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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.