California Cruisin’ with the Islanders

After leaving the Paso Robles area, we travelled towards the coast and toured through Carmel-by-the-Sea.  The town was just as good as we remembered it from our last visit 8 years ago.  Carmel is known for a couple of things – its one-time mayor Clint Eastwood and being one of the most dog friendly towns in America.  It was great but being the weekend (and nice weather) we had to move on to find accommodations.

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We left Carmel early in the afternoon and began what became a 4-hour odyssey of frustration through 5 State Parks.  By now you’re probably aware that we have a love-hate relationship with California SPs.  We love the scenic locations along the coast but hate how badly mismanaged and costly they are.  The first 4 SPs we checked out were either non-staffed and difficult to determine the reserved sites, seasonally closed for camping, partially closed and fully reserved or just plain full up (despite having several empty sites).

It was getting late in the day so we decided to move inland into Big Basin Redwoods State Park.  Once again, despite passing several camping areas, it was hard to figure out which ones were open and which ones were closed.  We were finally directed to the Park Headquarters – deep in the redwood forest – to register, which we did, only to be sent all the way back to the campground we were just at (with no self-registration booth).  Stupid.

But here’s the crazy part.  While booking a site, the young officious Park Ranger dutifully went through all the rules and regulations associated with the park, including asking us if we could ‘summarize’ for him all the dog restrictions.  By this point in the day, it was all we could do not to tell the irritating punk to F-off.  And finally, before handing over the tag, the pimply-faced ranger asked if we were aware of the park’s ‘Crumb Clean Commitment’ policy.  The what?  Nope, never heard of it.  He then went into a 5-minute sermon on the plight of the Marbled Murrelet, an endangered seabird that inhabits the park.  When he finally finished, we were obliged to sign a ‘commitment form’ and told there would be an $875 fine if we left ANY garbage of food scraps behind.  Only in California…  Gee, imagine how nervous parents camping with toddlers would be when they stay at this frigging place.  ‘For God’s sake Tommy, eat that s’more over your plate or we’ll miss the rent payment!’

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We got up early the next day, sanitized our site, and moved North to the Napa Valley to meet our Vancouver Island friends: Andy and Liz (and Bella the dog) along with Bonnie and Dewi (and Sion the son).   This time we found a good county park to camp in that was more or less rule-free.  In fact, Putah Creek State Wildlife Area had about 40 resident peacocks roaming through the campground and you could drop all the crumbs you wanted…

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Andy, Liz and Bella arrived a day early and met us at the county park.  It took them longer than expected to set up because Andy thought something was wrong with the electrical hookup to his trailer.   He was using a hair dryer to test for power and later discovered he was using the wrong button (hi/lo instead of on/off).  We suggested in the future he should use an appliance he’s more operationally familiar with…

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The next day we stopped for lunch in the town of Winters, then carried on to Bothe-Napa State Park to meet the rest of the gang.  This was a much better state park with great hiking trails for dog walking and lots of free wood (despite signs to the contrary).  The reason for staging here was to attend an exclusive private tour at the nearby Rudd Winery, which Andy had arranged.

That evening, we finally met up with Bonnie and Dewi and their son Sion.  Dewi, a giant of a man who can best be described as a blue-gray Welsh version of Shrek, was thirsty from the long drive down.

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Bonnie had reserved a yurt, which turned out to be great except for the omnipresent rules associated with California State Parks.  After Dewi scanned the yurt’s regulations binder, the bed bouncing dogs were informed of Rule no. 1: no dogs in the yurts…

That night, Liz and Andy put on a surprise (because it’s a month early) birthday dinner for Mama Bear, who was pleasantly stunned.  Amazingly, Liz even made a special chocolate cake, which is always a feat when camping.

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We set off for the Rudd winery tour the next morning – it started off in the back patio section with a fine glass of Mt Veeder Estate Susan’s Blanc.  Gabriela our guide then walked us around the impressive vineyards, winery and caves.

We ended with a complimentary tasting in their lounge.  The 2 featured wines – the Oakville Estate Red ($225/bottle) and Samantha’s Cabernet Sauvignon ($175/bottle) – were definitely easy on the palette.  There’s no public tasting room at Rudd Winery but you can prearrange a tour, for $125/person…

While sampling their fine reds, Samantha Rudd arrived – a former student at Andy’s school – who after training and working in France is now the winery’s Vintner.  She was an impressive young lady.  We had a terrific tour and received/took souvenir Rudd chocolates, pens and napkins.

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After another fun night at the campground, Bonnie and Dewi departed to visit family while we teamed up with Andy, Liz and Bella for a tour up the northern California coast.  We drove along a very winding portion of Highway 1, then made our first stop at Salt Point State Park.   Following the advice of ‘Gerome’ the park staff who greeted us at the gate, we stayed in the lower level overflow lot with an incredible view of the ocean.  [Note: we soon after determined that Gerome was pretty weird on several fronts.  For example, while the Bear was sleeping on a lounge chair under a blanket, he rolled up in his broken down RV and informed us in his thick southern drawl ‘She’s gotta be on a leash.  She’s a predator and there’s lots of rabbits round here.’  That said, we made sure to stay on Gerome’s good side.]  But best of all, we had the place to ourselves and enjoyed watching several grey whales migrating along their 11,000 mile annual round trip journey from Baja to Alaska, moving at an average speed of 3 mph (a similar pace to Andy pulling his trailer on Highway 1).

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After 2 relaxing days at Salt Point, wet windy weather arrived so we carried on north along scenic Highway 1 through Mendocino, which was a cool little town.  [Here’s a tip if you visit, make sure not to play Kate and Anna McGarrigle’s ‘Talk to Me of Mendocino’ before you go or the damn song will be in your head all day.]  After stopping for the night a bit further North, we continued inland on Highway 101 with stops in Eureka (see Carson Mansion below) and then back along Highway 1 to the coast with a visit to Crescent City, which seemed a lot like being back in Nova Scotia again.

We decided to get into Oregon as another weather system was coming in and the state parks are way better than California’s (cheaper, friendlier and the sites have electricity and water).  Still travelling in a tandem convoy, we almost caused a rear-ender when Papa Bear slammed on the brakes after spotting a sausage shop in Grant’s Pass and veered off the road (fortunately Andy is such a slow driver).  Taylor’s Sausage, in business since 1924, was incredible.   We dined in then picked up several varieties of sausage along with some bacon-wrapped filet mignon steaks for dinner – everything was outstanding.

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We stayed at the Valley of the Rogue State Park, which was normal and nice with very convenient access off the I-5.  The following day, we all went into Medford to do some tax-free shopping (Oregon has no sales tax) but were delayed for an hour and a half on the Interstate when a semi-trailer less than half a mile ahead of us smashed into a barricade and ended up sideways blocking the freeway.  Fortunately no one died.

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While waiting, we heard from Bonnie and Dewi who were again heading north and were coincidentally nearby.  After a flurry of texts, we coordinated to meet for dinner back at the campground.  It was another good night of eating and drinking.

So after 10 fun-filled days, we said goodbye to the Islanders and are now undergoing a full-blown detox.  Thanks for all the memories, laughs and liver damage!

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