Oakhurst, California 4/16/16 – 4/23/16

Population = 3,074, latitude 37º19’, longitude 119º38’, elevation 2274 feet, average January low temperature = 25.9, Average July high temperature = 94, average sunny days = 266, annual snowfall = 1”, annual rainfall = 28.4”

The drive from Casita Springs to Oakhurst crosses a few different planets.  We started with glittering ocean and lush green valley in our rear view mirror.  Then we were climbing up mountains and the foliage was growing more sparse, with only scattered sprays of wildflowers dotting the sand.  After the long coast down the backside of the mountains, we were in farm country.  Vast fields of nut trees and strawberries and various other unidentified crops stretch in all directions.  Impressive but not very exciting.

Miles and miles of crops of some kind.

The towns pass by one after another as we cruise through the mostly flat San Joaquin Valley.  Finally, after Fresno, we start climbing again. The palms are gone now and it is getting to be mostly tall pines.  We are well into the foothills of the Sierra Nevada Mountains and the road is starting to take on the roller coaster feel of a mountain road.  We crest the last hill and see Oakhurst sprinkled across the valley below us.

Oakhurst lies in it’s valley leading into the Sierra Nevada mountains.

The next day is Sunday and, even though we are excited about seeing Yosemite, we decide to wait for a weekday when it is not so crowded.  Oakhurst, like many a small town, has a great community theater and we were lucky enough to catch the final performance of their “Shake” musical.  It is corny and schmaltzy and full of great old songs for us to sing along with.

The Golden Chain Community Theater belts out an old favorite.

The next day we go out exploring.  Since we missed the Sequoia National Forest, we don’t want to miss a chance to see some here.  On the map it looks easy enough to get to Nelder Grove.  On the mountain, it is a steep climb up convoluted roads, perched precariously on the side of cliffs.  When we get to the entrance, the gate is shut so we are on foot for the next half mile to the campgrounds.  From there, the trail through the huge pines take us a quarter mile to the Bull Buck Sequoia.  It is hard to get a photo of this monster that shows the scale.  The circumference at ground level is 100 feet.

The Bull Buck sequoia stands 246 feet.

The next day, we set off to see Yosemite.  The roads are every bit as winding and steep as Nelder Grove, but these go on and on forever and elevation signs notify the driver for every 1000 feet gained.  Suddenly the visitor comes to a mile-long tunnel.  At the tunnel exit lies the iconic spot for photos at Yosemite.  From here you can see El Capitan, Bridalveil Falls, and Half Dome, stunning in their size and majesty.

xtunnel - 9
The view from the end of the tunnel at Yosemite.

At the next stop we try to get closer to Bridalveil Falls.  We join the flow of people climbing into the fog and spray, hoping for a good photo.  Then we join the flow back to the parking lot, damp and laughing about climbing into all that spray.

Standing under Bridalveil, looking up into the spray.

There are too many things to see than there are hours in the day, so we blow through a lot of the viewing sites.  The ones we see are spectacular.  Soaring mountain vistas.  Gushing rivers.  Gigantic pine forests, fragrant with the perfume of freshly crushed pine needles underfoot.  Finally, as we make our way out of the park, we stop for one last photo from the Glacier Point Road.  From here, the floor of the valley lies about 3000 feet below and you can just see a few reflections from the Merced River below.

Rushing rivers roar down the mountains
One of the many waterfalls.
Sheer cliffs ring the Yosemite Valley
A view from the top, 3000 feet above the river.

Our last exploration into the area completes the scenic trifecta: first forest, then mountains, then lake.  We spend a very nice afternoon driving around Bass Lake.  It is not the biggest or bluest or anything, but it is still very scenic and restful.  And the ice cream at Miller’s Landing is worth the drive.

The view from the dam on Bass Lake

Oakhurst was a nice town to visit.  The local brewery and winery are both fun to visit make great libations.  The town has some good restaurants.  There are amazing scenic wonders nearby.  For me though, Oakhurst is a bit small and isolated.  I am looking for a bigger town, closer to airports and freeways.


Next up: Riding Highway 5


Casita Springs, California 4/9/6 – 4/6/16

Casita Springs is an unincorporated area located in the Ojai Valley, North of Ventura and South of Oak View and Ojai.  I was unable to find a population so I will guesstimate less than 500.  According to the residents, it is warmer than Ventura, as the ocean breezes do not have the same cooling effect here.   For my usual stats about climate, I will use nearby Oak View instead:  Average January low = 36.7, average July high = 90, sunny days = 277, rainfall = 21.2 inches, snowfall = 0.1 inches.

The road from San Diego to Ventura is freeway.  Maybe the signs say Interstate Highway, but, make no mistake, except for the patch of rugged scruff that is Fort Pendleton, this is ALL urban freeway, ALL jammed with traffic, ALL passing through connected large cities, and often stop and go.  When Google maps say 4 hours, that is “without traffic”.  Which would be never.  The most interesting thing about the trip is that it passes through so many places that have names we have seen on TV and in the movies.  And that sign on the hillside.

Passing through Los Angeles
The famous Hollywood sign, glimpsed from the freeway

Our rental for the week is a cozy 35 foot RV parked on a flower farm, Love House Dahlias.  Our neighbors are ducks, chickens, lizards, and Jackie the Horse.  There are gardens of vegetables and flowers, even a working greenhouse where Ann and Andy work their magic with dahlias.  The trees are tall and beautiful, the air is fresh and clean, the views of the valley and mountains are spectacular, the duck eggs an unexpected treat.

Our new home for the week
The gate of our little gated community on the flower farm

Our first foray into the area is to Ventura.  This is a city of about 100,000, bookended by ocean and mountains.  It has a compact, touristy downtown area with a plethora of great places to eat and drink.  Lots of breweries.  It also has a more suburban area to the Southeast with big box stores and malls.  The Ventura Promenade runs along the coastline, overlooking a rocky shore.  Big waves crash the rocks together for a very unusual sounding clatter.

Looking down on Ventura
The boardwalk in Ventura runs along the top of a rocky seawall.

Our next expedition is up the valley into Ojai.  This a quaint little town with a pretty town square, nestled into a deep valley, swaddled with green mountains wearing little cloud hats.  The shops are artsy and touristy.  The local promo directory has menus and coupons.  This is a great town for a casual stroll through the shops and galleries featuring things fun and funny, pretty and weird, practical and whimsical.  There is a great variety of foods, beers, and wines to be had.  Just past the downtown area is the Soule Park Golf Course, a beautifully landscapes course with spectacular views of the valley.  Evil bunkers and undulating greens add to the enjoyment / frustration of playing this gem.

A shopping arcade in Ojai
Teeing off on the first hole at Soule Park in Ojai

We took a day to do a scenic drive around the area.  Santa Ana Road wraps around Lake Casitas.  The lake has a big park on the North end for campers and RVs, but it is pay for play so we pass it by.  The lake is a reservoir but it is down by 45% due to years of drought. From the park, the road winds along the Western side of the valley.  It is spring here and the mountain sides are sprinkled with wild flowers of yellow and white and purple.  We find spots where everything grows; deciduous trees, pines, palms, and cactus, all jumbled together.

What is left of the Lake Casitas reservoir

Continuing down the valley, we come to Carpenteria, on the coast.  This is another cute little California town.  From the bustling farmers market you can see ocean to the South and Mountain to the North, framed by the tall palms that stand guard over the streets.  After a brewery stop for a pint and some pretzels, we are back on the road, headed for Ventura.  For all you America fans, yes, that is the Ventura Highway.  Just can’t get more scenic than that.

Downtown Carpenteria, facing the ocean
Ventura Highway in the sunshine…

Our last expedition was to Oxnard, just Southeast of Ventura.  Oxnard is a big sprawling city, without much of a downtown.  Mostly just generic suburb.  The beach here is all sand and very wide.  We admire the sand and surf and many boats in the marina, then head back.  Along the way there is, of course, another brewery and what is probably the best barbecued ribs we have had since Texas.

Oxnard has a really WIDE sandy beach
Did I mention the breweries?

We are loving the Southern California coast.  The weather is mild, the air is fresh and tasty with a dash of salt, the ocean and mountain views are drop dead gorgeous, the vegetation is lush and abundant with incredible variety.  But then there are all those taxes.  And real estate is ridiculously expensive.  And the freeways bulge with traffic like an old waitress’s varicose veins.  But maybe next time around, we will stay a month instead of a week.

Next up: Oakhurst, California

San Diego, California 4/2/16 – 4/9/16

From Alan

Population = 1,308,372 (part of the San Diego-Carlsbad Metro area with 3,299,521), latitude 32º42’, longitude 117º09’, elevation 26 feet, average January low temperature = 48, Average July high temperature = 75, average sunny days = 266, annual snowfall = 0”, annual rainfall = 10.2”

The road from Yuma to San Diego runs through a vast area of desert, then sand dunes, and then finally, mountains.  Climbing the East side of the mountains, the driver sees the signs – 1000 feet, 2000 feet, 3000 feet, 4000 feet – go past in rapid succession.  After the final peak, somewhere around 4400 feet, the descent begins and the scenery changes.  The green is beginning!  There are patches of trees, first pine, then deciduous, then palm.  There are valleys floored with meadows and forests.  The humidity rises.  The air becomes thick with the green glow of plants of every kind, growing profusely and enthusiastically down to the edge of Mother Pacific.

After months of desert, we rejoice in the greenery.
Just Nature showing off a little with a bird of paradise flower.

On Pacific Beach it is a beautiful sunny Saturday afternoon and the beach lovers are out in droves.  The boardwalk runs for miles and miles and the walkers, skateboarders, and bicyclists weave past one another with the casual ease of long practice.  For the college-aged beach worshiper, this is about as good as it gets.  This is the place to catch a wave, brown your buns, chug some beers, and flirt.  By mid-afternoon the many bars that line the boardwalk are stuffed like sardine cans with the young and tan and barely dressed, doing their mating dances.  Beer and hormones flow like the tide.

Saturday afternoon on Pacific Beach

We are sharing a rental with family, Jack and Penny, so it is a much bigger, nicer place than we would usually rent.  Our fourth floor condo is right on the boardwalk, a stone’s throw from the ocean.  Hours float lightly away as we sit out on the balcony, watching and listening to the waves rolling in.  The view is glorious, the people parade hilarious.  Occasionally we are treated to pods of dolphins playing just offshore.  Jet fighter gulls strafe our position while dour pelicans flap by in formation.

Facing North along the beach toward La Jolla

Our first foray into the depths of San Diego is to visit Brother Bill on Coronado Island.  Bill is Marylu’s brother and currently a Navy Chaplain, stationed aboard a carrier.  To get to Bill’s condo, we have to brave the freeway again and cross the Coronado bridge.  This engineering marvel was built long and curved and high enough so that Navy ships could slip under it.  Driving over it is like ascending the first hill on the roller coaster.  The driver sees two narrow lanes with sky on either side.  Gotta confess to being more than a little uneasy about the whole experience.

Crossing the Coronado Bridge. Don’t look down.

Our next trip into San Diego brings us to Balboa Park.  This is an enormous (1200 acres) swath of greenery, carved out of the surrounding city.  Within the park you will find 16 museums featuring everything from art to natural science to anthropology to railroads.  There are at least 17 gardens, formal and informal, lush with flowers and trees, imports and locals.  There are theaters, stadiums, a carousel, and a miniature railroad.  A large part of the park is the San Diego Zoo, which houses over 3,700 animals in an open-air, cageless environment.  To truly appreciate the scope of Balboa Park would take several days of dedicated exploration.

One of the many museums in Balboa Park
In the Museum of Man. Distant relative?

About a half a lifetime ago, I was a sailor with the Navy, stationed in San Diego.  I loved the city way back then, and still do today.  The constantly mild weather, the endless beaches, the awesome variety of trees and flowers.  The problem for me would be sharing the city and the freeways with some 3 million people.  At this point in my life, smaller cities are looking a lot more inviting.

Next stop: Casita Springs, CA

Sun City West, Arizona 3/20/16 – 3/31/16

From Alan

Population = 31,205 (part of the Phoenix Metro Area with 4,574,351), latitude 33º39’, longitude 112º21’, elevation 1,270 feet, average January low temperature = 33.9, Average July high temperature = 107, average sunny days = 292, annual snowfall = 0”, annual rainfall = 7.3”

The road from Durango winds steeply down from the mountains, down through the pine forests, down through the high desert, and finally down the Superstition Mountains into the Valley Of The Sun. We are back in the deep desert.  We cross bridges where, if there was water, it would be there.  Lawns are gravel and brick, dotted with cactus, palms and citrus trees.  The occasional patch of green grass front yard looks somehow out of place.

From mountains to desert, the road to Phoenix

After a brief stop in Scottsdale to see family, we are on the highway again, on our way to Sun City West.  On paper, that looks like about a half hour drive.  In practice, it is well over an hour.   The 101 loop seems to be the main route for everyone in the valley.  Weekend or weekday, the loop is constantly constipated, with 5 lanes of traffic doing the slow and crawl slog for miles and miles.

Driving the 101 loop around Phoenix

Sun City West was built in the 1970s, about 10 years after the original Sun City.  It was designed and built to be a retirement and snowbird community.  82.4% of the residents are over 65 and 98.71% are white.  There are no resident kids and no schools.  In the center of town, there are a few stores, a big Recreation Center, a library, and several churches.  The handout maps shows churches, not stores.  There are big box stores and national franchises all around SCW, but not many inside it.  It is it’s own little world and that, apparently, is how they like it here.  The residents can be seen buzzing around town in golf carts or large vehicles, avoiding the workers and visitors who are hauling ass past the old farts dawdling in the fast lane.

The Rec Center has pools, bowling, bocce ball, and a multitude of activities.

For our stay here, we are guests of Patrick and Susan, some old and dear friends from Minnesota.  They were renting a house and then bought one, so they have plenty of room for us.  The former owner left lots of odds and ends all over the house, so we are helping with some of the organizing and cleanup.  It is a nice, comfortable house with a patio that is perfect for hanging out, sipping a beer, and watching the birds in the cacti.

Our home in Sun City West

There is a lot to do in Phoenix.  There are museums, botanical gardens, zoos, concerts, theater, fine dining, and so on.  Maybe it is big city fatigue, or maybe it is just Sun City West rubbing off on us, but we spend most afternoons just lounging on our patio, watching the world drift by.  We play a little golf.  We could head into town, but it is at least an hour drive each way, so we usually don’t.

Golfing in Sun City West

When we do travel in the city, it is to visit friends and family.  Our friends Jan & Les are here in their 5th wheel RV.  It turns out that they have some spare tickets, so we run across town for a pre-season baseball game; Rockies vs Mariners at Salt River Field.  This is kind of a unique field in that the area past the home run fence is a grassy slope.  People bring blankets to lay on and watch the game.  The food is good and, if you look a little, you can find good beer.  Unfortunately, our favorites, the Rockies, get beat by 2 runs.

Play ball!

We do another road trip, back to Scottsdale to meet up with family, Dick & BC.  They have us meet them at Top Golf.  This is an amazing place.  It is a 3 level driving range, but each booth has an automatic ball feed and scoreboard.  The range has big targets like dartboards all over it.  Shots are scored by distance to target and closest to the middle of the target.  Chips embedded in the balls identify the ball and who scores what.  Great game!  I leave wishing I could have my own chipped golf balls so I could find more of them when I shank a shot into the weeds.

Marylu tees one up for big points

After the Top golf, we head downtown to see our friends Bill and Jim, from the old neighborhood back in Minnesota.  They live in an elegant townhouse in a nice, quiet part of Phoenix.  They are an easy walk away from the light rail and a short drive away from many fine restaurants.  I am more than a little surprised at all of the grass and trees here.  Not all of Phoenix is gravel, after all.

Lush green neighborhoods in Phoenix?

It is hard to stick a handle on this area.  Scottsdale is very tidy and cultured and has many fine shops and restaurants and golf courses.  Phoenix has a bustling downtown with many amenities, genteel neighborhoods, tough slums, and everything between.  Sun City West is, to my mind, lethargic and somewhat cloistered.  In other words, I guess there is something for everyone here.  For me though, all of that sand makes me miss the greenery of Minnesota.  And I don’t care what they say about dry heat, it is still damn hot!

Next up: San Diego