The rail line up the Feather River Canyon is one of the most important and heavily traveled routes in the West. At the top of the canyon, in the charming railroad town of Portola (still a major crew changeover point for Union Pacific), is the Portola Railroad Museum, possibly the only place in the nation where one may walk up, plunk down some money (OK, not a trivial amount of money) and take a locomotive out for a drive. (Is this a great country or what?) Railfans may wish to note the museum is the final resting place for much of the rolling stock from the late, great Western Pacific. The museum, operated on an all-volunteer basis by the Feather River Rail Society, maintains a Web site at -- what else? -- www.wplives.org. For an unforgettable family experience we strongly recommend this side-trip.
The Keddie Wye, an insanely bold feat of railroad engineering, is a spot where two main lines diverge -- in mid-air, on trestles hundreds of feet above the canyon floor. It is considered one of the Seven Wonders of the Railroad World. It is easily visible from Highway 70. Look up at it and wonder how much they had to pay some suicidal ironworkers to build that structure bolt-by-bolt.
Just 25 miles south of Quincy on Highway 70 is Graeagle, a major destination for retirees and golfers from the San Francisco Bay Area. It's not in the official data book, but one look at the Plumas National Forest map will show you that it's a very convenient resupply and base option for the PCT in the Lakes Basin area north of Sierra City. In Graeagle, the River Pines Resort (530 836-0313) on Highway 70 just a few feet from the river, is a welcome throwback to a slower, less slick era in family vacationing. Old motel units and cabins. Big trees. And a decent if unremarkable bar and grill on the premises. The very small motel rooms have not been updated since LBJ was in the Oval Office -- and we hope they never are. There are several lodges in the Lakes Basin offering a similar retro experience in a more secluded location for double the price.
Departing Graeagle, before you can get the car out of second gear you'll find yourself in Blairsden, a one-block town with one of the great culinary secrets of the North Sierra: the Grizzly Grill (250 Bonta St., 530 836-1300). We have no idea how they are able to make this fly financially -- arty, beautifully presented Bay Area cuisine and a great wine list at Plumas County prices. This is an outstanding value and deserves our strongest recommendation. The meal -- and the unexpected level of top-flight professional service -- we received for $65 was almost criminal. Somebody stop these people before the foodies on Chowhound.com find out. The epicurean swells who edit the Guide Michelin define a four-star restaurant as one that is "worth a special trip." No question this is it.