Casini Ranch (5)

We splurged on a great site with river views. #wortheverypenny

Hey! It’s starting to feel a little like summer! We had gorgeous weather this weekend, just a little bit inland from the coast. Those few miles made the difference between windy and cloudy vs blue skies and temps in the high 60s and low 70s.

Russian River paddling = perfect day

That was enough for me to get my boat in the water for the first time in a very long time. On the last couple of voyages, I found some slow leaking due to tiny little scratches in the hull. It wasn’t ever anything major and I patched the ones I could find, using the provided patch kits. But this was the first chance I’d had to test out my job. I will come clean here: there was a part of me that was hoping there would still be leaks. You see, as we’ve been planning our summer trip, I have been looking forward to some boating opportunities. And that made me think about whether my good old inflatable would still be up for the task. So I did a bit of online looking…. and yeah. Advanced Elements has come out with a *limited edition* blue one. Dang. “New blue for Dory2” just has such a nice ring to it, don’t you think? I kind of convinced myself the hull on my current one was irreparable and I really should get a new one, just to be sure. “Add to cart” happened and before you know it, I was clicking shipping options. Plus, I was messaging with Linda with dogs and she totally encouraged me. It’s all her fault really. But back to this weekend’s test paddle, I will report that after a couple of super nice hours out on the Russian River, there wasn’t a single leak to be found. And I really looked. I guess I have a backup boat now? That’ll be our thing from now on: backup everything.

King’s Ridge

Richard rode up about 20 miles of King Ridge and then came on back. He says it was absolutely beautiful, climbing up through a dense redwood forest with views of a creek every so often. He was thinking about doing a 54 mile loop, but that was the ride where he got so horribly lost several years back that I had to pick him up at Stewart’s Point. With no cell service, we decided it would be better to maybe bite off a bit less with an out and back reconnaissance mission this time. He successfully made it back to the campground around 2 while I was paddling around, so he got to earn some nice nappy time.

Can’t ask for a nicer view

Our view was pretty enough that I was compelled to do some window cleaning. I have a nice squeegee set with an extendable pole, and that is a must have for this task. After many years of washing those big windows, I’ve come to find the process that works best is as follows. First, get the fuzzy cover thing on the squeegee really wet and just run that over all the windows, then squeegee off the dirty water. Then spray glass cleaner (I use Method) and squeegee all that off in sections, getting as much off as possible. Then wipe the parts that didn’t come clean with a special Streak Free Microfiber Cloth. That should be only a tiny bit wet, practically dry. Windows are hard. There are still places where the sun will catch a streak or two, but I called it a day and deemed it ‘clean enough.’

Time for chillin

The rest of the weekend was just fun hangout time in our Nemo chairs, staring at the river and watching families have fun. Casini Ranch is a very fun family campground. Lots of people chatted with us about the Alto and we waved and said “hey” to the kids taking “Hey Rides” around the campground in open air linked trailers, pulled by a big tractor. One thing that felt very different: as of today, our whole family is now fully vaccinated, and that meant my anxiety level around people encounters is waaaaaay down. Masked or maskless, as people stopped to chat, I was no longer mentally measuring distance or subtly noticing the direction of the wind. The difference this makes is hard to exaggerate. It feels like …. normal? Almost? I mean, indoors it’s still mask on, but outdoors it seems to be pretty safe to lower the shields. It’s going to take some getting used to, but I had forgotten how fun it is to casually chat with people in campgrounds.

And how did I celebrate this ‘full vaccination’ milestone? Haircut, y’all! It’s been a full year of growth and I said to take off as much as possible without giving me bangs. There must have been a full six inches on the floor. But the lightness I’m feeling is not just about losing hair weight. I do believe I am feeling just a bit optimistic. Hey! How cool is that?

Total miles: 95.7, 15.1 mpg, 2 hours 57 min. Site 6 hookups, pull through with shade and river view. Very nice premium site that is hard to book except way far out in advance. Wifi throughout park is very fast and reachable from the water in front of the day use beach area. Good dump. No cell service in that area until closer to Bodega Bay.

Wrights Beach (9)

Site 11 has ocean views as long as the people in 9 have a small camper.

It’s still a favorite place, even in a non premium site. This was our first time back since January 2020, which was a whole different universe. In the interim, I had lost a couple of premium site reservations, but given the state of the world, it felt inappropriate to complain about that. I do keep trying for them, right at the exact second they open up. But it’s almost always the same: all logged in at 7:59 with the page cued up…. beads of sweat begin to form… 5, 4, 3, 2, 1, CLICK CLICK CLICK!!!! … and it’s taken. Sigh. But I was able to grab 11 six months ago, and it was still nice.

Obviously had to clean that.

I will give a win to the BFW here, with the exception that it does get quite dirty en route. With a view of the ocean, over the top of our premium T@B neighbors, I had no choice but to go out and clean it off upon arrival. But then it was definitely nice. Maybe we use Lola any time we get site 11.

Alto friends with a fantastic view.

We had fun meeting up with two other groups of Altoistes who just happened to be on the Sonoma coast at the same time. That is always fun! One of the groups was the extremely nice couple who had offered to let us use their 1713 this winter. The other was a couple whose Alto is older than Dory, and have been Altoistes for a long time, so it was fun catching up while they were out visiting California.

What is that? Lupine?

Saturday we got the first rain we’ve had in a while, and that was super pleasant. Hearing rain on the roof is still one of my favorite things. We managed to get in a little walk along the Kortum Trail during the day and the wildflowers were putting on a springtime show.

Sunday we got to really be lazy getting out. I had reserved the site for Sunday night as well, thinking (as I often do) that it would be lovely to take a day off. I had it on my calendar to take the day off even. But almost every time I do that, there is some reason that comes up to make it a really bad idea. But the consolation prize was that we did not need to evacuate our site by noon, so we could have a leisurely morning and just sit and watch the rain without having to pack up. Somewhere around midday, the skies began to clear and we enjoyed a rain free departure at about 2pm. We might have pushed it later, but we lost our view when a big rig pulled in.

We’re coming up on the end of the “Dark” series and we’re pretty confused.

For a little lunch time entertainment, we used the 12v TV for the very first time and that was really fun. It’s a lot easier to make that happen, than to set up the projector and projector screen. Plus, we could watch an episode of “Dark” without having to make the Alto all dark. Entertainment with an ocean view scores a lot of points on the Fun Time Scale.

Refrigerator Tetris is fun.

Another high scoring activity for me is storage and organization. I am rapidly closing in on the perfect refrigerator set up and it is satisfying. I’ve also got labeled bottles with little pour spouts that fit so perfectly under the sink, I was able to add a couple items to the pantry list. Like maple syrup, which means we can have pancakes for dinner this summer. The excitement is getting real.

The only glitch to the weekend was that when we got home and got into our usual reentry routine, the Caravan Movers started to slip on the wet wheels. It was so bad that we really could not get her wheels past the bottom of the driveway. We tried a lot of different things, including pushing really hard. Ultimately we were able to line her up on the street, pointing straight toward the garage. We put two ramps under her wheels and used the winch to pull her up. That worked, but boy, the bumper was close to scraping the street the whole time. Normally, we come at the approach at an angle and only use one ramp. At least now we know we can do this and it will work. Thank god we have a winch! And two ramps. Thumbs up for overkill.

Total miles: 87.8, 14.5 mpg, 2 hours 36 min. Site 11 no hookups. Pretty good solar despite tree cover and clouds. NO cell service in campground, but 1 bar LTE for Verizon when standing on the high point of the dunes by the day use parking area. No dump. Dump in Bodega Dunes still closed. Dumped at Westside and left check for $7.

Half Moon Bay (8)

Awesome site for premium happiness

Judging by the miles long backup of cars on Highway 92 trying to get into Half Moon Bay on Sunday, we were not the only ones who were looking for some cool ocean air this weekend. Temps are starting to hint at summer, but we were thankful to be heading home and against traffic, having already enjoyed a blissful weekend on the beach. This particular site is pretty spectacular and we will be there again six months from now because I targeted the site as soon as the reservation window opened up.

I’m a little surprised everything fit. And. notice the convenience of the sliding table top.

What was unusual about this weekend was that it was the first time I have attempted using a sewing machine inside an Alto. I had several Alto projects hanging over my head and no energy to do them during the week. What better scenery for some sit down sewing time than an oceanfront background? Most of the projects involved sewing velcro onto various organizers that are designated for Dory2. But I also needed to fix a snap on one of Lola’s curtains, as well as add a bit more of a velcro strip to the shower curtain so that it will close properly. That is one instance where I think Safari Condo is a bit off in their measurements. The shower curtain material has some stretch and shrink depending on how hot/cold or wet/dry it is. When it gets dry and sunny, the top of the shower curtain velcro closure does not reach. A bit of a lash solves the problem, but I didn’t want to hand sew it, and thus, it never got done until now.

Hard to see with the roof down, but it’s a nice smooth, single piece, track now.

Another project I am quite proud of is my fix of the privacy curtain rail. I had put a lot of energy into replacing only the little damaged bit that was the result of a roof closing debacle that happened to the previous owners. I was able to cut a new piece to fit, but could never get the remaining track to lie flat against the ceiling and the curtain hangers snagged a bit when they went through the track. But now, you see, we are imagining handing Lola over to other people to enjoy for a while and it’s important to me that things are in as good a shape as we can get them. So, voila, all new track, and I’m feeling pretty pleased with myself.

Modular containers are just the best, aren’t they?

The other thing that is bringing me an extreme sense of satisfaction right now is the new cooking supplies container system. This is for the purposes of long trips, like the one coming up this summer. I plan to again do Blue Apron re-creations on the road and having modular containers for all of the pantry ingredients will be super helpful. Getting stacking containers with square shapes, means more storage efficiency. It also means I don’t have to always buy the tiniest containers of things. I will be able to stock ingredients at home and fill these guys as needed. If I run out of something on the road, I can always fill as much as possible and throw out any excess if I need to. It is not easy to find just the right size containers when you’re Walmart hopping and playing Storage Tetris. I also found some perfect containers for blueberries that fit perfectly next to the pantry box inside the fridge. For the curious, the pantry list includes the following:

  • Chipotle Chili Paste
  • Gochujang
  • Sambal Olek
  • Soy Glaze
  • Hoisin Sauce
  • Sweet Chili Sauce
  • Capers
  • Tomato Paste
  • Curry Paste
  • Pickled Jalapeno
  • Sour Cream
  • Parmesan
  • Sweet Piquante Peppers
  • Olive Oil
  • Canola Oil
  • Soy Sauce
  • Rice Vinegar
  • Red Wine Vinegar
  • White Wine Vinegar
  • Sesame Oil
  • Balsamic Vinegar
  • Apple Cider Vinegar
  • Honey
  • (wine, margarita mix and tequila also ride in this container, but are less about pantry ingredients than about keeping the chef happy)

That’s about it for now. Richard went on a spectacular bike ride while I was sewing but he took no pictures. We got takeout from Ark Indian Restaurant in town but were too lazy to walk down the street to get Churros from Tres Amigos. Maybe in six months when we come back.

Total miles: 51.7, 16.0 mpg, 1 hour 53 min. Site 32 hookups, premium, definitely one of the best sites. Great solar, great cell, great dump.

Doran Beach (8)

Doran Beach is always a dependably great weekend.

It was our eighth visit to Doran Beach, but this time we had a birthday girl along with us for the ride. We made reservations six months ago, for the campground and for the nicely nearby Bodega Bay Inn, not knowing whether we would be able to keep them. Happily, vaccinations have occurred for the whole family, and for some of us, both shots. Therefore it was decided that a stay in an inn would be safe and fun way for our daughter spend a birthday weekend.

One thing I must say about Bodega Bay is that it is not very pedestrian or bicycle friendly. Because we were staying close by in the campground, we were able to help her out by bringing her takeout and dropping her off at the beach for some solo contemplative time.

Spring wildflowers on a blanket of green.

Meanwhile Richard did a new bike ride out to Dillon Beach, which neither of us had ever visited before. What a spectacular road Valley Ford Franklin School Road is, especially now, with all the spring greenery and colorful wildflowers. The bucolic narrow road was not very busy at all and meandered up and down pastures all the way to a hard right at Dillon Beach Road. There, you get one small climb and big descent down into the cute little bay town.

Dillon Beach

We discovered a huge private campground there, called Lawson’s Landing, which I must have noted and dismissed a long time ago because it has not been on my radar as a place to reserve. It boasts something like 1000 sites, though many of them are simply slots right next to each other, divided only by a line of paint on the dirt. The sites that weren’t empty were filled with conspicuously large rigs for the most part. This is clearly a popular destination for family hangouts and big groups. It might not be exactly our speed, but there are some nice places near the water (sites in the 6 and 7 hundreds) that would be worth trying out.

Might be nice…

Meanwhile, summer planning has commenced in earnest. It is rather late in the game to be booking sites, so right now we are grabbing anything we can get that is in the general vicinity of where we think we might be. We wouldn’t normally plan a trip that intentionally places us in the southwest in the summer. But Dory2 is already waiting for us in Durango, CO, so we might as well explore some of the area we whizzed past on one of our cross country trips. Last time we were there we melted our real wax LED candles, but we have since replaced those with plastic ones. We’ll see what else we can melt this time. Let’s hope it’s not me.

It was a beautiful windy weekend at the beach for us. Our daughter rates it an “ok” on her meter of places to hang out. She acknowledges the natural beauty, but prefers places where she can walk more. She did note that every place would rate higher without a pandemic happening so that she could actually go into stores and the like. I told her I tried to get her Non Pandemic for her birthday, but Amazon wouldn’t ship it. Maybe for Christmas.

Total miles: 81.1, 13.8 mpg (windy). Site 42 no hookups, great solar, nice views. You no longer have to pay for the dump. And Bodega Dunes dump is still closed.

Brite Lake (2) & San Luis Creek (3)

A windy last night at San Luis Creek.

Thus endeth our spring break. Aaaaaannnnnd cue emotional breakdowns in 3…2…1… This happens every time we start to track home at the end of longer trips. At least we recognize the symptoms now so we don’t read more into it than is really there. The typical pattern plays out this way: 1) low levels of tension begin to increase as we get to our final days, 2) many miles of towing have to be covered to get back home on schedule, 3) Richard starts verbalizing impractical ideas that would result in not getting back on schedule, 4) Alissa becomes exasperated at having to explain why said ideas are crazy. It has become standard operating procedure to pass through this end-of-vacation ritual, but that does not make it any more fun.

We really like being on the road, and we both realize that having had so many planned trips get cancelled this past year has caused us to be more eager than normal to be out there. Plus, we can now plan for our Dory2 pickup for this summer and we’ve got the jitters. Psychologically, I think we’re feeling like any chance we have to go adventuring could be our last. It makes route planning challenging, when just getting reservations anywhere is a hard enough job. The whole world seems to have discovered camping once plane travel became more difficult, so campgrounds are solidly booked far in advance. And all the while, we are just hoping things don’t shut down again.

Highway 395 between 58 and Victorville

So we had to process through all of that on our last two stops, which were necessary journeying days to make tracks back home. It didn’t help that the route we tried on 395 from Lucerne Valley to highway 58 was not so fun. There were about thirty miles of one lane no passing zones, populated by tons of huge trucks wanting to go fast on the straight, and mostly flat, highway. I hereby state, for the record, that I far preferred taking 247 from Barstow and hope to remember that next time.

When we arrived at Brite Lake, there were large groups of campers on either side of our site (I thought that still wasn’t allowed?), making it less relaxing than it had been the first time. But it could also have been our own tension making things seem more crowded. Anyway, we had a lot to discuss, so staying inside was not that bad.

Views from Woodford-Tehachapi Road

Tehachapi is a fun little place, I must say. We drove in through the historical district and there are lot of cute old timey buildings. There is a bicycle century that takes place there and Richard rode out along part of it as we left. It’s a significant descent along Woodford-Tehachapi Road, with steep dropoffs and tight curves. It’s not my favorite towing situation but I was sure glad I had an Alto. Everything handled it just fine, except maybe my nerves. I met Richard at the bottom and we had a nice sandwich before throwing his bike in the back of the car and getting back on 58.

Then it was just two hundred miles of straight, flat interstate to traverse the central valley and get back to San Luis. The wind really kicked up there at the end too, but we made it into the site just on time.

Alto views are the best views

Can you read the mood? Yeah. Vacation is hella fun and this one was awesome. And so, so needed. We are kids wanting more ice cream for dinner, shouting “You’re not the boss of me!” to the world. And we recognize how lucky we are, considering that Canada just went into another lock down.

We’re ok. It’s all ok. Adulting won in the end, but not without a good old pout.

Total miles to Brite Lake from Salton Sea: 243.8, 13.9 mpg, 6 hours 9 min. Site 40 no hookups. LTE for both. You have to punch in a key code at the entrance that they have entered into their system or the gate won’t open. If you have hookups, you will need to get a piece of paper at the entrance with your name.

Total miles to San Luis from Brite Lake: 227.2, 16.0 mpg, 5 hours 52 min. Site 4 hookups. Double site. Water views. LTE for ATT, iffy for Verizon for some reason. Terrible experience at the dump. Worst ever. There is a bar going across the opening of the dump to prevent…?? This keeps dump hoses from going into the dump hole. This was not fun and that’s all I will say about that.

Salton Sea – Mecca Beach

Blue skies and blue water. What’s not to like.

What I knew about the Salton Sea primarily came from my kids’ second grade California cookie project. I needed to volunteer to help with that when it was our daughter’s turn so that everything could be gluten free and Celiac friendly. Thus, through the creation of a ginormous, California shaped dessert, I learned of the sea’s existence by the required placement of a blue jelly bean. (I also learned not all jelly beans are gluten free) Later, we saw a movie called, “Salton Sea” (2019 version) and we became fascinated with the place.

It’s easy to imagine how resorts here became a thing.

A little history that you may know, but I didn’t …. The creation of the sea has been dubbed California’s worst environmental disaster ever. In 1905, a series of poorly executed irrigation plans led to a flood caused by the accidental diversion of water from the Colorado River into the Salton Basin. For a while, in the 50s and 60s, this was heralded as the fortuitous creation of a brand new resort destination. Communities and tourist accommodations popped up all along the banks of the huge water feature. Then things all started to go south when the combination of high salinity and runoff from farming caused massive wildlife die off and all the smells that would naturally go with that. Plus, there was major seasonal flooding that would decimate the newly established vacation sites. Now, it is a striking combination of ghost town, mixed with small rugged communities, surviving in an environment that was never meant to be. It has the feel of an illusion. Even the vast beaches that look like endless stretches of inviting sand turn out to be sharp, jagged salt deposits, exposed and dried out as the water levels slowly recede. If you time your stay unluckily, you might experience choking toxic dust events, or find yourself at ground zero during a “rotten egg” period where the smell can reach all the way to the coast.

Temps in the 80s sent us searching for the aluminet.

Our timing was not unlucky and it was actually quite pleasant. I would go back. Temperatures for us were in the mid 80s and there was only a strange, ‘what is that?’ smell if you stood right next to the water. The campground at Mecca Beach has a couple of hookup sites with great water views that don’t seem to be in very high demand. Every time I’ve looked to reserve a site there, when reservations somewhere else had gone horribly wrong, there always seemed to be availability. To a California camper, that is a concerning sign. And when we first arrived and were the only ones around, it was creepy. But then later, as other normal looking campers started filling in, it was just like any other campground. Except definitely don’t wear flip flops if you want to walk on the “beach.” Ouch.

Richard in his happy place.

Richard had the pleasure of riding up Box Canyon on one of the days. We’d driven through it before and it is just a stunning, E Ticket ride. I’m surprised it is not some kind of state park. And on the other day, we drove through Bombay Beach. This eccentric neighborhood strikes me as the place where people who go to “Burning Man” come home to live. Not that I have ever been to “Burning Man,” that’s just the vibe that I imagine. Some of the lots are filled with abandoned stuff, anywhere from trailers (so many trailers) to just junk. But some are clearly inhabited and have been turned into art projects. Some art projects have a theme, like a collection of painted televisions, or a drive in movie scene, to random collections of things, artistically assembled in someone’s yard. And then there are the big impressive metal sculptures. It’s confusing and fascinating and has enough of a unifying theme that outsiders are easily spotted.

Bombay Beach

One such glaringly out of place tourist group was actually a band, filming a music video. They were putting away their big band instruments when we arrived and were moving on to the individual singer shots, strategically positioned in front of any of the visually interesting structures on the beach. There was enough equipment, expensive looking bus, crew members and a drone, that I figured it must be a band someone had heard of. I took some pictures, planning to post them on Facebook and see who they were. They gave me some nods and waves, as though that would really thrill me. We then just had to ask, to satisfy curiosity. The drone operator said, “Night Ranger,” and when that didn’t seem to have any effect, he added, “an 80s hair band.” Still nothing from us but vague nods, so he went on, “Sister Christian.” We thanked him and googled it. It turns out all my facebook friends knew who this was and we were lame-o in the 80s. That is not news to me.

That’s a pretty nice blue jelly bean at the bottom of the state.

This was a winner of a spring break destination. Of the three reservable state recreation campgrounds, I liked this one. There is another place a few miles further north called the Headquarters Developed campground, but the sites are quite far back from the water, with a huge (empty) parking lot in front. There is a loop there called the New Camp that has a couple of hookup sites amongst the dry sites and that also seemed nice. The one down the road at Corvina beach looked more primitive and doesn’t appear to be reservable online, but also right by the water. There are long freight trains that run right along the shore, but I have the benefit of being mostly deaf when I take out my hearing aids. We used the dump station up at the Headquarters before leaving to track back home. Sigh. Home again, home again, Spring Break is too short.

Total miles from Anza Borrego: 108.5, 14.8 mpg, 3 hours, 5 min. Site 138 hookups, water view. Right by bathroom. Good LTE for both. Great solar. No dump – go a few miles north to Headquarters. Good dump.

Anza Borrego (3)

Choosing the backroads through the desert is a winner.

The drive from Brite Lake was a long day, but I knew that was coming. I made the conscious choice to go way out of the way just to avoid going anywhere near the greater Los Angles area. Been there, done that, let’s try Plan B. This involved taking 58 all the way to Barstow, and then cutting down 247 to the Joshua Tree area. From there we took 62 through Morongo Valley to skirt along the western side of Joshua Tree until we hit 10 at Indio. The entire drive up until 10 was through lonely desert country with few other cars or signs of civilization, which is a decidedly less stressful way to road trip.

Hard to see, but that’s a lot of planes and windmills, and apparently, spaceships.

Just as we came down from the Tehachapi Pass, we saw the Mohave Air and Space Port. Why was I not more aware that we have something literally called a “space port” in California?? I have so many questions. Just seeing that many airplanes and windmills all together in the desert is an interesting enough sight, but do we actually launch and land space things there? I need to know more about this.

Lunch stop at an OHV “oasis.” You could say we looked a bit out of place.

We took a quick lunch break at the soonest spot we could find on Highway 247 to pull over. There were quite a few ATV people gathering around what looked to be a well known eatery. I looked it up and sure enough, Slash X Ranch is listed as an “oasis for OHV activity.” So if that’s your thing, you should definitely go there. There is also a place at the intersection of 247 and 62 in Yucca Valley called Cafe 247 that was hopping. I’m not sure if they have an official theme, but it did seem to attract quite a large flag waving clientele. “Large” in all applications of that adjective. The Confederate flag was definitely in line with the apparent dress code. We passed.

Dropping down into the valley along Highway 62.

Morongo Valley was a striking drive through a rocky valley, and quite the descent into Indio. Once we hit 10, it was an instant parking lot for several miles. This reaffirmed my routing decisions even though we were not able to avoid all of it. Long day of driving, but we arrived in lovely Anza Borrego park with plenty of sunlight remaining in the day.

Richard: Are you sure that’s the trail?

Me: Probably. They did it. Seems legit.

Me in my head: No way am I going back through the slot canyon squeezing by all those maskless people. Just don’t look down. At all.

I do love this park. There is so much to do and it feels adventurous, but with the safety net of LTE and a cute town nearby with all the services you could need, even if you don’t use them. We did a couple of repeat activities, like biking/sagging up Montezuma Valley Road, and hiking the Slot Canyon trail. One key difference with the latter was that I was a lot less happy with the idea of trying to pass anyone in the narrowest parts of the slot. Even though I’ve gotten my second shot and Richard has gotten his first, there are many unmasked people out there on the trails and that is too close for comfort. So…I noticed an indication of a trail on our map app, climbing up to the road on the far side of the canyon. When we got to where our GPS said the trail should be, we saw a couple scrambling up a seriously steep rocky climb. But they made it to the top and didn’t look to be rock climber types any more than I am, so I just went for it. It turned out to be significant and actually could have ended badly. But it didn’t! We made it all the way up without dying, probably because I never looked back or down even for a second. If I had looked just a little farther down the trail, I would have seen a much easier way up. So note to future self: don’t necessarily follow the people on the trail ahead of you. Second note: maybe check a little further ahead before you start climbing crazy pseudotrails.

Maybe not as technical an ascent as our driveway, but at least we got to use Sand Mode.

In addition to the tried and true activities, we tested out a new one, tailor made for Bruce2. There is a trail head to some wind caves that is down a three and a half mile unpaved road, recommended only for vehicles with high clearance and four wheel drive. Check! This was the primary reason we landed on the Passport and Bruce2 did not disappoint. I actually got to use the traction settings for the first time and you know what? That stuff is not just marketing. You could actually feel the wheels distributing power differently and it seemed to work. We straddled large rocks and traversed a whole lot of sand and gravel to get to the end. I was feeling all badass until I saw a minivan out there with us. But for the record, I would not have tried most of that with the Acura.

Richard secretly checking status of hidden cake.

It was during the bumping and vibrating of the off road adventure that Richard remembered he had gotten me a surprise birthday cake the Thursday before we left. He bought it on impulse when we was on a mission for cornstarch and margarita mix, realizing it was going to be my birthday during the trip. There was a nice display of little cakes near the checkout line so he stowed it in his backpack and biked it home. He then had to hide it somewhere I would not find it. There being so few places where that could work, he selected his bike box in the car and didn’t think about it again for four days. Hearing all the contents of the car getting jostled around reminded him. He brought it out the next morning and we had a good laugh. Then we debated in earnest about whether it would be safe to eat. We did. It was great. Good job sweetie!

Found the sea serpent!

On our way out, we stopped and looked for more of the massive sculptures scattered across the desert. The sculptures were created by artist Ricardo Breceda, on commission from Denis Avery, heir to the Avery Labels fortune. The privately owned “Galleta Meadows” stretches across miles of Borrego Springs land. It is a fun activity to try to go find the various horses, scorpions, sea serpents, or what have you.

Perfect Spring Break vibes.

Temperatures were downright hot at times, so this is a great destination for winter or spring break, but not beyond. There was no super bloom this year due to low rainfall, but that sure would be something to see. Perfect destination for a psychic reboot and birthday joy (with cake).

Total Miles: 288.2, 15.9 mpg, 6 hours 38 min. Site 34, then 25, both with full hookups. 34 is a pull through with pretty good spacing between neighbors. 25 is a “pull along” on the outside of the loop, right by the campground road. It had hookups on the “wrong” side, so we ran power cable underneath. Too difficult to do that with sewer, so used dump. Good dump. Fresh potable water there for filling up too. Great LTE for both of us. Great solar but didn’t need it.

Brite Lake – Tehachapi

Definitely a perfect application for the front window views.

This was a good discovery. The town of Tehachapi is strategically located at the top of the Tehachapi Pass on Highway 58 from Bakersfield to Barstow. Finding a nice place to stop at this location means not having to slog all the way to Barstow, which is generally a good thing.

Detour off Highway 1, through citrus orchards.

The trip was uneventful, save a huge backup getting into and out of the gas station area of Kettleman City. This one I should have known better. This is a major refueling stop along Highway 5 with one way in or out. Even though we got stuck waiting for a pump for maybe 15 min, we noticed a line of cars at least a mile long backed up trying to get into town. People go crazy when in those situations so they were cutting in front of us, not letting us turn, all of it. Eventually I gave up on making a left turn out of the gas station and just went the other way down 25th Ave, a little frontage road. That was a life saver. After about 5 miles skirting I5, we were able to get back on. I assume the people waiting for gas are still there.

One of the better set ups for BFW views.

We arrived in pretty good time, enough for Richard to get in an afternoon bike ride along part of the Tehachapi Century Loop. While he was out, I got to blog about the day before, swinging in my new psychedelic blue Nemo chair. The wind kicked up before dinner and it got chilly, which sent me back inside to turn on the Truma. We enjoyed the view out the big front window to watch fish jump and birds swarm low over the water, each competing for post sunset bugs. We are BFW complainers, and often the default view is not the greatest, as it looks back into the campground and at the back of the car. One can always optimize the view by using the Caravan Mover, but that then usually has the effect of diminishing the view out the side windows. Or it might put your door on the wrong side of the site, which matters in a tight spot. There are few situations we’ve encountered where both views are equally worthy of that morning coffee “aaahhh,” but this was one of them. We also prefer having the hitch facing forward so that we could grab it if somehow all systems failed and we were not able to use the CM to spin her. Again, this setup was a winner on that end. Note that this did not stop me from complaining about how sitting down at the table loses the view. It’s ok to visibly roll your eyes at this point. I understand.

Sunset over the tiny little lake.

We will be coming back this way when we head home, and I suspect this will be a future favorite stop along the way as we make tracks for somewhere else. It was quite pleasant, especially right by the water. There are hookups sites further back, but Richard made a good call and switched out. He was in charge of reservations for this one, since they only seem to accept phone calls. If I’d wanted to, I could have put my boat in the water. Maybe another time.

Next destination: the south California desert.

Total Miles: 225, 14.8 mpg, 5 hours 13 min. Site 40 no hookups, by water. Good solar, LTE for both. Didn’t use dump.

San Luis Creek (2)

San Luis Creek – first stopover of Spring Break

Finally! We are out on the road for an extended time. It’s been a long haul without real road trips and this will be Lola’s first long trip with us. Already I can tell you her 4.3 cu ft fridge is winning. We have 5 Blue Apron dinners and 4 frozen dinners, plus 9 days of general food, packed in tight and it all fits. I’m super happy about that. That means that we really don’t need to carry a small cooler or deal with rotating ice packs to keep extra veggies fresh. Funny story about the veggies: as we were leaving, I texted our daughter to say, “Please eat extra veggies.” When she didn’t reply (that usually means she’s annoyed) I realized how that might have sounded, so I clarified: “We bought too much broccoli, green beans, and celery. Please help yourself to those if you are so inclined.” She responded back that she was glad I was not insinuating she needed to get much much healthier. Texting is hard.

Sliding Table Mod

So far, the table slides mod is holding up quite well so I think this may be a keeper. It sure does make it easy to get up and down from my side of the table. We put a couple of baby latches on it to keep in place during travel, thinking we would find a more elegant solution later. But actually, that may be perfectly elegant enough for the likes of us.

Now those are organized shoes (and new binoculars in between)

We finished off some small projects before we left, including redoing the shoe organization. I don’t know why I did not think of the storage nets sooner. They are perfect for shoes and sandals, much better than “shoe organizer” pockets. Those never seem to be large enough for adult sized shoes. We will be going with this solution for Dory2 as well.

Yeah, that’s what I’m talking about!

I got myself a little pre-birthday present too! I love my Nemo Stargazer chair, but the one I got years ago was a floor model and sometimes my butt brushes against the lower crossbar in a way that is not optimally pleasant. But they are conspicuously pricey, so I have not done anything about that. Then I got a very generous gift certificate to REI last xmas and I almost got a new one at the time. I would have purchased one, except the “blue” they had was very subtle light blue trim, hardly worth it. When I looked again to re-ponder, what should I behold but a shocking, psychedelic blue with a reengineered crossbar, designed to avoid butts. Add to cart! Yay.

We’re going to do a couple of one night stands as we track down south. Our original (do-over from Covid cancellations) plans to go to Grand Canyon were put on hold again because temperatures looked to be well below freezing the whole week. For that, we’d need to winterize the water system and that’s when camping stops being fun. We’ll get there some day…

Getting ready for In Person Learning Center!

For now, I’m just thrilled to be on break. It has been such an exhausting year. After we get back, our district gets to open to all students at the same time, given the new guidelines on three feet, rather than six feet, distancing for kids. This means I will, at long last, get to see kiddos in the Learning Center in person! And I can *almost* get rid of Zoom teaching entirely. We are all so done with it. We’ve taped out zones to keep me away from them at six feet, and them away from each other at four feet. It will be wonderful. But…. I really need this break. We all do.

Our first stopover is at San Luis Creek. Water views always win. From here, we make tracks for the desert. So fun to be on the road for a week!!

Total Miles: 105.1, 17.3 mpg, 2 hours 42 min. Site 15 hookups. NO Verizon, good LTE for ATT. Good dump but didn’t use it. Fairly good solar except in morning from trees. Double site with 14. Water views.

Horseshoe Bend, Lake McClure

Nice campground with a view of the reservoir.

Well here’s one we had not yet been to. I think I reserved a couple of times and it got closed on me, whether for Covid or fire, or both, not sure. There is certainly evidence of a big fire along 120 that looked fresh and still smelled pretty strong, despite the recent rains.

Sierra roads can be tricky.

This one is a long drive for us, no matter how you slice it. Navigation on the Passport suggested taking 120 all the way to 49 and cutting south there. Google said to take 132 through Modesto. We went with taking 120 out of Manteca all the way to 49 and that was a little too exciting for a four hour, pushing darkness, drive. That stretch of 49 is mostly fine except for about two miles where the shoulder disappears and the elevation above the riverbed climbs quickly. There are some blind corners with nothing but little piles of pebbles along the edge as the only form of guard rail. It didn’t help that it was dusk and raining. And the rain at the summit looked suspiciously like frozen rain. I did not like that. But we made it! And the site was easy to back into, and the sound of rain on the roof was lovely.

Playing our game of find the yellow bikey guy.

On Saturday, I hotspotted off Richard for a while to do some figuring, plotting, and planning on how to safely get kids back to in person Learning Center. Eventually, he pulled the plug and took his phone away from me because he wanted to go on a ride. Fine. So I leisurely showered and headed out along his route until I caught up to him. His ride took him through the adorable little town of Coulterville and up Priest Coulterville Road until it hits 120. From there, it’s about fifty more miles of climbing to get to Yosemite, but that was not our destination. Instead, we threw his bike in the back and drove down the really twisty part of 120, back to the intersection with 49. I wanted to do that scary stretch again in the daylight and without a trailer, just to see if I still thought it was daunting. And yeah, it’s not so bad when it’s not dark any rainy, but still, that one stretch gets my heart racing. One of the goals I had in repeating the drive was to have Richard document scary pictures of it. But did we remember? No. You’ll just have to use your imagination.

From Highway 120 looking at Old Priest Grade Road.

We took some shots of one of the craziest roads in California: Old Priest Grade Road. This road clocks in at an average grade of 12%, with peaks at 20%. You don’t want to try this on a bicycle. Or with a trailer. Or with an old VW van with a manual transmission back in the sixties. I have a childhood memory about that that still causes me to cringe at long, steep grades. You have to be careful in the Sierras. Those roads do not mess around and this one is NOT a shortcut to Yosemite.

Super pleasant Highway 132

We had a deliciously lazy rest of the day. Sunday we dumped and stopped for a sandwich before heading back. We decided to try 132 going back and that is hands down an easier drive. Clearly, the big rigs sharing the loop with us must have come that way because I can’t picture them braving the narrow, cliffy 49. The only thing we have not yet tried is taking a cutoff on La Grange Road to cut some miles off and skirt Lake Don Pedro to get from 120 to 132. If you’re not looking at road routes in that area right now, you can skip most of this post.

One last fun thing to mention is that we decided we really did want new binoculars and discovered there was curbside pickup available at a Bass Pro Shop right on our way home. Now we can have binoculars in Bruce and in Lola because you never know when you might need to see something far away.

Water levels are pretty low…

Overall, I’d return to this campground but would take the easier route. If the water levels weren’t so low, it would be a much more impressive water view. But even without much water, it’s got the remote foothills of the Sierras feel and it isn’t too hard to book. Plus hookups and strong cell service for one of us. All wins.

Total miles: 136.2, 4 hours 2 min via 120 to 49, 17.5 mpg. Site G10. Nice. Also nice: G12, G13. Great solar. Nice view of lake. Electric and water hookups. Good dump. NO cell for ATT but pretty good LTE for Verizon.