Anza Borrego

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Me being the Eye of Sauron, looking down at Dory

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

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

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

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

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

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

Castaic Lake

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Los Banos Creek

img_8174This was a delightful little find, not too far from home and somewhere we might go for a weekend. Our aim was to get a head start on southward travel Friday so we didn’t have to cover as much ground later. This place clocks in at 112 miles from home and was completely empty on a Friday night. It was cold, mind you, so understandable that the lakeside sites might not have appealed to the masses.

img_8177This campground is a part of the San Luis Recreation Area and is a short detour off Interstate 5. There are no services and the bathrooms are porta potties. We think it is a first come, first serve campground, but we could be wrong there. On arrival around 4, we got the pick of sites and the guy at the kiosk recommended #1. It’s the only one right on the water and it was quite nice, with its own ramada (I learned what a ramada is too, thanks Google).

img_8185Richard joined me for a night walk and we got to put our OLights to use. I also got to wear my sleeping bag jacket and that baby will keep away any chills. We could see I5 and the lights of Los Banos, as well as lots of stars. Fun!

The next morning we made tracks further south and Richard rode out of the campground. Besides one shallow water crossing, it was an uneventful departure. I amused myself with the sign stating that was a “Detention Reservoir.” Somewhere out there are some very naughty fish.

Lat note: captain’s chair is fully installed and such an improvement. Very comfortable and it improves the storing of things around me. It’s my nook of happiness. Southward for Winter Break!

Total miles: 112.2, 17.3 mpg, 3 hours 15 min. Site 1. No hookups, weak LTE for both at the water, but 4 bars once you climb a little out of the valley.

Samuel P. Taylor (4)

img_8141It turns out very little can stand in the way of us going out camping. Take Friday. It was raining, I got home later than usual, and Richard had not had a chance to get anything ready because his work day was jam packed. We were both grouchy and getting off to a late start. We also noticed that some of the wiring conduit that runs under Dory, held onto the frame by adhesive backed plastic holders and zip ties, had come loose. Right at that moment, I was thinking of bailing. However, our daughter had an end of term celebration weekend planned, in the form of a reservation at an inn in Pt. Reyes Station. Our plan was to pick her up, drive over, and drop her at the inn before heading to the campground. So we were committed, but probably would have persevered anyway. Knowing we didn’t have time to do the wiring harness job properly, we just stuck new double sided sticky tape onto the plastic holders and smooshed them back onto the frame. As it turned out, that fix held up all weekend. Go figure.

We retrieved the college kid and proceeded through the rain, arriving in the vicinity of the inn around 7. It was dark and the approach looked iffy. We were all having misgivings about the place because it seemed much farther from town than expected. She’d be on foot, so a two mile walk to dinner did not sound very celebratory to any of us. Still, we turned up the private road and quickly hit a poorly maintained, pot holey and narrow approach up to a house that might have been an inn, but was not really signed very well. We also hit a dead end at the end of their driveway with no room to turn around. The only way out would have been to back all the way down the narrow drive, around a curve, and through a break in a fence. In the dark. And the rain. And there was no cell service.

I’d already decided there was no way in hell I was dropping our daughter at this place, reservations be damned, but the nail in the coffin came when a man, who may or may not have been the owner of the inn, came out and stared at us disapprovingly. Rather than say anything helpful or welcoming, or even conciliatory given our predicament, he simply stated we’d have to back the trailer down the hill and we’d better not hit anything.

ABORT. Without stopping to ponder much, I told Richard we were unhitching and using the Caravan Mover to spin Dory around so we could face the other way. Richard realized pretty quickly this was not open for debate and got out to go through the full unhitching process. The older man kind of just watched as we turned Dory 180 degrees and moved Bruce back into hitch up position. “Well, isn’t that something,” was about all he said. At that point, a younger guy had come out, and though he may have been more friendly, it was way too late. We let them know the place was more remote than we’d expected and that we were heading to town for dinner and would call to let them know what we were going to do. We had no intention of returning, but didn’t say so.

As soon as we headed back down the road, cell service came back and Richard started Googling and making phone calls. He was actually able to find two other good prospects, even with the late notice, that had vacancies. He booked a place called the Pt. Reyes Station Inn and this was a much, much better option, just a couple of blocks from the center of town. We dropped Dory in the campground, got set up, and I drove daughter back to get her checked in. The host was charming and welcoming and all was well again. I’d left Richard the task of calling the other place back to see what, if anything, could be salvaged from the reservation price. He can be an asshole when needed, and was able to get a 50% refund. I have to specify the conditions when he is allowed to use his powers, and I make sure to never be within earshot.

img_8145He had dinner waiting in Dory when I got back and the rest of the evening went like our normal Dory times. Pretty soon, we were both glad we’d hung in there. Saturday was slow and relaxing. It didn’t rain and we took a little hike through the park, down to the river. In the afternoon, I wrote a report and Richard went into town to get paper towels. Somehow those got left off the shopping list and you really can’t do without paper towels.

img_8151Sunday we picked up the daughter, who reported that the place was nice, the town was cute, and it was a good weekend. Score. All worth it. Plus we got our camping time in.

Back at home we ran into a problem in the form of low battery levels for the Caravan Mover to get up the driveway. We knew we were low after a weekend of redwoods and zero solar, plus running the heater, but we didn’t quite have enough juice to get up the ramp at the bottom of the driveway. I’m not sure why we thought it would work to just use the winch, but note to future selves: that does not work. What happens as soon as the Caravan Mover rollers are disengaged, even with the winch rope taught, is that Dory’s uphill wheel rolls backwards and she swings until the bumper hits the street. We had to do some fancy work there, using a combination of winch power and additional ramps under wheels to get her unstuck. Besides scraping on the bottom of the rear bumper, she doesn’t seem to be any the worse for wear, but we have learned never to do that again.

img_8155Next week we head out for winter break and my boat seat project should be ready. We got our custom cutting board delivered and it fits perfectly. All that remains is to drill some holes to attach the chair. I can try it with the swivel mount, and if that sits too high, it can just mount directly on its base. The seat sits higher than the cushion, so a footrest is definitely required for this project, unless you are very tall. I’m pretty excited to have comfortable seating with lumbar support.

For anyone interested, the measurements for the base are: 21 1/2″ wide, 36 3/16″ long. There is a notch in the back corner that runs 3 5/8″ on the long side, by 3″ on the short side. The seat is this one by Tempress. And the swivel mount is this one.

Hooray. Good weekend. Worth it, despite the glitches.

Wrights Beach (7)

img_8078Ahhhhh, just what was needed: a three day weekend with a good friend at my favorite place on the planet. It didn’t even matter that it poured rain a lot of the time. Or that it seemed possible we might get washed away into a sand dune. The ocean views from those premium sites can heal all the ills of the world. And my new jacket totally rocks.

img_8107We got very little traffic on our way out, possibly because most people bailed on the idea of going to the coast during a downpour. Much of the campground was also empty, even some of the premium sites, but those people are obviously not badass campers like we are. Or they have tents, in which case, we would totally have bailed too. Site 9 has an amazing view, but is a bit of a squeeze for a trailer. We planned to use the Caravan Mover to position in the site, but found that there was so much wet sand, the jockey wheels were just being pushed along into a deepening rut. So we spun her to the side, about as far at the edge of the site as we thought would be tolerated by the campground host. Bruce just barely fit beside her and we counted on that AWD to be able to get back out.

60451826_10216918727112153_273129159469826048_nOur Altoistes friend, Annie, came over for drinks after we got set up and we got caught up while I cooked. She did me a HUGE favor by getting me replacement wine cups from Casini Ranch when she was there. Turns out these things are not dishwasher safe, and mine came out looking more like a shot glass than a wine glass. Not ok. Glad to have replacements.

img_8114Overnight it rained quite a bit, but the view through the windows in the morning, combined with a nice boost from the heater, made everything cozy and awesome. Since I’ve again accepted the necessity of daily walking, I got yet another jacket in order to combat the whining. This one is a Patagonia hard shell rain jacket and I can wear it over the top of my puffy. We practiced rain walking a couple times over the weekend and I’m happy to say the upper body situation is working out nicely. All the rain just beaded up like tiny diamonds, with no dampness whatsoever inside. Lower body however…. did you know that once jeans get wet they actually don’t ever dry out for the rest of your life? Of course you did. That comes as a surprise to no one. Still, I wore them on the first day and went “oh yeah.” and had to hang them over the heater vent all weekend. Then I tried fuzzy lined snow pants things I bought after I got cold last winter, and those worked pretty well. I also have over the top rain pants, but those seem like wearing garbage bags, so I’m not sold.

img_8120The hikes were really beautiful though, and we even got periods of blue skies and pseudo-sun. The Sonoma coast never disappoints and the views were spectacular, as always.

As the rain continued, we got some pretty impressive pooling in our site. I became fascinated with it, and started wondering if I could channel the water by digging trenches. If only I had a shovel. My mind pondered all the utensils I had at my disposal until I realized kayak paddles are quite shovel-like. img_8093Then the curiosity overwhelmed me and I went outside, in the rain, in the sand pools, and began digging. This was more of a childlike curiosity endeavor than anything practical, but I ended up with a rather impressive French drain installation, if I do say so. The water flowed perfectly into my little river trenches, until it exited in a waterfall and joined up with all the other runoff streams. It was cool to see the slow formation, and later disappearance, of a lagoon between the campground and the surf. Wrights Beach is basically a big sand pit for grown ups, which is probably why I find it so therapeutic.

img_8137We had a lovely time, hiking on the Kortum trail, having happy hours together with Annie, and going out to dinner at our Mexican place. Sunday, we took our requisite selfie, said our “see you soon”s to Annie, but then met up again at the dump station at Bodega Dunes. The daily walking and Yoga have definitely been helping and this felt like a much needed mental reset. It was a great weekend.

No new trip data. Site 9 this time. I noted that 10 was quite flooded and really would be a bit small for an Alto.

Folsom Lake (3)

img_8065Neighbor: Did you really come back for one day and then set off again?! Me: Two nights. To be accurate.

So how was the lake? No idea. Didn’t even see it. Didn’t hardly leave Dory cause it was raining and we melt in water. Pretty much all we did was sleep in, watch “The Crown,” and do a proof of concept test on a new seating idea.

img_8066I have found that long stints of typing, even with a butt cushion thingy, can lead to a sore back. I did lots of thinking and web searching, and ended up ordering a boat seat that is supposedly good for backs. To try it out properly, we needed to remove the seat cushion/bench and put in a plank of wood for the thing to sit on. First round of testing seems very promising. The next step is to order a custom piece of polyurethane, like a huge cutting board cut to fit. Then we can bolt the seat onto that. Or bolt on a swivel mount. We can try each and see what’s better. I shall report back with “after” photos. It requires the abandonment of being able to use that area as a single bed, but we don’t seem to have that many overnight guests, so I think we’re good.

img_8064In other news, nightly Yoga is back as a non negotiable and it turns out I can do the whole routine, minus one move, in the back of Dory while Richard takes a shower. My Yoga mat is now adorably small. And I can even close the Sad Room curtains and do Sad Yoga, as needed.

All I need now is to bolster my courage to do Sad Walking. It’s raining outside, you guys, and like really cold. Maybe 50. I know, I know. Ok fine, whatever. I’ll order five more jackets. Meanwhile, wish me luck.

Total miles: 100.1, 2 hours 28 min, 17.6 mpg. Site 53, full hookups, even good sewer. Great LTE. Still best site in terms of space from other campers. Folsom would be a fun area even outside a trailer. We think.

Pismo SB

img_8011While this will be a post about a fun new place we found for camping, it is first going to be a post about work stress. The past couple of weeks have been genuinely rough, which is not that unusual, especially for November. But what struck me on this vacation was how much tension I’ve been carrying around without really noticing. It wasn’t until day 3 that I was able to let go of some of it, and that followed a couple weeks of night waking. The mind goes to places at 3am like: is this a heart attack? Sleep apnea? Cancer? A premonition of Bad Things? Then later, while casually having a sandwich, I just started crying, realizing it was really that string of awful meetings I never had the chance to process.

Thanks Linda for this pic

In teaching, you don’t have time to recover. Instead, you move right into putting on a show for the kids, or getting stuff done. And I can do it, all teachers can, which makes it seem like everything is just fine. But then I wake up composing emails in my head. I’m feeling anxiety now more than I ever have, so the shit’s getting kinda real here. Why do you think I take so many sunset pictures? That’s my truly present time, and it’s what I depend on to shake off the intensity from week to week. Takeaway message for me? Weekend Dory time is keeping me alive, but I gotta reinstate work week routines. Walking, exercise, yoga, mindfulness, I know what to do. Just gotta get back to doing it.

img_7903But in the meantime, I’m extremely grateful for a week off and a new place to explore. I’m also grateful for our Alto buddy, Linda, and her camper dogs. We love you, dudes! They were all set up by the time we got to Pismo. Even with an earlyish departure, we were doing several hours of darkness driving to arrive around 8. It’s about a 5 hour drive and we didn’t hit that much traffic on the way down. This area, along with Morro Bay, is great for longer breaks, but not realistic for a weekend destination.

img_7905I liked this campground a lot. Even though our site was chosen for its proximity to the dump, there was plenty of room between us and other campers. The sites along the outside of the loop, near the dunes, would be the best ones. There is a sandy ridge between the campground and the beach, which gives some shelter from the wind. There is also a lovely lagoon that separates the area from the rest of the beach goers. One thing I learned about Pismo: there are a lot of beach goers. There are also a lot of Pelicans, and they are pretty entertaining to watch, especially when one of them decides it’s time to take off and all the rest agree.

img_8056The other thing I learned about Pismo: there are a whole lot of RVs. Right next to the state park campground, there is a private place, with 400 sites for big rigs, and it was packed. And there was another place down the street. Plus many, many others in the area. I honestly have never seen that many RVs. It looked like the storage facility across the street was busy towing huge trailers over to the park and dropping them off and setting them up in sites. I guess that’s a thing you can do. Here we were in our tiny camper, all excited to have a shower. Meanwhile next to us were rigs bigger than our house. Very different vibe than Morro Bay.

img_7954Situated at the edge of the state park campground, there is a Monarch Butterfly Preserve. We weren’t even aware of the phenomenon, but arrived just at the right time of year to see thousands of them gathering. As you approach along the little trail, you start to see them flying around overhead, and think, “Oh, how cute.” But then you look closer at the branches of the Eucalyptus trees and realize a couple of them are literally covered. The butterflies hang off of branches like the petals of giant, overgrown Wisteria vines. Most of them camouflage into looking exactly like brownish leaves. But when one flaps its wings, it sets off a ripple effect and the dangling chandelier of wings comes alive in waves of orange and black. It is really, really cool and makes me want a giant, telephoto lens camera. Instead, you get blurry pictures.

img_7944At sunset, we did our traditional, craned neck selfie shot at the beach while a kind person offered to take a better picture for us. “No thanks, this is kind of our thing.” For dinner, we headed into town to a place called Chop Street. We had the best street tacos ever and took a little after dinner walk up the street to get ice cream. Parking was a little tight on a Saturday, but there’s a pay to park lot that had spaces and was walking distance to everything. The streets were full of people in festive moods and downtown is dog friendly.

renderedimageThe next day, Richard biked out to the Huasna Valley, and we met up in Arroyo Grande. The little town is cute and fun, making a great place for a lunch stop. We had a delicious tri tip wrap at the Branch Street Deli and a giant eclair at the Eclair Bakery (you gotta, right?). We then drove out to Avila Beach, passing through the very upscale area of Shell Beach. It’s kind of brutal going through there because of all the road work. Plus, mostly it is an area packed with resorts and expensive housing. There are a couple of tiny parks, but we bypassed that whole strip and headed for the Port San Luis Pier.

img_7968We saw RV camping all along the waterfront, but these are big rig parking slots. There are one or two reservable sites that would provide a sideways view of the bay, but really, this kind of camping is not our speed. Clearly, it was popular with multitudes of other RVers though, and they seemed to be enjoying themselves. The most entertaining part of the pier was watching the Sea Lions lounging on their own private floor, just under the boardwalk. I still don’t get how they got up there. There are kayak tours, both in groups, and individual, that can be rented. It was a bit too cold and adventurous sounding for me, but perhaps another time. Apparently, you can go out around the peninsula and check out some cool sea caves.

img_7990Sunday sunset found us at the beach by Oceano Dunes SVRA. We checked out the state park campground, which offers a loop with electric hookups but no dump site, and decided we really like the North Campground better. Then we went over to the beach and discovered what everyone is doing when they come to Pismo. Apparently, driving around on the beach is a whole way of life I knew nothing about. Not only can you drive your car right on the beach, but you can get a camping pass and overnight there. Plus, the OHV action all over the place is quite the spectacle, even if that’s not what you’re into. Dinner Sunday was at a place called Ember. This place features locally sourced ingredients and a lot of wood fire cooking. It was delicious. We even sat outside, near a wood burning stove and felt nice and toasty. Downside: we smelled like smoke the rest of the evening. This is why we don’t do campfires.

img_8044Weather was bearing down on the California coast, but we got in one last sunny day before the rain. We headed out to a place called Pirate’s Cove Beach. There is a dirt parking lot at the end of a steep little road where you can catch a trail for the beach, or for the tunnel that overlooks Avila Beach. Both are beautiful, but be forewarned that Pirate’s Cove is clothing optional. We did see one clothing optional guy out there with a tripod. Not sure what he was trying to capture there. img_8034We hung out until sunset, joined by several groups of selfie takers, plus a drone photographer. I’m sincerely glad none of them fell off the cliff. Drones look like fun, but very expensive, toys and we were impressed at the operator’s trust in the stated range. He flew it way out over the ocean, acknowledging that if the drone goes too far and loses the signal, it will just drop out of the sky. Pretty sure he got some amazing shots of Pelicans at sunset.

img_8055Our last day we opted to stay put, rather than try to make tracks north and avoid a long day of driving in the rain. All weather reports seemed to indicate that the storm got worse as you headed north. So instead, we checked out the Avila Valley Barn, which is a combination petting zoo and farm fresh produce stand. It was a cornucopia of scents, ranging from fresh roasted corn on the cob, fresh baked pies, to well… the smells associated with petting zoos. Richard’s first impression of the place was that everyone was walking around munching delicious lettuce samples. Then he saw the kids feeding it to the goats. Made much more sense. Dinner Tuesday wrapped up our trip at a very small Mexican place called Papi’s Grill. This was a fantastic find and we got there during Taco Tuesday Happy Hour. If you go, I recommend the chicken quesadillas and the butter beef street tacos. OMG. So good. And the chips were fresh and crispy.

img_8058The rain found us around 9pm and continued strong all night. We hitched up early and were rolling by 10. We got periods of intense downpour, but mostly long stretches of nothing. Still we got hit with holiday traffic about 50 miles from home and that added about an extra hour to the return trip. No surprises traveling the day before Thanksgiving and all in all, it was worth it.

img_7902We’ll be looking to this area again for long stays. We used the Barker once after our third night, and pulled out the generator just to top off Richard’s laptop. The service was excellent and strong enough for him to work from Dory without anyone being the wiser. It’s all paved and we could tow the Barker if need be. There was good solar, but also it is a very generator friendly place. There were big rigs and tenters at this place, but it’s a short walk to the beach, so you can feel a bit removed from the NASCAR vibe present in a lot of the rest of the area. I don’t think we’ll ever be taking Dory on the beach. But I guess never say never. It sure did look like the beach riders were enjoying themselves.

Happy Thanksgiving to all! Hope your days are filled with love and gratitude. Mindful breathing will be on my list of holiday activities. Hope yours are peaceful!

Total miles: 245.0, 5 hours 16 min, 17.8 mpg. Site 2 (near the dump). Great solar. Nice bathrooms, showers available. Excellent cell everywhere for both. Site 2. No hookups in the North Campground. I’d stay there again, but I’d try for sites: 11, 14, 16, 22, 24, 25*, 27*, 29, or 31.

Lake Camanche

3mWWRH8uQMyS2%o21OlXgQJust as your eyes were starting to glaze over with the same old, same old repeat locations, we find a new campground! Lake Camanche Resort is located in the Sierra foothills, just a little to the east of Lodi. It’s a huge, private campground with multiple loops around an expansive reservoir. One can tell that the place is packed in the summer time, and there is not much in the way of shade. Late Fall camping is perfect though, as this means a quasi deserted campground, with full solar.

zfvxAq3TQxuWNdLDuNfmFwThe drive was easy, though much of it was in the dark. Our site was listed as “Premium” due to its lakeside proximity, but it needed quite a bit of leveling. We made a note to order more Lynx Levelers for just such circumstances. Most of the sites along the water appeared to be about the same in terms of tippiness. This side of the campground offers a nice sunset view, so I think I’d be looking at this one again, or one close by.

fullsizeoutput_1482Saturday Richard biked around the lake and I got my boat in the water. There’s a lot to explore, though not much in the way of vegetation. This is an open grassland area and we lucked out with the weather – not too hot, not too cold. I did spot a huge fish in the water, which apparently the resort touts as an enticement for fishers. I wouldn’t know a Trout from a Bass, but it was definitely the largest fish I’ve seen swimming around. There are also some amenities listed on the resort website, like a store and cafe, but we did not check those out this time.

1+ZaYcFdQWO732HpPW5xPgOn our way home, we stopped at a very cute little deli and bakery called Clements Ridge. There, we picked up some pre-made, ready to bake fruit pies, just in time for Thanksgiving. We also stocked up on holiday gifts from their store. There’s a nice selection of locally produced wines, honey, candies, and specialty olive oil. That, combined with a nice steak sandwich, smoked on site, made for the perfect lunch stop on Richard’s birthday.

Nice discovery, worthy of return trips.

Total miles: 93.5, 16.6 mpg, 3 hours 6 min. Site 84. No hookups. Great solar, lakeside site, launch from site. Great LTE for both. Good dump on site. Nice bathrooms, showers available, water spigots throughout.

Glory Hole (2)

img_7826For explanation of the name of the place, see here. Otherwise, we shall ignore and move right along. This was our second visit, and the second time we had tried to reserve in the Iron Horse loop, only to be moved when that loop got closed. This time it looked like it was just for the sake of compacting campers during off season months. I did not see anything about renovations or upgrade work. They moved us to a fine site, so no complaints, it’s just a little odd we never seem to be able to camp over there.

img_7746I must say, driving Highway 4 past Copperopolis in the dark is not my favorite thing to do. That highway is a 50 mile stretch of two lanes with no marked turnouts or passing lanes. About 8 miles of it, before you get to the junction with 49, is pretty narrow and twisty, which is fine in the daylight, but not something I wanted to rush after sunset. So, to the string of cars behind me, I’m not going to apologize. I was driving at a speed that ensured I would not crash and ruin everyone’s evening, even if it might have felt frustrating for you. No one honked or did anything obnoxious, mind you. I just projected feelings onto them that may or may not have existed. But the important thing is, we arrived safely around 7.

img_7753Saturday Richard biked, following 49 to Parrots Ferry Road, then up Red Hill Road. About 2 miles of that was gravel, but he said it was a nice shortcut. I spent much longer than usual writing a report. When there is too much cell service, it’s not always a good thing. as I tend to get distracted. He didn’t get back until the late afternoon and we decided to go out to dinner in the cute little historic town of Angel’s Camp at a Mexican restaurant called, Cascabel. That was very fun! You can tell this is a town that is booming with tourists in the summer time, just by how many amenities and good restaurants there are along Main Street. There is even a movie theater. I would have totally opted to see the new “Terminator” movie, but Richard remembered that the entrance gates to the recreation area close at 9pm. That was really really lucky, because I had missed that sign completely. We would have found ourselves walking 2 miles from the kiosk to the campground, in the dark, probably complaining about how not worth it that movie was.

img_7773Sunday we got to explore nearby attractions because of the three day weekend. First we drove out to the trail head for Natural Bridges. This is a 1 mile, descending trail down to a cavernous water passage that continues underground. They say you can swim to the other side and that it’s about 250 feet to go all the way through. We didn’t try that, but we did quite enjoy the cave-like formations and constant showers of water coming through the ceiling. It was very beautiful and definitely worth the mile back uphill.

img_7776After that, we drove over to look at the bridge on Parrot’s Ferry Road. Apparently, it was one of the first ever built to use a light weight kind of concrete, which allowed its span of 650 feet to become one of the longest prestressed concrete bridges in the US. You can see the section in the middle that started to sag after it was built, but they reinforced it, and is supposed to be just fine now. We didn’t drive across, but that was not for fear of collapse.

img_7809Our last stop for the day was at the Moaning Caverns Adventure Park. Though they boasted an impressive zip lining course, we opted to stay on ground. At least for the moment. We did sign up for their tour of the cavern and were warned that it was 235 steps down, plus the same back up. I was thinking regular stairs. It turns out the first 65 or so feet is very small steps through tight cracks, leading you to a landing that overlooks a huge space, and a drop to the bottom of another 100 feet. That part is accessible only by traveling down a unique, 10-story, metal spiral staircase, constructed in place back in the early 1900s. We were reassured lots by the tour guide that it was welded, super safe, and carried millions of tourists every year. img_7804So we went for it. Obviously, going back up was another story, but at least it was worth the sore thighs of the next morning. The cavern is truly awe inspiring. There are plenty of beautiful cave formations to look at and the more adventurous people can even continue downward on the Expedition Tour, using ropes. Nope. We’re good, thanks.

img_7840Monday we reluctantly departed for home and the only noteworthy thing is that we took an alternate route, along Marsh Creek Road, behind Mt. Diablo. I’ve lived in this area 25+ years and have never been on that road. It was lovely, though a bit narrow and windy, and definitely not faster than taking 4. Still, kinda cool to see new roads in my own back yard.

Wonderful three day weekend! We will definitely look to go back during winter months when it’s not hot.

Total miles: 118.9, 16.1 mpg, 3 hours 30 min. Site 100 Big Oak. Nice site and level too. Great solar, view of the lake, no hookups, strong LTE for both of us. Good dump on site. They ask for $8 fee, honor system.

Clear Lake SP (3)

img_7697Ooooooooh spooooooky….. are we at a cemetery? Has the zombie apocalypse finally begun and there are no humans left? Or is Halloween weekend just a really unpopular time to camp?? We’re guessing the latter and this weekend made for a striking contrast to the jam packed camper experience from last Labor Day.

img_7692As noted in my last post, the past two weeks have been rather a lot. And to round out a school week that started with no power on Monday, and Halloween on Thursday, I decided to take a day on Friday and make it a three day weekend up at Clear Lake. That was a really good call. It meant that we hit the road on the day of Halloween and didn’t arrive until well after dark. We did see some trick or treaters on our way through the town of Kelseyville, but that was the last we saw anyone else. There was no one at the kiosk, which was to be expected, but literally NO OTHER CAMPERS in the entire park. Not even a campground host. It wasn’t until late in the day on Friday that we saw anyone else at all, for a grand total of two state park rangers and one other camping family.

img_7696Richard had to work all day Friday, but we got out for a little hike in the afternoon. Still no one around besides the numerous birds on the lake. Saturday we finally got people coming through for dog walks and fishing. Can you guess where the fishers decided to set up? That’s right, they set up on the apparently non private beach right in front of our site. My silent voice said, “seriously??” but my mouth said hello. Then I stretched out in my Nemo chair and basically bird watched, gave Alto tours to the curious dog walkers, and napped all afternoon while Richard circumnavigated the lake on his bike.

img_7715I had two Blue Apron meals to catch up on and that was a lovely way to do dinner with a lake view at sunset. There are so many White Pelicans on the lake right now, you can spend all your time watching them commute back and forth, in long stretched out lines, just skimming the surface of the water. Every once in a while, a group will decide to congregate nearby and you can watch them do their fishing frenzy dances in unison. Great fun!

img_7717Sunday we went home via Highway 29, just to remind ourselves why we don’t take that route. It’s about an hour longer to go up 5 to 20, but it’s much easier driving, especially in the dark. On the way home I think 29 is fine. There is a ten mile stretch that is very twisty, with about 3 of those miles consisting of back to back 180 degree turns. It’ll drop you right in the heart of Napa Valley, and once there, it’s a lovely and peaceful drive home. We noted the disappearance of one of our favorite lunch stops: Dean and DeLuca. Apparently, they are closing down all the retail stores except for the one in New York. This is sad, but I guess all we ever really buy there is high end sandwiches and extremely expensive designer chocolate truffles. But it’s a tradition we’ve enjoyed, so we’re sad it’s gone.

img_7728Nothing much else to report except Dory’s rear stabilizers are making knocking sounds. Richard is confident that’s an easy replacement job. The time change happened this weekend, so it’s into the winter camping season from here on out for a while. Extra blankets come out, down puffies replace thin fuzzies, and propane levels get checked more frequently. But that’s about it for us; no winterizing required. All we have to deal with is fires, power outages and earthquakes.

Total miles (via 505 to 5 to 20): 167.2, 15.5 mpg, 3 hours 58 min. To home via 29: 120.8, 15.9, 3 hours 7 min. From the campground, there are about 40 miles of easy driving. Then 3.3 miles twisty uphill, 3 miles nonstop 180s downhill, then another 3 miles twisty down to Calistoga. Site: 58. Still my favorite, despite communal beach. Good dump, nice bathrooms, no hookups but fairly good solar.