December 31, 2010

12/31/10 – Death Valley NP

Death Valley’s not terribly convenient to go visit.  We decided to stay in Pahrump, NV, and I found an RV park there, and booked us for a week.  Pahrump has a few casinos, and a few RV parks, the ubiquitous Walmart—and more tattoo parlors per capita than anywhere I’ve ever been. 
We went to Death Valley on New Year’s Eve (day).  Several of the roads were closed because of the recent rains.  All the roads were still showing signs of flooding.  It’s really odd to be in Death Valley and see signs that say “flood damage ahead”. 
We went up on Zabriskie Point to see the Badlands, wrinkles of mountains in shades of brown and tan.  It was sooooo cold!  We were bundled up in coats and hats and scarves.  Wasn’t this why we left Washington?  Isn’t Death Valley supposed to be one of the hottest places in the US????  Apparently not in December…
We went to the Visitor Center and the ranger suggested we backtrack to Dante’s Point to view the Valley.  It looks down on Badwater Salt Flats (282’ below sea level), but it looked like water was reflecting in the sun.  Maybe it was a mirage?  So we went to Badwater—and found it really was standing water!
We went on the one-way Artist’s Drive, and saw the colored hills of the Artist’s Palette. 
Then we headed to Scotty’s Castle for the tour.  The tour itself is what they call a “living history” tour, with the docent dressed up in early 20th century clothes, pretending to be as an a friend of Scotty, telling anecdotes of the people in the house as if he were just telling stories about friends.   George really liked that part. 
It was getting dark as we left Scotty’s Castle, so there wasn’t time to make the sidetrip to the dunes.  I had wanted to hike to the “Devil’s Golf Course”, but it was underwater.
I’d go back.  Not in winter, and definitely not in summer. Maybe in the springtime...

Link to more pictures of Death Valley

December 29, 2010

12/27/10 – Calico Ghost Town

This is a San Bernadino County Park and we stayed in the RV campground there.   I thought I went here when I was a kid but Charlotte didn’t think so.  I'm sure she's right.
Quincy (a friend from work that we visited when we were in Menifee) told me that I’d be disappointed because it was pretty run down (isn’t that the definition of “ghost town”?)
The campsite I’d reserved was uninhabitable—if such a thing can be said for a dirt parking place.  The rains and flooding hit again, and dug out a big trench at one end of our assigned campsite.  We moved to another one and then checked out the town in the dusk—did it again the next morning in early light to see what I’d missed the night before.  No crowds either time.  
Original flooded campsite
It was different than I’d expected because it wasn’t strictly ghost town.  Well, it was, but it isn’t.  It was an old silver mining town that was bought in the ‘50s by Walter Knott, the same Knott of Knott’s Berry Farm fame.  He glitzed it up to make it park-like, then donated it to the county. 
It was all decorated up for Christmas, and I thought it was pretty.  There are feral cats there—dozens of them!  Pick a color and you could find it.  They’re pretty leery of people, but the rangers like them because they keep the rodents down.  Good point.

December 26, 2010

12/23/10 – Joshua Tree NP

It rained hard for two days.  Southern California has been hit hard by unusual weather this year, but mostly we’d avoided it.  I guess it was time to just hunker down in the storm.
After two days in a 27’ travel trailer, it was time to get OUT and about.  Joshua Tree NP is dedicated to the preservation of the Joshua Tree, a form of yucca. 
You could really tell where the flash floods had been, and there was still lots of sand over the roads.  We went in at the south entrance to the Cottonwood Visitor Center.  The ranger suggested a couple of must-do hikes and the drive. 
We took the hike to Cottonwood Spring—followed an Indian family and ended up almost lost.  (I should have known better; the Indian developers I know never get it right the first time!)  I have no idea where the trail was supposed to go, but we followed the family up a sandy wash, and then when they went one way we went the other direction.  By this time we’d figured out they really didn’t know where they were going…we didn’t either but our way was more interesting.  It lead through some big rocks and then onto another wash.  Eventually we decided we were on a really long trail that would go for miles, so we turned back.

We drove the main road to the West entrance.  Besides the Joshua Trees (which I grew up seeing in Las Vegas), there are some other pretty interesting cacti.  The ocotillo were dormant, so just looked like clusters of sticks.  We walked through the Cholla Cactus Garden and avoided getting attached by the spines of the "Teddy Bear Cholla" aka "Jumping Cholla".
My absolute favorite were the hikes we took through the huge stacks of rocks all piled randomly on top of each other!  There's one called "Skull Rock" that does really look like a skull.  We had lunch at the Jumbo Rocks Campground, then hiked up to Arch Rock and on to the Barker Dam.  It was getting dark, so we had to hustle back to the parking lot. 

December 22, 2010

12/19/10 – Salton Sea

Next stop on the 1000 Trails tour was 1000 Trails Palm Springs, which is actually in Palm Desert, CA.  We were booked there through the 26th (11 days); after Christmas it was booked solid!  We got there the day before the heavy rains started on the other side of the mountains.  We heard later that where we’d been at Menifee Lakes got flooded (all those canals!) and a lot of folks came to Palm Springs to get away from the water.  It was getting close to Christmas, so we decorated the awning and the palm tree on our campsite.
Salton Sea is a California State Recreation Area.  It was caused by accidental flooding in the early 1900’s, and because “the place to go” in the ‘50s.  Parts of it haven’t changed since then at all.  I had seen a very interesting photo essay on the web, and thought I’d like to replicate some of those pictures.  We drove around the little town of Bombay Beach, but when George thought I was going to get us shot, we decided it would be better to leave...
 There are supposed to be gazillions of birds, and we saw some, but not nearly as many as I wanted.  Once again I realized that I hate taking pictures of water; that stupid horizon keeps tipping if you don’t hold the camera absolutely level!  And when there’s a glare on the water it’s hard to WHAT you’re shooting!  Mountains are much easier—no one expects them to be flat.
We drove down to the mud pots—a big hole that burps and gurgles like Yellowstone.  The really weird ones were the mud volcanoes. 
We also hiked out to the Dos Palmas Oasis.  (I didn’t know there were wild palm oases in California!)  They’re interesting, but certainly not beautiful.  I’m not big on palms with “beards”—the unclipped dead fronds that layer down the tree, which can house snakes and rats and other critters.  On the way back we stopped at a Date Ranch, sampled about 20 different kinds of dates (bought 2 kinds) and got date shakes.  Yum!!!

Link to Salton Sea pictures

12/20/10 – The Living Desert, Palm Springs

There’s really more to do in Palm Springs than just play golf—although if you ask George, he might disagree.  I’d heard about The Living Desert and wanted to check it out.  It’s part zoo and part botanical garden, focusing on desert animals and plants. 
There’s also a huge model train setup there, with all sorts of towns and bridges and whatever else they could build for the trains.  We wandered all around the display—which took quite a bit of time, as big as it is.  It’s one of those things where you look at a section, and then look again and see more details. 
The zoo part is split into southwest animals, and African animals.  I liked the section with the giraffes best—oh, yeah, and there were some Mexican wolves that were playing tag with each other, round and around their little island.  They had a petting zoo, so I made friends with a little goat--who then wanted to eat my jacket.

 I would have liked to have gone into the plant shop they had, but it was closed…  They did have some really good SW desert plant exhibits.  Good introduction to the cactus parks we’re going to visit later.   I actually liked the US section better than the world desert sections.
We had pretty much seen it all when the rain that was expected that afternoon started.  We high-tailed it out of there before we got dumped on. 

A few more pictures of The Living Desert

By the way, you'll notice that George is wearing shorts and I'm all bundled up in a jacket.  This is not at all unusual for our excursions. 

December 18, 2010

12/14/10 – Disneyland First Timer

You’re right—Disneyland isn’t a national park, although it might as well be. 
After Solvang, we moved farther south to 1000 Trails Wilderness Lakes in Menifee, CA.  What might have been considered wilderness when the resort was first built has since become standard southern California subdivision.  It was the closest 1000 Trails resort to where George’s daughter Kathy and her family lived in Murietta, and we were there longer than anyplace else we’d stayed.  There are canals throughout the preserve and apparently they stock them with fish.  Eucalyptus trees around all the campsites.  It’s a nice campground—until you realize that right next door is a dairy farm!  When the wind was just right…
George had never in his life been to Disneyland, and I thought he should have the experience.  He wasn’t overly enthusiastic because we weren’t taking kids with us (just me!) 
I’d never been to Disneyland at Christmas-time.  In fact, it had been 35 years since I’d been to Disneyland!  Huge crowds for the parade that you couldn’t see because of the huge crowds.  I took G to the Small World ride so he’d have the song running through his head for days—but because it was Christmas, they were playing Christmas songs so it didn’t work! 
My favorite ride is the Canal Boat ride with all the miniature houses.  I plan to have my backyard done like that at some point…when we have a backyard again.

December 10, 2010

12/6/10 – Solvang Revisted

While we were at 1000 Trails Rancho Oso, we went to Solvang.  I’d been there when my cousin Charlotte lived in northern California and I was a teenager. 
Solvang is like Leavenworth, WA, except where Leavenworth redefined itself to look like a Bavarian Village, Solvang started out that way.  It was created by Danish immigrants like a Danish Village so their children would know what it was like in the old country.  There are windmills and half-timbered buildings, and signs that look they came straight from a European shoppe. 

It’s cute, and quaint, and touristy—and I like it!
 When Charlotte took us there in the 60’s, we went to a bakery and they served a tiered tray of petit fours and pastries; you only paid for what you ate.  I dragged George into every single bakery in town looking for that.  Apparently the bakeries don’t do that anymore—or maybe health regulations won’t allow it.  We had lunch in one bakery—and dessert in another. 
Monday in early December is a good time of year to play tourist in Solvang!  There were NO crowds anywhere. 
We passed a little nursery as we were going from bakery to bakery.  There was a banner across the back that read “Rent a Christmas Tree Here”.  Only in California… 

December 6, 2010

12/4/10 – Rancho Oso – Showtime

It’s December; we’ve been on the road for more than a month now.  We’re getting into a routine with the trailer, and it’s getting easier.  Next stop was 1000 Trails Rancho Oso is surrounded by the Los Padres National Forest.  It’s actually a dude ranch, and my favorite 1000 Trails so far.  The trailers are set up on a hillside in stair step rows. 
Friday evening we went to a wine tasting at the Adult Center with local wines from the Santa Inez Valley.  There was only one other couple and a lady from England staying at one of the cabins with her mother.  After the tasting, the wine was "raffled" and we took home a couple bottles of wine.  Works for me...
Every other Saturday morning they have a cattle dog demonstration and rodeo bull training session.  I thought it sounded interesting so we headed down to the corral. 
Bill, the manager of the resort has Australian kelpies, trained to work cattle.  They had already separated out several young steers from the herd and moved them through the chutes into a lower pasture.  He introduced his older dog Cutter, and then sent him out to collect the steers.  In a very short time, Cutter had collected the cattle and moved them up where we could see them.  He kept them bunched in a tight little group, moving constantly, and herded them into a smaller corral within the big one.  As soon as he was done, he ran over to the far corner of the corral and jumped into the water trough!  Bill told us later that was what he’d learned to do to cool off.  Herding cattle is hard work!
Then Bill brought out a younger dog who hadn’t yet been trained to herd—he wanted us to see how much of what the dogs do is instinct.  He managed to do exactly as he was directed.  It took a little longer, and he was a little sloppy, but he still got the steers into the corral.  Really impressive.
 Another thing they do at Rancho Oso is train yearling bulls for rodeo.  One of the wranglers had been a rodeo rider and he was now breeding bulls for rodeo.  He’d come up with a special way to train them on how to buck, which is what makes a good rodeo bull.  He has invented a contraption that gives the young bulls the basic idea of  having something on their backs, but then rewards them when they buck.  He starts with an electronic thingie (technical term I just made up) which he pads and then covers with leather.  That gets strapped onto the bull’s back—and as soon as the bull starts bucking, he pushes a remote that releases the magnets holding the leather box on the bull’s back.  The bull learns that if he bucks, the thing on his back goes away.  As they progress through the training, they put the electronic thingie into teddy bears, advancing in size along with the training.  And to make it more fun, they dress up the bears in cowboy togs, which helps the bulls learn that the thing up on their backs is going to flop around a lot.

 Bill invited us to move from the bleachers into the larger corral so we could see better.  “Stand back a little and don’t lean on the fence though.  A bull can weight 800-1000 pounds, and can shove the fence out if he makes a run at it.”  The wrangler was up by the chute, and once the bull was locked into place, he buckled the box onto the bull’s back.  Bill was out in the inside corral helping—and then staying out of the way until the bull was ready to be guided back into the holding pen.
They started with a bull who had never done it before.  At first he lay down in the chute, so they had to get him back on his feet.  Once he got the idea he kicked up his heels, and the wrangler immediately hit the remote and the leather box fell off.  It was really cool!
Then they brought out a bull who had been in training for awhile.  He got a medium sized teddy bear, complete with cowboy hat and chaps.  This guy is going to be a rodeo star—as soon as the gate was opened, he came out bucking!  Zap, that bear was gone! 
Bill explained everything that was going on, and gave us each bull’s name and talked about his experience and sometimes lineage.  We were hanging right there by the fence so we could ask as many questions as we wanted.  It was a unique experience and I loved it! 

I'd definitely go back to this resort.

Link to more pictures at Rancho Oso