28 August 2012

Sequoia National Park, CA

Even though it was summer, the weather in Sequoia was really pleasant. The only time we felt hot was when we walked down to the General Sherman tree which has a paved pathway in the sun, and when you go down, inevitably you have to come up! Sequoia is just over 6,000ft in altitude. While most people come here for the trees and we did too, but bears were also on our agenda. 

black bear and cub

The first morning out we took the bus shuttle up to Crescent Meadow. After about 15 minutes Lindsay heard some rustling up on the hill above the trail we were on. There were a sow and her cub eating the seeds from the big pine cones. We stood there for quite a while taking photos, she wasn't worried about us at all. Like Yosemite, this was the only sighting we had. We went out on trails a few more times, walking in Sequoia is lovely, there are lots of trails and most of them are in the shade. We camped at Lodgepole campground which was definitely the right one to be in. I had booked our site a month before hand, and then moved the dates a few days beforehand. Lucky that we didn't just roll up as they were completely booked out the first night we were there. I really enjoyed the walk around the Big Trees as you learned so much about the park and the trees themselves.

giant sequoia
Well six months has passed and home we had to go. It was a great trip and we really enjoyed it. I have learned so much about this country. Even books and movies are more enjoyable as I understand what or where they are talking about.

20 August 2012

Painted Ladies and cable cars

San Francisco, CA

Camping wasn't an option really for San Francisco, and we didn't want to stay in a hotel, so I organised a room through Airbnb. We stayed in Bernal Heights in a lovely house on a street that is a staircase! Public transport wasn't very far away so we were able to take the bus into the city everyday to anywhere we wanted to go. We visited all the main tourist spots - Alcatraz, Chinatown, Little Italy, the Wharf, the painted ladies, the Golden Gate bridge and rode the cable car of course. Often we would change into shorts and a t-shirt as it would be quite warm at our house, but in the city it would be freezing because of a cold wind. Just when we thought we had worked out the bus system, it would throw us another curly, such as the inbound and outbound would go on different routes because of one way streets. We certainly did a lot of walking up a lot of hills, you wouldn't need a gym membership in this city!

Golden Gate Bridge
the Painted Ladies 
Cable car

Alcatraz cell
Alcatraz is named after what the first Spanish explorer called San Francisco Bay - La Isla de los Alcatraces - the island of the pelicans. It's a cold and windy place even in the middle of summer. What a depression, horrible place to be - as an inmate way back then or to even work here today.

25 July 2012

Oregon Coast, OR

Next stop – Oregon. We had heard that the Oregon coast was really nice but again we encountered fog and someone had turned off the heating. I found a lovely spot to the east of Brookings, which isn't on the beach, which meant it was warmer - Alfred Loeb State Park. We hadn't been there half an hour when a lovely couple from north of Napa Valley invited us to dinner. Americans are so hospitable. All the campgrounds in Oregon are really good. The sites are well laid out, there is shrubbery to give you some privacy from your neighbour, hot showers that you don't have to scrounge around looking for quarters for that also allow you to move more than a few inches in each direction! and clean restrooms. The weather is just perfect - not too hot, not too cold (unless you go on the beach), sun, blue skies and a slight breeze.

We moved up the coast and stayed at Humbug State Park and William Tugman State Park, both have trails close to the campground. Nehalem Bay has a the Beeswax shipwreck. The state park campgrounds are very busy on the weekends, and a couple of times there were signs saying they were booked out, but we would ask and they would still have one or two spots. Being in a small van helped as we could get into all the spots.

We have organised ourselves a bit more and have booked our accommodation in San Francisco and Sequoia NP and our tour of Alcatraz.

Highway overlook

Shipwreck at Nehalem Beach

Campgrounds along the coast
Alfred A Loeb SP $20 - nice, electric and water all sites, free hot showers, AT&T doesn't really work
Humbug Mountain SP $17 nice, unpowered site, but they do have powered ones in the middle
William Tugman SP $20 - nice, electric and water all sites, showers, AT&T works well, large sites
Sutton State Park $21 - no power. Wouldn't go there again.
South Beach $21, luke warm showers, very busy, large park
Fort Stevens $27. Crowded, no privacy, you have to walk through other campsites to get to the restrooms. 
Nehalem Bay $24. Nice, good showers, electric, AT&T works well, nice walk to the beach
Cape Lookout $19 + $8 booking fee. Horrible showers, no protection from the wind where we were, you would need a site away from the beach.
KOA RV Park Lincoln City - we had to book in as it was the weekend and the state parks are full. $37 for a tent site.

23 July 2012

Redwoods, CA

Heading up the 101 which runs a bit inland from the coast we came across the "Avenue of the Giants" drive where you drive through the spectacular redwood trees. We got the last spot at the Humboldt Redwoods State Park which was surrounded by ferns and tall trees. It was beautiful. 

view in front of our campsite, there is a road there but you can only tell when a car drives past
Our aim was to get to the Redwoods National Park which is further up the road and we had rung and they said they had plenty of sites. I think we were given the wrong number as the Elk Prairie campground was reservation only and booked out. 

There were sites at Mill Creek State Park and we got a lovely secluded site but the park is not really amongst the redwoods. Still in pursuit of better redwoods we headed north, they had three sites left at the Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park. I’m not quite sure what happened to the National Park, it seems to be melded in with the various State Parks. We got a site just as we wanted, nestled in amongst the redwoods. We had a short walk out the back of our campsite down to the Smith River which should have had a walkway over the river connecting it to the other side where all the walks were. It wasn’t there, so we drove around and did the Howard Hill Road road drive, doing a couple of walks along the way. We were advised to do the Boy Scout Trail which was 2.8 miles in, that’s 9kms return! I don’t think so. We drove down Miller's and did one of the walks there too. 

The following morning we went back again, it’s such a lovely drive, you would never get sick of it. We had seen a lot of cars parked at Stout Grove trail the day before so I wanted to have a look. It was a lovely walk with lots of ground ferns (that were so popular in the seventies) and tall redwoods. A number had fallen over exposing their massive root base. Oh, to be able to slice a bit off and polish it! This walk took you directly across the river from our campsite. But of course no walkway over the river. We thought we would do a little bit of the Scout trail and it all seemed to be the same and not as nice as the first one, so we were quite happy to abandon it. 

5 July 2012

California's West Coast

Los Angeles is quite foggy in June/July and the weather is quite cool compared to the interior of the state, so it's a welcomed relief. In the mornings we walk along the beach where lots of other people are surfing, walking, running or riding their bikes. During the weekends people play beach volleyball. The houses on the hill at the southern end of the beach look like Positano in Italy.

On one of our drives we went along Mulholland Drive/Hollywood to check out Hollywood, Beverly Hills, Rodeo Drive, and the Hollywood sign. When most people think of Hollywood, they are actually thinking of Beverly Hills. Rodeo Drive is in Beverly Hills, with lots of exclusive brand name shops. The traffic on the freeways is horrible, six lanes of fast moving mayhem.

Getty Museum
The Getty Museum is a private collection of pieces from all over the world. The museum is free but parking is $15.

From Pacific Palisades we headed to Malibu to catch up with a Klaus, our photography friend from Yellowstone. We had booked a site in advance at Point Magu which is so far the worst campsite we have encountered. It wasn't the campground I thought we were booking. We were lined up along the beachfront with no protection and horrible old rusting porta loos. When we came back from having dinner and the campground was locked!

Klaus took us to photograph Pelicans flying off the cliff
Finding a place to stay the next night was very difficult as it was the weekend. We ended up in a county campground in Ojay (pronounced oh-hi). The camp had been pretty much taken over by one family (extended) and their friends who come up every year on this weekend. They invited us to join them for dinner. It was the best BBQ beef we have ever eaten. Even though we were invited to dinner the next night too we decided to move on.

Santa Barbara is a beautiful town. Unfortunately there is only one RV park and it's not that nice, so we only stayed a night. The city has a really nice feel to it and the main street is lovely to walk down.

The West coast in summer is shrouded in fog, which was very disappointing. When the sea air hits the warm interior it fogs over and in the morning there is a fine mist. Not the most ideal conditions to be seeing the Big Sur. It would also be better to see it driving from north to south as the road heading north is on the far side of the cliff. We were surprised how much of the road is actually a little inland. We would have to find a campsite pretty early on in the day otherwise we might not find anything at all. It is extremely busy at this time of year because of school holidays and there are children (usually screaming children!) everywhere. We were pretty lucky often getting one of the last sites available. If the weather had been nicer, we would have taken more time travelling up the coast but sitting out under the damp overcast skies is not my kind of camping.

Hearst Castle is near San Simeon. There are a number of tours to take and we chose the most popular for first timers seeing the main rooms. It would have been nice if the kitchen had been included. It's nice but I wouldn't rave about it. I enjoyed the tour at Scotty's castle and the chateau's in France much more.

one of the small villas at Hearst Castle
Amazing tapestries on the wall
the outside swimming pool
the inside swimming pool 
He had his own private zoo here, but all the animals have been long gone. His parties were legendary with hollywood stars and politicians.

Just north of San Simeon are some resident elephant seals. They come back to the same beach every year. Apparently January and February is the time to see the babies.

Elephant Seal
Photographing from the walkway
We will have to the Big Sur another time, from north to south. Lindsay thinks the Great Ocean Road is much nicer as you are always on the cliff.

We had arranged to meet up with Yoshi whom we had also met in Yellowstone who lived in Watsonville.The big food bowl of America - they grow everything here and there are lots of places on the side of the road selling fruit and vegetables. He had said that he was going to Moss Landing that day which was also on our list as we had been told there were sea otters there. They are so cute, they swim, float, roll over in the water and have the cutest little faces. Yoshi took us to some of his favorite sites for wildlife near Santa Cruz, San Jose and Watsonville. We didn't see everything because of course the animals aren't just going to stay waiting for you. We did see a family of burrowing owls, some wood ducks, egrets and some grey bird with long legs! Unfortunately no coyote, barn owls or racoons.

Sea Otter

these burrowing owls were in a paddock next to eBay
We hadn't organised ourselves very well and we couldn't get the accommodation in San Francisco that we wanted at such short notice, so we decided to head north and come back on our return trip. Even as we drove over the Golden Gate Bridge, it was covered in fog.

We tried to get a spot in the Armstrong Redwoods Reserve but like a lot of Californian parks, the campground was closed due to funding. We heard last week that they had just found $52 million of unallocated funds. I'm sure the staff who have taken pay cuts or lost their jobs and the volunteers who get nothing would be very angry about this. A volunteer in the visitor centre recommended an RV campground nearby which was really good. The sites were well spread apart and there was lots of vegetation for shade and screening. That morning we were going to explore the Sonoma coast but it was drizzling, overcast and just miserable. Back at our campsite not far away, there was no drizzle or fog at all. So we decided to move inland slightly and explore the wine country.

Napa Valley, CA
Our friends from the night before had recommended Napa Valley and a few of the wineries, so we cut across to Calistoga. Bothe Napa Valley state forest is not far out of town which is really nice. We did a wine tasting and tour at Shrumberg. They make sparkling wines and we got to taste quite a few. Their most expensive sparklings are hand turned (riddled), and the poor riddler turns hundreds of bottles for four hours every day. 

I had read about some music in the park on Thursday nights, so we took our chairs, some wine and dip for a relaxing few hours. We asked someone if it was okay to drink alcohol in a park, they replied, "you are in the Napa Valley, of course it's alright, they are selling it here". 

The next day we had a trade tour at Domaine Chandon (thank you Ben and Julie) which was even better. Again lots of bubbles; I don't think you can have enough bubbles personally. I asked him why you get drunk more quickly on champagne. He said the carbon dioxide makes it go into your bloodstream quicker. No riddler's here, they have very big machines that do that by computer. 

Lindsay needed a chiropractor the next day so we went to St Helena. What a lovely town.