Bakersfield – California

One must atone for their sins, I guess. I suppose that’s what we’re doing in this RV park five miles east of Bakersfield. We piddled around at the beach as long as we could. We got up late, repacked Fritz, moved boxes around and even filled up a propane tank. After Anne said goodbye to the Pacific and got in the truck, we had to leave Morro Bay behind.

Since today’s segment was only 144 miles, we arrived at 1:30. The park has over 300 spaces and was essentially empty, but the check-in people put us next to the Clampetts. They sell the place as camping in an orange grove, but the trees are too young to give any shade, and that’s what we needed when we got here.

Bakersfield Campsite
With the hot sun beating down, the first part of set-up was getting the air conditioner running.

We chose this park because . . . well, they had space for us. I also thought the heat wouldn’t be as bad in the San Joaquin Valley. The very first thing we did after parking the rig, was to plug into the power and fire up the trailer’s air conditioner. The weather page says it’s only 96°, but our little indoor/outdoor thermometer reads 104°.

After waking from a two-hour nap, I got up to take a shower. I must admit that the ones here are the absolute best we’ve seen for the last three months. There’s enough space that you can turn around in them and they have a generous size private dressing area. One thing that park owners need to learn is that there are never enough hooks in these facilities. Even in this one, there were only two, but the bench was large enough to make up for it.

We stopped here because I want to make the long trip across the desert in one day. Tomorrow we’ll get an early start. We’ll climb out of the San Joaquin over the 4000 ft Tehachapi Pass and out onto the Mohave. If all goes without incident, we should cross the Colorado River around noon. It’s at least another hour to Kingman, where we’ll stop for food. There’s a decent BBQ joint there called Rednecks. We discovered it when my parents lived there. I still can remember my dad trying to slurp down those ribs without his false teeth. I miss them.

Tehachapi Pass
The low part of the ridge between the south end of the Sierra Nevada’s on the left and the Tehachapi Mountains on the right is the 4000 ft pass that leads to the Mohave desert . . . and home.

After that, we’ll take US 93 down to Congress. We should lay eyes on the old homestead in time for cocktails on the front porch. With all the storms we’ve read about, I wonder if it’s still there. I’m looking forward to sleeping in my bed tomorrow night.

jw

Cambria – California

We indulged today. We rationalized that since this was our last real vacation day before heading for home, we’d make the best of it. I don’t know how the day could have been any better.

Today started out by trying to make reservations for tomorrow night, Friday . . . Labor Day Weekend. We tried every combination that we could think of, but all the places on our route were already booked for the weekend, except the KOA, and they wanted a minimum of a three-day stay. So we planned an alternative route.

Solvang
Solvang is a Danish community in the San Inez valley and is a big weekend tourist attraction.

We had planned on swinging by Solvang, a Danish tourist town north of Santa Barbara. It was purely for medicinal purposes I assure you. The only thing we needed were pastries called Danish Waffles. They look like a flattened hot dog bun. They’re two sweet phyllo pastries glued together with a creamy filling that has a touch of raspberry jam for a tart flavor. They’re addictive, and there’s only a few places in California to buy them. Two of them are in Solvang.

We left at 11 for the eighty mile trip down for lunch and we got to the bakery at 12:15. Anne and I split a sandwich (the bread was sourdough made fresh in-house this morning, yum!) and for dessert, we split one of the waffles. There is no graceful way you can eat one of these things without it exploding all over the table, the car, the bed . . . where ever. The crumbs are everywhere and they’re too good to leave, so you wind up sucking them up from the table-cloth. Oh, I must warn you that these things are about 1400 calories apiece.

Queen Anne Eats a Danish Waffle
There is no graceful way to eat a Danish waffle. The sugar phyllo dough explodes when ever you take a bite.

We ordered another half-dozen to go (Anne’s already tossed back a couple, they’ll never make it home) along with a bucket of Danish cookies. We had time to make it back to Paso Robles, hit a couple of wineries and still make our five o’clock dinner reservation in Cambria. We pulled it off even after driving down the old creek road.

One of the wineries we  always stop at is York Mountain. As readers of my newsletter already know, this place holds a lot of memories for me. It is the oldest vineyard in the area dating back to 1889. My original visit was with my first wife on our honeymoon in 1968. I was hooked then and have returned regularly.

York Mountain Rebuilt
The new owners of the York Mountain Estates have carefully crafted a new cellar using the original hand-made bricks and capturing the essence of the historical building.

The last time Anne and I were here, the original cellars were badly damaged in an earthquake and the state condemned the building. I was saddened that the owners had sold the property and that the historic building would be destroyed. When we stopped today, it surprised me to see a different but very familiar cellar being readied for the public. New owners have taken over the property and they didn’t want to lose the building either. They painstakingly disassembled the cellar, brick by brick, then numbered the bricks. They built a steel reinforced concrete structure and covered the new shell with the original bricks (in their original  sequence). The new cellar has some modern touches to it, but it brought tears to my eyes to see how lovingly they captured the feel of the original. As for the century old redwood tree, planted by the York brothers . . . it’s alive and well, looking more stately than ever next to the new building. Bravo!

The Old Creek Road
On my first visit to Paso Robles and Cambria, the only road that crossed the mountains was Vineyard Road, and it was this old neglected tree-lined back-road. Along the drive, you cross the ridge and see the ocean twenty-two miles away.

Dinner was wonderful. Anne had her favorite rack of lamb and they even had my favorite; duck breast served in a cherry-port wine reduction. On top of that, we splurged on a bottle of Cabernet that we sampled yesterday. Somehow, I even managed to get through the dinner without spilling red wine on the white table-cloth.

We learned a new trick yesterday and after dinner we used it. After leaving the restaurant, we stopped at the town liquor store. There, we found most of the local wines we liked at a discounted price. We picked out a bunch of bottles that we liked at the tasting rooms and saved about 25%.

So we had a good day. We wined and  dined, laughed and enjoyed each others company. We deserved it . . . for tomorrow will be in Bakersfield. It’s not the armpit of California, but you can certainly smell it from there.

jw

San Simeon – California

This was an easy day for us because we acted like tourists. I guess by definition, we are, but because we hang out here so often, it seems like the place belongs to us. Even with all the traffic we saw today, by California standards, the place was deserted. If you want real California traffic, go to Disneyland.

The day started off with a long hot shower. If you don’t RV, you’re probably not aware that campsites provide showers for their guests. If you have one of those battleships on wheels, this isn’t a problem. Your shower is as big as the one at home. If you have a little trailer like ours, you need to use the one provided by the camp.

Ocean View Garage
I love old neon signs, so when I saw this, I ran across the street to shoot it. It turns out the garage restores vintage cars . . . and signs.

The parks we’ve stayed in lately have quarter showers. You put a quarter in and you get three to five minutes of spray. It takes a minute for the hot water to get there, then another minute to fiddle with the knob. Today, the showers were free, so I could stand under the nozzle until my skin turned pink and my fingers wrinkled. I’m sure that Queen Anne shaved her legs, because I could clearly hear her swearing back at the trailer.

Anne Checks out the New Movies
It’s been three months since Anne’s been able to see her movies, so checking out the new films at the local theater was a must.

Being tourists for us means walking around the towns and checking out the shops, galleries and restaurants. It’s been three months since Anne has had access to her movies, so checking out the new movie posters at the local theater was a must stop for her. In Morro Bay, there’s an outstanding store that sells sea shells (that’s even hard to type). Anne wanted to buy some to use as decorations in our house and she went nuts. It was like the comedy bit in the movie The Jerk. “All I need is this one. That’s all. And maybe this one, just these two. I probably need to have this also . . . ” She has three credit card transactions from that store.

Elephant Seals at War
This is what Elephant Seals do in between naps.

After that, we drove north past Hearst Castle to visit the Elephant Seals. It’s a stop we always make when we’re here. Normally they’re trying to sleep in the sand and the only movement you see is an occasional sand toss. I’ve photographed them several times, but it always looks like a bunch of dead bodies on the beach. Blah! Today, one of the big males must have stepped on the others flipper, and that started a big testosterone contest. They snorted and barked at each other for a couple of minutes, then flopped over and fell asleep again.

We spent the rest of the afternoon in Cambria, a small town south of San Simeon “where the pines meet the sea.” It was a tiny village when I first visited in 1968, and now it’s a large village. Fortunately, the cottages and summer homes are hidden among the trees. We walked the streets until the shops closed, then headed back to The Ritz where The Queen fixed me a gourmet meal of canned tamales. Someday, I’ll need to show her how to turn the stove on.

Harmony Creamery
Thew Creamery Coop in Harmony.

Tomorrow we will be heading over the hill for our last day of vineyard hopping (don’t worry Jane, there’s plenty left for you). We scoped out a couple of new labels to try, and there are some old favorites that keep us returning. After a day of that, we’re having dinner in a Cambria restaurant that we discovered today. After a day of wine tasting, maybe I’ll work up the nerve to drive Fritz down the hill on the old back road. Just for old time’s sake.

jw

Morro Bay – California

So I lied about today’s destination. This morning when we planned out our day, someone on this bus whined about staying at the beach. We checked our RV Park resource guide and the cost was less here than in Paso Robles. Besides, as we drove down the 101, the temperature there was over a hundred. It was thirty degrees cooler when we arrived at the beach.

I didn’t get to play Steve McQueen in downtown San Francisco, but I do think I launched the truck and trailer a couple of times today. To bypass bay area traffic, we took the I 680 along the east side of town. Boy, does that road need some repair. The truck traffic has crushed the pavement in the right lane, and in California, the law restricts trucks and cars pulling trailers to the slow lanes. We hit some bumps so bad that Anne woke up and asked if we were back in Alaska. It wasn’t till we made it past San José that the road improved.

We were in Salinas by lunchtime, so we stopped at the Costco for a hot dog lunch. While we were there I picked up another bag-o-socks so Queen Anne won’t have to do laundry till we get home. There’s enough of everything else in the closet to get us through to the weekend.

Morro Rock
Morro Rock is the icon that marks the southern terminus of the central California coast.

When I talked the other day about Mendocino being our favorite place north of San Francisco, this stretch of coast is my absolute favorite. Maybe that’s why I’ve returned so often over the past fifty years. I think this is where the Pacific Coast Highway is at it’s best, and I believe that William Randolph Hearst, Ansel Adams, and Edward Weston would agree with me (were they alive to do so). They all had homes here.

The Dunes at Morro Bay
Wind patterns in the Morro Bay Sand Dunes.

PCH turns west at San Louis Obispo and picks up the coast here at Morro Bay. It provides some of the most beautiful coastal scenery as it passes through, Cambria, San Simeon, Big Sur before it reaches Carmel. It’s 120 miles of breathtaking scenery without a stop light. You should experience the drive once in your life, and drive it in a convertible, not your fifty foot motor-home.

Mom Wants Yet Another Picture.
While out for a beach walk, a young mother tries to get her kids to pose in front of Morro Rock.

We’re going to avoid going home for a couple of days. We have a couple of nostalgic restaurants we want to visit again. I never grow tired of photographing this place and I never seem to do a good enough job at it. Then of course, there’s the central coast wineries that we love so much. We’re not in a rush and we’ll be home soon enough.

jw

Calistoga – California

We arrived at Calistoga, a town at the head of the Napa Valley, just after lunch. When we normally look for our RV park, it’s conveniently on the highway and usually there are ample signs directing us to it. Not this time, because it’s at the county fairgrounds and everybody knows where it is . . . except us. We had to use the GPS and our tablet to track it down.

We finally found it, but no one was in the office to check us in. We weren’t the only ones either. The sign on the door said the office was only open from 10 am to 4 pm, with a smaller clock thingy that said somebody would be back at noon. It was already 1:05. Fortunately, one of the other guests used her cell to get a responsible person knew about reservations. After passing the phone around, we got our assigned camping spot. It’s right next to the half-mile dirt track, outside turn four. They’re hosting non-winged sprint cars and modifieds running over Labor Day weekend. I asked Anne if we could stay, but she only communicates with eye-rolls lately.

Hawkes Vinyards
Hawkes Vineyards in Anderson Valley was a pleasant discovery for us today.

As you would expect for wine country, Calistoga is a cool little town. I only associated the name with the mineral water bottled here, but this area is like a little Yellowstone. There are hot springs, mineral and mud baths and even a fake geyser . . . in fact, Geyserville is the next town up the road. The town was a tourists attraction well before Charles Krug planted his first grape-vine.

Duckhorn Vineyards Tasting Room
We picked up a nice bottle of Chardonnay at Duckhorn Vineyards.

We made a point to stop in Napa Valley because it’s the Mecca of California wines, but it’s not the only wine growing region north of San Francisco. Today, for example, we drove through Anderson Valley, Alexander Valley, but not Sonoma Valley which is behind us over the ridge. Even within Napa there are several wine districts, like St. Helena, Rutherford, Oak Knoll and Napa. They have slightly different soils and micro climates that affect the grape’s taste.

Silver Oak Wine Fridge
At that moment, Anne turned to me and said, “You have a table saw, you could make this..”

Now for the bad news. I think that Napa vineyards have become primadonnas. We’ve stopped at vineyards in Washington, Oregon and this morning, Anderson Valley. The day’s of free tasting are gone. Washington wineries will charge you a fee from 5 to 15 dollars to sample their wines. If you choose to buy a bottle, they waive the fee. Oregon’s sampling cost is more, but they still don’t charge if you buy something. Napa valley is absurd. Here the fees are 25 to 35 dollars for the tasting and that is independent of your purchase.

Beaulieu Vinyards Tasting Room
How could you possibly be allowed to park a dirty Porsche out side of a tasting room?

So are the wines that much better? Well, . . . they are that much more expensive. In Washington and Oregon, expensive reds were 40-50 dollars a bottle. Here, a bottle of reserve can easily cost over $100.00. That’s way out of our price range, and since we had to pay-to-taste, we didn’t feel guilty about not buying any.

Here comes the million dollar question; Don’t wines that cost more taste better? To my palate, the simple answer is no. The stop we made in Anderson Valley was a small vineyard and they don’t bottle enough to distribute in stores. I preferred their forty dollar bottle over one we tasted costing twice the price.

We’ve found that we like tasting in lesser known areas and growers. Sometimes you get swill, and then at least you know what you don’t like. Other times you find something that will make your socks roll up and down. and it’s a bargain. After all, that’s what you really want, value for your money.

Tomorrow, we’ll wait for morning rush to subside and head down to Paso Robles. That’s a place we’ve had great success in restocking our empty wine rack. Over dinner, I tried to convince Anne that we could take the 101 across the Golden Gate Bridge for a photo-op, then through downtown San Francisco and try to recreate scenes from the movie Bullet. Can you imagine the thrill of launching Fritz and The Ritz five feet into the air? She just rolled her eyes.

jw

Mendocino – California

Mendocino is probably our favorite town on the northern California Coast. I’m not sure why, because it doesn’t have fancy architecture we found in Eureka. Instead it’s loaded with white cottages and buildings with simple clapboard siding. It has more of a New England feel, which is why so many films and TV shows (Murder She Wrote) were shot here.

Mendocino From Across the Bay
Mendocino is probably the most New England town west of the Mississippi.

The town is on a coastal headlands above the Pacific. There isn’t a safe harbor so the local fishing fleet is in nearby Fort Bragg. There aren’t any wood mills or other heavy industry. The town seems more of an art  community. There are several galleries showing really nice local art, and the streets abound with posters for music and art gatherings.

Mendocino Volenteer Fire Department
What photographer in his right mind would pass up a red door on a white building?

Mendocino and the surrounding countryside offer plenty of inspiration. You can climb down the cliffs to the beaches on either side of the town and swim in the caves and grotto’s sculpted by the ocean. If you’re not into aquatics, you can just make space among the driftwood and listen to the waves breaking on the rocks while enjoying a bottle of Cabernet.

Church Back
A local church from the alley.

I could easily live here . . . but I’d need to pick better Power Ball numbers. As you can imagine, living in paradise isn’t cheap. Land sells for a premium and most of the buildings have historical significance. If you were able to find a place in town, there is an extra problem. As you walk through town, you’ll notice these odd-shaped towers. In Alaska, they could be bear proof food storage, but here, they supply your water pressure. Even in paradise, you gotta flush.

Garden Bench
A thoughtful gardener has provided a place to stop and smell the flowers.

Tomorrow we move on to Calistoga, located at the head of Napa Valley. It’s only three hours from here, but we want to get an early start. There’s wine to taste, and this is serious business.

jw

Fort Bragg – California

I feel like Mario Andretti after the roads we were on today, and I never went over the speed limit. I’ve been known to hustle a car down a back road or two, and even Fritz can outrun some of the so-called boy racers, but not with three thousand pounds of dead weight hanging off of the tailgate.

You probably have seen those yellow advisory signs that suggest the safe cornering speeds so trucks won’t shift their load and fall over. I’ve never seen one before today that had 10 mph signs. On the Pacific Coast Highway (Cal 1), there were at lest a half-dozen curves like that and a matching number of 15 mph. I had the cruise control set for 30, and even that was too fast at times.

The day started off normal when we left Eureka on the 101, which is a freeway sometimes and a two lane road when it’s not. Thirty-five miles out, we got off the freeway to take the Avenue of the Giants, a side road that goes through the groves of large redwood trees in the Humboldt Redwoods State Park. It’s a twenty-eight mile road that weaves it way through the large trees, and it feels like they didn’t remove any to pave the road.

Avenue of the Giants
The Avenue of the Giants is a side road that weaves its way through groves of old growth redwoods. The road is intimidating because the huge trees are at the edge of the road.

The monster trees stand at the roads edge, and in a couple of places, the roots lift the pavement. The road’s posted speed limit is 55, but even at 40, it feels like you’re driving down the Le Mans’ Mulsanne Straight at 235 mph (I honestly don’t know what that feels like either). The trees are so close that they pass by as flickers and the dappled light coming in through the crown exaggerates the sensation. It’s a good thing that you have to stop and take pictures every so often.

Anne Lost in the Redwoods
Anne takes in the grandeur of the ancient trees. Some of the larger specimens life span exceeds a millennia. Contrary to what’s Anne’s baby sister’s birthday card said, Anne did not plant them.

We traveled another thirty miles to Leggett, then turned onto the Pacific Coast Highway. Leggett is the town where you can drive your car through a living redwood tree. Since The Ritz is too tall to fit through the opening, we didn’t bother trying.

It was this section of the PCH that was demanding. The road climbed up a mountain ridge then descended into a small valley, then up a second ridge before it dumped us on the coast. We watched the mirrors constantly, so we could let traffic by, but we only had to pull over once.

Lost Coast South End
From this overlook to just south of Eureka, is the only section of California without highway access.

When we reached the ocean, we stopped to take in the view. This stretch of the California coast between where we stopped and north to Eureka is road-less. It’s called The Lost Coast, and if you want to see it, you have to go by sea or foot. While I’m dealing out trivia, it also has the western most point of land in the lower 48 states.

We’re going to rest here for another day and see what kind of trouble we can cause. After that we’ll head down into Northern California wine country, and pick up a couple of samples for our growing collection. After that, we have to avoid San Francisco. If I thought today’s roads were challenging, I certainly don’t want to drag The Ritz down Lombard Street.

jw

Ferndale Tonight – California

Today, I shot enough gingerbread houses to make my teeth hurt. We spent time walking around Old Town Eureka, which has a good collection of buildings from that period. That wasn’t enough. Fifteen miles down the road is Ferndale, with even more Victorian style buildings. After a half day of ornate buildings, I had to drive out into the countryside to shoot an unpainted barn to balance my senses.

Carson Mansion
If you bought a piece of redwood lumber in the 19th Century, this man cut the timbers.

Today’s weather was cool and overcast, as it is often along the northern coast of California. It’s not cloudy in the normal sense, it’s more of a fog that’s a couple hundred feet in the air. If you drive up any substantial hill, you’ll be in the clouds, and then looking down on them soon after that. It’s all due to the Humboldt Current (which is too long of a story for this blog).

For those of you that are unaware, I confess to being a ‘foodie’. I like to try new foods (to an extent). Since I like to cook, I try to recreate tastes that I like in my kitchen. I’m not a trained chef, but I’m an avid Food Network watcher, and I’ve seen every Dinners Drive Inns and Dives (Triple D) a couple of times. With that in mind, it surprised me to learn that the host, Guy Fieri is from Ferndale and worked at a couple of local restaurants before flying off to Europe for training. I learned all of this by reading an article pasted in the local paper’s window. Wow.

Ferndale Meat Company
This is one of the restaurants that Guy Fieri apprenticed at before running off to Europe for culinary training.

On our trips, we try to look up good places to have dinner. In Eureka, it’s obvious that the younger generation are more adept at online reviewing. The local brew house was the number one choice, while the seafood restaurant we ate at last night was down on the list. I’m sorry to disagree, but burgers and wings in a loud atmosphere don’t trump linen and superior seafood and immaculate service.

Not A Victorian House
Aackl! I just needed to photographer something that wasn’t painted in six colors.

Tomorrow we’re on the move again, this time to Fort Bragg. Or as I like to call it, the poor man’s Mendocino. It’s not that far of a drive, but we’ll likely spend a lot of time in the giant redwoods we’ll be driving through. Only the Sequoia’s in the Sierra’s are larger. I really want to take some time to capture their grandeur for you.

jw

Eureka – California

What a  difference a day and one hundred sixty-four miles makes. Yesterday we were complaining about the heat in Oregon and this evening, I’m wearing a sweater. That’s because we’re on the northern California coast, where the low clouds have kept the temperature below 70° today. That is, as long as we stay along the shore, if you go a mile inland, the temperature soars.

The drive from Oregon was a bit more challenging than yesterday’s. We were on a twisty two lane road that had several construction zones, so we didn’t make very good time. I told Anne that the drive would be a lot more fun if we had Betty White; our other car.

Once we crossed the state line, we soon picked up US 101, a road that we’ll follow south along the coast until we head east sometime next week. The Redwood Highway is what they call this section of the 101, and for good reason. The road would skirt the beach for a while before having to turn inland to get around a mountain. As the road climbed into the clouds, we would be in dense redwood forests. The trees were beautiful, being both thick and tall. They were so thick, the automatic headlights would turn on.

Fritz in the Redwoods
A couple of times along this section of road, we entered the Redwoods National Park, where the trees were so dense, the lights would automatically come on.

I don’t remember exactly where, but the road dropped into a small town in a glade, and there was one of those signs warning about elk. Only this time, they were there. Fritz tripped the ten-thousand mile mark yesterday and he’s taken us through seven states and four Canadian Provinces. Finally in the last state, in the last week of our travels before returning to Arizona, we got to see a big herd of wild animals along the road.

Elk Along The Highway
After three months on the road, we finally got to see a large herd of wild animals.

Shortly after leaving the elk, the road made its way back to the shore, and I stopped to take a shot of some off-shore rocks. We pulled in behind a parked truck. The woman in the passenger’s seat rolled down the window so that she could tell us about the dolphins. Anne got out of the truck and we watched for a while suspecting that we missed them. After scanning the water, I saw one break the surface for a breath then watched as its dorsal fin went out of sight.  I pointed in its direction and blurted, “There!” It took another minute before she saw one too. Then there were two, three and soon they were everywhere. In all, I think there was a school of a dozen or more working the small bay in front of us. They were too far out and only briefly broke the surface to get a good shot of them, so I didn’t try. We watched as long as we could before having to get back on the road.

Pacific Coast
We stopped to get a shot of the rocks off shore. As we watched, we spotted a school of dolphin swimming in the small bay.

We made Eureka by mid afternoon and set up camp. We needed to make a Costco run for provisions, which was on the other side of town. As we drove along the highway, we got a sneak peek at some Victorian homes, so that’s what’s on our agenda tomorrow. For now, I see the temperature has already dropped below 60°, so we have to put the comforter back on the bed to keep warm tonight.

jw