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Yipeeee!! We’re South of the Border

Traveling through Baja with an RV caravan. Beautiful beaches and deserts - can't wait to see what's around the next corner!

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Springtime Rituals

In March of 2008 we watched the Sandhill Cranes head out to breakfast at sunrise one very cold morning. They spend the nights roosting on submerged sandbars in the Platte River.

If you either live in Nebraska or are a birder, you have heard of the annual spring migration of the Sandhill Cranes.  It is an incredible sight to behold – huge flocks lifting from the Platte River with the morning light, forming flight lines criss-crossing the sky, and then settling down into the surrounding fields like blankets of fog.  And the noise!  They have so much to talk about – comparing wintering stories, their hopes for the summer, new found aches and pains, how the kids are so different nowadays.  Their unique voices combine into one loud, confusing, melodious banter.

A lesser known spring spectacle is the mating dance of the Prairie Chicken.  Maybe the reason fewer people know about it is because one state can not claim them as its own – the Prairie Chicken range is from northern Kansas and Colorado up through the Dakotas with a little side-step into Minnesota.  Also, their story is definitely not as romantic as that of the cranes.  The Sandhill Cranes winter in Texas, New Mexico, and Mexico and then all converge on the Platte for about a month to fatten up and hook up (if they have lost their mate over the winter), and then fly north to either Minnesota or the Arctic, depending on the subspecies.  They’ve been covering this same route for millions of years, even before the Platte River existed.  In contrast, the stubborn Prairie Chickens stay put, somehow surviving the bitter Great Plains winters.  And then, of course, there’s the name – Sandhill Crane vs. Prairie Chicken?!  How fair is that?

However, this normally indistinct, fat, little ground bird puts on quite a production every March.  And I had never seen it before.  Like with the Sandhill Cranes, I had to move away from my home state to want to come back to witness it.

The Prairie Chickens have specific criteria for their stage ,which is known as their “booming territory”.  They need a hill ridge with short grass that is at least a quarter of a mile from roads or power lines (not a problem in Nebraska).  My dad knows which ridges on our farm are good viewing areas.  So we put up a small camouflaged tent during the day in preparation for the sunset and then the sunrise performance.

Mitch went that evening but didn’t have much luck.  The prairie chickens congregated too far from the tent to get good photos and were spooked away by a hawk early on.  The next morning, before morning really, I headed out on my own.  Dad had told us that we should be in place and settled at least a half an hour before sunrise or sunset.  So by 6:30 am, temperature of 14 degrees, I was making my way through the cold darkness to the tent on the top of the ridge.

I crawled in the tent, situated myself with the blankets and my thermos of coffee, and waited…and waited.  Frost formed on the part of the blanket that was covering my legs.  My coffee was dwindling.  And then I heard a noise – it almost sounded like a kazoo, a flutter of wings, and then another kazoo.  Soon the kazoos surrounded the tent.  The show was beginning.

It was truly hilarious to watch and to hear.  The Prairie Chickens started flying in from all directions.  As soon as they landed, they looked around for someone to impress.  Their “booming” is a three note song that sounds almost like a bamboo flute but then it is punctuated occasionally with a louder, monkey-sounding call.  They inflate bright orange sacks at their throats as they are booming – the sacks are most inflated with the last note.  As their necks inflate, these two crazy feathers rise up from behind their heads and look like rabbit ears and their tail feathers stick straight up.  Then, when they are fully outfitted, they start to stamp their feet and sometimes take off running.  While all of the males are trying to out-do each other, the females are off on the sides of the ridges, completely ignoring them.

Mitch had to go out again that evening to see if they would land as close as they had for me.  They did, and he got some great photos!

The goats had just had babies and Sunny the cat was jealous that they were getting more attention than she was.

If they would only stay this size forever, Coastal Kayak would have a new mascot.

Roots

“…the one thing that can never be taken from us, even by death, is the love we give away before we go.”  Rev. Dr. Forrest Church

My sister would have been 41 on March 20th.  We spent the day with family and friends.  I wanted to give her some sort of present but I couldn’t think of a gift that could possibly represent everything she meant and continues to mean to me.  So we bought a maple tree that is supposed to have spectacular, long-lasting fall color and will grow to about 40 feet tall and we planted it north of the farmhouse.  Knowing my sister, she would have been thrilled to receive a tree as a birthday present.  May it grow big and tall so that her grandkids will, one day, swing from its branches.

Moab in the Rearview

We finally left Moab.  We stayed for nearly two weeks – very ungrasshopperish!  I’ll share just a few more photos.  Keep in mind though, even with Mitch’s great photography, the feeling of this place is nearly impossible to capture on film.  The vastness of the canyons and rock formations alongside delicate details such as the graceful swirl of a petrified sand dune combined with rocks colored orange, red, mustard, and Caribbean blue are things only the human eye can hope to comprehend.  Just go see for yourself!  (I am not a paid promoter for the Moab Chamber of Commerce!)

This is the famous Delicate Arch. That little dot on the far right of the photo is me. Known internationally to photographers as a sunset destination, we hiked out to it on a rainy afternoon thinking we might capture some interesting cloud formations. On our way out, the rain stopped and the blue sky peeked through some of the clouds. We almost had the place to ourselves!

Another spectacular sunset. This is Skyline Arch in Arches National Park.

One bonus to traveling during the winter!

Did I mention that the colors of the dirt and rock around here are crazy?!

We rode our bike to the Needles Overlook in the portion of Canyonlands National Park south of Moab. It was a great ride even though a lot of the road was covered with snow. We saw more bikers than cars on this 32 mile ride. Yeah!

The stories told by the gnarled, weathered old tree trunks are almost as interesting as those of the land.

My niece, nephew, and brother-in-law came out to visit us for a couple of days. It was so great to see them. They showed me a thing or two about bouldering. My 30 seconds on the rock had me wincing in pain for the next week!

On this particular bike ride Mitch was going so fast that his mustache blew right off his face!

Rain in Moab?!

Wind and water are the insane artists that created the unique canvas of the Moab region.  In our previous travels here we had experienced the wind part of the duo.  One time a camper in the same RV park as us was blown sideways on its jack stands and four telephone-pole-sized poles supporting a billboard were snapped in half like toothpicks.  We’ve been on bike rides here where we had to dodge tumbleweeds flying at us from all directions and even passing us like we weren’t moving.  The grit in these wind blasts becomes part of you – it’s in your hair, eyes, teeth, and water bottle.

Although this looks like molten lava it is just the color of the water after traveling over all of the red sandstone.

And although we’d heard stories of waterfalls cascading off of every cliff face and seen the evidence of violent and not-so-violent water events, we’d never actually seen it rain here – until this year.  And now it won’t stop!

Like the rest of the country, Moab has had a bizarre winter.  Locals say they’ve been covered in snow since November and have had more snow than even the old-timers can remember.  The combination of the snowmelt and the hit-or-miss downpours has made many of the trails here very messy.  Biking through wet clay is like riding through crunchy peanut butter.  We made that mistake once and will always try to avoid it now!

Road biking is still good, just a little cold and damp.  And the upside is that now we have seen what a little bit of water can do when it lands on a huge hunk of rock!

We rode our bikes along the Colorado River to a hotel, restaurant, winery called Red Cliffs Lodge. Even though the clouds threatened and somewhere up valley was getting wet, we stayed dry.

The damp weather in Moab has made for some conditions we have never seen here before such as fog. It was surreal to see the clouds and mist infiltrating the spires and arches of Arches National Park.

Back in Moab!

I am standing beneath Corona Arch appreciating the incredible view.

Ahhh!!  We’re back in Moab.  My wish for everyone is that they have at least one place that makes them breath a sign of relief every time they return to it.  We are lucky to have a few locations that just seem to click internally and Moab is definitely one of them.

We left San Francisco the day after Mitch’s symposium.  The thing about towing your home behind you is that you have to be vigilant about weather and road conditions ahead of you.  We had to get across the Sierra Nevadas and, although we have enough chains for both our truck and our trailer, we prefer not to have to use them.  So we had to get out before the storms started rolling in.

Somewhere beyond this glassy lake is the famous Bonneville Salt Flats. The historical marker stated that the fastest land speed recorded there so far (the sign was from the 70’s) was 622 mph.

Many people dread the drive on I-80 across Nevada and Utah but I think it is fascinating.  It is as if, without the watchful eyes of all of the millions of people in California, the earth and sky are finally free to do whatever crazy thing they feel like doing.   Clouds reach to the ground and set off dust devils with every patch of sunshine.  Barren mountains jut up a couple of thousand feet and then disappear abruptly into the flattest, sagebrush covered ground you can imagine.  Water becomes salt and salt becomes water indistinguishably.  One day when we have our 4wd self-contained, heavy duty RV we will return to this area and explore it thoroughly.

Moab is Mecca for outdoor enthusiasts.  Almost anything you could ever think of doing to raise your heart rate is possible here.  It is best known for mountain biking.  We didn’t bring our clunky, old mountain bikes with us so we’ll get to rent the new models with all the bells and whistles.  I have no doubt that it will be overkill for my abilities but it will be fun anyway!

Road biking is great in Moab, as well. The La Sal Mountains are the snow-capped peaks in the background of this photo.

This is another view of Corona Arch with a funky rock formation in the wall behind it.

Yet another arch on the trail to Corona Arch. At the base of this arch was a solution hole which drained to another solution hole. The plants here are amazing opportunists. A small aspen tree was growing in the base of the hole with just a hint of soil and even less moisture.

Golden Gate Kayak Symposium

Even with 50 mph winds and Tsunami waves, Mitch’s kayak symposium was a great success.  It was a beautiful location, literally at the base of the Golden Gate Bridge.  The kayakers took over the beach at Horseshoe Cove, a palette of primary colored boats and paddlers of all sizes milling about in orange and purple dry suits.  The kayakers that signed up for these classes are hardcore (water temp 50 degrees, air temp 50 degrees).  They were looking for conditions to push their skills and they definitely got them.  Mitch took advantage of the west coast venue to improve his rock garden paddling skills and had a great time.

Some more rock garden playing.

Some of Mitch’s fellow rock garden students.

Our good friend Rev. Bonnie Perry from Chicago attended the symposium also. It was great to see her!

 

I had great views of the San Francisco Bay from my hike.  Those tiny white dots are sailboats.  The bay was full of sailors, kite boarders, windsurfers, kayakers.  San Franciscans seem to really take advantage of their beautiful location.

Wildflowers of all colors and shapes covered the hills of the Marin Headlands. I had a strong urge, once I reached the top of this trail, to spread my arms open and spin around singing “The hills are alive…”

 

Pigeon Point

When we left Santa Cruz we thought we’d head up to Half Moon Bay for a couple of days before going on to San Francisco for Mitch’s kayak symposium.  But about 40 minutes outside of Santa Cruz we stumbled upon a private campground, a KOA actually, that was kind of in the middle of nowhere, relatively speaking, and decided to stay.  It turned out to be a great spot.

Pigeon Point Lighthouse, about 3 miles north of our campground.

The camping sites were fairly well spaced for a private campground and again, we could see the ocean from our site (if the campground hadn’t been mostly empty, we wouldn’t have had that luxury).  The bathroom/laundry facilities each had saunas and outdoor fireplaces.  The campground shared the property with a small lodge and so they also had a restaurant that served great local beer.

After unhooking we decided to explore up the coast and check out Half Moon Bay.  We really both wanted to see Mavericks.  A person would never just stumble upon Mavericks.  It isn’t signed.  Even when you get there, you are not really sure you are there.  You have to know when to turn off of the highway and then you drive through a very industrial-looking area and then make a couple of other unnatural turns.  Finally you see parking for a trailhead.  You walk close to a mile on a trail out to a beach and a headland with big doppler radar on top of it.  We saw a jetty that resembled the one showed over and over in the news clips and we saw a big sign that said the waves could be very dangerous.

Looking out over where the Mavericks surf competition is held.

Finally, we saw a rock with “Foo” carved into it (the name of the professional surfer killed here) and figured that it must be the spot.  The swell wasn’t big enough the day we went to have any organized waves so it was hard to envision what it must look like when it is working.  It looked like an extremely unforgiving piece of real estate, though.

Riding our bikes along Pacific Coast Highway.

The next day we biked from our campground up Pacific Coast Highway for about 10 miles and then turned inland 2 miles to a little town called Pescadero.  It was so cute!  We had a great lunch at the local market, bought some garlic/artichoke bread, and then went to a goat milk dairy just on the outskirts of town.  They had a dairy store open for sampling.  I absolutely love goat’s milk cheese.  Mitch hates it.  So I had a great time.  There were so many choices but I ended up getting a cranberry/walnut variety.

I’m standing in the doorway of the Harley Farms Goat Cheese tasting room trying to decide where to start.

This was a funky dining room above the tasting room. The dairy hosts “Farm Dinners” about once a month – $150 per person! That’s a lot of goat cheese!

We took a different road back to our campground which was a little bit of a risk since we forgot to bring a map with us.  But it worked out.  The road climbed and dipped and skirted a state park and then followed a creek through a beautiful forest until it ended about a mile north of our destination.

After our bike ride we went to the beach for sunset.  Can a day be more perfect?

Waves crashing over rocks at Gazo Beach.

Grasshopper Defined

In the RVing world, Mitch and I are grasshoppers.  Grasshoppers are the type of travelers who hop around constantly, stopping for just a day or two here and then a few days there.  We land, explore, eat and drink at local establishments, and then we take off to see what else there is down the road.  We rarely make reservations and, many times, we don’t even have a destination.

As with everything in life, there are pluses and minuses to this type of traveling.  Constantly hooking and unhooking the trailer, setting up and then dismantling, never knowing what to do with mail – all can get a little old.  Also, I’m sure we miss out on really soaking up the “vibe” of an area and meeting other travelers (we don’t usually spend any time in the campground).  Yet, for me, I can’t stand the thought that I might be missing out on something better.  It is kind of a sickness.  Not discontent yet never content, I’m always curious about what is around the next corner.  And we have stumbled upon a lot of great spots that we never would have found if we had mapped out our route ahead of time.

This trip, however, has been one of our less “grasshoppery” trips.  We stayed in New Orleans for five days, San Diego for an entire week, and finally, we just left Santa Cruz where we’d been for four whole days.  Four days is about perfect.  The week in San Diego got a little long for me.

We stayed in a campground just south of Santa Cruz called New Brighton State Beach.  The location was great – our spot was on a cliff that overlooked the beach.  We could hear the surf at night.

The view from our campsite at New Brighton State Beach.

This photo is from the cliffs above an area in Santa Crus called “Steamers”. It is directly across from the wharf. The day we were there the waves were lined up like lines of civil war infantry and the surfers were practically jumping off the cliffs to get to them.

Santa Cruz is much bigger than I thought it would be.  I was picturing a quaint beach town, but it is a full-fledged city.  The wharf area has an amusement park (why do people need amusement parks at beaches?  Aren’t the sand and waves enough?  Mission Beach in San Diego actually had a wave pool right beside the beach!!) and a casino.  People could pay to drive out on the pier where there were jewelry shops, and restaurants, and t-shirt shops.  It was just as easy to walk out, which we did.  The shops didn’t interest us but it was a great vantage point to watch the surfers.  I’ve never been able to actually watch a surfer catch a wave from above.

A local told us about a great paddling spot just a little south of Santa Cruz called Moss Landing that had something for everyone.  It is an inlet which is perfect for Mitch and me because I like flat water and he likes the waves and current.  We launched and then parted ways.  I went east, up Elkhorn Slough, and saw sea lions, mother and baby seals cuddled together,

sea otters floating on their backs while cracking shellfish over a rock placed on their stomachs, grebes, loons, ducks…  Mitch went west, out the inlet.  He caught a couple of waves, and then a huge wave caught him.  It tossed him like a javelin.  The nose of his boat jammed into the sand and he crashed hard.  He survived but his heavy-duty NDK Explorer didn’t.

This crack in the hull goes all the way around the boat, unfortunately. It also seems that the top and bottom of the boat have separated.

The day before we left we went on a great bike ride through Fort Ord Dunes State Park near Monterey.  It had been a military base and, similar to Cape Henlopen State Park near us in Delaware, had old ammunition bunkers built into the sand dunes.  The dunes were amazing.  Instead of sea oats like we are used to on the east coast, they are completely covered with ice plants blooming with hot pink and purple flowers.  From the top of the dunes we watched as paragliders floated past on the onshore breeze.  The trail from the park met up with another bike trail that went all the way into Monterey with more great views of the bay.  This coastline is simply incredible.

What We Do Once We Get “THERE”

This past December my college roommates and I had our inaugural “girl’s weekend”.  It was fantastic!  We hadn’t been together, in one room, for sixteen years.  And although we all have very different lives, it was so easy to reconnect.  My travels intrigued them and after talking a bit about past and future journeys, I noticed a confused look on the face of my driven, most ‘plugged-in’ friend.

“So…” she asked, tentatively, “What exactly do you do once you get there?”

It made me realize that not everyone gets this whole travel thing.  So with this blog, I hope to keep friends and family and any other politely curious spectators up-to-date with where we are, where we’re heading, and most importantly, what in the world we’re doing!

We left our base camp in northern Florida in mid-January and arrived in San Diego a few days ago, our third crossing of the continent towing our travel trailer.  One of the goals of our travels, along with seeing as much of our beautiful and diverse country as possible, is to find the ideal place to live.  Our perfect place would have the following:  be close to the coast so that Mitch can have his surf; close to trails for running, hiking, and biking; be a bike friendly community with paved trails and/or designated bike lanes; a population of 10,000 – 50,000 active, friendly, open-minded, forward-thinking, peaceful people; opportunities to see live theater and music; a couple of good micro-breweries; an artsy little shopping area; an interesting and well-preserved history; be comfortable enough in the wintertime to remain active outdoors; low cost of living; no strip malls or sprawling development; no pollution.  Does a place like this exist?  Probably not, but it is fun to search for it!

San Diego would have been very close to our ideal if we could have frozen it at the turn of the previous century.  But, as usual, we missed it!  I can’t help but wish that I was alive back then to see this incredible landscape without the homes and roads and unnaturally brown haze.  However, it is still a lot of fun to visit!

Paddling off of La Jolla has been the highlight so far. There are caves and cliffs and seals sunning themselves on rocks and a kelp forest gracefully waving in the swells.

Mitch checks out a La Jolla cave.

A Balboa Park street performer playing the didjeridu. He said that, although the didjeridu is an Australian Aboriginal wind instrument, he is not an Australian Aboriginal. He is from the Aboriginal tribe of "New Yorkers".

A person could spend a month or more wandering around Balboa Park and never get bored - every type of museum is represented, beautiful fountains, landscapes and gardens to explore, street performers, restaurants, shopping, and lots and lots of people watching. This photo is of an artisan's area of the park. We watched a glass blowing lesson and a Spanish guitar lesson here. These little shops are both studios and retail outlets for the artists.

Cabrillo National Monument was a great place to take in the view of the spellbinding California coast as well as the skyline of San Diego. The park sits on top Point Loma, a rocky peninsula forming the west entrance of San Diego Bay. It is famous for its tidal pools where, at low tide, visitors can spy on marine critters that survive in this specialized environment.