Thursday, March 29, 2012
Red Bluff Recreation Area, Mendocino National Forest, Red Bluff, California
There is an interesting story behind how this area became part of the Mendocino National Forest. My guess is that it once was a Corp of Engineers project and they gave the recreation facilities to the closes Federal agency that managed recreation facilities. So this is an "odd" Forest Service site complete with paved bicycle trails and a campground with electricity and water hook-ups, but no sewer.
Here is our review of the area in 2010: usbackroads Red Bluff Recreation Area. Right click and the link will open up in a new tab. This is the current fee schedule.
Notice that the Federal Passes are accepted for the expanded amenity sites. There must be another story behind that decision. My read of the law is that you should get 1/2 off the camping fee and then pay full fare for the expanded amenity services. So in this case I would price the expanded amenity sites at $17. However, who is going to argue with $12.50!!
The campground is across from the diversion dam and as such has a slightly industrial feel to it. Not your typical Forest Service campground. There is also a large boat launch and parking area.
The attraction here is the walking trails. Flat, paved with benches as rest stops. Even if you do not camp here it is worth the visit to walk or bicycle the trails. There is an interpretive trail complete with booklet.
Snowpatch thought the walking trail was just the right distance. For Bugaboo is was just a short stroll.
This area reminds you of what the central valley of California was one time in the past. So it is only fitting that we end this posting with a black and white photo.
As always click on photo to show it full screen.
Posted by Vladimir Steblina at 6:19 PM
Saturday, March 24, 2012
usbackroads destinatiion--Sacramento River Bend Area, Bureau of Land Management, Red Bluff, California
John Muir described the Sacramento Valley as a sea of wildflowers when he crossed it on his trip to the Tuolumne Yosemite. In a little over a hundred years the natural landscape of the valley has been destroyed by everything from agriculture to subdivisions to water projects to highways. Only bits and pieces of the natural landscape remain and unfortunately it is partly the same ecological landscape that was here a 100 years ago. The native grasses have been replaced by European and Asian species. Much of the fish and wildlife species have disappeared. However, there are remnants of the original landscape and the Sacramento River Bend area is one of the larger ones.
It is more a regional park than your typical BLM desert area. Here is the BLM link to information on the area. There is a good brochure that is available at the Redding BLM office or the California Welcome Center in the outlet mall in Anderson, California. Or you can download it here: Sacramento River Bend .
Brochure. Be sure to also download the map here:Sacramento River Bend Map. You will need the map to navigate the roads in the area. A trails listing for the trails managed by the Redding office can be found here: BLM Redding Office Trails. The trails have plenty of miles to explore.
The brochure talks about camping on BLM lands, but we found no places that were suitable. Which is unfortunate. The BLM does mention that there is camping at the northern end along the Spring Branch Road, however, the creek crossing at the entrance limits entry to pickup trucks with campers. The BLM should at least consider opening some of the day use sites to camping during the winter months or put in a simple overflow parking lot for boondocking during the winter months. Summer I suspect is a different issue.
The gravel and dirt trails are perfect for walking and in dry weather for mountain bikes. The main road in the Bass Pond unit is perfect for bicycling with light traffic and few grades. Bugaboo and Snowpatch did enjoy exploring the area trails.
For Snowpatch he is just starting to get into hunting. So is this a point? He did find a dead muskrat which he was rather proud of and refused to let it be. I am not sure when open season is on dead muskrats.
Like the lower Coeur d'Alene River in north Idaho, these BLM lands have lots of wetlands and ponds. Great country for bird watching. This is Bass Pond with a nice dock to sit and watch the coots.
Great area to explore. More like a Regional Park than BLM lands, but that is ok. The facilities are in great shape so take good care of them. These days the taxpayers cannot afford to go fixing stuff that yahoo's destroy.
This is a picture of a State of California wildlife access site on the north end of the area. There is really no excuse for this. The state of California Fish and Wildlife Department really need to clean this up. It appears that they have given up managing the public lands that are their responsibility. Don't let this happen to your BLM managed lands!!
Posted by Vladimir Steblina at 8:28 PM
Thursday, March 22, 2012
usbackroads destination--Pismo Coast Village Resort, Pismo Beach, California
We were headed to Pismo Beach and were checking out RV parks on Google. This park is huge with over 400 sites, but appeared close to town and it had a lagoon on one end for bird watching. They were also running a mid-week special stay four night and pay for three. It is expensive with daily rates of $44 during the weekdays and $48 during the weekend in winter. Rates go up in summer. No tents you must stay in an RV.
This Park has a pool, hot tub, store, mini-golf, couple of observation towers, showers and toilets, laundry facilities and wifi. All very well maintained and clean. A well run park. The wi-fi was around 4-5 mbps and rock solid during the entire time we were there. There was even a security person cruising around at night. Pismo Beach must be more of a party town in summer.
The Pismo Coast Village Resort is bounded by Pismo Beach State Park on one end and the town of Pismo Beach at the other. The Monarch Butterfly Grove is a short walk from the Park. It is a good location. The lagoon was a bust for bird watching. Mostly coots, a few "domestic" mallards that hung around the 5th wheel waiting for a handout. Bugaboo kept looking at them and wondering "why aren't we hunting"? The mallards showed little concern for the dogs.
Most of the campsites are arranged in rows back to back. So you back in on one side or another. No pull through's. Each campsite comes with a table and fire ring. Those fire rings are popular with Californian's so there is a tendency for smoky evenings. This is one of the premium sites in the park. Here is the link to their web page: Pismo Coast Village RV Resort.
The only downsides we found were the price and no dog run. So walking the dogs on the beach with bags was mandatory. We extended our stay from four days to an additional week. We did like Pismo Beach and the area. There are lots of parks and campgrounds in the area, but we only got to check out the adjacent state park and this spot.
The picture on the top was a continuation of my quest to capture the "green flash" on camera. No green flash this time!! However, at least we had a perfect horizon for the attempt. For more information click on this link: Green Flash. Hopefully, one of these days I will capture it.
Posted by Vladimir Steblina at 8:43 PM
Monday, March 19, 2012
Kirk Creek to Montana de Oro, Big Sur, California
This blog entry covers that portion of the Big Sur Coast from Kirk Creek to Montana de Oro State Park. Technically, Big Sur ends somewhere north of Hearst Castle, but you would probably drive this segment in a day. You might want to read these blog entries since they cover the same area: Whales, Sea Otters, and Elephant Seals and Hearst Castle.
Drive north on California One up to Kirk Creek. Then turn around and head south. This will put you on the outside curve for cheap trills, but more important it will let you use turn-outs and get out and in of traffic safely. If you tent camp or have a RV under 25 feet you can easily use these campgrounds. Much above that and things will be tight.
Kirk Creek has been rated as one of the most scenic National Forest campgrounds. The campground could use a little tender loving care, but the setting is spectacular overlooking the Pacific Ocean. Outside of Alaska there are not many National Forest campgrounds that you can watch sea otters.
Most of the campsites are short and tight. This is more typical of the campsites available.
Here is the fee schedule for the Forest Service facilities in the area. The picture at the top of the blog was taken at Sand Dollar Day Use site. Worth stopping and visiting this beach. There is a $5 daily use fee, but if you have a Federal pass that will also gain you entry.
Along the road there are trailheads for trails that head inland. I loved hiking those trails in my youth. Great backpacking in the Ventana Wilderness. However, if you have only one day on the coast. Stay close to the road and the ocean. Here is the link to the other Forest Service recreation information.
Close to Hearst Castle you will find turn-outs along the road that provide access to the beaches and in some cases those elephant seals noted in the previous blog entry.
Now this was a sign I did NOT expect to find along the coast. BLM lands??
But I was less than thrilled when I read this sign. Click to enlarge. YOUR public lands, except you cannot access without SPECIAL PERMISSION. Now that rubs me the wrong way!!
A little bit south of here you run intoHearst San Simeon State Park. This park accepts RV's up to 35 feet and charges $35 for a site without hookups. If you have a RV under this size range this is a good option for exploring this region of the coast and Hearst Castle.
Highway 1 continues south and a short cut-off will take you to Morro Bay. The stacks of Morro Bay do take away from the setting. The bay is a great birding area and salt marsh. I confess I have a real weakness for salt marshes. The only thing that comes close is the freshwater marshes of north Idaho.
Careful walking through those sand dunes. They harbor a healthy population of rattlesnakes. Bugaboo has his rattlesnake vaccination, but Snowpatch does not. Given his attitude towards wild pigs he might not stand a chance with rattlesnakes.
Montana de Oro will soon be California's largest state park. Unfortunately, we came here on the weekend and like everything in California it was FULL. We also discovered that dogs are NOT allowed on their trails!! At this point Buggy had enough of State and National Parks!! It is a scenic park worth a visit on a WEEKDAY.
There is one small campground. Trailers are limited to 27 feet and the State Park made sure by shortening the campground spurs. I suspect that had an issue with trailers on the access road to the Park and this was their strategy for dealing with it. On a packed winter weekend, the campground was empty. Now that California State Parks are suppose to be self-supporting this strategy might be "self-defeating".
After all this we headed to Hoppe's Bistro & Wine Bar. Good service, good menu, good wine list. Lunch is different than dinner. If you want seafood you will want the dinner menu rather than lunch.
It was a great Pacific Style Bouillabasse. Great Bouilabasse. I even liked the lemon grass. Unfortunately, ALL seafood really needs to be just barely cooked. The seafood was overcooked. So we will give them another try next year. But this time we will ask for the seafood to be served RARE!!
Oh well, almost the perfect cap to a great day exploring the central coast of California.
Posted by Vladimir Steblina at 4:13 PM
Saturday, March 17, 2012
usbackroads destination--North Beach Campground, Pismo Beach, California
When the California State Park fees hit $50 per night a couple of years ago, we just gave up on visiting California State Parks. It was also impossible to get information on the web or by phone. I was riding the electric bicycles past North Beach Campground and decided to check it out. The campground was fairly empty, but I am sure reservations are advised during the summer.
Nice campground and the fees were $25 per night. No hookups, but a dump station on the way out. Nice, open campground with wide open sites. Here is the link to camping fees in all California State Parks. They are talking about closing more Parks so keep checking the web pages. Hopefully, they will be kept up to date. Here is their home page.
The campground is just one sand dune away from the beach. It is next door to the Pismo Coast Village RV park and a short walk into town. Turn north to Pismo Beach for tourist services. Turn south to Grover Beach for day to day shopping.
The Park is also famous for the winter home for the Monarch butterflies. They tend to congregate in the ecalyptus grove on the edge of the park.
Butterfly Grove information. The grove is worth visiting. You will not be disappointed.
There is a 14 day stay limit in the campground, but there are plenty of other state and private parks in the area. Like all of California a expensive place to visit, but it is special. We will be back to explore more of the central coast of California next year.
Posted by Vladimir Steblina at 8:26 AM
Wednesday, March 14, 2012
Pismo Beach, Pismo Beach, California
When I was living in northern California in the 1970's the line between northern and southern California was somewhere south of San Luis Obisbo. Heart Castle that was definitely northern California. Pismo Beach was definitely southern California.
Now in the 1970's southern California was just not northern California. Southern California was into parties, land development, stealing water, and conservative politics. Yes, in those days it was the home of Ronald Reagan, Richard Nixon and Senator George Murphy. Anyway, anybody that was hip and cool in those days just did not go south. My loss.
Pismo Beach is a great little beach town. Several good restaurants and lots of ticky tacky shops. It is a perfect town for doing nothing except wandering around town. Even better, there is a pier right off the center of town. No fishing license required. You can even rent a fishing rod for $4.60/hr. Probably cheaper to head to Wal-Mart for that rod. The entire time I never saw anybody fishing, so maybe this is the off season. Shopping and fishing from a pier have a lot in common you never know what your going to catch. Fishing, however, is much more relaxing.
It is the off-season at Pismo Beach. The lifeguard stations are all lined up in the parking lot instead of the beach.
The town does have a great, informal seafood restaurant called the Cracked Crab. For $75 you get a very large bucket of crab and choice of other seafoods. Served with boiled potatoes and sausage. We saved the sausage for breakfast. Pre-planning is highly recommended. Yes, we ate a light breakfast and passed on lunch and in the late afternoon showed up for the bucket feed. The bucket is upended on your table and you are furnished with MANY implements to attack the seafood. Good, inexpensive wine list. An hour or so later we finally managed to finish that bucket. Good seafood, cooked right. Expensive for $75 but well worth it. Oh, great key lime pie. After all it is a seafood place.
There is also a killer cinnamon bun place. It is called Old West Cinnamon Rolls. Forget those Cinnamon Bun places in the mall. Those are barely edible. This place is about great BUNS. You will never buy buns in a mall again.
We walked there for breakfast. That is one of the great things about Pismo Beach. Perfect for walking or riding a bicycle. With all the places to eat walking is a good idea to work off breakfast, lunch or dinner.
We never did get around to Splash Cafe. So no reviews, but it is on our list for next year.
The beach has a very little slope, which creates a large firm beach walking area as the tide comes in and out.
In town walking followed by a long walk along the beach. The only downside is that dogs must be on leash. Both Bugaboo and Snowpatch loved the beach, but they did not like the leash law. Oh well, somewhere there must still be a leash free beach.
A perfect town for doing very little of importance. That might be the best reason for going. It is, unfortunate, that I thought I had important things to do rather than visit Pismo Beach in the 1970's. Don't wait 40 years for your visit.
Posted by Vladimir Steblina at 8:43 AM
Sunday, March 11, 2012
usbackroads destination--Big Sur, San Simeon, California
This trip can be combined with a morning trip to Hearst Castle. The best way to tour Big Sur is to do the sightseeing on the ocean side. So in this case we drove all the way up to Kirk Creek Campground. At this point, we turned toured the campground and then headed south on Highway One stopping along the way to view sea otters and the whales.
The hardest part of seeing sea otters and whales is actually seeing them. By this I mean knowing how to look. Here is a link to a previous posting on the art of seeing. Everything in the ocean is basically two dimensional, except for boats and whale spouts. That is what your looking for a spray of white straight up in the air. Sort of like a geyser eruption out in the middle of the Pacific. So keep looking for a spray of white out in the ocean. Then quickly focus the binoculars on the spot. Many times you will be rewarded with the whales swimming just along the surface. Here is a link giving additional information on gray whales along Big Sur.
The California Sea Otter was once a very endangered species. They are still endangered, but their range has been spreading. The first sea otters I saw were along the Monterey Bay back in the late 1960's when there were only a few hundred remaining. Thirty years later they had spread all the way up the coast into Washington state. Here is the wilki-pedia link on sea otters.
Ok, so how do you spot a sea otter? If you read the wiki-pedia link you will see that sea otters float very high on their backs. Then there is that head held high. So you are looking a high floating log with a bump on one end. Seals tend to swim. Sea Otters float. They also tend to hang around kelp beds. Find the kelp beds floating in the ocean and look around with binoculars.
If you are fortunate enough to see a sea otter fairly close up. Stay with it. It is worth watching them frolic and feed in the ocean. Entertainment not often found anywhere else.
Remember the advice you get from a professional Forester about the marine environment is worth exactly what you paid for it!!
So spotting sea otters and whales is difficult as they swim along in the ocean. The other resident of the coast is much easier to spot. Elephant seals. Yes, there is no missing them. A couple of years ago we ran into elephant seal at Pt. Reyes National Seashore. Well, this time we were driving south along Highway One when I saw a rather large lump on the beach several hundred yards away. There are many spots to view elephant seals along the California coast.
That big lump is an elephant seal.
Worth the stop. Even sleeping Elephant seals are dangerous. Let sleeping Elephant seals sleep. They can move surprisingly fast for such large animals.
Nap time on the beach. For us we were headed for dinner after a day of watching whales, otters, and seals under a perfect cloud free sky with warm temperatures. California does not get better than this.
Posted by Vladimir Steblina at 8:45 PM
Thursday, March 8, 2012
usbackroads products--IPhone, Trip Advisor and Jocko's
This about smart phones and the net. These two items can make your usbackroads travel much more interesting.
I was doubtful when Susie announced that she was getting an IPhone 4S. Apple is a great Chinese company with excellent designers and business managers in Cupertino, California. But, Apple has never been a backroads company. Their new operating system Lion is great. All you need is a high speed internet connection to download and install. No DVD installation disks!! Most people are not fortunate enough to live in north-central Washington where 100 mbps and 1 gbps fiber service is available to 80% or so of the residents. If I lived in rural California I doubt we would be as happy with their products.
No external antenna jack on the IPhone. Antenna sensitivity? Lets just say be careful how you hold your IPhone. And for an urban phone there is no 4G available!!! So really not the best phone for backroads, but it has a simple and well designed operating system. There might be better smartphones for backroads, but Susie just wanted the IPhone.
So why would you want a smartphone? GPS for the phone complements the GPS in your vehicle. Not a big deal. Having the hotspot connection works really great for traveling. Not having a external antenna jack and amplifier does limit its usefulness. Access to the net and services like Trip Advisor change everything.
You can check gas and diesel prices as you roll down the road. You can check to see if diesel is even available at certain stations. If you good at aerial photo interpretation you can use Google Earth to see if you want to pull into that service station with a 40 foot 5th wheel.
It has really made a difference in lunch and dinner spots. I once took a trip from Wenatchee to Los Angeles with a friend. I was tired of fast food and bad restaurants so I decided to stop ONLY at Taco Bell's for food and ONLY order their Taco Salad. I also forgot my CD collection so we spent the entire trip with Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys and their Hall of Fame Album. Fortunately, my friend is slightly deaf and I suspect he turned off his hearing aid after awhile. However, I now know ALL the words to ALL the songs on that album.
Check Trip Advisor for restaurants in your vicinity. This is how we stumbled onto the Wharf in Medford. Reading the reviews in Trip Advisor gave us enough information that it would be our kind of place. Today, we were looking for a dentist to reseat one of Susie's crowns and a lunch spot close to their office.
Jocko's came up on Trip Advisor. Well, bad reviews for service. Seems people had to wait a long time in the evening to be seated. The place looked like a classic falling down bar and restaurant. It was lunchtime and their parking lot was overflowing.
I can tell you the salad was pretty bad, the garlic bread was acceptable, my fries were greasy, but the beans that came with the order were good. The wine list was fairly priced, but nothing special. The place is just about steaks and that made up the for mediocre salad and fries. We will go back for the steak and maybe just skip the lettuce and fries. Exceptional steaks....really exceptional steaks. The cheeseburger was not bad either. That IPhone photo of cheeseburger and fries shows what $8.25 will buy you. Try finding that at your local fast food outlet.
So we are finding better places to eat and reasonable prices while supporting local, small business in the communities. The IPhone makes it all easy. And it even took the pictures for this blog entry.
The internet gives GOOD small businesses a real competitive edge in today's world. Try Trip Advisor or some of the other rating websites as you travel. Those fast food coporate boys are going to lose a lot of business.
Posted by Vladimir Steblina at 9:11 PM
Tuesday, March 6, 2012
usbackroads destination--Bob Jones Bicycle Path, Avila Beach, California
We went to the Pismo Beach Chamber of Commerce for a bicycle map. The good news is that San Luis Obispo County puts out a great bike map. The bad news is that there are very few separate bike trails in the county. There are plenty of bike routes along side of the road, but the Bob Jones Bicycle Path is one of the few separate trails. It is popular. On weekends we were surprised to see upwards of 50 cars plus for a VERY short bike trail.
We did the trail on a weekday and there was plenty of company. This trail also makes a great walking path. The trail goes down through a subdivision and a golf course. Pleasant riding. It does end at Avila Beach.
This trailhead is just off Hwy 101 & 1. Here is the "official" web site for the trail: Bob Jones Bicycle Trail.
The trail goes past an interpretive sign talking about the partial breaching of this dam to improve the habitat for the endangered southern California steelhead. The sign talks about a "balance" between man's need for golf courses and the fish. Well, under the Endangered Species Act the endangered species are to be recovered. There is no "balance" in the law. I am not sure how the state of California can put the endangered steelhead and a golf course on equal legal footing. However, they were pretty proud of their sign. I guess it is California. It is more important to look good, than actually do good.
Then past the golf course where the golf carts have the right-of-way. Golf must be very important in California.
We also cruised along the roadside to these boondocking spots just off the road. Welcome, to the new California where you get charged $35 for using a roadside pull-out. I think I will pass. However, the bike ride along the bay is very pleasant. Then turn around and head back to Avila Beach.
The destination is the charming little shopping center called Avila Beach. We stopped for an ice cream at the Hula Hut for Doc Burnstein's Ice Cream. I had the "Motor Oil" flavor which was a blend of chocolates. It was fairly good, meeting the minimum daily chocolate requirements as prescribed by chocohlics (is this a word??).
A very pleasant way to spend a few hours. Highly recommended for those days where a slo pace is needed. After all San Luis Obisbo county is SLO country.
Posted by Vladimir Steblina at 2:03 PM
Saturday, March 3, 2012
usbackroads destination--Hearst Castle, San Simeon, California
This is the second stop on our Rich Man's Monuments to Bad Taste. The first was Sam Hill's Maryhill, Washington estate. William Randolph Hearst's Castle makes Sam Hill's estate actually seem in good taste. Well, at least in LESS bad taste. Here is the wilki-pedia link to Hearst Castle. And the link to William Randolph Hearst.
Should you go to see a rich man's bad taste? Absolutely. Go soon, more on this later. The tours are expensive at $25 per person. But then you get to ride in a fancy bus, from the visitor center up to the Castle. We took the Grand Room tour. Interesting, but next time I would take the personal rooms tour particularly after reading up on William Randolph Hearst. The visitor center paints a rather fawning picture of Hearst, but then again this was his house and I suppose it is unfair to speak ill of the dead at the former homestead.
The Grand Rooms were pretty much dark and oppressive places. All that sunshine and light with the fog to make it a magical place. The spectacular Big Sur setting and the building is designed to be dark and gloomy!!
William Hearst invited the rich and powerful of the world to this "special " place. So the guest list sounds like a whose who of the rich and powerful in the United States and the world. Of course, those were his contemporaries.
Even John Kennedy came here as a boy and brought his wife on his honeymoon as a guest of Hearst.
No mention of it on the tour, however, my observation was that William was rather into "perky" woman.
As you wander the grounds there are LOTS of statues all paying tribute to "perky" woman. I suspect that William's taste must have been developed and set in the flapper era of the 1920's. Rather late in life I must say. I am sure that somewhere in the archives of major university there is a dissertation on the statues of Hearst Castle and their social significance. However, not a peep from the guide.
The most impressive part of the grounds were the pools. Yes, the urge to jump in and take a swim was overwhelming. The guide kept talking about Hearst requiring all his guests to go horseback riding. Hmm, maybe to get them to cool down afterwards??
The tours take about an hour and then you are free to wander the grounds. Plan on doing that. The views are wonderful and there are many great places to sit and enjoy. Forget about bringing a picnic lunch no food is allowed on the grounds. Not even chewing gum.
Go soon. I notice the little things about parks and recreation sites. Well, for Hearst Castle the question is how long can the state of California afford this?? There are over 120 state employees and a budget of 10.5 million dollars each and every year. Even at $25 a tour I suspect the costs are not being covered from the admission fees.
The story was that the Hearst family "donated" the castle to the state of California so they no longer had to pay the maintenance costs. They did reserve the right to use property "on occasion". Hmm, I am willing to cut the same deal on my house! The relationship between the Hearst Corporation and the state of California at the visitor center also made me somewhat nervous. I am not sure there is a connection between "grass fed beef" and a state park.
But wait, there is more. In 2004 the taxpayers of California, paid the Hearst family 95 million dollars for developmental rights on the property. The US Forest Service has backed off buying "conservation easements". Generally, they run about 85-90% of the properties value. Then the "seller" gets to keep and run the property just like they always have.....and for 95 milliion you would think the public would get more than this sign. So for just another 15 million the people of California could have OWNED the property.
Yes, 95 million dollars and you cannot step foot on your investment. Oh well, at least the taxpayers of California footed most of the bill.
But go soon. This foolishness is expensive and soon there will not be enough money to pay for all of this. I am not sure why the government seems to have an obligation to support the bad taste and habits of rich people?
Now buying this land it is a different story. For the castle, save the historical items and move them to a museum or return them to Europe. And let the "castle" slowly return to nature as a ruin. Moon light tours among the ruins? A fitting end in my humble opinion.
As always click on photo to enlarge.
Posted by Vladimir Steblina at 6:36 PM