Friday, August 31, 2012

Vista Elks Lodge, Vista, California

I had quite a few comments from our previous blog asking how we found a Passport America Park so cheap near Los Angeles. As I re-read my last blog I realized we usually mention the parks we stay at because we like to be able to refer back to these blogs should we return on a similar route in the future  It can be quite a challenge finding reasonable rates especially in certain locales and reading blogs has been one resource in helping us in our searches for places to stay. The route we chose to take along the western coast of the United States had very few Passport America parks from the Oregon border to LA. However, just past LA to the south we discovered several parks available at this time of year.
Lake Elsinore,  Lake Park RV Resort. A few comments about the park:

  • The sites where they put us was all loose rock and 50 amp with sewer
  • Cable TV was included as well as free WIFI at this rate
  • There was a limit of 2 days stay – additional days $30.00
  • There are park models nearest the lake
  • There are full time residents here as well

Although Lake Elsinore may not be the most scenic destination the reasons we chose to stay there were the proximity to the southern LA beaches, it was well south of metro LA, and the rates made up for our previous more expensive stay at our prior destination.

When we left Lake Park RV Resort for the short 45 drive south we were headed for the Vista Elks Lodge in Vista California. A good friend of ours that I use to bowl with many years ago lives close to the lodge. He is also an Elks member and this particular lodge allows member’s to sponsor guests. So we are tucked into a rather tight site behind the lodge on 30 amps with water and no sewer. The do have a dump station on site and also we get free WIFI however, no cable and few TV stations over the air. It is $20 per night for us since we are not members of the Elks. We plan to stay here for 11 nights total since space is available and the snow birds haven’t started their southward migration yet. We are considering joining the Elks but the dues are a bit on the high side and we aren’t sure we would use their facilities across the nation as much in this lifestyle as we would once we settle down. Anyway, part of the reason we are staying at an Elks is so we can get a feel for what an active lodge is all about.

And since we are just 10 miles from the beach in Oceanside, CA I think we will enjoy our stay here…

We are hoping to stay at Santee Park next and are waiting to hear back from them regarding availability.

NOTE: No pictures today due to camera malfunction with SD card…

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Elephant Seals and the Big Sur…

Hummer looking out over the Pacific Big Sur CA

Before leaving the Paso Robles area we took one other blog worthy trip to north on Highway 1 to the Big Sur area. The drive along this part of California’s coastline is one of the more scenic areas and we were blessed with clear blue skies. The main goal on this drive was to visit the Elephant Seals that come ashore for only a few months to breed, give birth and molt. They come to the same spot near Piedras Blancas Beach in the southern part of the Big Sur close to the town of San Simeon.

Big Sur CA    Big Sur CA

These beautiful creatures were thought to be extinct in the 1880’s and they were very nearly hunted to extinction (primarily for their oil-rich blubber). They have been making a strong comeback thanks to the Marine Mammal Protection Act.

Elephant seals are sexually dimorphic, that is the males are lot bigger than their lady partners. The ladies get to 9-12 feet in length and weigh up to 1800 pounds while the males grow up to 16 feet and weigh between 3000 to 5000 pounds.

Elephant Seal    young Elephant Seal flipping sand

We were not disappointed as the seals where lounging around on the beach in every size from very young to elder statesman. Listening to their guttural growls, grunts and bleats while watching them scoot along the sand to get to a better spot was very entertaining. They would use their flippers to throw sand on their backs to help them warm up after swimming in the cold Pacific waters. With faces only a mother could love they simply lounged around and enjoyed the warm sand. While watching the seals we even saw another large group of whales offshore but not anywhere near as close as those were that we saw at Avila Beach.

Elephant Seal - face only a mother could love Big Sur CA 028

To learn more about these large seals visit Friends of the Elephant Seal which is a non-profit organization “dedicated to educating people about elephant seals and other marine life and to teaching stewardship for the ocean off the central coast of California”.

Elephant Seal scooting up the sandElephant Seal lounging in the sand

The drive from Paso Robles south to Lake Elsinore was one of our longest travel days in some time as we drove 273 miles. The main reason we traveled so far was that I really wanted to get all the way around Los Angeles and have it in my rear view mirror. We took 46 east from Paso Robles and took the Interstate 5 south. As we approached LA the number of lanes on the highway went up to seven per side and the traffic increased. We took Interstate 210 to skirt to the north and east of LA and for the most part traffic wasn’t too bad, considering this is LA.

We pulled into a Passport America Park with 50 amps and full hookups all for the amazing rate of only $15.00. A great spot for us to recover for a few days before moving a few miles south today...

Monday, August 27, 2012

Whale watching at Avila Beach, CA…

Morro Rock

near Morro RockWe were watching the news the other night and heard about Avila Beach where the Humpback Whales had ventured in very close to the shore to feed on the abundant bait fishes in the bay. I had seen many Humpback Whales before on my 2005 trip to the Antarctic Peninsula and wanted Sharon to experience some of the excitement I had when seeing whales up close.

From Paso Robles we took the 46 to the coast and headed south on highway 1 towards Morro Bay. near Morro CAThe drive up the coast was foggy but when we got to Morro Bay and Morro Rock was beautiful as it was being enveloped in the drifting fog.  As we approached Avila Beach there seemed to be an opening in the sky and the sun shone brightly on the azure Pacific waters.

Traffic also noticeably picked up and there were lots of people who must have heard the same whale sighting news report we had heard. After a bit of searching we finally found a parking spot. Once parked we could see a large crowd of people at the end of the road on a dock. Also there were 100’s if not 1000’s of Brown Pelicans diving nearby in the waters offshore feeding on the abundant anchovies and sardines found in these chilly waters.

near Morro CAWhere we saw the largest concentration of Pelicans was where the Humpback Whales would frequently break the surface while gorging themselves on the bait fish. In fact the best way to predict where the whales would surface next was to simply watch the pelicans closely. Suddenly the pelicans would become more frenzied and start attacking the water for bait fish. This happens because the whales from below are chasing schools of anchovies and sardines to the surface as they gorge themselves on the small delectable fishes. As the Harbor Seals small bait fish near the surface the pelicans take notice and lift off the waters in mass diving head first in the water hoping to fill their pouches with food. It is quite a spectacle watching this occur over and over again.

These whales were putting on quite a show for the throngs of people waiting with cameras ready. As the whales would make their next appearance you could hear the clicks of the cameras and '”ooooohhhhs and ahhhhhs'” from the crowd. There wasn’t only whales and pelicans gorging on these small helpless fishes as we saw many Harbor Seals and pods of Dolphins in the bay as well. Of course there were the ever present sea gulls around as they would try and steal a snack from the pelicans as they would catch their meal.

Humpback Whales

Grey Whale Breaching (3)Today we head further south as we start to go around Los Angeles where we are hoping to stay at Lake Elsinore for a couple of days.

Then it is on to Vista, California between LA and San Diego where we will stay as a guest of a friend of mine at an Elk’s lodge while we investigate if we want to join this fine organization. We plan to stay at least 10 days at the Elks before heading a bit further south to the San Diego area where we will look for a place to stay a month.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Enjoying our stay in Paso Robles…

Wine Country Paso Robles CA 012

Wine Country Paso Robles CA 010When I wrote our last blog I was a bit worried how it might be received. Wow was I surprised at number of the comments! Interestingly most folks overwhelmingly agreed with what we had to say and added a few comments of their own. Having ranted about out issues with Northern California we do however have to admit that we are enjoying our stay here at Wine Country RV Resort in Paso Robles, CA, even though it is very pricey to us at 250 per week.

For those that don’t know about this area, Napa Valley isn’t the only place  where California wine is produced. There are over 200 vineyards and wineries in the Paso Robles Wine Country Paso Robles CA 009area. While here our agenda included exploring this part of the California coastline and to sample some of the wines produced here.

We visited three wineries in the area that didn’t charge for their tastings as many do here. We enjoyed the wines we sampled at each winery and picked up a couple of nice wines to take home with us. We also enjoyed a lunch that we packed at the beautiful estate of the Castoro Winery. Another highlight was having had the pleasure of meeting some of the owners of D’Anbino Vineyards when we stopped to sample their wines. One of the owners was a very Wine Country Paso Robles CA 020Wine Country Paso Robles CA 021

interesting fellow. In his previous working life he was a professional sound mixer working in Los Angeles and told us some interesting stories about several of the big time musicians he worked with. He even won an Emmy for his work with HBO’s series Deadwood. He also did a lot of work with music for the movie Dirty Dancing. The tasting room is right in the downtown part of Paso Robles and is a must stop if visiting the area



Wine Country Paso Robles CA 006Another day we drove over to Cambria, California on Highway 1 where we were once again greeted with the persistent coastline fog that shrouds much of the scenic views along the shoreline. Fog does have its own beauty but too much of it is not necessarily a good thing. A few areas of blue sky peeked out through the clouds to give us some view of what the area is like in when the fog is gone.

Wine Country Paso Robles CA 007Southern California is one very beautiful area and combined with its weather it has attracted throngs of people to live in this part of the state. As beautiful as it is and what was once a state high on our list of possible places to settle down, it has now be removed from the list. But that is okay with us as there are many more states we have yet to visit. We are still enjoying our stay here but just not as much as we once thought we would…

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

RV’ing the Northern California Coast… A Rant!

Wine Country RV Resort CA 015

When we first started RV’ing I was really looking forward to traveling to the west coast specifically along the coast of California. You see when I finished graduate school I took a few weeks off to take a trip from Vancouver Canada all the way down Highway 1 along the coastline to Los Angeles before I turned back toward Texas.

Wine Country RV Resort CA 007I had many fond memories of scenic vistas, great sunsets, fantastic food and great roads on this trip taken back in the early 1980’s. Boy has a lot changed since I last traveled the California coastline. So what is different now and why did I feel compelled to write this blog?

The biggest differences that have detracted from this trip along the northern coastline are:

  1. The price of diesel and gas in California are super high when compared to the rest of America due to the high gas taxes required of Californians from their state government.
  2. The price of RV parks is exorbitantly high and I think in part due to the fact that the state charges such high prices for its state park sites. I mean I have found state or county parks along the coast that charge $50.00 or more for a dry camping spot… NO HOOKUPS! No wonder there are private parks charging over $90.00 for a spot…
  3. Many of the roads in California are some of the worst we have encountered, especially Highway 101…

Wine Country RV Resort CA 002I know the state of California is distressed economically. The local counties were depending upon the lofty tax bases of sky high valued properties. When the big collapse of real estate occurred in California many counties found themselves in very dire economic hardship and even towns such as Stockton have declared bankruptcy.  As a result taxes have increased and costs are being passed on to the consumers. Repairs of public facilities and roads have been deferred and as a result roads such as Highway 101 are in really terrible shape.

Wine Country RV Resort CA 005So why write a blog on this subject? For one reason I believe that RV’ers should  know that although California may be a dream destination they should also understand that it may be very costly to visit the state. Diesel and gas are well over $4.00 (40 to 50 cents higher than the USA average) and the further south we go the more expensive it has become. The same can be said for RV sites as we now feel like we have found a “cheap” site when and if we can find one for $50.00 or less per night!!!

Throw in the fact that the water is cold and it is always chilly on the beach, I don’t think we will feel compelled to return to this part of of America anytime soon in our RV. We feel California should pay heed to the potential snowballing crisis they are in. RV’ing tourists such as us will likely not return to spend our monies Wine Country RV Resort CA 019in their state due to high costs which could contribute further to its further decline.

I am not saying don’t come to California as it is one of the most beautiful states we have seen with some really outstanding weather. However, if you do come prepare for costs to be 25-50 percent higher than what you may be used to…

We have had some nice sunsets here and  I am hopeful we will have better luck as we head south in this beautiful state but I am fully aware that Los Angeles still awaits us…

Monday, August 20, 2012

Stanford and Meeting a Pioneering Scientist…

A day with Martin Packard 017

A day with Martin Packard 018Our last planned excursion in the Bay area was to drive towards San Jose and through the Silicon Valley. From there we planned to do a self guided tour of Stanford University and then we wanted to meet an early pioneer in science. A full day for sure…

I had been to the Silicon Valley several times before so I wanted Sharon to see the density of computer related corporations that call the Silicon Valley home. I had been there several times for some computer software training for both Novell and Microsoft. Downtown San Jose looked as I remembered it and after a A day with Martin Packard 012quick tour of downtown we headed west toward the town of Palo Alto.

We had already been to Stanford University and the University of California Berkeley when our daughter played at these schools while she was in college playing fast pitch softball. However, we  remembered really liking the Stanford campus so we wanted to return and walk around there once again. One of the nice things about visiting campuses is most of them don’t charge for parking on the weekends and Stanford held to this trend. Stanford has a beautiful campus and the architecture is both interesting and comfortable to the eye. The soft colors and soft edges of the buildings are a real treat to experience. Stanford has a quite expansive campus.

Martin and SharonAfter our tour we made our way to meet a good friend’s   father in law. His name is Martin Packard and though many who read this blog may have not heard of him he was one of the early pioneers in the development of Nuclear Magnetic Resonance. From Stanford's web site in the mid-1940’s… "By the end of the Second World War, Bloch, working with Bill Hansen and Martin Packard, had succeeded in observing nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) in condensed matter by the method of nuclear induction. For these discoveries, and the discoveries made with this technique, Bloch shared the 1952 Nobel Prize in Physics with Harvard's Edward Purcell. It was Stanford's first Nobel Prize.”

Marin John and the PackardMartin invited us to his home and graciously gave us a grand tour of his house and garden in the hills near Palo Alto. His wife Barbara had transformed what was once an open space on a mountain top into what it is today, a beautiful naturally landscaped ecosystem near the large west coast cities nearby. We had a wonderful chat with a man filled with a great deal of wisdom who was more than willing to share with us the history of his house and the area around his home. He showed us one of his pride and joys his Packard I forgot the year but believe it was mid 1930’s (Martin emailed and told me it was a 1937 Packard) which he had restored. A fabulous automobile indeed!

A day with Martin Packard 019Martin took us on a driving tour (well actually I drove) on a windy road through the hills around Palo Alto where we drove through lands deemed as open areas to all for recreational purposes. The views of the San Francisco bay area from the hills (as well as the ones from his backyard) were amazing.

Martin then mentioned we should stop at one of his favorite spots, Alice’s Restaurant… How appropriate it was indeed. A great little spot frequented by an eclectic group of motorcycle enthusiasts, bicyclists. locals and tourists such as Sharon and I. Martin said he liked this spot as it was the only place he could find Devil’s Canyon Full Boar Scotch Ale, made in Belmont,CA. If it was good enough for Martin it was good enough for me and it was a fine choice indeed. You can get anything you want... at Alice's Restaurant…

What a great day we had touring Stanford and having the opportunity to meet such a remarkable man, Martin Packard… wonderful memories to add to our collection on this journey we are on…

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Pleasanton CA and good news for Sharon…

Pleasanton CA

The main reason we stopped in this part of the state of California at this time of year was for Sharon to have her 6 week post op checkup for her wrist. The appointment in Berkeley was with a doctor recommended by her surgeon.

Merikay And Craig with JohnAs an extra bonus… we had planned to meet up with blogger Merikay and Craig of My Dream has 16 Wheels. When Merikay first emailed to arrange our meeting I wasn’t sure we would be able to get together. She had suggested we meet a Berkeley Bowl and hip little grocery store that also serves food in a little café inside the store. Once I put the address in Google maps and discovered it was less than a mile away from Sharon’s doctor’s office we had a date.

Pleasanton Concert in the ParkIt is about 35 minutes to Berkeley from the fairgrounds and since the appointment was at 1:30 we left at 10:45 to meet Merikay and Craig for an early lunch. It was fun to get to meet her and Craig as I have followed along as she went from thinking about full timing to getting her house ready to finally buying an RV. We enjoyed our “chat and chew” with the two of them and wish them the very best in the future adventures with their Alfa…

After lunch we went to Sharon's appointment and the news from her doctor was all good. Everything was healing as it should so Sharon can now be rid of her splint and start working on her range of motion in her wrist.  She is cleared for all activities and can get back to doing some of the things she missed doing…. bicycling, lifting weights, yoga and Frisbee golf.

Pleasanton Concert in the ParkBack at the fairgrounds we discovered that the town of Pleasanton has a concert in the park every Friday night in the summer. So we decided to go into town which is only about 1.5  miles away and check out the music scene in Pleasanton.

We arrived at the park about 30 minutes early and were surprised to see just just every patch of ground taken. People gathered in small groups sharing food and bottles of wine or beer. This was a huge social event right there in downtown Pleasanton. We really enjoyed ourselves and the music of the XXXXX band was perfect for the evening. Folks of all ages were dancing to the 50’s music filling the air… It was Pleasanton CA Gas Stationentertaining watching the kids playing, friends socializing and dancing, seniors reliving moments from their past through the music and we certainly didn’t see anyone not enjoying themselves.

Pleasanton is a nice town that reminds me of many Norman Rockwell paintings. They even have the smallest gas station I have ever seen… too bad the prices don’t match…  We have enjoyed the last few days here and even extended our stay till Monday as we have found Pleasanton to be… well…quite pleasant!

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Touring in San Francisco, CA…

San Francisco winding road

San Francisco  Coit TowerTo get to San Francisco from Pleasanton, CA we decided to take the BART or Bay Area Rapid Transit. There are two nearby BART stations and we chose to leave out of the West Dublin/Pleasanton station. The cost was $5.50 per person each way for a total of $22.00 for the two of us round-trip. Considering it is a thirty minute drive into town with no traffic (not likely) and the cost of parking in downtown is extremely exorbitant taking the BART was a no brainer.

San Francisco Cable CarSaints Peter and Paul ChurchThe ride in takes about 35 minutes as the BART goes a lot faster than we thought and when it stops it only briefly at best… you had better not waste any time getting on or off. Our stop was to be the Embarcadero which put us right on the edge of downtown San Francisco. Since we both have been to San Fran before we wanted to spend more time visiting the heart of the town and our focus was to be in Chinatown.

Ferry Building We had a 6 mile loop planned that would take us through the center of town along the piers back to the Embarcadero BART station. The weather was very sunny with temperatures in the mid 60’s until we got nearer the water and then it was more like the upper 50’s and foggy. We took in many of the sights this big city has to offer as we walked amongst the skyscrapers and the people scurrying to and fro from either the lunch destination or their offices. Much more fun to be watching them than being them…

San Francisco ChinatownChinatown in San Francisco is huge and most of the tourists stay close to the main drag for the shopping. If you get off the beaten path a bit there are some interesting finds such as the place where fortune cookies are assembled by 4 ladies in front of a conveyer belt. Or do as we did and dine in one of the local eateries. We simply chose a spot that had a long line and where most of the people eating there didn’t look like us ; )

The food was inexpensive and in sizable San Francisco - Eating in Chinatownportions so we took some to-go bags after we ate all we could. We added a few more veggies to the leftovers and it made for a nice dinner that night.

The walk along the piers is where most of the tourists are found especially around pier 39. This is also where you will find the seals which are always a treat to watch. There is a lot of construction happening along the piers as San San Francisco Pier 39Francisco gears up for the 2013 version of the America’s Cup. I got to see a bit of this race in Auckland, New Zealand long ago but can only imagine how much fun it would be to watch some of it here.

Back at the Embarcadero we took our BART connection back to Dublin. Be careful when departing the BART by making sure you know which parking garage you are in. We always text ourselves where we are parked but we still managed to walk into the wrong parking garage. Who would have known they had one on each side of the freeway? We did find our garage and ultimately our car and made it back home safely where we have extended our stay through the weekend.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Highway 1 Loop Drive and moving on…

Ukiah, CA 016imageOur last day in Ukiah, California we decided to beat the heat a little and head to the coast in our car where temperatures stay in the upper 50’s most of the time. The loop we took was about 140 miles long with 45 of those miles on Highway 1 along the coast from Fort Bragg to just north of Point Arena. For those that have considered Highway 20 as a route to take with a motorhome I would say it is doable with a few steep downhill segments and quite a few sharp corners but I did see a  lot of fifth wheels and motorhomes on this part of our loop. Ukiah, CA 002As for the part we took from north of Point Arena on Mountain Lookout Road I would say one would have to be insane to even consider taking this route in their rig. There were many grades on this narrow road in double digits!!!

We left Ukiah where the high was to be 103 degrees and got to Fort Bragg where the temperature was 57 degrees. Crazy how much temperature variation there is along the western coastline. Unfortunately for us there was still a lot of fog along the waterfront so although the scenery was out of this world it  was really hard to capture it in a picture… I almost said “capture it on film”… I guess that expression could die out soon. I mean how many people under the age of 25 even know what film is?

Ukiah, CA 008     Ukiah, CA 013

We saw some great scenery on the loop… There was a fisherman fishing along the rugged and foggy coastline… We saw abalone divers looking for a bounty of shellfish… We saw colors of plants and hues of water that seemed unreal at Ukiah, CA 019times. We even found a small microbrewery in the Anderson Valley hiding amongst all the vineyards. Everywhere we have ever ventured we find there is always something to see…

The next morning it was time to leave Ukiah and head south to Alameda County Fairgrounds RV Park. Another long day of 147 miles but it was mostly on Highway 101 and some interstates. Now the traffic in the Bay Area was not real pleasant but we only Ukiah, CA 022experienced one slowdown and only a few AS%#OL@S

We are tucked in a very tight little spot but met our neighbors who are very friendly so all is not bad. We asked to move to another site but apparently that was a bit too much to ask of the volunteer here so we will make do with this site. Excellent location beats out negative Nellie anyhow…

Tomorrow we are thinking about taking the BART into San Francisco. I’ll let you know how that turns out…