Pictures available via the title (opt to open in a new window) - they are of Newport Dunes RV Park and my birthday dinner.
Oh. My. God. It’s like we had never done this before. But it is a good thing we had, otherwise after this first night, we may have run back to Laguna forfeiting the Aventura altogether.
We did so many things wrong, just like rookies. For starters, we were having some hitch issues, so we made an appointment at Camping World outside of Anaheim, CA, for a check-up. They kindly invited us in early and made a few adjustments for free. Which was great and obviously not our rookie mistake. The mistakes started when we were sitting in the Camping World parking lot at 3:00 p.m. contemplating where we should go for the night. Camping World parking lot south of L.A. at 3:00 p m. with no idea where to go. Hello? Clue 1.
Our General Plan was to hit Highway 395 as soon as possible and drive north, driving up the side roads that indicate fishing until we got tired of eating fish. If you have been reading along, you know I love California, but there are a couple of places that I just cannot stand. One of them is the stretch of 395 between I-15 and about Ridgecrest: It is either a two-lane, very busy highway or it has a stop light every mile or so. So I said to Alan, “let’s not do that stretch, let’s take 14 North and meet up with 395 at Ridgecrest.” All fine and good, but we would never make it to 395 at this hour, so we needed a second option for the night.
Our map indicated a scenic byway just north of L.A.: Highway 2, which you can hop on at I-5 north and cut across to other roads that would lead us to Highway 14 the following day. There are at least three campgrounds up Highway 2, so we figure in about two hours we’ll have a place to stop.
Off we go. Naturally, we hit all kinds of stop and go traffic on I-5 heading into L.A. that time of day. So it is about 4:30 by the time we hit the La Canada/Flintridge area, just below the Angeles National Forest. We needed groceries, firewood and, at some point, fresh water. (Enter in Ye Old Water Debate: We did not fill up our fresh water tank when leaving Newport Dunes because the water tasted horrible—figuring we could get some at the campground.)
So, groceries and firewood in hand, we head into the mountains around 4:30. You all know how I get when it’s approaching dusk and we do not know where we are stopping. So the road and I are both winding steeply up as dusk is approaching.
On the way up, we keep passing a white truck which then passes us on occasion. This happens at least twice before we turn into our first campground option, Chilao. Although paved, the road in is rough and we pull over to contemplate whether we want to take Salt any further. The white truck stops behind us. I motion for him to go around but instead the man gets out of the truck and walks up to the window. A nice guy, he says he spent a lot of time in the mountains when he was younger and he and his wife are up “seeing what the fire left behind” before driving over to a high mountain burger joint for some barbeque hamburgers out in the fresh mountain air. My mouth watered at the mention of the hamburgers. It was now almost 5:00, we were hungry, had no pitch and no water. The Nice Man tells us about the loop drive through Chilao and that we’ll be fine in with Salt, so we start down the loop.
It is beautiful in there: Wide open meadows, camping areas and nice day use areas. You can’t quite believe you are so close to L.A. On the back side we spot a spigot and pull over to fill our water tank (!!!) While we are doing this, the Nice Man in the White Truck appears again. Tells us some more about the fire that devastated the area not long ago (the highway itself was closed for almost a year) and mentions the hamburger joint again. More mouth watering and more rookie mistakes: We were in a campground, at 5:00, with fresh water – why didn’t we call Sundowner Time and just stop? I’ll tell you why: We would have had to do the loop drive again in order to get into the overnight camping area and I hate to go backwards, so when the loop took us out to Highway 2, we thought we would try the next campground, only 8 miles away. On a twisting mountain road, at dusk, hungry.
Shortly after starting on Highway 2 again, we pass the twice-mentioned hamburger joint and gaze longingly at the people out on picnic tables with beer, burgers and fries. But having no place to stay yet, we grabbed a handful of dried fruit, drank some water and continued on, waving at the Nice Man in the White Truck as we cruised past.
We barely make the turn into the Buckhorn campground: An extremely sharp left turn off the highway onto a road that is small and narrow and heads down into a valley. We don’t like the feel of the place, too crowded and too cramped. And hey, we are already tired and hungry so why not just get back on the highway and try the next place?
Half an hour or so later, we pull down another road, this time made of dirt and pot-holed, to start the three mile drive to the third camping option. We quickly pull over as the road does not look good enough for Salt (she does have her standards) and I hop out with a walkie-talkie, directing Alan as he backs up the 50 yards or so to the highway. And we are off: In the dark now, still hungry still having no place to go. Plus our gas is getting low. Incidentally, we had passed a number of pullout areas with gorgeous views back over the L.A. valley that would have been a nice place to stop and eat but as we just “knew” our campground was coming up, we turned them all down.
So we travel the entire length of Highway 2, dropping into the town of Wrightwood. A charming little town with a couple of restaurants and some motels, but I don’t want to take the time to eat in a restaurant and we just refuse to second-start our Aventura with a night in a motel. I mean, who would ever read this blog again if the first night we wimped out and stayed in a motel?
Having regained cell service, we ask our phone to “navigate to RV park” and it finds one about 30 minutes away. Our route determined, we pull off the road onto a dusty, sticker-filled, pull-out with zero view, climb into Salt and make peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for dinner. It is now around 7:00.
Back on the road, the navigation system has us getting on Interstate 15 South. I flat out refuse to go south. After all this? To go backward? You know how I feel about going backward (and how well that decision worked out for us.) So I refuse to take the ramp. There is a gas station at the interchange so we pull into there, fill up and contemplate our situation.
We again ask our phone to navigate to an RV park it finds one that is north on I-15 and off we go. Twenty minutes later, we follow the directions to, you will never guess, a dirt, pot-holed road which is supposed to be our entrance to the RV park. There is no RV park in sight and Alan says, “If I wanted to drive down a dirt pot-holed road to camp, I could have done that two hours ago.” We laughed all the way back to I-15. It is now about 8:30.
Our third asking of the phone to navigate to an RV Park puts us back on I-15 north. But this time we get to the intersection with Highway 395 before we reach the exit for the RV park. Since 395 is our ultimate goal for the next week, we take the 395 exit and guess where we are? On my least favorite stretch of highway in all of California!
Quickly we pass a truck stop full of semi’s all sleeping soundly. I suggest we do that but Alan doesn’t want to stop there. So we head up 395 asking our phones again for an RV Park. The directions lead us to exit at Air Base Road where two out of the three signs are welcome: RV Camping, Rest Area, State Penitentiary.
We check out the rest area, there are already an A-Class motorhome (the bus kind) and one semi parked, both fast asleep. We check out the RV Park, it is $35 for the night, no hook-ups, all gravel and dirt and not very pleasant. So we go back to the rest area. Pull in front of the A-Class, let the dogs run around on the grass a bit, pour a strong gin, shut Salt’s door and crawl into our comfy bed. (With homemade pineapple upside-down cake left over from my birthday.) It is now well after 10:00 p.m.
I woke up the next morning, looked out the bedroom window, through a pine tree and into the bright blue sky and thought, “I could be anywhere in the world.” And thus we started the Aventura, for the second time, already ahead of budget.