Saturday, September 29, 2012

Saturday, 29 September

We roll out of the Kingman area fairly early --- earlier than we think because we changed our watches when we crossed into the Mountain Time Zone, not realizing that Arizona doesn't switch to Daylight Time (so we were essentially still on California time). Well, that's one way to get an early start.

As we drove toward Flagstaff, we were steadily gaining elevation. We went through valleys and mountain ranges, but always trending up. This was shown by the gradual changes in plant life. From the dry conditions of yesterday, we saw more and more grass, mostly dry but more and more showing green. In the valleys, there were ranches, though we didn't see a lot of cattle. Trees became more common and taller. Even in the valleys, there were always mountains not too far away.

Just before Flagstaff, we turned off onto highway 89A. We drove through pine forests until we went around a corner and a big canyon opened up before us. This was a canyon with high rock bluffs, and mostly pine trees where there was enough soil.

We did see a few oaks scattered among them; which was good because it's Oak Creek Canyon. The road wound down the canyon, literally. The road follows the canyon for 23 miles to Sedona, and loses 3,000 of elevation in the process. Around every bend was an "Oh Wow!" moment. Pictures cannot do it justice.

Toward the end of the canyon, the rocks became red. Sedona is located at the mouth of the canyon and is surrounded by amazing red rock formations.

We found ourselves in an absolutely mobbed road, choked with traffic and not a parking place to be found anywhere. Then we realized our situation: it was a beautiful Saturday and it seemed like everyone for three states around was taking advantage of it.

And who can blame them. No matter where you look, the town is surrounded by fabulous vistas.

We managed to find the Visitor's Center and get some good advice, including where to find a pet store to get some food for YumYum. That took us out of the tourist madness. We did our shopping (but no dog food of the right kind) and headed out of town by a different route.

Even leaving town we were surrounded by amazing red rock formations. A truly amazing place.

We managed to bypass Flagstaff entirely and ended up in an RV park just outside the Meteor Crater. We know where we will start tomorrow.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Friday, 29 September

We're on our way. We said goodbye to Bill this morning and got underway a little after 10:00. It was so good to finally leave the smog of LA behind, but we weren't so lucky with the traffic. The first interstate we took (I-15) is the main route between LA and Las Vegas. It was full of cars and trucks. This was Friday after all, the start of the weekend for some people. We didn't think the trucks were going to Vegas to gamble, but we suspected many of the people in the cars were. That seemed borne out when we got to Barstow and switched to I-40. Many of the trucks were still with us, but far fewer cars.

Once you get over the mountains around the LA basin, you are in the desert. The scenery is mostly flat, with mountains in the distance. The vegetation varies from place to place, but there are usually low plants, possibly sage. From time to time we passed areas of broken-up black rock which we presumed were lava. The road is usually straight and level. Jean pointed out that it was very similar to South Dakota, but it was more interesting --- what with the mountains and the variety of plants. There were very few birds in sight.

We had an interesting example of the dynamics of fuel pricing. We pulled off the interstate in Barstow to find some diesel. Went through beautiful downtown Barstow on old Route 66. It was interesting but didn't yield any fuel. When we saw a sign directing us back to 15, we turned. At the top of the hill, just before the interstate was a Chevron station with diesel. Not knowing of any other, we pulled in and filled up --- at $4.89 a gallon. When we were finished, we drove across the bridge over 15 and there was a Valero station that had diesel for $4.29! Grrrr! But that is frequently the situation when you need to find fuel in a strange place.

Later in the day we went in to Kingman in search of a pharmacy. There was a Safeway that was selling diesel for $4.09 (with a Safeway card, which we have). Having burned off nearly half a tank by then, we filled up again. Then we found a pharmacy and got our errand done.

We ended the day in Kingman, 315 miles from where we started. Not a bad day's run (for us). Tomorrow we hope to go to Sedona, on Lavonne's recommendation. Hopefully, more photogenic.

Wednesday and Thursday, 26 & 27 September

We're still in LA. We didn't realize how many friends and relatives we had living in the LA/Santa Barbara area. We have been in visiting (rather than sight-seeing) mode for the past week.

Wednesday we drove from Santa Barbara to Westminster in the south of the greater metropolitan Los Angeles area. (Metropolitan Los Angeles consists of about 85 smaller, contiguous municipalities.) To simplify things, we did the trip (about 133 miles) on freeways. One supposes it is the most efficient way to move around the large, urban area. But it doesn't seem to be the fastest. We were not traveling in what one would suppose was the "rush hour" (why do they call creeping traffic "rush"?), but we still ran into lots of slow-downs and traffic jams.

In Winchester we visited with Lavonne, an old friend of Gene's, and her husband. Later on, Gene's nephew, Kevin, joined us for dinner. The night was spent in pleasant conversation, and later they  played back the new season openers of NCIS and NCIS-LA which we had missed the night before. A most enjoyable evening.

Next morning we went to the Westminster Mall to do some shopping, and then headed for Chino to see Jean's cousin, Bill. We programmed his address into the GPS and it took us via city streets, no freeways. We don't know why, but it turned out to be an interesting trip, with not much traffic. We went through Carbon Canyon, a twisty country road. Not as bad as some we've been on, with only two hairpin turns (stacked together).

We had a long, pleasant visit with Bill, mostly him and Jean reminiscintg about the old days in Forest, and catching up with what has happened with people since. Of course, we went out for a delicious dinner. The time spent in LA has been marked, with other things, by lots of heavy eating. We may have to diet on the whole trip back.

Speaking of the trip back, tomorrow we bid adieu to Southern California and head east. Time to head back to the barn.

We will be following Interstate 40 most of the way back. We have no one to visit before Tennessee, and we don't know of as many sights to catch on the way,  so the trip home may not take as long as the trip out. As Gene's cousin Harold said about the TWA pilots, "When they're homeward bound they bend the throttles." So I guess we will be bending the throttles soon.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Monday and Tuesday, 24, 25 September

Another two-fer.

Monday Jean and YumYum both got haircuts and Gene hosed the worst of the dust off the motorhome. Then we just laid around and relaxed for most of the rest of the day. As 6:00 we all went down to Burbank where we met Holly's sister, Dori and her husband Steve and daughter Sadie for dinner in an Italian restaurant. We are trying to combine visits since there are a lot of people to see in L.A.

Tuesday we headed back to Santa Barbara to catch up with Gioia and Mark, who we hadn't been able to see the first time through.

Beautiful Santa Barbara

The town is very pleasant and we like it, though we are not as pleased with the oil rigs a couple of miles offshore.

We spent much of the day at the Santa Barbara Mission, called "the queen of the missions." It is still an active, Franciscan church.


We took the self-guided tour, which was very complete.

The sanctuary includes a couple of niches with large statuary.

Afterwards we went to a shopping center where we had lunch, bought a couple of Tony Hillerman books and some groceries. Then we went down to the waterfront until it was time to meet Gioia and Mark. We walked out on a long wharf and spotted a sea lion swimming alongside. One more creature for our list.

After a pleasant dinner and visit, Mark gave us a map he had marked with places where we could park overnight. A most enjoyable day.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Saturday and Sunday, 22, 23 September

We have been spending the weekend in Valencia with Jean's cousin Holly, her husband Derek, and son Tyler. Tyler, who is now 10, is an amazing child.  From the time he was four until two years ago he fought serious cancer. He went into and out of remission at least two times in that time. One of the things he got interested in while in hospitals was the cooking shows on television. Once he got out he became seriously interested in cooking. Not just hamburgers and mac and cheese, but fairly exotic stuff involving spices and sauces --- all done from scratch. Two years ago he published his own cookbook, Savoring Life. The book contains Tyler's story and recipes that he developed. If anyone is interested it can be ordered online from <> (all profits benefit the Leukemia/Lymphoma Society).

Saturday Tyler and Derek spent the day at a UCLA Bruins football game (UCLA lost) so Holly took us to see whatever we wanted in LA. We spent much of the afternoon in Olvera Street. This is where the little pueblo of Los Angeles was started. The original Spanish land grant was 1781, the plaza was moved twice due to floods and eventually ended at the present location in 1822.

Today, much of the area is given over to small stalls, like a village market. Many of the buildings are very old.

The original church of Our Lady, Queen of the Angels is located there and has this beautiful altar.

There were lots of small groups busking in the area, mostly doing traditional music. The oldest tradition was represented by a couple of men (a drummer and a dancer) in Aztec costumes. All the announcements were done in Spanish.

After touring and shopping and getting some lunch, we went on to experience Angel's Flight Railway. This is the shortest incorporated railroad in the world. It goes one block,  up the side of a hill in downtown LA. It operates on a 33% grade. The two cars share the middle rail except at the halfway point where they diverge enough to pass. One car balances the other, so both move at the same time.

The cars are designed and built specifically for this service, so the seats are level.

Sunday, Holly drove us and Tyler to Malibu where we spent the afternoon on the beach. Tyler and the women enjoyed the water while Gene enjoyed relaxing on the beach and checking out the nautical traffic with the binoculars.

We stopped for lunch on the way back to Valencia, and then relaxed before a delicious supper of coq au vin that had been simmering all day (Holly's recipe, not Tylers). A most pleasant weekend. What will tomorrow hold?

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Thursday, Friday 20, 21 September

Took a while to get going. We went to Albertson's for groceries, then to downtown Morro Bay for brunch. Our plan had been to stop in Santa Barbara to visit some relatives of Gene, but we had not been able to get in touch with them, so we reluctantly scrubbed that part of the plan. That seemed to give us some time, so we back-tracked a bit and went to Hearst Castle.

The castle is built on the top of a hill, and the bus taking us up there had to stop for a flock of African goats called udads. Part of Hearst's private zoo that still remain on the grounds.

William Hearst used to camp on the hilltop near San Simeon when he was young, but when he got older (and inherited a fortune) he decided he needed something a little better. So he hired this woman architect and together they spent 26 years designing, redesigning, and building some better accommodations.

Hearst had spent a fortune already collecting old art in Europe (like whole rooms --- he had a thing for fancy ceilings) and much of it got built into the house. To give and idea of how big it is, Clark Gable (I believe) wanted to sleep in a different bedroom every time he visited. In all, he slept in 40 different bedrooms, and didn't run out of possibilities.

 The grounds are gardened with a great variety of plants: trees and flowers. Lush against a background barren, dry hills.

The tour took most of the afternoon. When we got back down to the visitor center, we learned that there was an elephant seal sanctuary a few miles up the coast, so we went to look. We pulled in to the  parking lot. There were a lot of seals laying on the beach a long ways off, and we were about to walk over as close as we could when we heard a loud snorting below us. There were two elephant seals sparring in the surf.

After we left we got a call on the phone from one of our people in Santa Barbara. So we were able to set up a quick get-together after all.

We drove in to Santa Barbara and were able to connect with Gabi Cardi and her two-year old daughter, Gianna. We spent a pleasant night visiting, and then just spent the night parked in front of her house,

Next morning her mother, Mari, showed up and we all went out for breakfast (basically turned into brunch) down at the waterfront. We also got a call from Gioia, the other person we wanted to see, and made arrangements to come back Tuesday afternoon to visit with her.

After breakfast, Mari found a place where we could dump our tanks. So we went back, picked up the van, did our duty, and headed to Valencia to catch up with Jean's cousin Holly and her family. Will be spending the weekend in the Los Angeles area. Details on Monday.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Wednesday, 19 September

Ah, back to the coast! Jean had read that there were lots of sea lions to be seen in Moss Landing, so we went there. It is an interesting little fishing town, but, alas, no sea lions. Someone there suggested Monterey, so we were off again.

There is lots to see and do in Monterey, but Gene wanted to skip most of it and head for Pt Lobos. Still, we went in to town in search of sea mammals. We lucked out and found parking some distance from the madding crowd.

A stroll along the shore gave us a glimpse of some harbor seals.

Then a hawk (what kind is it?) flew in and perched on the fence right next to us. Pretty blase about humans.

It was cold by the water, but walking in to Cannery Row got us out of the wind and into the sun. Jean did a little shopping, and we stopped at the "oldest historical eating place in Cannery Row" for some lunch. It took a while to get service, and when we did we ordered sandwiches. They turned out to be very large and served on sourdough, along with fries and cole slaw. Neither of us could finish ours. Looks like a light supper tonight.

Outside the restaurant was a bay overlook, and there just offshore was a sea otter relaxing and grooming himself. Just what we wanted. What luck, parking and sea otters!

Pacific Grove, next to Monterey, is a wintering place for monarch butterflies (we thought they only wintered in Mexico) but that doesn't happen until October. So we headed for the famous Seventeen Mile Drive. We found it and also found it is a private road and it cost us $9.75 to drive on it. The road is bordered by fancy houses, some absolutely palatial. But the real interest is the scenery. Much of it is along the coast, with the ocean on one side and golf courses on the other. So this is how the other 8% lives.

We drove right in to Carmel-by-the-Sea, a very artsy community. Gene knew one of the more famous local artists years ago, the late Geza St. Galy, who worked in tiles and mosaics. Originally from Hungary, he moved to California from New York, he claimed, to avoid having to buy winter clothes.

Outside Carmel is Pt. Lobos Nature Reserve. Years ago, Gene went there with Geza and took some pictures of a wind-twisted Monterey cypress there. We wanted to see if it was still there, and take some more pictures. But they don't allow dogs, not even in cars; and it would cost $20 even if they did. So we pressed on.

California 1 is a very scenic drive, with dramatic views of the coast. The passenger can enjoy them, the driver had better focus his attention on the road if he doesn't want to become part of the scenery. The road is very twisty and the drop to the ocean is frequently long.

We needed to make contact with the people we planned to visit in LA, but there is little or no cell service along most of this coast. Consequently we passed up many primitive campsites and pressed on to Morro Bay, where we arrived after dark. We got a campsite and were able to begin making arrangements.

We have enjoyed a leisurely drive down the coast, but in a couple of days we will have to plunge into the madness that is El Pueblo Nuestra Senora La Reina de Los Angeles de Porciuncula (to give it its orginal name).

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Yosemite, 16, 17, 18 September

As usual, we were unable to get online in a National Park, even though both of us could get a good signal on our cell phones. Thus this longish, catch-up post.

Thanks to some computer help from Gene's son Bruce, we were able to score two nights in a Yosemite Park campground (cost: $20). So we filled the fuel tank and headed out from Vallejo Sunday morning (9/16). It was cool when we left the Bay area, but as we proceeded across the Central Valley the temperature rose into the high 90's. Crossing the Valley, we drove through lots of farms, made possible by irrigation.

When we got further east (away from the rivers) the landscape became dry and rolling. There were some cattle, but lots of empty-looking land.

 We followed California 120 into the mountains. There was a long stretch of very twisty road perched on the side of the mountain. We climbed to over 5,000 feet before things leveled out a bit. After going through a tunnel, we came to a viewpoint where we got our first look at Yosemite Valley in the distance.

Then the road descended to about 4,000 feet. Yosemite Valley is deep and narrow, following the Merced River. On either side are granite walls that rise sheer for 3,500 feet. It is an area almost unique in the world.

The floor itself is covered with tall pine forest, so the only place you get a good view of the walls is in the occasional meadow. The iconic symbol of Yosemite is Half Dome, which can be seen from most places in the valley.

We checked in to our campground, which was almost at the base of Half Dome. The Park Service provides a free shuttle service around the valley to minimize auto traffic. Judging from the parking areas, if they didn't the whole valley would be in gridlock during the high season. We parked the motorhome for two nights and used the shuttle to go where we wanted to.

Monday morning we caught the shuttle to Yosemite Village, where we got some information at the Information Center, visited the Ansel Adams Gallery, and got some drinks and trail mix from the  store there. Then back to the campground to check on YumYum, who didn't seem to be welcome much of anywhere.

Gene had checked the Village area with his hot-spot finder and found about 15 active hot-spots, all but two of which were secure. There was an open one called Free Yosemite --- goody! So when we went back to the area we took the computer. Unfortunately, Free Yosemite only provides information about Yosemite, you can't get online there. The other open hot spot required a password, so once again we were frustrated in trying to get online and write the blog.

There is a small museum with artifacts from the local Miwok Indians. They did incredible basket work, weaving watertight baskets in which they cooked their acorn-meal mush using hot stones. They also did beautiful work involving tiny beads. The Park Service has also created a sample of a Miwok Indian village. The homes the Indians lived in varied, depending on contact with whites, but they used a temporary shelter that looked like a teepee made out of incense cedar bark that would be good for about two years. There was also a community building and a sweat lodge.

On the way back to the campground we stopped at a bridge that provides perhaps the best view of Half Dome. It was certainly popular, with photographers crowded around and shooting with everything from an iPad to a Hasselblad. Naturally, Gene had to join them.

A full day --- though much of it involved shopping and viewing man-made items you could see in a city. But enjoyable nevertheless. Next morning (today) we broke camp and headed for the coast. On the way out we stopped to take some pictures of El Capitan.

While doing that we were made aware of one or more climbers on the face of the cliff. You could only see them with binoculars. One of the activities that you can do in Yosemite we had no desire to partake of.

Driving to the coast was pretty much the trip in run in reverse We took a different road out of the park, one that was not so hairy. So we are finally back near the coast. Tomorrow we go in search of sea lions.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Saturday, 15 September

Very late getting away this morning. Mostly because we were doing a lot of laundry, but also because Gene set the clock an hour slow. So we didn't leave for Bruce's house until about ten minutes before we were supposed to be there. Then we ran into a traffic jam about when we got to the exit before the one we usually take. Gene decided to get off there, figuring that San Pablo Ave. would be faster than the backed-up freeway. Another brilliant decision --- the off-ramp was more backed up than the freeway. End result, we got there about an hour late. (Also factor in that there wasn't any parking near his place.)

But we made it and there was Rosie, Gene's granddaughter all grown up since the last time he saw her about ten years ago.

Rosie only had a few hours before she needed to go to San Francisco to work with her mother. We had no firm plans, so after visiting a little while, we all headed off in Bruce's art car. Riding with him was fun, since the car got lots of attention, mostly positive.

We decided to check out the Farmer's Market because they were having a country music contest today. We got there in time to catch the last four groups, so we set up chairs and a blanket on the lawn and enjoyed the show.

Among the pets there was a tortoise, which wandered slowly among the crowd.

After the last contestants, a couple of men entertained the crowd with some clogging while the judges made their deliberations. Looked and sounded like home. After the prizes were awarded, we walked a few blocks (Rosie carried YumYum) downtown to a Mediterranean restaurant with sidewalk seating. The food was very good.

By the time we finished the meal and Bruce fetched the car, it was time to return to his house. After some fond goodbyes, Rosie headed for SF and we went in the house to talk and listen to some music on the computer (You-Tube videos). Bruce found a reservation site for the National Parks on the computer and we were actually able to sign up for a campsite in Yosemite for the next two days. You usually have to reserve those things a few months in advance.

We said our goodbyes to Bruce and headed back to Vallejo, stopping at a bank in Berkeley for Jean to get another infusion of money. Back at the campsite, time to sort the laundry and make the bed. We will need to get away tomorrow sooner than our recent performance.

Friday, 14 September

After our usual late start, we made connections with Gene's friend Marga at a beach next to the Golden Gate Fields racetrack. We walked on the beach for a little, but it was better for driftwood than for glass.

So we repositioned ourselves on the other side of the racetrack. That place isn't really a beach, just a narrow tidal flat with lots of rocks --- and lots of glass. Most of the glass was too new and sharp to be beach glass, but we managed to find a sandwich bag full of worn pieces (with a little pottery and a snail shell).

Having worn ourselves out with that effort we repaired to the Sea Breeze, a food and fruit stand on the road to Berkeley Marina. The women had a delicious clam chowder and a shrimp salad sandwich with lots of whole shrimp. Gene just stuck with a cheeseburger, but it was a good one.

Then we went off to see Alice Waters' first edible school yard. This is an extensive garden on the grounds of a middle school where the children grow the garden (organically) and then harvest the produce, cook it, and eat it for lunch. This idea has been picked up by other schools across the nation; and was also used in the day camp in Virginia that Jean ran for several years. This one is a big operation with a large variety of plants being grown.

After that we took Marga back to her car and she went home while we went down to the marina to see the sunset. We were joined by Bruce, who rode down on his bicycle. Considering that he had to drive down through Berkeley during rush hour, he is a brave man indeed.

 We put his bike in the motorhome and we all drove back to his place, where we talked until late. Before we left, he lit up the lights (flashing and otherwise) on his art car for us to see. It was quite a show, but not bright enough to photograph. What with being caught in heavy traffic due to road work on the way back to Vallejo, we were quite late getting to bed ... again.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Thursday, 13 September

We start the day out by  going back to Napa to visit a winery recommended by David. Emily and David have a couple of acres of grapes. They don't work with them; rather this winery takes care of the vines in return for the grapes. They then blend some of the grapes in one of their wines. So we went to see the winery and perhaps buy a bottle of the blended wine. As it turns out, the blended wine is aged in oak barrels, to which Jean's daughter Amanda is allergic. We did buy a bottle of Reisling, which is not aged in oak. It just doesn't have any of Emily and David's grapes in it.

We have a pleasant time at the winery, talking with a person in the tasting room about all manner of things wine. It seems most of the wineries in the valley are not people who have been in the business for generations. In fact, in the early part of the last century Napa Valley was cattle country. My how things have changed.

The one other thing the man told us was how to get to the post office. Jean needed to send out something that should go out today. We followed his directions and got to a shopping center where we also stopped for some lunch. There was an upscale cafe there where we got an expensive meal. Jean's sandwich was good, but Gene was not so lucky. The problems of food on the road in strange places.

We went back to Berkeley. Bruce had a doctor's appointment, so until it was time to meet him we went down to Berkeley Marina and took a walk beside the Bay. 

It was quite warm in Napa, it was downright cold by the Bay. Also very windy. We spotted a man who was kite-surfing, except he was on land using a skateboard. It seemed to work pretty well.

We took YumYum for a walk by the Bay. He didn't seem impressed.

Then we caught up with Bruce and drove in to El Cerrito to a movie house where we had a bad Hawaiian pizza (not too lucky with food today) and watched The Manchurian Candidate. None of us had seen it before and really didn't know what to expect. It was good, almost made up for the bad (and expensive) food. Then back to our little spot in Vallejo.