Saturday, May 31, 2008


Before we began our fulltiming lives, Odel and I each lived in Sacramento for more than 20 years (Odel more than 30). As a result, we don't do much tourist-type exploring when we visit here twice a year.

The first items on the calendar are medical appointments. Around those we schedule family gatherings, meals and movies with friends... plus all the RV and Jeep maintenance we sorta' put off until we arrive in Sacramento, along with any major shopping that requires research and price comparisons. All that un-fun stuff (NOT the visits with friends and family) is much easier to do in a city you know your way around.

This visit, the "major shopping" was for a new digital camera. One day recently, I found myself with a free afternoon, wonderful weather, and the need to learn the differences between the new Canon and my old Olympus, so I headed to the California state capitol building and the beautiful, 40 acre Capitol Park grounds - tourist!

California's capitol building, listed on the U.S. National Register of Historic Places, was built between 1860 and 1874 and completely restored in the 1970's. It is stunning. I'm sure every tourist goes away with this shot, of the inside of the dome - it is too beautiful to ignore.

The building was abuzz with kids on end-of-the-school year field trips, tourists like me taking photos, and power-suited, fast moving men and women presumably working. It was great to have no particular place to go and no one to supervise... I idled along the corridors and acted like a South Dakotan.

This shot looks down the Capitol Mall from the Capitol building to the Tower Bridge, a Sacramento landmark. This used to be the gateway to Sacramento. I am a native Californian, born in southern California, and I remember approaching the capitol by car as a kid on a family vacation up north, singing "California, Here We Come" at the top of my lungs with my two sisters. With the addition of I-5 and I-80, no one comes into Sacramento over the river across the Tower Bridge any longer, but it is still the prettiest approach.

I had forgotten another of Sacramento's most wonderful features: the trees. According to an NPR story, Sacramento claims to have more trees per capita than any other city in the world - including Paris, France. In the downtown and midtown area, many of the streets are completely covered with a leafy canopy, a saving grace in summer's sweltering heat and an absolute delight on a sunny spring day.

California, Here I Come
Right back where I started from
where bowers of flowers
bloom in the spring
each morning at dawning
birdies sing at everything
a sunkissed miss said, "Don't be late!"
that's why I can hardly wait
open up that golden gate
California, Here I Come

Tuesday, May 27, 2008


Odel was home from the east coast for 48 hours when it was my turn for a getaway. Though we have made many new friends since we left Sacramento five years ago, there is nothing like spending time with the girlfriends from "home". Our visits to Sacramento always include a trip with my two longtime friends, Becky and Pat.

Pat has a "cabin" (with three bedrooms and two bathrooms, "cabin" seems a woefully inadequte description to me) near Tahoe City, a small community on the north shore of Lake Tahoe - the side without the big casinos - within sight of the lake. Off we went on Thursday night for the long weekend, leaving Odel and Luna to enjoy some quality time alone, sharing KFC for dinner while lounging on the sofa watching ESPN.

The unseasonably cold weather in the northern California Sierra was a shocking change from the record-breaking heat wave earlier in the week. Our first morning, though, was beautiful - cool and sunny, perfect for a walk to the lake.

Those storm clouds hanging over the south side of the lake kept growing, and by the next morning, snow blanketed the mountain tops and high passes. We hibernated with (too much) great food, plenty of great wine, stacks of magazines and movies on DVD. I don't know any better way to spend time with good friends.

While I had contended with a record-breaking heat wave and the Jeep's malfunctioning air conditioning during Odel's absence, he had his own challenges while I was gone. The Memorial Day weekend coincides with the Sacramento County Fair, held at Cal Expo, the state fairgrounds. We stay at Cal Expo RV Park when we visit Sacramento... and so do the kids and families exhibiting their animals at the county fair.

Cal Expo RV Park is not among our favorites even when it sparsely populated, and it becomes a claustrophobic madhouse during the county fair. Every space is filled, the tow vehicles and towed vehicles jocky for parking anywhere a space can be claimed, and tents pop up on the few strips of grass available. At one point, before I left, a car parked so close to us that its hood extended UNDER our slide. EEEEEK! The minute it left, I tied a red bandana to my lounge chair and settled it as a safety barricade under the slide, but we constantly worried about the skills of drivers parking, backing, and turning just feet from our vulnerable home.

It's all over now. Beginning Monday morning, the county fair folks went back home, leaving the park a quarter full. Whew! We have two more weeks here and no more holidays or events... feels like home again.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008


While Odel was away, I tackled my "new technology" list, spending many hours researching the purchase of a new digital camera to replace the Olympus I have had for a couple of years. After owning three Olympus cameras, I finally switched to a Canon. They have a great reputation, but switching brands means a learning curve.

The other technology I wanted to master was the "scanner" aspect of our computer printer - which turned out to be a snap.

For the first time ever, I had something I wanted to scan, this photo of Odel in his flight suit ready to climb into his fighter plane. The photo must be around 40 years old, and is quite faded. Before it is damaged further, I wanted to make a digital copy. What a hottie!

Sunday, May 18, 2008


At 3:45 pm on Sunday afternoon, it is 98 degrees on the cement slab at Cal Expo RV Park (read our review here) that is our home for the next month. Overhead, our air conditioners are laboring to keep the inside temperature comfortable. The curtains are closed behind the solar screens on the big front windows, facing west into the hot glare of the sun.

Luna is lethargicly snoozing on her tower. I, on the other hand, took advantage of Odel’s absence to dismantle the innards of Scoopy and make some changes. Frightening, isn't it? Looks like the place has been tossed by burglars.

Several hours spent with this mess resulted in 3 BIG bags of trash taken to the dumpster: old magazines, faded clothing, obsolete computer software, beat-up hangers, jars holding a dab or two or three of oddball condiments, baggies with a couple crackers, or rock-hard raisins.

Another bag of useable, but no longer wanted, items have been loaded into the back of the Jeep for charitible donation, along with our heavy, clunky, old laptop computer that I had been holding onto past all logic. It's going to the e-waste dump.

Odel’s departure on Thursday for a five day visit with his daughter, SIL, and grandson on the east coast coincided with the beginning of an “unseasonable” heat wave here in Sacramento. Five days of potentially record breaking highs near or at 100 degrees were in the forecast.

On Friday, in the middle of a string of errands, the blower on our Jeep’s air conditioner gave out. No cooling, no spouse to take the responsibility on his shoulders, and no mechanics open over the weekend. Oh, bitter luck!

The status of the A/C necessitated an early start to my plans on Saturday. At 7:30 am, filling the tank of the Jeep with fuel and already too hot, I was feeling sorry for myself. Then my phone rang.

It was Odel, asking if he woke me up. Ha, ha. He was shocked to hear I was at a service station 30 miles from home at that early hour, and unhappily surprised to hear the reason why. He then told me HIS sad story, which made me laugh so hard that I cheered right up.

Odel’s daughter and SIL, Kim and Peter, have been remodeling their house for several months. When Odel arrived, 2 of the 3 bathrooms were out of commission for the remodel. Instead of the 2 (intimate) people/1 bathroom ratio Odel is used to, they were operating on a 3/1 ratio… a 4/1 ratio after Odel arrived. And, on Friday night at 11 pm, the toilet in bathroom 3 plugged up and started to overflow!

Now, that is a REAL problem, a “this needs IMMEDIATE attention“ kind of a problem. The plumber, probably happy to be summoned at that late, expensive hour, pinpointed the problem. In the sewage line between the house and the main line in the street: a knotted clog made mostly of dental floss, deposited one strand per day by Kim into the toilet, a habit her husband had commented on negatively in the past.

Poor Kim - bad enough to have to have 4 people using one bathroom, worse to have it overflow, even worse to have to pay the “dead of night” premium fee… but absolutely the WORST when your spouse was right after all!

Saturday, May 10, 2008


Here is the last pretty travel photo I will be posting for awhile, which captures my feelings when we are traveling... oh boy, oh boy, what's around that bend?

This photo is from our recent stay in Lee Vining - we were exploring the road around Mono Lake in Jules, not Scoopy, when I took this photo. Just as it appears, it was a beautiful, relaxing, day.

Yesterday we arrived at our home Elks Lodge (we are members here), the Placerville, California, Elks. The lodge, quite new, is actually located in Shingle Springs, a town adjacent to Placerville, and home to my (Laurie's) mom and dad. Staying here for a few days before we move to unattractive-but-convenient Cal Expo RV Park, in the middle of Sacramento, makes it easy to visit my parents and rev up to urban speed.

Our mail awaited us at my parents' house when we arrived... about 5 weeks of bills, statements, magazines (wanted and otherwise), health-related questionnaires, blah, blah, blah. A few good items were in the box, too, but it represents several hours of work, so I never get too excited about our mail any longer!

Today's agenda includes a trip to Costco (food and gas), and a trip to Safeway (smaller packages of food). On Tuesday, when we move from here to Cal Expo, we will spend our "economic stimulation" rebate (and then some) on four new tires for Scoopy's rear axle. As patriotic Americans, we are doing our part for the economy, as requested!! I'm sure you will hear about it in the financial news.

Thursday, May 8, 2008


After a day spent hiking various trails around Mono Lake - and another dinner at the Mobil station's Whoa Nellie Deli (Jambalaya for me, Seafood Pasta for Odel) - we departed Lee Vining in strong winds and headed north. In two places, moveable electronic signs warned "Campers and Trailers" about high winds, but Odel drove with confidence... no problems.

From Lee Vining to Carson City, NV, Hwy 395 passes through a string of small towns with small service stations. No truck stops, no cheap fuel. Our "low fuel" warning light was on, so we kept our eyes open for a larger station with a decent price for diesel (which, to us, meant under $4.50 - isn't that pathetic??). We saw one station, in Walker, CA, charging $5.09!!

Fortunately, Hwy 395 crosses the CA/NV stateline. As soon as we crossed into Nevada, the stations posted a "more reasonable" price and we finally put 80 gallons in our tank at $4.339 per gallon. OUCH!

We have never spent time exploring camping possibilities in the area around Lake Tahoe. Since we pass this way somewhat regularly, we decided to spend a day on this trip checking out various USFS campgrounds and boondocking spots, avoiding the very costly Tahoe area RV parks.

For our two-night stay, we picked Granite Flat (read our review here), a USFS campground alongside Hwy 89, between the highway (very noisy) and the Truckee River (very calm and beautiful). One loop of this campground stays open all year (even in the deep winter snow); the other 3 loops open on May 15th. Because the campground hasn't opened for the season, we are camped here for free (worth about 4 gallons of diesel).

Four of the campsites are occupied by tent campers, one by the host, another by a trailer, and one by us. Last night, the temperature dropped to 28 degrees. As I write this (9 am), the sun has just begun to warm the tent campers, and they are crawling out of their tents with hats and gloves on, going back and forth to tents, tables, smoky fires, and pit toilets. Oh, my tenting days are so LONG GONE!

Though Granite Flat campground is very pretty, the noise level is annoying. Off we go to see what other/better options we can find for our next visit.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008


Yes, this is a gas station. No, it is not particularly scenic. BUT... something makes this Mobil station very special, and it has been lurking in the backs of our minds for seven or eight years or more.

Several years before we hit the road, I read about a quirky restaurant in a Mobil gas station's convenience store on the east side of the Tioga Pass Road through Yosemite, not the most easily accessible location (especially this time of year, when Tioga Pass is still closed by snow).

The review stuck in my mind though, and yesterday, we found it: the Tioga Gas Mart, on Hwy 120 at the junction with Hwy 395, and home to Tioga Toomey's Whoa Nellie Deli, (read the menu here), famous far beyond the little town of Lee Vining, where it is located.

Ever since we decided to drive Hwy 395 for our return route to Sacramento, Odel has been imagining the fare at the Whoa Nellie Deli and salivating. As soon as we arrived in Lee Vining and set up "camp" (read our review of Mono Vista RV Park here), he was ready to hop in the car and go get lunch. In his dreams, he thought we might want to eat dinner there both nights we were in Lee Vining; an early menu check would allow us to plan accordingly.

Who am I to trample on a dream?? Off we went for our culinary adventure.

The GOOD: the menu was as interesting as we had read/heard and the food we ordered was outstanding. I had the "Legendary Lobster Taquitos on a bed of brazilian black beans with tomatillo salsa and salad", the colorful plate shown here.

Those red tortillas are rolled around a creamy, melt-in-your-mouth lobster stuffing (the consistency of cream cheese) and deep-fried. Everything on the plate was delicious, including the bit of fresh mango salsa and the huckleberry salad dressing.

Odel went for a slab of St. Louis Style BBQ Ribs with Huckleberry BBQ Sauce. You can imagine the grin on his face when this plate arrived!

The "sides" were potato salad and a vegetable neither of us could identify (above the ribs, on the right), an unusual state of affairs. Delicous, salty, buttery, garlic-y, it appears to be either finely chopped/grated or put through a ricer... hmmmm, what the heck IS that??

Chef Matt Toomey, out greeting his guests (seated in booths and at tables at one end of the squeaky clean convenience store), answered our question: spaghetti squash! Wow. I'm gonna have to try making that stuff again - mine never tasted like that! I think the butter, garlic and liberal salt application must be the key. I could have had a bowl of THAT for lunch.

The BAD: we were unable to restrict our ordering to what might be considered "lunch" (soup, salad, sandwiches, for instance). As you can imagine looking at the portions we consumed, we didn't have much of an appetite when dinnertime arrived, even after a walk from our campground to beautiful Mono Lake.

Instead of a return visit to Whoa Nellie Deli, we browsed through our leftovers and found some goodies there from a few nights ago: cold grilled chicken thighs and Greek Style Quinoa Salad. The salad recipe came to me from a Canadian BookCrosser who read of my quinoa obsession and sent me a link to her award-winning salad (thanks, GypsyMom!).

I made a few very minor changes (noted in italics on my linked recipe above and on the recipe roster) because we like strong flavors. It was great when fresh AND as leftovers!

Monday, May 5, 2008


"What’s your favorite place?” is a question we hear frequently. I can’t possibly narrow my choice down to one favorite, but the Owens Valley and the Alabama Hills are very high on the list. This is the perfect time of year to be here - moderate weather, wildflowers everywhere, blue skies.

If you double click on this picture and look closely, you will see Scoopy nestled in at the base of the rocks.

We arrived in Lone Pine before noon, envisioning a campsite at Tuttle Creek Campground (developed sites, but no hookups or water) for our 2 day stay. Surprise! The campground was PACKED, full of runners in town for a one-day marathon event!

The last time we were here, at the tail end of March, 2004, we shared the campground with about half a dozen campers - a small fraction of the sites were in use. This weekend, there were perhaps half a dozen campsites empty, but none of them suitably sized for us.

Even if the campground had been empty, we would not have stayed there this year. The access road is sand and dirt, a couple of miles long, and in bad condition this year - big bumps and dips alternated with washboards. We had the foresight to leave Scoopy in a big, flat lot in Lone Pine and explore in the Jeep, so we turned around and headed over to the Alabama Hills (this photo) to check out the dispersed camping (pull off any dirt road and set up camp).

Jackpot! We found a site just off the paved road that was long enough and flat enough for Scoopy. A couple hours later, we had made camp (read our review and see more photos here), facing directly towards Mt. Whitney and the snow-covered spine of the eastern Sierra.

There is something new (to us) in Lone Pine - the Beverly and Jim Rogers Museum of Lone Pine Film History. With Odel’s detailed interest in western movies and TV shows, it was fun a “must see” for us.

Besides great display of movie memorabilia, they show a 20 minute documentary covering the history of movie making in the Alabama Hills. We settled into the theater seats, the lights went down, the cowboy music started, and soon hoof beats were pounding in my ears. Odel knew all the cowboys by name, and he accompanied elbow jabs with loudly whispered commentary as his favorites galloped across the screen. “There’s Champion, the Wonder Horse!”… I swear, I heard the 6 year old inside the 60 year old in his excited whisper.

The list of what we didn’t do is so much longer than the list of what we did. I want to attend the Lone Pine Film Festival (Columbus Day every year); drive to the end of Whitney Portal Road and hike down the 4 mile trail; visit the new Manzanar Internment Camp Interpretive Center; visit the ghost towns on the dry banks of what used to be Owens Lake… and that is just in the Lone Pine area! One of these years, we need to spend a month on the east side of the southern Sierra.

But not now. Today we moved north up Hwy 395 to Lee Vining and Mono Lake. Four years ago, our cell phones barely had a signal here - today, we have 5 bars on the phones and broadband access on the aircard, so we'll catch up on email, the blog, and sports news. Vacation's over!

Friday, May 2, 2008


We saw of alot of this in the past couple days...

And plenty of this...

After viewing miles and miles of arid southern California today, we ended up here, at the Elks Lodge in Ridgecrest, California - somewhat of an oasis.

Rather than driving 300 miles from Needles to Lone Pine, we had decided to stop 75 miles short of our goal, in Ridgecrest. This is a very small city, large enough to support a couple of grocery stores - giving us the chance to stock up for our trip up scenic Hwy 395.

We were surprised by Ridgecrest; it is larger and more pleasant than we imagined. On the other hand, my expectations were extremely low! The Elks here is great - big FHU sites with 50 amp electric for only $10/night. We shopped at a large, new-ish Albertson's, visited a full service hardware store to buy a handful of various screws and bolts, fixed ourselves a great dinner (grilled giant prawns, cole slaw and corn on the cob), and are more than ready to head up Hwy 395 tomorrow.

We have changed our plans slightly. Our new schedule has 2 days in Lone Pine, 2 days in Lee Vining, and 2 days near Truckee. Last time we took this route, four years ago (?), our Verizon phone service was spotty. It may have improved by then, but don't be surprised if we are out of touch for 3 or 4 days!