Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Grand Canyon Thanksgiving

When we started this traveling life, the one place we HAD to be, booked seriously far in advance, reserved even before we had bought the bus, was the Grand Canyon for Thanksgiving.  The plan was to meet our cousins there for dinner at the lodge Thanksgiving Day.  It shaped our whole route for the Fall.

Then, at the last moment disaster struck.  The cousins got sick and we abruptly became a party of two.  Oh well, the reservations were made, we'd been looking forward to it so we soldiered on without them.
Chloe on the South Rim

The Grand Canyon is beautiful.  Stunning.  No pictures can properly do it justice. It's just so indescribably... huge. Majestic. Breathtaking. Mind-boggling. Well it appears no words can do it justice either.

We've been there before but this was our first venture in an RV.  We stayed at the Trailer Village, full hookups that came with a daily family of elk wandering through the campgrounds.  Based on prior experience we weren't expecting to find much in the way of cell coverage, so it was a good week to disconnect and take a real week's vacation.
Elk in our campsite every morning. Chloe was not amused.
Thanksgiving dinner was at the El Toval, the lodge build by the railroad company, it seems every National Park has one of these amazing lodges. So far all the ones I've seen are stunning so we were really looking forward to the dinner, and it was fabulous. They don't take reservations which caused us some angst, but it worked out fine.
The dining room at the El Toval on Thanksgiving
The only downside to the week was the crowds.  Apparently all of Southern California and most of Arizona come to the South Rim of the Grand Canyon for Thanksgiving weekend so we struggled to find breathing room and ended up skipping the more popular areas of the park. That's OK we'd seen it before.  We found plenty to explore right around our campground and on the nearby bicycle path.

I'm grateful that Lance got the heater fixed before we arrived. The weather was sunny and warm in the day but downright cold at night.  We departed Monday after Thanksgiving, with a fierce and chilly wind that slapped at us all the way to Scottsdale. The Grand Canyon was our last stop within the comfort zone, from here on out we're truly without a plan. Without direction, but not rudderless.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Pioneertown, CA

We are still meandering South and East towards the Grand Canyon, our Thanksgiving destination.  We have some time, so we decided to spend a few days in Pioneertown on the way.

Lance and Chloe relaxing on Mane Street in Pioneertown
Pioneertown is an adorable Western village built for the purpose of movie-making in the 60's.  After the filming was done, why not just make it into a proper town?  It's easy to find, just 15 minutes NorthWest of Palm Springs, an easy drive from LA.

The bus and trailer in Pioneertown, we probably won't be needing the boats for a few days
There's an adorable little motel, a small downtown with dirt streets, wood sidewalks and buildings, live gunfights on the weekends, horses, goats and chickens, and anchoring it all is Pappy & Harriet's restaurant and bar.  During the summer months there's live music nearly every night. This time of year they are sold out far in advance as everyone comes out to enjoy the perfect weather.
Pappy & Harriet's Bar
Some friends came out to meet us and we all enjoyed the dusty little village for a few days. There's plenty of room to spare, endless dust and desert.  It gets pretty cold in the desert at night, I'm glad we have good heat in the RV.  Wait... on day 2 of 3 one of the heaters stopped working. Uh oh. Well... it's a fur pile on the bed then for this last cold night here, bring on both cats and the dog...

Stewie sharing the warmth on a cold desert morning

Friday, November 10, 2017

Hooray for Harvest Hosts

 This week we tried out two more Harvest Host locations: Vista Ranch and Cellars in Merced and Agua Dulce Winery in the Santa Clarita Mountains.

Harvest Hosts are farms, wineries, or museums that allow RVers to stay overnight on their grounds, generally for free, mostly all they want in return is for us to participate in whatever they're doing.  So far the three we've stayed with are all wineries, so the activity of the day is therefore wine tasting, buying snacks, and hanging out with the winery folks telling stories.  All are things we love to do so this is really working out for us.  At first glance staying at a Harvest Host location appeals to Lance's cheapskate nature, but in fact we find that we generally spend the same or more drinking and eating than we would spend on a comparable campsite and an evening's activity, which also works out just fine with me.

Settled in for the night at the Vista Ranch and Cellars in Merced
Occasionally there are power or water hookups, but mostly the parking is primitive dirt lots.  We have really been appreciating a little elbow room and an escape from the structure of a formal campground as sometimes it means there's a little room for Chloe to run.  At Vista Ranch and Cellars she made friends with their barn cat and was actually a little sad when we pulled away, whining at the window until she couldn't see her new friend any more.

As it turns out, our cousins are wine club members at Agua Dulce, and they were close enough and had some time to hang out.  Their dinner selection for the night: Le Chene which is a meaningful venue for them and was a tasty surprise for us.  The menu arrived on a chalk board, it's so fresh they don't even bother printing it on paper.

Sipping wine on the gazebo patio at Agua Dulce
Lance has been driving the bus this week, I'll take my turn starting tomorrow.  Tonight: wine, dine, and early to bed.

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Motorcycles, steak sandwiches, and dog drama

My foot is healing up nicely, so I finally felt ready for a ride. We unloaded the bikes and started following our noses.  Turning left out of Duck Island RV park we headed North on Highway 160 toward the historic town of Walnut Grove, sunlight reflecting off of the water on our left and wide open fields and vineyards on our right. We encountered perfect riding weather, no wind, which is a rarity out here, and temperatures in the mid-70's.

Tony's in Walnut Grove
After a short ride we came across Tony's, a block off the highway at the bottom of the levee. Lunch is served! 
The best steak sandwich 

After a cocktail in the bar it was over to the restaurant for the best steak sandwich I've ever had. This is what our new lifestyle is all about, finding these little jewels before they are all replaced with cookie-cutter chains. This area is fascinating to me, the history here seems near the surface, the old buildings in Walnut Grove and Locke with the Chinese and Japanese segregated (historically) on the east bank and the white folk on the west bank.  We passed some giant transmission towers, well over a thousand feet tall! From the look of them they can probably cover most of the Central Valley.  The levee roads aren't technically challenging but the view of the river and the old towns and drawbridges make up for it. 
Pausing for a quick break to admire the levee drawbridge 

After a relatively short ride (foot still not 100%) we headed back to Duck Island, where things got a little unpleasant. Due to what we assume is a very primitive booking system we were asked to move from our spot to a new spot midway through our stay. The new spot was literally two spaces away. Not a big deal, but there seemed to be a lot of confusion about who belonged where. Two days after our big 30 foot move we were awakened by shouting and cursing from our next door neighbor.  Apparently he had arrived home with his pitbull at 2am to find he was locked out of his 5th wheel.  He settled in for the night under the shelter of the front of the rig, with his dog off the leash. Come morning a particularly barky and unpleasant poodle rounds the corner on his morning walk and is immediately attacked by the pit. I think the poodle survived, they were able to separate them when the pit let go to get a better grip. To the park owners credit the pitbull's owner was asked to leave and animal control was called immediately. The fact that so many people travel  with their animals makes it so important to have them under control at all times.  Even Chloe the wonderdog has been known to get aggressive around smaller dogs occasionally, hence the leash.  

The Sacramento Delta region is worth a visit if only to see the gently decaying remnants of what it used to be. Oh, and a steak sandwich at Tony's in Walnut Grove is a must-experience.