California Dreaming Has Become a Reality (September 5 – 29, 2017)

On September 5th we drove 141 miles down US-101 to Mad River Rapids RV Park in Arcata, CA where we spent five days. The first 40 miles or so of the drive were through smoky skies but the air gradually got clearer as we got into California. Due to a shortage of rest areas along the route, we had to use the Home Depot parking lot in Crescent City, CA as our lunch stop.

We had read some negative reviews of our new campground but we were quite relieved when we arrived and found it to be rather nice. Our site was too short to hold both our car and truck so we had to park the car by the office. Other than that, we were very comfortable with the campground. The weather was in the 60s most of our stay and cloudy every day. We actually had some rain briefly one day, the first rain we’d seen in about two months.

On September 6th we drove nine miles north to the town of Eureka, CA. After having a very filling lunch at Chapala, a Mexican restaurant, we strolled the streets and wharf in historic Old Town Eureka. Being a Wednesday afternoon, the streets were pretty empty except for a large number of homeless people milling around.

On September 8th we spent the day in the nearby Redwood National and State Parks. In the 1920’s, the State of California had established three state parks to protect the redwood forests from being wiped out by the logging industry. When the ecology continued to suffer from logging, Congress created a national park in the adjacent land in 1968. The four parks are now jointly managed by the National Park Service and the California State Parks. We first stopped at the Thomas H. Kushell Visitor Center where we watched a video about the park and got some advice on hiking trails. Our next stop was at the Lady Bird Johnson Grove, honoring the environmentally-minded former First Lady. When we arrived, the 20-car parking lot was full and other cars were waiting. We waited for a while but no one was leaving so we drove another ¼-mile and parked at a pullout along the road. Not surprisingly, when we hiked back to the parking lot, there were some empty spaces. Oh well, we got some extra steps in. We hiked the 1.4-mile Lady Bird Johnson Grove Trail through an upland redwood grove.

We next drove to Elk Meadow where we had our lunch in the picnic area. After lunch we hiked the 2.8-mile Trillium Falls Trail. It was a beautiful trail through an old-growth redwood forest. The volunteer at the Visitor Center had told us that the Trillium Falls were more of a cascade than vertical waterfalls. However, even with that warning, we didn’t realize we were at the falls when we arrived and, thus, did not take any pictures while we were there. We had to use an Internet picture of the falls for this post. The rest of the hike was much more impressive.

After completing the hike, we watched a large number of wild elk grazing in the meadow.  We stopped on the drive home so Jan could shoot a picture of some interesting plants that lined the highway.

On September 10th it was time for us to move farther down the coast. We drove 250 miles to Bodega Bay, CA where we stayed at the Bodega Bay RV Park for five days. Although a 250 mile drive is not unusual for us, this drive was more challenging than usual. The first 230 miles were on US-101 and had many sharp curves and construction zones that kept us from making good time. There was only one rest area along this route and it was after 133 miles of driving. We stopped in Ukiah, CA to refuel the truck at a truck stop but, after a few unsuccessful attempts, the store owner decided the pump was broken. We ended up parking the truck and trailer at the truck stop and driving our car to a small neighboring gas station where we got five gallons of diesel in our fuel can. After having lunch at In-N-Out Burger, we poured the diesel into the truck and continued on our way. It was 99 degrees when we left Ukiah and it remained between 99 and 100 degrees for the next 60 miles. The last 20 miles turned toward the Pacific coast and, although the temperature dropped quickly, the roads were narrow and very winding. The last mile took us north on CA-1 through the town of Bodega Bay and there were many tight, sharp turns. We were very happy when we pulled into our campground over six hours after leaving Arcata. We were able to upgrade our reservation to a full hookup site, rather than just the water and electric site we had reserved. This meant we would not need to move our rig mid-week to dump our gray tank.

Bodega Bay is a small coastal community about 40 miles northwest of San Francisco. It is probably best known for being the location of the 1963 Alfred Hitchcock movie “The Birds.” The town’s primary industries these days appear to be tourism and fishing.

We spent most of September 11th taking care of domestic duties. Since Bodega Bay is rather limited in its business establishments, Phil had to drive the truck 10 miles up CA-1 to find diesel. The drive took him along some beautiful overlooks of the Pacific but the road was again very narrow and winding. He was glad he hadn’t had to bring the fifth wheel that route.  Later, we drove about 15 miles east to the towns of Sebastopol and Rohnert Park where we were able to find a US Bank, Target, Safeway and an Aveda salon. Once again, the temperatures in these inland communities were in the 90s and we were glad to return to cooler temperatures in Bodega Bay at the end of the day. We had dinner at a local casual restaurant, The Boat House, where Jan had fish and chips and Phil had clam strips. Everything was good and very fresh. We sat by a window that gave us a clear view of the deck where the restaurant owner shucked his oysters and would simply toss the shells on the ground. There were deep piles of oyster shells all around the deck.

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On September 12th we stayed closer to home. We drove to Bodega Head, a small promontory rising above the Pacific Ocean. We hiked the Bodega Head Trail that first took us along the coastline and then along the entrance to Bodega Bay. There were many spectacular sites, including a small island where numerous sea lions were yelping loudly. The trail was listed as being 1.9 miles long but we took so many side trips that our hike was considerably longer.

There were lots of small rodents scurrying around in the ground cover and Jan was startled by a small snake that slithered across the path in front of her. There were many raptors and large crows circling just above us while they hunted for food. With the movie “The Birds” in mind, we were somewhat concerned when the birds got too close.

Speaking of “The Birds,” our last stop for the day was in the town of Bodega where we visited the old schoolhouse and church where parts of the movie were filmed in 1962. The Potter School, built in 1873, has served as a private residence since 1966. The monkey bars from the movie were removed long ago. The church, St. Teresa of Avila, is still in use as a Catholic church.

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Potter School, used in “The Birds”
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St. Teresa of Avila, used in “The Birds”

On Wednesday, September 13th, we stopped off at Patrick’s Salt Water Taffy to load up with a variety of flavors of salt water taffy. Next to the store was an old, abandoned wharf. We visited the gas station that had appeared in “The Birds” but found that it had been refurbished and bore no resemblance to the one in the movie.

Jan had read on the Internet that there was an old boat that had been abandoned in the woods near the marina. We had the coordinates but it was only on the third drive-by that we finally spotted the boat. It was several hundred yards from the water so we have no idea how the boat ended up in its final resting place.

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Landlocked, abandoned boat far from water

Next we drove north on Highway 1 and stopped at the overlooks for various Sonoma Coast State Beaches. We watched surfers at the North Salmon Creek beach. Then we stopped to look at the Arched Rock from two vantage points.

At 4 pm we drove to the Spud Point Marina and had an early dinner at Spud Point Crab Company. It was the #1 rated restaurant in Bodega Bay on TripAdvisor. We both had a crab sandwich and a large bowl of New England Clam Chowder. The crab sandwich was loaded with crab and was very good. The chowder was the best either of us had ever had. It was loaded with clams and had just the right amount of seasonings. Jan ended up taking half of her chowder home with her and found that it was still delicious the next day for breakfast.

On September 14th we returned to Bodega Head and enjoyed walking barefoot on the beach. The wave action was quite strong and inconsistent. Several times we were lulled into a false sense of security by waves that didn’t come up the beach very far, only to be surprised by a large wave that would soak our pant legs.

On Friday, September 15th, we drove 140 miles south to Felton, CA where we stayed at Santa Cruz Redwoods RV Resort. Although the drive was shorter than usual, it was through the Bay Area and was quite stressful. We were on interstates most of the way and the traffic was quite heavy. There were many times when we were forced to stop suddenly. We were quite relieved to reach our destination, where we had stayed before in April 2016. We had reserved a pull-through site and it was quite large. The campground is filled with very tall redwoods so there was no chance our satellite dish was going to work. Fortunately, the campground had a cable hookup.

That evening we drove to Santa Cruz and spent the evening with our daughter and son-in-law, Alison and Bill Lynch. We dropped off our truck at their house for the 10 days rather than pay the $20 per day the campground charges for an extra vehicle, then went out for pizza. After dinner we got a tour of their new house and then they drove us back to the campground.

On Saturday, September 16th, we spent the day with Alison and Bill exploring parts of Santa Cruz we had not visited last year. Our first stop was Natural Bridges State Beach. The natural bridge, a large stone arch, was clearly visible from the beach. Since it was low tide, we were able to climb along the tidepools and explore a variety of ocean life, such as mussels, crabs and sea anemones. Then we explored the Monarch Butterfly Nature Preserve where thousands of Monarch Butterflies reside from late-fall until spring. Although it was too early in the season for seeing the masses of butterflies, we were able to see a few of the early arrivers. We hiked the Monarch Trail before returning to the car.

After stopping off for snacks and cold drinks, we visited the Mystery Spot for a 45-minute tour. The Mystery Spot is a visual illusion-based tourist attraction, opened in 1941. Our tour guide mixed in corny jokes while explaining the history of the property and the phenomena that seems to defy the laws of gravity and physics. We climbed a steep hill to reach a tilted shed. We had a lot of fun as we watched balls that appeared to roll uphill and people leaning far past their toes without tumbling over. Although we kept reminding ourselves it was just an illusion, it was real enough to throw us off our equilibrium.

After the Mystery Spot, we returned to Alison and Bill’s house for dinner followed by some rousing games of Codenames.

On Sunday, September 17th, Alison and Bill came to visit us at the campsite and we spent a relaxing afternoon sitting outside and then dining on grilled chicken.

On September 19th we went for a hike in the Henry Cowell Redwood State Park. We started at a trailhead off of Hwy. 9 and descended a great distance until we reached the San Lorenzo River. At first the trail ran parallel to the river and the hike was fairly easy. We reached a couple of places where the trail turned sharply back toward the highway and we needed to climb some steep banks. The first time, the trail eventually turned back toward the river and resumed its path along the river bank. The second time, we climbed and climbed some steep banks but never found a path bath to the river. Rather than return down the steep path we had climbed, we trail blazed a path back down to the river, sometimes on the seat of our pants. We were quite exhausted by the time we returned to our car.

On September 20th we explored a couple of beach areas that were photogenic. Our first stop was at the Santa Cruz Breakwater Lighthouse (also known as Walton Lighthouse). The lighthouse is at the entrance to Santa Cruz Harbor.

Next we drove to Seacliff Beach in Aptos, CA to see a sunken concrete ship. The S. S. Palo Alto is the most famous concrete ship on the west coast. The Palo Alto was built in 1919 as an oil tanker with a concrete hull. She remained docked in the San Francisco Bay for over 10 years before being purchased by the Seacliff Amusement Company and towed to Seacliff Beach. The ship was grounded in the bay and connected by a long pier. An arcade, dining room, dance hall and swimming pool were built on the ship. Unfortunately, the Seacliff Amusement Company went out of business during the Great Depression. Then, in the following winter, a storm cracked the ship across her midsection. The sunken Palo Alto was stripped of all salvageable metal and fixtures and turned into a fishing pier. The end of the fishing pier was damaged during the 2015/16 winter storms and is now closed so we had to take our pictures from the shore.

On September 21st we drove down the California coastline on Hwy. 1 to the Pfeifer State Park in Big Sur. Hwy. 1 was closed beyond this point. The Big Sur area experienced multiple natural disasters over the past year. The Soberanes Fire burned 134,000 acres from July to October 2016. Then, last winter they received record rainfall, causing immense flooding and landslides on trails and roads. The Pfeifer Canyon Bridge, a quarter mile south of the Pfeifer State Park, failed in February 2017, leading to the closure of Hwy. 1 to the south.

We ate lunch at the park’s picnic area. We were accompanied by a flock of blue birds that we later identified as Steller’s Jays. Each time we flicked a crumb off the picnic table, the birds swooped down on it and then immediately disappeared. We knew we were being watched but we couldn’t see them.

After lunch, we hiked the 2-mile Valley View Trail through a redwood and oak woodland. The trail which climbed to the Valley View Overlook was moderately strenuous. The one mile hike to the overlook was almost entirely uphill, with a 750 foot rise in elevation. Fortunately, the temperature was only 64 degrees and it was quite breezy so we didn’t get too overheated. The overlook provided a panoramic view of the Big Sur River Valley, Point Sur and the Andrew Molera State Park. Fortunately, the return hike was much easier as it was almost entirely downhill.

We then hiked the short River Path back to our car.

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We stopped at several overlooks as we drove back up the Big Sur coastline to enjoy the beautiful scenery.

On Friday, September 22nd, we spent most of the day taking care of domestic duties, then hosted Alison and Bill for dinner. On Saturday, September 23rd, we spent the afternoon and evening with Alison and Bill. Our first stop was at the Computer History Museum in Mountain View, CA. The Museum is dedicated to the preservation and celebration of computer history and is home to the largest international collection of computing artifacts in the world, encompassing computer hardware, software, documentation, photographs, oral histories and moving images.

We next stopped at the Drunken Lobster restaurant in Mountain View and each had a slice of pizza. After the pizza, we strolled along Castro Street and examined the storefronts.

Our next stop at Omescape, an escape room facility in San Jose. Our challenge was named Pandemic Zero and was described as: “A super virus has infected 95% of the world’s population. You have discovered the location of a secret lab. However, the entrance to it has been locked because of a citywide quarantine. Can you find the hidden entrance underneath the city in the sewers and finish work on the cure before it is too late?” We were given 60 minutes to discover clues and figure out ways to gain access through the four rooms needed to save the world. Although Alison and Bill had done other escape rooms before, this was a new experience for us. The Pandemic Zero challenge had a posted historical success rate of 26% so there would have been no shame if we had to failed to solve it. However, we were up to the challenge and completed our mission in 52 minutes. It was a lot of fun, albeit with stress from the time limit.

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The “Serious Serum Seekers” celebrating our success.

To celebrate our success, we stopped off for dessert at Dolce Spazio Dessert Café in Los Gatos. Phil had a slice of fresh banana cake, with the rest of the group had gelato. It was the perfect way to end a very busy, but enjoyable, day.

On Sunday, we drove to Alison and Bill’s house and played a rousing game of Betrayal at House on the Hill. Although we all started out as allies, Bill eventually became the traitor and had no trouble killing off the rest of us. After dinner, it was time for us to say our goodbyes and take one more group photo.

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On Monday, September 25th, we drove 141 miles to the Paso Robles RV Camp in Paso Robles, CA. We had stayed there in April 2016 and it was still very nice. We got a long, although somewhat narrow, pull-through site with plenty of room to park our vehicles on the ends. The host gave Phil many suggestions for sites to see and vineyards to visit.

On September 26th, we drove to the Pacific Coast. The campground host had recommended we go see the elephant seals. Our first stop was at the address for the Friends of the Elephant Seals but, although this gave us our last opportunity for a while to walk on the beach, we did not see any seals. We then drove four miles farther north on Highway 1 until we reached the Piedras Blancas viewing platform where we found a large number of elephant seals. Although the number of elephant seals on the beach will be in the thousands from January through May, September is a slow period with only a few hundred, mostly male, elephant seals there. While some of the seals were playing in the shallow water, most were stretched out on the beach. It was funny to see them using their flippers to toss sand up on their backs.

We drove a mile farther north on Highway 1 in an attempt to get a picture of the Piedras Blancas Light Station. Unfortunately, the gates were locked so we had to settle for pictures from the road. The light at Piedras Blancas was first illuminated in 1875 and is still in use. The lighthouse originally stood 100 feet in height and is presently being restored to its original appearance.

Our next stop was a visit to Hearst Castle, a national Historic Landmark. The estate was designed by architect Julia Morgan, between 1919 and 1947, as a residence for newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst, who died in 1951. In 1954, it became a California State Park and it was opened to visitors in 1958. It is still operated as a working cattle ranch.

Hearst Castle features 56 bedrooms, 61 bathrooms, 19 sitting rooms, 127 acres of gardens, indoor and outdoor swimming pools, tennis courts, a movie theater and airfield. At one time, it also held the world’s largest private zoo. We took the Grand Rooms Tour which took us through the main floor of Casa Grande, the largest house at Hearst Castle. The rooms we visited included the Assembly Room, Refectory (dining room), Morning Room, Billiard Room, and Theater. These rooms were ornately decorated with Renaissance and Baroque tapestries and masterpieces of neoclassical sculptures. We also strolled through the gardens and visited the outdoor Neptune Pool (currently under restoration) and the indoor Roman Baths.

For dinner, we drove to Morro Bay and ate at Dorn’s Original Breakers Café that provided a scenic view of Morro Bay and its iconic rock. Our final stop was at Carousel Taffy where we stocked up on salt water taffy.

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View from our table at Dorn’s Original Breakers Café in Morro Bay

When Phil checked in on Monday, the host gave him coupons for taste tastings at two local wineries. The Paso Robles area is a major wine producing region. Over our three days in the area, we drove through miles and miles of vineyards and passed dozens of wineries. On Wednesday, we headed out to the winery that had provided a coupon for two free wine tastings. Unfortunately, after driving 25 minutes, we arrived at the winery and found that it was closed. So then we drove 30 minutes to the winery that had provided the coupon for two-for-one wine tastings. We stopped along the way to photograph some of the huge vineyards. Upon arrival, we found that they were only open on the weekends unless we had made an appointment. At that point, we decided to simply return home and enjoy some of our box wine.

On September 28th we drove 234 miles to Barstow, CA where we spent the night at Shady Lane RV Camp. We left Paso Robles at 9 a.m. to try to minimize the amount of driving during the heat of the afternoon. The drive was not very scenic and we were glad when we arrived at the campground. We had stayed at Shady Lane RV Camp in April 2016. It’s a small, not very attractive, park and appears to be mostly filled with long-term residents. The manager led us to our site and encouraged us to set up first and then come to the office to register. Our site was a pull-through with plenty of room for both our vehicles. One end of the wooden valence above our dining room table, which had started pulling away from the cabinets for a couple of months, had dropped a lot more during the day’s drive. We knew we needed to fix it before driving any farther, rather than risk having it crash down while we were driving. After having pizza for dinner at Oggi’s Sports Bar, we made two trips to Home Depot to find screws of the right length to reattach the valence to the cabinets. We then spent our last night in California, before heading for Arizona in the morning.

 

 

 

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