Wednesday, December 1, 2010

LA, Chuck and the Beaters

Whenever we get near SoCal we always find a way to visit with Brian’s long-time friend Chuck Fiore. He's a great tour guide and we have a lot of fun checking out the area. This year we made our usual pilgrimage to Neptune's Net in Malibu for some great seafood. Afterwards we walked across the PCH to watch the surfers.
Brian and Chuck have known each other since high school, although they went to different schools in the neighboring towns of Mamaroneck and Harrison in Westchester County, NY. When Brian left NY and moved to Colorado in the '70s Chuck visited a few times before moving to California. Over the years Chuck would pass through Colorado from time to time while touring with bands from Phoebe Snow to John Denver – including Nicolette Larson, Jelly (Amy Madigan), Bernie Leadon (Eagles) among many others.

Sometimes, if timing works out, we get to see Chuck play with a band he helped put together over 30 years ago, Billy & The Beaters. This trip we got to see them play to a SRO crowd at Yoli’s in Ventura. Kathy and Dan drove down from Santa Barbara and we had a fantastic evening of great music. The Beaters had a #1 hit song in the mid-80s with “At This Moment” and Billy Vera has been writing and performing hits since the 60s. Ron Viola, one of The Beaters’ 4 sax players, is also from Harrison where he and Brian were acquainted. To learn more click on the following link
When Brian hit the road as a tractor trailer driver in the '80s he would get to visit Chuck in SoCal several times a year when The Beaters were playing a special midnight show every Monday at the world famous Troubadour. They were known as “the baddest band on any stand” as they still are to this day. After over 30 years this band can still blow the doors off any place they play.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Santa Barbara

We were able to stay in town this year, only a mile or so from Kathy and Dan, which was very convenient and gave us lots of opportunities to have fun!
We spent an afternoon at the Harbor and Seafood Festival. In addition to some great food, shopping, and cooking demonstrations we were able to visit the Maritime Museum which was pretty impressive. We then went up to an overlook on the roof of the musuem for some fantastic views.

One of our all-time favorite dog beaches is Arroyo Burro in SB. It was 5 minutes away from our RV park so we took Tilly several times. One new thing that we loved was the self-serve dog wash in the parking lot. It was a bit expensive but well worth it since we were able to get the sand and saltwater off with a minimal amount of fuss.

On one of the days when Kathy and Dan had to work we headed up to the Santa Ynez Valley to visit (you guessed it) some wineries. The drive was beautiful and we loved exploring this area.  

Paso Robles

Another of our favorite places in California is Paso Robles, which is about halfway between San Francisco and LA. There are over 180 wineriesand over 26,000 acres of vineyards in the area. Zinfandel has had a huge influence in Paso but there are other varietals as well.
We were still hoping to experience some of the harvesting and crushing of the grapes. The weather cooperated in Paso when the temperatures shot up into the low 100s for a few days. Suddenly everyone was doing their best to get the grapes in and we were able to view some of the crushing at Opolo Winery.

Winemaking is a very complex process and we watched only the beginning. Briefly, the grapes are either picked by machine or by hand, and come from the vineyards in huge trucks and bins. Then they go either to a machine which separates the stems and leaves from the grapes or they are hand sorted. Following this they are crushed and the juice is sent to vats for processing into wine.
Paso Robles has a lot to offer in addition the the wineries. There are good restaurants and shopping. It's only a 30 minute drive to Morro Bay which has a great dog beach. Often when we are driving over the hill to the coast we can see the marine layer, which was just burning off on this beach trip.
Hearst Castle is also a 30 minute drive from Paso and is another amazing spot. We have been twice and will go again. There is a magnificent 115-room main house plus guesthouses, pools, and 8 acres of cultivated gardens. The Castle is part of the California State Park system. More information and better pictures than I took can be found at
All of the gold around and in this pool is real.  It's interesting to learn about all of the people who swam in this pool and visited the Castle.

There is an elephant seal beach just north of the Castle past San Simeon. There were hundreds of them soaking up the sun and we were even able to watch a couple of them bellow at each other.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

The Monterey Peninsula

The Monterey Bay Aquarium on Cannery Row is an amazing facility and is definitely one for the bucket list. In addition to having some wonderful exhibits it is a premier educational venue. We are both amazed at what we learn about our world and the fragility of life on our planet each time we visit. It is truly alarming to see what we have done to our planet and the creatures who inhabit it, but the emphasis at the aquarium is on the positive and what we can do to provide some stability and sustainability in our oceans.
The flamingos don't look real, but they are!

Weedy seadragon in the seahorse exhibit.

We had great weather for a drive around the Monterey Peninsula.  We did the 17 mile drive last year so this year we decided to drive through Pacific Grove, which is a beautiful area. There were several places to pull off the road and enjoy the scenery while taking a walk. As we came around a corner we were quite surprised to see all the commotion off- shore.
There were 20-30 boats weaving in and out of the same area, obviously fishing for something. It looked like a few collisions were imminent but they all seemed to keep out of each others way. Pretty amazing sight. We later found out that they were netting squid. It seems unbelievable that there would be that many squid, but there are. Squid are still a sustainable catch and are not being over-fished. Some of it is used for bait and food here in the U.S., but approximately 70% of it is shipped overseas.

Northern California

As always, we enjoyed our time in California and spent over a month there.
Mount Shasta dominated the scenery as we entered the state and for quite a ways as we traveled. Impressive sight and we were surprised to see so much snow still on the peak.
Our first stop was Lassen Volcanic National Park which has the southernmost active volcano in the Cascade Range. Rocks and ash are scattered up to 200 miles, and there are still steaming fumeroles and bubbling mud pots. It was incredible to see how far some of the huge boulders were thrown during the last eruption in 1915.

Time for wine country so we headed for Lodi, one of our favorite areas. Lodi is home to some of the oldest vines in the United States and produces some incredible zinfandels.  The picture to the left is of a 118 year old vine that we found at Jessie's Grove Winery.
One of the reasons we really enjoy Lodi is that the wineries are still small enough that we are often able to talk to the owners or winemakers about their wines. The tasting rooms aren't crowded during the week so we have the opportunity to try some great wines and get to know the people in the area. At this point Lodi is fairly low-key, but as with many things in California it is being 'discovered'. For many years this area has produced wine and sold grapes to many other wineries and now people are coming to taste, and speculating that this is the next Napa. Don't know about that but we hope to continue our visits in the coming years.

We continued south and stopped in Moss Landing just north of Monterey. The research facility for the Monterey Aquarium is there and it is also a major commercial fishing port. Phil's Fish Market, a very popular local restaurant, was withing walking distance of our RV park. Phil's cioppino was the winner in a throwdown with Bobby Flay, for those of you who follow the Food Network, and is one of the premier seafood restaurants in the Monterey area. Yum!

Saturday, September 18, 2010


When we were getting some upgrades at a service facility in Vancouver, Washington we met Randy Coleman, a fellow RVer and owner of  Coleman Vineyards. He lives in McMinnville and suggested we stop there on our way to the coast.  He invited us to visit his winery and taste some wine so of course we did. We had a great time touring his winery as well as some others and sipping some great pinot noirs.
We also toured the Evergreen Aviation Museum which was a short walk from our RV park. The museum is an amazing facility. The main attraction is probably Howard Hughes's Spruce Goose which anchors the central aviation building. It's actually the real Spruce Goose, not a replica. It  has the largest wingspan of any aircraft in history and is the largest 'flying boat' ever built.
There is no way to capture the immensity of this aircraft with my camera, but it's possible to get some idea of the scale by looking at the people waiting to go inside the aircraft. The story of the Spruce Goose is quite interesting and has been the subject of several documentaries. To learn more about both the Spruce Goose and the Evergreen Air Museum, click on the following links
Evergreen Air Museum
Spruce Goose
The Evergreen Museum is a complex of several buildings and I am really fascinated by the one under construction. It's going to be a waterpark with a real 747 on the roof. Evidently it will be incorporated into some kind of water slide. Crazy.

The Oregon coast is rugged and spectacular. We stayed in Coos Bay and ventured out from there to explore. The mornings were foggy as expected but we had some sun as well. Tilly took off running when we got to the beach - always a treat for our beach doggie.

Our final destination in Oregon was Crater Lake National Park. Crater Lake combines a deep, pure lake which is unbelievably blue in color with sheer surrounding cliffs that are almost two thousand feet high. It is the deepest lake in the United States at 1,943 feet and is the seventh deepest lake in the world. It is said to be the purest body of water on earth. We were both pretty amazed by the lake and its setting. Very unique.

Saturday, August 21, 2010


After a great time in Canada we headed for Bremerton and the Olympic Peninsula. We were fortunate to be able to park for a weeek at the Bremerton Yacht Club, where Judy and Jim spend the summer on their beautiful live-aboard boat.  We had a great visit, exploring the area and getting caught up.
We all took the ferry into Seattle one day where we walked around the waterfront and Pike Place Market. We watched the vendors throw fish to waiting customers, listened to some street musicians, and reveled in the abundance of flowers and fresh produce. This wasn't our first visit, and as in many places we've been lately we were amazed at the number of people we saw.

After our trek around the market we had lunch at one of our favorite restaurants on the pier, Elliott's. 
One of the must-see places on our list is the Olympic Peninsula and that's where we headed next. Our first stop was in Port Townsend, which is one of three named Victorian Seaports in the US and the only one on the west coast. There is a small RV park just above the marina and we were able to get a spot overlooking the Straits of Juan de Fuca. It was interesting to watch the boats and kayakers come and go, and we had a nice beach to walk Tilly on right out front.
A few months ago we joined a new club called Harvest Hosts, which is modeled after similar programs in Europe. The idea is that RVers in self-contained units can stay a night or two at various farms and wineries for the cost of the membership, which is nominal. It is a situation which benefits both the visitor and host. The visitor gets a free place to stay and the host gets some business and publicity.

We used our membership for the first time to stay at the Purple Haze Lavender Farm in Sequim ('Skwim' rhymes with swim) and were very impressed. The people who own and work at the farm were very pleasant and accomodating and we loved learning all about lavender - how it's grown, harvested, processed and made into a variety of products. Much of the lavender had been harvested but the fields were impressive. We were  invited to stay for two nights so we were also able to spend time in Olympic National Park as well. We drove up Hurricane Ridge and had some great views of the Olympic Range, including Mt. Olympus, as well as a clear view of the Straits and Vancouver Island.

Our last stop on the Olympic Peninsula was in the town of Forks, home of the Twilight book and movies. Everything in the town is pretty well geared towards capitalizing on the Twilight theme, which is a bit weird if you're not fans. However, it was a good place to stay in order to see the sights in this area. We went to La Push and Rialto Beach, which was beautiful. There are huge logs washed up on the beach - many as large as 6 feet or more in diameter.

The trees in this area are huge and form incredible canopies over the roads.

The northwestern most point of the continental United States is at Cape Flattery near Neah Bay on the tip of the Olympic Peninsula.  It is part of the Makah Indian Nation. We toured Neah Bay's Makah Museum, which also serves as an archeological research center and showcases artifacts from the Makah's 3,800-year history. It is associated with the Smithsonian and is a world class facility. After viewing the exhibits and walking through a life size long house we headed for Cape Flattery.
The Cape looks out over Tatoosh Island and huge sea stacks rising out of the ocean. The hiking trail we took afforded breathtaking views of some of the Peninsula's most spectacular scenery.

Our last day was spent in another part Olympic National Park which is accessed from the west. We drove through the Hoh Rainforest and then out to Ruby Beach on the coast. It was sunny in the rainforest which was unusual considering it receives 12 to 14 feet of rain per year. The trees are draped in mosses and looked a bit like something out of a fairy tale. We left the sun behind when we neared the coast and encountered fog, which enhanced the fairy tale quality of the day's adventures.

The Olympic Peninsula offers a surprisingly wide variety of scenery and ecosystems in a fairly small area. Another great exploration!

Sunday, August 1, 2010


Banff National Park


Our first destination in Canada was a campground very close to the town of Banff, which is a much larger town than we expected. It is very crowded and quite touristy but the setting is magnificent. We spent two nights there while we explored the area. The scenery is pretty amazing and quite unlike anything we've come across. Towering mountains and glaciers are reflected in numerous turquoise lakes.
We saw a lot of wildlife, including this baby bighorn sheep peeking out from the bushes - too cute!

Lake Louise and Takakkaw Falls

This area is in Banff National Park but different from the area around the town of Banff. Lake Louise is a much smaller town and the focus seems to be more on the outdoors than on shops and bars.  The lake itself is that fabulous turquoise color and surrounded by glaciers and steep mountains.
We took a drive up to Takakkaw Falls, which is one of the largest falls in Canada. The water comes from melting glaciers and was shooting straight out at the head of the falls. Very impressive. Takakkaw in Cree means 'it is magnificent' and it definitely is.

The Icefields Parkway

Aptly named, the Icefield Parkway passes within viewing distance of seven icefields and about 25 smaller but still notable glaciers. It is roughly 140 miles long and protected by two national parks - Banff and Jasper. It is a leisurely drive with many pullouts along the way with scenic overlooks or short hikes to scenic overlooks.
Many seasoned travellers call the Icefields Parkway the most beautiful road in Canada and it is rated one of the top 10 drives in the world. We haven't been everywhere in the world but certainly rate it among our top drives. The entire length and surrounding area is a World Heritage Site.

We drove approximately half the length of the parkway to reach the Icefield Center at the Columbia Icefield. Here you can either pay to take a bus tour onto the glacier or hike to the edge of the Athabasca Glacier. We decided to hike. Along the way there are signs showing where the foot of the glacier was in various years. Sadly, we found the distance to be shorter and shorter as time went on. The Athabasca Glacier, like most other glaciers in the world, is rapidly retreating. Another clear sign of global warming. The sign in this picture is from 1982 - hard to believe the glacier was at that point just 28 years ago.

It's hard to describe just how stunning this area is. Very spectacular and well worth the trip - I'm sure we'll be back.

Okanagan Valley
From the icefields to the desert. The Okanagan Valley lies at the north end of the Sonoran Desert and was quite a contrast to the temperatures we had experienced in Banff National Park. We saw rafters on the river and many many campers and boats on the lakes in the valley.
We stayed in Oliver, which is at the south end, very close to the border. It was recommended to us as a low-key place to stay while visiting the many wineries and we weren't disappointed. We went to several wineries and were very impressed with the quality of the wine we tasted. This is the premier wine area in Canada and the wines and wineries reflect that. The wine is only available in Canada so we weren't familiar with the vintners, but would highly recommend it to those of you who love good wine.

A trip to British Columbia just  isn't complete without a stop in Vancouver, one of our favorite cities and home to some of our favorite people. Once again Matt and Roberta, friends from the Vieques days, were great hosts. As usual we ate way too much great food - Vancouver has to be one of the top places to eat with a huge variety of ethnic restaurants to choose from. We spent time at Granville Island and Stanley Park. It was a great way to end our Canadian adventure - I'm sure we'll be back.