Cerro Alto

Peaceful little campground

We had to check this place out. We kept passing it on our way to Morro Bay and were intrigued because it has Alto in its name. In this instance, I was looking for a place that was a little further than Bakersfield and the location was pretty good. Online reviews warned of a narrow road to the campground, but we also saw pictures of much larger trailers that had made it. I figured, if we couldn’t get a site there, it wasn’t too far from Morro Bay, with lots of possible places to stay.

If you’re heading this way, you might be able to score yourself a free dump hose.

During our slog from Barstow to the Tehachapi Pass, we stopped at a rest area, like you do, and I noticed the cover for the dump hose holder was off and dangling by its leash. This caused me to wonder if we still had a dump hose, and the answer was no. Somewhere on Highway 58 there is a used blue dump hose. But this meant we really needed to get a new one, on New Year’s Day. Luckily, we were heading towards Bakersfield where there are lots of camping supply places and we called to verify that Camping World was open and had dump hoses. Not a huge detour and now we have a new hose with one of those clear elbows. That’s kind of ew and not something we ever really wanted to get, but we only needed something that would get us home.

Oil derricks along Highway 46 in Lost Hills

After that stop, I wanted to keep going but didn’t have a strong commitment to any particular campground. I wanted to get over closer to Highway 101 for a possible stay on the coast the next day as a last hurrah. And I knew taking 46 over the small pass between the central valley and the 101 valley was quite pleasant. We remembered seeing the army of oil derricks in Lost Hills and Google remembered that we asked what that was the last time we went through. Some day we will need to stop at the Lavender Gardens and I’ll bet it’s amazing when everything is blooming.

Hoping no one comes the other way…

Just out of curiosity, I aimed for this little forest service campground outside Atascadero and set a course. We arrived around 4, so we were cutting it close with remaining daylight. It was only a mile of road off of Highway 41, but as soon as I turned, I saw what the negative campground reviews were talking about in terms of the narrowness of the road. Nevertheless, I pressed forward, really hoping no one would come the other direction. I got nervous about getting stuck, but we found someone out walking who gave us beta on the road up ahead. He said there was a turnaround loop at the end, big enough for a big trailer, so we kept going.

Cute little stream

After a narrow, winding approach, and several tent sites along the way, we came to the main part of the campground. There were maybe a dozen sites, and not all of them could have accommodated Dory. Plus, most of the sites were already taken, so it was not looking good. Thankfully, the site I had stopped at, with a reserved sign clipped to its post, was not reserved for that night. Richard found the campground host and confirmed that it was ours if we wanted it. Sold!

Notice the angle of Bruce as compared to Dory; it’s not a flat site.

It’s actually a lovely, peaceful little campground. There was a babbling stream right behind us, and lots of forest canopy to create a really pretty ambiance. There was a very long trailer in the site across from us and I can only imagine them making that narrow drive. But there they were, so clearly it could be done. The rest were vans or rooftop tent campers. We saw people in tents on our way up, but it hit freezing temps that night, so I was sure glad not to be them.

Trail up to lookout point (didn’t try it)

This is the part of the trip where we often hit relationship potholes. It’s like clockwork. As soon as we start to track back home after a longer trip, we usually experience a day where there is some kind of miscommunication that escalates way farther than it should. This is usually directly connected to how many hours we’ve spent in the car that day, which usually increases as we’re making tracks back home, and is of course completely related to the internalized realization that we are going home. Anyway, on this day, it went from, “Would you like to get in a bike ride in the morning around Morro Bay?” …yada yada… “Maybe we should just go home and never camp again.” Or words to that effect with lots of words in between.

There is no need to worry. We figured it out and it’s all good. But we are going to try to get better at noticing signs of vapor lock. Like when one of us is saying irrational things and we are heading back home, the other one is going to try to notice that and stop listening to the words coming out of that person’s mouth hole. Because it’s probably just crazy vapor lock talk. And we are both going to try to get better about noticing those moments in ourselves and maybe say, “I’m feeling anxious.” That might reduce the time spent unwinding everything after the fact. But then, it’s sometimes good to work through tangles. We always manage to come out more connected on the other side.

What is this stuff on the windshield?

When we got up in the morning, we still didn’t really know where we were heading that day, but we knew it was freezing cold in Cerro Alto and that we could figure out the rest of the day on our way. Like so freezing that there was ice on the windshield and frost on everything. (People in actual cold places just rolled their eyes.) Richard was trembling hard hitching up, but he was also wearing shorts, so…

Heading to warmer temps

My impression of this campground is maybe skewed. I’m not sure I’d go back. For one thing, it’s close enough to Morro Bay that if I knew I was going to be in the area, I’d want to go there. For another thing, unless I knew I could get a site that would fit Dory, it would be risky. I know #16 works, and you can reserve in advance on recreation.gov, but even a longer Alto would hit a slope in the pad that would make leveling a big challenge. The max RV length listed is 25′ but I think that’s a stretch. It’s a pretty campground, with the stream and all, but that likely only runs in the winter or spring. There is a hiking trail you can do, if you have time, that is supposed to offer great views of Morro Bay. We were lucky getting an open site on a gamble, but I’m not sure I’d try that again. I would either try to reserve 16 (or others I could verify would work), or I’d push on. But, all things considered, it was a needed stop, in more ways than one, and I was grateful for it.

Total miles: 270.8 miles from Yermo, 16.8 mpg, 6 hours 14 min with a stop in Bakersfield Camping World. Site 16. No electric. Water spigots could not verify potable water. No dump. Very little cell service for both. Sometimes moments of 1 bar of LTE, but then others of no service. 10 or so miles down Highway 41 from Atascadero, then 1 windy mile of narrow campground road.

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