winds in a loop up to the base of those giant rocks in Papago Park. A ramada at the top of the trail...maybe a 500 foot elevation gain, if that...provides a shady rest stop complete with water fountain.

Watch the Video

As we pack up Tim's of the useful features of a power chair is that it's handy as a "pack mule"...with water and other necessities, Tim points out a nearby group of people with several dogs, one of which is much larger than the others.

"Is that a wolf," he asks.

No, I assure him, you wouldn't see anybody walking a wolf on a leash here. Probably a huskie or mamalmute.

Setting off, it's a leisurely pace as Letty works her magic on the camera and Tim and I wait for her to catch up now and again.

At the ramada, we relax and recharge our batteries.

It's easy to think we're out in the wilderness here but a glance to the west, with the skyscrapers of Phoenix on the horizon, reminds us we're still in town.

Going over the top of the loop, it's another quarter mile before the trail then goes through a golf course. We think the scenery is better the other way, so we double back to return the way we came.

As we're waiting at the top, Tim sees the group of people with the dogs coming up upon us.

"I wonder what kind of dog that is," he says.

"I'll ask...excuse me, what kind of dog is that?" I ask the biker-looking dude with the large dog.

"It's a wolf," he replies.

I guess I was mistaken...

Turns out this is Willow the wolf, who is a movie animal and is being walked by her trainer. He tells us that she is scheduled to be in a couple of movies and TV shows coming up such as a sequel to "Dances with Wolves" and a new "Teen Wolf" series.

It's a beautiful, mellow animal and is huge...almost Great Dane size.

We walk down with the group, the wolf, and the other dogs while Letty snaps away.

Afterward, we go to a nearby light rail station and try out Phoenix's first light rail system to go have drinks in downtown Phoenix (see it in our Cocktail Hour - Scottsdale Cocktails).

The one line is long, going all the way from Gilbert in the southeast to the northern part of Phoenix's downtown area.  It's smooth, easily wheelchair accessible, cheap, and comfortable. What we do notice lacking, however, is parking lots at the stations. There are very few.  It seems like it might get more riders if commuters had a place to park when using it.

Afternoon time is break time back at the hotel while we rest up, nap, and shower for dinner.

We have reservations at what is supposed to be one of the area's best Mexican restaurants in Old Town Scottsdale but when we show up, we find that they did not hold a wheelchair accessible table for us.

Walking out on that, we go a couple of blocks away to Dos Gringos, more of an outdoor bar than a restaurant, and get carded as we walk in.

It's a bowl game night...the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl is being contested nearby in Tempe...and the bouncer says everybody, no matter how old, is carded today.

Dos Gringos has a fun atmosphere, average drinks, and ok food that our server never quite got right. Still, it was fun and being at an outdoor party on our final night was fun.

In the morning, it's another stop at The Good Egg for breakfast, gassing up on cheap gas at Costco, then a six hour drive home.

Copyright 2014 - Darryl Musick
All Rights Reserved

Friday, April 17, 2020

Sultry Scottsdale

(Please read our Covid 19 Statement first - Ed) In a way, it's sad that the Valley of the Sun can't learn from the mistakes of the giant to the west. Every time we come here, vast tracts that used to be empty desert are now covered with houses and shopping centers. I'd love to say the area has stopped expanding but that's not happening anytime soon.

Still, it's nice to come to Scottsdale for a getaway now and then.

The first time we came here a quarter century ago, the spot we're at now was a saguaro covered desert with the occasional millionaire's mansion or ranch. A dirt road would have been the rule rather than the exception. Now, the 101 Loop Freeway features daily traffic jams leading to thousands of homes and dozens of shopping centers.

Watch the Video!

A ways beyond the north end of the Scottsdale airport runway is our hotel for this trip, Marriott's McDowell Mountains Resort, located on the TPC Champions Golf Course. The room is a 2-room suite with a roll-in shower, dual flat screen TVs, a fridge, wet bar, and one robe...Letty will get to use that.

Outside is a pool and spa, both with lifts, and the previously mentioned golf course. It's pretty much all wheelchair accessible but, unless you use the valet, the parking is a bit of a walk. A restaurant, bar, and mini-store complete the lobby. There are complementary PCs and free wifi in the lobby but you'll pay $12.95 a day in your room to use it...we got around this by using my iPhone as a hot spot.

After unpacking, we retreat to the large balcony by a fireplace and enjoy a drink overlooking the golf course and pools before retiring to our room for the night.

The Good Egg is a local chain of restaurants in the Phoenix area. I think you can guess what their specialty is.

We had a delicious breakfast, saw a beautiful Rolls Royce parked outside the window by our table, and found out from the owner that this was the second car built at the factory in 1961.

"I can't even get the Rolls Royce dealer here in town to maintain it," he lamented.

Seems like he might be good with a wrench, though.

A few miles away, though still in the same town, we take a stroll through Old Scottsdale...the center of town and maintained like it was when the city was more of a village.

A volunteer asks if he can show me where I might find something but I know where we're headed, so instead he shows us his perfectly restored 1951 Dodge truck. It is a beauty.

Carrying on, we come to the destination...very popular here in the extreme summer temperatures...the Sugar Bowl.

Scottsdale's classic ice cream parlor, painted up in pink and white, makes a great place to cool off with an icy dessert.

You can also peruse the custom "Family Circle" cartoons that loyal customer Bil Keane drew for them. This was where he'd take his family for a treat.

After some cookies 'n cream covered with caramel, we hit the road to rest and relax at the hotel until dinnertime.

The temperature, at around 70 degrees, tempts us to go into the pool and try those lifts, but we decide to wait a day for that. Tonight, instead, we're heading north thirty minutes past Carefree to Cave Creek where the residents truly seem to live a care free life.

We want to have a cowboy steak. It's an increasingly rare thing to find. You can pay an arm and a leg to go to Rawhide, a western themed amusement park which does make a darn good steak; go to Pinnacle Peak, which we have back home; or find someplace else. We look hard and some places that are called "cowboy steakhouses" must figure burgers are steaks because that's the only thing they sell.

Cave Creek, still a dusty cowboy town (a recent tied election was settled with a flip of a coin), fits the bill tonight. We're going to Harold's Corral, a very large dining room with the steaks we came for.

While Letty goes for the prime rib special, I have the ribeye with a selection of beer tasters. It is very good, very savory, and satisfies our need for this special "out west" style of dinner for us.

Tummies sated, it's time to hit the hay and we'll continue this tomorrow as we head out for a hike.

Copyright 2014 - Darryl Musick
All Rights Reserved

Monday, April 13, 2020

Valhalla in Miami?'s Vizcaya

(Please read our Covid 19 Statement first - Ed) We're burning towards the end of this very long adventure. Before we continue, we're taking a little break to have a meal with our friends, David Paul Appel and Jose Balido of the great travel site, (really, check it's chock full of great information).

As we enjoy their company over fantastic $5 burgers and margaritas at Tarpon Bend Bar and Grill in Coral Gables, we commiserate over our travels, writing, and what's coming next. As we tell them we've basically ran out of things to do, with one day left, I believe it was Jose who said "have you seen Vizcaya?"

Why, no...I've never even heard of it.

Watch the Video!

As the partners tell us about this house, formerly owned by Jim Deering, the founder of International Harvester, we grow more intrigued. We now have something to do on this last day.

Vizcaya is easy to get to without a car, it sits right off the Metrorail at the Vizcaya Station, just south of downtown Miami. It's only a couple of blocks from our hotel to our local station, and then just one stop on the train.

From here, we cross the Dixie Highway on the pedestrian overpass and what an overpass it is.

It's nicely ramped for wheelchairs.  'Nicely' is an understatement...this is the most spectacular pedestrian overpass and ramp I've ever seen.

Winding it's way slowly down to ground level, from the highway it transverses the treetops like floating down through a jungle canopy to the street below.

It's still a couple of blocks to the entrance of the grounds on Miami Avenue.

There is a driveway for vehicles and another paved path for pedestrians. The pedestrian path winds through a jungle of trees. It's bumpy and, at every bend you think you've finished, it continues on. It's gorgeous, enclosing, very engrossing, and also very bumpy.

We exited later via the vehicle road, which was a bit more boring but easier on the wheelchair.

After buying tickets, a security guard tells us there is a wheelchair lift off to the side. It's one of those lifts that go up the stairs. Another tells us with the heat, he'd recommend that we explore the gardens and the outside of the house first while the day is still relatively the house for the end when it gets hot outside.

Seems like good advice with all the hot weather we've been enduring for the last couple of weeks.

Turning south, we come around a corner of a wall and the landscape opens up into a large, oval shaped manicured garden with fountains around the edges. The old, Mediterranean style mansion sits at one end and a waterfall between two grottoes is at the other.

It reminds us of some of the European castle gardens we've seen in Germany.

We have to navigate around groups dressed in their wedding or Quinceanera finest, who are here and there with their photographers taking pictures.

Behind the waterfall, there used to be a couple of large lagoons but the property has shrunk over the years to its current 43 acres.

While Letty is snapping away with her camera, Tim and I explore the perimeter of these gardens but soon come to a dead end...stairs...and we have to navigate back the way we came.

Temporary wooden ramps have been build on the main staircase between the garden and the house. I get Tim up to that level, where he can roll over to the ocean side of the house.

Deering really went all out here. A Venetian-style canal sits here with a large, concrete barge just offshore.

Guests were ferried on gondolas from a landing at the house, across the little canal, and onto the barge where parties were held.

Iguanas stand guard along the edge of the wall.

It's an amazing sight and we can just imagine the gilt age shenanigans that went on here.

On the north side of the house, the gardens are closed off because of damage from Hurricane Maria in 2017. 

We can still see the swimming pool that flows out from a room in the house. Not quite Hearstian splendor here but pretty impressive anyway.

A small orchid garden is here.

Tim and I explore it while Letty checks out the nearby gift shop.

Now, we head back over to that stair lift and go inside the house.

Upstairs is not accessible but downstairs, we're able to see a small kitchen, a dining room, and a living area.

A music room leads us into a large, central atrium.

Thankfully, it's now air conditioned so Tim and I wait here while Letty goes upstairs to take pictures.

She's able to see Mr. Deering's bedroom...

...and the main kitchen of the house.

It's quite a sight to see. The house is imposing, beautiful, and a reminder of Miami's past. 

Catching our breath a little after exploring, we make the short ride back to the train station. With that last blast, it's time to pack our bags because tomorrow, we're flying back home.

Thanks to David and Jose for recommending Vizcaya to us and than you all for coming along vicariously on this trip.

Time for a little rest up before the next one.

CORRECTION: In the embeded video above, the builder of the mansion is referred to as John Deering. It is James Deering.

Darryl Musick
Copyright 2018 - All Rights Reserved

Photos by Letty Musick
 Copyright 2018 - All Rights Reserved