Pinnacles (3)

img_2549I am brave, and I am strong, and I have new shoes. Some of you may recall my mantra when I got myself in a spot of bother at the top of a ladder in Badlands. Far fewer of you will recall the first time I visited Pinnacles National Park and had a panic attack whilst trying to clamber up a tight cave passage. Well this visit was my chance at a rematch with prior defeats, only now de feets have much better shoes.

img_2526Friday we abandoned town, hoping that by heading south we might escape some of the smoke coming from the “Camp Fire.” Poor California is getting battered again, proving that nowadays even November can bring a summer blaze. It was a long drive and the last hour or so was in the dark. We did see a clear sky full of stars when we got there, so we knew the air quality was at least “better.” We got the same site we’ve had in the past, under a huge old oak tree. This time of year was a little exciting because we kept getting bombarded by an artillery of acorns creating huge thuds on the roof. I’m surprised there was no damage, considering how loud they were.

img_2536Saturday we took the shuttle over to the Bear Gulch Visitor Center and caught the trail through the Bear Gulch Talus Caves. This is a pretty easy way to go cave exploring. There are stairs and hand rails and the trail is very clearly marked. Along the way, you can see groups of rock climbers scaling the various peaks and we stopped to watch one of them attempt a particularly dangerous looking maneuver. It turns out the sound of colorful language carries quite far in a rock canyon and the guy got an enthusiastic ovation from the audience below when he made it to the top.

In the afternoon we both had nappy time, Richard indoory in Dory, me in my Nemo chair, wrapped in a blanket. It is getting chilly outside and the high technology of adding extra blankets is coming in handy. We tend to forget about technology around this time of year until one of us goes, “Oh yeah!” It’s always a joyful realization when we remember we can solve the chilly problem with things we already have.

img_2558Sunday we headed out early and confronted the Balconies Caves. I still vividly remembered the place where I really didn’t think I could make it up over a big, slippery boulder. It was after that hike that I invested in good hiking shoes. That was three yeas ago though, so I had to re-buy those same shoes in advance of this trip. This trail is about 5.5 miles round trip and the cave part is far more rugged. We liken Bear Gulch to a “Disneyland” cave experience. img_2553The Balconies feel more like the real deal. There is a section where it is truly light-less and it genuinely seems like the glow in the dark arrows painted on the rock wall are leading you into a dead end. But I remembered those parts and that made this time around more fun. In fact, even when I got to the place I had previously gotten stuck, I think the sheer knowing anticipation made it seem like no big deal. It was a good feeling to have vanquished the beast, and I rode that high all along the Cliffs Trail that took us back.img_2568

Of course, our eyes were drawn to the skies as we walked, on the lookout for Condors. I think it is entirely possible we spotted one. We’d been told by other hikers that there were two in the area and we definitely saw a Condor-like bird slowly circling around the peaks. I took a bunch of blurry pictures and showed them to the ranger when we got back. He wouldn’t fully commit since my pictures were so small, but my description of flight patterns and where we’d seen it did earn a nod and a “Yeah, that could definitely have been one.” So I’m going with it.

img_2579Monday was Veteran’s Day and we needed to find a dump station on our way home. The dump at Pinnacles is closed for maintenance and we had two options: the Tres Pinos Fairgrounds, or some place called Casa de Fruta. For some reason, Richard seemed excited about the latter, though I had no idea why. Once we got there, I realized it was well worth the side trip. Casa de Fruta is a whole little self contained RV “resort” world, out in the middle of nowhere, about ten miles to the east of Hollister. img_2586The place has got the branding game down. Before having lunch at Casa de Wine and Deli, we filled gas at Casa de Diesel. And ya gotta have dessert at Casa de Ice Cream, of course, where I picked up a gift of a Casa de Adventure Sluice, where you search for treasures in what is basically a bag of sand. I spent $5 on that and have no regrets. None. We never actually made it to the Casa de Fruta building, but we did enjoy watching the Casa de Train making its way through the outdoor …. gallery?… of old rusted out farm equipment. I’m telling you, this place was way more than I expected, peacocks and all. It was Casa de Crazy and I would give it five stars just for fully committing to whatever the hell that was.

Wonderful three day weekend!!

Total miles: 128.1, 17.4 mpg, 4 hours 16 min. Site 87. Electric hookups. Water spigots nearby. NO cell service, even boosted, though Verizon got just enough to make a phone call. Parking lots at the trail heads can fill up and rangers will close the roads to all traffic when that happens. The shuttle can take you to Bear Gulch, but not the Balconies trailhead. Get out early if you want a parking place and it’s crowded.

Glory Hole Recreation Area

img_2505I know. Listen, I did not name the place. I refer you to etymonline.com for the historical meaning of the term, before it acquired its urban dictionary entry:

glory hole (n.) 1825, “drawer or box where things are heaped together in a disorderly manner.” The first element probably is a variant of Scottish glaur “to make muddy, dirty, defile” (Middle English glorien, mid-15c.), which is perhaps from Old Norse leir “mud.” Hence, in nautical use, “a small room between decks,” and, in mining, “large opening or pit.” Meaning “opening through which the interior of a furnace may be seen and reached” (originally in glassblowing) is from 1849, probably from glory (n.), which had developed a sense of “circle or ring of light” by 1690s.

With that out of the way, I will say this is a fun place in the Sierra foothills, close to boating and attractions such as Angels Camp, which hosts the annual “Calaveras Jumping Frog Jubilee.”

img_2490For us, it’s about a 3 1/2 hour drive on Highway 4 East, all the way until you hit 49. This is the Gold Rush highway and there are all kinds of fun places to visit out there. New Melones Lake has 2 Bureau of Reclamation campgrounds: Tuttletown, and Glory Hole. The water level in the reservoir can vary dramatically, and there are times certain loops are either closed or have porta potties only. So be forewarned that you might need to check ahead to see what the status is. I had reserved a place in the Ironhorse loop and was notified that we’d been moved to Big Oak, due to refurbishment work. I can’t say porta potties are our favorite thing, but it wasn’t that big a deal and we have our own shower. We also had most of the place to ourselves, making for a nice getaway.

img_2502Our site gave us a nice view of the marina down below, and the door side of Dory was completely private. There wasn’t a lot of flat space near the driveway area, but there was a small level ledge with a picnic table below. There were water spigots running but I’ve seen reviews stating that sometimes the water gets shut off.

img_2500Saturday we ventured out on one of the hikes by Angels Creek. I’m pretty good at finding my way on trails, but I will say the signage out of the parking lot left me thinking we were on the Buck Brush trail, when in fact we were on the Angels Creek trail. It didn’t take me too long to figure it out, but Richard would have been lost forever over that kind of inadequate trail marking if he had been on his own. It was lucky Richard had downloaded a map on his phone ahead of time. It turned out to be a 2.5 mi hike when we were expecting more like a mile. It was easy though and mostly shaded.

img_2498Plus, we spotted what I initially thought was a fox, but turned out to be a squirrelus giganticus. I’m pretty sure that’s a new discovery and I hereby claim all rights, privileges, and wealth associated with the find.

New Melones Lake seems to have fingers that spread out forever. One of these days I’ll put my kayak in the water. I think the best place to launch would be from the “beach” at Angels Creek. With the water levels low, it would be an ordeal to get the boat down, so this was a hiking weekend only.

img_2508As we were sitting in our swing chairs, a friendly camper came over and started chatting. He began with questions about Altos, but ended up sharing a lot of good lakeside campground recommendations. He even wrote down the information to a reference book that he brought over later. Very friendly.

In all, this was a really nice place in the foothills. The weather was neither too hot, nor too cold, and we had a good view of the water from our site. We also got a nice sunset over the water, which is always one of my favorite things.

Total miles: 122.0, 3 hours 28 min, 15.4 mpg. Site 130 Big Oak loop. Bathrooms and showers temporarily closed. Water spigots working. No hookups but good solar. LTE for both of us. Good dump, but $8 fee, even for campers.

Butano (2)

img_2473I’m catching up on this post from last week. Butano State Park is a perfect little fairy wonderland of a place. The campground is one of those deep redwoods places where you are enveloped in a blanket of cool, quiet, peaceful forest beauty. The drive there hits one of the most impressive sections of the California coastline. It’s difficult to reserve and the campground is closed in the winter, but it’s well worth the effort to snag a site.

img_2472Some of the sites are quite unlevel, and now that we’ve ditched the BAL, we’ve come to appreciate the Lynx levelers a lot. We do need to invest in a tongue jack stand of some kind though, because we were a little tippy even with the jack cranked up to its max. Most of the sites are spacious and offer privacy on at least one side. Some are clearly only suitable for tent campers because they’re so steep.

img_2477For this visit, we checked out the Little Butano Creek trail, which was pretty easy and entirely shaded. There were some climbs, but they were short, and the natural air conditioning of the redwoods kept it cool the whole way. At the end of the trail, there is a power station of some kind. That was a mystery we have not yet solved. I suspected it was for some kind of water pump to supply fire equipment, but that’s just a guess.

Sunday we sat and talked with our morning coffee, but then strangely veered off course and headed into the stupidest argument ever over some Facebook video. What a silly waste of time that was and a ridiculous way to close the weekend. Upon reflection, we think we may be experiencing “wtf is wrong with the world” tension, which is seeping into our reactions to mundane posts in unexpected ways. Dory gives us blissful respite from world events just long enough to keep us afloat and escape the madness one weekend at a time. But there is no denying it’s out there. Yes, we recovered and yes, it’s all fine, but it was one of those times that makes you go, “Wow, what was that all about?” Happily, I get to follow this post with a fully normal weekend report. We did keep checking in with each other though on whether or not we should argue over things like- how do house boats dump their tanks, or do we like the actress in “Downton Abbey.” Don’t worry, it’s all good.

Total miles: 75.8, 15.9 mpg, 2 hours 25 min. Site 2. Other good sites: 1, 2*, 4, 5, 6, 8, 9, 10 & 11 (next to bathroom), 13, 14, 16*, 20. NOT good: 3, 15, 17.

Coloma Resort (2)

img_2456Well this was the perfect do-over, I must say. Last time we came, we had to cut our visit short unexpectedly. So we reserved the very same site, and even got to cash in the rain check with a fabulous friend. All good!

Traffic all along Interstate 80 on Friday was slow going, so we ended up pulling in after dark. Score a point for the exterior port side light with the external switch. img_2432We even felt confident enough to use the CM and spin Dory for the nice river view we knew we’d get in the morning.

After getting set up, I got to bask in the darkness of my new and improved Sad Room. I have found that there are some weeks where the intensity of the world is just a little too much for me. Especially in the past two years. In those moments, what helps the most is being out in Dory, staring through the big glass windows, listening to music, and sipping a margarita or cold glass of wine. Richard always kindly offers to deal with dinner, but that requires light in order to see, and escaping the horrors of the universe is an activity best attempted in the dark. img_2408I tried pulling the privacy curtain to create a Sad Room for me, and a Happy Room for him. The problem was that the factory installed curtain only goes as far as the shower, so way too much light is able to creep in. My latest project has been to finish off the curtain, thus blocking the entry of all forms of happiness.

img_2410The hardest part of this project was finding exactly the right parts online. I admit this is a challenge I enjoy, and I was ultimately able to get precisely matching supplies. The aluminum curtain track needed to be cut down from 4′ and I simply attached it to the ceiling with strong double sided sticky tape. The fabric for the curtain is actually a blackout curtain liner (53″x58″) and comes with a strip of velcro pre sewn across the top. All I needed to do there was cut that part off and sew on a length of snap tape.img_2414 This section required 8 matching snap glides and fits nicely in that space. To close off the small gap around the corner, I decided to leave an extra flap of fabric with a small velcro square at the end. This then sticks to the shower curtain rail mount. And voila! I can now settle into total sadness while dinner cooks. What is kind of amazing is that creating two separate spaces has the effect of making Dory actually seem a lot bigger. I’m very happy with the results of this Sad project.

img_2445Saturday we walked around the historic part of Coloma. This is the site where gold was first discovered by James Marshall in 1848. The California Gold Rush followed and forever changed the history of the west. Many of the buildings and structures are restorations from originals that have long since perished. But some of the buildings are originals and most of the artifacts on display are either from the site, or from nearby historic collections that match what would have been used by the people in Coloma at the time.

img_2441The Visitor Center is new and very impressive. There are multimedia displays telling the story of the miners, the immigrants, and the Native Americans who had been living in the area before the vast migration. We spent a good hour there and then went and looked at the outside exhibits. They have a monument marking the original location of Sutter’s Mill, and a recreation of the mill farther away from the river’s edge.

img_2452Again, we enjoyed a meal at the Argonaut cafe/restaurant and chatted with our friendly server from before, who even remembered us as the “happy campers”! She is awesome, as was the turkey sandwich and side salad. For dessert, we got some gelato to go and headed to the blacksmith shop, where we got a nice history lesson from an actual blacksmith making actual things. One tidbit he shared was that the historic bridge we drive across to get to the RV park is listed somewhere as one of the “most dangerous bridges in CA.” This, because of its age, the lack of expertise of the people who built it in 1915, and the frequent river floods that threaten to wash it all away. We figured, as long as we’re not *on* the bridge when it collapses, we’d be ok if we have to just live by the river in the RV resort from now on.

img_2455After lunch, I got to enjoy a really wonderful afternoon talking with my long lost friend. She lives not too far from Coloma so I was super glad she was able to come over. She’s probably the nicest human I know, so of course she thought to bring snacks and wine. We talked and talked until we realized it was dinner time. Richard was out on a bike ride in the afternoon and returned with a nasty bee sting on his face. It looked red, but luckily he does not appear to be allergic. Ouch though!

img_2433Sunday we headed home and took Lotus Road to Shingle Springs rather than Highway 49. That is a good call and how we’d get there next time. I will note that the dump in the RV park is one of those annoying raised concrete pads with a high curb. For little trailers, this makes dumping unpleasant and you have to kind of snake everything through the hose to get it over the curb. Yuck. Besides that though, this is a great place to hang out. You’ve got river side sites with hookups, fun things to do that are walking distance, and a great restaurant. We’d return for sure. Next time, I’d really like to know if there’s a kayak put in spot up river. That would be fun.

Total miles (way off because of traffic rerouting and detours): 131.2, 4 hours 7 min, 16.0 mpg. Site 72. Electric and water, nice solar. No service for ATT, but pretty good free campground wifi. LTE for Verizon. Walking around the park, there is CA State Park wifi too.

 

Collins Lake (2)

img_2384I had a feeling this place was going to become one of my favorites. When we first checked it out last Spring, the lake was at its highest point, which was lovely, but it was also raining steadily when we were there. This weekend’s temperatures were perfect. And though the lake was much lower, we still were able to get a site where I could easily get my boat to the water for a paddle.

img_2386The drive there on Friday was on the long side, almost 3 1/2 hours, with traffic and all, but still not bad enough to rule out weekend trips. I’d noted the site we reserved as a good one, and it really was fantastic. It is meant for a large RV to pull forward into, so the hookups are on the lefthand side. We weren’t planning to drive anywhere, so we just pulled forward and did some CM maneuvering to get the right Dory view. There was lots of room and plenty of distance and privacy from other sites.

img_2385The campground was pretty full, and it’s an enormous campground. I think on the order of 500 sites, some with hookups, some not, many along the edge with water views. With the lake as low as it was, there really weren’t any sites better situated for kayak launching, but there were many where you could walk your boat down the slope to the water. There were lots of families and groups and gave the place a very festive feel. We liked it. If you’re looking for remote and away from people, this is not the place for you unless it’s in the very off season. We didn’t feel crowded or hemmed in by our neighbors, but again, we got a great site, so I’m sure that makes a difference.

After dinner, we walked over to the campground office/store/ice cream place where there is good wifi and, you know, ice cream. I got a multi-scoop waffle cone and was certain I would never be able to finish it. I asked for a cup so I could put the part I didn’t finish into the freezer. But then I had a snaccident and finished the whole thing. It was chocolate fudge brownie, by the way, and really good.img_2391

Saturday Richard went out for a ride and I did a report before getting in the water for a nice paddle. The weather was perfect and I bobbed around for several hours. Richard helped me carry the boat up to our site when I was done, and we went back over to the store to get our fix of internet. Oops, too much internet. Good thing I brought emergency supplies to counter bad news on the internet. img_2395Back to radio silence and a couple episodes of “The Crown.” Good show, that (said with just a hint of a British accent, because that’s my new goal in life).

img_2396Our drive home Sunday was also over three hours, and there wasn’t more than usual traffic (though there was a slow down passing by a huge brush fire), so I think that’s just what it will take. It’s a destination that is well worth it though and I think we’re going to be seeing a lot more of it. With hookups by the water, this is one of my all time primo sites. And there is even shade (and AC) so summer visits would not be out of the question.

Total miles: 134.6, 15.5 mpg, 3 hours 24 min. Site 52. Love it. Shady site, so no solar. No cell service at the lake, didn’t try to boost. Good wifi at the office. 4 good dumps by the entrance. Electric and water hookups at the site. Vault toilet with water flush.

Mt. Madonna County Park

img_2375It’s always nice to find pleasant spots with hookups. This county park is a lovely surprise just west of Gilroy and would be worth return trips. There are loops for RVs and for tent campers, all located inside the shelter of a redwood forest, with a pretty easy drive from home. Definite score.

Taking Highway 101 to 152, we hit some typical Friday traffic, but still got to our site around 6:30. Soon, the clocks will change and I’ll bet we will appreciate that port side light we got installed. The campground was hopping with kids riding around on bikes and families hanging out together for dinner. The only thing interrupting the peaceful vibe was the intermittent thud of acorns or redwood cones hitting Dory’s roof. Some of them were loud!

img_2373Saturday we woke up super lazily late and decided to check out the park’s historic site. It was a woodsy, uphill hike from the campground to the location of Henry Miller’s House. He was a German immigrant who went from having 50 cents in his pocket in 1850, to controlling 14.5 million acres of land in CA, OR, and NV for his million head of cattle to graze. He built a summer home on Mt. Madonna and you can see what is left of the foundations and couple of remaining walls after the site was abandoned.

img_2367Also present in the park is a small group of White Fallow Deer, apparently gifted from the herd at Hearst Castle. What is perhaps most impressive about the animals on display is the hefty security around the enclosure. When you walk up, you expect either to see warning signs about the terrifyingly lethal nature of these deer, or witness one get eaten by a T-Rex. In actuality, the barbed wire and electrified fencing is there to prevent them from being eaten by the local Mountain Lions. Also, but not as much, exciting.

The trails were lovely and there was a beautiful wedding going on at the amphitheater. We remarked on how much Dory-ing feels like going on regular weekend honeymoons. We also noted that it would be fun to renew our vows in a park like this one, and rent a taco truck for guests, like this couple had done. We spent the hike back to Dory contemplating tacos.

img_2378For the afternoon, I churned out a report and tried out my other project: a magnetic screen door. This is a flagrant copy project, stolen from Jim Gauvreau, and it works great! It is just a pre-made screen ordered off Amazon, which has been trimmed down to size and mounted with velcro. This prevents bugs from getting in when you want as much breeze and airflow possible. Now that summer is receding and there is a distinct chill in the air, I question my timing on this project. Still, it will be nice next year.

This is a great county park. The sites have trees between them for some privacy, and hookups in the RV loop. Great dump and hiking trails to boot. For those who like campground showers, there are nice clean facilities. Thanks Mr. Police Officer who chatted with us at Anderson Lake for the recommendation!

Total miles: 88.8, 16.1 mpg, 2 hours 54 min. Site 115. Electric and water in RV loop, Valley View 1. Good dump, potable water. No cell service for either. Boosted, we both could get 1-2 bars of slow LTE.

 

 

Westside Regional Park

IMG_2361I think we’ve got Bodega Bay covered. This campground is part of the Sonoma County Regional Parks and sits right across the bay from Doran Beach. There is a row of sites right along the water, but we weren’t in any of those. This was an exploratory mission weekend to check the place out.

IMG_2340Besides spending part of Saturday writing a report, we didn’t do a whole lot. We walked down to the Spud Point Chowder Co. for lunch and I tested out the completed version of the Pahaque Visor. I bought this used off a friend and found there were some missing parts. As my little Dory “some day” projects have been mounting, I splurged and got a new heavy duty sewing machine. Making homemade pole pockets was one of the first items checked off the list.

IMG_2350It took some searching to find the coupler piece that holds the poles together, but they work nicely now. In fact, I’m quite pleased with the whole set up. With the poles in the pockets, you can put the visor up without any staking into the ground. This is handy when on pavement or hard packed dirt. This setup requires there be no more than moderate winds, but it can be adjusted for heavier wind by putting the pole ends on the ground and running guy lines out away from the Alto. It seems pretty secure and is fairly easy to put up. One piece of advice: the instructions say to insert the arc pole all the way into the sleeve before putting the visor in the keder track. I disagree. All that does is create a giant, awkward kite that inevitably rolls around in the dirt before you can get it in place. I found it to be much easier to put the material all the way in the track, letting the end with the pole opening go past the rail and hang down about a foot. Then insert the pole and create the arc shape in place. My little keder anchors work very well to keep things from scooting around and everything stayed nicely secure. Also: ice packs filled with water work well to keep rug corners from blowing around.

Dinner Saturday at La Bogedita. Not much else to report. Lovely lazy weekend.

Total miles: 85.6, 15.0 mpg, 2 hours 52 min. Site 3. Nice sites by the water: 35-47, all solar. 35* is on the end. Not much privacy. Flush bathrooms, nice dump, but you have to pay $7. Walking distance to boat launch. 2 bars LTE for both.