Monday, December 26, 2011


Odel, Jim and Diane on Christmas morningWe landed in Yuma, Arizona on Friday, settling in with our good friends Diane and Jim on their lot in the Foothills area east of town.  Scoopy dwarfs their cozy nest, an older singlewide mobile home that Diane and Jim have renovated into a bright, airy, welcoming winter home.  It is amazing how HUGE a singlewide mobile home feels when you are used to living in an RV – even more so when you travel for months each year in a truck camper, as Jim and Diane do. 

We immediately got down to the business of socializing and partying.  Ron and Carol, friends from Sacramento, have a place half a mile from here, and our friends Mary and Elaine are staying with them on their lot – do you begin to see a trend here?  We have MANY friends in the area, and have been making the most of it. 

Mary and Elaine invited us to Ron and Carol’s place for dinner on Christmas Eve.  The main course was THE clam chowder - you know, the one we are ALWAYS looking for, yet so rarely find?  Absolutely delicious and just the right texture.  That great meal was followed the next day by Christmas potluck over here at Jim and Diane’s, sitting outside in the sunshine on the patio.  All good cooks in the group, and our meal was perfectly delicious.

Christmas dinnerVisiting with friends has taken center stage.  Photos have gone unedited, emails unread and unanswered… and the week looks like more of the same.  AND, it is time for me to get serious about planning for my trip to Panama, leaving in a week! 

On Friday, we’re leaving Yuma, moving to the beautiful Escapees RV park, Jojoba Hills, east of Temecula in Aguanga, California, where we will ring in the new year with our many friends there.  Odel will stay at Jojoba Hills for a couple weeks while I explore Panama with two of my closest friends from my days in Sacramento.  Becky has been in Panama with the Peace Corps for the past 6 months; now that her commitment has ended, our mutual friend, Pat, and I are going down for a ten day visit.  I’m so behind on my preparations!

If I’m not blogging much (or at all!) for the next few weeks, picture us eating, drinking, socializing… trying to fit in exercise here and there… searching out my passport, making lists and checking them twice…

Best wishes, happy holidays, and good health to all our readers and followers.  May we all find peace, tolerance, and prosperity in the coming year.

Friday, December 23, 2011


Evening colorOf course, there are WAY more than just four fun hikes in Anza Borrego State Park!  These are fresh in my mind, though, since we have hiked each of them in the past few days: a short, steep hike to a great view; a diverse loop to a palm oasis and the chance to encounter bighorn sheep; an historic site with an interesting story; and a serpentine wiggle through Anza-Borrego badlands. 

THE PALM CANYON OVERLOOK:  Short (under a mile) but steep, this rocky trail switchbacks up a hill adjacent to the Palm Canyon campground, where we were parked.  It was perfect for a quick burst of exercise when I’d been sitting too long, and an enjoyable viewpoint as the sun dropped below the higher mountains to the west in late afternoon (top photo).  This would be a fun trail with kids – though both Odel and I were happy that we were the only hikers up top on each of the three times we visited.

Bighorn in Palm CanyonTHE PALM CANYON OASIS LOOP: Also easily accessible on foot from the Palm Canyon campground, this trail features an oasis of palms and the chance to encounter bighorn sheep (Borrego).  Around three miles (longer if you walk from the campground), the trip to the oasis is frequently done as an out-and-back, but we like to take the “alternate” trail in one direction – it is a little steeper, a bit more of a workout, but offers much better views than the main canyon route and a wider diversity of flora.

Our preferred route is to take the “alternate” (really, that is what the sign says!) trail from the trailhead parking lot (the docent at the trailer can point it out to you, on the south end of the lot) to the junction with the main trail (after you have climbed and traversed the rocky slope).  At the junction, turn left to visit the palm grove (you will return to this junction), or continue across the palm trunk bridge to return to the parking lot via the canyon trail for a shorter hike.  We’ve been told there are two more palm groves beyond the first; rather a scramble to reach them.

In 2008, I had a close encounter with bighorn sheep in Palm Canyon.  As we walked through the canyon wash heading back to the car, a bighorn posed on a rock above my head.  While I took photographs, a few more bighorn appeared, and began moving quickly in my direction.  Our friend Jim had startled a small herd when he hiked behind them, and they suddenly scampered (seemed more like a stampede!) down the bank of the wash in my direction.  I froze (but managed to get a photo) as they passed on both side of me.

2 sheep 2 Close

THE MARSHALL SOUTH TRAIL ON GHOST MOUNTAIN:  I’ve wanted to hike this trail since I first heard of Marshall and Tanya South and the rough home they crafted on Ghost Mountain (click here to read a long article about the Souths, or here for a shorter article).  It is another trail that is not long (2 miles round trip) but IS steep – and worth the climb.  Here you’ll find the remnants of the South’s home, occupied by the couple and their three children for 16 years – and fabulous views in every direction.  We were so lucky that day – fantastic weather, and the only other hikers we saw were on their way down as we climbed up.   Click on any of the photos below to enlarge them.

Yaquitepec sign Climbing the Marshall South Trail
View from Marshall South homestead and the road we traveled. Doorway to Marshall South homestead

A few miles further down the sandy road, we visited the morteros…

… holes in the rock made by the Kumeyaay as they ground seeds and nuts.

Morteros sign Morteros 1

THE SLOT:  The badlands east of Borrego Springs are intriguing, and hiking The Slot is a fascinating way to experience these unusual formations.  A couple miles off Hwy 78 on a sandy road, the first bit of the hike - down into the canyon – is a scramble.  Pay attention to landmarks so you’ll know where to retrace your route on your return… then head downhill.  At times, it seemed like a warning sign might have been in order: “Caution – check your girth before proceeding!”  I surely had to suck it in a few times.

The trail winds through a VERY narrow slot canyon before exiting into colorful badlands on the downhill side.  Traveling through the slot is a short hike, under a mile, but can easily be extended as the wash widens on the other side.  I can’t imagine what water looks like as it floods through the slot, carving the fantastic formations.  It was great fun – on a dry day.  (And I wouldn’t want to be there during an earthquake, either.)

Looking into The Slot from the parking area.

Odel disappears into The Slot.

The Slot from the top Odel disappears in slot
In The Slot Odel under collapsed column

Odel and I occasionally discuss what kind of vehicle we should purchase when our current Jeep is used up.  We had never owned Jeeps before we began fulltiming, and bought our first one because we knew it could easily be set up for towing “four down” (all four wheels on the ground) – no need for a trailer or dolly.  We found a used Jeep Grand Cherokee, test drove it, liked it, bought it. 

Yay for high clearanceNow we are on our second used Jeep Grand Cherokee.  Though we had intended to downsize, we got a good deal on the current vehicle – and didn’t want to give up the comfort!  Still, we’ve never put our jeep in 4-wheel low (we’d have to read the owner’s manual!), so Jeep ownership seems like overkill most of the time.

Not here in Anza-Borrego, though.  Many (“most” is probably more accurate) of the roads are unpaved, sandy and rocky.  The road to the Marshall South trail was a couple miles, and recent rains had made several bumpy, muddy patches.  On the road to The Slot, we ran into deep sand a couple times.  Having 4-wheel drive and, especially, high clearance, gave us a feeling of security (along with our recently installed new starter, of course!).

Thursday, December 22, 2011


Each time we visit Borrego Springs, I see something new and realize there is a lot more to this little town than first meets the eye.  For us, the (usually) pleasant winter weather and the proximity to dozens of desert hikes are a big draw, but the somewhat quirky nature of the town appeals to us, too.

Galleta Meadows signWhile Odel was playing golf yesterday, I took the Jeep and GPS to tool around town, exploring.  I enjoy driving slowly along unknown streets, turning here and there as whim strikes – an interest Odel doesn’t share, so best done on my own.   I learned quite a bit more about the neighborhoods of Borrego Springs, and renewed my wonder at one of the oddest sights of the area: the giant metal sculptures of Galleta Meadows Estates.

Driving around the outskirts of town, both north and south, you will frequently see this sign… and behind it, huge, rust-red, metal sculptures of prehistoric animals and birds, horses, giant tortoises, and mastodons, some set well off the main road on winding, sandy tracks.  The land is owned by Dennis Avery (Avery office supplies); the sculptures are crafted by Ricardo Breceda.  

The sculptures are eye-popping and great fun to visit.  In the few years we’ve been visiting, the collection has grown substantially – and on this trip, I found one I’d never seen before (as it turns out, it was completed just last July): a 350 foot long serpent that spans the road!

The serpent

See our Jeep?  It is parked on the road, tiny in comparison to the huge serpent.  On this side of the road, you can see the head and two “humps” (I could easily walk through the first one without ducking).  On the other side of the road is a shorter hump and a long tail.
Serpents head closeup

Here is a close-up of the amazingly detailed serpent’s head.

As interesting as the sculptures are,  I am equally amazed by the generosity of Mr. Avery.  Each of the Galleta Meadows Estates signs say the same thing: “Hiking, horseback riding, picnicking, photographing, bicycling – no motorized cycles, camping limit three days.  Privately owned desert estate.”  When was the last time you saw a sign inviting you onto private property?  Inviting you to camp for up to three days?  To stick around, explore, enjoy the interesting sights he has commissioned and installed for your pleasure?  In a world of liability fears and “No Trespassing” signs, it seems miraculous.  Borrego Springs has a great benefactor in Dennis Avery.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011


Campground from the overlookWhen we left Sacramento, we had just one reservation: 6 nights in Palm Canyon campground (click here to read our review from March, 2011) at Anza Borrego State Park.  While we have sampled various campsites in the Borrego Springs area (click here to read our review of Rockhouse Road boondocking and click here to read our review of Borrego Holiday Home Mobile Home and RV Park), the state park’s Palm Canyon campground, with spacious sites, full hookups, and out-the-door access to beautiful desert hiking, is our favorite place to set up our home.

We first visited Borrego Springs in February of 2008; since then, it has become a regular part of our winter travels.  As soon as we set up camp when we arrived on Saturday, we took off on a favorite hike in the area, the Palm Canyon loop… no drive to the trailhead required, it is an easy walk from the campground.  That set the tone for the days we have spent here – lots of hikes!

Sunrise colors the Anza-Borrego mountainsides.

Our curious neighbor (click photo to enlarge it).

Sunrise hits the mountains as Borrego Good morning!

And… lots of visiting.  Two of Odel’s co-workers make Borrego Springs their winter home.  On our second day here, Odel was out on the golf course with Ross and Dick.  Kay (Ross’s wife) and I joined the group for dinner that night, a reunion filled with laughter and recollections of their work together at California’s Resources Agency, the state parks division.  As I write this, Odel and Dick are back out on the golf course; I have plans for exploration in the Jeep later today (after I bake the last of my Christmas cookies).

Yesterday, we paid a visit to the Richard Dopp’s clay oven on Rockhouse Road.  We were boondocking on site when Richard built this little oven during our first visit to Borrego Springs (click here to read about the building of the oven, with photos) – it’s almost 4 years old now.  As Richard and Marlene left the Rockhouse Road site after building the oven, he worried that subsequent campers might destroy it but, as our visit yesterday showed, the opposite has happened: subsequent campers have maintained it well!  

Oven on Rockhouse RoadThe campsite is currently occupied by a first-time visitor to the area, a friendly Canadian (BC license plates) and his two lively dogs.  We explained why we were disturbing his privacy and found him interested in the history of the oven and information we were able to offer about the area (like which way the wind blows!).  He told us he has been similar ovens (larger) in British Columbia, build by Chinese immigrants in days long past, and we talked about the huge brick and clay ovens we’ve seen in use in Mexico. This little example, built using on-site materials, is part of a long line of illustrious ancestors.  :)

The oven has a fresh layer of cob, clay with a big helping of straw mixed in.  Richard, this photo is for you – and I know several other readers will be pleased to see this little icon of Rockhouse Road so well respected!  :)

I’ve got photos from our other hikes in the area – coming soon.

Saturday, December 17, 2011


We weren’t in Indio long, but made the most of our time here.  We’re well stocked (some might say overstocked) with holiday food and drink (thanks, Costco and Trader Joe’s), and took care of some other shopping, too – you can find EVERY kind of store here.  We enjoyed our hike at Palm Canyon, something I had wanted to do for quite awhile.

IMG_4146And we got to do something ELSE I have wanted to do for quite awhile: we had lunch with Rick and Paulette!  Rick writes one of my favorite blogs, Rick and Paulette’s Travels, a chronicle of his daily doings at home and on the road – with a heavy dose of computer tech tips written in language a non-techie can understand.  

This year, unlike years past, Rick and Paulette left their home on Vancouver Island to head to southern California prior to Christmas, which meant they were settled into their winter RV park while we made our way south.  When it was clear we would be in the same area at the same time, I wasted no time setting up a lunch date.

We met at the Fisherman’s Market in La Quinta, a place Rick and Paulette had heard about but had never visited.  I don’t remember any of us discussing the food we ordered and ate – we were so busy talking about travels, RV parks, golf (Rick’s next stop was a golf shop, to pick up a set of clubs), blogging and bloggers (were your ears burning?) - and politics (GASP)!    The conversation NEVER flagged; we had a great time.  I don’t know when out paths will cross again, but I’m glad we had the opportunity to meet in person.

Yesterday morning was devoted to our Costco shopping trip.  It took almost as long to find space for our purchases once we came home as it did to do our shopping!  Afterwards, we had intended to stretch our legs on another hike, but Odel quickly capitulated when I suggested we attend opening day of the fourth – and very favorably reviewed – Mission Impossible movie (Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol), showing on an IMAX screen in Rancho Mirage.  Off we went for 2+ hours of pure escapist entertainment.   We both found it hugely entertaining and exited the theatre full of energy… which lasted almost all the way home!  :) 

Thursday, December 15, 2011


Driving through Palm DesertThe sun began to peek through the clouds as we left Yucaipa after a day of steady rain; our drive to Indio was short and pleasurably uneventful, so calm that none of the big windmills were turning as we traveled southeast on I-10.  We were surprised to find it was still sprinkling as we settled into a site in the nearly deserted RV parking lot at the Indio Elks Lodge (click here to read our review and see photos).  Since the weather seemed iffy for a hike, and since it was lunch time, we jumped into the Jeep and drove a short distance to one of our favorite local restaurants, Fisherman’s Market and Grill

Fisherman’s Market is all about fresh seafood, and has an extensive list of broiled and grilled selections.  I admit, though, that all we ever eat here is fried food!  Delicious, crispy, deep-fried shrimp for me (in a basket, as shrimp-n-chips, or in tacos), golden fried catfish with chips for Odel.  This time, we had a shrimp basket appetizer, fish tacos for me and catfish and chips for him.  What delicious decadence!   We ordered too much, ate it ALL, and revised our dinner menu from salad and pot pies to salad and nothing. 

The next day was a different story.

Trail down to Palm CanyonWhen we stayed in Desert Hot Springs last year, I decided it was finally time to visit Palm Canyon on the Agua Caliente reservation.  We’d never been there to hike, mainly because they charge an entrance fee (why pay when there are so many great free hikes in the area?).  The day before our planned hike, a strong storm swept in, flooding the usually dry washes that cross so many of the roads in the area and sending unusually high water through Palm Canyon.  So, scratch that plan!

Yesterday was a completely different story  – dry, sunny, and calm.  Off we went, a 20-plus mile drive along Hwy 111, passing through many of the desert communities in the greater Palm Springs area.  Special attention is paid to landscaping the wide boulevards in these wealthy enclaves: palm trees, bougainvillea, roses in bloom in the winter sunshine; fountains and waterfalls gush and trickle at gated entrances to walled communities.  What a beautiful drive!

At the reservation’s toll booth on South Palm Canyon Drive, we paid $16 ($9 for me, $7 for over 62 year old Odel), obtained a map of the multitude of short and long trails we could hike, then followed the narrow road into the neck of Palm Canyon.  The large parking lot at the Trading Post was less than half full, and we quickly found the trailhead.

Odel among the palms.

Climbing out of the palms on the Victor trail.

Odel on the Palm Trail Leaving the palms behind on the Victor Trail

What a grand hike!  Though we’ve been walking regularly, we haven’t been hiking much, so chose a shorter hike – a 3 mile loop from the Trading Post, alongside the stream under the shade of the palms in the canyon (Palm Canyon Trail), then up onto an arid ridge (the Victor Trail) with views into Palm Canyon and across the valley to the high peaks above Palm Springs.  The stream burbling through the shade of the palms attracted flocks of birds, and the air was filled with chirps, cheeps, and the soft chuckles of quail.  The hike went too quickly; guess we aren’t as out of shape as we feared.  :)

High above the canyon, soaking up the sun.

Back at the oasis, a cool pool.

High above the palms Palms reflected in the water

We’ll be in Indio two more days, mostly stocking up on supplies for next week – 6 days in Anza Borrego State Park, woo-hoo – and our Christmas dinner.  Costco and Trader Joes are both within a few miles of the Indio Elks Lodge, one of the perks of staying here.  Today: back to the Fisherman’s Market, where I might – just MIGHT – try something that is NOT fried. 

Tuesday, December 13, 2011


Santa Barbara is an appealing seaside town that shows no signs of a financial downturn.  During our recent visit, we strolled the crowded downtown area, enjoying the Christmas decorations and the smiling, bustling crowds laden with packages, bags, coffee cups and ice cream cones (we participated in the ice cream).  A small band played Christmas carols in a pocket park; solo musicians played on street corners.  In side-by-side windows of the Saks store, two lovely, young ballerinas in stiff white tutus turned slowly on the tips of their toes and posed for photos.  The entire scene sparkled in the cool sunshine and we enjoyed being part of it in our small way (Odel bought two new cotton t-shirts).

Finished with our walk and shopping, we found an open bench in a large courtyard near a group of musicians and sat to enjoy music and people watching.  Nearby, a nicely dressed, middle-aged volunteer wrapped gifts in return for a charitable donation (I don’t know which charity set this up).  Shoppers brought their packages, dropped them off, then returned later to pick them up and make a donation. 

The longer we sat, the more interested I became in the wrapping.  Glancing over, I noticed that the paper she cut for the package she was wrapping was not sufficiently long to cover the box.  I figured I must be wrong, at the wrong angle to see what was really going on… but, no, after slapping tape on the paper and box, she cut off another strip to use as a patch, and covered the gap (again, plenty of tape going in all directions).  Then I got distracted by other sights…

Next thing I know, Odel elbowed me and pointed out that the wrapper was using a too-short piece of paper to wrap another gift!  (The paper was cut from large rolls, not pre-cut).  Now we both were interested in the process.  Again, she cut another short strip to patch the gap, using tape liberally.  Done with the patch, she flipped the wrapping down over the sides, slapped more tape on, and turned the box so the patch was on the bottom.  She selected a tiny, pre-made, adhesive-backed bow which she affixed to the upper corner of the large box, a tiny boat bobbing on a large ocean.  Corners wrinkled, ragged cut edges showing, tiny bow on the big box, she tossed it into a bag ready to be picked up.

Odel and I looked at each other, eyes wide.  Odel nudged me and pointed secretly to another wrapped package sitting on the table – we agreed that looked like it had been wrapped by a ten year old boy. If I am receiving a gift from a ten year old boy, I would love that look… but when/if I’m paying for gift wrapping, I’d expect it to have a bit more polish – quite a bit more!

As we walked back to our car, I wondered how shoppers reacted when they returned to pick up their wrapped gifts.  Did they make a small donation and walk away disappointed, rewrapping the gift at home?  Laugh, and say “You’re joking, right?” or “Am I on Candid Camera?”   Refuse to make a donation?  Ask the wrapper to remove the gift wrapping and decline to make a donation?  Pay enough to cover the cost of the materials, under protest?

I don’t know what the heck I would have done.  How about you?

Monday, December 12, 2011


We’ve driven south from Sacramento to the Palm Springs area many, many times, usually traveling through California’s central valley to Bakersfield, where we turn east, then south to avoid driving through the L.A, basin.  The drawback?  It is a long, tedious drive after you’ve done it a couple of times!

Driving south along 101Highway 101 is far more visually appealing, particularly beautiful when it runs parallel to the Pacific Ocean, from Avila, north of Pismo Beach, to Ventura, just north of L.A.  So why don’t we drive it more often?  Because it goes right through the L.A. – lots of traffic, lots of interchanges and, yesterday at least, lots of smog! 

We left the Santa Barbara Elks Lodge (click here to read our review) at 9 am, an hour earlier than our normal departure time.  We anticipated a drive of 175 miles, from northwest of the L.A. basin to Yucaipa, a small town on the far eastern edge of L.A’s urban sprawl. 

A few years ago, along this route, we received the first – and so far only – ticket while driving the motorhome; we were pulled over for traveling in the middle lane on a 5-lane section of eastbound 101.  It was unusual for us to be in that lane, but Odel had pulled out to pass an auto hauler; the car in back on the upper deck was bouncing so badly we were afraid to stay behind it!  We had no idea it was illegal for us to be in the third lane (no signs posted to that effect) and I still can’t believe that the little twerp who stopped us gave us a ticket instead of a warning!  Just another reason to avoid the freeways of L.A.

Scoopy in site 16Yesterday the drive was uneventful, including the stop for diesel at the biggest truck stop we’ve ever seen.  We arrived at the almost deserted Yucaipa Regional Park (click here to read our review) at 1 pm and settled happily into our 50 amp, FHU site.  After ten days without a sewer hookup, I truly appreciate unlimited hot water. 

We planned a two-day stay here, long enough to do several loads of laundry and enjoy the good hiking in this park.  Only half our plan worked out; a rainstorm moved in early this morning and washed away our hiking plans.  :(

Tomorrow we’re off to Indio in the southern California desert, a short stop before we head further south, to the dry mountains of Anza Borrego State Park.  Bring on that desert warmth!

Friday, December 9, 2011


Heading to Prefumo CanyonA bobcat!  A coyote!  Four playful otters! 

When we stopped in at the visitors center in Pismo Beach a few days ago, I asked the staffer to recommend a particularly scenic drive in the area, expecting a road that meandered along the coastal bluffs.  Instead, she recommended See Canyon, a narrow road through an oak-studded, eucalyptus-lined canyon that eventually climbs a couple thousand feet for a 360 degree, mountain-top view. 

A little research on Google retrieved photos and videos of the drive, a favorite route for hard-core bicycle riders.  I learned that, at the end of See Canyon Road, a short stretch of narrow, dirt fire road continues to Prefumo Canyon Road, which then descends to a road we could follow to Morro Bay. 

A repaired Jeep, perfect weather, a bit of wilderness on the way to a lovely coastal town… all the ingredients for a fun day trip.

Morro Rock from Blue Sky CafeSee Canyon Road starts as a two-lane, paved road, but a large orange caution sign warns of 13 miles of narrow, winding, climbing road – and it doesn’t take long to materialize.  We traveled most of the drive to the top of the canyon at 25 miles an hour, sunroof open, breathing in the scent of the eucalyptus.  As the grade eased near the top of the canyon, the road turned to dirt, so I slowed even more… and spotted an animal standing in the sunshine on the road ahead.  A coyote?  A fox?  Nope, a curious bobcat!  Though it moved away as we slowly approached, it stopped several times to look over its shoulder at us.  Of course, the camera was in my bag in the back seat! 

Once he disappeared, we continued slowly on, connecting with paved Prefumo Canyon Road as the road broke out of the trees on the ridge top between the two canyons.  I pulled over off the road, TURNED OFF THE JEEP (testing the gods of automotive good fortune, I know), and we climbed out to stretch our legs and take in the view.  That’s when we saw the coyote, a healthy looking specimen only mildly curious about us.  Not as exciting for us as the bobcat, but another plus for wild animal sightings.

Back in the Jeep, we looked at each other, held our breath, I turned the key… VAROOOM.  Started right up.

2nd half of my outstanding meatloaf sandwich.

Does it get any better than this?

Meatloaf sandwich Odel at lunch in Morro Bay

By the time we hit Morro Bay, we were ready for lunch.  I hadn’t researched restaurants, so we chose the first café we found with a waterside location.  What a score!  Blue Skye Coastal Café had it all: sunny, outdoor seating (protected from the cool breeze by a windscreen) with a view of the marina and Morro Rock; delicious food; and friendly service.  Couldn’t have been better.

Three ottersAfter lunch, we slipped over to Morro Rock for a walk in the sunshine.  The channel into the marina was prime territory for water and shore birds, and hawks soared around the heights of the rock.  Strolling back to the car along the channel, we watched the entertaining synchronized movements of groups of water birds diving and resurfacing.  Odel pointed out a couple of birds that had just resurfaced further into the channel… but there was something wrong with that picture… finally, I got it.  Not birds, otters!   We picked up the pace and spent the next 10 minutes or so laughing at the antics of four otters floating and frolicking in the channel (too far away for a close-up with my little camera).

It was a grand day to close our stay in Oceano; after a walk on the beach this morning, we’ll continue our southward travels.  Later, friends.

Thursday, December 8, 2011


Was there ever a more convenient auto breakdown?  Jules is back and, thanks to Classic Auto Works, now starts every time. 

We got a call late Tuesday afternoon that Curt had pinpointed the source of our problems: a defunct starter.  If we wanted to give him the green light, he could order it before 5 pm and install it by mid-morning the next day.  We said “do it”!

Along the Bob Jones Trail in AvilaSandy called around 10:30 am on Wednesday; the work was complete, so we walked the mile to Classic Auto Works.  The work was completed in less than a day (THANK YOU, Curt, for fitting us in); the bill was very reasonable (only 1 hour charged for labor); and the starter has a lifetime warranty.  It couldn’t have been easier, and we were barely inconvenienced. 

After we picked up Jules, we did a little sightseeing drive combined with a pleasant walk in Avila, a very small town a few miles north of Oceano.  I had read a bit about the Bob Jones Bike Trail in Avila, and knew it would appeal to Odel as it winds along a golf course.  Our weather continues to be wonderful (particularly when compared with much of the country), and we wandered the trail without jackets, watching golfers attempt to best what looked like a difficult course.  The scenery was purely “old” southern California: rolling hills covered with huge oaks and giant, scented eucalyptus.  Birds flitted in the brush and trees; waterfowl floated the stream that challenged the golfers. 

Tough golf holeHeading home, we made one more stop – the small farmer’s market near the Pismo Beach pier.  Though there were scarcely a dozen booths, we came away fully laden: fresh eggs; guacamole and ceviche; cream cheese/garlic spread and cream cheese/chipotle spread (which I melted onto our spaghetti squash at dinnertime); fresh fennel, carrots, a small head of bright white cauliflower, a bag of freshly picked mixed salad greens and a ripe persimmon (to go in the salad).   All snapping fresh, beautiful bright colors…hurray for locally grown!

Whenever we have repairs made, we try to stay in the area for at least 24 hours.  Since we aren’t on a schedule, we decided to extend our stay here at the Oceano Elks Lodge (click here to read our review) for another day.  As soon as the sun warms things up – which will be late morning, as it was 28 degrees here last night – we’re heading off for a day at Morro Bay.  It’s been a long time since we’ve seen the big rock!

Tuesday, December 6, 2011


I closed my most recent post with the comment that we planned to visit Pinnacles National Monument the next day – and that is what we did, driving 60+ miles into a fairly remote (no cell service) area for a wonderful hike on a cool, sunny day.  Looking back on that jaunt now, after watching the tow truck take Jules off to a repair shop, all I can do is thank our lucky stars.

Pinnacles seemed to be a favorite spot for rock climbers, like this guy hanging off a rock edge.

Odel’s knee must be feeling okay – he looks like he is leaping up the last few steps!

Hanging climber Frisky Odel

Yes, we are temporarily without our Jeep.  We’ve managed to rule out the battery as the culprit, but that’s as far as we got on diagnosing the problem.  Turn the key and nothing happens – no clicking, no coughing, no sputtering, no nothing.  Headlights work, wipers work, dash lights work, but the power doesn’t translate to starting the vehicle.

View out frontAt least we not in the remote Pinnacles National Monument parking lot!  Instead, the Jeep conveniently quit right in front of our motorhome, parked at the almost empty Elks RV parking in Oceano, California (click here to read our review).  We have grass and sunshine outside, with a nice view of wetlands and distant dunes on one side, with well-maintained, red tile-roofed apartments on the other.  We can walk to the beach and a nearby restaurant, or call a cab if we want to go farther. 

One downside to fulltime travel is that you have none of the comforting local knowledge that comes with familiarity, no trusted local mechanic who knows your car.  After checking out a few local repair facilities online, we made a call, answered by an extremely friendly, efficient and apparently knowledgeable woman who gave us confidence that we’d chosen the right place.  And, it turned out they are just a mile away.  Coach-Net, our roadside assistance provider, had a tow truck at our place in about 20 minutes, and Jules has now been delivered to Classic Auto Works.  We expect a phone call with a diagnosis before the end of the day.  So far, so good… or at least as good as it gets when your transportation poops out on you.

So that was the downside of the day.  The upside?  Before all this happened, we got a few errands done, then drove the short distance to Pismo Beach for a lunch of clam chowder and fish-n-chips, consumed in the warm shelter of the restaurant’s enclosed, ocean view sun porch.  Next stop was the ice cream shop, so Odel could revisit Motor Oil ice cream (dark chocolate, fudge and Kahlua), a flavor we discovered on our first visit to Pismo Beach in March of 2009.  This super-premium treat is locally made at Doc Burnstein’s Ice Cream Lab and, yes, Odel has been dreaming about it for over two years.

On Pismo Beach Pier Happy with Motor Oil Ice Cream

It definitely isn’t summer here (no crowds!), but this December weather is great: calm, cool and sunny.  We strolled down to the pier with our cone (yes, just ONE) and enjoyed the view, then stopped in at the visitor’s center on the way back to the car.  We picked up a few maps and learned that the Monarch butterflies are here in their wintering grounds now, around 21,000 at latest count.  The butterfly grove was on our way home, so we stopped to see the Monarchs hanging on the high branch of an evergreen.  I have NO idea how they count them, but I had sort of pictured 21,000 butterflies taking up more space!

The Monarchs Done peering up at the butterfly mob, we hopped back in the Jeep to head home.  Odel turned the key and… NOTHING!   Tried again – nothing.  He jiggled the transmission lever, tried again, and Jules fired right up.  We looked at each other, shrugged our shoulders, and drove home, discussing our continuing problem the entire short drive.  Once we got home, I asked Odel to start the car again – and this time NOTHING worked, including a jump with our handy Jump-N-Carry.  :(   Pretty sad.

So, who knows how long we might be in Oceano?  Fortunately, we don’t have to be anywhere anytime soon, so we’ll just enjoy the beach and maybe get a little more exercise than usual.  :)

Saturday, December 3, 2011


In the weeks we spent at Cal Expo RV Park (click here to read our review), the trees outside went from fully clothed in deep green leaves, to the splendor of fall colors, to brown and bare, stripped by the strong winds gusting around Sacramento and all of central and southern California earlier in the week.  But Friday dawned calm and quiet, and as soon as Odel returned from his last physical therapy session, we bid goodbye to our view and hit the road.

Our drive down the center of California on I-5 was uneventful.  Early on, just south of Sacramento in a wetlands preserve, we spotted several small flocks of Sand Hill Cranes, plucking snacks from the fields; after that, there wasn’t much of interest (unless you are interested in feedlots and dormant orchards).   In spite of the recent strong winds, a light haze of smog hung over the valley.  Only the merest hints of green grass are beginning to show on the hillsides, marking the beginning of California’s rainy season.

On the path in MontereyWe were glad to leave I-5 at Santa Nella and head west.  Our target?  Salinas, California (think John Steinbeck), where the Salinas Elks Lodge (click here to read our review and see photos) is well positioned for visits to Monterey, San Juan Bautista, Santa Cruz and Pinnacles National Monument.

We arrived by 2:30, unhitched, set up Scoopy and… Jules wouldn’t start!  I had moved the Jeep about 10 feet after we unhooked (no problem); Odel moved it another 10 feet to the front of the motorhome.  After that, dead! 

The last time we had this problem was back in June, in John Day, Oregon.  Somehow, it seems related to towing… a short somewhere?  Something to do with the transmission setup for towing?  We’ve towed many, many miles since then with no problems at all.  Two non-mechanics can spend a mighty long time discussing possibilities - likely and unlikely - to no avail. 

A jump start was effective last June, but we went ahead and replaced the battery in John Day – so this battery is now just 6 months old.  A jump worked again this time, and we let her run for 30 minutes or so, but with last nights temperature in the mid-30’s, we weren’t surprised when we needed a jump to start again this morning.

Kayakers in MontereyOur drive over to Monterey recharged the battery, and our lunch of clam chowder (Odel) and a panko-crusted cod sandwich (me) recharged us.  We spent the next couple hours wandering along the wonderful bayside recreation trail, taking occasional advantage of the many trailside benches to watch the bikers, walkers, kayakers, scuba divers, pelicans and gulls… all the lively and colorful sights of a beautiful, busy waterfront on a bright, sunny, cool and calm day.  We put all thoughts of vehicle troubles on hold to enjoy the ambiance of a lovely spot on a lovely day.

Whoopee, Jules fired right up when we turned the key, and we’re back at home now.  Odel is recharging the little Jump-N-Carry, the self-contained jump starter we ordered off Amazon after our John Day experience.  We have plans to hike at Pinnacles National Monument tomorrow, a rather out-of-the-way spot, so want to make sure we’ve got the juice for a jump if we experience any more problems. 

In spite of the annoyance, it’s nice to be heading off once again.  Warmer weather beckons!