Monday, August 30, 2021

Milwaukee - The City That Beer Made Famous

It’s the city beer made famous, breweries and bars dot the landscape. Our latest escapades return us to the shores of Lake Michigan and Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

After flying all day on Southwest and picking up a Ford Escape from Thrifty Rent-a-car at the airport, we eventually find our hotel, The Ambassador Hotel - Milwaukee, on Wisconsin Avenue adjacent to Marquette University.

Watch the Video!

The third floor room features a king size bed, a queen size sofabed, flat screen TV, wifi and wired free internet, basic wet bar, robes, ironing board and iron, accessible restroom featuring a barred bathtub with seat or roll in shower.

Letty says it’s the most comfortable hotel bed she’s ever seen.

Upon check-in, we’re offered a deal…$7.95 for breakfast vouchers. Seeing their site beforehand, and knowing that breakfast here went for twice as much, we snapped some up. We’re glad we did because breakfast is in their beautiful restaurant with entrees such as spinach omelets, pancakes, bacon and eggs, and delicious waffles covered with fruit served to your table by actual waiters. No warmed up breakfast bar entrees here.

Our main reason for being here is to notch another point for our seemingly never-ending quest to see every Major League Baseball stadium. We have tickets for tomorrow’s game but today is for exploring the city. First up…as all our friends who have experience here have been telling us…we have to go to the Third Ward.

This is an old area, burned down in a big fire long ago and rebuilt into an Italian neighborhood, that is being gentrified. While some buildings are still waiting for their time in the redevelopment spotlight, most of the area has been spiffed up and is home to nice little boutiques, restaurants, bars, and anchored by the Milwaukee Public Market.

It’s also the south end of the Milwaukee Riverwalk, a three mile long accessible walk along the Milwaukee River that takes you through the highlights of downtown.

We start filming (see the video above) and soon run into another crew doing the same thing on the river side of the Milwaukee Ale House. It’s a great walk that we’ll take full advantage of later. Tonight, we’ll have dinner at Benelux, a restaurant and bar dedicated to all the good food and drink of the European lowlands.

And what food it is…Tim and I have their very good burger served with Belgian frittes and a beer palette (four beers served on a wooden palette) made up of Belgian strong ales. Letty has the Friday fish fry with Ichtagem’s sour red Flemish ale.  That’s after a very tasty starter of tater tots filled with brie and accompanied by a Sriracha garlic mayo dipping sauce. It is very good and we vow to come back again before we leave and dig a little deeper into the menu.

An aimless trip south of town takes us to St. Francis, home of a big monastery, a bunch of bars, and a nice beach. It’s a nice place to stretch our legs a little, take some pictures, and just relax before heading back into town.

All in all, it’s a fun but short overview of the town we’ll be spending the next four days in. Stay tuned for more fun, drinking, eating, baseball, and cheeseheads here in what will turn out to be one of the best destinations we’ve been to.


Copyright 2012 - Darryl Musick
All Rights Reserved
Photos by Letty Musick
Copyright 2012 - Letty Musick
All Rights Reserved

Sunday, August 29, 2021

The Cocktail Hour: Seal Beach, California, Mini Pub Crawl

It was hot yesterday, last weekend was the first weekend of summer and this weekend was the first one with excessive heat.

112 degrees.

Watch the Video!

Time to find something cool.

Fortunately, a cool beach is waiting half and hour away. We loaded up the van and went to the closest one...Seal Beach, just over the Orange County line from Long Beach.

This is one of the smallest beach towns in Southern California but it's Main Street and pier pack a pretty good wallop as far as beach fun, shops, restaurants, and bars are concerned.

In addition to enjoying the cool, ocean air, we went to one of our favorite pubs, O'Malley's on Main, and also tried a new one, The Abbey, just up the street.

Come along on the video as we do out little mini pub crawl in one of the area's less heralded beaches.



Friday, August 27, 2021


California has 100 American Viticultural Areas (AVA).  An AVA is a distinct wine grape growing region with boundaries set by the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (ATF).  Some you’ve heard of…Napa Valley, Paso Robles, Sonoma Valley, Mendocino, Russian River…others may have escaped notice such as North Yuba, Seiad Valley, or Covelo.
Once, the MAJOR wine producing area of the state was 40 miles east of Los Angeles in the Cucamonga Valley, better known today as the Inland Empire.  With commercial vineyards dating back to 1838, it is among the oldest wine grape growing areas in the state.  At over 20,000 acres at the start of Prohibition, it was also the largest.  At that time, it had more vineyard acreage than Sonoma and Napa Counties combined.

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With the booming expansion of the Los Angeles metro area, development pressures hit this area hard.  Skyrocketing land prices found many vineyards being sold, plowed under, and becoming housing tracts, shopping centers, highways, factories, and warehouses.  Little is left of the wide-open countryside I enjoyed as a youth.
Still, the old, historic vines have not completely disappeared but they still face enormous pressure.  Now, two larger producers and a couple of very small boutique wine makers are all that are left.  Sitting beneath the snow-covered peak of Mt. Baldy, this is California’s most endangered wine producing region.
It’s a Saturday with rain off and on, mostly on.  We start our day at the Original Pancake House in Orange County’s Yorba Linda.  After a filling breakfast of 49’r Flapjacks, we head over one of the last rural roads in the area, Carbon Canyon Road, which connects the area to the Inland Empire community of Chino Hills.  From there, we make our way over to our first stop, Galleano Winery in Mira Loma.
My grandmother lived a few blocks away when I was a kid.  We’d ride our motorcycles and horses for miles over the wide-open countryside here.  Now, it’s covered with houses, factories, and warehouses but at the junction of the 15 and 60 freeways, if you look to the east , there’s several acres of grapes being grown in the sandy soil.  On the street, you’ll be surrounded by warehouses.  If you turn at just the right stop sign (at Wineville and Merrill), you’ll enter a time machine and be on a small country lane with barns, farmhouses, animals, and the winery itself. 
This is exactly the way I remember Mira Loma from when I was a child.  It’s also so out of place these days as to be called “historic.”  The area is known for growing big, bold red grapes.  Zinfandel, Grenache, Mission, and Mourvèdre…all good grapes that stand up to the valley’s intensely hot summers.
At the back of the former truck mechanic’s garage is a small house that now serves as the tasting room.  Five tastes are $5 per person, price will be applied to any purchase.  While white wines are available (Galleano sources these grapes from other areas or contracts with other wineries to produce them), the reds are the star of the show here.  Cucamonga Peak Red, Legendary Pioneers Zinfandel, Old Vine Zin, Port, and Sherry are made very well here.
The valley terroir has a strong taste that infuses the wines made here.  Galleano is very good…and also very reasonable in price.  Wines here start at around $5 a bottle…good wine, too.  Many of the wines are also available in 4L jugs which make the price even lower and are great for parties.  We particularly like the haute sauterne, port, and Chianti in the jugs.

Be sure to grab a flyer from Centro Basco, a local Basque restaurant, which includes a coupon for two free glasses of Galleano wine with your dinner.
If you bring a picnic, this is a great place to grab a bottle.  Borrow a couple of glasses from the tasting staff, go outside to their little park, and have a nice relaxing lunch.  Nearby is a small zoo with farm animals such as geese and donkeys.  Hundreds of guinea pigs roam in their enclosure and a few peacocks preen.
I could spend an entire, relaxing day here but we’ve got another stop to make.

A few miles to the north, in the town of Rancho Cucamonga, is the other large wine maker here.  Joseph Fillippi has a winery and tasting room set up on Baseline Road, just east of Day Creek Boulevard off of the 210 freeway and a few blocks north of Route 66.  While there is a very small vineyard here, you can see the houses built right up to the winery’s walls…an eerie reminder that this place may not have too much of a future left.
More businesslike and industrial than Galleano, Filippi’s tasting room is a large retail establishment.  Tasting is not free here…$5 gets you five poker chips.  You trade a chip for a taste of wine.  With over 20 wines available for tasting, those five chips won’t get you very far.  If there are a few of you, share tastes with each other so you can try a larger variety of wines.
We taste several wines starting with the chardonnay and the Alicante rose and ending up with their cab/franc, zinfandels, and a variety of ports.  It’s all good but not quite as good as the wine we had earlier in Mira Loma.  That, and the fact that we just spent our money on tasting, meant that we bought the day’s wines at Galleano…not Filippi.
When will wineries stop being greedy with the tastes?  I always end up buying more where I can at least deduct my tasting fee from my purchase…this is not the case at Fillipi.
Still, they have decent wine and bottles starting at $3.95, which makes them quite a bargain compared to wineries up north and to the south in Temecula.
There is also a small appetizer bar here.  You can buy a bottle to take outside and share an app.  Not a bad way to spend the day.
I would be remiss if I didn’t tell you about the area’s other major tasting room, San Antonio Winery off of the 60 freeway in Ontario.  It’s also a nice place with complimentary tasting and they too have a small zoo.  A branch of the main winery in Los Angeles, this winery does not grow or produce wines here in the valley…it is strictly a tasting room.
At the end of the day, we drive back over the Chino Hills to Anaheim and have a nice dinner at the Phoenix Club, a private German club which has a restaurant and pub that is open to the public.  Here we finish the adventure, dining on schnitzel, sausages, and pretzels and wondering how much longer that handful of wine makers over the hill can last.
Copyright 2011 – Darryl Musick
All Rights Reserved

Wednesday, August 25, 2021

DINNER TIME! Cream of Asparagus and Ham Soup

We've moved and we're no longer suburban. We'll now be known as The Cheapskate Rural Dweller since we live at least a half hour from anything that could be deemed a city or suburb.

Time to ease back into the blogging grind and we'll do it with a recipe.

It's been cold up here in Northern California and it's great soup weather. Here's one I came up with this week.

1/2 bunch of asparagus
1 cup spinach
1 cup shredded carrots
1/2 medium onion
1 medium pasilla chile
1/2 pound cubed ham
1/4 cup sherry
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup parmesan cheese
1/4 cup shredded cheddar cheese
2 tablespoons Kosher salt
2 tablespoons minced garlic
1/2 teaspoon tarragon
1/2 teaspoon marjoram
1/2 teaspoon black pepper

Start by putting a stock pot half full of water and 2 tablespoons of salt on the stove and bring to a boil. Cut the crown spears off of the asparagus.

Put in a strainer and hang in boiling water. Cut the rest of the asparagus into 2 inch lengths.

Slice the chile into strips, remove the seeds, and then cut into 1 inch squares.

After the asparagus crowns have boiled for 5 or 6 minutes, remove and set aside. Put the chile chunks , asparagus stalks, carrots, and spinach into the boiling water. Boil for 8 minutes and strain out all but one cup of water.

Put the boiled vegetables, the onion, and the one cup of reserved water into a blender and puree for 5 seconds.

Pour the mixture into a saucepan, add the sherry, garlic, parmesan cheese, and simmer for one hour. Stir every 5 to 10 minutes.

10 minutes before the simmer period is over, add the ham and asparagus spears.

5 minutes after turning off the heat, stir in the cream.

Serve and sprinkle the cheddar over the top.

Darryl Musick
Copyright 2019 - All Rights Reserved

Monday, August 23, 2021

Rolling on the River: Exploring the Sacramento River Delta

The farmland rolls away as far as the eye can see. Lazy, seemingly pristine waterways snake through the region, hemmed in by levees to protect the valuable crops below. Grapes ferment in barns while visitors sip tastes in local tasting rooms.

This bucolic area between California's capitol and the coastal mountains blocking the bay area belies it's importance to this very heavily populated is the main water valve for fresh water for the entire state.

It's also very environmentally sensitive. Take too much water from the rivers that drain into it and you get salt water from the ocean seeping in, affecting crops, migrating fish and birds, and poisoning the soil. This is magnified during drought years and deferred maintenance on the levees, canals, and pumps can also wreak havoc.

Today, we'll leave the controversy behind to spend time we've never had to finally explore this region a little deeper.

Our first stop will be to get sustenance for the day. There are a number of old little towns, below the adjacent waterways and protected by levees in the region. Isleton was founded in 1874 with wharf as a steamboat stop between San Francisco and Sacramento.

It was (and is) a heavily agricultural region and, soon, canneries opened up with a 90% Asian workforce. Divided into mostly Chinese and Japanese neighborhoods, you can still see that influence today in the small downtown that looks like a preserved Gold Rush era Chinatown.

Many of the Asian-American families here have roots in the town going back over a century.

Peter Low and his wife, Yee, don't go back that far. It hasn't been quite 40 years since he immigrated from Canton, China and became a dishwasher at the town's Hotel Del Rio. He developed quite a knack for making prime rib and eventually opened his own place two doors down, Peter's Steakhouse.

That's where we're having lunch today.

We enter through the accessible back door by the bar, steps away from the top of the levee. The first floor dining room opens up beyond that and we select a nice table near the front. In summer months, there is an outdoor deck to dine on with great views of the river and the delta beyond. The restaurant has installed an elevator so that guests with mobility issues can access the upper floor, too.

Letty gets a prime rib sandwich while Tim and I each get a prime rib dip. Ours came with fries while my wife went with the clam chowder option. It's all very good but Letty says the chowder is just "ok."

Back in the van, we head over to nearby highway 12 and make a stop at the Delta Farmer's Market. This year-round produce stand benefits the Discover the Delta Foundation.

On this winter day, there's not a lot of fruit...some citrus and grapes, mostly...but there is a lot of veggies and baked goods. We pick up some oranges, mandarins, and snacks for later.

Back on highway 12, we cross the Rio Vista drawbridge where large container ships come in from San Francisco Bay to unload in the Port of Stockton. Keep going, and you'll eventually end up at the Jelly Belly factory in Fairfield but we're turning right on highway 84 at the other end of the bridge.

Continuing on highway 84, eventually we come to the Real McCoy. It's part of the highway but it's a of only two publicly operated river ferries left in the state of California. The other is the J-Mac, on the other side of Ryer Island (where the ferry we're on is taking us) but we'll have to be content with this one as the J-Mac is out of service today.

The Real McCoy operates every 20 minutes so we wait our turn for about 7 minutes before boarding. It's a quick, free trip to the other bank of the river.

Now, it's a somewhat hair-raising drive on narrow, winding, levee top roads until we get to Clarksburg and a stop at Bogle Vineyards to taste some wine and pick up a few bottles for home.

This used to be a reliable, free tasting room but now charges $8 (now a Covid-inflated $20) per person for tasting...refundable if you buy at least $20 for each. We negate this a bit by sharing sips from one tasting glass and then buy a few of the moderately price bottles to meet the threshold.

It's also a good stop for accessible bathrooms and there's a lovely picnic area outside by the grapevines if the weather's cooperating.

With that, our day out on the Delta is over and it's time to head back home.

Darryl Musick
Copyright 2019 - All Rights Reserved

Friday, August 20, 2021

CLASSIC TRIP - Salt Lake City, Utah - 2002

If you've been following our Montana and Yellowstone trip from earlier this week, you might be interested that we drove up from Los Angeles.  Along the way, we spent a little time in Salt Lake's that part of the report.

Another Olympic city, Salt Lake City became known as the "corruption" games when it became known that the IOC accepted gifts from the local committee in exchange for considering them for approval for the 2002 winter games.  Here is a trip we took in 2002.

Arriving in Salt Lake City after a day and a half of driving. We're on our way to Montana and in need of a little break. Our hindquarters will develop calluses soon if we don't stop. We park at an underground structure for a mall downtown. It's quite expensive at a dollar per twenty minutes. Later, we found we could have parked at the curb around the corner for free.

There's a heat wave going on. 106 degrees at Temple Square. Our lunch server at JB's tells us this is an all-time record. We just left a heat wave in L.A. and were hoping for cooler weather up here and in Montana.

After lunch, we head next door to the Family Records Center, the famous Mormon run genealogical archive. We get a quick lesson on how to look up our family tree and then are ushered into a room where a volunteer gives us a 10-minute Powerpoint presentation on how to use the center's resources.

They used to show a film instead of the presentation. I thought the old film was more interesting, especially how it explained why genealogy was so important to the church. The world's eyes were on Salt Lake City for the Olympics this year and the center felt the film was outdated and created a more modern introduction for the new millennium.

After our brief stay there, we crossed the street to Temple Square, the Vatican of the Church of Jesus Christ, Latter Day Saints. Try saying that a few times and you see why people just shorten that to the Mormon Church.

The crosswalks here have helpful letters, 6 feet tall, printed on the crosswalk telling you to LOOK both ways before crossing. The walk signs have countdown displays telling you how much time you have left to get to the other side of the street.

In Temple Square, young Mormon volunteers from around the world are everywhere to answer questions, greet visitors, and - if they get a chance- tell you why the Church is the way for them. Most will guide you to the Visitor's Center where you can learn more about the Church's history and message.

We're just passing through, so our hostess tells us the way and we excuse ourselves. We take a quick look in the Tabernacle where you can see the world famous choir perform on Sundays and find that the wheelchair entrance is at door number 10.

Outside, the Tabernacle looks like a big bug but inside it's quite beautiful.

After some shopping in the mall across the street, we retrieve our van and head to our lodging for the night, the Comfort Inn in Layton, Utah just a few miles north of Salt Lake City proper.

It was very easy to find the Comfort Inn as the exit from Interstate 15 practically emptied into its parking lot. I had reserved an accessible room with two queen beds. The room was minimally accessible. It had a very large bathroom with a roll-under sink, a toilet with grab bars, and a bathtub equipped with bars. The bathrooms was so large it cut into the room size leaving us a 1" clearance on each side of the wheelchair to get by the beds in any direction....yes, I measured! It was very limiting but we would be here just one night and not spending any extra amount of time in the room beyond hygiene activities and sleeping so it would do...just barely.

After a delicious dinner at the local Cracker Barrel, we turned in for the night.

The next morning after breakfast at the local IHOP (tasty too!), we headed back in the direction of Salt Lake City to visit the local amusement park, Lagoon, in neighboring Farmington. An empty Coke can granted us a five dollar discount so admission came to just $24.95.
We arrived at Lagoon at 10:00am. just in time for the parking lot to be opened. After scoring the best parking spot...the van-accessible handicapped spot directly adjacent to the ticket booths...we purchased our tickets and waited at the gates. At 10:45am, the gates finally opened and we got to wait a few minutes more in the midway adjacent to the souvenir stands until the ride park opened at 11:00am. There is also a complete water park here that opens at the same time and is included in the price of your ticket.
Ramps are nicely located at each ride for access though, like most parks, you need to bring someone along to help you into the rides. Lagoon has a policy of letting disabled riders stay on rides for two circuits instead of one. This really helps cut down on the lifting your attendant needs to do during the day.

We went on our first ride, an old wooden roller coaster generically named Roller Coaster. It was bumpy with good air time on the first hill after the first drop. After that point, it runs a bit slow but bumpy all the same.
A portable steel double-looping coaster is also here called Colossus (or Fire Dragon depending on which sign you see). A long ramp leads to the platform where we had great fun riding this very smooth coaster.

There's a miniature steam train that makes a circuit around the park's lake (or "lagoon") which is the only way you'll see the park's collection of animals in its zoo.

My wife went on the swinging chair ride and we finished up with a ride on Rattlesnake Rapids, a very good and very wet river raft ride.

After the rides, we stepped over to Pioneer Village, a recreation of an old Utah town, to have some ice cream and see some of the small museums housed there. We also marveled at the beautiful views of the Wasatch mountains directly behind the park.
We didn't hit a lot of the park's attractions such as the giant ferris wheel, the log ride, the water park, or the fun house but we did have a lot of fun and most of the staff was nice although some of the service was a bit on the slow side.

Although not a destination for us on this trip, Salt Lake City did make for a very interesting break from the road. Now it was back in the van where we continued our trek to the big sky country.

NOTES: Salt Lake City and the area has very good accessible public transportation. UTA provides accessible bus and trolley service. The trolley service was put in just in time for the Olympics. If arriving by train, the trolley can be caught directly in front of the station and provides service to all downtown areas, the university, and all the way to Sandy in the suburbs. Many Olympic sites can be reached this way. Buses take up the slack to the airport, Lagoon, and other SLC areas.

Accessible taxis, shuttles and buses are available from the airport. Wheelchair Getaways has an office here if you'd like to rent an accessible van.

Although there are plenty of pay parking lots downtown that will be happy to relieve your wallet of extra cash, we found out there is plenty of street parking available in the area.

Accessible restrooms abound in the downtown area at the mall, department stores, Temple Square, and the Family Records Center. Lagoon's accessible restrooms are a bit on the small side.

Copyright 2002

Monday, August 16, 2021

CLASSIC TRIP - Montana and Yellowstone 2002, Part 2

A friend from work had just been royally screwed by the company that runs the national park lodging. He'd just come home his mother's funeral in Croatia physically and emotionally exhausted and called up the Furnace Creek Inn in Death Valley and reserved their best room. His family would go with him and have some much needed R&R in the desert park.

When he arrived, he had found that they had overbooked and substituted him at a nearby motel...with no break in the price. Luxury room pricing for a lousy little motel room. Understandably, he has no pleasant thoughts about how he was treated.

I bring this up because he related his story to me right before I left for our trip to Yel lowstone National Park and had made reservations specifically for an accessible room with a roll-in shower. I was apprehensive about what would greet me at arrival...

We left from Big Timber, Montana right after breakfast. From here, it's a 23 mile drive on Interstate 90 to the town of Livingston. A 75 mile drive south on highway 89 takes us to Gardiner, Montana and the original entrance to Yellowstone National Park on the north side of the park.

We pass under the circa 1903 Roosevelt Arch and head to the small entrance station. There are about 10 cars in front of us and the line is moving very slow. After not moving for about 10 minutes, a ranger starts walking along the cars asking people to roll down their windows. When he gets to us, we find he is sending those who have passes around the entrance station. Since we have a Golden Access Pass, we happily comply.

If you're disabled and don't have one, get a Golden Access Pass the very next time you go to a national park or monument. This free pass allows you and everyone in your vehicle to enter national parks at no charge. In addition to saving you a ton of money (Yellowstone's entrance fee is $20), you might just get to skip ahead as we did. (Normal entrance fee in 2019 is $25 - Ed)

(Note: The Golden Access Pass is now simply called the Access Pass - Ed)

Our plan is this...we have two nights here in Yellowstone park. Our first day, we want to get to the Old Faithful geyser area and explore it. The next day we want to seek out the park's wildlife and see any other sights we can find.

We intend to make a beeline to Old Faithful after getting in. It's a 51 mile drive from the entrance station. Two and a half hours later we arrive. Several things delay us along the way: people stopping in the middle of the road to photograph animals (at one point, a lone moose was surrounded by about 30 people with cameras like paparazzi), cars driving 10 miles an hour in a 45 mile per hour zone, and when that was passed, about 20 miles of single-lane road construction with a 15 mile per hour limit.

Finally, at 2:30pm we pull into a parking spot about 200 yards away from Old Faithful itself (parking hint: there are three handicapped spots right in front of the Old Faithful Inn that no one knows is there). The thunderstorms that were predicted for the afternoon are threatening and a light rain starts to fall. On the bright side, the next predicted eruption of Old Faithful is only five minutes away, so we won't have to wait in the rain for very long.

About a minute after we find a good viewing spot on the paved trail, the geyser goes off with a huge fountain of steaming water lasting about 7 minutes. It's quite a show. Now the rain is starting to come down harder so we beat a hasty retreat to the adjacent Old Faithful Inn just as the lightning and thunder start.

Inside, the inn is a spectacular sight. The lodge, built in 1906, has a big lobby that soars several stories. Thin logs seemingly support the whole thing but in reality, a steel, load-bearing rods placed in the logs actually do the work. A multi-storied rock hewn fireplace with a custom pendulum clock anchors the area where you can relax in comfortable morris chairs while reading a book or newspaper. (Another hint: past the public Men's room and Ladies room, there is a large, unisex and very accessible bathroom for wheelers.)

We haven't had lunch yet so we head to the dining room. There's no wait for a table and the service is very good. My hamburger was a bit bland but my wife and Tim had french dip sandwiches that were very good. It was also pretty reasonable at about $7 per person.

Its still raining and there are several really well stocked gift shops in the inn and the surrounding area. We take our time hunting for souvenirs before finally heading down the road to Grant Village where we have reservations for the next couple of nights.

Back at Old Faithful, the old inn and the Old Faithful Snow Lodge were extremely nice and architecturally stunning (if possible, try to get an accessible room in the Old Faithful Snow Lodge for the best accessible rooms in the park). Here at Grant Village, the lodge is lackluster...looking like worn-out 1970's condos...needing a coat of paint badly. (I tried for the Snow Lodge, but they were already booked when I called in May to make reservations. The room prices are identical at both locations.)

Whoever designed this lodge needs a kick in the rear with handicapped parking that could not be any farther from the accessible room. We had to walk, lugging our luggage, all the way through the building. It was a miserable journey.

On the bright side, the bathroom was great. Roomy, with grab bars on the toilet, a roll-under sink, a sliding accordion door, of all....a roll-in shower with bath chair. The bathroom made up for the run down condition of the place and the extra small beds. I do have to admit that when making reservations, the agents did not promise any more than what we got and, knowing that the beds would be small, we brought along a twin-sized air mattress so that we'd all have plenty of I don't feel that I had been taken advantage of.

There is little in the way of any amenities in the room. No TV, no radio, no A/C. There is a small heater and a telephone and the toiletries were just a touch above par for most motels. Certainly, the room is not where you'd want to spend a lot of your time and maybe that's for the best...forcing you out to see the beautiful park.

There are several levels of dining available to you at Grant Village. A coffee shop in the general store has fast food with table service, a restaurant overlooking Yellowstone lake offers moderately priced pizza and pasta, and the Grant Village dining room is the upscale, reservations-only location serving full-service meals.

We opted for the dining room. Service here was just a bit slow but the food was delicious. I had a pork chops while my wife had salmon and Tim had a chicken dinner. A very tasty cream of asparagus soup started the whole thing off. Another waiter in the restaurant is also doing a tour of the major league ball parks and wanted to compare notes. After dinner, we spent another half hour with the friendly guy talking baseball and stadiums. Pricing here is comparable maybe to a Cracker Barrel.

The next morning, we awoke to a bright and sunny day. With no TV or radio, we did not have a weather report so we crossed our fingers that it would stay this way. It did.

After a marvelous breakfast at the general store coffee shop, we headed back to the Old Faithful area to hike the geyser basin that we'd been rained out on the day before.

The Upper Geyser Basin (home to Old Faithful) has a wonderfully accessible three mile plus trail that gets you up close and personal to the largest concentration of thermal phenomena in the world.

We started off at Old Faithful and walked up the paved trail. Along the way, we saw such famous sights as the Castle Geyser and the Riverside Geyser which regularly shoots a 75 foot stream of water over the Firehole River. At the end of the paved trail is the second most famous feature of Yellowstone Park, the Morning Glory pool.

A boardwalk allows you to get right on top of the Morning Glory pool, a hot spring with crystal-clear water shaped and colored as such that it looks like a morning glory. Visitors over the years have not been kind to the pool...many have thrown money and other assorted trash into it, clogging up it's vent and allowing bacteria to grow in it. An orange rim around the spring attests to this.

To combat the pollution, back in the 1970's the park service relocated the road away from the springs and geysers and set back the boardwalk around the pool. It's helped, but the park service still pulls much trash out of the Morning Glory pool during its annual cleanup.

On the way back, we take the boardwalk and see the geyser field. There are mud pots, hot springs, and geysers galore along the accessible boardwalk. The old wooden boardwalk is gradually being replaced by recycled plastic boardwalk as it wears out. The plastic sections are very smooth for wheelers.

It's great to see a TV-jaded kid like Tim really get into the geyser field. He's really impressed when he gets within 10 feet of the ever erupting Sawmill Geyser. A big bison named George lounges in a small meadow nearby...George gored somebody last week, we're told, when they tried to push him into a shot with Old Faithful. Some people never learn...

At the end of the trail, there is one steep section (that can be detoured - check with a ranger before hiking to find the smoothest path for you) after crossing the bridge over the Firehole River. On the other side, we end up on the backside of Old Faithful where we stop and wait about thirty minutes for the next eruption. It's big and spectacular. It's also a fitting end to our visit of the Upper Geyser Basin.

We have lunch at the Old Faithful Snow Lodge dining room. Here's another hint for you: the fast food place in the lodge is only about a dollar or two cheaper for lunch than the dining room but it's very crowded and you wait a long time for service. For just a couple of dollars more, the dining room is a much better place to eat and unwind with full table service and no wait.

Back in the van, we make the 40 mile trek to Hayden Valley where we're told we're almost guaranteed to see wildlife. But first, as we leave the Old Faithful area we see a large herd of elk nibbling the grass of a nearby meadow.

Hayden Valley does not disappoint. Large herds of bison roam everywhere. Too far away for a good camera shot, they do show up good with binoculars. As I scan the valley and the Yellowstone River bisecting it, I see something odd. I move down about 1/4 mile to get a better view and look through the binoculars again to make sure. Is it....? Yes, it's a bald eagle resting on a branch over the river looking for a juicy trout. Looking around, I see it's partner soaring high over the valley. It's the first and only bald eagle I've ever seen in the wild.

We return to Grant's Village and after dinner in the coffee shop, head down to the amphitheater for the evening campfire ranger presentation.

Mosquitoes are everywhere. Thankfully, my wife brought along some high-powered DEET that we slather on. We don't smell too good, but the bugs don't bite. Others at the campfire are fiercely swatting as the extra high-powered Yellowstone mosquitoes dive bomb them.

The ranger tells us that mosquitoes are not among the park's protected wildlife, so feel free to swat, smash, and kill. They are a renewable resource she assures us...

The evening's presentation is a slide show showing how conservation and scientific techniques started in Yellowstone have caught on around the world. It was interesting, but I missed the old sing-alongs around the campfire of my youth. Couldn't we just have a couple of songs to go with the slide show? Oh well, it was still fun and educational to boot.

That was the last night of the trip. The next morning we exited through West Yellowstone, Montana where we saw a coyote and some more elk and bison before exiting. One thing we did not see was Yellowstone's most famous animal resident...a bear. When we arrive home a week later, there are three black bear sightings in our neighborhood. Is it now more common to see bears in our neighborhood that in our national parks?

Copyright 2002 - Darryl Musick

Sunday, August 15, 2021

THE COCKTAIL HOUR: Caribbean Rum Taste Off

We recently cruised to the Bahamas (story on that coming later) so does that count at our 5th Caribbean island? Technically, no, I guess but close enough.

I got a couple of bottles of rum in the duty shop, who promptly messed up my order, but it gave me an excuse to do another Cocktail Hour taste off with Tim.

Watch the Video!

In this corner, our control rum, is Captain Morgan Spiced Rum.  Good rum, fairly cheap and common, it will be the standard for taste against the other three. It's slightly vanilla spice notes help smooth the harshness of the mass-produced beverage.

Next it Royal Jamaican rum. Aged 10 years and using only Jamaican produced molasses from Jamaican grown sugar cane, Tim and I both are a bit surprised at how harsh this pricey bottle is.

Moving on, it's Captain Morgan's Private Stock, a clear cut above the regular Captain's spiced rum. Still has a lush, vanilla based spice taste with a very smooth swallow down the throat. Both Captain Morgan varieties are U.S. made in St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands.

Last, its 1888 Cinco Generaciones from Brugal in the Dominican Republic. Double-aged, this has a very nice, clean rum taste with a sharp little back-of-the-throat taste that I'm pegging to the barrel it's aged in. Very smooth, very good but Tim and I give a slight edge to the Captain's Private Stock, then this one, with the Royal Jamaican coming in dead last even behind the common Captain Morgan Spiced Rum



Friday, August 13, 2021

CLASSIC TRIP - Montana and Yellowstone 2002, Part 1

A Montana Collage - Gallatin National Forest

Be careful what you wish for, right?  My wife wanted to really get away (we were having our kitchen remodeled and we were stressed) so I found what, so far, has been the most out-of-the-way and as-far-away-from-civilization accessible lodging in the country - 14 miles from the nearest town and 7 miles from the nearest paved road...the last mile was the driveway into the lodge.  She also had never been to Yellowstone so we put together this trip.  So let's go back to 2002, shall we?

Right up front, let's just say that you need a little extra determination to get here and then get around...especially if you use a wheelchair for mobility.

The state's major airports at Bozeman, Billings, and Helena just don't show up on major airlines radar screens so direct flights from most of the country is not an option. What flights you do find are not going to be cheap. Once you arrive, accessible public transportation will be a challenge to find as will accessible van rentals.

We decided to drive. From L.A., this is not a quick and easy road trip especially if you have trouble sitting in the car for long spells. After 3 nights on the road, we were finally at our destination....Big Timber, Montana, about 50 miles east of Bozeman. We needed some time to just not drive any more.

Researching for a place to stay yielded the Burnt Out Lodge, a bed and breakfast run by Ruth Drange on her family's cattle and sheep ranch. The lodge is accessible with three ramps leading into the building. The area around it is not, so you will need your own private van or car to get there.

The reason you need your own ride is because it is remote. In fact, for a wheeler, I cannot think of a more remote accessible accommodation that I have ever come across. The lodge is located at the farthest reach of the three thousand acre ranch abutting the Gallatin National Forest.

Only 7 Miles to go to the Burnt Out Lodge

To get there, you first drive seven miles beyond Big Timber. Then, it is up six miles of dirt road to the first gate. Someone must get out of the car to open the gate (an attendant here is really necessary for all but the most hardy wheelers), drive through, return to close the gate lest any cows escape the ranch. One more mile of bumpy road is necessary to navigate before you reach the lodge building where one more gate must be opened and closed.

It takes a pretty major effort just to get here.

Once here, it is pretty easy to go up a ramp into the building and into your room. The lodge has a vast open public area with a two story fireplace to warm up at. Five rooms are all on the first floor and each will allow access for a wheelchair easily. One room in particular has been built with bars for the toilet and bathtub for access. There is no roll-in shower, however. Plastic chairs are available for use as bathing chairs.
The View from the Room
We stayed in the accessible room, although as the only guests at the inn Ruth offered us our choice of any room. The room is huge and very open and airy. A twenty foot ceiling reinforces that feeling. It is furnished sparsely with just a bed, two night stands, a small table and two chairs. It was sparkling clean and comfortable, but it does take a bit of getting used to.

Our first day had started in West Yellowstone, Montana after we had stopped there for the night. Along the way to Big Timber, we stopped at Nevada City, a recreated Ghost Town where authentic buildings had been moved to from other areas. It was a quiet and not unpleasant stop but not exactly enthralling either.

In Big Timber, we had dinner at Prospector Pizza in a pretty little downtown area before bedding down for the night at the Burnt Out Lodge. We saw dozens of deer along that 7 mile access road up to the lodge.

After sleeping pleasantly in our large room with all the windows and the front door open (great things to do when you're several miles from the nearest road), we had our breakfast and decided to do a little sight seeing.

This morning, that would entail heading up the Boulder River valley from Big Timber. We stopped when we got to Natural Bridge.

A short hike lead us to a bridge and several viewing platforms built into the rock. The paths are accessible but be careful of the hundred foot drop off of the sides when heading to the platforms. The bridge path is not as scary.

From the bridge and the platforms, you can see the natural bridge when the water level is low, as it was when we visited in July. In a spectacular display, the river drops down a hole and travels about one hundred yard before emerging from a shear cliff face.

When the water level is higher, the hole is underwater and the river flows over the natural bridge but you can still see the other waterfall emerging from the hole in the cliff.

After our tour up the valley, we headed back to Big Timber. It was over one hundred degrees when we hit town so we decided to spend the afternoon in the community pool. A buck fifty was all it took to get all three of us in where we lounged around for an hour and a half...until the lifeguard's shrill whistle told everyone to immediate evacuate the pool. A thunderstorm was approaching fast.
We took quick shelter in the small pool house where I took the opportunity to give Tim a shower in the only roll-in shower we would see in Montana. Now that's what I call thinking on my feet!

We changed back into our street clothes and headed out of town. The rain had let up enough so that we could visit Prairie Dog Town State Park. This is a small area set aside for these large, barking rodents where you can see them in a wild setting to your heart's content. Outside the park's perimeter, the critters are fair game for the farmers and ranchers who shoot these animals as pests when they see them.

A shower and a nap back at the lodge refreshed us and we headed back into town for dinner at the City Club, a combination steakhouse, bowling alley (six lanes!), bar, and casino. We had some delicious Montana steaks...better than the steaks we payed three times as much for on the way home in Las Vegas.

The town turns in pretty early and try as we might, we couldn't find too much to do after 7:30pm. We missed the only showing (7:00) at the local theater but we'd already seen Lilo 'n Stitch back home. A trip back to the lodge where we could reach out and pat a cow's behind as we drove by was in order.

Another night with the fresh Montana air wafting through the room and we were ready to tackle another day. After breakfast, we drove fifty miles to Bozeman to visit the Gallatin County Fair's opening day.

This is a very small fair where everybody was giving out freebies or samples. Everybody had candy bowls out for quick little nibbles. A local political group opposed to an upcoming ballot measure gave us a huge sports cup (with their logo on it, natch) filled with ice cold water with a local chiropractor matching that with a big bottle of spring water out of an ice bucket...perfect for the 105 degree day.

A few local sportmen's groups filled our bag with free fishing tackle...lures and bobbers. A candy maker threw in some free samples of fudge. A local mine even gave us some raw rocks that they grind into talc...along with ruler, pens, pencils. Another local politician running for office gave out free American flags.

We were in hog heaven with all the goodies and we got to see all kinds of livestock and eat that great, greasy fair food while watching some country and western concerts. It was a great day and we met a lot of friendly local folks.

After the fair we ate dinner at McKenzie River Pizza in the beautifully restored downtown area of Bozeman, where some workers recognized us from the fair earlier. It was good pizza and even better beer.

Tonight would be our last night at the lodge. We had one more open-air night before our last breakfast with Ruth.

A deer walked by one foot outside the dining room window while we at our morning meal and a marmot rooted around outside. Before it got too cute, Ruth whispered to us that the marmot was a pest and she would have to shoot it if it returned. Ah, the ways of the Montana cattle ranch life.

Stay tuned for part 2...Yellowstone!

Copyright 2002 - Darryl Musick