Thursday, August 28, 2014

Central California Coast

Two things we love about California's central coast are the wineries and the beaches. We managed to spend some time at both. Our first stop was Lodi.
Lodi is known for their red wines, especially their old vine zinfandels. Old zinfandel vines are prized for several reasons. The twisted, gnarled plants produce naturally low yields of grapes that are concentrated, intense and flavorful. The old vines are also more integrated with their surroundings and exhibit a consistent behavior which results in better wine.

Many of the vines in Lodi are over 140 years old,  the one below is 118 years old. Although it's no longer producing grapes, we saw others that were close to this size. There is no regulation regarding what zinfandel may be labeled old vine, so we find that it's best to visit wineries where we can speak to the experts and so far we haven't been disappointed.

From Lodi we proceeded to Paso Robles, another highly regarded wine area. There are more than 200 wineries, most of which are family owned and operated businesses, as well as more than 32,000 acres of vineyards. The area around Paso has varying micro-climates and topography which result in some very interesting wines and blends. Too many wineries to visit them all, but we're working on it.

We made a return visit to Calcareous Vineyard which has a beautiful facility, friendly people, good wine and fabulous views.

We also visited Shale Oak Winery, one of the sustainable wineries in the area, where a number of hummingbirds were flitting about.

We stayed in Atascadero,which is about 10 miles south of Paso Robles. From there it was only about 18 miles to the coast. Our first stop was at our very favorite dog beach between Morro Bay and Cayucos. It has a great view of Morro Rock.

The beach is an off-leash area and Tilly was delighted to be back. Lots of fun running (slowly) on the beach, dipping in the ocean, and trying to keep up with the other dogs.

We saw lots of very strange but beautiful jellyfish that we hadn't seen before. We weren't sure if they were the stinging kind so we didn't pick them up, and Tilly seemed to know enough to stay away from them.

They had kind of a clear sail on the top and resembled a Portugese-Man-of-War but there weren't any tentacles.

We always love spending time in this area- wineries and beaches are a pretty good combination.

 Our routes... Carmichael to Lodi, 40 miles, Lodi to Atascadero, 240 miles.

The beach loop from Atascadero, including a stop in Cambria for incredible tri-tip sandwiches, 64 miles

The San Francisco Bay Area

We stayed in Petaluma, which is about 30 miles north of San Francisco, while spending some time in the San Francisco Bay area. Petaluma is close to Sonoma so we were compelled to do some more wine tasting. We find the Sonoma area a bit more laid back than Napa, and they have some lovely wineries and excellent wines.

Beautiful setting and some very nice wineries. The tasting rooms weren't crowded which is always nice since we like to talk to the people behind the bar. It seems we always learn something new about the wine making process.

One of the reasons we stop in the Bay area is to visit our very good friends Kathy and Dan who live in SF. They are in the North Beach area and we're able to walk from their place to some excellent restaurants, and it's also a short walk to the Embarcadero. Plus they provide us with off-street parking which is a big deal in SF. As we explored the Embarcadero one day we got some great views, including Alcatraz out in the middle of the bay. One of these days we'll take the tour.

We strolled along the piers which have lots of restaurants and tourist attractions. We came to Pier 39 which has a herd of sea lions and an interesting story. A few California sea lions began hauling out on Pier 39′s K-Dock shortly after the Loma Prieta earthquake hit San Francisco in October 1989. By January 1990, the sea lions started to arrive in droves and completely took over K-Dock, much to the exasperation of Pier 39′s Marina tenants. The Marina Staff turned to The Marine Mammal Center, an organization devoted to the rescue and rehabilitation of marine mammals, for advice about their new tenants. After much debate and research, the experts from The Marine Mammal Center recommended that the sea lions stay in their new found home.With a plentiful supply of food from the Bay and an environment protected from predators, the Pier 39 Marina proved to be an ideal living situation for the sea lions. They seemed to be enjoying themselves.

Since Kathy and Dan enjoy wine-tasting as much as we do, we had to make time for it. We went to the Sebastopol area, northwest of Petaluma. It was a lovely drive to some new (to us) wineries. A bit of the bubbly at Iron Horse . . .

and some more fine wines at Hartford Family Estates. We thoroughly enjoyed ourselves.

After we left Petaluma we went to Carmichael, which is just outside of Sacramento, and visited our friends Ken and Kris.

We met Ken and Kris in Mexico and have enjoyed their friendship, so it was great to stop and spend some time with them. Wonderful hosts, showed us around the area, and Kris and I were even able to spend a bit of time floating around their backyard pool. We were entertained by Ken play his Blues harp with a local band one night which was lots of fun. For those followers who like food pictures - you know who you are - here's one of the fabulous breakfast Ken made for us. Yummy!

Our route, Ukiah to Petaluma 76 miles, Petaluma to Carmichael 96 miles.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

California Redwoods

There was no way we were going to bypass the redwoods on our way through northern California. It's difficult to describe the feeling of walking through the redwood forests, surrounded by the world's tallest living trees. Trees over 370 feet tall have been recorded in this area.Coastal redwoods can live up to 2,000 years and average 500 to 700 years old. Giant sequoia trees grow to a larger diameter and bulk, but do not grow as tall. Hard to believe when standing next to a redwood with a diameter like the one below, and we saw some that were even larger.

There are three state parks that are encircled by Redwood National Park so it would be easy to spend days exploring them all. The state parks were established in the 1920s but it wasn't until 1968 that Redwood National Park was created and then expanded in 1978. Together the parks are a World Heritage Site as well as an International Biosphere Reserve. Intense logging has reduced the coastal redwood forest to a fraction of their original expanse. It's estimated that in 1800 the redwood forests covered approximately two million acres. Today the national and state parks protect only 40,000 acres. Only 4% of the original old growth forest remains. Hopefully they will now be a protected resource to be enjoyed and cherished by citizens of many nations.

We began by taking an easy hike up to Lady Byrd Johnson Grove, so named because she dedicated park in 1968. We were joined by an interesting and friendly family, and we enjoyed walking and talking with them. Their kids, Anastasia and Andy, were fun to watch as they ran around exploring everything and being as astounded as we were by the size of what we were seeing. The picture above shows Stasia and Andy being dwarfed by one of the massive trees. Stasia made a great model because she was so easy to spot in her bright pink outfit.

We came across some interesting political quotes in the official Visitor Guide of Redwood National and State Parks under the heading 'Tree Politics Remembered.' I thought I'd share them.

Adlai Stevenson II, referring to Richard Nixon. "A hypocrite is the kind of politician who would cut down a redwood tree, then mount the stump and make a speech for conservation."

President Lyndon Johnson is his dedication speech establishing Redwood National Park. "Conservation is indeed a bipartisan business because all of us have the same stake in this magnificent is going to belong to our children and their grandchildren."

Ronald Reagan in response to a proposal to create Redwood National Park. "A tree is a tree. How many more do you have to look at?"

Moving on.

We wanted to spend more time in the forest so we took a 3 mile hike which went up to Trillium Falls and then looped up and down through the redwoods. Incredible experience, sorry I don't have the words to properly describe it. 

Thick bark, roughly one foot deep, makes the redwoods impervious to fire and insects. We saw many trees that had obviously been on fire at one time but were still living. The picture below shows Brian coming out of a tree that has been hollowed out by fire, but still growing.

We also saw many trees that had toppled at one time. Their roots were HUGE.

 Up close the roots had a bit of a psychedelic quality about them.

The parks are home to a variety of wildlife that mostly stay hidden in the forests. The exception would be the Roosevelt elk. They prefer prairies and open lands except when it is hot and they seek shade, as the herd below was doing.

They were watched over by this big bull, doesn't look like he'll be challenged by any young bucks for a while.

While exploring the redwoods we stayed at an RV park in Klamath, California. We had a great spot, right on the river where we could watch birds, seals, and all the boats going by. The coastal fog would dissipate in the morning and roll back in during the early evening hours. Nice.

Our routes. Bandon, OR to Golden Bear RV Park in Klamath, CA, 125 miles.

Klamath to Trillium Falls, 20 miles

Klamath to Lady Byrd Johnson Grove, 25 miles

Monday, August 4, 2014

The Oregon Coast

The Coast

The coast of Oregon is right up there with the most scenic places we have been in our travels. We followed the coast from the Washington border to the California border, taking lots of photos along the way. It's stunning, whether in the sunlight or in the fog.

The Heceta Lighthouse

Tillamook Area

We spent a few days in Tillamook and did some exploring from there. We visited the Tillamook Cheese Factory which was really touristy so we won't do that again. Long lines for free cheese samples, which we passed on, but Brian did buy some really good ice cream.

Tillamook has an air museum that is unlike any that we have seen before. It's not so much what's in the museum, but the massive building itself which can be seen from miles away. Brian can barely be seen in the photo below, standing next to the plane in the foreground. The doors of Hangar B behind him are 120 feet high and 220 feet wide.

Hangar B, which also houses the museum, was built for class K blimps. I took a photo of a picture that shows the 8 blimps housed in the hangar.

The hangar covers over 7 acres (6 football fields). It's 1,072 feet long, 296 feet wide, and over 15 stories tall. It's pretty amazing.

Hangar B is the largest clear-span WOODEN structure in the world . Anyone interested in building construction will be amazed by the structure of this huge building. A closer look...

More info on the air museum at

We drove the Three Capes Loop road, very scenic with dunes and several beaches along the way.

People were out enjoying the sun and sand, but the water looked a bit cold to us.

There were several kite boarders but no surfers. We love watching the kite boarders and if we were a bit younger we might even give it a try - it looks like a lot of fun!

At Cape Meares we hiked out to see the Octopus Tree, estimated to be 200 to 300 years old. The Octopus Tree is a massive Sitka spruce with branches growing like giant tentacles from its 50-foot base. The cause of its shape is a mystery, but one theory is that the tree is one of several "Indian Ceremonial Trees" trained over time, a common practice of the Coast tribes. The branches of the tree were forced downward toward a horizontal position when they were still flexible, finally extending about 16 feet from the base. The branches reached skyward to more than 100 feet, creating the distinctive shape. Very unusual. More at

We took a short but beautiful hike up to Munson Creek Falls which was just down the road from our RV park.

We found an interesting restaurant just north of Tillamook in Bay City called the Pacific Seafood Company. They had probably the biggest and the best oysters we have ever had the pleasure of eating. We also watched them clean, pack and shuck the oysters. The shuckers are paid 2 to 3 cents per oyster, so moving quickly pays off. They were fast and efficient. We learned to shuck many years ago by using an oyster knife to pry the oyster open at the hinge. In this area they pound with the knife to bust the lip of the oyster and then pry from that end - they say they make a cleaner cut that way.

We highly recommend the restaurant, but there may be a bit of a wait - more at


Unfortunately we were only able to get a reservation for one night in Newport which is too bad because there's a lot to do there. The photo above is the of the Yaquina Bay Bridge which is one of the most recognizable of the U.S. Route 101 bridges designed by Conde McCullough. The photo was taken from the Port of Newport RV Park and Marina where we stayed. There were lots of people going out fishing and crabbing from the marina, but there is also a sizeable commercial fleet in Newport. This means great seafood and we made a return visit to a restaurant called Local Ocean.  Fabulous food, we highly recommend it - they just opened a second floor addition. Newport is an interesting place to spend some time, wish we could have stayed longer. More info at

Port Orford

We made a stop in Port Orford again this year, hoping to see them bringing the boats in and out of the water. Port Orford is one of the most unusual harbors in the world. Each boat is lowered into the water to go to work and raised back to the “dock” parking lot on their return. Port Orford was being dredged the day we visited. Most of the boats were on their “dollies” on the dock so we weren't able to see the cranes at work.

The dolly dock is only one of two in the United States, and one of six in the world. The photo below (taken from the internet) shows a boat being lifted by one of the two cranes. Looks pretty exciting but also a bit scary.

Hoisted on/off the dock into/from the ocean

Boats on the dollies.


Our next overnight was in Bandon on the Sea which is a nice little town and also the Cranberry Capital of the World (according to them). We were told we could see whales coming into the Coquille River from the ocean but I guess our timing was off. Pretty spot, though.

We didn't see whales but did see a cool osprey nest in the RV park. This one seems to be looking right at the camera. I think it looks a bit like a cartoon character.

Bandon is also a world class golf resort area. The Bandon Dunes Golf Resort has 5 courses - all true "links" courses of which there aren't a great many in the world. There are several golf resorts in this area. As a caddie back in the '60s Brian was amazed at what caddies are paid these days. Back in the day he got $5 or $6 per bag, per round, with hard working caddies taking home over $100 a week. Today at Bandon Dunes all caddie fees are to be paid by the guest directly to the caddie. Caddies average $80-$100+ per bag, per round. Not a bad gig. If you're a golfer and interested, more info

Gold Beach and the Rogue River

The Rogue River meets the ocean near the town of Gold Beach. As we got close to the bridge over the river we were astounded by the number of salmon sport fishing boats - guess it's a really good spot to catch salmon.

The dots in the pictures above are boats, just a small sample of what we saw in the river.

Maps....we made many stops along the way. 
Forks, WA to Tillamook, OR 253 miles

The Three Cape Loop with Cape Meares, 65 miles. Bay City, the oyster place, is just north of Tillamook.

Tillamook to Newport, 66 miles.

Newport to Bandon, 123 miles.