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.

New Brighton (4)

VWm89TyjQkKzEbUacF7zpgNew Brighton is turning into a nice yearly winter tradition. And this is the second year where I’ve been able to connect with my Altoiste pal, Annie, during our stay. In fact, we had so much fun paddling on the Elkhorn Slough, that I plum forgot to take any pictures of Dory in her campsite. Oops. It was site 87, one of the premium ones and the same place we camped last year. So you can use your imagination.

We could not have been more lucky in terms of weather Saturday. It was sunny and mid 60s with no wind at all. We parked by the launch by Monterey Bay Kayaks, where Annie got a rental and I set up my Advanced Elements inflatable. The fee for a park and launch is $11, so be prepared with cash or a check to put in an envelope by the public bathroom.

xD2o8kOASJmPG6HTS905zQWe saw lots of otters and pelicans, and even some seals. The current from the tide going out was strong enough that we didn’t get very far up the slough, but we also didn’t really care. It was a lovely day. Afterwards, I got to use the wash facility at the rental place. I always really appreciate this because it means I can give Squirt a good power spray down. I took my first lesson at this place and bought pretty much all the gear I use from them on the spot, so they told me at the time that if you’ve taken lessons there, you are henceforth welcome to use the boat wash. They’re a great outfit and I highly recommend taking a lesson.

IMG_2789While we were out on the water, Richard tried a hike in the Forest of Nisene Marks State Park. Because of his highly predictable disability, he of course got lost. Luckily, he was able to turn himself back toward the way he came and got back to the entrance without needing a helicopter rescue. We both met up back at Dory around 3.

After taking in the sunset scene, we met up with Annie again for dinner at Zameem Mediterranean Cuisine. Afterwards, we headed to Marianne’s for ice cream. A lovely time was had by all!

Total miles: 89.0, 17.6, 2 hours 39 min. Site 87, huge premium site with ocean view, but no hookups. LTE for both of us and a tiny bit of solar. Bathrooms are nice and have showers. Good dump station.

Doran Beach (5)

yLEdQ1wvRGG6ak6fhBHKjgYes, this is one of our favorite spots, and this time we even tried a new loop and discovered we liked it better than our stand by favorite site. There is a beautiful view from the first loop and we spent the laziest possible day Saturday, just staring and not doing much.

It was a wee bit chilly and it had rained all through the night Friday. It was windy and sporadically rainy outside, which enhanced the desire to be lazy where it was warm and heated. I got a report written and Richard did some work related thinking, but mostly we just talked and snacked and watched the tide go in and out.

6sj7Ei6cSy+h9jdDY5ipjgNot much of a report, but I can say that I experimented with scratch repair the past couple of weeks. There are lots of tiny beauty marks all over Dory, mostly from road rocks. They don’t really bother me and I figure they’re like wrinkles in that they are the physical evidence of a life well lived. There is this one scratch though. It happened when I was washing Dory with a microfiber cloth head thing attached to a long, expandable pole. It’s the kind that screws onto the pole like a mop head. On one of my forward pushes, the cloth head fell off and I put a big swipe right on the front that left a dark streak. It’s the kind of thing that pulled my eye to it every time I went in the garage. And that is just a terrible feeling. So I looked up a bunch of YouTube videos on scratch removal and bought some stuff. I experimented with a small scratch on the outside storage door and all I can say there is that it looks no worse after all the work I put into it. No better. But at least I got to go through the steps with the products.

cMT2banKQ2+by2pvNuOG6wBefore starting, Dory got a nice bath to get all of the smoke filled rain residue off. While I was at it, I gave the rugs a good hosing as well. Then it was time to nervously attempt the touch up, hoping not to make it worse. The scratch on the front had clearly gone past the clear coat layer, so I had to use touch up paint. And I had to use sand paper. That’s the scary part and once you’ve done it, you’re committed because it looks awful until you get to the polishing stage. I spent a lot of time getting the touch up paint to not be globby. It is not a perfect color match either, but all I was after was to take away the dark area. 8O4jsvM7SL2CqShdilbpTAThe process I used was: clean, wet sand with 3000 grit paper on top of a sponge, precision dab the paint, dry, wet sand, repeat, until it looked acceptable. Then stop. That was probably the most important step. Accept it won’t be invisible and move on. Then wet sand a larger area with 5000 grit to blend in, polish, wax. At the end of the day, I’m not unhappy with it. I can see it, but it doesn’t draw my eye the way it did before.

5YZekV3LTGuusKMvN312LwSuper lazy weekend in one of our favorite spots as winter kicks in. We officially like this loop better and the bathroom there gets far less traffic, making it cleaner. Doran has nice bathrooms, but they can get sandy when they’re near the day use areas.

Total miles: 82.9, 15.5 mpg, 2 hours 50 min. Site 14, very nice and super level. Lots of solar and strong LTE for both.

Morro Bay SP (2)

QEpopStSiZNNMQy6l4AWhat do you do when your town gets engulfed by smoke so thick it causes all Bay Area schools to shut down? If you answered: abandon your home and adult children and head south, you are our kind of people. Actually, the heading south plan was a happy coincidence because I made reservations months ago. It just timed out nicely as an escape plan.

fullsizeoutput_121cOur district got word Thursday that we’d be shutting doors the Friday before Thanksgiving Break. That was a very good call, as smoke from the “Camp Fire” 150 miles to the north was creating officially hazardous conditions. Of course, all we had to deal with was the air, so our hearts are with the thousands who lost their homes or loved ones so suddenly. We left around noon and kept driving until we’d covered about 180 miles. It was then that we could say the escape was a success. That is just a huge area to be affected, so it gives a sense of how bad the burning has been. Also, it’s hard to deem a situation like this “lucky,” but it did mean we got to start the 5 hour drive at noon rather than 3, so our arrival caught a nice sunset, as opposed to darkness and cranky time.

t9WFzZi2Soy260ticzSN%QWe got to enjoy 5 straight nights for this trip, which meant we knew we’d need the generator as well as the Barker (portable grey water tank). Both worked quite well I must say, which means there are no limits to stay length providing there is a dump somewhere on site. The Barker is our third portable tank. The first was too small. It had two wheels and was heavy enough to be difficult to drag. So we used it once and gave it away at a rally. The second was huge and towable. The hugeness made it very annoying to bring along and the disconnect always resulted in a bit of spillage. So we used that one once and gave it away to new Alto owners. I think I can say this one represents a happy medium. 88sRS13GTgeo%0GrWe7w9ADon’t get me wrong, dumping the tank this way isn’t fun and Dory’s plumbing is so low to the ground that you have to slosh and snake the water through the hose and up into the tank. However, once it’s there, you are in no danger of spillage, unless the hose pulls clean off the connector fitting, which it did. But now that the clamp has been very, very tightened down, it’s not a bad system. It has a floating thing to tell you when it’s full and it looks like a full dump of Dory’s grey tank pretty closely equals a full 16 gal Barker. The generator worked as expected and kept us topped up even though we were in full shade.

fullsizeoutput_1216We got in a couple of hikes around Morro Bay. The first was at Montana Del Oro State Park and is a beautiful stroll along the bluffs. Richard rode there and says that was a beautiful ride with not too much climbing. We checked out the sites at the Islay Creek Campground, which is described as “primitive.” There are vault toilets and some water tanks, but definitely no hookups. It was ok, but not so pretty that I’d go out of my way to stay there instead of Morro Bay. It does feel a little more removed though and there are a couple of sites nicely spaced apart from the others. DK9xI6SHTzesFV0aPaT1sgNo view of the river, but a short walk to the beach. Also, the Visitor Center is a preserved museum of the Spooner Ranch House with lots of antiques and artifacts nicely displayed.

Another hike was up the Quarry Trail whose trailhead is on the road to Los Osos. This one offers views of the bay, but you can’t get all the way to the old quarry. You can see it though and the scenery is pretty along the way. Except for the little climb in the beginning, it is a short and gentle trail.

H8tXwrbgT9iTjwtgPDyODgOn one of the warmer days, I was able to get in a paddle. Morro Bay is a lovely place to bob around, but one does have to be careful because the whole thing is very shallow. If you’re not careful (like on my previous trip), you can get yourself stuck in a bog. Many times I tried to paddle over to flocks of birds floating on the water, only to realize they were not floating so much as standing. It wasn’t too shallow for mammals though and I spied several otters adorably munching mollusks and rolling around in the ripples. fullsizeoutput_1217At one point, I got an eerie feeling I was being watched. The feeling was confirmed when I heard the unmistakable sound of heavy breathing coming from behind me. I spun the boat around and saw an entire gang of seals right behind me. There were at least six, maybe more, creepily following in my path. They didn’t even seem terribly embarrassed or apologetic when I pulled out my phone and told them I’d be posting their faces on social media. Cheeky.

Rd7P6WeFSLS9mKf5BzSBvgAnother set of mammals we were delighted to spy were a pair of Altoistes who have gone above and beyond in their search for the ultimate Alto solar set up. They’re impossible to miss if you know anything about the group and Richard texted me excitedly when he was out on his bike and saw them drive by. If it’s an Alto 1743 covered in solar panels, pulled by a Tesla, it’s got to be these folks! We had a great time chatting and later went out for dinner at the nearby Bayside Cafe. I’ve said it before, but I absolutely love meeting Altoistes in real life.

EyZXapkAQJq1bZcYGgEv%QOn our last day, Richard got in a longer than expected bike ride and I actually got some work done. It was lucky he had service, because he had neglected to factor in the earlier setting sun. It was serendipitous though because after I drove out to pick him up on the road, I made a bee line for the sunset. And what a glorious sunset it was. The sky dazzled with deep oranges and yellows over the ocean, and suddenly, as I was basking in the scene, I spotted what could only be dolphins (or perhaps porpoises) hopping along the horizon. The moon glowed overhead and someone on the beach quipped, “Man, it’s like a Disney movie!” It was. All it lacked was inspirational background music, but it brought happy tears to the eyes nonetheless.

We would gladly have spent another week down there, but Thanksgiving called and we were already topping the Worst Parents of the Year List for having ditched our offspring in the smoke. So home we came and by that time, it had started to rain. We totally pulled an air quality cheat and have no regrets. We again recommend one of our favorite restaurants: House of JuJu by the Bay, where Richard got to spend his birthday dinner.

tm9SUrQhQf6ttqzGBWQPtgHere’s a note on perfect Omnia birthday cupcakes: wait for the steam. Set the timer for the upper end of the cooking range (like 25 min at “medium”), but don’t turn off the flame until you see steam start to come out the vent holes. That took an additional 8 min after the timer went off and will vary depending on what you’re cooking, where actually the “medium” flame level is, and the weather (seriously). But once that steam happens, you can be pretty sure it’s gonna be done. Turn off the flame but keep the lid on for another 10 min to finish the job. As always, start the cooking with 3 minutes high flame for just the base. Then put the oven on the base and start the cooking timer. Leave it on high for the first 1 min of cooking time, then turn it down to “medium.” Cupcakes and muffins work really well in silicon muffin cups set on the wire rack.

Kof2EiHmTPuDoZi%6N9jdwMorro Bay remains one of our favorite areas for extended stays. There is so much to do and explore. With the addition of a generator and the Barker, we basically have no limits and it sure was nice to not pack up and move for a while. Note to future self for next year’s Thanksgiving travels: really think hard about driving back on Wednesday. You will not be the only one with that plan.

Total miles: 236.3, 17.6 mpg, 4 hours 52 min. Site 122. No hookups and in the shade. The sites in the upper loop are more woodsy, but not really private. The dump is easy to get to with a portable tank. LTE for both of us all around the area. At Montana Del Oro, some of the more private(ish) sites: 27, 28, 1. No running water in the bathrooms. Spotty or no cell service, but wifi at the Visitor Center.

Pinnacles (3)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wonderful three day weekend!!

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

Glory Hole Recreation Area

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Butano (2)

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

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

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

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

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