Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Carmel, California

The California coast becomes something really special along the Montery Peninsula.  The small town of Carmel has been a destination for generations of Californians.  There is good shopping, great restaurants, and the photography of Edward Weston, Ansel Adams and others.  It is a small town with four shops selling great photographs of California.  So in their honor a black and white of the  beach at the Carmel.  You can walk here from the center of town.  There is a parking here, but not for large rigs.  Carmel is a town, best experience with your toad.

On this beach there were dogs running off-leash and having a whale of a time in the surf.  However, the rules are much more restrictive in town center.

It is a nice quiet park to sit and read.  I guess that is why it works as a nice quiet park.  The other nice thing about Carmel is that the business district does cater to the tourist.  There are bathrooms available throughout the town.  So find a place to leave the 5th wheel or motor home and come into town to spend the day.  There are many stores and restaurants to explore.  Do not forget to make your way down to the beach.  It is worth the walk. 
If you can get another couple you can rent a home in Carmel during the winter for about two thousand dollars a month.  I know this sounds expensive, but this is less than the two couples would pay to stay at a California State Park for a month.  More on California Parks on the next posting.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Half Moon Bay to Big Sur, California

The California coast from Half Moon Bay to Big Sur is a special part of the world.  State Parks and public beach access are found every few miles.  The fog changes the landscape and the views.  On the same day, in a few miles, you can go from dreamy, foggy landscapes to brilliant sunshine.

The fog has it's own charm and beauty.  A few miles up the road, a completely different weather scene is viewed.
The south end of the central coast ends as Big Sur begins.  If you have not driven the Big Sur coastline, do it as soon as possible.  It has been called the grandest meeting of land and sea in the world.  The good news is that there are Forest Service campgrounds with reasonable camping rates along the way.  More on this later.

But for now.  Here is the magnificent central coastline.
California has long been known for high priced homes.  Well, now it is famous for high priced campgrounds and state parks.  Fortunately, along the drive down the coastline there are free beach accesses.  One favorite is Pebble Beach which has no fee, dogs allowed on leash, and most important, tidepools that are easy to access and explore. 

A few miles away is Bean Hollow State Park that offers grills, picnic tables, and a nice beach where you can walk your dog on leash.  Again, no fee for this site.

It appears the fee charges are based on how easy it is to collect the fee, rather than the attractiveness of the area.  Along the way, several beach accesses have nice walks to the beach so you can get in your daily exercise.

We drove from Santa Cruz to Half Moon Bay, stopping along the way at the bakery in Davenport.  Expensive and average in quality.  Oh well, maybe the next one will be better.  Driving back down puts all the beach accesses on the right side of the road so you do not have to cross traffic.

We did the drive on a Saturday and it appeared all of California was driving the highway.  It is crowded in this state!!  So plan your trip for a weekday if possible.  Also, like most of California, this drive is best done in late winter or early spring to minimize the time spent in fog banks. 

Here is what most folks dream about finding along the California coast.  Yes, you can find this for a day camp!!  This is a county park.  As Tioga George says, "Day camps and night camps are completely different."

We did see a few night camps along one side of Highway One, however, I suspect they are going to get a visit from the State Patrol, probably sooner, rather than later.  George has also had problems finding night camps in this area.

Here is the sad truth about boondocking along California's central coast.  It doesn't exist! It is an expensive place to camp and visit. 

We will cover the camping situation in our next posting.  Until then, consider the Big Sur and the central coast of California as you head north from the southwest in the next few months.  It is a special place, and unfortunately, it probably will get more crowded and regulated in the future.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Napa Valley Campgrounds, California

The coastal region of California is dark and gloomy for boondockers. There is little public land and on that land campers are generally herded in to formal campgrounds. Take heart, as we move north in a month or so we will highlight places far from campgrounds.
Getting around the Napa Valley can be an exercise is traffic frustation. If you come in summer this will be true and it might even happen some sunny weekends in the spring.
However, there is an alternative to Highway 29 which runs up the and that is the Silvarado Trail which runs on the east side of the valley. Break out your map and find it. It will save you time if you need to avoid traffic.

As noted in earlier posts, the food rather than the wine is the attraction in the Napa Valley for many people. We ate at Angele in Napa City and had a great bouilabase. There is a walking trail next to the Napa River to help walk off those calories. The Mustard Cafe is also a good place to eat just off Highway 29. Find your own favorite spot by checking the web and be sure to post here on the comment section so others can enjoy your find.
If you are into the wine experience you will want to camp in the valley so you can bicycle to and from your campsite. You still can get cited for riding a bicycle under the influence so be careful!
If you are only going to make a short stop in the Napa Valley you can find campgrounds just east and west at Lake Berryessa and Sonoma County. From these areas it is just a short drive to the valley on winding roads. Lake Berryessa is a Bureau of Reclamation lake, but unfortunately all campgrounds appear to be private on the lake.

There is a campground in a residential neighborhood in Calistoga run by the Napa County Fairgrounds. Here is a couple of pictures from the campground. Water and Electric for $33/night plus an additional $2 for a dog. You can walk into town from this campground.

Down lower in the Valley is a campground just opening to the general public. This is the Veterans Home Campground  run by the state of California. The campground is being resurfaced and is open to the general public. Water, electric, and I believe sewer hookups are $20/night.

Please call the following number before arriving as conditions are subject to change through this spring and summer: 707 944 4600.

It is an interesting site to drive in and visit. The Napa County museum is also located on the grounds as well as a golf course.

This finishes the postings about the Napa Valley. We are headed further south. The Santa Cruz-Montery Area on the Central Coast of California.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Napa Valley Wine Train, California

The days of the Napa Valley as a cheap date are long over. Currently, the wine tastings for a fee can be done anywhere. So that leaves food and touring around the valley. The way to combine the two is the Napa Wine Train.

It is a short four hour train trip from Napa to St. Helena. The options range from a $49.50 for just the train fare to $124 for a four course lunch in the Vista Dome car. There are also wine tours and lunch as a couple of wineries that are listed on their web site.

Wine tasting can also be done on the train for $10 for a flight of four tastings.

We chose the four course lunch in the Vista Dome car. The service was outstanding. The food rated a 4 out of 5. Very good, but not perfect. The lamb chop was slightly overdone. The Hors d'Oeuvre and First Course were actually better than the main course. Desert and coffee was wonderful.

One tip, ordering a bottle of wine with lunch is easy. Just order the house wine. For us the red was outstanding value. Think about it. It is a wine train. Would they serve a bad house wine??

The wine tasting car was fun and worth the $10. There is usually only a small group so you get to learn a lot about local wineries and wines.

A fun trip. The early part leaving Napa is not very scenic, but it soon changes as you head into the upper valley. If you decide on a dinner trip you might want to check sunset times since you might not be able to check out the scenery after dark.

Well, as we said the Napa Valley is expensive. If your are just getting started in wines you are probably better off visiting other wine regions in the country. Less hustle and bustle and you will probably learn more and have a better time. Sooner or later you will visit the Napa Valley if you remain interested in wine.

Sorry for the lack of pictures from and inside the train. We forgot to replace the SD card in the camera after posting the blog the previous night!!

Tomorrow we will close out Napa with looking at the local campgrounds, place to eat, and secrets to navigating the valley during those busy times of the year.

In the meantime here is the link for the wine train:

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Napa Valley, California

We had some friends visiting from California that said we had to stop by the Napa Valley since it was the Walla Walla of California. A valley famous for its red wines. Well, the Napa Valley reds are good wines, but they will have to work harder to match the quality of Walla Walla reds or even Royal City. But that Zinfindal grape is pretty special. We do not have any of those vines in eastern Washngton.

Here is Napa we picked up the December 31, 2009 edition of the Wine Enthusiast. Their number 2 wine with a perfect 100 score is the Charles Smith, 2006 Royal City Syrah. Now Royal City has good pheasant hunting and a quick stop that is good for gas and snacks. A friend fixed a front end with help from a local gas station while bird hunting. So now Royal City joins the ranks of the greats of wine making. Will 30 years Royal City be yuppie stop on the wine tour or a place where people will help fix your front end??

All teasing aside we have been visiting and staying in the Napa Valley since the late 1960's. In 1973 I worked on a timber sale just outside of Middleton and stayed in the Napa Valley. I had to get back early to the Napa Valley to catch dinner before they rolled up the sidewalks.

Those were the days when a cheap date was to pack a picnic basket and head up to Napa to drink wines for free at the tastings. Krug, Christian Brothers, Beringer, BV, and Inglenook were the main wineries. There was that new fellow Mondavi with his winery at the "southern" end of the valley.

Now the Christian Brothers Winery has become the Culinary Arts Institute of America or the CIA for short. They went so far as the "clean" the building so that when I drove past it I did not recognize the building.

The wine tastings are still in the valley, but no longer free. The wineries now charge by the ounce for tastings. Basically, you end up buying the bottle one way or another. Now I am not complaining, since the Napa Valley is now in the mass tourism and somebody has to pay the bill.
So come here in winter on weekdays and enjoy the valley.
This is the Franciscan tasting room. The vineyard was established in 1973, by an investor group from San Francisco. Hence, the name the Franciscan. So if you are looking for monks, I suspect they left the valley with Brother Timonthy and Christian Brothers.

Napa Valley has always had good restaurants, but they were much fewer in 1973. That little Basque restaurant where I had dinner is long gone. But others have replaced it. We would pass on the wine tasting charges and look for good places to eat. They are expensive, but all over the valley and you can always buy a good wine with the dinner. We will list more places in our next blog.
The Napa Valley is where American wines beat the French in a blind tastings back in the 1970's. Ah, but the French said those wines will not age well and not hold up over time. Well, that same tasting was redone in the 1990's with the same bottlings and the results were the same.
Yes, there are outstanding wineries in eastern Washington, the central coast of California, and even western Oregon. But the Napa Valley is where it began. If you drink wine, the Napa Valley will be a stop on your usbackroads tour sooner or later.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Limantour Beach, California

This is the last positing from Pt. Reyes National Seashore. The Limantour Road leaves the Bear Valley Visitor Center and crosses the ridge over to the Pacific side of the Seashore. It is a curvey road with lots of great views and not recommended for trailers.

I have always been partial to salt marshes. And just above the spit is an excellent salt marsh to is great for bird watching and kayaking. Limantour Beach to the east is open to dogs on leash. West of the trailhead is closed to dogs.
The scenery is always impressive even when it is at your feet! The kelp pod makes a great composition in black and white. Well, it might not be an Edward Weston original photo, but it is a throwback to his photography in the 1930's along the California coast.

The are lots of outstanding places to eat and drink fine wines along Tomales Bay just north of Pt. Reyes. Our choice was Nick's Cove. Great view over the bay. Good service, outstanding food and wine are a great way to finish an afternoon of exploring the seashore. That's the good news, the bad news is that it is pricy. But you can lower the cost by having lunch instead of dinner.

Pt. Reyes National Seashore is a perfect backroad area to explore. Close to the San Francisco Bay Area it is a world apart in its natural setting.
The downside? Well, it is impossible to find a place to boondock. Finding a place to camp is even difficult. There are NO public campgrounds accessible to vehicles in the National Seashore. So you are limited to a private campground or Samuel P. Taylor State Park which is four miles away.
Large rigs will not fit in Samuel P. Taylor and it is located in a creekside setting that where you can watch spawning salmon. The bad news is that it is dark and dank during winter.
Here are the important web sites.
National Park Service:
Samuel P. Taylor State Park:
Olema RV Resort & Campground:
Pt. Reyes National Seashore is a place that you can spend a week or a lifetime.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Pt. Reyes Lighthouse, California

Just around the corner from the elephant seals is the Pt. Reyes Lighthouse. On the trail to the Lighthouse you can to see North Beach and South Beach in the same view. If you look carefully, down on South Beach you will see more of those pesky elephant seals sunning themselves on the sand. Those are big seals!!

A short 1/4 mile walk brings you to the trail down to the lighthouse. It is closed on Tuesday and Wednesday. So if you want to see the lighthouse or exercise those thigh muscles on a Coast Guard "stairmaster" plan your trip for later in the week. I am not sure how many steps it is down to the lighthouse, but it is probably the same number coming back up! At least with that fence you are not going to get lost.
Lighthouses are suppose to be lonely places. So here is a picture that confirms that bias. The fog horn was still going even though the fog bank was well off shore.

The surf at South Beach is loud. So much so that this gentleman was out there taping the surf. I suppose that once you get bored with pictures of your vacation you can shift to audio tapes of your vacation. He was over at Elephant Seal cove taping the sea lions. Now that tape was not as soothing as the sounds of the surf.

Now the National Park Service is not what I would call pet friendly. All trails are banned to dogs. In most places at Pt. Reyes National Seashore dogs are not allowed even on a leash. However, at South Beach and North Beach dogs are allowed. However, the surf and undertow in the area makes me wonder if this is not a secret plot by the Park Service to thin the dog population.
Never turn your back to the surf on these beaches. You can get towed out to sea in a hurry! Well, you can turn your back if the photographer is keeping an eye on the surf.

With the fog horn, the surf, and those elephant seals the southern end of Pt. Reyes can be a noisy place.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Pt. Reyes National Seashore, California

The state of California has been abused, sub-divided, dewatered, and paved over to create a parking lot. The "old California" is long gone over many parts of the state, particularly along the coast. However, there is one part of the California coast that is still part of the past.

That is, Pt, Reyes National Seashore. Purchased by the Federal Government in 1962 forward it is California as it was before the mass migration for gold, jobs in the depression and illegal and legal immigration in the last two decades.

It is preserved for future generations, but go in winter. The crowds are gone. The National Park Service rules and regulations are in low gear.

I first found Pt. Reyes in the early 1970's while attending school at the University of California at Berkeley. It was empty of people, but full of natural splendor.

Pt. Reyes was first visited by Sir Francis Drake in 1579 when he beached his ship the Golden Hinde for repairs. He and the crew remarked on the white cliffs. Just like the white cliffs of Dover, England.

On my first visit to Dover, England I can say that the cliffs of Dover look just like the cliffs of Pt. Reyes and Drakes Beach!!

But while Sir Francis Drake spent only a month here during the fog season. You can visit in winter, with sunny or partly cloudy skies between storms.

Some of Pt. Reyes residents take up a lot of room. They are also very vocal about expressing their opinions. Spend some time above Elephant Cove and listen to the sounds. Take a closer look at the beach below. Those rocks are elephant seals. They have covered the entire beach.
For those that follow the Camas Meadows blog the elephant seals have a lot in common with the Rocky Mountain Elk. Yes, you can watch the dominant males chase off the young males off the beach. Seals or elk it appears the rules are the same.

This large male appears to have only a small harem compared to the males up beach.

Elephant cove at Pt. Reyes National Seashore. It is what was the best of California. You can still experience it here.
As always, click on the picture to view at full size.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Orland, California Black Butte Lake

Fighting the traffic and the semi's on I-5 can get rather exhausting. Yet, less than nine miles from the freeway is a pastoral scence that will slow you down naturally. This is the scene from Black Butte Lake managed by the US Army Corps of Engineers Sacramento District. This is the view looking north away from the lake.

The lake is your typical California reservoir which this time of year appears brown rather than clear. The lake provides good fishing year round for warm water species. There are some trails to hike. But the attraction is the solitude. When we stayed here, two years ago there were just three campsites taken on the weekend.

The lake is also a short "cross valley" trip to the town of Chico. Chico is an interesting college town to visit complete with a Wal-Mart. Lots of good places to stop for lunch or ice cream. Well, worth the short trip from Black Butte Lake.

This is the view of Orland Buttes Campground. It is currently closed for the season. It will reopen in April. As you can see the sites are a little tight, but plenty of sites that will take that large rig.

Similar to Orland Buttes Campground is Buckhorn Campground. This winter Buckhorn is open. Buckhorn ofers a boat launch, fish cleaning station, hiking trail, playground, RV dump station, showers and flush toilets. All of this for the winter rate of $12/night. With the Golden discount passes the rate drops to $6.

Black Butte Lake when you just get tired of fighting the traffic on I-5 and are looking for a quiet spot without crowds. A great winter stop.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

BLM Cottonwood, California

One of my hobbies is collecting brochures on recreation areas. So we stop at every Welcome and Information Center along the road. Most of the information pertains to motels and civic wonders.

However, in almost every pile there are some unique and wonderful recreation opportunities known only to the locals because most travelers forget to pick-up or read the brochure.

Well, here is one for you. Sacramento River Bend area guide prepared by the Bureau of Land Management Redding Office. Just north of our Forest Service campground is thousands of acres of trails, ponds, rivers, and places to explore that are public land. Pick up the brochure from the California Welcome Center or the BLM Redding Area office.

Dispersed camping is allowed up to the 14 days limit on BLM lands. A call to the Redding office, however, revealed that there were only limited areas for RV camping. The entrance to the Spring Branch Rd. just off the Jellys Ferry Rd. and south of the Battle Creek Wildlife Area. Once you get the brochure it is easy to find the camping area. There are additional camping areas on Spring Branch Rd. but it is a steep grade up and the upper road does tend to stay wet and gumbo like during wet weather.

The office did recommend the Steiner Flat Camping Area along the banks of the Trinity River west of Redding. The elevation is 1500 feet and the area is open all year with no fees.

It sounds like there are some issues with boondocking. So be on your best behavior as most RV'ers tend to be. Close to urban areas the agencies have many issues with camping problems so they tend to be guarded in the information they provide.

Check out other opportunities for boating, hiking and other outdoor activites on BLM lands around Redding. There are hidden in plain sight!

Google BLM Redding Recreation to get to their web site. You will find a wealth of recreation opportunites all below snowline in winter.

Soon there will be a nine mile level walking and biking trail from Redding to Shasta Dam with good fishing in lower bay reservoir all the way up for trout.

Wow, they could use a little bit of help with their web addresses!!

Contact info:

Bureau of Land Management
Redding Field Office
355 Hemsted Drive
Redding, CA 96002

As mentioned earlier the Forest Service Campground just south of Red Bluff can also provide an excellent base to exploring this area.

Do check out the Cottonwood Eatery in downtown historic Cottonwood for breakfast. We did not get there until after the 10:00 am special expired, but great breakfast. Unlike most historic districts this one comes with wide streets and plenty of parking for your rig.

Update 2012:  Well, we finally made it to the BLM lands outside of Cottonwood, California.  Click on our link for Sacramento River Bend, BLM, California.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Red Bluff, California Campground and Recreation Area

Backroads are difficult to find along I-5 in the central valley of California. The sea of wildflowers that John Muir saw in the 1870's has been replaced by farms, irrigation canals and roads that are not of the backroad variety. But here and there remnants remain of what once was the natural central valley.

This site managed by the Mendocino National Forest offers 488 acres along the Sacramento River just 3 miles from downtown Red Bluff. There are paved walking and bicycling trails as well as a 30 unit campgroung. The level ground makes it a great place for bicycling of easy walks.

The large trees along the nature trail give a glimpse in the past. It is a great place to stroll and imagine how much our world has changed in the last 150 years.

The Forest Service has a 30 unit campground among all the trails. The standard site is $16 with the Golden and Interagency Senior and Disabled passes accepted for a 50% discount as of today!

There are sites that offer water and electricity for $25 a night, but the discount passes are not accepted for those sites.

The campground is slightly worn and from some of the sites you can see the diversion dam and equipment used for maintenance. This gives the campground a slightly industrial feel.

As with most Forest Service campgrounds the fees are rather high for the value recieved. However, in this campground those with larger rigs can camp in most of the sites and even open up their slides!! This campground does provide a good place to camp in the northern end of the central valley from which to explore. It is also close to Red Bluff and Redding for those that need urban services.

Lots to explore and do in the area that we will cover in additional posts. If your traveling through Red Bluff take the exit to the Recreation Area for lunch. The roads are wide and there is plenty of room for turning around rigs.

The Forest Service web site for the area is: