From Louisiana to Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and ending up the month in California – we covered a lot of miles and did a lot of sightseeing and had lots of adventures – here goes!
The routine stuff first:
The fridge finally got fixed at M & M Coach in Chino, California (the problem first surfaced in Alabama, so it truly was a coast-to-coast problem) – we highly recommend them for the quality of work they did as well as their customer service. Because it is still under the warranty, we were at the mercy of whatever shop we were sent so that it wouldn’t cost us anything but our time. Camping World in Robertsdale, Alabama fixed part of the problem but the more serious problem was diagnosed at a small shop in Las Cruces, New Mexico. Parts would have to be ordered (he determined the cooling unit to be defective) so Larry contacted Newmar who coordinated with Norcold to get the proper parts on order and delivered to a location convenient to our travels, explaining how we ended up in Chino.
M & M also replaced our windshield, which got damaged on our way into Phoenix earlier in the month. It started off as a chip but by the time the insurance company gave their blessing for the glass repair place, factoring in this happened during a weekend, the chip grew into a five-foot crack spreading from the center of the windshield outwards. Luckily, we have glass coverage with zero deductible so we weren’t out of pocket on this repair either.
That takes care of all our repairs -- just another factor of our lifestyle that may not be fun but sure is necessary to keep those wheels turning.
Interstates 10 and 12 aren’t the only bumpy ones – we had two ‘first-time for us’ incidents driving on Interstate 5 north of Los Angeles. We understand California has high taxes but obviously, I-5 isn’t benefiting from those dollars. When we stopped in one location, Larry found our toilet seat had come disconnected – that takes a lot of bouncing. And on another day, the kitchen faucet got bumped by a tea kettle next to it and by the time we realized what had happened, we had a mini-flood on the countertop, down into some of the drawers, on the floor and under the slides. Lucille mopped up the worst of it with towels until Larry found a rest area, at which time the slides came out so we could dry that area too – the fun never stops! Needless to say, we no longer travel with our water pump on.
Back to our travels….the end of March found us parked at a Walmart in Opelousas, Louisiana. Interstate 12 wasn’t quite as bumpy as Interstate 10 but it was bumpy enough to dislodge one of our paintings – luckily it didn’t get damaged. We arrived at Buckhorn Creek Corps of Engineer campground near Jefferson, Texas, mid-afternoon with a nice view of Lake O’The Pines. Our reason for being in this area was to visit with Lucille’s cousin Ric and his friend Donna. After getting set up, we made arrangements to meet at the Hamburger Store in Jefferson, a burger place that has been in business since 1945 – great burgers and onion rings. They followed us back to the campground and we visited for a while.
We joined them for breakfast on Sunday morning at The Bakery, also in Jefferson. Their raisin toast was out of this world but apparently everyone else thinks so – they ran out of fresh loaves to sell.
Ric had hoped to take us up on either his plane or a friend’s bi-plane but it was much too windy but we followed them to the hanger in which he stores his plane. It is a 1945 Aeronca and he’s done a great job restoring it. From there, we went to their home and enjoyed playing with their dogs, getting a ‘dog’ fix with Max, Santana and Bonnie, before saying our goodbyes.
Next destination was McCamey where we had worked with the NOMADs in 2009. The driving from Jefferson was challenging with rain and high winds most of the way until we stopped overnight in Big Spring, staying at Walmart - one of the quietest locations we’ve ever blacktop camped in.
From Big Spring, McCamey was a short and pleasant 130 mile ride. We got parked behind the Mendoza Trail Museum at one of their two free water and electric sites for overnight travelers. Roy and Alice, whom we’d met there two years ago and again at their summer home in Chamas, New Mexico, invited us to join them for pizza – we played catch up on our lives over dinner.
Back on the road the next day for Las Cruces and an overnight at Sam’s Club before our fridge appointment the next morning. By lunchtime, we were hooked back up and heading for Deming – glad it wasn’t too long of a ride – high winds again.
While in Deming, we revisited Rockhound State Park, finding several geocaches in that area. Rockhound is one of the few state parks that allows and encourages you to pick up rocks, with a limit of fifteen pounds per person. A stop at the visitor center enlightens you on what types of rocks can be found here while walking their many trails.
After a picnic lunch there, we stopped at the St. Clair Winery for another geocache, and wine tasting, of course! Larry still wrinkles his nose at one of our purchases but it’s one of those wines you have to taste and usually are pleasantly surprised – a green chile wine made with Hatch green chiles – a semi-sweet white wine with just a hint of those great local chiles. St. Clair is the state’s largest winery, producing over 85,000 cases of wine annually. Hot sunny days, cool evenings, sandy soil rich with nutrients – all ingredients making the vines less susceptible to root rot and other diseases and enabling the vineyard to produce between seven and ten tons per acre on average.
High winds were again in the forecast so we got an early start for Peoria, west of Phoenix – we encountered some rain but our early departure paid off – very little wind most of the trip. We got set up at Valley of the Sun RV Park, behind the Ramada Inn but not affiliated with them other than that’s where you register. This is the third time we’ve stayed here over the past several years – they haven’t made any improvements at all during that time – the RV park roads are still in horrible shape and several sites appeared to be unserviceable. Next time we are in that area, we’ll stay somewhere else.
Lucille’s brother Roger came by after we got settled in, bearing pastries and rolls from the New York West Bakery – we’ll have to make a return visit before we leave the area. After dinner, we went over to their place and visited with them for awhile. Kathie had just had knee surgery earlier in the week – we were amazed at how well she was doing so quickly.
Roger’s oldest son Russell came over on Sunday afternoon – we’d last seen him at the funeral in February so it was enjoyable seeing him again this soon and spending time with him, and enjoying some great grilled steaks Roger prepared.
On Monday, Roger joined us as we visited the Musical Instrument Museum in Scottsdale. This multi-story museum is chock full of instruments from not just the US but from all over the world. An audio headset is available with the cost of admission. At most of the displays, the headset tells you about that specific display, including hearing some of the instruments and their voice (sound.) Roger had never been there and was just as surprised as we were at the wealth of items to see there. We had barely covered half the museum when we broke for lunch, thoroughly enjoying the gourmet food at their café, not your typical museum café food.
There are also displays highlighting American musical instruments’ manufacturers – Fender, Martin and Steinway – all very interesting and informative. On the lower level is the Mechanical Music Gallery featuring instruments designed to play on their own – think player pianos and carousels. The museum is well worth the stop but plan on spending a full day to experience it all.
Time to leave the Phoenix area heading for San Diego, with an overnight stop at the military campground in El Centro, and off the road just as the winds were starting again.
Thanks to Dave and Mary’s recommendation, we had reservations at Santee Lakes just northeast of San Diego. There are several hundred sites there, seven lakes (license not needed to fish,) playgrounds, boat rentals, a swimming pool – lots to do without even leaving the park, but leave we did. Neither one of us had ever been in San Diego – the challenge was narrowing down our choices to fit the time we had in the area. While there we visited the USS Midway Museum, took an Old Town Trolley Tour, visited Cabrillo National Monument, gaped at the prestigious Coronado Hotel on Coronado Island, toured Taylor Guitars in nearby El Cajon, drove out to the Palomar Observatory, and of course, visited the San Diego Zoo. Whew! What a busy week we had.
USS Midway Museum: This is a popular attraction – since opening as a museum in 2004, over five million visitors have walked its decks. This aircraft carrier was commissioned in 1945 and at the time, was the world’s largest ship and at first was even too big for the Panama Canal. It saw military action from the end of WW II to the Vietnam and Gulf Wars and was decommissioned in 1992.
Upon entering the ship, you are given an audio player for a self-guided tour. We toured all decks accessible to the public. Both the flight and the hangar decks have planes on display. We also went below decks to tour the engine rooms, laundry and medical facilities, as well as dining and sleeping quarters.
We learned at the time there were more brain surgeons trained than landing signal officers (used to direct landings and departures of aircraft from carrier.) “Tower Flowers” are pilots not flying that day but standing by near the landing signal station in case their expertise of their particular aircraft is needed should there be a landing/take-off problem.
A few factoids: It cost $90 million to build in 1945 and $260 million to overhaul between 1966-1970. Fuel capacity is 3.4-million gallons, with 100,000 gallons used daily – 260 gallons used per mile. (And we complain about our fuel mileage!) Diesel fuel was used to fire a boiler that produced steam to drive the turbines. The crew of 4,500 men consumed ten tons of food daily.
Old Town Trolley Tours: Jon was our guide and one of the best we’ve had – he was passionate about living there, which carried over to his description of what we were seeing. We learned that San Diego is the birthplace of naval aviation, and resident Glenn Curtiss, the father of naval aviation. The town was originally called Rabbitville, then re-named New Town by developer Alonzo Horton from Wisconsin. He bought 800 acres for $264, averaging out to be 33 cents an acre. Seven years later this property was worth $2.5M.
Alonzo designed the city to have short blocks with no alleyways. Short blocks meant there were more street corners – valuable real estate because of more exposure, and no alleyways because he felt all they were good for were rubbish and robbery.
If you visit San Diego, be sure to take an Old Town Trolley tour and maybe you’ll luck out and get Jon as your guide.
Cabrillo National Monument: Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo set out to claim land for the king of Spain and discover a route to Asia and the Spice Islands. Fifty years after Columbus landed in America, Cabrillo, sailing north from Mexico, entered a harbor and named the area San Miguel, the site of modern San Diego. He continued his exploration northward, to what is now called the islands of Santa Catalina and San Clemente, then turning towards the mainland to what is now San Pedro Bay. He named the area Bay of Smokes because the horizon was smoky – today this is Los Angeles.
His expedition claimed over 800 miles of coastline for Spain but he didn’t find a route to Asia or the Spice Islands. What his voyage did accomplish was adding knowledge of landmarks, winds and currents, thus making future explorations safer.
The ride out to the monument is a journey in itself – very scenic. There are awesome views of the bay and the Pacific Ocean from the monument. We stopped at the visitor center first, then toured the old Point Loma Lighthouse, then drove down to the tide pool access. The tide was coming in when we were there so the tide pools weren’t visible but we enjoyed the coastal trail along the bluffs.
Taylor Guitars: Located in El Cajon, this factory tour was led by retired employee Susie, who has been playing guitars for over fifty years. She is very passionate about the company and it shows in her tour. Bob Taylor and two other partners, in their early 20s, bought what is now Taylor Guitars. He bought the place he worked for when he was a mere seventeen years old. Several sets of buyers were interested in purchasing the company. The father of one of the other buyers said he’d put up the money ($3,000) but only if his son partnered with the best guitar builder. This man said Bob Taylor so he joined the partnership. Bob thought outside the box - he used technology to build guitars faster and as good as if not better than handmade. He accidentally invented the new technology neck because he didn’t know any better. Bob built what to him felt comfortable.
The neatest thing about this tour is that you are actually winding in and around the actual production process, not checking it out from a video or from an overhead observation deck. Near the Customer Service lobby are the guitars they currently produce, all hanging on walls and easily accessible to anyone who wants to try out a model or style or size. This is a very people-friendly company, very customer-service oriented, and well worth a stop if you’re in the San Diego area.
San Diego Zoo: A visit to San Diego is not complete unless you visit the zoo. This is a huge facility and because it was during spring break, it was really, really crowded. The admission fee is a little expensive but with our AAA discount, we got a break. Lunch was pretty pricey for what we got – next time we’ll bring a lunch. We got there early enough in the day to park outside the entrance gates. If that parking lot is full, there are several others in the Balboa Park area with shuttle service to the zoo.
We kicked off our tour with a ride across the top of the park on the Skyfari – nice views but not too many of the animals were visible from up there. Lots of animals and other critters to see – the highlight was seeing the two pandas. It was everyone else’s highlight too – there was a line waiting to get in to see them. As the docent explained, pandas are not black and pure white but black and tan. She joked that Photoshop does wonders on ‘whitening’ up the panda’s colors. The female panda was busy snoozing while the male was munching away on bamboo shoots.
Personally, after having visited several zoos over the years, including the one in Washington, DC, we prefer the smaller but just as informative Brevard Zoo in Melbourne, Florida.
Palomar Observatory: Getting to Palomar was a very scenic road with some climbing and switchback turns. We ended up above the clouds and coming back, we were driving in the clouds – giving new meaning to ‘partly to mostly cloudy.’
There are no tours during the week but we visited the museum and then on to the 200-inch telescope that has a viewing gallery. The lens was made in Corning Glass Works (NY) in the mid 1930s out of a new glass blend material (Pyrex) because previous material wouldn’t work. It took a specially-made train car fourteen days at 25 mph to transport the lens to the California Institute of Technology facility. Work stopped for a while during WWII, and then new workers had to be trained to grind the lens down to the proper dimensions. Over ten tons of material was shaved off during this process. When the lens was transported up to the mountain, it was a journey of 125 miles, taking 32 hours. The idea for Palomar started developing in the early 1900s but it wasn’t until 1949 that it began full-time observing. Guided tours are available on weekends - it would be interesting to return to learn more. Cal Tech still maintains the observatory.
After a week in the San Diego area, it was time to move on to the military campground at Naval Weapons Station Seal Beach, near Los Angeles. Our primary reason for coming to this area was to visit family and friends, with a side trip on our way out of town to get the RV repairs taken care of.
Our first stop was to visit Lucille’s Aunt Marie (her father’s twin sister.) Other than short-term memory loss, she is doing fine and at her age, can still climb stairs to her apartment. We also visited with longtime friends Karen and Dana at their home in Anaheim, getting a tour of all the renovations they’ve done since our last visit in 2005. They treated us to dinner at Buca di Beppo for a good Italian meal, served family style.
Gregg and Carole (Marie’s daughter) came out Saturday to tour the motor home, then we all went down to Seal Beach. It’s a quaint little town - we parked at the beach and then walked the Seal Beach Pier, enjoying lunch at Ruby’s Diner located at the end of the pier.
Easter morning found us sitting on the beach attending the sun rise service sponsored by First United Methodist Church in Seal Beach. Coffee, hot chocolate, tea and donuts greeted us, and helped keep us warm in the cool air during the service. We’ve now attended an Easter sunrise service on the East coast and the West coast.
Gregg and Carole graciously invited us to join them for Easter dinner. Marie was there also, as were their two sons, Brent and Trent. A wonderful meal but more importantly, we enjoyed the fellowship of being with family on Easter.
After talking to several folks, they all agreed if we wanted to make our 8 am appointment in Chino on Monday morning, the day after a three-day holiday weekend, we’d have to leave no later than 5:30 to make the 40 mile trip. Traffic in LA – amazing - imagine dealing with this every day! Our early departure (yup, we managed to head out the gate by 5:30) paid off – we got to M & M Coach around 6:30, giving us plenty of time to enjoy a cup of tea and breakfast before they opened their doors.
On to our next destination – the Coast Guard Training Center’s military campground in Petaluma, just north of San Francisco, and south of Santa Rosa, where Lucille’s cousin Gene and his family live. We’ve stayed at this campground before – it’s only got six sites, water and electric only with a dump station nearby but the bucolic scenery surrounding the campground and the peace and quiet was wonderful and welcome after the hustle and bustle of both San Diego and Los Angeles.
Another perk is that this is the Coast Guard’s training facility for their chefs and the public is welcome to join in their meals in the dining hall. If we were to do this on a regular basis, we’d have to increase our walking. Where can you get a full breakfast buffet for a mere $2.30 a person or either lunch or dinner, offering extensive menus, for just $4.25 a person? We enjoyed breakfast there twice and a wonderful seafood lunch once.
We made plans to get together with Gene and Susan the day after we arrived. He travels extensively for business and this was the only day we’d be able to see him before he headed back out on a trip. After a short visit at their home, we all headed out to the Alexander Valley Vineyards. Gene is a member and wine tasting is one of the membership perks. We sampled one of the bottles we’d enjoy later at dinner.
From there, we went on to the Francis Ford Coppola Winery to enjoy an excellent meal at the Rustic, their restaurant on the premises which features Francis’ favorite meals. Our waiter was fabulous, taking the time to explain each dish and detail and subtly swaying us towards a particular dish when we tried to choose between a few of them – we all agreed his suggestions were right on the mark. At the Rustic, you can bring your own wine and pay a corkage fee if it’s not a Coppola wine, or in our case, share a glass with our waiter, who has the flexibility to waive the corkage fees – wotta deal! We visited several hours, playing catch up on all that’s been happening in our lives and our families. We then returned to their home to say hi to their three children – Jennifer, Michael and Daniel, all home from their respective jobs.
The next day we drove down to San Francisco in search of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area. We never did find its official parking lot, if there is one, but after trolling for a coveted parking space near Fort Mason, we lucked out and snagged a spot, good for the next four hours and it was free. (We continue to marvel at how much easier it is to park a small car – we never could have fit in a parking spot with the F550 truck, let alone keep circling around that particular street.)
Not only did we not find their parking lot, we didn’t find the visitor center either so we really don’t have much information about Fort Mason other than it is strategically located on a bluff with a view of the bay. It is one of the oldest military installations in California and its buildings survived the 1906 earthquake but they are all currently occupied and not available for touring.
“In 1850, recognizing the geographic and economic importance of the San Francisco Bay and the cargo that was funneled through its strait, President Millard Fillmore established this land as a military reservation, designating it Point San Jose.” (Taken from an online brochure.)
We enjoyed our picnic lunch from the top of the bluff, overlooking the bay, and then headed back down to tour a little of the city itself. We walked through Fisherman’s Wharf, buying sourdough bread at the Boudin Bakery.
A little history of sourdough baking in San Francisco: Boudin’s sourdough French bread was first created back in 1849 when the Boudin family blended their traditional French baking techniques with the tangy ‘sour’ dough used by the Gold Rush 49ers. It soon became a local favorite with folks lining up outside the bakery each morning. Their mother dough, which can only survive in the city’s fog-cooled climate, has been divided and replenished with flour and water each day for over 150 years. Each slice is like taking a bite of history.
Part of our walk took us past Ghirardelli Square, where that great chocolate first got started. The factory is located elsewhere with boutique shops now occupying the building. Their chocolate and ice cream shop was on our way back to the car – we just had to go in, you know. We shared scoops of their chocolate ice cream which was heavenly and tasted like frozen fudge.
We also took a one-hour narrated trolley tour with Grayline, giving us a quick overview of the city. We saw several really steep streets (one of the cable cars that usually travels these streets was down for maintenance so we missed seeing folks hanging on to the sides.) Lombard Street is the most crooked street in the US, with eighteen hairpin turns in one section. Cars driving this section do so very slowly. From our viewpoint, it looked like a pinball machine. According to our guide, the city has no in-town gas stations or cemeteries - no gas stations because of earthquakes and no cemeteries because of lack of space.
We got back to our car with a few minutes to spare before our time was up – we sure made good use of those four free hours of parking. On the way back to Petaluma and just north of the Golden Gate Bridge is a vista with a large parking lot. We walked about a third of the bridge, just to say we did it. Larry had done the entire length on a business trip years ago and quickly remembered how noisy it was walking the bridge – lots of nonstop traffic.
We hung around the Petaluma area one day, in search of geocaches and were successful in four out of the five we looked for. Because we only had water and electric at our site back at the RV park, laundry had to be done in town – just a mundane, but necessary, part of life on the road.
And so the month ended – more to come on another visit to San Francisco and Alcatraz Island, touring a local farm and visiting scenic Bodega Bay. We continue our travels north, with a few days spent in Eureka and the Redwoods country; a stop to visit with longtime friends Sam and JoAnn at their summer home in Smith River, California almost on the Oregon state line; Seal Rock, Oregon (just south of Newport); Fort Stevens State Park in Hammond where Karen and Galen have secured a two-week hosting gig for us; then wandering around Washington until it’s time for our cruise up the Inside Passage of Alaska mid-June.