Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Didn't leave my heart in San Fran

Calistoga, CA, was another little stroke of luck since, again, we had no idea what kind of town it would be before we got there.  Like in Mariposa (see previous post), we parked in the fairgrounds which often host RV parks.  It was about 3/4 of a mile from yet another charming main street. The abundance of antique stores there set it above Mariposa, in my very biased opinion.  I spent an hour or so by myself exploring and wishing I had space in our motorhome to put that charming old steamer trunk I found in one of the shops, that reminded me of the trunk in our basement where our Christmas decorations were kept when I was a child.

Yeah I know.   This looks like the beginning of my last post.
Husband was off in search of a do-it-yourself, non-automatic-type carwash because the motorcycle always gets filthy as it rides atop its lift on the back of the motorhome, especially in the rain.  He cannot stand a dirty vehicle so we frequent many carwashes in our travels.  (I cannot emphasize *many* enough.  I now habitually watch for them in every town we go through.)  But this time it was a 20 mile quest to the next town to find one ....   Obsessive?  You decide.

Our plan was not to spend much time in Calistoga but to leave the motorhome there while we did a three-day motorcycle trip (with three days of mashed helmet-hair) over to and down the California coast.

So the next morning we packed a few clothes and left on the bike, heading west.

First stop -- Bodega Bay where we HAD to search out this infamous old school:

  The angle of the above shot didn't do it, so I got this next shot as we rode away.  It SHOULD look familiar to you all.

  And just for fun (and a hint):

A few more pics from my phone as we rode south.  (No packing the camera equipment when traveling on the bike.)

We shared a Reuben sandwich while sitting on the water's edge, looking out at San Francisco's skyline across the bay from the inviting community of Sausalito, which is on the north end of the Golden Gate Bridge.

Because of all the rain this winter, there was a lot of road damage so via a detour up steep and narrow side streets, we then made our way to the famous bridge that is definitely not golden.

Google informed me that the bridge was named after the channel (called the Golden Gate) which separates the bay from the ocean.  The color red, or orange as they call it ... (it's red) ... is so that it stands out nicely against the background scenery.   Which it does.   I found this picture on the web, to illustrate the point.

I remember from the last time we drove across it there was a toll, but this time the booth was closed and empty and cars just sailed past both ways.  Score! .... or so we thought.  Several days after we returned home in Oregon, a bill for $7.50 along with a fuzzy photo of us from the rear, arrived in the mail.  This is how they collect the toll from us non-locals who don't have an online bridge-crossing account.  Oh well.

I am not particularly a fan of San Francisco, which presents itself on the other end of the bridge.  It's expensive and crowded (and liberal) and the traffic was a little unnerving.  And we've seen it already.  So we got through it and its endless over-priced row houses as fast as we could and continued south.  We spent the night in a hotel in Half Moon Bay where we had one of the best Italian meals ever.  (This coastal town was fine although I wouldn't call it charming .... but a name like that belongs in a romance novel or in a song title.)

The next morning we went as far south as we could on Hwy 1 until it ended at a washed out bridge.  Husband wanted to make it to Big Sur where the motorcycling is supposed to be spectacular.  But not this year.  That road will be closed for a while.

Then back up to Carmel-by-the-Sea to stroll past the many high-end, trendy shops where most folks (like me) just go to gawk at the price tags.   We gave up looking for Pebble Beach, the famous too-expensive-for-normal-people golf course that Husband wanted to see, because we got a bit lost in an overly hilly neighborhood.   (Off the main thoroughfares, this state abounds in steep and narrow side streets which, when on a bike with a clutch, is not fun for the nervous passenger on the back.)

But how cute is this??

In Carmel-by-the-Sea.  Every town needs a tea room, right?
(Side Note:  Clint Eastwood was once the mayor there.  Ya gotta wonder about crowd control at the town council meetings.)

We spent the second night in Monterey then headed back north along the coast (purposely avoiding San Francisco this time), and through more winding detours (more road closures) that took us up over forested mountains, back to Bodega Bay, and finally to Calistoga and our little home.

The next morning it was time to go north back to Oregon.

Just like six (or seven?) weeks prior on our trip down, we again had to study the road conditions through the Siskiyous.  Winter was not over yet.  We planned to spend some time in central Oregon so we drove all day up 97 through Klamath Falls and continuing north into the snowy darkness.  As always, Husband was at the wheel, and as always I was navigating.  This time I was using both my phone and iPad, monitoring our location, the road cams, weather reports, elevation changes, etc.  Multi-ton motorhomes and slick, icy roads are not a good mix.  Fortunately, inspite of the thickly falling flakes, nothing was sticking to the road and we finally landed in the Walmart parking lot in Redmond, Oregon, where this adventure ends ......

and a new one begins.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Yosemite Serendipity

It's always a treat when we unexpectedly stumble upon charming towns.   We seldom know, when we plan our route, if the next town with the best campsite will consist of a gas station, a bar, perhaps a pizza joint, and a grimy little store ... or a town like Mariposa, CA, with an historic main street lined with cute (although useless) shops and restaurants.

It is close to one of the entrances of  Yosemite National Park and our home, for the next few days, was in a field at the town's fairgrounds.

We spent just one day in Yosemite, since it was an 80 mile round trip from our campsite.  The famous El Capitan greeted us early on.

Around noon, at a random spot along the road in the park, we noticed a group of people gathered with lawn chairs, blankets, and tripod-mounted cameras -- all pointing to something high up on the canyon wall.  Curiosity forced us to stop.  We found out that during the last two weeks of February, there is a natural occurrence that involves a small and unnoticeable waterfall, the setting sun, and clouds opening up at just the right moment.  At a certain angle and for just a few minutes, the sun reflects off the waterfall and lights it up like falling fire.  And people come from all over with their cameras to capture it.  We had no idea.  It was one of those rare being-at-the-right-place-at-the-right-time strokes of luck and Husband's camera equipment was right there in our car.

In the meantime, we spent the afternoon seeing the sights of this park that had occupied our Bucket List for years.

And some of Husband's pictures:

And another cool lodge .....

Sunset was to be about 5:30 and we got back to the roadside gathering of expectant photographers well over an hour early.   By then the crowd had grown considerably.  And it continued to grow with a very long line of cars parked along the road.  (There are two one-way roads in the park, one going in and one going out.  Apparently there was an equally large crowd on the other road.)

There is no way to know if this event will happen on any particular late-February day.  People just come and hope for the best.  But we got lucky and as the moment approached, the sun peaked out from under a layer of clouds, and the seven-minute show began.  The light hit the bottom of the falls and worked its way upward, hailed with cheers from the large crowd far below.  Husband's pictures:
(Serendipity happens.)

Next:  Another delightful town and motorcycling on the coast.

Friday, March 17, 2017

Death Valley, gummy bears, and REALLY big trees

Dang!  I'm so far behind.  Death Valley was close to a month ago.  Catching up.

Note:  It's a good thing we have Sundays and the regular going-to-church thing because it kind of zeros out my weeks, like an odometer in a car, so that I can count back and figure out what day it is at the moment.  Time really blurs when you're not in a routine-ruled lifestyle.

Husband, hoping for dark skies and photos, was more interested in Death Valley than I was.   I usually don't really care where we go and just follow along.   (My motto:  "Wherever. Whatever. Just don't scare me.")  We camped unhooked and unplugged for four nights there and it was surprisingly awesome.  The second day we were there, I think the park received at least half its annual rainfall, so flash floods abounded.

Tip:  If you plan to visit this unique park, bring your own groceries.  A quart of milk in their little store runs about $4.  The cheapest meal at the cafe was a $15 hamburger which tasted quite good, as hamburgers go.

We had planned to stay two days, but stretched it to four, so we utilized an 80-mile round-trip drive to tiny Beatty, NV, just outside the park, to do more sightseeing, find a grocery store, and to stop and see a ghost town (called Rhyolite) along the way.  I can't explain the reason for its odd name (which sounds like an energy drink) but we learned the town sprang to life due to a gold and silver mine in the early 1900s and died not long thereafter, leaving ghostly shells of buildings once filled with life and hope.

Beatty, being a typical Nevada town, sported a big, flashy casino, even though the town's only grocery store consisted of a few aisles in the Family Dollar store.  But it had an enormous nut and candy store unlike anything I have ever seen.   (Enter at your own risk.)  I chose the almond coconut brittle and Husband went with gummy bears and fudge.

Back in Death Valley.
Lowest elevation on the continent.  Not the prettiest spot, just worth noting.  There's a LOT of salt mixed into that sandy grit behind me.
We also did an exhausting five mile hike into Golden Canyon (in Death Valley) that awarded us with indescribable views.  We hiked out via Gower Gulch, which had been inaccessible just two days prior due to raging floods.  Who knew such a barren wasteland could be so stunningly beautiful?

I did not enhance the colors in this picture.  This is what it was and explains its name.
From a viewpoint called Dante's Point.  See the distant snowy mountains in the clouds?
Since Death Valley's elevation is so low, exiting it requires driving up through mountain passes which is slow-going in a multi-ton vehicle.   (Our apologies to the parade of cars behind us.  Husband does his best to pull over whenever possible.)  We went through some extremely remote countryside in central California before civilization finally began to reappear.

We did another Walmart night in Bakersfield, CA, before arriving at a campground near Sequoia National Park, in trees and next to a raging little river.  (Note: Before you pay extra for that riverfront site, think about how loud water can be.)

Those white things on the river bank were sandbags.  This formerly parched state was quite waterlogged.  Dare we hope the drought is over?
As we entered the park, we immediately begin to wind up into the mountains and ended up in deep snow.  The snowplow machines had cut through and piled the snow so high that it was like tall white walls lining the road.  No problem .... we were in our trusty Jeep, with the Beast waiting safely in the valley below.

Sequoia trees are shorter than Redwoods, but their total mass is greater.   We paid our respects to the biggest tree on earth -- the very grand old, "General Sherman".

I love visiting park lodges, especially old ones with their rock fireplaces, leather sofas, and all kinds of lodge-awesomeness.  This one wasn't old, but it was impressive nonetheless.  We each had a cup of French onion soup while we sat next to the tall windows in the nearly-empty dining room (t'was definitely the off-season) and watched the snowy show outside.

Next -- Yosemite and a BIG score.