2014 Adventure Wrap-Up

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

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.

Click this for full screen photos

Campground review: San Benito Thousand Trails, Paicines, CA

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.

Click this for full screen photos

Pinnacles National Park and Monterey Peninsula

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.

Click this for full screen photos

Click this for full screen photos

2014 – A day in San Francisco, CA

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.

Click this for full screen photos

Campground review: Morgan Hill, CA Thousand Trails

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.

Click this for full screen photos

Campground review: Yosemite Lakes Thousand Trails, Groveland, CA

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.

Click this for full screen photos

2014 – Visiting Yosemite National Park

Interestingly 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.

Click this for full screen photos

2014 – California Gold Country

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.

Click this for full screen photos

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.

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.

Click this for full screen photos