Wednesday, June 30, 2021

Top Wheelchair Hiking Trails - Northern California

Back when we were based in the Los Angeles area, we came up with a list of Southern California's Top Wheelchair hiking trails. Now that we live in the northern half of the state, we figure it's time to start another list up here. We're also lucky that Tim is finally starting to show an interest in the world outdoors so we're able to attack it a little better now than we were back in L.A. 

This will be an ongoing list, with additions as we find and experience them. Here is our list of the best wheelchair accessible hiking trails in Northern California.

CALAVERAS BIG TREES, Arnold - A not quite two mile long trail runs through the North Grove in this state park giving you an up close and personal look at the largest living things on earth, the Giant Sequoia trees of California. Paved in parts, boardwalked in others, but mostly hard packed dirt, this mostly level trail can have some minor bumps along the way but almost any chair user can handle it.

COAST TRAIL, Half Moon Bay - This 11 mile, mostly paved and all-accessible trail runs from Half Moon Bay Golf Links at the south end of the bay to Maverick's Beach at the north. Along the way, you'll travel on top of cliffs, roll through nature preserves, get in some bird watching, get close to the water, and...if you're lucky...see surfers tackle some of the biggest and most dangerous waves in the world.

CONSUMNES RIVER PRESERVE, Galt - A one and a half mile accessible trail leads to wetlands, ponds, forests, and river habitat.

In the fall, thousands of sandhill cranes migrate to the ponds here. The trails are either paved, hard packed, or boardwalk and are very easy on wheelchairs.

DONNER CAMP HISTORICAL TRAIL, Truckee - Most people have heard of the Donner Party tragedy that took place in the brutal winter of 1846-47 and a lot of people have visited the Donner Memorial near Donner Lake next to Interstate 80. There was also another camp, where the Donner's split off from the rest of the party, 6 miles away at Alder Creek, just north of Truckee.

A 1/3 mile loop trail with interpretive markers map out the area the the Donner family made camp at, including a dead tree trunk marking where they made shelter. It is here that George Donner and his wife, Tamsen, met their ends, along with several others.

The trail can get narrow and a little rough at times but most wheelchairs can get through the hard packed dirt and occasional boardwalk. Tim is navigating the roughest and narrowest part of the trail, above.

FRAZIER FALLS TRAIL, Plumas National Forest - A true, high-altitude mountain trail to a large, Alpine waterfall is usually off-limits to wheelers but someone found a way to pave a trail that climbs over a rocky, boulder strewn ridge to get to two very nice viewing platforms for this fall.

Frazier Falls drops 176 feet down a glacier carved cliff 6,000 feet up into the Sierras. Just getting to the parking lot is an adventure. You'll need your own car to drive off of highway 89 near Graeagle to head west on Gold Lake Highway for a couple of miles, and then pay close attention to find Frazier Creek Road. It's another five miles on basically a single lane, potholed road where you will finally find a small parking lot with half a dozen spaces, one handicapped, and two accessible pit toilets. 

This is the trailhead. It's a quarter mile to a wooden bridge crossing Frazier Creek...the source of the falls...and another quarter over the ridge to the platform across the canyon to see the falls for a mile round trip.

The trail is smooth and paved the entire way and fairly level. There are a couple of small uphill sections that might challenge solo manual chair users but if you have someone to help push or are confident of your upper body strength, you should be fine. Power chairs will have no problems, just make sure your battery is charged.

SUNDIAL BRIDGE, Redding - A stunning landmark which is an actual and giant sundial, crosses the Sacramento River here in Redding and connects to the 12 mile accessible Sacramento River Trail on the other side. There's also a zoo and botanical garden here on either side of the bridge (bridge and trails are free, entrance fees apply to the zoo and garden).

SUTTER AMADOR HOSPITAL WALKING TRAIL, Jackson - Not advertised (you won't find it on the Sutter hospital or Sutter Health websites) but there is a very nice little one mile, hard packed dirt loop next to the hospital that starts in a small meadow next to the outpatient parking lot where a sign denotes the start of the trail.

It loops down to the banks of Jackson Creek then up into the rolling hills behind the hospital. Free parking is available at the outpatient parking lot.

TRUCKEE RIVER BIKE TRAIL, Tahoe City - Starting at the outflow of the Truckee River as it drains Lake Tahoe, this trail goes for seven and half miles along the banks of the river. Traffic can get a bit heavy with bikes so keep you wits about you as you enjoy the river scenery filled with rafters heading down the gentle rapids.

YOSEMITE VALLEY, Yosemite National Park - Not a single trail but a series made of of miles of accessible trails crisscross the Yosemite Valley taking you over the Merced River and affording million-dollar views of the sheer cliffs of the valley mountains and stunning waterfalls, including the tallest waterfall in the nation, Yosemite Falls (pictured behind Tim, above).

Darryl Musick
Copyrigh 2021 - All Rights Reserved

Monday, June 28, 2021

The Lost Sierra - Spending Time in California's Plumas County

I've been on this earth 60 years now, all of them a Californian, and most of them exploring this state from top to bottom. Even with that, there are still parts of this huge state that I haven't been to yet. This weekend, we're going to rectify that a bit by going to Plumas County, the 8th smallest county by population and 37th smallest by size.

It's a three and a half hour drive for us, not including a stop at Duke's Diner in Olivehurst along the way for lunch. There's a long climb once you turn off after Oroville through a series of dams and small lakes along the Feather River. These are power generating dams owned by PG&E (Northern California's main utility) and this canyon is know as the Stairway of Power.

At the top of the stairway, we pull into Quincy. It's the county seat of Plumas County but, as there are no incorporated cities here, it's just a large-ish town...population 5,500.

The innkeeper sent me detailed instructions before we left...text her when we know approximately when we'll get there. Text her when we do get there. Don't go to address listed, a detailed map to your unit around the alley in the back are included. The office is under construction, just go straight to your unit...the keys will be on the table.

Ada's Place is not an AirBnB, it's a well hidden motel in downtown Quincy just a block away from the courthouse.

We get lucky and find it on the first try. Although we're told to text or email everything (non-contact, due to Covid), the innkeeper meets us anyway. This four room inn is unlike most we've seen.

There are three cottages (one is a duplex, so four rooms), plus the owner's quarters. A square driveway goes around the place. It is very lushly landscaped. A sign on the wall of a weathered, wood building..."Hopsings"...lets us know we've found it (Hopsing's is the name of the room, Ada's Place is the name of the Motel).

Our unit is the accessible one. It has a separate bedroom, big bathroom with a stone floor and roll-in shower. Living room with a dining table, sofabed, coffee table and chairs. 

There is an upstairs loft with a double futon on the floor and a half bath with just a toilet and sink. That's enough to squeeze six people in, more than enough room for the three of us.

There are floor-to-ceiling windows allowing for a view of the private sunken garden outside. We would watch blue jays frolic in the trees and bushes there each morning. 

An accessible path from the parking spot to the front door is marred by about three feet of gravel. If you have a manual chair, I'd ask the innkeepers to put a piece of plywood over it for easier maneuvering. 

The unit has a full kitchen, 32" TV in the living room and a smaller one in the loft, stereo system, electric pot belly stove for atmospheric heat, a window air conditioner upstairs, heater downstairs, and...that holy grail for any hotel room...a washer and dryer.

It's not cheap at $180 per night but it's a very nice oasis just a block from the bustle of Main Street with it's restaurants, bars, and theaters.

Lodgings secured, after an evening it's time to explore. About 30 miles away, in the Plumas National Forest, we go looking for a trail to hike. My wife, Letty, had read about and easy-to-access waterfall here so we head that way.

We're starting to wonder if we took a wrong turn as we head up this bumpy, one lane road that is miles past the middle of nowhere.

Four or five miles later, we find the parking lot for Frazier Falls Trail. There is one handicapped parking spot next to two accessible pit toilets. There is no running water here so bring your own and some sanitizer.

The trail is nicely paved and smooth all the way. The Forest Service rates it "difficult" for wheelchairs. Power chairs will have no problems at all. Strong manual users or those with help pushing a few, short uphill sections should be OK, too.

We go past big boulders blooming with wildflowers.

A quarter mile in, we reach the Frazier Creek.

A wooden bridge allows wheelchairs to reach the other side.

The trail winds up going over a small, rocky ridge. It's not hard but going over really feels like you've reached a mountain top.

At the end of another quarter mile, you reach a viewing platform. 

Another, better platform is just a few feet beyond this one. This is the end of the trail.

Across the canyon, you get very good, accessible views of the falls, dropping 176 feet from this 6,000 foot elevation.

Half a mile in, then half a mile back to the parking lot for a total of a mile of very nice, wheelchair accessible hiking high in the Sierras.

Back down the road, we were going to do another hike at a nearby lake but the trail was under construction and not available. We returned to the nearby town of Graeagle to have some soft serve ice cream before heading back to Quincy.

It's a relaxing evening in our very nice rooms where we'll rest up for our next outing.

Darryl Musick
Copyright 2021 - All Rights Reserved

Sunday, June 27, 2021

THE COCKTAIL HOUR: The Breweries of the Gold Line

Up here in the foothills of the San Gabriel Valley, our lifeline to the rest of the Los Angeles area has become the Gold Line light rail line. 

Since it is Sunday and time for the Cocktail Hour, we'll go back to the more liquid highlights of the line. We like to use it for that because it involves no driving on our part...we can just go out and have a good time without the worry of getting behind the wheel.

This time, we've come up with the complete list of breweries along the line within walking distance of the stations. We've got a mega brewery, a bunch of craft breweries, a couple of 'micro' breweries that are actually huge companies, and a tasting room or two.

We'll start off at the eastern end of the line in Azusa and work our way towards the other end in Downtown Los Angeles.

AZUSA DOWNTOWN - Our first brewery is a true micro craft brewery - Congregation Ale House. Travis Ensler's small chain of Catholic-themed restaurants brews a pretty extensive line of their own beers at the location just a couple of blocks south of the station on Azusa Avenue. The line up changes a bit from time to time but my wife will always go with whatever sour ale they're pouring and I like their saisons.

IRWINDALE - Although the giant Miller brewery (owned by Canadian company Molson) (it's now Pabst) sits adjacent to the station, it is not open to the public nor does is offer tours. A mile and a half hike (or a short Uber ride) will get you to nearby Lagunitas Brewery...California's largest microbrewer...up on Todd Avenue, a couple of blocks away from the Costco that you can see across the freeway from the station. We have not been there, yet. Currently, the tap room at Lagunitas is closed but a new one is scheduled to open this spring.

MONROVIA - Pacific Plate, about two blocks south of the station on Myrtle Avenue, does brew some very interesting and good beer. We particularly like the agave wheat and the horchata stout. We do not like the tasting room experience, however. It is very cramped and, with the brewing equipment close at hand, gets very hot and sweaty. They have opened a more comfortable location in Glendale but that one is not Gold Line adjacent.

Closer to the station, Hop Secret brewery operates out of a storefront about a 100 yards from the Gold Line platform but has not been open when we've been by.

ARCADIA - Mt. Lowe Brewing Company is just about our favorite. Located a block east of the station, it's a bit hard to find the first time as it sits pretty non-descript among the industrial buildings and warehouses along St. Joseph Street (look for the 150 address). Inside is a large room, filled with tables and booths like a nice restaurant. They serve no food, however, but there's usually a food truck parked just outside the door for your convenience. We are partial to the tacos and mulitas served by Sandoval's Tacos on Tuesday nights and the Firefresh Pizza Truck on the third Friday of every month.

You are also free to bring your own food with you and, with an In 'n Out just around the corner, that is an option we take advantage of frequently.

As for beers, my favorite is their rarely served saison but, on a daily basis, I'll go with their Rubio red. My wife likes their hefeweizen and tears of 1,000 apricots sour ale. Tim goes with their blonde.

An honorable mention should also go to Vendome Liquor store, adjacent to the station, where they also have a nice wine and beer bar.

DEL MAR (Pasadena) - Escondido's Stone Brewing has a tasting room right on the southbound platform at this station, across the patio from the Luggage Room pizza. Don't really care for the beers here but you might.

We should also mention that there's another location of the Congregation Ale House across the street from the station exit on Del Mar Avenue.

CHINATOWN - You'd think Highland Park Brewery's tasting room would have been back at the Highland Park station but it's just opened up here near the Chinatown station. It's brand new so we haven't been there yet. Maybe next time.

LITTLE TOKYO/ARTS DISTRICT - The last station with close-by breweries (as least as much as we know) is right where the line turns back east to go to Boyle Heights and East L.A. Here, there are four breweries close by.

Boomtown Brewery is my favorite of the four so far. It's also the only one on the north end of the station. It's a long, two-block walk...east on Temple, then a bit west on Vignes...but the big room has a lot of space to stretch out, play games, and find a spot for your mates to gather and converse. There's games to play and even a small patio outside.  The Belgian style saisons, strong blondes, and white beers are my favorites here.

Angel City (owned by Boston Brewery - Sam Adams) makes some strong tasting, bitter IPA's. Not really my thing but they do offer others that are either a little lighter in taste or smoother going down but, overall, the beers here are a little to strong and unbalanced for me. The space, however, is spectacular. A former factory that made steel cables (some ended up on the Brooklyn Bridge) it's wide open with lots of room to roam. There's an old spiral slide in the middle of the space that was used to shoot spools of cable to the loading would appreciate it if you didn't take it as a challenge.

It's just a block south of the station on Alameda.

Arts District Brewery is a block east of Angel City. We haven't been into the brewery, where you can play Skee Ball, yet but have had their nitro beers at Fritzi next door, a restaurant that specializes in rotisserie chicken. It's very good.

Mumford Brewery is on the other side of Alameda, firmly within the boundaries of Skid Row.  We haven't been and it's not a comfortable walk to get over there, either.

There you go, a dozen or so places to get a great tasting brew along one of L.A.'s great public transportation routes. Who knows? Maybe we'll run across each other on our next tasting adventure.

Darryl Musick
Copyright 2018
All Rights Reserved

Friday, June 25, 2021

California's Northern Coast: Victoriana By the Sea

Now that our adventures in narrowly escaping being a crime victim, seeing nature's ancient giants, and our ongoing access follies are behind us, let's go see what else we can find in this area.

After checking into our hotel, we are ready for a fun break. In the little town of Blue Lake, there are not a lot of options outside of the Indian casino. Just a couple of blocks from the hotel, however, is the Mad River Brewery and Grill.

The food doesn't look gourmet but it's really about the only game in town when we don't feel like driving back down to Eureka or Arcata.

There's a very nifty little beer garden outside. If you know us, you know how much we wish the U.S.A. would have friendly, little neighborhood beer gardens like the biergartens in Munich. Not quite on par with that but it'll do nicely tonight.

It's also happy hour, so a couple of $3 beers and and order of food put into the kitchen and then we retire to the patio with our pager to let us know when food will be ready.

Mad River Brewery is dog friendly. They love the pooches here and many friendly dogs are here. One does a little dance on his front legs everytime someone walks by. Here, he makes faces at Tim.

A band, Wild Abandon, strikes up and plays some music to keep us all entertained and relaxed.

Our food comes out. No, it's not gourmet. It's you typical pub fare but it does hit the spot.

We're feeling very good and sleep very well that night in our room.

In the morning, we head south to the city of Ferndale, about 40 minutes away from our hotel.

Ferndale is a dairy farming community that is also a draw for artistic types and, of course, tourists like us. The current city dates back to its founding in 1852 and many of the buildings along Main Street date back almost that far.

They are also extremely well preserved.

The overwhelming style is Victorian and it just makes a perfect place to pull over and take a stroll, which is exactly what we do. We go south on Main, along the west side of the street, where we'll turn around at the end and come back on the other side.

A storefront hides a modern blacksmith shop inside. A candy and gift shop with an indifferent owner comes up next. An old grocery store serves the residents and the western most bar in the United States caps off this end of the street.

An old butcher shop starts us off on the other side. An old gas station with modern above ground storage sits on the corner (I'm imagining the old underground tank ran aground of this state's stringent environmental rules at some point). A couple of art galleries lead us to a tiny antique mall where the visitor's center sits next to some public restrooms.

We finish off this stroll at an ice cream stand at the other end. The owner, Gary, is also a transplant from the city (San Francisco and Marin County for him, L.A. for us) and we compare notes. He is also the artist at the gallery next door so we go and check out some nice paintings and pet his guard dog.

Gary tells us before we leave, we need to drive to the other end of Main Street, go three miles, and check out the beach. We do.

It's a wonderfully uncrowded stretch of northern California coast where we watch beachgoers get a bonfire started for the coming evening.

We relax for a bit to catch the sunset before driving back to the hotel. One more night and then we'll be heading back home.

Darryl Musick
Copyright 2019 - All Rights Reserved