We're so glad you joined us!

Here we are – kids, dogs and all! Thanks for visiting our page! We're hoping that you will enjoy hearing about our travels and experiences as a family. We intend for this blog to share more than just travel journals, but also insights and lessons learned during our daily adventures. Please share your comments and come back often! * update * as of August 2010, we finished our journey, so new entries to this site will be rare. Linda's starting a new personal blog here. Enjoy!

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Streets of San Francisco

We moved the 5th wheel to Petaluma and stayed at the KOA there. This is the most expensive RV park we've stayed and while adequate, is only able to charge the high fees due to demand. With the premium real estate values in the San Francisco bay area, there are few options for RV parks - especially larger ones. Wait 'till you see the photo of how we parked. Nicely shaded but really tight for maneuvering!

First order of business was to take a group tour of San Francisco. A van leaves daily to take visitors to the highlights of San Francisco. We were very happy to have an introduction to the city with someone else at the wheel! The tour guide did a great job of narrating the drive over as well as explaining the highlights of famous landmarks. The weather was wonderful - slightly warm for S.F., but very little fog. The first stop was the Golden Gate Bridge, of course! We were able to get out and walk along the bridge for a short distance to feel the vibrations from the traffic and see the views of the bay and Pacific. Pedestrian and bicycle traffic crowded the walkway. The first glimpses of the bay water showed tremendous turbulence. Being accustomed to the calms of Corpus Christi bay, we were amazed at the contrast and vastness of the body of water.
With the nice weather, the guide took us to a parking area via the Presidio to get yet another look at the bridge and the Pacific. We appreciated her willingness to customize the tour for the conditions.

We continued through the city to the Golden Gate Park. The guide enlightened us to appreciate that nothing in the park is native - to the area nor California in many cases. The area began as barren dunes. This conservatory provides one example of the spectacular landscaping in many areas that are mixed with more 'natural' plantings in unstructured arrangements. We then stopped near the de Young museum. The tour didn't allow time for entry to the museum, but adjacent to it was a tower to get some great views of the city and the nearby Academy of Sciences. Next was a trip to ride one-way on one of the infamous cable cars down California St. The guide provided a detailed explanation of how the cable cars worked and took the time to show us the cable running under the pavement and a heads up on what to watch for from the operator. The ride took us through Chinatown and the Financial District. The van picked us up near the waterfront and we saw the ferry landing and the pier where cruises frequently board. One of the Princess cruise lines was in port and traffic was busy as passengers were unloading their luggage and boarding. The tour provided a couple of hours on our own at Fisherman's Wharf. We chose Bubba Gump's for lunch and were fortunate to be seated at a waterfront table overlooking the bay. A sea lion was playing or hunting in perfect view, leaping in and out of the water like a dolphin. The boys had crepes for dessert at a nearby French bakery on the wharf or a bag of miniature freshly prepared doughnuts.

We drove through several downtown areas to see the closely perched homes (including the famous 'painted ladies' pictured below) and were briefed regarding the impacts of major earthquakes in 1906 and 1989. Chinatown was another stop and we had about 30 minutes to look around in the shops and observe some gatherings of the community for games of chance at an old square. We only window shopped and were quite full from lunch, so no food purchases either.

On the way back to the Golden Gate, we travelled through the Presidio that no longer functions as a military facility, but is now residential and business rental property. Lovely area, but pricey (even for San Francisco standards) due to the prime location along the bay.

Another stop on the opposite end of the Golden Gate bridge provided a last look at the bay, Alcatraz and the departing Princess cruise ship.

What a long and busy day - but it provided just what we needed to choose our activities on another day in San Francisco on our own.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

'House' Guest, Gold Country, Lake Tahoe

We were able to work out a visit by one of Cory's friends, Sean. He flew from Texas into Oakland and we drove over to pick him up for a two week visit. We spent the first week touring around the California Gold Country from a campground outside of Jackson.

The campground was terrific! Definitely one of our favorites so far. It's a large park, but we found everything to be quiet, even when the park was very full on weekends. Forested hills surround the campground and low level lighting keeps light pollution at bay for fantastic star gazing. A Miwuk Indian tribe owns the campground and the surrounding area. A casino supports the tribal community, including a good sized police and fire department, schools, hotel and the RV park. Everything is built to high standards and beautifully done. The swimming pool was heavily used by the boys, but too cold for Craig and I. We all enjoyed the two spas and the trail circling the RV park. Two adjacent fenced areas to run off-leash met with Ginger and Pepper's approval. Several rallies met at the park while we were there, mostly RV clubs but one was an Austin-Healey car club. We loved spying the vintage British sports cars around the park and touring the area.

We also were able to contact a driving school, located in Jackson. A trainer came out to the campground to meet Craig where they hooked up to the RV and rode with him to an abandoned grocery parking lot for tutoring in backing. The school offers an all day class, but was willing to customize training for this one specific area in which Craig could use some pointers on backing our 40 foot long behemoth. The website is http://www.goldcountrydrivingschool.com/ and we'd highly recommend them if you're in the area.

Our first trip out was to explore a gold mine in Sutter Creek. Not in operation since 1992 due to competition from Australia, gold prices are now approaching a level to open the mine into operation again at a profit. Currently it is only open for tours and makes for an interesting and educational adventure. The tour takes groups in a tractor pulled trailer down 700' into the mine. A guide then discusses the history of mining practices and highlighted the vein of quartz rock that contains the gold. Once the quartz is pulled out of the mine, the gold can be extracted via chemicals or crushing the rock into pebbles and dust. The Sutter Creek mine, when operational, sent the extracted quartz and gold to Nevada where regulations allow the much more cost effective chemical extraction.

Sutter Creek is a very charming town with a traditional main street atmosphere, lined with unique shops and restaurants. We stopped at the Ice Cream Emporium and chowed down on yummy sandwiches and soup, and of course ice cream floats and sodas (the real old-fashioned kind). The owner of the Emporium is a rag time piano performer and will entertain customers when there. He wasn't at the shop for our visit, but we listened to his recordings online later - very talented! We spied several of the aforementioned Austin-Healeys passing through and parking along the main street (Hwy. 49). They were toodling around on some sort of scavenger hunt that paralleled our touring for the day.

Black Chasm Cavern is a privately owned cave that has been registered as a National Natural Landmark. Nomered as 'the outstanding helictite cave in the far West', the cave is relatively primitive with steep stair access and limited lighting. The boys love it when access has more of an exploratory feel and provides a little challenge! We were able to observe the speleothem (formation) diversity at very close range - sometimes easily within arms length. The helictite crystals were unique and the guide explained that these are extruded as earth pressures compress the calcite from crevices in the harder surrounding rock.

The next stop was a state park that exhibited several preserved and reproduction structures of the Miwuk indians. The visitor center closed early in the afternoon, so we didn't learn as much as we might have with more information. We walked along a mile or so around the park, observing the buildings and reading the information published on nearby signs. One of the structures, the round house, still functions as a meeting place for the Miwuk tribe. Visitors may tour outside the structure, but cannot enter in order to respect the spiritual nature of some of the current gatherings.

Linda and the kids rested and played at the RV park the next day while Craig took the driving tutorial. We've started making a practice of taking at least a day or so between day long busy treks. The temperatures during our stay were perfect - highs in the mid 70s to low 80s and lows in the 50s. Perfect for riding bikes and taking frequent walks!
Yosemite was our next destination. We didn't have time on our previous visit to actually hike, so we returned for a closer look at Yosemite Falls. The drive took us through Calaveras County and we were amused at the various advertisements for frog jumping events. Although the published information about the route mentioned it as the most popular, we found the trail to be much less crowded than anything at the Grand Canyon. The trail was less improved as well, but was thankfully free of mule droppings like we found along the Bright Angel trail! We climbed over 1000 feet to reach some amazing vantage points of the valley and to get close enough to feel the mist on our faces and hear the roar of the falls. It was great to hike a trail that has the uphill direction first. We clambered down the trail, spotting a snake and a bobcat along the way. Reaching the base of the trail head, we caught the next shuttle bus to the village and quickly put away a pizza - YUM!

Another day 'off' to relax, swim, read and catch up laundry and we were ready to go see Lake Tahoe. The drive along Hwy 88 was gorgeous with a good share of mountains and crystal blue lakes at seemingly every turn. We rented a bike at Camp Richardson for our guest and took off to catch the first glimpse of the famously spectacular lake. After taking in the view from Camp Richardson's pier for a few minutes, we took off along the trail of Gatsby era summer estates of wealthy families bordering the lake. Publicly owned now, the homes provide a glimpse into the leisure time of the very rich in the 1920s and 30s. Each of the homes displays a unique style and character. We continued biking to a walking trail featuring the natural settings of the area, including marshes, meadows and river streams. The highlight was going into a special underground exhibit that allowed aquarium-like viewing of a natural stream and it's inhabitants. During this season, it's full of trout but during the fall, spawning salmon migrate through the exhibit.

After returning the rented bike, we headed for the Heavenly Ski Resort gondola. Open year-round, this transports visitors to over 9000' altitude. Another lift was available at the top of the gondola run, but was closing on this day due to threat of lightning. YIKES! Definitely not a place you'd want to be exposed on an open chair lift! We looked around quickly as the temperature and wind chill convinced us to take quick photos and move inside the gondola before we all turned blue! A little souvenir shopping and then it was time to return to the RV park.

Another day of rest and relaxation, then off to Petaluma!

Wednesday, June 10, 2009


In a deviation from our 'normal' blog of our travel journal, I want to make note of our anniversary. We've been married now for sixteen years, but before those years, Craig and I were friends - good friends - for at least eight years.

Everyone has funny stories of things that happened at their weddings - here's a bit of ours.

We were married at Landa Park in New Braunfels, TX. We took the risk of planning an outdoor wedding because we both loved Landa Park and New Braunfels was a new beginning for both of us. Craig was working in San Antonio and I was working in Austin, so we selected New Braunfels as the place for our new home. It was a very exciting time!

The Comal Springs that feed the lake in the park, by the way, are a special environmentally protected area with signs posted all over the place warning that you should avoid contaminating the pristine water. My sister-in-law, a woman of many talents including interior decorating and landscape, had graciously agreed to help with decorations for the wedding. As we toured the park a day or so before the wedding, she recognized a unique water plant growing in the springs and wanted a sampling for her lovely water garden. Leaving Craig to stand guard, she crawled on hands and knees next to the springs and bare-fisted, obtained a healthy sampling to take home. Actually, perhaps she is actually working for the government to test the species viability in different climates? That may be our story if we're ever challenged. Craig and I had the chance to return to Landa Park in January and found the springs, the lovely water plants and fish to be in good form.

We knew that an event, Aquafest, was scheduled for that day in New Braunfels, but we understood that activities would be later in the day. You must also know that there's some kind of 'fest' about once a month in that largely German based community. We didn't know that Aquafest had a 5K run scheduled in Landa Park the morning of our wedding that created blockades at all the entrances. After explaining to the security guards that we wouldn't be getting in the way of the runners, we were allowed to proceed to the little gazebo near the Comal springs. Also, it was fortunate that the 5K route was not in the immediate area of our ceremony - so no runners puffing through the flowers and bridal party!

Everything proceeded on in good order from there. One of the groomsmen labeled their thoughts on the tuxedos as making them feel like a baked potato (silver tux on a very warm day), but there was no rain - just lots of humidity. My niece cued up the music on a boombox and the lovely little flower girls strolled carefully...away from the gazebo and through the park another direction as they focused on the rose petals instead of the path. We got them redirected and the ceremony commenced.

As the pastor lovingly told our family members to basically leave us alone, we couldn't help watching a water snake that lazily swam back and forth behind the gazebo and the pastor in the lake. Thankfully, he never 'landed' our direction.

The ceremony concluded, we took lots of pictures then met at the New Braunfels Smokehouse for a casual brunch buffet and off Craig and I went to San Antonio for the night, then off to Lake Tahoe for a sweet honeymoon the next day.

All in all, a really nice day with no real catastrophes. We appreciate all the friends and family members that set aside that day and took the trip to New Braunfels to celebrate with us.

Sixteen years later, we're still terrific partners in life. Interestingly, we picked up our 5th wheel in New Braunfels in January before beginning this latest adventure. Now, near our anniversary date, we are here just a few miles from our honeymoon destination of Lake Tahoe. These are the things that make us smile!
God has blessed us so richly over the years through happy and sad times. If anyone asked us why our marriage is so strong, I would have to say that first and foremost that God gets the credit for teaching us how to love others - but especially your spouse. In our human frailty, if we can capture even one iota of selfless love from the Author and Creator of perfect love, we can build such strong ties with one another! Added to that most important element is a tremendously healthy respect for each other that had roots before we ever dated one another. We were best friends before we married and we're still best friends. Lastly, is the knowledge that each of us believe to our core in lifetime commitment that creates a wonderful safety zone for each other. We do and will love each other forever - no doubt! Thanks for joining us in a trip down memory lane! We'll return to current events in our next blog post!

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Yosemite Ho!

We picked up and moved from our park at Santa Nella and headed about 35 miles east to a park at Chowchilla. The Santa Nella site was an economical choice that was a little rustic but gave us good access to the coastal areas. At Chowchilla, we are staying at an upscale RV resort that is next to a golf course and has all the amenities. Besides enjoying the pool, the hot tub and great home education environment this park gives us a good route to the famous Yosemite National Park.

Heading into the foothills and approaching the park, the terrain gets rapidly more rugged. The road winds steady gaining elevation and began to run next to the raging Merced river, churning over the rocky bottom and forming white water rapids as far as you can see. The walls of the canyon are a steep study in geology.

Falling rock signs began to increase in frequency. At one point. we were stopped by a traffic signal that was creating a one way detour across a temporary bridge over the river. Signs advised that we would have at least a 15 minute wait. We were only 4th in queue but missed the first opportunity to make the one way trip as one driver several vehicles ahead was a bit slow on the take-off. Maybe he was sleepy?

We wound along the detour and looked across the river to see where several thousand feet of highway was buried under a mountain of rock. We wondered how long it would be before the road is cleared again - that's sure to be a hold-up for the summer visitors to the park! Aren't we glad we're retired and can enjoy speculating!

Yosemite is so huge and has so much variety, we knew we had to choose only a handful of the possible areas to peruse. We ventured into the park and were immediately enamored with the roadway alongside the river. We were following the posted speed limit, but found ourselves slowing down a few vehicles. We stopped at the first opportunity to get a closer look and take pictures, which also allowed a couple of vehicles to buzz on past us. One vehicle had its bumpers plastered with Obama '08 stickers and PEACE NOW. The driver apparently missed the introductory peace movement 101 class for the hand gesture because she showed us only 1/2 of a 'peace' sign.

After enjoying the sight and sounds of the rapids for a few minutes, we moved along to the next photo op near a small waterfall. We clambered around on the large boulders and took some photos near the pretty stream and rockwork bridge. We even found some bona fide bluebonnets!

Moving further into the park, we stopped at Bridal Veil Falls and noticed a lot of wet folks returning to their vehicles. We climbed a short and easy trail to get a closer look and experienced the cold mist from the falls for ourselves. Any place along the trail afforded beautiful backdrops and cameras and posers were everywhere! We got our few pictures and picked our way through the crowd back to the vehicle. I suppose that those trips to Disney World have provided some training for these situations!

Not much further along, a pull-out invited us to view a marker that described a meeting between explorer John Muir and Teddy Roosevelt. Lovely place to have a meeting and apparently influential for the future of national parks as well!

Near the Yosemite Valley Visitor Center, we found the main parking area and rode a shuttle back to the Visitor Center and on to the Yosemite Falls viewing area. The park newsletter showed another parking area closer to the visitor center, but we were glad we didn't go there, as it's marked for only 30 minute parking. Defined as a trail, it's really a relatively flat paved path that circles from the roadway to the falls and back. Half of the circle is wide and flat enough to be wheelchair accessible. The boys enjoyed the opportunity to leave the path and do more boulder climbing to get a closer (and wetter) look at the base of the falls. Craig and I tagged along more cautiously - as always.

We decided that we'd like to return to Yosemite and hike the Lower Yosemite Falls trail. It will be more crowded a little later in the summer, but surely worth doing! After a quick tour of the visitor center's exhibits, we returned via the shuttle to the parking lot and began our drive over to Glacier Point. We had read that this would be about an hour's drive and that was accurate - a long, winding road that passes through a very cool tunnel along the way. Did we already mention how much we like leaving the 5th wheel behind while we climb around on these scenic routes?

Arriving at the fairly large parking area and seeing the fairly large number of vehicles there, we thought maybe we shouldn't have made the drive up just to join another crowd of folks. We were not disappointed however, after making our way up and down the short trek to the vantage point. The Yosemite Valley yawns out below you - waaaay below and you can see several of the water falls at once. We saw a photo display of the seasons in Yosemite and were glad to catch the snow melt time frame. While always amazing, it's hard to imagine the scene without the roar and sight of the waterfalls all around.

A little tired and hungry, we loaded back into the truck with the dogs and drove down the mountains to our cozy spot at the RV park. Craig hunted and gathered miscellaneous beans and beef on tortillas (Taco Bell) for a cheap, but satisfying meal to close the day.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Our turn for Highway 1

It seems no matter who we have talked to about touring California, the most consistent recommendation is - Highway 1. We saw a more southern portion from our last stop, but now it was time to drive the section with Monterey, Carmel and Big Sur. Going this direction, it seemed each turn brought a more spectacular view of the majestic deep blue of the Pacific crashing against rugged boulders and sheer cliffs. Since Craig was doing the driving, I was free to gaze at the sights. We took a turn off the beaten path in Carmel due to a GPS snafu. Craig was quite amazing negotiating some paths that were not much wider than goat trails in our big ole' 1 ton dually pickup truck! I would have been nervous negotiating those roads on a bicycle. The positive side of this little detour was the up close view of the charming homes and colorful gardens of the homes perched on the side of the mountain. I haven't asked him, but I don't think Craig was quite as intrigued!

When we were safely planted back on Highway 1, it looked much wider than before! We stopped for lunch at a riverside restaurant (River Inn) in the Big Sur area. What a treat to sit and enjoy a nice meal while listening to the nearby stream babbling over the rocky bottom. No matter which direction, the views were great - either the babbling river, the mountains or the beautifully landscaped deck area.

The restaurant and inn had placed some Adirondack chairs in the stream, not just alongside it. The boys and I couldn't resist the open invitation and waded the icy, but shallow water to sit and revel for a few minutes. I would have loved to have spent the entire afternoon in those chairs, but we were hoping to take a short hike at a nearby state park so it was time to go.

We bypassed the Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park for the slightly more southerly Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park. Disappointed that a couple of trails to the beach area were closed, we took a very short and easy trail through a tunnel under Hwy 1 to view a waterfall dropping directly to the Pacific below. By bequest of the donor of the property to the state, no access to the waterfall is ever allowed. The other trails to nearby beach areas were closed due to scorched forest areas that left the areas more subject to mudslides.

Without the additional hiking, we had plenty of time to venture back northward to see the 17 Mile Drive at Pebble Beach. The return drive was uneventful and not as scenic as it might have been due to low clouds that surrounded our truck almost all the way back to Carmel. I was sad because we weren't planning to return to this area for awhile and we couldn't see the ocean!
Then, I noticed that the guys were absolutely dumbfounded that we were driving within a cloud. Both boys have been through clouds in an airplane before, but this was a completely new experience and they were more than content to enjoy the moment. So, I stopped myself from apologizing to them for a missed opportunity and sat back and enjoyed the present opportunity and experience myself!

While pleasant enough, we began questioning our choice during the first 1/3 of 17 Mile Drive. When we arrived at the beach and the remainder of the drive, we no longer second guessed our decision. The guys busied themselves stacking and unstacking the pebbles that were actually larger than record setting cantaloupe melons. We heard and watched via binoculars a good sized batch of harbor seals on a nearby boulder island. Due to their effective camouflage, we couldn't capture them without a telephoto lens - try to find them in the photo!
The golf course left no question regarding it's world renowned reputation. Once more falling prey to a wicked GPS trick on the exit, we took a more extended tour of the residential area with the humongous mansions, then found our way out and safely back on the road to our RV park.