November 15 A spin to Coronado Island

Today we chose to become tourists in our own town by taking a spin to Coronado Island and the Tijuana River National Wildlife Refuge.
To begin – Coronado is not an island but actually a peninsula. North Island Naval Air Station shares the island….uhh, peninsula with the city of Coronado, A gorgeous bridge, built by Guy F. Atkinson a long time ago, crosses San Diego Bay so folks can get from the city of San Diego and all the other places on the east side of the Bay to Coronado where there seems to be a majority of very rich Republicans. They live in truly opulent residences with way too many square feet of living space per person, like 10,000. Not a single car was spotted without perfect, shiny paint or with a domestic automobile logo and the only folks we saw that were anything but white were going home from their jobs at the naval air station. There doesn’t even seem to be any graffiti.
After considerable time cruising around ogling the nice residential construction, we headed over to see a fine example of commercial construction at the Queen Anne architectural confection known as the Hotel del Coronado. It is a beautiful hotel formerly owned by a guy named Larry Lawrence who was temporarily buried at Arlington National Cemetery, a facility exclusively for military personnel, most killed in battle. Unfortunately for Larry’s corpse, folks found that Larry might have wanted to be buried in ground reserved for heroes but he, unfortunately, had neglected to make the commitment to join any branch of the service so they dug up his lying body and sent it elsewhere. Rich assholes are not necessarily heroes and, as a matter of fact, rarely are so they have to submit to being buried with us mortals.
After much appreciation of architecture, we left Coronado and drove down the highway and peninsula known as the Silver Strand toward Imperial Beach. When I was a kid living here, the Strand was a long, lonely stretch of road with the Pacific Ocean on one side and San Diego Bay on the other. Due to considerable advancements in dredging, the Strand is now lined with upscale resort-like communities and condos such that the bay and ocean are only simultaneously visible for about 500 feet. In Imperial Beach, where it is evident that Coronado is not an island but the tip of a long spit, we pulled over to check out the Tijuana River National Wildlife Refuge.
The Tijuana River is a foul waterway emanating from Tijuana, Mexico and flowing out through Imperial Beach, when it flows. Regardless of the quality of the alleged water in the alleged river, there are abundant birds and other aquatic creatures that have adapted to this place. The animals here may be deaf because they seem to avoid being alarmed by the continuous circling of expensive helicopters doing touch-and-go operations at the Navy’s nearby Ream Field. From the Imperial Beach side of the river, a sharp line of development on the other side of a hideous sheet pile wall can be seen. It is Tijuana. Only expanses of undeveloped land and green and white Border Patrol vehicles can be spotted on the U.S. side.
It was approaching rush hour when we left Imperial Beach but, instead of using the freeways, we took city streets to go back to our spot at Pio Pico. It actually worked and we got back home in record time. Go figure.
We took some nice house shots on today’s trip. Click here

November 9 Back in the ‘hood

It is nice to be back in our own neighborhood but our duties while here are looming. Our truck needs to go in for brakes and battery issues. The trailer will have to go into a shop for bearing repacks, brake checks and a slightly wonky terlet. We are old and need to go to our doctors for old people stuff.
Relatives and friends need to be visited. We need to scope out the atlas to lay out our next trip around this magnificent country. Our vehicle registrations need to be renewed. We need to smog the truck. Once all this stuff is done, we will sod off on our 2018 excursion.
I hope nothing expensive is wrong with our truck, trailer, toilet, bodies, relatives, friends, vehicle registration, emission controls or brains.
We have been very lucky with our RV space here. There are lots of amazing birds, some of which are not so quick that our old, myopic vision systems can see them. We even identified some varieties that supposedly don’t live in this area. Maybe they are lost.
We have very colorful birds all around us. To see some, click here

November 5 Zorba’s

We won’t be able to get together with our son and his lovely wife until later in the week due to their work schedules so we were free to fool around today. Peggy has been jonesing for a restaurant in nearby Chula Vista named Zorba’s so after our showers we headed there. It is a Greek (duh!) restaurant and we were well filled at their tasty buffet.
We also took a cruise through the sewer hookup portion of Pio Pico campground and found a suitable empty space for our trailer despite management insistence that there were none available until tomorrow. We broke down what we set up yesterday and moved all our nifty camping stuff to the other side of the road. An hour or two later, we were set up in our new space so we took the rest of the day off so we could commit our efforts to drinking and loafing. We may get out and do something productive tomorrow. Maybe it will be the next day.

November 4 The treacherous path

Yesterday we prepped our trailer for travel so we could get out of Rancho Oso near Solvang early today. We thought an early departure would help our travel plans by speeding our way through the dreadful Los Angeles traffic on our way south.
We don’t know if it actually did us any good. Traffic was okay on the back roads but the volume of cars increased dramatically once we got onto US-101. The number of cars, and the corresponding increase number of lunatic drivers, multiplied as we continued south. By the time we made it into the San Fernando Valley north of Los Angeles, traffic had stopped entirely. In Woodland Hills, we had to get off for fuel but we chose a terrible place because the gas station, which appeared to be right next to the freeway on the map, turned out to be deep into the maze of the city requiring considerable cursing and brake applications for maniac drivers. We finally made it back onto the freeway and crept along like a ten ton inchworm for miles until exiting 101 and heading south on the I-405. Traffic was even worse on the 405. Many foolish drivers, actually believing they were making wise decisions, held up progress by changing lanes many times in very short distances. It was shitty. Many hours later, we passed to I-605 and traffic actually started to flow in such a way that the needle on our speedometer lifted off the zero peg.
Leaving Los Angeles County took us into Orange County and the traffic was moving along at almost the speed limit. However, in San Clemente, rubbernecks became fascinated with some flashing lights on the other side of the freeway and that stopped and backed up traffic for about 6 miles. More creeping along ensued until we passed the pretty lights. We whistled through Camp Pendleton and were not required to stop for another blockage until we got to Oceanside. The San Diego drivers must not be as interested in nothing as Orange County drivers because the backup only lasted for 5 miles before we broke out into a few miles of freeway speed. Unfortunately, the Breeder’s Cup was being run at the Del Mar Racetrack and that again snafued traffic for a while. South of the track we were able to drive all the way to Pio Pico TT southeast of San Diego where we pulled in but found we would be camping in that part of the campground with no sewer hookup. We were pooped so we pulled into a pull-through and set up and figured we could deal with the sewer later. We covered around 280 miles today which is a long run for us old people.

November 2 Happy Valley and Refugio

Yesterday, other than me trying my hand at some cooking, we did nothing. It was pretty dull for the casual observer.
Today, however, we traveled into the territory east of Santa Ynez and CA-154. We turned off 154 at Armour Ranch Road and headed east into some beautiful country at the foot of the San Rafael Mountains. We didn’t expect to see a lot of wildlife because there are scads of Republicans and Rotarians and their enormous, pricey estates here but we were fooled. We saw, before leaving the campground, western bluebirds, titmice, acorn woodpeckers, Oregon black-eyed juncos and the usual doves, crows and blackbirds. Once outside the campground and on our way through Happy Valley, we saw about a dozen and a half mule deer, big murders of crows, entire cities of ground squirrels, a large tarantula, many flashy magpies, a northern harrier, wild turkeys, and some white-tailed kites hovering over their by now digested prey.
After a loop up Armour Ranch Road into Happy Valley, we returned to some back roads, Foxen and Refugio, near Buellton, and found more wildlife but it was more exotic in nature. There were some enormous cattle with great long horns but Holstein black-and-white, ostriches, bison, long-eared donkeys and a zebra. Strange livestock they have around here.
On the way back home to Rancho Oso, we pulled over in the allegedly Danish community of Solvang, famous for its cute northern European architecture and myriad shops catering to rich tourists. We have been in Solvang before and, since Peggy was at the wheel during this portion of today’s drive, she pulled right in next to a very tempting and dangerous bakery called Mortenson’s, where we spent more than we should have on pastries we absolutely should not have. The Danes believe that anything in pastry that is not chocolate or buttercream should be sugar. I am positive the stuff we took away is bad, and possibly deadly for us but we ate some anyway. It was great.
See pix. Click here

October 31 Halloween and Lure’s

Our neighbor here at Rancho Oso Thousand Trails is a nice guy named Rolf who stops by once in a while for short chats. Weirdly, his second wife also lives here in the park, but two tiers up the hill in a different trailer. Rolf says they are good friends but can’t live together so a couple days back Wife #2 loaded up her stuff and took off for the Las Vegas area to be near her kids. Rolf is not a Vegas fan so he held on here. When we were chatting with him the other day, he suggested a restaurant called Lure’s in Santa Barbara.
Today we hopped into Charlotte and took off on a trip to Lure’s for lunch. There is construction near the State Street address for the restaurant so traffic was formidable, especially coupled with an abundance of impatient rich people barging into traffic with their expensive cars, old people hesitating just enough to stop everyone’s progress and traffic signals that only go green when the intersection is clogged with cars pointing in all directions.
After only two blocks, we were able to get off State and pull into the giant plaza where Lure’s stands. It is an impressive-looking place with almost Italian styling on the outside. It is attractive inside, too, and there are a variety of seating options – raised tables with bar stools, big easy chairs, a long counter, outside seating and many wide-screen TVs that have the closed captioning turned on. The really good part about Lure’s was the seafood. Their chowders were fabulous. I had New England style and is was absolutely the best I have ever been served. Very creamy with tons of clams and hardly any filler (celery). Peggy tried the Veracruz style chowder, very little of which I stole, and we were both impressed with it, too. Again, heavy on the clams which has not been the case in most of the seafood restaurant chowders we have had on this passage down the Pacific coast.
I had fish and shrimp served with fries and a terrific pineapple slaw. Peggy toughed it out with fish and chips and the same slaw and our food was great. They also served us some pretty good beer. Our bill, including chowder, drinks and tip was about $65.
On the way back over the pass we pulled off to drive down Stagecoach Road, past the Cold Creek Tavern and under the Cold Creek Arch Bridge. The weather was nice, there are birds everywhere and the scenery was great. We spotted some more turkeys on the way home. I like turkeys. Maybe they are relatives.
See pix. Click here

October 30 Stagecoach Road

Stagecoach Road is a skinny mountain road that wanders on both sides of CA-154 not far from our campground. The curvy but quite scenic blacktop passes underneath and beside the Cold Creek Bridge which was quite an engineering landmark back in the early 1960s, when it was built. My grandfather used to come up to Stagecoach Road every week during construction and shoot off a few frames with his Super-8 movie camera. At the end of construction, he had a neat, stop-action movie of the construction and about the only thing that was wrong with it was the weather and the sun angles changed on days he shot film making the lighting strange.
Along the road under the bridge, in a shady canyon with little parking space, is the Cold Creek Tavern. Before even I was born, the stage from Santa Barbara to points north use to pass over this road, stopping at the Tavern to feed passengers and change horses. The hills are steep here; horses probably didn’t have a long range in this terrain.. It is a challenging road with a motor vehicle. Driving a wooden box pulled by horses or, even worse, riding in a stage over this route must have required considerable intestinal fortitude. Abrupt dropoffs to deep canyons run alongside the lumpy paving.
We followed the road up to the top of the pass where we turned back north toward our RV park, stopping at the Santa Ynez Valley overlook. It is a great, wide view of the scenery from here. As we approached our campground, we came across about 30 turkeys engaged in their scratch-back up-and-look-for-goodies feeding behaviors. They were sporting some extraordinarily colorful plumage and Peggy and I found a superb birdwatching spot very close to the large birds and lingered for quite a while. Peggy and I both admire turkeys but I feel their heads look pretty puny next to their large bodies, particularly when males are trying to show off by puffing themselves up and making lots of their feathers fan out. The females make little funny noises that sound like Butters, from South Park, singing. It’s nice.
We got some pictures of our favorite birds. Click here

October 29 To Jalama

Our task for ourselves today was to attempt to see some of the Pacific coast between Santa Maria and Santa Barbara. This sounds much easier than it is.
Our journey started with a westward drive down the quite dry Santa Ynez River from our camp spot at Rancho Oso. For the first time in more than a month, we spotted fog between us and the ocean. There was no miserably hot weather here today. It was very nice for me but Peggy runs somewhat colder and she was in long pants and a coat.
Part way down the River, we passed Lake Cachuma (actually, a reservoir) and continued northwest to a small town called Los Alamos where we turned off on CA-135. It was our intent to eventually hook up with CA-1 but it seems there is no exit for CA-1 from CA-135 if headed north. We had passed it by a considerable margin before your narrator and navigator figured it out and we probably went another 5 miles on the beautiful four-lane highway before being given the opportunity to turn around in Orcutt.
Backtracking, we found an exit to CA-1 and followed it into the Vandenburg Air Force Base where we were about as welcome as turds in the pool. There were no roads to the coast that we could take across the Air Base. We skirted Vandenburg going south until we got to Lompoc, famous for being the locale where all of Nixon’s indicted and convicted co-conspirators spent time at the Federal Penal Country Club and Golf Course and also to having what may be the world’s largest deposit of diatomaceous earth. DE is a big player in the swimming pool filter market.
In Lompoc we found a road that ran toward the coast. The road runs along the southern bank of the Santa Ynez River but, since the Santa Ynez has no water in it, the part near the ocean is a large tidal marsh. At the current flow rate, not a drop makes it to the sea but once it starts raining, if ever, I imagine the low sand berm between the river and the marsh will be blown right out of the way and things will be back to formerly normal. There is a little county park near the ocean called, strangely, Ocean Park. We fetched up in the bird watching platform and spotted a myriad of species, all of the visible ones eating.
After a stroll at the park, we tried going south but immediately ran into some more Vandenburg but when we pulled off to turn around, we discovered what has got to be the world’s loneliest Amtrak station. There were three people fooling around on the tracks but they couldn’t have been waiting for the train because we had just seen it go by from Ocean Park about 30 minutes earlier. The train tracks go across Vandenburg but the trains do not stop inside the base. I rode this stretch on a train from San Diego to Eugene a few years ago and the scenery was wonderful. Motorists need not concern themselves with this spectacular coastal scenery because there aren’t any roads unauthorized persons can access.
Undaunted, we drove back into Lompoc and headed south toward Gaviota on CA-1. About halfway between towns, we found a side road going toward a place called Jalama, 14 miles distant on the coast. The road is curvy and does a lot of up and down but the scenery is pretty good. It seems we were passing through the Jalama Ranch which must be a big honker because, other than a 25 acre Santa Barbara County campground, we never left the ranch property. Jalama campground has about 60 spaces but it is dry camping with the exception of a dozen or so spaces with 30 amp power. It is right on the ocean and, if we had a much smaller and lighter trailer, we would be delighted to spend a few days there. The difficult access road keeps tourists to a minimum.
We left Jalama and drove the 14 miles back to CA-1 where we continued south, hooked up with 101 and returned to our campground. We have done almost the same drive when it was raining and the country reminded me of Scotland or Ireland, two places I have only seen in pictures. It was emerald green. This time, we passed through at the end of a long, hot summer but the scenery is still amazing despite the grass all being yellow now.
There’s pix. Click here

October 28 The Unproductives

The last few days have been unproductive for us. We are not worried.
The day after we arrived, it was about a gazillion degrees (actually 102F) so we did nothing except replenish our onboard propane supply at the campground store. Propane there is more expensive but it is sold by surly employees that enhance your camping experience.
The next day we gave exploration a try. Again, daytime temperatures hovered around 95. We took a very nice spin up the Santa Ynez River to a place incorrectly named Red Rocks. It is very nice country but we did not spot any rocks that were red. The sometimes one-lane road passes through stunning countryside but the river is as dry as could be. Once we got to the end of the road, we turned back downriver and headed toward Santa Ynez which is Spanish for terrible traffic. We soldiered on but soon we entered the outskirts of Solvang, a municipality where lots of buildings follow an architectural style intended to make tourists think they are in a Danish village despite being in rolling hills with grass range land and oak forest. No snow. No conifers. No Danes. Many expensive shops. We had not even made it to the touristy part before we chickened out, realizing we had scant interest in getting out of our air conditioned vehicle and we headed back toward home. We hope the temps go down soon. It is hot.
Yesterday we knuckled down and drove over the mountain and into Santa Barbara. We went to both Costco and Trader Joe’s stocking up our trailer’s cabinets and fridge such that we appear to be affluent. It was very warm again yesterday and we were fortunate that Peggy forced me to shop in the morning. After a few hours of spending, we pointed Charlotte toward our campground in the Santa Ynez Valley and turned on the A/C.
Today we were on our way out of the campground when we noted some strange sounds emanating from beneath our truck. We cancelled today’s chock-full agenda of fooling around and took the truck back to our campsite. It was still quite toasty today but there was no way to get the truck into the shade. After climbing around like bats beneath the truck, we found where the mechanic in Coos Bay at Tower Ford had made some profound omissions from procedure when installing the expensive DPF (diesel particulate filter or decidedly pricey fucker) some three weeks ago. His exhaust system configuration, as reinstalled, left us with two parts; the front expensive part and the back, slightly less expensive but completely unused part. The front part has merely made the outside of the back part black.
We made quick, hit-and-run guerilla attacks on the system, starting with panic (Let’s call the Ford dealership on Saturday, when they are closed), transitioning into more realistic assessments (Squeeze your rotund, flabby body further under the truck so you can see that of which you know nothing but from where escape is impossible for spherical beings) and finally approaching it when suitably primed with marijuana and alcohol. The final conclusion was that we actually fixed the problem although it took considerable loud, pikey tool hammering by Peggy to drive the errant exhaust system back into the proper place. We won but were quite filthy by the end of it because we are camping and the shop floor is dirt. Fire off the water heater, dearie!

October 24 Paicines to Rancho Oso

Today, we left the campground at San Benito, one of our least favorite Thousand Trails parks. Yesterday’s torrid temperatures were forecast again today so we jumped up pretty early and were out of the park by 0930. We figured we would have smooth sailing today because we were driving through a scarcely populated area when compared with the drive we made this last Sunday through the dreaded San Francisco Bay metropolis.
We were wrong. No sooner had we turned off CA-25 onto CA-156 near Hollister when the traffic on the miserable 1 lane road stopped for construction with us immobile in the brilliant sunshine. We were surrounded by almost dead-level agricultural fields, some with tractors whipping up maelstroms of rich, brown dust for everyone’s benefit. All told, we were delayed about 3/4 of an hour while checking out the bleak landscape and clouds of dirt. When we finally got to the construction, it was plain to see why they were backing up traffic for miles in both directions; they were paving a small apron off the side of the highway – clearly work which couldn’t be performed at night when there is no traffic.
We finally cleared the traffic snag and soon we were on US-101 south again. We shot through San Luis Obispo, Pismo Beach, some little towns I can’t remember the names of and Santa Maria before exiting to CA-154 through Los Olivos. We continued on past Lake Cachuma, which is virtually empty due to California’s long-time drought. A large portion of land skirting the lake burned since our last time here and it looks like the firefighters must have been backed right up to the edge of the water during the firestorm. Everything on the southwest side of the road is either a spindly black stick or ash. In order to prevent us from being bored, there was some more delaying construction that stopped traffic, again on a road where there is no way around it. When we got to the scene of the construction, it appeared that the crew was merely delaying traffic, not actually working. Only the idiots with the stop/slow signs were active – everyone else seemed to be chatting. No tools or equipment in motion could be detected. Not far beyond the Lake, we turned off on Paradise Road that roughly follows the Santa Inez River which is dry. Five miles later, we pulled into Rancho Oso Thousand Trails. Rancho Oso is on one side of a long mountain ridge and the city of Santa Barbara is on the other.
We finally got set up despite our almost sloth-like speeds hooking up utilities at 1630, a mere seven hours after embarking on our suspected 4.5 hour transit. Temperatures were high – it was around 97 when we pulled in and stayed pretty toasty right through bedtime. At lights out, we had most of the windows open in the trailer. We will go back outside when the high temperatures abate.
Leaving Paicines, we shot a picture of some of our friends. Click here