Friday, October 31, 2008

17-Mile Drive, Pebble Beach and Drive to Big Sur, California

Today we decided to drive the famous 17-Mile Drive which is a loop route through the hills and coastline of Pebble Beach. Instead of taking Hwy 1 south directly from Monterey to Pebble Beach, we chose to meander through the town of Pacific Grove along the coastline on Ocean View Blvd. This road takes you through neighborhoods of beautiful homes and picturesque views of the ragged rocked bay. Along the way there are many parks and turn-outs for photo-ops and for places to explore. The homes in this area have a Victorian and Art Deco style which were fun to see. Eventually this road will take you around the peninsula, turn into Sunset Drive and will connect with 17-Mile Drive. All along this route is a great dirt walking/biking path. This is a great place to take a walk.

To enter the 17-Mile Drive there is a $9.25 fee (free for bicyclists) and you are provided a brochure that contains a map of the route and points of interest along the way. The first 4 miles of the famous 17-Mile Drive winds along the coastline and the golf courses of The Links at Spanish Bay and Spyglass Hill. The houses now are very large and opulent, with equally sized grounds. Most face the ocean and have a view across one or more holes of the numerous golf courses. There continues to be small parks where you can pull-off to take pictures of the ocean and rugged coastline. Like Cypress Point Lookout where there is the view of the famous lone cypress tree that is used as the Pebble Beach symbol.

Next the drive becomes very forested so clear views of the homes and coastline was difficult. However, the homes in this area were the largest and most spectacular of them all. We kept waiting to see someone famous driving by. Continuing on this road you will arrive at the Pebble Beach Golf Links course. If you are a golfer then stopping and walking around the Pebble Beach Golf Course lodge and shops is a must. From the back of the lodge you can look out onto the 18th hole with the ocean as the backdrop-very spectacular. There are several high-end pro shops and boutiques. Across the road is a small market that makes very nice reasonably priced sandwiches and more. After spending some time at Pebble Beach, as you continue your drive, you eventually come to the intersection of Hwy 68. Here you can continue the loop drive which takes you into the interior of Pebble Beach peninsula or take Hwy 68 back to Pacific Grove or Hwy 1 back to Monterey. To be quite honest, for all that we've heard about the 17-mile drive, we were disappointed, and in fact found the homes more interesting and charming in Carmel. In our opinion, it was not worth the entrance fee.

Next we took the 26 mile drive down Hwy 1 to Big Sur. At times the road takes you along the steep hillsides of the coastline providing grand open views of the cliffs, rocks and surf below. Other times of the drive you are inland and looking across large pastures to get views of the ocean. This wasn't our favorite highway to drive for California ocean views but it was okay. We didn't feel like the views lived up to the reputation of Big Sur.

In sum, if you're looking for a nice drive of some beautiful scenery and equally beautiful homes, go to Carmel.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Carmel-by-the-Sea & Monterey, California

Touring Carmel-by-the-Sea and more of Monterey

Today we decided to explore the town of Carmel-by-the-Sea before the forecasted rain hits the area over the next several days. From Monterey driving south for 10-15 minutes on Hwy 1, we took Ocean Avenue west which takes you into the heart of Carmel. The main shopping district extends 2 blocks on either side of Ocean Ave. There are a large variety of exclusive shops and art galleries as well as coffee houses and fine restaurants. What made this area so charming is the architecture, the hilly landscape and the many trees and well maintained flower beds. The building styles ranged from Spanish mission with adobe and tile roofs to old English cottages with rounded roof edges. It all worked together quite well and was very well maintained. The feeling you get instantly is that of an old quaint and charming village. Street parking is the game here. We were told that the 2 hour limit was strictly enforced, so we watched the time and moved the car as needed to avoid a citation. From the downtown area, you can drive west on Ocean Avenue and you will find a large wonderful sandy beach and park, which has views of the Pebble Beach Golf Course as well as the many beautiful homes that line the shoreline as far as you can see. From here we drove the small residential roads that followed the coastline, which provided amazing views of the bay on one side and views of exquisite houses on the other. Every house we saw was just gorgeous. Even the smallest and seemingly ordinary home in this town could be on our dream list. If anyone out there wants to, please feel free to buy us a home in would be very much appreciated.

After touring neighborhoods for a while, we then headed to the Carmel Mission. This Mission (or The Basilica of Mission San Carlos Borromeo Del Rio Carmelo) was founded in 1770. For $5 per adult, you are allowed to tour the restored and active Basilica, gardens, cemetery and several small museums. This mission provided a lot of historical information which helped us get a sense of what this area was like in its beginnings. There are many missions along the central California coast and we felt this one is a great one to visit.

Back in Monterey, we visited the Monterey Maritime and History Museum. The admission is free with a requested donation. So for a few bucks we toured this small museum that contained not only artifacts chronicling the history of the Monterey peninsula but also other maritime historical piece. For example, they have the Morse Code device that was used on the USS Missouri battleship that told the world that the treaty for the unconditional surrender of Japanese forces was signed. It also has the working prism of the historic Fresnel lens from the Point Sur Light Station.

Dining in Monterey

All this touring made us hungry, so we headed to Fisherman's Wharf which was nearby. We chose Crabby Jim's restaurant, and although Brad's fresh stuffed sole entry was good, the crab cakes that Suzanne ordered were terrible (more filler than crab - in fact, still wondering if there was crab in them), and the level of service that we received was terrible - the waiters disappeared continuously, never refreshed our drinking water, were unfriendly, and rushed. Needless to say, we do not recommend this restaurant. To redeem our dinner, we went into the Old Town area in search of dessert. We saw Rosine's Restaurant's dessert case through the window and had to go in - the desserts looked incredible! We were met with friendly and helpful staff that were eager to help us forget our dinner experience. If the desserts were half as good as the people were nice, then we were in for a treat. We weren't disappointed at all! The 3-layer carrot cake with cream cheese frosting and the 3-layer chocolate cake with layers of chocolate and cream cheese were fabulous, and in fact were so large that we brought more that half of each piece home. When the bill came we were greatly surprised at how inexpensive our wonderful desserts ended up being. This is a must if you want to great dessert and great service, all at a reasonable price. In fact, whomever it is who buys us our house in Carmel, we'll treat to a celebration dessert at Rosine's!

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Fisherman's Wharf, Monterey California

Old Fisherman's Wharf in Monterey Harbor is 1-2 blocks from the old downtown area. This historic wharf which is about a quarter of a mile long is made up of many restaurants, unique gift shops and charter boat companies for whale watching, fishing and bay tours. Today when we walked around, we were approached by several restaurants competing for our business by offering free samples of clam chowder and coupons for free appetizers. We also noticed racks of greatly discounted souvenir clothing some as much as 50% off. (Guess traveling off season has it's benefits!) The wharf is surrounded by a marina of fishing and pleasure boats. These boats are a beautiful sight against the golden hills in the background. To top our visit off, we watched sea lions on an old floating platform slumbering in the sun.

Monterey County Fairgrounds RV Park, Monterey, California

Today we made our way to the city of Monterey and are staying at the Monterey County Fairgrounds RV Park. This "RV park" is the parking lot right between all the horse stables and a golf course. Each site comes with full hookups, free WIFI and if you are lucky like we are, a direct view of the stables. It is very clean, well maintained, the host is very helpful and there are several large live oaks that provide shade for some of the sites. You could ask for those sites when making your reservations. This location puts you very close to the old downtown area of Monterey and Fisherman's Wharf, and with a little ambition you could even ride bikes to these areas. Although the Fairgrounds is next to the airport, there is not constant air traffic so the noise is minimal. I would definitely recommend this RV park if you need an affordable well placed location in Monterey.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Maple Leaf RV Park, Morgan Hill, California

We are staying at the Maple Leaf RV Park for a couple days. It's a large park with 270-sites, 77 of which are pull-through. There's a pool and jacuzzi area, basketball court, free WiFi, grass between all of the sites, a book exchange, store, laundry facilities, and it is very clean. There are quite a few permanent residents here, but the sites seem well maintained.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Hetch Hetchy Reservoir & Tuolumne Grove, Yosemite National Park, California

We explored two very distinct areas today – the Hetch Hetchy Reservoir and Tuolumne Grove. The Hetch Hetchy area is in the northwest boundary of the park, you take Evergreen Road to get there. The drive to the reservoir goes through national forest, some private land, and finally into the park. The terrain of the area along the road to the reservoir is every different than other drives in the park – it is much more jagged and hilly, less granite, with Black Oak trees, rather than the pines we’ve seen on most other roads. The road ends at Hetch Hetchy Reservoir, where you can take a number of short hikes. There is no swimming or boating in the reservoir, as it is the water source for San Francisco and the surrounding area. Although this was a nice drive, and in the spring and summer there are a couple waterfalls into the reservoir, if you’re short on time while visiting Yosemite, then this would not be the place to spend some of that time.

Since we decided not to take any of the hikes at Hetch Hetchy (we were on the prowl for fall foliage), we took a short, one-mile each way hike to Tuolumne Grove to see the Giant Sequoias. There are three places to see the largest living organism (by volume) in Yosemite – Tuolumne Grove and Merced Grove, both quickly and easily accessed on the west side of the park, and Mariposa Grove, on the south side of the park. Since we were getting tired of so much driving, we stopped at Tuolumne Grove, where the trailhead is located at Tioga Road. This “hike” (rather a walk) was 1 mile down (400’ decline) on an old road that is slowly being taken back by the forest. Once you reach the grove, there is a short nature tail with a lot of interesting information about the Giant Sequoia. There were only about 20 sequoias in this grove, but you certainly got a perspective of their enormity. There was also a lot of the fall foliage we were seeking, so this was a nice stroll. We would recommend this hike, but be forewarned – that 1 mile downhill walk is a 1 mile uphill walk back to the car!

Ready for Yosemite photos? The photo site is updated ~ enjoy!!

Friday, October 24, 2008

North Dome Trail, Yosemite National Park, California

If you want to see Half Dome from the north side of Yosemite Valley, with a view up close and almost directly head-on, then a hike out to North Dome is for you. The trail head is about 1.2 miles past the turnoff for Porcupine Creek parking area going west on the Tioga Road. The scenery on this road is beautiful and more unique than the other roads we have been on so far in the park. This roads winds through mountains that are literally solid granite with a few trees growing out of the cracks. This is probably attributed to the fact that the elevation is over 8000 feet most of the way, so you are at the top of the surrounding mountains. Once on the trail, you walk down the bank where the trail is an old paved road for 1 to1.5 miles. This part of the trail is very forested with many large felled decaying trees. You can see everywhere that bears and/or other animals have torn the logs apart looking for insects. Once the paved road section ended, the trail continued on a dirt path through more forest with very little elevation gain/loss. This section of the trail continued for about 2 miles going up and down various hills and small valleys until you come to the junction of Indian Rock trail. This is where the forest starts to open and you can begin to see views of the south ridge of the Valley. For a quick side trip, the Indian Rock trail is a 0.3 mile trail that takes you to a rock spire with an arch on top. From on top of this rock, there are views of Half Dome just over the trees. Continuing towards North Dome, the trail veers to the left of a small granite dome. Within a half of a mile, the trail takes you into the open, where you are on top of the first of two large domes. The second one is North Dome and is actually below the current vantage point. To the left is Half Dome - with a face view. From this position you really get a perspective on the magnitude of this mountain. You can also see the many waterfall chutes around this mountain. Most of the famous photos of Half Dome are from the side, so you don't realize how large it is compared to the surrounding peaks until you see if from North Dome. An interesting American Indian folklore tells a story of a woman and her husband who argued and fought. This displeased the spirits who changed them into stone, Half Dome and North Dome, forever to face each other across the Yosemite Valley (which is probably better than the 28 feet of living space that we share - especially after an argument). Continuing on the hike, you work your way down to the second dome; the trail here at times takes you through steep cracks in the granite dome and through narrow switchbacks. Once down and at the base of North Dome the hiking is easier and is over fields of granite. From the top of North Dome you can see Yosemite Valley and Glacier Point to the southeast. There are also many views of the surrounding Sierra mountains. The total trip was over 10 miles and took us about 5 hours to complete. We would rate this hike as moderate in some places and strenuous in other places, but unique and we'd recommend this hike for those who would like to see this perspective of Yosemite Valley and Half Dome.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Sentinel Dome and Taft Point Trails, Yosemite National Park, California

To get more of a spacial perspective on all the huge granite mountains (El Capitan, Half Dome, The Three Brothers etc.) that surround Yosemite valley from a higher elevation, we hiked the Sentinel Dome and Taft Point Trails. So today we made the scenic 1 1/2 hour drive on Glacier Point Road that is full of terrific view points to the trail head which is about 6 miles before Glacier Point at the end of the road. From the parking area you pick up the Sentinel Dome trail on the right and head through sparse forest with many large granite sheets that you walk across. About 1.1 miles of moderate hiking takes you to the base of this huge dome where you can see the Yosemite Valley floor, El Capitan to your left and Half Dome through the trees on your right, all from the opposite side of the valley. From here we scrambled up the dome to an elevation of 8122 ft where you are above the trees. This vantage point provides 360 degree unobstructed views of not only looking down upon Yosemite Valley and its famous mountains but you can see the rest of the Sierra Mountains. Since it is so late in the season, the surrounding Sierras were not snow capped but spectacular nonetheless. Look for a large stone at the top that has a metal plate map of all the surrounding mountains. It was truly surreal with the views being impossible to capture with a camera but we tried. Also on top is an old dead twisted tree trunk that someone mentioned was made famous by Ansel Adams. I'll have to do some investigation to verify this.

We hiked back down the dome and picked up the trail to Taft Point. This trail is north east of Sentinel Dome and follow the ridge of Yosemite Valley. This moderate hike wanders through more heavily forested areas so there aren't many open views. But there are places that you can go a few hundred yards off trail and get those incredible and indescribable views of the valley. Also, throughout the forest along this trail are very large granite stones that you have to maneuver around. It was interesting to see these large rocks throughout the forest and it made the hiking more interesting as well. This hike from Sentinel Dome to Taft Point is about 2.5 miles. Taft Point at 7503 feet is an open outcropping of rock literally overlooking the valley from a further west vantage point then Sentinel Dome. The view from the very edge of the rock is straight down to the valley floor. Also at Taft Point is The Fissures - these are huge cracks in the mountain where some seem to extend all the way from the top where you are standing to valley. It was a strange sensation to look down the fissures (from a safe distance of course). I can begin to understand how these places can be spiritual for some people. From Taft Point we followed another trail for around 1.1 miles that end back at the parking area. The total round trip was around 7 miles and it took us 6 hours with Font sizea lot of picture taking and chatting with fellow hikers. I would say the hike out to and up Sentinel Dome is a must hike in this national park. If you have time adding the Taft Point leg is a great bonus.

Tip - Be sure you do this hike like we did - go counter-clockwise, so most of your hike is downhill.

Next, we made the 6 mile drive to Glacier Point. This is at the end of Glacier Point Road. Here you will find large parking lots and very accessible sidewalks up to Glacier Point. This is where all the tour buses are destined, so be ready for the crowds. A quick .5 mile walk from the parking lot will get you to the view point. Glacier Point give you views straight down on Yosemite Valley village and views of Half Dome, however you are too far northeast to see El Capitan. It would be great to go to Glacier Point early to see the sun rise on Half Dome or to go here on a full moon night. Our bonus here was seeing a Lynx sitting below the sidewalk not more than 10 yards from the parking lot. There were several deer in the area when we first got there so maybe he/she was thinking about dinner. It was remarkable to see the elusive and mostly nocturnal animal.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Yosemite Valley, Yosemite National Park, California

One word ~ amazing! We drove into Yosemite National Park via 120 and spent the day meandering Yosemite Valley. The cost of admission into Yosemite is $20 per vehicle, or you can buy an America the Beautiful - National Parks and Federal Recreational Lands Pass for $80, valid for one-year. The drive along Big Oak Flat Road begins high among trees and descends to the valley floor, and it's about mid-way when the peaks and grandeur of Yosemite appear. El Capitan is the first "piece of granite" you'll see - and it is indescribable - immense, beautiful, words to describe and nearly as impossible to capture in a single photo (unless you're Ansel Adams, of course).

Yosemite Valley itself was surprisingly non-franchised and "cement-like" - all of the buildings blended well in the surrounding area, and they have a lot of buildings. At Yosemite Valley there is a Visitor's Center, full-service post office, medical facility with a dentist, a garage, about three bookstores, a couple dining places (a third was closed for the season), a number of museums (Indian Cultural Exhibit, Museum Gallery, Yosemite Climbing Museum), and a number of stores (Yosemite Museum Store, Ansel Adams Gallery, a couple bookstores) the Yosemite Cemetery, a US Courthouse (we're not sure why), and the Indian Village of Ahwahnee. While we were exploring the Indian Village of Ahwahnee, a female tribal elder invited us into the still-used ceremonial Roundhouse where many religious and spiritual ceremonies take place, where she described the ceremonies that take place in the Roundhouse, sang a childhood song, and shared a prayer.

After walking around the valley, and enjoying a good lunch at Degnans Deli (another surprise - not obnoxiously overpriced as one would expect in a national park), we drove to the various lodges and hotels in the valley - Curry Village, The Ahwahnee, and Yosemite Lodge. All seemed nice and rustic on the outside, but we did not go into any of the lodges. As we continued out drive out of the park back home, we stopped for quite a while and watched, from very far away, climbers on El Capitan - again - wow! Other great views along the way - The Three Brothers and Half Dome.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Yosemite Lakes Campground, outside of Yosemite National Park, California

We always kept the idea of going to Yosemite National Park in the back of our minds as we worked our way down the California coast, and decided that if the weather was good when we were (relatively) near Yosemite, then we would head over ~ and here we are! We're are staying at Yosemite Lakes Campground, which is 5 miles west of the Yosemite National Park border. It is an RPI park, and is large, nearly 250 sites. However, being it's not the summer season, there is just one area open to RVs, with minimal amenities available (such as the activity center). There are full hook-ups, free wifi at the clubhouse, a great laundry room with front-loading washers and dryers, a clubhouse with adult area, and the usually book exchange. There are only a few staff here this time of year, and everyone has been very nice and accommodating.

One additional item to share ~ for lunch we went to in-n-out ~ Suzanne had never been and we've heard about this chain for years, so we tried it. Pretty much they have three things on their menu - a hamburger, a cheeseburger, and a double-double. They make their own fries right there as well - a guy stands at a french fry-making machine and tosses potatoes in it and - walla! -french fries! So we're not much into fast food, and the burgers were good, as well as the fries, they were better than White Castles (sorry friends from New Jersey), and the staff was impressively friendly, but we're not so sure we'd eat at an in-n-out again.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Touring the Sonoma County Coastline, California

Continuing our quest to see as much of the California coast as we can, today we explored the coastline from the towns of Stewarts Point to Bodega Bay. Just south of Cloverdale we took the Stewarts Point/Skaggs Springs road to Stewarts Point. This is a very small (in many place one lane) county road that winds through the Sonoma hills offering terrific views of Lake Sonoma and surrounding hills. The closer you get to the coast, the terrain changes from hills of live oaks and golden grassy fields to dense forests of firs and ferns. It was interesting to see the dramatic changes in such a relatively short distance. Once we reached Stewarts Point (about 2 hours after we first set-out), we headed south on Hwy 1.

Our first stop today was at the Fort Ross Historic Site (cost $7 per vehicle). This is the site of a Russian fur trading settlement from the early to mid 1800s. On the site is the restored fort and several buildings that you can explore. Just our luck, today there was a Harvest festival which included many people dressed in historic Russian clothing making apple cider from a hand press and baking bread in a wood oven. Seeing these people in their authentic clothing and hearing them speak Russian really added to the experience. (Continued below... we had lots of pictures to share today!))

Continuing south on Hwy 1, the views of the coastline really opened up and were spectacular. Up until this point, most of Hwy 1 is inland (and surprisingly a lot of ranches with grazing cattle) until you reach Fort Ross. The road gets really windy and narrow with many places to stop for that photo opportunity.

At the town of Jenner, we pulled off the highway at viewpoint that is above the mouth of the Russian River. After looking around for a while, we noticed that there were many seals in the water catching fish. The tide was high, so maybe they were catching salmon that were spawning. There is also an expansive beach there, that although we did not walk, looks like it would be a great way to spend the day. We continued our journey enjoying the views high above the rugged coastline.

We finally reached the town of Bodega Bay which lies on the banks of a large sea harbor. There are plenty of shops scattered around to explore as well as the fishing marine. But the best place of all was Spud Point Crab Company where we got the greatest crab meat sandwiches and the best clam chowder that we've had in a long time. The sandwiches were on a flaky soft roll and contained plenty of dungeons crab meat. The chowder, well it was amazing - chunks for potatoes, flavorful clam and special herbs that made it wonderful.

With our stomachs full, we started to head back towards Santa Rosa. We chose to take the road that would take us through the town of Bodega and Sebastopol. We took this route because it's probably the most direct route to Santa Rosa but also because we wanted to see the Potter Schoolhouse (in Bodega) that was used in Alfred Hitchcock's movie The Birds. It was interesting to see the school house and try and remember the scenes in the movie. The people that own the building have a small gift shop that contains Hitchcock movie memorabilia. It definitely got us into the mood to rent the movie so we could see the school house and other local sites that Hitchcock included in his film. The day ended by eventually connecting with Hwy 101 and heading north to our campsite. This was a nice loop tour (about 7 hours total) that offered us the diversity that the Sonoma County coast has to bear.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Solar Living Institute, Hopland, California

We took the short trip north to Hopland where we toured the Solar Living Institute, whose mission is to "promote sustainable living through inspirational environmental education". This was a complex dedicated to solar and wind power, along with renewable resources, green gardening and greener living. It was really quite fascinating as the entire institute is run on solar power - including their water pumps that are used for irrigation and for circulating the water for several ponds on the site. We got many great ideas while touring their facility that anyone can do in their home - such as a canopy of grape vines over a patio to provide shade and to cool a hot side of a house, thus lower cooling costs. The Institute also produces biodiesel which can be purchased on site and also maintains an active organic garden of fruits and vegetables. In addition, the Solar Living Institute also provides an assortment of hands on workshops from making your own biodiesel, to wiring your house for solar panels to building with natural materials. The location and cost depends on the course so consult the Workshops list on-line. If you are in the Hopland area and are interesting in ideas for Greener living, then it would be worth your time to to stop in and tour the facility, which is free, although there is a suggested donation of $1 per person.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Charles M. Schulz Museum and Research Center, Santa Rosa, California

Good Grief Charlie Brown....if these famous words bring back joyful childhood or adult memories, then a visit to the Charles M. Schulz Museum and Research Center in Santa Rosa California is a must for you. This is a small museum that chronicles Charles Shulz's life. There are exhibits that explain Mr. Shulz's interest in Beethoven and how he actually integrated various scores into to his comic strip...this of course would include his character Schroeder. You will also learn how he got his start and how the Peanuts gang has evolved and changed over the years. There is also an auditorium that shows all the Peanut television shows as well as other documentary-style films giving you more insight into Charles Shulz's life. In addition, there is a drawing room upstairs and we were told that most weekends, guest illustrators come and provide drawing clinics. The museum is $8 for adults and with AAA you can save $1 each. Next to the museum is an indoor ice skating rink that Mr. Schulz had built. This made sense once we learned that Charles Shulz was from St. Paul, Minnesota and an avid ice hockey player. Next to this building you can find a gift shop where you can find tons of Peanut comic strip items. We enjoyed our visit, but left wanting more information about the background of Mr. Schulz and of his other comic strip characters, such as Peppermint Patty, Frankin, Woodstock, and Pig Pen. The museum does change its exhibits, so maybe another exhibit has more information about these Peanuts.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Russian River Campground, Cloverdale, California

Nestled in the hills along the banks of the Russian River in Sonoma County is the Russian River Campground (this is an RPI park). This campground is hilly and well treed, yet has many sites that are open enough for roof mounted and tripod satellite dishes. All sites are paved and come with a picnic table and BBQ grill. Unfortunately, the sites do not have sewer hookups. There are four loop areas that have their own showers and laundry facilities. There is a lodge and community center that has a book exchange, pool tables, satellite television, local phone, WIFI and tourist information. Overall, we would recommend this campground.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

MacKerricher State Park, Fort Bragg, California

We walked along the beaches of MacKerricher State Park today (no day use fee, which was nice). The waves were quite strong, given the full moon, and the seagulls seems to be pairing off, although it seems a wrong time of year for that. (Of course, neither one of us is an expert in seagull reproduction, so.....) The beach, especially at low tide, can be walked for miles - much longer than any other beach we've visited so far in northern California. The sand was more of a very loose black pebble, which made walking a bit more difficult, but it's never a bad day when you can walk barefoot on the beach.

Although no pictures today (we forgot the camera), we have updated our photo page, so you can check out more photos of Mendocino county. Enjoy!

Monday, October 13, 2008

Russian Gulch State Park, Fort Bragg, California

We took a hike in Russian Gulch State Park this afternoon, which is a few miles south of Fort Bragg on Highway 1. We started along the North Trail, which begins in the campground, just after the last restroom. The first part of the hike is steep, but once it levels off, there are no elevation changes. The first two-thirds of this hike was nice - among ferns and trees. We were amazed at the number of pine needles covering the forest floor and the lower shrubs. We circled back on the North Trail, which opened up to walking along power poles and ultimately the road. This we didn't find as charming, to say the last. To get to the rest of the hike, we had to cross Highway 1 and walk a road to the trail head - again, not our favorite thing to do - once we're on trail, we like the trail to stay a trail. However, the west side of the hike, the Headlands Trails, was open with ocean views; in fact, lovely ocean views. This hike takes you to Blow Hole Overlook, where at high tide waves crash and pound, creating an echo. There is also an inland tunnel, which leads to a 100' by 60' deep hole created also by the pounding waves. We meandered around the Headlands Trail, and eventually (after more road walking) ended up at our car. It cost $6 to park at Russian Gulch State Park, and we're not sure it was really worth it. There is a waterfall trail as well, and perhaps we should have taken that one, but we had heard about this one, and went with the recommendation.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Touring Mendocino County’s Southern Coast

South of Fort Bragg there are many small towns and sights to along Hwy 1 to see, so today we spent the day exploring the coast in southern Mendocino County.

Our first stop was Point Cabrillo Lighthouse State Park. Point Cabrillo is a completely restored light station that consists of most the original buildings which includes the actual lighthouse, three light keeper family houses and a shop building that contains some exhibits and aquariums. These buildings sit near the coastline on the bluff edge which is a half a mile from the parking lot. So from the parking lot there are two ways to walk down the lighthouse and other buildings (it seemed like handicap parking existed at the lighthouse). You can hike on a dirt path through the open dried grass field or you can walk down the pedestrians only pave road. We chose to make a loop of it by hiking through the field and returning via the road. We were glad we did, for we saw several deer in the brush and had terrific unobstructed views of the ocean. Once you hit the bluff’s edge, the trail veers to the left through some thicker brush towards the lighthouse. The lighthouse itself is a well preserved wooden building, which is somewhat unusual for most we have visited have been stone and/or metal to withstand the weather. This building looked very picturesque against the ocean and open field where it sits. Inside the lighthouse is a museum and gift shop with a suggested donation fee of $3 per person. We decided not to go not because of the fee, but because no one is allowed up into the lighthouse tower itself. There are some nice short trails along the bluffs edge which give you great views of the rugged coastline. We even saw seals sunbathing on the rocks. Next, we headed back towards the parking lot and stopped to tour one the open light keeper homes. Inside we found a completely restored downstairs that was representative of the time around 1909. Information plaques and other artifacts gave you a good sense of the time and work required to keep this critical lighthouse going. One of the other light keeper homes has been restored and is now available as a Bed and Breakfast. After completely seeing the grounds, we made the half mile walk on the paved road back to the car. Initial, we didn’t expect the long walk to get to the light station buildings but found that it enhanced our visit. This State Park is worth the visit and exercise.

Continuing the day’s adventure, we stopped in the town of Mendocino. This is a small town that sits on bluffs that extend out into the ocean a little more than the surrounding cliffs. This gives you many great views of the ocean from many locations. The town’s buildings all have been well preserved so you really feel like you are back in era of it’s creation. We found Menodocino a charming and quaint town with many wonderful restaurants and interesting shops to explore. We had lunch at the Mendocino Bakery & Cafe, which was very good - they have sandwiches, soups, quiches, and desserts - it was a simple, filling meal for under $20. Suzanne found the numerous old water towers found throughout the town fascinating; they definitely added to the architectural charm. Also while we were in Mendocino, the Mendocino County Animal Shelter had an outreach with adorable dogs & cats for adoption ~ and here is our public service announcement ~ please visit your local animal shelter when thinking of adding a furry companion to you family ~ as long time volunteers at the Oregon Humane Society, we know how great these rescued pets can be.

Back on the road, we drove south along Hwy 1. Driving from Mendocino to south of the town of Point Arena offered many amazing viewpoints when the road was literally clinging to the cliffs above coastline. In other areas of this drive, we found many cattle ranched with large open pastures between the highway and the coast. This surprised us for we were expecting the cliff clinging views the whole way. We didn’t stop in any of the little town including Point Arena because we got a fill of town touring in Mendocino so we headed to a little south of Point Arena to Bowling Ball Beach. To find this beach you can park at Schooner Gulch road (which is parking for at mile marker 11.48) and hike down to Schooner Gulch beach and follow the beach north until you find Bowling Ball Beach. The information that we had talked about another route and leads to stairs down to the beach, unfortunately we were unable to find this trail. The beach itself is pretty interesting with a field of large round rock sticking out of the sandy surf. Viewing is only at low tide and for negotiating around some of rocky areas to get there. There are plenty of beautiful beaches in this area. During our visit there were several people wind surfing. That was fun to watch and was an added bonus. If you are in this area anyway, I would say visit this beach, but if you aren’t here anyway, we're not we would recommend the drive just to see the “Bowling Balls”.
~On a final note, is having a special this weekend ~ beginning Friday, October 10 at 12:01 a.m CDT all $25 Gift Certificates are only $3. Plus, Dinner of the Month packages are 70% off too. The 70% off sale (Coupon Code: SAVE) and runs through October 13, 2008 at 11:59 p.m. CDT. Please use our button on the left if you decide to take advantage of this opportunity (which you should ~ you won't be disappointed!)

Friday, October 10, 2008

Fort Bragg, California

We spent today meandering the Fort Bragg town and area, and had a wonderful time in the quaint, costal town. We strolled along Main Street and Franklin street, as well as the side streets connecting the two. There are many fine shops, not ticky-tacky tourist stuff often seen in coastal towns. The restaurants are numerous – also of the same high quality as the shops. One fun place we stopped was the Triangle Tattoo Museum. This is a tattoo museum with photos and stories of tattooing over the ages, around the world. One poignant area was the “Tattoos without Consent” area which highlighted those who were forced to be tattooed, such as was done to the Jews in the Holocaust. The Triangle Tattoo Museum also has a tattoo parlor, where you can get tattooed. (No, Mom, we didn’t get tattoos.)

We happened upon our lunch place as we noticed it packed with locals – we even saw our waitress from the night before! Laurel Deli and Desserts was excellent! Suzanne had their homemade soup and salad with homemade dressing; Brad had their pastrami sandwich with homemade pasta salad – all was wonderful and very nicely priced!

It was getting late, and quite windy again, but we had time for one beach stop – Glass Beach. Until 1967, people of Fort Bragg dumped garbage on the beach and allowed it to wash out to sea. (This is not the only place that disposed of garbage this way.) Then in 1967, this ended and the beach was cleaned-up, however not all could be cleaned away, and the glass kept washing ashore. Today, it’s a beach of pieces of tumbled glass – white, green, purple, red, brown blue- that you can walk on barefoot. It’s a bit tricky to get here – take Elm (by the Denny’s) towards the beach and park at the end of the road. Walk towards the ocean along the gravel road, and take a left at the first “No Trespassing” sign. Continue past the second “No Trespassing” sign, and you’ll see the beach below – now just scramble down the cliff, and there you are!

After meandering Fort Bragg today, browsing a variety of stores and meeting many people, we continually notice how nice the people of Fort Bragg are – every store owner was welcoming and cheerful, the tattoo artist at Triangle Tattoo was chatty and friendly, and the waitress at Laurel Deli and Dessert was helpful, sociable, and warm.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Pomo RV Park & Campground and North Coast Brewing Co., Fort Bragg, California

We traveled down 101 south today, onto 1 south to Fort Bragg. A few things to share:

The drive - From Eureka, take 101 south to Leggett where you have a decision to make: continue along 101, then head west on the 2o to Fort Bragg, or take 1 south to Fort Bragg; we chose the latter. Route 1 was quite windy with some steep and narrow turns. If you read our post form a couple days ago where we went to Shelter Cove, the drive was similar, although this time we were towing our trailer. The road starts inland, then once you arrive to the coast, the views are phenomenal! The northern California coast consists of steep cliffs, rocks, and roaring waves.

The campground - Pomo RV Park and Campground is a very nice, well treed, clean private park. It's just south of Fort Bragg - there is a decent laundry facility, wifi (although not every site gets a great signal), full hook-ups including cable, and a nice staff. We had read many positive reviews online about this park, and so far agree.

Dinner - We ate an early dinner at the North Coast Brewing Company which was very good. They have a dining area or bar, and serve great beer and equally great food. This would be a worthwhile place to stop when in the area.

Fort Bragg itself, on a quick look, appears to be a cute coastal town, on the bigger size. There is also beach access, biking trails, and shopping. We look forward to exploring the area more tomorrow.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Avenue of the Giants and Shelter Cove, Humbolt County, California

Today we set out to experience more redwoods by exploring the Avenue of the Giants scenic drive. Driving south on Hwy 101, we started on the Avenue of the Giants south of the town of Scotia. This drive is a 31 mile alternate portion of the original Hwy 101 which parallels the new highway. This drive takes you through beautiful redwood forests providing great accessibility without having to do any hiking. There are many pullout locations that provide information plaques and very short easy walks into the forest. One such place is the Founders Grove Nature trail. This is a nice level and easy accessible half mile interpreted trail that can be enjoyed by all. The trail not only provides views of giant redwood trees, but also winds around several fallen trees so you get an up close perspective on how really large the trees are and how large their roots need to be. It should be noted that you don't have to drive the entire route because entrances and exits to/from Hwy 101 are provided at several places. In this area, we noticed that the redwoods were mostly single trunked trees ,whereas the trees in the more northern Redwoods National and State Parks had multiple trees growing together. Also in this area, these giant trees had branches that cover the length of the trunk making the forest more dense so you aren't able to see as far into the forest like in the northern parks. This area is further inland so maybe this plays a role in the differences of these forests. In general, we liked the variety of the forest in the northern parks and found the Newton B. Drury Scenic Parkway more spectacular and offered more hiking for all skill levels than the Avenue of the Giants. But if you are coming only as far north as the Avenue of the Giants area, then definitely take the drive.

We continued the Avenue of the Giants south until it ended back at Hwy 101 just a little south Phillipsville. A quick drive south on Hwy 101 and we took the Briceland-Thorne road heading west to the coastal town of Shelter Cove. This is a small windy and very steep at times road, so the 23 mile length will take you 40 plus minutes. If you like this kind of a driving challenge then this is the route for you. Driving this road in a car or truck was fine, but I personally would not want to negotiate the curves and hills with an RV, however there is an RV park at Shelter Cove, so obviously other people don't seem to mind. The town of Shelter Cove sits on a ledge that extends out into the Pacific Ocean so there are great views everywhere. Shelter Cove is made of a smattering of houses of no real interest with no restaurants to speak of and no town center or old main street. This was disappointing for we were hoping for that quaint little coastal town. The "town" does have the Point Gorda Lighthouse which was somewhat interesting to visit and is open during the summer season. Just past the lighthouse on the rocky beach below, we found many seals and Double-crested Cormorants (large sea birds) sunning themselves on the rocks. This and the spectacular ocean views redeemed our visit to Shelter Cove. Before we left, we drove to and hiked down to Black Sand Beach. As the name indicates, the sand on the beach is actually made up of small polished black pebbles. This made walking somewhat of a challenge but was great to see and experience. This is the only beach in the area for most of the coastline is very rugged and rocky.

In sum, would we visit Eureka again? No. We'd drive through and stop of the Samoa Cookhouse (see yesterday's post) for a meal, but then continue to another destination.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Redwood Acres Campground & Samoa Cookhouse, Eureka, California

We headed south on the 101 today into Eureka, where we plan to spend a few days. We're staying at the Redwood Acres Campground, which is actually part of the Fairgrounds in Eureka. It's not a beautiful place by any means, but it has full hook-ups and free WIFI. We would recommend staying here if you simply want a place to park your rig while in the area. Which brings us to one important thing to be sure to do in the area ~ eat at the Samoa Cookhouse! (pictured here) They serve "lumber-camp (family) style" meals - basically, they decide what they cook for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and you eat what they make ya! We happened upon pork ribs, which was accompanied by fresh-baked bread, homemade soup, salad with homemade dressing, potatoes, beans, corn, and finally for dessert - carrot cake! You get second servings on the main course, at no additional charge (which basically means that Brad wants to eat every meal here while we're in Eureka).

We walked off the meal by meandering around Old Town Eureka - nothing great to be quite honest, but the homes in the area are in the style of beautiful Victorian architecture, and definitely worth the time to enjoy.
By the way, the last of the Redwood Pictures have been posted ~ enjoy!

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Cathedral Trees Trail, Prairie Creek State Park in the Redwoods, California

We started the Cathedral Trees trail at the parking lot opposite the Prairie Creek visitor center in the open meadow. This trail follows a stream through a dense meadow. The first half of this trail, in additional to grand redwoods, contained many big leaf maples, alders and thick bushes that required us to practically bushwhack our way through. This section of the trail had the most diverse and dense vegetation that we've experienced so far on the hikes that we've done in this area. Elk are often found in this area but we had no luck seeing any. The second half of this trail begins with a series of switch-backs which take you on top of the ridge giving you the typical open views of the forest below. We followed the ridge until we came to Big Tree. Big Tree is one of the largest trees in this area of the park. Redwood trees tend to grow together to form what seems to be one tree until you look up and see the multiple trunks in the sky. Big Tree is unique because it is huge and it is one tree. From Big Tree we crossed the parkway road and proceeded on the Prairie Creek Trail heading back to the visitor center and parking lot. This trail follows the large Prairie Creek which has salmon and steel head at certain times of the year. This area was not as dense as the Cathedral Trees meadow but contained fields of ferns that totally cover the forest floor. If you are pressed for time but want to experience the diversity that the Redwood National and State Parks have to offer in a 2-3 mile hike then I would suggest this one.

Tip #1: Don't let the rain spoil your day of hiking. It was raining during this hike and found the thick canopy of this forest kept us reasonably dry. There was enough moisture though to really bring out the various earthy smells of the forest.

Tip #2: We treated ourselves to s'mores when we got back to rig. Cooking the marshmallows over the gas burner proved to be very effective. I don't know why we hadn't thought of this sooner!

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Klamath Area Beaches, North Redwood Area, California

Mother nature provided the great opportunity to see twelve foot breaker waves today, so we endured a little rain and toured a few of the local beaches. We first stopped at the beach that makes up False Klamath Cove. This beach consists of nice dark sandy areas near Lagoon Creek with large rock outcroppings that extend to Wilson Creek. There are three pull-out and parking areas off highway 101 that we used to get different perspectives on the twelve foot waves that were crashing through and engulfing the rocks. With a high tide coupled with the large breaker waves, we didn't have an opportunity to explore the beach in detail. But I can image that at low tide there are lots of tide pools to explore. We'll be back if we get a break in the weather. Next we headed to the beach that is just south of Whaler Island (on the south edge of Crescent City) along highway 101. This beach is a mile plus long and has no rocks. Although the waves were large and rough, they weren't as specular to watch because of the lack of rocks that they were breaking through. It was beautiful nonetheless. This is the beach for surfers, but there were none today. Lastly, we headed to the giant sandbar at the mouth of the Klamath River near our campground. We wanted to see if the storm had altered the the mouth of the river and if anyone was brave enough to fish for salmon today. was no on both counts. The huge waves battering the sand bar were fun to watch anyway. This would be a great out of the way beach to explore when the weather is better. We've been told by some local fisherman that you often can see seals on this sand bar near the river mouth.

Don't miss the giant Paul Bunyon and his anatomically correct ox Babe at the Trees of Mystery Complex. Although we did not go into the complex, there seems to always be a lot of cars parked, so it may be interesting, especially for those families with children.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Klamath Area Drives, Klamath, California

It rained for the second day in a row today, so we decided to take a couple recommended drives. The first drive was just north of Klamath, on Requa Road, to the Klamath Overlook. This was a drive through a very recent small forest fire, and there were beautiful views were of the Pacific Ocean.

The second drive was on Klamath Beach Road which took us to the mouth of the Klamath River. From this vantage point you can see where the river meets the ocean, and if you look closely, you can even see the fishing nets the Yurok Tribe uses to catch the salmon as they make their way up the river to spawn.

As we continued on 101 south, we saw a herd of elk in a pasture – one lucky bull elk and his harem of about 20-30 females. The bull elk was definitely trying to find some action, we even heard him bugling, but the females would have nothing to do with him. Overall, we'd recommend both of these drives for their beautiful views.

We’ve posted pictures of the Redwoods today, so enjoy!

Brad still waits to see the elusive Bigfoot…………

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Miner’s Ridge, Coastal, and James Irvine Trails, Redwood NP, California

We took a long hike today, totaling 12 miles which took us a bit under 6 hours. We started on the Miner’s Ridge trail (the trailhead is by the Prairie Creek Visitor’s Center), which began with some beautiful 5 foot high ferns under the tall redwood trees. The trail steadily inclined, and we had stunning views of the forest from a higher perspective. The redwoods were huge –indescribable – you really do not get a perspective of their height and width until you see one that had fallen. As we continued our hike, we were amazed at the quiet of the forest; granted it was a Wednesday, mid-day, off-season, but we heard no animals, even birds, for a long time. We took Miner’s Ridge to the Coastal Trail, where we saw a young bull elk grazing along the shore. The beach was beautiful – sandy and large – it reminded us very much of the Oregon coast. Once done with walking the beach a bit, we took the James Irvine Trail back, with a short detour to Fern Canyon. Fern Canyon is exactly how it sounds – a small canyon with ferns growing along the walls. The James Irvine Trail was just as beautiful as the Miner’s Ridge Trail, beginning with smaller trees, and ending with the redwoods and finally the 5 foot ferns. This is definitely a hike to take if you’re up for it, just be sure you begin early enough in the day.

Tip #1 - You can also drive to the back and Fern Canyon via a dirt road.
Tip #2 – The Redwood Information Center south of Orick is where you want to go for area information – they had a very informative staff.

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