Placerville & Apple Hill!

January 14th, 2010

Thanksgiving Trip

Placerville-November 22-25, 2005

After a painful period of failing health and change of residence into Cedar Crest Convalescent facility Marge Schantell died. Patricia had undertaken the major responsibility of making the arrangements of housing, paying of bills, ordering medicines, health care arrangements, laundry and on…… We held the funeral last week and it was a dignified affair. Short and dignified. A brief ceremony was held at graveside after-which we all met at the Blue Pheasant for cocktails and a light lunch. It turned out to be a pleasant affair; the food was good and the setting was bright an uplifting.

Arlene had invited us to spend the Thanksgiving  holiday at her home in Placerville. Patricia had instantly accepted with relief at not having to prepare for the usual affair at our house especially after the funeral. She was exhausted and emotionally rung out. A change of scenery up in Placerville was just the right thing.

We packed our Jeep with golf clubs, bicycle and dog in crate. The “dog in crate’ thing was more difficult than usual. Domino, I suppose, thought the incarceration to be an insult. After a few promptings I picked up the eightyesh pound dalmatian and deposited her into the crate. She barely fit.

Dale had made arrangements for us to play golf on Friday and I had also intended to ride the roads of Apple Hill just east of Placerville. I had plenty of stuff to do so I was rather looking forward to spending the time in the gold country. We, or as usual, Patricia drove and I read most of the way. I have to read. If I watch her drive it tends to infuriate me. And…even though I attempt to use all my self control, after some time stuff tends to escape from my mouth. The type of stuff which usually begins a tiffy joust. So, today I read Bat Ye’or’s Eurabia. And…keep my mouth shut. Till the wind mills that is! Then I made my usual comments as to why they are never working and why not. Also, the vertical ribbon ones. What happened to them? They must have proved to be inefficient. Graceful but inefficient. And…as with all inefficient things—they are doomed to the way of dinosaurs.

Once beyond Sacramento I marveled at the growth that had taken place in the sweeping valleys and rolling terrain of Cameron Park and El Dorado Hills. All the usual suspects were here too. That is, Home Depot, Sam’s Club, the cookie cutter restaurants and the slews of familiar retail shops. We turneimage001d off of U.S. 50 at Cameron Park to visit Steve and Michael. I had mentioned that we would stop at their house when we saw them at the funeral. Pat wasn’t crazy about it but she had reluctantly made all the arrangements. I had looked forward to seeing Bass Lake Golf Course which Steve was managing and had spent the last five years rebuilding. Every holiday at our house we would discuss his progress and problems and so I was well acquainted with the depth of his image003work and wanted to see for myself the progress. When Patricia said that we were going to their house only, I was naturally disappointed. But, as luck would have it, just before lunch Steve’s boss from the golf course called and soon Steve and I were off to the course. He fixed the ball machine and we soon were in a cart viewing the fairways, greens and lakes. It was a nice course, not a great course by any stretch of the imagination. The setting was charming. The putting greens were true and smooth. The fairways neatly clipped. The clubhouse remodeled and sharp and the driving range convenient and comfortable. All in all it was a nice facility and I would certainly use it were I a close by resident.

We arrived at Arlene’s house in the late afternoon. I greeted Dale and Nicholas and Cassidy and Arlene but very soon I found myself in the back deck seated on a comfortable chair with a hefty glass of Syrah and map of Apple Hill on the table before me. I reviewed the route I was to take the very next morning.

It was just before nine. The sun spread its soft golden winter rays on the foothills of the Sierras. I finished my coffee and was somewhat annoyed when MIK, the symbol of Michael’s Stores, ran across the NYSE ticker tape. I had been faked out! Had waited patiently till it had dropped to 35 and bought it, and then with the Katrina and oil crisis had watched it drop to below 32. I had become too influenced by the too depressive media and sold out at 32. There it was, I thought. A good idea wasted. Today the tape read 38 ½ .  But…I focused on the mountain vista just outside through the back window revealing the richness of the terrain—oaks drooping with Spanish moss, madrone trees, pines and thick underbrush everywhere all highlighted with rich shafts of golden light. I laced my bicycle shoes and headed out the front door towards my bicycle resting under the protection of the front porch.

 The climb began instantly up the rather steep driveway. This is no way to wake up, I thought. In a jiff I was on the smooth and neatly kept roads of Greenstone. It’s a private development some ten miles west of Placerville with exclusive homes on one acre plus lots. Homes are beautiful and well maintained. We always enjoy the setting when we come to visit Arlene and Dale. Beyond the front gate I proceeded on Green Valley Road towards Placerville. The road is narrow and winding with no shoulder. Traffic is bothersome and somewhat speedy. The country is rural and vistas are rich with detail.  I climb and descend and generally am on the white stripe at the very edge of the asphalt. I note Missouri Road and make the final climb to Placerville Road which leads me to a highway entrance which I decide not to take. I return to Ray Lawyer Road and cross US 50 onto the south side and follow mountain roads to Placerville.

I take this town and savor it slowly. I ride ever so slowly and note the shops—a gun shop, a funky garage, the coffee house that I had stopped at during my last ski trip, the myriad of restaurants lining the entrance to town. It was Hangtown but now is Placerville. A checkered past it had and is now proud of its colorful history. At the first intersection I park my Giant Bike on a post and focus my Olympus for pictures. The light is soft and photos should be good. I try a couple of shots but the camera won’t co-operate. It must be the batteries. Chasasm! Rats! @#$##!!, I thought. I walk my bike a few paces and scan the storefronts for help. Across the street I note a familiar sign, iconic of the past and art deco to boot. It’s the Rexall oval with the familiar orange and white.. Maybe this is why I relish these bike trips in that I make connections with my youth. I see atavistic symbols which unearth periods of my life long since forgotten….till now that is. This Rexall sign reminds of the days in Fairfax in Marin County during the fifties. I cross the street with bike in tow and lean it on the window so that I can see it from within. I hold up my Olympus and motion to the young blond girl behind the counter, “Batteries, please!”

“How come you only run out of batteries when you need them?’ I ask.

She laughs and hands me four double “A’s” lithium batteries for $11.50. She said these last a lot longer than the regular ones.

I continue my adventure taking pictures with one hand and guiding my bike with the other. There are people walking about and traffic is continuous on main street. But…the town is cool and the architecture is reminiscent of its rich and wealthier history. There is the Liar’s Bench, a bar across the way with bright, orange neon. And.. the Hangman’s Tree, a historic spot with a human figure dangling by the neck on a rope. There is a tower, the court house, brick buildings and western store fronts with rich pediments and Victorian decorations. I take pictures and note the details. Later I’ll have reminiscences and combine the photos with my recollections. Together they combine to create the richness of my experience. It’s comfortable and cool and my senses are heightened by this sense of adventure. I hear the waters of the river behind the row of store fronts. I see the mountains above the roof tops. People walk by and nod or smile. I think they are friendly….perhaps I’m just happy and they are reacting to a smiling face with a camera in one hand and a bike in the other.

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Scenes of vintage buildings on Main Street in Placerville.

On the eastern outskirt of town I take a left on Carson Road which climbs through residential neighborhoods onto mountain terrain leaving the hubbub of town life behind. The road is narrow and the slope is steep at times. But….there is little or no traffic and each turn reveals the visual gifts of Apple Hill.

Ah! Yes, Apple Hill, a hidden gem on the outskirts of Placerville and just below the serious snow of the Sierras was the place I had wanted to explore for some time now. It was begun in the early sixties by the owners and glowers of the pear orchards in the area. At the time the orchards were devastated by a rampant disease and literally were wiped out. The growers put their heads together and decided to plant apple trees to compete with those of Washington State. In the early days the lore has it that the growers met informally at each others’ farms and commiserated over how bad the business was and drank some good stuff too.  But…with time and marketing effort and the relentless growth of California the area was discovered by tourists and its popularity increased. Now it’s well organized with a good web site and well marked maps and roads.

I climb the peaceful and shaded road winding its way through the lush underbrush. Over a rise I see a sea of rust, golds and reds. Waves of color undulating to the contours of the earth. It’s a vineyard and I stop to absorb the lush colors and take pictures. I ponder what the life must be like running a vineyard, surveying the splendor of the vines in the different seasons, the excitement of the harvest, the pride when the labels are affixed, the tasting of the wine with friends over a sumptuous meal served on the back deck overlooking the southern slopes of the vineyards. Ah, but this is just the romantic adventurous notions of a novice looking from the outside. I’m sure that many feel the same way about the restaurant business as they dine in some romantic or iconic spot. But…I’m on an adventure and I allow myself the luxury to let my imagination wander without the pall which reality would cast over the notion.

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The first stop on the apple quest is The Farm and number 55 on the Grower’s Association Farm Trail map. I enter and explore the interior and products and also think about buying some apple cider but quickly decide to purchase some water instead. It’s a rustic and hearty interior with wonderful aromas of apples and bake goods permeating throughout. A “Johnny Appleseed” type of guy with a heavy grayish beard and a rough exterior nodded and smiled and watched me walk to the next area. He must have been the owner or a wacko or something. Before I left I had recounted to my pals at Chili’s about my proposed adventure to Apple Hill. They had laughed and counseled me to be careful in that those folks in the mountains might take a shine to me in my Lycra-spandex bicycle tights and repeat a scene from “Deliverance”. I looked back at the guy who was still in the back entrance and I chuckled to myself as I paid for the water and returned to my waiting bike.

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 The Barn #55image019Smokey Ridge Ranch,  #133

 The route I had roughly carved out for the day was along Carson Road which paralleled U. S. 50 in an easterly direction towards Lake Tahoe and joined Pony Express Trail just beyond Cedar Grove. I had intended to go as far as my energies would take me. I looped north on North Canyon Road and would rejoin the Pony Express Trail some miles east. I traveled leisurely, more interested in the scenery, the architecture, the signs and local culture than getting to a specific spot in good time. My mind was relaxed and clear and in a receptive state. The warm rays of the soft sunshine warmed my back and provided a soothing and romantic aura to the scenes before me. The colors were muted and gentle, the lines were soft and highlighted by nuances of shadows barely noticeable. Abel’s Apple Acres appeared just above a rise revealing a full parking lot with parents and children scattered in every direction. I entered and noted the bake goods- pies with crumb crusts neatly displayed, pastries, strudels, cookies, jams, butters, and apple recipes covering shelves all along the entrance wall. The back of the building opened into a spacious patio overlooking a fine vista of the valleys with winding road and orchards and vineyards. It was a bucolic scene, although…..somewhat contrived as one began to note upon closer inspection the black and white spotted cardboard cows placed at intervals down the slope towards the children’s play area. Suddenly shrieks captured my attention. To my right was a family with this kid. About ten, I would say. He hated life, the world, his parents, this apple stop and in the top of his whining and shrill voice screamed that he wanted to go home. All the while his doting mother was trying to assuage his feelings. If ever I wished to punch someone’s lights out this kid would have been a prime target. I hated the whimpering mass of spoiledness instantly. On my way out, there was the mother and grandmother soothing the brat.

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 Abel’s Apple Acres  #38

 I resumed my blissful journey. There was Boa Vista Orchards, and Hillside Tree Farm and Sun Mountain Farm. There was solitude and harmony. Not a car to be seen; just a two lane road winding its way through sweeping valleys and gentle hills. Without effort I found myself walking through the trees of a nearby apple orchard. With camera in hand I focused on the remnants of the harvest probably overlooked or at the time not yet ripe.

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  Lush and ripe and conspicuously hanging on the leafless tree. I wished to pluck one and crunch it right there in the orchard. But I just took pictures. Who knows, the folks here may not take kindly to apple plucking.image027    Sun Mountain Farm #28

More placid thoughts, more effortless miles, up some inclines and into a dense forest I heard German ump-pa-pa music blaring through lush vegetation. Around a bend the shaded road lead me to the front of Bavarian Hills Orchards with a delightful delicatessen and beer garden in front overlooking the road. All the while German beer songs blared in all directions. How very delightful! It was open  but could not see anyone except the owners off loading a truck. It looked as though they were just opening for the day.

 image029Bavarian Hills Orchard #11

This place would make for a perfect outing on a later visit to Arlene and Dale’s house. A little ride to Apple Hill and a cozy lunch in a recessed and quaint nook. A Bavarian nook at that!

 image031An iconic spot!

 It was noon or thereabouts! The few apples that I had photographed looked delightfully luscious and had brought to mind “hunger”. Yep, lunch was a good idea. I completed a descent and North Canyon Road intersected Larsen Road which was the center of an expansive valley and home of Larsen’s Apple Barn and Bake Shop. Just perfect. I explored the grounds and noted the large water wheel at the edge of the parking lot.

 image033Larsen’s Bake Shop #9

 I settled on the back covered deck and ate my turkey and avocado on french roll with potato salad.  A simple lunch overlooking fine countryside is savored especially when lunch is your first meal of the day. I sat and looked and reminisced the many lunch spots on my travels which produced these special feelings. Perhaps it’s a moment of contentedness, a mind at ease and an outlook able to appreciate the simple and the valuable. The water wheel turned lissome and silently just behind. There was an occasional car which would make a rushing noise as it passed close to the deck and only to disappear with the road diving into the tree line. Two ladies appeared in the field across the valley a few hundred yards away taking pictures of the splashes of wild colors unleashed by the caressing November sun. I wrote in my journal in between bites but it was useless. The beauty of the valley commanded my entire attention. All else was a wasted effort. So, I let my body go limp against the chair and gazed without focus and let my mind wander.

 Later, much later I resume my ride along Larsen Drive. Slowly, with little effort I proceeded at a measured rate. Some farms were closed, or had signs out that they had “sold out”. It’s late in the season and the tourist push was over. It was the best time to be here. Denver Dan’s Apple farm caught my eye. A large Quonset hut sprawled in the valley to my right with a festive and funky sign cresting its apex. Farm machinery and work trucks were parked around its side. Houses randomly hugged the road line—not houses with modern lines or trendy architectural details but houses that showed wear and designs of a time gone by. They were functional houses as were the farm buildings. Not the gentrified, multi gabled, ornate windowed designs of the more affluent areas of California. It was refreshing to see function over style. Perhaps this is the charm of this area. It reminded me of Napa Valley before it got yuppified. Of Monterey and Santa Cruz before the big bucks of Silicon Valley moved in. Contrived, neat, orderly and modern. Nice but no character.  I’m sure that this is the writing on the wall for this area too, not too far off in the future. But…for now it was pleasant to pedal in this pristine area and to realize its measured time and appreciate it.

image035Denver Dan’s  #14

image037Bolster’s Hilltop Ranch & Winery #45

The loop, the trek, the adventure was approaching the end. They all do. The enthusiasm and excitement and curiosity and wonder yield to pragmatism. It’s getting late; days are short in November; how far am I from home? My musings transformed into reality as I rejoined Carson Road at Cedar Grove by U S. 50. The ride back was fast, downhill and amazingly quick into Main Street, Placerville. My mind was content with the richness of the day’s experience and the scenery passed by with nary a sound or effort or sense of weather. I was a spectator coming back to reality from another world. At the house Dale was sweeping the garage, Nicholas on the porch with his toys, Cassidy at the computer chatting with her cyber friends and Patricia and Arlene in the dining room redying all for the Thanksgiving dinner. It was good to be home.

Luciano J. Ercolini

The Cycling Tuscan

Dalmatian Realty, Silicon Valley Real Estate, www.dalmatianrealtysv.com

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