Doran Beach (6)

img_8810There’s always something new, isn’t there? Staggering away from a Friday that left me thinking, “Yeah, you guys definitely won that round,” we headed to one of our fave Bodega Bay locations. It really wasn’t until after our night walk along the beach that I was able to shake off the feeling of getting my ass handed to me by third graders. But there was a full moon, crashing waves, big screen movies in a cozy Dory bed, and perhaps some alcohol involved in the rescue of my mood, if not dignity.

img_8828Saturday we kind of lazed around until the afternoon. Then we went for a hike on the Pinnacle Gulch Trail, where you can only do the whole thing when it’s low tide. We timed it specifically, also planning ahead for optimum sunset viewing. What we didn’t expect was to find more sea stars than I have ever seen in my life, all in one place. It was crazy! There were even some researchers out there in the tide pools too, taking measurements and cataloging the phenomenon. img_8823They said that in 2013, most of the sea stars had gotten some kind of disease, all but dying off. For some reason, they had come back with a vengeance. I also noticed the rocks were covered with muscles in numbers that defied estimation. My hypothesis is that the sea stars faked their deaths, allowing the muscles to take over everything. Then, they could just mount a sudden return campaign saying, “Psych!” and feast to their little hearts’ content. Whatever the reason behind the comeback, they were really beautiful to see.

img_8841Yes, we saw another glorious sunset, as well as crazy ocean bathers in frigid weather. Frigid for us. They were probably from the east coast, or Canada or something. After the show, we enjoyed our usual Mexican restaurant and all was well.

Sunday, Richard rode out and I planned to meet him at the Wild Flour Bakery. Sadly, Google was not aware they were on their winter break closure. But we’re coming back to the area next weekend, so maybe we can have a do over.

Sixth visit. Still fun.

Total miles: 82.5, 2 hours 29 min, 16.0 mpg. Site 71 no hookups, great solar. Dump not so great, you have to pay $7 for it, and there was a line. So went to Bodega Dunes to dump. $8, worth it. Great cell for both.

Morro Bay (4)

img_8801Buh bye winter break! Glad we got to end in such a happy place. Dang we love Morro Bay! We were super pleased to be able to get a site in the state park campground and attribute this to it being the off season. It’s normally a lot harder to book there. Practically the first thing we did after setting up was walk down to the Bayside Cafe and got a late lunch and a large IPA on tap. All the driving from the day before became instantly worth it.

img_8803We did our night walk from the marina area out to Morro Rock, and followed with dinner at one of our favorite restaurants – House of JuJu. A nice glass of Chardonnay and fish tacos finished off the evening with a commitment to fully enjoy every last possible minute of vacation.

img_8771The next day, Richard really really tried to go on a bike ride. The fates were against him though, or his time traveling future self was trying really hard to keep him off the road. It worked, and after repeated flat tires, a trip to a bike store in San Luis Obispo to fix the flat tire, and then another flat tire, he decided it was time to give up. We salvaged the day though and went on a gorgeous ocean view hike until sunset.

img_8782Here’s a tidbit on equipment storage. We actually do put a lot of thought into what gets stored in Bruce vs. Dory. Like we think through what items we would want if we were away from Dory and wanted to do something spontaneous. So, after trying and failing at dropping Richard off for a bike ride, we were prepared with hiking shoes, head lamps, binoculars, and jackets to set off on a hike that might include watching the sunset and getting back to the car in the dark. #sunsetpreparedness

img_8798The return home was smooth and uneventful. Yeah, we hit traffic at the last 50 miles, but that was expected. The offspring did an awesome job taking care of house and kitty, and guess what we had waiting for us on our coffee table: the box of coffee pods we had our daughter try to general delivery mail to us! Mailing is hard. And it is not always obvious that you need to cross out the original “To” addressee if you’re re-posting a package. So she just ended up mailing it directly from our post office to our house. But no harm, no foul, all’s well that ends well.

Super awesome winter break! Already scheming next winter.

Total miles from Buena Vista: 134.0, 2 hours 52 min, 14.8 mpg. Site 93 no hookups.

Buena Vista Aquatic Recreation (2)

img_8736All I’m really going to share in this post with regards to the day is the fact that driving through any portion of the ‘big bowl’ of the greater Los Angeles area pretty much sucks. We left Anza Borrego, taking Montezuma Valley Road. This is a twisty road that climbs something like 4 thousand feet in about ten miles. It was fine taking Dory up it, but I wouldn’t want to take her down. From there, we took San Filipe Road to Highway 79. All of this was beautiful and sign warnings forbidding large trucks and RVs were unnecessary for small trailers. It was perfectly fine.

img_8732Once we got to Temecula, everything changed. From there, all the way through the valley, out 210 to 5, and out the Grapevine, it was yucky and trafficky. In fact, it was grueling enough that I would seriously consider bypassing the valley altogether and trying to do the back way, over the Tehachapi Pass and down 395 next time. That would be a hell of a lot of additional miles, but it might be worth it. At the very least, my future self will hopefully remember that it’s better to take 210 across the top of the valley and over to Indio via highway 10 than the “short route” on 215. Ugh. No likey.

img_8740I pushed farther than I’d planned, just to get out of L.A. The day was lost in terms of travel happiness, but I knew we’d earn a good next day and happy end to vacation. I will say that the Buena Vista Aquatic Recreation Area campground is a solid place to overnight. We were able to get a spot by the water on arrival at around 5. No hookups available, but we didn’t need em. Someone needs to fill me in on what happens at this place when it’s packed. It is clearly set up to accommodate a lot of parked cars, so there must be fairs or events that happen there. I’d say the only downsides are the subtle smell of the reservoir, which I imagine is worse in the summer, and the audible bang bangs coming from the nearby shooting range. But hey, it is a little haven off I5 near Bakersfield. For us, it fits the bill for traveling days and it’s the second time we’ve been super thankful for it after a long day of traffic driving.

Total miles from Anza Borrego: 259.0, 17.9 mpg, 5 hours 51 min. Site 61, no hookups, by the water. Ok bathrooms with weird sinks. LTE service for both.

 

Anza Borrego (2)

img_8708It was a really good call to head back to Anza Borrego following Buckskin Mountain. We love this park and it feels already like a familiar happy place. We also got to spend time with the Lindas, which we missed out on before the Altogather due to winter storms and time constraints. The weather turned warmer and there was full solar in the non hookups sites. Cell service was strong in the park and I got a chance to catch up on blogging. All wins.

img_8619Rather than drive straight back, we took a less direct route that took us through Joshua Tree. I really was curious about seeing it with snow on the ground, but hadn’t been curious enough to camp there with icy roads and freezing temperatures. This was a way to get a taste, and though it made for a long day, it was worth it.

After hitting the road, we ended up meeting back up at the Oasis Visitor Center. We got good information about road conditions and where to go to get pretty views. img_8584I also got to see Roadrunner up close and that was one of the highlights of my whole trip. Those are really fun birds to watch. I’d caught a couple of glimpses of them before, but they are legit fast little buggers and disappeared right after spotting them.

We headed into the park and ended up regrouping near the Jumbo Rocks campground. We were not the only people who had this idea and it was really hard to find a place to pull over.

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Photo: Linda Pratt

We grabbed a spot first, with the Lindas arriving shortly thereafter, and we all got to take some faceys in the snow. All around us were other folks, throwing snowballs and making little snow people. Once we’d had our fill, we kept going to find a place to turn around with trailers. On the way, we were treated to a truly other worldly view of a snowy desert wonderland. The snow at that point was quite specific to the higher elevations in the park. As soon as we began descending, it disappeared and gave way to the more typical cacti covered golden valleys and hillsides.

img_8660It was a long day by the time we reached the southern edge of the park. We stopped briefly at the visitor center located in the Cottonwood campground and found it to be very small and pretty crowded. Onward we pressed, through Box Canyon and into the Salton Sea valley once again. We replenished propane while Linda with dogs arrived at the campground ahead of us, only to find they had screwed up her reservation. She was able to stay in her site for that night, but unfortunately, had to move the next day. That was a big ReserveCalifornia fail there.

img_8688We spent the rest of our time chatting, regrouping after a lot of social time, and just relaxing in the warm sunny desert. Temperatures were in the 70s and all was lovely, including the sunsets and night hikes. We got dinner at Carlee’s, which seems to be the popular hangout in Borrego Springs. It’s your typical burger menu, but Linda without dogs got the biggest plate of shrimp pasta we’d ever seen. It looked like four meals, easily.

img_8700We were both sad to leave. Not only was it hard to leave a happy place, but it also marks really the end of winter break. This one was awesome. It was the perfect balance of new places and old. New friends and good friends. Relaxing times and “at least you got a story out of it” times. Nothing better.

Total miles from Buckskin Mountain (going through Joshua Tree): 262.9, 15.5 mpg, 6 hours 5 min. Site 70 no hookups. Great solar, strong LTE for both. Nice bathrooms (no spiders this time). Direct access to visitor center paved trail.

Buckskin Mountain SP – Altogather

img_8438The purpose for this destination was an arranged meet up with other Alto owners, otherwise known as “Altogathers.” Altogathers remain among my favorite camping experiences. I especially love meeting people in person I have “known” for a while online. And as our encounters have continued, we have made actual real friends, all because we share a unique enthusiasm for these little aluminum trailers. It’s really cool actually, and I seriously love these people.

img_8414Our drive to get there from Anza Borrego was lovely. We got routed through something called Box Canyon, and that turned out to be a destination in and of itself. It’s not all that long, but still a beautiful little Tatooine-like shortcut out of the Salton Sea valley. Then we got to enjoy a long, lonely drive along highway 62 until we came to Parker, AZ. This town lies right across the Colorado River, which makes up the border between California and Arizona. One interesting factoid: even though we crossed a time zone after crossing the bridge, our cell phones were hitting towers located in CA. This made for lots of confusion about what time it actually was, as well as what time gathering events were actually scheduled.

img_8434We were racing against the sunset to get there with enough light to back in, and we pretty much nailed that with not much to spare. Annie was already there and did us the favor of getting another camper to trade sites so that we could arrive a day early and not have to move. From there, we got lots of hugs and greetings from known friends as well as new ones. I’m not sure exactly how many Altos there were on the final count, but it must have been at least 15. Super cool!

img_8460Besides gathers for drinks and pot lucks, there was an organized trip out to the Nellie E Saloon Desert Bar. This place is touted as the most remote bar and grill around, powered entirely by solar. They are cash only and serve burgers, grilled sandwiches, awesome fries, and a full bar. There was live music and the place was absolutely packed. To get there, you have two choices: a nine mile (or so) drive along a rugged dirt road best suited for AWD vehicles, or a 5 mile crazy drive of terror, not suited for anyone sane. Guess what we did?

img_8455Well first, we caught a ride with “The Lindas” on the reasonable road, which was plenty bumpy enough to elicit jokes about putting on make up en route. We then enjoyed lunch and live music together for a while. Then, the two not sane people started hiking back along the 5 mile ATV road in order to really take in the scenery. Let me first say, Richard really tried to get good beta on this idea. He talked in person to the ranger in the campground about whether that would be a nice hike. The ranger got all excited because he had new detailed maps of the trails and said there would hardly be any ATVs out there due to the recent rains. “A beautiful hike” is I think how he framed it. So we said goodbye to our friends, joked about sending out search parties if we weren’t back by dark, and set out with daypacks.

img_8474We lost the trail after about ten feet, but recovered right away. Haha, that was funny, we said, now let’s enjoy the beautiful downhill trail to the river. I’m not sure at which mile point we really accepted how crazy an idea this was. We got out of the way quite a lot, precariously perching on the edges of cliffs for the pockets of ATV traffic to get by, before it got annoying. And we noticed within the first mile that the “road” seemed to be intentionally choosing the most up and down route possible to get from here to there. Like with normal hiking trails, someone has usually put effort into choosing the easiest way to traverse the wilderness. They won’t take you over a rise unless they have to. ATV tracks (I now understand) will go out of their way to go up and down even when there seems to be no freaking point to it.

img_8494We got all kinds of waves, and smiles, and stares, and laughs, from the ATV people going past us. I’m sure they were bewildered at why there would be people walking this thing unless something had gone horribly wrong with their day. And for the record, if I ever find myself in an ATV on that road and find people walking it, I will give them the same look. Except mine with come from knowledge.

img_8510But so we trudged along, slipping on the gravelly and rutted track with nearly every step. Until I slipped for real and came down HARD. On my BUTT. Like so hard, my skull shook. I think I screamed, “OW! …. OOOOOWWWWW!!” before getting up and trying to see if I could walk. Richard tried to stop me to assess the damage, but I continued cry/walking until the initial shock wore off. I was pretty sure I hadn’t broken my butt, and it wasn’t until later that the heel of my hand started to hurt, which told me I’d landed on that too. But I could walk. Which meant I could still get myself out of this stupid, self selected hell hike.

img_8475I’m stubborn too. So even though I was keenly noticing all of the empty seats in the ATVs going past us, I did not ask for a ride. I figured I could if it came to it, and that was all I needed to keep the feet moving forward. Meanwhile, a helicopter giving tourists rides over the route, passed by from time to time. I convinced myself the pilot was keeping close track on the progress of the crazy people and that they would save me if I spelled out HELP with cacti, or snakes, or whatever I could find out there.

img_8508I will say that the last maybe two miles of this thing was not quite as bad. The track got more dirt based, rather than slick-rocks-covered-with-gravel-booby-traps based. That was a welcome change, even if it still kept going exasperatingly up and down, because I really really did not want to fall again. The traffic from the ATVs subsided, which was both a blessing, and a concern. I thought they would all come screaming back the other direction at some point, and had been banking on that as an escape plan, but it was noticeably more pleasant without them.

img_8523We at last came to the place where a real hiking trail branched off from the road, and was theoretically going to lead back to the campground. Thing is, the signs were wrong for where we thought the trail was, and it is hard to follow trails in the desert, even with correct signs. The sun was low in the sky, we were low on water (because this was taking about twice as long as we figured it would), and we ended up saying screw it, let’s just finish the thing and end up at the “chicken market,” whatever that is. Surely we can call for help at that point.

img_8526And that is exactly what we did. We triumphantly (not really, more like bedraggledly) entered the River Island Market like survivors of a shipwreck and immediately ordered chicken wings. Richard chatted with the people working there enough that I could hear exclamations of: “You did what?!” coming from the counter. We then called the Lindas, and the Linda with dogs graciously drove the mile and a half up the highway to come save us. By the time she got there, word of our glory had spread to all souls present and another woman came up to our table and asked, “So which one of you walked that road from the desert bar with him?” I waved my damaged hand and she just said, “Well. That is something.” Then she called over to someone across the store to keep the story going of the people who intentionally walked back from the desert bar. “That is something,” seemed to be the general consensus. But you know what? Those were some of the best damn chicken wings I have ever had.

img_8550We recovered pretty well from that, I must say, and even tried another short hiking loop around the campground later on. Having now done two hikes in Arizona, I’m going to go ahead and make a wild generalization that Arizona trails are all up and down in the steepest way possible. Oh, and Richard chatted with the ranger later to share our impressions of that hike. His reply? “Oh, I’ve never walked it.” Also: “Yeah I’ve been meaning to get out there and check those new trail signs.” #facepalm

img_8532We had one mission to perform while we were in Parker, and that was to retrieve a box or two of ESE coffee pods. We seem to have left home with absolutely no prior planning for a two-week trip. I think we were both just too strung out from work to do much before leaving and two weeks didn’t seem that long a time. By the time we got to Anza Borrego, we realized we didn’t have any backup coffee pods because our regular shipment had not arrived before we left. So you can imagine the scene of us counting pods, as though taking inventory of life sustaining medication, during a zombie apocalypse, in order to calculate how many more days we had left to live. We assessed the situation, knowing we’d be coming up short, and so arranged for two different general delivery shipments. One was from the podhead.com coffee people, who are Italian and completely understood the urgency. The other was from our daughter, who reluctantly agreed to mail the box that had already been delivered to our home, just a couple days after we’d left. That one we may never see. Oh well. The Italians came through and we retrieved the package on New Year’s Eve. One thing to know about general delivery in Parker, AZ: it is close enough to Quartzite, CA, where all the boondocking RVers hang out, that they have put restrictions on when you’re allowed to retrieve a general delivery package.

img_8562All in all, this was a great stay and we got to connect with our awesome trailer peeps for a couple of days in a new place. I wish it had not been so cold, but I do realize it’s winter. Richard had enough cell service that he was able to get some work done while on the road. From here, we need to start tracking back, but we will try to keep it from being too many one night stands. Between the people, the hikes, the fun stories shared, that was sure something!

Total miles from Anza Borrego: 193.0, 14.6 mpg, 4 hours 56 min. Site 4, electric hookups. Good LTE for both. Good dump. Terrible tasting water.

Anza Borrego

img_8314We are now two years into what we’d like to believe is our new holiday tradition: Christmas in the desert. We are also apparently unintentionally working on the tradition of booking Joshua Tree and not going. Last year it was a government shut down, this year it was several feet of snow. Obviously we’ll book next year, just to see what new thing it is that keeps us from going. Maybe start a betting pool.

img_8235Travel from Castaic Lake was not bad at all, but we did arrive just after sunset. We were prepared for backing stress, only to arrive at a pull through site. Sweet! It’s also sweet to have full hookups. In fact, this campground goes on my list of all time favorites. There is just enough civilization, cell service, nearby restaurants and markets, but also access to lots of trails and enough of a wilderness feel for this camper. The town of Borrego Springs is called an “intentionally dark sky” city, which I’m guessing means they limit the nighttime light sources and probably use special street lighting. If the weather hadn’t been so overcast while we were there, I’m betting the stars would be amazing. What glimpses we got were nice anyway.

img_8247Our first day there kept us indoory in Dory because of rain. That was fine though because Richard had to work and I had one last report to get done. I really have taken to heart all of the kind and sage advice regarding work stress. In particular, the commitment to self care in the form of mindful walking has become a priority and I’ve been doing it at night consistently. I only had to buy one more jacket and a Premium subscription to Spotify and now I’m good. On this trip, Richard has been doing night walking with me and it’s kind of an exciting new hobby. Especially when you’re in a place you’ve never been, and all you have to go by is your headlamps, it’s downright exhilarating. Then when you go back to walk those same trails in the daytime, it’s cool to see how different everything looks. As an example, the visitor center is really well designed and built to blend in with the landscape. They did such a good job, it was actually hard to tell it was there at all when we saw it at night.

img_8266We did some incredible daytime hikes, the most impressive being the Palm Canyon Trail. This one is a gentle valley climb up to an honest to goodness desert oasis. At the top, you find yourself looking at a dense grove of Fan Palm Trees situated along a little river, complete with mini waterfalls. We may have gotten a rare treat with all the water, but it’s clear that this spot gets the runoff from all the surrounding mountains and the grove is proof enough that there’s enough to sustain it. It’s a legit paradise spot and I highly recommend that trail.

img_8275On our way back down, I was just thinking how cool it would be to see a bighorn sheep, moments before I turned a corner and practically ran into a herd of four. We stood there gawking for a long time, watching them chill and graze on cacti. Papa sheep watched over his little herd, making sure the humans kept their distance and didn’t try any funny business. We tried to help by pointing and waving to approaching hikers so they’d know what was ahead.

img_8299That afternoon, we drove out to see the Slot Canyon. There’s a well groomed dirt road that leads to the trailhead. Once there, you descend quickly into a narrow passage that gets tighter as you go. It is like a mini Badlands experience. The walls of the canyon are smooth and worn away in beautiful swirling patterns, carved over the years by water and wind. The cool part is about a mile and a half. Ultimately, the canyon opens up and you can take a surface trail back. As it was windy and cold up above, we turned around and just went back up through the canyon back to the car. I also highly recommend that trail.

img_8341Richard did one of his crazy bike rides up and over a mountain range along Montezuma Valley Road to Ranchita, then on San Filipe Road to Highway 78, and finally up and over Yaqui Pass Road. I can attest that it’s a beautiful drive. The wind was wicked cold and blowing hard in his face up the first big climb. The nice thing about having your wife SAG you is that you can bail for a little while and then get back on the road. I think he only missed a couple miles of the last climb, and once we got over that, it was much less windy. His descent back into Borrego Springs was a race against rain clouds, but he won. Along the way in Yaqui Pass, we checked out the primitive campground. There was not much cell service out there, but nice bathrooms. The sites were also kind of small, but a 17′ Alto seemed like it would fit.

img_8379
Me being the Eye of Sauron, looking down at Dory

The other smaller hikes we did were up to a panoramic lookout and another called the “Little Surprise Canyon” trail. Both are short and scenic and give you a great taste of the beautiful geology in the area.

We got out for dinner one night at Los Jilbertos Taco Shop and that was fun. Otherwise, we were doing Blue Apron recreations. We shopped at the Center Market and found it to be both well stocked and sophisticated enough in its selections to carry baby Bok Choy. img_8310For Christmas Eve dinner, we were super fancy and cooked pre-made, frozen Chicken Cordon Bleu in the Omnia, paired with a store bought salad in a bag. We felt pretty darn swanky, I can tell you. And for Christmas morning, we treated ourselves to some Trader Joe’s chocolate Croissants. Mmmm.

At the end of our planned stay, we had some planning to do. The weather had turned from iffy to dangerous up north and our approach to Joshua Tree was not looking all that safe. In addition to snow and rain, they were reporting road closures due to flash flooding all along the roads we would have taken. At the end of the day, it did not seem worth it to risk travel and instead, we booked another night in the Anza Borrego campground. img_8384So we spent the day watching the rain from inside. In the morning, the mountain tops all around us were dusted with snow, just like powdered sugar on a giant bundt cake. We probably would have been fine in Joshua Tree, but we have no regrets pulling the plug and shifting gears. And once it was safe to travel, we simply headed out a day early to get to our next destination: Buckskin Mountain and an Altoistes Altogather.

img_8403Richard rode out of the campground and we played leap frog all the way to the end of the park. I noticed a gazillion boondocking RVs spread around and most of them had some kind of off road vehicle or ATV with them. That seems to be the thing to do out there. In my next post, I’ll discuss the wisdom, or lack thereof, of trying to pull a trailer into a gas station when fifty thousand ATVing RV people are also there. Fun times.

We did love this campground a lot and are planning to come back this way on our return trip. It clearly gets crazy when the super bloom happens, but this was a fantastic time to explore the park. Thumbs way up!

Total miles from Castaic Lake: 237.8, 16.8 mpg, 5 hours 4 min. Site 33, full hookups, great cell service and solar. Pull throughs in the hookup loop. Good dump. Nice visitor center and super friendly volunteers.

Castaic Lake

img_8194This was also an unreserved stopover to break the travel miles. You can’t get more convenient in terms of Interstate 5 access and there’s a lake to boot. Online reviews of the place were mixed, but we decided to risk it. I will say, whoever said the place was unsafe, was either nuts, or his negative review caused a security overhaul. It’s about the safest place I’ve ever stayed. There were sheriffs doing regular drive through patrols, brightly lit paths and parking areas, and a gated entry.

img_8192We arrived again after the early winter sunset and I really had to trust to the backup camera and Richard’s oversight of my backing. I was pretty much blind until I’d made most of the 90 degree turn. After almost six hours of driving, I was happy to be in a site.

We did another night walk after dinner and checked out the trail along the lake. It was all quite nice, even with a section of the paving collapsed and on the lakeshore. In the morning, we got to actually see the lake and it’s quite pretty. The part with the campground is actually a lower lake on the other side of a huge dam which forms Castaic Lake up above. The lower “lagoon” is plenty big enough for watercraft fun and seems like a popular recreation spot.

img_8199One fun surprise came when we were chatting with the owner of a cute trailer next to us. When you have a small trailer, you kind of get familiar with the other ones out there. I know them well enough that I was surprised to see the logo “Happier Camper” on the side because it looked different. Well lo and behold, the guy camping in it was Derek May, owner and CEO of Happier Camper and he was trying out a new prototype! We took a peek inside and it was pretty cute. They’re adding in a fixed shower and kitchen area, as well as increased head room. It’s a double wall fiberglass body, meaning it is a four season trailer. He and Richard swapped all kinds of technical information on batteries and heaters and stuff. It’s a nice trailer and Derek is a super nice guy who stands behind his product. If we didn’t love Dory so much… but don’t freak out. We do.

img_8196Minor discovery: if you put a dish drying rack between the bench seats and lay your towel over it while the heater is running, they will dry completely in about ten minutes. This really helps in the winter when it’s a challenge to get everything dry.

Richard rode up Lake Hughs Road in the morning and says that it would be a nice ride to go all around the lake. We took a quick trip up with Dory to see the big lake before getting back on I5 South. Onward!

Total miles from Los Banos Creek: 240.5, 14.9 mpg (windy), 5 hours 50 min. Site C7. No hookups. Good LTE for both.