Raven and Chickadee

Navigation Menu

A Postcard From West Texas: Fort Davis, Marfa, & Alpine

A Postcard From West Texas: Fort Davis, Marfa, & Alpine

Posted by on Mar 12, 2018 in Gallery, Texas, Travel | 30 comments

There was a time when we dreaded the 800-mile slog across Texas, especially the desolate 550-mile stretch between El Paso and someplace we considered worth visiting—say, Austin or San Antonio.

But that was before we unearthed the gems of West Texas. There is beauty and peace in these wide open spaces, quirky towns scattered about, and interesting characters who call this far-flung region home. We cross Texas almost yearly in our travels from Oregon to Florida, and I’m happy to say we no longer dread the journey—in fact, we’ve found much that entices us to return.

Cruising down the highway in the company of tumbleweeds

In late December, we parked ourselves for a few days at Davis Mountains State Park. We’ve been here before and had good memories of the park and the surrounding little towns of Fort Davis, Marfa, and Alpine. This time, we had some serious winter weather, with temperatures dipping into the 20’s at night. But the days were sunny and bright, and we had a good time hiking and exploring Fort Davis and the nearby towns of Alpine and Marfa.

There are miles of beautiful trails at Davis Mountains State Park, most of them steep and rocky

The CCC boys were busy at Davis Mountains State Park in the 1930’s, including building this shelter overlooking Fort Davis

On the old CCC Trail to Fort Davis

Built of handmade adobe bricks, the Indian Lodge was one of the projects of the CCC and is still used as lodging for park guests

A brand new luxurious birding pavilion is a great place for morning coffee and birdwatching

Early morning birding at Davis Mountains State Park

A Ruby-crowned Kinglet arrives for a peanut butter breakfast

Fort Davis has survived as one of the finest examples of a frontier American Southwest military post. Active from the mid-to-late 1800’s, the army protected settlers, mail coaches, and traders en route between El Paso and San Antonio.

Many of the buildings have been restored (including a state-of-the-art frontier army hospital) and the excellent new visitor center presents stories of the settlers and the Apache and Comanche that called this land home.

On the trail overlooking Fort Davis

Fort Davis Officers Quarters

The newly renovated visitor center at Fort Davis

Apache Kiowa moccasins

Sunset in the Davis Mountains

Ten miles up a winding mountain road from the state park is the McDonald Observatory, one of the finest observatories in the world. These are some of the darkest, clearest night skies in the country.

Several years ago we attended a star program at the observatory; this time, we returned for a daytime tour that included seeing some of the enormous telescopes up close (including one of the most powerful telescopes in the world) and a real-time viewing of the sun.

Many of the scientific details from the tour have already escaped me, but I do remember the quote by Albert Einstein that was written in large script on the wall of one of the observatories: “The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all art and science.”

(Book your tickets for observatory tours ahead and book online. The tours often sell out, and the tickets are cheaper online.)

The sundial at McDonald Observatory

Witnessing the birth of stars in a faraway star nursery

The original McDonald Observatory, built in the 1930s

Bright shiny new observatory containing the powerful Hobby-Eberly Telescope

Explaining the inside workings of an enormous research telescope

Marfa, Texas

Marfa has definitely been “discovered” since we first visited back in 2012. The vibe now seems more hip and less quirky, but it’s still an interesting place to visit for a few hours, especially if you enjoy wandering and photography.

Founded in the early 1880s as a railroad water stop in the middle of nowhere, Marfa has become a haven for artists and urban escapees.

We were happy to see the Food Shark still in operation. On our first visit to Marfa, we were delighted by the delicious gourmet Mediterranean food offerings of the funky silver food truck. Five years later, the truck looks even more decrepit. But our Greek salads were fresh and tasty, made with organic greens, fresh herbs, feta from a local goat dairy, and homemade hummus. Another lesson in “do not judge by appearances.”

Marfa, Texas

The Presidio County Courthouse, built in 1886

An adobe church against the always cobalt skies in Marfa

In the courtyard of the historic El Paisano Hotel, circa 1930 (paisano means roadrunner)

The lobby of El Paisano Hotel decked out for the holidays

Checking out Spare Parts in downtown Marfa (a vintage Western wear store)

Local designer clothing and local poetry on the walls of Communitie Marfa

The Food Shark

Lunch in the funky courtyard of the Food Shark. The big bus is a dining car—a new addition to the Food Shark compound.

Alpine, Texas

The biggest town in Far West Texas, Alpine (population 6,000) is the jumping off point for Big Bend National Park. We spent a day in town exploring and stocking up at the excellent Blue Water Natural Foods store for our upcoming week in the national park.

While we were at it, we paid a visit to the small, very good, and free Museum of the Big Bend at Sul Ross University. And enjoyed an excellent lunch at Reata Cowboy Cuisine.

Downtown Alpine, Texas

Postcard murals in Alpine

Museum of the Big Bend on the campus of Sul Ross University

Inside the Museum of the Big Bend

A traveling shrine carried by Spanish missionaries

Reata Cowboy Cuisine in Alpine

Cowboy decor at Reata

Contender for the best Tortilla Chicken Soup we’ve ever had

About the campground:
Davis Mountains State Park was established as one of the first Texas State Parks, and it’s one of our favorites. The setting is beautiful, the night skies are wonderfully dark and star-filled, the sites are spacious, and there is a network of excellent hiking trails that range from easy to challenging. If you enjoy birding, you’ll appreciate this park. A couple of lovely birding pavilions provide a comfortable spot for watching the birds that come to the well-stocked feeders and water features.

Sites range from no-hookup to full-hookup, and there are bathhouses with hot showers and a dump station.There’s no cell service in the campground, but take the scenic drive to the top of the mountain overlooking Fort Davis and you’ll have excellent coverage. (The scenic drive is also a great place for sunset.)

A bonus is that Davis Mountains State Park is ideally located for exploring Fort Davis (a short trip down the mountain), the McDonald Observatory (about 10 miles up the mountain), Marfa (25 miles southwest) and Alpine (25 miles southeast).

Davis Mountains State Park Campground

Next Up: It’s Really Big, And Really Beautiful: Big Bend National Park

Read More

In Search Of The Starry-Eyed Man: Hueco Tanks State Park

In Search Of The Starry-Eyed Man: Hueco Tanks State Park

Posted by on Feb 27, 2018 in Gallery, Texas, Travel | 35 comments

In late December, we made our third trip in five years to Hueco Tanks State Park. This time, I was not leaving until we got to see the Starry-Eyed Man.

Located in a remote canyon 30 miles northeast of El Paso, the park contains a unique assortment of pictographs left behind by the ancient peoples who called this desert oasis home. Most pictographs are painted with red, brown, or black pigments, but the Starry-Eyed Man includes rare green pigments. Not only is it a cool image, the colors are remarkable. I had to see it for myself.

Hueco Tanks State Park protects one of the largest concentrations of Native American rock paintings in North America, as well as the largest number of painted masks. Once a stagecoach stop on the Butterfield Overland Mail Route, the park also contains thousands of inscriptions carved into rocks by visitors who passed this way in the mid-1800’s and early 1900’s.

Hueco Tanks State Park

This is the most tightly supervised park we’ve ever visited. And for good reason, since there are apparently a number of people with poor impulse control who feel the need to add their names to the rocks, including scratching graffiti into the ancient art.

Visitors are required to view a 15-minute video about the ancient peoples and the pictographs, in hopes that they will be inspired to protect the artwork.

The visitor center at Hueco Tanks State Park, once the home of rancher Silverio Escontrias

It’s a stark, yet ruggedly beautiful landscape

Only 70 people at a time can enter Hueco Tanks without a guide, and only North Mountain, one of the park’s three peaks, is open to self-guided exploration. But before you set foot on the trails, you need a permit—even if you’re camping in the park.

A word to the wise: Reserve a permit for North Mountain when you make your camping reservation. Otherwise, you’ll need to show up each morning before 8 a.m. at the ranger station to try for one of the 10 first-come-first-served permits.

Hueco Tanks is a renowned bouldering site, and people come from all over the world to practice clawing their way up the boulders with no equipment other than their hands and feet (and a thick crash pad below). Most of the people who come here are interested in bouldering, which leaves the trails wonderfully uncrowded.

Hueco Tanks has the reputation as one of the best places in the world for bouldering

On the trails at Hueco Tanks, part of the North Mountain area accessible without a guide

If you’re up for a bit of an adventure, ask for a map to Cave Kiva. (You’ll have to leave your driver’s license hostage.) The hike takes you up North Mountain to a hidden cave, where eight beautifully painted and remarkably well-preserved masks await. For the Jornada Mogollon, an agricultural people who lived here from 200 to 1450 A.D., the masks represented their ancestral spirits and acted as a bridge between the human and the spirit worlds.

The masks are magnificent, and we’ve made the journey to Cave Kiva all three times we’ve visited the park.

Hiking up North Mountain in search of Cave Kiva

The huecos were filled with water from recent rains

The stone alligator points the way to Cave Kiva

At the entrance to Cave Kiva

Eric always volunteers to go first (one of many reasons I love him)

Inside Cave Kiva, it’s light and spacious, and the mask pictographs are wonderful

Ancient Jornada Mogollon masks in Cave Kiva

This is one of our favorite masks

The easiest exit is to slide out on your back (the easiest way to enter the cave is sliding in on your belly)

Finding the path back down the mountain is always tricky

A Red-tailed Hawk observes our journey

The plaintive, melodious songs of Canyon Wrens can be heard echoing throughout the canyon

M.F. Wayland, a traveler passing through on July 25, 1884, left his mark

A camp cook from 1924 recorded his visit to Hueco Tanks

And now, the whole reason we returned to Hueco Tanks: Finding the Starry-Eyed Man. This pictograph, along with many others, can only be visited on a guided tour. Reservations for guided hikes must be made at least one week in advance. Tours are given Wednesday through Sunday, the cost is two dollars, and they’re excellent.

If you’re interested in this particular pictograph, be sure to request tour number two. Apparently, tour number one is the default tour, and while it’s interesting (we signed up for this tour on our first visit to the park), it won’t take you to what we think are far more unique pictographs.

In our three-hour tour of rock shelters and caves, we found some of the most memorable pictographs we’ve seen in our travels.

Exploring a cave on the West Mountain district with a guided tour

On the trails of the West Mountain district

An ancient stone grinding pit (for grains, beans, and seeds)

Photographing one of the many stylized masks on West Mountain (perhaps a rain deity?)

The dry climate and location of the masks help to preserve them (most are located in caves, or beneath rock overhangs, which protects them from the sun). Paints were made from ground minerals (ochre, carbon, and gypsum), bound together with animal fats and plant juices. Brushes were created from yucca fibers and human hair while reeds were sometimes used as a primitive airbrush technique.

The intricate, stylized work artwork is fascinating

A deer pictograph

Standing next to the White-Horned Dancer

The White-Horned Dancer

Approaching the Starry-Eyed Man

Gazing down at us from an eight-foot-high rock overhang, the Starry-Eyed Man was just as extraordinary as I had imagined.

The Starry-Eyed Man mask, with the unique green pigments rarely found in pictographs

About the campground:
Twenty sites are tucked into red rock boulders in Hueco Tanks Campground, with spectacular sunsets just about guaranteed. Water and 50-amp electric hookups; the park also offers showers, restrooms, and a dump station. The sites are level and spacious, most have ramadas with picnic tables. Verizon coverage is mostly good, but a bit bumpy. Reservations must be made by phone and are limited to three days.

If you’re camping at Hueco Tanks, be prepared to be locked in at night (you can leave in case of emergency). You must be back in the campground by 5 p.m. (might be a bit later in summer). I wasn’t kidding when I said this park is tightly controlled. But it’s worth it!

Campsite at Hueco Tanks State Park

A beautiful sunset from our campsite

Next Up: A Postcard From West Texas: Fort Davis, Alpine, And Marfa

Read More

A Wonderland Of Rocks: Chiricahua National Monument

A Wonderland Of Rocks: Chiricahua National Monument

Posted by on Feb 21, 2018 in Arizona, Gallery, Travel | 46 comments

We’ve been wanting to hike the trails in the Chiricahua National Monument for years. Known for its splendid assortment of hoodoos, balanced rocks, and spires, the monument is part of a sky island, an isolated mountain range that rises above the desert in the far southeastern corner of Arizona.

We planned three nights in Bonita Canyon Campground, deep in the heart of the canyon. We knew we were flirting with the likelihood of chilly nights in mid-December, but when we discovered that below freezing temperatures were forecast, we almost bailed on our plan. At the last minute, we decided to forge ahead. We are so glad we did.

Sure enough, the temperatures dipped into the low 20’s. With no hookups, we relied on our little auxiliary propane heater to keep us warm. Our hiking strategy didn’t turn out as planned when we awoke the second morning to find the road to the top of the canyon closed. Still, we got in plenty of hiking. And we spent a wonderful three days at Chiricahua National Monument.

If anything, the light dusting of snow added to the magic of the canyon.

A light dusting of snow greets us our third morning in Chiricahua National Monument

The park offers an assortment of trails that can be combined in many different configurations, depending on your time, energy, and desire. Most of the trails are clustered at the top of Bonita Canyon Drive. This spectacular scenic drive climbs from the visitor center to Massai Point, eight miles winding through a landscape of oak, juniper, and pine forests with stunning views of sculpted rocks and far-off mountain vistas.

Even if you don’t intend to hike, the scenic drive is well-worth taking. The views from Massai Point are outstanding.

Views from the Massai Point observation tower

As I mentioned earlier, we had a plan. With three nights in the park, we figured we had two full days for hiking all of the trails at the top of the canyon. Using the excellent map provided by the visitor center, we figured out our routes.

The first day worked out beautifully. The park has a convenient shuttle van that leaves from the visitor center at 9:00 a.m. and drops hikers at the Massai Point trailhead or Echo Point trailhead to make their way back down the canyon to the visitor center.

We chose the Massai Point trailhead, first hiking the gorgeous half-mile Massai Nature Trail, and then heading down the canyon via the Ed Riggs Trail, Mushroom Rock Trail, Inspiration Point Trail, Big Balanced Rock Trail, Heart of Rocks Loop, Sarah Deming Trail, and the Lower Rhyolite Canyon Trail back to the visitor center. All in all, nine miles of extraordinary beauty.

Our plan was to hike all of the trails in two days (it almost worked out!)

At the Massai Point Trailhead

The Civilian Conservation Corps observation tower at Massai Point

Scenic locater built by the CCC. So low-tech and so cool!

Unique rock formations on the Massai Nature Trail

Ready to begin the descent into the canyon

Pinnacles along the Ed Riggs Trail

Spires line the canyon on the Ed Riggs Trail

On the Mushroom Rock Trail

Mushroom Rock; (honestly, we kind of expected something more…extravagant)

Trails built by the CCC. Those guys worked hard!

The trail to Inspiration Point; the only flat trail in the entire 9 miles we hiked.

Inspiring views from Inspiration Point

Cochise Head from Inspiration Point, in honor of the Apache chief and the original inhabitants of this land (can you see his profile?)

A Mexican Jay joins us on the trail

On Big Balanced Rock Trail (but that’s not THE balanced rock)

That’s Big Balanced Rock! It weighs more than 1,000 pounds and stands 25 feet tall.

More big rocks on Big Balanced Rock Trail

Another view of Cochise Head from Big Balanced Rock Trail

Beginning the Heart of Rocks Loop Trail; this was the most difficult section of the hike

There were a ridiculous number of stone steps on the trail. It was exhausting!

Around every corner were fancifully named rock formations. Guess this one!

You got it right, didn’t you?

View from Heart of Rocks Loop Trail

Thor’s Hammer

Camel’s Head

Punch and Judy

Continuing down canyon on the Sarah Deming Trail

The Sarah Deming Trail is one of the most rugged sections of the trail

In Lower Rhyolite Canyon, ready to get back to the barn

We awoke our second morning to icy rain and the news that the road to the top of the canyon was closed. Alas! Our plans for hiking the 3.5 mile Echo Canyon Loop were dashed. Instead, we set out on the easy and flat 3.0 mile (round-trip) Silver Spur Faraway Trail, which took us from the campground to Faraway Ranch.

Along the way was a self-guided tour of the history of the monument, including the role the Civilian Conservation Corps played in making these remote mountains accessible in the 1930’s. Building roads, extensive trails, and creative signage, these guys did an outstanding job.

The CCC built all of the roads and trails in the monument—and made the signs creatively naming the rocks

The Silver Spur Faraway Trail, walking past a stone chimney leftover from the CCC days

Along the Silver Spur Trail on a very chilly morning

Faraway Ranch was the home of Swedish immigrants Neil and Emma Erickson, who settled here in 1888. In the 1920’s, their daughter Lillian and her husband Ed Riggs turned the home into a guest ranch for nature lovers, which was in operation until 1973. The family played an instrumental role in the creation of the national monument.

Faraway Ranch

The dining room at Faraway Ranch as it appeared during the guest-ranch era

On our last morning, we awoke to snow and the exciting news that the Bonita Canyon Drive was again open. We drove the scenic road to the top, hiked the nature trail again at Massai Point (it looked so different in the snow!), and had just enough time to do about a half-mile of the Echo Canyon Trail before turning around and heading back to pack up camp.

We need to return to finish that Echo Canyon Loop.

Massai Point on a snowy day

Views from Massai Point

The Nature Trail

Hoodoos dusted with snow

On the Echo Canyon Trail

Narrow passageways and big boulders

More beauty along the Echo Canyon Trail

About the campground:
If you have an RV smaller than 29 feet and don’t mind camping without hookups, this is the place to be! We loved our stay at Bonita Canyon Campground. With only 26 sites, reservations are essential if you want to score one of the larger sites. The campground has restrooms, but no showers. It’s quiet, dark at night, beautiful, and within walking distance of the visitor center and Faraway Ranch. No cell service, of course, but you might get random texts on the trail at the top of the canyon (that’s where we got a text from our RVing buddies Jodee and Bill: “Don’t forget to look for Cochise Head!”).

Our campsite in Bonita Canyon, Chiricahua National Monument

Up Next: In Search Of The Starry-Eyed Man: Hueco Tanks State Park

Read More

Family And Friends: San Diego To Tucson

Family And Friends: San Diego To Tucson

Posted by on Feb 13, 2018 in Arizona, California, Gallery, Travel | 32 comments

Bidding farewell to the Central Coast, our travels from San Diego to Tucson were a whirlwind tour of time with family and friends.

We were looking forward to seeing family in San Diego; when we discovered that no less than four of our favorite full-time RVing buddies were also in the area, our dance card filled up immediately. A week later, when we moved on to Tucson, we serendipitously met up with another favorite RVing duo and their trusty side-kick.

Four-and-a-half years ago, I never imagined the friendships that would blossom in our travels. Honestly, I secretly feared we might be lonely as we roamed the country. As it turns out, we’ve made many wonderful friends through our blog, as well as through fortuitous encounters on trails, in campgrounds, and during our yearly camp hosting gig on Lopez Island. One thing is for sure, meeting up with friends adds depth and camaraderie and a whole heck of a lot of fun to our travels.

We gathered with our RVing buddies for a delightful evening at Stone Brewing at Liberty Station in San Diego. What a great group of friends and fellow travelers! Hans and Lisa (Metamorphosis Road), Pam and John (Oh, the Places They Go!), LuAnn and Terry (Paint Your Landscape) and MonaLiza and Steve (Lowe’s Travels) showed up for an evening of reconnecting, sharing stories, and plenty of laughter. We didn’t get kicked out of the restaurant, so we apparently showed some restraint.

Liberty Station all decked out for the holidays (yep, this blog is far behind)

A very fun gathering of RVing friends and fellow bloggers at Stone Brewing, Liberty Station. Clockwise around the table: Hans, Eric, John, Steve, MonaLiza, Pam, Laurel, Lisa, LuAnn, Terry.

Dos Picos County Park, our home for the week while visiting San Diego

We always enjoy our time with Eric’s family in Poway (sister Penny, brother-in-law Tom, nephews, and families)

A great day of biking and fun with Pam and John along Mission Bay

Time for a lunch break on our bike ride

Meeting up with Terry and LuAnn for a beautiful day of hiking at Lake Poway

A delicious lunch and catching up at Stone Brewing in Escondido

At the top of Iron Mountain in Poway with Steve and MonaLiza

Lunch at Marinade on Main in Ramona; MonaLiza is happily anticipating that beer tasting

Moving on to Catalina State Park, a Tucson favorite

We’ve spent quite a bit of time in Tucson on previous visits. This visit was short, but we still managed to hike every day in Catalina State Park (one of the benefits of staying in the park). Fortuitously, just a few sites down were Sue, Dave, and Lewis (Beluga’s Excellent Adventure) and we had a great time sharing a happy hour, a birding hike, and a wonderful dinner out with them. More good times with good friends.

A very rude saguaro cactus

Happy hour with Sue and Dave—and Lewis, the butler

On the birding trail with Dave and Sue

A fabulous dinner at Vivace in Tucson. Go here if you find yourself in Tucson.

And of course, a few of our feathered friends:

A Phainopepla (what kind of a name is that? I liked it better when they were called “Silky Flycatchers”)

A Cactus Wren, always one of our favorites with their very big personalities

A Roadrunner, another of our perennial favorites

We saw a coatimundi on the trails at Catalina State Park! That was a surprise.

A Northern Flicker, isn’t that feather pattern gorgeous?

A sweet little Verdin, the first to show up when we put out our hummingbird feeder

A beautiful Broad-billed Hummingbird stops by for a drink

A Cooper’s Hawk on our picnic table; probably eyeing the little birds at our feeder :-(

Next Up: Hiking The Chiricahuas


Read More

The Central California Coast: Monterey, Morro Bay, & Ojai

The Central California Coast: Monterey, Morro Bay, & Ojai

Posted by on Feb 8, 2018 in California, Gallery, Travel | 36 comments

Idoubt there’s anyplace more alluring than the Central Coast of California. We’ve traveled sections of the coast many times, but there’s always something more to discover in this enchanting stretch of ruggedly beautiful landscapes and charming towns. There’s even a castle, which I thought might be weird, but turned out to be fascinating.

In early December, we returned to do several things that had been on our list for a while: Kayaking Elkhorn Slough near Monterey (with the hope of seeing sea otters), visiting Hearst Castle in San Simeon, and biking the trail between the idyllic hamlet of Ojai to the beach town of Ventura.

Adventures Near Monterey

A storybook cottage in Carmel-by-the-Sea (the locals just call it “Carmel”)

The charming La Bicyclette restaurant in downtown Carmel

A good way to start the day: Smoked salmon and vegetable crepe at La Bicyclette

Interesting rock formations at Point Lobos State Reserve

A windy day at Point Lobos; the color of the water here is always astonishing!

Brown Pelicans in their fancy breeding plumage

An American Crow dressed in basic black

Great Blue Heron doing yoga on the rocks

Famed Cannery Row, the setting of John Steinbeck’s novel of the same name, was once home to a booming sardine canning industry. It’s now paved with a plethora of t-shirt shops and other touristy things, most not of interest to us (with the exception of the Monterey Bay Aquarium, which is outstanding. But we’ve been before, and the lines during the holiday season were ridiculous, so we passed this time around).

A beautiful multi-use recreational trail follows the waterfront and we walked a couple miles of it, from Fisherman’s Wharf to Pacific Grove. Next time, we’ll bring our bikes and bike the entire 18-mile trail.

Cannery Row transitioned from sardines to tourists when the sardines went away

A fisherman’s mural overlooking Monterey Bay

A lovely little beach lined with seals near Pacific Grove

Paddling nearby Elkhorn Slough is one of the most fun kayak trips we’ve ever done. (If you don’t have a kayak, you can rent one at the Moss Landing Harbor.) The slough is home to an array of birds, seals, and best of all, a flotilla of sea otters. Swimming, playing, and diving for food, they surprised us and themselves each time they surfaced next to our kayak.

These guys could not possibly be cuter. They fish for scallops, crabs, sea urchins and other shellfish, then flip onto their backs to enjoy the feast. To break open a clam or scallop, they pound the crustacean on a favorite rock they carry tucked into an armpit pocket. As we paddled along the slough, the “chink-chink-chink” of rock on shell ricocheted across the water.

The experience was fantastic, but our photos of the otters were kind of pitiful. It’s really difficult to get good photos of fast moving critters from a bobbing kayak. But just a few days later, from dry land, we had the opportunity for more otter photography when we moved on to Morro Bay.

Paddling Elkhorn Slough

The picturesque wetlands at Elkhorn Slough

A mama and baby harbor seal watch us paddle by

An adorable sea otter pops up next to our kayak in Elkhorn Slough

For our explorations in and around Carmel, Monterey, and Elkhorn Slough, we stayed at Laguna Seca Recreation Area County Park. It’s an unusual campground, in that a raceway is a large part of the park. We’ve stayed there twice, and appreciated the proximity to the things we want to do and the reasonable cost for the area. Electric and water hook-ups, dark night skies, and if you ask for a site in the Chaparral Campground overlooking the valley (away from the racetrack), the views are wonderful.

Reservations are taken by phone at least one week in advance, and we make sure there are no races scheduled while we’re there (they know the schedule far ahead). Oh, and bring your own drinking/cooking water because the water has a high level of arsenic (don’t worry, just don’t drink it). There’s also a nearby shooting range. This campground just gets better and better, doesn’t it?? Seriously, it’s a good one.

Campsite on the hillside at Laguna Seca County Park

The view from our campsite overlooking the Salinas Valley

Adventures Near Morro Bay

Morro Bay is one of our favorite areas on the Central Coast. The wetlands are excellent birding habitat, and even more enticing, the bay is home to a year-round population of sea otters. This is a good place for seeing the otters from land—but you’ll still need binoculars or a zoom lens for up-close views.

Morro Bay State Park Marina on a perfect day

Walking the boardwalk through the estuary at Morro Bay

A Long-billed Curlew wades in the shallows of Morro Bay

A sculpture dedicated to the families of fishermen overlooks Morro Bay

A colony of sea otters floating in the bay

A sea otter’s coat is the thickest and most luxuriant of any animal on earth, which doomed them to being hunted almost to the brink of extinction. They’re still endangered, and it’s always a thrill to see them.

Sea otters aren’t only cute, their behavior is engaging. They wrap themselves in kelp to keep from drifting out to sea while napping or hold paws with each other while floating on their backs. Their near-constant grooming rituals keep their fur fluffed and their bodies buoyant. Most endearing of all is watching otter moms with their babies—they cuddle and groom them, blowing air into their fur to keep the babies afloat.

How could anyone want to make this adorable creature into a fur coat?


Wrapped in kelp to keep from floating out to sea while napping

A sea otter mom grooming her baby

Babies stay with their moms for up to eight months

Beautiful Montana de Oro State Park, just a few miles from Morro Bay

Hidden beaches at Montana de Oro

A Snowy Egret searches for a meal

About a 30-minute drive from Morro Bay is a legendary California castle perched high on a hill overlooking the Pacific. The childhood dream of publishing tycoon William Randolph Hearst (inspired by a European trip with his mother), the castle was built by Julia Morgan, California’s first female architect.

Twenty-eight years of collaboration resulted in a 165-room mansion and 127 acres of terraced gardens and pools. Hearst referred to it as his “ranch home.” It’s opulent, excessive, and at the same time, tasteful. Maybe not my taste (too many heavy tapestries and dark, brooding furniture) but still, beautiful.

Hearst Castle is a California State Historic Park, and the tours are excellent. The backstory is fascinating  (interesting history of a colorful and controversial man, stories of the rich and famous, scandalous relationships, and a peek into life in the castle). I’d love to return for a tour of the upstairs and the guest cottages.

Hearst Castle in San Simeon, the main house is modeled after a Spanish cathedral

The lovely courtyard

One of the castle towers

The dining room resembles a medieval dining hall. Guests had to dress for dinner, despite the fact that ketchup and mustard were served in bottles on the table. Hearst liked to keep things rustic at what he called his “ranch residence” (AKA the Castle).

Casa del Mar (House of the Sea), one of the guest cottages on the Hearst estate

The fabulous indoor swimming pool, reminiscent of an ornate ancient Roman bath

Just a few miles from the castle is a large, noisy colony of elephant seals. We’ve been here in the spring when the seals are giving birth and the enormous males are dominating the beach. This time, the bull elephants were just beginning to return to the colony. As they mature, their noses grow, ending up as pendulous appendages that look like an elephant’s trunk.

The young males were practicing their drum-like vocalizations (produced by inflating their noses and trumpeting) and the chest bumping battles that establish who will be king of the beach harem. When the older, bigger, and stronger males arrive, the younger ones won’t stand a chance.

Piedras Blancas elephant seal rookery

Two young male elephant seals squaring off

A raucous meeting of elephant seals

We stayed, as we always do since we discovered this little gem a few years ago, at El Chorro Regional Campground. It’s conveniently located between San Luis Obispo and Morro Bay, in the beautiful rolling hills of the Central Coast. Full hookups, dirt sites but plenty of greenery, excellent Verizon. There are hiking trails from the campground and the lovely San Luis Obispo Botanical Garden is part of the park. The sites tend toward the smaller side (we were fine with our 27-foot trailer), but if you have a big rig, you might want to consider a pull-through site.

El Chorro Campground

Adventures Near Ojai

The Ojai Valley Art and History Museum

Bart’s outdoor bookstore has an excellent collection of books and great atmosphere

Ojai is a lovely, peaceful little town on the Central Coast. Our main reason for returning was to bike the Ojai-Ventura bike path. It’s a wonderfully maintained trail and a great 15-mile ride. After a couple of hours at the beach, we were happy to catch the bus back to Ojai instead of having to ride 15 miles back to town (the bus is conveniently equipped with bike racks).

On the bike trail from Ojai to Ventura

Biking along the Ventura beachfront

Wonderful pelican sculpture on the beach

An impromptu rock sculpture on the beach

Camp Comfort (don’t you love the name?) is a tiny county campground just two miles from Ojai. Full hookups, concrete pads, nice little laundry, and excellent free internet. We had a site backing up to the seasonal creek and enjoyed our peaceful stay.

Camp Comfort in Ojai California

Next Up: Fun With Family And Friends: San Diego To Tucson

Read More

Rainy Days And Gardens: Portland, OR

Rainy Days And Gardens: Portland, OR

Posted by on Jan 30, 2018 in Gallery, Oregon, Travel | 36 comments

Portland is renowned for its gardens—it has an authentic Japanese garden, an authentic Chinese walled garden, acres and acres of forest preserves and botanical wonders, and spectacular neighborhood gardens. It’s no wonder Portland is so lush and green and flower-bountiful because it rains ALL OF THE TIME.

Not really, but it’s not much of an exaggeration, especially from mid-October until June. But even in the rain, Portland is beautiful and fun and we never run out of things to do.

Walking the River Loop Trail in the rain

The reward for walking in the rain

The ideal time to visit is in the summer and early fall when the weather is generally near perfect. But that doesn’t always fit in with our traveling schedule. And with family and good friends living in the city, Portland is a place that we frequent at least once a year.

Each time we return to Portland, we look forward to visiting some favorite places and discovering new favorites. I’ve always wanted to catch the peak fall colors in the Portland Japanese Garden. We missed it again in mid-October, this time by about a week. Still, it was gorgeous. The garden has recently completed extensive renovations, including building a new cultural center where we happened upon a traditional tea ceremony.

The new entrance to the Japanese Garden

Cultural village in the Portland Japanese Garden

A traditional tea ceremony

A miniature spruce in the bonsai garden

The first fall colors in the Japanese garden

In Portland, you can bet the stone lanterns will be wearing moss-covered caps

The Circle and Gourd Islands in the sea of white gravel symbolize enlightenment and happiness

The Pavilion Gallery hosts various artists throughout the year focused on Japanese art and culture

A show of Japanese Noh theatre masks and costumes

We also visited the Lan Su Chinese Garden with Eric’s sister Peggy. The little jewel box of a garden is an authentic Ming Dynasty style garden, built by artisans from China. It covers an entire city block in the historic Chinatown district. The free tours are excellent, and there are often special events, like the tea tasting the day we were there.

The lovely Lan Su Chinese Garden

The courtyards and pathways are composed of intricate stone mosaics

A traditional tea house overlooks a small lake

The garden is an oasis of tranquility in the midst of downtown Portland

A traditional family altar in one of the garden pavilions

Tea tasting event at the Chinese Garden

The dragonfish roof ornament protects against evil influences

An artist’s sketchbook in the garden

Eric and his sister Peggy in the garden

Good food is never far away in Portland. The biggest problem is choosing between all of the enticing options. A new discovery this trip was the Kasbah Moroccan Cafe, conveniently near the Chinese Garden. Lunch was delicious, and the proprietor took great care in showing us how to correctly pour our tea. Moroccan mint tea is traditionally made with gunpowder green tea, fresh mint, and sugar. We asked for it to be made with half the amount of sweetener, and it was still plenty sweet.

The correct way to serve Moroccan mint tea at the Kasbah Cafe (if you have good aim)

A delicious lunch transported us for the afternoon to Morocco

No visit to Portland is complete for us without a trip to the farmers’ market. The Portland State University farmers’ market is our favorite, and we dragged ourselves and Amanda and Findlay out in the rain to peruse the offerings on a stormy Saturday morning. It was colorful, as always. We invariably find new things that we’ve never seen anywhere else.

Fall colors at the Portland Farmers’ Market

Findlay brought his life’s savings to the market

Fall harvest time, all that rain grows beautiful vegetables

Purple napa cabbage! So pretty!

Amanda and Findlay choosing tea at a neighborhood tea shop

A rainy day art project at the tea shop

A cozy evening at Amanda’s fixing dinner together

Enjoying a wonderful evening with friends Tom and Georgina at their beautiful home

Portland is such a great town. And with such a great vibe. And always, unique.

We don’t eat doughnuts, but the Voodoo Doughnut sign makes me want to

Gotta love a city where you can practice archery in your bathrobe in the city park

Cheers to our Pacific Wonderland!

About the RV Park
We stay at Pheasant Ridge RV Resort every time we visit Portland because it’s the most convenient for us for visiting family. It only takes about 15 minutes to drive into the city, and somehow we always seem to be going against the flow of traffic, which works out just right. The park is immaculate and tightly run; sites have concrete pads, grassy lawns, and attractive landscaping. Full hookups, very nice laundry and bathhouse, good Verizon coverage (their wifi is terrible), propane on site. Ask for a site toward the back of the park (it’s the furthest away from the road and quieter).

If you’re interested, here are a couple of previous posts on Portland:

The City of Roses: Portland, Oregon

Enjoying Portland, Even In The Rain

Next Up: The Central California Coast: Monterey, Morro Bay, and Ojai

Read More