Friday, June 27, 2014

Stealth, Wally and Driveway-docking in California, Nevada, Salt Lake City, Colorado

Link to Part 1 -New Mexico to California - Boondocking and Hot Springs
Link to Part 2- California - Chico - Rolling Hills Casino - Wright's Beach

After an enjoyable stop at Wright's Beach Campground on the Sonoma Coast, I aimed Humphrey south and headed down the coast to Stinson Beach, California.  When we lived in the Bay Area years ago, Stinson Beach was a favorite spot to visit.  This day the beach was great as always and the weather was sunny and warm.  I had a nice hike up and down the shore line.

After the hike and a little lunch, it was off to cross the Golden Gate Bridge.  As I crossed the great bridge, a helicopter dove under the bridge and out toward the sea.  I'm pretty sure it's illegal to fly under the bridge.  I read somewhere that Billionaire Larry Elison (CEO of Oracle) once did it in his private plane and got in big trouble.  Even if illegal, it was pretty cool to watch this pilot pull it off.

The local radio reported that the Bay Area was experiencing a severe heat-wave.  Everyone in the entire city had decided to head for Baker and Ocean beaches that afternoon.  There was absolutely no parking available.  Humphrey decided this was not for him and he kept going on through Pacifica and Devils Slide on Hwy 1.  This whole day included beautiful ocean sights along the way. 

We stopped along the route to view beach and ocean vantage points.  There were gray whales all over the place and they were very close to the shore along the coast south of San Francisco.  I hiked out to a couple of beach overlooks along the coast on the way to Santa Cruz.  There were lots of other people enjoying the beach, sun and cool ocean breezes.

At the end of the day, Humphrey and I arrived in Santa Cruz.  I drove past the beach and boardwalk area and then hunted for some food.  It was getting late and not much was open.  I programmed Humphrey's GPS system to find me a nearby Burger King where I purchased a bun-less whopper and headed back to Humphrey.  The burger was great on one of my gluten free buns I brought.

Before the trip, I had read a van dweller / homeless oriented blog that said a good place to stealth camp in a city was in an area that is between homes and industrial/business oriented areas.  Homeowners in these areas are use to the odd cars, trucks and vans coming and going from a nearby business / industrial operation, they aren't as picky as, say, an upper crusty estates type of development.

The Burger King was in one of these type of business / residential areas.  Across the street was a garden supply business.  I drove down the street a bit between the homes and the businesses and found a spot that was in front of what looked like a storage yard next door to a private home. 
Urban Stealth-docking in Santa Cruz, California.
Normally I put up a front window sunshade at night, but for stealth-docking Humphrey has a curtain that falls behind the front seats, that way it doesn't look like someone is camping in the van.  You can see the front drivers area as you pass by.  "Nothing to see here!"

After setting up the bed for the night and crawling in, I heard what sounded like skate boards heading towards us.  After jumping out of the bed and looking around, I saw two teens heading past Humphrey and down the street.  A few minutes later I heard a really loud car exhaust tud tud tud sound coming up the street slowly.  Again I jumped up, only to see the car pass by without incident.

I was a bit jumpy doing my first real stealth-docking, but after a bit I calmed down, jumped into the bed and fell fast asleep without any trouble all night.  In the morning, when I pulled up the front curtain, there was a truck parked in the wrong direction directly facing me with a guy sitting in it reading something.  It really freaked me out at first.  "What the hell?" - I thought.  It ended up that he apparently worked at the garden supply and was waiting for someone to open the yard gates.

I was happy that I had made it through my first stealth-docking experience unscathed.

I drove over to an ocean viewpoint that I was familiar with, pulled into a parking spot and made a nice breakfast in the van and then walked around a bit to enjoy the ocean views.
Surfers on the right, looking in the direction of the Santa Cruz Boardwalk.
This days ultimate destination was Sacramento, but first it was up and over the coastal mountains of Santa Cruz and into Los Gatos, then through Oakland and Berkeley.  In Berkeley, I headed past UC Berkeley and up to the Berkeley hills.  I stopped at the Lawrence Hall of Science for a great view of San Francisco and the Bay.  It was a very hot and beautiful day.
View from the Lawrence Hall of Science in Berkeley, California.
When I was a teen I often took a series of public buses from Oakland, where I lived, to the Hall of Science so that I could play around with their computers.  This was in the days when a computer was as big as a car, before Woz and Jobs invented small affordable personal computers.

Next I went up to Tilden Park and hiked around Lake Anza.  The traffic in the Bay Area was complete murder, so my plan was to go down behind Berkeley and take rural roads as much as possible until I joined up again with Hwy 80 to cross the Carquinez Bridge.  Traffic was good until I hooked back up to Hwy 80.  The traffic all the way to Sacramento was very heavy and it was not even close to rush hour yet!
Pleasant looking Lake Anza in Tilden Park in the hills above Berkeley, California.
As far as I am concerned, driving in the Bay Area is no longer a sane activity for the average person.  I am so thankful I no longer live in that mess!  I use to be able to drive anywhere in the Bay Area in less than an hour.  Now it's a parking lot everywhere, all the time. Life it too short to deal with constant stop and go traffic!

It took a while to get into Sacramento.  I took a cruise through old Sacramento and then through the town.  Sacramento is a nice town with an abundance of pleasant tree-lined streets.
Crossing the Tower Bridge headed into to Old Sacramento, California.

My next stop was a Walmart Supercenter in the Roseville area.  [Location]  After finding an area in the parking lot where a few truckers were parked, I entered the store and asked a manager if it was OK to park overnight. He told me that it was OK with him and Walmart, but that the city did not allow it.  I asked him if others park there overnight and he said yes.  Apparently, the city's policy was not enforced, unless the police are called out for a problem.   It seemed a little dicey to stay there but I was tired and there were truckers parked in the area with Humphrey. I decided the chances of the police bugging me were slim.  I setup for bed after having a quick dinner and slept just fine.

I recently learned, while working on my Blogger Campsite Review Map, that there is a nice Indian Casino near Roseville where I could have easily over-nighted.  It's called the Thunder Valley Casino.  It's near Roseville in Lincoln.  Oh well, next time!  I'm learning the boondocking ropes the hard way. In the future I will consult with and see if there is a nice casino parking lot to blacktop-boondock in.

In the morning, I went into Walmart, purchased some of my favorite flavored soda-water cans (LaCroix water) and some fruit.  There is a McDonald's in the store so I purchase an egg McSomething.  After tearing off the sticky cheese-like-substance and the bread, I put what remained on my last remaining gluten free bun.  It was quite delicious!

Next, I headed across town to La Riviera Drive, near my college alma mater,  Sacramento State University, where I spent years and years happily attending undergraduate and graduate school.  I did a lot of bicycle riding back then. My plan was to ride the American River Trail down to Old Sacramento, downtown. 

After unpacking my bike and gear, I headed towards Sac State.  It's changed a lot with many new buildings.  The computer science and engineering building was just the same.  I locked up my bike and toured the building where I had spent a tremendous amount of my time and treasure.  I even saw a couple of my old professors.  It struck me that there were a lot more female students in the building than in my day. That is probably a good thing for multiple reasons.
View of Computer Science and Engineering Building from the bike path. Sacramento State University, California.

After my tour of the building, I toured the rest of the campus.  It was very different, yet pretty much the same.  I nearly smushed a squirrel that had dashed across the sidewalk in front of my wheel.  That hadn't changed.  Suicide squirrels were a regular part of life on campus.

I crossed the pedestrian bridge over the Sacramento River and headed south on the bike trail towards downtown.  Along the way I noticed a lot of relatively young homeless guys, with their shopping carts and all their stuff, just hanging out at many of the cement picnic benches found along the trail.

My guess is that they are Afghanistan and Iraq War vets, who haven't been able to adapt back to a normal work-a-day life. When I lived in the area in the early 90's, there were always homeless down by the river, but not in such high numbers as today.
Bike and pedestrian bridge across the American River, Sacramento.

The ride follows the river. It's pretty flat, fast and fun.  I arrived at Discovery Park, where the American River flows into the Sacramento River.  There were a lot of families enjoying the beach where the water from the two rivers merged.  A short stretch took me back to Old Sacramento where I enjoyed a natural frozen fruit slushy drink.  Strawberry, banana and orange slushy juice tasted great together on a hot summer day.
Merger point of the American and Sacramento Rivers, Discovery Park, Sacramento, California.

I called my college friend, who I was going to stay with overnight.  He was going to give me the keys to his house so I could go there and take a shower after my ride.  His wife is also a college friend.  (Karen and I were their match-makers!)  She was home with a bad migraine headache.  I was not to disturb her when I got to their house. So, I met him downtown at his office, got the key and then rode on city streets back to Sac State and Humphrey.

Aaron and Mary's house is in an area of Sacramento called Land Park.  It's a beautiful part of Sacramento with quiet streets, nice homes and lots of great shade trees. 
Over Aaron and Mary's house in Land Park, Sacramento.
When I got to their house, Mary, was awake and greeted me.  I took a shower and then Aaron, got home.  He and I walked to a nearby Mexican restaurant and had a nice meal and chat.  They are both doing great.

Aaron wants Karen and I to go in with them on a vacation house in Tahoe.  He has had this dream for years.  Karen and I use to live in Tahoe and years ago sold a home we once owned there.  Aaron wishes he had purchased our place from us.  It was a really cute small house that would be perfect as a weekend and holiday getaway place.

We drove by the house and got this photo when we drove through South Lake Tahoe on this trip.
Our cute little old house in South Lake Tahoe, California

The next day, Aaron went to work.  Mary was still not feeling well and stayed home.  She invited me to swim in their pool and play with their two very excited dogs.  I spent a few hours throwing toys into the pool and watching them retrieve toys over and over and over.   Mary and I talked for a long while about our college years and about our current lives and then it was time to head to Concord to meet Karen.

Karen had flown into Oakland where her Aunt Julie and Uncle Charlie picked her up and took her back to their home in Concord.

While in Concord we went to three baseball games of two nephews and a niece.  We visited with many of Karen's family members at the games. They are a big baseball oriented family on Karen's side.  It was a lot of fun. 
Watching youth softball in Concord, California.

The next stop was a camping trip with Karen's Aunt and Uncle. We all headed to Samuel P. Taylor State Campground.  Samuel P. Taylor is near San Rafael in the coastal mountain heading toward Point Reyes National Seashore.  The campground is near a nice creek and is in a thickly wooded area of tall redwood trees.  There are very nice shower rooms in the bathroom buildings.  

We found a wide site that could fit Julie and Charlie's truck and Humphrey.  We had a great stay there.  It's very shady and pleasant.  RV's can be accommodated but really long RV's would have trouble with some of the curves in the campground and some of the low hanging tree branches.  There is an area of walk-in camps down by the creek where you could probably park a big RV. There are no RV hookups.
Uncle Charlie, Aunt Julie and Karen enjoy portable camping hammocks at our nice Samuel P. Taylor campsite.

When it started getting dark, we noticed a trail of food items coming out of Humphrey.  A raccoon had entered Humphrey while we weren't looking and found our food bucket.  He'd got away with my gluten free bread loaf.   I searched in the forest next to our site and found his hidden lair. There was a pile of candy wrappers and lots of other bags. I found my bread bag in the pile.  Dang little bugger!  I saw his beady little eyes staring coldly at me from a nearby bush. He was huge!  He wasn't too afraid of me and clearly wanted me to leave him to his stash. I told him he was a bad, bad raccoon and went back to Humphrey.

We had a really great stay at Samuel P. Taylor.  We took a couple of nice hikes along the creek.  There are history plaques along the creek road that tell of the history of Samuel P. Taylor, who was the bay area paper mill magnet, and about the park.
Down by the beautiful creek at Samuel P. Taylor state park.
After saying goodbye to Aunt Julie and Uncle Charlie, we drove across the state up to Truckee and back to Sierra Hot Springs.  I had told Karen about what a nice camping place it is.  Karen wanted to visit and soak.  We soaked late into the night.  It drizzled a little while we were in the big pool.  We had the place pretty much to ourselves on this weekday night.

In the morning, we got up early so that we could drive around Tahoe and have breakfast at Ernie's on the other side of the lake in South Lake Tahoe. We've had many a great breakfast at Ernie's when we lived in South Lake in the mid-90's.
Ernie's in South Lake Tahoe. It's way more expensive for breakfast now, but it was still great!

After Ernie's, we drove down to the Tahoe Key's marina and went for a short walk to the shore of beautiful Lake Tahoe.

When we lived in the area, we had two large Malamute dogs.  They loved to go to this area and swim.  One year was a flood year (1997 or 1998) and small islands formed in the high lake water that filled the meadow in this area. The dogs swam from little island to little island.  We all had a memorable blast that day years ago.
Some billionaire's idea of an insanely huge Tahoe houseboat.

Beautiful Mount Tallac over beautiful Lake Tahoe.
After the hike, we headed across Nevada on Hwy 50, known as the "Loneliest Road In America."  I've taken it before and find it to be a great, low stress drive across Nevada.  You travel through a few mining towns and over some easy mountain passes.  It's a two lane road.  It's a lot more pleasant then Hwy 80, in my opinion.  For one thing you don't have to deal with tons of eighteen wheelers.  Second, 50 is a more scenic route.
Lonely Hwy 50 in Nevada is a pleasant drive across the state.
Humphrey arrived at Great Basin National Park just as it was getting dark. It was the Thursday of Memorial Day Weekend and we found the two open campgrounds were pretty darn full with RVs.  There were some larger rigs up there. We don't know how they got into some of those tight camp spots.  The roads in the campground are fairly steep in some places.

The best campground is up top at the 10,000 foot level.  Unfortunately, it was still closed and had a lot of snow still covering the campsites.  That pushed everyone into the two remaining lower campgrounds (Lower Lehman Creek and Upper Lehman Creek) that are halfway down the mountain.  We drove all around the two campsites and finally decided to stay in the one remaining site at Upper Lehman, which was a handicapped spot.  It was 10:30 pm when we finally pulled into the spot.  We figured that we would be the last folks looking for a spot that night and so it would be OK if we took that last one, even if it was handicapped.  
Our spot at Upper Lehman Creek Campground in Great Basin National Park.

In the morning, we moved Humphrey down a few hundred yards to the day use picnic area and cooked up a great breakfast.  There was a creek flowing fast nearby. 
Lehman Creek in Great Basin National Park.
If you haven't been to Great Basin, you need to go.   It's a really wonderful, relatively new, National Park.  It reminds me a little of Mount Lassen National Park in California.  It's got a nice forest and beautiful mountain views.  It's surrounded by Nevada and Utah desert.  There is one road that takes you up to the 11,000 foot level.  There are some caves that sound really interesting that you can tour.  We haven't had a chance to do that yet, but we will!  There is an RV place with hookups at the bottom of the mountain just outside the park and across from the visitor's center (Whispering Elms Motel and RV Park).

If you can get into the highest campground at the end of the road, that is the way to go.  It's a great campground with nice sites.  Nearby is a trail-head were you can hike up to small lakes and to the top of the mountain.

The views along the road to the top are simply spectacular.  We drove to the end of the road that overcast morning.
Looking up towards the top of Mount Wheeler in Great Basin National Park.
Hiking trails on Wheeler Peak, Great Basin National Park.  Click to enlarge.

We plan to return to camp at the top campground (Wheeler Peak) and hike up to the top of Wheeler!

Humphrey headed down the mountain, across the Utah desert and on to Draper, a suburb of Salt Lake City. 

Recently, there was a report that New Mexico drivers are the worst in the nation based on accident rates, drunk driving accidents and other statistics.  Karen and I have to disagree.  Utah drivers are the worst of anywhere we have been, with New York drivers a close second. 

Utah drivers (and New York drivers) don't believe in driving lanes and will cross lanes on a whim at any moment without warning and without looking to see if there is a large white van next to them.  It's a hair raising adventure to drive in the Salt Lake City area.  New Mexico drivers are way more civil and courteous in our opinion.

New Mexico does have a very serious DWI problem that strikes typically late in the night and especially when bars close.  Don't drive around late at night in New Mexico and you can pretty much avoid the problem.  Almost weekly some unsuspecting family is wiped off this earth by a drunken, wrong-way driver on one of our two interstates. Salt Lake City, meanwhile, is fast asleep by 9 pm, that is the big difference.

The crazy thing is that our judges in NM don't throw the book at DWI drivers.  The judges in New Mexico just keep putting drunks back on the roads until they finally kill, and even then they put them back on the roads yet again and wonder why more death and mayhem are the direct result.  New Mexico has a huge DWI problem that is not being addressed in any way.
An all too typical New Mexico nightly news story. It never changes.

Consider yourself warned!  Seriously, do not drive after 10 pm while you are in NM if you can at all avoid it.

We visited with Karen's sister and brother and their families in Draper. (In the early 2000's we lived in Park City and a suburb of Salt Lake City.)  During this visit we "driveway-docked" with our yellow electric extension cord running into Karen's sister's garage.

After a pleasant visit, we headed back across Utah, through Grand Junction and then down to Ridgway Colorado where we stopped overnight at Orvis Hot Spring Resort

Orvis has a small camping area.  They charge $33 per person to camp overnight with no hookups, but that includes full access to the hot pools and facilities all night, if you want. 

We parked Humphrey at site #9, made dinner in the communal kitchen and then went for a long night time soak in the large naturally rock pool.  Ah, that felt good. 

Orvis has four pools of varying heat. There is a large sauna room and two indoor hot tubs. There are men's and women's changing areas and a nice kitchen with pots, pans, utensils, frig, stove/oven and microwave that campers may freely use. There are three or four hotel type rooms that can be rented in the main building. There is also a big round indoor pool that kids enjoy.

The camping area is basically a gravel parking lot with wooden decks to pitch a tent on.  They include fire rings.  You can also park your RV against the fence across from the camping area for dry vehicle camping.  The camping area is so, so but the views of the surrounding mountains from the camping area and RV parking are spectacular.
Orvis Hot Spring from the air. Courtesy: Orvis Hot Spring.
View from campsite #9 looking toward RV parking and mountains at Orvis Hot Springs.

After a good soak, we both slept very well and were ready for the long haul over the Million Dollar highway, through Durango, past Pagosa Springs, then down into New Mexico and back to Los Alamos.

Home at Last, Home at Last, Humphrey's Home at Last!!!!!  My boondocking vacation was a complete success.  I would return.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Albuquerque Overnighter

We are in research and dreaming mode for our future full-time RVing life. I continue my regular reading of several dozen blogs written by full-timers. I had several conversations with Ingrid of LiveLaughRV about their current rig and her recommendations for ultimate length and type of RV. I really appreciate her willingness to answer all my questions. This is one of the great things about the RV blogosphere.

Bloggers love comments on their posts. In fact, I probably spend more time reading the comments than the actual blogs. Some RV bloggers have hundreds of comments from their readers. You learn a lot, not only about the bloggers, but the readers ask awesome questions and provide recommendations and insight to this fascinating world.

Ingrid suggested we consider taking a look at Class Cs. When Greg heard a commercial that their was a three day RV show in Albuquerque (96 miles or 1.5 hours from Los Alamos), we jumped at the chance to check it out. So, Friday night after work - we packed up our camper van and hit the road.

We drove to Chipotle for a late dinner and then headed to Sandia Casino operated by Pueblo of Sandia.

Courtesy: Sandia Casino
Sandia offers overnight RV parking in their spacious parking lot. From our spot, we had beautiful views of the lights of the valley. Many other campers were taking advantage of the free overnight spot. We planned to go in and maybe play BINGO or slots as is the custom when sleeping for free in a casino parking lot. BINGO was over for the night, so we risked a whopping $5 on penny slots. We had fun and left the building with $7 profit!

Although we have never seen a show there yet, Sandia has an awesome Kiva style outdoor venue for concerts.

Sandia Casino pool area
We walked out to the pool area and sat on lounge chairs watching the swimmers, listening to the music and enjoying the beautiful, warm night. Since we weren't "staying" at the casino's hotel - we weren't allowed to swim - but it sure was enjoyable sitting by the pool.

Our awesome camping spot at Sandia Casino

Greg and Humphrey with the valley view from the Sandia Casino parking lot

Sandia Casino view from our camping spot
We slept through the quiet night. It was warm, so we ran our battery operated fans. In the morning, we were up early and had breakfast at the Casino's Thur Shan buffet when they opened at 7 a.m.
At $8.95 per person, it was a great deal.

Beautiful lobby at Sandia Casino

Views of the Sandia Mountains and the golf course from the pool area
We were done with breakfast early and headed off to the Albuquerque Convention Center for the RV Show put on by LaMesa RV. We had time before the show started to walk around the convention center.

Artwork at the convention center
Mural outside the convention center
After I chatted with Ingrid about RV choices, we wanted to walk through both a fifth wheel and Class C. LaMesa RV had a very good selection and variety of RVs. After spending several hours touring, we believe we have made a decision. Although we still aren't 100% decided, we are strongly leaning toward the Class C with a Jeep Wrangler toad. Of course, since we aren't hitting the road for awhile (ok - 7 years), we could still easily change our minds. There was plenty of space and we really like the layout, simplicity and the almost two feet difference in height. Also, we have always dreamed of having a Jeep Wrangler that we can use to explore off road trails.

Our biggest decision driver is the balance between comfort for full-timing and ease of finding boondocking, state park and national forest service campsites we can fit into. We know for sure we want solar to be able to live off the grid as much as possible and we want a composting toilet, but both those features will work in either type of rig.

There are as many answers to the question "what is the perfect RV" as there are RVers out there. I will continue to ask lots of questions on other blogs, read about what works and doesn't work for fellow bloggers and visit RV shows. Who knows what innovations will be made in the industry in the next five+ years. It is fun to learn and dream. Can't wait to see what we end up in!

The total cost of the overnight jaunt was $38.95 (food and parking fee at convention center in downtown Albuquerque).   Gas for Humphrey was probably was about $60.

Heartland fifth wheel
Heartland fifth wheel
Inside of Class C
Thor Chateau Class C with pull-out on one side, the length of the rig

Friday, June 20, 2014

California: Chico, Rolling Hills Casino, Redding to the Coast

Greg's May 2014 journey continues: After my hot springs journey (Read Part 1) I continued on my way after a pleasant soak and overnight RV camp-out at Sierra Hot Springs.

My next destination was Chico, California.  After heading back to Truckee, I took highway 80 to Auburn and headed north-west on a pleasant foothill road to Yuba City and then on to Chico.

Karen and I spent a year living in Chico while going to Chico State University.  Chico is a college town and has the fantastic Bidwell Park that runs through the town and up into the foothills.  Bidwell Creek is a beautiful creek that runs through the park and the town.  I spent many happy hours bicycling up Bidwell Park and hiking in the wild and scenic upper park area when we lived in the area.

After parking Humphrey in the upper park area, I went for a great hike along the canyon rim that overlooks Bidwell Creek.  It had not changed and was still a beautiful area.
Bear Hole swimming area in Bidwell Park, Chico California

Salmon Hole swimming area in Bidwell Park, Chico California

Chico itself has changed since we were there in the early 80's.  I noticed a lot of fairly creepy looking characters mulling about all over the downtown area.  I didn't feel very comfortable there.

There really isn't a good place to camp or boondock in the Chico area.  I probably could have stealth camped, but didn't feel comfortable trying it there. Instead, I had read about a casino off Interstate 5 that had a nice RV park, a good buffet and great showers.  I read about it in Overnight RV Parking.

After a great hike and then a cruise through Chico's downtown area, I headed for the Rolling Hills Casino near Corning.  [Location]

Rolling Hills includes a truck stop with a large trucker overnight parking area.  As I drove into the truck area, a young well dressed women in shorts was walking along the line of trucks.  She was obviously "working" the truck stop.  I thought that was a rather bad sign, but it turned out to be a great stop and I never saw any other dicey activity going on there.

Rolling Hills has a nice RV park and I decided to pay the $28 bucks (full hookups) for a nice spot.  After plugging in my electric, I headed for the showers.
Rolling Hills Casino RV Park

Sparkling and spacious shower room at Rolling Hills Casino

Overnight RV Parking had notes about the great showers.  They were not kidding.  The showers are huge, super clean and amazing. They cost $4 with RV camping.   Ah, that felt good after a strenuous hiking day.

If you need a good, long, clean and comfortable shower stop on your trip on Hwy 5 in northern California ... this is definitely the place to go.

Overnight RV Parking says you can park your RV for free in the truck stop parking lot.  I didn't see any RVs doing this. The truckers filled the lot. You might be able to find a place to park an RV overnight, but I didn't see where.  Maybe you could park in the regular casino lot or on the side of the property somewhere.  I suppose you could just park in the truck lot, but it filled up pretty early with truckers.
Rolling Hills Truck Stop Area.  This camper arrived in the morning. It was completely full with trucks at nightfall.

After an excellent shower, I headed for the casino buffet.

Rolling Hills has a simply fantastic buffet.  I had amazing prime rib and turkey.  I would rank it as one of the top buffets I have ever had and I have tried quite a few.

Back at the RV park, I had a great night's sleep.  The park was very peaceful.  Next door was a field of waving grasses that RV folks were letting their dogs into for a bit of stretching and fun.

There is a nice place to drop off your pet while you head to the casino or showers.  I had a nice visit with a couple of the doggie inmates.
Rolling Hills Casino doggie daycare pens

I would definitely return to the Rolling Hills Casino.  It was a really great stop.

Next, I headed up Hwy 5 to Redding, California.

Redding has a very pleasant bicycle/walking trail that runs next to the Sacramento river.  I parked in a dirt lot, pulled down my mountain bike and jumped on the trail.  [Map of area with the river trail. I parked along the looping circle road in the center of the map.]

I rode across the unique Sundial Bridge.  It was Mother's Day.  Everybody and their mothers were on the bridge and picnicking in the parks along the way.  I did a lot of weaving around folks on the trail.  It was a very pleasant ride, regardless of the traffic that day.
Redding's Sundial Bridge is considered a work of art
Riding along the beautiful and fun Redding River Trail

After the ride, I headed west on Hwy 299 to Arcata on the coast. This road takes a long while to cross over to the coast.

My plan was to go up the coast on Highway 101 to the Redwood National Park.  It got dark on me and I had one hell of a time trying to finding a camping spot.  I went up more than one long winding road looking for campsites. The signage in the area is just terrible.  At one point, I had gone up a dark road, through a flooded swampy area and gotten myself stuck in a dead-end situation and had to back out a ways.  During the backup, I somehow hit something.  (I still don't know what I hit, probably a big rock.)  It put a nice dent in my back fender, but luckily it didn't hit my mountain bike which was hanging on the rack in the back.

Poor Humphrey.   He is not pristine anymore!

I drove and drove and drove and finally gave up heading north as it was getting way too late. I was tired and completely frustrated.

I had seen a rest stop miles back and decided that was my best bet at this point.  After a long drive back south on 101, Humphrey pulled into the rest stop.  There were a few other cars and trucks already there over-nighting. I pulled into a car spot, made the bed and was asleep quickly. [Location]

California allows over-nighting at the rest stops.  I believe the rule is that you can stay eight hours.  This rest stop was in the redwoods. It had a nice little walk with picnic tables and a view of the ocean through the tall trees.
A nice Hwy 101 (Redwood Highway) Rest Stop
Now that I am looking at Google Maps of the area, I noticed there is an Indian Casino near this rest stop.  It's called the Cher-Ae Heights Casino. says Overnight RV's are allowed.  I should have parked there, now that I think about it.  But it worked out nicely at this rest stop.

Update: This is called the "Trinidad" Rest Area. has info on it:!8670&query=sitedetails

At dawn I was up and on the road quickly.  I had seen a Denny's on my way, returned to it and had a nice breakfast.

Next up was a pleasant drive down the coast on Hwy 101 and Hwy 1.  The road from Hwy 101 to Hwy 1 (south to Fort Bragg) started out very, very curvy.  [Map of  this curvy section of hwy 1.]  It seems that a larger rig would have a really hairy time on this section of road.

My plan was to blacktop-dock at the Jenner Visitor's Center, but there were signs in the parking lot with the "No Camping" slash through the tent sign.  It was clear to me that camping, including van camping wasn't allowed there.  I had read in that vehicle camping was OK.  I'm pretty sure that is not a good idea there.

I kept driving south and found the Sonoma Coast State Park campground called Wright's Beach.  It's a very pleasant campground right on the beach.  It was nearly full when I arrived that Wednesday evening.  There were three sites left.  You must check a list posted in the window at the entrance shack to check which sites are still available for a single night.

The states website says that maximum length is 27', but I swear I saw some bigger rigs along the beach front sites.
Wright's Beach from my quadcopter

California beach campgrounds are expensive.  I payed $35 for a "non-premium" site with no hookups or nearby showers.  I guess you are paying for the view!

There was time for an evening quadcopter flight out over the beach.  [Flight Video]

This is a very pleasant campground.  I would return if in the area again.

Another cool RV site (private) for larger rigs is north of here up the coast a ways.  It's called "Anchor Bay Campground" in Gualala south of Fort Bragg.  If you can reserve one of the spots nearest their beach, that would be ideal.  We tent camped there when we were in high school and had a fabulous time.  Anchor Bay beach is outstanding.
Anchor Bay Campground beach area

Next up: Stealth camping in Santa Cruz, Walmart blacktop boondocking in Sacramento,  a bike ride in Sacramento,  visiting friends and family in Sacramento and Concord, Samuel P. Taylor State Campground,  back to Sierra Hot Springs, across Nevada on the Loneliest Highway in America,  Great Basin is great!, visiting family in Salt Lake, soaking and camping at Orvis Hot Springs in Colorado, Home.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

All Roads Lead to Chaco

There is a magical place we love to visit in northwestern New Mexico - Chaco Cultural National Historical Park. We have been many times, most recently in April.

There is a rough 21 mile road leading to Chaco, but we saw several fifth wheel and campers that were able to make the drive. Our camper van Humphrey shook a lot, but we have made the trip to Chaco a number of times without incident. Map showing route off Hwy 550

The first 8 miles of the road is paved (CR 7900)
As you turn onto CR7950, the 13 mile dirt road becomes rougher
The washboard gets heavier as you progress toward the park
There is an arroyo that the Park Service suggests you do not
 drive through this wash if there is any standing water
Looking up the arroyo as we crossed over
The final 4 1/2 miles are really rough and rutted, but passable with care. 

The park is designated a World Heritage Site and an International Dark Sky Park. There are wonderful hikes among ancient ruins, amazing geology and the best night sky viewing we have ever seen.

Gallo Campground (inside the park) is the only place to camp. It is on a reservation system through You must make reservations at least three days prior to your visit. This is a campground where it is very wise to have reservations. You don't want to drive 21 miles EACH way on that rough road only to find out there are no campsites available (which is often the case, especially in the spring and fall). The campground cost is $15 per night or $105 for a week.

Our campsite at Gallo Campground.

The campground had single-night spots on Friday, but was full on Saturday. 
Gallo has 48 campsites with picnic tables and fire grates. There are also two group campsites. When we were there one group campsite had boy scouts and the other had a group of anthropology students from Arizona State University in Flagstaff. One section is for tents only. From March to October flush-able toilets are available and they are very clean, nice facilities with heat!.  In the winter season there are portable toilets. Although there is non-potable water in the campground, the only drinkable water is located at the visitor's center.

There are a number of really cool hikes right from the campground. Within less than 100 feet of our campsite was an actual ancient home site and many petroglyphs are on the rock walls surrounding the campground.

Ancient rock home adjacent to the campground

A stones throw from our campsite
Another petroglyph at the campground. Unfortunately, some of the best ones were
vandalized early in the park's history. So frustrating and sad. 
Since we had been to Chaco more than once, we didn't do the most popular hikes this time. It was nice to see some new sites. It was unusually cloudy and grey during our visit - so the pictures don't fully show the beauty of the scenery - but even with overcast skies the magic and sense of history was everywhere.

Chaco was a ceremonial and trading center for the region between 850 and 1150 AD. Even in ancient times, it was an unusual place with amazing star gazing. There are four major Chacoan roadways that all meet in the valley that is Chaco Canyon. The spirit and whispers of the past are everywhere. It is so easy to imagine the ancient gathering place. The major geologic feature in the canyon is Fajada Butte.

Fajada Butte is still today a sacred place for the Pueblo, Navajo and Hopi.
Ancient wall with Fajada Butte in the background
 Our first short hike started behind the Visitor's Center. We had never taken this hike before. Although short, there are wonderful ancient structures and petroglyphs.


Our next hike was to the sacred site called Wijiji. This Chacoan Great House was occupied between 1100 and 1150 AD. We started the hike from the campground. It was approximately 3 miles round trip and basically a level hike along a canyon with multi-colored cliffs hugging the path. It was overcast and it rained and misted us several times. I would guess that in the middle of summer this would be a hot hike, but the temps were perfect for us in April!

The architecture with alignments with the sun and stars especially for the
solstice and equinox are awe inspiring and I find very magical.
Look carefully as you hike - there are petroglyphs on many of the canyon walls

There are views of Fajada Butte from almost every direction
Overview of the campground from a mesa top. 
The next day we went on an amazing hike to New Alto and Pueblo Alto. The hikes begins at the Pueblo del Arroyo parking lot. The hike is 5.4 miles round trip. From the Kin Kletso Great House, you literally head straight up a mountain side and through a crevice. It was quite unsettling at first, but then the adventure of it all took over. As we walked along the mesa top, we saw Chacoan stairways, trails and ancient roads.

See the dark brown sign to the left of me? That is the trail sign and I am
actually on the beginning of the trail. 

Crevice entrance to the mesa top on the hike to New and Pueblo Alto
Kin Kletso Chacoan Great House from mesa top
Pueblo Bonito
We have walked throughout Pueblo Bonito on many visits. But, I felt such awe
at the grandeur of this complex when viewed from high above on the mesa.  

Looking down at the parking lot (Humphrey is second car from the left)
and Pueblo del Arroyo

New Alto. The view beyond this pueblo is of the great roadway. When you
stand at this site you can imagine ancient travelers heading to this magical gathering place

Really? This is the way down?

Heading back down through the crevice
We don't always go to the Ranger programs when we are staying at National Parks. But, Chaco Canyon is an International Dark Sky Park and the Ranger program includes telescopes - so we walked the approx. one and a half miles from the Campground to the Visitor Center.

Unfortunately, on this particular trip we didn't get the awesome sky views due to the cloud cover. But, the Ranger program was informative and fascinating! If we had been able to view the stars from the parks big telescopes - it would have been a show NOT to miss. Although this trip was overcast - the other times we have stayed at Chaco - we stayed up late into the night staring up at the blanket of stars in the dark, dark, inky black sky.

Don't miss the ranger show!
In the "you are only as old as you feel category" - one of our favorite activities is skipping. People don't skip enough. We only get a few shocked looks from time to time. That's okay! Life should be full of joyful abandonment. Don't you agree?

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