When we left Napa, we had a choice of directions to take and opted to go towards Grants Pass/Medford, Oregon. On the way we spent the night in Red Bluff and while there decided to spend an additional day so that we could visit this lesser visited national park.
The park centers around Lassen Peak, a 10,457′ volcano which erupted in 1915 producing an immense cloud which caused deep mud to cover the area, which is still visible today in what is called the Devastated Area. The boulders ejected during this eruption are massive in size and the volcanic ashes rained over 200 miles to the east.
The snowpack usually exceeds 20′ in Lassen and hence why it takes a long time to clear the roads. The day we visited was the first day the road had opened, yet the boardwalks and trails were still covered in snow and mostly impassabe, so we drove and marveled at the landscape which included hot springs, and bubbling mud pots. There were so many areas I wish we could have seen, but we were not willing to fight the snow.
I did climb a snowy, partly icy mound because I wanted to see Lake Helen, as it was beginning to thaw and it’s not visible from the road. When thawed these lakes are crystal-clear as it was evident along its shore. As I was climbing all I kept thinking was “I have the camera and I just cannot slip and fall. I’m not wearing the proper shoes, I’m not wearing a jacket, then, oh dear what if I do slip and fall, oh please at least let me slip toward the road and not the lake. It would be a very steep climb back, and for sure not a good experience.” Oh my, did I overthink. Upon reaching the top of the mound, the view of Lake Helen was beautiful and I could not help but imagine the entire lake in this sky blue color.
This entire area is very interesting. To know that the earth’s surface is forever changing is amazing. We drove unto roads that were barely passable and the amount of snowpack is incredible. It was higher the truck and that is after some serious snowmelt. Half of the trees were covered in snow still.
Finally, we drove to Manzanita Lake
This is a park that definitely warrants being seen in the summer months. So more gets put back in the bucket list.
It was that time again, jacks went up and off to Napa Valley we went. We reconnected with Keith and Jenn Russell, whom we met while in Arizona. They are likewise full timers who write a blog, post on instagram and upload videos about their year-long country wide adventures on youtube under the name of Empty Nest Nomads. We have become friends and enjoy their company. So when it was time to research wineries and the vicinity, the Russells and the Lindstroms made a small dent on the area for sure. We had certain vineyards in mind to visit and then we happened upon other ones which we really enjoyed.
Napa Valley has a beautiful rolling landscape with over 300 wineries ranging from boutiques to large corporate operations. We also wandered around St. Helena, home of the Culinary Institute of America, referred to as the “CIA”, beautiful old homes and upscale shopping. We began our tasting journey by traveling along the Silverado Trail all the way to Calistoga, the northern end of this 19th century mining road, widely known for its mineral baths. We visited Mumm, Stag’s Leap, Sterling Vineyards, Trinchero and even enjoyed our very own private wine tasting at Lindstrom winery.
I certainly enjoyed Mumm. I got to taste a variety of sparkling wines and learned that out of respect we should not refer to sparkling wine as Champagne as all sparkling wine is not Champagne. Champagne only comes from the region of Champagne, France. It is a region, not a grape or style of wine. Champagne has a strict way on how it grows, produces and maintains the quality of its grapes and its name is extremely protected.
Our visit to Stag’s Leap
When visiting Sterling Vineyards we had to take a short air tram ride, to reach the top of the mountain, and upon arriving, the views were beautiful and very enjoyable.
We enjoyed a private tasting on our tour of Trinchero. Out host took around their property, but most interestingly, she allowed us into their caves. These were not air conditioned but as they were below ground they stay cool year round.
After having made reservations months in advance, we visited the guest house for Lindstrom Winery and enjoyed yet another private tasting of some amazing wine.
There were so many more vineyards and locations we could have visited, but we did have to eat, shop and occasionally, sleep. Speaking of shopping, I absolutely loved the markets in California. We were able to find fresh fruits, vegetables, bread and cheese everywhere we looked. We did find many small markets and when frequented, the gave me a feeling of community and comfort, which the large grocery chains usually do not offer.
We did have the opportunity of visiting some eateries in St. Helena but one in particular stood out. Farmhead at Long Meadow Ranch, with a farm-to-table fare was absolutely incredible. I can not recall having a more delicious meal.
The Russells joined us for brunch at Osteria Divina in Sausalito, a very pretty little harbor town with a marina, waterside boutiques and hillside mansions and there we met our daughter, Ashley’s, college roommate, Sara de la Vega and her boyfriend, Patrick and had a fun time reconnecting.
After brunch, we crossed the Golden Gate Bridge and drove around Presidio, Pacific Heights, North Beach and the Financial District of San Francisco and what a surprise, it was a cold and foggy day in the bay! As Mark Twain said “The coldest winter I ever saw was the summer I spent in San Francisco.” So true!
Finally, before returning we just had to stop at Napa Valley Distillery. This was the first distillery to open its doors in the city of Napa since Prohibition.
Visiting Napa Valley was so much fun. The weather cooperated nicely and, again ,I was reminded that a week’s time was simply not enough. On the bright side, we have yet another reason to return!
We left Yosemite to arrive at Moss Landing, adjacent to Elkhorn Slough, the second largest estuary in California. An estuary is where fresh and saltwater co-mingle. Moss Landing is a quaint fishing village with a working marina, where fishermen go out at first light and return in the early afternoons with their fresh catch to be sold to individuals and nearby restaurants. In the mornings we were awakened by the barks of seals and when walking Jackson we watched otters rolling in the water as they played and clapped their paws.
We took the opportunity to drive south to nearby Carmel, Monterrey and the Big Sur area. While in Carmel we really didn’t want to miss the iconic 17-mile Drive, a private toll-road coast-hugging drive which snakes through a gated residential neighborhood with spectacular coastal vistas. Unfortunately, due to the US Open, it was closed to tourists so we did not receive the brochure explaining the markers along the way. However, because we voiced our desire to enjoy lunch in one of the waterfront restaurants, we were allowed through (toll-free) and thus were able to drive most of it, stopping at Pebble Beach Golf Links where preparations were well on the way for the impending US Open. We walked the entire village and decided to stop for lunch at Stillwater Grill overlooking the golf course.
Carmel, the gateway to the Monterey peninsula, is a beautiful seaside town with a lovely and aesthetically pleasing upscale shopping district surrounded by trees. It has outlawed high-rises, neon signs, traffic lights, parking meters and anything else that resembles city life. It also has an off leash, pet-friendly beach which we visited on a cloudless day. The reflection of the sun on its bright white sand blinded you and was quite the contrast against the cyan-blue water. Had it not been because we wanted to continue our drive south to the Big Sur area, I could have stayed there for hours.
Monterrey was next and we drove through the infamous Cannery Row, the waterfront street, home to now-defunct sardine-canning factories renovated to house world-class restaurants, luxurious hotels and boutiques and which basks in the glory of John Steinbeck’s novel, Cannery Row, set back in the Great Depression.
Each of these towns have wharfs, some more notable than others, and each unique in their own way.
We continued our journey south and with each turn on the windy and narrow stretch of the Pacific Coast Highway, (State Road 1), the views became more spectacular. The 94 mile stretch from Monterey Peninsula to Mt. Simeon, home to the Hearst Castle, is known as Big Sur, where the sheer cliffs of the Santa Lucia Mountains meet the Pacific Ocean. This area has its own weather pattern, usually fog but the weather gods kept us in mind as the day was absolutely gorgeous with not a cloud in the sky.
We stopped at Bixby Bridge, one of the most photographed areas in California, and for good reason.
We arrived at Big Sur, a very small town with a few restaurants and other small establishments. So when referring to Big Sur, it’s the rugged coastline, not so much the town.
I learned to play golf a little over 2 years ago and do enjoy the game however, I am not nearly as fascinated by it as hubby. In the past, he has attended many tournaments and golf championships, including several Masters and even had the unique opportunity of playing Augusta National. So last year knowing our itinerary would take us near where the US Open was to be played this year, we talked about attending, purchased tickets and made the required RV reservations.
I had never attended such a large golf tournament and it was by all means impressive, however, in my humble opinion, watching it on tv is a much better experience as you can actually watch the game. In person, it was very crowded and because I’m so vertically challenged, being able to see any of the golfers was practically impossible. We did get to see Tiger Woods.
On the bright side, the course was beautiful and the rough was, well, extremely rough, about 12″-18″ inches tall. John kept telling me that they reward good shots and punish bad ones. Regardless, the scenery was amazing.
We again met up with our friends Mike and Kim Romaner for dinner in colorful Capitola, just up the road from Moss Landing.
On our last day in the area we drove through Santa Cruz. This beach town has a boardwalk that is over a century old, along with its popular amusement park, including several thrilling roller coasters and arcade games along the beach.
Finally, it was time for our journey to continue and on to NAPA we went. Stay tuned!
One of the most fun experiences about RVing is getting to meet people from all walks of life and keeping in touch with those whom you instantly connect. During our winter stay in Arizona, we met Mike and Kim Romaner, a really fun and cool couple from the East Coast who are likewise fulltimers. We reconnected and learned that they too wanted to visit Yosemite during the same time period so we decided to meet at Half Dome Lodge and see this amazing park together. We agreed to reserve a cabin and spend the night so we again apologized to Jackson as he had to be kenneled, and set off on our adventure.
On the appointed day we woke up really early and decided we would stop off for breakfast, but as we drove past the nearest town, we were so excited we simply forgot, only to remember much later as our stomachs were quick to remind us. Not knowing whether we were going to find anything along the way, we came across Tenaya Lodge. This four star resort was nestled in the woods and it was just spectacular, adorable cabins or various sizes spread throughout the property and when we arrived at the main lodge we were treated like royalty. The lobby was beautifully appointed as was the dining area. As soon as we were seated and our order was taken (apparently the clock started ticking) because the waitress approached us and to our surprise told us that because the kitchen had delayed our order (it had only been fifteen minutes) breakfast was on the house. Now, that is service! Should we return to this area, this is one place we will just have to stay in.
We continued on and after passing the tunnel into Yosemite we were awestruck by the amazing beauty of this park. Pictures just don’t do it justice. Yosemite is open year-round and it is known for its jaw dropping views of granite cliffs, unusual rock formations and its impressive waterfalls, which are always best in the spring and can slow to a trickle by late summer.
The Yosemite Valley is home to El Capitan (on the left), Half Dome (in the middle towards the back) and the iconic Bridal Veil Falls to the right.
As we ventured deeper into the park we were absolutely mesmerized by the beauty around us.
Bridal Veil Falls
Yosemite Falls is the tallest in North America.
And of course, to see Vernon Falls a moderate hike was required
We also hiked to see Mirror Lake which was incredible.
Michael had prearranged dinner reservations at the Majestic which was formerly known as the Ahwahnee.
The following day on our drive out of Yosemite we drove up the road to Glacier Point which so happened to be closed the day prior due to snow, so we timed our visit impeccably.
A few days afterwards we visited Bass Lake, a beautiful recreational area nearby with lovely waterside eateries and shops.
Eventually time came for us to break camp to move on to our next adventure. So keep your eyes open!
We traveled from Paso Robles to Coarsegold, California. As days drew nearer we realized that we were not staying quite as close as we really wanted to be so we decided to drive to Visalia, board Jackson, spend a couple of nights in a hotel, bundle up and take a shuttle to and from Sequoia National Park. It proved to be a very good decision, as we were pretty tired and having to drive back to Coarsegold would have been simply exhausting, as the winding roads are very narrow in this neck of the woods.
Sequoia National Park is California’s first National Park and home to Mt. Whitney, the tallest peak in the contiguous 48 states with an elevation of 14,505′. It also is home to these incredibly large, cinnamon colored trees which also share the name of the park.
The giant sequoias grow only on the western slope of the Sierra Nevada and pictures do not properly capture their tremendous size and height. The largest tree in the world by volume is the General Sherman Tree and when standing by its trunk, we felt so small and insignificant. This gigantic conifer stands at 275′ and is over 36′ in diameter at the base. Waking around the Giant Forest sequoia grove inspired a feeling of calm and peace. It felt like everything just slowed down.
We were so fortunate as it had just snowed about 5″ a few days prior to our arrival and while at the park, it was only a bit cool, but with warm jackets, all was good. John found some snow and, of course, he could not resist the boy inside him.
Sequoias are so large that tunnels could be cut into them and automobiles are able to drive through them.
Moro Rock is a large granite dome also in the Giant Forest area of the park. We took the .25 mile hike by climbing 440 steps to the top of the rock. The view from the top was spectacular and in spite of not having clear skies, we still were able to see the beautiful canyons below.
Tharpe’s Log was the summer cabin built from a fallen, fire-hallowed sequoia log back in the 1860’s by Hale Tharp, the first non-American Indian settler in the area. It is the oldest pioneer cabin in the park.
The last remaining remnants of snow at the edge of the meadow in the Sequoia.
Before we left the park, I was curious and asked one of the park rangers if, hypothetically, one of the named trees were placed elsewhere, would she be able to identify it. She laughed and said, well they all have specific characteristics, but agreed that it would be difficult.
The views of the snow capped mountain during our drive back to Visalia were also beautiful.
The following day we picked Jackson up from the kennel and continued our adventure into Kings Canyon. We were actually very surprised as it was not at all what we had anticipated it to be. This park was also interconnected with a national forest, so part of the road was in the forest and the other was in the National Park. We knew we would be driving a windy and narrow road with pine trees, some redwoods and perhaps a few sequoias. However, we were surprised by the beauty of the canyon.
Kings Canyon has its own sequoia grove called Giant Grove and amongst them is Sentinel Tree and the properly named General Grant Tree.
Since the fire staff was conducting a prescribed burn during the period we visited, we saw some smoke and smoldering logs. But all in all, we had a fabulous time. We can’t wait for our upcoming adventure, so stay tuned!