The Coolest Museum Nobody’s Heard Of

Sikorsky Helicopter Restoration

Hi, friends! I know, it’s been a while. Kinda time for me to figure out if I should start a new blog for my new adventure. I mean, GoGoTacoNegro is really for adventures in the truck. And while those aren’t over… they are on hold for the time being.

Michael and I have relocated to California’s Central Coast – San Luis Obispo, to be exact. I haven’t gotten a California driver’s license yet, or changed the plates on either vehicle. But I did get a library card. So there’s that.

Since I haven’t had too much luck finding a job yet, I poked around the internet looking for places to volunteer. And while a lot of standard things (humane society, etc) came up, one place definitely caught my eye:

The Estrella Warbirds Museum.

I guess a lot of people don’t know this, but I love things that fly. Military things in particular. Who knows where it came from? If I had to guess, I’d say the 1986 movie “Top Gun.” I was in high school when it came out, and the main reason I never became a pilot is because I couldn’t get in to the Naval Academy.

The first military museum I went to was actually in England. I was so excited to see the Royal Air Museum, I was practically running from plane to plane. It was the closest I’d ever been to an airplane. And it was amazing.

Since then, I’ve been to the Smithsonian Air & Space Museum, the National Naval Aviation Museum in Pensacola (twice), spent most of my time at the USS Midway in San Diego on the flight deck, and the Pima Air & Space Museum in Tucson (also twice).

So it’s safe to say I was pretty excited to see a military plane museum in Paso Robles, which is less than a hour away.

Then I saw that the museum was always looking for volunteers. And that one of the areas needing volunteers was the Restoration Shop.

Good thing they said “no experience necessary,” because I would have lied like a rug to get in there.

I went by the museum a couple of weeks ago and got a tour. It’s a really cool place! In addition to all the planes they also have an extensive car collection, munitions, and something called the Red Ball Express Motor Pool.

The Red Ball Express was a truck convoy system used for about three months in 1944, and I plan to write a longer post about it later – I’d never heard of this and I think it’s fascinating. Short version: this truck convoy system was used to get supplies (of all kinds) to the troops on the front lines. And the vast majority of drivers of the Red Ball Express were African-American.

I’m going to do some serious research on this – stay tuned.

Last Monday I went out for my first restoration shift. And I met all the guys. Yep, I’m the only woman. Anyway that first day I helped put painter’s tape on the rotors of a Sikorsky UH-34D Helicopter. (The rotors were going to be painted the next day.)

I wasn’t able to get back to the museum for 10 days. And when I walked in, I said hi to Ron, the shop manager, and re-introduced myself. He looked so relieved! Apparently, when I didn’t come back right away, they all thought they’d scared me off.

Ha!

This week I got right back to the painter’s tape. This time I helped block off sections of the helicopter itself.

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We used these giant pieces of blueprints to tape off the body, leaving open the stenciled areas.

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Officially, this helicopter is not the YK17. But it’s painted with the YK17’s markings as tribute to those soldiers who died when the YK17 was shot down in Viet Nam in 1969.

Big Tom did paint the stencils that day. I stood outside while the cloud of paint dissipated, then helped peel off all the paper and tape.

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I am SO hooked. There’s nothing like getting up close and personal to something as large as a Sikorsky helicopter. Even though all I really did was apply tape. And then take it back off. It didn’t matter – I was in awe. This helicopter is beyond cool.

I can’t wait to go back! Maybe next time I’ll bring my good camera and take even better pictures.

Oh, and the whole “nobody’s heard of” part? When I began telling my family and new friends about this place, nobody had heard of it. Even my sister-in-law, who’s from San Luis Obispo.  It might be my new mission to spread the word about this amazing museum.

Adjusting

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It’s been easy to adjust to sleeping indoors. The real bed is nice – although honestly, I do miss my sleeping bag – but really, it’s been most noticeable if I have to pee in the middle of the night. I never thought I’d so appreciate the ability to just walk, barefoot, the dozen or so steps over to the bathroom. No putting on a coat, no going down a ladder. No squatting. It’s lovely.

Having all that running water has been a bit of an adjustment, strange as it sounds. I feel wasteful if I leave the water on while I brush my teeth.

The biggest change for me is going back to driving my little white Honda. Sure, it’s 17 years old, but it’s a stick shift and so compared to Taco Negro, it’s like driving a sports car. Sort of.

The true downside to having a plain white Honda Accord is that this vehicle is impossible to find in a parking lot. I’m convinced it is the most vanilla car in existence.

I know what would help – a roof rack and a couple of kayaks or SUPs. But that’s not in the cards just yet. So for now I’m that person wandering the aisles of the parking lot, frowning, and trying to remember where the hell she parked the car.

California has been a bit of an adjustment weather-wise. The days are getting shorter but not colder. Hell, it was 75 degrees and sunny today. I find myself saying but it’s October! Yeah. October in California’s central coast.

It’s funny how Colorado is always with us, though. Some of you may not remember but during our time on the road we carried a few sets of solar-powered lights from a company called Revel Gear.

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We used these fabulous lights a lot.

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Revel Gear is based out of Boulder and owned by our friends Kody and Brian Plavnicky. When we were actually in Colorado we didn’t manage to get in touch with them. But not long after our arrival in California, Kody got in touch and asked if we were coming up to San Francisco for the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival, which was happening October 6th-8th.

I have to tell you, I’d never heard of this festival. But I looked it up and thought it sounded awesome. Ninety acts across three days across seven stages. Bela Fleck and Abigail Washburn. First Aid Kit, a Sweedish bluegrass act. Sturgill Simpson. Henry Rollins.

We were totally interested. And when Kody and Brian said they had a place for us to crash and everything, we were sold.

We drove up to SF on Friday afternoon, and it seemed like everyone was heading out as we were heading in.  We all took a Lyft down to Golden Gate Park and managed to see the last few minutes of Brandi Carlile’s set. She sang the most wonderful version of Amazing Grace – it gave me goosebumps.

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Brian, Kody, Michael, and me. If you squint, you can make out Brandi Carlile on the stage back there.

As you might suspect, this was a pretty popular festival. This was from Saturday’s crowd:

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So many people! But everyone was nice and friendly and we had a great time. Hell, we had a great time in San Francisco. Michael and I rode the Muni over to Haight-Ashbury and walked around, taking in the sights and the sounds and the people. Also I feel a little more in the 21st century now, as a Lyft user and all. It was fun to hang out with Brian and Kody – they’re both fun and easygoing and like to talk to everyone. We met lots of interesting people that weekend.

Back in SLO we ventured further down the domesticity rabbit hole… by joining Costco.

I know, I sound like a rube. But I’m not some Costco newbie. We had a membership back in Colorado. But the nearest store was a 45-minute drive away, so we only went about once a month or so. It just wasn’t that useful. The SLO Costco is right in town. And right across the street from Target and Whole Foods. So it was pretty much a no-brainer.

Here’s the thing, though: after so many months of living tiny, walking in to Costco – where even the shopping carts are monstrous – was almost like culture shock.

Oddly, the worst part for me was the produce. Michael laughed at me for this one but when he held up the 10-lb bag of potatoes I freaked out just a little bit. I mean, for the past year we went to a grocery store roughly every 3-4 days, and we never picked up more than what we could cook in the next 3-4 days. Space was at a premium – space in the cooler, space in the pantry. We just didn’t buy all that much.

We sure as hell didn’t buy ten pounds of potatoes.

Michael carefully put the potatoes back. That was nice of him because we do have a kitchen now, with storage and everything. The whole thing kind of make me wonder, though, about my adjustment back into the world where bigger is better and where less isn’t more – more is more. This way of thinking seems kind of backwards to me now and I wonder if how I feel will change the more time I spend in places like Costco.

Living tiny (even for just a little while) seems to have had a pretty big effect on me.

The Long Drive

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We spent a total of 10 days in Colorado, and let me tell you, those days were a whirlwind. Michael and I joked that we were somehow more popular now then when we actually lived there.

We went to so many bluegrass picks – and I was happily surprised that I hadn’t lost all my dobro skills in our year-plus on the road. My friends and former bandmates, the Pattons, threw a pickin’ party in our honor and that was a blast. We took in two Oskar Blues jams (the Tuesday jam in Lyons and the Sunday jam in Longmont), as well as two Saturday picks at Paul’s Tea and Coffee in Louisville.

Have I mentioned our adventures with the storage unit yet? Because man,  if I could go back in time…

No, seriously. If I could go back in time I’d tell myself to just. get. rid. of. it.

All of it.

When we stood in front of our very full storage unit for the first time I suppressed the urge to take a step back. I wanted to just light a match. What was all this stuff?

Then I remembered that my clothes were in there.

Okay, so maybe not get rid of all of it. But damn, we kept waaay too much. All my power tools. The tool bench full of supplies (and more tools). The queen-sized bed frame. The lamps, which were cheap POSs from Target anyway.

What were we thinking?

I guess I figured that I’d want all that stuff when we got back. I loved that bedframe. And all my power tools. But here’s the reality of our lives: in our first few weeks on the road, we were jettisoning stuff left and right. We sent two boxes of stuff two our friends Dan and Lisa back in Colorado. And after that we continued to lighten the load – but we just gave stuff to goodwill. We adopted the “two week rule.” If we hadn’t used it in two weeks, we got rid of it. There were obvious exceptions to this rule (like the first aid kit, or the down jackets.)

In short, we learned to live a pared-down life. The truth is that you really don’t need that much stuff. You don’t.

Back to the storage unit: we got rid of a lot of it. Some of it (like the bedframe) was easy to let go. Some of it (like my power tools and tool bench) was painful. But we couldn’t fit the bedframe into the trailer we’d rented for the California move. And since we can’t afford to buy anything in Cali, I would have little to no use for my power tools – much less a place to use them in. Off they went. While we had to give away the bedframe, I’m happy to say Michael sold the tools to a friend who is also a new homeowner. So that one was a win on both sides.

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Before you say “that doesn’t look too bad,” keep in mind that this picture was taken after we got rid of the beframe and power tools.

Tuesday the 26th we picked up a 6’x12′ trailer from Uhaul and loaded it up. Our friend Cory helped, and we gave him even more stuff. Like those POS lamps.

Wednesday morning we left for California.

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If you thought Taco Negro got lousy gas mileage before…

I lost count of the number of times we stopped to fill up the truck. Michael said that on longer climbs (like over Vail Pass in Colorado) he could actually watch the gas gauge needle drop.

I thought the gas gauge on my little white Honda Accord was broken. When we stopped in Fruita (where the picture above was taken) I was still only halfway though my first tank, something that seemed impossible.

Other things of note for the long drive: I have to admit, I cried a little when I passed Copper Mountain. One more winter that I won’t get to snowboard. Never say never, I know, but there’s no snow in the central coast of California.

And I cried a whole lot more as we passed the turnoff for Moab, and as we passed through the edge of Utah’s canyon country. I never did get to see the San Rafael Swell. Or Bryce Canyon, or Zion National Park. But I did spend 5 weeks in Moab. I got to hike Little Wildhorse Canyon.

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Little Wildhorse Canyon

All I could think of was how much I love that red rock desert.

At a meal stop in Salina, Utah, Michael said he felt the same way. That made me so happy, even though I wasn’t sure what to do with that information. We were in the middle of moving to California! And besides, I’ve often said that I don’t know how I’d survive the summers in Moab, where the temperatures hit triple digits for three straight months.

I guess the takeaway is that someday we will get back to southern Utah.

We arrived in Las Vegas around 4pm, right about the time rush-hour traffic was heating up. I’d been to Vegas twice before but never by car, so it was kinda cool to see other parts of the city. We also have a friend in Vegas – Jon worked for Michael years ago, back when we lived in Denver. He told us to park downtown (it was less crowded than the strip, he said) and he’d meet up with us.

Jon walked us down Fremont Street to a place called the Smashed Pig. Now, the last time I walked around this area, back in the early 2000s, I felt safe enough, but someone did offer to sell me crack. (I’m still impressed with my response, which was a smile and “nah, man, I’m good.”)

Anyway. This time nobody offered me drugs. But a lot of people offered to have a picture taken with me.

No, I’m not famous. These were people in costumes, although I use that term loosely. Mostly women wearing bikini bottoms and pasties. There were some Chippendale’s dancers out too (they wore jeans and no shirts, which I found interesting. I mean, doesn’t that sound like a bit of a double standard?). Jon said they work for tips.

This is what people do for money here?

Then I remembered – ah, yes. Vegas has no soul. And if you can get over that part, then Vegas is a lot of fun.

Now, not all the costumed people were out there showing skin. I saw a guy dressed as Alan from The Hangover, complete with satchel (“Indiana Jones carried one!”) and baby. I found the whole kit online.

There was also a zipline running the length of the covered section of Fremont Street, and that looked awesome. It was also $40/person and the next opening was the next day, so we watched the zipliners somewhat enviously as we walked along.

Between the people, the lights, and the loud music…Talk about sensory overload. I was ready to go back to the nearest forest or canyon.

Eventually we made it to the Smashed Pig. This place would fit right in on the Pearl Street Mall in Boulder. Their menu was fun and creative and the food delicious.

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This is the Smashed Pig’s “Butcher Block Special,” which was not served on a butcher block but was still wonderful. Basalmic glazed pork belly over cous cous, with sauteed vegetables, salad, and crusty bread.

This was a fun meal to share. Also, it was incredibly tasty.

It was getting dark when we said goodbye to Jon and resumed our drive, but we were okay with that. When you’re towing a 12 foot trailer your off-road options are limited. We needed something right off the highway so we chose a spot called the Rasor OHV area, west of Baker, California. For being within sight of Interstate 15 it was actually pretty quiet.

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I watched the sun come up the next morning and then made coffee. We packed up and were on the road by 9am. We didn’t make a fire or anything, but I still managed to drive the Honda right through that fire ring on our way out. Whoopsie.

It took one more long day on the road to reach San Luis Obispo. But we made it.

Now it’s time to start the next chapter. But there are more Taco Negro adventures to come, I’m sure of it – lots of places in California to explore this winter. I hope you’ll all stay tuned!

Leaving California

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After spending the morning of June 26th looking for abalone shells in King Range NCA, and the afternoon finding out all the interesting nuances of Eureka, California (read my last post for that story), we were both tired and a little cranky as we approached Trinidad and our (possibly illegal) rest stop campsite.

The sun set at almost 9pm and we arrived at the rest stop around 9:15. It was already filling up. We pulled past the regular parking lot and over to the area where the big rigs would park. We pulled in behind an R-Pod trailer and next to a truck camper. About 10 minutes after we arrived – I was getting the bedding in order upstairs – a sprinter van towing a pop-up camper pulling in next to us. A family of 5 tumbled out and I’d say the oldest kid was maybe 5. They ran around with mom while dad set up the pop-up camper.

At that point I figured we were safe. That pop-up took waaay more time to set up than our sweet little RTT.

Although I was not safe from the 6am wakeup call by a screaming baby from said pop-up camper. Earplugs don’t seem to work on that particular sound. Michael tried to sleep through it, but at 6:15 the sanitation truck arrived, and it sounded like a 747 trying to take off. I’d be curious to meet the person who could sleep through that.

We were on the road pretty early that day. That was actually pretty okay by me: it was time to see the Redwoods. But first, coffee. By the sea.

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This pullout was maybe 10 miles from the rest stop. Maybe we should have illegally camped here?

The Coastal Redwood Forest is a combination of State Park and State Forest, and it’s all amazing. Hard to photograph, but amazing.

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We ended up stopping at the visitor’s center that was part of Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park, and running an out-and-back along the Prairie Creek Trail.

This was a flat trail, and not technical, but I ran three miles to a junction with another trail called Zig Zag #1 before turning back. Because it wasn’t very technical, I could run while looking up at all the trees. This area was just so lush. And dense. Even though the trail ran fairly close to the road, you couldn’t see it. In fact, it was easy to imagine that there was no road nearby at all, or that a dinosaur might be waiting just around the next turn. This place just felt old.

I loved it. I kind of regret not bringing a camera, but then those six miles would have taken all day because I would have stopped every fifty feet to take a picture.

I did find this interesting display at the Visitor’s Center.

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That’s a slice of an ancient redwood tree. The tags are historical markers in the tree’s life.

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This tree was a sapling when the Vikings discovered North America. Crazy.

After the run we had a fabulous tailgate lunch, featuring fish tacos. (We were given free ling cod and rock fish from some friendly people we met while looking for abalone shells, which I wrote about in my last post.)

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…they tasted even better than they look.

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Parking around these trails was… interesting. There were a few spots near the trailhead, but the vast majority of parking was right on the road. One of the many awesome things about our setup is that we can cook essentially anywhere, anytime. (Well, weather permitting.) Our tailgate lunch, in spite of not looking all that different from our tailgate coffee a few hours earlier, drew a few comments and stares from people heading towards the trails.

 

I would love to come back to this area and explore the other trails – in particular the James Irvine Trail, which heads west for 4 miles to something called Fern Canyon (which is supposed to be spectacular) and the ocean.

But we had to move on, because there was no free camping anywhere nearby and we were making for Oregon. Along the way, though, we passed through Crescent City, and because we had time we stopped in their visitor’s center to ask where we could take showers.

The girl there looked at us strangely, as if we’d asked where the nearest bell tower was while holding high powered rifles or something. She suggested the new pool that was right across the street, where open swim was going on until 4:30. She offered nothing else.

Well, it was right across the street, so we walked over there. Open swim was $5 per person, the kid behind the counter said. But when I mentioned that we just wanted to take showers, he changed his tune. Showers were $6 each, he said, and were only allowed at specific times. We were not there at one of those specific times.

He didn’t really specify why this particular rule existed, but I’m guessing it’s because of Crescent City’s homeless population, which seemed to be rather large. Maybe they were taking over the public pool and scaring the children.

I resisted the urge to tell this kid that the rule was asinine. Don’t you have to take a shower just to get into the pool? But the kid was just a kid, and he was just reciting the rules to us. Not his fault.

We’d like to swim, we said.

It was a nice shower facility, at least. Plenty of hot water, although the water pressure was like to flay the skin right off my body. I brought my razor in there with me and was shaving my pits when I heard this voice:

“What are you doing?” I turned and this little kid, maybe 10 years old, was standing there, staring at me. “Are you taking a bath?”

“Uh…” Was I about to get busted by a little kid? “I’m getting ready to get into the pool,” I told her.

“Oh. Me too,” she said.

“I’m just a little dirtier than you are,” I said, and she nodded and wandered off. Crisis averted.

We hung out in the pool for about 20 minutes as a show of good faith that we weren’t there stealing showers or anything. It was a nice little pool. I went down the slide twice but Michael refused, saying it didn’t look like it would be any fun. Pfffft. He missed out.

After our shower/pool adventure we hit the laundromat. No special rules there – they even had WiFi. So with clean bodies and all clean clothes, we hit the road towards Oregon.

Our Paige Snow Park campsite that night wasn’t anything to write home about. Apparently the Snow Park is used by snowmobilers in the wintertime. How does Colorado not have these? The high country gets lots of snow. I hear snowmobiling is popular in Colorado, too. We saw at least one warming hut, complete with a pot-bellied stove. Everything was covered in graffiti and a little trashed, though.

When we were back in civilization (Cave Junction, to be exact) we saw a USFS field office and stopped in. I tell you, those Forest Service offices have banker’s hours. But if you can get to one when they’re open, the people there are a wealth of information. When I asked for a map of dispersed camping, the man who introduced himself as Sonny said that there was no map. Within Forest Service boundaries, we could camp wherever we wanted – just stay 100 feet from any water source. That was it. There’s a LOT of Forest Service land in Oregon.

So we breathed a bit easier. We were back among friends.

Sonny also gave us a little heads up on a “secret” campsite that was on the way to Oregon Caves National Monument. Just a little flat spot off the highway, but it had a trail that lead to a secret waterfall and an old miner’s camp.

The campsite was right were Sonny said it would be, although we didn’t make it to the secret waterfall. The trail was pretty overgrown, and as we tried to progress we saw that the trail was overgrown with more of that pesky poison oak. Maybe next time.

We did get to Oregon Caves National Monument, though, and it was awesome. We went on the 2pm cave tour, which lasted around 90 minutes. I put on pants and a jacket, since the temperature inside the cave was a chilly 45 degrees. At the start of our tour, our Ranger guide asked the group if any of us were over 18 and vaguely responsible. Michael stepped up and said yes.

His responsibility was bringing up the rear. That way the Ranger would know he hadn’t lost any members of his tour. The tour was really cool and informative. Oregon Caves is different from other caves in the west (like Carlsbad Caverns) because Oregon Caves is a marble cave. (Carlsbad Caverns caves are limestone.) Marble is a metamorphic rock – it used to be limestone, before it changed from prolonged exposure to heat and intense pressure.

After the tour was over, the Ranger thanked Michael for being vaguely responsible and keeping the group together, and gave him this pin:

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I’m so proud.

Next post: Crater Lake!

Adventures along the Northern California Coast

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After spending our first day at King Range NCA at Black Sand Beach, we wanted to see more of shelter cove. So the next day when we headed down the hill, we went straight instead of turning right, and ended up at Mal Coombs Park. Next to the parking lot sat a lighthouse and a big grassy area. Plenty big enough to run Bailey. Finally!

See, my only complaint about our Wailaki campsite was the poison oak. It seemed to be everywhere. And while Michael and I could avoid it, Bailey didn’t exactly care. So at camp he was leashed up all the time. Bailey doesn’t complain about anything, of course, but I was happy to give him some time to stretch his legs.

Mal Coombs Park is a tidal pool area. Unfortunately for us, when we arrived the tide appeared to be coming in. We talked to a local who confirmed that for us, and he gave us a fabulous heads-up: The next low tide was 8am the next day. Also, it was going to be a negative low tide, so the water would be even lower than normal. He suggested that if we were looking for abalone shells, the best time to get there would be around 7am or so.

I hadn’t thought to look for abalone shells before. But that sounded like a great idea and Michael agreed to get up early. Again.

With that plan in place we checked out the other areas of Shelter Cove, like Seal Rock and Abalone Point. We had fun watching the harbor seals, and I got to use my zoom lens.

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The harbor seals were all out sunning themselves. I swear, they look like Bailey when he’s getting snuggles. My friend Kevin once called it Blissful Dog Face.

 

 

At one point, though, a big set of waves rolled in and a lot of the harbor seals got swept off this rock.

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Of course, being harbor seals this wasn’t a real problem – no, the issue seemed to come with the resettling. There were a couple of kerfuffles as everyone re-established their space.

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Eventually the darker seal moved away.

Abalone Point was also great for pictures.

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The next morning my alarm went off at 6:15. I guess it was lucky we had some recent practice in the “putting the tent away before breakfast” thing, because we were underway to Shelter Cove just before 7am.

When we arrived at Mal Coombs park there was only one other car in the parking lot. We saw more turkey vultures than anything else as we headed out, looking for shells. The water was incredibly low.

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High tide…
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Negative Low Tide

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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I saw crabs and starfish and hermit crabs. Honestly, I didn’t actually know what to look for, as far as abalone shells went. I found my first one by accident.

Michael got the hang of it a lot more quickly. He had a little help, though. After a short while we did start to see other people in the tide pools. Most of them were wearing neoprene wetsuits, and going out a lot further into the water. Michael sidled up to one of them, who was on his way out, and who gave him a nod and said something that sounded like, “gone ab’n?”

After Michael figured out that the guy meant if we were collecting abalone, he asked for tips on finding the shells. You have to look in the crevasses between rocks, he said, and near sea grass or kelp.

Of course, he was talking about the live ones. Yep, a lot of the people we saw out that morning were gone ab’n. Apparently people eat them. (I looked it up later – abalone can be eaten as sushi, but are also excellent sliced up into steaks and pan-fried.)

After an hour, this was our haul.

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I have no idea what I’m going to do with these shells. Probably ship then off to San Luis Obispo. Anyway, we talked with a group of people on our way back to the parking lot, and they happily showed us their (live) haul. You need a permit to catch abalone, and there are also size restrictions. Each catch was looked over by a monitor we saw in the parking lot.

I should have taken a picture – but here’s what live abalone look like. The link is for an article in the LA Times, about the dangers of diving for abalone. But the picture is pretty accurate. The people we talked to were not diving and we asked them how, exactly, you catch an abalone. There seemed to be some difference of opinion as to the best way.

The older folks claimed that speed was your friend – and a big knife to help pry them off. Abalone are mussels, and if you don’t get them off their rock right away, they hunker down and are impossible to remove.

The younger guy in the group said that slow and quiet was the way to go, that he could gently remove an abalone from a rock without them putting up a fight.

Things to keep in mind if I ever take up abalone hunting.

We all arrived at the parking lot together. The group had been there for a few days, fishing, and told us that they had more fish than they could eat. Ling cod and rock fish. Did we want some?

Is the Pope Catholic? We happily said yes. Fish tacos, anyone?

Still, it was with a bit of sadness that we departed from the Lost Coast that morning. This was such a beautiful area, and after the crowds of places like Yosemite, the King Range NCA was delightfully empty.

Our next stop was Eureka, California. It’s a big town so we knew we’d be able to resupply on everything, which was what we needed at that point. Even dog food, which lasts a lot longer now that we have just one dog to feed.

Eureka’s WalMart was pretty much right next door to PetCo (or was it PetSmart? I can never remember)…. On a map. In reality, the WalMart is part of the Eureka’s mall. Well, one entrance is. We asked when we went in, and the guy at the door suggested we go around the mall, to the back, and park at the main entrance.

The more time I spend in northern California, the more confused I get. In central and southern Cali, the coastal areas are generally where you find the wealthy. Poor people live inland. And yet in NorCal, these coastal towns have more rednecks than a trailer park in Arkansas.

Case in point: Eureka’s WalMart.

I’m pretty sure that the website PeopleOfWalMart was created because of this WalMart. I think our truck was the nicest vehicle in the parking lot. The store’s produce “section” was a laughably small corner of the store. We quickly decided to just resupply dry goods, like almonds and paper towels, and then find a real grocery store.

The real grocery store turned out to be a Safeway on the east side of town. When we arrived, I could tell we were definitely in a higher rent district. Safeway’s produce section was lovely.

Here’s the main problem I’ve found with coastal California: no free camping. I’m guessing it’s because of all the homeless people but we had a terrible time finding a free campsite without having to drive 2 hours out of our way. (All the State Parks were booked, in case you’re wondering – and besides, they cost $45 per night!)

We found a place on FreeCampsites.net, but it sounded iffy. And the last time we checked out an iffy site (just north of Fort Bragg) we couldn’t get out of there fast enough. That one was oceanside, a big gravel pullout from the southbound lane of Highway 1. We found at least three car bums in sketchy-looking vans. The last van had a rabid-looking pitbull that the owner, a tiny little woman, could barely control.

Needless to say, we didn’t camp in van-land. So we were a bit wary of this site, a rest stop off Highway 101, near Trinidad. Apparently you can stay in a California rest stop for up to 8 hours. This site had several reviews by people who had successfully stayed there overnight.

Well. It was 5pm and we were only about 30 minutes away from this site. When your campsite may be illegal, you don’t want to something stupid, like set up shop too soon, because then you might get noticed. The key to illegal camping is to keep it on the down low. We got that tip way back in Park City, Utah. So we found a coffee shop where I could work on the blog. This led us to yet another side of Eureka: downtown, aka the upscale boutique area. Eureka seems like a complicated place… someday I might want to check it out a little more.

Next post: highway camping!

The Isolated Lost Coast of California

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In my last post I said that we went back to our squatter’s site in Jackson State Forest, just east of Fort Bragg, CA. We were smarter about our second night of “guerrilla camping.” We still got up early and packed up before anything else, but this time we drove straight to the Fort Bragg Dog Park. The place was empty at 7:30AM on a Saturday, so we parked in a corner and set up our tailgate table. I took Bailey and the Chuckit over to the park while Michael worked on coffee and breakfast.

I met a nice lady in the park. She recognized our setup and told us that she and her husband had traveled extensively in Mexico when they were in their 20s. She shared a few great stories, but here’s my favorite:

They were driving this old beater truck, and things kept breaking on it, and they’d fix what they could. The brakes kept getting worse, but they kept putting off the repair because it was costly. Well, one day the brakes finally failed and they almost killed this group of Mexicans. In the end, they sold the truck to the group of said Mexicans, and continued on foot. Hitchhiking.

I hope none of my stories involve near-death for anyone, but it makes me so happy that I’ll have great travel stories to tell when I get older. It seems like more days than not the universe gives me confirmation that Michael and I made the right decision with this trip.

Onward, then, to King Range NCA. The drive north from Fort Bragg was beautiful. We stopped early on so I could photograph this trestle bridge over Pudding Creek.

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King Range was a gamble – we didn’t know anything about it, other than it was managed by the BLM, and didn’t find any reviews of their campsites – but this time our gamble paid off. This place was gorgeous. Shady and cool, and only 5 miles from the ocean. The sites were clean and level with trash bins and clean bathrooms. (Pit toilets – no running water – but clean nontheless.)

Plus, it was empty. We picked out our site, paid up, left some stuff behind to mark it, and headed for the beach. Black Sand Beach. With this view:

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Michael got out his pack for a ruck workout, and I went for a run. Or tried to. This black sand was like nothing I’ve ever run on before. Usually, when you get close to the water, the sand firms up and becomes a nice running surface. Not so at Black Sand Beach, where even the wet sand was soft and loose. My lungs felt great but my ankles and calves were in agony. I walked early, and often. Still, it was such a beautiful area that I couldn’t complain.

We saw a couple of people fishing but other than that we seemed to have this beach to ourselves.

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Black Sand Beach is also the southern terminus of the Lost Coast Trail, a 24-mile trip that most people apparently hike in 3 days. They also go with a tide chart in one hand, as several stretches of the Lost Coast Trail are inaccessible at high tide.

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Back at camp, we set up the tent and Michael set up the hammock. As I looked through our Revel Gear goodie box, I realized why sending everything to coastal northern California was kind of a mistake. These are solar-powered lights. And there was a definite lack of sunshine at our camp.

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Anyway. I was still excited to set up our new lights. Kody said in an interview with SGB Media that she used to haul Christmas lights and a generator on every camping trip, so I went with the multi-color lights in her honor. I love that I can plug up to 2 strings of lights into this handy little charger. (And that the charger can be powered by the sun or through the cigarette lighter in the truck!)

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While the Wailaki campground was not full, it was not empty either and several campers walked past our site, commenting on our setup. I mean, the RTT is an anomaly up here anyway, but the lights just took everything to the next level.

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In case you were worried, Savory Spice was not left out. Michael made curried chicken and vegetables for dinner, with the help of that Vietnamese Sweet Lemon Curry spice package.

 

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So delicious! And here’s the recipe:

Ingredients:

1 whole rotisserie chicken breast, shredded
2 medium organic carrots, peeled and diced medium
4 organic mini sweet peppers, seeded and sliced
1/2 medium organic red onion, medium dice
1 cup organic sugar snap peas, sliced in half
1 cup organic crimini mushrooms, sliced
1 12oz can coconut cream
2 tablespoons Savory Spice Vietnamese Sweet Lemon Curry Spice
Sriracha chili sauce, to taste
Kosher Salt ,to taste (can substitute soy or fish sauce if desired)
1 lime cut into eighths, for garnish
Cilantro, for garnish
Method
  • In a meduim heavy bottom sauce pan, combine the coconut cream, curry spice blend, and chopped vegetables.
  • Bring to a boil over medium high heat, stirring occasionally.
  • Reduce heat to low and simmer for 5 minutes.
  • Add the chicken and bring back to a simmer.
  • Taste and add Sriracha and salt (or soy or fish sauce) as desired
  • Ladle into two bowls and garnish with lime wedges and cilantro.

After that fabulous dinner, we sat under our Revel Gear lights and enjoyed the night.

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Adventures in Roof Top Tents

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When we left our nameless little campsite next to Mono Lake, Highway 395 immediately began to climb. And up at the top of the climb we found a little pulloff. With this view:

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Wow! Of course, I was also intrigued by something else: bumper stickers. They were all over the barrier of this parking lot.

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Some were funny, some made no sense, and some even represented good old Longmont, Colorado.

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We even managed to get our picture taken together. When you travel with just one other person, it can be harder than it sounds, proving you were at the same place at the same time.

Moving on, our next stop was Travertine Hot Springs.

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The day was a little bit warm for me to soak in a 105o pool, so I just soaked my feet. Michael went for it. We found a pool down the hillside that was just a bit cooler, but still had an amazing view.

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After our soak we stopped in the town of Bridgeport – mostly because we found a parking spot in the shade, so we could let Bailey out and have a tailgate lunch. We also spotted this beauty as it drove by:

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As nice as it was in Bridgeoprt, we had to move on. We were headed for Carson City, Nevada, to meet Bobby, our contact at Cascadia Vehicle Tents. This story goes back several months. I can’t remember exactly when, a long time back but the zipper on the mesh screen door of our tent got sticky. (This is the door that we use to get in and out of the tent.) The zipper got worse and worse, until when we tried to force it the zipper just split.

Sometime in March Michael called Cascadia. We just wanted to know the best way to get that zipper fixed. The CSR we talked to said we’d best talk to Bobby and gave us Bobby’s phone number.

Much to our surprise, Bobby suggested just replacing the entire tent. We were pretty shocked, but said okay. A free tent seemed like most excellent customer service.

Well, Bobby turned out to be a little hard to pin down – as you can see by the amount of time that has passed. But we finally met on a sunny warm day in June, at a WalMart parking lot in Carson City, Nevada. This is the rig Bobby showed up in:

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As they shook hands, Michael asked what, exactly, Bobby did for Cascadia Vehicle Tents.

“Oh,” Bobby said casually. “I’m the owner.”

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I think my head spun as I tried to rewrite that narrative. All this time we’d been dealing directly with the owner of the company. Talk about excellent customer service!

 

 

Cascadia Vehicle Tents currently operates two showrooms, one in Bend, OR and a new one in Chattanooga, TN. And Bobby drives the tents back and forth. (He said that when shipping from Bend, tents going to anywhere east of Colorado tended to arrive damaged, so he opened a showroom in Tennessee to help alleviate that problem.)

He was a super nice guy, and he helped us take the old tent off, install the new one, and showed off all the new bells and whistles as we set up the tent right there in the WalMart parking lot. Honestly, the thing I noticed the most is that our new tent has a 3” high-density, open-cell-foam mattress. (The old tent had a 2” mattress.) I’m a side sleeper and this has made all the difference in the world. I finally got rid of that old Ridgerest closed-cell-foam pad (half-destroyed by Elvis) that I used to fold in half and put under my hips.

Another fun addition to our new tent is the stargazer rainfly. Sure, we can see the stars, but at dusk leaving those doors open lets in a ton of light. We use our Luci lights less. Yay!

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So a huge THANK YOU to Bobby and CVT for taking such great care of us.

We camped that night in Toiyabe National Forest, and the next day we got our first glimpse at Lake Tahoe.

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I’ve seen so many pictures of this lake that show how clear it is. I’ve been unable to reproduce them! It’s been breezy and the pollen is flying here in South Lake Tahoe. So when I can get into a small cove, or anything out of the wind, the water is covered with yellow pollen, making it impossible to see the bottom.

Looking for a place for Bailey to stretch out, I saw lots of these signs:

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Which I thought was odd, considering everybody and their uncle seemed to have a dog with them. Michael did a quick online search and the only beach that allows dogs was called Kiva Beach – but the website said all dogs had to be on a leash.

That’s a little bit of cruel and unusual punishment, I think, taking Bailey to the beach and then not letting him run around. Another Google search showed that South Lake Tahoe did in fact have a dog park.

I tend to judge a city by their dog park, and South Lake Tahoe’s was pretty okay. There was shade, there was water, but there were also a lot of wood chips, which can give dogs splinters.

Luckily Bailey remained splinter-free and we wore him out with a tennis ball. We met a local who told us that leash laws weren’t too strictly enforced at Kiva Beach, and that we definitely should go.

That afternoon it looked like the wind had died down a bit, so we went ahead and rented Stand Up Paddleboards. This was our third time renting SUPs. The first was on a river in Florida, the second was at Avila Beach in California. The water in Lake Tahoe was rougher than either. All the wind came from the north while we paddled westward towards a river inlet. That meant we kept getting hit with waves from the side.

Keep in mind that these were tiny little waves – although it sure didn’t feel like it. Both of us went for a dip, and not voluntarily. I slid up on wave and when I went to paddle on my left side, my paddle met with air instead of water. I leaned forward right as the board slid into the trough – and over I went.

That water was cold! Somehow my sunglasses stayed on my face but I had to grab for my hat and my paddle. Luckily it’s pretty easy to get back on a SUP. And once I was back in the sun, I have to say that my little dip was quite refreshing.

So there are no pictures of our SUP adventure on Lake Tahoe. The camera never came out of the waterproof case. But we had a blast and definitely worked hard. After 2 hours on that board I was ready for a nap.

Next post: Kiva Beach!

 

 

Sunset at Mono Lake

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In my last post, I explained how the wind died down for a day at the Buttermilk Boulders, and Michael was able to make some delicious Cholaca Camp Chili. It turned out to be a good thing we made the chili that day. Because that night – it was as if, just after dark, someone turned the wind on.

Our fabulous CVT tent has survived 50 mph winds before (in Moab) so I wasn’t worried, but I had to put my earplugs in, the tent rattled and shook so much.

The next morning dawned clear and gorgeous. To the west I could see new snow on the hillside.

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We broke down camp and headed in to Bishop. We had work to do. The first stop was the Wash Tub, Bishop’s laundromat, which offers free WiFi. You can also take a shower there for just $5. No time limit, and soap and a towel are included.

I passed on the soap (have my own) but I did accept the towel. Michael and I both carry travel towels – the backpacker version, which is pretty tiny. The size is something I appreciate when I have to stow that towel in the truck, but it’s something I generally despise whenever I have to actually use it as a towel. So wrapping myself in a full-size bath towel felt like quite the luxury.

Clean, and with clean clothes, we filled the water containers at the Chamber of Commerce, then went to Holy Smokes Texas BBQ for lunch. There is a bakery across the street from the BBQ place, called Schatz’s. Apparently they’re famous for their sheepherder’s bread. (Whatever that is.) I figured it must be a gigantic loaf of bread, because all the people we saw leaving were carrying a giant white paper bag. So we went over there to check it out.

I don’t know how big that sheepherder’s loaf is – they were all sold out. But I can tell you that the bakery itself is what’s gigantic. In addition to about 20 different kinds of bread, they churn out muffins, cookies, fudge, donuts, pies, cobblers, and more. We picked out a loaf of pinto bean bread (made with pinto bean flour… should be interesting) and a few sweet treats.

We headed up to the grocery store and I noticed something as we filled our cart. There were a lot of young cowboys at Vons. As in, the 10-gallon hats, the cowboy boots, the Wranglers. Some were sporting red vests with a number on it. But these cowboys looked like kids.

Now, most cowboys tend to be on the young side (there’s not a great deal of longevity in that sport), and as I get older I get worse at guessing young people’s ages. But these cowboys did seem particularly green.

It turns out that the rodeo was in town. And not just any rodeo – the California High School Rodeo. So yeah – it turns out those cowboys really were boys. I wished we were able to go, but it just didn’t fit in with our schedule. Too bad – my Aunt Jackie and Uncle Chuck took me to the Larimer County Fair and Rodeo, years ago when it was still a small venue. I thought it was awesome. Except I’ve never been to another rodeo. I swear, we will make it to a rodeo this summer. Somewhere.

By the time all the errands were done it was late enough in the day that we just headed back up to our previous campsite. The bad weather had passed, and it was hard to beat the views.

The next day we finally made the move north. We made one last stop to refill the water containers (when it’s free, you top off as much as you can) and got a treat: the Rodeo Queens!

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I don’t know where the parade was, but this little caravan was parked right next to the Chamber of Commerce. They took off a few minutes later.

Then it was off to Mono Lake. Finally! This was kind of a bucket list item for me. I can’t remember exactly when I learned about Mono Lake but I have always wanted to photograph it. I’ve read that the best times for photographs are sunrise and sunset, for that soft light on the tufa and the best chance for the lake to have that glassy, mirror-like surface.

I have a wonderful husband who said we could stay as long as I wanted to get my sunset shots, that he’d be okay with finding a campsite in the dark. Wheeee!

Unfortunately the wind did not cooperate. There were whitecaps on Mono Lake! But I was still thrilled. This place is amazing.

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Mono Lake is similar to the Great Salt Lake in Utah, in that there is no outlet for the water other than evaporation. Water (in the form of snowmelt and from underground springs) seeps in to the lake, but there are no streams leading from it. As the water evaporates, what remains gets saltier every year. Currently Mono Lake is about 2.5 times saltier than the ocean. It’s also alkaline, so no fish live in Mono Lake.

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I used the word “tufa” earlier. Tufa towers are calcium-carbonate spires and knobs. They form by the interaction of freshwater springs (found under the lake) and the alkaline lake water. See, the spring water is rich in calcium and the lake water is rich in carbonate. The resulting interaction is insoluble calcium carbonate: limestone.

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Tufa towers grow as long as they’re covered in water. But in the 1960’s the city of Los Angeles began diverting water away from Mono Lake, and the levels of the lake dropped dramatically. In 1994 a campaign successfully began saving Mono Lake. The level of the lake is still below the goal, but it’s no longer shrinking.

And we have these amazing limestone formations to walk through.

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If you see a little splash of brown in that photo above – yep, that’s Bailey. There were no signs that you couldn’t bring a dog down to the beach. Bailey spends enough time in the truck, so we leashed him up and brought him with.

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He’s a very photogenic dog. And even though I feel guilty admitting this, life has been a lot easier with just one dog. Particularly a friendly, obedient dog like Bailey.

Don’t get me wrong! I miss Elvis every single day. And in his youth, Elvis was an exceptionally obedient dog. But he was never good with strangers. You know, there was a point when we were hanging out at our Bishop campsite, just hanging out and reading, and this couple came walking up the road right next to our site. I looked up and waived. They waived and kept going. Bailey looked up at them, then went back to sleep. That was the sum total of our interaction.

Doesn’t that sound normal? Well, Elvis would have given those two people the bum’s rush, barking his head off. It’s one of the reasons we kept him tied up most of the time.

I’m not sure what my point was with that story. I don’t regret any of our time with Elvis. (Well, maybe that time he threw up on my pillow….) He was a challenge as he got older, is all.

We finally left Mono Lake right as the sun went behind the mountains. About 30 minutes later we found a campsite nearby, down a nameless little dirt road. It wasn’t much of a site, but we were only there for one night.

It was time to move on… to Carson City, Nevada.

 

Recipe: Grass Fed Beef & Cholaca Camp Chili

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I would not have thought it possible when I started this project. But this is blog post number 101!

We caught a lucky break on Saturday, June 10th. In spite of what the Weather Channel predicted, the wind died off overnight and stayed that way throughout the day. After coffee and a wonderful oatmeal breakfast, we had time to run Bailey.

Have you ever seen this dog run? When I used to take him to the Longmont Dog Park, people used to ask me if he was part Greyhound. The most common overheard statement was something like, “man, that dog can run.

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Those are the Buttermilk Boulders in the distance.

 

 

 

 

 

 

After Michael wore Bailey out with a tennis ball and a Chuckit, it was hammock time. Except Bailey figured that hammock time was also snuggle time.

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How can you say no to that face?

I also had the chance to take some pictures of the east side of our campsite. I still think it’s the most beautiful place we’ve ever set up. And since this is BLM land, it was completely free.

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I even found a cactus in bloom.

 

 

 

Because the weather was so calm, we decided to make a big meal for dinner: Grass Fed Beef & Cholaca Camp Chili. We have a container of Cholaca, which is pure liquid cacao, in our cooler and typically I put it in my coffee in the mornings (so good!). But you can cook with chocolate too – and not just dessert. Michael wrote this recipe himself. Enjoy!

Grass Fed Beef & Cholaca Camp Chili

Ingredients

1 lb grass finished beef stew meat, small dice

2 organic medium carrots, diced

1 organic red onion, small dice

3 organic mini sweet peppers, sliced

2-14 oz cans organic diced fire roasted tomatoes

1-14 oz can organic pinto beans, drained and rinsed

4 oz Cholaca Original (can substitute raw or sweet as desired)

1/2 cup water

2 tablespoons organic chili powder

1 tablespoon organic garlic powder

1 tablespoon dried pasilla powder

Extra virgin olive oil

Kosher salt to taste

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Method

  • In a 10″ dutch oven, pour enough extra virgin olive oil to coat the bottom liberally. Heat over high heat until oil is hot but not smoking.
  • GoGoTacoNegroAdd the beef and season with kosher salt. Cook beef on high heat, stirring occasionally, until caramelized on all sides.
  • Add the carrots, onion, and peppers. Reduce heat to medium and cook, stirring occasionally, until onions are translucent. (You likely will have to add more olive oil at this stage if all the oil has burned off while cooking the beef.)
  • Stir in the chili powder, garlic powder, and pasilla powder. Cook 1 minute, stirring constantly.
  • GoGoTacoNegroAdd the tomatoes, Cholaca, beans, and water. Crank the heat back to high and bring to a simmer, stirring periodically.
  • Reduce heat to low and cover tightly.
  • Cook covered on low, stirring every once in a while until the beef pulls apart easily with a fork.
  • Taste and season with kosher salt if needed.
  • Smile. Because you rock for making Cholaca Camp Chili!
  • Try not to eat it all standing at the stove. Your campmates are likely hungry too.

Serves 4

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Dark and savory, this chili was delicious. The perfect meal for someone with a cold.

There And Back Again

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The views at our Coyote Trail campsite were pretty nice.

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It’s too bad that there weren’t any hiking trails or anything to do along this road – we were fully stocked and would have stayed for a few days. But after a nice, leisurely morning we packed up and headed in to Bishop.

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Since it was already pretty hot there we quickly turned north towards Mammoth Lakes. That drive was uneventful, but along the way towards Mammoth Mountain we missed a turn and ended up at a place called Twin Lakes campground.

Of course, there was so much snow that the campground wasn’t actually open.

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We leashed Bailey up and took him with as we walked around. California ended up at 170% of their normal snowpack this winter… and it showed.

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The General Store looked like it was going to need a new deck.

 

 

 

 

This canoe looked like it was ready for the scrap heap.

 

 

 

But we did get to see this awesome waterfall.

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After a tailgate lunch at Twin Lakes, we got back in the truck and went all the way to the resort, Mammoth Mountain, which was actually still open. On June 7th.

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I watched the few skiers and snowboarders jealously, wondering how much a lift ticket cost this time of year. Not that it mattered – we’d have to rent everything if we wanted to go – it’s just that this is the first time in about five years that we didn’t get a single day on the mountain.

Not that I’d trade what we’ve been doing for a day on the mountain! I just missed snowboarding, was all.

We took some time finding a place to camp, and as usual we kind of stumbled across a great site by turning down an unmarked road.

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For the first time in a while we didn’t have to worry about dead trees – there weren’t any. Somebody had logged there recently. And when the wind picked up that evening, we were well protected.

The next day we broke down camp and went back in to Mammoth Lakes, this time to Black Velvet Coffee. I worked on a blog post and Michael looked at the weather.

See, a big cold front was moving in, and while it was bringing snow to Oregon and Washington, it was bringing a sharp drop in temperature to Lake Tahoe (our next destination) and Mammoth Lakes. The forecasted high for Sunday June 11th was 49o in Tahoe, with clouds and wind. Mammoth wasn’t looking much better at 51o. Looking south, it appeared that Bishop was the answer, with a high temp of 65 on Sunday. Although it was supposed to be pretty windy, at least it wouldn’t be windy and cold.

Wondering just how far south this weather front was going to go, I looked up Death Valley. Big mistake: the weekend high temperature there was forecasted at 110o.

That’s not a typo.

The overnight lows were in the 90’s. And the next week, after the weather front passed, high temperatures were forecasted at a frightening 120o.

Bishop it was. Thursday June 8th we stocked up at the local grocery store (Vons) and took advantage of their rewards card at their gas pump (Vons is under the same parent company as Safeway). We actually got 50 cents off per gallon! That might have been our cheapest fillup in California.

Our last stop before heading out Buttermilk Road was the Bishop Chamber of Commerce. See, I found this nifty article called A Road Warrior’s Guide to Bishop, CA that outlines all the stuff a dirtbag traveler (or climber) would need, like where to get a shower, do laundry, and where to get water for free. The article said that the Bishop Chamber of Commerce has a spigot outside the building that can be accessed day or night.

I love the internet.

The wind had picked up as we headed out of town, and it seemed to intensify as we turned on to Buttermilk Road. (If you’re a climber, this area is the home of the legendary Buttermilk Boulders). We ignored the ominous sign alongside the road (“FLOODED”) as the road itself was quite dry, and set off in search of a sheltered site. Somewhere we could get out of the wind.

Several of the no-name roads we turned down were flooded, though, so there were several 5-point turns or just backing up for several hundred feet to get back to the main road. We were starting to get worried when we found it.

It wasn’t the most sheltered – but we didn’t really think we were going to get out of the wind entirely anyway, and the views were spectacular. I think this might be the most beautiful campsite we’ve ever had. I couldn’t wait to take pictures the next day.

We decided to set up the annex to the tent – which was a serious pain in the ass since it was so windy out – but once it was up we were both pretty happy, as it gave a place to get out of the weather. The wind howled most of the night so we both slept with earplugs in. I got up around 7am to quiet skies and immediately grabbed my camera.

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Basin Mountain

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The wind picked up around noon on Friday, which was about the time I decided to go back to bed. For the past few days I hadn’t been able to figure out if what I had was allergies or a cold, but that day I knew it. I had a cold. I’d call the timing lousy, but when is a good time to get a cold? I slept for a while, then got up eventually and hung out in the annex, reading. The wind was howling. It was so noisy in the annex that Bailey wouldn’t stay inside – he went out and lay down under a tree.

That night there was a brief hour, maybe around 10pm, where the wind died off almost completely. It was a full moon (or pretty close to it) so I grabbed my down coat, my tripod, and my camera.

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I love a full moon in a dark sky. I didn’t even need a headlamp to see what I was doing, it was so bright out.

The craziest thing about our site – which was at least seven miles from Bishop – was that it had 4 bars of 4G LTE service. So the next day I did what any person with internet access would do: I checked the weather channel constantly.

Bad news. The wind was going to continue all weekend.

Maybe it was a good time to have a cold after all?

The Eastern Sierras

So, I mentioned in my last post that we got Elvis’s ashes back. Here’s what we carry with us:

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This lovely oak box is completely sealed and has Elvis’s name on the bottom. Pretty cool, huh? Although – it’s actually been a little tough to find a spot for Elvis. I don’t want him to end up on the bottom of a pile and forgotten about, you know? The cab is packed pretty tight. Not a lot of open space. For right now we put the box on top of the center divider. Which is great, until one of us needs to get into the center divider. We’ll get it worked out. I’m glad we have Elvis with us, silly as it sounds. He’s still on the adventure.

Moving on: I’ll say one thing for eastern California: it’s hot. I mean, I was expecting it to be hot across the San Joaquin valley (trip number 6 across that valley, I believe). But I expected Keyesville Recreation Area to be a little cooler.

Wrong. Still, it was nice to be sitting outside at 9 o’clock at night in shorts and a t-shirt. I wasn’t cold while making the coffee the next morning.

Surely the area along Highway 395 would be better, I thought. It’s at a higher elevation.

Wrong again.

Alabama Hills Recreation Area sits just outside of the town of Lone Pine, California. A bank in Lone Pine said the temperature was 94o when we passed through. Ouch. And while we gained a tiny bit of elevation heading west from town, Alabama Hills was pretty damn hot.

It was gorgeous, though. The rock formations reminded me of Arches National Park, except that these rocks were granite, not sandstone.

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When we finally picked a campsite at 2:30, the first thing I did was set up the tent… just so I could have some shade.

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After 6pm the heat of the day finally abated, and Michael and Bailey and I took a little walk.

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Those are the Inyo Mountains in the background. Believe me, that name has been the source of many, many jokes.

We also walked over to a nearby climbing area to check it out. The area is called The Corridors, a series of narrow and parallel rock formations, each with what could be described as an alley inbetween. The alley looked like it would be shady for all but an hour of every day.

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We messed around in the shade for a while, before returning back to camp. That night it was so warm that I hung out in a tank top and shorts. When I had to leave the tent to go to the bathroom at 1am, I didn’t even need a jacket.

Tuesday morning I got up early (6:30am) to go for a run before the heat of the day set in. I’m not sure it worked. Maybe it was the heat, maybe it was the elevation. But the only fun part of my run was that Bailey came with.

Okay, well, the views were pretty spectacular.

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That’s 14,505-foot Mount Whitney in the background. The trail to the peak starts at the Whitney Portal trailhead and is 22 miles round-trip, with an elevation gain of over 6,100 feet.

After breakfast, as I was cleaning up, I heard this funny sound and looked up to see a drone waaaay up in the sky. It hung out for a while, so I can tell you that the sound a drone makes is plenty irritating.

Well, apparently we were pretty interesting or something, because this drone proceeded to drop down to about 10 feet off the ground. I’d guess it was somewhere about 100 feet away? Close enough to see the camera attached underneath. And it hovered there for several long minutes. It was like being watched. Stared at.

I’ve never wished for a rifle so badly in my life. I mean, the sound was bad enough. But knowing there was a camera on that thing? I flipped it off. Michael finally mooned it and then it went away.

I guess the point of that story is… that now I’m going to search YouTube for clips with titles like “Full Moon at Alabama Hills.” Hehe!

We did eventually escape the heat, although not exactly how we thought we would. We have a friend that lives in LA, named Travis. We met him and his girlfriend, Chelsea, back around the Tetons in Wyoming (I wrote a blog post about it!). We ended up sharing a campsite. Travis has a Toyota 4Runner, and he and Michael talked Toyota for hours. We follow Travis on Instagram and he’s been putting up some awesome pictures lately. Over Memorial Day weekend, he went off-roading with a group of people in the Eastern Sierras.

Michael sent him a text and Travis replied with an entire map (complete with GPS points) of their trip on the Coyote Trail, which they took from Bishop down south to Big Pine.

We stopped in Lone Pine’s outdoor shop, Elevation, for information and maps. They even let us fill one of our water containers there. Sweet! We stopped at Big Pine for a topoff of groceries and gas, then decided to follow Travis’s route from Bishop.

I was driving, and when the first mile of the Coyote Trail was paved. Then it became a sandy road with lots of washboard marks. Then the climbing began. I did not want to drive anymore. The road was steep and narrow and off-cambre and it pretty much scared the shit out of me. But there was no place wide enough to stop and change drivers. I had to keep going.

When we finally did reach a big, wide turn, I pulled to one side immediately. Michael seemed a little surprised when I told him I was terrified and didn’t want to drive anymore. He said ok. I looked down at the dashboard as I was about to get out of the truck, and saw an idiot light (I think they’re actually called Warning Lights these days) that I’d never seen before: A/T Oil Temp

Michael hadn’t seen that one before either. I reached for the owner’s manual. He reached for the phone. Believe it or not, we had 2 bars of 4G LTE service out there. Good thing there’s a website called TacomaWorld.com. Michael found our question on one of the forums. Basically the automatic transmission is cooled by the radiator, and if the coolant is hot and the transmission is under a heavy load it can overheat the fluid.

Well, it was hot. We were going up a steep, rocky hill. And we were fully loaded – full tank of gas, full water containers, full cooler and pantry. That transmission was under a heavy load.

Apparently one way to accelerate the cool-down is to put the truck in neutral and rev the engine. (Here’s the link as to why.) I’m not quite sure the reason makes sense, but Michael tried it. We also sat for about 10 minutes to try and let things cool down even more before continuing.

With Michael driving. Yep, I was done. The Tacoma is actually a pretty big truck for someone who’s barely over five feet tall. It’s like driving a tank. I keep trying but driving Taco Negro off-road never seems to get more comfortable for me.

The road leveled out for a bit as well, which was nice. There were some other steep sections, but nothing like what I drove, and that warning light never came back on.

Crisis averted.

Our next obstacle came when the Coyote Trail came to an abrupt halt. A snowfield had buried the road. We checked Travis’s map and there was another way around. Supposedly. We don’t have GPS and simply couldn’t follow his trail.

We finally turned around – knowing that we’d passed three campsites on our way in, and that we just had to pick one.

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I’d say we did pretty well.

Time To Move On (For Real This Time)

We returned to San Luis Obispo from the Yosemite area right before Memorial Day weekend. I feel the need to mention we found a great little taco place in Paso Robles, called Tortilla Town. The menu is a little small – kind of like the place itself, which has maybe 4 booths inside. But the tacos and gorditas are delicious. Whenever a customer asks for guacamole, the ladies behind the counter all shout “Guac-ah-mole-AAAAYYYYY!”

So if you ever find yourself in Paso Robles, California, get to Tortilla Town (it’s just west of the the intersection of Highways 101 and 41), and make sure you add guacamole to your order.

Anyway. Things have settled down a bit – for everyone. My father in law has been moved into a skilled nursing facility, and there’s no need for Michael and I to fly back to Fayetteville. It was good that we were in SLO, though, as there were lots of phone calls back and forth over the course of the past two weeks.

We did get out to do some fun things, though. Wednesday we drove over to Los Osos, mostly to see the GoWesty facility. If you’ve never heard of GoWesty, then you’re most likely not a Volkswagon Bus, Vanagon or Eurovan enthusiast.

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GoWesty is a dealer, but the bulk of what they do is restoration and conversions. So if you have an old, crappy Vanagon, GoWesty can update it – completely. Need new upholstery? New engine? No problem. They “conversion” part means converting the vehicle to 4WD. So really, these guys can do pretty much anything.

Believe me, those enthusiasts are out there. The GoWesty website says for restoration and conversion work, the company is booked… for all of 2017.

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The company does give tours, apparently, but when we arrived they were closed for lunch. So we looked around their little lot (enviously, these were some sweet rigs), before heading out for lunch ourselves.

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In case you were wondering – GoWesty has a page on their website that details how much these conversions cost. Brace yourselves. A lot of what I saw on the website was late 1980’s and early 1990’s models, and the average cost of a convsersion/overhaul was $70,000. Some were as high at $117,000.

After I saw those numbers I stopped being so jealous. Because there is basically no way we could ever afford something like that, no matter how awesome it is. My main issue with a camper van (or a Sportsmobile, for that matter) is that it’s not a daily commuter. Ever. See, with Taco Negro, we can take off the RTT and the basket and the hitch-mounted bike rack, and that truck goes back to getting decent enough gas mileage that I wouldn’t mind driving it to work every day. The same cannot be said of a camper van. Why would you want to put commuter miles on a decked-out camper van, anyway?

So when I say that we could never ever afford something like that, it’s because we would need to have an extra $90,000 or so just sitting around, along with extra garage space to hold the vehicle that would only get used on special occasions.

Anyway. I will say that those GoWesty camper vans were super tricked out. We enjoyed looking at them.

We also (finally) went Stand-Up Paddleboarding at Avila Beach. We’ve been trying for a while now but the winds kept thwarting us.

See, this time of year, every afternoon the wind kicks up. This isn’t exactly a gentle breeze. Sometimes the wind gets cranking at 25-30mph. Another problem, as the folks at Avila Beach Paddlesports explained, is that this strong wind is normally from the northwest. If you get caught too far from shore in that wind (and being on a stand-up paddleboard basically makes you a giant sail), you will get blown all the way to Pismo Beach – 7 miles away!

So we finally got smart and went in the morning.

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It was a gorgeous day – so sunny and warm that we didn’t need wetsuits. We saw several sea lions and lots of gulls, cormorants, and pelicans. Some fish – mostly the small ones that hung out around the kelp beds.

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We paddled out along the Port San Luis pier and pulled up on the beach below the Port San Luis Lighthouse. We hiked up to check it out and saw this fabulous swing along the way.

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Even I took a turn. (I loved swingsets as a kid, but as an adult they tend to make me a little sick.) So I didn’t swing for very long. It was fabulous, though. Like swinging out over the ocean.

We spent almost two hours on the boards. I am completely hooked! Wherever we settle (and San Luis Obispo is currently looking pretty good), I’ll be checking Craigslist for a used SUP.

So our plan is to head back out on the road on Sunday, June 4th. This is partly because we don’t want to look for a campsite over the weekend. But it’s also because Elvis’s ashes are due back June 3rd. I’m willing to wait a couple of extra days for him.

Hopefully we’ll have good coverage as we head out – the plan is to hit the eastern Sierras (especially Bishop, Mono Lake, Lake Tahoe) before going back west towards the coast. I don’t know how I feel about zig-zagging across the state, but in addition to the cool things along the eastern Sierras, I want to ride Skunk Train near Mendocino, visit Glass Beach near Fort Bragg, and visit Redwood National Park.

Actually, this is far more planning than I normally do. So we’ll see what happens. Stay tuned!

 

In The Land of Giant Sequoias

We headed out of San Luis Obispo on Tuesday, May 9th and headed east and north. Our first stop: Sequoia National Monument.

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We spent two days at this free little spot, and didn’t see another person. (Apparently the road that lead to it had only been open for a few days.) We did see two fighter jets –  our campsite was actually buzzed by two planes on Wednesday morning. They passed right above us, right over the treetops, and it was so cool. We heard more around us during our stay but never saw them again. I found out later that the aircraft were based out of China Lake Naval Air Station.

The weather was super pleasant, although Elvis tended to need a little help staying warm.

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We found that blanket at the San Luis Obispo Goodwill for $5. The heavy polyester actually sticks to Elvis, so when he gets up to change positions or drink water, the thing hangs off him like a cape. The old guy needs all the help he can get, as he recently stopped eating dog food of any kind. Even the kind with bacon grease added. Based on the advice of our vets (Jacques and Allison), we tried out ground turkey and rice, which Elvis has been inhaling. I thought it was only cats that would starve themselves out of spite…

The next day we took a little walk down the hill (we meant me, Michael, and Bailey. Elvis stayed in the truck with his blanket) to find the source of the roaring water we’d been hearing.

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Bailey was more than up for the adventure. He’s been a real trooper, snuggling with Elvis sometimes, and being an all-around great helper dog. He was very ready to run around.

 

 

 

California’s snowpack reached 170% of normal this year in the Sierra Nevadas, so there is water everywhere. It sure was pretty, though.

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We followed this creek back up to the road, where the flow was a lot more gentle, before returning to camp. GoGoTacoNegro

While we didn’t see any giant sequoias during our stay, we did see some damn tall trees.

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After restocking in the town of Porterville, we headed northwest to the north entrance of Sequoia/Kings Canyon National Parks. We camped for the night at a free site along Ten Mile Road, which is just outside the National Park border.

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I’ve really been missing our Revel Gear lights. I don’t know what I did but they stopped working a little while ago. Luckily Revel Gear is an awesome company and they’re sending us a new set, yay!

Man oh man was I excited to get to see giant sequoia trees. The weather up in the Park was strange for me, although I was assured by Park staff that the afternoon fog was totally normal for this time of year.

We drove to the Giant Forest to see General Sherman, the world’s largest tree.

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For the record, it is actually really hard to photograph giant sequoias. General Sherman is the tree in the center and is approximately 2,200 years old. The dark part at the base is an old burn scar – sequoias evolved with fire, and the giant trees generally survive them quite well. All the large trees we saw had multiple burn scars.

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This fog rolled in while we were hiking around what’s called the Congress Trail, and while it made things chillier, it was like hiking through a cloud. I loved taking these pictures.

Remember how I said it was actually difficult to photograph these trees? It’s because they’re so tall. Even with my 18mm lens I could either get the base or the top. Not both.

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I tended to go for the base. And sometimes even the base wouldn’t fit in the frame. These trees really are giants.

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So did Michael. I have to tell you, walking into this stand of huge trees… it was magical. Everyone should try it – if only to remind you of how small you really are.

Remember how I said water is everywhere here?

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Yeah. It was everywhere.

Next post: our adventures in Sequoia National Park continue!

 

Two weeks already?!?

It’s kind of hard to believe we arrived in San Luis Obispo on April 22nd. How has so much time passed already?

I certainly can’t complain. It’s pretty awesome here. Jacques took us to the nearby town of Orcutt to play disc golf at Waller Pines Park.

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That’s actually Jacques, although it can be hard to tell the two brothers apart from a distance.

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Waller Pines is actually 36 holes! We played 18 and called it good. But what we played of the course was a ton of fun. I especially liked these signs at every tee – we never got lost looking for the next hole.

 

 

 

 

We’ve been running a lot too. Michael, Allison, and I all went out to a place called Irish Hills Natural Reserve for a big one. Almost 8 miles for Michael and Ali, and I clocked in with 6.5 miles.This is a fabulous place to run.

Michael and I took the dogs to Avila Beach – specifically, to the dog beach at Avila. Two separate people asked us if Elvis was a rescue. Which, of course, he is. Was. I mean, we did rescue him…15 years ago. Why were people suddenly asking about him now? Bailey’s a rescue too, and nobody asked about him. Then I realized that it was Elvis’s new shaved haircut. You can see most of his bones now, so I guess people thought he’d spent his life chained to a tree or something, instead of being spoiled rotten since 2002. We had to explain that there’s nothing wrong with Elvis – he’s just old.

After wearing the dogs out at the beach (it took a while with Bailey), we went to lunch at Mersea’s in Port San Luis, opting to sit outside and watch the water. We weren’t the only ones out enjoying the sun.

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I was tempted to correct this one in Photoshop, to make the dock look more horizontal. But all the sea lions were piled onto one end. It really was that tilted.

Mersea’s offers a sweet view of the Avila Beach area.

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Lots of small boats passed by, but the best was these two SUPs:

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I wonder if Bailey would hang out on a stand-up paddleboard? I’d bring Elvis but people might think we were torturing him or something.

Michael and I also took a little drive down to Oceano, to see the dunes. While it’s only $5 per car to drive onto the dunes (which are right on the water), we kind of got that out of our system back in Texas. So we walked, which definitely put us in the minority.

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I did get some pretty good pictures, though.

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Our next step might just be the hardest…. it’s time to move on. We’ve still got places to visit, new things to see. Our first stop will be the Yosemite area. That might be an adventure in and of itself, as the California snowpack is at about 170% of normal right now. Tuolumne Meadows isn’t expected to open until July. Hell, parts of Yosemite Valley are flooded right now, so we’ll just have to play the camping situation a little loose.

Stay tuned!

Life in the SLO Lane

We arrived in San Luis Obispo, California, on Saturday, April 22nd, to hang out for a bit with the California Drazsnzaks (aka Michael’s brother, Jacques, Jacques’ wife, Allison, and their two daughters, India and Phoebe).

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We’ve been here a couple of times before and enjoyed this area immensely. There’s always something fun to do – let’s count the ways, shall we?

  1. Farmer’s Markets

While there are only (?!) three farmer’s markets each week in San Luis Obispo itself, according to SanLuisObispoVacations.com within San Luis Obispo county there is at least one farmer’s market every single day of the week. How cool is that?

We started off with the legendary Thursday night market in downtown SLO. This one has it all: local produce, locally made products, live entertainment, and BBQ.

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You can tell who married in to the family. Phoebe’s 9 and she’s almost as tall as I am.

We went to the Thursday night market for a jar of local honey, some vegetables, and then found some excellent gyros and falalfel from a place called Oasis. Yummy!

We meant to go to the Saturday morning market over on Madonna Road, but that one closes at 10:45 and we didn’t make it. Arroyo Grande to the rescue! AG is the next town over from SLO, and their Saturday farmer’s market runs from noon-2:30.

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This one is on the small side – only two blocks long, but the produce in Arroyo Grande did not disappoint.

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I know that we’re in California and all, but I just couldn’t help but make the observation that in Colorado, we don’t get produce like this until at least June. And I’m pretty sure I’ve never even seen English peas at the Longmont farmer’s market.

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We saw enough chickens to make me think of Key West,

 

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and everyone enjoyed this little suspension bridge.

 

 

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2. Cool restaurants

I did find something completely new and different in SLO: Blast 85 Taproom. It’s a bar and restaurant, which isn’t all that unusual… but I’ve never seen beer served this way before.

There are over 35 beers on tap here – and you get to serve yourself. If you want to try something new, just pour yourself a couple of ounces. No problem!  Here’s how it works: when you check in with the bartender, she takes a look at your ID and your credit card, and gives you something they call the Smart Beer Wristband. There’s a chip in the wristband that keeps track of what you pour, as well as how much. You pay for it all when you’re ready to go. I had never heard of this concept before. Genius! The bartenders are on hand if you have questions, but there is a screen above each tap handle with information about each beer.

Did I use the word genius already?

3. Theater

Jacques and Ali gave us a special treat, getting extra tickets so that we could join the family for PCPA’s performance of the musical Lend Me a Tenor down in Santa Maria.

The performance was brilliant and I was a bit surprised. The central coast of California seems a little isolated, halfway between Los Angeles and San Francisco, and Santa Maria is the biggest town at about 100,000 people. (SLO itself is around 65,000). I just didn’t expect actors and theater people to flock to the area. Part of the reason, I think, is the PCPA – the Pacific Conservatory Theater.

It’s part of Hancock Community College, and through one of their unique programs students can study “Career and Technical Education,” working right alongside professional actors and resident artists. How cool is that?

Ali also told me that Hancock works closely with California’s other colleges and universities – so that classes taken there (here’s a list of academic departments) will actually transfer towards a Bachelor’s degree.

How cool is that?

4. Morro Bay

Morro Bay is fondly referred to as Three Stacks and a Rock in reference to the two main features there (besides the bay itself).

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The Morro Bay Power Plant
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Morro Rock

The Morro Bay Power Plant was built in the early 1950’s and shut down in 2014. It hasn’t been decommissioned and sits empty on about 100 acres of prime real estate. The New York Times wrote a great article about it – you can read it here.

We rented kayaks for a paddle around the bay, which was amazing. We saw sea lions (from a distance) and sea otters (from a greater distance) and even a manta ray. After a couple hours we were a little tired and hungry, and headed over to a place called Dockside #2 for lunch. Michael went for fish & chips, I had the fish tacos, and we enjoyed the live music, which was a guy and his banjo. He played mostly folk songs although he did take requests. He reminded me a bit of my friend Kevin Slick in that he seemed to know every song.

The third time he asked if there were any requests I decided to test his bluegrass chops. I asked for Foggy Mountain Breakdown. This song is generally known as the Bluegrass National Anthem (you can listen to it here), and to my delight he did a pretty good job!

Not as good as David Okay Patton, of course. (Happy birthday, Dave!)

With full bellies we went for a little stroll around Morro Bay. It’s a pretty town, although at this point we’ve been to so many tourist towns that they all kinda look the same: saltwater taffy, T-shirts, jewelry, a gallery or two. We did get to see my favorite car of all time, though.

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A 1966 Stingray Corvette. Michael finally told me to stop taking pictures of it, already.

We walked near the docks for a bit…

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And saw a few things bobbing in the water nearby.

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Sea otters! And let me tell you, they were adorable.

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We’ve barely scratched the surface on California’s central coast. But so far it’s been pretty awesome.

All About Elvis

If you follow this blog, you know that we have two dogs, Bailey and Elvis. Both are rescues. Elvis came from a place called Second Chance Rescue in 2002. At the time his age was estimated at 1-2 years. (Doing the math… that makes him an old dog.) Bailey came from the Longmont Humane Society and when we took him home in 2013, his age was estimated at 1.5 years.

I don’t think Elvis has ever quite forgiven us for bringing home a second dog. Four years into it, I think that he secretly likes Bailey, but in general Elvis generally seems to show a certain level of disdain for his younger companion. Luckily Bailey rolls with the punches.

Bailey has also rolled with the punches in our travels… unlike Elvis. Our new lifestyle has been a little tough on the old guy. By nature he’s a nervous and twitchy little dog (he’s a border collie/Australian shepherd mix) who doesn’t deal well with changes in his routine. We’ve done many things to make the traveling life more comfortable for Elvis. Things like putting bacon grease on his food to get him to eat, and giving him Valium at night to help him sleep.

Elvis seems to really like living with the California Drazsnzaks. I found this surprising because Jacques and Allison have two energetic daughters (India and Phoebe), a dog (Rusty), two cats (Lilly and Sam), a rat (whose name I forget), and a bearded dragon (Bones). The quiet moments here can be few and far between.

Plus, after only a day or so here, Allison took Elvis to work with her. (Did I mention that Jacques and Allison are both vets, with their own clinic, the Evergreen Animal Clinic? They’ve been helping us out with our dog-related questions for months.) I had our vet in Colorado fax over Elvis’s medical records and Allison gave Elvis a big physical.

So this is how Elvis normally looked.

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OK, so that’s an old picture… but it’s perfect for showing just how much fur Elvis has. Had. Because this is what he looked like when he came home that night:

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Yep, he got shaved. It was necessary – he had mats and tangles and all sorts of nasty things imbedded in his long fur. I understand. But still… he looked like a drowned rat. His collar was suddenly three sizes too big. And he was not happy about his new look. I tried to scratch him behind the ears that night, and I swear that dog gave me the side-eye as he walked away.

So the upside was that Elvis was free of his nasty old fur. But it gets chilly in San Luis Obispo at night, and that dog was suddenly shivering a lot more than he used to. That first night he slept next to me and Michael in the bed (something he hadn’t done in years). Then he started seeking out every blanket in the house.

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Michael made this little dog burrito, but I’m telling you – Elvis stayed in this exact position for three hours.

In case you’re worried about our senior citizen – Elvis was back to running around, chasing the tennis ball, and generally being a happy dog about a day after being shaved. If anything, he seemed happier than ever. Snuggly. Affectionate, even.

Now, because Allison had done a lot of poking and prodding, I thought Elvis might hold a bit of a grudge against her. (He’s been known to do that.) But one night, this was the scene in the Drazsnzak living room:

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Yep, that’s Elvis. Snuggling with Allison. He loves it here.

I’ll feel a little bad when we resume our travels… But not bad enough to leave him behind. Elvis has always been the Adventure Dog and our adventures are not over yet. So before we head out for Yosemite (our next destination) we’ll stock up on the bacon grease and refill his Valium prescription.

Burgers and Bingo at the Country Club

I feel the need to start this post by assuring you that yes, this is a real thing. Once a month the San Luis Obispo Country Club hosts a fabulous evening of burgers and bingo. And it just so happens that the California Drazsnzaks live within walking distance of the San Luis Obispo Country Club.

After leaving Prescott on April 19th, we headed to Mojave National Preserve, not far from Kelso Dunes. It was pretty there, and quiet, although a little windy.

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Kelso Dunes

We didn’t camp at the dunes because there really wasn’t any shade and none of the shrubs were tall enough to act as a wind break.

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The rocks behind us actually made for a nice wind barrier. We had a quiet evening and then decided to move on to Keyesville Recreation Site near Lake Isabella, CA.

Keyesville has a lot of OHV trails and is a popular area on the weekends. Luckily we arrived on a Thursday and had our pick of sites. I found these huge pinecones all over the ground. After putting one up on a rock to take a picture, I realized I needed something for scale.

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That’s a not-so-old but fairly beat-up stainless steel pint glass from Planet Bluegrass. That pinecone is pretty damn big.

We stayed at Keyesville until Saturday and then packed up and made the drive to San Luis Obispo. We passed through so many things along the way, it was kinda crazy. After passing through the town of Wofford Heights we went west on Highway 155. The road climbed steeply for about 15 miles, winding through tall trees, before opening up to some grand views to the west.

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Those rolling hills of trees became rolling hills of green grass as we descended, which then became rolling hills of brown grass dotted with cows. As we continued to descend the landscape became flatter and the cows were replaced by oil derricks. Then the road was totally flat, with grapevines on the south side and citrus trees on the right. After a few miles of that, it was almond trees all the way.

And that was our tour of California’s central valley.

It was so wonderful to arrive in San Luis Obispo and see Jacques and Allison, and their daughters India (12) and Phoebe (9). India is already taller than I am.

April 23rd was the night. We walked over to the Country Club around 5:30. It’s a Country Club, so of course it’s pretty posh, but for some reason I was surprised that there is a dress code for men that involves collared shirts. Maybe part of the surprise is that there is no dress code for women? Well, Michael has a collared shirt so it wasn’t a big deal.

The evening started off with the requisite burgers, served up buffet style. Generally speaking I don’t do burgers much anymore – the bun is forbidden in paleo eating, and while I can get them wrapped in lettuce, it’s not really the same thing.

Anyway. I needn’t have worried, because the buffet had so many toppings that I lost track. There were the standards, of course, like mayo and ketchup and mustard, and lettuce and tomato and onion. But there was also BBQ sauce. And bacon. And guacamole. And pineapple. There was also salad, onion rings, french fries, potato wedges, and chicken fingers.

This was a Country Club sized buffet.

I was still finishing my guacamole-bacon-BBQ sauce-pineapple burger with no bun when bingo began.

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I’m not sure if this is just because it’s the Country Club sponsoring the bingo (I have not played bingo in a long, long time), but they give out the “dabbers” that you use to mark your cards.

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I guess they splurged on the good stuff. I felt pretty special using “the winner’s ink.”

Some of the dabbers looked a little (ab)used, though.GoGoTacoNegro

 

 

 

 

I was a little surprised to find that gone (apparently) are the days of straight 5-in-a-row bingo. Now there are patterns you have to make, like Diamond Outline, Kite, Layer Cake, and Block of Nine. (You can see what I’m talking about at NationwideBingo.com.)

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Now, I know most of this was due to the company, but I had so much fun at bingo. My abs were sore the next day from laughing so hard. India and Phoebe are both very into bingo, and at the age when it’s fun to be dramatic about things. They were hilarious.

 

And then India won!

 

 

Of course, as the evening went on, our “Pile of Disappointment” continued to grow, but we still had a blast.

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The last round of the evening was called Blackout Bingo. You have to fill up your entire card to win. And play continued until all the prizes were given away. Things were getting pretty tense around the table, with people calling out how close they were getting. Michael was being uncharacteristically quiet.

I was getting thisclose to winning:GoGoTacoNegro

When the announcer called G… 57 and Michael yelled BINGO!

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It’s the quiet ones you have to look out for, I tell you.