Category Archives: California

FJ wrap-up…XP new beginnings

July 10 – 21, 2014

We finally get our XP and we wouldn’t even get to spend the first night in it!

Our original plan was to have the XP for a few weeks to get comfortable with the rig and flush out any issues with either the truck or the camper before going to Alaska. Because of some of the delays we would have just two weeks to get to our ferry in Washington. We still had a lot to do in this short window giving us very little time to get to know our new home. After Marc handed us the keys we went to dinner in Nevada City and took inventory of what needed to be done before boarding the ferry. Our first order of business was to get the F350’s 100k mile service completed ASAP. In our experience it’s never just taking a vehicle in for service since they always find something else to fix. We didn’t have time to waste so we decided to find a Ford service department who could begin work the next day. The Ford Store in Gilroy had a 7 am appointment available the next morning. This meant driving our FJ and XP the three hours to the Bay Area once we finished dinner. We stayed in a hotel just minutes away from the dealer. Our first night in the XP would have to wait.

We dropped off the vehicle and were told that it would take a couple of days to do the service and finish work on the additional items that we knew about it. Later that day we heard from the service department. They suggested that we take care of a few more issues which added another day. We spent these days visiting friends and buying some gear for the trip that we couldn’t fit into the FJ. There was even some time for my favorite run in the Bay Area at Wilder Ranch in Santa Cruz.

IMG 1643
Perfect day for a run in Santa Cruz.
IMG 1651
This is my favorite part of this trail as we run along the cliffs overlooking Monterrey Bay.
IMG 1658
Darryl and I end every trip to Santa Cruz with a visit to Natural Bridges.

Now with our XP ready for the trip we were ready to move into our new home. After living in the FJ for four months, the XP feels like a palace! We now have a small kitchen with plenty of counter space to prepare meals. Everything runs on diesel so no more searches for propane canisters for the Coleman stove.

Our first guests were Cesar and his wife Brenda, longtime friends of Darryl’s. We gave them the ten cent tour of our XP which took just a few minutes. A quick spin around while standing in place is about all it takes to see everything! 🙂 There’s not enough room in the XP for a dinner party so we headed across the parking lot for dinner. Over dinner caught each other up the happenings in our lives. There was also plenty of talk about where to cross into Mexico and safe places to stay as well as places to avoid. As Mexican natives, Cesar and Brenda have been a wonderful source for us as we plan our trip into Mexico. We don’t expect to cross the border into Mexico until October but it’s never to early to start planning parts of the route!

IMG_1659.jpg

As soon as we picked up our truck from Ford we went over to our storage locker to transfer everything from our FJ into the XP and to pick up our cold weather clothes which we’ll need at some point in the upcoming months. Our next stop is to say good-bye to the FJ and leave it in storage until after the trip. The FJ was an awesome vehicle for us during the last four months. We had absolutely no mechanical issues with it and it handled all of our off-road adventures with ease. Although our XP will beat the FJ + roof top tent in the comfort category it won’t hold a candle to the FJ in the off-road capability category.

IMG 1661

Now with our FJ tucked away in storage and us settled into our new home we had one last stop to make before saying good-bye to California. Back in June I met Gypsy Vanner breeder Lynn Strauss of the Gypsy Rose Ranch at the Western States Horse Expo. After talking with her about the breed I asked if we could stop by her ranch in Lodi, CA to spend a little more time with her horses and take a riding lesson with her on a Gypsy Vanner. We would be driving by Lodi so I called her up and scheduled a time to meet the next day. We spent most of the following day at the ranch learning about the operations and meeting the horse. I fell in love with all of them!

DSC04441
These horses were so friendly! As soon as we walked into their paddocks they all crowded around us to say hello.
DSC04456
This little colt was a doll! If only I had a home for him I would take him now.
DSC04463
I really love the look and disposition of the Gypsy Vanner.

DSC04466

We had to make one more stop at XP in Grass Valley to have our rear window replaced and then we’re off to catch our ferry in a week out of Bellingham. We spent the night in the Tahoe National Forest after fixing the window. I really felt the elevation during our morning run the following day!

DSC04474
At White Cloud Campground in the Tahoe National Forest.

We’re super excited about starting our adventure in Alaska. Just one more week in the lower 48 and we’ll be catching our ferry!

“We’re movin’ on up” like George and Weezie!

To give a little back story to this post, I have to start all the way to the beginning of our planning for this trip over three years ago. I promise to give the short version here and later we’ll document in more detail our journey to our XP Camper decision.

During the first stage of our trip planning we spent many, many hours researching and discussing our perfect vehicle for this trip. We decided on a Sportsmobile and made the big purchase last June, eight months before the start of our big trip and plenty of time for us to get comfortable with the Sportsmobile and prepare ourselves for almost two years of living in it.

 DSCN0047

Unfortunately, after a few weekend getaways we quickly realized that the Sportsmobile wasn’t going to work for us. Now we have to quickly find a plan B since our start date was only three months away. We gave Marc at XP Camper a call and put in our order for an XP Camper. These campers are awesome but we would have to wait until October of 2014 to get it. We were expecting to start our trip the first week of March! We decided that it would be worth the wait and we would find an intermediate solution to take us through Baja then up to Alaska and we would stop by Grass Valley in October to pick up our new XP. So now we had to find something economical that would carry us through to October. An FJ Cruiser with a Cascadia Vehicle Tent was our solution.

DSCN0209

The roof top tent (RTT) was great in the warmer climates but we weren’t so excited about the experience during the colder, windier and wetter days. We started to worry about how comfortable we would be once we started heading into the cooler and wetter climates of Oregon, Washington and then Alaska. Then one day while we were in Baja we received a call from Marc saying that a used XP Camper was available and would we want to buy it!? This would be ready 8 weeks earlier than the new XP and we could have it for our trip to Alaska! We jumped at the opportunity and made some changes to our Alaska ferry and Denali camping reservations. Things are looking up!!

XP Camper is a small operation in Grass Valley and as such, the timelines are a little fluid. We were given about a 4-6 week time frame when the XP would be ready so we decided to spend much of this waiting time around California and Utah. Dates were slipping a bit so we finally decided that we should just start driving north and hit the Oregon Coast and continue on to Seattle so we wouldn’t miss our ferry. We couldn’t delay our Alaska trip any longer so if the XP wasn’t ready, we would just have to spend a little more time with our FJ and RTT.

And then we received the phone call!! Our XP would be completed by the end of the week! We received the call when we were in Astoria, OR so we made a quick U-turn to drive back to California and pick up our XP. We would only have 14 days to make sure that everything was in working order before getting onto the Alaska ferry but no more living out of a tent!!

We still had a long day ahead of us to get to Grass Valley, CA and pick up our XP Camper. There were more than 400 miles between our campsite and Grass Valley, CA, our destination for the end of the day. Fortunately, the miles were beautiful, driving through the Avenue of the Giants along highway 20. The smell of the redwoods brought back memories of mountain biking with friends through the Santa Cruz mountains in California. DSC04424

We stopped at a picnic area along what was once a river but now is a wide rock bed with a narrow stream of water that might be called a creek. Then later in the evening we had a very nice dinner at the Blue Wing Cafe in Upper Lake, California. We were surprised to see this cute little town just north of Clear Lake. We were expecting to find a run down little town for the seasonal angler and instead we found a cute renovated historic area. Our next stop would be the Holbrook Hotel in Grass Valley. We didn’t arrive until well past midnight. Although it was a long day of driving, I had a hard time sleeping. I felt like a little kid on Christmas Eve wondering what grand present Santa had waiting for me under the Christmas Tree!

DSC04430

And then we finally got to see our new home for the next year!! We arrived at XP in the early afternoon. Marc and the team were putting the final touches on our camper as we walked in. I couldn’t wait to get moved into our new home.

DSC04431

Finally we will have a place where I can cook a meal inside and place any leftovers in a real refrigerator! Actually, we have two refrigerators, one in the camper and one behind the driver’s seat in the cab. No more buying bags of ice and throwing away food because I couldn’t keep it cold enough. We have a wonderful little dining area at the rear of our camper where we can enjoy our meals in the comfort of the camper. And last but not at all least, we will have a wet bath! Although our storage capacity has almost doubled, Darryl is firm on keeping our gear at a minimum. No need to fill up every nook and cranny of the camper, and there are many!

Marc and Toni spent a couple of hours with us going over the details of the camper and how everything worked. Our plan for the day was to pick up the camper and then drive our XP Camper and FJ Cruiser to the Bay Area to do the big swap. Just before closing time, Marc was ready to move the truck out of the garage for us. He turned the ignition and nothing happened. We knew that there were issues with the battery but we thought that they had been replaced already. We already learned well before the beginning of our trip that things would not always go as planned and we would have to be patient with some of these curve balls. We waited for two new batteries to be installed and then drove to the Bay Area, a little later than expected, but we were so excited to have an awesome new home that our enthusiasm wouldn’t be dampened by a little battery issue!

“The best laid plans of mice and men often go astray” and that is what our journey has been but I wouldn’t change a thing! We have had and we are having an amazing adventure.

We have had the unique experience of living on the road in three different types of overland vehicles. We will document what has worked and hasn’t worked for us in each of these vehicles in later posts.

Western States Horse Expo – Sacramento

We didn’t expect to stop in California but we saw a sign, literally, that put Sacramento onto our trip itinerary. We were driving along I5 when we saw a billboard advertising that the Western States Horse Expo at the Cal Expo center would be in Sacramento the next day. We made a last minute decision to go to Sacramento for the night to attend the Expo. This would give me a chance to see a number of different horse breeds and talk with horse breeders, riders, and experts about what it really means to own a horse.

We went for the first day of the Expo and I attended a couple of seminars but the best part of the day was talking with the exhibitors at the Breed Revelation. I heard first hand from the breeders and owners about the characteristics of the specific breeds and why they chose their breed of preference. Before the Expo I was only familiar with the Quarter Horse, Clydesdale, Mules, Arabians and Mustangs but here I had a chance to see some new breeds that I’ve never heard of like the Halflinger,  Gypsy Vanner, Percheron, Peruvian Paso and Tennessee Walking Horse.

Here are some photos of the above breeds that were taken during their breed show events.

DSC03423
Mustangs!
DSC03427
Tennessee Walker
DSC03437
Gypsy Vanner
DSC03420
Peruvian Paso
DSC03408
Arabian
DSC03400
Highland Pony

There was an event called the Ultimate Super Horse where riders went through a series of challenges that were unfamiliar to the horse. The rider would demonstrate their control over the horse and the successful horse would navigate these challenges with little or no resistance. Below are a few photos of these challenges. Some examples of challenges not pictured include where a person with a bicycle would run with the bike weaving next to the horse and rider and another where a person dressed as a hiker would walk out in front of the horse waving their hat and making a wide gestures in front of the horse and rider. All of the riders that we saw made it through the stations but some horses were more hesitant than others to go through them all.

This Gypsy Vanner made it through the shiny / noisy junk obstacle just fine.
This Gypsy Vanner made it through the shiny / noisy junk obstacle just fine.

 

DSC03294
This Appaloosa was the best at this challenge where they had to walk side-ways with the pole between front and rear legs then walk backwards staying between the poles.
DSC03284
Here the horse had to walk through these scary pieces of foam.

Later in the day we watched the draft horses in action pulling wagons either individually or as teams. The Percherons were my favorites! Here is a video of a team of six galloping through the arena.

At the end of the day we spent some time talking with Lynn of the Gypsy Rose Ranch. The Gypsy Vanner captured my interest so much that I made plans with the breeder to stop by her ranch in Lodi, CA on our way through California later in the month.

Yosemite National Park

We only spent one day in Yosemite on this trip but we have been fortunate to have had the opportunity to spend many, many days in Yosemite over the years. Living in the Bay Area we were only about 4 hours from the park and we took advantage of the proximity to this valley. One of our first trips to Yosemite was to climb Half Dome during a full moon. That was an experience we’ll never forget. From the top of Half Dome we could see flickering embers of distant controlled burns and the valley glowed with the moonlit granite monoliths. It is one of my favorite memories of Yosemite. Our other favorite times to visit the valley is after a snow during Christmas or Thanksgiving when there are only a handful of tourists around. The park is transformed by the snow making it feel like your own little winter wonderland.

IMG 2384
This photo was taken on Dec 26, 2012

On this visit we arrived just before midnight during the height of the tourist season which also meant that there were no campsites available. We didn’t have any reservations and the only place to stay in the valley was at Housekeeping Camp which was our most expensive campsite of the whole trip for a slab of cement, three walls covered by a tarp and a cot with no bedding to sleep on. It was the last place that I wanted to stay given that a few people contracted hantavirus from the accommodations. It’s a deadly virus spread by mouse droppings. I didn’t sleep well that night with dreams filled of mice climbing the walls and crawling on me.

We spent our day in the valley visiting Yosemite Falls and walking up to Lower Yosemite Falls. We watched a few people jumping off the bridge into the Merced River then relaxed near El Capitan. I was able to put my new binoculars to use by spotting climbers inching their way up the massive granite face. We’re pretty happy with the binoculars which I purchased at REI. I wanted something of a reasonable size that I could take on our hikes in Alaska in the hopes that I can spot some wildlife at a safe distance. We settled on the Nikon Monarch M511 8×42.

We left our favorite valley sometime in the late afternoon continuing toward Oregon via Sacramento, CA to Ashland, OR.

DSC03144
Parked outside our tent at Housekeeping Camp.
DSC03146
The rustic interior. 🙂
DSC03226
Climber on his way to El Capitan.
DSC03156
A view of Upper and Lower Yosemite Falls.
DSC03147
Hanging out at the base of Lower Yosemite Falls.
IMG 1652
Beautiful Half Dome
DSC03185
Sunlit butterfly on our walk along the Valley floor.
IMG 1677
Close-up of the Merced River.
DSC03216
Keeping cool in the waters of the Merced.
IMG 1687
Bridal Veil Falls blowing in the winds.
DSC03223
Shadows in the valley.

DSC03222

Mono Lake, California

After picking up my license from Crowley Lake we went back north to Mono Lake. This is just north of the junction of 120 and 395. It’s one of the bluest lakes that I’ve ever seen. Set against the backdrop of the barren eastern sierra makes the blues of the lake pop. Along its edges are tufas which are made of calcium-carbonate crusts.

There are brine shrimp and alkali flies that birds feast on during their transcontinental migration along the great flyway. It’s a magnet for photographers who arrive by the van loads to capture the landscape in the softer evening light. We left at about the time they arrived and didn’t capture the sunset. We still had a lot of driving ahead of us to get to Yosemite Valley and we still had to stop for dinner. Our time at Mono Lake was short but as always, it was a lovely way to spend the late afternoon.

IMG 1598

DSC03056

IMG 1607

DSC03097

IMG 1616

IMG 1619

DSC03129

IMG 1626

DSC03135

IMG 1632

Bodie…Our favorite Ghost Town

After Bishop we started our drive north on 395 toward Bodie. The plan was to buy me an annual fishing license since I purchased only a day license earlier.  Darryl already had an annual one knowing that he would want to fish later in the trip. After Crowley we would spend the night on the BLM land outside Mammoth. We stopped at Lake Crowley just long enough to purchase the license and take a few photos.

DSC 0895

We camped a few nights on the BLM land outside Mammoth last December during our trip to visit the hot springs. There are about 5 hot springs in the area and we visited all of them during that earlier trip. The hot springs didn’t sound as appealing in 100+ degree weather so we skipped them on this stop. The area is a popular place for campers considering the popularity of the hot springs which can get a little crowded at times but the views make it well worth it.

IMG 0906
This is a photo at Wild Willies hot tubs from our December-2013 trip.

This evening we were treated to a beautiful sunset with rainbows and storm clouds that threatened rain but never delivered.

DSC02897

DSC02871

The next day we stopped into Mammoth for breakfast then did laundry. After our morning of errands which included laundry and buying me my fishing pole and lures we found a little fishing spot along the Mammoth Creek so Darryl could give me a spinning lesson with my new pole. I managed to catch the weeds right next to me, the bushes across the river and a tree and then a brown trout! It was only abut 4 inches long so we tossed it back into the river to continue its journey.

DSC03036

After my fishing lesson we went to Bodie. We love this ghost town having visited it once before almost 15 years ago. We overheard a waitress describing Bodie to a customer a few nights earlier saying that it’s kinda boring and if you go, you might stay for about 20-30 minutes. Well, we were there for almost four hours! If you like history and taking photos of interesting scenery with beautiful backdrops, this is the place for you. If you don’t like that sort of thing then maybe skip this side trip. Bodie is a typical gold rush era town growing from a handful of people to over 10,000 in just one year. There were some interesting characters that lived here back in the day. The town’s reputation for lawlessness is evident from this quote from a child’s diary after learning she was moving to Bodie; “Goodbye God, I’m going to Bodie.”  Evidently the law did rule the business relationships when James Cain sued Standard Mine, the largest gold mining company in town, for drilling on his mine. He won the lawsuit and ended up owning the trespassing company when the resulting fines broke them.

You won’t find any services at Bodie except for a few porta potties. The state park service maintains the town in a “state of arrested decay” which I think means that they do the bare minimum to preserve the town’s structures. There are quite a few tourists that come through but not so many that they obstruct the photographs. It’s only about 30 minutes north of Mono Lake off of Hwy 395 up a well maintained dirt road. We recommend taking the time to make a short side trip if you like this sort of thing.

DSC 0769

DSC02911

DSC02926

DSC 0782

DSC02934

DSC02937

DSC02948

DSC 0817

DSC 0847

DSC02951

DSC 0874

DSC 0879

DSC02979

DSC02995

DSC03011

DSC03028

IMG 1587

On our way back from Bodie I noticed that I forgot my drivers license at Crowley Lake. So instead of camping at Mono Lake we headed back down to Bishop so that I could pick up my license the next morning. It’s a good thing we don’t have a set schedule!

Exploring new hobbies in Bishop

DSC02733
Welcome to Sunny and very, very, very dry California!

Now that we arrived in California, our next destination was Bishop, CA. We heard that Bishop was a nice town in the Eastern Sierra popular for its fly fishing and hot springs among other activities. We decided to stop through there on our way to Mono Lake, Bodie and Yosemite. Bishop is a small town with a lot of character and we fell in love with it! Our quick drive-by became a 5 day layover. Mammoth is a small town of about 8,000 people. The town lies within the Owen’s River Valley backed up against the mountains with nearby Mt. Whitney. Just the sort of place to spend a few days to get to know its character and the perfect spot for us to explore some new hobbies.

Photography is one of Darryl’s interests and he was familiar with the work of the late Galen and Barbara Rowell. Their studio is Mountain Light Photography gallery located in Bishop. They were able to capture moments that the majority of us with cameras never see.  There were stories alongside many of the photographs explaining how the photo was composed, the time of day and the inspiration. These photos didn’t come by chance, they were planned and their patience paid off. They traveled the world for their photography and we’re looking forward to seeing many of these places along our own journey.

Our time in Bishop turned into an experience of personal discovery for us where we indulged in our personal interests one of which is fly fishing. During the past year we started looking into the sport and in the fall of 2013, we spent a day with the late Bill Lowe of Sacramento, California. He was a fly fishing guide and a wonderful teacher of the sport. We had a great time on the American River where Bill taught us the fundamentals of fly fishing, casting, how to read the currents and a basic intro to entymology. The day piqued our interest enough to purchase the gear and put our very basic skills to the test as we travel.

Our next stop in Bishop was at the local fly shop to get recommendations for fly fishing guides in the area. We were fortunate to find Beryl Rhea of The Trout Scout and she was able to fit us into her schedule at the last minute. She took us up to Upper Intake 2 along Hwy 168 for an afternoon of fly fishing. I loved it! I even caught a few fish! Mine were small brown trout and rainbow trout but Darryl managed to catch a respectable size rainbow of about 4 pounds! We left all of our fish in the lake but came away from the afternoon with a heightened interest in learning more about this sport. We hope to have many more opportunities to practice fly fishing but we bought spinning reels if we actually want to have something to eat for dinner. 🙂

DEW w trout

Nancy w trout

IMG_1005

IMG_1007_2

In the spirit of exploring our interests, Darryl encouraged me to call on one of the many horse trainers in the area. Like many little girls, I was obsessed with horses when I was growing up. My dream was always to own a horse but I never pursued this dream. I had lots of excuses for not doing so like too much work and not enough time. Darryl pointed out that I don’t have these excuses anymore so why not reach out to really learn about what it means to be a horsewoman? I found a horse trainer, Linda of the Double L Ranch, and gave her a call fully expecting that she wouldn’t have time to answer my silly questions. To my surprise, she spoke with me for almost 20 minutes giving me some advice on how to pursue this dream while traveling! She also introduced me to the idea of owning a mule instead of a horse. I have never heard of such a thing and learned that mules are 15x smarter than a horse and are more sure-footed than horses on the trails. Mules also tend to establish a stronger bond with their owner than a horse does. This was all very intriguing to me.

We stopped by the Double L Ranch to see if she had time in the next couple of days to give me a riding lesson. She had time right then but I didn’t have the proper boots to wear. So instead, she spent the afternoon showing me how to groom and tack a horse and then had us stay to watch a riding lesson. She walked us through the basics of what she was looking for and what she was asking of the rider. It was a wonderful introduction into this world! But I really wanted to get onto a mule so she sent me to the local horse riding outfitter to buy some proper boots to wear and agreed to give me a lesson the following day. Here are some photos from the ranch.

IMG_1437

DSC_0437

DSC_0443

DSC_0534
They love their mules here!

The next day I arrived ready to start my lesson and Linda introduced me to Max, their champion mule. We thought that I would have a chance to ride him but he wasn’t very interested in being led to the riding area. Since this is uncommon behavior for him, Linda looked him over very closely and found that he had a sore on the back of his leg so we put him back and pulled out Jazz, a chestnut quarter horse.

Max the mule. Isn't he handsome!?
Max the mule. Isn’t he handsome!?
Cleaning Jazz's hooves before our riding lesson.
Cleaning Jazz’s hooves before our riding lesson.
Linda giving me a few pointers before we head out into the arena.
Linda giving me a few pointers before we head out into the arena.
Keep your head up and your eyes forward!
Keep your head up and your eyes forward!
Getting the hang of it. Look at that view!
Getting the hang of it. Look at that view!
Jazz enjoying her cool down after our lesson.
Jazz enjoying her cool down after our lesson.
Another beauty on the ranch. She was curious about Darryl's camera until the shutter clicked and the she bolted.
Another beauty on the ranch. She was curious about Darryl’s camera until the shutter clicked and the she bolted.

IMG_1509

After our time at the Double L Ranch we drove up into the mountains to cool off. We stopped to enjoy the view at Lake Sabrina.

DSC02736

DSC_0617

DSC_0588

DSC_0578

DSC02777Before leaving Bishop, we drove through Fish Slough to find the petroglyphs that we heard were out there. Darryl read about them but it was difficult to find any information on their exact location. It seems that there has been much vandalism to the petroglyphs. Vandals have written over them while others stole some of the pieces and in the process they destroyed some of the panels. He did find the coordinates for the petroglyphs which were on the main road out to Fish Slough.

IMG_1566

IMG_1558-1

IMG_1535-1

IMG_1526

IMG_1517
You can see the piece stolen from this boulder toward the front of it.

We had a wonderful time in Bishop and look forward to returning sometime soon after our trip. If you get a chance to go, check out the Burger Barn! We ate there twice while in town. The menu is a riff on the plain burger with dozens of options for your toppings. They get the fundamentals right starting with fresh food sourced locally and prepared well. It wasn’t anything fancy but oftentimes I find that fancy is overpriced and they under deliver. This place makes a reasonably priced meal that tastes great.

My dirty hippie sandwich - a veggie burger topped with bacon and cheese. So good!!
My dirty hippie sandwich – a veggie burger topped with bacon and cheese. So good!!