Weeks 41-42: The Redwoods

After leaving behind beautiful Napa, we embarked on a two-week tour of the redwoods of Northern California.  During those two weeks we stayed in three different towns, visited 5 state and national parks, and had our minds blown too many times to count.  But rather than try to break it all down into a bunch of little blog posts (and because we’re hopelessly behind), we decided to just compile the whole thing here.

To put it another way that could not possibly be taken out of context, if you’re looking for pictures of big wood, you’ve come to the right place.

Obligatory Redwood Facts

Before we begin, we have to make clear:  redwoods are pretty much the coolest trees ever. We didn’t know that much about them before we went, but here’s what we learned.

1. “Coastal” redwoods are one of the two main types of redwoods (a third type was recently discovered in China). Compared to giant sequoias, their cousins from the Sierra Nevada mountains (we saw some at Yosemite), coastal redwoods are taller but thinner, their bark is a deeper red/brown, and they look more like normal, but huge, trees.  To make things a bit easier, if we say “redwoods” in this post, we are referring to coastal redwoods.

2. The oldest known redwood is about 2,200 years old, which means it was born before Julius Caesar.

3. Redwoods can grow to be nearly 400 feet tall and 30 feet wide! It takes centuries to grow so large.  The location and size of the largest trees ever found are intentionally kept hidden to prevent visitor damage.

4. Redwood bark contains chemicals which repels insects, including mosquitoes (!!). They are also incredibly resistant to fire and decay, and due to these properties and their immense size, it can take over 500 years for a fallen redwood to decompose.

5. Because they require very specific conditions, including huge amounts of water, coastal redwoods grow only in a thin strip along coastal California and southwest Oregon. They typically grow near rivers in areas that receive regular fog; these trees grow so tall that it is difficult to move water all the way up the trunk, which means starting the water halfway up (via fog condensation) is helpful.

6. Like giant sequoias, redwoods used to be found throughout the Pacific Northwest, but due to extensive logging, old-growth redwoods (the really big ones) can now be found only in state and national parks. Only 5% of the original trees remain.  We owe the fact that any redwoods exist at all primarily to dedicated conservationists, most notably the Save-The-Redwoods-League, founded in 1917.

Humboldt Redwoods State Park & the Avenue of the Giants

Chances are that if you’ve been to a redwood park, you’ve either been to Muir Woods near San Francisco – where the trees top out at “only” 260 feet – or you’ve driven the Avenue of the Giants.  The Avenue of the Giants is a 30 mile long scenic road that cuts directly through a huge, old-growth forest.  We stayed overnight in Stafford, at the northern end of the park, and only drove the last 10 miles – but it was spectacular.  In our opinion, this might be the best redwood park.

This was our campsite in Stafford, where we parked by the stump of an old growth redwood (with some new redwoods growing out of it). The stump dwarfed our RV.

After settling into our campsite, we headed to the Avenue of the Giants, and saw our first old-growth redwoods. We were blown away by their size and beauty.  Sadly, no picture can ever do them justice.  The groves we saw along the Avenue of the Giants were peaceful, quiet, and perfect – there is something indescribably serene about walking beneath the redwoods with nobody around.  The short hike we took through Rockefeller Grove was one of our favorites of all time, as was a random grove we visited along the side of the road.

There are some true skyscrapers to see.  Founders’ Grove contained some truly massive trees, including Founders’ Tree, at 346 feet high, and a fallen tree that was even larger.

Semi-fun fact! Humboldt Redwoods State Park was preserved when the Save-The-Redwoods League convinced John Rockefeller to donate two million dollars with a picnic in an old-growth grove in the park.  That grove is now known as Rockefeller Forest.

We drove out to the descriptive Big Tree Area, but it was located across the river from the parking lot, and the bridge had not yet been put up for the season.  Luckily, a fallen redwood provided a natural – and highly scenic – alternate crossing.

After hamming it up, we made our way across to Giant Tree, an incredible 363 feet high with a 53 feet circumference.

Giant Tree is most likely the biggest redwood we encountered on our travels, and it was extra-sweet because absolutely nobody else was around (or dared to walk the bridge).  The driving through Avenue of the Giants is also spectacular, not just on the main road, but especially on the Bull Creek Flats side road we took.  The road weaves carefully between giant trees, in places wide enough for just one car, while the branches form a vaulted cathedral ceiling overhead.  It’s pretty magical.

A Brief Civilization Interlude

After the Avenue of the Giants, we headed to the tiny town of Trinidad, California, just north of the larger towns of Eureka and Arcata.  Since it was the “shoulder season,” a term we recently learned, RV camping was wide-open, and we scored our cheapest spot ever… in a redwood forest! The extremely chill young woman at the RV park stacked some discounts for us, and our stay worked out to about $13 per night for a week.  (We later added one additional night, and a different, extremely un-chill woman yelled at us for having so many discounts and made us pay $40.  Boo!)

Speaking of chill, Arcata is probably the most hippified town we’ve ever been to.  We enjoy that sort of thing, but it does take a while to accomplish errands when every person in town appears to be stoned.  There was a lot of patchouli and slow-motion cashiering, which for these former NYC residents can be a little frustrating.  One fun anecdote: while we were waiting for our groceries to be bagged, a former employee of the grocery store was behind us in line, and the manager came over to say hi.  She then told him that he had left his watch at the store, and she had it in her office, where the watch alarm goes off at 2 p.m. every single day.  “I haven’t worked here for two years!” he said.

Yes, things move a little differently in northern California.  Unfortunately, it’s not always hella good.  We had high hopes for the town of Eureka, known for its Victorian architecture, but didn’t do much sightseeing since it was totally overrun by sketchy drifters.  We’ve noticed a lot of drifter-types on the West Coast in general (mild climate), but Eureka was in a class of its own.  We did get a few things fixed on our RV by an awesome service technician, but otherwise, we mostly stuck to the trees.

Prairie Creek State Park & Redwood National Park

Speaking of the trees, we visited Prairie Creek State Park and Redwood National Park, which are adjacent.  There’s tons to do, but but we focused on two hikes.  The first, within Redwood National Park, was a loop through some dense, green woods to a rare find: a waterfall within a redwood grove!  It was all quite pretty, although the moss-covered trees here were less memorable than elsewhere.

Prairie Creek was a little cooler.  We did a very long hike – around 12 miles – through the forest, stopping for a picnic at a beach on the Pacific Ocean.  Then, we hiked into Fern Canyon, a long, steep-sided canyon absolutely covered with ferns and moss.  It feels very prehistoric, and indeed, a scene from Jurassic Park II was filmed here!

But it was also extremely wet, and with the bridges not yet up for the season – a running theme – we had to step carefully as we crossed back and forth over the stream that runs through the canyon.  Jake’s hiking stick was invaluable for balance as we jumped between fallen branches and slippery rocks, and we made it in and almost all the way out – until a rock turned over on Jake, and he had to walk five miles back with soaking wet socks.

Semi-Fun Fact! Unusually, the 6 main redwood parks are operated jointly between the federal government and the state of California, which is why they’re called the “Redwood National and State Parks.” The only exception is Humboldt Redwoods State Park, which is run by California alone. The sixth park is Del Norte, which we never visited; it’s close to Jedidiah Smith State Park.

Soggy hosiery aside, this was a long but beautiful stroll through the redwoods.  Except for the areas right next to parking lots, we were all alone.  On the way back, we went more than four miles without seeing another soul.

The drive to and from the park is spectacular, although a little sad, as Highway 101 cuts a four-lane swath directly through pristine forests.  (While building it, they even tried to route the highway through the middle of several old-growth redwood groves – why??!)  In places, Highway 101 runs alongside the Pacific Ocean, as well as grassy green meadows full of wandering elk herds.  If you can overlook the wanton obliteration of nature required to create it, it’s definitely a drive worth doing.

Jedidiah Smith State Park

Our final redwoods trip was to Jedidiah Smith State Park, which sounds suspiciously like a place from the Simpsons.  We stayed in tiny Crescent City, California, right next to the ocean.  It was great, except for the nearby lighthouse, which made a loud “boop” every six seconds or so, all day, all night.



The redwoods themselves were great.  Jedidiah Smith is the least-developed of all the parks, requiring a bumpy drive along a dirt road through the forest to reach the biggest trees.  After seeing so many beautiful groves, it is easy to feel jaded, but the Endor-like forest and the mammoth Boy Scout Tree (5th picture in slideshow) amazed us anyway.

It’s really a bummer that redwoods grow in such a small part of the world, because they’re pretty awesome. The redwoods were #1 on Jake’s pre-roadtrip list of things to see, and they didn’t disappoint. It was a rare privilege to do so many redwood hikes, and not an experience we’ll forget.

Roadtrip Status

Still alive?  Check.

Where are you now?  Longmont, Colorado, beating the heat currently enveloping the Dakotas.

Next location?  The Badlands in southwestern South Dakota, and the numerous associated parks (including Mt. Rushmore!).

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Week 40: Ye Olde Napa

After exploring the breathtaking Yosemite National Park, we drove back northwest to Napa, California, and its famous wine country.  We’re not the biggest wine people, but we definitely enjoyed the beautiful countryside, and we had a few unexpected adventures along the way.

Bay Area Redux

Napa sits just north of San Francisco, and we realized once we got to Napa that we were as close to the Bay Area as we had been at our previous campground.  So, we made another trip into the city, where Jake had lunch with some former co-workers, and Heather ate by herself (her choice) at the amusingly-named “Breaking Bread.”  Afterwards, we drove across the Golden Gate Bridge, and tried to visit the Muir Woods redwood grove – but even on a random weekday afternoon, it was too full for us to park or enter.

Bummer!  You’ll have to wait until our next blog post for redwoods, but we did film a hyperlapse video of driving across the Golden Gate Bridge. As nifty as it is black-barred!

Muir Woods was a bust, but we had better luck visiting Berkeley, California, where we wandered around the downtown area and grabbed some pizza from the locally-famous Cheese Board Collective.  We really enjoyed Berkeley – we’re suckers for hippie college towns – and the University of California-Berkeley campus was even prettier than we’d hoped it would be.

The Gothic Castle

As we mentioned, we aren’t particularly savvy wine-drinkers – our analysis is usually something along the lines of “hmm, tastes like wine” – but considering we were in Napa, we had to check out a winery.  Jake’s former co-worker Liz drove up from San Francisco to hang out, and we headed to Castello di Amorosa, an insanely authentic medieval castle that doubles as a winery.

We’re not kidding when we say “authentic.”  This castle is the real deal.  The details are pretty mind-blowing – here’s Wikipedia:

“Key details and building techniques are architecturally faithful to the 12th and 13th century time period. Among many other features it has: a moat; a drawbridge; defensive towers; an interior courtyard; a torture chamber; a chapel/church; a knights’ chamber; and a 72 by 30 feet (9.1 m) great hall with a 22-foot (6.7 m)-high coffered ceiling.

The torture chamber has an authentic 300-year-old iron maiden which Sattui states he bought for $13,000 in Pienza, Italy, a replica rack, prison chambers and other torture devices. The great hall features frescoes painted by two Italian artists who took about a year and a half to complete and showcases a 500-year-old fireplace.

The masonry, ironwork and woodwork was fashioned by hand using old world crafting techniques. Building materials included 8,000 tons of locally quarried stone, in addition to paving stones, terra cotta roofing tiles and some 850,000 bricks imported from Europe. Extending into the hillside adjacent to the castle lies a labyrinth of caves some 900 feet (270 m) in length. Beneath the castle are a 2-acre (8,100 m2) barrel cellar and tasting rooms where visitors can sample the wines-all sold only at the Castle.”

OK, it might be a tourist trap, but who cares?  It’s awesome and preposterous, the wine tasted like wine, and our server hooked us up with a free tasting of their expensive reserves.

Which also tasted like wine.

Blows, Goats

Speaking of tourist traps, after visiting the castle we stopped at the “Old Faithful Geyser of California.”  The name is a little aspirational – it does indeed have a geyser that blows regularly, but the volume can’t compare to the real Old Faithful.  Can’t blame them for trying, though, and the high-class cabanas they scattered around the geyser were a nice attempt.  That said, we don’t foresee “bottles, models, and blow” becoming a popular combination anytime soon.

Wait a second…

If we’re being honest, we only really stopped at the geyser because they also have a petting zoo with fainting goats, which freeze up and fall over when scared.  But it was pretty anticlimactic in person – we’ve seen videos that make them look adorable and easy-to-seize, but these goats definitely weren’t like that.  The adults mostly ignored our attempts to startle them; the babies would freeze, but mostly at random, and it was more disturbing than cute.  At least there were also some crazy rams, and we did enjoy the “guard llama” keeping watch over its flock.

Medieval Napa

The town of Napa is charming, with lots of classy shops and good food, although it’s extremely upscale.  We first visited the Oxbow Public Market for some beer, tacos, and fancy-people-watching.  The number of polo shirts was out of control.  Next, we headed to the nearby town of Yountville, which is even fancier.  Our destination was Addendum, the “cheap” fried chicken stand attached to Ad Hoc, a restaurant operated by the famed Thomas Keller (French Laundry, Per Se).  Boxed fried chicken lunches were a mere $16.50 apiece, and we want to be angry about that, but we can’t because they were SO FREAKING AMAZINGLY GOOD.

We also spent a lot of time in our campground, Skyline Wilderness Park, which used to be a mental health asylum but has now been converted into a lovely park.  It’s huge and has an impressive collection of hiking trails, along with a beautiful native plant garden.  Astonishingly, the entire park has been run by volunteers since the 1970s.  It’s genuinely cool to see people so dedicated to nature and their community.

While we were staying at Skyline in their little RV park, we noticed a huge festival in the grassy field next door.  Turned out that the “March Crown” festival was being held at Skyline.  It’s basically a giant medieval style tournament, complete with swords, bows, armor, and a royal court – just like in the movie Role Models.

We walked over, expecting a Medieval Times-style festival, but this was a gathering of people deep into the life – there were no turkey legs to be had, unless you brought your own.  We were too late for the fighting, so there wasn’t much to do, and we felt a little uncomfortable just walking around and gawking at everyone in their medieval getups.  It might not be our thing, but it’s hard not to respect the level of effort people put in, and besides, who are we to judge someone else’s hobby when we live in a big metal box?

So we quietly left, and felt thankful we weren’t camping out in plate mail.

Roadtrip Status

Still alive?  Check.

Where are you now?  Near Bozeman, Montana, waiting on some RV repair work (boo).

Next location?  We’ll be spending a week at Glacier National Park with Jake’s family, in a rented house with real plumbing and no wheels!  Crazy.

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Week 39: Yosemite National Park

After eating our way through San Francisco, we headed back to nature to walk a few pounds off.  Southeast of San Francisco is the famous Yosemite National Park, and we visited for two days in late March.  Although much of the park was still closed due to snow, we loved it there – once we got away from the crowds.

Intro to Yosemite

For anyone that hasn’t been there, Yosemite was one of the first national parks, and its beauty is staggering.  Because of road closures, we spent most of our time in Yosemite Valley, a huge, impossibly lush valley that sits between towering cliffs.  It looks a little like something from the Land Before Time movies, and everything about it is spectacular.

El Capitan, near the entrance to the valley, is a sheer, 3000 foot high cliff. Half-Dome, seen in many of our photos, outdoes that with an incredible 4,800 foot rise from the valley floor.

But it’s not all cliffs – Yosemite has a higher concentration of large waterfalls than any other place on earth.  Or rather, sometimes it’s both; Yosemite Falls is the highest waterfall in North America and it has a 2,400 foot drop (in three stages).

We’re Gonna Need a Bigger Camera

Yosemite is also known for its groves of giant sequoias.  Sequoias are not just the largest trees, they are the largest single organisms by volume, anywhere in the world. They are incredibly huge, and they live for thousands of years.  In fact, giant sequoias are so badass, they release their (surprisingly tiny) pine cones only during forest fires – which they then survive easily.

Unfortunately, sequoias only grow in a thin strip of the Sierra Nevada mountains.  Like their taller but more slender cousins the coastal redwoods, very few are left due to logging activity, and all known trees are protected by state and national parks.

Sadly, the 200+ sequoias at Mariposa Grove at Yosemite are off-limits for all of 2016 due to restoration efforts.  We therefore hiked down to another grove, which has only 25 sequoias.  A little disappointing, but we were awed by the few we saw anyway.

Trip to the Top

Yosemite’s most famous hike is the notoriously brutal Half-Dome, but that was closed for the season.  We’re not sure whether we would have tried it, but in any event, we ended up on another legendarily difficult hike: The Upper Falls trail. This hike climbs to the top of Yosemite Falls (pictured below), rising up 2,700 feet in just 3.5 miles via an unending, unrelenting series of switchbacks over loose, rocky terrain.

Friends, the scenery was incredible, but this was the toughest hike we’ve ever done.

We’re still not sure how we made it up, but we did.  Once we reached the top, we walked down to the viewing platform near the falls, which requires a slightly terrifying walk along a narrow, extremely windy ledge holding only onto a pipe railing.  To be honest, the small and unsatisfying viewing platform, combined with the wind, may not have been worth it.

Gluttons for punishment (and maybe delusional from endorphins), we then somehow decided to do a “slight” extension to our hike by heading up to Yosemite Point (it’s the cliff in the upper left of the photo below).

Only a half-mile each way, we didn’t realize this would entail walking further up a mountain through giant melting snowfields, the trail utterly lost beneath the snow.

While hiking in the snow was challenging, it was pretty fun, especially since it was warm out. We tossed a few snowballs around, and it didn’t even occur to us that we were hiking next to, then above, the rapidly flowing river that becomes Yosemite Falls.

Even though we lost the trail a few times, our hike to Yosemite Point was well worth it. The views were spectacular, and almost no one else was around.

The way back down, however, was a different story. We did it gracefully, and definitely not by sliding on our butts down the hill and getting snow in every crack and crevice.

Definitely not.

From there, it was still another 5+ miles back to our car.  Although it was downhill, hiking at this point was truly exhausting, and our feet and knees were screaming by the end.  Plus, Jake drank a full three liters of water on our climb, and there were no bathrooms or private spaces on the trail, so… he was very motivated to reach the bottom. Heather stopped to take a few photos of the valley and check out our fitbit stats, while Jake made a beeline to the facilities.

Crowding Around

Yosemite is amazing, but the unfortunate truth is that it is also very crowded. Even during March, with half the park closed, we encountered very long line at the entrance station.  Inside the Valley itself, there were thousands of people at any given time.  National parks are usually quiet, but Yosemite has its own federal courthouse inside the park.

We don’t mean to give the wrong impression – it’s great that so many people are out visiting such an awesome park.  But we saw so much bad behavior as a result of the crowds, stuff like slamming on the brakes in the middle of a 45 mph roadway – with no warning – because something looks pretty.  Or double- or even triple-parking in the closest parking lots, rather than walk 100 yards.  At one point, we saw an obese person driving around in a motorized Rascal with a basket full of snacks (seriously).

Again – this was in March! If you visit, and you should, we definitely recommend you go during the off-season.

Prospecting For Jerks

While visiting Yosemite, we stayed in the small town of Mariposa, which is about 45 minutes away (and a gorgeous drive). Mariposa is cute, with a “prospector” shtick, based upon its days as a mining town.  We stayed in the Mariposa Fairgrounds, which is basically a giant, empty grass field with power plugs.

We didn’t have much Internet, but everything was fine, until the biggest RV we have ever seen pulled in.  So large, it was pulled by a tractor trailer cab!  And… it parked right next to us.  Despite the fact that we were the only other people in a 100+ yard empty grass field.

We thought that was annoying, but they topped it by pulling forward to unload their ATVs from the back of their RV.  Instead of then reversing back into a spot, they ran extension cords out to their rig, which was now parked in the center of the field.  So despite nobody else being around, they managed to find the only possible way to be uncomfortably close to us.

Amazing stuff.

Roadtrip Status

Still alive?  Check.

Where are you now?  Ogden, Utah, just north of Salt Lake City.

Next location?  The Grand Tetons and Yellowstone National Parks!

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Week 38: San Franciscan Days

After a sodden weekend in Monterey and Big Sur, we headed further up the California coast to San Francisco and the Bay Area.  Neither of us had been to San Francisco before, but we both loved it.


Power Trip

Before we got to visit the city, we had some RVing issues to deal with.  The first issue was finding a place to stay: as you might expect, San Francisco is not the easiest city to find close, comfortable, and inexpensive RV parking.  We did end up finding a campground that was cheap, comfortable, and close to San Francisco “as the crow flies,” but it turned out that getting there “as the RV drives” required a half-hour detour around a mountain range.  D’oh!  At least the drive was pretty, as was the campground.

The second issue was an electrical problem in our RV.  Every time we plugged our power cord into the brand-new power pedestal* at our campground, the pedestal’s circuit breaker tripped, so we couldn’t get any electricity in our motorhome.   A friendly mobile RV service technician came out and, unbuttoned pants barely hanging on his body, diagnosed our problem: an incredibly tiny fault in our electrical ground wire.  It was so small that only this brand-new power pedestal could detect it; we have stayed at dozens of other campgrounds without a problem.

The technician wasn’t able to fix the problem on-site, so he just disconnected the ground wire completely – and warned us not to use our toaster in the shower this week.  That did the trick, and we had sweet, sweet electricity again.  Maybe a little unsafe, but we re-wired everything when we left (and then fixed it for real later on).

Back in action!  Time to explore San Francisco.

* A power pedestal is basically a shielded box full of outlets that the campground provides for your parking space. 

Day Trip

After months dealing with the endless traffic in California, we were excited to visit a city with public transit.  We left our car behind and took the BART train in, spending the entire day walking and bus-hopping in a big loop through San Francisco.  It was glorious.

Here’s the details, for the interested.  We started out by grabbing some Blue Bottle iced coffee and walking to Union Square, then on through the dragon gate to Chinatown.  Quality ethnic restaurants are often in short supply on our trip, so we binged on some dim sum (yum) before working it off with a walk up to the famous Lombard Street.

We admired Lombard’s craziness, then headed down towards the water and Ghirardelli Square.  We strolled along San Francisco’s national historical maritime park and the Embarcadero, then stopped for a snack: an adorable, turtle-shaped piece of sourdough from the Boudin bakery.  (Check the pictures below.)  Despite its cuteness, we savaged its doughy body, and then hopped on a bus for the Golden Gate Bridge.

Then, we hopped off, spent 30 minutes figuring out the bus system, and hopped on the correct bus to the Golden Gate Bridge.

The Golden Gate Bridge is a beautiful landmark, but it doesn’t take long to see if you’re not crossing over it.  We took another bus back into the city, south to Golden Gate Park, where we strolled the meandering paths and admired the grounds.  It’s a really nice park, although I (Jake) hated the look of the De Young Museum, a deeply ugly monstrosity that does the exact opposite of blending in with its surroundings.  Heather was excited to see the museum, since she learned about it in architecture school, and she thought it was beautiful. Just kidding!  She really wanted to like it (emphasis hers), but ultimately had to acknowledge it puts the “ug” in fugly.”

At this point, tired of walking, we realized our bus ticket had only been vaguely stamped with the date – not the time – so we reckoned it should be good all day to do whatever we wanted.  (Also, nobody ever checked it.)  We took another bus down to the Painted Ladies, of Full House fame:

From there, another bus took us to the famous Castro district.  We really enjoyed the rainbow crosswalks, as well as the, um, “subtly” dirty shop names.

Finally, we walked to the Mission district and got burritos from La Tacqueria, winner of fivethirtyeight.com’s burrito bracket.  We have to say, the restaurant lived up to the hype – these were some amazing burritos!  Finally, after 10 miles of walking and eating our way through the city later, we took the train back, and enjoyed not having to drive (for once) while we listened to some Silicon Valley business nerds enthusiastically discuss “six sigma.”

Mystery Trip

We fulfilled a promise to our pre-roadtrip selves by taking the hour-long trip down to San Jose (quietly America’s 10th largest city) to visit the Winchester Mystery House.  The Mystery House is a huge mansion built by Sarah Winchester, widow to an heir to the Winchester gun family fortune, in the late 1800s and early 1900s.  She apparently believed she was being haunted by the ghosts of people killed by Winchester rifles, and so she built the house to appease and confuse the spirits.

Yes: “confuse the spirits.”  The Winchester Mystery House has doors that open onto brick walls, windows in the middle of rooms, and a staircase that leads directly into a ceiling.  We should note that it’s not clear to what extent these were intentional choices, as opposed to mistakes during design and construction.  Ms. Winchester designed the house herself, with no training, and built it ever-larger over the course of nearly forty years.  The home was under construction 24/7, and no blueprints exist.

The Mystery House may not be the most efficient of structures, but it is beautiful and unique. (We weren’t allowed to take photographs inside the mansion, so the last few pics are from here.)

Earth Trip

We planned to visit some bars and restaurants in San Jose after visiting the Mystery House, but as we drove through the city and saw a sea of green t-shirts, we suddenly realized that it was St. Patrick’s Day.  Whoops!  (We were barely aware it was March.)

In any event, we certainly weren’t going to brave the crowds of drunk-by-3-p.m. revelers just for the sake of it, so we headed back to our campground.  We ended up hiking around the park we were staying in, and were treated to some lovely views and what appeared to be a whole flock of endangered condors, right by a lake.  (Take that, supposed Pinnacles condor viewing!)

We don’t have pictures, but it was fun to watch them swooping and circling around us overhead.  Although to be honest, there were some moments when we thought they looked very curious as to whether we might be food.  In any event, we’re grateful for and really enjoy these kinds of random nature experiences.  It’s one of those things we always felt was missing in New York City.

Roadtrip Status

Still alive?  Check.

Where are you now?  Heading out of Moab, Utah, for Cortez, Colorado, and Mesa Verde National Park.

Next location?  Montrose, Colorado, to see the Black Canyon of the Gunnison.

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Week 37.1: Cruising on Highway 1

After some exhilarating hiking at Pinnacles National Park, we headed north for a quick stopover in Monterey, California.  The distance wasn’t far, but getting there required about fifteen miles driving on Route 1, a scenic highway notorious for its cliff-side curves.  Luckily, the section we drove in the RV was pretty straightforward, an especially fortunate fact given that wind was gusting the entire time.

If you’ve ever seen the extremely boxy profile of our RV, you might not be surprised to learn that driving it in the wind is a little like piloting a sailboat with an engine.  We battened down our hatches, however, and arrived at Monterey for a weekend that… turned out to be drenched with rain.

We used the one break in the storm for a trip down to Big Sur, described below.  Otherwise, we didn’t have a chance to do much sightseeing – the most exciting thing we did in Monterey was get some new hiking gear at REI.  (Worth it!)

Scenic Drive

With our in-town options washed away, we spent our few precious sunlight hours driving down to Big Sur, a heavily forested coastal area accessible only by Route 1.  The term “Big Sur” encompasses several state parks and a national forest, but it is mostly known for spectacular driving, hiking, and coastal views.

We’re happy to report that Big Sur did not disappoint.  The stretch of Route 1 we drove on with our RV was pretty milquetoast, wind aside, but the drive from Monterey to Big Sur is anything but.  The road winds its way around gorgeous coastal cliffs, and while it can be quite curvy, it never felt unsafe.  The scenery was more than worth it, with jaw-dropping views of mountains meeting the ocean that are second only to those found in Acadia National Park.

A particular highlight was Bixby Bridge.  As stunning is it was full of selfie takers.

That said, while the bridge is cool, few places on Earth can match the surreal beauty of our next stop.  At McWay Falls, a waterfall drops down 80 feet onto a pristine ocean beach.  Unfortunately, you can’t actually get down to the beach, but the view is amazing nonetheless.

Even cooler?  Prior to the land being gifted to the state, people lived in a house where that photo was taken.  Imagine that as your backyard!

We Made A Huge Mistake

Our final destination on Route 1 was Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park, where we hiked the Ewoldsen Trail.  Recommended by several websites, it was definitely a nice hike, but it turned out to be a lot more, well, grueling than we expected.  We expected a quick four-mile loop, and instead got something like six, with a total elevation gain of more than 2,000 feet – more than the highest hikes at some national parks!

But we made it, and we have the pictures to prove it.  This was our first-ever visit to a redwood forest, and we were amazed at the size of some of the trees.  As we later learned, however, the trees in Big Sur are almost all “new-growth,” i.e., cut down by settlers sometime in the 1800s and since regrown.  The really big trees are much, much older; for California redwoods, a 200 year old, 150+ foot tall tree is basically just a baby.

Don’t worry.  The adults are coming up soon.

Roadtrip Status

Still alive?  Check.

Where are you now? Moab, Utah.  So hot right now!

Next location?  Mo’ Moab, at least for a bit.

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Week 37: Pinnacles of Hiking

After a wet week in Morro Bay, we headed up the California coast on Highway 101.  Our destination was the 59th and newest national park, a place that most people probably haven’t even heard of: Pinnacles National Park.

Spoiler alert:  It’s awesome.

Exactly Like The Stone Age

Pinnacles is more or less in the center of California, fairly close to a lot of population centers, but it felt very remote.  Highway 101 is about a half-hour away, connected by beautiful, curvy roads that might have been our favorite RV driving of the entire trip.  Our campground at the park had electric hookups, which is somewhat rare and very welcome for a National Park, and it was spacious and empty.

The one drawback – if it is a drawback – is that Pinnacles has no cell service whatsoever.  We’ve stayed in some fairly remote places, but the Internet blackout at Pinnacles was the most complete yet.  Even Death Valley and Big Bend had service sometimes.  The lack of Internet terrified us at first, but to be honest, it was actually kind of nice.  It’s so rare to be able to silence the outside world completely, and we found that not having the Internet as a time-waster made us incredibly productive.

In three days, we wrote six blog posts, deep-cleaned our living space, made a video tour of our RV, and went on two mind-blowing hikes.  Incidentally, we got about 95% of the way through editing that video tour, but then we got our Internet back, and never finished.  There is probably a lesson to be learn-

ooh, Facebook notification!  Better check that out.

To The Batcave!

The primary thing to do at Pinnacles is hike.  The park area is fairly small, so unlike most of the national parks we have visited, we actually got to see most of it.  On our first day, we hiked down to some talus caves, which are essentially canyons that have been roofed over, incompletely, by boulders.  While some sunlight enters the caves through cracks, other places are completely dark. Bats apparently love them.

The talus caves at Pinnacles blew us away.  They were too dark for good pictures, so here’s what it was like: we were completely alone inside the caves (it was a weekday afternoon), hiking over and through a swollen stream that ran down the center of the trail.  The dim, inconsistent sunlight, along with our dim, inconsistent flashlights, created dramatic shadows that jumped and flickered as we went deeper into the cave.  We heard – and felt – a roaring waterfall, hidden in the darkness, glimpsed only through the occasional beam of illumination.  It was wet, disorienting, and utterly amazing.

We climbed a narrow metal staircase alongside the waterfall and emerged, blinking, into the sunlight.  The wet and wild caves receded, and we continued on.  Soon, we found ourselves walking an ancient stone stairway, underneath a boulder…

… alongside another waterfall – and yes, it was as awesome as that sounds.

There was a lot more, including beautiful views of a reservoir and some adventurous cliff-side photo-taking, but no need to type it out.  Take a look at the pics below.

The Pinnacle of Pinnacles

After exploring the talus caves, we figured things couldn’t get any better, but we were wrong.  The next day, we embarked on a long hike through the center of Pinnacles National Park, walking the top of a ridgeline for miles.  It was definitely a tough hike, but the views were staggering.

The beginning of the hike switchbacked up a lush mountain trail, where we caught views of the rocky peak that we would soon be hiking along. The sky was ridiculously blue, the grass was super green, and there were pretty wildflowers everywhere.

Eventually we reached the top, and enjoyed views in every direction from the ridgeline.  Continuing on, we came to our favorite part, the High Peaks section.  The trail here featured iron bar ladders, narrow pathways, and tiny, hand-carved stone steps.  These are fun hiking features in general, but on the top of Pinnacles, you navigate them just a few feet from thousands-foot high cliffs.  With the wind blowing like crazy, it definitely got our blood pumping!  But we’re all about adventure, and friends, it doesn’t get much more adventurous than this.

Definitely one of our favorite hikes of all time.

Flora and Fauna

Two final things before we sign off.  First, Pinnacles is known as an endangered condor nesting ground / sanctuary, and birdwatchers were extremely common throughout the park, excitedly binocularing the birds soaring around overhead.  That’s all fine, but you know what?  We saw about a million condors while on the West Coast, and we saw them absolutely everywhere, except at Pinnacles!  Weird.

Second, there are some really big pinecones at Pinnacles.

Roadtrip Status

Still alive?  Check.

Where are you now?  Moab, Utah, getting “caught up” on our blog posts.

Next location?  We had to give up on our plans to see Monument Valley, where the Westerns were won, due to extreme heat, so we’re just going to chill here for a few more days.

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Week 36.1: Morro Bay Rocks

Our visit to Las Vegas was memorable, especially the Valley of Fire, which was a fitting end to our time in the desert (at least for a while).  From Las Vegas, we left early in the morning for the coast of California, 420 miles due west and the longest drive we’ve taken in our RV.

The trip took about 9 hours, and we passed through an incredible array of landscapes.  The most striking was the Mojave desert, utterly dry – this was the rare desert that is actually just sand.  The interstate highway we were taking then ended, and we continued on single-lane roads into the central California valley, bustling with industrial agriculture.  From there, it was on to the rolling foothills near the coast.   Coming from the desert, we were excited to see grass carpeting the hills, especially since the early spring grass in California is electric green.

We stopped for a brief rest / photo op.  Soon, twisting and turning our way through the hills, we made it to the small town of Morro Bay, and parked our RV in a campground about 100 yards from the beach.  So long, desert!

Rock On

The highlight of Morro Bay is Morro Rock, a volcanic plug that rises strikingly from the Pacific Ocean just off the beach.  It’s dominatingly huge in person.  The weather wasn’t great while we were there, but the clouds just ended up making the rock look even more magnificent.

As for the town itself, well, Morro Bay is a beach town through and through.  It’s probably a lot of fun in the summer, but this was early March, and the weather was gloomy and cold (mid-50s).  So, it would be an understatement to say there wasn’t much going on.  The streets were nearly deserted, and while some stores were open, the clerks inside seemed confused by our presence.

At least the sunsets still brought their A-game, tourist season or not.

Morro Bay is close by to San Luis Obispo, a charming college town about 20 minutes away.  We visited for Jake’s birthday and enjoyed some great burgers and beers, beautiful scenery, and eclectic shops.  There was a speakeasy-type bar underneath a barber shop, a pretty old mission church, and a fairly horrifying gum wall.  What else could a man want?

News Castle

We were in Morro Bay for a week, but it rained so much we didn’t really do all that much.  Our most interesting side-trip was to Hearst Castle, a real-life castle made by William Randolph Hearst from the purchased remnants of European structures.  The view from its many balconies is breathtaking, and the castle itself it beautiful, as are the many surrounding guest houses.

The indoor pool is particularly spectacular. Those are 24-carat gold-infused tiles lining the ceiling, floors and walls.  It’s the only way to swim!

Hearst apparently had a constant, unending party at this castle for decades, inviting famous celebrities, athletes, dignitaries, and others to stay and enjoy his legendary hospitality.  It was pretty nifty to sit and watch a short film in the same theater that Charlie Chaplin (and many other famous movie stars) sat in.

Interestingly, after Hearst died, the entire place was closed and then turned into a museum, almost overnight.  Guess he was the literal life of the party.

The Truest Repairman

We did have one other cool experience while in Morro Bay, of an unlikely type.  We visited a local automotive repair shop for help with an engine issue that had been troubling our Honda Fit since our drive back and forth across the country for the holidays.  Don Truhitte, the mechanic and owner of the shop, was an awesome and knowledgeable guy, but the part replacement he made didn’t totally fix our issue.  We don’t really blame him, since two other garages also failed to figure it out.  The car was not reporting the root problem correctly in its diagnostics (valve adjustment needed).

Don did ultimately determine that a valve adjustment was needed, but we had to get going to our next stop, so there was no time to do the work.  He felt so bad about not being able to fix it that he discounted our bill considerably.  That was nice!  But then, as we were leaving, he walked over and gave us another $50 in cash – refunding his entire labor charge.  We tried to refuse since he had worked for hours on our car, but Don insisted we take it, even though he knew we were traveling through and would probably never be back to Morro Bay.

Now that is some honest service!  We’re still pretty amazed.  Thanks for being one of the good ones, Don.

Roadtrip Status

Still alive?  Check.

Where are you now?  Moab, Utah.  It’s hot!

Next location?  We’ll be here for a week, then on to Monument Valley and a place called “Mexican Hat” (for real!).

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