Archive for category California
After meeting the Doheny State Beach park ranger last spring, Jeff and I committed to camp host for 3 months on the beach at Dana Point, CA.
Doheny State Beach is California’s very first state beach. It was named after oil tycoon Edward L. Doheny who donated 41 acres for public use on May 31, 1931. An additional 21 acres was later added by acquisitions from the Santa Fe Railroad, University of California and the Union Oil Company.
It was interesting to learn that Edward Doheny drilled the first successful oil well in the Los Angeles City Oil Field in 1892 that set off a petroleum boom in Southern CA.
After selling off his California oil properties, he was the first to drill for oil in Mexico and opened new oil fields in Venezuela.
He was later implicated in the Teapot Dome Scandal in the 1920’s, being accused of offering a $100k
bribe gift to US secretary of Interior in connection with obtaining a lease of 32,000 acres of government-owned land. The 2007 film There Will Be Blood is loosely based on Edward Doheny.
This is our first experience camp hosting and we where set to make the most of our free coastal living in exchange for 15-20hr of “work” each week.
For those not familiar with Camp Hosting, RV parks, campgrounds and National Parks will offer a free campsite (usually with full hookups) in exchange for 15-20hrs/week of volunteer work. It’s a great benefit to the campgrounds to have camp hosts on site to monitor the comings and goings of campers and to help with grounds keeping, bathroom maintenance and selling of firewood.
It’s a win-win for both parties as it offers us full timers an opportunity to give back, have purpose and camp for free while providing the parks with much needed help.
Each campground has it’s own agreements with hosts with different expectations/responsibilities and length of stay. So understanding your roll prior to committing is quite important to having a positive experience.
The reason we decided to make Doheny State Beach as our first experience was because it did not require cleaning of bathrooms or campsites, the campground is directly on the beach and it only required a 3-month commitment.
We showed up at Doheny a few days prior to our first day of work and did some training with the departing camp hosts.
Up at 5am to retrieve the camper log from the ranger station ½ mile from the campground with the provided golf cart. Drive around the campground to check registrations of campers, make stops around the shower houses, write up warnings to offending campers who string cloths lines from bushes or park in the landscaping. Then return the log back to the ranger station.
At 8am do a quick loop through the campground to remind campers that generator hours don’t start until 10am.
At noon it’s another trip around the campground to get those checking out to move along so that sites can be cleaned by staff before new campers start moving in about 1pm.
From 3-4pm we do an occasional loop to sell firewood for $7/bundle. We keep our RV door open until 8pm and make one more trip to remind folks that generator hours are over at 8pm before calling it a night.
We manage the campground with 1 other camp host couple and worked 2 days on/2 days off/3 days on. The following week we are 2 days off/2 days on/3 days off. That way we were off every other weekend. All hosts are flexible and if we needed a day off or just even a round covered, the other hosts were always willing to cover for us and us for them.
Easy peasy right?
So here is what really happens…
5AM while scanning the showers, if a door is closed and locked it usually means there is a homeless dude or meth-head encamped in the private confines of a shower stall. Whether they have chosen to take a sh*t in said shower stall is always the mystery when the ranger shows up to remove said homeless dude.
Place “friendly reminders” on windshields of those who showed up after hours that they must report to the kiosk to get their tags. Some are legitimate campers with reservations. Others are trying to camp for free by showing up late and leaving early. The ranger issues tickets to offending parties.
8AM we get to delay camper’s consumption of coffee by having them turn off their generators until 10AM. You can imagine how that is received.
Usually between 12-3pm we escort more homeless folks out of the campground who are trying to use the showers, toilets or picking aluminum out of the trash cans or are simply trying to walk off with campers bicycles, cell phones and wallets.
Occasionally we call the rangers on non-camper interactions that involve drug use and/or mental health crazy talk. Excuses for their presence is usually brushed off as they are there to “see a friend” or “a photographer taking family pictures” all the while walking off with someones generator with the extension cord dragging behind.
We’ve also dealt with groups of homeless folks that get one campsite then invite 14 of their friends for late night raves. According to the rangers, there is nothing that can be done since they paid for a campsite.
And when you confront non-campers they usually excuse their poor behavior by saying they are a veteran, saying they are helping veterans or give you a hardy, “God bless you”.
Luckily we only had two midnight knocks on our door that involved loud music. And another incident that involved a car egging after a large group of noisy campers ticked off their neighbors. According to the large group their music was “barely audible”.
I’m not going to lie. The first couple of weeks were a challenge seeing the overt drug use and mental health issues that this campground is surrounded by. But after that we developed quite a sense of humor about it all and realized that MOST people were opportunists rather than physical threats.
Despite some of the riff raff, we met a lot of great campers and got to spend a season living on the coast of California…for free.
Would we do it again?
We committed going back in October!
Doheny State Beach is located in the wonderful community of Dana Point. Within walking distance we had nice restaurants, grocery shopping and the Pacific Coast Trail to run and cycle.
It was a great location for the 10K Spooktacular Halloween run, 10K Turkey trot Thanksgiving Day run, the Cuyamaca 100k trail run and the Glamis Sand Dunes Veterans Day clean up.
We also drove to Newport Beach for the famous Christmas boat parade and took a trip to San Diego to have Thanksgiving dinner with some RV buddies.
Overall we really enjoyed spending fall/winter in shorts and t-shirts in southern California and look forward to returning to the coast in October.
After leaving Seattle we had three weeks to make our way to Phoenix. Our working travel schedule gave us a deadline and unfortunately we were headed into the belly of the hot molten volcano in the middle of summer. 106 degrees here we come!
We made quick stops in Eugene and Ashland, Oregon, Redding, CA and Reno, Nevada on our way to Mono Lake, CA.
I had read about some great boondocking at Mono Lake on the eastern side of Yosemite. This really would be our last stop at any elevation (6,378’) in order to avoid the southwest heat. Also, when we were in Yosemite in May, we never made it to Tioga Pass. So stopping at Mono Lake would give us that opportunity.
Well, that was the plan anyway…
Last year about this time, Jeff asked me a question about doing something epic, challenging or scary and I blurted out that I would like to hike the highest peaks in each state. A week later I had bagged my first…Mt. Humphreys in Flagstaff, AZ. at 12,633ft.
Ever since then I have been researching the highest peak of each state that we traveled in 2016. Unfortunately, we have been traveling the states with the highest peaks overall that have been snow covered and required ice axes, crampons, repelling equipment, permits, guides, tents, backpacks, etc. MUCH more equipment than what we have.
So when I read about hiking California’s massive Mt. Whitney at 14,505ft, the highest peak in the contiguous US and it’s accessibility in late summer, I knew California was an attainable peak.
And look. It just happens to be down the road from Mono Lake! Change of plans…we are hiking Mt. Whitney!
The Mt. Whitney Trail Head starts at Whitney Portal at 8,360ft via the small town of Lone Pine, CA. A permit is required for this hike and the online permit system said that there were no permits available. Learning from our experience at Yosemite we stopped in at the Forest Service center just south of Lone Pine and easily picked up a permit and mandatory “WAG Bag” (Waste Alleviation and Gelling-Bag) for the next day.
Everything I read about this hike said that this VERY STRENUOUS hike could be bagged in one very long day (12-18 hours), although most people take two. Its 22 miles round trip with 6,100ft of elevation gain, topping out at 14,505ft.
Since Jeff and I had spent the better part of the past month at Sea Level, we knew that this was going to be quite a challenge in elevation and distance. One I was not completely confident in completing. But I knew that what goes up must come down and I could turn around at any point in the hike if it got to be too much for this land lubber.
The morning of our hike we got off to a late start, leaving the Whitney Portal TH at 6:30AM instead of our planned 5AM. Apparently we didn’t do enough research because most hikers leave around 1-3AM for this hike. For me, this was mistake #1!
Jeff tends to futz with his equipment, shoes, GPS and phone A LOT longer than I have patience for (sigh) and I headed off on the trail to get a jump. Jeff hikes much faster than I and I knew it wouldn’t take long before he would catch up with me.
What is really hilarious now is that Jeff had read that some folks were getting Verizon Cell coverage on the top of Mt Whitney, so his plan was to get to the top by 10AM for a conference call.
GEEZ! WHAT ON EARTH WERE WE THINKING?!?
I started at the TH and quickly passed the 6-10 informational boards that described the tenacity needed for such a hike. No need to read those of course…we have a conference call to make!
Immediately the trail started with a moderate incline. The sun was up just enough that no headlamp was needed and I made mistake #2 by leaving it in the truck. After an hour on the trail there was a beautiful sunrise that was enhanced by the smoke from the San Bernardino fires that were burning out of control at the time.
After about 3 miles I reached Lone Pine Lake. At this point Jeff still had not caught up with me and I grew a bit concerned. Come to find out he took a wrong turn at the beginning of the trail and got on the rugged Mountaineer’s route to Mt. Whitney. He noticed his mistake after about a ½ mile and turned around. That does tend to happen when you hike and post selfies on facebook at the same time!
Jeff finally caught up with me and it was clear that it was going to be a challenge to get to the top before the 10AM conference call. So I sent him ahead to try and make it without me holding him back…with our water filter. Mistake #3 (at least for me).
After Lone Pine Lake the nice smooth trail quickly changed over to a rockier surface. Footing became a bit more of a challenge as trees thinned out. I passed Outpost Camp with its gorgeous waterfall at a little over 10,000ft. There were a lot of backpackers here stopping to acclimatize on their 2-3 day summit push.
“Gee…Maybe I aught to look into some overnight equipment, scratching my head!
I hit a long patch of switchbacks after Outpost Camp.
In my quick glance lengthy research of this hike I remembered reading about a section of the trail called “the 99 switchbacks” that came after a campground.
I got pretty excited because I new that the 99 were around mile 7. “Wow, I’m making great time”! I asked a fellow hiker coming down if I was on the infamous 99. Imagine my surprise when she told me, “ Oh no. You have quite a way to go before you get to the 99”.
About this time I saw a trail marker that said Mile 4! I. WAS. CRUSHED!
By now my heart had been pounding in my ears for almost 3 hours. The elevation had reduced my hiking to 45min miles. THIS WAS GOING TO BE A LOOOONG DAY.
The trail switched from dirt and rocks to granite stair steps. I rose high above pretty Mirror Lake and Meadow. After another 1 ½-2 hours I finally reached Trail Camp at 12,039’.
Trail Camp is located on the shore of Consultation Lake. It could have been on the moon as far as I was concerned due to its barren landscape and granite spires. The camp was full of backpackers as well and by now I’m thinking these people are geniuses for breaking this hike up into several days!
I stopped here for a snack and contemplated the 99 switchbacks that were now staring me in the face. That’s 2.2 miles of switchbacks climbing 1,738’ to Trail Crest. I’m not going to lie…I thought long and hard about stopping here and just calling it a day. But after eating some food and catching my breath I decided to give the 99 a shot.
Surprisingly, the switchbacks were set at a low grade, which was much appreciated at this altitude. After what seemed like 999 switchbacks I finally rounded a corner and was hit with an amazing view to the west. Granite rising up, alpine forests and lakes below. My eyes had trouble taking it all in. I get teary-eyed just thinking about it now.
I made it to Trail Crest at 13, 800’!
The Mt. Whitney summit is 2.5 miles from here and a mere 845’ of elevation. But these are the most difficult and most draining 2.5 miles of your life…so I’ve heard.
Once I reached Trail Crest I was for sure going to turn around. But after I sat for about 20 minutes and ate some food and got inspired by the beautiful views I started wondering what was just around the corner.
The trail from here took a dip and I really thought hard about having to make up the elevation I had already climbed. But the trail drew me in and I pressed on, “just a little further”.
The trail from Trail Crest is brutal. BRU.TAL!!!
I scrambled for the next mile over unstable rocks, angular slabs, shear drops and technical boulders. After an hour I sat down for a break and saw the Smithsonian hut on the summit off in the distance. By now I was exhausted. The narrow single track trail was closing in. I was having moments of panic as my mind flashed back to my broken wrist less than a year ago.
I asked another hiker how much longer until the summit. When they responded, “about 2 hours” I was finished!
By now it was 12:30pm. I had been hiking 6 hours with 2 more hours to go. I did the math and figured it would take me 4 hours just to get back to this point on the trail. My heart sank realizing I was going to run out of water and day-light, without a filter that was with Jeff and headlamp that was securely back in the truck.
It killed me to be this close and have to call the hike. Just 1.5 miles left to the summit. For me, it had to be over!
About this time I met Esther. She was making her way back down the mountain after summiting. Wisely, she had left with her husband at 3am.
They had started this hike a few days before, but her husband Joe wasn’t feeling well and they turned around. This morning they started off at 3am again and again Joe didn’t feel well. He encouraged his wife to carry on so that one of them would make it. And that she did!
We started hiking together from here, retracing the technical trail back to Trail Crest. We both moaned at the section where we had to climb in elevation to get there, commenting about our pounding heads.
Down the 99 we went, past camps, meadow, lakes and waterfalls. All the while talking about our lives of adventure and travel. I learned about her amazing two daughters and could hear the affection she had for her husband of many years.
Our knees and quads were wearing down, but our time together made the trip so much better. I learned she and Joe take off their real estate business months at a time to travel. Check out their very well written blog here.
We arrived at the TH not a step too soon at 5:30pm, as the sun was going down. I got to meet Joe and instantly noticed they have a relationship like Jeff and I. Those rare relationships when a husband and wife actually like each other, have the same life pursuits and miss each other when we are not together. I can appreciate a happy couple!
I had gotten a text from Jeff that said that he had summited around 2pm, four hours after his missed conference call.
Joe and Esther were kind enough to give me a ride back to my RV Park in Lone Pine, knowing that Jeff would not be down for another 3 hours. I left the keys hidden in the truck so he could drive himself home.
Even though I missed reaching the summit I couldn’t be more proud for reaching 13,000+ feet and hiking 20 miles.
Thanks Esther for getting me down that mountain!
Mt. Whitney, I will be back! But next time I will leave earlier and not plan on making any calls!
Jeff and I left the magnificent beauty of Yosemite behind to become city dwellers again. After a week of cell & wifi isolation we were ready to get back to some connectivity for work. The temps were rising over 100* so we decided to head to Lodi early to be plugged in before the heat of the day.
We planned a week in Lodi to visit with family and to get caught up on business, so I made reservations at Flag City RV Resort. This is a very nice RV park with nicely spaced, level, concrete sites with a pool and hot tub. We used our Passport America membership for discounts that made our site quite reasonable for the week.
While we were innocently sitting in the back yard of Jeff’s aunt and uncle we couldn’t help but hear the overhead buzz of a prop plane climbing in elevation. Uncle Don made mention that we were hearing a parachuting plane making its assent. He also mentioned that Lodi has one of the countries most popular sky diving centers and if we ever thought of skydiving, this was the place to do it!
Of course this was all the words Jeff needed to hear to get the Spencer, “gee, that sounds like fun; wouldn’t that be awesome; I am going to drag my wife along to scare the living crap out of her but she will love it” wheels turning.
To be fair, last year when I turned 50 I decided that I needed to do something monumental to celebrate such a big milestone! I’m really not a big risk taker and I consider myself very conservative when it comes to… well, anything!
So when the words, “I want to skydive” came out of my mouth I looked around to see who said it! But it was too late. I said it out loud and sort of committed myself to doing something completely out of character. But if George Bush could skydive when he turned 80, then I had some serious motivation to not be outdone by an elderly former president who has no real bearing on my life!
When Jeff checked into sky diving in Arkansas last year fortunately unfortunately the jump appointments didn’t fit into our schedule and I felt a bit relieved that it just wasn’t going to work out.
But here we are over a year later, standing in line at The Parachute Center in Lodi California handing them hard earned money for the most terrifying experience thrill of a lifetime!
So this is how this whole experience went down.
The day before we were supposed to move on from Lodi, I woke up from a nap to see Jeff chewing on his fingernails. Fingernail chewing is my husbands tell that he is conjuring up something in that pretty head of his.
Asking what was up he said he wanted to surprise me with something but didn’t know how to spring it on his “give me at least 2 days to process something” wife. Poor fella! So he let me know that if we ever wanted to skydive, now was the time to do it.
The Parachuting Center draws skydivers from all over the world, most of whom spend their vacations or entire summers living in a tent city right on airport property. They jump from 9AM to 3PM every day of the week, no appointment necessary, just show up, pay your money and jump!
So while I was experiencing a post-nap euphoria I agreed to go skydiving.
We arrived at the Parachuting Center in a big hanger that smelled of parachuting junkies who hadn’t taken a bath in a good week. There were old couches that filled the center of the building with lockers that surrounded the perimeter. Old parachutes, Tibetan and country flags hung from the ceiling and dogs roamed freely.
We were handed a clip board of wavers to sign while watching an old VHS video that had been used so many times that the only thing visible was a faint outline of a long hair/bearded man from 1970-something sharing very important safety tips that I couldn’t hear.
After the informative video we were escorted to the fitting room where they sized us up and put on our harnesses, then introduced us to our jumping buddy. Our brief instruction of assuming the position of a banana was given and we were quickly loaded up into a stripped down airplane.
The plane climbed to 3,000 feet and a small group of hippies with helmets rolled up the side of the plane and jumped out. My jump buddy informed me that if you jump out at 3,000 feet with your own equipment it only costs $5 a jump. Good to know!
Once we reached 13,500 feet the side door of the plane opened up again, more hippies jumped out and all that was left was Jeff and I. We received our last bit of instruction to embrace the banana and remember to breath. And before we could contemplate what we were about to do or if we wanted to change our minds, we were being hurled out the airplane door.
The initial tumble was disorientating and dizzying and all I could do was close my eyes and wait for the spinning to stop. My ears were instantly feeling pressure and I felt myself unable to breath. But then we finally got into the belly down position and I remembered to assume the tomato… or was it bacon?
The photographer was zooming in and out trying to get me to smile. I’m pretty sure at this point I drooled all over my jump buddy as I forced myself to flash my pearly whites at the camera. The photographer was waved off and we pulled the cord to deploy the chute.
After adjusting the biggest wedgie of my life, we floated around making a series of turns to take in some of the vineyard views that consume Lodi. My jump buddy decided it was time to give me instruction on how to land and before I knew it I was lifting my legs and coming in for an amazingly soft butt landing. The jump was over!
THAT. WAS. TERRIFYING! WHAT. A. RUSH!
Jeff was walking towards me and I noticed that he was sweating profusely and white as a sheet. He said his jump buddy took him on a series of turns that gave him so much motion sickness that he just about lost his cookies!
On our drive home we just kept looking at one another wondering out loud, “what just happened”? From the time we left the RV, drove to the parachuting center, received instruction, flew to elevation, jumped out of the plane, landed, waited for our disc of pictures/videos and got back in the truck it was a total of 1 hour.
The only thing I remember from the rest of the day was that I had grass in my underwear and I was still panting and my heart was still racing 2 hours later.
So the lingering questions are…
Q: Are you glad you skydived?
Q: Do you think you will ever do it again?
Q: Are you sure? You didn’t say never!
A: I’ll answer that definitively when I turn 80!
Jeff and I were so excited to snag Half Dome permits. We packed our lightweight running backpacks in preparation for a very long day of hiking. Water reservoirs full, extra water bottles, salty snacks, turkey burgers, string cheese, almonds. We arranged for Sam to be checked on and walked by a neighboring camper back at the RV park.
We are hiking Half Dome Baby!
Jeff and I purposed to leave the Happy Isles trailhead at 6AM and found a place to park near the backpacker’s campground. We took the Mist Trail up past Vernal and Nevada Falls. This trail was like an adult water park and we were drenched by the time we made it through the falls. The Mist Trail is a stair step climb with minimal handrails. The granite stairs are a bit slick from being wet and we were thankful to have our hiking poles.
The top of the Nevada falls is a popular turn around for a lot of hikers. You can either head back down the mist trail or join the John Muir trail and loop back down another route. There are pit toilets here as well and there was quite a congregation of folks hanging out here before turning back.
We kept hiking past the Little Yosemite Valley campground (backpackers only) and another 3 miles further up the trail to Sub-Dome.
Sub-Dome is where things start to get interesting! Permits are required beyond this point. But at 9:30am there were no rangers there, making us wonder why we stood in line the previous day for 5 hours to get a permit. (They were actually there on our way down)
Narrow stairs chiseled out of solid granite, switchbacks and a steep slope was an exercise in vertigo control. I wish I could say what the view was like at this point but I was too focused on where to put me feet without looking down!
We reached to bottom of the cables about 10:30AM and unpacked our rubberized gloves for the final push. The gloves are amazingly helpful for gripping the cables. This section was EXTREMELY STEEP…almost repelling-like, and the gloves helped give extra grip to be more secure.
There was a pile of used gloves at the bottom of the cables that hikers leave for others to use. The wind tends to carry some off so there were a lot of unmatched gloves laying around.
Previously, we heard one of the rangers talking about the permit system for Half Dome. That if you couldn’t get a permit, you hate the system. But if you were lucky enough to get a permit, you LOVE the system. Jeff and I couldn’t have agreed more!
The climb up the cables was intense and I can understand why they put permits in place. After the permit system was instituted, half dome deaths dramatically decreased.
Each turnbuckle had a 2X4 attached to it to provide stable footing to rest or wait for passing hikers. Even with the limited people allowed on this hike we still got caught in traffic on the cables. But what was really cool was that everyone worked together encouraging one another, communicating, holding on giving each other the right of way. It was neat to see and experience, especially since it was so dangerous.
Just when I thought I couldn’t go any further we reached the top with a loud cheer from a few of the hikers on top. The last 500’ took us about 30 minutes and we celebrated by having a snack overlooking Yosemite Valley.
It’s moments like these that I become especially thankful for the ability to hike and climb. To have a body that is healthy and strong. To have a wrist that just 6 months ago was shattered and now I was pulling myself up the cables of Half Dome! We scored a permit to the top and now we are seeing a view not too many people can or will see.
The view on top was so big and grand. Lush green meadows, sparking water of the Merced River, waterfalls spilling over granite cliffs, crisp air, the shear drop off of El Capitan. It was all visible, even palatable from this one spot. What an experience!
Our climb back down the cables was looming so after an hour at the top we started back down. It’s comical to see the different strategies people use to go down. Face first, side-ways and backwards. I chose the backwards method which worked well. I felt very secure and it kept the vertigo in check. It was much easier getting down and we celebrated with our fellow hikers.
Overall this was an 18-mile hike for us that took 11 hours to accomplish. Talk about pooped!
The next day we needed to recover, so we pre-planned taking the Valley Floor tour ($25 each). This is a two-hour open-air tram tour driven by Sam and narrated by ranger Carol. They were affectionately dubbed Yosemite Sam and Christmas Carol!
Jeff and I normally don’t take tours, preferring to avoid tourist attractions. But we REALLY enjoyed this and would highly recommend it. We learned so much more about how the valley was formed, how Muir and Roosevelt worked together to start the National Parks, how bears are controlled in the park, and climbers on El Capitan.
My favorite story was when Christmas Carol shared about the flood of 1997. The rapidly rising water took out over 1,000 lodging sites in the form of campgrounds and lodges. Everyone was safely evacuated and not a single life was lost. Carol shared that the most special part of the flood was that the park was closed for 3 months for cleanup and only workers were allowed in. She said that without the crowds the wildlife came out of the woodwork with such peace and quiet. It gave me goose bumps to think about experiencing Yosemite in such a special way. I was envious of her job!
After our tour we took a stroll over to Yosemite Falls and then called it a day.
Thursday was our last day at Yosemite and we had two things left that we wanted to do. One was to drive to Glacier Point and the second was to hike the Four Mile hike. So much to still see and so little time!
The Four Mile hike (3200’ elevation gain) once was a toll trail developed in 1872 to connect the Valley Floor to The Mountain House lodge at Glacier Point. It is a strenuous hike that was eventually lengthened to 4.8 miles in order to flatten out some areas of steep grade. Even though mileage was added the historic Four Mile trail name was retained. The lodge burned down and the state of California eventually purchased the “private” trail for $2,500. It then became public property and toll free.
My legs were too shot for the 3200’ climb so we decided to drive to Glacier Point where Jeff would drop me off at the McGurk Meadow Trailhead on the way. This is an 8-mile one-way hike from TH to the Glacier Point. Jeff then parked at Glacier Point and hiked the 4-mile trail down, then back up.
Both hikes were beautiful. Mine was secluded with minimal traffic while Jeff’s was exposed on the side of the cliff with A LOT of people. We both ended our hikes about the same time and we had a great view of Half Dome!
We left Yosemite for the final time that day. We were both really sad. We could have easily spent a second week and still not have gotten in all the additional hikes we wanted to do.
I guess that just means we will have to make another trip back!
TEN TIPS FOR A YOSEMITE VISIT
- Come in the off-season if at all possible-shoulder months are less crowded.
- Avoid the Valley Floor during the weekends-there are great hikes around the perimeter of the park that are much less crowded.
- Arrive at the Park entrance gates before 8:30AM-Cars start backing up at the entrance by then and parking is limited. We heard of others waiting 4 hours in traffic just to get in the park entrance and other who circled parking lots for 2 hours trying to find an open spot.
- Take lawn chairs with you-we set up our chairs under a shade tree in the parking lot to get some work done and make business/family calls. Also, its just nice to sit, regroup and rest then get back out there for the rest of the day.
- Expect no connectivity-We had very poor cell coverage and no WiFi at our RV Park, even with our own hotspot and booster. We did find decent coverage in the parking lot in the Valley so we purposed to get some work done there each day after our hikes.
- Make arrangements for pets-Pets are not allowed on hiking trails but can be taken on any paved paths. There are lots of paved routes, but none that will give you any backcountry experience.
- Bring bikes-If you just want to explore the Valley Floor be sure to take bikes. Waterfall spots and lakes are spaced out making it a very long walk. Bikes will keep you from having to give up your coveted parking spot.
- Take the Valley Floor tour-Well worth the $25/person (reservations required).
- Be mentally prepared for irresponsible people who lack manners, don’t pick up after themselves and who ignore park rules-Its very disappointing to see the amount of trash left on the floors in restrooms and around crowded waterfalls.
- Take plenty of sunscreen and water-Even if it is a short distance, the air is dry and the sun is intense.
Jeff was a Californian for the first 23 years of his life and one of his most shocking statements was that he has never been to Yosemite. Being a mid-west girl myself, I have a much better excuse why my eyes have never gazed upon El Capitan, Yosemite Falls or Half Dome. But to live within 90 miles of this National treasure and never to have seen it. Well, that’s just plane hard to believe!
Yet here we are, California surfer dude and Illinoisan tomboy, taking in this place together for the very first time. It was spectacular! That first view of Half Dome and El Capitan will forever be engrained in my mind. It’s emotional and spiritual and amazingly beautiful!
Being in Yosemite this year is especially spectacular since El Nino’ dumped abundant snow. Its spring and the snowmelt has added volumes of water to all of the falls in the park making for waterfall-palooza everywhere you look. Even the parking lots have incredible views!
It being Memorial Day weekend, I had made a weeks reservation at Yosemite Ridge RV Resort a couple of months in advance. Though the National Park entrance is just 13 miles from the RV Resort, it was still another 30-some miles to Yosemite Valley floor making our commute 45-60 minutes one-way.
We spent our first day (Friday) taking a drive to the Valley floor to get the lay of the land and get information for hiking Half Dome. Then we purposed to avoid the valley floor Memorial Weekend. What a good decision that was! By the time we were driving back to the RV Park each day the lines into the park were backed up for 3 miles.
We stuck to perimeter hikes out Hetch Hetchy to Tueeulala and Wapama Falls (5 miles round trip). The Hetch Hetchy Reservoir provides water to the Bay area and is so pure, no filtration is required. A ranger told us that they cannot tell you its ok to drink out of it without filtration, however, it exceeds EPA standards. The spray from the waterfalls over boardwalk trails were a real treat since it was getting really warm that day.
The next day we hiked to the Toulumne Grove from Hodgdon Meadows (10 miles). This is where a grove of Sequoia Redwoods stand. We were virtually alone until we reached the grove on this trail, which was on an old paved logging road and part of the original road into the valley.
The really cool part of this hike was seeing the Tunnel Tree that was carved out of a fallen sequoia around 1881 as a tourist attraction. The park entrance road drove right through this tree and a toll was collected! Things like this triggered the National Parks ranger program to prevent future destruction of the majestic redwoods and park resources. Because of the discovered Sequoia grove, the park entrance road was later re-routed to where it is today.
One of our bucket list hikes, second to The Grand Canyon, has been Half Dome. It’s a long day hike (16-18 miles RT depending on where you park) with the last 500 feet of climb up “the cables” to reach the summit.
A permit is required from Sub-Dome and above. There are only 300 permits issued per day with 60% of them available via online lottery up to 6 months in advance. The other 40% are issued via lottery a day in advance.
Since the 60% permits were already issued during our time there, we took a chance and tried the other 40% permits by diligently applying online DAILY at a $4.50 fee with each try…only to receive our Dear John letter every night at midnight.
Since that wasn’t working we found out that there are additional Half Dome permits available, but only if you apply for a backcountry camping permit. These are very limited also and are given out at 11AM on a first come first serve basis for hiking the following day.
In order to have a chance with this strategy we arrived at the backcountry office at 6AM to claim our spot in line and hope they had permits left by the time we reached the desk. Even at 6AM we had 12 others ahead of us and it wasn’t looking good.
But fortunately we had two groups ahead of us that were offered to start their hike THAT DAY which freed up 6 spots for the following day…and we got the last two permits!
WE GET TO HIKE HALF DOME BABY!!!!
So Jeff and I finished up a hard pressed 5 weeks of work responsibilities that took us from Las Vegas, NV to the northern coast of California. It was A LOT of miles with little sleep and sore rumps. Our schedule was rough (compared to FT RVing standards) but we did manage to experience some amazing places!
We attended the National Hardware Show in Las Vegas. This is where retailers “shop” for new innovative ideas displayed by suppliers from all over the world. Other than this show, Jeff and I really don’t have an appreciation for Las Vegas.
It’s big and loud. For peeps who like to take in scenic runs and prefer dirt of dusty trails it’s just not our kind of place. But sometimes you just do what you gotta do!
We stayed at the Circus Circus RV Resort, which was 1.4 miles from the Hardware Show on the north end of the strip. We picked this park for convenience over amenities so our “camping” was a parking lot with full hookups.
Despite being in the city we found our stay to be quiet, especially since we ran the fan on the air conditioner all night. I’m not quite sure what the neighbors were up to but I did notice a shoe on the roof of their RV one morning.
Our RVing buddies Donna and Mike Kuper from Flying the Koop were in Las Vegas for the show as well and we had a quick dinner together before we all went our separate ways.
After the Hardware Show we had to zip over to the West coast for a company photo shoot. The shoot took us to Pacifica, Carmel, Santa Cruz, South Lake Tahoe, Auburn and San Francisco.
Jeff jumped on a plane in Vegas for a quick transition to San Fran while I made my maiden solo voyage in the RV. Though I do 80% of the driving, this was the first time I was alone for the trip. It really felt like the very first drive I took after I got my drivers license.
The training wheels were off and I had to make decisions on gas station approaches and clearances and conflicting GPS routing all by myself. I survived the drive and was reunited with Jeff a day later in Santa Cruz.
We stayed at the Santa Cruz Ranch RV Resort for it’s central location. It also happened to be within a mile of Jeff’s high school swim coach.
Jeff grew up in Sacramento and started swimming in high school. His coach would take a group of swimmers to his parent’s trout farm in Santa Cruz every summer. This was the start of Jeff’s career in the Junior Lifeguard program that he still talks about today.
Coach is retired now and lives on that same trout farm, even though the fish are now long gone. But what he lacks in fish he has made up in feathery friends. He has geese, exotic chickens, parakeets and turkeys, all squawking to be fed twice a day.
Coach is a part of Jeff’s family and even though our time was tight we did have an opportunity to have breakfast together and feed his plethora of animals.
We had a day of shooting in Pacifica and another day in Carmel. We roped some RVing buddies John and Becky into using their RV at some stunning locations. One spot was on private property on the cliffs of the Pacific Ocean. WOW…what a location!
I had some heartburn watching our friends take their very nice Class A motorhome 4-wheeling on this rough farm property. The photographer wanted the RV as close to the edge of the cliffs as possible so I held my breath just hoping the RV would not roll right off the cliff into the water!
We spotted a pod of whales and a shark chasing a sea otter. The water was turquoise blue, the sun warm and the sunset unobstructed. IT. WAS. MAGICAL!
Since the photo shoot would last into the dark we approached the property owner to let us camp on his property until morning. He graciously agreed and we spent the night in our friends RV being lulled to sleep by the crashing waves. Best boondocking spot EVER!!!
Funny story though. While one of the models was changing in the RV the sliding bedroom door got stuck and we couldn’t get the model out! John had to climb in through the emergency window and work on it for 20 minutes before they both could be freed.
We wrapped up our Carmel stop with giant strawberries from a roadside fruit stand and big breakfast at Lou Lou’s on Monterey Fishermans Warf. Jeff and I found this little place years ago while Jeff was working for The Scotts Miracle Grow Company. They supported a Walmart junior golfing event a Pebble Beach for 3 years and heard about this place from a local.
The servings are huge and they have a special pancake called The Hubcap. And yes, it is the size of a hubcap! Get there early to get a seat before the line starts to back up around 9:15AM.
South Lake Tahoe
Our next stop was at various locations around South Lake Tahoe. We stayed at the Zephyr Cove RV Resort on the Nevada side of the lake. This was a wonderful campground with a delicious restaurant and beach just across the street on the edge of the Lake.
In 1980-something Jeff swam across Lake Tahoe in a relay. Freezing water made for an unforgettable experience!
We had asked one of Jeff’s high school friends, Sabrina and her significant other Roger to be models for the photo shoot at this location. This gave us time to get reacquainted since high school. They both recently retired and are adventurous people, so playing hikers in the woods of Tahoe was not a stretch for them!
Tahoe is one of my all-time favorite summer places to be. Cold nights and warm days, the smell of pine needles and the sound of wind pushing through the trees…all rejuvenating to my tired soul. But alas, our time was short and we had to get to the next location.
Loomis & San Francisco
Jeff headed to San Francisco with the team while I had pulled the RV to the Roseville just NorthEast of Sacramento so that we could visit with family while we were in the area.
Jeff heard about an epic race called, “Bay to Breakers” that was being run the day he would be in SF. It’s a 12k race that started in 1912. And in typical SF fashion it’s known for its nude runners, costumes and salmon runners who run the race in the opposite direction.
Jeff also got to squeeze in a visit with our nephew and his fiancé’ who just moved to SF.
In the mean time I was having some challenges finding a place to park. After calling 5 RV parks I found a spot at the Roseville Fairground RV Park. It was a bit rough there and after spending one night Jeff’s cousin insisted that I relocate to their driveway in Loomis.
Free. Nice views. Safe neighborhood. Wine. What’s not to love about driveway surfing!
Steve and Vicki were over-the-top lovely hosts and I parked here over a week while Jeff wrapped up the photo shoot and flew off to another event in Flagstaff. I loved my time here with wonderful family. I got a personal tour of the town of Loomis, had some delicious meals, drank more wine than I have in a long time ever. It was a joy to visit and we look forward to getting together again in the future.
It was 5 weeks in a pressure cooker and we were ready for a break. I had made reservations at the Yosemite Ridge RV Resort over Memorial Day week so I can’t wait to show you what we did there!
See you in Yosemite!
We’ve met tons of new people in the desert at Borrego Springs.
Most RV’ers are drawn to this area to spend winter for the plentiful sunshine, be-still-my-heart 70+ degree January temps and thousands of acres of free camping. Our nearest neighbor is a football field away, yet walk by your neighbor’s camp and you will be greeted with a hearty hello!
We’ve been invited to an outdoor movie/meet-up with a large group of full time, location independent 30-40 something road warriors who have bucked the system and work from their Airstreams, vintage bus or motorhome. Conversations usually revolve around connectivity, data plans, drones, instagram hash tags, is whiskey spelled with an “E” or without, local brews, holding tank management and local farmers market.
This is a group of hipsters for sure and Jeff and I went from being some of the youngest in this desert community to being the oldest. But that hasn’t kept us from being invited to the afternoon happy hours, taco tuesdays, nightly bonfires or karaoke night.
Various jobs amongst the tribe include a composor/musician, web and app developers, writers, investment trader, road schoolers, photographer and professional bloggers. It was an inspiration to meet everyone living their version of “the dream” right from their 80-360 square feet of what they call home.
The blog and instagram roll of our group is:
One evening kicked off with what the group dubbed, “Soup Anarchy”. Everyone brought an ingredient or can of soup and we dumped it all in one pot…like a Hairy Buffalo, but with soup instead of booze. No rules, just wild, throw-caution-to-the-wind, dump what pleases you, into the pot. Ok. There may have been some booze slipped it somewhere because…it is soup anarchy after all!
It was BYOBS (Bring your own bowl and spoon) and set up a chair for a soup anarchy inspired movie. The selection of movie was picked from films that had to do with soup, anarchy or RV’s. We ended up with “The Adventures of Power” which by the way had nothing to do with anarchy or soup. It did have a split second flash of a vintage bus, and that was good enough for us. It was a quirky, hilarious, sweet movie about a guy named Power who tries winning an air drum competition. Yes, it really was as awful as it sounds. But the film was made memorable by a funky group of RV’ers watching a movie on the side of a vintage bus in the desert. How cool is that?
Borrego Springs has been a memorable stay and a place to come back to for sure, especially if there is an opportunity to see our new community of friends.
We plan on being here for another week before heading back to Quartzsite to the largest gathering of RV’ers in the country. So we may have more to report on Borrego Springs before we go.
It’s New Years Day here in Borrego Springs, CA and we woke to spectacular scene in the desert…SNOW! What a beautiful sight to help summarize a beautiful year.
Jeff and I celebrated our 20th anniversary in January. His fun-loving, try anything once attitude takes us on many crazy adventures…usually things that scare the crap out of me. But I have never regretted any of our experiences and my life is so much more full because of the one I love. (I really like this guy!)
March we headed off to Guatemala for 3 weeks on a service trip. We visited some remarkable teens trying to improve their lives by learning English…their ticket out of poverty. Even with so little, even with so much daily effort to live day-to-day, they persevere and overcome obstacles just so they can get an education. Their montra…”It is difficult but not impossible”. One of those students, Miguel, was chosen for a Walton International Scholarship to John Brown University in NW Arkansas…his dream! And one more highlight from our trip. Roasting marshmallows on an active volcano!
Spring and early summer brought lots of triathlon, ½ marathons and trail runs.
May Jeff made a last-minute trip to Red Bluff CA to help his Mom move out of her home after it sold. Finding out she could no longer live alone, the family made the decision to move her to Arkansas in August. This ended up being a great move and his Mom is very happy to be near 3 of her 5 kids.
July we headed off in our camper for RAGRAI for our second year. This is a week-long bike ride across the state of Iowa. This trip kicked off a 2 month road trip that took us from Iowa to Louisville, KY, Salt Lake City, Redmond OR, Henry IL, Hershey PA, Elkhart IN and back to Louisville. The highlight of the trip was camping in the Black Hills of S. Dakota and seeing Mount Rushmore.
Back home in September for two weeks we reloaded and left for an EPIC adventure to hike the Grand Canyon rim to rim (Deb) and rim to rim to rim (Jeff) in October. But not before we stopped over at the magical Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta. We crossed off two bucket list items on this trip.
We boondocked in Flagstaff before and after the Epic GC hike for some high altitude training before heading into Sedona for spectacular red rock scenery, hiking and a hot air balloon invasion. Those Canadians sure know how to make a grand entrance!
After Sedona we headed down to Tempe AZ where we driveway camped leading up to the Arizona Ironman competition. Jeff did a great job in the competition and finished under 12 hours. I on the other hand (besides being an Ironsherpa )surfed the net, took naps and ate ice cream during that 12 hour period. Spectating is tough stuff people!
After Ironman was a trip back to Arkansas for business and plans to head to our next destination….Yuma AZ. Yuma is a mecca for Snow Birds with over 32,000 RV sites. 80% of those are filled with Canadians who stay for 5-6 months out of the year. We crossed over the border into Mexico for a few hours. Just long enough to check out the vibrant pharmaceutical & dental scene (300+ Dental offices) and have lunch. If you are looking for cheap implants, crowns, cleanings or Viagra this is the place to go!
We headed north from there with a brief stop over in Quartzsite before coming to a stop in Lake Havasu City AZ for the lighted boat Christmas parade. We boondocked in a couple of different locations and hiked our first slot canyons.
December we moseyed over to Desert Hot Springs RV Family Spa and lazed around the mineral spas until we were completed pickled and hiked the Thousand Palm Oasis. We met up with some full time RV bloggers and online mentors.
After a week of spas we headed down to Borrego Springs CA to celebrate Christmas and New Years in the fabulous desert and hooked up with friends Stephen and Denise. We met them last year while camping in Colorado. They taught us how to play pickle ball, invited us to their RV park potluck for Christmas AND had us over to watch the Razorbacks take down Texas in the Texas Bowl. Go hawgs!
It is hard to imagine that we have done so much when the year has flown by so fast. We already have some plans made through March 2015 and we hope that you come along for the ride. Our next destination? The big Quartzsite RV and rock show in January. Stay tuned!
We have been hanging out in Desert Hot Springs, CA at the Sam’s Family Spa Hot Water Resort. Sounds pretty fancy. But the reality is it’s an “older” RV and mobile home park…with hot spring pools.
We came here to visit our full time RV superheros, Wheelingit and Technomadia, who have a steaming spa induced gravitational pull to this area about this time every year. And now that we have experienced this place for ourselves, we may find ourselves doing the same.
Sam’s Family Spa Hot Water Resort was built in 1971 on over 50 acres with underground hot mineral water springs. The therapeutic pools are naturally heated by hot mineral water pumped from three underground wells, which are constantly flowing through the pools.
It is a pricy place, but the $50/night camping fee includes endless use of the outdoor hot spring fed spas, large heated outdoor swimming pool, steam room and sauna. And if you stay 6 nights you get the 7th night free, stay a month and it is $525 plus electricity. Everything is a bit tired here, but the super nice staff, the spotless grounds AND the spas more than make up for it.
It is an ideal location for everyplace that either starts or ends with a Spring, Palm or Dessert all with the backdrop of snow topped Santa Rosa and San Jacinto mountains.
Our intent was to stay for two nights, collect our mail from the Post Office and move on. But the two-day delivery turned into seven and it was necessary to soak in the hot springs wait for things to arrive. Hey, you do what ya gotta do!
There are tons of things to do and see here. There is endless hiking just outside the resort and Joshua Tree National Park is just around the corner. You can also take a tram to an alpine forest, do a driving tour of celebrity homes in Palm Springs and ATV to your hearts content.
Located within Joshua Tree is Thousand Palms Oasis Preserve. This preserve is a little grove of palms, an oasis, in the middle of the desert that is watered by underground springs and shallow ponds. We walked the trails through the ancient palms smack dab on the San Andreas Fault. It was a sight to behold and free to boot!
We’ve met some interesting and wonderful people here in our short 7 day stay.
Our first night in the spas we met a very intoxicated Californian who had a habit of asking very philosophical questions unrelated to any other conversation happening at the time. And just as anyone would begin to answer he would submerge himself underwater for about a minute. We all wished he would stay under so we could have a normal conversation.
We met John and his wife emigrated from Romania during the height of Jewish persecution. He plays hymns on his saxophone every morning outside under the pavilion as praise to God in gratitude. They sent us off with a wonderful prayer from Numbers 6:24-26.
We also met Dave, a recently retired commercial photographer. He and his wife just sold everything in Pennsylvania 3 months ago and bought a Class A motorhome, their first RV ever. They are at the tail end of a cross country journey to see their kids on the West coast for Christmas. He is still learning how to maneuver 40’ of home into small RV spots and admits he still doesn’t know how to work half the buttons in it.
Well, we have stocked up at Walmart and are heading to Borrego Springs next, a winter hotspot for boondockers from Canada and the US.
Until next time…go out and play!
Jeff and I have been on the road now for 4 months. We tend to gravitate towards trees, hills or mountains and higher altitudes so that we have natural air conditioning to keep us comfortable.
But as November comes into view and talk of a Polar Vortex descending out of Alaska, we made a run for the flats of the Arizona desert.
But after the first evening at Lake Pleasant, AZ, what I discovered was that the real beauty of the dessert is found in the sunrises and sunsets as the sun casts low on the horizon.
Hills and mountains begin to glow red, pink , orange and purple and cacti cast dark humanlike shadows. The sky is big and unobstructed and the complete darkness allows you to see galaxies beyond. Throw in a yipping coyote for good measure and you have the making of an incredible, surprising western experience.
Oh yes…the dessert. I am now a huge fan!