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Friday, May 30, 2014

Happy Belated One Month Anniversary

Thursday was officially our one month travelversary! We still cannot believe it has only been a month and we continue to be thankful every single day for this opportunity. With just over 6,000 miles logged in our rig, we are getting a rhythm and settling into our new routine.

From Pinto Lake (Freedom, CA), we made our way to Chabot Regional Park, just across the Bay from San Francisco and used that as our home base for a couple days. For being tucked into an urban area, Chabot Park is very pretty and gives you the feeling of being in a remote woods. It sits atop a small mountain and contains a lake, fragrant eucalyptus trees (whether you love them or hate them...), and all sorts of wildlife. We saw deer and wild turkey within moments of entering the park, but what we didn't see were the wild cats of all sizes! After hearing something walking through the woods behind our camper we tried to spy it with the night vision scope, but were unable to spot anything.

After unhitching at Chabot Park on Tuesday afternoon, we checked out Berkeley. We walked around downtown, saw a tiny shard of the campus, and had dinner at Picante. We also walked all of the remaining 3,000 feet of the pier which used to extend 3.5 miles into the Bay and served as a travel hub, but now serves as a base for amateur fishers.


Wednesday was our day for San Francisco! We let the rush hour traffic subside and drove downtown late morning. Our first order of business was lunch and Ryan found the most incredible vegetarian restaurant in Chinatown called Enjoy. We both loved our food and would eat there every day if we could. I wish I was there right now.

After lunch we did a bunch of walking, starting with Fisherman's Wharf. We enjoyed the musicians and entertainers, watched the sea lions at Pier 39, went to the National Park Museum for the Bay, and ate ice cream. We continued our culinary journey by stopping at the Ghirardelli factory to get a birthday treat for Lauren. To work it all off we walked straight up the side of a hill to that famously windy street, Lombard.






We walked the million or so blocks back to the car, drove through Presidio Park, saw the last remaining building from SF's World's Fair, and then drove down the western coast and miles of beaches I had no idea existed. In an effort to let the evening rush hour traffic dwindle, we stopped at our first In-N-Out Burger (when in Rome!) and I had a grilled cheese. We decided it was pretty OK.

Yesterday, our one month anniversary, was a travel day. Driving north through the valley we saw all sorts of vineyards and olive trees as a reminder of life's delicious luxuries. Our surroundings escalated quickly, taking us from the golden hills to the evergreen mountains and our camp in Lakeshore/Lakehead, Antlers Park, where we awoke this morning happy to have not been attacked by bears.

Today was another travel day, but one of a much more leisurely pace than yesterday. We slept in and did some rearranging of the car this morning before heading out. Driving through the mountains is a stark contrast to the deserts we've been through the majority of the time and I had to keep reminding myself we were still in California; at least until we crossed state line into Oregon halfway through the day. We saw mighty Mount Shasta and now have to be aware of seasonal roads and remember that there are places that still have snow.


Currently camped at Stewart State Park on Lost Creek Lake in the Rogue Valley, our plan for tomorrow is to see Crater Lake, one of Oregon's seven wonders. We also hope to check out some hot springs which were a pro tip from my sister. This is the first time we've been hooked up to electric in well over a week. We've been using our solar chargers and they have been working wonderfully!

Monday, May 26, 2014

Freedom!

Ahoy from Freedom, CA, our home base since Friday. This appears to be the heart of agricultural CA, with lettuces, strawberries, avocados, grapefruit, and cherries everywhere. Yum! It also makes me thankful for the farmers and agricultural workers who bring us such a delicious bounty.

We have been falling in love with the central coast with nearly every city we visit. The Pacific ocean wows us over and over, and if you mix in some redwoods or otters we just can't resist.

The first city we fell for was Morro Bay, which I discussed in the last post, but definitely deserves another mention.

Friday we headed north from Morro Bay, erroneously thinking we had a chance at a coastal campsite without a reservation for Memorial Day weekend. No such luck, but thankfully Ryan found us an overflow site at Pinto Lake near Freedom which has served as our home base for the weekend as it is strategically located in the middle of all the places we wanted to visit at a very reasonable price.

Friday evening we unhitched and headed to Santa Cruz where we strolled the wharf and boardwalk, watched some surfers, and dined on some incredible pie at Pizza My Heart.


We wanted to take advantage of the long weekend and used Saturday as a chore day. For the first time in nearly four weeks we did laundry, re-organized our clothing storage, tried to trouble shoot our intermittently working fan, made dinner, and caught up on Game of Thrones.

We resumed our touring Sunday morning and headed to Monterey in the morning. We saw the sites, drove through coastal Carmel and gawked at the fancy homes.

It turns out that Laguna Seca park (Mazda Raceway) is just outside of Monterey, so we checked it out. There is a steep incline into the park and camping area, and from there you can practically drive right onto the track. There were some motorcycles racing so we went up to the corkscrew to watch (this will mean nothing to you unless you're already into racing or if you have Ryan explain how it's just a regular turn except it drops five stories, so it is dubbed the corkscrew and it is a very challenging corner to drive). Next stop: Santa Cruz!


Our original plan for Santa Cruz was to finally swim in the ocean. All we wanted to do was swim in the ocean. It was much busier than it had been when we were there on Friday, so we dodged the main crowds and headed to the outskirts of town to try and snag a stretch of sand. Turns out it was pretty chilly and the beach we found parking near was filled with sea debris, so we gave up on the plan to swim.

Instead of swimming I got an update to my hairdo and we went for a couple craft beers and ciders. We spoke with the sweetest server and she gave us some great regional advice. After a couple beers we decided we definitely needed pizza again because it's just a fact that beer needs pizza. It was a fun night!

Today has brought us some of the most breathtaking scenery, winding south on Highway 1 to the Big Sur area. We drove through the clouds and were wowed once again by the Pacific Ocean. It was yet another surreal moment seeing the redwoods and the cliffs to the sea.




We went to Julia Pfeiffer state park and did a hike that was practically straight up the side of a mountain, but the views of the valleys and ocean from the top was worth it all. We also saw McWay Falls and much to my disappointment couldn't actually go down to the beach. Something about dangerous cliffs and fines for people caught attempting it.







We are now stuck in traffic, heading north with the entire population of the San Francisco Bay. Tomorrow we move on!

Thursday, May 22, 2014

California Dreaming

Our first stop in California was Joshua Tree National Park and it was spectacular! We pulled into camp late Sunday night and almost had the place to ourselves. Monday morning we got up early and did a tour of the park. It was hot but as we climbed in elevation there was some relief with the temperatures. The unique desert scape alone is worth the trip, but the stunning rock formations sealed the deal as the best park we've been to so far. We're in a little bit of a rush now, but Joshua Tree ranks high on our list of re-visits so we can spend a good chunk of time exploring it in depth.






Monday afternoon we started our super diverse trek from Joshua Tree to Lake Jennings via the Sulton Sea, the sandiest desert I've ever seen, and out the other side of some wooded mountains. We also took one of the neatest roads I've ever driven: Box Canyon Road, just south of Joshua Tree. It winds you down an old river bed tucked between two rock faces and then spits you out near the Sulton Sea.

If you've never heard of the Sulton Sea and you've got some time, you should look into its history. It is a huge lake that's a result of a couple engineering disasters and then flooded by accident. They tried to turn their lemons into lemonade and make it a resort town, but then they realized the water is agricultural and industrial runoff and highly toxic. It had the feel of a ghost resort town, but surrounded by palm tree farms.

We spent Monday and Tuesday night at Lake Jennings, just outside of El Cajon. On Tuesday we spent the day in San Diego. At the recommendation of practically everybody, we visited the zoo. It was great! We then went to the USS Midway, an aircraft carrier that is now docked and serves as a museum. We toured the ship and Ryan ogled some airplanes.



In addition to doing touristy things, we wanted to get a sense for the city, so we drove through Ocean Beach, La Jolla, and Mission Beach. We stopped at the dog park in Ocean Beach and for some dinner. We then went to the Gaslamp quarter and met Ryan's friend, Jeremiah, for a couple drinks.

On Wednesday we headed north through Los Angeles and camped just outside of Malibu at Leo Carrillo Beach State Park. We were going to spend some time in LA, but after driving through the nonstop highway and suburban sprawl, we had no desire to go back. I wasn't sure what to expect of Malibu, but it's a really nice area with a filthy amount of money. Porsches and Range Rovers everywhere. The grocery store is really nice, though. They have produce I've never seen before, like it's made for a fancy restaurant.


Leo Carrillo Beach was beautiful, but a little chilly. The surfers were out but it was too cold for general swimming. I would definitely hit up the area again.

This morning (Thursday) we made the best accidental discovery of the trip so far: Morro Bay. Our next stop was going to be Monterey, but it was too far of a drive from Malibu, so we thought this was a good midway point. At the gas station Ryan met a man from here who gave us some pro tips on the city. When we got to the State Park campground we knew we made the right decision.

The whole state park smells so good because they have eucalyptus trees everywhere. There is a bird rookery. There's an estuary that is home to otters and seals that we saw and heard. People have birds of paradise and artichoke plants growing in their yards. It smells like the ocean and the beaches are nice and sandy. It's quaint and if we liked seafood we would have no reason to leave, but the Thai food is also really great. It's not too hot and not too cold. It's just our speed.





Tucson and Moving On

What we thought would be a boring, one day stop in Tucson turned terrifying and then everything was great.

Our first 10,000 mile car maintenance checkup was nearing, so we made an appointment at a VW dealership in Tucson for Saturday. We decided to stay just outside of town at Catalina State Park, but when we were just a couple miles from the park the car shuddered in low gear as we were accelerating up a hill.

We ran a couple errands, including a stop at Starizona, the most awesome telescope store in the US. While Ryan talked shop with a guy at the store, I looked at spectacular photos taken from the International Space Station (ISS) by NASA astronauts using a special telescope photography adaption invented and made at Starizona.

When we got into the car after Starizona we got the dreaded check engine light. Our hearts sank, but at least it happened at the best imaginable time possible: we weren't towing, we were in a city, and we already had an appointment at the dealership first thing the next morning. We got the OBD2 code and were slightly relieved to find it was related to the turbo. Once again we gently got the car to camp.

Saturday morning we removed and hid as much evidence of towing as we could and hoped that because every person we've talked to at the dealership had never heard of towing with our car that they wouldn't be looking for it. One man asked me what the plug on the back bumper was for (the electrics to the trailer lights) and I completely played dumb. He thought it was for warmth in the winter. Maybe!

Turns out we just needed a software update and the check engine light was a fluke. To say we were relieved is a huge understatement.


After the dealership, we headed to Saguaro National Park. There are giant cacti as far as the eye can see! It's incredibly beautiful. Because it was over 100 F and the ranger told us a woman died last year from dehydration we kept the hiking to a minimum, picking the only trail that also features petroglyphs.




It always puts life into perspective to see petroglyphs and think that thousands of years ago another, very different human, but your ancestor nonetheless, stood in that same spot and created art. We still have no idea if it means something or if it was decorative, but it is incredible. It also makes me wonder what future humans will think of what we do. Will all our meticulous records mean anything to them or will we be as much of a mystery?

Sunday morning we got up early so we could be at Biosphere 2 when they opened. B2 was built in the 1980s by a private company with one wealthy backer and a visionary who had been the leader of a small community of people who performed theater. In the 1990s, they built B2 to study the environment and had two missions of people living inside as a completely enclosed system. Since then it fell into disrepair and changed ownership a couple times. It is currently operated by Arizona University and is being used for environmental research.

I had toured B2 about ten years ago, but Ryan has never been. We went through all the biomes (desert, mangrove, rainforest, and ocean), in the basement to see the machines that make it all work, the living quarters, and into one of the "lungs" that was used to equalize air pressure. It is still so fascinating to me and an amazing scientific accomplishment. I think they were ahead of their time.








Thursday, May 15, 2014

Two Weeks and Over 3,000 Miles

Traveling like this is like living in a time warp and we can hardly believe it has only been two weeks since we left home to explore the great beyond. It feels like a month. We continue to find beauty everywhere we go, learn about something we never knew existed, and meet the kindest, most interesting people.

Since our last check in from Marfa, TX, we have left the state and are currently making our way through New Mexico. Before I talk about what we've been up to, I just have to say how much we loved Marfa. Before we visited, I think we would have agreed that we had no desire to live in a tiny desert town, but we have been converted. Marfa is a place where we both envision ourselves making a disappearance if need be.

As I was sitting at the common picnic table at the Tumble In, it struck me that Marfa really feels like a movie set. I swear I even saw a man riding a horse down the street and we fed the sweetest stray dog that seemed to be a regular at our dinner spot. The sound of the wind and the gravel beneath your feet is the soundtrack, occasionally accented by the rooster that crowns at 4am and noon, a train going by, and the sound of a goat braying in the distance. That being said, Marfa is not a secret and I'm sure, if it's not already, will be overrun with Austin transplants because something that great is destined for popularity.


On the morning of our departure from Marfa, we had the pleasure of chatting with Maggie and Ryan (@kaplandia on Instagram) who are on a parallel honeymoon journey to ours, except they're traveling in the opposite direction. They have the sweetest camper and I have absolute envy of their breakfast nook.

From Marfa we headed north to New Mexico and a stop at Carlsbad Caverns National Park, which neither of us had ever visited. The best non-photographic description I can give it is other worldly. For the second time in one week, we were comparing our surroundings to scenes out of a movie, only this time it's definitely sci-fi.

Visitors can take an elevator to descend or ascend from the main cavern, but we opted to walk the steep trail down and were rewarded with spectacular views and struggles to get our eyes to adjust to the dark. Every time we turned a corner I found myself exclaiming what a spectacular/amazing/incredible/crazy feature I was seeing for the first time in my life.

The darkness is, of course, striking, but the other sense that was overwhelmed was what I heard, or rather, didn't hear. When there weren't other visitors talking to each other in voices you would reserve for a noisy bar, the quiet was deafening. Ryan and I could whisper and hear each other perfectly. It made it feel like a sacred place, especially surrounded by such spectacular yet delicate features.

The pictures below are mostly from my camera phone, which did much better than I ever expected. Unfortunately, the DSLR was running out of battery so we used it sparingly and without the preview screen. You don't get a real sense of the grandness of the features from the pictures, but nothing short of a visit will give you a true sense. After walking the caverns we took the elevator up. While I've never been on an elevator in a mine, this is exactly what I imagined it would be: watching the rocks rush past you as you ascend while your depth underground ticks away where the floor number would be in a building.








After being blown away by Carlsbad Caverns NP, we headed for an obligatory stop in Roswell where we visited the International UFO Museum. The city was actually less UFO crazy than I expected and the Museum was well curated and quite busy for a Monday afternoon.


We made camp at Brantley Lake State Park that evening. It's not necessarily a destination, but a nice campground for a state park with a great view of Brantley Lake and the surrounding desert. We have a couple destinations we would like to make in central New Mexico, including a self-guided Breaking Bad tour and stop at the Apple store in Albuquerque, so we camped outside of Albuquerque in Mountainair.

We went into Albuquerque Tuesday night to drop Ryan's computer at the Apple store (I accidentally spilled water on it and ruined the backlight...). Yesterday morning we returned to the city to hit up our favorite locations from Breaking Bad which was equal parts fun drive-bys of businesses and creepy stalking of people's actual homes who may or may not appreciate the popularity the show has brought to their home. We kept it very respectful and didn't take photos at most places and only got out at one spot.


It is unseasonably cold here in the high desert and Wednesday night dipped into the upper 20s, which was a shock coming from the near 100 degree weather Texas had given us.

From Mountainair we headed south and pulled into Elephant Butte park last night. The views here are fantastic and we slept so well last night.

This morning we drove to the Very Large Array ( http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Very_Large_Array ) for a self-guided tour. The VLA is an array (yes, it is very large, and can be set so that it is 22 miles in diameter) of radio telescopes used for astronomy. It is probably most well known for its likeness being one of the primary locations for the book and movie Contact. The place was crawling with astronomy nerds and alien enthusiasts.




Tomorrow we head toward Tucson, AZ, for some boring maintenance on our car. Today the computer told us to schedule a checkup in the next 300 miles or 111 days. Clearly it has not re-calibrated our average daily mileage in the past two weeks.

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