« November 2005 | | January 2006 »

December 31, 2005

Palm Canyon Hike

There are five other Airstreams here! That may not seem like a lot, but it's a record for any campground we've visited on this trip. In fact, it's the most we've ever seen together outside of a rally. So I walked out into the desert sunshine this morning with Emma to go give each one a copy of Airstream Life. There was a 1990s Sovereign 25, a new Classic 30 slide-out, a new International CCD 19, and a 1970s Argosy 24 motorhome, and a unusual 80s "Squarestream" 29 footer with two entry doors.

I got a chance to chat with the owners of the Squarestream (which, if you haven't seen one, is a boxy fiberglass trailer that Airstream produced only for a short period. They were happy to give me an inside tour while Emma took pictures of their dog with her digital camera.

Borrego campsite.jpg

Our campsite is rather ordinary in that it is basically a parcel of pavement off one of the campground loop roads. But the view is extraordinary, surrounded by mountains on three sides, which constantly change in color and detail with the movement of the sun and clouds above. A pair of enormous fan palms (the only type to grow here) are nearby in the sand, casting a morning shadow on our trailer.

The fan palm itself is an interesting thing. They let their upper fronds droop as they grow, sheathing the core of the tree in a thick layer of brown leaves. They are large and magnificent when they mature, like redwoods of the desert. A group of them is a sure sign of water.

Borrego palm oasis.jpg

Anza-Borrego is a place for exploring. There are literally hundreds of square miles of area here, filled with wildlife, flowers, canyons, streams, oases, geology, off-road trails, abandoned mines, and hiking trails. The desert is far from empty, if you care to look beyond the highway.

Borrego ocotillo.jpg

We took Emma on a little hike up to Palm Canyon. This mild 1.5 mile trail (one way) climbs up a dry wash strewn with boulders from giant floods that tumbled down the mountains over thousands of years (and as recently as last September). It turns to a rocky scramble, crossing a perennial stream several times, and ends up at a palm oasis. Along the way we had terrific homeschooling opportunities, talking about desert plants, rocks, and animals.

Borrego hiking.jpg

You've got to look closely if you want to spot desert flowers. They are out there in abundance when there is water to be had, but often hiding. Heavy rains last September left enough moisture in the ground for them to survive to now. We spotted them in many colors, including a royal purple, a bright red (whose shape was designed for hummingbirds), orange, yellow, and white.

Borrego red flowers.jpg

The extra moisture has encouraged other creatures as well. Yesterday we spotted a desert fox, and today we saw a beautiful "Costa's hummingbird" and honeybees pollinating the desert sage. Unfortunately we struck out on the bighorn sheep, but we have thoughts to try again tomorrow morning when we are more likely to see them. There have been reports of a mountain lion too, but it is very unlikely we will see one since they avoid humans as much as possible.

Borrego lenticular cloud.jpg

This is "bad weather" for the desert. The wind was blowing gusty all day, and we had a tiny sprinkling rain hit for about 30 seconds this evening. Chance of rain tonight is an astonishing 50%. But nobody's expecting more than a drip or two. This place only gets 6 inches of rain per year on average. Tomorrow should be nicer.

I posted a pile of photos on Flickr tonight, under the album name "Anza-Borrego Desert State Park". You'll see a lot more than what I've talked about here if you check them out.

December 30, 2005

Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, CA

This morning we hitched up and moved out! We pulled the Airstream up to 4000 ft elevation on I-8, crossing the rocky summits and winding down slowly to the desert floor on the eastern side. It was a marvelous scenic trip through a very quiet corner of California. Halfway along I-8, we pulled off onto an abandoned road somewhere near the border of San Diego and Imperial counties and took in the view while we had lunch.

I-8 lunch.jpg
View from our lunch stop.

Because I was having equalization problems due to the aftereffects of the cold, we took a massive detour which allowed us to descend more slowly. It also doubled the length of our trip, and bypassed the historic town of Julian. We'll stop in Julian on the way back, instead.

This spot rocks! Borrego Springs is a small town in the middle of a very big desert state park: Anza-Borrego State Park. We're camped in one of the two state park campgrounds, just west of town at the foot of the mountain range. Full hookups, five bars on the mobile phones, good Internet service, endless sunshine and 70 degrees every day!

Plus, the heavy rains of last summer have yielded a bonus: desert flowers out of season. We've already spotted a few.

Anza flower.jpg

There's lots to do. This is high season for the park, so there are three ranger talks each day, nightly campfire programs at 7:30, and Anza Borrego is famous for great hiking, bighorn sheep, and off-roading. Even the campground is fun: everyone has colorful lights on their awnings and glorious wood campfires on the sand (in fire rings), probably getting in the mood for New Year's Eve. I think we're going to like it here. Tomorrow, we have some hikes planned. I'll start posting pictures tomorrow night.

December 29, 2005

Balboa Park, San Diego

I am pleased to report that Operation Kill Paper has been a success already, although it is not complete. I've reduced my paper to about half of what it was, and we celebrated with a paper bonfire at sunset. If we'd had some wood handy I would have gotten a proper fire going -- the evening temperatures are perfect for it.

SD paper fire.jpg

One of the very best places in San Diego is Balboa Park. A beautiful and architecturally interesting place, it is both a series of green parklands and world-class collection of museums.

On Saturday we visited the Museum of Natural History, on Christmas we went there for the San Diego Zoo, on Tuesday (while I was stuck at home with a cold) Eleanor & Emma went to the Aerospace Museum, and today we returned to go the Reuben Fleet Science Center. Among other things, Emma got to learn about tornadoes.

SD tornado.jpg

Just a walk around Balboa Park is worth the trip, even if you never enter a building. Most of the building designs are based on Spanish Colonial Architecture, dripping with terra-cotta oraments and sculpted details. I wish I'd taken some photos for you but my head was just not fully together today. (The cold lingers on.)

The question now is whether we'll depart tomorrow for Borrego Springs or hang around San Diego another day. We'll decide tomorrow.

December 28, 2005

Pay No Attention

Pay no attention to "the man behind the curtain" or in this case the man under the quilt. I think Rich has taken too much cold medicine and he needs a nap. We are still going to Borrego Springs, not Hollywood, on Friday.

"Tour of America" -- the movie

My friend Rob forwarded me the address for a new movie, called "RV", which is coming out in March. The plot is basic: Dad (played by Robin Williams) decides the family is falling apart, and decides to take them all on a giant RV adventure to bond. This go disastrously, of course. From the promotional trailer, it looks long on visual comedy and short on reality, but Robin Williams should manage to make it funny.

This movie has to be inspired by the resurgence in RV travel over the past four years. People started shying away from air travel in 2001, and RV sales boomed. Families started discovering that spending time together wasn't so bad. And now Hollywood is acknowledging that trend with a major motion picture.

This gives me an idea: Perhaps we can turn back to Hollywood (only 75 miles north of here) and pitch a movie based on our lives in the Airstream. Matthew McConnaughy can play me (we're practically twins), and I think Elle McPherson can play Eleanor. I don't know who can play Emma but I'm sure the casting agent can come up with some precocious kid. There was a little girl in "Cheaper By The Dozen" who was pretty close to an Emma.

The plot would be about a family that decided to chuck it all and travel together in an Airstream. Along the way they encounter a strange mystery. While studying condors in the Los Padres National Forest, they discover opals in a place they shouldn't be. With the help of their Internet friends, they research the true origin of the opals and unwittingly crack an enormous smuggling operation hidden in a small California town. At first, the townspeople reject the family as a bunch of suspicious out-of-staters, but eventually Emma wins them over with her charming handmade greeting cards.

movie scene.jpg
A scene from the movie, just before the bulldozer arrives!

The story ends happily, but not before a few alarming scenes, including a part where the villains try to push the Airstream over a cliff into the sea with a bulldozer. (Fortunately, I -- meaning Matthew McConnaughy -- tackle the villains and the bulldozer ends up in the sea instead. The Airstream is undented.)

It's a mashup of Hitchcock, Scooby Doo, and Indiana Jones. Classic stuff! Eleanor, forget Sea World -- we're going to Hollywood!

December 27, 2005

Stuck at home

I wish I could offer you some exotic story about the glamour of Airstreaming today, but it's not much fun when you're sick. It seems like part of the package of taking a once-in-a-lifetime trip should be guaranteed immunity from illness, but the truth is that anything can happen, and does. Including the common cold.

So I'm sitting at home in my pajamas breathing through my mouth (the nose has closed shop for a few days) and working on Operation "Kill Paper", while Eleanor and Emma are taking the opportunity to do the laundry, pick up our forwarded mail, and buy cold-related supplies for me (extra tissues, various medications for the symptoms). If they could find a full-body condom to wrap me in so they don't get the virus I think they'd buy that too.

But we're all making lemonade out of it as best we can. Eleanor met a women with five kids at the laundromat, and discovered through that connection that some museums at Balboa Park are free on Tuesdays. The specific museums offered for free change every week. So she dropped off a few things here and then whisked off to have fun at all the places I'd like to go: the Automotive Museum, the Aerospace Museum, etc.

Meanwhile, back at camp I was pleased to receive a blog reader by the name of Byron, who turned out to be a charming fellow who is currently doing a motorhome restoration. He didn't mind that I am a dripping, coughing mess today -- and he invited us over to his canyon home in San Diego. If I am more pleasant to be around by Thursday we will definitely drop in for a visit. That's the best way to get to know an area, in my opinion. Thanks for cheering me up, Byron!

December 26, 2005

Operation "Kill Paper"

I went to bed last night knowing I was getting a cold -- again -- and today when I woke up, there it was, in my head, telling me I wasn't going to the museums or the Old Town or the state Historic Park today.

But that's OK. We all needed a quiet day. E & E parked themselves at the dinette and worked on their various projects (drawing for Emma, and writing a Christmas letter for Eleanor), while I cleaned up old email correspondence using my laptop in bed.

At 1:30 pm we had to move the Airstream to another site. When we arrived at Sweetwater Summit, our site couldn't be booked for the whole week. We knew that on Monday we'd have to hitch up and go 100 feet to a different one. Not a problem either, since it was time to dump the tanks. By 2:30 we were done and set up in the new site, and the sun was shining, my head was feeling better, and it was time to launch Operation Kill Paper.

We headed out to Circuit City and bought a Canoscan LiDE 60, which is a $80 scanner. It's slim and lightweight, perfect for RV life. With it, I plan to eliminate all the folders of paper which currently occupy two large file boxes in the back of the truck.

If you only use your Airstream for recreation, you don't have this problem. But I have to travel with an entire office all the time. It's amazing that I can operate a magazine with only two boxes of paper (everything else is digital), but I'm not satisfied yet. Those last two boxes have been a persistent thorn in our sides. They don't fit in the trailer well. They take up too much space in the truck. And 99% of the time, we don't need them. It's just stuff we are carting around "just in case", like receipts, paid invoices, tax records, documentation, etc.

Well, my photos are digital. My writing is digital. My music is digital. And it all fits on a backup hard drive only about 6 inches long by 3.5 inches wide. So why am I carting around two big boxes just for a some paper documents I hardly ever need?

Let Operation "Kill Paper" begin! I just put the paper into the scanner, press one button, and it turns into electrons in about 10 seconds. Then the paper goes in the shredder. Ahh, the joy of eliminating unneeded stuff!

This week, while I am sick with a cold and have not a lot of other work to do, I am going to scan as much old paper into PDF format as I can. Not only will it save a ton of valuable space (and full-timing with a family, every cubic inch counts), but the resulting files are searchable, so I can find documents much more quickly than I could before. I'll let you know how it goes.

Tonight Eleanor is making the pork roast. I can smell it even with a stuffy nose and it smells wonderful. Hopefully tomorrow I'll be feeling better and we'll go out. But if not, I'm going to send E & E out and I'll stay here and scan to my heart's content.

December 25, 2005

Christmas Day at the San Diego Zoo

We've had a very nice Christmas (for the second time this year!)

Last night Eleanor made the Christmas eve dinner I talked about the other day. I grilled the steak outside since the weather was fairly warm (about 58-60 last night), and Emma and I played a little "flashlight tag" in the dark, while Eleanor prepped the rest of the meal. The steak came out perfectly. We met up inside around 7 pm and had a fabulous meal. The plantains were included mostly because Emma saw them in the grocery store and was wondering what they were. They were delicious, pressed, fried, and seasoned.

After dinner we watched "Dr Doolittle 2", put all the Christmas presents under the "tree" (our rosemary bush), left out cookies and carrot sticks for Santa and the reindeer, and cajoled Emma into bed. Santa arrived later with a few additional presents.

Christmas San Diego.jpg

It is perhaps the oddest Christmas we have ever spent. 3000 miles from home, in a warm climate, in an Airstream trailer, sitting atop a hill in the arid hills above San Diego, but it was also an excellent Christmas. The little things that make holidays great were all there: each other, good times and good food, calls from friends and family, and a feeling of well-being. So it didn't feel odd, it felt fine.

Emma would like you to know that she got everything she asked for: a unicorn, a tin whistle, and a seahorse. She also got a few other goodies. Mommy & Daddy got some books, edible treats, and DVDs.

But mostly what we got was a nice day. It turned out that the San Diego Zoo is open on Christmas, so after pancakes we spent a very nice day among the birds and animals. If you have never been to the San Diego Zoo, let me recommend it. I am not a big fan of zoos, but this one is a day well spent. I will have some pictures on the Flickr photo album later tonight.


We're back now, and worn out, so we have decided to eat leftovers from last night and save the pork roast for tomorrow. No need to push it -- we'll just let the holiday go an extra day!

December 24, 2005

Quick Answers and our Christmas Menu

It's Christmas Eve and the birds are singing in the trees outside our windows.

A few people have asked questions recently, and I wanted to share the answers with all of you:

Q: How was it driving the curvy roads of Route 1?

A: Not a problem at all. The Airstream handled beautifully. Just remember to slow down in the tight curves and obey the speed limit at all times. By the way, we use the Reese Strait-Line hitch with Dual Cam. I think it is a superb hitch and it has worked very well on this large heavy trailer as well as on our previous Argosy 24.

Q: Are we re-greasing our bikes after washing them?

A: So far we have not needed to, but I expect to do that soon.

Q: How is Emma doing?

A: Very well. She has been traveling by Airstream since she was three years old, and to her this is just a normal part of life. She meets kids and adults everywhere she goes and just a few minutes after meeting a new folks she is starting games with them. She talks to her grandmother and grandfather via phone every few days, too.

Q: Can you use Google Earth for the Tour map?

A: Well, we can't, for two reasons, but you might be able to. Google Earth requires both broadband Internet and a PC. We use Macs and we don't have anywhere near broadband capability. Frappr works best for us. But if you want to see where we are, you can get the zip code from our Frappr map or, and then use Google Earth to explore the area.

Q: Will we make a book out of this trip?

A: You never know. I'd want to re-write a lot of it if I were to publish in book form. The original plan was to come out of this trip with a book on full-timing as a family. We might still do that.

Q: Where's my free CD??

A: Would you believe it got lost in the Christmas rush? No? OK, the truth is that I haven't mailed them yet. But I will get on that this week, I promise!

By the way, we have set up RSS syndication on this blog, which is a really cool feature. I've only tested it on the Firefox browser, but it may also work on Internet Explorer. On Firefox, you look for a little symbol in the bottom right corner of your browser window that looks like orange radio waves. Click this symbol and select "RSS 2.0". This will put a bookmark on your browser.

I recommend you put the bookmark on your bookmarks toolbar so you can easily click on it. When you click on the bookmark, you'll see a drop-down list of our latest blog entries. It will automatically update itself so you can see at a glance if we've posted anything new.

If anyone is running Netscape or IE on a Windows PC and figures out how it works on those platforms, let me know and I'll post the instructions here. If you haven't tried Firefox, I strongly recommend it. It disables pop-ups, is highly resistant to viruses, is fast, has many useful features, and it is free. It works on Mac and Windows.

Today we will probably head into town for a museum or something. Tomorrow, being Christmas, everything will be closed and so my plan is to go cycling on the many dirt trails around this park.

Last night we braved the crowds and did a little shopping, mostly for groceries. The result will be two days of fine dining courtesy of Eleanor's culinary skills. We've added a few items to the menu to reflect that we are only 10 miles from Mexico now.

Today's menu: Grilled steak with mushrooms and onions; salad of mixed baby greens with ginger dressing; corn and fried plantains; sugar cookies made by Emma, and Mexican hot chocolate.

Christmas menu: Roast pork with roasted potatoes, carrots, and pearl onions; haricot verts (French green beans) with onions and almonds; grapefruit and avocado salad with honey-lime dressing; hot apple turnovers. Who says Airstreamers never use their kitchens? ;-)

We hope you are enjoying the weekend also. Happy holidays!

December 23, 2005

Sweetwater Summit County Park

We had to flee the Los Angeles area. The original plan was to head down to San Clemente for another day or even through Christmas, but we got so frustrated with driving in the incessant traffic that it felt like a better decision to head to our base in San Diego and just sit still for a while.

So, although a few people recommended Newport Dunes (pricey but substantial), Doheny State Park, San Clemente State Park, and other spots, we bailed out. Los Angeles was tough on us and the trailer. We came in with a perfect trailer and left with a new stone ding and a bent stabilizer pad (impacted an obstacle despite being fully retracted), plus the aforementioned greasy coating.

The truck wash turned out not to exist, but we did find a car wash that seemed big enough at first glance. It wasn't. I pulled in straight but couldn't get out going forward, so I did a quick spray of the truck and trailer, and then Eleanor stood in the middle of a side street and directed me backwards while watching for oncoming cars. We survived. The trailer isn't sparkly clean, but at least it doesn't leave a residue on bystanders anymore. We'll do a proper wash later.

sd campsite.jpg
We'll be here for a week.

sd stockings.jpg

Christmas is in two days and Emma is very excited. She and Eleanor spent much of Thursday making decorations for the trailer and the little rosemary bush. So we're all decorated and ready for the holiday. I'll post a few shots of the decorations they made in a new Flickr photo album soon. In the meantime, stay warm, wherever you are!

Time for a Bath

Boca Chica traffic.jpg

Here's a picture taken this morning ... fog today, but the weather report says it will clear up soon. Still, you can see how little space there is between the RVs and the Pacific Coast Highway.

For the past week I have been noticing that we need to get a wash. (Not us, the truck and trailer!) After a couple of weeks of traveling by highway, and near the coast, the entire rig gets coated with a brownish oily film. It doesn't look dirty, but the sticky mixture comes off on our clothes, hands, and makes the Airstream looks less shiny. Can't have that! ;-)

We can wash the truck by unhitching and removing the bikes from the roof -- then it fits in most car washes -- but the trailer is a another story. We had a few "interesting" experiences trying to fit it into manual car washes. They don't usually have enough entry/departure area for a 30-foot trailer.

Washing by hand would be an option except that all campgrounds prohibit this. I was hoping we'd end up at someone's house (courtesy parking) and they'd let me wash it, but this hasn't happened since we visited Lou & Larry in Ohio.

So a truck wash is the most practical option. Blue Beacon runs a chain of them across the country, co-located with truck stops such as Petro and Flying J. There are usually local truck washes in major cities as well. It's expensive (about $40) but worth it. They do a nice job and everything gets clean, including the bikes. A whole crew of guys comes out with high-pressure wands, spray everything about six times, and voila! shiny again.

Our last wash was in Nevada, a couple hundred miles after we boondocked in central Nevada (see November archives for details). We're due. I did a little research online last night and found a truck wash that is approximately along our route out today, so we'll try to stop there this morning.

December 22, 2005

Bolsa Chica State Park, Huntington Beach, CA

We arrived at the Bolsa Chica State Beach campground before 8:30 this morning, but they have a policy of allowing no "check in's" before 2 pm. So we bought a site and parked the trailer in the Day Use area, while I headed off to Costa Mesa and Chino Hills to meet some Airstream people (research for future articles). When I got back at 4 pm, I hitched the trailer back up and towed it into the parking space -- er, I mean "campsite".

None of us are wild about this spot. The beach here at Bolsa Chica is long and broad, but also flat and featureless. The high surf and cold water meant frolicking at the beach was not much fun (despite daytime temps in the upper 60s), and the campsite is so close to the Pacific Coast Highway that the roar of cars is nearly constant. Campsites here are really just parking spots on asphalt, delineated by painted white lines. There are no trees. All this for $39 -- the most expensive site we've purchased to date. We'll be outta here tomorrow morning, in search of a better place somewhere down the coast.

Free Parking

Our Wal-Mart experience was a bust last night. At 10:30, we were surprised to hear a knock on our door. The manager of the store was there, apologetically explaining that although he had no problem with us parking, the Torrance police were known for placing "very expensive" tickets on RVs parked in the lot. The security guard who had told us it was OK was not aware of this. So, off we went -- driving in pajamas -- in search of a new spot to park. (The Bolsa Chica State Beach campground in Huntington Beach, our original destination, was not an option. The gates are locked at 9 pm.)

The good news is that the L.A. area is loaded with neighborhoods and industrial areas where one can park overnight, if you are subtle. The bad news is that our trailer, 30 feet of gleaming aluminum festooned with giant colorful graphics, is not subtle. So Eleanor punched "Camping World" into the GPS and it turned out there was one just a few miles away on I-5. By 11, we were tucked away behind a few big motorhomes in the Camping World parking lot, and back in bed.

We've stayed at Wal-Marts and other such places many times, but never have we been "moved on" by The Man. Still, we always knew it was a risk. We have enough experience finding places to park that there was never any doubt we'd find a good spot. There are no commercial campgrounds to be had in most of the L.A. area, but we have a long list of free places to try:

Super K-Mart
Cracker Barrel
Camping World
truck stops
certain fast food restaurants
municipal and county parks & parking lots
neighborhoods where RVs are visible on the street
harbor and industrial areas
unnamed pullouts

The first thing to do when checking out a spot is to look for a sign that says "Overnight parking prohibited" or words to that effect. The second thing to do is to ask anyone in authority (parking lot owner, local police, security guard) if they mind if you park there "for a few hours". The third thing to do is to make sure you feel comfortable with the spot, and finally the fourth thing to do is to park subtly (no satellite dish, no awning, no slideouts, etc) and leave early. With this strategy we have successfully parked for free many times in at least a dozen different US states.

We are going to have a bunch of articles on this subject in the next Airstream Life magazine (coming out in January). We've got a piece on boondocking, another on how Wally Byam selected free parking spots in the 1950s, and a third piece on selecting a generator to use when you are parked far away from town.

December 21, 2005

High Surf at Carpinteria

The big waves of yesterday got bigger. We woke today to find the parking area wet between our row and the "front" row of campsites that border the beach. Around 5 a.m. a giant wave came all the way up the beach and splashed into some of the campsites. No damage at all, but it got everyone's attention. The state police beach patrol came by to tell us they were expecting more high surf when high tide arrived at 11:50 a.m. By noon, everyone had moved out of the front row to higher and drier ground.

carpinteria big waves.jpg

The incredible waves made the beach uninhabitable later in the morning, but we did get in a little time earlier to play and marvel at the pounding, churning water. Emma tried her best to hold them back but the waves wouldn't listen.

carpinteria emma waves.jpg

We met up with a fellow named Manuel who was camping for Christmas with his two teenage boys. Manuel has been coming to Carpinteria for over thirty years, and even he was impressed by the surge of water. So we all stood as close as possible to the high water mark to chat and act brave, and then got chased back repeatedly as random waves completely covered the beach.

Manual was fascinated to hear about life in Vermont, how cold it is back home right now (15 degrees F), how early the snow arrives, how much land we used to own (11.6 acres -- in his area it would cost millions for a parcel that large), etc. We agreed that standing in shorts and t-shirts on the beach was an ideal way to spend Christmas. Santa can come in on a surfboard this year.

I want to meet with some folks in the Los Angeles area before Christmas, so we headed out around noon with the intention of reaching a state park in Huntington Beach. On the way we stopped at the Channel Islands National Park visitor center, and then of course we got mired in traffic as we got closer to L.A. Finally, after parking on I-405 for half an hour, we bailed out and got mired in even more traffic on city streets. Two hours later, we gave up completely, having managed to cover only 10 miles since we entered the traffic.

L.A. is not a friendly place for RVs. We knew it would be bad, but not THIS bad. Our timing couldn't be worse: rush hour the week before Christmas. We couldn't even park and rest because every parking lot was full of shoppers. We tried I-405 again but it was still jammed. That's when I said, "If we could just find a place to park, I'd quit this and try again tomorrow." And suddenly ... a Wal-Mart appeared.

We took it as a sign. So here we are. It's not glamorous but it beats the alternative. We talked to the security guard (we asked if overnight parking was OK, and he said "I get off at midnight and I'm not calling the tow truck,"), walked around the corner for Mexican food, picked up a few items at the Wal-Mart, and settled in. Tomorrow is another chance at L.A. traffic.

December 20, 2005

Budgeting Update

I just tallied up some of our expenses for the trip. Our total campground expense to date has been $848.50, which includes all of our overnight stays from October 1 through December 20.

That's remarkably low, because we have taken every opportunity to boondock and courtesy park. For example, our 13 days at Cherry Creek State Park in Aurora CO cost us $318.00 ($20 per day plus a park pass). But 14 days of courtesy parking in California and Oregon (Nov 5-18) cost us nothing. The savings of courtesy parking are huge, and we appreciate it when people offer us a space. Plus, it's more fun!

Our camping expenses have risen lately. California state parks are generally more expensive and we've had fewer courtesy parking opportunities in the crowded areas along the coast. Paradoxically, the closer we are to cities, the fewer people can offer us a space. Neighborhood covenants, zoning restrictions, and limited parking space are the culprits.

Fuel has been another story. Since we spent most of October and early November logging about 6,000 miles, we purchased about $1,200 worth of gasoline. The way to reduce this cost is to drive less, but in our case we needed to get west before the cold weather set in, and so we had a large upfront expense to get out here. Now that we are here, we are spending much less on gas.

We also bought several 30# tanks of propane due to the cold nights in Denver and other high altitude areas, totalling about $150. Our usage is going down now, as we get into warmer evenings in southern California.

Although everyone focuses on the cost of campsites, the real expense turns out to be meals out and splurges. We can easily spend more on eating out in one day than we can on the campground, and a set of tickets for the family to go to an attraction (Monterey Bay Aquarium, Hearst Castle, etc) typically runs $30-50. We keep that under control by aiming for free natural attractions, like hiking, cycling, visiting friends, and beachcombing. Our ASTC Travel Passport is a big help. It gets us into science and discovery museums all over the country for free. Our National Parks pass is also great.

No matter which way we look at it, it is cheaper to travel in our Airstream than live at home. Of course, if we still had a house back in Vermont it would be a different story -- a life on the road would be an added expense. I recognize that is the reality for most people, but hopefully our experience gives you an idea of ways you can keep the expenses down and have fun while doing it.

December 19, 2005

Carpinteria State Beach, CA

Well, our luck has changed. Not only has the weather improved (upper 60s and partly cloudy), but we stopped in at a state beach and found a really nice spot to camp just south of Santa Barbara.

To be honest, it wasn't all luck. We picked up a copy of the California state park brochure called the "Guide to Reserving State Park Campsites" several weeks ago, and it has become our cheat sheet ever since. We knew that Carpinteria would offer us hookups. After three nights of dry camping we felt like not having to worry about using the lights and water as much.

Madonna Inn.jpg

On the way, we stopped at the famous Madonna Inn. The last time I was here was in 1979. I am pleased to report that the Men's room has not changed significantly. The waterfall urinal is still there. Those of you who have visited the Men's room at the Madonna Inn will know what I mean.

We also made a shopping stop, for Christmas stuff. Although we had Christmas in Vermont, we have advised Emma that Santa will visit us no matter where we are. Eleanor wants to get the trailer ready, so we bought a little potted rosemary plant, which looks remarkably like a small fir tree. This will get decorated with tiny ornaments, and after Christmas it will probably be eaten! Eleanor is hanging cards and stockings in the trailer as I type this, and Emma is making paper decorations. Everything is lightweight, small, and either recyclable or edible -- perfect for mobile life.

Our campsite at Carpinteria is right next to the beach, with full hookups. We are literally forty feet from the sand, and can hear the waves crashing and the beach stones tumbling with every wave. The evening is balmy, many of our neighbors have festive lights up, and there's even an Airstream Classic motorhome (a 290) parked just a few spaces away. (I'll go see them in the morning.)

We arrived so close to sunset that I pushed Eleanor and Emma out of the truck as soon as we pulled in, and said, "Go to the beach! Now!", which they did happily. They caught about 20 minutes of fun collecting shells and splashing in the surf before it got too dark to see. I ran over to join them as soon as I had the truck unhitched, but of course that meant I had to set up the utilities in the dark. Not a big price to pay.

We'll definitely stay a couple of nights here at least. Our thought is to try another state beach campsite in Huntington Beach and stay there through Christmas. If anyone has experience with that campground, let us know how it is.

Our Travel Map

In response to your requests, I have created a map which shows all the places we've stopped so far on our Tour. You can see it by clicking the link below.

I used a new service called "Frappr" to make it. You might note that Frappr allows you to add yourself to the map. But please don't do that in this case, otherwise it will be hard to tell which of the pinpoints are Tour stops and which are blog readers like yourself.

Each "pin" on the map is a place we've spent at least one night. I'll keep updating this map as we travel.

Click here to see where we've been!

December 18, 2005

Hearst State Historic Park, San Simeon, CA

This has to be the worst weather we have encountered since we left Jackson Center, OH in early October. Gusty strong winds, frequent rain, 50s -- a real blustery damp day, not the sort of weather one associates with coastal southern California.

But they do get weather here, and there wasn't much to do about it but go ahead and investigate Hearst Castle as planned. The conditions made a challenging photographic subject even more difficult. They don't allow any sort of flash photography inside the buildings, and all the rooms are dimly lit to preserve the art inside. I had to crank the camera's ISO up to 1600 to get anything at all, and most of the photos were hopeless. I even got a reprimand from the tour guide for the Nikon's "AF assist" light, which briefly illuminates the subject to help the autofocus system, so that feature got shut off, too.

Hearst Neptune pool.jpg

Outside, the same prohibition on flashes seems to apply (although you would think the marble statues wouldn't care if they can take the direct sunlight), and the whipping wind, rain, and fog pretty much wiped out all photo opportunities. The photo above is of the heated outdoor "Neptune pool" which was rebuilt twice as Hearst enlarged it. Believe it or not, this is the best shot I got all day.

Emma survived the 1 hr, 45 minute house tour fairly well, but with that length (and at $20 per adult) we decided one was enough for our family. We had an expensive set of hamburgers made from former 4-legged residents of the Hearst ranch ($25 with drinks and fries), saw the movie, toured the exhibits, and fled. I suspect it's a nicer trip on a sunny day, but today the lack of central heating in much of the Visitor's Center and the house itself was painfully apparent. It felt like visiting the dungeons of some European castle.

The sea is stormy, exciting, and worth watching today, but now that dark has fallen we are thinking about where we will head next. Forecasts claim we will have better weather tomorrow.


I'm glad we did take a night at a downtown hotel in San Francisco, but I doubt we'll do it too much on this trip. The rate looked OK when we booked it: $109 per night. By comparison, the Hyatt Regency Embarcadero down the street was $265. So I thought, "Hey, that's a good deal for downtown!"

But let's see how that added up:

base rate $109.00
parking $36.0 (yikes!)
tax on parking $5.04 (they tax parking here?)
tax on hotel $15.26
TOTAL $165.30

Plus the optional extras, which I avoided:

-- T-Mobile Hotspot Internet access for one day $9.99 (I picked up a signal from the Holiday Inn across the street, which gives guests free access for a day)
-- Calistoga spring water in room $4.50 (Eleanor, put down that bottle!)
-- And heaven help you if you make a long-distance call on the room phone.

At that rate, our 9 weeks of travel so far (not counting our week in Vermont) would have cost $10,413.90. Even at the national average or $85 per night, it would have been $5,355. We haven't spent anywhere near that on lodging, with the Airstream, even counting the gas to haul it around.

People ask us about budgeting, but nobody wants to come right out and ask us what this trip is costing. To tell the truth, I don't really know yet. I haven't tallied it up, but I do know that it is less than it cost us to stay home. Our increased expenses (campsites, extra fuel, cell phones, etc) are more than compensated by the decreased expenses (no mortgage, real estate taxes, winter heating bill, utilities, ec). But we'll have to watch it on the hotel splurges, that's for certain!

December 17, 2005

Condors and Opals and Seals, Oh My!

We've been driving coastal Route 1 south from Santa Cruz and it just keeps getting better. I have tons of pictures but for now I'll just post a few and try to get a new photo album up in the next few days.

Rt 1.jpg

Our progress has been deliberately slow. Route 1 is a road to be savored. There are pullouts every mile or so, and nearly every one offers spectacular views to the Pacific Ocean on one side, and the hills rising on the other.

Rt 1 AS view.jpg

Somewhere south of Big Sur we pulled over and spotted a flock of six condors hovering in the breeze. These enormous birds were nearly extinct at one time, but they are recovering. What an impressive sight to see a condor, with a wingspan bigger than you are, swooping right over your head!

Rt 1 condor.jpg

Last night we camped at the Kirk Creek National Forest Service campground, which is part of the Los Padres National Forest. (No hookups, questionable water, $20 per night.) This spectacular campground sits atop a bluff overlooking the ocean, and there are wonderful trails down to the sea. From our campsite we could hear the thudding of huge waves breaking on the rocks. I wish it had been warm enough to sleep with the windows open.

Hunting for interesting rocks near our campsite, Eleanor and Emma discovered opal. Yes, opal. We are not sure yet if it occurs naturally in this area or if someone simply left bits of a larger one there, but we found about 1/4 lb of it in small fragments, ranging in color from nearly white to black-blue. We have saved the bits and plan to mail a few to Emma's grandparents for polishing.

This morning, the day became overcast (but still 60 degrees), and the wind picked up. We made fewer stops along the coast but when we spotted elephant seals on the beach, we had to take a look.

It turns out that there's a stretch of coastline just north of San Simeon where another endangered creature, the elephant seal, has been visiting annually for the past 12 years. They come to mate and give birth, all the way from their summer home in the Aleutian Islands. "Friends of the Elephant Seal", a local group, act as docents and were standing nearby in blue jackets to help educate us about these fascinating animals.

Rt 1 seals.jpg

The seals get up to 5,000 lbs. The beach was mostly filled with young males, who arrive a few weeks before the big guys arrive. When the big males show up, they battle for bits of the beach (mostly by bellowing) and then gather a harem of 30-40 already-pregnant females. The females give live birth on the beach, nurse the pup for 28 days, and then they are free to mate with the male. If the pup has gained enough weight (200 lbs!) it will teach itself how to swim and fish. Otherwise, tough luck.

Rt 1 seal bellow.jpg

An elephant seal can swim to 5,000 feet below the sea! It has super-oxygenated blood (and a lot of it) and some other tricks to allow it to avoid breathing for hours. We learned all this and more in a 30 minute visit, while the elephant seals snoozed and bellowed on the sand just a few feet away.

The rest of the day was spent running errands in the cute little town of Cambria, CA, just a couple of miles south of Hearst Castle. We needed everything: post office, ATM, propane, gas, water, dump station, and groceries. By the time we finished all that, the sun was setting and it was time to get back to our campsite at San Simeon State Park. We'll spend tomorrow at Hearst Castle and then head further south on Monday.

December 16, 2005

We Love SF!

What a great town for street hiking, eating, and photography -- three of my favorite things. I couldn't wait to get everyone out of the hotel and on the street. I was up early, the rest of the gang was not ...

Emma snoozing.jpg

When we finally did get out, Emma was interested in the "F" line historic streetcars, so we hopped on one of the 1940s green-and-white PCC cars (originally from Philadelphia) and rode down The Embarcadero.

PCC car.jpg

The F line swings around the waterfront on The Embarcadero and then down Market Street into the heart of the SF business district. We got off at Powell Street, where the cable cars terminate, and walked north (uphill) a dozen blocks, taking in the sights.

SF cable car.jpg

A stop at the Westin St Francis hotel's elaborate gingerbread house was a hit with Emma, but it made us all hungry for breakfast.

St Francis gingerbread house.jpg

So, a few blocks later, on the downside of the hill we stopped at a small Chinese restaurant and bought 3 large pieces of dim sum for breakfast. Emma liked the deep-fried bun with ham in it (not sure of the proper name), Eleanor liked the sesame lotus bun with sweet bean paste (sort of like a filled doughnut), and I liked the translucent potsticker with cabbage and pork. We munched and walked down to our hotel, 24 blocks in all.

SF dim sum.jpg

After checking out of the hotel, we headed the to streetcars again, this time to catch one of the orange "Peter Witt" cars from Milan Italy. These feature gorgeous wood interiors and signs in Italian. ("Vietato sputare" was one.) Emma was hoping they'd be more rickety than the PCC cars, but the ride was just as smooth.

SF Peter Witt.jpg

We got off the streetcar a bit earlier this time, so that we could hike the famed stairs to Coit Tower, on the bay side. Toward the top of the stairs there is a spot where two hundred wild parakeets live in the trees. I got some good shots of them eating berries, and a local commented that I had been lucky enough to get closer to the birds than anyone he had ever seen.

SF parakeets.jpg

The views from Coit Tower were, as always, spectacular. I can't imagine a bad view, unless the visibility was zero in fog. (This time of year there's less fog than in the summer.) And the entire Telegraph Hill residential area that surrounds the tower is interesting to browse.

SF Coit view.jpg

After hiking down the west side from Coit Tower, we turned south and headed for Chinatown. I wanted to revisit a place I'd had lunch with my friend Captain Mikey a few years ago: Yee's. It's one of those places where the cooked chickens hang in the window, the clientele is almost entirely Chinese, and a row of old men stand behind the counter with cleavers, whacking pieces of poultry for the 3 o'clock buffet. Perfect.

SF Yees.jpg

The lunches were marvelous and enormous (enough for leftovers), the atmosphere was friendly, and lunch was just $15 for all three of us. We saved a little room in our stomachs so we could walk one block up hill to an Italian gelato shop. Lemon for me, green tea flavor for Eleanor, and a lemon cone for Emma.

Browsing San Francisco by foot is the best way to see the bulk of town. The hills offer remarkable views that continually surprise. Later, you can drive or bicycle over the Golden Gate bridge, Golden Gate Park, and other great spots. But from the hills, you can see it all and really get a sense of what San Francisco is all about.

We wrapped up our afternoon with a walk over to the Fisherman's Wharf piers. This part of town is very touristy, but the sea lions and waterfront scenery are still worth a look. Plus, Pier 39 offers some of the best views of San Francisco in the late afternoon.

SF wharf city view.jpg

Once the sun set, it was time to start heading back home to the Airstream. We stopped in Cupertino to visit some friends for a couple of hours, and then returned to our storage spot in Santa Cruz to find our Airstream glowing in the light of the full moon on a crisp California night.

December 15, 2005

San Francisco, CA

We awoke in our Ontario CA airport hotel yesterday morning knowing that we had a full day of driving ahead, but feeling good about our prospects. After all, the sun was shining, it was warming up to a nice mid-60s day, and the hotel had a nice complementary waffle breakfast -- the kind where you pour the batter in yourself and they come out nice and crispy.

I was feeling particularly good despite the fact during our midnight airline approach to Ontario it was my turn to have equalization problems, and I went to bed about 1 a.m. (4 a.m. Eastern Time!) with my left ear basically sounding and feeling like someone had stuffed wet cotton in it. I woke with the same sensation, but by the time we had driven up and down the hills between Los Angeles and the San Fernando Valley, things had cleared up.

What to do on a long car ride? Having done I-5 just last week, it was a bit less interesting. We practiced animal sounds (Emma has a good rattlesnake and parrot, I’m the best at coyotes baying, and Eleanor does a fine chicken and bullfrog); we pretended to be Charlotte and Vendetta of the cartoon Making Fiends (a surreal online series which is somewhat addictive and entirely G-rated); Emma colored and worked puzzles, and we talked about the growing things we passed (almonds, oranges, grapes, unknown green vegetables).

The ride was longer because at the last minute we decided to bypass the turnoff toward Santa Cruz and head a bit further north to San Francisco. The reasoning was this: We wanted to go to San Francisco but had skipped it because it is not RV-friendly, we were already packed for an overnight without the trailer, and it would be easy to grab a hotel for one night to enjoy the city for a day before getting the Airstream out of storage.

Also, before we started this trip, we pledged to each other that once in a while we would get a nice hotel or B&B just for the experience. We hadn’t done it yet. With a couple of phone calls I found a fine room in the Hyatt Fisherman’s Wharf. We plugged it into the GPS and pulled in around 5 pm.

San Francisco is one of our favorite places. Eleanor and I have been here several times, and we've always had a memorable visit. Bridges, bay, city of hills, fog, and the unique SF culture. It was time to give Emma a taste of this great town.

Last night we took a short walk around Fisherman's Wharf to hunt up some dinner. Most of the restaurants in the wharf area are complete tourist traps, and others are just not the sort of place we'd take a 5-year-old, so we opted for seafood from the street vendors: crab sandwich, calamari salad, clam chowder in a bread bowl, etc. We piled it all in an open cardboard box we borrowed from the vendors and marched through the elaborate lobby of the Hyatt with our take-out dinner. The staff just smiled.

It was an early night because we're still on Eastern Time, but the plan is to walk our feet off today, showing Emma some of the highlights of S.F. that she'll enjoy. I'll take a lot of pictures and there should be a good blog entry for tonight or tomorrow. Then we'll head down the coast and resume our Airstream trip.

December 13, 2005


Here we are again ... JFK International Airport, NY, NY.

I am reminded of the joke they used to tell in the south. "It doesn't matter if you are going to heaven or hell ... you'll still have to connect in Atlanta." These days, it's JFK for us, because that's where JetBlue goes, and that's the airline of choice out of Burlington VT.


Weather along the southern coast of California is pretty much like we left: peaking around 60, mostly sunny. Our big plan is to roam southward along Rt 1 to Big Sur, Hearst Castle, San Luis Obispo, and other coastal areas. Timeline? Haven't got one. Reservations? Nope.

Everyone tells me that towing down Route 1 should be a challenge. I've driven it before, so I have an idea of what to expect. After I-70 in western Colorado, California Rt 20 through the Tahoe National Forest, the entrance roads to Arches NP and Colorado National Monument, and coastal Rt 101 in Oregon, I'm not sweating it. Looks like fun to me!

December 12, 2005

Plattsburgh, NY

Well, I braved the snow and drove up about 70 miles to Plattsburgh, NY to see Colin Hyde and the rest of the gang at GSM Vehicles. We got another couple of inches today, and it looked like Plattsburgh got 4-5 inches, because all of the Airstreams were covered in white.

Things are really hustling up there. In addition to my '68 Caravel and my 63 Serro Scotty, which are currently in the parking lot awaiting their turn, I saw Rob Baker's Sovereign of the Road (and man, is that in tough shape. Rob's got a big project there); also Steve Hingtgen of Vintage Trailer Supply has an early 50's something-or-other that basically needs everything; a 65 Caravel undergoing a very interesting interior modification complete with front leather couch; a unique 50s custom made for Henry Ford that has no windows on the sides (it was used for storing clothing!) owned by our friends the Geschwinders; two 60s trailers owned by our friend Gail Buck; a 34-foot Classic Limited with front body damage; and at least half a dozen others.

Colin was kind enough to give me a tour of several of the trailer projects, and we talked about next year's magazine restoration project also. We have something very fun cooking! I hope to be able to announce it by February.

Tonight is our last night in Vermont. We took our hosts Guy and Katie out for dinner at a local place, The Black Sheep Bistro (fabulous dinner!) and now we are tying up loose ends of business online so we'll be ready for tomorrow. It has been a great visit to Vermont. Eleanor saw all her friends, Emma saw her friends and grandparents and played in the snow, and I caught up with a few people too. I'm actually glad we came. Now I'm glad to go back "home" to our Airstream for the rest of the trip. We'll land late Tuesday night, but I hope to start blogging again on Wednesday.

December 11, 2005


OK, hopefully this will be the only time this winter we encounter serious snow! But if you must have snow, then you must go sledding. It's an all-American sport that is great exercise, fun for the family, and free.

... except for the fancy Hammerhead Sleds that my brother Steve, and Guy, took down Mt Philo today. Those are $289 (available through EMS, Snow Leopard, REI, Neiman-Marcus, FAO Schwartz, and other stores, and factory-direct through the Hammerhead website).

[Please forgive the shameless promotion -- my brother runs the company.]

We had a blast! The road down Mt Philo was covered with a nice packed base of 1-2", and we were bombing down it. There were lots of families out for sledding, too, who we had to avoid carefully. Good thing the Hammerhead steers. sled pic.jpg
No injuries, either among us or the bystanders!

Emma and Eleanor stayed back with Katie to make cookies -- another nice thing to do on a snowy Sunday. And now it's nearly 4 pm, the sun is setting, and my thoughts are turning to the sunshine of Santa Cruz. ...

Christmas in Vermont

We have had our Christmas in Vermont, and it was very nice. You have to use your imagination because I left my camera holstered most of the time: Christmas dinner Friday night, with ham, spinach casserole, sweet & white potatoes, pumpkin & key lime pies, wine and eggnog. Can you see Emma bouncing around excitedly?

Saturday morning: egg breakfast, gifts with the family, peeking in stockings, afternoon movies (Wizard of Oz, Shrek2), noshing on the leftover ham, cheese quiche, sweet pickles, artichokes ... the adults trying on their new fleeces, Emma playing with her new magnetic toys, and the dog wrestling with her chew toys. All very good & peaceful, with a few inches of fresh snow on the ground outside. Yes, we had a white Christmas.

And now we are staying with our friends Guy & Katie for the next two nights, as our Vermont break winds down and we prepare to head back to California on Tuesday. But there are a few more things to do, first.

Tomorrow I will head over to Plattsburgh NY to visit GSM Vehicles, the northeast Airstream restorer. Colin Hyde has numerous interesting projects underway, including my own 1968 Caravel, and I plan to go take photos of a few of them for this blog.

We also have to do some serious thinking about what to do with the the gifts we've received this Christmas. As full-timers, we have only two places to put things: (1) in our trailer, which is already stuffed; (2) in our storage unit here in Vermont, for retrieval next summer.

I have received a very nice new fleece, for example, and so I will leave the older one that I wore to Vermont, in our storage unit, and take the new one with me on Tour. I'll also leave a few other warm things behind, in the hope that we won't need them for the next few months!

The same process has to happen with Emma's stuff, but a bit harder to deal with. We don't want to disappoint Emma by forcing her to leave new presents in storage, but she already has THREE bins of toys stored on the bunk above her bed. So when we return, she'll also have to select a few of the older things she doesn't play with much, and pack them for shipment to friends with younger children, or donation. It's a good lesson about sharing, I hope.

This is how it works in a travel trailer: you keep only some of what your normally collect. It forces you to think about what you really need. Most people discover that is much less than they already have.

December 09, 2005

What Are Friends For?

We had dinner last night with a bunch of friends from Vermont. All of them are curious about our adventure, so we spent much of the evening answering questions about how it is all going.

trailer trash.jpg

And of course, our friends are very supportive of our trip, so they brought us a few supplies: a package of Trailer Trash Snack Mix and a Trailer Trash Talkin' Beer Opener. Then they said, "By the way, we're all really jealous!"

December 08, 2005

New photos!

I posted two photo albums of pictures on Flickr today: Capitola CA and Pinnacles National Monument. While we are freezing in Vermont, you can browse a little California warmth.

Still about 80 free Troubs CDs available to snag! See yesterday's post for details.

December 07, 2005

Christmas Goodies!

Two little things for you today: (1) I've posted photos to the previous entry from Pinnacles National Park. See below.

(2) Since I'm feeling in a Christmas mood, here's a deal you can't refuse: I'm going to send you a FREE 5-song sampler CD from the Trailer Park Troubadours' current album "Trailercana". I've been listening to it today, and it's great! Funny and musically great. I love the songs: KOA Refugee, I Married Up, etc.

So here's the deal: be one of the first 100 people to post a comment on this blog entry with your name, city, and state, and any comments you might have. For example, "Rich Luhr, Charlotte, VT -- hope you get back to California soon!" (For privacy, don't put your full address in the comment.)

Then use our Contact Us form to send me your complete name and address in the "comments" box. I'll mail you a FREE 5-song sampler CD. Happy holidays!

Why am I doing this? Well, I had a bunch of the CDs made up to give to people we meet along the road, and I figure those of you who can't meet us along the way should have a chance to get one, too!

Otherwise, there's not much to talk about. It's 20 degrees here and windy. I miss my Airstream. But I can tell myself that next week we'll be returning to "our vacation home in Santa Cruz California". Sounds nice.

December 06, 2005

Traveling by Air ... Not Airstream

Add this to the list of reasons why I love my Airstream.

We spent all weekend wondering if Emma's cold was going to clear up enough for her to fly. Monday, we hopped on the plane and all seemed well until the descent in to JFK (New York). Then she started complaining about pain in her ears and crying. I've had these problems in many years of business flying, and so we brought out all the remedies but really there's not much you can do when the Eustachian tubes are clogged by a cold. When we had landed we decided we wouldn't put her through that again.

So we got a one-way rental car. It's a five hour drive from JFK to our part of Vermont. $120 for the car, plus gas. Then we retrieved our bag from the airline, which took an hour of standing by the baggage carousel. We finally arrived in Vermont at 3 a.m. Fortunately we were on Pacific Time so it wasn't quite so late for us.

No cabin pressurization needed. Another reason why I prefer traveling by Airstream.

December 04, 2005

Pinnacles National Monument, Soledad CA

What a strange feeling, driving down the highway without an Airstream behind us!

We got that fantastic California feeling, zipping down 101 through the desert valley south of Gilroy. Couldn’t be a more beautiful day. Sunshine pouring down on perfect rows of garlic, strawberries, artichokes, cabbage, and many other fruits & vegetables. Farm stands, too. I think I spent the whole time hungry, thinking about all the food growing around us.

The funny thing is that Californians think Hwy 101 and I-5 are boring. They haven’t driven through the Utah salt flats along US50, I guess. I always find the desert drives to be colorful and endlessly fascinating, especially as the sun approaches the horizon and lights up all the land’s contours to the east.

We stopped off in Soledad CA to visit Pinnacles National Monument. It’s one of those out-of-the-way national parks that we wouldn’t have had a chance to see otherwise. No camping in the park, and it wasn’t on our planned route down the coast. But it turned out to be well-worth the small detour.

Pinnacles is an unusual park in that you can access it from the east or west side but there are no roads that go through. Rt 101 gives access from the east, via a winding, scenic little road called California 146. This road becomes a single lane for several miles before you finally arrive at the tiny Chapparall ranger station.


There are no services here. No Visitor Center on the east side. But plenty of great hiking, rock climbing … and talus caves. The caves were our main reason for stopping – some bats were reportedly in resident in it, and we wanted Emma to get a chance to see some bats in the wild.

Pinnacles hike 2.jpg

The sharp-looking rocks that form the Pinnacles are the remains of an ancient volcano. They lie directly on the San Andreas Fault, that famous border between the North American plate and the Pacific plate. The endless grinding of the two plates has put half of the old volcano’s magma flow here in Soledad. The other half lies 195 miles southeast.

If you are more tourist than geologist, the Pinnacles are a great backdrop for photography, a challenging place to climb rocks, and a beautiful place to hike. We had only a couple of hours, so we took a relatively short hike of 2.5 miles (100 ft elevation gain, not much) which brought us up to the talus caves and back.

Pinnacles hike.jpg

Emma loved spelunking in the cave, as long as we were close by. There’s a bit of climbing involved, which is always popular with five-year olds. In the dark, negotiating rocks with a flashlight in one hand and an expensive camera around my neck, and an even more expensive child grabbing on me for support, I felt plenty challenged at times.

Unfortunately the bats were mostly out. We spotted only four smallish ones, snoozing on the wall. Still, it was a wonderful hike. Chestnuts had fallen from trees all through the area, with an amber hue that is completely different from the dark-brown chestnuts we have seen in the east. The Ponderosa pines left gigantic pine cones too, and the trail was constantly changing from dizzying cliffs to grassy floor, from dry wash to moist verdant moss. The hike was over in no time, and it was time to get back on the highway to Bakersfield.

Coming east from Hwy 101 the land turned to other western symbols: the wineries of the Paso Robles area, then oil wells slowly dipping up and down, strange-smelling processing plants, and palm trees. California is so big it should be three states, and so exciting and gorgeous it has the thrill of half a dozen others. I’m glad we’ll be back in ten days.

December 03, 2005


The Airstream is parked and stored, while we head out for early Christmas with our family back in Vermont. Yesterday we backed the Airstream into a tight little hideaway on private land, hidden from public view and behind an electric gate. It will stay here, plugged in and locked up, until we get back from Vermont.

Santa Cruz parking.jpg

There are some interesting collectible vehicles here. Check out what we are next to: a 1953 Airstream 24 footer. This would be a nice one when fixed up.

Airstream 53.jpg

Our flight from California to Vermont leaves from Ontario CA, which is near Los Angeles. Logically, we should have had a flight from nearby San Jose, but when I booked the tickets I thought we'd be much further south. Changing the tickets was prohibitively expensive, and we didn't want to rush our trip down the California coast, so we've opted to leave the Airstream here. That way, when we return, we can resume our trip and see everything we wanted to see at a leisurely pace.

Eleanor was packing last night for this trip and muttering dark things about how inconvenient it is to travel as a famiy by air. "You have to pack everything into one bag ... You have to disrupt your whole house. What a pain. When you travel by Airstream you have everything with you ..." She sounded just like the old National Geographic ads of the 1960s.

So we've already discovered two reasons why we like this mode of travel: (1) we can change plans without airline "change fees"; (2) we don't have to pack and unpack, and we have everything we need, not just what fits in a bag.

We're about to discover a third reason, too: hotels. I expect that the next two nights of hotel will cost us more than we spend on campgrounds in a week!

Finding Internet access on the road will be a challenge too. If I can find good Internet along the way, I'll keep blogging this weekend. If not, I'll catch you up on Tuesday. We have some interesting stops planned along the route to Ontario, including Pinnacles National Monument today.

December 02, 2005

Leaving Capitola CA

One small risk of roaming around with no set plans is that occasionally you have to move on before you'd like to. Our plan was to stay in Capitola tonight and move the Airstream tomorrow morning to a place nearby for storage. But we were paying daily for this campsite and someone else had it reserved for tonight. The rest of the sites in this campground are booked too, so we need to pack up and move on by 12:30 pm. We've decided to go over to a parking lot near a laundromat, do some laundry, and then set up at the storage place tonight. We'll boondock there and hit the road tomorrow, heading toward the Ontario (CA) airport.

It's going to be a nasty shock traveling without the Airstream for a couple of days, to and from the airport. I just checked hotels in Paso Robles, CA, which was where planned to crash for the night on Saturday. But the Holiday Inn Express is $142/night ... a bit more than the $0-25 we would have spent camping. I keep forgetting how expensive travel is if you always stay in hotels!

December 01, 2005

Camping in Capitola

It has been a very busy week here in Capitola, the seaside bedroom community next to Santa Cruz. I have had to spend most of my waking hours working to get the Winter magazine in shape, and close up another project. Eleanor and Emma have been off running errands and exploring the area.

This is a great spot and it's just a shame that the weather has been less than optimal most of the week. Since we arrived it has been cloudy and cool, with quite a bit of rain (by California standards, not Vermont standards). So we haven't done much with the beach here at the campground, but we have managed to check out the small beach village (touristy but cute), and meet with a few friends.

capitola beach.jpg

Tom Bentley came by yesterday. He's a contributor to the magazine and will have a nice article about a "Beatmobile" (Airstream motorhome touring the country for the Beat Museum) in the Winter issue. He just returned from a year teaching English in Kosrae, Micronesia, and I was fascinated to hear his tales of that little "island paradise."

We also gave a tour to a couple who are camped here in a new T@B trailer. They aren't happy with it, and are considering upgrading to an Airstream. Everyone here in the campground seems to know us ("Are you the people with the Airstream? Did it come with those stickers?"). We are a bit obvious in any campground.

Yesterday afternoon I managed to escape the office for about 90 minutes, during which we attempted to take a walk on the beach near town. But of course the mobile phone rang and it turned out to be a reporter for the NY Times syndicate, doing an article on Airstreamers.

So I spent the entire walk chatting with the reporter, while trying to snap photos with the Nikon one-handed. As a result, I had to delete a bunch of pictures in which the horizon was tilted.

capitola color.jpg

But it was worth it. Media people are fascinated to hear about our trip, the fact that we sold our house, that we're home schooling, etc. You'd think nobody had ever done it before.

Today I managed to escape long enough to head down to the Monterey Aquarium with Eleanor and Emma. Everyone recommended it, and I can see why. It's a superb aquarium, even better than the Boston Aquarium. They had a wonderful set of exhibits on jellyfish, which are one of my favorite things to see. Some are nearly invisible, while others are so colorful they rival birds for their plumage.

Emma jellies.jpg

The museum went a step further too, with an exhibit of art featuring jellies. What does this glass remind you of?

glass jellies.jpg

At one point Eleanor and Emma got "in" a tankful of rays. I stayed out in case they needed assistance.

eleanor emma ray.jpg

Going to the aquarium was probably the best thing we could do today. It has been raining most of the day. Tomorrow we have to run some errands and start prepping the trailer to be parked for ten days. We'll put it away at a fellow Airstreamer's house nearby, and drive down to Ontario CA (near Los Angeles) to catch a flight home on Monday.