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Pat and Dave’s Excellent Adventure – PART 12: Finale

Our last (penultimate) episode ended in Tusayan, AZ, adjacent to the Grand Canyon National Park. Here’s a brief summary of our final travels.

April 3 (Wednesday): We drove 146 miles from Tusayan to the Homolovi State Park near Winslow, AZ, for a 1 night stay at a site with electric and water hookups. This State Park includes several archaeological sites which are remnants of prehistoric settlements of the Hisat’sinom, which is the Hopi word for “long-ago people.” These sites are considered sacred to the Hopi, and they ask that visitors treat the settlements with respect by not disturbing anything or taking photographs. After settling in at the campground, I rode my bike about half a mile to one of the sites and walked around the pathways marked for visitors. It was fascinating to see these remnants, such as pottery shards and stone walls, from a village that was occupied between 1330 and 1400 AD. The RV campground was very nice, with widely spaced sites and expansive views of the desert terrain and far-off mountains. As luck would have it, another couple from Cleveland pulled in to a nearby site in a Leisure Travel Vans Unity RV (same brand as ours) and had to come over and compare notes about our campers – just what a curmudgeonly hermit like me hopes for during dinner. NOT!

April 4 (Thursday): The next day, we drove 204 miles from Homolovi State Park to the Lavaland RV Park near Grants, NM, where we spent the night in a site with full hookups. The interesting thing about this park was an on-site microbrewery. I strolled over to check it out shortly after we arrived, and enjoyed a pint of something called Bombin’ Out Piñon Stout, flavored with piñon nuts as you probably guessed. Delicious!

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April 5 (Friday): On Friday, we drove 250 miles to Tucumcari, NM, where we stayed one night at the Blaze-In-Saddle RV Park. On the entire trip, we didn’t see many places that looked sadder than Tucumcari. Formerly a thriving part of the famous Route 66, the road leading into the city is now lined on both sides with vacant and decaying buildings. The main part of town still has a fair number of residents and businesses, but it must be no more than half what it was back in the glory days. What a shame that no enterprise has come in to revitalize the place. The RV park was nice enough, with full hookups, but when we drove off the next day, we inadvertently left our leveling jack pads behind. I hope the next folks made good use of them!

April 6 (Saturday): We drove 207 miles to Liberal, KS on Saturday. Any thought that the political leanings of the place might match the city name were quickly dispelled as we passed by the local High School, which sported a large sign proclaiming itself as the “Proud Home of the Redskins.” Pfui. We parked the RV at a simple site with an electrical hookup. And what did I discover as I rode my bike over to the nearby Event Center to deposit a check for the site? The Willow Tree Golf Course, that’s what! So, I schlepped about a mile over to the clubhouse with my golf clubs and played 18 holes. The course was very nice, though flat as a pancake, with excellent fairways and greens. I played very well (for an old duffer) and enjoyed the beautiful spring afternoon.

April 7 (Sunday): The next day we were off again, for a 195-mile drive to the Sand Hills State Park near Buehler, KS. Overnight, the wind had come up, and we made the entire drive in a howling fury, buffeted by gusts that had to be near 50 mph. Worst of all, the highway was a two-lane affair, and whenever we encountered a semi-trailer truck going the opposite direction we were temporarily shielded from the wind, nearly sucking us into the wrong lane before the subsequent blast threw us back toward the right-hand ditch. By the time we reached the State Park, I could barely pry my hands off the wheel, and I was exhausted beyond belief. We found a nice RV site with full hookups, but hardly ventured out of the RV for fear of blowing away to he Land of Oz like Dorothy and Toto.

April 8 (Monday): Thankfully, the wind died down overnight before we left on our next leg, a 261-mile jaunt to the Wallace State Park near Cameron, MO. There, we were able to camp in a very nice RV site with water and electric hookups and a trailhead just steps away. Feeling much more relaxed than the day before, we hiked several miles around the park trails before retiring for the night.

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April 9-12 (Tuesday-Friday): On Tuesday, we continued our near-sprint toward home with a 224-mile drive to the Pine Lake State Park near Eldora, IA. This is the same place we stayed way back when (October 23-24, 2018), our first stop outside of MN on our way south at the beginning of the Excellent Adventure. As faithful readers may recall, there is a golf course right next to the park, and I walked over there with my clubs right after we made camp in a site with an electric hookup. The weather was not too bad, mostly cloudy but warm enough (upper 50s). By the time I had played the 9-hole course twice, the weather began to deteriorate. By late afternoon it was sprinkling, and by late evening it was raining steadily. So, our sprint home stalled out there in Eldora as we were pelted by heavy rain for three days straight. Meanwhile, Minnesota was suffering through a veritable blizzard, so we just hunkered down in Iowa to wait it out. We ended up staying four nights at Pine Lake State Park, without encountering a single other camper. I guess most people realized it was too early for camping.

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April 13-21 (Saturday-Saturday-Sunday): On Saturday we boldly ventured north to Minnesota. Almost comically, within a mile or two of crossing the border from Iowa, the ground was covered with snow. The sun was shining brightly, though, doing its best to melt it all away. After a 209-mile drive, we arrived at our son, Nick’s, home in Brooklyn Center, MN. The snow melted within a few days, and we stayed in the Twin Cities for just over a week doing various things, such as recovering our car from son Matt (who had served as its steward all winter), running errands that we had put off while traveling about the country, and visiting with family members, including a lovely Easter dinner at Pat’s brother Allen’s new home in Minnetonka. We actually stayed with Allen and his wife, LeAnne, during the week while the RV rested up in Nick’s driveway for the final leg of the trip home.

April 22 (Monday): After one final, 268-mile drive, I arrived home with the RV on Monday afternoon.

So that’s the end of our Excellent Adventure! Below is a map of our travels home from the Grand Canyon. (Click here for maps of the entire trip.)

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Thanks to those faithful readers who have followed the adventure! I’ll leave you with a few final notes:

  • From October 22, 2018 through April 22, 2019, we travelled 10,200 miles in the RV, plus several hundred more (not tracked) in three rental cars and our own car.
  • We visited 11 states, 9 National Parks, 2 National Monuments, 1 National Recreation Area, and 12 or more State Parks in Iowa, Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, and California.
  • We stayed at a wide array of RV Parks, from simple campgrounds with 10 or 20 sites to elaborate villages with over a thousand sites. All of them were nice, but I enjoyed the less fancy ones better.
  • We had more fun than any two senior citizens have a right to expect, and we can’t wait to make another RV trip starting this fall.
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Pat and Dave’s Excellent Adventure – PART 11: Gorgeous Gulches

Our last episode ended at Desert Hot Springs, CA. From there, we headed east and visited some beautiful canyons as we began heading back home.

March 15-21 (Friday-Thursday): Our first stop was the Pirates Den RV Resort, located in what’s known as the Parker Strip in Arizona, a 10-15 mile stretch along the Colorado River just across from California. We had driven westward along Highway 95 through the area back in December, and I was entranced by views of a beautiful golf course on both sides of the highway. At the time, I vowed to play the course on our way back east, so before leaving California we made a one-week reservation for a full-hookup site at the RV park closest to it. The RV park was a bit silly with its pirate-themed décor, but the on-site restaurant (The Black Pearl) had very good food, and we enjoyed a couple of meals there, including a dinner commemorating our 40th Anniversary on March 17. The park also had good laundry and shower facilities, but the real attraction was the golf course, called Emerald Canyon. The clubhouse is located just across the main access road to the park, about a half mile walk from our RV site. During our week’s stay, I trudged over there and back with my clubs three times and had probably my most enjoyable golfing of the entire trip. The course was even more beautiful than I had expected based on my initial sighting back in December. Twelve of the holes are located on the northwest side of the highway, and six are located on the southeast side – the cart paths go underneath the highway four times through two tunnels during the course of an eighteen-hole round. Some holes are located in the relatively flat terrain of the Colorado River basin, while others are at substantially higher elevations in a beautiful series of canyons that wind among the foothills of the nearby mountains, and the elevation changes result in spectacular views of the surrounding countryside. The fairways and greens were in beautiful condition; even though the Parker Strip region is semi-arid, the course has several ponds that serve the dual purpose of irrigation for the course and fish hatcheries for the Arizona DNR. The fairways that run through the canyons are very narrow, placing a high priority on accurate tee shots as opposed to distance. I played from the Diamond (white) tees at an overall length of 5897 yards for the par 72 layout. Despite fighting an occasional wicked duck hook, which resulted in several lost ball penalties, I managed to play fairly well the first two times and quite well the third time – over the three rounds I managed to birdie one hole, make bogey or par on sixteen others, and only had one unconquerable hole which I double-bogeyed every time. After those three rounds, I decided not to give up the game again in the foreseeable future.

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March 22-24 (Friday-Sunday): On Friday, we headed for Bullhead City, AZ, where we decided to stop for three nights at the Silver View RV Resort. This is a place we had stayed at back in November, located on a hill overlooking the Colorado River. I remembered the on-site deli where I had a Nathan’s hot dog special the last time, so naturally I needed another one of those for lunch on Saturday. We did a little biking and hiking around the RV Park, but basically were just resting up over the weekend for our upcoming visits to more gorgeous gulches.

March 25-27 (Monday-Wednesday): On Monday, we headed north to Utah, where we stayed for three nights at the Temple View RV Resort in St. George. The drive from Bullhead City to St. George was interesting, consisting of three distinct phases. First came the flat, desert terrain of southern Nevada as we headed toward Las Vegas. Then came the hectic freeway jumble of the greater Las Vegas area, followed by a long stretch of straight road, again through flat, desert terrain, as we followed I 15 to the northeast and across the northwest corner of Arizona. But eventually the highway ahead seemed to just disappear into the distant mountains. As we neared the Utah border, I 15 took a sharp left turn (which had hidden the road from view) into the foothills, and we were then treated to spectacular canyon views as the highway wound back and forth through multiple switchbacks for the rest of the way. St. George itself was not a particularly scenic city, but the surrounding views in all directions were stunning, with several snow-capped peaks providing a sharp contrast to the predominant red of the nearby hills. The RV park took its name from a nearby LDS Temple, its brilliant white spire rising majestically about a mile away. I was very excited to find a DQ adjacent to the RV Park, literally steps from our site, so we naturally had to go there for a late lunch on Monday. (I had the 4-piece chicken strip basket, to no one’s surprise, since I hadn’t had one since leaving Grand Marais six months ago.) We discovered a bike path about two blocks away, which provided access to an excellent network of paths that we explored on Tuesday and Wednesday. Our Wednesday circuit covered about 8 miles, so I didn’t feel too guilty about the DQ indulgence.

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March 28-30 (Thursday-Saturday): On Thursday, we headed west to the town of Springdale, UT, where we stayed for three nights at the Zion Canyon RV Campground, just outside the Zion National Park. We spent the next three days exploring Zion, our eighth National Park visit since October. The National Park Service (NPS) runs an excellent shuttle bus service with nine stops in the town of Springdale, including one about two hundred yards from our RV site. This shuttle takes people to a small market square area adjacent to the National Park. A pedestrian walkway leads to the entrance gate, where I happily displayed my Lifetime Senior Access pass for free entry into the Park. Inside the park, the NPS runs another shuttle service with stops at nine of the most popular sites. On Thursday, we rode the shuttle all the way to Stop 9, the Temple of Sinawa, enjoying the recorded commentary describing the various park attractions and trails along the way. From Stop 9, we took a 2.2-mile hike along the Virgin River, before riding the shuttle back to the main Visitor Center.

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On Friday, we first rode to Stop 7, Weeping Rock, for a short, half-mile hike and a close-up view of a fascinating waterfall that spews directly out of the sandstone cliff. We then rode back to Stop 5, Zion Lodge, where we took a 1.2-mile hike to the Lower Emerald Pool before having lunch at the Lodge. We then rode to Stop 3, Canyon Junction, and walked 2 miles from there to the Park entrance. On Saturday, we eschewed the shuttle, walking a mile to Stop 2, Museum, where we watched a movie about the park history, before heading back to our campsite.

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Zion was definitely a highlight of the trip, with an endless supply of beautiful scenery, excellent, easy access to all the main sites, and just the right amount of hiking for two old duffers. We did see some people climbing along the Park’s most famous trail, to Angels Landing. They looked like ants as we rode past on the shuttle bus. After listening to the description of the harrowing trail, from which several people have plunged to their deaths over the years, I opted to skip that hike and buy an Angels Landing tee shirt instead.

March 31 (Sunday): On Sunday, we left the Zion Canyon Campground and headed back to Nevada, planning to overnight at Lake Mead on our way to the next Gorgeous Gorge. We decided to take a more scenic route rather than going back via Las Vegas, and as a result, we had one of the overall most interesting drives of our adventure. After backtracking through St. George and the scenic mountain canyons we saw on the way to Zion and cutting across northwestern Arizona, we turned south off of I 15 onto Nevada State Highway 169. This less-travelled highway passes through the Moapa Valley and enters the National Recreation Area from the north. Along the way, we stopped for lunch and took a short hike along the Redstone Dune trail, where we saw some fascinating red sandstone formations.

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Then it was on to the Lake Mead National Recreation Area’s Boulder Beach campground in an RV site with no hookups. We had stayed here for two nights back in November and found it very nice, so it seemed like a good overnight stop. I did some biking along the nearby bike trail in the afternoon, but otherwise we were just resting up for the next day’s long trip.

April 1-2 (Monday-Tuesday): On Monday, we departed from Lake Mead and headed for Tusayan, AZ. This was roughly a four-hour drive, which is the most we like to do in one day. At Tusayan, we stayed for two nights at the Grand Canyon Camper Village in a site with electric and water hookups. After settling in and getting oriented on Monday evening, we boarded the Tusayan shuttle on Tuesday morning and headed for the granddaddy of Gorgeous Gorges, the Grand Canyon itself. We last visited the Grand Canyon in 2005 with our sons, Nick and Brian. Since then, the NPS has instituted a shuttle system much like the Zion system. (Or, if it did exist back then, we weren’t aware of it.) There is a line with about five stops in the town of Tusayan that runs into the Park, bypassing the long line of vehicles waiting at the entrance gate, with a drop off at the main Visitor Center. Within the park, there are three lines that run along the south rim road and through the Grand Canyon Village, with multiple stops at excellent viewing locations. Once we arrived at the Visitor Center, we took the Orange Line to Yaki Point, the easternmost location served by the shuttles. After some walking and gawking, we rode back to the Visitor Center, rode a Blue Line shuttle through the village, then took a Green Line shuttle to Hermits Rest, the westernmost shuttle stop. The total distance from Yaki Point to Hermits Rest, if one were to walk along the rim trail, is thirteen miles. We had a sandwich lunch at Hermits Rest and had planned to walk around there for a bit, but the weather had turned a bit snarly and we were pelted with rain and wind as we ate. So, we jumped back on the shuttle and stopped for short hikes at Hopi Pont and Powell Point. Then it was back to the Village to look at the Railroad Station, on to the Visitor Center to buy a cap, and some walking along the rim trail (by then, the weather had become more pleasant.)

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The Grand Canyon, our ninth National Park visit of the trip, is truly spectacular. There are two main differences as compared with Zion. First, the scale of the Grand Canyon is immense – no description or photo can truly convey the vastness of the place – while Zion is huge but more fathomable. Second, Zion visitors enter the canyon at the bottom and look up at the scenery above, while Grand Canyon visitors enter at the top and look down at the scenery below. The Grand Canyon (6.4 million annual visitors) and Zion (4.3 million) are the second and fourth most visited National Parks. The excellent, totally free shuttle systems make them both extremely visitor friendly, and they both ought to be on most people’s bucket lists.

 

That’s it for this episode! Now we’re starting to head for home, back in Minnesota. Check back in a couple of weeks for the final installment of this Excellent Adventure series. Below is a map of our travels since leaving Palm Springs for the second time in March. (Click here for maps of the entire trip so far.)

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Pat and Dave’s Excellent Adventure – PART 10: Déjà Vu?

Our last episode ended at Doheny State Beach in Dana Point, CA, our next-to-last stay along the Pacific coast. This post describes we’ve done during the subsequent month.

February 13-21 (Wednesday-Wednesday-Thursday): On Wednesday, we left Doheny State Beach and drove to the Sunland RV Park in San Mateo, CA, a suburb on the east side of San Diego. We had booked a week’s stay to allow time for receiving some mail from our forwarding service. As it turned out, a week was not enough time for the good old US Postal Service, so we ended up staying an extra day waiting for the mail and then one more day because, when the mail finally arrived, it was raining cats and dogs all across the southern part of California. In fact, of the nine days total we spent in the San Diego area, it rained for at least a portion of five of them. On those rainy days, we basically just hunkered down in the RV and hoped we didn’t wash away in a flash flood. Luckily, the other four days were quite nice, so we were able to do some fun things. The RV Park was unique in its proximity to one of the three main lines of the San Diego Trolley system. In fact, our RV site was literally a pitching wedge distance (about a hundred yards) away from the 70th Avenue station on the Sycuan (Green) line. (The first photo below is taken from behind the RV looking toward the trolley station. The other photo is taken from the trolley station, and you can sort of make out our RV in the background.)

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We bought two four-day passes on Thursday ($15 each) that allowed unlimited rides on the trolley lines as well as all the area bus lines. It rained too heavily for traveling on one of the subsequent days, so we also bought one-day passes ($5 each) on Tuesday. Even though the rain ended up costing us the extra $10, we made the most of the four days we spent riding the rails. We literally travelled every single foot of track on each of the three lines, Sycuan (Green), UC San Diego (Blue), and Orange. (Apparently the Orange line couldn’t find a title sponsor.) Here are the things we did during our trolley riding days:

  • We started off with a trolley to the Gaslamp Quarter station where we had a nice BBQ lunch, then walked around the downtown area to get oriented, passing by Petco Park, the Convention Center, and along the oceanfront before returning to the Santa Fe Depot station. We observed many, many people zipping around town on rental scooters and bikes. These are parked all around town on the sidewalks – a rider just grabs one, swipes or taps a card, rides to his or her destination, and leaves it there for someone else. It looked very convenient and quite fun, but we relied solely on our own feet, unwilling to risk a life-threatening injury of some sort. On the way back to the RV Park, we got off at the SDSU station and walked two blocks to Trader Joes for groceries before returning to the RV park. We were very impressed with the trains – they were clean, comfortable, and ran frequently, never requiring more than a five- or ten-minute wait.
  • For our next trip, we rode to the Santa Fe Depot station again before walking to a nearby terminal, where we boarded a boat and took a two-hour harbor cruise. It was abundantly clear from the tour that the US Navy is the lifeblood of the San Diego harbor. We saw seemingly hundreds of active Navy ships of all sizes and capabilities and several drydock facilities that primarily service the Navy ships. The USS Midway, a gigantic, retired aircraft carrier, is also docked in the harbor as a floating museum. We also saw some commercial vessels, including a cargo ship capable of carrying 2400 automobiles – it was anchored just outside the harbor waiting for final clearance to deliver its cargo. (Maybe DJT needed to collect his tariffs first?) We learned that 24% of all cars imported from the Far East for the US market enter through the San Diego port. The California sea lions pictured below didn’t seem overly impressed with either the Navy ships or the commercial vessels, however. We topped off the day with dinner at the San Diego Pier Café, situated on pilings above the harbor water. I had an excellent cioppino, Pat had fish tacos, and we even splurged on Margaritas.

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  • For our next foray, I thought it might be useful to travel down to the US-Mexico border and make my own personal assessment of the so-called national emergency going on there. We rode the Green line to its terminus, walked a hundred yards or so to board the Blue line, and rode that all the way to the San Ysidro border crossing. This is the very place where tear gas was fired at asylum-seeking families supposedly attempting to storm the border just a few weeks previously. We saw no signs of any sort of panic; instead we observed: people shopping at a large outlet mall located literally a stone’s throw from the border fence; people calmly walking to and from the border crossing locations; construction crews busily working on a massive upgrade project that will significantly increase capacity, both vehicle lanes and pedestrian crossings in both directions; and US Border Patrol agents leaving at the end of their shifts, talking, smiling, and laughing among themselves as they passed us, presumably on their way to their parked cars. We learned that 70,000 vehicles and 20,000 pedestrians cross the border from Mexico at San Ysidro every day, but that the vast majority are Mexican citizens commuting to work in the US before returning in the evenings, as well as tourists (returning Americans and foreign visitors). In short, we saw no evidence of a national emergency – apparently you can only see it if your politics lean in a certain direction – we merely saw the usual hustle and bustle of a typical, vibrant American city. The most significant thing to me was the difference in the view – to the north I saw mostly vast, open spaces, to the south, multi-story dwellings crammed together on every hill I could see over the fence.

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  • For our last San Diego outing, we again took the Green line to the Santa Fe Depot, then walked to a ferry terminal (right next to the harbor cruise terminal). The ferry took us to the east side of Coronado Island. We walked about a mile and a half across the island to the historic Hotel del Coronado, where we walked around admiring the iconic building before stopping for a late lunch at an outdoor patio restaurant. It was a bit breezy and cool sitting outside, but we enjoyed both the food and the view. After walking across the island again, we boarded a smaller ferry boat and rode back to a terminal near the Convention Center before catching the trolley. This time, we took the Orange line to its terminus, transferred to the Green line and rode to its terminus, and then rode back to our RV park. Great fun for a couple of train enthusiasts.

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As I noted above, we had intended to move on to our next destination on Wednesday, not actually knowing where that might be, but the mail hadn’t yet arrived, so we extended our stay until Thursday. The mail finally came on Thursday morning, but as we were trying to decide where to go next, we saw that the forecast was for rain over the entire region, and even snow in some areas. So, we decided to extend our stay another day, and were immediately rewarded with a downpour that lasted well into the night. Having grown weary of the rain, we decided to head back to Arizona on Friday in hopes of finding the sun again.

February 22-24 (Friday-Sunday): We headed east on Friday morning, driving through the remnants of snowfall in the mountains as we left the San Diego area. As we descended from the mountains into the desert, it got sunnier and warmer with virtually every mile until we rolled into a place we had visited before, Rolle’s Lynda Vista RV Park in Yuma, AZ. Here we were at last rejuvenated by glorious sunshine for three straight days. There was, of course, no trolley as we had enjoyed in San Diego, but we were familiar with the area and were able to ride our bikes every day – to the nearby grocery store, to the local taqueria, around the neighborhood to visit the cattle I’d grown fond of during the last visit, and along a nice bike trail that ran three or four miles along the Colorado River and an irrigation canal. Over the course of our stay, as I listened to the clucking of chickens wandering about the park and the daily afternoon jingle of the neighborhood ice cream truck, a feeling of déjà vu surfaced. I could swear we had been here before, and we had – back in December!

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February 25-March 2 (Monday-Sunday): Fully refreshed by the Yuma sunshine, we resumed our quest, heading north and west again toward the Coachella Valley. (I’ll explain why a little later.) This time we went up the west side of the Salton Sea until we came to the Oasis Palms RV Park near the not-quite thriving metropolises of Mecca and Thermal, CA. We had thought we would be close to the Salton Sea at this park, but actually could not see it at all. It was a sleepy place just to the west of Highway 86, with a nice little pond, pickle ball court, laundry, showers, and about 200 RV sites with full hookups. The surrounding area had several date palm groves, greenhouses, and agricultural fields of many varieties, but very little in the way of hiking or other tourist-type activities. I used my bike to ride around the park and to a nearby store (where I was able to buy some incredibly cheap wine as well as my daily Dr. Pepper fix), and I did a little chipping and putting in a small area set aside for that purpose, but otherwise we spent our time here vegging out and falling into a near stupor. Also, the Wi-Fi service was pretty … darned … s … l … o … w.

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March 3-5 (Sunday-Tuesday): On Sunday we drove to Joshua Tree National Park. We had previously stayed at the Black Rock campground on the north side of the Park back in December; this time we entered from the south and stayed at the Cottonwood campground. As we drove into the Park, we were greeted by a stunning display of spring wildflowers in vibrant colors, primarily green, yellow, and purple.

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As we drove further north to the campground, the flowers thinned out and esentially disappeared, leaving a sandy landscape very similar to what we saw in December. We stayed in a lovely RV site with no hookups for three nights.

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On Sunday, we followed a trail from the campground to a place where it intersects the primary area loop trails (only about a half-mile round trip). On Monday, we hiked along the Mastodon Loop in a clockwise direction. The first half of the trail was very similar to those we hiked at the north campground, with sandy soil and sparse vegetation (though there were only a very few Joshua trees, not the multitude we saw in the north). The trail climbed about a thousand feet to the summit of Mastodon Peak, offering spectacular views of the surrounding mountains and desert areas. We also passed by the remnants of an old mine. The trail then descended from the peak toward the Cottonwood Springs oasis, and as we neared that area, we again saw many beautiful spring flowers. Unfortunately, my phone had died by then and Pat had left hers in the RV, so we got no pictures along the final third of the loop. All in all, this hike covered about 3.5 miles. When I recharged the phone, I was surprised to see that several emails and a phone call had come through, even though we had no cell service at the campground. It dawned on me that we must have picked up a signal somewhere in the higher elevations near the peak during our hike.

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On Tuesday we hiked the 3.5-mile trail again, but in the counterclockwise direction so we could be sure to get photos of the oasis and the flowers. The oasis was very surprising, with a dozen or more gigantic date palm trees that thrive on the water from the eponymous spring. (We couldn’t see any water flowing, but the ground around the trees did appear to have some wet spots. The area was posted with signs stating that the ground water had been contaminated by mining activity. The native Coahuilla tribe lived here for hundreds of years without damaging the environment, but it only took the civilized folks a half-century to do it in.)

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We tried to get some closeups of the flowers, but they don’t do the place justice. Many of the blooming flowers had surprisingly delicate and intricate features, yet the stems and roots were hardy enough to withstand the harsh desert climate. I was also impressed by the sheer number of different plant species on display – there were dozens of them when I had expected to see only a few.

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As we neared the peak again, our phones found cell signals, so we stopped for a brief rest at the top, where we couldn’t resist checking our emails (and playing a few games of Words with Friends) before we lost the signals again on the way down.

March 6-14 (Wednesday-Wednesday-Thursday): On Wednesday, we drove back down into the Coachella Valley and once again checked into the Catalina Spa RV Resort in Desert Hot Springs. Why were we revisiting so many places? A good question, with a complicated answer. Back when we were staying in Morgan Hill in January, Pat decided she would like to go see some action at the PNB Paribas Open tennis tournament in Indian Wells, one of the many cities in the Palm Springs area. This is quite a famous tournament which attracts most of the top players in the world. She was easily able to obtain tickets for the tournament, for Sunday and Monday, March 10 and 11. Since she planned t attend the tournament from morning till night, we thought it would be a good idea to stay in a hotel near the tennis venue for a couple of nights. This is where the plan got tricky – every hotel she called was booked solid due to the popularity of the tennis tournament. She kept trying to find a hotel as we drove south along the Pacific coast, hampered severely by lack of cell service in most places. Finally, she was able to get a connection and book two nights at the Hotel Paseo, a new establishment in Palm Desert, about 4 miles from the Indian Wells Tennis Garden. She prepaid the reservation and we happily continued our journey for several days. But then we started to wonder if the hotel would be able to provide parking for the RV while we stayed there. Pat called them while we were staying in San Diego and, you guessed it – the answer was no, they could only accommodate passenger cars due to very limited parking on site. Our solution to this conundrum was to stay at an RV resort, rent a car for a while, and leave the RV at the resort while we stayed in town for the tennis. And what better place to visit than the Catalina Spa, where I had stayed for three weeks while golfing my brains out in December and January? (We later learned we weren’t supposed to leave the RV unoccupied for more than 24 hours without prior permission, but that’ll be our little secret.) We were able to rent a car for a week using credit card points, and we made good use of the car for the tennis outing as well as gadding about the Palm Springs area for other things.

Since this post is getting inordinately long, I’ll just briefly summarize some of the things we did during our stay. Pat had a fabulous time at the tournament, where she saw many of the game’s greats, including her favorite, Rafael Nadal, as well as Roger Federer, the Williams sisters, and many more.

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I played golf twice at the Shadow Mountain golf course, the first course ever built in the Coachella Valley back in the 1950s. It’s a short track that places a premium on accuracy rather than length and has incredibly difficult greens. I also saw one of the game’s greats who was my cart-mate the second time, a young man from Long Island named Ryan, who shot even par with three birdies and an eagle during his round. I did not quite achieve that level, playing poorly the first time and abominably the second time. (At that point, I recalled that I had given up the game back in Morgan Hill and should have just skipped golf altogether.) We also did several errands during the stay, including laundry, getting the RV washed, getting Pat’s bicycle tire repaired (it had gone flat), and getting our tax returns printed at a local FedEx (we couldn’t e-file this year due to technical issues). More hiking was also in the cards, as we visited the Coachella Valley Preserve, located about 5 miles away in Thousand Palms. There, we saw many more of the large date palms that grow in oases fed by spring water. (I say, that must be why they call this area Palm Springs!) I learned that the tree trunks are much smaller than they look, as they reside within large “skirts” formed by the old palm fronds. You can see that in the photo below, where I am standing between a tree with a large skirt and another on which the skirt had been burned away.

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OK, enough for now! We’re off again, heading east toward Arizona. Check back in a couple of weeks or so to learn what we get up to next. Below is a map of our travels since leaving Palm Springs for the first time in early January. (Click here for maps of the entire trip so far.)

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Pat and Dave’s Excellent Adventure – PART 9: Pacific Coast

Our last episode ended in Morgan Hill, CA, where we visited friends and relatives before heading south along the Pacific coast. Here’s a summary of what’s happened since then.

January 28-30 (Monday-Wednesday): We departed from Morgan Hill, feeling a bit like drowned rats and hoping for a respite from the excessive rain we experienced in the Bay Area. The weather was fairly cooperative, as the sky constantly changed from partly cloudy to heavy overcast to partly sunny and back again. After a bit of freeway driving, we soon found ourselves on the famous Pacific Coast Highway (PCH), officially known as California State Highway 1. We passed through Carmel without making a side trip up the Monterey Peninsula to Pebble Beach – it would have been nice to see the iconic golf links there, but we wanted to get to our next destination before 2 PM. Besides, the fashion police may well have demanded that I put on my new pants just to drive by the course, and I was in no mood for that.

The scenery along the PCH was absolutely stunning. Luckily the traffic was very light, so I didn’t need to pull the RV over too often to let cars pass. We did see signs stating that we were REQUIRED to pull over at various points if there were more than four cars backed up behind us, but that never happened. I had to constantly remind myself that open gawking at the scenery could result in a plunge to a watery grave, so we stopped at a few of the so-called Vista Points to take photos and wait for my head to clear and my hands to stop shaking. My past teasing of Pat for getting queasy on some of the other treacherous roads was forgotten; I was just as nervous as she was. When we passed by the entrance to the infamous Esalen Institute, I briefly considered a quick stop for some new age counseling to calm our nerves, but who knows what might have become of us had we done that.

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At any rate, we made it safely to our next destination, Limekiln State Park, located in a steep ravine along the Big Sur coast. The park did not allow RVs greater than 25 ft in length, because the entrance road has a very sharp turn and the 10-12 sites where RVs can stay will only accommodate small rigs. (This was another example of why we are so happy with our 24-foot RV, along with the fact that a longer one would almost certainly have found that watery grave alongside the PCH.) The park consisted of two parts – the inland side was a beautiful redwood forest with crystal clear creeks, and the ocean side opened onto a rocky cove with stunning views of the Pacific, with hundreds of birds soaring in the sky and nestling on the rocks. On Monday afternoon, we hiked along one of the trails through the redwoods to see some 1880’s vintage lime kilns (the source of the park’s name) and then enjoyed the evening sunset over the ocean. There was no cell service in the park and no electricity or water hookups for the RV, so our time there was very relaxing and enjoyable. Except that, after another somewhat decent day on Tuesday that included more hiking in the redwoods and another nice sunset, it started to rain again. With overcast skies on Tuesday afternoon and rain on Wednesday, our solar panels could not keep the RV batteries sufficiently charged, so we needed to run our generator for an hour each evening. Who knew the life of the modern RV camper could be so hard?

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January 31-February 2 (Thursday-Saturday): Having thoroughly enjoyed Limekiln, but again feeling very soggy, we motored off on Thursday along the PCH toward San Simeon. This stretch of highway was even rougher and more dramatic than Monday’s drive. Add in the off-and-on rain and heavy overcast conditions and my anxiety level was literally through the roof, to the point where I had to stop the RV at a tiny little town called, very fittingly, Ragged Point. I pulled off the PCH into a parking lot to find, as if heaven-sent, a tiny general store, into which I staggered to purchase a bottle of Dr. Pepper. After retreating to the RV, taking several long slugs of soda pop and many deep breaths, I looked into Pat’s barely focused eyes and promised her that, if we made it to San Simeon, I would never tease her again about being nervous on scary roads. Thankfully, shortly after we departed Ragged Point, the PCH transformed from a ferocious monster to a tame, but still beautiful, kitten. We still had many gorgeous views of the Pacific, but the road was now situated on a wide expanse of flat land between the ocean and the nearby hills, in stark contrast to what felt like a three- or four-foot path carved into the cliffside between Limekiln and Ragged Point. We stopped at a Vista Point along the way to admire the elephant seals lolling about on the beach. The signs there explained that this region of the coast is the largest elephant seal rookery in the world, and that the seals collect there in large numbers in January and February to mate and give birth to their young.

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Shortly after the elephant seal area, we stopped the RV at the Hearst Castle Visitor Center just north of San Simeon. Hearst Castle is the name now given to the world-famous estate of William Randolph Hearst, the muckraking journalist and media mogul of the early 20th century. Hearst and his architect, Julia Morgan, built this amazing place over the period from 1919 to 1947. It is on top of a hill overlooking the Pacific to the west and beautiful valleys formed by the mountains to the east. To me, it felt like America’s version of the great castles of Europe. The architecture evokes a Mediterranean village, with a main mansion surrounded by several guest houses. The main house is filled with amazing artworks, including paintings, statuary, even entire Renaissance-era ceilings procured in Spain and transported to California specifically for Hearst’s project. On Thursday we took the so-called Grand Rooms tour, after which we intended to spend some time strolling the grounds, but guess what? By the time our two-hour tour ended, it was pouring rain again. So we took the bus back to the Visitor Center and sat in the RV for an hour (where we were able to get cell signals) until the rain stopped.

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Once the rain let up, off we trundled to the Hearst San Simeon State Park, about five miles south of the Castle. We were able to get settled into our camp site, again with no electricity or water hookups and no cell signal, and walk along a very short trail to another beautiful Pacific beach, before it started to rain again. It rained off-and-on all night and into the morning.

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On Friday morning, as we drove back to Hearst Castle for another two-hour tour, this one called the Upper Rooms Tour, we saw a sign stating that the PCH was closed to the north due to the excessive rain. This time when we finished our tour it wasn’t raining, though the heavy overcast kept us from enjoying what would normally have been spectacular views of the surrounding scenery. At any rate, we wandered the grounds for another hour or so, then bussed back to the Visitor Center to watch a movie about the building of the Castle before returning to the State Park.

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As we were settling the RV back in to our site, a funny thing happened. It started to rain yet again. Within an hour, it was absolutely pouring, and it poured all evening and most of the night. On Saturday morning when I walked over toward the beach, the nearby creek had overflowed its banks and I had to turn back. But by afternoon the creek had receded, and we were able to have a nice walk along the beach. Again, we had to run the generator for cooking supper and to recharge the batteries.

February 3-6 (Sunday-Wednesday): Despite all the rain, we enjoyed our stays at Limekiln and Hearst San Simeon State Parks, but after six days of boondocking we were ready to stay at an RV Park with electricity and laundry facilities while we hoped for a break in the weather. So, we headed inland toward Paso Robles. As we drove along a winding road through the mountains, the fog became so thick that I was only able to go 35-40 mph, causing a backup of about seven cars behind me. Unlike the PCH, the highway had no turnout spots, so I couldn’t pull over to let them by. Naturally, I stressed out about this – seems I can’t drive anywhere without undue anxiety. As we started to descend toward Paso Robles, the fog lifted a bit, and a large pickup decided to pass the entire line of cars – while driving uphill and ignoring the double yellow line on the road. Right after he passed us, there was a stop sign. A hundred yards past that, the impatient truck driver turned off the highway and raced up a long driveway. Did he realize he’d been lucky there were no cars going the other way? Did he care? Who knows. Just before we reached Paso Robles, we saw a lovely rainbow, which I took as a good sign of things to come.

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After stopping in town for groceries, we found a nice place to stay, the Wine Country RV Resort. I was surprised to learn that Paso Robles is a well-regarded wine region, with over 300 wineries in the area surrounding the town. In fact, we learned that the RV Park offered a winery tour. That sounded fun, so after spending Sunday afternoon doing laundry, I went to the park office on Monday to sign up for it. It turned out there wasn’t another winery tour until Wednesday, and we were planning on heading back to the coast again on Tuesday. But, wouldn’t you know it, it rained again on Monday and Tuesday, so we decided to extend our stay and go on the Wednesday winery tour. We were rewarded for this decision with a beautiful, sunny day on Wednesday and had a great time on the tour. We were chauffeured by a friendly woman named Kat to four different wineries – Lone Madrone, Whalebone, Treana, and Eberle. At each one, we sampled six or more wines and bought two bottles from among the selections we had tasted (eight bottles in total). The tour included a nice lunch of crackers and cheese after the second winery, and Kat was very informative and entertaining as she ferried us around the area. When we got back to the RV, I was pleased to find I was still upright, but I was definitely not feeling anxious in any way.

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February 7-10 (Thursday-Sunday): On Thursday, we drove to Santa Barbara, where we had reserved a site at the Sunrise RV Park, a small park just off the Highway 101 freeway. Once there, I rode my bike to the Santa Barbara harbor to check out the lay of the land and inquire at the Visitor Center about tours of the nearby Channel Islands National Park. My route took me past a lovely golf course, through a bird refuge, and along the Pacific Ocean beachfront.

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At the Visitor Center, I learned that the only boats to the Islands sail from Ventura or Oxnard, so we decided to book a Channel Islands Whale Watching cruise out of Ventura for the coming Sunday. On Friday morning, Pat had a business conference call, so I went for a walk around the neighborhood of the RV Park. Once Pat was done with her call and we’d eaten lunch in the RV, we walked the route I’d biked the day before. Our walk included an excursion to Stearns Wharf, an old steamboat pier now sporting several shops and restaurants. I got a waffle cone and Pat had a latte before we walked back to the RV. By this time my feet were complaining loudly, and I told Pat I was sure I’d covered at least 20,000 steps that day. I’ve only been using the step-counting feature on my phone since last July, shortly after my 68th birthday, but my previous high daily total since then was just over 18,000. I’ve walked far more than that in a single day many times during my younger days, before there were such things as step counters, but as a peripheral neuropathy sufferer over the past 15 years or so walking has become somewhat hard on my feet. Now, fishing out my phone, I saw that my step total was 19,800, a modern era personal record. But I’d just claimed to have walked 20,000 steps and was not about to be called a liar, so I headed out for another walk around the RV Park and returned to see that my new total was 20,245 (supposedly 9.63 miles). Take that, you pathetic, complaining feet!

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Guess what happened next. It started raining Friday night and rained most of the day on Saturday. It was still sputtering as we drove down to Ventura on Sunday. The rain had stopped, but it was overcast and windy when we arrived at the Island Packers boat dock. Our cruise departed at 9:30 AM, and we encountered brief periods of both sun and rain as we sailed out to and around the Channel Islands. On the way, we encountered humpback whales, gray whales, dolphins, sea lions, pelicans, and gulls – what an absolutely delightful trip it was! I got some good videos of leaping dolphins and whales and am trying to learn how to edit them and make gifs. The images below do not do justice to what we actually saw on the trip. Let me just say that this venture to our seventh National Park was one of the real highlights of our Excellent Adventure.

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February 11-12 (Monday-Tuesday): On Monday, we pulled up stakes in Santa Barbara and headed south again along the coast. The weather was quite nice this time as we drove to and beyond Ventura, so we were able to fully enjoy the beautiful coastal scenery. That lovely drive gradually turned into a mind-numbing slog as we reached the greater Los Angeles area and traversed from one gigantic freeway to another, often coming to a near stop amidst a sea of cars and trucks. Thank goodness we weren’t traveling during the rush hour. Eventually we emerged from the concrete jungle and once again began to enjoy the Pacific coast as we made our way to Dana Point. We stayed Monday and Tuesday nights at Doheny State Beach, literally a hundred yards from the ocean in a nice campground with no electric or water hookups. We made good use of the bikes both days, exploring the pricey real estate along a local road to the south on Monday and riding into town for a nice lunch on Tuesday (we ate at the Harbor Grill in Dana Point, where I had the best crab cakes I’ve ever eaten). And, yes, it rained again on Monday night. Will it ever end?

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Below is a map of our travels since leaving Palm Springs in early January. (Click here for maps of the entire trip so far.) After Doheny State Beach, we headed off toward San Diego. Check back in a couple of weeks for a report on our activities there and wherever else we may have found ourselves by then.

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Pat and Dave’s Excellent Adventure – PART 8: The Way to San Jose

Our last episode ended in Desert Hot Springs, CA, where I golfed my brains out and we rode on an exciting tram ride into the mountains overlooking the Coachella Valley. Here’s a summary of the subsequent twenty days.

January 9-10 (Wednesday-Thursday): We eventually decided to make our next leg a straight shot up to San Jose with an intermediate pit stop in Bakersfield. (Throughout the trip, I was unable to answer the lyrical question playing in my head: Dionne Warwicke continually asking “Do You Know The Way to San Jose?” Luckily, Google Maps knew.) Our drive to the Shady Haven RV Park in Bakersfield on Wednesday was pleasant and uneventful. We stayed in a nice, quiet spot with full hookups, showers, laundry, cable TV, and non-functional Wi-Fi for two nights ($29.50 per night with our 50% Passport America discount). It was nice to have the distraction of the cable TV since all it did while we were there was rain. The park manager told me the Wi-Fi would be back in service shortly, and that it was really fast – they just needed to replace one part in their router. It did eventually come on – and it actually was really fast, the fastest we’ve had at any of the places we’ve stayed – but not until a couple of hours before we left on Friday. Such is life.

January 11-27 (Friday-Friday-Friday-Sunday): When we left the park in Bakersfield, the fog was so thick I couldn’t see to the end of the block. Luckily, once we’d crept along at a snail’s pace for a half hour or so, the fog lifted, and we had a fine drive the rest of the way to San Jose. We had reserved a rental car at the San Jose airport, since driving the RV in heavy Bay Area traffic and along narrow residential streets as we went to visit our friends and relatives might not have been the best idea. This concept was borne out as we approached San Jose and got sucked into a vortex of frantic California drivers tearing along at lightning speeds, changing lanes with abandon, slamming on brakes in some mystical, whimsical fashion, meanwhile turning me into a quivering mass of jelly. Somehow, I made it to the airport, where Pat jumped out once we sighted the car rental building. I then shakily drove back to the town of Morgan Hill, several miles south of San Jose, and checked into the Coyote Valley RV Resort. Pat joined me there with a nice, new VW Jetta that ended up getting 45 mpg during our stay while the RV sat at the park resting up for the next leg of the journey.

The RV park turned out to be a nice, rather sleepy place with full hookups, showers, laundry, Cable TV, Wi-Fi (abominably slow) – all the usual RV park stuff. However, this being the Bay Area, there were no discounts to be had, no Passport America, no senior citizen deal, no AAA rate, just “gee you’re a nice guy and all, but just pay your bill, please.” One unexpected benefit was the Coyote Creek Golf Course, literally within walking distance from the park. Amazing how this can happen even without planning. (I played there on Saturday the 12th and Saturday the 19th, enjoying good weather the first time but a waterlogged course the second. I apparently left my game somewhere back in the Coachella Valley along with any trace of strength in my right shoulder.)

The stay at Coyote Valley ended up being our second longest in any one place so far, second only to the marathon in Desert Hot Springs. We were originally planning a two week stay, but ended up extending that by three days when we were unable to book a place at the State Park we wanted to visit next. (You’ll have to wait for Part 9 to find out where that is). During our stay, we visited three couples who live in the area:

  • On Sunday the 13th, we went to see Chris and Ali, Pat’s sister’s son and his wife, who are living in Palo Alto until Chris finishes his Ph.D. in Materials Science at Stanford. We met them at the training studio where their cute dog, Artie, was going through his paces. We then went for lunch with the three of them at a nice restaurant with outdoor seating in Palo Alto, after which we got a personalized tour of the Stanford campus, including Chris’s research lab. It was a lovely day and we thoroughly enjoyed catching up with Chris and Ali, and meeting Artie, of course.

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  • On Tuesday the 15th, we visited with an old friend, Donna, and her husband, Dennis, at their lovely home in Mountain View. I first met Donna at Sandburg Junior High School in New Hope, MN, on the first day of seventh grade. I spent much of the subsequent two years mooning over the lovely young girl, but, being a super shy Finnlander, was incapable of communicating my interest to her. Sadly, she went on to attend Cooper High School while I went to Robbinsdale. Somehow, I got over this loss and went on to finish high school and college, get married not once but twice (after my first unsuccessful attempt, Pat and I have had a blissful almost 40-year partnership, with many more years to come), and to have three wonderful sons and a great career. So why were we visiting my junior high crush in sunny California? It just so happened that the high school reunion planners decided to do a combined 50th reunion with Cooper AND Robbinsdale alums in 2017. This got me to remembering Donna, and as a result I just so happened to decide to go to the reunion, dragging Pat along to keep me in line. Donna didn’t actually attend the reunion, but I just so happened to run into one of my Robbinsdale classmates who just so happened to be Donna’s first husband. He was nice enough to give me her contact info, and voila! When I let her know we would be in the Bay Area this winter, we agreed to have our own little mini-reunion at her home. Our visit was great fun. Donna fixed us “an Excellent Lunch to go along with our Excellent Adventure,” during which we shared old stories and caught up on each other’s lives. She also gave us a personal motor tour of Mountain View and provided us with a parting gift of delicious oranges and kiwis grown in their own back yard garden. It was also fascinating to meet Dennis, who was very gracious, especially under the circumstances (some yahoo from Donna’s past showing up on his doorstep). He was in the process of retiring from a long career at the NASA Ames Research Center (the process having been interrupted by Trump’s idiotic Government shutdown). He also introduced me to a new word when I reiterated Donna’s mention of the “excellent” lunch – the lunch could just as well have been called “eximious,” Dennis told me. (So, Donna ended up marrying an introverted aerospace engineer who is a bit nerdy and enjoys unusual words. Hmmm, he almost could have been me! But let’s not go there, shall we?) The only downside to the visit was that it rained all day long, as it had on Monday and as it continued to do for much of the subsequent week.
  • On Monday the 19th, we visited Connie, one of Pat’s old school chums, and her husband Scott. Pat and Connie both attended school from Kindergarten through 12th grade in Bricelyn, MN. Unlike me and my old friend, though, Pat and Connie have kept up over the subsequent years, serving as bridesmaids at each other’s weddings (that would also be my wedding) and catching up at various reunions along the way. I also attended Scott and Connie’s wedding in Portland, OR, and we visited them when they first moved to San Jose some 30 years ago. On Monday, Scott and I played golf at Moffet Field Golf Course on the grounds of the NASA Ames Research Center while Connie and Pat spent the day catching up. The golf course was drenched, with no carts allowed, as a result of all the recent rain (at least it didn’t rain while we were playing). That made the very long course play even longer. I was lucky to break 100, but the sheer number of pathetic excuses for golf shots left me such a broken golfer that I decided to give up the game. Nevertheless, we had a great time, although Scott had to give me a pair of dry socks to wear since mine were soaked through. After golf, we enjoyed a delicious meal fixed by Connie and Scott before heading back to the RV park. On the way back, I decided not to throw my clubs in the trash, just in case.

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During the remainder of our stay at the Coyote Valley RV Resort, we mainly gadded about the Morgan Hill area in the rented Jetta, often dodging raindrops as it continued to rain off and on the whole time. We went to see a movie (On the Basis of Sex, about Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the last great hope for liberals like us), went to a local winery for a tasting, and also rode several times on a very nice bicycle trail adjacent to the RV Park and the golf course.

Our final Bay Area adventure was on Friday the 25th, when the rental car was due back at the San Jose airport. Rather than risking another trip with the RV through the madhouse traffic, we decided on a clever means to return the car. First, I drove to the local Caltrain Station in Morgan Hill – a sedate drive with the RV – while Pat followed in the Jetta. Then, she drove me and the Jetta to the San Jose airport rental car center. After we returned the car, we caught an airport shuttle to the nearest Caltrain station and caught a train to San Francisco. Once there, we gadded about the vibrant city, first taking a bus to Fisherman’s Wharf, then walking to Ghirardelli Square, then riding the old streetcar line, and finally catching the light rail train back to the Caltrain station. We then took the Caltrain back to Morgan Hill, had dinner at a nice BBQ place, and finally drove the RV back to the Coyote Valley park. Visiting the big city was quite exhilarating – the only blemish was the half dozen or more homeless people we saw in just this brief visit. If only someone could come up with a humane way to help the unfortunate ones who cannot keep up with the high cost of living in the Bay Area.

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As a grand finale, we were visited once more by Scott and Connie on Saturday the 26th. They picked us up at the Coyote Valley RV Park and then on to a lovely dinner at an Italian restaurant in nearby Morgan Hill. Now we’re finally off again for the next leg of the adventure. Check back in a couple of weeks to find out where we go next.

Pat and Dave’s Excellent Adventure – PART 7: Golfing Paradise

Our last episode ended with me in Desert Hot Springs, CA, and Pat back in Minnesota. She’s now back with me and the RV at the Catalina Spa RV Resort, at the tail end of a three week stay. Since this is my blog and not hers, I will only report on exploits here in California and let Pat share what she wants elsewhere about her trip back home.

Actually, “exploits” is a bit too grandiose a description for my time alone in the Coachella Valley. I basically did nothing but play golf. This place is as close to a golfing paradise as I have ever seen. There are reportedly some 120 courses in the valley, ranging from very exclusive and pricey resorts such as La Quinta and PGA West to more modest fare willing to allow players such as myself on the premises. Actually, even the fancy places would take me, if only I would flash a double titanium credit card and adhere to the dress code. I didn’t go to any of the fancy places because I’m just not a good enough player to justify forking over hundreds of bucks to experience true links magnificence. To put it another way, I’m just too cheap. I did, however, play a total of 12 rounds of golf in the 15 days that Pat was gone. Most of those rounds were so-called Hot Deals offered by the Golf Now service, so I was generally paying half price or less.

At first, I tried to find courses that didn’t say anything about a dress code in their booking notices. The reason I did that is simple – I did not bring any non-denim pants along on the trip, because I only own(ed) one such pair to be used exclusively for weddings and funerals, and that pair is in a closet back in Grand Marais. Wearing jeans worked twice, but the third time I did it was suggested that I shouldn’t come back again if I insisted on wearing them. After that, I tried wearing a pair of Pat’s pants that she left behind, but certain issues of form and function eventually drove me to a local Target store to purchase some actual non-denim men’s pants. I am very annoyed that most of the Coachella Valley courses still adhere to the collared shirt and non-denim policy. (Apparently, this dress code is intended to ensure that only “gentlemen and ladies” partake in the genteel game, although it fails to prevent an awful lot of boorish behavior, in my humble opinion.) There is only one course I play back in Minnesota that still has the no-denim dress code (are you reading this, Tom W?). I even played in jeans at Royal Dornoch in Scotland, the fourth oldest course in the world, and they acted as if I had two heads when I asked if they had a no-denim policy. But, faced with the choice between pouting in the RV and playing golf in the Coachella Valley paradise, I opted for new pants.

Here are the courses I played at, with a brief synopsis of each:

  • Mesquite Country Club: A nice layout with very few holes adjacent to homes, but probably in the worst condition of the ones I visited. I played here the day Pat left and the day she came back, since it was conveniently close for drop off and pick up at the Palm Springs airport.
  • Cathedral Canyon Country Club: Excellent fairways and greens, but homes adjacent to many of the holes.
  • Date Palm Country Club: A par-58 executive course in good condition, but most of the holes meandered among the adjacent homes. I shot my best score relative to par here, actually bettering my age by one, so that was great fun.
  • Desert Dunes Golf Club: Fairways and greens were nice, but some of the bunkers and the rough areas near the desert were in pretty bad shape. While they tout a future housing development, there are no houses there yet.
  • Tahquitz Creek Golf Club: I played the Resort Course twice (there is also a Legends Course) because the pace of play was so slow I could only finish 15 holes before dark on the first try. I went earlier in the day for the second try and consequently had to pay the full price, the only time I did that. The course was in excellent condition and was probably the most scenic, with no adjacent houses, plus friendly road runners and ground squirrels to provide entertainment while waiting interminably for the groups ahead.
  • Shadow Mountain Golf Club: This is the original Coachella Valley golf course, designed by the legendary Gene Sarazen and built in the 1950s. The holes wind among houses (most of which also look to be from the 1950s), with narrow fairways and small greens so that accuracy is far more important than distance. The course was in good condition. I shot my second-best score relative to par here – my new irons were working well.
  • Shadow Hills Golf Club, South Course: Very scenic, no houses, excellent condition, but the bunkers were brutal. I shot my worst round here, but at least half a dozen lousy bunker shots were the principal reason.
  • Cimarron Golf Resort, Boulder Course: Probably the second most scenic. No houses, beautifully maintained, wide fairways and large greens, but still very challenging with many bunkers and contours to the fairways and greens.
  • Indian Palms Country Club, Indian and Mountain nines: Another one that winds around through the houses and requires accurate shots. I shot my third-best score relative to par here – my sand wedge was on fire. Course condition was generally good, but there were a few holes that seemed rougher than most.
  • Rancho Las Palmas Resort (South and West nines): Course was in good condition except for one or two holes on the West nine. Much of the course passes through the housing development – I think most of the rather small houses are rental units for the adjacent resort. On a few holes the tee boxes were just a few yards away from people sitting on their patios. I played the South nine extremely well but then went in the toilet (or more accurately, the water hazards and bunkers) on the West nine. Probably had played too much golf by then, and it also was cloudy and chilly by Coachella Valley standards (in the low 50s).

I didn’t mention the scenic views of the surrounding mountains, because each and every course had those – it was only a matter of degree. In general, the fewer adjacent homes, the better the scenery. And even the ones that were in somewhat tough shape were eminently playable and most enjoyable for golf in December and January. Here are a few photos.

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I’ll make two final observations before ending this golf soliloquy. First, I was amazed by the number of Canadians I met on the courses. At least 75% of the people I played with were from Canada. One fellow told me that many Canadians bought condos or other properties in the area back in 2009-2010 when the Canadian dollar was very strong against that US dollar. At any rate, the Coachella Valley seems to be a mecca for wintertime Canadian visitors. Second, I must say a word about my new irons. Steve O suggested in a comment on a previous post that any improvement would probably be due to a placebo effect. I disagree. While my overall scores were not that great, I’m convinced they would have been much worse with the old irons. I hit many more good shots and fewer stinkos, though there were still some pretty bad ones. Let’s just say the ratio of good shots to bad shots seems to be much higher with the new clubs, and I think it is due to the club technology. Lord knows my swing did not miraculously improve. OK, that’s more than a word, so let’s move on.

On our last full day in the Coachella Valley, we rode the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway up to the Mount San Jacinto State Park. The ride was great fun, traveling 2.5 miles from the Valley station, while rising 6,000 feet to an elevation of 8,516 feet at the upper station. During the ten-minute ride, the floor of the tram car rotates 720 degrees to allow all passengers to appreciate the stunning views of the mountains and canyons. Once at the top, we went for a short walk along some trails, which were covered with snow and ice that made walking a bit treacherous. After I fell on my behind while trying to jockey for a good picture at one of the overlooks, we gimped back (or rather I gimped while Pat tried very hard to look sympathetic) to the tram station for a nice lunch before riding down again. All in all, it was a wonderful experience which I highly recommend for any visitors to the Palm Springs area.

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In the evening, we went to one of the hot springs at the Catalina Spa where my sore back was rejuvenated by the hot mineral waters. So now we’re ready to move on from the golfing paradise. Next up, the Pacific Coast. We’re still flipping coins and throwing darts to decide exactly where to go, but our next step will be visiting some friends and relatives in the Bay Area. Stay tuned – I promise there will be little or no golf talk in the next post.

Pat and Dave’s Excellent Adventure – PART 6: California Dreaming

Our last episode ended in Mojave, CA, after three nights in Death Valley National Park. From there we headed east toward the Colorado River again. Be sure to check the Maps post – Map 3 now includes the places where we stopped during the remainder of 2018.

Dec 8-10 (Saturday-Monday): We drove east across the Mojave Desert in central California, and we noticed a few Joshua trees among the desert scrub during the first 20 or 30 miles. (There will be much more about Joshua trees below.) We also saw some enormous solar arrays. Eventually we wound through the Sacramento Mountains to the Colorado River, crossing over into Arizona and then heading south to Lake Havasu City. Once there, we booked a 3-night’s stay at the Campbell Cove RV Resort ($24 per night with Passport America discount) with full hookups, restrooms and showers, laundry, clubhouse and lots of other stuff, but the Wi-Fi only worked near the office and not at our site, and you needed a cable box for cable TV, which we didn’t want to bother with. We did get a whole bunch of TV stations through our antenna, mostly featuring reruns of old programs like Star Trek and its progeny (which I found oddly addictive). Interspersed with some loafing about, we went for several bike rides around the area. This is the place where some clever folks relocated London Bridge when the Brits decided to replace it in the 1970s, so naturally we had to bike over to see that. To be honest, it didn’t look like much, and I wouldn’t be all that surprised if only a few of the original bridge’s stones actually made the 5,280-mile trip from London – you just can’t trust these marketers and real estate developers to tell the truth, at least the whole truth and nothing but the truth. Anyway, it was kind of fun to see.

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One day, we rode across the bridge and around a roughly 5-mile hiking/biking loop on a peninsula that juts into the Colorado River.

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Another day, we rode to the local library (where we used the Wi-Fi since we couldn’t get it at the RV resort). The library just happened to be next door to a golf equipment shop, which we just happened to visit before proceeding to a cute little seafood and burger emporium in the tourist mecca adjacent to London Bridge. (I also just happened to order those new irons I’ve been pining over while we just happened to be visiting the golf shop.)

Dec 11-13-(Tuesday-Thursday): Tuesday morning we headed south, following a highway on the Arizona side of the Colorado River. For much of the first 40 miles, the road was very close to the river, winding up and down and around through some fascinating rock formations, affording some excellent scenery. Near Parker, we passed by a gorgeous golf course called Emerald Canyon, and I nearly stopped to play. But I had decided to forgo golf until the new clubs arrived so instead vowed to come back on our return journey. After Parker, the road veered south, away from the river and through the dull, drab desert until we reached Yuma, AZ. Our final entry into Yuma followed interstate highway I8 – as we exited the freeway to head into town, we entered California for roughly two minutes before finding ourselves back in Arizona again. After leaving the freeway, we meandered through Yuma to our next destination, Rolle’s Lynda Vista RV Park ($15 per night, cash only, with Passport America discount for full hookups, nice restrooms and showers, and the cheapest laundry facilities we’ve found yet — $0.75 for the washers and $0.25 for the dryers). This place is located in what some North Dakotan described in an on-line review as a “bad neighborhood,” but I found the surroundings quite fascinating as I biked around to explore the area and to get stuff at a nearby grocery store. There were at least 7 RV parks within a half mile, ranging from super fancy to rather seedy, and countless permanent resident mobile home parks with trailers that were for the most part, shall we say, less than pristine. Many of the mobile home park residents had pet kennels and chicken coops, and one even had an enclosure with half a dozen cattle. There was also a sizable farm stuck in the middle of all this which I think was growing lettuce. Our site was visited several times by chickens, cats, and dogs from the park immediately to our west. At about 3:30 PM each day, school buses disgorged scores of school kids throughout the neighborhood, and at about 4 PM an ice cream truck began trolling the park next door, blaring a tinny, annoying but addictive tune that made me want to jump the chain link fence and buy an Eskimo Pie. If I weren’t so old and feeble, I probably would have done it. But the place was very relaxing, we got excellent Wi-Fi and good TV reception (though half the stations were Spanish language) so I could watch more episodes of Star Trek and Star Trek TNG. Perhaps the highlight of our stay at Rolle’s was a bike ride to a tiny taco stand, set back in the trees alongside a busy street a few blocks to the south. The proprietress had limited English, and I have limited Spanish, but we managed to order and consume three delicious pork tacos that she fried up fresh on her grill.

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Dec 14-15 (Friday, Saturday): On Friday, we headed west again, back into California, and drove to the Salton Sea State Recreation Area. I was surprised to learn that the Salton Sea has only existed since 1905. In the early 1900’s, the concept of using the Colorado River for irrigation of farm land in California was in its infancy. One of the early irrigation canals proved to be insufficiently engineered to handle flood waters when the river swelled from rains and springtime snow melt, and the river flow poured through the primitive lock system and into the Salton Sink, a depression in the desert second only to Death Valley in terms of its below-sea-level elevation. Essentially the entire flow of the river poured into this depression for two years, creating the immense lake. While its contours have fluctuated considerably over its 100+ years of existence, the Salton Sea is currently 30 miles long by 13 miles wide, with an average depth of 25 feet (two areas are over 50 feet in depth). The Colorado River has subsequently been tamed by massive flood control projects such as the Hoover Dam, which created Lake Mead, and its waters are carefully controlled and distributed for agricultural use in California, Arizona, and Mexico. As a result, there is basically no inflow to the lake any more except agricultural runoff and some minor melt waters from the nearby mountains. Evaporation now exceeds inflow, so the lake is becoming continuously saltier. Its salinity is now 60% greater than the Pacific Ocean, though it is still less than the Great Salt Lake. In short, the Salton Sea is dying. Many of the fish species have disappeared, though the hardy tilapia still flourishes, and the bird species that feed on the fish are also disappearing. However, it is still a hauntingly beautiful place.

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We stayed for two nights at an RV campsite near the main Visitor Center ($28 per night with Senior discount for full hookups, nearby restrooms but no showers, Wi-Fi, or other amenities). Of the 40+ campsites available, only 4 or 5 were occupied, so we practically had the place to ourselves. In addition to the campers, there were some day visitors, but all in all it was nearly deserted. There were nice paved roads and an accessible nature trail loop for biking, which we explored on Saturday. There was also a hiking path that was too sandy for bikes. We rode out to the beach area on the accessible loop, parked our bikes and walked along the beach for a mile or so, then walked back along the inland hiking trail.

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Dec 16-19 (Sunday-Wednesday): On Sunday we drove to the Joshua Tree National Park, where we had reserved a campsite for three nights at the Black Rock Canyon Campground ($10 per night with Senior Pass for boondocking – no electricity, water, or sewer hookups). The entire area was very sandy and unsuitable for biking, so our main physical activity here was hiking. On Monday, we walked the 4.1-mile so-called “Short Loop” located a half-mile from our campsite. On Tuesday we hiked the “High View Nature Trail,” which was only 1.5 miles long but required another mile each way to get there and back from our campsite. Each of these hikes had significant elevation changes, from 4000 ft at the campground to high points of 4500 ft on the Short Loop and 4900 ft on the High View trail. The scenery was fantastic, with fascinating rock formations, thousands of the unusual Joshua trees, and beautiful vistas of the surrounding mountains and valleys. Interestingly, the campground was very sparsely occupied with perhaps 10-20% of the sites occupied.

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On Wednesday we left the campground and drove to the Visitor Center in nearby Yucca Valley, then drove into the main part of the Park to explore some of the highlights accessible from the main road. In contrast to the campground, there was a long line of cars waiting to get in through the main gate (where we obtained free entry with my Senior Pass), and we encountered throngs of people at all our stops. These included Quail Springs and Hidden Valley, two areas with amazing rock formations that make for a rock climber’s paradise. We stayed on the main trails, though, lacking the skills and the courage (or insanity) to join the myriad climbers we observed. Our final visit in the Park was to the Keys View overlook, which at 5185 ft elevation provided a stunning overlook of the Coachella Valley and the surrounding mountains. As we drove out of the park we both agreed that, like virtually every place we’ve gone so far on this trip, Joshua Tree National Park was a beautiful and rewarding place to see.

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Dec 19-Jan 8: From Joshua Tree, we headed west and down into the Coachella Valley to our next destination, the Catalina Spa RV Resort in Desert Hot Springs. The RV Park and the municipality get their names from the hot water springs that bubble up through the desert floor in this area. The RV Park is one of those places where people come to stay for long periods – it has some 450 sites for RVs and several permanent cabins and many amenities including two naturally heated pools with adjacent hot tub/spa mineral baths, nice restrooms and showers, mail delivery, a store, pickleball courts, a mini golf course, a ballroom/dining hall, etc. We chose it because we were able to get a good price ($24 per night including Passport America discount for full hookup site plus the aforementioned amenities) for a three-week stay. The only disappointment was the somewhat falsely advertised Wi-Fi – not only is it not free, but we could barely even get a signal at our site, so we had to just rely on mobile data.

We wanted a long term stay for two reasons: 1) Pat needed to go back to Minnesota for a couple of weeks to deal with issues related to sale of the family farm, and 2) I wanted to stay somewhere I could golf my brains out. The new golf clubs were waiting for me when we checked in, so I took the old, poorly performing ones to a local used club store and sold them for $25. I dropped Pat at the airport on December 23 and immediately went to the Mesquite Country Club for my first round with the new irons. As of December 26, I’ve also played at the Cathedral Canyon Country Club and the Date Palm Country Club. (They may be called Country Clubs, but they all have let me play in my blue jeans, so they’re the super exclusive kind of country clubs, although at the last one I was told not to wear blue jeans if I come back again. Harrumph!) While I won’t bore readers with details, I will say I am very pleased with the new irons. And since my brains have not as yet fallen out, I must play more – much more – in the days to come.

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So here we sit (actually only I am sitting here) in Desert Palm Springs until we depart for places yet undecided on January 9, 2019. Since we won’t be doing much of anything worth reporting until then, don’t look for another blog update until late January. Until then, I wish all my readers a happy holiday season. Moreover, I hope each and every one is also having an Excellent Adventure!

Pat and Dave’s Excellent Adventure – Travel Maps

I’ve been trying to find a way to map out the entire trip so far but have been stymied by the limitations of Google Maps, which doesn’t allow more than 10 stops on a map, and other free software tools which have similar limitations. (Heaven forbid that I would actually buy some mapping software!) After considerable fussing, I abandoned the idea of a single map and started creating partial maps using the online Rand McNally Trip Maker tool. I’ll periodically add new maps as I reach the limit for stops (either 25 per the Rand McNally software limit or fewer when the giant numbers on the maps begin to obscure the actual trip line. Be sure to check in on this post as you read through the others describing our activities.

MAP 1:

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MAP 1 LEGEND:

1: Home
2: Nick’s place
3: Pine Lake State Park, IA
4: Watkins Woolen Mill State Park, MO
5: Eisenhower State Park, KS
6: Boiling Springs State Park, OK
7: Palo Duro Canyon State Park
8: Artesia RV Park, Artesia, NM
9: Carlsbad Caverns National Park
10: Guadalupe Mountains National Park
11: Loma Paloma RV Park, Presidio, TX
12: Big Bend National Park

MAP 2

Map2

MAP 2 LEGEND:

1: Big Bend National Park
2: Desert Willow RV Park, Van Horn, TX
3: Ft. Willcox RV Park, Willcox, AZ
4: Chiricahua Mountains National Monument
5: I10 RV Park, Benson, AZ
6: Picacho Peak State Park, AZ
7: Sentinel Peak RV Park, Tucson, AZ
8: Sunflower RV Resort, Surprise, AZ
9: Leaf Verde RV Resort, Buckeye, AZ
10: Meteor Crater RV Park, Meteor City, AZ
11: Petrified Forest National Park

MAP 3:

Map3

MAP 3 LEGEND:

1: Petrified Forest National Park
2: Winslow, AZ
3: Arizona Meteor Crater
4: Walnut Canyon National Monument
5: Silver View RV Resort, Bullhead City, AZ
6: Lake Mead National Recreation Area
7: Death Valley National Park
8: Sierra Trails RV Park, Mojave, CA
9: Campbell Cove RV Resort, Lake Havasu City, AZ
10: Rolle’s Lynda Vista RV Park Yuma, AZ
11: Salton Sea State Recreation Area
12: Joshua Tree National Park
13: Catalina Spa RV Resort, Desert Hot Springs, CA

MAP 4

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MAP 4 LEGEND:

1: Catalina Spa RV Resort, Desert Hot Springs, CA
2: Shady Haven RV Park, Bakersfield, CA 
3: Coyote Canyon RV Resort, Morgan Hill, CA
4: San Francisco, CA
5: Limekiln State Park, CA
6: Hearst San Simeon State Park, CA
7: Wine Country RV Park, Paso Robles, CA
8: Sunrise RV Park, Santa Barbara, CA
9: Channel Islands National Park (Visitor Center), Ventura, CA
10: Doheny State Beach, Dana Point, CA
11: Sunland RV Resort, La Mesa, CA
12: Rolles Lynda Vidta RV Park, Yuma, AZ
13: Oasis Palms RV Park, Thermal, CA
14: Joshua Tree National Park, Cottonwood Campground
15: Catalina Spa RV Resort, Desert Hot Springs, CA

Rand McNally is not working out, so I’m reverting to Google. As a result, there is a change in format starting with Map 5.

MAP 5:

Map 5

MAP 5 LEGEND:

A: Catalina Spa RV Resort, Desert Hot Springs, CA
B: Pirates Den RV Resort, Parker, AZ
C: Silver View RV Resort, Bullhead City, AZ
D: Temple View RV Resort, St. George, UT
E: Zion Canyon RV Campground, Springdale, UT
F: Redcliff Dune Trail (way stop)
G: Lake Mead National Recreation Center, Boulder Beach Campground
H: Grand Canyon Camper Village, Tusayan, AZ

MAP 6:

Map 6

MAP 6 LEGEND:

A: Grand Canyon Camper Village, Tusayan, AZ
B: Homolovi Ruins State Park, Winslow, AZ
C. Lavaland RV Park, Grants, NM
D. Blaze-In-Saddle RV Park, Tucumcari, NM
E: Seward County Park, Liberal, KS
F. Sand Hills State Park, Buehler, KS
G. Wallace State Par, Cameron, MO
H. Pine Lake State Park, Eldora, IA
I. Nick’s Place
J. Home
 

Pat and Dave’s Excellent Adventure – PART 5: Back to the Boonies

We last left off in Phoenix, having dropped off our rental car and heading away after our 2-week stay in primarily urban settings.

Nov 26-27 (Monday, Tuesday): We drove north from Phoenix, past Flagstaff and on toward Winslow, AZ. The drive was very interesting as the highway climbed into the mountains, leaving the cactus plants behind in favor of Douglas fir and ponderosa pine. It was tough going for the RV – we would pass a truck lumbering along at a snail’s pace on the uphill sections only to have it barrel past at lightning speed on the next downhill – and we got about the worst mileage of any stretch yet at just under 14 mpg. (On relatively level stretches traveling at 70 mph or less we’ve regularly topped 16 mpg, and occasionally have exceeded 17.) As we left Flagstaff behind, the terrain once again reverted to the type of desert we’ve been seeing for the most part, sparsely populated with scrub brush and cactus. Our day’s destination was the Meteor Crater RV Park, where we booked a spot for two nights ($36 per night with Good Sam discount for full hookup, wi-fi, and shower facilities – probably the best showers we’ve had yet).

On Tuesday we drove about 75 miles to the Petrified Forest National Park, once again being admitted for free with my Senior Pass. Here we found yet another stunning display of Mother Nature’s artwork. We drove through the large park on the main road, stopping for several overlooks and two nice hikes. The first hike was a short, easy walk along the Giant Logs trail, near the Rainbow Forest Visitor Center. Beautiful, stone trees, 2-3 feet in diameter, their former fibrous materials transformed into agates millions of years ago, litter the desert floor. Most have broken into nearly uniform lengths of about 4 feet, giving the impression of having been sawn into stone logs by some giant, prehistoric mason. There are also several longer, unbroken segments, however, including one measuring 35 feet. Our second hike followed the Blue Mesa Trail, a 2-mile round trip down into and around a gorgeous canyon, featuring stunning vistas of blue-tinted sandstone badlands surrounding a floor which sports a number of petrified logs. We also stopped to see Newspaper Rock, which consists of two large boulders featuring hundreds of petroglyphs, and the remnants of an ancestral Puebloan village from about 1380, called Puerco Pueblo. Our brief visit to this amazing National Park was truly fascinating.

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On the way back to the RV Park, we stopped for dinner in Winslow. Naturally, I had to spend a moment “standing on a corner,” but apparently I was NOT “such a fine sight to see,” as there was no “girl … in a flatbed Ford slowing down to take a look at me”. (Are there any Eagles fans reading this?) Pat and I commiserated over this sad reality with excellent hamburgers at the RelicRoad Brew Pub, where my spirits were once again lifted by a Nitro Polygamy Stout, a specialty of the pub. As a side note, I have never seen as many semitrailer trucks as we encountered while driving on I40 to and from the National Park. The trucks made up at least 90% of the traffic, and the rest stop near Winslow was crammed with 50 or more parked trucks. This busy road used to be the famous Route 66 from Florida to California, and this history was prominently featured in Winslow.

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It got a bit chilly overnight at the RV Park – not that 22 degrees should frighten any true Minnesotan, but we have to be somewhat careful about freezing the water in the RV’s tanks. We also saw that snow was forecast for the area in the coming days, so we decided to hightail it out of there and head west in the morning.

Nov 28-29-(Wednesday, Thursday): Wednesday morning dawned to reveal clear, beautiful, bright blue skies. Before heading for warmer climes, we drove 6 miles to the famous Arizona Meteor Crater. This giant depression was formed about 50,000 years ago by a house-sized meteor that crashed into the desert. An impressive museum has been erected at the site, with extensive displays explaining the crater’s history. After viewing the various exhibits and watching a 20-minute movie, we went outside to see the giant hole and were duly impressed.

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As we drove west again after our crater visit, the wind began to howl, nearly blowing the RV off the highway a few times. Feeling somewhat rattled from the drive, we stopped for a two-hour visit at the Walnut Canyon National Monument just outside Flagstaff. This beautiful, steep-walled canyon was home to hundreds of cliff dwelling Pueblo people some 800 years ago. We took an excellent trail from the Visitor Center down into the canyon, where we enjoyed the spectacular scenery and explored remnants of the ancient village homes. (As with so much of the infrastructure in the National Parks and Monuments, the trail and Visitor Center were very well built by CCC workers in the 1930s.)

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After vising Walnut Canyon, we headed west again to our revised destination, Bullhead City, AZ. On the way from Flagstaff (6900 ft elevation) we drove through many mountain passes, descending and climbing and descending again, eventually dropping to 540 ft in Bullhead City. This relatively sleepy city lies along the banks of the Colorado River, directly across from Laughlin, NV, home to 8 or 10 hotel casinos and an 1880s style riverboat casino. We checked into the Silver View RV Resort, situated on a hill overlooking the river, and the bright lights of Laughlin were very pretty at night. The RV resort ran us $22 per night complete with full hookups (50% Passport America discount), showers, and a nice on-site deli. It was easy to bike around to the restrooms and the deli, where I enjoyed a Nathan’s hot dog on Thursday before it started raining. We loafed around all day on Thursday, pleased to be getting only rain rather than the snow that fell back in the Winslow area.

Nov 30-Dec 3 (Friday – Monday): On Friday, we took off for the Lake Mead National Recreation Area, about 65 miles NNW from Bullhead City. While sitting around in the rain on Thursday, we had booked three nights at the Lake Mead RV Village ($35 a night with Good Sam discount for full RV hookups, showers, laundry, on-site store, wi-fi, and 40 channels of cable TV). It was a nice enough place, but upon arrival we discovered an NPS campground right next door, with beautiful sites but no power, water, or other amenities, where we could boondock for only $10 a night with my Senior Pass. So, after doing laundry at the RV Village on Saturday, we cancelled out of the third night and moved next door.

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We made very good use of our bikes, as there was a bike trail running along the main entrance road and the campgrounds were located between that road and another paved road. We rode a couple of miles on the bike trail Saturday, all uphill, seemingly both ways, and we had to ride into a near gale force wind, again seemingly both ways. I know that couldn’t really be true, but my aching legs sure felt like it. On Sunday we took the other road and went to the marina/harbor to catch a Lake Mead boat cruise. This involved a very loooong, thrilling downhill coast after riding about a mile parallel to the lakeshore. That part was great fun; unfortunately, we paid for it ten times over coming back up the hill – my legs resembled spaghetti noodles for an hour after we got back. But the cruise was well worth the pain, with stunning views of the lake, the surrounding mountains, and a unique view of the Hoover Dam.

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Dec 4-6 (Tuesday-Thursday): After loafing around at Lake Mead for another day on Monday, we pulled up stakes and headed west again, winding our way up and down through lovely mountain passes, making for a very pleasant 150-mile drive to Death Valley National Park. We stayed for two nights at the Furnace Creek campground ($11 per night with Senior Pass for a flat, paved boondocking site) and another night at the Stovepipe Wells campground ($7 per night with Senior Pass for a flat, gravel site). Death Valley was the biggest surprise of the trip so far. I’d envisioned a flat, sand covered wasteland – after all, the place barely gets 4 inches of rain per year. (Interestingly enough in this arid land, it rained for much of the day on Thursday.) We weren’t prepared for the beauty and the contrasts we actually found there. On the way in, we descended from a 3000 ft mountain pass to the valley itself, at sea level ad below, over a 10-mile stretch. There sat the huge, 130-mile long valley nestled between majestic peaks rising on all sides. During our visit we saw many beautiful and surprising things: the intricately formed badlands at Zabriskie Point; the salty, mineral-rich desert at Badwater Basin (the lowest point in North America at 280 feet below sea level), where hexagonal crystalline patters of salt adorn the floor; the stark contrast offered by the nearby, snow-capped, 11,049-foot Telescope Peak; the beautiful pastel-colored hills along Artist Drive; ruins of the borax mining operations made famous by the 20-mule teams in the 1880s; the sculpted sand dunes at Mesquite Flat – as I said, much more than we imagined. Artist Drive was limited to vehicles no longer than 25 feet due to the sharp, hairpin turns and dramatic dips – that stunning drive alone was probably enough of a reason to justify our purchase of a 24-foot RV.

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Perhaps most surprising of all, however, was the Oasis at Death Valley, a newly-renovated resort with a nice restaurant, store, plenty of lodging for visitors, and even – A GOLF COURSE! Despite the paltry annual rainfall, the water collects in springs which provide plenty of water to irrigate the grass and the palm trees in the resort area, so it truly lives up to its name. The golf course was only half a mile from our campsite at Furnace Creek, so I walked over with my clubs on Wednesday afternoon and played my lowest round ever – 190 feet below sea level. My score was definitely not my lowest ever as I topped and shanked my irons like the complete duffer I’ve apparently become. (This may be my last round until I get my coveted new irons.) But the course was very pretty, challenging, and it was an all-around fun experience.

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Dec 7 (Friday): Having arrived through the eastern entrance, we left Death Valley on Friday using the western route. The roads we followed were clearly less travelled than the ones we came in on, resembling a strip of tar thrown down fifty years ago and simply forgotten (I’m guessing they don’t need too much maintenance). I felt a little uneasy as we drove for mile after mile through a vast nothingness, the surrounding desert containing nothing but a few dinky, scrubby bushes. For a long time we didn’t even see any power poles, though some of those finally appeared as we neared the mountains on the wets side of the park. We drove for two and a half hours to Mojave, where we stayed the night at the Sierra Trails RV Park ($20 cash only with Passport America discount for full hookups, a nice shower and laundry facility, and achingly slow Wi-Fi).

We’ve now visited five National Parks, two National Monuments, and one National Recreation Area during our adventure so far. Each and every one has been awesome, albeit in different and unique ways. We haven’t had to pay a nickel to get in to any of them, thanks to my Senior Pass, and have received many great discounts as well. Awesome Adventure, indeed!!!

Now we’re ready to swing back east and south for a while. Stop back for an update in a couple of weeks. In my next post, I hope to be ready with a map showing the entire journey, which I will update with each successive post.

Pat and Dave’s Excellent Adventure – PART 4: Urban Detour

We last left off in Benson, AZ, doing laundry and taking showers. After our visits to a multitude of State Parks and National Parks and Monuments, we were ready for a change of pace, moving away from the majestic caverns, canyons, and mountains to spend some time in more urban settings.

Nov 14-15 (Wednesday, Thursday): We drove from Benson to Tucson, AZ, where we had reserved a spot for two nights at the Sentinel Peak RV Resort ($40 per night with Good Sam discount for full hookup and wi-fi, but, oddly, no shower facilities). This place is located just six blocks from a stop on the Sun Link Streetcar, Tucson’s version of a light rail line. After a lunch at nearby Pat’s Chili Dogs, a world famous “drive-in” where I had my first ever chili cheese dog, we walked to the streetcar stop. After purchasing two 24-hour unlimited ride tickets for $4.50 each, we rode to the end of the line, deep within the campus of the University of Arizona.

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Once there, I was inspired to get a haircut and beard trim at Cost Cutters, undergoing my regular, periodic transformation from Grizzly Adams to Don Adams with a bad five-o’clock shadow. We then rode the streetcar back to our original stop and walked back to the RV park. Tucson struck me as a rather small “big” city, with a downtown even smaller than St. Paul, but an enormous surrounding metropolis of businesses, residential enclaves, and strip malls. On Thursday, we got out our bikes and rode along a gorgeous bike trail running alongside the Santa Cruz River. (The river looks very nice and blue on a map, but currently was nothing but a dry bed of gravel.) The trail was probably the best maintained bike route I’ve ever been on and featured nice views of the surrounding mountains. Several road runners also skittered across the trail as we rode along to provide entertainment. For dinner, we walked about eight blocks from the RV park, passing the chili dog emporium on the way, to a Mexican seafood place called Mariscos Chihuahua. Pat had a combo plate with three types of fish tacos, and I had something called Camaron Rellenos – shrimp stuffed with cheese and wrapped in bacon. Very tasty fare, accompanied by excellent Margaritas.

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Nov 16-(Friday): We headed toward Phoenix on Friday morning, having reserved a week’s worth of time at a couple of RV resorts starting on Saturday, but before diving completely into the urban/suburban scene we stopped at a nice place called the Picacho Mountain State Park. We didn’t find any Pokemon characters there, but we stayed at a beautiful site with electricity and nice restroom and shower facilities for $30. Alas, we received no discounts. We hiked about 6 miles (round trip) to enjoy a lovely overlook on Picacho mountain in the afternoon.

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Nov 17-22 (Saturday – Thursday): On Saturday we continued on to Phoenix, where we rented a tiny little car (Toyota Yaris) using credit card points before taking up residence at the Sunflower RV Resort ($39 per night with Passport America discount)  in the suburban city of Surprise. We had hoped to stay there for a week, but it was fully booked starting Thursday – no doubt due to the Thanksgiving holiday – so we had to find another place for the remainder of the week. The Sunflower Resort matched my stereotype of the prototypical urban RV retirement Valhalla – a “55+ community” with more than 1400 sites, where many residents stay for the winter, many stay year-round, and some visit for just a few days or weeks. Most of the sites are permanent mobile homes, and about 10% are RVs. I can understand the attraction of a place like this for a gregarious retired couple; the weather is beautiful and there are enough organized activities to fill the day for even the most active seniors. There are also roughly a billion golf courses within just a few miles. I played golf on Sunday and Wednesday (even seeing a modest improvement in the dreadful iron play). Pat and I played pickleball on Monday, then went to visit her Uncle Harley and Aunt Jeannie at their nearby winter home and help them celebrate their 63rd wedding anniversary (yes, you read that right) at the Texas Roadhouse. On Tuesday we got the RV washed at a carwash with a very large bay area especially for trucks and RVs, then relaxed back at the resort’s Tiki bar with Margaritas, appetizers, and tacos while listening to a live duo (although at one point I thought the guitar player might have died since he didn’t move for an entire song, even though sound continued to emanate from his speaker). Unfortunately, while Pat and I qualify as 55+ and a retired couple, we are not exactly what one would call gregarious. In other words, this lifestyle is not really for us. While it’s nice to relax in a place like this for a week or so, lazily biking around the resort when so motivated, that’s about our limit. Perhaps the most telling fact is that I didn’t take a single picture while we were at the Sunflower Resort.

Nov 22-26 (Thursday – Monday): Having been denied the opportunity to stagnate for a full week at Sunflower, we moved on to the southwesterly, suburban city of Buckeye for the remainder of our planned time in the Phoenix area. We stayed at the Leaf Verde RV Resort ($40 per night with 10% Good Sam discount – the better, 50% Passport America discount is not available from October through March). This place has 377 RV sites, maybe 75% of them occupied, and a few permanent structures for year-round guests. It had far fewer amenities than the last place – for example only two pickleball courts rather than seven and no spa, stained glass or woodworking facilities, etc. But the restroom and shower facilities were very nice, and it didn’t feel nearly as crowded. We kept the car for ease of gadding about to golf courses, restaurants, and the like.

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On Friday I played golf with Harley, his son Curt, and Curt’s 11-year-old son Stas. Harley proposed that we play a scramble format since Curt rarely plays golf and this was Stas’s first time on an actual 18-hole course. After the first nine, on which we used about 90% of my shots, we decided to add a competitive element – I played my own ball against the tri-generational Jergensen team, who still played a scramble format. Wouldn’t you know it, they immediately picked up their game, accompanied by a fair amount of trash talking (mostly from Harley). They won the match and bragging rights by a single hole, the total difference being a putt I left hanging over the edge of the 15th cup. It was great fun for all of us, especially when they used Stas’s drive, Harley’s second, Curt’s third, and two putts to nip me by a stroke on the par-5 13th. On Saturday we played pickleball at the RV resort (Pat won two out of three games) and went out for dinner at a very nice wine bar and pizzeria called Ciao Grazie, where all the staff wore tee-shirts with a slogan on the back: “Friends Don’t Let Friends Drink White Zinfandel.” On Sunday we drove to a nearby place called Skyline Park, with a dozen nicely marked trails winding through the mountains, with lovely vistas, friendly Saguaros raising their arms in greeting, and Teddy Bear Cholla looking as cute as, well teddy bears. We chose the 3-mile turnbuckle loop, encountering several other hikers, a couple of bikers, and even a foursome on horseback as we went.

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On Monday morning we packed up camp, drove the car back to rental office in Phoenix, and headed north for our next stop. Where will it be? You’ll find out in a week or two …