Sonoma Coast – Wright’s & Doran Beach

IMG_0502Happy winter holidays! Because this, the darkest week of the year, is the season of joy, reflection, and gratitude, we headed to the Sonoma coast to celebrate California in all its splendor. Wright’s Beach remains at the top of the list for spectacular campgrounds. I was lucky enough to score one of the primo, ocean side sites, but as there is no dump there, I knew our time would be limited to no more than three nights. I decided to combine the trip with a follow up just to the south at Doran Beach, figuring we could dump tanks when we moved. IMG_0555Neither place has electric hookups, but both sites have excellent solar. Still, this was the longest stretch of boondocking we’ve done yet, and I knew we’d be possibly pushing the limits. Before we left, we joked that we’d either be fine, or would get divorced. People would be shocked and would ask, “After 24 years?! You seemed so happy! What on earth could have caused this?!” We’d reply dryly, “Battery issues.” And those who know, would fully understand.

IMG_0525There’s not much to say about Wright’s Beach beyond just posting the pictures. It is spectacular. I got to enjoy grilling dinner to a beautiful sunset backdrop each night, and both fall asleep and wake up to the glorious sound of the surf. We did a couple of hikes while there and explored tide pools. I recommend the Kortum Trail from Shell Beach to the lookout above Goat Rock. IMG_0529We were treated along the way to a couple of very talented musicians who were just out for the day, making beautiful music, perched on one of the large rock formations. It was kind of surreal and blissfully uplifting. On a sad note, after we returned to Dory, we saw rescue helicopters circling over the water for a long time, plus we saw Coast Guard boats out to the north. Then, they just suddenly turned and departed southward, which we knew was either good news or bad news. We heard from the park ranger that two kids had gone in the water at Goat’s Rock and one didn’t make it. If any of you ever visit the coast, please take the warning signs very seriously. If they say not to go in the water, they mean it. So sad. *Update: it looks like the kids had no intention of going in the water, but were swept away by a sudden wave. The father passed away as well, trying to save them. 🙁

IMG_0599After shifting to Doran, we dove into serious discussions about generators (again). Since we have the Trimetric battery monitor, we are cringingly aware of everything that goes on in terms of usage and replenishment of the Alto battery. We know, for example, that the 12V fridge draws by far the most power, around 3 amps out when the compressor is cycling, and that if we turn it off at night when it’s cold outside, we can save a lot right there. We also know that when the sun is low in the sky, the solar panels bring in up to 5 amps when unobstructed by anything (like clouds). Compare this to summer when we can get up to 10 amps in with the sun directly overhead. Combine this with the fact that it is light for far less time when you’re camping with the Solstice. So every day, we’d bounce the battery back just a little less than the day before, and every morning we’d wake up just a little lower. Yes, we can reduce our usage of lots of amp sucking things, up to a point. And that point came on one of the particularly cold mornings when we were reluctant to run the heater due to the energy draw from the fan. That is precisely the moment when I start to question what we’re doing, because it is no longer fun. I’ll skip past the discussion and cut to the chase: if the Home Depot in Santa Rosa had had a Honda 2000w generator, we would now be its proud owners. As a sign from the Universe, however, they were out of stock. So instead, we drove into Sebastopol and bought a good jumper cable, in case we needed to recharge the battery directly from the car. We also put in an order for a smaller, lighter, unit, a Yamaha 1000w, which we anticipate we might need the next outing because we will be fully immersed in a sunless redwood forest for three nights. I shall no doubt be reviewing this unit in detail with the next post. Meanwhile, we enjoyed a delicious dinner in Sebastopol at Ramen Gaijin and ran the damn heater when we got back. Hooray!

IMG_0596Bodega Bay is a super fun place to visit. Besides the beach, there are restaurants and beautiful beachy hikes to enjoy. One of them took us to a massive bird convention. Among the primary factions were those birds from the Pixar short movie, and they were every bit as adorable as you’d hope.

Last thing to partially report on: Dory got an early Xmas present! But we only got to play with it a little bit. After an Altoiste posted a photo of a movie being projected on the back wall of the Alto, that was all I needed. Dory now has a mini movie projector. What we still need to figure out is how to power it (YES, this DID factor into the generator discussions). We have some ideas, and a shower curtain screen. Before our next outing, we have some research to do and a shower curtain to iron. Projects are important.IMG_0621

Happy Holidays to all!!

Wright’s Beach – site 7. Sites 5-10 are amazing and incredibly hard to reserve. Nice bathrooms, water spigots, no power or dump. Doran Beach – our favorite, site 76. Dump station is now pay per use $7. No electric, water spigots plentiful, nice bathrooms. Be aware there is a fog horn that goes off regularly and the Coast Guard station is right there and routinely makes weird loud speaker announcements, with “awoogah” horns and bells and such. I kind of like it, but can imagine someone who would not.

New Brighton (3)

IMG_0411This was a special weekend out because we got to hang out with fellow Altoiste, Annie Wynn. It was also special because I had managed, six months prior, at precisely 8:00 am, to snag a premium site at one of the most popular campgrounds in California. It was much appreciated by me that a) the area was not on fire, and b) it was beautiful and sunny and in the low 70s outside.

IMG_0439Friday Annie came over while I whipped up a Blue Apron curry dish. She brought wine and we spent a wonderful evening catching up. Saturday we split up, with Richard tackling a bike ride around Elkhorn Slough, and me going for a paddle. The remarkable thing about this outing was that the water was filled with jellyfish. Actually, I guess the water was filled with Brown Sea Nettles, and had been for the past couple of months. It was impossible to paddle without coming into contact with at least one of them, but I figured that must be ok. I concentrated really hard on staying in the boat, though I did see another kayaker flip over.

IMG_0448Saturday night we enjoyed a nice sunset, met back up with Annie, and went to Manuel’s Restaurant in town. I recommend the Saturday special: Camarones de Diego, which are prawns wrapped in bacon, stuffed with cheese, dipped in cocktail sauce, and served in a crispy tortilla bowl filled with rice. Uh YES please! After, we hit Mariannes ice cream across the street. Pretty nice night! Then it was back to our respective Altos and we finished the evening by catching up on the last episode of Game of Thrones. Now I don’t have to worry about seeing spoilers on Facebook.

Sunday we chatted a little, baked cinnamon rolls, and headed home around noon. A couple of things that got us thinking this weekend: we need to re-investigate some possible leaks because we saw water on the ground under the hot water heater and again under the shower. We thought we had that one fixed. The water heater looks like it’s coming from the sacrificial anode and it’s probably time to replace that anyway, though that wouldn’t explain the leak. Also, the coffee battery does not seem to be holding a charge as well and we’re about to head into a week of no hookups. This has us concerned. It could be that it is not getting a full charge at home because the charger cuts out when it reaches 13.6 V. There may be a trick to make it trickle charge, or the battery may need replacing. In general, we did not get a lot of solar this weekend because the sun was so low in the sky that it was obstructed most of the day by a row of strategically placed, sun blocking trees. So that reduced the amount of charge going to the coffee battery. Still, it used to be able to last just fine with NO sun for at least two nights. The dreaded “just get a generator” conversation happened again, along with a repeat of the “just get a standalone solar panel” conversation. It’s fun to repeat these discussions every few months and wind up making the same decisions. For now, we are investigating better home charging and will take it from there. Richard’s assignment for the week is to identify all possible locations in the vicinity of Bodega Bay where a generator could be purchased if we run into problems next week. In any case, I’m not that worried about the leaks, and we do have a backup system in place for coffee if need be. And Bodega Bay does have decent coffee places (we checked), so I’m hopeful we will survive.

IMG_0445IMG_0465Nice weekend and I got an adorable pair of otter socks to boot! Thanks Annie, it was great to see you again!

I didn’t note mileage data this time, but it took around 3 hours to get there Friday (traffic) versus around 2 to get home midday Sunday. Site 82 – would have had great solar if it weren’t winter. Good LTE for both of us. No hookups, but there’s a good dump station there.

Del Valle (2)

IMG_0356I think it’s just the time of year, but we both feel like we’re barely making it to the weekend these days. Thankfully, Del Valle State Recreation Area is a very short drive from home. Our site was really nice, with a beautiful view out the windows, full hookups, and no cell service. Normally, that last item would be listed as a downside. This weekend, it was just what we needed to unplug and do a hard reboot.

Richard was super sweet and offered to do all the cooking after we pulled in. I sat in the back with the LED candles on, lights off, and stared at the moonrise. I pulled the little-used blackout privacy curtain closed and turned on music. This had the effect of creating two distinct rooms. His was the well lit, dinner making, Happy Room; while mine was obviously the dark, wine drinking, “it’ll be ok” music playing, Sad Room. Sad Rooms are very therapeutic. After 5 songs and a half a glass, I was all better.

IMG_0363Saturday was a bit too brisk for bike riding or kayaking for us, so we went on a hike instead. The lake is very low right now and we found out that is because they flooded three times last year and have aggressively diverted the water this year to get ready for winter. This place is clearly set up for tons of people in the summer. They have boat rentals and snack shacks and lots of reservable group picnic areas.

IMG_0388On our drive in, I had noticed a whole lot of goats fenced in around the hillside and figured they were there to do some thinning of the grass and underbrush. It was my goal to see if I could spot them while on our hike. Mission definitely accomplished there! We got to walk right through the herd/flock/tribe/trip and even said hello to the very friendly herding dog. I took more pictures than necessary because I was pretty excited and I like goats.

IMG_0396When we got back, we gave tours, and then experimented with making pumpkin pie in the Omnia oven. We were really just guessing at the bake times, but used a normal recipe and a store bought, pre-rolled pie crust. I laid the crust over the top of the oven and cut an X in the middle. Then I folded the dough over and the rest naturally drooped and fell into place inside the oven. Using the silicone liner is very important. We heated the base on the large burner on high for 3 minutes, as per usual. Then we put the oven with the lid on and pie inside, onto the burner and baked on high for 10 minutes. IMG_0399We then turned it down to “medium” enough that the flame was clearly lower, erring for too low rather than too high. We let it bake there for 35 min. Then we turned off the heat and let it sit, still covered, on the base for another 10 min. The smell as it was baking was intoxicating and it really could not have come out better. The crust was nice and browned, without being burned, and the filling was fully cooked. The only trick was how to get it out. We didn’t want to try to lift it out and also didn’t want to ruin the silicone liner, so we just jabbed at it with hard edged silicone spatulas until we’d made enough of a “cut” that we could pull out a piece. We “cut” up the remainder to put into a plastic storage container for cold pie for breakfast. YUM.

IMG_0352I loved this site and would like to return. I imagine it gets really hot there in the summer, but with hookups and AC, it might be fine. There are nice bathrooms there, and there is a sewer hookup as well, though we chose to use the dump station instead because the inlet at the site is rather high. It’s not close enough to the water to put in from the campground, but it would be a short drive to the day use area where there are docks and launch ramps. Very nice place.

Total miles: 41.9, 1 hour 19 min, 16.2 mpg. Site 32*. Sites along the stream have no hookups and shorter paved pads, but some would be ok: 38, 36, 34, 42, 44. All have partial solar. The lower loop is nicer than the upper loop. No cell service.


Island RV Park, Clear Lake

IMG_0242I think we have found my dream situation. I’ve been looking for a site where I can leave my kayak set up and just “hop in the water” when I feel like it. This will do very, very nicely, thank you. We also tried a different route to get to Clear Lake this time (I-5 to 20), and it makes this whole area far less daunting to get to. The route was easy, even for night time driving and only took us about 3 hours (as opposed to 4), with a 7pm arrival. That’s definitely doable and this is an amazingly fun place to be.

IMG_0241We arrived well after sunset and it was hard to figure out where to go in the darkness. Richard was eventually able to track down the manager (he is literally 90 years old and doesn’t always hear the phone) and find our site, but I didn’t want to do a lot of adjusting at night, so we just unhitched, privatized, and went to bed. In the morning, we woke to the sounds of ducks and discovered we were right on the water, in a pretty fantastic way. We spun Dory so I could stare at the lake through the windows and Richard went out on a “superlative” bike ride down South Mine, Lakeshore Dr. and North Rd. IMG_0254Then I got my kayak ready to put in right next to our site. Bliss. There are so many amazing birds on the lake. I spotted multiple Great Blue Herons, Great White Egrets, and lots I couldn’t identify. And the ducks apparently have a pretty good deal going with some of the full timers in the RV park. I did not know that when I walked down the boat ramp and got swarmed. After a few minutes of mumbling and staring up at me, they decided to just leave, en masse, with some very loud quacking to let me know they were dissatisfied with the service. Like a hoard of angry Yelp reviewers, typing all in caps: “TERRIBLE SERVICE!” “UNBELIEVABLE! NO food at all!!” “I’d give it ZERO stars if I could!” IMG_0266That night we were treated to a beautiful sunset and the sudden gathering of I don’t know how many White Pelicans. They arrived out of nowhere in a flurry of splashing and flapping, and then just as suddenly, lifted and glided away out of sight.


IMG_0289Sunday, Richard checked out another ride on the other side of the lake (175 with a scary descent into Cobb and back on Bottle Rock Rd.) and I checked out some recommendations for cool lunch places. I whole heartedly support the recommendation for the Old World Tavern in Lakeport. I enjoyed an IPA on tap and a grilled tri tip sandwich while listening to all my favorite hippie music played live.IMG_0292 I picked Richard up and then we headed over to another recommendation for wine tasting and olive oil tasting. Chacewater Winery & Olive Oil Mill is a fascinating place, with super friendly owners who will tell you all about its history and even let you taste the olive oil right as it is coming out of the expellers. We walked out with a case of Chardonnay and some nice holiday gifts. Dinner was at yet another recommended business: Park Place. That was fabulously yummy!

IMG_0298Monday, we got to enjoy the lovely sound of rain on the roof and I got to stare endlessly at the rain drops hitting the water on the lake. Sometimes, it feels unfair how much fun we have in Dory. Then, I remember what a crappy week I’d just had, and I get over that feeling fast. I made a foray out to Lower Lake to get a dump hose extension from Brown’s RV because spinning Dory put us just out of range of the sewer input.

IMG_0331Tuesday the weather cleared up and I got to paddle around an island. The water was still and smooth as glass. The only interruption to the calm was a text from Richard alerting me to the fact that the island I was rounding is named “Rattlesnake Island.” He warned me to watch out for swimming snakes. I did notice the relaxed feeling somewhat diminish, and I spotted many a floating reed, but generally just increased my distance from the shoreline and had fun anyway. IMG_0339Richard had to work most of the day, but in the afternoon, we were able to get in a little hike around Anderson Marsh State Historic Park. Dinner that night was at a little place in the town of Clearlake called Cactus Grill. All great! Also, this weekend, I had a little photo project because someone requested lots of interior shots of Dory.

Wednesday we had to pack up and head home for Thanksgiving. I was interested in taking Highway 16 on the way back, just to see if it was a viable route. However, as soon as we turned off, we saw a yellow sign saying: Tractors – Semis over 30′ Kingpin to Rear Axle Not Advised. Those signs are always a clear indication that, even if we might be able to drive the road, it won’t be relaxing. IMG_0349We stuck with Highway 20 back to 5 and all was nice and easy, with beautiful scenery along the way. Since this is now a 3 hour trip, and I’ve found my perfect boating spot, I anticipate visiting this place a LOT more in the future. There are still entire areas to check out! Fire damage around the lake is definitely still visible from this year’s fires. And the area to the south may never be the same, following the fires from a couple of years ago. But there is an abundance that remains in natural beauty and fun shops and restaurants yet to explore.

Total miles: 143.7, 3 hours 5 min, 15.2 mpg there, 17.7 back. Excellent LTE for both of us AND pretty good campground wifi. Full hookups, including sewer. Good water. Nice bathrooms, nice hosts. The campground itself has very few sites that would be this nice. There are only a couple that are right on the water and this one had a boat ramp on one side. There are lots of full timers and seasonal set ups there.

Brannan Island (4)

IMG_0234This was a nice three day weekend to connect with our brave, tent camping, BFFs. It was also a nice time to try out one of the non hookup sites at Brannan Island because the weather wasn’t too hot. One thing you really have to keep in mind about this place: the water is seriously gross, so fill tanks beforehand. They tell people that the water gets tested frequently and that it is “safe,” but… seriously. The color of the water makes it look like the toilets have not been flushed. I’d rather not shower in that, thanks.

IMG_0231Our buddies got there before we did and saved us a sweet spot by the water and with plenty of solar. This loop of the campground seems to be the wild bunny zone. The hookup area is apparently designated for feral cats, and further on is clearly the ground squirrel habitat. I’m not sure how all the creatures keep their territories straight, but there must be signs somewhere, telling them where their boundaries lie.

IMG_0214For Thursday dinner, we had a Blue Apron vs. Chili camping cookoff contest in Dory. You gotta love the huge aluminum camping pot vs nesting stainless steel Magma cookware. Obviously, they win, just based on their strategic use of camping head lanterns. Did not see that move coming.

IMG_0228Friday was a holiday for me, but not so much for Richard, so everyone but him went out for a bike ride along the delta. There was a small chance of rain in the forecast, and “small” ended up meaning “only for the duration of the ride.” It was actually a nice drizzle and right about the time I was feeling like not being drizzled on, we were back at camp. Then our buds headed back home.

Saturday I wrote a report and Richard went out on a non drizzly ride. I pondered getting out in my boat, but chose napping instead. We also met up with some Altoistes who had just taken delivery of their 1723, so we spent time doing mutual tours and tips. Theirs has the spiffy new combination heating system, so we got to ooh and ahh over that. They also have the newer version of the rear view camera and we officially like that one better. Good thing we’re already planning to return to the mothership in Quebec next summer. We might be able to get up some upgrades.

Nice weekend and this remains a dependably pleasant and very close by place.

Site 31 this time. Very nice, plenty of solar, by the water, good space and privacy.



49er RV Ranch

IMG_0161The top two themes of this weekend were: 1) the Gold Rush, and 2) discomfort in an unexpected and costumed crowd. As for the first, Richard mentioned a while back that he wanted to go to a ghost town with touristy exhibits. I had just the place in mind, since I had chaperoned a trip to 4th grade outdoor camp ten years back. A little web searching led me to Columbia State Historic Park, near Sonora, CA. The weekend was designated as full tourist mode.

IMG_0171About 12 miles before we arrived at the campground, we got a call from the host. That has never happened before, and our first thought was that the area was on fire and they were calling to tell us to turn around. In fact, they were just being hospitable and welcomed our arrival with a person guiding us into our site with a lantern. Impressive! The RV park was fine, not exactly ‘camping’ like, but we didn’t expect that. It was a short walk to the restored town of Columbia and we spent the better part of Saturday exploring exhibits and walking through Gold Rush themed shops. IMG_0164This place is very much like a Disney version of an old west town, except many of the artifacts are real. There were street musicians and a guy with old timey cameras, happy to explain how they used to make images back then on silver coated copper plates. Overall, it was an interesting contrast to Indian Grinding Rock. There, the focus was on how the indigenous people were decimated by the influx of miners. Here, it was all about the mining culture, with one tiny corner of an exhibit indicating that, oh yeah, there had been some Native Americans there earlier.

IMG_0193After exploring on our own, we sprung for a ride on a horse drawn stage coach. That was very fun! We even got held up by an amusing bandit. Luckily he was friendly and responded to a request (“Hey Bandit!”) from the driver to get the horses untangled before we moved on. I spent a fair amount of time looking for where the 4th grade camp cabins  were located until a teacher texted me back to clarify that it had been Coloma, not Columbia, that I had been to. That explained why things looked just a little unfamiliar to me. Oh well, another future trip!

IMG_0194We walked back to Dory and started thinking about dinner. There were not many options in the area, but the local pizza joint, Waterwheel Pizza & Saloon, got a 4.9 rating and that made Richard pretty excited. When we arrived, the parking lot was already beginning to fill up. I noticed that it seemed like a lot of cars for such a small place, but, only place in town, so… Then we noticed that everything was quite decked out for Halloween. Like really decked out. Ok, I guess these guys go all out for this holiday. Then we started to feel a little out of place because EVERYONE, waiters, cooks, customers, were all wearing costumes. Some were intense, like they had put months of effort into making them. We noticed the blacksmith from the historic park was there, in costume. More and more people showed up and the parking lot was now three rows of packed cars with more spilling into a neighboring lot. Wow, we thought. This must be amazing pizza. And geez, these people really REALLY like their Halloween. So we placed our order and were told it would be at least a 45 minute wait. As I was no longer sure I could get my car out of the parking lot, we said fine and tried to find a spot to hang out. The picnic tables out back seemed somewhat out of the thick of things, but that didn’t last. Soon, we were right in the middle of a full on costume fest. At last, two people dressed exactly like us (as in, Richard owns the same National Parks T-shirt) came over and sat at the table. That was a relief not to be alone. We started chatting and learned that, in fact, we were still alone. “Oh. You ARE in costume?” we asked. Yes indeedy. They were dressed as “Flatlanders,” or tourists from the valley who come to their town and leave their trash behind. Fabulous. What could be more awkward? Oh. This is not a coincidental gathering of locals coming to eat pizza? Nope. It turned out we had accidentally crashed a memorial celebration of life honoring a young man who had been known for dressing up. What time is it? How long did you say the pizza would take? Oy. We passed on the raffle tickets going around, and just chatted with the nice Flatlanders while we waited. All around us, we could make out tearful conversations about how much this young man is missed. The second our pizza was ready, we snuck out, barely got Bruce through the parking lot, and rushed back to Dory where we closed curtains, locked the door, and tried not to crash anything else for the evening. By the way, the pizza was really good.

IMG_0199Sunday, we headed over to Railtown State Historic Park, because the Flatlanders seemed to think it was something we should do. They were right, it was very fun. We took a ride on an old rail car and learned about the history of the trains. Mostly, we learned about what movies and TV shows had featured the famed Engine #3. It really was a good recommendation and we should go back and thank them some time and not leave trash.

It was a good weekend, awkwardness and all!

Total miles: 122.9, 16.3 mpg, 3 hours 49 min. The RV park had full hookups and decent wifi and we both had some LTE service.