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.
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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
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