Monday, July 23, 2012

A Step Back In Time

A row of red cottages line the main street.

I passed through Graeagle about 32 years ago on my way backpacking up to Rock Lake in the Las Plumas National Forest. After a few days of eating freeze-dried food, I was ready to return to the small mountain town and find the closest restaurant. It turned out that the closest and the only restaurant was a small red log cabin cafe across the street from a row of similar looking red and white cabins. In a flash, I hopped up on a stool at the lunch counter and dove into a big bowl of spicy chili. I have held that memory near and dear for a longtime. This time around, when Darrell and I arrived in town, one of the first things I spotted was the Graeagle Restaurant, untouched by time.  It was comforting to find the same place, run by the same family, serving the same chili, at the same counter decades later. Even the waitress acknowledged working at the Graeagle Restaurant for the past 37 years. It has always been a family run business. Our waitress's brother, also the Fire Chief, now runs the place. It is reassuring to know that some things never change. 

Same cafe, same counter, same chili, most likely the same waitress!

I fell in love with Graegale all over again, all the better this time 'round because I got to share it with Darrell. In his youth, Darrell was a mountain man and ice climber, and this part of the Sierras - treasured by his hero John Muir  - offered him a chance to start hiking again.

A busy day at the Mill Pond in the center of town. 
Fed by the Feather River, the water is clear and warm.

Is it possible for two salty dogs and their vizsla to find happiness miles inland from the ocean? Apparently it is, because we ALMOST "Swallowed the Anchor" here. What's not to love, plenty of space to stretch out, quaint red cottages lining the main street, a small market offering the essentials, swimming and fiddler concerts on the Mill Pond, log cabins among tall pines, and friendly faces with a collective consciousness of preserving the land. And that's not all, above us, walls of towering granite rising more than 6,500 feet towards the sky, inspiring meadow vistas with grazing cattle and horses, pristine streams and rivers and lakes galore. And, Oh those Lakes! All 50 of them, with hiking trails circling around pools of sparkling sapphire water, clear as they are cold, and full of trout. I love trout, and now so does Spark. Darrell, not so much, but he is our willing fisherman. (Check out our trout dinner in the following post.)

The Mill Pond is not only in the center of town, 
it is the center of activity morning to night. 

Wednesday nights are music nights. 
Residents and visitors gather round eating ice cream or sipping on 
root beer floats and listen to fiddling.

Graeagle is rich in history, and it’s a history local residents are proud of and strive to preserve. As you enter the town there is a carving a Chief Graeagle welcoming visitors. The sign informs the reader that Graeagle is a planned, balanced, and protected community. The sign ends with an Indian prayer about judging others.

Our time at Graeagle reminded us of all that is good about America. The area embodies the concept of "personal responsibility". There are very few posted “NO” signs, instead the implied message is, "Please Do" rather than "Do Not". I guess with a summer population of 2,000 plus and full-timers numbering less than 800 folks, communities can afford to be more loose on rules. One of the many reasons we'll be back next summer.

The Mill Pond
A Palomino, a Paint, and a Chestnut happy to be grazing in splendor.

D happy to be fishing. 
We managed to hike to five lakes, another 45 to go.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

A Sneak Peek At Our Shangri-La

Lake Basin Recreational Area, Sierra Mountains
Gold Lake
It's Muy Tranquila here!
There are 50 unspoiled alpine lakes in the Lakes Region, a hop-skip-and-a-jump away from one another. Rivers and creeks galore. The area offers hiking, swimming, fishing, horseback riding, abundant wild flowers, kayaking, cross-country skiing; enough to keep most people entertained for a decade. Did I mention golf courses at just about every turn. And, there are deer and buck and cows and sheep, and howling coyotes off in the distance at night. Happy birds chirping all day. Woodpeckers shyly peeking around trees. Soaring eagles too.

The Mill Pond at the edge of the village of Graeagle. Wonderfully warm, clear sapphire water for swimming. We attended a fiddlers concert here last week.

Darrell caught fresh trout, as requested, for our dinner last night.

Did I mention, there's a bit of FUNK up here as well?

This is one of the funkiest RV Park's we have visited. Beautiful gardens, friendly owners, mountain and meadow views, and evening walks in the woods. As much as we love it here, tomorrow we head out to a more remote spot high in Plumas Eureka National Forest on a river for a few days. Sparky's pretty content too.

Doing what Spark does best.

Time to hike and swim. Later Gators.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Family Fun For The Fourth of July

God Bless America!

We spent the Fourth of July with family, just the way it should be spent. After 2 years of sailing in Mexico, it was good to be on terra firma and pay tribute to "God Bless America" with my brother's family.
It was our first time "Courtesy Parking" in Tranquila - no complaints about the venue - my brother and sister-in-law's second home at Tahoma on Lake Tahoe, complete with a long dock for swimming, naps, sitting around catching up on family doings, and a couple of mooring for boating. We have been spending family vacations there for years; summer or winter, the place is perfect for celebrating holidays. Our family time on Lake Tahoe always involves lots of shared laughter, plenty of exercise balanced by lounging about, and an abundance of comfort food and flowing wine. This week was no exception.

Our view of Lake Tahoe thru the pines, a great way to start the day.

We had a fantasic view of the Lake under tall pines, but after 3 days of the sugar pines dripping sap and blowing pollen all over our little silver bubble home, Tranquila was filthy. So we gave our girl a 3 hour bath. Within a few short hours she was covered once again by pollen, so I said “to hell with it” and pretended it was yellow fairy dust. Life is too short to worry, besides it was time to hang out on the dock and gather a few rays. We slathered up with sunscreen and wore big hats to protect ourselves from the high altitude sun. Some of us braver types enjoyed brief dips in the cool crystal clear blue water. I swear, the color of the icy Tahoe water rivaled any tropical waters I have enjoyed, but the temperature kept me grounded in reality.

Sitting on the Family Dock of the Bay

Everyone brings their latest novel, but not many pages get turned.
Sparky, ever hopeful of chasing the tennis ball.

Spark greets all new comers with a soggy tennis ball.

Darrell may have been the last one to arrive on the dock, but he had no problem getting in the swing of things.  Behind him, in the background, on the neighbor's dock under the American flag, waves a Cal flag. One dock down, a rival Stanford flag flutters in the afternoon breeze. Perfectly content to be retired from both fine institutions, Darrell smiles a BIG grin, that says "Life is Good".

After another day of hard work, it was time to BBQ dinner. Each meal was a group effort with everyone pitching in from meal planning to preparation to clean-up. One night D and I whipped up some margaritas, barbecued arrachera (marinated flank steak) served with black beans spiced up with mole sauce. You can take us out of Mexico, but you can't take Mexico out of us! The next night, Rich made All-American Cheeseburgers for the Fourth served alongside fireworks from 3 locations across the Bay. 

The next morning, Terry, who is the "Queen of Breakfast" whipped up another feast that did not disappoint. At Christmas she makes a scrambled egg-french toast-sausage combo with maple or berry syrup that always knocks us out. This time she made a mouthwatering egg, cheese, and sausage casserole served with fresh fruit. It was getting time to loosen our belt buckles.

Katherine, my beautiful niece, waits patiently for dinner, while Rich drives the BBQ.

After 4 days of morning walks, afternoon swims, and evening wine & dines, we needed to mosey on down the road before we wore out our welcome. We were also due to meet up with Darrell's sisters along the Truckee River at Silver Creek Campground for a little "dry camping"....meaning no hook-ups, no pump-outs, with only our solar panels to satisfy our energy needs. Our solar system works great! We love to dry camp, it almost always means, grand views in peaceful settings.

This was one tight fit, and after doing some Lucy and Desi ("The Long Long Trailer") maneuvers we finally got Tranquila snugged away.  Well worth the effort.

Birthday Girl
These were our backyard neighbors just across the campground on the Truckee River. There was a perfect little swimming hole on our side to soak in and cool off from the 90 degree weather. Darrell and 2 of his sister's, Bobbie and Judy, enjoyed cooling off before we stoked up the BBQ and savored a pulled pork dinner served with Razzleberry Pie from, of course, Ikeda's! My FAV! Unfortunately, his youngest sister, Carol, was unable to join our gathering. Next time! We all sang "Happy Birthday" to Bobbie the next morning, and expect to celebrate many many more birthdays together camping under the stars.

The Ericksons': Darrell, Judy, and Bobbie

Darrell, Spark and I had a great afternoon walking along the Truckee River and watching rafters float happily down the river towards Alpine Meadows for lunch on a sunny terrace. We found a perfect spot to take a refreshing dip in the cool water. We will definitely be back to do a little rafting ourselves. The Truckee River Rafting group even allows dogs!  We are going to make sure we float downstream on a week day to avoid the crowds!

Weekends are busy!

All is fairly quiet on the terrace before the noontime lunch crowd arrived. 
Then watch out! Packed with folks hungry from the 2 hour trip down the river.

Next, we head up Highway 89 to Plumas County to explore some of the gazillion lakes filled with trout, swim a bit, and do a some hiking. There are also plenty of good restaurants in the area, offering me a break from cooking in the summer heat.  

Sneak Preview: We fell in LOVE with the area and will make it our summer home.

Friday, July 6, 2012


Our trips to the Homewood-Tahoma area of West Lake Tahoe ALWAYS include a planned stop at Ikeda’s Country Market in Auburn. Famous for home-baked pies, fantastically juicy-ripe fruits and garden fresh vegetables, a variety of salsas and dressings to sample, and more recently Pacific Line Caught King Salmon. Family Christmastime at the Lake always included Ikeda’s homemade tamales finished up with pumpkin or mince meat pies. Summer vacations mean a round of cheeseburgers before tucking tomatoes, white corn, and a couple of ollalieberry pies safely in a saved space in the trunk of the car. Today was no exception....except for the burgers; 3 month slaves to a committed red-meat-free diet left us salivating, but self-righteous. Those "Pink Slime" reports really creeped me out!

Looks Much Better Than a Burger, Right?

When BBQ'ed Under Gigantic Pines in the Forest, Always Better than a Burger.

So Many to Choose From....Oh My! The Real Reason Ikeda's is so Popular!

This time our trip to Ikeda’s was a bit more tricky, we had to get there early enough to beat the hordes of families en route to their annual pilgrimage to the Lake to celebrate the Fourth of July, in order to find space to park our rig. Our early arrival paid off, we took up 5 parking spaces, sampled every salsa, got all our goodies in record time, and made it out just as the crowds descended upon their favorite stopover. Too damn early in the morning to eat a fat-old-greasy-cheeseburger-in-paradise anyway. I might add that the salmon I marinated in teriyaki all day beat any burger anywhere, anytime.

 I vow not to wait so long between our Tahoe treks so we can visit Ikeda’s more often.   
      And next time, I am going to buy two pies :-)