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Thursday, September 29, 2011

Trip of the Trees

(Archie says, "Dogs love trees - we leave our personal information with trees so other dogs can learn about us - they're kind of like social bulletin boards for dogs.")

“Let the heavens rejoice, and let the earth be glad; let the sea roar, and all its fullness; let the field be joyful, and all that is in it. Then all the trees of the woods will rejoice before the Lord.” - Psalm 96:11-13a Sometimes, vacations unintentionally take on a theme of their own. Looking over pictures from our July RV trip, I decided this one was all about the trees.

Our first sight-seeing day, when we rode the Sugar Pines Express, we encountered the train’s namesake, said to be the tallest of all pines (around 200 feet). It can live up to 500 years. This tree gets its name because the resin in the bark is sweet. I thought the name came from the short, stiff needles that make the branches look like they’ve been sprinkled with sugar.

Yosemite’s Mariposa Grove was next. These famous trees are Giant Sequoias, quite tall at 290 feet. Many of the trees here are so unique they’ve been given names.

The grove isn’t the only place with trees in Yosemite - there are plenty of trees all around this national park.

At Lake Tahoe, there are trees everywhere. I think they were mostly Ponderosa Pines at our campsite, but they were so thick, we had a hard time seeing the stars at night.

Next stop, Santa Cruz, which included a visit to the Redwood Grove Nature Trail in Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park. The trees in this park are just majestic!

Redwoods are the world’s tallest trees and they repel fire and disease. One tree is about 270 feet tall and over 17 feet wide - almost as tall as the Statue of Liberty. They only grow in temperate, foggy, moist conditions. You could also see Douglas-fir, Tan Oak and Bay trees on the trail.

We took a drive over to Pebble Beach and, among other impressive sites, saw awesome Cypress Trees.

Then there were some pretty big Eucalyptus Trees at Natural Bridges State Park.

Look at the size of that branch!
During our last stop, in Buellton, we visited the Santa Inez Mission. Perhaps that was where we saw the most inspiring “tree.”

Have a wonderful week!

Thursday, September 22, 2011

The Roads We've Traveled

In our travels, we've driven on many different roads. There was Interstate 70 traveling east to Green River, UT - some parts actually looked like they could have been in a sci-fi movie:

U.S. Route 16 in WY between Buffalo and Worland - beautiful but it was so steep the front wheels of the motor home screamed in protest when braking:

There’s alternate route 89 in AZ at Jerome where the buildings jut right next to the street - you can reach out and give them a love pat as you drive by. There are parts of Interstate 10 that might jar your fillings loose but if you really want to shake things up, try the section of US Route 191 just before the Canyon de Chelly National Monument turn-off. Decorative studs popped off like corn popping and the TV was almost in my husband’s lap before we noticed and shoved it back in the cabinet.

Interstate 40 is a pretty nice drive until it gets wet and road pebbles, courtesy of passing vehicles, become airborne. By the time we reached our destination, the windshield looked like it had been attacked by a glass spider - nothing but a web of cracks.

Another beautiful piece of highway with mountains and trees and the Colorado River running near it, again on Interstate 70 headed east towards Denver. Then just before the Frisco turn off, there’s an uphill section we could only crawl over.

Then there’s the “back way,” aka state highway 38, to Big Bear, CA. We were coming in from Las Vegas and this looked shorter on the map - yipes, my husband had to make a 3-pointer to get us around some of those curves.

If you’re not claustrophobic, drive the Needles Highway in South Dakota, but not in an RV. The scenery is fantastic, Mount Rushmore framed by some of the tunnels, but in some spots it felt tight even in our little tow car.

But nothing prepared us for a section of road we encountered on our last trip. When we left the area around Yosemite and headed toward Lake Tahoe, we started out on state route 49 and headed northwest. The 49 is a little steep and can be crowded because of the logging trucks but it is doable.

We wanted to get to Tahoe before dark because the roads are steep going there, too, but the kids had their hearts set on doing the zipline at Moaning Cave. My son-in-law said it was right on our way, so he took the lead as we headed out.

We had our fun and ate lunch before we headed out and made the fateful decision to turn left on the 4 instead of right to head back to the 49. The scenery was beautiful but suddenly a sign seemed to pop up out of the ground screaming, “not recommended for vehicles over 25 feet.” The hair on the back of my neck stood up because I knew we were well over that and that the state doesn’t put up signs just to amuse itself.

“Mike,” I said, “we better turn around.” He looked around and I noticed his fingers were already digging into the steering wheel. “Where would you suggest I do that?” It had been raining and as soon as the blacktop stopped, there was mud on both sides of it. “If I get off the road we will sink.” Suddenly, I realized we didn’t really have two lanes - it was more like 1½ lanes for use by traffic going in both directions.

As we continued on, we started seeing signs warning of a 25% grade - it should have included, “This road is so steep you will feel like you are on a roller coaster and so narrow you may get scraped by the rocks jutting out of the side of the mountains, for sure by the low tree branches.”

Then, as if trying to change the subject, Mike asked, “Aren’t you going to take some pictures?” I answered, “Why? So people can see what we were looking at before we died?” It had been snowing and there was slush everywhere. All standing water was iced up right to the side of the road. Trees were everywhere - coming out of rocks, hillsides and every place else, including places where they took up part of the paved road.

We encountered a sheriff deputy who pretty much just wished us “good luck” and probably radioed in for a clean-up crew to start preparing itself for action. So up and down we went, pulling over as far as possible when we met oncoming traffic. Thank the Lord, we only came across one other vehicle towing - a horse trailer. It was a little hairy but the timing was perfect because we happened to be in a wide spot in the road; most places there was no margin for error.

Our highest point was 8,731ft at Ebbett’s Pass. We drove past Calaveras Big Trees State Park, Bear Valley, Lake Alpine, went through the Stanislaus Nat’l Forest, and came out at Markleeville. It was one terrifying ride and definitely one none of us ever wants to take again.
You would have thought we were taking a winter vacation by this picture.
It was a pretty good snow flurry.

And some pretty good snow cover.

Here is one of the lakes.

You can kind of get a feel for the road but you really had to be there.
Archie says, "I can't see out the windows - maybe it's a good thing!"

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Our Last Stop

When we left Santa Cruz, I wondered if we were headed home. The motor home door opened and I got my answer - we were in Buellton at Flying Flags Campground. I was surprised because we hadn’t been there in about three years.

Buellton wasn’t on the itinerary at first. After my daughter and I had planned every stop, my husband popped his head in the room and asked, “Hey, is there any chance we could stop at Flying Flags on the way home.” My daughter and I looked at each other and started laughing because we had asked him if he had any requests before we started. Since it would be his birthday the last week of our vacation, we decided to shave a day off of each of the other stops so we could have some time left to honor his request. - D

There had been some upgrades at the park since the last time we’d been there, like cement patios and new tables at the RV sites. The area above the “river” was now fancy tent spots. Park-size trailers had been moved in and, along with new cabin-tents, were available for rent. The grandkids were excited about the playground equipment - all new. My favorite improvement - the off-leash area had been enlarged so now a canine could actually move around in there.
We stopped to see the birds at Ostrich Land and did a lot of shopping in Solvang. We also did a lot of eating in Solvang, as well as at AJ Spurs, Anderson Split Pea (also visited their gift shop) and Ellen’s Pancake House. I think we ate out more times at this stop then the rest of our entire trip! We also visited the Santa Inez Mission since California missions would be coming up as part of Peyton's school curriculum. -D

Then one night, who should come for dinner but Kramer - how did that pup find his way to Buellton? Well, Aunt Lori and Uncle Rick happened to be there, too, so that explains it. Of course, I was happy to see them. In spite of Kramer, everyone enjoyed themselves.

We had a great time visiting and, if Archie was honest, he would admit, he was glad to see Kramer, too. Being on the road is always more fun when friends and family show up. - D

Our summer trip had come to an end and after three weeks, everybody still loved me!

I strained my neck to look out the window and there it was - a fog bank! Cool weather at last!
A quick nap later and we were home. Here I am, back in my favorite “cool” spot.
In case you're interested in the RV spots where we stayed during this trip:
Yosemite South/Coarsegold KOA, 34094 Highway 41, Coarsegold CA 93614
When we arrived, the day before the 4th of July weekend started, we overheard conversation that the owners were new - they did seem to be in a little over their heads. Even so, they were friendly and seemed to be giving it their best effort.  The facilities were nice and Woodall's rating was high. Yosemite's south entrance is about 23 miles away but it seems like it takes forever to get to the national park and even longer to see some of the sites which are all pretty spread out. If you want to visit the Mariposa Grove, at the very south end of Yosemite, or ride the Sugar Pines Express Narrow Gauge Train, which is just outside the south gate of the park, this is a good place to stay.
Archie says, "It was hot for me but KOA people are dog people." 
Tahoe Valley Campground, 1175 Melba, South Lake Tahoe CA 96158
Great place for kids - lots to do at the campgound itself and you kind of feel like you are at summer camp. This campground is large, over 500 tent/RV sites.  It's not right on the lake but the drive is short and the location makes it easy to get to the lake's California shores. Another high rated spot from Woodall's.
Archie says, "It had several nice designated dog-walking spots as well
 as the rest of the campground for dog fun."
Santa Cruz/Monterey Bay KOA Kampground, 1186 San Andreas Road Melba, Watsonville CA 95076
Another great campground for kids - so much to do it was hard to pull the grandkids away to go sight seeing. There was miniature golf, a playground, fun train, climbing wall (treadmill style), jumping pillow as well as the pool - the first one on our trip that was actually heated. Besides all that, there were activities for the kids to participate in every day. Pizza was available for delivery on Friday evenings, BBQ lunch on Saturdays and a pancake breakfast on Sunday mornings. Yep, Woodall's gave it a high rating, too.
Archie says, "Their K9 area was nice, too."
Flying Flags RV Park & Campground, 180 Ave of the Flags, Buellton CA 93427
This campground has made a lot of improvements so if you haven't been there for awhile, you might want to check it out. They have a nice pool and two spas, one inside and one out. They also have a nice playground for kids. Gown-up playgrounds are nearby - Solvang and the Chumash Indian Casino.
Archie says, "The improvements at the off-leash dog area are pretty nice, too!"

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Other Pictures from Santa Cruz

Santa Cruz was a great place to visit!

We walked through the Redwood Grove Nature Trail at Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park where there are magnificent old growth redwoods - awesome! Pictures just don’t do this area justice, nor can I describe the overwhelming peace you feel as you pass through the trees. One word of warning - all the vegetation in this park is protected so DON’T pick any of the wildflowers! Kids that don’t read (and some grownups who must have a problem with comprehension) were bawled out by eagle-eyed rangers, who were nice about it but firm with their lecture.

In this park, dogs are allowed on the Meadow Trail at Hwy 9 and on the Graham Hill Trail from the campground; both trails lead to Pipeline Road, a 3.3 mile paved road closed to public vehicles. Dogs are also allowed in the picnic area and campground but not the river or streams. They must be leashed at all time.
Of course, we went to the world-famous Boardwalk - great fun to see and the grandkids loved it, but I didn’t take my camera. (Don’t know how I forgot that.) I had really wanted to ride the carousel, which was celebrating its 100th birthday but every time we went over by it, it wasn’t working and people were trying to fix it. Well, what can you expect from such an old piece of running machinery? Walked over to the pier for lunch at Woody’s - a cool joint. That evening, watched Lost Boys since it had been filmed at the Boardwalk. Warning - the movie shows Nanook, the pet husky, at the walk, but don’t take your dog because there is a NO PET policy in place - no dogs allowed.

On Friday we rode the Roaring Camp & Big Trees Narrow-Gauge Railroad, which dogs can ride on and Archie loved, as he told you last week. It was great fun riding an old train through the redwoods and listening to the piped-in narration about the area we were seeing.
We made the17-mile drive at Pebble Beach while we were in the area. Wow - if you ever get a chance, check this out. The area is really worth seeing. We stopped at Shepherd’s Knoll, Huckleberry Hill, Restless Sea vista point, Point Joe, China Rock, Bird Rock, Seal Rock, Fanshell Overlook, the Lone Cypress, and the Ghost Tree.

The day before we left, we visited Natural Bridges State Park - kind of a misnomer since there's only one bridge left after years of erosion. We got there at high tide so couldn’t totally see the one “natural” bridge that remains. We walked over to the butterfly trail and it had been damaged in the last storm and was being repaired, so couldn’t see much of that either, although it really looked intriguing. I did find a T-shirt made in the USA so bought that.

There is a lot to see in Santa Cruz -  I put it on my list for a return trip!

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Our Latest RV Trip - Part 3

We headed to Santa Cruz - finally tolerable weather. See Mike's wearing a sweatshirt so you know I'm feeling so much better. Campground - pet friendly, even had an off-leash area. Lots of my canine buddies were there, even some show-dogs, altho' I never saw them go to the dog park.

They let dogs on the Roaring Camp & Big Trees Narrow Gauge Railroad - loved that ride on the train.

This was my first train ride and I liked it - I could’ve done without the whistle and steam -  too loud.

The passengers in our car liked having me there, maybe they didn't like that loud noise either and I made them feel better. Anyway, I got a lot of pats and made a lot of new friends that day. It was a great ride through a redwood forest. I even got to walk around among the giant trees and you know how dogs feel about trees!

When the ride was over, Mike and Dana had me sit to the side, so everyone else could get down from the car first. I didn't mind because I got a lot more attention from people as they passed by me. One gentleman gave me a pat and said, "That's a good looking dog. He sure is well-mannered." The best comment of the day!

Another fun thing we did was take the 17-mile driving tour around Pebble Beach. It’s pretty well-known and there were a lot of people out doing the same thing.

There was only one problem, sometimes there is so much to see, people don't pay attention to what's going on...

But sometimes, we just hung around the campground.

Are you having fun, Peyton?

I had fun in Santa Cruz.