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2014 Adventure Wrap-Up

image_map.gif We’ve now wrapped up our 2014 Adventure.  Our destination was the great northwestern United States with a focus on the Pacific coast.  It was a wonderful trip – really, everything we hoped it would be.  Early in our journey we found southeastern Utah to be a pleasant surprise.  We’ve heard so much about the vicinity of Moab; especially Arches and Canyonlands National Parks.  These were even better than we expected and some of the most beautiful spots we’ve ever been.

P8019712.JPG We spent a couple of months visiting different places along the Washington coast and then another month along the Oregon coast.  We loved it all and I especially enjoyed the splendor of the Oregon coast.  If a person loves nature they will love that area.

We continued into northern California and soon moved inland to the Sacramento area and points east and south.  After wearing jackets and even needing heat in the camper the warm temperatures were a shock to the system.  Still, camping along the whitewater of the American River and then staying in the high country of Yosemite was a real pleasure.

P9259743.JPG It was with some sadness that we turned east and headed for Arizona because that meant we were now winding down our big Adventure.  Still, we’re talking about Arizona here; long one of our favorite states.  We spent a month there, working our way from the northwest corner of the state to ultimately exit at the southeast corner.

Before long we were back in Texas – enjoying the splendor of the state’s southwest.  We’ve always liked the Texas State Parks and it was a pleasure to visit three of them, especially Davis Mountains State Park, as we worked our way east.

After almost seven months we’ve now arrived back where the Adventure began: Lake Conroe Thousand Trails. We towed the 5th wheel about 6300 miles and then drove about the same distance sightseeing and “just living.”  We stayed in about 40 different campgrounds, generally for a week and a half at a time with several shorter stays when we were in “repositioning mode.”  In January I’ll release our budget figures but we pretty much stayed on target through the year.

It was a great trip and I’m already looking forward to return visits to and through these areas.

Shortstop: Mountain Valley RV Park – Tehachapi, CA

PHOTO_20140922_162438.jpg We don’t like doing one nighters but once in a while we need to move to what I call “repositioning mode” and it’s such a move that brings us to Tehachapi, CA; just east of and considerably higher in elevation than Bakersfield.

The town and campground are in a nice mountain valley. For us it is the reward for pulling 20+ miles up the mountain – climbing from 400 feet to 4000 feet. The campground is on the southern side of town and away from Highway 58 but right by the local airport. In fact, you can walk out to the runway from the campground. There are several gliders parked by the runway and it must be fun watching them fly.

This is a nice campground with level, pull through sites, 50 amp electric, and water. There are no sewer hookups, but there is a dump station. There is also a small laundry and clean restrooms with showers.

If you are traveling California 58 this is a good spot for a few days.

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Campground review: San Benito Thousand Trails, Paicines, CA

100_3291.JPG San Benito Thousand Trails is around 25 miles south of Hollister, CA in a quiet valley away from the sounds and lights of the city. One travels south on Hwy 25, then turns off of it to drive a road that meanders through fields and vineyards before entering the hills. If you are looking for a quiet, away-from-it-all campground, this is it.

100_3288.JPG This is a big campground with hundreds of sites and two pools. There’s a camp store and a restaurant. Just about all the sites are full hookups and there’s a fairly large 50 amp section. There are several pull through sites, some back to back. We heard a lot about the local bobcats but didn’t see any. We did see prairie dogs, quail, deer, and lots of red-headed woodpeckers. Being away from the city we enjoyed sitting out at night counting the satellites as they glided overhead. We even spotted a few shooting stars.

100_3276.JPG The electric boxes on many of the sites have big red dots on them. That means there’s no working electric at that site. Someone told me that the campground is working through those sites and fixing them. Obviously, there are more sites than there are campers but it is frustrating to see a potential and empty site only to then see the dreaded red dot. Hopefully, more and more sites will be returned to service soon.

100_3271.JPG Also, there are plenty of annual residents in the campground. The campground is pretty much flat and open, but if you look around a bit you’ll note that the residents have gyrated to the sites that offer a bit of afternoon shade. Again, this is a big campground so most everyone should be able to find a suitable spot in spite of the “red dots” and the annuals. If you don’t need 50 amps and don’t mind being a bit of a distance away from the main activity center you might want to look at the area nearer the small adult pool and adult lodge. There’s a section there with some big, shady trees and you would pretty much have the adult pool to yourself.

The staff is friendly and helpful. We were able to get Verizon 4G and satellite TV. It’s hard to believe that the coast with all it’s hustle and bustle (and Pacific beauty) is only 25 miles away over the mountain (and 60 miles away by highway). All in all, we like this place and hope to return.

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Pinnacles National Park and Monterey Peninsula

IMG_2924.JPG Our visit to the newest U.S. National Park, Pinnacles NP, was a fun adventure.  The park is located about 20 miles south of our campground and around 40 miles south of Hollister, CA. There are actually two sections to the park and we visited via the eastern entrance.  The western entrance is quite a bit farther from us and the two sections of Pinnacles aren’t connected by road.  After seeing the visitor center we drove on to where the road ends and began a 20 minute hike to Bear Gulch Cave from there. This is a talus cave which means it was created by boulders and rocks falling and choking the narrow canyons creating ceilings, passages, and rooms (http://www.sfnps.org/talus_caves). The trail to the cave is fairly easy in spite of there being a few narrow passages and moderate inclines. We were only able to go into the lower half of the cave.  The cave is home to Townsends Big-Eared Bats, a protected species in the State of California.  This time of the year there are still bats in the upper portion of the cave so the public is kept out of that area.  We did see two bats on the ceiling in the public area of the cave.  There are many hiking opportunities in this national park, several appear to be rather challenging.  The short hike we took, though, is only considered to be “moderate” and, really, most any reasonably able person should be able to do it.

PHOTO_20140919_120043.jpg Our other sightseeing adventure was a day trip to the Monterey Peninsula.  The area is only 25 miles or so directly west of our campground.  However, because of the mountains it is actually a 60 mile drive on some rather busy highways.  We started our tour at the Museum of Monterey. The admission is free for the month of September. The first floor is filled with works by local artists. I especially liked the stained glass pieces of art. The second floor has historic memorabilia from the early Native Americans and other early settlers and immigrants. The Maritime historic memorabilia is quite impressive. There’s a captain’s quarters, items used on the sailing ships, and a variety of scrimshaw that is interesting.  Nearby is Old Fisherman’s Wharf with several restaurants, whale tours, and shops. Of most interest to us were the many sea lions that are resting on the supports of the wharf and also swimming below us.

PHOTO_20140919_142110.jpg After having lunch we took a leisurely drive along Ocean View Blvd. stopping at several public access places along the way to watch the ships, wildlife, and the waves. The views are amazing and there are many places to stop and soak it all in.  We saw more sea lions, a few dolphin, and a wide variety of birds.  At Asilomar State Beach we took a stroll down to look at the tide pools.

This was our last visit to the Pacific Ocean on this trip before turning east and beginning our slow journey back to Texas.

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2014 – A day in San Francisco, CA

PHOTO_20140910_130317.jpg We’ve been looking forward to seeing San Francisco and it lived up to its billing. As much fun as being there was using the excellent bay area public transportation systems for the entire trip. After driving through morning traffic to San Jose we paid $5.00 to park in the SAP center then walk the short distance to the Caltrain station where we paid the $18 senior San Francisco round trip fee. We rode in a nice commuter very full of people and families, hearing lots of chatter going on around us. I noticed that the seats with tables are very popular and then realized those seats have electric plug-ins available, very nice for those using electronics. Although we stopped at every town along the way I enjoyed the view; seeing the homes, businesses, and some lovely train depots that have been there for many years. Upon arriving we bought day passes on the San Francisco MUNI.

100_3241.JPG We took the street cars from the Caltrain station to Fisherman’s Wharf. There are many restaurants, shops, and street performers. We walked along the boardwalk and looked over the bay. We could see nearby Alcatraz, ships and boats of every kind, and The Golden Gate Bridge in the distance. It’s an awesome place! Pier 43 is the National Liberty ship Memorial. We walked past saw the USS Pampanito, a WW II fleet submarine, and the SS Jeremiah O’Brian which is one of the last remaining WWII Liberty Ships.

We toured the National Park Service’s San Francisco Maritime National Historic Park Museum. It has lots of memorabilia from historic San Francisco dating from the early Native American inhabitants up through the 1800s. There are several dioramas, films, and audio stories of the early settlers. Hyde street pier, which is part of the park, contains Historic Ferries and vessels including a square rigger sailing ship. Walking toward Ghirardelli Square we saw the Aquatic Park Historic Landmark District where people were sunning on the beach and swimming in the bay.

100_3238.JPG Although they no longer make the chocolate here nearby Ghirardelli Square has a variety of shops and restaurants along with several Ghirardelli Chocolate shops. The Ghirardelli shops sell their chocolate as well as dipped ice cream and coffee to drink now and buy for later.

100_3248.JPG We headed back to the Powell-Hyde cable car where we waited between 15-30 minutes to get on. We were lucky enough to be allowed to stand on the back with the driver and see the view as we went up. It’s an amazing ride that I would do again. We got off at Union Square where you can find Macy’s and similar shops and then caught a bus and rode through China Town where we walked a little and got some lunch. It’s an interesting area with open front stores selling a variety of Asian foods as well as items for tourists.

100_3254.JPG After another short bus ride we walked up an extremely steep hill to the bottom of the very crooked and steep Lombard Street, nicknamed the “Crookedest Street in the World” and spent a few minutes watching cars turn and twist their way down.

PHOTO_20140910_165514.jpg We then took a couple of buses to get to the Golden Gate Bridge. The weather was considerably cooler there with wind and a foggy mist coming in. The bridge is an amazing structure and you can read about the history and construction in park right beside it. I was very pleased to know that the Golden Gate Park is under the care of National Park Service with rangers ready to help you with information about the park. From there we began our trip clear across town back to the Caltrain station, taking the bus and then a streetcar/subway. It was supper time and we stopped to eat. Once we got back to the train station we saw that there is a Panera Bread restaurant right beside the Caltrain and wished we had waited and gotten sandwiches to eat on the train. The train we caught was an evening train which was about full but emptied out as we continued the hour and a half to San Jose.

All in all it was a very enjoyable and tiring day. Some may prefer doing the more costly on/off bus tours around the city, especially for a one day visit. Really, with so much to see, a person could spend several days in San Francisco and not see it all.

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Campground review: Morgan Hill, CA Thousand Trails

PHOTO_20140912_100056.jpg This campground is a mixed bag. The location is handy, just 25 miles south of San Jose and the southern bay area. The campground facilities are pretty good. I’d say that the center piece is a large, nice pool. There’s also mini-golf, horseshoes, volleyball, and other nice features, all in pretty good shape.

PHOTO_20140912_100603.jpg On the other hand the campsites are average at best. None have full hookups and many are rather crowded with campsites basically back to back with no room between them. The 50 amp section not only has a $5 surcharge but those campsites are pretty tight. The section across the road from the pool is, I think, the best. It has larger campsites and is handy to much of the activity section of the facility.

Several campsites are being leased to annuals and we felt that there was a larger percentage of older trailers in the campground than we usually see. Of course they are mixed in with the usual mix of 5th wheels and motorhomes. There are also three sections set aside specifically for tenters.

PHOTO_20140908_161252.jpg We’re in a 30 amp site and in the afternoons voltage drops into the 107-108 volt range. We’ve kept an eye on the more power hungry appliances and been careful to not double up on them. With September afternoon temperatures hitting the mid-90’s we’ve given the air conditioner priority. Usually by late afternoon the temps drop and overnight we’ve slept under blankets.

I think most people who want it manage to get a satellite signal and our Verizon is getting a 2 bar usable signal. In the booster cradle it hits a solid 4 bars.

WIN_20140913_180149.JPG Our weekend was interesting. As we arrived we found that many sites had signs on them saying the site wouldn’t be available over the weekend. On Friday a large group from a local school began to arrive. This all school camping trip is a longtime annual tradition. By evening there were tents, kids, and adults everywhere. Our campsite was right on the edge of the group and when all was said and done we were surrounded by tenters, with one tent pitched almost under our bedroom slide and two right outside our back window! However, the group was friendly and happy and we enjoyed them enjoying the campground. If every camping experience was like this we wouldn’t like it very much. However, for just two nights it was no big deal. It exposes a lot of people to the camping experience and I’m sure it generates a lot of income for the campground. Anyway, if you are planning a visit to Morgan Hill you might want to keep this second weekend of September annual event in mind!

If I were grading Morgan Hill Thousand Trails I’d give it a “B” on facilities and a “C-” on campsites. It’s a commitment but San Francisco is within striking distance for a day trip.

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Campground review: Yosemite Lakes Thousand Trails, Groveland, CA

PHOTO_20140825_174925.jpg We think there’s a lot to like about Yosemite Lakes Thousand Trails, located 18 miles east of Groveland, CA and about five miles west of the Highway 120 entrance to Yosemite National Park.

PHOTO_20140829_193149.jpgThis is a big campground with over 200 full hookup sites plus a large dedicated tenting area, several cabins, and two “Yurt” villages.  There’s a nice playground, horseshoe pits, shuffleboard, volleyball and basketball courts, and mini golf.  Our stay included Labor Day weekend and most of those features got plenty of action.  Our Labor Day stay also included a concert by a talented country-bluegrass band that we enjoyed very much.

After Labor Day things slowed down dramatically and we enjoyed quiet days and pretty star-lit nights.  The campground is located in a valley and a stream runs through the campground.  This is a dry time of the year and there’s a serious drought so the stream wasn’t very impressive but I imagine it’s a lot nicer in the springtime.

PHOTO_20140826_102601.jpg One thing we like about this particular Thousand Trails is the common sense layout.  There’s an area set aside for seasonal residents and near it an area for “retail” non-member RVers.  The Yurt villages and tent area (of course members can pitch their tents in any available RV site if they want) also have their own areas. I wish other Thousand Trails would adopt this common-sense approach.

PHOTO_20140826_102312.jpg The sites along the stream are the most popular.  They are shaded and several are 50 amps.  We thought they were over-rated because the stream was nothing to get excited about, the sites stay full and are close together, and they were difficult if not impossible for those wanting satellite TV.  There are also two “field” sections of the campground.  They are pull through sites but exposed to the full sun.  We opted to stay in the section close to the horseshoe pits.  We had nice afternoon shade, good satellite TV, no nearby neighbors, and (a real bonus for us) using our WiFi Ranger we could reach the park’s WiFi from our camper.

PHOTO_20140830_182201.jpg Usually we use our 4G hotspot for the internet but that’s a complete no-go at this campground.  Using our Wilson Sleek cradle I could get 1 or 2 bars of unreliable 3G – really not enough to even have a decent phone conversation.  That left us dependent on the park’s WiFi.  By staying in the section of the campground closer to the Activity Center we had slow, but somewhat useable internet.    Also, to our surprise, when I went to plug in the electric we had 50 amps – something not even listed on the campground map.

We were disappointed and surprised at how far it really is to Yosemite valley.  Even though a National Park entrance is only five miles from the campground it’s actually about 30 miles down to the valley – and those miles are twisting, turning, and sometimes steep miles.  Here’s a tip: the YARTS bus stops right at the campground and will take you to Yosemite valley.  The cost for the two of us was actually about what we would have spent on fuel driving in and out.  I suggest you drive in and see the more distant sites and then ride the bus for future visits to the valley.  They offer senior adult discounts and even have a three trips for the price of two special.  Also, there’s no park admission fee for those on the bus!

No review of Yosemite Lakes Thousand Trails is complete without mention of Highway 120’s New Priest Grade.  This 7-8 miles of road is a non-stop 5-6%, switchback filled challenge that must be faced to come to the campground.   The uphill side is also the side with the dropoffs.  It will test the vehicle’s engine and the driver’s nerves.  The downhill side hugs the side of the hill and it will test the vehicle’s transmission and brakes and the driver’s skills.  There are two other nearby roads.  One is the shorter and much steeper (15%) Old Priest – no one with a RV has any business on it and law enforcement agrees – RVs are banned from driving it.  There’s another route that includes Greely Hill road.  We checked it out and I decided it was better to just stay with New Priest.  Here’s my take on it: if you are driving a RV that you know is underpowered or overweight or especially long you should think twice before tackling this section of road.  However, most people with a properly set up RV and moderate driving experience can drive it.  Hundreds of RVs, tour buses, and logging trucks do it every week.  The YARTS bus drivers told me that their top of the hill speed target is 25 mph which they gear to hold down the grade.  They also suggested that one keep an eye on oncoming traffic, making room for bigger vehicles, especially those coming downhill.  On one had, this drive should be taken seriously.  On the other hand, a lot of people do it with no problems whatsoever.  We came up the grade about 25 mph and the engine was working hard.  Our clutch fan came on early and stayed on all the way up and a ways beyond.  We came down at 20-25 mph.  I had to tap my brakes on some of the hairpins.  Really, I thought coming down was easier than coming up.

The reward is a nice campground near a beautiful National Park.

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2014 – Visiting Yosemite National Park

IMG_2899.JPG Our campground for two weeks was Yosemite Lakes Thousand Trails and, obviously, our purpose in coming to this area was to visit Yosemite National Park. We went into the park for day visits three different days. For our first visit we drove in to look around and get our bearings. One lesson learned right off is that Yosemite National Park is huge! The park entrance is only five miles from our campground, but once in the park it’s another 30 miles of winding, steep mountain roads to the valley floor and the visitor’s center. As we continued down the mountain we came around a steep curve and were amazed with the view of Half Dome and El Capitan below us. Once we arrived in the valley we found a place to park and then used the free shuttles to get around. We went to the visitor’s center and then to the Ansel Adams Gallery where prints of some of his major works and several books of his photography are on sale. We then took a short hike down the paved path to the Lower falls viewing area. Since it is late summer and the area is in severe drought there were no falls but we enjoyed the majestic views around us. After that bit of exercise we were in the mood for a treat so we bought a couple of large chocolate cones. Everything costs more in Yosemite and surrounding areas and the ice cream was no exception. Our bill for two cones was almost $10.00! Before finishing our day we drove up to the famous “Tunnel View” for a panoramic view of the valley. The view of El Capitan, Half Dome, and Bridal Falls (even without water) is stunning.

100_3182.JPG We decided to take advantage of the Yosemite Regional Transportation System (YARTS) bus for our remaining two trips into the park. The stop is right next to our campground so it is very convenient. The drivers are very friendly and helpful. Really, the fare was about what we would have paid for fuel, so it’s a great deal. They even offer multi-day tickets that include a free third day. We were dropped off at the visitor’s center and hopped on the park’s El Capitan shuttle. At one place a ranger had telescopes trained on climbers going up the sheer face of that famous mountain. He helped us see them on our own and answered questions about climbing. We then took the shuttle to the Nature Center at Happy Isles. The nature center has as a small bookstore/gift shop. It is geared to children but interesting to all comers. We decided to check out the park’s store where I enjoyed looking at all the clothes, hats, etc. for sale. There is a fully stocked grocery store there as well. I couldn’t help but see that we could have bought a quart of ice cream for less than we paid for our cones. We headed back to the park’s theatre and watched two history films of Yosemite. Then it was time for our bus back to the campground concluding a pleasant day at the park.

100_3199.JPG We rode the YARTS bus again for our third day in Yosemite. We enjoyed the short hike to Mirror Lake even though, again, this is a dry time of the year during a drought. There was no water but we were practically at the base of Half Dome. We ate lunch sitting on a rock, enjoying the majestic scenery all around us. After the hike back we refilled our water bottles and walked to the Museum. It has a room of memorabilia from the early days of the park and a room filled with Native American baskets, clothing and dioramas. There is an informative self-tour of a Native American village behind the Museum. It was another great day in the park.

One of the lessons we learned is that if you want to see the famous waterfalls it is better to come in the early spring when they are in full flow. However, another lesson is that Yosemite is beautiful even without the signature waterfalls.

100_3192.JPGInterestingly enough, we did see one very nice waterfall, but it wasn’t in the National Park. Several had mentioned Rainbow Pool which is near our campground. The falls was flowing nicely and several people were enjoying swimming in the pool at the base of the falls. A few daring fellows were climbing up to a rocky point and jumping in. It’s easy to see why this is a popular place with the locals.

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2014 – California Gold Country

PHOTO_20140818_125802.jpg Our stay in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada was only a week and we enjoyed our campsite right on the American River so much that we didn’t do much sight seeing. Just outside our door we could see people rafting the rapids. One day we watched paragliders soaring on the winds high above us.

IMG_2845.JPG Less than a mile from the campground is Sutters Mill State Park where gold was discovered in 1849. There is a museum with several free films about the area, miners, early settlers and Native Americans. We walked around old Coloma, checking out the restored school, church, Chinese store and assayers office. We enjoyed a chat with the working black smith and the host at the home of the smithy. Construction is in process on a replica of the original mill. There is a memorial statue of Marshall who found the gold, started the rush, but died poor.

PHOTO_20140822_122412.jpg Nearby Placerville has a nice historic downtown with a variety of shops and eating places. We enjoyed going through the oldest hardware west of the Mississippi which has been open in the same location for 160 years. It has wooden floors, rolling ladders and something for everyone from appliances to plumbing supplies and paint. This street provides an idea of what early Placerville looked like.

We enjoyed the area and took advantage of having a nice camp spot to relax and appreciate the natural beauty.

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Campground review: Ponderosa Thousand Trails, Lotus, CA

I think Ponderosa Thousand Trails is one of the most scenic campgrounds we’ve been in on our 2014 adventure. The campground is right on the American River and “Old Scary” rapids is right in front of our camper. It’s been fun watching rafters and kayakers navigate this (fairly easy) rapid. We’re also about a mile downriver from Sutter’s Mill – the place where the initial gold find took place, sparking the historic California gold rush.

PHOTO_20140821_121001.jpg As it is with most campgrounds it’s location-location-location. We were happy to find a vacant spot right on the river. These prime spots fill early so no one should come to Ponderosa expecting to have one of them. If you get one, though, you’ll have a great view. There are other nice campsites – some with limited views of the river, many just a short walk from it. Be aware, this is a crowded campground. The sites are generally small and without grass. Some have nice shade but those along the river don’t and can be hot in the afternoon summer sun. Many of the favored spots have seasonal residents who may or may not even be there. The full hookup area isn’t on the river and the RVs are really packed in with hardly room to put an awning out. They are, though, close to the small pool and the activity center.

The route into the campground might challenge some. No one recommends arriving via highway 49 from the north. A few hardy souls might be okay driving in on 49 from the south, but it has many twists and turns and fairly steep grades. The best route in is via the highway 50, Shingle Springs, Green Valley Rd., Lotus Rd. route. Even that approach includes a bit over a mile of 10% grade. Then, once you arrive at the park there are some tight turns on narrow roads on steep hills. If you manage to snag a river-front site, though, in my opinion it’s worth it.

PHOTO_20140819_092844.jpg In addition to watching the rafters we’ve been entertained by paragliders who launched from the mountain just across the river from us and glided on the air currents for nearly an hour and also by hardy fellow campers panning for gold in the cold water. One fellow showed me a small vial with several flecks of gold he had found that day. Others fished for trout and reported some limited success on that front.

Satellite TV was reasonably easy to get and my Verizon 4G has a decent 3 bars of signal strength. We’ve really enjoyed our relaxing spot on the river and hope to return someday.

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