Planes, Birds and Friends – Metro San Diego Area, CA

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We initially thought our six week stay in the San Diego area might be a little long and tedious with all of the noise and traffic.  But there were so many people to see and things to do that the time just whizzed by.  While here we stayed in three different campgrounds: Santee Lakes Recreation Preserve, Sweetwater Summit Regional Park and the San Diego Metro KOA.  The weather was perfect – dry, sunny and warm with only one day of rain from a passing winter storm.  We can handle winters like this one!

Pacific Ocean

My ritual each time we return to the ocean – it’s been a while!

San Diego skyline snapped from the Coronado Bridge

A fading sand castle with Cabrillo National Monument in the background

Having visited San Diego in our prior working life, we focused on some new experiences this time.  We were impressed by the many urban trails that wind in and out of cities, under freeways and up to lakes and mountains.  There were plenty of things to keep us busy, and lots of friends to see:  RV’ers here for the winter like us, new friends we met in Europe, and old friends who drove down from the Bay Area to hang out with us.

San Diego International is the busiest single runway airport in the United States, and we were able to enjoy watching the approaching aircraft from our campgrounds and from the roof of a building in the city:

The birds waiting to fly at San Diego International Airport

Santee Lakes Recreation Preserve

There were seven lakes at Santee Lakes Preserve, all just a short walk from our campsite. The lakes are water reservoirs for San Diego, and the Preserve is run by the Water District.  The sight of so many birds upon our arrival made me giddy, and I grabbed for my camera:

Lake 3, Santee Lakes

Snowy Egrets are all focusing on one fish, I’d hate to be him!

I got dinner tonight! says the Great Blue Heron

Mission Trails Regional Park

Mission Trails Regional Park nearby has miles of trails to choose from

U.S. Navy Ospreys flew overhead every day

Steve’s good deed for the day, locating an electrical problem on our neighbor’s coach

Sweetwater Summit Regional Park

After two weeks at Santee Lakes, we moved about 20 miles south for the next three weeks.  We were glad Hans and Lisa had introduced us to this park.  Our site was spacious, with access to hiking practically at our front door.  Our site was up on the summit, overlooking the 54/94 freeway and a golf course and with Sweetwater Reservoir just down the hill.  We spent many hours sitting outside, watching the birds around our feeders and making sure the planes approaching SAN were doing a good job.

Betsy’s right there in the center of the closest row, site# 121

John and Pam came for a visit and of course we took a hike around the reservoir

We were mostly chilling out while at Sweetwater, our stay was over the holidays

These were my practice shots in the hope of capturing airplanes during full moon, but cloud cover stopped me during the critical time:

Sometimes I get crazy/creative with my shots along the trail.

The reservoir was open only on weekends, but I got plenty of “bird time”

This guy didn’t hang around long after I took the shot

For bird lovers click here for my updated bird photos.

There were lots of Steller’s Jays at our friend’s site during our visit, they love peanuts!

San Diego Metro KOA

We spent our last week here and didn’t like the RV park (way overpriced and cramped with lousy utilities), but it was convenient to the things we wanted to do with our friends from the Bay Area:

At USS Midway, with Vic and Pam

On a cloudy day at Cabrillo National Monument

Balboa Park is a must see if you ever visit San Diego!

Botanical Garden at Balboa Park

With two National Wildlife Refuges nearby, I made sure to check out the birds at San Diego Bay National Wildlife Refuge and at the Tijuana Slough National Wildlife Refuge:

San Diego National Wildlife Refuge on a hazy morning, we took a long walk here

A flock of Black-necked Stilts resting along the bay

Tijuana Slough Wildlife Refuge

A quiet day at the Tijuana Slough Wildlife Refuge

Last days of Century plant flowers

A lone surfer at Imperial Beach

A sign at Liberty Station.  This was a cool place to walk around with restaurants galore!

Trail under the freeway just outside San Diego KOA

Historic Hotel del Coronado.  We had to have an overpriced drink with our friends there!

Lobby at Hotel del Coronado

Alone on Coronado Beach

It may appear we were constantly on the go, but we actually had a lot of “chill time” during our 6-week stay.  And we were both satisfied –  I, with the birds and Steve watching his airplanes.

The last setting sun of 2017

 

Next up:  Back to the Sonoran Desert



 

 

Looking ahead to 2018

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African Geese

Hello dear friends and readers, it’s about time I wake up from my on-again off-again blog slumber!  My goodness, I can hardly believe it’s 2018!

But first, I hope everyone had a great holiday season with family and friends, and that you are underway toward making your resolutions come true.  I want to thank you for continuing to follow our journey, in good times and in bad, for you are the inspiration that keeps me going in the blog world.

Dueling American Coots

With 2017 now a memory, let me quickly look in the rearview mirror before throttling into the future.  We had three unforgettable highlights that happened last year: in June we took a fabulous hike at The Wave, a tough summer followed in Tucson, and in the fall we enjoyed our marvelous Grand European River Cruise.  We made it through the ups and downs of life last year, and we’re gearing up for a better year ahead!

White-tailed kite in search of a rodent lunch

Steve continues to recover and he’s back to enjoying his favorite foods, hiking, tinkering with Betsy and socializing.  He’ll be under his doctor’s surveillance for the next couple of years, getting checkups every 3 months.  Gaining some more weight is his resolution (definitely not mine!) for this year.

We are currently in San Diego, enjoying the unseasonably warm winter while some of our friends are freezing back east.  While here, we’re looking ahead and plotting the route we plan to follow this year.  We’re getting antsy to do some serious traveling again!  Some of our stops this year will be re-visits to places we loved, while others will be new ones to explore.  We’ll pause for a month near Salt Lake City while I fly back to the Philippines for a high school Golden Jubilee celebration, and by fall we plan to be all the way to Florida where we’ll spend most of next winter.

A rough draft route for our 7th year full timing

Celebrating friends

Friends and relationships we’ve forged through our years on the road have brought joy and support to our journey.  Reconnecting with some of you each year has been a part of our traveling tradition, and we’re always eager to see you whenever our paths cross.

Betsy’s caretakers in Corrales, New Mexico – Hector (HMLopez Photography) and Brenda (Island Girl)

Bob and DeeDee (Travels with Charlie & Marshall Dylan) at Desert Trails, Tucson

Several of my friends visited Betsy on Thanksgiving day in Tucson

Five great blogger friends had a delightful evening recently in San Diego.  Imagine the noise we created at that restaurant!

The ladies posed while the men chatted away.  Myself, Lisa (Metamorphosis Road), LuAnn (Paint your Landscape), Laurel (Raven and Chickadee) and Pam (Oh the Places they go)

Urban Hiking in San Diego with Hans and Lisa, John and Pam

Hiking with Eric and Laurel at Iron Mountain Trail in San Diego

Celebrating holidays with family and friends in Los Angeles:

Former co-workers

Family and friends

We met new friends because of a hummingbird at one campground, through RVillage, and on our river cruise:

We also met this African Geese couple.  We didn’t catch their names, but they honked at us when we crossed the road 🙂

 

Cheers to good health, safe travels and an exciting year ahead!



 

Quirky creations in the desert – Borrego Springs, CA

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Galleta Meadows

If landscape such as that at Anza-Borrego desert doesn’t grab you and you find it difficult to see beauty in a desert environment, then a visit here may not be appropriate.  But what if the same place had a bunch of huge quirky sculptures located in its midst?

As we drove through the desert during our stay, we caught glimpses of many rust-colored sculptures dotting the landscape.  I was curious about them, so I got a map from the visitor center, grabbed my camera and headed out to inspect the collection up close and personal. It took me a couple of visits to see them all, with so many spread out in the desert outside of town.

Galleta Meadows

An extinct horse seems to be interested in my car

It was in 2008 that the late Dennis Avery, heir to the Avery Dennison label fortune, commissioned metal sculptor Ricardo Breceda to build free-standing metal sculptures for his massive property in Borrego Springs.  Mr Avery purchased many acres in the valley to keep it from ever being developed, calling his land Galleta Meadows Estate.  Since then these quirky sculptures have been installed throughout the property.

The sculptor had a vast palette to work with, and there are more than 130 metal sculptures scattered over three non-contiguous square miles of Borrego Valley.  Much of the theme centers on prehistoric animals that once roamed the valley.  The fossils of these animals have been found nearby in some of the most extensive and well-preserved paleontology sites in North America.  So most of these creatures really did live here at one time.

A close look at the intricacies of this amazing work

The sculptor/artist brings life to his sculptures by capturing each subject in motion:

Over time the theme has evolved and now includes galloping and fighting horses, mythical birds with prey, giant insects and a celebration of the history and culture of the desert environment.

Galleta Meadows

An Indian head overlooking the desert meadows

My friends from California check out the mythical bird

Sky Art in the desert

Check out the detail of the Gold panner’s horse

Galleta Meadows

Fascinating detail of hair

Galleta Meadows

Farm workers tending to vineyards

Galleta Meadows

My favorite – a grasshopper and scorpion face off

Galleta Meadows

On another day we came back so I could referee the fight

But the biggest of them all is the mythological dragon.  It’s huge, rising about 15′ out of the ground and stretching 350′ long with the tail of a rattlesnake.  It appears to undulate through the ground as it passes under an adjacent road:

Galleta Meadows

Seen from the rear, the road actually passes over the dragon’s rattlesnake tail!

Galleta Meadows

The menagerie of quirky life-like sculptures is the pride and joy of Borrego Springs, thanks to its benefactor.  These are just a few of the pictures I took, and there are many more sculptures to check out here.  Viewing and touching them are free, and it’s the only way to appreciate the intricacies, details and the creative imagination of the sculptor.

Spring would be perfect for a visit, so the blooming of the wildflowers could be enjoyed at the same time!

 

Next up:  What do you know, we’re back in Mexico!



 

Good times at Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, CA

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State Park folks have a sense of humor, enlarge the photo to read the sign

Anza-Borrego Desert State Park has a special place in Steve’s heart.  This is where his parents used to boondock in their RV every winter for years, and he visited them several times during their stays.  Our last visit here was a decade ago when we flew down to spread his parent’s ashes in the desert that had been their beloved winter home.  Now we were excited to return with an RV of our own.

This state park is the largest in California. Located about 80 miles northeast of San Diego, it encompasses more than 600,000 acres of mostly desert wilderness and is framed by many rugged and beautiful mountain ranges.  It takes its name from 18th century Spanish explorer Juan Bautista de Anza and borrego, the Spanish word for bighorn sheep.

Anza Borrego Desert Park

The great bowl of the Anza-Borrego desert, viewed looking south with the badlands in the center

Anza Borrego Desert State Park

Mountain ranges enclosing Anza-Borrego Desert State Park

Looking north toward the Santa Rosa and San Jacinto Mountains

This wondrous and wild place with its sweeping vistas offers lots of surprises that beg to be explored, and because it’s so huge our two week stay wasn’t enough to cover it all.

In search of Maidenhair Waterfall, which we never found while hiking the Hell Hole Canyon Trail

Hell Hole Canyon Trail

Along the Hell Hole Canyon trail we passed huge ocotillos, creosote bush, and other desert brush

Recent rain caused active stream flows on the Borrego Palm Canyon Trail

Borrego Palm Canyon Trail

A grand oasis of California fan palms at the end of the trail

California Fan Palms

California Fan Palms are native only to this desert

palm Canyon Trail

Returning on the Palm Canyon trail, we followed an alternate route up and over an alluvial fan to get a different view on the way back to the trailhead

The borregos did not disappoint, as they were there watching and waiting for us to pass so they could cross for their drink of the clear water:

We followed this narrow canyon, which seemed like a slot canyon at times

Blazing our own trail getting out of the slot

Anza Borrego Desert Park

Still smiling after our long climb up from the bottom

A deeply-cut dry waterfall at Hawk Canyon

Anza Borrego Desert State Park

Colorful cliffs of salmon and green sandstone at Hawk Canyon

The recent rains brought the usually brown Ocotillos to lush, green beautiful life

One particular Ocotillo already had bright crimson flowers – in January!

To get  off the beaten path and experienced the desert in its most primal state requires a high clearance vehicle.  So weren’t we lucky that our friends (and Jeep owners) Dave and Sue of Belugas Excellent Adventures were also in the area and offered to share with us what they had already seen and experienced.  Our first drive was to the Wind Caves through Split Mountain.  The drive itself was a journey through a geological wonder, and we made several stops to gaze and ponder how time, weather and geology have created so many interesting formations here.

I have a feeling Steve is convinced “we gotta get one of these”

Fish Creek Wash

Viewing the unusual semi-circular, twisted formation called an “anticline.”

At the Wind Caves, the wildly eroded pockets were such a lure to be explored that Steve and I instantly became kids and started scrambling in and out wherever we could.  After lunch we all spent a few more minutes listening to the stillness of the desert and just enjoying the peaceful scenery.

Elephant knees

Elephant Knees formation seen on the trail to the south

One of the best places to get a look at the Badlands’ surreal scenery was from Font’s Point, at the end of a 4-mile sandy primitive wash.  The point has a commanding view of the Borrego Valley and Borrego Badlands below.

“Rocky” our ride looked a little lonely in the parking lot – the whole place to ourselves!

Font's Point

The best time to come here is at sunrise or sunset, but the cloud cover made our visit no less spectacular, and we all spread out to enjoy the views

Fonts Point

This amazing area, with its arid rocky geography, sunken mesas and corrugated hills of dry mud is called the Badlands of Anza-Borrego

Fonts Point

Steve shows fellow pilot Dave the canyon he used to fly through to land here

Coachwhip Canyon

Wandering around Coachwhip Canyon

We should mention that Jeep owners Dave and Sue, John and Pam, Joe and Gay and Bob and Dee Dee are very kind to us CRV folks.  Not only have we enjoyed seeing places we otherwise wouldn’t, but we’ve loved hanging out with all of them as well.  A Jeep might be in our future, but what’s the hurry when we have such great folks to take us to these spectacular places?

Two weeks was just too short to thoroughly explore this amazing place.  We’ve seen quite a bit, but plenty remains for a return visit.  Who knows, we may have a Jeep of our own when we return 🙂

We appreciate our Jeep ride sponsors, Dave and Sue!

Finally,  while driving around we caught glimpses of prehistoric creatures casting a shadow on the desert.  Some, like the one pictured below, will be featured in my next post:

Not something you see every day!

 

Next up:  Sky Art in the desert



 

 

 

 

California’s remarkable rocks part 3 – Joshua Tree National Park

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This is our final segment about California’s remarkable rocks, as we continued through the southern part of the state.

After climbing around the pinnacles and craggy spires at Pinnacles National Park and gaping at the dramatic and vivid formations at Red Rock Canyon State Park, we arrived at yet another geologic wonder.  If you’re tired of looking at photos of rocks, you may stop here and look at pretty flowers somewhere else instead 🙂

Coyote

Right at the entrance the Coyote’s were ready to roll out the red carpet for us

Joshua Tree National Park

The San Gorgonio mountains provided a snowy backdrop through the Joshua trees

Joshua Tree National Park is in the top three of the nine national parks for popularity in California, behind Yosemite National Park and Death Valley National Park.  More than 2.5 million people visited last year — 60% more than just two years earlier.  It may be in the desert, but the rock piles and jumbled formations are often what inspire folks to come here.

As for us, we came in the winter so we had little competition during our explorations.  As always, seeing the best a park has to offer involved following several trails.  We took the Willow Hole, Hidden Valley, Ryan Ranch and Skull Rock treks.

Joshua Tree National Park

Heading into a wonderland of rocks

At first the hiking looked easy, as the trails were mostly flat.  But it was no easy stroll, and several times we have to negotiate carefully through a  jumbled landscape – even doing a little scampering.  In the process we were dazzled by oversized loaf-like stacks of rocks, and we pondered the arrangement of boulders in columns and spires.  It felt like we were thrown into an otherworldly place while in the middle of all this beauty.

Joshua Tree National Park

Standing on top of what looked like a stack of bread loaves

Joshua Tree National Park

Huge granite domes scattered around at the end of the Willow Hole trail

Joshua Tree National Park

This is a rock climber’s mecca, with 400 climbing formations and 8,000 climbing routes

Joshua Tree National Park

These rocks looked like they were dredged with oatmeal and are ready for deep frying

Skull Rock

Skull Rock – that’s an easy one

Joshua Tree National Park

Throughout the park we saw high narrow stacks of rocks as if a giant had piled them neatly on top of each other

Joshua Tree National Park

Monstrous stacks of slice bread

Ryan Ranch

Ruins of Ryan Ranch, dubbed “the gold brick house”.  Built circa 1890 according to the National Register of Historic Places

Ryan Ranch House

Life at Ryan Ranch must been rough and rugged, but look at the view they had!

And then there is the Joshua tree, the namesake of the park.  It was Mormon settlers who named the trees because the branches stretched up toward heaven and reminded them of the Biblical prophet Joshua pointing the way to the promised land.

Joshua Tree

A bushy Joshua tree

Joshua tree

Some researchers think the average lifespan for a Joshua tree is about 150 years

Joshua Tree

These “trees” are a distinctive icon of the Mojave desert.  Neither a tree nor a cactus, but rather a yucca plant

One day we drove to the highest point of the park known as Keys View.  The viewpoint faces south and on this decent day we had amazing views of Coachella Valley, the Salton Sea and several surrounding peaks.

Somebody in this family has to be a ham – guess who?

So there you have it, just a glimpse of the dramatic and remarkable California rocks we explored in January.  If you’re interested in seeing other California rocky landscapes we’ve visited, below are my appropriate posts.  Yosemite National Park (still my all-time favorite) isn’t on the list, as we visited it several times before we started RV’ing and blogging.  We have no plans to return there since it’s just too crazy busy for us now.

 

Next up:  Anza-Borrego Desert State Park



 

California’s remarkable rocks part 2 – Red Canyon State Park

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Turk's Turban

This is the second in our 3-part series about California’s rocks that we explored last January.  The first one is here.  Milkweed

Usually when we visit a state park our expectations are a bit lower than when visiting a national park.  Then along comes a small state park tucked away in the arid Mojave desert that surprised us with absolutely stunning landscape.

Enter Red Rock Canyon State Park, one of California’s best kept secrets, located 120 miles north of Los Angeles. It’s situated in the southernmost foothills of the Sierra Nevada range, just west of CA Hwy 14, between Mojave and US 395 which runs through the middle of the park.  We visited in January when there was hardly anyone else around, which is always a good thing.

 

Red Rock Canyon State Park

Our car is so lonely out there

Imposing cliffs composed of otherworldly looking red rocks created the scene as we approached the park on Hwy 14.  For a moment it felt like we were entering southern Utah, for the buttes of vivid color and layered rock formations were similar.  But these are California’s colored rocks so dramatic that it beckoned us to explore further.

Red Rock Canyon State Park

Layers of white, pink, red and brown cliffs grace both sides of Hwy 14 and blend into the distance

As with our last stop, we had only one dry day to explore as the winter storms were nipping at our heels.  We followed three trails: Ricardo Camp South Loop, Hagen and Red Cliffs (just across Hwy 14).  These treks gave us different perspectives and views of the area badlands, and we loved the exposed angled and layered strata that spanned both sides of the highway in the Mojave Desert.

stiff breeze ridge

At Stiff Breeze Ridge we had expansive views of Hagen Canyon to the left and Ricardo Campground below the cliffs to the right

Red Rock Canyon State Park

A nice view of tilted rock layers and the Visitor Center (lower left)

Red Rock Canyon State Park

Joshua Trees dominate the desert landscape here

Hagen Canyon was named by a German immigrant, Rudolp Hagen, who acquired the land and then built a small outpost with a diner, bar and post office.  He is attributed with starting the area tourist movement by operating Red Rock Canyon as his own private park, offering maps of rock formations, most of which he named.

After his passing the land transferred to his family before becoming a State Recreation Area in 1969, followed by an elevation to state park in 1982.

Hagen Canyon

Steve ponders the layers and colors within Hagen Canyon

We followed the Hagen Trail to see the rock formations Mr. Hagen had named.  I even named one myself!

Hagen Trail

I named this one the Resting Giant Lizard

Window Rock

Window rock with a happy occupant!

Next we crossed over Hwy 14 to explore the Red Cliffs on the east side.  We know from past explorations that the bright red coloration is due to oxidation (rusting) of high iron content rock in some of the sedimentary layers.

Red Cliffs, California

Only a few of us were at the base of these 300-foot sandstone cliffs on this day

Red Rock Canyon State Park

Fluted folds or drape curtains are the result of the usual wind and rain erosion over many years

The park can be explored in a day, but you can definitely spend more time wandering off and immersing yourself in the geological wonders of the area.  Hans and Lisa alerted us to this hidden gem, and we’re very glad we altered our route slightly to see these remarkable rocks of California for ourselves.

If you find yourself traveling on Highway 14 near Mojave, be sure to pull over and explore this place.  It’s definitely worth a look!

 

Next up:  California’s rocks part 3 – Joshua Tree National Park



 

California’s remarkable rocks, part 1 – Pinnacles National Park

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Pinnacles National Park

This is the first in a series of three posts about California’s remarkable rocks that we explored in January as we headed south to Arizona.  After checking out this amazing parks we realized these rocks are as spectacular in their own way as the “mighty five” National Parks in southern Utah that we visited last year.

Below is the map of our stops at Pinnacles National Park, Red Rock Canyon State Park and Joshua Tree National Park

We visited Pinnacles National Park, the 9th N.P. in California (making it the state with the most national parks), and the 59th in the U.S.  It was just four years ago in 2013 that the park was elevated from a national monument to a national park.  It’s about 150 miles south of San Francisco and 55 miles east of Monterey.  There are two entrances, one from the east and one from the west, and the internal road does not pass through the park so folks must pick the entrance they want to use for their visit.  We camped on the west side of the park in Soledad and checked out the park from there.

Pinnacles National Park

The pinnacles were shrouded in mystery on the first day of our visit

Pinnacles National Park

The following day the rocky spires and pinnacles were revealed!

Pinnacle National Park

Pinnacles National Park

Towering rock spires

With only one day of sunny weather predicted, we followed the High Peaks Trail starting from the west side.  It crossed streams and climbed around and through the park’s namesake rock spires in several places, using rock stairs to allow the ascent along the sides of the pinnacles.

Pinnacles National Park

The CCC boys constructed steps and railings here

Pinnacles National Park

Chiseled steps another legacy of the CCC boys of the 1930’s

Pinnacles National Park

View to the southeast of the mountains and beyond

Pinnacle National Park

Looking down at the west parking lot where we started

Pinnacles National Park

Machete Ridge is the rock climber’s hot spot, although we didn’t see any adventurers that day

We saw the eroded leftovers of  multiple volcanoes that had erupted, flowed, and slid some 23 million years ago to form what is now Pinnacles National Park.

Pinnacle National Park

Trail to Juniper Canyon Trail that intersects with High Peaks Trail

The High Peaks area covered in rock spires and the equally impressive views at the top made the park a unique landscape.  Pinnacles National Park is a hidden gem, and despite being only a 2-hour drive from our former home in Tracy, we never made it there.  Then Eric and Laurel of Raven and Chickadee paved the way for us to discover and enjoy this wonderful place.

If you happen to be in the Monterey/Salinas area, be sure to drive up into the hills and see this great spot for yourself.

 

Next up:  California’s remarkable rocks part 2 – Red Canyon State Park



 

After a long break, a reveal of our 2017 travel plans

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Well, it’s about time I wake up from my blog slumber.  Several people have asked why it’s been so long since I last posted.  I just felt like I needed a break after posting summaries and fun facts following completion of our major retirement goal.  It felt good to just explore, enjoy and not think about tapping on my computer during the past few weeks.  However, the downside is that our new story lines are clogging my brain and it’s difficult to recall everything we’ve done lately.  Perhaps my photos will help jog my memory.

Its seems like ages since we bid goodbye to our family and friends in the Bay Area.  We got back on the road at the beginning of the year, meandering down far southeastern California.  Then, after a 10-day beach party detour to Puerto Peñasco, Mexico, we headed into Tucson, AZ where we are currently hanging out for a while.

For now let me entertain you with some drive-by shots of the diverse California scenery we enjoyed as we headed toward Arizona:

Soledad, California

Vineyards in Soledad

Salinas Valley "the Salad Bowl of the World"

Salinas Valley “the Salad Bowl of the World”

Oilfields at Lost Hills, California

Oilfields at Lost Hills

Burbank, California

Orange groves near Bakersfield

Central Valley, California

A snapshot of the Central Valley, where much of that produce at your grocery store is grown

Tehachapi, California

Wind farm in Tehachapi

Part of a huge solar farm in Mojave

Mojave, California

Arid desert in Mojave

Highway 395 heading toward Apple Valley

San Gorgonio Mountains

Snow-covered San Gorgonio Mountains

Imperial Sand Dunes, California

Imperial Sand Dunes

Anza-Borrego Desert State Park

Cruising through California’s largest state park – Anza-Borrego Desert State Park

I’ll say more about our stops along that route in upcoming posts, but at this point let me reveal our 2017 travel plan.

Unlike the first five years where our routes were structured toward spending time in every U.S. state, this year will be a more “typical” travel mode and more laid back.  We’ll make extended visits to Prescott, AZ and Grand Junction, CO as possible permanent residences in the future.  We’ll also explore new places in Oregon and Idaho as our northernmost stops this summer, with sunny and humid Florida as our likely destination for next winter’s hibernation.

Below is our preliminary plan.  Everything up through Oregon and Idaho is pretty much set in stone, with the route after that being “unreserved” as we strive to arrive in Florida at the beginning of December.

newmap

One stop we’re looking forward to that got me really excited is Kanab, Utah.  As some of you know, hiking at Coyote Buttes North (aka “The Wave”) is limited to a lottery drawing selection and a few walk-ins each day.  I think the odds of getting in can reasonably be estimated at somewhere between 2% and 10% between April and October.  I applied for a permit online as an afterthought when I realized we’d be near there on Hwy 89 again.  I forgot all about it until I got an email on March 1st saying we had won 2 spots for June 4th. Woohoo!

So there you have it, and as usual we’d love to hear from you about any “must do’s” along our planned route so we don’t miss anything this time around.

Up next:  Our 2017 travels thus far… Part 1



 

Travel trials, tribulations and tidbits

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This is the final segment to wrap up the first chapter of our RV travels.  The previous segment with our statistics is here.

As we reviewed the 422 posts that we published along the way, we recalled many fond memories and also came up with some fun tidbits that we thought were unforgettable, surprising, scary, stressful or fascinating experiences.  Compiling this collection made us pause and reflect on how many wonderful experiences we’ve had while on the road.

We faced our first major challenge just as we started the journey at Pleasanton, CA.  A hydraulic failure left our jacks and slides extended, and we learned a lot about that system during the next 3 weeks that it took to get it fixed (under warranty, fortunately).  Since that time we’ve dealt with many minor water leaks, a dead video camera, an intermittent engine cooling issue, refrigerator problems and other things that we consider part of the joy of moving around in a big complicated box.

Here’s some upper-body exercise – over 300 turns to manually retract our hydraulic rams, then the same thing on the other side!

Most exasperating experience – Intense itching and a month of discomfort due to chigger bites.  I had never heard of chiggers until they attacked me as I sat in the grass for a picture in Peru, Indiana.  Here are the details of that nightmare.

Chigger Bites

Just part of one area – itch, itch, itch

Scariest moment – When I slipped and fell, hurting my knee – not while hiking, but just walking on level ground!  No hiking for a month!

Lowes Travels

Ouch!

Most stressful incident – We got locked out of our RV during a tornado watch while camped at La Grange, GA.  Surprisingly, this particular post has more hits than any other we’ve written.  Maybe the bad guys want to know how Steve broke into the RV?

Holiday Campground

Only one other camper was there that day at Holiday Campground, La Grange, GA

Most frightening night – Hunkering down at Gulf Shores State Park in Alabama provided a sleepless night, as a long line of violent thunderstorms passed over us and dumped a record-breaking 15 inches of rain and over 7,000 lightning strikes per hour in the area.  We’ll never forget that night.

Gulf Shores State Park

The morning after the storm.  The water had risen from 50′ away from Betsy to 10′ away

Most nerve-wracking drives Due to bad GPS data and heavy traffic on the I-10 causeway approaching New Orleans, we missed our exit and got lost.  Then panic set in as we had a close call with a locomotive while crossing train tracks.  Not a fun drive!

Another hellish drive was on I-95 S coming  from Connecticut and passing thru the Bronx, New York to the New Jersey turnpike.  Here‘s that story.

Atchafalaya Basin Bridge

This hours-long jam at the Atchafalaya Basin Bridge was the beginning of a bad day near New Orleans

Then there was the time when Steve heard a loud hissing noise coming from the back of Betsy as we drive into Halifax, Nova Scotia.  We couldn’t find the source of the problem and had to have our first repair in a foreign country.

Checking the cooling system

What the heck is making that noise?

Another scary drive occurred near our last stop in Kansas, at Sabetha.  We very nearly got stuck in mud as we approached the campground, then the owner directed us into a site where we got totally stuck.  Fortunately, the owner pulled Betsy out of the mud with one of his tractors when we left.

wpid38636-2015-06-29-KS-1110665.jpg

This guy owned a bunch of tractors and just had to pick the right one for the job

One of our most stressful drives was the stretch between Salem and Bend, Oregon.  Not only was it a narrow and mountainous road, but a huge storm hit as we drove, sending rivers of water down the road as high winds tried to push us over.  And nowhere to pull off the road.  It was intense!

Bend, Oregon

A leak in the windshield required a towel during this nerve-wracking drive toward Bend, OR

Most spectacular drive – This one has to go to the Icefields Parkway between Jasper and Banff, Canada.  None of the 14 All-American roads we’ve driven can quite stack up against this one, and it should be on every traveler’s bucket list.

Ice fields Parkway

Its a wow driving on Ice fields Parkway

Proudest moment – Steve is quite the handyman, doing not only all of our coach repairs but also making changes and upgrades to improve our life on the road.  I was very proud of him when he completed the installation of our residential refrigerator, by himself, during our stay in Bonita Springs, Florida.

installing a residential refrigerator

Out with the old, in with the new

Most fascinating underground tour – Who knew there’s a huge salt mine 650′ beneath the plains of Kansas?

Strataca, Kansas

Most sobering historical guided tour – Having learned the Gettysburg address in school many years ago, we were amazed to actually be where Abraham Lincoln delivered the speech. Here’s a glimpse of our 24-mile, two-hour tour of the historic fields of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania.

Gettysburg, Pennsylvania

Most distinctive waterfront – There is no other colorful waterfront town that we’ve seen like Old Town Lunenburg, Nova Scotia .

Old Town Lunenberg

The “I’ll never do this again” experience – I learned that one while Halibut fishing in Ninilchik, Alaska.

Halibut Fishing

Deep-sea fishing with the other tourists/anglers.  Do I look like I’m having fun?

We’ve hiked so many trails that at this point we can’t really pick favorites, but we agreed these stand out:

Most challenging – Among the many trails we followed around the country, our climb to the top of Picacho Peak in Arizona may have been the most challenging.

Longest – Sometimes we get in over our heads when hiking or walking, and the one to Hoover Dam in Nevada from our campground at Lake Mead clocked in at 14.1 miles.

Most exhausting – Hiking on a rainy day is never in our plans, but when we’re halfway through our trek and the clouds open up we just have to grin and bear it.  Our hike on the Flat Top Summit Trail at Blue Ridge Mountains, North Carolina was one of those.  We looked like a couple of drowned rats when we got back to the car.

Extreme points we’ve reached in North America

Farthest north – Arctic Circle, Alaska.  To get here we endured a 19-hour guided bus tour, and what an adventure is was during our many hours on Alaska’s Dalton Highway.

Pose at the Arctic circle sign. We made it!

Farthest south – Key West, Florida, lots to do here and what a party town it is!

Southernmost Point of USA

Farthest East – Louisbourg, Nova Scotia  and we happened to be there on its 300th anniversary of its founding in 1713.

 Fortress of Louisbourg

French guard at the Fortress of Louisbourg

Farthest West Anchor Point, Alaska, what a great time we had here on the Kenai Peninsula.

Anchor Point, AK

Northwestern-most point in the contiguous U.S. – Cape Flattery, Washington.

Cape Flattery

Highest point in North America – we landed on the flanks of 20,320′ Denali Mountain on skis, a totally thrilling trip not to be missed!

Glacier landing

Steve chats with the pilot after a glacier landing on Mount Denali

Lowest point in North America – One of the lowest places in the world at 282′ below sea level, Badwater Basin at Death Valley National Park was fascinating.

Death Valley National Park

Largest National Park in the U.S. – At more than 13,000 square miles, Wrangell-St. Elias National Park requires a plane ride just to get to the middle of the park in a reasonable amount of time.

Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve in Yukon Alaska

We flew into Wrangell-St. Elias NP, it could take a lifetime to explore it all

Largest lake in the U.S. – Lake Superior made us feel like we were on the shoreline of an ocean!

Most awesome gondola ride – We took a thrilling ride aboard the Peak2peak Gondola in Whistler, Canada, which holds two records; the longest free span between ropeway towers at 1.88 miles, and the gondola with the highest point above ground, 1,430′.

Peak2peak Gondola

The 1.8 mile gondola is the only one in the world that connects two mountain peaks

Just for the heck of it fun tidbits – Mile zero’s

Ice field Parkway

Mile 0 of Highway 93 – Jasper, Canada to Wickenburg, AZ

 

Mile 0 of US 1

Mile 0 of US-1 in Key West, Florida

And the beginning and end of Alaska Highway.

And that wraps up almost five years of our RV travels!

What’s next?

We’re opening a new chapter in our RV life in 2017.  After visiting all of the states, our goal will now be to narrow our search to one or more places where we’d like to stop and park Betsy for long periods of time.  Our travels will be more laid back and less structured, likely focusing more on the western states.  At least that’s the plan as of today, but who knows?  Our blogging will taper off somewhat, and we’re pondering a format change or something for our site.

As we look forward to another year of adventures, we want to THANK YOU for “jamming on down the road” with us!



 

Coming full circle – Pleasanton, CA

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Although I’ve been quiet in the blogosphere lately, we’ve been very busy since arriving here in November.  As you may recall, we cut short our stay in Ashland, Oregon and hightailed it to California due to sad news about our friends.  Nevertheless, our excitement and anticipation built as we approached Pleasanton, California, where our adventure began in March 2012.  Our 37,000+ mile, 58-month journey had brought us full circle!

Alta Mont, Livermore CA

Descending the last hill of our adventure on I-580 toward Pleasanton, CA

Understandably, we were very eager to see family and friends, some that we hadn’t seen for almost five years.  Our two-month stay here was a flurry of activities – bonding with family, socializing with old friends and revisiting old hangouts.  Our dentists, eye doctors, hair stylist and barber were all happy to see us again and had many questions about our travels.  Sadly, we bid goodbye to two dear friends who passed away.

Spending the holidays with family was the highlight of our return, and boy did they feed us!

Thanksgiving dinner

Thanksgiving dinner with family – wow!

My adorable grand niece Hattie and grand nephew Jace

Sandalo Family

Just a fourth of my family on Christmas day

Sandalo sisters

With my sisters, half of the Sandalo siblings

It was an amazing 4 years and 10 months.  Life on the road was full of surprises, many good and just a few bad.  Our journey across the continent left us with so many experiences that linger on.  Mostly we felt fortunate to be able to see so many things for the first time, but we also faced a few fears, learned much about the country’s historical past, and most of all enjoyed the incredible beauty of the U.S.  And for those who wondered about the ups and down of being with each other 24/7 in a cramped space, you’ll be happy to hear that we remain best of lovers and best of friends!

Lichen

Lechon, a filipino roasted pig that can feed an army (and pretty much did)!

Where we’ve been

Adding a new state or province to our map was always a “red letter moment”, and our anticipation grew each year as it filled up.  Then, last September we jumped for joy when we finally covered the map as we headed into our last state, Idaho.  We celebrated that milestone, and dozens of crossings into and out of Canada and Mexico along the way were icing on the cake.

Map of our travels

Betsy proudly wears her completed map

Where we camped

The image below shows our stops from the beginning in March, 2012 through 2016.  The colored routes represent our travels during each year.  To see individual travel routes click here.

all_travels

We stayed at 47 City/State/Regional parks, and we chose some favorites that we recommend.  Clicking on them takes you to Steve’s campground review, or my blog that has information about the campground.  We picked them because of their location, hiking trail access, site spaciousness, great views and overall ambiance.

By the numbers:

  • Betsy’s miles traveled – 37,010 miles
  • Honda CRV miles traveled – 76,575
  • Diesel burned – 4,700 gallons ; averaged 7.8 mpg
  • U.S. states visited – 49 (couldn’t find a road to Hawaii)
  • Canadian provinces visited- 8, plus 1 territory
  • Mexico states – 1
  • Campgrounds visited – 318 U.S., 35 Canadian.  We also dry camped and stayed overnight at maintenance facilities several times
  • Number of City/State/Regional Parks – 47
  • Priciest RV park- $89/night – Perdido Cove RV Resort, Florida
  • Cheapest RV park with utilities – $14/night at Riverside Campground, Sac City, IA
  • Number of ferry rides Betsy took – 5  (Haines, Alaska; Outer Banks, North Carolina (2); New Brunswick, Canada; Port Aransas, Texas)
  • National parks visited – U.S. 34 out of 59 existing; Canada 7 of 40 existing
  • National monuments – 20 of 120
  • National seashores – 6 of 10
  • All American roads- 14 of 30
  • Border crossings – 26 times between US/Canada/Mexico
  • Time zones we lived in – 6  (Atlantic (AST), Eastern, Central, Mountain, Pacific and Alaskan (AKST)
  • Small airplane tours – 6 (Alaska 3, Texas 1, Arizona 1, Utah 1)
  • Aircraft museums toured – 9
  • Car manufacturing plants toured – 5
  • Caves or Mines explored   – 8
  • Miles hiked – we lost track 🙂 but many hundreds of miles
  • Big bodies of water we touched – 11 (Pacific and Atlantic oceans, all 5 great lakes and the gulfs of Alaska, California, Mexico and St. Lawrence)
  • Number of blog posts published- 422

It’s all about friends – old and new

We initially thought our journey would be a mostly lonely endeavor, since we had left our family and friends behind.  To our surprise this lifestyle was a perfect way to make new friends.  We met several at campgrounds, and many others through their blog sites.  Our travels also reconnected us with long lost classmates, former co-workers and several of my childhood friends.

Looking back, we can’t imagine how boring our journey would have been if we hadn’t met all of those good folks.  We thank all of you for enriching our lives and making our journey worthwhile.  We’ll cherish those memories and look forward to meeting you again somewhere down the road.

For those we have pictures of, here are memories of our get-togethers.  For those who are camera-shy or that I didn’t get pictures of during our visits – we love you just as much!

What an adventure it was!

Of course, our travels aren’t over and we don’t know when we’ll leave our life on the road.  But with our main goal completed there will be some changes in how and where we travel.  We’re still trying to figure it out ourselves, as we slowly head back toward Tucson for our late winter/spring break.

 

Next up: Fun tidbits from our travels