Bothe Napa (3)

img_3350Nothing inspires a shopping spree like discomfort. Since our winter in the desert, we have purchased additional Smartwool base layers, insulated hiking pants, super warm long sleeve hoodies and pullovers, 2 down jackets, plus a down parka that comes down to my calves and has faux fur trim on the hood. All of this for next winter because weekend temperatures around where we live are really not that cold. We got to test some of the new gear this weekend in Napa and felt overheated, proving we had the right stuff.img_3320

Before we got out of town, we had to take care of our ‘home car.’ On Wednesday evening I heard something weird, like a ‘click-whirrrrr-click’ about every five seconds, even with the motor off. I thought to myself, “I’d better get that checked out because it’ll drain the battery, whatever it is.” Thursday morning I still heard it on the way to work. By the time I was ready to go home, the key wouldn’t even turn the engine on enough to show me a warning light. It was fully dead. But it was late, so I called Richard to pick me up in Bruce, and we came back to deal with it after dinner. We’ve never professed to being mechanical people, but the depth of our ineptitude was rather conspicuously exposed here. As we drove over to save the Subie, Richard was Googling, “How do you jump start a car?” We both had the sequence down as we pulled into the parking lot and I prepared to remove all of our camping gear so that I could get to the emergency jumper cables, cleverly stored in the secret compartment underneath everything else. Smart. I’m hauling jerry cans and leveling blocks and camping furniture out of the back as Richard keeps closing the trunk door on me, searching in vain for how to open the hood. I’m shouting “STOP DOING THAT!” and Richard is now Googling: “How do you open the hood of an Acura?” We got it open and both just stared for a while. The Acura is known for being a very quiet car. Apparently, this is achieved by putting all kinds of noise baffling layers of plastic over the engine. How to remove them was not immediately obvious. And the battery appears to be placed in a location way down low, with the negative terminal nowhere to be seen without removing something. img_3327So, we gave up, figuring this was beyond our skill set, and it would be better to call a tow truck anyway. Sadly, by the time the tow truck actually arrived the next day, it was pick up time at an elementary school of 800 students. Apologies to all those blocked in while the green Outback was getting hauled away to Subie Urgent Care.

Did any of that throw our camping plans? Of course not. And now we know the phone number to call for insurance covered Roadside Assistance. We rolled out just a little later than normal and arrived at the campground around 5:30. It rained all night, but cleared up nicely Saturday. We intended to be pretty lazy, but ended up going out to top up the propane and found a quick hike on the way back. Much of the talk on the hike was about what we would be wearing if we were to purchase other layers of cold weather clothes.

img_3344The Historical Trail in Bothe Napa State Park will take you from the White Church Cemetery to the Bale Grist Mill. Both sites have artifacts dating from gold rush pioneer days, and the grist mill still functions. We got to watch as the huge, water powered mill wheel started turning, causing belts and gears to rotate, like some kind of enormous clock. The end result was the creation of fine flour, ground from wheat berries crushed between two grinding stones, right before our eyes.img_3332 I have to say, it was pretty cool. Not a place to be if you have Celiac disease because the dust of freshly milled flour filled the air. They sell bags of it as part of their historical society. It was a nice historical park and not too far from the campground. The trail goes up and then down through lovely oaks and across a stream. We had to step carefully because of the recent rain. All told it was a little over a mile each way.

We got in some fine Napa valley dining with a couple of lunch stops at Dean and De Luca, plus a dinner at Pizzeria Tra Vigne. Every now and then we saw the Wine Train pass by and we were reminded of how lucky we are to live so close to this gem of a valley. Note to self: strawberry balsamic truffles sound better than they taste.

Total miles: 69.9, 16.3 mpg, 2 hours 12 min. Site 7. Bathroom in the lower loop will be beautiful – when it is finished. Right now it’s closed. Lovely bathroom in the upper loop and porta potties in the lower loop. Nice sites: 7*, 10*, 16, 17, 20, 41, 45, 47. Inner circle of upper loop is less tippy, but not by the river. Ok LTE for Verizon, but spotty ATT. No dump.

Morro Bay (3)

hrlrfdbfr4ae4isy+xq4fgWe finished out our holiday break with a long stay at a familiar campground. We’ve come to really love the area around Morro Bay, as it offers hiking, biking, kayaking, plus full amenities and great restaurants.

Along the way up the coast, we took a lunch stop at Gaviota State Park. It is closed between October and March, but makes a perfect lunch at the beach location. nryl6ldrsbgmcshdwgwcdaThe campground looks fine and is just a tiny walk to a nice sandy beach. Only possible downside is again the proximity to the train tracks. We’ll tuck that one away for the future.

Our site in the state park campground is not one with hookups and this trip officially made some records in terms of longest stays while dry camping (7 nights) and longest overall time with no hookups at all (2 weeks). We did the usual sort of stuff, eating out, biking, hiking, and taking long romantic walks on the beach. We dined at our favorite cafe, walking distance from the campground, several times. We visited the wildlife museum and got some interesting birding information from the volunteers who give their time so generously to the public. Plus lots and lots of sunsets. ywdsdxf9tvks7xlwj1zc6aWe used the generator many times and even used the Barker twice. These two items have given us the ability to be essentially limitless in terms of resources. Propane we had to refill once and we ran the heater a lot, even over night. There’s a fine line somewhere on the temperature setting vs. Richard’s ability to sleep without waking up to the sound of the heater kicking in. In general, we ran it as low as I could tolerate and learned that “off” crosses that line for me in a nasty way.

bohlwg9ds+iaqhudia2ucqOn one of the five days of our stay, I ventured into San Luis Obispo on a mission. This trip has taught me one thing: I am inadequately prepared for cold weather. This extends to emotional preparedness, but more specifically, I need better clothes. That part I can fix and I went to see what was available in stores in an attempt to fix it quickly. In the third of three outdoor clothing stores visited, I was able to locate a nice Patagonia fleece pullover and another set of Smartwool long underwear in a heavier weight. Speaking of heavier weight, I will again bemoan the lack of availability of outdoor clothing in larger sizes. I have also ordered a Marmot jacket online that is basically a sleeping bag you can wear. This jacket screams, “I am not messing around here.” It should be waiting for me when we get home and I’m very excited. This foray into winter wear brought up many questions and much advice seeking on the topic of cleaning down things. We have much to learn.

5dstb%g3segbp6qz21ytkgOur last day of winter break brought steady rain starting at about 11 am. I made the decision to leave the awning up because I wanted to see how it fares now that we have the center pole. We spent the day inside, baking cornbread and watching as pooling water created pockets in the shape of huge inverted boobs. There does appear to be an upward limit to the size of the boobs though, as eventually enough water will collect that it creates an escape channel and most of the water tumbles off the side. Or a gust of wind will come and the awning will puff up, evacuating any remaining pools. This is fairly entertaining to monitor on a super lazy day. Weather said the winds were going at 15 mph and it held up. I did add two additional stability points using tarp clips and guy lines at the sides of the arc pole to keep it from blowing inward. It jiggled and flapped, but did not collapse.

Our final drive home was super wet and pretty windy. We seem to have the power to create rain when we travel from Morro Bay in the winter. We’ll keep that in mind for the next drought season and may have to sacrifice responsibility for environmental duty by taking additional trips down there. We saw lots of accidents along the highway and a couple of near misses. It was good to be home safe, and now we just have to do a ton of laundry. The offspring took excellent care of the house and the kitty. All is well with the world at the moment. Oh and guess what surprise was waiting for us! An absolutely stunning painting of Dory, by my Aunt Sandee. This is immediately one of our most cherished items and it has taken its place of honor as one of the few items hung in our bedroom. We are very lucky, and very grateful people.


During this trip, the Omnia emerged as a real star. It handled a variety of dinners, as well as treats and snacks, and cleaned up pretty easily every time. Using parchment paper, cut to shape, reduces cleanup for things that use the rack. And Richard swears that rubbing a bit of oil in the silicone liner helps for cornbread.

This was a great break and we would like to try desert camping in the winter again. Next time we’ll have better clothes and probably some kind of extra propane solution. It would really help if certain, self indulgent, political figures would not intentionally create chaos, damaging our national parks and bringing out the worst in the worst of us. That would be a nice Christmas present to us all. Happy New Year to everyone!

Total miles from Ventura: 146.0, 14.4 mpg, 3 hours 15 min. Site 110. No hookups. Water spigots in campground and at dump station. Fairly good LTE for both of us, campground wifi near the kiosk.

Emma Wood SB

2a5caokytqea2ey0yhz01aOnce we started to reconsider our reservations in Joshua Tree, I jumped online earlier in the week and reserved a “Plan B” site in Morro Bay for five whole nights. We tossed around other ideas, but ended up not wanting to try any of the national parks during the chaos of the shutdown.

So westward we headed, following the second Linda since she was going back home that way too. She suggested Emma Wood as an overnight stop before heading up the coast. It was about a three hundred mile day, but worth it. Along the coast near Ventura, there are several campgrounds that line the waterfront and are mostly packed with big RVs. Emma Wood is at least not right on the highway and also wasn’t too packed, despite it being New Year’s Eve. We were taking a gamble there because all the sites are first come, first served. The gamble paid off and we made it with enough time to get settled before being treated to a spectacular sunset. 1jwolsmqtsughcma7bcprwI took way too many pictures, as is my way, and had a hard time deleting any. Linda pulled in just at the tail end of the show and we gathered again in her little big rig for one last New Year’s toast.

There are no services at this place, but there are porta potties right at the entrance. We were warned not to leave things unattended outside because there have been reported thefts. 8043d1b6-1053-462f-8fa3-29cfa2f92f9bOh right, there is also a train that runs immediately next to the sites. Some might think this would make sleeping difficult, but on the contrary, Richard got his best night’s sleep in days, apparently lulled by the sound of the surf, periodically punctuated by the roar and rumble of the Amtrak express. We’d stay there again on the way from here to there because you really can’t beat the view. Thanks for the recommendation Linda!

Total miles from Hole in the Wall: 306.0m 17.4 mpg, 5 hours 43 min. Site 82 way at the end. No services. Porta potties by the kiosk. LTE for both of us, and full solar. High waves can sometimes close loops, so pay attention to forecasts.

Mojave – Hole in the Wall

trqfwl8brqc8nvl1gzyr7wUh oh. We are liking this Christmas in the desert thing quite a lot. So, it seems, are the offspring. This may become a new tradition. In all of these campgrounds, and during all of our desert hikes, we are cognizant of how horrible it could all be in the summer heat. We are being careful about freezing temperatures overnight, but winter hikes make all the difference in terms of enjoyment.

lowjtnipqrkc1s%4y09mfaWe left Red Rock and made a stop at the Barstow Home Depot. You gotta love Barstow for being an oasis of services conveniently located in the middle of a huge expanse of nothing. Our goal was to pick up pipe insulation and zip ties because we didn’t get to that project before we left. So, on Christmas Eve Day, we found ourselves in the plumbing aisle, looking up files and posts in the Altoistes group about what size we’d need if we wanted to protect the water pipes against freezing. Every winter, there are dozens of posts about this, as people who live in other areas have to winterize their trailers. I brazenly ignore all of them. I understand the concept, but that’s about it. Thank God for the Facebook search feature and for Altoistes who are willing to talk to us even when we’re being obnoxious. Really, we were just looking for overnight low protection and figured we could dump the fresh water if need be by leaving the outside drain valve open. In any case, we left Barstow with a full gas tank and a couple lengths of insulation in the car.

sax93h5stkkyath9pxomgqThe Hole in the Wall Campground is first come, first served and is accessible only from the south, off of Interstate 40. There are long stretches with no services, so do be careful out there, people. Filling up in Barstow left us with just over a half a tank of gas by the time we arrived, but there is one other gas station slightly closer, plus it’ll be mostly downhill when we leave, so I think we’ll be ok. On December 24th, the campground had people, but there were still multiple sites available. We even got to choose between a couple of really nice ones. Again, the desert landscape is just gorgeous, and again, we were overwhelmed by the nighttime starry sky.vn43aa0sqdukl3qzj3rkvw

Our Christmas Eve dinner was a new Omnia experiment and it’ll surely be a repeat. I used packaged crescent roll dough, put in a piece of ham, some shredded Swiss cheese, chopped olives, and some tiny asparagus spears for a nice little roll up. Pro tip: wait for the steam. Always. Just wait for it. Using the rack kept the dough from getting over done on the bottoms. After the 3-minute base only, then 1-minute oven on flame high, warm up period, I lowered the flame and set the timer for 14 minutes because that’s what it said on the package. It was at least five additional minutes, maybe ten, after the timer dinged before we saw steam. We doubted a lot of that wait time, but were rewarded with a perfectly cooked dinner. This is also a pretty low clean up meal, which was great because we also did Omnia Cinnamon Rolls for Xmas breakfast. Once more: steam = perfectly cooked.

fullsizeoutput_123aChristmas Day brought us the gift of a friend, but a bit of dehydration for me. It’s easy to lose track of drinking water when it’s cold, but the air is very dry, and the wind and heater blowing on me all the time really will deplete a body’s moisture. Also it doesn’t help if you sip wine all evening and don’t alternate that with water. Richard went and checked out some of the shorter hikes, but I opted to replenish and do some thank you cards. nvzijnporucqgbgiddh1tgLinda the full timing Altoiste pulled into the campground in the afternoon and got set up in the site right next to us. For dinner: another Omnia experiment with an adorable tiny ham, green beans, and fingerling potatoes. We just placed everything inside and cooked for 30 minutes, since we couldn’t really rely on steam. At that amount of time, everything was reheated and cooked nicely except the potatoes. We just cooked them another 5-10 minutes and they were done, but in the future, I think I’d cut them up smaller. It was lovely to entertain for Xmas in Dory!

q5pnn0wisf2md1sfqvexegWe tackled one of the longer hikes on Wednesday, taking the Barker Peak Loop Trail about 6 miles total. This is a well signed trail and the only tricky spot was finding the gap in a barbed wire fence, because it was hard to see. The geology is pretty diverse, with sudden protrusions of white rock making Flinstones-like neighborhoods on the side of the mountain. Much of the rock is volcanic and the holes were apparently formed by pockets of trapped gas, covered by ash and then buried. There was also a surprising section with shimmering Opalite stones covering a small area of hillside. ajlpw9ndqccnezifytqtkqThe hike down the western side of the loop took us through what looked like a professionally designed cactus garden. From there, it was a scenic and gentle descent through a valley and up to the decision point for whether to take the “Rings Trail” or go another mile around the base of the mountain back to the Visitor Center. Richard had tried it and gave me good beta. The two important pieces of information were: it’s easier than the ladder of the Notch Trail, and you only have to go up, never down. sf+4x0uctv6edtyjg4anzqSo I went for it and I concur that it was not scary because you are kind of wedged in the rocks and the rings make solid hand holds. The only trouble was one place where it was a serious stretch to reach the next ring and this apparently is a common complaint amongst the vertically challenged. But I made it! And did not have to go down.

Linda got to be hostess that night and treated us to pure comfort food with turkey, potato salad and barbecue baked beans. She has done an amazing job organizing her Alto and her interior looks completely different from Dory. She’s got the 1713, which is the retractable roof model without the shower. It makes a huge difference in terms of spaciousness inside and we were quite comfortable having three of us around the table in the bedroom area. She also has the BFW rather than the storage cabinets at the front, and that also adds to the open feel. It’s amazing how much you can talk about trailers. I think we got in some other topics though too.

s+xhq6zusjejwyvgm7p0gaThe south side of Mojave is really quite remote and anything town-like is at least 60 miles away. We needed to replenish some groceries and we also wanted to fill up the gas tank, so we spent the day Thursday going to Needles. There is a high priced gas station 7 miles down I-40, but it doesn’t have 91-grade gas and is priced for the desperate. We weren’t quite there, so we kept going. Needles lies in a wide valley with several other little towns. There is full shopping to be found if you’re willing to drive. We opted for the dependability of Walmart, just across the state line (Colorado River) in Arizona, and got groceries as well as other odds and ends. Then back to Dory for some generator time before quiet hours.

frw3vzzjsjcma8jzruwztqFriday we did a few housekeeping projects before gaining another Altoiste in the campground. We’d been keeping a close eye on nighttime temperatures and decided to go ahead and insulate the drainpipes. The process was straightforward, but logistically challenging. First off, it’s pretty tight lying under the trailer and I was conscious of how much I was relying on the sturdiness of the leveling blocks and chocks to keep me from getting squished. It was also really tricky to shove the insulating material over and behind the axles and wiring harnesses. One of them came out pretty good, but the other I couldn’t cover fully without interfering with the caravan mover housing. So I just did part of it. I also could not get to the pipes that go from side to side under the trailer because they seem to be hidden in R-series trailers, either under the holding tanks, or inside the axle cover. In the end, I think what I got to is pretty secure and good insurance for surprise overnight lows, but when we know it’s going to go below 32, we’ll do what we did: turn off the pump, open the drain valve, and leave open interior faucets. It seems to have worked but we might have been ok doing nothing. Better safe.

okymdn5gttckndrcn4i78qThe other project of the day was to dump the grey tank using portable grey tank #3. We officially approve of this one. There was no spillage dumping from Dory and we were able to tow the thing all the way on a rocky, unpaved road to the dump station. The lower location of the outgoing dump valve makes for an easy operation and good rinsing. I recommend getting a dry sack to carry the two dump hoses after they’ve been rinsed, just to have somewhere to put them. Thumbs up on the Barker.

ivvlci1qrd2pnnnwnz2jrwThat night, the second Linda arrived and we got to hang out and celebrate an early Happy New Year together. That put three different models of Alto in the campground, with the 2114 being the clear winner in terms of space. It was comfortable for the four of us to gather around her front dining table while her three dogs sprawled out on the rear king size bed. She kept the heat nice and balmy, helping take off the chill from the freezing winds outside.

hoqyg1bdrqeryybjwphviqSaturday we all decided to go for a road tour (and propane run) in the heated cars. We took Bruce, while the Lindas went together in the dog-runner truck. Mojave is a huge park, so just driving from one side to the other will push close to 100 miles. It’s 20 miles just to get from the campground to I-40, then another 20 to get to Kelbaker Road, which runs North-South through the middle of the preserve. Along the way, we stopped at the Kelso Dunes, so now I’ve seen in person the desktop image for Apple’s Mojave operating system. There you go. aoetwjrurym4won3rdadwqThere is also a Visitor Center not too far away at Kelso Station, but it was closed due to the government shut down, leaving a long desperate line of people waiting for the two-stall bathroom outside. Richard does so enjoy visitor centers, so it was too bad to miss the standard informational movie. The rest of the drive up to Baker, CA took us past cinder cones and Joshua Trees where we’d occasionally stop to snap some photos. We all wound up at the propane filling place so we could be assured of lasting another couple of cold nights, then we all filled gas to ensure we’d make it back and be able to tow ourselves outta there. Distances between services are quite far in the desert.

xephpwnwrrusn2cqinly5aSunday was our final day in Mojave and since the cold and windy weather had eased up, Richard got out for a bike ride. I met him up at the CA State Park, situated at the tippy top of an impressive climb. Here is where you can book tours for the Mitchell Caverns and we were lucky to get two spots for the second (and last) tour of the day. I think this is the third cave system we’ve been to now, and we do enjoy them. I am getting to know the terms: speleothem, shield formation, and soda straw. The interior of the cave system maintains a consistent 65 degrees and represented a nice warm shelter from the cold winds.

ehgp4eadtvksnbl5ekf6egFollowing a night of early Happy New Year toasting and giggles, we all woke to a snowstorm. Well, ok, maybe storm isn’t quite the word. But it was legit snowing. I mean, it was frozen water that came out of the sky. Flurries were gathering on the ground. Well, maybe not flurries so much as dozens of unmelted particles, visible for a short time on the step. Listen, we were impressed.

And that’s a wrap for our weeklong desert adventure in the middle of a government shut down. What is sad is that other national parks did not fare as well. This one, because it is well off the beaten path, seems to attract normal nature-y people who are tame and do kind things like restock the bathrooms with toilet paper. Joshua Tree was the subject of multiple news stories, citing general bad behavior and disgusting conditions with trash and human waste. We had already decided to bail before we got the official email saying all campground reservations were being cancelled. Eventually they fully closed the park and I approve. Those who flocked to the national parks simply to avoid paying the entrance fees are not the kind who appear to value national parks. Nor are they folks who do “honor system” very well when it comes to unregulated reservations. These are not our people and we were glad to avoid that whole scene. I’m sad for the damage done to those beautiful places and once again not very proud of my species as a whole. On the other hand, it is inspiring to hear about those who volunteered their time cleaning, re-stocking, and trying to protect the natural beauty of the parks. They are heroes. We are donating the unused cost of our reservations to the Friends of Joshua Tree Society.

Total miles from Red Rock: 217.2, 16.3 mpg, 4 hours 16 min. Site 21. No hookups, vault toilets, potable water at the dump and at some spigots. Sometimes LTE for both of us, sometimes no service. Nice bathrooms at the Mitchell Caverns State Park, but no showers anywhere.

Red Rock Canyon SP (2)

guga8vc%simlwwvl6zxkiwWinter in the desert is very fun and a huge departure from when we were here in the summer with temperatures in the upper 90s or low 100s. The loop for this campground is a rough gravel road and is quite long. So if you want to drive around and look at sites before you pick one, it’s going to take a while. Based on how tippy many of the sites were last time we came, we took the first empty site that looked level. It was a nice one on the lower side, away from the canyon walls, that offered space from other campers and gorgeous views, including a brief Roadrunner sighting.

hl6qa94srkifu9gl%gg89qWe arrived after both sunset and moon rise, so we got a beautiful show along the road. It’s impossible to capture the hugeness of the moon on the horizon from an iPhone pointed out the car windshield. Neither can you capture how the whole landscape looks when it is bathed in full moonlight. I tried, and deleted all but 4 photo attempts. Suffice to say, it was really beautiful and we took some moonlight walks sans flashlights.

+8mzyyjzrku7g%gztsh%7wSunday we went on a sketchy hike. I say sketchy because the only map we had to go on was a paper map showing some actual trails, and a bunch of pen marks made by a ranger in the visitor center as she was saying, “Yeah, it’s not marked on this, but you can go all the way around the back of the ridge and it’ll join up on the other side to make a loop.” Seemed legit. We hiked around 3 miles along a well established path, with occasional rock borders or even sign posts, but I could tell from the map that we needed to be careful or we’d end up going way farther than we meant to. Plus, there were multiple spur trails that were not signed but had enough footprints that they looked official. I have a pretty good sense of direction when I’m paying attention. I also have a strong resistance to turning back and giving up when I’m thinking we just need to go a little farther to find the right way. sqdfgeessdsvucf+2i7wjqBut even I got to a point where I doubted the pen marks and doubted there really was a way to go around unless it meant another five miles. And I didn’t want to wander too far on spur trails and get into trouble. So we doubled back. It was the right call because that out and back was already a six mile day and it turns out (by talking to a different ranger the next day) that the “just go around the back” way would indeed have been about ten miles all told. Too much for our feet. He even mentioned he’d tried it and turned back several times, so that is reassuring.

This is a beautiful park, especially for a stopover to break up a long day of driving. It is first come, first served, but there are lots of sites and plenty were available on a Saturday night. For trailers, the pads get pretty tippy and hard to level between sites 14 and 39. There are many sites large enough for big rigs. And wow, the stars are amazing out there.

Total miles from San Luis: 264.5, 16.1 mpg, 6 hours 4 min. Nice and level sites: 5, 13, 14, 39. Dump, but the rinse water spigot did not have a hose. Vault toilets in the campground, nice toilets in the Visitor Center (when it’s open). No service for either down in the campground, but we used the booster to get 2 bars of LTE. Good service just outside the park on the highway.

San Luis SRA

6q%pssumrzikhnn098qhagHooray for Winter Break! This year, we tentatively broached the subject of being fully absentee parents with our offspring. There was one pensive moment from our daughter, when I was thinking she might be feeling sad about our potential absence on Christmas, and I was ready to abandon the idea. Turns out, all she was concerned about was how to get groceries. Online account set up, problem solved, and we’re outta here for two solid weeks!

Having the gift of time allows us to venture farther from home and into territories unexplored. We decided on south California desert lands and even set up some dates in Joshua Tree with awesome Altoistes amigas.

kbzha4nlqaapkkyg6dxirwFriday was a half day at school, so we got to hit the road early. We really only knew we were heading south. I had a couple of ideas of places to stay along the way and Richard did some searching as I drove. We landed on San Luis Reservoir SRA because we’d never tried it before and it was right off I-5. Traffic was what you’d expect on the Friday before Christmas, but we did have a fun and unexpected wave along the road from a work friend on her way to Ojai.

8jp0ps4cqaccymg3z8mioqWe pulled in to the campground with light left on this Solstice day, and chose a site. The Basalt campground has no hookups, but is quite pretty, tucked away in a little grove of Eucalyptus trees. Our site had a far off view of the reservoir and a close up view of a whole herd of Elk. That was a surprise. Apparently this herd was introduced into the area with only a couple of adults and has now grown into a few hundred strong.

We headed out earlyish on Saturday and continued on south. This place is not too far from home and could make a sweet weekend destination. There is another campground by the water with hookups but we didn’t check that one out. That might be an option when it’s hotter.

Total miles: 106.9, 18.3 mpg, 3 hours 3 min with traffic. Site 24 Basalt Campground. Dump, nice bathrooms, no electric, but spigots and potable water at the dump station. LTE for both of us.

Sugarloaf Ridge SP (2)

3K9+ktmZQrGigTUtdi1WkAThis park was closed for a while, following destruction caused by the Tubbs Fire in October of 2017. This was only our second visit to the park and we look forward to many future stays. On this rainy December weekend, it was hard to imagine how such a large expanse of territory could be left in embers. We certainly saw the evidence. Still, nature has been busy reasserting herself and this park was all green in the campground loop. Plus, there is a nice new bathroom.

daXGsSgAQEezTL6UsUqBnASaturday we took advantage of the cloudy but rain free forecast and went on the “Planets Hike.” There is an observatory a short walk from the campground and from there you can follow a trail that maps out the relative distances of the solar system planets all the way to Pluto. We didn’t make it to Pluto, but then, Pluto isn’t really a planet, so…

%FXWQuRCQIKWdpPeHxg42AWe were struck by two things on the hike: 1) fire damage of this magnitude is scary, 2) Neptune is super far away (and uphill). It’s a very fun idea and kind of like a scavenger hunt, spread out over a couple of miles. To do the loop to Neptune and back was somewhere between 5-6 miles and we were nice and tired by the time we got back to Dory. Then it started raining again in the afternoon, but we got to enjoy being toasty warm as I wrote a report and Richard napped.

G+ASxvCIRqWaiNKc7EgThe rain continued all night and through all of Sunday. There is no dump at Sugarloaf so we decided to see if we could get over to Calistoga, where we could dump at the fairgrounds, and where we could do a little holiday shopping. Richard was smart and called the fairgrounds to get advice about whether to take Calistoga Road. The answer was an emphatic no, but the kind woman did clue us in to Mark West Springs Road. That is a nice and easy drive up Highway 12, to 101, and then east to connect with 29 in Calistoga. Great info and that’s what we’d do in the future.

OqkjJr5tSmGQ+QcQl7LZJgAll along the way, we saw new construction sites where houses once stood. There was almost always a big trailer or RV parked on the lots, and we assume people have decided to use these as temporary housing while their new homes are under construction. Countless trees still stand in vast blackened forests. In some areas, everything looks normal save pockets of charred trunks. In others, you can almost see the wall of flames that must have engulfed entire hillsides. We made a note to call our insurance provider next week and verify coverage.

The fairgrounds dump is a good one, and only $15, so we were pleased and on our way to Dean and DeLuca for lunch and gifts. We were struck by two things at Dean and DeLuca: 1) trailer parking is not easy in that area, 2) holy cow that store is pricey. We quickly scaled back the scope of the shopping trip and continued on our rainy drive home. It was a wet unhitching process, but Dory is drying out in the garage, getting ready for some holiday traveling. Great weekend and nice park!

Total miles: 67.4, 15.7 mpg (it was higher before the long, steep climb to the campground), 2 hours 10 min. No cell service, but there is wifi at the Visitor Center and LTE on the higher parts of the trails. Water is an icky color but potable. There is one nice, new bathroom with showers, the rest are flush toilets in very small outhouse-like structures. Nice sites: 1, 2, 28, 21, 42, 15 (first come first serve), 9 (by the bathroom). NOT nice (or double) sites: 36/37, 32, 33, 38, 40/41, 44/45, 46, 47, 48, 49, 4/5, 13/14.