Drinking Water

I realize drinking water may seem like a boring subject to choose. However, finding water that is safe to drink is an extremely important topic and one that I couldn’t find any info on before we hit the road. After traveling more than a year and visiting about half the states in the country I feel we have enough experience to share our observations and opinions on the matter. And I wanted to share them in case anyone considering this lifestyle was interested.

When we started traveling I wondered if we would be able to reliably find good drinking water or whether we would have to buy it. We decided to start by trying to drink the local water and see what happened. I hated the idea of buying all our drinking water. The cost was one reason but, more importantly, consuming a product that requires that much packaging galled me. It certainly is not the most environmentally conscious thing to do.

We have a filter on the outside of our rig that we generally put all the water through that we use in camp or fill up our tank with.

We then have a separate spigot on our sink that runs the water we intend to drink through another filter. We discovered that if we ran water through both of these filters we rarely found the taste or smell to be objectionable. And it makes it even more palpable to us if we refrigerated it before drinking it.

The first month on the road went well. We didn’t have any issues with the local drinking water we encountered. Then we went to Big Bend National Park. A couple days in to our visit and we started experiencing some mild intestinal issues. We recognized that it was most likely the water but we were literally in the middle of nowhere so we couldn’t run to the grocery store for several gallons of water.

We completed our stay by drinking the individually bottled water we keep on hand. We also drank our supply of Gatorade and boiled some water for coffee and ice. We chalked this first experience up to being near the border and once our stomachs were back to normal we went back to drinking the local water with a few additional precautions.

We started buying several gallons of water for insurance any time we were heading out into the boonies. We also kept a close watch for symptoms and would switch to bottled water at the drop of a hat if we suspected a problem. And we made a point of trying to fill our tank with municipally treated water when available.

We continued on this way for most of the year drinking local water about 75% of the time. That is until we reached southern California. We got pretty sick while we were in Palm Springs and spent the better part of a week under the weather.

We thought maybe it was something else because we were pretty sure that the campground had treated water. We could see the municipal water tower from our site. But we switched to bottled water to be safe and started feeling somewhat better. Jim finally convinced me to use bottled water even to brush my teeth (like we do in Mexico!) and we finally got over it.

Before we left I went by the camp’s guard shack and asked if the campground’s water was treated water. It turns out that half the campground, the 50 amp side that I presume is newer, is on a municipal water source. The 30 amp side was on a well. The guard reassured me that it was tested regularly and safe to drink.

From my experience, just because a water source meets the minimal guidelines for safety, it doesn’t mean that everything in it is going to agree with your gut. There is also the issue that bacteria can live in the pipes. If the water is chlorinated then those pipes are constantly sanitized. With well water they are not! So they may have tested the water at its source but that does not mean that by the time it got to my campsite it was safe.

After that experience, we chose to buy bottled water for some time. We decided the cost just wasn’t worth losing a week to a stomach bug. I appeased my consumer’s guilt by buying gallon jugs and refilling them about three times at vending machines before being very particular about making sure they got to a recycling center.

In the southwest it seemed there was a bottle refilling station on practically every corner. I’m sure this is indicative of how big an issue they have getting safe water from their pipes. In the east it has been a little harder to find them but most every Walmart has one inside the store. I have paid from 25 up to 37 cents per gallon for refills.

I am on the lookout for a reusable container that would hold a gallon of water. But the gallon water jugs work really well in my little frig and I haven’t found another option that will fit, let alone hold up to travel. If you know of a better solution please share.

Now that we are on the east coast we have started cautiously trusting local water again and so far have not experienced any issues. When we do return to the southwest we won’t take any chances. We will likely buy all our water when we are in west Texas or southern Arizona and California.

Our motto is “better safe than sorry” when it comes to drinking water. We have to put our health first and our concerns about cost and the environment second.

Train Museum

Menifee, CA January, 2016 We chose a Thousand Trails campground an hour outside LA to stay at before and after our cruise to Mexico and to leave our fifth wheel during our 7 day absence. We made a 14 day reservation at Wilderness Lakes RV Resort. They let us stay in an electric only site the whole time without having to move to storage and it only cost us $3 per day.

We really liked this campground. There are canals running through it and they attract a lot of really interesting birds. Not so many that you have to watch where you step but enough that it makes every outing rather interesting wondering what strange fowl you might run across. It was also a bit out of town so you could strike out in any direction and have a pleasant walk along a country road.

The park had good amenities; putt putt, basketball and pickleball courts, game rooms. It was too cold for us to visit their pool or hot tub but stronger souls were using them. We did make use of their very nice pool hall. They also have a dynamite fitness room which we took advantage of a few times (trying to get ahead of all those calories we knew were waiting for us on the cruise).

We managed to fritter away 5 whole days here before we left with little to show for it. We did a lot of walking, we packed, and we shopped a little. The most interesting thing we did was visit the Orange Empire Railway Museum 11 miles north of our campground in Perris.

Jim is a railroad nut so when I read about this museum that was nearby and, better yet, FREE, it was a must see. It turned out to be a very good decision.

The museum consists of many barns full of machinery on 90 acres. It was rather deserted when we arrived on a Friday morning. We stepped into the gift shop and were informed that a docent had just started a tour and if we walked out to the back barns we might catch up with it. We did and we were led by a very informative tour guide for the next hour. We shared the tour with two families, each with small children, which made the morning even more entertaining.

We visited 5 of the barns. They have an amazing collection of both trains and streetcars. Many are fabulously original and others have been painstakingly restored.

Here is an electric locomotive that hauled freight in southern California until electrified freight service was converted to diesel in 1965.

This 1881 steam locomotive was part of a collection owned by Ward Kimball, a Disney animator. He named it Emma Nevada after a famous opera star from the late 1800s.

This is the inside of a mail car. All the work of a post office took place right inside the car as it made its rounds.

Here is a streetcar I believe operated in Santa Monica.

And my favorite, one of the last streetcar designs before most cities were converted to other types of public transit.

The docent had to unlock each barn for us so a self-guided tour seemed to be out of the question. I got the impression that on the weekends the barns are unlocked and you can wander at your own pace. They also offer train and trolley rides on the weekends and pull out a different one of several trains each time. They charge $12 per adult to ride these trains all day. I understand they generally operate 2 streetcars on a half mile loop and one train on a standard gauge 1.5 mile loop.

It made for a very interesting day and we would definitely recommend it to anyone visiting the area.

American Girl Mine Boondocking

Ogilby, CA – December 2015 We spent the week at a great boondock location that was conveniently located for our brief visit to Mexico I wrote about last. Ogilby is a town that is no more. It was at the intersection of Ogilby Road and some railroad tracks. All that is left now is some graves and a foundation, a school perhaps. It is 6 miles north of I-8, 13 miles from the Algodones border crossing, and 17 miles from Yuma.

There are lots of boondocking options in the area but we chose to make the second right after the railroad tracks onto American Girl Mine Road and preferred it to the other places we saw that week. It was free to stay with a limit of 14 days. There is a fenced area with a water truck a short ways down and we turned left just after it and then went across a large dip. We found a great spot where a previous inhabitant had practiced some rock art.

The area wasn’t crowded at all. There were about a dozen or so rigs there that week and plenty of space for us to spread out. The road is well maintained and was graded or watered almost every day we were there. Even though the American Girl Mine appears to be active we only saw 2 mine trucks on the road during our stay. The wind blew all week from the north and I was grateful we had chosen to park north of the road as it looked like the campers on the south side of the road had to deal with a lot of dust every time a vehicle went by.

We arrived during a dust storm and were not looking forward to getting engulfed in sand while setting up. Thankfully when we got to our turnoff the nearby mountains blocked the wind. It was even pleasant enough to take a walk after lunch while the wide open spaces to the south were still getting slammed by winds the rest of the day.

There was so much to see and explore here. Many of the hills are actually piles of tailings, leftovers from the mining operations. There was also some abandoned equipment around. This was what was left of a chute used to load ore into trucks at some point.

Up Ogilby road a few miles is the Tumco ghost town which we visited twice. The first time we went late in the afternoon and walked the 1.5 mile loop trail barely making it back to the truck before dark. There are numbered markers on the trail but they were out of brochures so we could only guess what they meant. But most were obvious; graves, a well, the remains of a building.

The next time we went earlier in the day and headed in to the hills past the town to explore. We found this mine shaft all blocked up for our safety. Darn!

And lots of cool old mine equipment.

Tumco was a pretty big operation at one point.

Just past the spot where we camped American Girl Mine Road goes to the right and if you take the left fork you are on a road designated number 710. We took this road a couple miles past the fork until it got too rough for our truck to continue and there we discovered a huge abandoned pit mine.

Jim did some research and we believe it was the Obregon mine and town. We didn’t find any relics of the town or the mining operation here but it was fun to walk to the bottom of the mine. It was less than a mile to the bottom but I swear it was 3 miles out. Even though we were there at noon the sun was so far in the southern sky that the light never did reach the bottom of the pit so it was tough to get a good picture.

We stopped and explored several areas along the road on our way back from the pit mine. There are many holes in the sides of the hills and you can’t help but wonder if they are mine shafts. Most aren’t. One such indentation we went to look at turned out to be nothing but on our way back to the truck we stumbled upon the only open mine shaft we found all week.

We poked our heads in and noticed it was very warm inside and there was a faint odor. Jim ventured in about 10 feet, far enough to poke his head around a corner to try and see the end. He had only his cell phone flashlight and could see about 20 feet with no end in sight. He heard some noises (animals, ghosts, his imagination?!) and finally hustled back to the entrance, none too soon for my liking.

We also discovered this awesome rock along the same road.

Jim is very interested in rock hounding and metal detecting and this is the perfect area for both. He has a very nice metal detector he is still getting used to so he got it out during our stay and practiced with it. Mostly he found pop tops and old cans. We also picked up small rocks we found on our jaunts and tried to identify them on the internet. We could easily spend a month in this spot next time we are in the area just poking around every corner of these hills, looking in every hole, and inspecting rocks.

Sunny San Diego

San Diego, CA – December 2015 We have thoroughly enjoyed spending 8 days in San Diego. Our youngest daughter flew out and spent the week with us. We celebrated both Thanksgiving and Christmas during her stay. Thankschristmas anyone? We promised her if she got herself here we would show her a good time so we visited places she wanted to see and we probably wouldn’t have gone to otherwise.

Jim and I checked out the waterfront in downtown San Diego while waiting for her to arrive Monday. We finally picked her up at the airport at 5pm and took her back to the bay for an awesome seafood dinner at Anthony’s within 30 minutes of deboarding.

The next day we started off slow to let her recoup from her long travel day which started the night before her flight with a drive to the airport and included a delay of several hours due to mechanical issues and having to eventually switch planes. We headed to Imperial Beach after lunch for a stroll in the surf.

Then we made our way up the Silver Strand to Coronado and across the bridge where we did some bargain hunting in the thrift stores in downtown San Diego.

The next day we visited the Museum of Making Music. It is 30 miles north of San Diego in Carlsbad and is well worth the drive. Besides showing you the history of musical instruments and letting you hear a lot of different music, it is a very hands on experience where you can try out a dozen or so instruments. Most instruments have head phones so no one can hear how really bad you are. Here I am channeling my inner Hendrix.

It was seriously a blast trying all the instruments and by the end I was convinced I wanted drum lessons and acoustical guitar lessons. My daughter advised me to buy an Xbox game that simulated those experiences. Not bad advice! I highly recommend the museum. It was a steal at $8 pp.

After a quick lunch we all headed to Balboa Park to check out the Museum of Man. Balboa Park is an awesome 1,200 acre park in the middle of San Diego that contains many museums and the San Diego Zoo (which at $40 pp we had no intention of visiting). The Museum of Man recently opened their California Tower to tours and I was excited to see it. Jim and our daughter weren’t overly excited about climbing 8 flights of stairs at the end of a long day so they chose to see the Instruments of Torture exhibit while I did the tower tour.

They enjoyed the exhibit but I think I got the better end of the deal. The tower tour wasn’t really strenuous and best of all it had a lot of great info about the history of the museum, the tower, and the park that wasn’t included elsewhere.

We met up after 40 minutes and toured the rest of the exhibits in the museum. The exhibits were fun and admission was reasonable. The museum admission was $12.50, they saw the museum and the torture exhibit for $20, I saw the museum and the tower for $22.50, or you could see all three for $25.

Her last full day with us we spent more time in Balboa Park and visited the San Diego Museum of Art ($12 pp). The building it is housed in is amazing. We enjoyed our visit and definitely got our money’s worth.

During our visit to San Diego we stayed at the very convenient Chula Vista RV Resort just south of San Diego. The weekly rate was a splurge at $420 but it was a beautiful resort and we enjoyed the super warm pool and the hot tub almost every day.

While we were there the resort hosted a Christmas decorating contest. Many RVs decorated their spaces for Christmas and on Saturday night they announced the winner following a particularly amazing chocolate extravaganza where they served pretty much everything you could think of covered in chocolate.

We just loved our visit to San Diego and look forward to visiting again in the near future!

The Fountain of Youth

Niland, CA – December, 2015 We searched for the Fountain of Youth and finally found it! A couple we visited with at a rest area in Colorado in May told us about an awesome campground in Southern California called The Fountain of Youth that we simply must visit when we got to the area. I tried to look it up but you can imagine the kind of results I got when I googled any variation of “fountain of youth.” Finally, while perusing campground options near the Salton Sea I stumbled upon it.

It is called The Fountain of Youth Spa RV Resort. It has a hot spring that supplies mineral water to one hot tub they call the Lobster Pot. They also have two large heated pools and three more hot tubs. It’s located in the middle of nowhere between The Salton Sea and The Chocolate Mountains. I know it sounds like as big a fairy tale as the famous but elusive fountain of youth.

They have sites with no hookups for $20/night so we planned to boondock a couple nights as the weather was perfect for it. I checked their website one last time to see if they offered any other discounts. I was ecstatic when I saw they were offering full hookup sites (normally $40) for only $10 per night to all first time guests through the end of December. We booked 7 nights.

We had an absolutely awesome time. I loved that their pools opened at 6am. There’s nothing better than enjoying your morning coffee in a warm pool or hot tub. We started most of our days there. We took on the task of hand polishing the RV’s exterior that week so we worked on that until lunch each day. It was good exercise.

After lunch we would take a walk around the resort or into the desert. The resort had just about every activity you could want; tennis/pickle ball courts, a dozen pool tables, bocce ball. We practiced our rusty horseshoe skills, clowned around in the ping pong room, and enjoyed the shuffleboard tables while we were there.

We only left the resort once to take a drive and see the sights. The nearby Salton Sea has a very interesting history. It was created by accident when the Colorado River overflowed an irrigation canal’s banks in 1905. The water flowed into the Salton Sink, a desert basin 278 feet below sea level, for 2 years before they finally got it contained. It created this shallow lake 35 miles across.

At first, it was a boon to the area. They stocked it with fish and communities and resorts grew up around it. But as the years went by with no fresh water flowing into the sea it became an environmental nightmare with massive fish die offs each summer.

We had read plenty of great camping reviews extolling the beautiful views and lack of crowds. We had also read some complaining of flies and stench. We were interested to see it for ourselves.

We stopped at a deserted beach and it looked pleasant enough. So we walked down to the beach and took the above picture. When we got about 30 feet from the water it started to smell. We finally noticed that the beach was scattered with fish skeletons.

We stopped at a couple other places to check out future boondocking options and experienced the same thing. The views were nice, we didn’t notice any flies in December, but the nearer you got to the water the more you noticed the smell. We decided we liked our camp several miles from the shore and didn’t care to kayak or fish in the Salton Sea.

Slab City was also nearby. We were looking forward to visiting “the last free place on earth” as they like to call it. It is a squatter’s paradise located on the remains of an abandoned marine base. It has been embraced by artists and individualists who have created a community of sorts which boasts a library, a skate park, and a nightclub among other things. Most inhabitants are transients or snowbirds but apparently there are about 150 year round residents that brave the summer heat that can reach 120 degrees.

My first impression was that for a group of people that extol personal freedom they sure build a lot of fences. I guess fences make good neighbors and you would have a lot of them if you chose to stay here. I was impressed with some of the ingenious shelters, especially those made of pallets. Mostly we were disgusted by how much trash was laying around. We decided we would pass on camping there.

We did enjoy visiting Salvation Mountain, a monument built at the entrance to slab city.

Artist Leonard Knight lived there and built it over the course of many years. He covered a hill in a mixture of adobe and straw and then painted murals and religious sayings on it. He kept adding on until 2011 when it was necessary for him to go to a long term care facility at the age of 80 where he later died. Thankfully a group of people have started a nonprofit and are working to preserve his work.

Palm Springs

Palm Springs, CA – November 2015 Before we knew it we had spent a whole week in this area and hadn’t visited any of the spots we wanted to see. We had browsed new 5th wheels for two days, then we worked on our camper for a few days, and then the weather was outstanding so we had to hang out at the pool a couple days. We realized we better get our rears in gear or we were going to miss the Palm Springs experience altogether.

We decided to ride the Palm Springs Ariel Tramway which took us about 6000 feet from the desert floor to the Mt. San Jacinto State Park in around 20 minutes.

We spent about an hour wandering around at the top experiencing each of the view points from the mountain visitor station.

But the best views were during the ride up and down. On the way up the car was pretty packed but on the trip back there were only about 10 of us so you could move around and experience the views better.

Now a few downsides in case you are considering this yourself. The ticket price was a bit steep at $25 pp. I found the trip up rather terrifying but kept my mind off it on the way down by snapping about a hundred bad photos. We experienced a mild case of altitude sickness, mostly shortness of breath and heartburn. We had hoped to hike at the top but decided to enjoy the views then go back down and find a good hike. Finally, the views at the top are really just OK. The best views are during the ride. IF I considered doing this again I would go just before sunset so I could experience the mountains in the daylight, the sunset from the top, and views of city lights below.

A few miles from our campground was the Coachella Valley Preserve. It was a very convenient place to get a couple miles of hiking in so we visited it twice during our stay. The San Andreas Fault runs directly through it and disrupts the water table creating this oasis in the desert.

We planned to drive up in to the San Jacinto Mountains to the community of Idyllwild one morning. It’s just over 5000 feet in elevation so we expected a dusting of snow and some cooler temps. The views of the mountains on the drive up were outstanding. We were just a few miles away from the town when we came upon a line of cars stopped just before a curve. Turns out there was ice on the road and several cars were unable to move. One car had slid in to the oncoming lane. Others had tried to pass and gotten nowhere but in the way. Thankfully not a single collision had occurred but the road was blocked. We waited around about 20 minutes and they didn’t seem to be any closer to resolving the mess so we turned around and headed back down.

We had passed this idyllic lake on the way up so we stopped to check it out on the way back. Many of the trees around the lake were carved with names and figures as the tree in this picture is. I’m sure as a nature lover I am supposed to be appalled but it was quite charming.

The walk was freezing cold but we had brought our warmest layers. We enjoyed a beautiful walk and appreciated the warmer temperatures back in camp even more after that.

We ended up saving the one thing I most wanted to do in this area for our very last day. I had visited Joshua Tree National Park with my family when I was about 12 and it had made an impression so I couldn’t wait to share it with Jim. It was an hour’s drive from camp. The main attraction in this park is rocks, BIG rocks. There are amazing piles of large, very climbable boulders. We stopped at Jumbo Rock, which is actually a campground, and walked a while and climbed some of them. The texture of the rocks makes it easy to get a good grip and they are piled in such a way that it is generally possible to find a negotiable path to the top.

The drive through the park was fun and every parking lot had another great pile of rocks to view, explore, and possibly conquer.

Unfortunately I had not even consulted the weather report for the area and never imagined that there was actually a 4,000 foot rise in elevation from camp to there. It was already one of the chillier days we had experienced in the area and after arriving we realized it was going to do good to break 40 degrees in the park that day. So we didn’t do as much hiking as I’d hoped but agreed we would come back and camp here one day and scramble around the rocks to our hearts’ content.

We really enjoyed our stay at Palm Springs Thousand Trails RV Resort. It is actually about 15 miles from Palm Springs but was fairly convenient. The campground is very picturesque with rows and rows of huge palm trees and it has a great pool and hot tub. We were there over Thanksgiving so we signed up for their potluck dinner. I took a couple of cream pies and we had an incredible meal. We are still using up the 30 days of free camping we got when we joined Thousand Trails so we can justify our $545 annual fee. We have used 24 days to date.

Owl Canyon

Bakersfield to Barstow, CA – Nov. 2015 We decided to head into the desert and south to escape the cool Pacific breezes. We had reservations in Palm Springs and had 5 days to make a 6 hour trip. The short route to our next destination would have taken us right by LA so we chose a route that would take us away from major traffic and only added an hour of driving time.

Our first stop was near Bakersfield. We chose to stay at the Orange Grove RV Resort ($36 per night full hookups). We loved our stay here so much we extended it to 3 nights. Something about living amid trees loaded with big orange balls just makes you smile.

They also had Wi-Fi so strong we could watch internet TV on it, a really nice workout room we took advantage of a couple times, and great laundry facilities we were in need of.

Bakersfield was very convenient and had just about everything you could want in retail. We had a return we’d been holding on to and needed to get back to Camping World. It was time to stock up on groceries. Our recyclables were piling up and I wanted to recoup my deposits at a recycling center. You know, boring life stuff. And it was all very conveniently done in Bakersfield.

Next we headed to Barstow. I read a blog by Wheelingit about Owl Canyon Campground outside Barstow that sounded like a great place to spend a couple days. It’s a BLM campground with no hookups for $6 per night, first come first served. The road in was a bit rougher than described but it has probably gone downhill since they visited. It was completely passable though, just very wash board.

We got there early on a Friday and had our choice of spaces. Three large groups of tenters showed up later; a group of geology students from the San Diego State College, a Boy Scout troop, and a group of teenagers with no apparent affiliations. The campground was far from crowded though and all the kids were well behaved.

We were pumped to do some hiking on Saturday but unfortunately Jim woke up not feeling very well. When he said he was going back to bed at 9 am I loaded my backback with camera equipment and a bottle of water and headed out to hike the Owl Canyon Trail solo. The sign at the trailhead said it was 2 miles to the end and moderately strenuous. With so many people in the campground I expected it would be a popular trail but surprisingly I didn’t see another soul the whole time.

I don’t hike alone very often but this seemed relatively low risk. I was a little apprehensive about rattlesnakes and did consider whether there was any other wildlife I should be worried about disturbing. The first mile was pretty easy with only small obstacles, a rise of a few feet or the necessity to scramble up a side ridge.

I came across a cave about a mile in. It appeared to go a ways in but honestly I was too chicken to get any closer than this imagining what might be in there. Poking around in dark spaces is Jim’s area of expertise.

After the first mile there were some larger hurdles to overcome. I was pleased to conquer a vertical challenge taller than I am. Thankfully it was narrow enough to wedge myself in as I took advantage of the only foothold and hauled my bag of bones over the top. A couple more large rocks to scale and ridges with inclines higher than I was completely comfortable with that had loose shifting pebbles, then the trail got easy again.

I was determined after all I had overcome to make it to the end. I realized between climbing and stopping to take pictures that I was not making very good time. I hoped Jim wouldn’t worry but I didn’t have a cell signal to text him so I put my camera away and made a beeline for the end of the trail.

I was only 1/8th mile from the end when I saw it, the one thing that could prevent me from accomplishing my goal. A huge brown tarantula was in the middle of the trail. I quickly retreated several feet, he advanced. I nervously got my camera out and mounted a small ridge beside him to get the proof of my encounter.

I could have followed that ridge past him and continued but then I wouldn’t know where he was when I came back by. No, I was decidedly over this hike. I put my back pack on and hustled out of there now on the lookout for rattlesnakes and fuzzy brown spiders. I refused to take my camera out and snapped only a couple shots with my phone on the way out while still in motion.

It was difficult to climb back into that crevice and reach for that solitary foothold on the way back knowing what else might be in there with me. But I did it! I had planned to take a picture of that obstacle on my way out but that thought was nowhere in my head after my decent. I wanted to get as far away from the overhanging rocks and dark recesses as I could and back to the open trail.

I found Jim enjoying the sun in camp and feeling much better. After a light lunch we drove the loop road through Rainbow Basin Natural Area.

All in all, this was a pretty great place to kill some time.

A Cautionary Tale

Pismo Beach, CA November, 2015  We were so excited to find this awesome boondocking spot and I couldn’t wait to share it but first I have to admit some of the difficulties we encountered.

Just south of Pismo Beach, California, is the Oceana Dunes State Recreation Area. Jim found it while looking at a satellite view of the area surrounding the relatively expensive campground we were at in Pismo Beach. It sounded familiar to me and I realized a friend had sent me info on it several years ago.

We drove the beach one morning and it looked like a great spot. You can camp anywhere on the beach that you want after the first mile marker and the fee is $10 per night. It was only a few miles from our campground at Pismo Coastal Village where we had a midweek special of $40 PN for full hookups.

We were cautious so we drove over and checked it out again before moving our rig over on a Thursday morning. We drove to mile marker 4 (which is actually only 2 1/2 miles from the Pier Avenue access) and found a great spot. We made a U turn so our door would face away from the blowing wind and sand and got stuck mid turn. It was ridiculous how fast we got mired down in the loose sand!

We grabbed our travel shovel and several small pieces of plywood and started digging ourselves out. But I don’t think we ever would have gotten out of that first predicament on our own. Thankfully we didn’t have to as an awesome couple that was familiar with the area soon stopped, pulled out a tow rope, and started helping. Over an hour later we had disconnected the 5th wheel and reconnected at a 90 degree angle, another local good samaritan had stopped with a longer shovel, and we finally got out of our original dilemma. We gave huge thank yous all around and cash to anyone that would accept it.

We still had to do a U turn though to get into a good position to camp for the weekend and so we would be pointed toward the exit when it was time to leave. I’ll be darned if we didn’t get stuck again mid turn despite being on the more hard packed “road.” We were within sight of the original couple that had helped us. They were hooked up and getting ready to leave. It was embarrassing! Some other guys in 4 wheel drive trucks with big knobby tires stopped. We weren’t too far gone this time and they quickly pulled us out of that mess and gave us some more pointers about driving in California sand. I insisted they take some beer money.

The short story is that wet sand is our friend on this beach. Also we had to let our tire pressure down to 38 pounds despite what we had read to the contrary. I think the weight of our rig had a lot to do with it as she’s on the heavy side (don’t tell her I said so). After paying people to help us we figure the cost of camping here was $21 per night for our 5 night stay.

Although we had the best time camping here, I can only cautiously recommend it. People were getting stuck all the time! But others were always offering to pull them out. It was a real affirmation of the human spirit.

We spent a total of 9 days in the area and really enjoyed our visit. While at Pismo Coastal Village we walked to the pier every day where there is free fishing without a license.

We also walked to the Monarch Butterfly Grove where butterflies come to spend the winter.

And we enjoyed a visit to the Dinosaur Caves area in Shell Beach a few miles north.

But once we moved to Oceana Dunes we just settled in and didn’t get out much.

We walked the beach for miles. Jim surf fished. We had a campfire every evening. And we people watched. It was a bit loud on the weekend with tons of 4 wheelers and such. But we just sat in our chairs and watched the parade of people and machines with the ocean as its backdrop.

On our last night a couple pulled in next to us in a motorhome and promptly got stuck. They asked Jim’s advice and he said something like “looks like you’re home, come join us at our fire when you get set up.” So they did. We enjoyed visiting with them and the next morning we helped tow them back to the firmer sand before going on our way.

We had wondered all week if we were going to have any trouble getting out. It was like a small cloud hanging over the otherwise perfect days. We had aired our tires back up for a trip to the store and at first we tried getting out without letting the air out. But we finally had to air down. After that, a little digging, and the placement of plywood where necessary we were gratefully on our way.

San Francisco

Morgan Hill to San Francisco, CA – Oct, 2015 We were excited to visit San Francisco but not so excited about the traffic. So we chose to stay outside of town at Morgan Hill Thousand Trails Campground. We had paid for a Thousand Trails zone pass as I explained at the end of my Crater Lake post and now had 30 days free camping so it wasn’t going to cost us anything more. We liked the campground. It was just a few minutes out of Morgan Hill, 25 minutes to San Jose, and an hour drive to down town San Francisco.

Jim suggested we use public transportation to get downtown and I loved the idea. The options were a little daunting and I am grateful I did extensive research on the internet before starting out or it could have been very frustrating. For instance, we would have liked to ride the BART train because it was cheaper but it sounded like parking near their stations was a nightmare. Caltrain came right through Morgan Hill but it turned out it only ran that far out on a very limited schedule. So we chose to drive to San Jose and catch it there. The roundtrip train tickets cost $18 each. We could then ride Muni busses for 90 minutes at a time for $2.25 each or Golden Gate Transit busses for twice that amount (they appeared to make less stops). So loaded with maps and notes and all our standard electronic devices we headed out.

We enjoyed the train ride in. It was interesting seeing the city from the tracks. We walked a couple blocks from the station and caught a bus to China town. At first the bus was almost empty but as we got nearer to our destination more and more people, mostly Asian, many elderly, got on. We happily gave up our seats to older folks. Every time the doors opened many more people got on a bus that I thought was already full. I don’t know how they all fit but they did. We were packed in the middle and couldn’t have gotten off if we wanted to. So we held on till our stop. The throng of people departed along with us and left the bus deserted. It was a fun, interesting experience.

We walked up and down the streets of Chinatown for a while experiencing the very different sights and smells. We looked through gift shops at souvenirs and trinkets we had no use for. I wished we had made this our last stop as it was a veritable farmers market and I would have loved to take some produce home. But we didn’t buy a thing. Just soaked it all in and went away with a couple photos.

We caught a bus headed for the Golden Gate Bridge. We expected to have to change busses along the route. The first bus stopped before we planned to get off and said it was the end of the line. Thankfully we could almost see our next stop so we walked to it and waited for the bus which dropped us off at the visitor center for the bridge.

The Golden Gate Bridge was truly awesome! It’s about 2 miles across so we walked to the very center of it and back which made a great 2 mile walk. It was incredibly clear when we got there and the views of the bay and the city were amazing. When we turned around in the middle, a bank of fog was rolling in and by the time we got back to the welcome center we could hardly see the bridge at all.

We planned to catch a Golden Gate Transit bus back to the 4th street train station as it should have been faster. It was a far more confusing bus system than the Muni and ended up taking longer as their busses didn’t arrive as scheduled. It also cost quite a bit more when it didn’t take us all the way to our train station and we caught a Muni bus to take our tired feet the last mile. But we did make it back to the station in time to catch an express train back to San Jose. This train made fewer stops so it took less than an hour to get to San Jose instead of 90 minutes. Next time we will just stick with the Muni busses when in San Francisco.

The most interesting thing we learned from this experience is that the Google Maps app on our phones has all the bus and train schedules on it. Just plug in where you want to go and choose public transportation as your mode of travel and it will give you all the options and usually calculate the cost as well. It is truly amazing the information we now carry in the palm of our hands! Of course, by the end of the day my battery was dead and I had made quite a dent in my data plan, but it really made traveling in an unfamiliar city less stressful.

We planned to make a second trip in to the city to visit Fisherman’s Wharf and Alcatraz. But after having experienced the city first hand, we were more convinced than ever that we didn’t want to drive our big truck in. And when we added the cost of public transportation to the price of the Alcatraz tickets, we agreed it just wasn’t worth it. We look forward seeing more of San Francisco on our next visit someday.

The next day we headed back to San Jose to see the Winchester Mystery House. The mansion tour was a bit pricey at $36 each but had long been on our must see list. Jim was looking forward to the gun museum, a collection of every Winchester gun ever made. It was interesting but paled in comparison to the free gun museum at Bass Pro Shops in our hometown of Springfield Missouri.

The house was very interesting to see, especially since we love architecture. The amount of detail in the woodwork was mind boggling. The stained glass windows and doors were stunningly beautiful. You are not supposed to take pictures inside the house but I couldn’t help sneaking a few with my phone. I loved this beautiful stained glass door.

There is so much to do in this area and we only scratched the surface. We enjoyed a day in Monterey where we had lunch at Fisherman’s Wharf and walked the Bay Coastal Trail. There are wineries galore both north and south of San Francisco and many have beautiful gardens to explore.

We enjoyed our stay in this area immensely and will be back.


Northern California Coast – October, 2015 I have always had a fascination with trees. The few years of my childhood when I wanted to grow up to be an artist I usually drew 2 things, houses and trees. I would construct the trees limb by limb and leaf by leaf, if I bothered to include leaves at all. I was mostly captivated by their structure. Jim is equally intrigued by them. As a woodworker, he sees not only the tree’s beauty but imagines the beauty of the items he’d like to carve or build from them.

The redwood forests have always loomed large in our imagination and we had conspired to visit them earlier but could never manage it before. We were excited to cross in to California, a state neither of us had visited extensively. Our first stop was the town of Smith River and the Salmon Harbor RV Resort ($23 avg PN w Passport Am, full hookups). It was located at the mouth of the Smith River and had a great half mile rocky beach to walk. Across the river was a spit of land dividing the river from the ocean. I was taking pics of the scene when Jim commented he thought the rocks on the other side were moving.

Closer inspection of my shots showed they did indeed have faces and were actually harbor seals resting.

We were excited to see our first really big trees, so despite the fact that it was raining cats and dogs we headed out to Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park. The drive alone was spectacular and we stopped the first chance we could at Walker Road. We were floored by the beauty of the forest and the size of the trees. After a short walk we were also very, very wet. So we headed home for the day excited and ready for more.

We went back bright and early the next morning to drive the Howland Hill Road and visit Stout Grove. The road is basically one lane but it does have a lot of pullouts so it wasn’t too bad. The grove was magical.

Parking was fairly limited so despite being there pretty early on a Sunday we got the last parking space. I’m very glad we didn’t try to come later as traffic was really picking up as we left and the trip out was a bit harder. This road can usually be driven round trip and end up in Crescent City. But currently the section near town is closed. Maybe traffic is better when it is open. It would be better if it was one way but I don’t believe that is the case. We went back to Walker Road and drove to the end (there is nothing there, don’t do it!) then went back to one of the many groves along its length and hiked some more. We were continually oohing and aahing and can you believe the size of that thinging!

We moved to Orick the next day and after getting settled we drove the scenic parkway through Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park. It drizzled most of the day but we didn’t let that stop us. When it rained too hard we could generally find shelter under the forest canopy. We visited The Big Tree which was rather underwhelming. But the groves surrounding it were amazing and we hiked several miles this way and that marveling at nature’s works of art, like this tree that grew around a now rotted away fallen tree.

There was not one particular grove or trail that stood out to us. The best grove was the one we were lucky enough to be in at the moment. Often the most interesting trees were the fallen ones or the ones that made you wonder “how is that thing still standing?” Jim found it necessary to climb inside every tree that had a hole in its trunk big enough to get in. He said it was like caving. Some of these caverns were massive.

We chose to stay at the Elk Country RV Resort ($30 PN electric) south of Orick because I read you were almost guaranteed to see the area’s resident elk herd there. We were not disappointed. When we returned to camp at the end of the day we found 30 of them feeding near our sight. I was glad however that we had chosen to only pay for one night. The next morning we were ready to move on. The only problem with having a resident elk heard in camp is that no one is picking up after them and you REALLY had to watch your step.

We enjoyed a stop in Eureka on the way to our next camp. There is a huge dirt lot across from their visitor center so parking (at least during the week) was not a problem. The town is known for its Victorian architecture so we walked up 2nd street to the Carson Mansion which is remarkable.

We saw plenty of other beautiful homes along the route. We then walked back beside the bay.

We camped next at Richardson Grove RV Park outside Garberville. Across the street are several fun touristy gift shops, each with its own roadside attractions to get people to stop. We paid a dollar to see inside the “Famous One Log House” which had wheels at one time and toured the country.

One reason I wanted to stay in this area was to take a day trip to the Black Sand Beach at Shelter Cove. I’d read an article about the Lost Coast Trail that you can access from there. It runs for 20 miles north. I wanted to walk just a little of it and see the black beach.

The 20 miles of twisting road to Shelter Cove took us about an hour to navigate. The parking lot was a long way up hill from the beach but we carried our chairs and beach bag out there and thoroughly enjoyed the sun, the views, and the walk.

We drove the Avenue of Giants one morning and walked the Founder’s Grove. We were less impressed with this area than the others we’d seen. Perhaps it was just as remarkable as the previous forests but after a week of walking among these monstrous trees we were just harder to amaze.