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Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Days 11-20: A Change of State

More pictures here!

When I last left off we were just north of Big Sur, California enjoying a full hook-up spot in Marina, CA.   We took a good two weeks to go from that location to our home site on Orcas, and during that time experienced changing three states, one state of mind and one state of being.

There are some folks who swear by the beauty of the Big Sur area of California and I cannot complain about what we saw there:  The amazing drop of the mountains down to the sea and simply the incredible-ness of feeling so remote while being only 200 or so miles from either San Francisco or LA is a feeling not to be missed.  But my money (or so I wish) is on the Sonoma Coast, just north of San Francisco and Salinas.  There, the green, empty hillsides slide gently down to the crashing waves and every other second there is a portion of the Sonoma Coast State Park, just waiting to take your money.

No kidding.  Even the picnic areas charge a day use fee.  Now, I don’t have a problem with that, California is an expensive place, however, when you are driving up this part of Highway 1, pulling a trailer on curves so sharp that Simon, our GPS system, thinks they are actual turns (“Turn left in 100 yards”), there is precious little area in which to pull over and give everyone a break—pee or otherwise.

But nature was calling and provided no choice but to pull into a State Park day use area.  We stopped at the gate and explained that all we wanted to do is let the dogs out to pee; the man said he would have to charge us anyway.   $10 to pee. Many things about California I do not miss and this strict adherence to the rules is one of them.  We crossed sixteen legs and left.  

And what happened to hiking with your dogs in California?  Or enjoying the beach with them?  Trying to find camping or hiking near a beach that allowed dogs was growing more and more frustrating.  We eventually found Wright’s Beach; an unappealing campground (unless you have a choice ocean-front pitch) but on one of the most beautiful beaches I have seen in California.  And where, to spite the rules, we let the dogs run off-leash.

Growing weary of the fruitless search for dog-friendly hiking trails in California we set our sights on Oregon, a state we know loves dogs to the extent that they are welcomed on the majority of beaches and you would have to search hard to find a trail excluding them.  Only one thing stood in our way:  Mendocino.

Now, let me just say I have had a long, long, love affair with Mendocino.  Almost everything about it:  The natural beauty; The vibe (Southern California Beach crossed with Northern California Intellectual); and the utter coolness of just being there.  

But good lord not the state of the camping.

We checked out two State Parks, Van Damme and Russian Gulch.  The former being in a tight, small valley filled with mosquitoes and the latter being tiny and cramped and down a one-lane road barely large enough for Salt.  The state of Oregon was really calling now; prior experience with their State Parks had us ready to keep on driving past Mendocino.   But the state of our laundry was demanding a washing stop.  So we parked for the night at the Caspar RV Park which was a typical RV park, way too much like a parking lot, but had the required laundry facilities (albeit in such bad shape that I feared dropping a freshly washed item on the ground lest I had to start the cycle over.)  Life on the road.

We did go into town for groceries and a great dinner at The Flow, where we discovered Russell Henry, a great local gin, and Thackery & Company wine.  A night out was just what was needed to restore my love of Mendocino.

But time to get to Oregon as quickly as possible, changing to a state of less frustration and more love of dogs.

And rain.

We stopped for two nights at Alfred Loeb State Park.  On our full day we set out hiking in a drizzle and came home drenched to the bone.  All of us except for Rosco who, due to his advanced age and occasionally brilliant mind, slept peacefully in the warm, dry truck.

Soaking wet dogs and pouring down rain don’t mix well in 19’ but it is nothing that a local beer and some fish and chips can’t solve:  We headed to the marina with our tablet to get the weather forecast and to plot out the camping plan.

Turns out it was about to be gorgeous.  Not wanting to waste any sunshine, the next day we drove less than 100 miles up the coast to Bullard's Beach State Park, where we grabbed a full-hookup site in a sunny pitch and immediately threw everything outside to dry out.  Que the Beverly Hillbillies theme song--nothing looks as tacky as a sunny campground after a full day's rain.

A great campground (state run again—can’t say enough about Oregon State Parks), where we enjoyed a two mile walk to the beach (dog friendly, of course) and a six mile bike ride to the lighthouse.  My kind of biking!  You know, where you take your high-end mountain bike and turn it into a low-end beach cruiser.  Nice and flat.

Next stop was a bit further up the coast at Cape Lookout State Park.  More beach, more sunshine and what should have been a great hike.  Much recommended, the hike out Cape Lookout was way too crowded and narrow for our enjoyment.  But it was a sunny Sunday and, having lived and worked in the Pacific Northwest, I know the value of that combination.  But between having to carry Rosco, Opus joyfully jumping on anything that moved and River anxiously eyeing anything that moved, we didn’t get anywhere near a hiker’s high.

Time to say goodbye to Oregon.   Ahh well, until next time wonderful State Parks.

Continuing on our coastal route, Alan found us a great spot at Kalaloch Campground in the Olympic National Park, right on a dog-friendly beach.  We drove in around 3:30 PM and found the last pitch with any kind of a view of the water.  Parked Salt at a jaunty angle, opened the door and breathed in the fresh smell of wet trees and salty air.

Being this close to our spot on Orcas Island was making us antsy so despite having landed at our favorite stop so far, we hit the road the next day and tried to make a the 3:30 Port Townsend ferry over to Whidbey Island.  No such luck.  Next available was 6:45 so we opted to spend the night at Fort Worden State Park where we enjoyed a quick bit of tennis (you can really hit the ball hard at sea level!) and a nice private picnic area.  In the morning while Opus was running freely on the beach, I was doing my best to ignore the naked 60-something lady coming out of the water.  But Opus was not having any of that--I think he just saw extra flesh that might be useful in a petting experience.  There was freedom of every sort on this sunny, warm morning. 

Finally ferry day.  I think we only drove 60 miles but we were on two ferries and eventually pulled Salt up to our gorgeous Orcas site.

Orcas, for me, is one of those places where you can’t remember if you have been here an hour, a day, or ten years.  It is like a warm bath, comfortable, soothing and it completely changed my state of mind.  I went from being driven to just sinking in, in less than a day.

And glory be, my favorite laundromat!  Odd to love a business that much, but I could have cried I was so happy to see the gleaming machines and bright, clean floor.  Then I saw the TV and, indeed, cried. 

Prince had changed his state of being.


Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Days 1-10, UT, AZ, CA – From the snow to the sea.

More pictures here!

It felt like forever for our day of departure to arrive; when it did it brought snow.  But that is one good thing about having some sort of plan—you get up and get out no matter what just to keep your three day reservation, encompassing a weekend, in California.  An eventful first nine days with friends and family, hiking, driving within three states, and a perfect day that started with a dead baby rabbit and ended with Opus frothing at the mouth.

Our first stop was the Moab area in Utah.  It being so close to home, we had only ever driven by quickly—always anxious to return to our little cabin in Evergreen.  So heading out for six months this seemed like a great way to start:  Two nights at Hittle Bottom Campground, a BLM campground nestled between the Colorado River and the Fisher Towers.  This was the first time we decided to stop for two nights on the first night out and it was a treat.  The hassle of packing up Salt and leaving the house for six months melted away as we relaxed with a full day of hiking and reading in the sunny, warm, dry air.

Then we began the family and friends portion of the tour; first stop, Prescott, Arizona to visit with my Mom and Step-Father while staying at Lynx Lake.  A great camping area with few sites, lots of trees and hiking trails that begin right from the campground.   Already our new portable solar panels came in handy:  I managed to direct the parking of Salt to just the right spot so our roof-mounted solar panel was under a large pine branch.  Alan hooked up the portable panels, moved them into the bright sunshine and they worked their magic.

Our one full day there was lovely, starting with a 4.8 mile hike in the forest with views down into Prescott Valley followed by Alan and I working our lists:  Mine was focused on making my life prettier (everyday earrings and sandals) while enjoying some Mobom time and his was focused on making our lives easier (a third tie-down for the dogs and wiper blades that didn’t risk falling off) while enjoying the Prescott area traffic routes. 

Next stop the California beaches!  Our primary goal was to get south enough to visit Alan’s daughter and a couple of my dear, don’t you dare say old, friends.  (But since “old” describes over 30 years of friendship, old has never looked so good.)

We camped at San Mateo Campground, part of the San Onofre State Park, just on the other side of Interstate 5 at San Onofre.  An ok camping spot…Campendium asks if you would stay there again “Yes” or “No”, and this is one time I would need a Maybe.  Not the greatest campground and the “1.5 mile nature walk to the ocean” runs across the I-5 (only southern Californians would consider this a nature walk) but it was quiet and peaceful and where we wanted to be.

Odd as it might sound, this spot brought me an absolutely perfect day despite an auspicious beginning and end.

Opus tends to be shy about his toileting, often heading as far away as he can into bushes for a little privacy.  So when I was walking him and he dove under a bush, I didn’t think anything of it (other than, of course, “How am I going to get that bagged?”)  But Opus had other bagging ideas; I heard a loud squeak and out pops Opus with a present for me.

Then there was another loud squeak, ok, truth be told, more of a scream.  I thought I was going to vomit.  Opus was proudly presenting a baby rabbit, delicately draped around his jaw. 

Tragically, the baby rabbit was still moving--requiring action of the non-vomiting variety.  So I got it out of Opus’ mouth only to see that its right shoulder was crushed; he could only slightly crawl.   Not left with a lot of options, I let Opus have it again to finish the job in the fastest way possible.  It took but a second and, since Opus didn’t have any use for the non-animated version, I bagged the bunny. 

After my crying spell, we set out to find the San Onofre Bluffs Hike.  We asked multiple State Park representatives how to get to the trailhead and the third person was able to direct us (given the blank looks when asking about hiking I surmised that this is a surf-centric area, hiking is only done as a means to get the board into the water.) 

Once we found the trail, or what we thought was the trail (at the end of the Bluffs Campground, Trail #6 allows dogs)  we were delighted to find miles and miles of gorgeous beach, high bluffs and only a few people.  The dogs ran around like crazy, even Scrunch got into the water.   I could have spent all day down there just smelling the salt air and listening to the waves but our skin is as white as the snow we left behind so we thought it best to leave after a few hours.  (Although not before taking off the hiking boots and dashing through the shallows with the Noses.)

A quick clean-up and then we headed to La Jolla to have dinner with friends—I still can’t believe we didn’t take a picture!  But a great time at Puesto’s.  There is something so easy about having friends for that long in life; for friendships to last like that you have to either have a lot in common or a lot of respect, I have enjoyed over 30 years of both.

Back at camp, Alan, coming in from Opus’ evening constitutional, said “Something is wrong with Opus.” 

I guess so:  Gobs and gobs of frothing spit was flowing out of his tiny mouth.  Apparently his second foray under a bush allowed him to meet, and attempt a bunny, on a frog.  Having no cell service at the site, we bundled him up and drove up the hill.  By the time we got the number for pet poison control (recommended by the 24-hour vet service) and waited on hold for a few minutes, the frothing had subsided to the point where we thought he might live.  So we brought him back and, as usual, he did not disappoint. 

Morning brought me a breakfast with my BF at a 50’s diner off the I-5; the inverse of the day before, this was a lovely start to a pretty hideous day.

We had about 240 miles to go to Oceano Dunes.  If any of you have read the blog from the beginning, you know that this is the spot two software executives decided to take their brand-spanking new Airstream for their first night out.  A great area where you can camp right on the sand--our main blog photo is the shot from that first night about five years ago.  We earned that picture by first getting stuck in the sand, attempting to dig ourselves out, being hauled out (Pepper, our Cayenne and pull vehicle back in the day, and Salt being pulled out together by a nice couple in a Dodge Ram) trying not to hyperventilate about the rising tide, building a fire and collapsing into the chairs.  (Note that I am balancing a beer on top of my head.)

Do we learn?  No.  But to our credit, this time we have Shaker, Pepper’s replacement, a Tundra with nice big tires and four-wheel drive.  We thought we had this down.  It was only 3:00, we were cruising down the beach in the afternoon sunshine.  Then our tires began to spin.  And spin.  And then spin and dig.  And we were stuck.  Local lore said to lower the tire pressure, dig out around the tires (as well as our hitch which was also buried) and just pull ourselves up.  We did all that except for the last part.

Second local lore stopped in a Jeep to offer assistance; two great guys.  They hooked up their Jeep and, backing up, pulled us up to a harder area.  Yep.  One Jeep pulled up a fully-loaded Tundra, a 19’ Airstream, two chagrined people and three disgusted dogs.  (At this point we had been on the beach for over an hour yet there was no sand on their paws.)

The guys unhooked us, and the following conversation ensued:

               I said, “Hey, we would like to give you something for helping us, your choice; beer, cash or, if it is not too weird, pot--you might have noticed we are from Colorado.”

               John replied, “Well, you might have noticed we are from LA.”  Much laughter ensued.

They tried to refuse everything, but I plopped some cash into the driver’s hand so at least we could buy them a cocktail or two.

Then we drove away.  For a second.  And got stuck again.  Oh ya baby.

Thankfully, John and friend had not gone far.  This time they hooked us up so they could drive forward and we drove like that for a good mile before we could finally get the rest of the way out ourselves.  And out we got.  $10 camping fee, $30 towing tip, learning a lesson twice?  Priceless.

Never again.  That is my title for the Campendium review of Oceano Dunes.

We spent the night at the North Pismo Beach State Campground.  Perfectly delightful, asphalt pull-through spot (having been towed twice by a Jeep within the last two hours, the last thing either of us wanted to do was to look at our hitch.)   The pitches are nicely spaced with a short walk over small dunes to the beach. 

Woke to rain and followed it right up the coast into the Big Sur area.  Stopped along the way for a 4.8 mile hike (delightful way to travel with three dogs—a mid-day hike) up Salmon Creek before pulling into Plaskett Creek Campground, site #19A.  Beautiful, small campground right across the street from the ocean and one of the few dog-friendly beaches.  It being the weekend, we booked three nights well in advance and settled in to keep a wary eye on our solar panel (no electric, no sun and no threaded water spigots—very close to boondocking except for the abundance of kids.)

Day two at camp we hiked 5.5 miles up to Villa Creek and did enough fishing to catch the bug again.  Finally a spot of sunshine in the afternoon which lead to a few hours of light cleaning (Salt was a mud-pit following all that rain on dirty paws) and reading in the sunshine. 

Day three we woke to rain which made for a delightful morning of writing this blog.  At around 11:30 I mentioned it might be time for lunch and Alan suggested we drive 30 miles up the coast to Nepenthe, a restaurant recommended by a friend of ours.

Every once in awhile you get to know someone who is always right.  I don’t mean they think they are always right like an obnoxious party guest, simply that they are just always, simply, quietly, right.  Our friend, who wouldn’t want to be named so let’s call him Joy, is such a guy.  We have learned that when Joy suggests something, it is likely something we will enJoy.  So when Joy heard we were traveling up Highway 1, he suggested a campsite (sadly, Salt wouldn’t have fit down the road to the site) and a lunch stop at Nepenthe, a restaurant hanging on the edge of the cliffs.

For us, stopping while towing Salt for lunch almost never happens:  First you have to find a parking area able to hold 40’ of living and driving machines and then you have to want to sit again for an hour or more.  So we knew stopping with Salt on the way out of the coast was not likely to happen.   The rainy day and lazy morning, however, gave us the perfect excuse to head up in a Salt-less Shaker.

What a delight!  We were sorry to miss what was obviously a stunning view in less socked-in weather, but thrilled to enjoy the grilled shrimp BLT with fries and two glasses of delicious red wine.  The ambiance was so relaxed I only had a brief feeling of inferiority around all those northern Californians.  (When Northern California was only the street-chic capital of America I could hold my own, I do, after all, own a black leather jacket, but when they added all the brain power of Silicon Valley I had to respectfully bow out of the competition; thick black plastic glasses only get you so far.)

After our delightful lunch, with the rain still socked in, we opted to leave Plaskett Creek one night early and drive 60 miles further up our route.  If you are going to sit around, you might as well sit around behind the wheel.  Camped for the night at Marina RV Park, full hook-up spot #49 (clean-out! clean-up!), less than 40 yards from the entrance to the dog-allowed state beach.  Perfect for a rainy night.


PS:  What Opus has learned so far:  Some days the only way to stretch your legs is laying upside down in your car bed; other days the best way to stretch your legs is to clear the creek by a good two feet; most days frogs don’t want to be kissed and every day rabbits are more fun when alive.

Friday, September 25, 2015

Cluck Truck Adventures: Smoked Chicken

(This post, being written four weeks after the happenings, is ancient in the world of blog posts and I was considering not writing it at all.  But then this happened, “Alan, where did we eat that giant slimy fish?” And since it took us at least 20 minutes to figure it out, I thought chronicling these trips, even tardily, is good for the memory bank.)

As is our usual, a good two weeks prior to our return from Orcas to Colorado, I had planned our complete trip:  It consisted of some favorites (North Cascades Highway in Washington, Fish Creek in Montana) with some soon to be favorites (meeting up with my cousin, hiking in Grand Teton) and was to be our longest return drive yet at six nights; providing us that one delicious all-hiking-no-driving day.  But just under two weeks before our departure, Alan, hearing of the fires raging across eastern Washington, suggested that we should have a Plan B.  Little did we know that we should have continued further down the alphabet.

The decision was made three days prior to our departure when Washington State Highway 20 was still closed in many places (and all the places we needed it) we set out on Plan B:  South by Southeast.

Days that start or end with a ferry ride don’t make for good long driving days, so our first day was a short drive over Steven’s Pass to the USFS Nason Creek Campground near Leavenworth.  It was closed (despite not mentioning it on that website.)  Apparently it has been closed for years.  Luckily, adjacent to the closed campground was Lake Wenatchee State Park.  We found a nice pull through spot (no unhooking!), put the chickens in their run and set off for a short walk along the river. 

This park, made up of two campgrounds, is quite lovely, although clearly has room for a ton of campers.  But in the off season it was great; allowing for solitary and easy hikes along the river and lake.  (Most pitches had water and electric and there is a dump station on site.)

Our first goal for Day Two was to not leave Washington until we packed up a box of peaches.  We found a great little stand just off Highway 2 and gathered them in before heading toward Orofino, Idaho.  More and more, we aim to travel less and less on the interstates; enjoying the American backroads whenever possible.  This usually makes for longer days but almost always more interesting scenery and our route on Day Two was no exception on either score.  After a long driving day we pulled into McKay’s Bend, a BLM campground next to the Clearwater River on Highway 12 in Idaho.  (Highway 12 is delightful; a definite new favorite.) 

McKay’s Bend turned out to have about 15 sites, all pull-through or back-in and looked more like a KOA (i.e., not more than 10’ between pitches) than any BLM sites we had ever seen.  Even though we were hot and tired staying there just wasn’t appealing (the last pitch available backed up to the bathroom.)  So we opted to continue down Highway 12 to Pink House, another BLM site, about 20 minutes away.  So glad we did!  Lovely spot and we were one of three in the campground.  Pull-through, a full hook-up and right on the river for $15/night.  Unbelievable.  (We still didn’t have to unhook Salt!)  We halfheartedly attempted fishing (Clearwater River is quite large and we were equally unprepared for casting that far out) before sitting back and enjoying a quiet evening.

Our goal for Day 3 was Pettengill Campground, outside of Wise River, Montana on the Pioneer Mountains Scenic By-Way, but first we had to make it off Highway 12, skirting multiple fires sometimes with smoldering logs just barely off the road.   What would have been gorgeous scenery was almost unrecognizable in the smoke-filled haze.  We gasped our way out of those fires and headed southeast across the Bitterroot Natonal Forest.  

As we dropped down toward the town of Wisdom, Montana, we could see billowing clouds of smoke on the other side of the valley, right where our campground was due to be.  We stopped in Wisdom for some gas and received timely information from the lady behind the counter:  All the campgrounds along the north part of the Pioneer Mountains Scenic By-Way were closed due to the fire--not that we were in any danger of continuing on that path anyway. 

Now, we hate to go backward on such a long drive, but after much debate we did indeed opt to head back to May Creek Campground up in the Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest which we passed about 20 minutes prior.  It turned out to be a nice little campground, more full than usual with all the detours happening, but pitch #3 was delightful and we set the Ladies to roam in their tent while we crossed the street to fish.

After much bushwhacking we made it to the river and Alan almost immediately pulled in a Brook Trout.  Although small, they are one of our favorites as their meat is very sweet and tender.  I was worried about the Ladies so I returned to camp and let them free-range while I relaxed.  In no time at all, Alan returned carrying two fish; the original and another that was the biggest Brook Trout we had ever seen.  Was this going to be tasty!


Although campfires were (amazingly) allowed at May Creek we opted not to light one as it just didn’t seem right when there were people putting their lives at risk less than 50 miles away.  So we fired up the oven, wrapped the trout in foil and baked them with some butter and lemon.  Oh we were ready to open those packets up and dive in!  And this, my friends, is when we ate the Giant Slimy Fish.

We have never seen the likes of it, but the big Brook Trout emitted a slime while cooking that was simply disgusting.  I could not get past it to eat the flesh but Alan did.  Unfortunately, it didn’t get any better; the flesh was tough and not flavorful at all.  Ahh, old age gets the best of all of us.

So with our plans shot to hell for Day 4 (no going up and around Wise River to join I-15 and cut down to West Yellowstone) we opted to head south, pick up I-15 at a different spot and try a cut-off back road to get to West Yellowstone.  (I had two primary objectives at this point:  (1) Make it to our reserved campsite at Wapati Campground on the outskirts of the Grand Teton National Park and (2) do not stop in West Yellowstone, a town that is more un-navigable when towing than many small European villages we had visited.)  So off we went with a full lunch packed and stopping for gas often to ensure we would not have to fill up in my least favorite town.

We took the appropriate exit off I-15, turned left and came to an abrupt stop.  Dirt road.  Dirt road for miles and miles and miles.  Although disappointing, that was an easy decision to make; miles of filling Salt with billowing dust was simply not going to happen.  So with me driving in a general south/southeast pattern, Alan set about finding us yet another detour.  At this point, hiking in the Grand Tetons was out of the question, as was making our reservation which, being the Thursday and Friday before Labor Day Weekend was made to ensure us a camping spot.  We were now officially One of Those People:  The people who take off on one of the busiest camping weekends in the country without reservations anywhere.

But Alan’s patience (and ability to read maps and Google without getting car-sick) found us a lovely drive:  We crossed Idaho on Highway 26 which was beautiful (and finally no smoke in the air!) and then turned up to Hoback Junction locating Hoback Campground along the same-named river and finally stopped moving. 

Everyone except for JJ.  

All the chickens were in their free range tent but JJ just wouldn’t stop trying to get out.  So finally we let them all out for some real free-ranging.  After a few minutes of dutiful pecking, JJ jumped up into the back of the Shaker.  Alan brought over one of their travel cages, opened the door and in she climbed.  She spent a good hour making a lovely nest but no hours actually laying an egg.

The other Ladies joined her at the normal bed time, little did they know it would be awhile before they got out again:  The morning dawned with ferocious winds, the kind that, our experience has shown, knocks over free-range chicken tents and sends the chickens running for the truck.  So we opted to leave them in their cages with me reaching in and freshening the cages as best I could before hitting the road.

But Louise had a different idea:  She thought she would enjoy some free range time and, when I opened the top to clean out her cage, she jumped right out and ran off.

We still had a lot of packing up to do so we just left her alone.  She didn’t move far from her friends in the truck.  But holy chicken did they all talk about it!  What were they saying? 

“I heard Louise, that skinny hen, got out!”
“Where did she go?”
“No idea, but I imagine it wasn’t to the donut shop.” 

Yes, chickens can be catty.

Eventually we had to get Louise back in and potato chips proved the best lure.  We placed a chip inside her cage and she willingly hopped into the Shaker, then on top of her cage.  At this point, I managed to grab her and, let’s just say, encourage her to get inside.  After such rude handling, she refused to actually eat the chip until much later in the day.

At this point we were four nights on the road and 500 miles from home with no plans on the Friday before Labor Day Weekend.  Two of Those People.

So we set out to see how far we could get.  We knew of some boondocking sites south of Walden, Colorado on Highway 125 and set our sights there, which would make it a long drive day of over 400 miles.  But alas, what is one more change of plans at this point?  Of course all the sites were taken so we just kept going and going and eventually pulled into our driveway after every one of those 500 miles were done.

I closed the gate and opened the back of the truck and one by one the Ladies hopped out of their cages and ran freely in their yard; a just reward for having spent 24 hours in their travel cages.

Well, everyone but Louise who took just a second to polish off that chip.