Thursday, May 30, 2013

Trouble on the Road

On Friday we drove back down to Ashland to see My Fair Lady at the GB Shaw… er, I mean Shakespeare Festival there. When we walked in, there were two grand pianos in the middle of the stage which were clearly intended to act as the orchestra and they weren't going anywhere during the performance. There were also theater seats in the back of the stage where the "chorus" could sit and watch the show along with the audience. The staging was otherwise minimal. The actors were dressed in period costume but the only props were a few sticks of furniture and a chair on wheels. The entire play was clearly intended to take place dodging around the pianos. I was prepared to hate it.
Dancing around pianos

A few minutes into the play however, you could not help but be captivated by the witty dialogue and fantastic music of Lerner and Lowe and a couple of pianos on stage was not going to detract particularly from the experience. This has been judged as possibly the best Broadway musical of all time and personally I would concur, at least as far as the ones I have seen. Certainly it is way more entertaining than Les Miserables which we saw in Utah last year. If there is anyone who is not familiar with this classic entertainment, the gist of it is that the best way to transform a woman from a low class guttersnipe into a fine, upper class lady is to use starvation and mental abuse. Wait a minute, this is starting to sound familiar. Didn't we just see this play?

Anyway, it was a highly entertaining evening and I'm sure we will end up back in Ashland again sometime in the next year or two for more of the same.

We got on the road again Saturday morning headed for Portland. We got down the mountain from Howard Prairie with no major problems and headed north on I-5. Some 20 or 30 miles north of Medford, the motorhome started making a lot of unpleasant noise. Not knowing what we could do about it out in the middle of nowhere, we just kept going until we got to Eugene, then we pulled off  at the truck stop in Coburg, about 6 miles north of town. We pulled into the service area associated with the truck stop and ask them if they could take a look at our motorhome. When they stopped laughing, they gave us a phone number to a mobile RV repair shop that could come out and look at the rig on the road. We called that number and talked to "Bob" who told us that he was somewhere in Washington state doing a job up there and would not be back until Monday or Tuesday. He gave us the number for the RV Corral, a dealership in Eugene. The RV Corral does not work on motor homes longer than 30 feet and referred us to another RV dealership 20 miles away in Junction City. After a few more phone calls, it became apparent that no one was going to fix our motorhome over the Memorial Day weekend and we were stranded in Coburg for at least three days. This apparently is part of the pain in the aaa...adventure of the full-time RV life. Fortunately (I say fortunately because the disaster was not entirely unmitigated) there was a small motorhome park right next door to the truck stop we were stranded in. We limped around the corner and were able to get a camping spot to wait out the weekend.

On Sunday we did a little sightseeing in Eugene, going to a couple of parks including the largest dog park I've ever seen (clocking in at 10 acres of fenced grass). Our dogs actually got along with the other dogs at this place which is better than they usually did in Redlands. There were some nice little old ladies to talk to and a guy playing mini frisbee with his pooch. We also saw the Eugene rhododendron garden but we were a couple of weeks too late for the best of the blooms and the dogs were not welcome there.

Memorial Day poured rain all day so we stayed in and took advantage of the moderately decent Wi-Fi connection. I played through Portal on my computer and am happy to say I am Still Alive. Tuesday morning we should be back to the hunt to find someone to get us on the road again.

Random dog shots

Friday, May 24, 2013

Shakespeare and Shivers

Petruchio in the seaside resort of Padua
On Tuesday, we went to see the matinee showing of The Taming of the Shrew at the Shakespeare Festival in Ashland .  It is evidently forbidden these days to stage any Shakespeare play in 16th century garb and settings, so the synopsis for this production let's us know it is  "A hilarious, delirious tangle of masquerades and misdirection that plays out against a backdrop of beach boardwalks and rock ’n’ roll."  Shakespeare set in the 1950s.

I know I read this play in highshool, but didn't remember much of it going into the theater.  The gist of it is that the best way to win the heart of a woman and have a loving and obedient wife is to use starvation and mental abuse.  I'm guessing Will would not get any stamp of approval from the National Organization for Women.  Then again, no one with male genitalia gets their stamp of approval, so he's probably not losing any sleep over it.  As for following his formula in my own life, I don't think so.  I have to sleep sometime and have no wish to be Bobbitized.

On the way back to the motorhome after the play, about halfway up the hill, we started to get some rain sprinkles. Then we started to get some slush. And by the time we got to the top of the pass there was white fluff falling from the sky at a pretty good clip. We found ourselves camping in snow again. Not a lot of snow, mind you, but enough to make me start thinking about the prospect of driving down that twisty, steep road in a 37 foot long brick when we leave here.

It is surprising to me how much variation there is among the different weather reports you can access online. Predicted overnight lows ranged from 30° all the way down to 24°, depending on which website you went to. But all of them agreed that it was going to be below freezing. As I discussed a couple of days ago, we got the water lines emptied out and the motorhome buttoned up so we could stay warm and cozy. Or so we thought.

Our campsite on Sunday
We have three ways of heating the motorhome. There is a heat pump function built into the front air conditioner unit so you can use your electric hookup for heating. This works great if it's 50° outside and you want to heat the inside up to 70°. When the ambient temperature gets below about 40° however, it cannot pump against that large of a heat gradient and becomes useless. Secondly, we have a fake electric fireplace that has a weak electric heater element in it. And finally, there is the propane furnace, which is the real workhorse in a cold weather situation. We turned on the fireplace for giggles, but as the inside temperature of the coach dropped down into the low 60s we decided it was time to fire up the propane. Except there was no fire. The furnace wasn't igniting and I didn't know what to do about it. It has an automatic cut off after three failed attempts at ignition, but all we could get it to do was blow cold air at us. So on Tuesday night we found ourselves relying on the laughable fake fireplace for heat.

We put on warm clothes and bundled up in blankets while we watched "Lincoln" on the video. Then we went to bed because there were more blankets in the bedroom.
We actually did not do too horribly. The dogs have an electric heating pad under their bed, as does Vicki. I sleep pretty warm and have better-than-average insulation, so I did okay overnight without any electrical help. In the morning, we discovered that the heat coming from the fake fire had actually kept the interior temperature from going below 50°, but that was still a goodly number of degrees cooler than we wanted it to be. I started fiddling with the thermostat, getting the blower on the furnace to turn off and on about a dozen times and, miracle of miracles, it finally lit.

Our campsite on Tuesday afternoon
It stayed lit long enough to get the interior temperature up to the thermostat setting, which was about 70°. But when it turned off it would not cycle back on again. If I turned it off and turned it back on manually it would light up and heat the motorhome up again but it wouldn't cycle. So we had to become our own thermostat during most of the day on Wednesday, getting up and switching heater off and on to get ourselves toasty about every 20-30 min. Finally, in the late afternoon, the stupid thing finally started working the way we think it's supposed to. I don't know what was wrong with it. We've barely used it in this coach before. Maybe it just had to practice for a while to get the hang of its job.

So we took Wednesday as a snow day, lazing around and accomplishing as little as possible. On the bright side, the forest here was beautiful in the snow, which we continued to get flurries of off and on throughout the day. But by midday it was around 42° and there was more water dripping off the branches than ice accumulating on them. It froze again overnight last night but warmed up a little today and when we drove down to Ashland for lunch and to use the Wi-Fi in their library, the road was completely clear. So I expect we will be able to get out of here with no problem on Saturday to go meet Lyle and Linda in Portland.

So we seem to have survived our first snow camping experience in the Allegro none the worse for wear. That being said however, our long-term plan is to try and do our routing and timing as much as possible to avoid freezing temperatures. Hopefully it will not be an issue over the rest of the summer so we will have to see how things go come December.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

The Circle Tour

On Monday we decided to go sightseeing. The obvious sight to see in Southern Oregon is Crater Lake, but the round-trip from Howard Prairie Lake to Crater Lake is about 240 miles and we weren't sure we wanted to drive that far. Actually I was sure but Vicki, who actually does most of the driving, wasn't. So we decided instead to go to Klamath Falls. There are a number of wildlife refuges in that area extending from Upper Klamath Lake down to Tule Lake in the California. Unfortunately, Klamath Falls is about 50 miles away and we didn't have 50 miles of gas in the car, so first we had to make the 20 mile trek back to Ashland for fuel. Fortunately, in the Subaru the trip only took about 30 min. Then it was an hour back to Klamath Falls where we stopped for breakfast. When the meal was done, we got down to figuring out what we were going to actually do for the day.

Mostly cattle country
After some discussion, we decided to go to Upper Klamath Lake to start with and we headed north on Highway 97. When we reached the cutoff to Crater Lake, we realized there was only about 10 miles difference in distance between the two destinations, so we decided what the heck, we'll head up Highway 62 to crater Lake after all. We drove for about 40 miles through rolling hills that are really beautiful and quite green this time of year, mostly cattle country. It seems a shame to waste it on cows, but it would be an equal waste to put in housing so I guess we will leave it as is.

When we started seriously climbing up Mount Mazuma we were surprised at how much snow was left. By the time we reached the summit, the piles of plowed snow on the sides of the road were twice the height of our car. We turned left on the circle road that goes around the perimeter of the caldera that holds the lake and pulled off at the first opportunity. There wasn't really an official view site here, but we hiked 30 feet uphill to the rim and as we came over the edge, what we saw was this:

Wizard Island in Crater Lake

It was surreal. The water was an unbelievable blue mirror reflecting the rock and residual snow of the surrounding volcano. The last time we came here they were burning off the fields in the valley down below and the air was smoky and dense. This time it was crystal clear and all you could do was stand and stare and be amazed.

Puppies first snow trip
We continued around the rim road, stopping at each turn out as we came to it. "Should we take another picture?"  "We just took pictures 500 yards back."  "But look, the angle of Wizard Island is 3° different from the last place! This may be a better view. Better take some photos." So while only a couple of snaps appear here, rest assured we are the proud owners of about 1000 pictures of Crater Lake. Oh, and also a brief cell phone video. By the way, just to give you an idea of the visibility, that is Mount Shasta in the background of the upper right-hand corner, just over 100 miles to the south.

Origins of the Rogue River
The northern half of the rim road was closed, presumably to save on snowplowing expenses, so we turned back and headed down Highway 62 on the other side of the mountain towards Medford. The road follows the path of the Rogue River from its origin high on the mountain. We last encountered this river at Gold Beach on the coast where it is a majestic 50 yard wide ribbon of water. Up here, it's little more than a creek, tumbling down over rocks and fallen trees. We pulled into a site known as the Rogue River Gorge where it has cut a deep gouge into the mountainside and we took the
dogs on the quarter-mile hike up to the waterfall at the top.

The falls into the Rogue River Gorge

Next we stopped at the Natural Bridge. We have seen a lot of arches and natural bridges around the Southwest. Most of them are created by cutting through a rock outcropping. This one is a little different. It started life as a lava tube during the last eruption of Mount Mazuma 6600 years ago.

As you can see in this educational video, the Rogue falls into the lava tube and disappears for about 50 yards underground, leaving a dry crossing over the river. The lower part of the tube collapsed at some point, so the river emerges in multiple places, giving the impression of water flowing continuously from solid rock as it did for Moses in the wilderness.

We followed Highway 62 down to Medford where we got on the interstate and drove back to Ashland. There we stopped for beer and food at a brewpub associated with the Caldera Brewery.  They had outdoor seating on terraced wooden decks where dogs were welcome, so we tried out a few of their craft beers and had some light dinner while the waitress brought doggy treats for the schnoodles about every ten minutes. It reminded us of Germany where our dogs were welcome at any restaurant in town. It seemed like a happy ending for a long day of driving.

Puppies at the pub

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Howard Prairie Lake

When we first came to the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, Christopher was still a rug rat. We left him with a babysitter while we went to the plays. So that's 17 or 18 years during which we've come up here about every three or four years. During those visits we have stayed at number of motorhome parks in Ashland, Medford and other towns along I-5 and they all had one thing in common. They sucked. Most were overcrowded parking lots 50 feet from the interstate where the lullaby that put you to sleep was sung all night by 18 wheel trucks. So this time, I decided to try something a little different. There is a county recreation area about 20 miles east of Ashland that got good reviews on the Internet called Howard Prairie Lake Resort.

Prairie - according to Wikipedia
Now if you look up "prairie" on Wikipedia, it explains that this is a large area of mixed grasses, usually in the rain shadow of a mountain range and it shows a photograph of the South Dakota Badlands, where we went last September, as a primary example. So I was kind of expecting a large mud puddle in the middle of a flat, grassy landscape. It turns out however, that in Oregon, a prairie looks like this:
Prairie - According to Jackson County, OR

This is Howard Prairie Lake with Mount McLaughlin lurking quietly in the background. Not at all what I was expecting. I certainly wasn't expecting to be about 2500 feet higher than Ashland and 25° cooler. The 20 mile drive to get here from Ashland took about an hour in the motorhome, in second gear much of the way in order to climb the 7 or 8% grade going around curves this behemoth could barely navigate. The last half of it was through heavily coniferred woodland, not sagebrush and tumbleweeds. So much for expectations.

All that being said, the place is nothing if not lovely. There is a day use area with picnic tables and a marina which looks nice although it does us no good at all since the Allegro will not float. And there is a huge motorhome park with sites ranging from lakeside to deep forest. Since the lakeside sites lacked sewer hookups, we opted for a spot amongst the trees. As at Ghost Mountain, the motorhome area is operating at a tiny fraction of its capacity. The nearest occupied campsite to us is about 75-100 feet away. From our viewpoint we may as well be here by ourselves.

We will be here for about a week and have tickets to see The Taming of the Shrew and My Fair Lady on Tuesday and Friday respectively.

The weather has been pretty warm but is predicting a significant temperature drop over the next couple of days. The low temperatures overnight will go to well below freezing if the meteorologists are right, so we will have to take steps to prevent our water and sewer lines from freezing. It's one of those things that we haven't really had to worry about much before. We will fill our water tank up and disconnect and empty the hose. We have not dumped here yet, so our sewer hose currently has nothing in it. We will need to make sure it is empty again after we dump on Wednesday so we don't end up with a solid 20 foot long block of rather disgusting ice. The compartments where the water and waste tanks sit receive heat from the motorhome system, so if you keep your motorhome at a comfortable temperature you shouldn't have to worry about the tanks freezing.  I hope.

Anyway, this beats the heck out of camping next to a freeway for a week, so we will gladly put up with a few minor inconveniences. I will let you know how the plays are after we see them, since telling you about that now would be silly.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Lake Tahoe

So we decided while we were in the area we ought to drive up to Lake Tahoe. We haven't been there for quite a few years and we're not sure when we will be back. Much of the Gold Country we had just toured a few years ago and Vicki thought it was too soon to do all that again. So we packed the puppies in the car and headed east on Highway 50. It was a beautiful, partly cloudy day and the drive up hwy 50 is gorgeous but it seemed odd that there was so little traffic on the road. Surely we were not the only ones who thought springtime might be a nice season to see the California side of the lake.

Camp Richardson

We got to South Lake Tahoe and headed north. Just north of town we hit Camp Richardson. We were kind of surprised that the campground and cabins were all still marked as "closed for the season". Still, there was a nice beach with picnic tables and the Beacon Bar and Grill, which sits right on the water's edge. It was about 11 o'clock and the restaurant did not open until 11:30, so we took the dogs for a walk through the picnic area while we waited. They enjoyed barking at the ducks and generally being as mischievous as possible on a six-foot leash.

We had lunch out on the veranda which was a little on the cool side, but the inside dining area was being dominated by a family with multiple ill behaved and screaming children. Sitting by the lake was nice, the food was only passable but the Rum Runners were excellent. Kind of like a mai tai but without the orgeat syrup. With our tummies full and our heads slightly swimmy, we climbed back into the car and continued our journey North.

The plan was to visit Emerald Bay, DL Bliss State Park, Sugar Pine Point, Barton Creek… all the state parks along the west shore of Lake Tahoe. And they were all "closed for the season". I mean closed as in gates across the entrances with big chains and padlocks on them. There were even signs along the road side bike path saying it was closed, although there were bikers willing to risk whatever potential legal complications peddling along the bike path might entail. No wonder nobody else was visiting. There was nothing to visit. I don't know if these parks have always closed until Memorial Day or if the season was cut back due to California's chronic flirtation with bankruptcy, but my tax dollars were definitely not at work for this trip.

Fallen Leaf Lake
We took a side road to a little place Vicki had read about called Fallen Leaf Lake because it was about the only road open. It was a nice little road barely wide enough for two cars to pass if they were careful, but there wasn't much traffic and we were not in any hurry. Unfortunately, after a pleasant 10 mile drive, Fallen Leaf Lake appeared to be completely surrounded by private property extending all the way to the water line. It certainly was a nice scenic area, but not much for us to do there.

Fannette Island

They had not closed the roadside pullouts, so we could get out and take a few pictures but the clouds had been multiplying over the last couple of hours and in the midafternoon it started raining. That did not stop us of course, but it did put something of a damper on the proceedings.

We took Highway 89 up to Truckee and then got on I-80 to go back down the hill. About halfway down, we once again drove out from under the clouds and it was sunny and pretty warm. We got back to Ghost Mountain at about dinnertime, heated up some leftovers and then kicked back in our recliners to relax a bit after our long day of… mostly nothing.

Kicked back

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Online Realty

Roger wants me to write this blog, I think because he wants to blame me if everything goes sour.
Yes, it was my idea from the start.  Last September we traveled to South Dakota for a number of reasons.  One of them was to meet with a realtor/property manager and see a number of homes that were for sale that were rented out as vacation homes.  We also just wanted to see the place we are using as our legal domicile.

I read a number of RV books and blogs describing what was done with belongings in storage while RV’ers traveled for 2 or 3 years.  For those who continued the full time lifestyle, it was an absolute waste and they tended to lose a fair amount of money storing furniture they would never use and eventually sold for a mere pittance.  The trouble is that those who moved back to “sticks and bricks” don’t tend to write books.

At some point that I don’t remember, I came across the website, Executive Lodging of the Black Hills.  They rent out high end vacation homes they call lodges.  The lodges are owned by private individuals who use Executive Lodging to manage the homes as vacation rentals.  I eventually made contact with Ana who showed us the homes last September and helped convince us that we could invest the money we made in selling our house in Redlands, CA and make about 5% on our investment per year.  Ana is a delightful young woman who laughs a lot, just like Emily, one of my favorite nurses at Vitas.  She also seems to have that Midwest forthrightness and honesty I saw in people in the 2 years I lived in Omaha.

Things happened too fast.  After almost 4 months of very little action on our Redlands house, I had convinced myself that we were going to have to wait for the summer when there would hopefully be more buyers looking for homes.  Roger‘s last day of work was Good Friday and the following Saturday we got an offer on our house.  However the buyers wanted a 30 day escrow which I was happy to comply with because I was really tired of being a housewife.  There just wasn’t time to arrange to go to the Black Hills to find a house.  One of the houses we saw last September was still for sale so we were going to put in an offer however it sold just as we were going to make our move. Ana said there was a house they had been renting owned by a local realtor that was for sale and we could see it on their website.  You can too, if you click here then click the box in the upper right corner for a full page view.  You can look around the rooms by moving your mouse.  Change rooms at the bottom of the page.

It was built in 2009.  I really liked what I saw and convinced Roger we should go for it.  We were able to buy it for just a little more than we got for our Redlands home.  Today escrow closed and we still haven’t seen the house.  Are we crazy? You’ll have to decide for yourself.
Unfortunately the house is furnished and we just didn’t have time to get rid of more of our stuff so some of the furniture in the home will have to be moved out before our shipment arrives.  You will have to look at the video now so you can see the changes we make after our stuff arrives.  They will make a new video of the home so we will let you know when it is on their website.  We will replace all the pictures with our stuff, especially Roger’s photos.  We will also replace some of the furniture with our antiques.  But our stuff took a whole moving van.  I have had nightmares about not being able to get all our stuff in place before the next renters come.  Ana just laughed when I told her but she doesn’t know how much stuff we’ve got.  I got rid of an awful lot of junk but I’m afraid it wasn’t enough.  We’ll see when it is moved in on the 17th of June.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Ghost Mountain

About a year ago we join a membership RV campground group known as Colorado River Adventures. This is a group of campgrounds where we can stay free of charge (after giving them a wad of money up front), mostly in Southern California and Arizona. Shortly after we joined, they acquired a campground halfway between Sacramento and Lake Tahoe known as Ghost Mountain Ranch Resort. It is located in Pollock Pines, a wide spot along Highway 50, 10 miles east of Placerville.

This is an RV park that has apparently been around for many years and had become rather dilapidated. It is built on the site where they shot the old television show "The Virginian" and the set for the town is apparently still standing and is referred to as the "ghost town", I guess because it sounds better than "the ghost movie set". They have been trying to fix the place up since they purchased it last summer with mixed success.

First the good news. They did a pretty nice job of fixing up the area around the swimming pool with a grassy lawn, new sidewalks, refurbished plaster and coping around the pool creating a fairly nice area to sit around and relax in the afternoon. They repaved the main road through the park so it's reasonably decent although it's only about 10 feet wide so keeping your motorhome on it is a bit of a challenge. And… and… Well that's about it really.

Now for the bad news. There are no full hookups, i.e. no sewer system. There is no store. There is no clubhouse or community facilities. There is no Internet access, no cable TV, no 50 amp electrical service. The first camping site that we pulled into, the ground was too soft to actually hold our motorhome. Our jacks dug holes in the loam. The park advertises horseback riding but there are no horses. While the road inside the park is newly paved, the semiprivate road to get to the front entrance is a little over a mile of potholes in aging asphalt too narrow for two RVs to pass each other. Heaven help you if you meet someone coming the other direction.

To make up for the lack of a sewer system, they are supposed to have a "honey bucket" service, basically a sewage truck that will come and empty your wastewater tanks. But it is apparently not working, so in the middle of the week we have to break camp and drive to the dump station at the entrance. Sort of a moderate pain in the butt (but hey, what else do we have to do?).

 At least it's not crowded

In short, they still have a lot of work to do here. Whether they intend to actually spend the money to do it is sort of an open question. In the meantime, the nicest part of staying here is that it is largely deserted. The park supposedly has spaces for 170 camping units but there are only about a dozen of us here at the moment. So it feels pretty roomy. That's a good thing since neither the bathrooms nor the laundry could possibly support 170 campers. (We actually have a washing machine in our Allegro but it is pretty much useless if you don't have a wastewater connection.)

When we bought our first Winnebago back in 1993, most places where you paid to park your RV were called "RV parks". If an RV park paid for significant improvements, like a clubhouse, spa, miniature golf course and playground for the kids, etc. they would call themselves a "resort" and charge an extra $10 a night. Then some genius figured out he could call his RV park a resort and charge the extra $10 without paying for any of the improvements and suddenly every RV facility in the country seems to have become a resort. Now we have this place that has essentially no amenities at all, calls itself a resort and they don't even get the extra 10 bucks.

Colorado River Adventures tries to have some kind of community activities/entertainment on the weekends where you can have a meal and mingle with your fellow campers. Here, the Saturday night entertainment was karaoke, that Japanese abomination where any no talent slob can be handed a microphone and pretend he is a rockstar. Take this guy for instance.

 Pathetic loser.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Rained Out

The weather while we were in Coarsegold was mostly gray with intermittent showers over several days. We had originally planned to drive down to Kings Canyon one day but got scared off by the threat of snow in the high Sierras and the requirement to carry chains which we don't own and did not want to purchase at inflated foothills prices. Maybe some other time.

So we did laundry, sat and read and generally relaxed for the first couple of days. By Wednesday we were getting pretty cabin feverish, so in the afternoon we drove up to Yosemite. We set out fairly late in hopes of seeing the critters coming out for their evening nosh but were disappointed in that regard. We drove in the southern entrance around 16:30 and headed east to the Mariposa Grove. This is a stand of redwood trees that was one of the primary justifications for preserving the area during the Lincoln Administration. We had left behind about 20° of temperature coming up out of the valley and it was quite brisk at the grove but very lush and lovely. We walked the dogs around for a while enjoying the Christmasie  feel in the air but did not take any of the more extensive hikes because a) we were starting to lose the light and b) I'm still way to fat and out of shape to go traipsing through the woods for long distances.

It was supposed to clear up on Thursday but it fooled us and stayed mostly cloudy. We packed a lunch, fixed up a nice stew in the slow cooker, put it on a timer and left it to do its thing while we went back to the National Park. There was some blue sky between the clouds at midday giving us this view of the valley when we reached the tunnel entrance. You can see it's still quite beautiful and serene... Until you step back about 10 feet in which case you get this:

There were about four tour buses parked at the turnout and I suspect over the course of the day there were rarely less than that. Ah well, I guess it's only fair that we share.

The sun came and went over the course of the day as we drove around the loop road that meanders through Yosemite Valley. It appeared to us that there was less water coming over the falls than three years ago, evidence of the drought conditions in the West. Still, it's hard to beat the beauty of Yosemite even in less than perfect conditions. We ate our lunch in a picnic area, then slowly drove the loop road around the valley floor gazing up at the glacier cut beauty on either side. Small, wispy clouds coalesced and dissolved across the face of Half Dome as the sun ducked and dodged behind their larger brethren.

Vicki wanted to drive up to Glacier Point, but by the time we got to the turnoff it was completely overcast again and you could see that the area around Half Dome was shrouded in clouds, so we decided to forgo the drive up the mountain. Twenty minutes later it was pouring rain and we decided to head home.

Rather than going back out the south entrance we took Highway 140 to Mariposa. About halfway down the mountain the weather cleared up and we had mixed sunshine again. We had stopped at the mining museum in Mariposa the last time we came through here. This time, instead, we stopped for ice cream at a local shop. From Mariposa we took Highway 49 to Oakhurst which was just a few miles from our campground.

When we opened the door to the motorhome, the smell of beef stew had completely saturated the small area and it was wonderful. It was also about 2 min. until six o'clock so we threw some green beans into the pot and went off to visit with the dog ladies before dinner. The mosquitoes, which we had hardly seen any sign of the last three nights, decided the improvement in the weather meant it was time to come out and feast. That cut the visiting short for our last evening at Park Sierra and we went back to the motorhome to enjoy our slow-cooked dinner. In the morning, we would be off for Pollock Pines.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Park of the Sierras

SKP - Escapees    Get it?
About a year ago, when we first decided to live in our motorhome, we joined an organization called Escapees. It is a kind of national club for full-time RVers. They offer classes and big get-togethers where members from around the country congregate. We went to their full timers boot camp in February where they taught us all of the things that can go wrong with an RV like burning to the ground with you inside it. Very encouraging. The Escapees organization owns a handful of RV parks around the country but they also have a somewhat larger number of affiliated parks that do not belong to the organization exactly but offer exclusive low cost camping opportunities for Escapees members.

Park of the Sierras is one of the affiliated parks. It operates as a cooperative. The 300 some odd members of the Park are all equal owners. They each get to use a camping spot which is assigned by the co-op. They don't actually own the spot, they own their 300th share of the Corporation and essentially lease the spot until they either move on or pass on.  When a member is out of the area, their spot can be offered for traveling Escapees members for inexpensive camping because Escapees put up a significant portion of the stake money to get the whole project started.

Park of the Sierras is located in the town of Coarsegold, about 10 miles from the south entrance of Yosemite national Park and this is where we went after we left Tehachapi. Because of the way the park operates, there are some oddities in the administration. For example, there are no check-ins on Sunday. Guess what day we arrived. Since no one had informed us of this, the first night, we found ourselves boondocking in the parking lot. That was kind of annoying but everyone was so over-the-top friendly that it was hard to hold a grudge. Early Monday morning we got signed in and given the parking space in the photo. Compared to most motorhome parks where you are packed in side-by-side like sardines, here we were about 100 feet from any of our neighbors and sat up on a hill with a beautiful view over the valley. It is a nice set up. There is a huge clubhouse available with seating for probably 150 people, a library, a fairly impressive video lending library and other amenities, all literally built by the members, either current or former.

Doggy paradise
The favorite part of the park for the four-legged members of our entourage was the very nice fenced dog park. This was terraced as it sloped down the hill toward the valley and had a lot of outdoor carpeting which kept the dogs from getting too terribly filthy. At about 75 feet on a side, there was plenty of room for the dogs to sniff the apparently intoxicating aromas of previous visitors.

At six o'clock every evening the dog posse congregated at the park to chat and admire each other's dogs. With every new arrival, the dogs were all introduced first then, if they remembered, the names of the humans might be mentioned. It was a friendly group made up primarily of elderly widows who, I think, mainly showed up to demonstrate that they were still alive. If someone did not appear on a given day, one of the other members would go check on them afterwards. It was a nice, neighborly group and we joined willingly as by far the youngest in the crowd.

It soon became apparent that many of the regulars never took their motorhomes anywhere. A lot of the sites had wooden entry stairs, attached patios and small fenced yards and vegetable gardens around motorhomes that obviously had not moved in a number of years. Talking to the dog ladies, we learned there were a fair number of members that had a permanent motorhome they lived in and a second motorhome they traveled in which was stored in a lot somewhere down the valley. I enjoy being in our Allegro, but if you're not going to take it anywhere, I think it would make more sense to get a nice double-wide and not pay for the engine and tires just to have them rust and rot.

Overall, this is one of the nicer motorhome camping spots we have stayed in and we will probably be back somewhere down the line.

Sunday, May 5, 2013


Last September when we visited South Dakota, we saw a series of "pigtail bridges" in Custer State Park. By spiraling around and crossing itself on a trestle bridge, the road is allowed to gain 30 feet of elevation in a very small distance without having to go up a 10% grade. There were a series of these on Iron Mountain Road, a scenic drive through the park.

The same idea lies behind the construction of the Tehachapi Loop, a three-quarter mile long railway spiral a few miles outside the town. The railway climbs at a steady 2% grade allowing a 77 foot gain in elevation when the track crosses over itself at the end of the loop. We went and looked at this engineering wonder but no trains came while we were there and Vicki wasn't willing to sit and wait indefinitely. So I stole this picture off the Internet. The loop apparently draws railroad fanatics from all over the world and is probably Tehachapi's only claim to fame. They have turned their old railroad station into a railroad museum, which I would tell you all about if I had gone into it.

We also went and visited the local campground at Brite Lake. This is a really quite lovely little camping spot for eight or nine motorhomes and a somewhat larger number of tent campers surrounding a local reservoir. Because this is the town's water supply, you're not allowed to swim, wade or otherwise dip your body parts into the lake. Oddly enough however, you are allowed to fish in it and boat on it. Hey, I've seen the bottom of some boats and they are certainly no cleaner than my bottom.

Someone did a lot of wood carving of both live and dead trees in the park, giving them animal shapes and wizards' faces. There is an RV dump station marked by an outhouse with a bear peeking out the door, presumably so you can be entertained while emptying your sewage. We might consider spending a night or two here if we ever come through this way again.

So now we have to dump our tanks (with no entertainment to help the process) so we can hit the road for Coarsegold, near the south entrance to Yosemite, the next stop on our sojourn.

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Last Minute Disasters

It is May 3. Our escrow has supposedly closed although as near as I can tell no large influx of money has hit our bank account so far. Regardless of that fact, we hit the road this morning and are spending the night in Tehachapi. The last few weeks have been pretty hectic but now we have some time to kick back and relax (sort of). Towards the end, it seemed like the world was conspiring against us as we tried to get on the road.

A few weeks ago we were informed that the condominium below Christopher's (which we purchased when he started at UC San Diego) had water coming out of the light fixture in the bathroom. The presumption is that it came from our unit and it could cost a small fortune to repair the water damage. In order to confirm this theory, it is necessary to cut through the ceiling in the downstairs bathroom so that they can identify and fix the leak. We had a plumber come in and evaluate our bathroom, but he could not actually demonstrate any leak from our condo. So for the past three weeks we have been trying to get the manager/owner of the downstairs unit to have the ceiling opened so we can get a look at it. The representative for the building Homeowners Association set a 30 day deadline for repairs and is threatening to fine us $100 a day if it's not fixed by May 9th. I'm not sure he can really do that, since I don't have any legal authority to open their ceiling but he is apparently a lawyer wannabe and enjoys making threats. So now finally, this coming Monday, with 27 days elapsed in our 30 day repair window, they are finally going to get someone to come in and cut out the ceiling. Terrific. So we have basically told Christopher he's a big boy now and is going to have to deal with this since we are gone. We'll see how that turns out.

In the meantime, while the movers were removing everything we own from our house in Redlands, we discovered water seeping up between the tiles in our back bathroom. This with five days until the close of escrow. So we scrambled to get a plumber out to look at it ASAP. Fortunately, it did not appear to be a slab leak, just a leak around the wax gasket at the base of the toilet. They re-seated the toilet and that seems to have fixed it. Hopefully when the padding under the composite tiles dries out they can just be glued back down. Otherwise, we may have to pay for someone to come in and do some tile repair.

On April 30 we had a full day of running around getting last-minute chores and errands run. When we finally headed back to the motorhome park in Cherry Valley there was a huge plume of smoke coming up from behind the hills a few miles away. You may have read about the "Summit Fire" in Banning (although it has now been largely overshadowed by the much larger fire in Camarillo). The first night we were a little concerned that we might actually get evacuated. According to the news, the wind was going to blow the fire north, towards the mountains. But as we stared at the column of smoke, all of the wind we could feel was blowing straight in our faces and the smell of smoke was pretty heavy in the air. Overnight, the fire burned about 3000 acres, but not the ones we were sitting on. By the next afternoon, most of the smoke smell had gone away and we didn't notice any as we packed up to leave this morning, but the fire is still burning even now.

Everyone thinks it's going to be a horrible year for fires in California. We're happy that we will be a long ways off by August and September.