KOFA

“Do not follow where the path may lead. Go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

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Off-roading to Skull Rock

 We left the bustling area of Joshua Tree and headed east towards Arizona where we decided to spend time in a state that we love and used to call home. When we lived in Phoenix, our many trips west to California had us driving past Quartzsite without any thought as to what this area of the desert had to offer. Before our nomadic streak, we would pass this little town and think of it as a place with many rock shops, clean restrooms and some fast food. Turns out, Quartzsite is a gem (pun intended!) and it gave us one of the most memorable stops of our trip.

 KOFA National Wildlife Refuge is located between Quartszite and Yuma, and camping in this area is primitive and free. The refuge was created to protect bighorn sheep and covers over 600,000 acres of the Sonoran Desert. Kofa comes from King of Arizona, the name of a goldmine that used to be active in the area. This area of public land is filled with rugged rock formations, fascinating hikes, endless opportunities for off-roading, and wildlife sightings that left us in awe during our stay.

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Cholla “jumping cactus” got all of us as we hiked by!
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A coyote’s dinner?

 When we arrived in Quartzsite and headed towards KOFA, I noticed most travelers were camped closest to I-10. We drove out about 18 miles south to our campsite near the Palm Canyon Trail. Our area was empty compared to the hundreds of RVs we saw near the interstate. I wondered if people knew they could camp this way? Or did the inconvenience of the road turn them away? As usual, the road less traveled always leads to the best destinations.

 We set up camp not far from the trail to Queen Palm Canyon. It was midday when we arrived. The blazing desert sun right over us as we unpacked and stared down at the cars who quickly drove past us and blew dust in our direction. We didn’t have any neighbors camped nearby, but the dirt road we parked on had frequent visitors who would drive up to the trailhead and quickly turn around.

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View from our campsite.

 By the time we prepared dinner, the influx of visitors had disappeared. The rising rock formations that stood over us glowed a deep red as the sun began to set. I looked at the valley in front of us, at all the tall cacti casting long shadows along the desert sky. Once again, it was that feeling of freedom, that incredible feeling of being small. We were graced with a vibrant sunset then the winter night sky gave us a clear view of the bright moon and stars.

The entire week we were there, we’d start a fire just after dinner. As the coyotes began to howl, we’d spot Venus in the distance and laugh at how we watched the moon and the stars glide past Queen Palm Canyon. As insane as it sounds, every night we danced with Venus. We’d focus on one part of the canyon and move along with the planet. We’d laugh then look silently, and I’d quietly reflect on how amazing this time was with nature and with my family.

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Getting the cholla out of Jack’s paw!
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Home is where you park it!

Our hike up the Palm Canyon Trail:

 A short walk from our campsite was the trailhead to the Palm Canyon Trail. This trail is very short, only about a half mile. The reviews on TripAdvisor are a bit misleading citing the trail as somewhat difficult. It’s a bit rocky and I can see it being a fall hazard for certain people, but for the average person, it’s literally a small uphill walk to view the palm trees in the canyon.

What’s cool about this hike? These palm trees are native to Arizona. Apparently, the theory is certain animals had eaten the fruit of these trees and brought their droppings into this canyon which in turn planted palm trees.

Once we saw the palm trees, it was an interesting sight, but definitely not enough of a hike for us. We decided to continue on, ultimately bouldering up the mountain until we could no longer safely climb up. We did our best to follow the cairns placed by other hikers, but we eventually hit a dead end. We finally stopped and turned around realizing that every inch of effort in that climb was totally worth it. We had the whole place to ourselves and the view was stunning.

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Our week at KOFA was one of the most spectacular sights we saw on the road. I still dream about our beautiful campsite and the feelings of peace I had during our stay. My advice is, take the road less traveled and stray away from the rest of the visitors. KOFA has so much to offer even though it may not be evident at first sight.  I promise you won’t reget blazing your own trail.

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Redwood National Park

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I’ve mentioned several times on this trip how the feeling of insignificance constantly emerges whenever we go sightseeing. I can still say that the most intense feeling of insignificance was definitely during our trip to see the Redwoods in northern California.

Standing at the foot of these trees and looking up a couple hundred feet with the knowledge that many of these giants existed before Christ is a mind-blowing experience. Seriously, I just stood there several times and couldn’t wrap my head around it. Our existence as human beings is nothing compared to these trees. As we walked around, we talked about the changes of humanity since these trees made their first appearance on Earth. How many human beings have passed the redwoods, looking up in amazement as we did? It’s a crazy concept.

Our first stop was at Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park. Upon entering, there are signs that warn visitors against entering with towed trailers and RV’s. Lucky for us, Bear is small and has big tires so we were able to ride on through without any issues.

Our plans to camp while exploring this area changed when we arrived in Crescent City, CA after dark. We headed to the local Wal-Mart and saw several people camped out in the parking lot, even people with rooftop tents! They were open 24 hours and had a coffee shop inside so ultimately it was an easy decision to make Wal-Mart home for a couple days.

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The following day, we drove over to Trees of Mystery in Klamath, a private park with a gondala ride that takes you through the trees. We saw our first billboard for this place around central Oregon and Riley would not stop asking about it. The billboards continued and Riley kept asking, so we promised to take him. When we stopped at the Visitor Center in Crescent City, the lady who worked there said it wasn’t worth visiting, but I disagree.

You can’t miss this place. It’s right on highway 101 and there is a giant Paul Bunyan and Babe at the entrance. The price of admission wasn’t outrageous, but it also helped that Riley got in for free. They are also pet friendly so Jack got to go inside the gift shop and ride the gondola! Overall, we thought it was a fun, touristy place to visit. We enjoyed seeing some of the strange trees and Riley loved the gondola. I think it’s a fun place to check out especially if you have kids.

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Next stop, “The Last Free Place” Slab City, California.

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Oregon Coast (Part Two)

Florence

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After we left Newport, we had no idea where we were spending the night. Driving along I-5, we had so many rest areas to choose from, but highway 101 had nothing. Well, nothing free. We stumbled upon a campsite along the highway that had a few RV’s parked. Initially, we thought we got lucky then saw it cost $30/night. It was really hard to justify spending $30 for a place to park when we just spent $40 on a motel room. I said to Clayton, “I’m pretty sure there’s a casino in Florence, let’s just drive there and see if we can park.”

My parking senses must have been tingling because yes, there was a casino and yes, they offered free RV parking.

We found ourselves at 3 Rivers Casino located a couple miles down highway 26. The casino offers 4 nights of free parking for RV’s and if you obtain a player’s card and gain 100 points, you can have an additional 4 nights. Initially, we thought this was awesome. They offered free coffee, hot chocolate, hot water, and soda. They also had free Wi-Fi and charging stations in the lobby.

When a business offers free parking, we will spend our money there as a way to say thank you. Our first night, we dined at the World Market Buffet. Sounds legit, right? It was a Wednesday and dinner prices were $13.99 per adult. Verdict? The food was terrible. Like fast food, frozen dinner terrible. We probably should have taken a look at the food first, but it was too late to get our money back so might as well get our money’s worth! So I ate, I ate a lot and paid the consequences the next morning.

Our second night, we wanted a beer with dinner so we decided to grab food at the Blue Bills Sports Bar and Taproom. It was around 6:20 when we approached the door and saw a sign that said minors are not allowed inside after 6. We thought that seemed a bit early, but rules are rules, so we headed over next door to Sunset Grille.

The hostess informed us there was a long wait for Sunset Grille then suggested we head next door to Blue Bills. We ask the hostess about the sign and she says “oh they don’t really enforce that unless the band is playing. You can still eat in there”. We returned to the Sports Bar and Clayton went inside first to double check and was given the green light by 2 more employees.  We went inside and it was pretty dead. I looked around and noticed that about every patron was over the age of 65. Everyone appeared to be a local since the only waitress chatted with them and asked how their families were doing. The setting looked more innocent than an Applebee’s.

We sat down and I noticed that we weren’t immediately greeted. Clayton walked around to see if we could find a menu somewhere. Finally, our waitress approaches and says “you know you’re past the time limit” and points at Riley. I was taken aback by how rude she was, but we explained that the hostess from Sunset Grille told us to come in and that we double checked with her co-workers. She responds, “well, they told you wrong. I just want to let you know that.” WTF? Should we leave then? We sat there in silence, but she goes ahead and asks about our drinks. I assume at this point, it’s okay for us to stay. Since I wanted a beer, I ask what beers they have on tap since they advertise craft beers. She quickly rambles off a list of 5 beers, “coors, coors light, bud light…” and doesn’t even mention the craft beers. I let out a laugh because she was obviously not in the mood to help us.

We ask for water and time to look at our menu which subsequently turns our bitchy waitress into Flash Gordon. She immediately brings the waters and asks what we’re ordering. We ask again for more time and not even kidding, I read 2 items off the menu and she’s back! I can’t even tell you what kind of food this place serves if you asked me.

It was obvious we weren’t welcome there and she was making it clear that she wanted us out. I order the fish and chips, and mac and cheese for Riley. I tell Clayton that we should just share because I was no longer in the mood to spend money there. Clayton gets up to look at the craft beers on tap and I tell him to buy beer at Safeway and to get our food to go. I don’t appreciate people being disrespectful to me and my family.

We had dinner in the trailer and I hate to say it, but the fish and chips were delicious.

The next day, we headed over to the Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area and checked out the beach. It seemed like a cool place to ride the dunes in the summer time. We just ran around and took pictures until it started to rain. fl5editfl2editfl4edit

More info on the dunes: http://www.fs.usda.gov/recarea/siuslaw/recarea/?recid=42465

Coos Bay

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Coos Bay was such a memorable part of our Oregon adventure. We found free camping at  Bastendorff Beach and it was unbelievable. Seriously, we had a million dollar view for free. There is a bit of a downside to this area: it is rarely patrolled and there are many permanent residents here aka homeless folks. But really, we didn’t have a problem and found the homeless people to be pretty nice. We even left our stuff unattended and no one touched it! I think this is an amazing spot for scenic boondocking.

I’ll just let the pictures tell the story:

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One of my favorite photos! The color of the sky was perfect in this moment.

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We also stopped at a brewery called 7 Devils Brewing Company. They had vegetarian poutin with giant pieces of cheese curds. I still dream about this dish!

http://www.7devilsbrewery.com/

Continuing south on Highway 101….

I can’t remember the exact town or beach we took the following pictures. It was really south, going back towards California. On our drive, the rain stopped and when the sun peaked through the clouds, it created the most beautiful golden light. It was too good not to photograph, so enjoy the ending to our Oregon adventure…

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Next stop, Redwoods National Park!

Need to go back? Click below

Oregon Coast (Part One)

Oregon Coast (Part One)

Our Oregon Coast adventure was such a whirlwind of events that I had to split it up into two parts. I took about 400 photos and had to narrow it down to a special few because “ain’t nobody got time for that!” I’m starting to think I need to treat my DSLR like an old camera with film to limit the amount of pictures I take. But really, who could blame me? Oregon is so beautiful!

After Crater Lake, we headed north on I-5 and made our way towards Corvallis then McMinnville to visit family. Touring Oregon’s wine country was on our to-do list, but the rain was relentless so we scratched that idea and headed towards the coast where we planned on taking highway 101 back to San Francisco.

(Quick Tip: Oregon rest areas allow 12 hours of parking so we didn’t have a problem finding a place to park for the night while we drove along I-5, wohoo!)

Depoe Bay

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Depoe Bay was our first stop along the coast. The nonstop rain was hard to deal with so I asked Clayton if we could treat ourselves to a nice motel room for the night. A hot shower sounded like a dream.  He agreed, so I got on Hotwire and booked a room at the Four Winds Motel for $40. The motel was clean and fairly old, but we had an amazing view of the ocean so the price was a steal compared to other places in town.

The next morning, there was a break in the rain so we walked along the 101 and checked out the little shops. Since it was winter, it was quiet and many of the stores were closed. We found amusement in the waterholes shooting out massive amounts of ocean water onto the sidewalk. We learned that Depoe Bay is also a big whale watching destination. There weren’t any whales while we were there, but if you visit during the right time of year, apparently it’s a great place to go. I guess we’ll just have to come back in the summer!

More info: http://visittheoregoncoast.com/cities/depoe-bay/

Motel info: Four Winds Motel, rated 2 stars 356 US-101, Depoe Bay, OR 97341

Newport

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We headed south on the 101 towards Newport to visit my grandmother’s grave and walk along Newport’s Historic Bayfront. I know I already mentioned how relentless the rain was, but seriously, by this time we couldn’t remember the last time we saw the sun. The color of the sky is gray, right? Although we struggled with the lack of vitamin D, there was a part of me that had hope for sunshine that day.

As we entered Newport, Riley had no idea that we had a special treasure hunt planned for him. This wasn’t a random idea, it was actually a request he made after crossing the Oregon Border. My son LOVES The Goonies and he kept asking if we were going to the “Goonies beach”. We had no intention of traveling all the way north to Astoria, so we figured we’ll just tell him the Goonies beach is in Newport and have a treasure hunt. (Hey, we still plan on taking him to the real place when he’s older!)

The treasure hunt was a success. We pulled it off by buying a tiny bag of “pirate gold” from one of the shops in Depoe Bay. Clayton ran ahead of us, buried the bag under a pile of rocks and made an “X” out of sticks. He was super pumped when he found the treasure. His genuine smile and excitement almost brought me to tears. A simple idea turned into a memorable event for all of us. These moments are what I love about this trip.

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Riley picked the colorful flowers!

Remember that hope I had about the sun coming out that day? After the treasure hunt, we headed towards the cemetery to visit my Grandma Flo. You see, my grandma died when I was only 6 months old, but I’ve always had a very strong connection to her… a connection that I’ve never fully understood. When I was a child, I always felt her presence and talked to her almost everyday. I was like that weird kid from The Sixth Sense.

I don’t feel connected to my Grandma anymore, but that day I spoke to her. I actually didn’t hope the sun would come out, I knew for a fact it would. And behold, the photo above, as soon as I placed the flowers on her grave, the sun peaked through the clouds and stayed in sight for the remainder of the day. Once again, I got emotional. Thanks for looking out, Grandma!

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These guys kill me!

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We drove to the Historic Bayfront and since it was mid-week, we were able to find close parking for the truck and trailer. This turned out to be a wonderful afternoon for us. At the pier, the sea lions hanging out by the docks were super entertaining. I think we could have stood there all day watching them bark at each other while trying to secure a spot to sunbathe.

We decided to have lunch at Port Dock One which had a big window where we continued watching the sea lions. We also had this amazing view of Yaquina bridge and Riley had a blast watching the fishing boats go in and out. We shared a bowl of clam chowder and it was ah-mazing. (I just checked Yelp and apparently this restaurant has closed down! But no worries, there are plenty of other places on the same street to find clam chowder)

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Ready to continue the adventure? Click below.

Oregon Coast (Part Two)

Crater Lake National Park

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Wizard Island

When our time in Ashland ended, we made our way east to Crater Lake National Park. Prior to our visit, I did some research on the lake and found amazing photos of the park during summer. The crystal clear lake, awesome trails and beautiful flowers was an enviable sight, but I had to keep in the mind that our visit would not match the online photos. It was January and cold, so we braced ourselves for a less than ideal setting.

Here are some cool facts about Crater Lake:

  • Crater Lake was formed 7,700 years ago when Mount Mazama erupted and collapsed. Rain and snow filled the caldera and created the lake.
  • Crater Lake is 1,943 feet deep making it the deepest lake in the U.S. and the ninth deepest lake in the world.
  • Crater Lake is the snowiest inhabited place in the United States averaging about 44 feet of snow per year.
  • There are no streams in or out of the lake. The water is maintained by precipitation and evaporation which makes the water clear, blue and pristine.

We were slightly unprepared for camping in the park. The directions we found on freecampsites.net were unclear, so we stopped at Beckie’s Café right outside of the park and had dinner. Beckie’s, by the way, was a good find. The prices were cheap and they had veggie burgers! After Beckie’s, we saw a couple parking lots for sledding areas. There were other RV’s parked and one big rig although there were signs that said a permit was needed for parking. Since the place looked isolated, we figured it was okay to park for the night.

The next morning, we woke up to a few inches of snow covering the truck and trailer. We laughed at how snow is such a quiet intruder. We immediately headed to the park and the Visitor Center which is a good place to watch the orientation video and talk to a ranger about sights to see. Riley loved the orientation video and for a 5 year old, he came out of there with a pretty good understanding of how the lake was formed.

“The volcano goes BOOM and it all fell down to make a hole. The rain and the snow melted inside the hole and made the lake.” -Riley

After the Visitor’s Center, we headed out towards the gift shop located by the lake. We had a snack, purchased a sticker then walked around outside to take photos. For a few minutes, the clouds parted and we were able to get a clear view of the lake. We stood there in awe of how blue and pristine the water looked that we were no longer bothered by the cold air on our faces or the feeling of our boots sinking into the deep snow.

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Our time at Crater Lake felt like a gift. There was a part of me that was afraid of disappointment since the entire park was buried in powder, but we left feeling grateful for the experience. There was so much peace and silence as we looked over the lake; so much wonder and amazement as we walked through the deep snow. We felt like we had the whole place to ourselves and that can be a rare feeling at a National Park.

Until we meet again, Crater Lake. Next stop, Oregon Coast!

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Lake Tahoe

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Along Highway 50, Bridal Veil Falls.
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Trail to Fallen Leaf Lake

We rang in 2016 in South Lake Tahoe, California. Growing up in the Bay Area, we were very familiar with Tahoe and its beauty. We knew it would be cold and snowy, but our plans were filled with hikes and more hikes. I imagined picturesque views of the lake where we would play in the snow everyday and take awesome photos we could share with friends on Instagram. Unfortunately, our time in Tahoe was not as eventful as we had hoped. We came down with terrible colds during the holidays and for a family who rarely gets sick, this was a big blow for us. Our immune systems seemed to have taken a toll from the holidays and we found ourselves in very bad shape. So forewarning, this post is short. Our time in Tahoe was mostly spent indoors, wrapped under a blanket indulging in cold medicine and probiotics. But no worries, we made it outside for one hike and of course, food!!

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Jack loved running through the snow.

New Year’s dinner: Latin Soul at Lakeside Inn

168 Hwy 50

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Bear took a break during this trip since we were able to stay with our friends in their cabin. It was of course a holiday, so they made reservations for all of us to go out to dinner. We were sick and the only ones with a kid, so we offered to stay home so they could enjoy their night out. They insisted and even confirmed with the restaurant that there would be items on the menu to fit our dietary restrictions (we are Pescetarian, the only meat we eat is seafood). It was a thoughtful gesture, so we went ahead and joined them for dinner at Latin Soul.

To our surprise, the restaurant was located inside a casino. One of our friend’s opted for the $35 all you can eat Brazilian barbeque and was disappointed at how dry the meat was. We ordered a vegetable soup and confirmed with the waitress that it was vegetarian. She said yes, but after careful inspection discovered the soup had bacon. On a positive note, we traded in the soup for a chile rellano and it was pretty delicious. Staff was also really nice. Long story short, I wouldn’t return here. But per yelp reviews, the food is good, except the Brazilian barbeque.  

Breakfast: Heidi’s

3485 Lake Tahoe Blvd

South Lake Tahoe, CA 96150

Heidi’s has the most amazing breakfast. It’s one of those restaurants known for their giant portions, but in addition to the big plates, the food is also incredibly delicious. We shared an omelet, home fries and pancakes. The pancakes stood out and I enjoyed every bite. My only regret is ordering juice and getting a refill. Refills aren’t free and that tacked on another $6 to our bill!  My advice: get there early and don’t arrive starving because they have a long wait. And don’t order drinks if you’re on a budget!

Hike: Fallen Leaf Lake

https://www.tripadvisor.com/Attraction_Review-g28926-d116646-Reviews-Fallen_Leaf_Lake-California.html

It’s a short and easy hike to Fallen Leaf Lake. We were thrilled to be back among pine trees after spending the holidays in the busy jungle of the SF bay area. Along the way, we had a snowball fight and we were in awe of the scenery once we made it to the lake. I would have loved a more challenging hike, but our bodies were trying to beat our colds so it turned out to be just perfect for us. Click on the link to trip advisor above for more details.

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Snowball fight!

Although we spent most of our time indoors, we felt like our time at Lake Tahoe was the perfect transition from the holidays in the Bay Area to going back to our lives on the road. After we left Tahoe, we headed north to Chico since Clayton wanted to show me the town where he spent his first years of college. I was intrigued by Chico, but more so wanted to see the Sierra Nevada Brewery. Unfortunately, Sierra Nevada turned out to be a bust. Minors are not allowed on the tour (we thought it would be similar to the Coors Factory) and their restaurant was closed, so we used that time to catch up with friends in the area. While in Chico, I got word that my grandparents were asking if we were going to visit. We thought “well, we’re this far north, we should just go!” That’s the beauty about this road trip. Next stop, Oregon!

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Next stop, Oregon!!

Yosemite National Park

“I am losing precious days. I am degenerating into a machine for making money. I am learning nothing in this trivial world of men. I must break away and get out into the mountains to learn the news” -John Muir

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It’s not hard to understand why John Muir was so inspired by Yosemite. The deep valleys and massive stone walls are mesmerizing. Everything from the trees, to the flowers, to the waterfalls, to the ability to view wildlife in their beautiful habitat could captivate anyone, even those who don’t deem themselves as “nature lovers”.

Our time at Yosemite was short. After Monterrey, we headed inland towards our cabin in the Sierras where we planned on spending Thanksgiving and the first 3 weeks of December. Visiting Yosemite in the winter seemed less ideal than visiting in the warmer months, but we were in the area and had to take the opportunity.

Let’s just say that our time in Yosemite did not go as planned. The initial site we planned on camping at felt too far from the park, so we decided to drive straight to Yosemite and camp in the park. When we arrived at the park, we found that camping was $16/night. It was cold and getting late so we figured we’d set up for the night and figure something else out in the morning. We took a loop around the campsite and had no idea that taking that loop would change our plans for the rest of the night.

We found a man standing alone next to his car. He was wearing a bright safety vest and had a look of defeat on his face. His name was Darrell and his old Buick was filled with papers and his belongings. Did he live in his car? Was he camping in his car? We greeted him with a “how are you?” and he replied that he wasn’t good and that he needed some gas. He asked us to drive him to the gas station 5 miles away. He explained that he had a leak in his fuel line. He was in the campsite helping a couple from Oregon who had broken down. He said that as he was helping them, all of his fuel leaked out and now he was stuck. We offered to help, so he quickly grabbed his gas can. I jumped out and let him sit in the front seat.

As we went through the gates of Yosemite, he smiled at the rangers and said “hey, it’s me again, just grabbing some gas”. They smiled back and acted as if they were familiar with him. That eased my mind about letting a complete stranger in our car. I mean it was only 5 miles, right?  He was a nice man and everything seemed normal until we started making small talk. We asked him how long he was staying at Yosemite. He said he was just passing through and was very vague about his destination. We asked where he was from and he answered, “here and there” then said he spent some time at a nearby town. His responses were strange. I figured maybe he was living in his car, but was too embarrassed to tell us.

The more he talked, the more I got uncomfortable. You see, we meet a lot of people on the road and often, people are talkative. The conversation usually goes the same direction… we share where we are from and details of our road trip, and the other person usually does the same. The conversation then leads into details about places to camp, places to visit, places to hike, stories about the road. Darrell was unable to have a genuine conversation which made me question his honesty.

Then it got worse. He told us he was working for the park as a campground host. Since we have always been intrigued by camp hosting, we asked about his position and what perks he receives. He quickly replied “uhh yeah, I get a free spot to camp, that’s it”. He then followed that up with “details” about Yosemite to make it appear that he was knowledgeable about the park. As he explained that all of the Visitor Centers were closed for the season, I got a knot in my stomach. The Visitor Center was open and this guy was definitely not a camp host!

In what felt like the longest 5 miles, ever, he then started to reassure us that he was a good person. He promised us that he had never been to prison and that his record is clean. I sat quietly in the back pretending to play with my phone thinking the topic he brought up was awkward and unnecessary. We finally arrived at the gas station and he got what he needed. The ride back was quiet and uncomfortable. Clayton stayed friendly, but I could tell he was giving up on the conversation. There is no point in trying to talk to somebody when everything they are saying is a lie. We continued to nod as he continued to make up facts about Yosemite. At that point, I felt like nodding guaranteed our safety.

After 5 long miles back to Yosemite, we arrived at our campsite to an even more unsettling scene. There were 2 ranger vehicles circling the lot. Our trailer was sitting alone on one end of the campsite while Darrel’s car was sitting alone on the other end. Were they looking for him? Did the rangers at the entrance notify somebody he was with us? We dropped him off and watched him walk towards the rangers with his hands up. We waited for a ranger’s approval to leave and quickly drove away when they waved. After that strange encounter, we decided we didn’t want to camp inside Yosemite alone.

Note to self: If someone needs gas, just grab their gas can and get it for them!

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Pondering with John Muir…. maybe we shouldn’t give rides to random strangers…

Here is what we did instead: Yosemite Lakes RV Resort at 31191 Hardin Flat Rd., Groveland, CA 95321 (same turn as the gas station). Located 5 miles from the west gate entrance to Yosemite National Park. We paid about $40 in December. Many amenities including a club house with showers, laundry, wifi, satellite TV, and a billiards room. https://www.thousandtrails.com/california/yosemite-lakes-rv-resort/

A couple photos from our short time in Yosemite! And yes, the Visitors Center was open and it was amazing. Don’t miss the short movies they have to offer!

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Big Sur, CA (Highway 1)

“The pleasure we derive from journeys is perhaps dependent more on the mindset with which we travel than on the destination we travel to.” ― Alain de Botton, The Art of Travel

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Highway 1

California is a place loved by many. Residents and visitors alike can go on for hours about the wonders of the Golden State and the various activities available for all. Many flock to the state each year, soaking up the sun, the beaches, and the mountains. It’s a paradise for city folks and nature lovers. When I tell people I grew up in California (SF Bay Area to be exact), I’m often told “Lucky you. It’s beautiful there.” And that’s usually followed up by, “why did you leave?” Now that, that is a long story. A quick synopsis would be something along the lines of: it’s too crowded, it’s too expensive, I’m afraid of earthquakes, we have family drama. Bottom line: California creates a ton of anxiety for both myself and my husband. As we made our way towards the coast, I said to Clayton “my chest hurts, I’m feeling anxious.” He nodded and said he was feeling the exact same way.

And that is where the Alain de Botton quote comes in. We had to change our mindset. I was certain this wouldn’t be the last time we’d feel uncomfortable while traveling. We had to come up with a plan, something we could revert to when we feel like this again. At that moment, we decided that a pep talk before hitting the road would get us through our travels in California. We’d discuss worst case scenarios and how we would handle them…”there’s going to be a lot of traffic. That’s okay, we’ll just talk about something fun and listen to the radio”, “gas is going to be very expensive. That’s okay, at least it will be cheaper when we visit other states”, “we might encounter negativity from our families. That’s fine, we can always leave if it gets bad.”

As salty as I was feeling (pun intended), I knew that everything was worse in my mind and if I approached this anxiety differently, everything would be fine. Why am I sharing this story? I like the quote above, and I feel it’s something we can all relate to. When we travel, I find that most of us will accentuate the negative like it needs to be paired with the positive. Think about it… when asking someone about a trip they’ve been on, they usually name the bad parts. “It was too hot”, “it was too cold”, “my flight got delayed and they lost my bags, I was so pissed”, “I got a million mosquitos bites, it was terrible”, “the food sucked”, “the people were rude”, and so on. I’ve recently started to notice this much more because when we tell people about places we want to visit, we often hear: “oh, I didn’t like it there…” (fill in the blank with specific reason), or “watch out, people are really racist there.” My thoughts are, we should try to cut down on the negativity and try to keep an open mind. In my case, I eventually saw the beauty in a place that makes me anxious. I took the bad parts and realized it was part of the experience. Travel isn’t always sunshine and rainbows, there are also hard times and that’s okay. That being said, I’m currently working on saying “California is a definitely an experience everyone should have” and I’ll follow that with a positive and honest comment like, “I LOVE San Diego!”

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Note to self: be positive and happy like Jack. He’s enjoying the journey!

Now enough with the chatter. Here’s what we did:

Day 1: Arrived at Pismo Beach after sunset. Found a campground for $30/night with no amenities. Couldn’t justify the price so we headed to the nearest Wal-Mart. Wal-Mart had signs everywhere stating that overnight parking was prohibited. We spoke to another RVer who stated that the city is pretty strict with that rule. We went inside and spoke to an employee. The employee stated they usually send people to K-Mart down the street. We headed to K-Mart and no signs were posted. We were exhausted and decided to opt out of asking a K-Mart employee if overnight parking was okay. If we were told no, then we’d have to leave. If we didn’t ask, then we honestly didn’t know. I’d rather get a couple hours sleep and get a knock at our window to leave rather than getting no sleep while trying to find a place.

Day 2: We woke up at 6am and grabbed coffee at Carl’s Jr in the same parking lot. As we were ready to leave, a police officer slowly circled us. I waited for him to wave or come out to talk to us, but he didn’t. He left and so did we. This day was also our wedding anniversary, so we had to do something special. We headed north on Highway 1 and made our way towards San Simeon and Hearst Castle.

HEARST CASTLE

I was super excited to see Hearst Castle even though we knew nothing about it. I heard about it growing up in northern California and always heard great things. We arrived at Hearst Castle and saw that the area is a California State Park. The place was busy and they only had port-a-potties due to the drought. We went inside to the information desk and I literally said “sooo.. what is this place all about?” The older man behind the counter laughed and gave us a brief yet in depth history of the castle. He also suggested that we visit the free museum. We headed over to the line at the ticket counter and found the prices for the tour were a bit high. $25 per adult and $12 for children over 5. We were not in the mood to spend $62 on a tour, so we grabbed food at the café then headed to the museum which was fairly empty. If you’re on a budget, skip the tour and head to the museum. It’s full of information and interesting exhibits.

SAN SIMEON STATE BEACH

We headed across the street to San Simeon State Beach. Beautiful place and dogs are allowed. We played around in the water for a bit. It was November, but it was warm and sunny. We had so much fun that we worked up an appetite, so we headed to our next destination down the street.

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DOG FRIENDLY BEACH!

HEARST RANCH WINERY/ THE TASTING ROOM AT SEBASTIAN’S

We walked over to Hearst Ranch Winery/Sebastian’s for some wine tasting to celebrate our anniversary.  Wine tasting is $10 per person, but if a bottle is purchased, one tasting is waved. We told the bartender that we intended on purchasing a bottle, so he suggested that we share a tasting to save $10. The tasting room also serves as a café so we also ordered food and Riley went through 4 small cups of ice cream. We had a really great time and the folks at this place were incredibly friendly. We chatted with them for a while and told them about our roadtrip. It was cool to also hear about their travel stories and places they would love to visit. We left with a $32 bottle of Malbec which was half the price of a castle tour! The day ended up being perfect and a very memorable anniversary for us.

WILLOW CREEK ROAD DISPERSED CAMPING/ LOS PADRES NATIONAL FOREST

We headed north on Highway 1 and spent 4 nights at a free campsite with an amazing view of the ocean. We found this spot on freecampsites.net and it was a great find. The only downside was the amount of trash we found scattered in the bushes, but I’ve sadly come to expect that from people these days. Our time at this campsite was AMAZING. We had this incredible view, I couldn’t believe we were camping for free. People pay good money to have a view like this from their hotel room, yet there we were in our homebuilt teardrop, camping for free while watching the sunset on the horizon.

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Bear heading back down the road to the first campsites. We needed a view of the ocean!
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Found our spot!
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Campsite View!
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Happy Campers!

Day 3-7: HIKING-BEACH ACCESS

There are many spots right off the 1 to go hiking. We love finding trails on everytrail.com

Here is a link to a comprehensive list http://www.everytrail.com/best/hiking-big-sur-california

We took a mini hike behind the Ragged Point Inn and Resort. This trail leads to a small black sand beach that is open to the public, but is known as a “private” beach because it’s hidden and usually empty.I read that beach access north of this point is very rare, so it was a treat to find beach access in Big Sur. Head behind the cafe and you’ll see a warning sign at the start of the nature trail. The rugged trail is steep with switchbacks and drops 300 feet in 1/8th mile. It was a short yet heart pounding hike. I lost my footing a couple times, so I’d recommend a good pair of hiking boots. There were several people looking at the view from the top of the trail, but we were the only ones who hiked it. There was a family dressed in workout clothes at the trailhead, so I thought maybe they were going on a hike, but when their pre-teen kids asked to hike down, they were quickly reprimanded! That kind of gives you an idea of what this trail looks like. It’s definitely not for your average tourist, but it’s totally worth the views and having an entire beach to yourself.

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If Riley can hike it, you can hike it!
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View from the trail on the way down to a private beach!

See, I told you California is an experience. Information is below!  

*HIGHWAY 1 CAMPSITE – source: freecampsites.net

Willow Creek Rd

Big Sur, California

GPS: 35.886967, -121.45916

Elevation: 273′

Website suggests rigs should not be longer than 30 feet.

Keep an eye out for the Treebones Resort, it’s the same road off Highway 1. Once you make the turn on Willow Springs, turn left for free camping because a right turn takes you towards the resort. You’ll see the National Forest signs with  camp rules. We camped on one of the first pull outs up the hill. Initially, we kept driving up the steep hill and realized we lost our great view of the ocean. Turning around with the trailer took a bit of skill, but luckily Bear’s giant tires made it easy to turn around and head back down the hill. I would not recommend this site to big class A’s. You might get stuck!

*SAN SIMEON STATE BEACH:

http://www.yelp.com/biz/san-simeon-state-beach-san-simeon

I wanted to add the yelp site so you can see what others are saying about the beach. This is located right across the entrance to Hearst Castle on Highway 1. And it’s DOG FRIENDLY!

*HEARST RANCH WINERY/TASTING ROOM AT SEBASTIAN’S:

442 SLO San Simeon Road, San Simeon, CA 93452

Hours: Open Daily 11:00 AM to 5:00 PM

http://www.hearstranchwinery.com/Tasting/Sebastians-in-San-Simeon

*RAGGED POINT INN WITH TRAIL ACCESS TO BEACH

19019 CA-1, Ragged Point, CA 93452

Hiking List: http://www.everytrail.com/best/hiking-big-sur-california

*K-MART NEAR PISMO BEACH: 

*The store is actually located in Arroyo Grande

1570 W Branch St, Arroyo Grande, CA 93420

Phone: (805) 481-8484

Mt. Whitney (Lone Pine, CA)

The lowest point in North America is Badwater Basin at 282 feet below sea level.

The highest point in the lower 48 is Mt. Whitney at 14,505 feet.

Did you know they are only 84.6 miles away from each other? Pretty crazy. Mother Nature is amazing.

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Bear heading to Lone Pine

 It was November during our visit and it was cold. We stopped in Lone Pine after Death Valley for a night before continuing towards the coast. When we have the opportunity, we will visit Lone Pine again. I’d like to explore the Alabama Hills and take a hike on Mt. Whitney. I’ve read pretty amazing reviews on the hiking in the area, so if the weather is good, please go exploring!

During our one-night stay, we found a spot to park behind McDonald’s. We got the tip from freecampsites.net and the parking is fairly inconspicuous. You’ll see a large area behind the parking lot with unmarked spaces. A semi parked next to us for the night as well. In addition to the free place to stay, McDonald’s wifi can be reached from the outside. This McDonald’s also has several outlets so it’s a good spot to recharge devices as well. Lone Pine is a very small town, so you won’t miss McDonald’s right on the 395.

The morning we left, we went to the Visitor’s Center to obtain more information. I highly recommend stopping in so you have a general idea of what you want to do or see in the area.

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Information:

Visitor’s Center: LonePineChamber.org, 120 South Main St. Lone Pine, CA 93545

McDonald’s address: 601 South Main St. Lone Pine, CA 93545

Alabama Hills Information: http://www.blm.gov/ca/st/en/fo/bishop/scenic_byways/alabamas.html

Mt. Whitney Trail information: http://www.wildbackpacker.com/backpacking-trails/mount-whitney-trail/

Rocky Mountain National Park

Rocky Mountain National Park (RMNP) covers 415 square miles in northern Colorado. The park has 2 main entrances, one in Estes Park and another in Grand Lake. We took our first trip to this famous park in mid September and our timing was amazing. The weather was warm with a tinge of coolness and the Aspen trees were in full yellow bloom. The scenery was spectacular and if we ever make another visit, we’d prefer to return in the fall.

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Some basic info if you plan a visit:

We entered the park through the Estes Park entrance. From Colorado Springs, drive time is about 2-2 1/2 hours.

There are 5 campgrounds in the park and one campground is for tents only. Make reservations ahead of time!! It fills up fast.

It’s a National Park, therefore dogs are not allowed anywhere. Although I saw many people breaking that rule, we kept our dog in the car when we went outside to take pictures. We were unaware of this rule and decided not to hike within the park because we didn’t want to leave Jack unattended.

Entrance fees are the following:

  • Automobile – $20 and valid for seven consecutive days, including the date of purchase
  • Pedestrians, bicycles, motorcycles and mopeds – $10 per person, not to exceed $20 per vehicle. Valid for seven days including the date of purchase.

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We left Colorado Springs around 6:00 PM on a Friday night. Since we planned our trip last minute, per the reservation site, there was no availability in any of the campgrounds in the park. We decided to take our chances and try the Olive Ridge campground which is about 30 minutes outside of Estes Park and in the Roosevelt National Forest. Olive Ridge is located on Highway 7 along mile marker 14. Reservations are not required, so our tip is to get there early before the weekend campers get in. A camp host is available to pay the $16 fee and several vault toilets are spread out around the campground. It is bear country, so be aware of what you bring and how you are storing your food.

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When we arrived around 9 PM, we drove the loop around the campsite and found that there was no availability. This came as no surprise since it was a Friday night and campsites in Colorado tend to fill up quickly. As we exited, we did not find any signs that indicated parking along the road was prohibited. We didn’t have a tent to set up, so we parked in front of the information sign and quickly jumped inside of Bear. Falling asleep was an easy task and before we knew it, sunlight was beaming through the windows waking us up for the day.

We woke up around 7 AM and opened up the back of the trailer to make breakfast. While we grubbed on freshly made breakfast burritos and hot coffee, a camper on her way out stopped by to let us know that she was leaving for the day and that we should snag her campsite. I grabbed Riley and we quickly ran over to the vacant campsite while Clayton headed over to the camp host to pay for the spot. As soon as we arrived at the site, a car pulled up and asked if we were taking the spot. I apologized to the woman, but I was also thankful we got there a minute before her! Sprinting to the campsite sure paid off!

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Where we parked for the night.
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Breakfast burritos with “meat” and eggs in a spicy tortilla.

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Once we got settled, we met our campsite neighbor who told us there was a back entrance to RMNP that has access to several trails. We decided to head that way and found there was no entrance fee. We found a full parking lot of hikers and tourist, and a couple rangers that welcomed us into the park. When we talked to the rangers, they informed us that dogs are not allowed in the park and that we had to leave Jack in the car. That sure put a damper on our plans.

We decided we didn’t want to leave Jack, so we drove back out to the highway and found a trail just outside of RMNP. The Tahosa Valley Trail followed right along the National Park boundary and unfortunately, the National Park had the better trails and views. As beautiful as the scenery was, the trail followed right along Highway 7 which didn’t make for ideal hiking conditions. The last thing I want to hear while hiking is cars passing by.  As we hiked for about an hour, the trail eventually turned away from the road and began to incline towards the mountains. By this time, I had lost my motivation to continue on and the idea of a nap sounded better. We headed back to Olive Ridge where I immediately headed over to the hammock and fell asleep. By the time I woke up, it was time for dinner and smores by the fire. The day didn’t turn out as we had planned, but it was still a very good day.

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Since we were forced to change our hiking plans because of Jack, we decided the following day would be dedicated to sightseeing through RMNP. We woke up around 9, ran around the campsite and rode our bikes. We left the campground around 11 AM and drove to the Estes Park main entrance into RMNP.

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Some points of interest to look out for when heading towards Estes Park is Chapel on the Rock and The Stanley Hotel. Chapel on the Rock is located in Allenspark right along Highway 7. In 1993, Pope John Paul II visited and blessed the chapel. There were pictures of the Pope located inside and we found that pretty exciting. As we drove through Estes towards RMNP, we passed the famous Stanley Hotel which is known for it’s paranormal activity and inspiring Stephen King to write “The Shining”. Although everyone told us we had to visit The Stanley and do a ghost tour, there were just too many people! I asked Clayton to pull over so that I could take a quick photo of the hotel. A tour of The Stanley would have to wait for another day, preferably on a weekday!

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The Stanley

We spent the next few hours driving through the park on Trail Ridge Road (one of America’s most scenic drives) and stopping at the various pull outs to look at the view and take photos. The park was extremely packed because it was the weekend. We often found ourselves behind a long line of cars and having difficulty finding parking at the pullouts and at the gift shops. As we started to make our descent through the end of the park, we also started getting really hungry. Luckily, we found a large picnic area that was completely empty. Since we had the whole parking lot to ourselves, we parked and set up our chairs. It was so quiet, peaceful, and scenic. Just the perfect place to have lunch.  After about an hour, we packed up and continued our way out of the park. Lucky for us, just as we approached the exit, we saw elk grazing in the field. When we exited, we found ourselves in Grand Lake. We were in complete awe by the lake and the Aspens. How lucky were we to experience the “gold rush”. Fall in Colorado is one of the most beautiful experiences I’ve ever had!

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Grand Lake

Overall, a scenic and relaxing weekend. Although our plans for strenuous hikes and exploration through the forest didn’t go as planned, I actually enjoyed the change of pace. I was grateful for the beautiful views, and the opportunity for quality time and relaxation with the boys. My advice if you plan on visiting RMNP: make camping reservations, visit in the fall, and leave the dogs at home.

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