Sunday, 25 December 2011

Nothing says Christmas Quite like Death Valley!

We finally managed to get CC back all in one piece! We were thrilled to be back on the road again with the knowledge that we'd be spending Christmas in our home.

From Sacramento we headed south then east through some flat arid land dotted with black cattle here and there. next we hit the rolling hills splendid in their simplicity as the sun cast magnificent shadows across their sensuous curves and nubbled grassy crevasses.

Suddenly we were in the rugged, cowboy-mountains of the Kern River Valley. As we climbed up to 2000 feet, we clung to the edge of another narrow road and looked down into the rubble-filled riverbed below. I wonder how many antelope, coyotes and cougars looked down on us from above?

We were on the road a record ten hours arriving at Boulder Creek RV Park in the dark. The sky was as dark and star filled as in the best of western movies. So many stars are visible, it is a challenge to pick out the common constellations that we see in northern Ontario.

The morning sun shone brightly across the sandy campsite and white desert, spotted with sage and tumble weeds reaching across to the mountains on the east. We have a majestic view of the rocky Alabama Hills and slightly snow topped Sierra Nevada Mountains to the west. Glorious!

Lone Pine, just down the road, is a small town with huge Hollywood fame. There are a few shops and inns that have the original western style buildings and some retro signs from the 50's and 60's. We toured the Lone Pine Movie Museum. It was a gem packed with over 100 movie posters, cowboy hats, boots and tooled and carved saddles. There were cowboy and indian children's books, toys and costumes. Remember the gun and holsters we all had as kids? A great 10 minute film summarized the movie history of the area. So many films and western TV series were filled in the area. The legends go back to the days of silent films like Fatty Arbuckle, the singing cowboys: Gene Autry and Roy Rogers and the classic cowboys  like John Wayne and the folks in Rawhide. We acquired a map to use when we drive out to the mountains which indicates the actual sites for movie shoots. We'll be touring the places where films such as:The Gunfighter,
Gunga Din, The Lone Ranger and How the West was Won.

We have a string of Christmas lights up in the RV and will have turkey pot pies for our Christmas dinner later. We have skyped around the world; Australia, Canada and England. Thank you for all your Christmas wishes. Best of the season to all and Happy 2012!

Saturday, 24 December 2011

California Quirks

Many pine trees here have sparse sets of needles but huge pine cones, larger than the Jolly Green Giant's hand!

Californians claim to be very "Green" but all their restrooms, even the scuzziest, provide paper toilet-seat covers!

Roadside stands sell Local Mandarin oranges and Imported Christmas trees!

California's taxes are sky high yet the state is almost bankrupt and they are closing huge numbers of state parks!
There are more cars in this state than any other yet the roads are the most broken down and in disrepair!
Also, the intersections are the most complex and confusing!

Many oak trees have tiny leaves about 2 inches long yet produce long acorns 3 to 5 inches in length!

We love the constant blue skies and variety of geography here from snowy mountains, to sand beaches to
rough and rocky shorelines to rolling green farm hills to rich vineyards to flat dry deserts to rocky jagged cowboy-mountains!  To appreciate the quirks is one of the many benefits of travel.

Sunday, 18 December 2011

Bah Humbug : Hail Tiny Tim

My broken foot has given me the opportunity to understand the saying "it takes one to know one". The first couple of weeks on crutches involved some foot pain but more distress in my shoulders, hip and hands from using the crutches. I was angry and felt somewhat sorry for myself as I suddenly could not do the things in my life that I took for granted. When I thought about the permanently handicapped folks or the many people who suffer from invisible illnesses, it put my temporary setback into perspective.

On crutches, I had doors slammed in my face, struggled getting in and out of public washrooms, juggled my crutches and rearranged furniture to raise my foot in restaurants and barely missed having my boot hit by bicycles and pedestrians. What I realized is that people with disabilities are often either invisible or ignored.

I know that none of my family and friends fall into the scrooge category. I want to wish you all a happy holiday and say thanks for helping all the "Tiny Tims'" out there!

Joy to the World!  Love from Caron, Chris & Dixie

Thursday, 15 December 2011

Golden in San Fran

We watched a couple of surfers scoot around a dolphin offshore at our campsite before we headed out for our second day. Driving along the coast we passed the zoo, some Dutch windmills, the gorgeous white sands of Ocean Beach, the Presidio grounds and rows of colourful homes packed closely together up and down the hills. Many houses are boxlike in design, we assume to withstand earthquakes. They are very picturesque painted in soft pastels: pink, turquoise, peach and milky-green next to colours of the desert: tan, brick, cream and olive. Drove across the famous Golden Gate Bridge; parked and walked back looking over the bay, across to the city on the hill, Alcatraz and the harbour dotted with saturday-sailboats.

After our bridge hike, we drove up the narrow, winding roads on the hills of  Golden Gate Recreation Area
and Presidio. There are a number of decaying military fortifications and empty soldier's quarters from the past. Ancient grooves in the rust and chocolate coloured cliffs looked like the rhythmic lines on a topographic map. The sun was heading closer to the Pacific so that the light conditions created a glow on the huge Norfolk and Sitca pine trees. A group of small deer, quite common all around the west coast, nibbled grass and watched with caution as I approached with my camera. The waves of San Francisco Bay crashed on the rocks below where a group of white seals casually lay about. Most spectacular was the full view of the Golden Gate Bridge spanning the harbour with its iconic strength.

Our third day at the bay was the most challenging for my broken foot. We hiked from the pier over some rambling steps up Telegraph Hill to Coit tower. Our climb wound past some great homes with porches looking out over the bay and gardens crammed with lavender, roses, holly, orange and lemon trees. I sat with Dixie while Chris went up the 210' art deco tower which provided "coit" the amazing view all around San Francisco. I chose to enjoy the amazing series of  floor to ceiling murals painted in the 1930's around the interior walls at the tower's base. They depict scenes of  life in California before the depression such as city scenes of markets and bakeries, farming in the valley and the old fishing docks."Coit" fabulous!

We wandered about the city, observing the intricate architectural details, amazing moldings and carved roundels, exterior staircases and great windows which are standard on all the old buildings whether they are  upper class apartments or battered old shops. Dixie enjoyed her first museum; a tour of Cable Car history and engineering. We walked through Chinatown, the Italian Sector and North Beach nightclub district. We again concluded that the best way to see a city is on foot.

Dixie was booked into the "Wags Dog & Cat Hotel" for our last day in San Fran. She loved her stay at the "high end" doggie day care. The place sold designer dog treats, toys, bedding and of course "fashions" in their shop and provided private rooms decked out like human-motel rooms with raised bed, floor mat. Sensible Dixie opted for the all day large dog play area.

After a relaxing breakfast at Fisherman's Wharf, Chris and I boarded the tour boat bound for Alcatraz. The day was very cold, windy and overcast; perfect for a prison break! The cell blocks, the yard and prison guard and their family residences are all decrepit: with peeling paint, rust, mold and crumbling bricks. We utilised the audio tour voiced by former guards and prisoners. Listening to their voices as we walked the cell blocks and looked through the bars and up at the three floors of cells it was easy to imagine the atmosphere at Alcatraz when the most despicable villains occupied the penitentiary. We prowled around for a couple of hours picturing the riots and cell breaks as well as the likes of Al Capone confined to his 6 'x 8'x 10' cell, small bed, shelf and toilet in the corner; enviously listening to the sounds of New Year's Celebrations drifting across the bay from San Fran and in through the bars. We must watch Clint Eastwood's "Escape from Alcatraz" soon and so should you!

Once off "the rock" we trekked down to California Street cable car up to a different part of town including Nob Hill, known for its elegant hotels including the gorgeous Mark Hopkins Hotel.(google it)
Rejuvenated with an authentic Italian lunch and continued our long walk about enjoying the sights and sounds. We could not resist one last cable car ride back into Union Square. Back in the car, Chris "Bullit" drove down the crazy series of hairpin turns of the infamous Lombard Street. He then raced up and down a few more streets...just because he could! Back at the RV we watched Steve McQueen peel through San Fran's streets in his famous "Bullit" high speed chase. It's a classic film worth a watch if you have not seen it in awhile.

Wednesday, 14 December 2011

Are ya goin to San Francisco?

Chris test-drove CC after its Freightliner repairs on Thursday December 8. Everything checked out so we hooked up the car and headed to San Francisco. We arrived during peak rush hour in the dark about
five pm.  Exciting to see the city, bridges and bay lit up and twinkling. Set up camp at the "Pacifica San Francisco RV Resort." We were situated on the edge of a cliff overlooking the ocean so it was time to open the windows and listen to the rhythm of the crashing waves again.

Headed directly to Fisherman's Wharf in the morning. Great views up the hills to the busy steep streets with Coit Tower crowning the top. Views over the bay showed Alcatraz, freighters, sailboats and fishing boats. Walked along the lane ways of shops and restaurants whose menu's bragged about their freshest crab, shrimp and seafood. Lots of Christmas decorations and lights juxtaposed with the palm trees and flowering bougainvillea. With temperatures over the 70 F. it is difficult for Canadians hard wired for cold and snow at Christmas to feel the holiday mood here.

It is often a challenge to find a place to eat when we have Dixie with us. We lucked out at "Bubba Gump's Shrimp Restaurant" of  Forrest Gump fame. The staff set up a table for us outside even though they did not formally have a patio. We relaxed in the sunshine sipping our beers and munching on shrimp tacos while Dixie lay at our feet. Star treatment by far!

When Dixie got tired we gave her dinner and set her up to nap in the car. As she went to dreamland, we went on a cable car ride uptown. I needed to sit with my booted foot but Chris stood up and "hung out" in true, San Fran tourist style. The ride was exhilarating, bumpy, loud and with the oil and burning brakes; smelly. The cable car afforded amazing views down the steep roads; across at the retro signage on restaurants, shops and laundrettes and up to views of the intricate architectural details above our heads.

The shopping courts were lit up with Christmas decorations and Macy's forty or so windows held huge wreaths with red bows and sparkling white lights. People were out strolling, shopping, or heading home from work. There are a number of "unemployed citizens" all over San Fran some asleep on the sidewalk, others more memorable: a young talented gal singing carols; a proud bodybuilder wearing only jeans and boots and flexing his shoulders and six-pack for all to admire (while passers-by wore coats, scarves and gloves); a guy in a body suit with over sized bones and skull poorly glued onto it dancing to African music for donations and a dude who crouched on the edge of the sidewalk behind a handheld green bush and jumped out at unsuspecting passersby. He succeeded in freaking out Dixie! That was for you Candace!

Rode the "clanging" trolley back down to the wharf, picked up Dixie and wandered along the piers again with its old and new neon creating a totally different atmosphere than our earlier in the day. Shared a mammoth fish and slaw dinner at a picnic bench outside the famous Sally's Fishwich shop.

Sunday, 4 December 2011

Pets Smart. Humans; not so much!

We are currently staying near Sacramento in order to have the work completed on CC that was left
undone in Eugene, Oregon. We've been in a hotel and taking daily drives to check out the area. I had my foot x-rayed and found out that I had broken all my metatarsals in my right foot, not a single bone as the
first doctor told me two weeks ago. Good news shows that the bones are knitting satisfactorily so I can now lose the crutches and begin walking on my "boot". Hobbled around the very quaint town of Auburn tastefully decked out for Christmas. Picked up some clementines from a local orchard and sampled the taste and fragrance of the season.

For those of you who do not have pets, I will educate you briefly on flea and heart worm medication. A few drops of liquid meds are applied to the back of the neck of dog or cat. They are used monthly to prevent any attack of the above mentioned nasties. We purchased enough of all Dixie's meds for our trip to avoid hassles later. Chris and I spent a week looking in every conceivable nook and cranny to discover where we may have stored her meds. You see where this is going.....

We needed to purchase more drops so we stopped at a Pet Smart store. Just inside the door was an
Advantage display with various combinations of drops for cats and dogs. The combo we needed was not on the rack and a salesclerk directed us to the veterinary counter. Because the meds involve a heart component, the dog needs to be healthy. We keep all Dixies' papers on board CC and did not expect to need them for a pop-in purchase. We did need them; so had to call Canada and have them faxed. Dixie
needed a full $30.00 vet check-up before the drops could be prescribed. The exam went ahead and at the end of it, the Vet....wait for it..............told us that Petsmart did not carry Advantage products because of some "political" management battle. You may recall my mentioning our perusal of the Advantage products when we first entered Petsmart!?! The vet technician phoned around to find a vet where Dixie could have a second checkup and get her meds. We spent over ninety minutes waiting at Petsmart for Dixie to be approved for a medication that Petsmart did not sell!?!

At this point we had been in Petsmart for almost two hours and I'd made an appointment to have Dixie washed and have her nails clipped. Now, our second vet appointment would interfere with the time set for Dixie's grooming. We requested a quick service where they could forgo the drying and brushing. A two hour appointment was now going to be completed in twenty minuteswith half the work for the groomers. We were charged an extra $11.00 for that!?!

Our fourth hour was spent at vet #2 and I'm happy to say that Dixie is now Protected!
Ok, so a blogger's gotta vent now and then.  Have you had any satisfying customer service lately?

Four Hour Roller Coaster Ride!

We had heard that California Highway One along the coast was a wild ride and it did not disappoint! Chris maintained that the trip was fun as he skillfully manoeuvred the triple s-curves, hairpin turns, and cliff-hanger
corners and the constant changes in elevation. With my clenched heart and knotted stomach, I'm not sure fun would be my adjective of choice. The scenery was spectacular and every view seemed more impressive as we rounded each bend. The Pacific's waves were easily 15-20' high and pitched up dazzling white spray when they crashed ashore or against the apartment sized rocks just off shore. Some cliffs blushed red and orange  against the bold blue sky. We moved quickly from sun to haze and mist. Lacey, pale green moss hung from the branches of many Sitca Spruce as if they've been "tinselled" for Christmas. Strong winds have
sculpted a variety of trees into the unusual reminiscent of Dr.Seuss.

Often driving at sky level, above the cliff tops we were driving at the same height as 'California Condors" Two or three of them would appear just above or beside our windows gliding easy on the wind's up drafts.

The landscape suddenly changed to bright green rolling hills. Ranches stretched for miles and cattle wandered everywhere, some to the highest elevations. Luckily we did not come upon any but there were
highway signs warning drivers to watch out for cattle on the road, as if the roads were not treacherous enough. Passed a few smaller scale dairy farms and many goat herds perhaps being raised for their milk too.

Vineyards were next. Napa Valley winery estates were gated with ornate iron, massive hedges of roses, flowering shrubs of fuchsia and orange and well tended palm trees. The vines' fall foliage rambled in yellows, deep oranges and wine-reds. Carpets of brilliant green grass between the rows contrasted starkly with the leaves. "Backstage" were rounded rolling highlands decked out in muted tones of fawn and sage.

Settled in Canyon Creek Rv Campground, we were most ready to relax and savour the memories of our awe-inspiring day. With a view of palm trees and prickly pear cactus just outside CC, we made a special toast to the coast!