Pinnacles National Park Campground

Pinnacles National Monument was established in 1908 by U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt, and it became a National Park in late 2012 when President Barak Obama passed legislation and signed it into law on January 10, 2013. It lies about 40 miles inland from the Pacific Ocean and is considered part of California’s Coast Ranges.

The park is located near the San Andreas fault line, and the geology of this area has had a hand in creating the unique rock formations that the park protects. The movement of the Pacific Plate along the fault has split a section of rock away from the main body of the extinct volcano and moved it almost 200 miles to the northwest. The pinnacles are believed to be part of this ancient rock formation because of the unique breccias that are found at the Neenach Volcano. Seismic activity is frequent in the park and the Unites States Geological Survey maintains two seismometers.

The wildlife is abundant, with 13 species of bats, prairie falcons, California Condor, coyote, skunk, wild turkey, gray fox, quail and cougar. While camping there over night, a flock of at least 14 turkeys rummaged among the fallen acorns all around Fred’s RV. I didn’t see a tom, but watched as one large and seemingly older hen kept a close eye out for the rest of them, and she appeared to call all the shots. If she let out a gobble, they would all take off in unison at surprising speed. They look so prehistoric, and have long and powerful legs that can easily out run a human. The turkeys are also quite vocal and would talk to one another constantly as they popped their heads up in search of danger. Quail were active too, and we saw a gray fox, mule deer, and the incredible California Condor when we hiked up to the pinnacles!

The campsite itself was spacious and we got the senior discount of only $18.00 per RV. What a bargain! There are no sewer hook ups, but electricity is a must because of the extreme temperature variation. All the water faucets were frozen solid when we got up the next morning. Fred camped under a massive oak tree across from us, and while we watched the turkeys and quail rummage next to his RV, golden colored oak leaves fluttered down all around them. It was a beautiful site to behold, with the weak sunlight filtering through the old and gnarled branches, and the leaves dipping and circling delicately, before falling silently to the ground.

I loved Pinnacles National Park, and our hike to see the condors along Condor Gulch Trail was a once in a lifetime opportunity. We didn’t stay but one night though due to the cold. Apparently it is best to visit the park in the spring and fall.

Callie also thoroughly enjoyed watching the turkeys milling about, but only in the safety of our cozy RV dash and the front, look-out window. These birds were way to big for her to fantasize about capturing.

Stairway to Heaven

I had the good fortune to visit Pinnacles National Park on Friday, and after spending a chilly night (it got below freezing) we headed up the Condor Gulch Trail to the overlook and further up about 7/10ths of a mile in search of the California Condor. I have always been in awe of this prehistoric bird, and felt so privileged that I was able to see them in the wild.

The California Condor is the largest North American land bird, and it became extinct in the wild in 1987. The San Diego Wild Animal Park and the Los Angeles Zoo took in the last remaining birds, some say 22, others 27 in total, and developed a breeding program to reintroduce them back into the wild. Various components were responsible for their decline, loss of habitat, lead poisoning, power lines and Golden Eagles were the main culprit.

Contrary to most birds of prey, the female is smaller than the male and when the male reaches sexual maturity at age 6, he will seek out a female and they will mate for life. The male can have a wingspan of up to 10ft, and as we watched them soar over the cliffs, this became obvious. We witnessed them from far away, soaring so gracefully above the pinnacles, and these incredible birds could be seen with the naked eye. They have a life span of 60 plus years and are once again, with the help of programs designed to support their survival, are living in the wild.

This condor lacks true vocal chords, so can only hiss and make pathetic noises. They are eerily quiet and because their wingspan is so large, barely flap at all once a bird has become airborne. The California Condor is black in color, with white striations under the wing. These markings flash a bright white when they turn and bank, and it is this flash, and their immense size that separates them from the Turkey Buzzard. The male’s head ranges from pale pink to a deep orange in color once he is ready to mate. The legs are pale gray and appear white when flying, and hang straight down until the condor reaches a high enough altitude to begin soaring.

While we watched 3 condors taking off from a precipice not far from the trail, they flapped their gigantic wings in an attempt to take off. I was able to get a good glimpse of their comical faces as they veered away from us in a graceful circle, climbing higher and higher up into the sky. Fred thought we might have threatened their nesting site, and that it was a mated pair with a juvenile learning to navigate life among the pinnacles.

This hike was a true A+ for me and I highly recommend it. There is a fair amount of vertical climb, but I didn’t find it that challenging. We saw deer, quail, a gray fox, jays, woodpeckers and at least 9 condors. I recommend hiking in the early morning hours because of the heat. Even though it was freezing the night before, and very chilly when we first started our ascent, it became uncomfortably warm with our jackets and gloves on later in the day. By the time we were heading back to our respective RV’s, Fred, Michael and I had stripped down to shirts and rolled up our sleeves. Bring plenty of water and binoculars are a good choice too.

Callie was able to hang out in our awesome 24ft RV and nap while we hiked. This is such a good life for a cat who loves adventure and to travel. The dash becomes her reality big screen TV!

Two condors can be seen roosting on the top of the pinnacle ledge to the far left.

Our Stay in Morro Bay

We have been in Morro Bay for almost a week already, but I haven’t been able to post because I ran out of storage space and needed to register again. I love blogging but wasn’t sure what I wanted to do, so I spoke with my daughter who said I should upload my videos to YouTube because they are taking up too much space, and the support guy from WordPress named Kevin Jones, recommended I create a web site with unlimited storage but would cost more money. My daughter had the more sensible solution for now, I am only blogging for pleasure and it isn’t a business, so keeping it fun and simple wins out.

Morro Bay has been beautiful and it actually rained today which will hopefully help with the Thomas Fire in Santa Barbara. It has been raging for over 2 weeks now, and is the largest wildfire in the history of California. It breaks my heart to see so many homes lost and forests scorched and burned to the ground.

Michael, Fred and I have been biking every day and biking in Morro Bay is just so fabulous. The trails are well marked and when you are forced to be on the road, the drivers are very respectful. Yesterday, we biked all the way to Cayucos from our campsite at Cypress Morro Bay RV Park, and walked out onto the pier. We also biked to the Rock, to the high school, and then over to the Preserve and The Strand. It was a fabulous bike ride and all three of us enjoyed it very much.

Earlier in the week, my brother in law joined us and the four of us stayed out most of the morning, and well past the early afternoon. There are so many places to eat along the Embarcadero, and you can watch the otters as they groom themselves and the pelicans while they dive for fish. Just park your bike right along side you as you enjoy a meal of delicious fish and chips outdoors in the golden sunshine.

I recommend Bike Shop Morro Bay for any of your biking needs. Dave is very helpful and considerate, and Michael ended up buying me a Raleigh mountain bike because my Marin was too large for me. Fred has a Stump-jumper and we are all equally matched now. Michael will try out the Marin for awhile to see if it suits him and I just love the Raleigh. It is fun for me to bike with Fred and Michael. Who would have ever thought I would be biking with 2 guys?

Tomorrow we are leaving for Pinnacles National Park and it is suppose to be gorgeous there too. Fred is our official guide and Callie adores him. It is working out wonderfully and caravanning is perfect. If any of us gets into trouble- we have each other’s back.

California is Burning

We hit the road again yesterday morning with our good friend Fred, he in his Winnebago, we in the Icon, and headed up the coast to Morro Bay. Callie took her seat on the dash of the RV and off we went in search of adventure. Leaving Anza Borrego Desert State Park for the real world is always a bit of a shock. It is so quiet and surreal in the desert, and driving into traffic and crowds is both exciting and annoying.

Passing through my deceased parent’s retirement city of Ventura was horrific, and words cannot describe the total devastation of much of the outskirts of this beautiful, coastal town of flowers, gardens and palm trees. The family house borders Foothill Blvd, and this is the main street that separated the neighborhoods from the lush and native, chaparral foothills for which it was named. California had an exceptionally wet winter last year, and this led to ample fuel for the fires to come.

Arroyo Verde Park was a verdant green belt that many families and our family visited often. We shared boisterous picnics together under the shade of mature oaks and pines and our children grew up playing in the swing sets and sliding down the slide. My family often hiked to a particularly majestic old oak tree that we fondly called “The Wishing Tree,” and all 7 of us sisters and 1 brother would climb high up into her welcoming branches and silently send out a wish or a prayer, for the cosmos to observe and to acknowledge. It is all gone! Burned to the ground.

The fire has stormed Carpentaria and Summerland now, and the 101 is charred on both sides of the highway. Rows of palm trees are scorched and blackened, and a reminder of just how “massive” this fire is as it continues to burn! The Thomas Fire has taken a firefighter’s life and is still only 20% contained. The firefighters are exhausted after spending more than a week attempting to save people and their homes. It is raging away from communities now, as it burns unchecked into the wilderness. The Santa Ana winds are expected to pick up again today, which will make it hell for everything in its path. All the wildlife fleeing for their lives and the plants anchored in place, this is a nightmare of reality.

While driving through Santa Barbara, miles and miles of beautiful, coastal California is blackened and charred, and the sky is still very smokey. I saw drivers with gas masks on and cars had their lights on in the middle of the day because the sun was darkened a deep, blood red. It looks like a war zone in Toro Canyon, with heavy smoke still billowing up along the mountainside.

We made it to Morro Bay in the late afternoon as the sun was just starting to set. We are camped at Cypress Morro Bay RV Park. This is one of my favorite campgrounds of all time. It is clean and spacious and we sit in a quiet neighborhood with a view of Morro Rock. The streets are lined with festive Christmas lights and unusual twinkly lights that sparkle in a distant tree, and look much like tiny fireflies blinking on and off, in the darkening twilight.

It is all so peaceful for now, and as I write, I can hear the fog horn calling out its melodic warning to sailors and ships out at sea- while the sea lions are barking to one another, obtrusively and comically in the hazy mist. The sun is just beginning to rise and another surreal morning has begun. My wish and prayer for today, in spite of the loss of the majestic oak tree, is that the fires be contained and that California start to heal itself soon. Innocent people have lost their homes right before the holidays, the 32 year old firefighter that gave up his life, the wildlife and vegetation that have been burned to the ground, may this start a conversation on climate change, and that our responsibility to this unique planet should not fall on deaf ears any longer!

This is a conversation that needs to be addressed! Let us try to come together and do the right thing, a scientific solution that will help heal the many who have been affected and displaced, some who have been harmed, and all who have lost their lives. Let this be the moment that change begins. Prayers and wishes are no longer enough to save this beautiful and fragile planet.

Earth Wind and Fire

It has been a difficult time for Southern California this past week. The fire up in Ventura, California is where my parents spent their retirement years. They are both gone now, but left the dream of a botanical garden a reality by donating funds toward its creation. They are founding benefactors and will some day have a plaque on the third tier of the trail leading up the hillside. On the plaque will be the words- BLOOM WHERE YOU ARE PLANTED! lovingly embossed for all to see as they hike. I try to live by this motto and am applying it to my own life as I live in the middle of nowhere. It isn’t always easy to bloom in the desert! The plaque is still in storage and the gardens are far from finished. Earlier this week, fire consumed the infancy stages of this dream garden and destroyed much, much, more in its wake.

One of my parents rental houses succumbed to the flames and neighbors and friends fled for their lives in the middle of the night. The botanical gardens will hopefully some day be rebuilt, but the damage to Ventura and neighboring Santa Paula is horrific. Entire neighborhoods have been destroyed and over 200 square miles scorched to the ground. The fire is far from contained and is now roaring toward Ojai and Santa Barbara.

Meanwhile south in Bonsall, the Lilac Fire is raging and bore down on San Louis Rey Downs, a thoroughbred horse training facility. It has killed many horses in its wake as it burned out of control yesterday afternoon. It started in the early afternoon and crossed over the 15 freeway and barreled down the 76 at a staggering pace. The horses that died were mostly trapped in barns and stalls and couldn’t escape. Hundreds of horses were let loose in hopes of surviving the horror, but because they are such pampered, sports animals that are frequently hand walked, many panicked, and stampeding occurred. As herd animals, some ran blindly towards the smoke and flames instead of away from them. Del Mar Fairgrounds has taken in over 1,000 animals and a day of mourning was scheduled for today at Santa Anita and the Del Mar Racetrack because of all the horses lost- possibly 47 or more!

The dry conditions of Southern California and the infamous Santa Ana winds contributed to the overall perfect storm. These fires are still burning out of control, but the winds have hopefully died down. The rains that came last year produced a bounty of foliage which has dried out and become fuel for the raging fire.

And to top it off, Borrego Springs has been experiencing a series of earthquakes that have rattled the house and my nerves when it shook 4 times in less than 24 hours. Is Mother Earth sending out a message that the “big one” is on its way?

When are we going to acknowledge climate change, and most importantly, that it is human induced!? What is it going to take as a country to recognize that we have a responsibility to this planet and to our children, and that we need to curb our gas house emissions? It is too late for those beautiful horses and to all the people that have lost their homes. But let us please try to find common ground and do something about climate change before it is too late for all of us!

Callie in the mean time is doing what cats do best, sleeping the day away and getting herself ready for another road trip. We are planning on taking off again some time next week. Be safe dear readers and take care of yourselves during this holiday season.

Rutting Season for the Big Horns

A couple of mornings ago, while finishing up the last leg of our 24 mile bike ride, Michael and I paused to allow 2 big horn rams cross the road and onto the De Anza Golf Course. At the end of the summer, and because the sheep have run out of foliage and water, they are forced to come into contact with humans and graze on the green in the morning hours. There is a herd of at least 30 now and the rams that are not part of the main group, head down separately and are much more aggressive. Instead of crossing the road, this particular ram marched over to Michael with a glare in his eyes, and if I hadn’t intervened with a hiss to startle him, he would have charged. Michael wanted to know why it took me so long? He was clipped in and had nowhere to turn. They were less than 7 ft apart and the ram wasn’t showing any signs of being shy. I was debating on what to do and thought that a noise was better than a visual. So I hissed like I would with a horse, and he flinched and took off at a trot while butting the other ram in frustration. It is rutting season and hormones are raging. We continued home with Michael telling me he could hear him breathing! They deserve our respect.

When I am posting in my blog in the wee hours of dawn, Callie is by my side and her attempts to distract me from my writing- WORK!

A Day Trip to Yosemite & Drive through Tioga Pass in a Snowstorm

Michael, Lara and I had an impulsive brainstorm that we could somehow find a way to camp overnight in Yosemite Valley without a reservation. We spent the morning making an effort to be put on a waiting list, and then drove over to the one available spot to park in order to hike up to Mirror Lake.

Once we parked the RV and piled out, the three of us crossed the gorgeous meadow over the lovely boardwalk and headed to the lake. Callie stayed behind in the RV and took a much needed nap. All the fun and excitement of travel takes it out of her, and the chance to get some sleep mid-morning, is a treat for her.

Leaving her safely behind, we meandered along Tenaya Creek and I spent a couple of hours taking photographs and walking through the woods with Lara and Michael. It was a beautiful, crisp afternoon, and because Mirror Lake is no longer dredged and pillaged for its ice like it was in the past, it is more of a puddle than a lake. I was still able to capture incredible, reflective images in spite of the low water level, and felt that the hike was more than worth it.

The view was incredible, with light and shadow passing over the rock formations and changing dramatically with each minute. The leaves on the broad leaf trees were just starting to turn golden in color, and there was a hint of autumn in the air. The path is paved and cyclists can now bike up to a parking area before walking the rest of the way to the lake. Rental bikes are available and a lot of people took advantage of the opportunity.

Once we returned to the RV and made an effort to see more of the Valley, we were entangled in one traffic jam after another. Michael was never able to fine a place to park after that, and we decided collectively to head over to Lee Vinning and find a camping site at Mono Lake. Little did I know that Tioga Pass was experiencing an early, fall blizzard, and that Callie was going to be able to watch the snow blow past on the dash. She didn’t know whether to be excited or freaked out as the windshield wipers were activated.

In spite of the crowds in Yosemite, it is still a beautiful place to visit. I recommend taking the time to get a reservation though, and I don’t recommend driving an RV around. Take advantage of the numerous shuttles that are available and plan a long day of exploring. It was just too difficult this time to find a place to park, and maneuvering the RV from one spot to the next, became a chore! Fortunately, Michael, Callie had I had visited the valley last summer and didn’t feel too disappointed, and Lara was a good sport about it and didn’t complain.

The Crows in the Oak Trees

While camping at the Monterey Fairgrounds this summer, we would take Callie out for walks on her leash so that she could explore her surroundings. The oak trees were protected and couldn’t be cut down and had grown quite massive in size. The crows would fly in as a flock of 50 or more to feed on the trees in the late afternoon.

Dusk was just starting to fall and the light was fading. You could hear them long before you saw them. We would look up at the sky at the sound of caws in the distance and see specks of black dots moving toward us like a darkening cloud of locusts. Soon they would descend on the oak trees as a mob and peck at the bare branches and the plump acorns in a frenzy of feeding. The acorns would crash down noisily onto the aluminum roof of the livestock showing pens, and plop with a crunch on the dried up leaves at the base of the tree.

The sound was deafening and the birds would be screaming and shouting at one another the whole time they fed. It sounded like a version of happy hour for these birds, and it was really quite the sight to behold. The clicks and caws and screams could be heard all over the campground and there was a special alarm call when they spotted Callie! Three crows in particular stayed put and kept looking at us from up above in astonishment that a cat was down below. When we got too close, rather than fly away in alarm, they shouted obscenities at us and hurled insults like a gang of misbehaving children. As Callie passed underneath their particular tree, I swear they made an effort to bomb her with debris. Callie would have liked nothing better than to climb the oak tree and give them a piece of her mind.

At the end of the day, not having packed toys for Callie, she had to make do with a paper bag in which to work out her pent up aggression!

Sailing on Alfresco

Last summer we took the RV through Washington and the ferry over to Vancouver Island to introduce Callie to sailing on my brother Tom, and his wife Frances’s, catamaran. Tom built this boat when he was in his twenties, and Alfresco is still sea worthy after 40 plus years. Callie took to sailing like a duck to water and my fear of her going overboard, were never realized. She loved boating and being on the water. It was very exciting when we were under sail, but Callie showed little fear. When we dropped anchor, she explored every nook and cranny. Only once did she slip while heading to the stern and when that happened, she made sure to land on the deck and walked away with tail high in the air, as if nothing had happened and she had planned it all along.

Yakima Valley Wine Country- Washington State

Yakima, in the beautiful state of Washington, is known for having survived Mount Saint Helen’s eruption in 1980, and burying the region with nutrient ash. The positive consequence of this is that the soil is extremely fertile and anything that is planted, flourishes. Wineries have produced some of the best grapes for both red and white wines. The Columbia Gorge and Columbia Crest Chardonnay is one of my favorites, but I loved just about every wine I sampled. I am of the old school and love the taste of a bold, oak flavor. This only happens when the wine is stored in oak casks. The latest trend is to keep the wine in sterling, but I do not like the crisp taste that stainless steel produces. Fortunately for me, many Washington State wineries still favor the oak.