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A Wonderland Of Rocks: Chiricahua National Monument

A Wonderland Of Rocks: Chiricahua National Monument

Posted by on Feb 21, 2018 in Arizona, Gallery, Travel | 43 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

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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


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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

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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 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

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Tips For RVing On Vancouver Island, BC

Tips For RVing On Vancouver Island, BC

Posted by on Jan 22, 2018 in British Columbia, Canada, Gallery, Maps, Travel | 22 comments

We’ve had a lot of wonderful adventures in our four-and-a-half years of full-time travels, but our five weeks on Vancouver Island was definitely one of the highlights so far. From outdoor adventures to world-class museums; and farmers’ markets to gourmet restaurants; Vancouver Island offers all of the things we enjoy, wrapped up in a package of spectacular coastline, quaint towns, a sparkling jewel of a capital city, and a vibrant First Nations culture.

Because we had so much difficulty finding information about RV travel on the island, I thought it might be helpful to share some things we learned for those of you considering the trip.

The Big Picture

We planned our island tour hoping to catch the best weather in each area (it varies greatly from south to north, and east to west). We also wanted the optimal opportunity for a variety of outdoor adventures and for seeing wildlife.

We headed north first to catch the prime whale watching season, then west to the wild coast of Pacific Rim National Park. Following our mailboat cruise in Port Alberni (and bear and salmon watching) we returned to the east coast to explore the temperate Cowichan Valley and Salt Spring Island, just off the coast. We wound up our time on the island with a few days in lovely Victoria—at this point, the weather was distinctly beginning to turn toward fall.

The little green campers denote all of the places we stayed on the island. Click on any icon, and you’ll see where we stayed, with a link to the associated blog post about our adventures there.

A Snapshot Of Vancouver Island Adventures

How To Get There

Two passenger/vehicle ferries make the round-trip journey from the U.S. Neither are luxurious, but you’ll have comfortable inside seating and large windows to enjoy the scenery (or you can move outside to the deck if the weather is good). A Washington State Ferry travels from Anacortes, Washington to Sidney, B.C. A private ferry line (Black Ball Ferry, MV Coho) makes the trip from Port Angeles, Washington to Victoria, B.C.

Washington State Ferry carrying passengers and vehicles

We’ve taken our rig on ferries dozens of times (we spend our summers in the San Juan Islands) and it’s a straightforward process. A deckhand will guide you onto the ferry and into position. It will be tight quarters, especially if the ferry is full. Just go slow, be vigilant, and don’t let them rush you!

It’s always close quarters on the ferry

The ferries can handle any size rigs. Even the small ferries to the outer islands surrounding Vancouver Island can easily manage the largest RV.

On a small BC Ferry to Salt Spring Island from Vancouver Island

Anacortes, WA to Sidney, B.C.: Although this route takes almost three hours, it’s by far the most scenic and sails through calm, sheltered waters on a Washington State Ferry. You’ll travel through the picturesque San Juan Islands to the small harbor of Sidney on Vancouver Island. Sidney has a beautiful and interesting waterfront, and it’s only a half-hour drive to Victoria and the highway that takes you north on the island.

Views of Mt. Baker while sailing through the San Juan Islands

Port Angeles to Victoria, B.C. The journey on the Black Ball Ferry MV Coho is shorter (about 90 minutes) but you’ll be traveling over 20 miles of open water with nothing interesting to look at, and you’ll feel the enormous ferry roll with every ocean swell. (To add drama you might have two women sitting across from you making the sign of the cross every time the ferry pitches.) However, it delivers you directly to the Inner Harbour in Victoria, which is interesting and convenient if Victoria is your destination.

Victoria’s bustling Inner Harbour; the ferry landing is right downtown

The cost of the ferries is approximately the same. We paid about $200 each way for our tickets (the price increases with the length of your rig). You don’t need to purchase a round-trip ticket, and you don’t save anything by doing so. Make reservations in advance to secure your space on the ferry, and plan to arrive about 90 minutes ahead of your sailing to go through Customs. You can always change your reservation if need be, with minimal or no charges if you provide sufficient notice.

How Bad Is Customs?

Really, not bad at all. We breezed through Customs on our entry to Vancouver Island and were stopped and searched when we returned to the States (but it was no big deal and only delayed us about 15 minutes). Here’s what we learned: You are not going to be able to figure out exactly what is and isn’t allowed, coming or going. That’s because the laws are ephemeral, and can change at any time.

Instead of worrying about it, make a list of the foods you’re carrying so that you’re prepared for any questions the customs agent asks. We were searched in Port Angeles because of a lemon (apparently bringing citrus into the States—even citrus grown here—is a red flag). The U.S. Customs Officer confiscated our lemon and after a quick glance in our refrigerator sent us on our way.

The important thing is, be honest. If they find something you haven’t declared, the fines are stiff. “Forgetting” that you have something is not a valid excuse.

Going through Customs in Port Angeles; it’s pretty straightforward (don’t bring lemons!)

What’s The Weather Like?

We were on the island for most of September and into mid-October. This is typically a good window of weather with plenty of sunshine and little rain.

The temperatures were comfortable, generally in the mid-40’s at night and the mid-60’s during the day. Perfect hiking and biking weather! Of course, you’ll want to wear layers and have a good rain jacket. We were also happy to have waterproof boots, which came in handy for hiking muddy trails.

The weather is mostly excellent in the fall for outdoor adventures

Other Reasons To Go In The Fall

You will miss the crush of summer crowds. Tourism drops off sharply after Labor Day, which means you won’t need reservations for most campgrounds, but most campgrounds and other attractions are still open, at least until mid-October.

If you’re heading up the island, be sure to plan that early in your trip. The further north, the colder and wetter it tends to be. The weather on the west coast is random, so plan extra time there. We lucked out with sunshine and mild temperatures for the week we spent in Tofino/Ucluelet, but we met people that spent only a day or two in the area and didn’t see a thing because of heavy storms.

Watch out for Labour Day (they celebrate it the first Monday in September, same as Labor Day in the U.S.). That’s their last hurrah of summer camping. We planned our trip to arrive just after Labor Day. Also watch out for the second Monday in October, their Thanksgiving. That one caught us by surprise. Apparently, a lot of people go camping that weekend—we found a sweet place on Salt Spring Island, but only after a bit of scrambling.

One more excellent reason to visit in the fall: Lots of wildlife! This is a great time for whale watching up north, the salmon are returning to spawn in the rivers, and the bears are actively fishing.

September is an excellent time for whale watching expeditions from Telegraph Cove

Getting Around

Travel on Vancouver Island is pretty simple. Traveling south to north, there’s a long ribbon of highway that begins in Victoria (Hwy 1 north). In Nanaimo, about halfway up the island, it changes to Hwy 19 north to Telegraph Cove and beyond. The roads are wide and well maintained. Don’t miss a small detour onto scenic Hwy 19A, the Oceanside Route between Parksville and Campbell River.

Highway 4, the road from Port Alberni west to Tofino is another story. It’s the only access road to Tofino/Ucluelet/Pacific Rim National Park. Two lanes, winding, hairpin curves, rock cliffs that narrow as they rise and a stretch with an 18% grade is not friendly for big rigs. We were fine (we have a 27-foot trailer and a Tundra), but I’m not sure that I’d drive that road with anything much bigger. Then again, tractor-trailers use that route. Which seems crazy.

The challenging road to Tofino and Ucluelet. Don’t think I’d drive this with a big rig.

Try to not miss Tofino/Ucluelet/Pacific Rim National Park. Consider leaving your rig behind if it’s not appropriate for that winding road, and stay in other accommodations for a couple of days. It’s worth it!

Make the trip to Tofino if you can, even if you have to leave your rig behind for a few days.

Where To Stay

We stayed in everything from B.C. Provincial Parks to tiny rustic RV parks to fancy RV resorts. The provincial parks are beautiful but have no water or electric hookups. They offer taps for filling water, dump stations, and bathhouses, though. The private parks tend toward full-hookups and internet (sometimes good, sometimes not).

We made reservations a couple of weeks ahead for our time in Tofino, because it’s a popular place, even in the fall. Other than that, we looked ahead a few days at a time and called places that looked interesting. We had no trouble getting beautiful sites (in summer, it would be a different story).

We enjoyed wonderful views at the RV Park in Nanaimo, BC

The campsites are spacious and beautiful (and rustic) in the Provincial Parks on Vancouver Island

About That Internet

Your provider, even though it promises connection in Canada, is going to be lame. We had intermittent cell coverage on the island, and as far as useable internet connection via our phones or hotspot, we had none.

Verizon connects to the cell towers on Vancouver Island (Telus or Rogers will show up on your phone). Phone coverage is actually okay except when driving from one town to the next (or if you’re heading somewhere really remote). Traveling up the island, you won’t have coverage from north of Campbell River until you reach Telegraph Cove (about 2 hours driving time). Heading west from Port Alberni, you’ll be out of range for a couple of hours until you get close to Tofino and Ucluelet.

Almost all private parks offer internet (most of it pretty good, some of it excellent) and you can always get blazing fast internet at coffee shops. No, it’s not as convenient as sitting in your RV, but we spent some lovely afternoons in lovely coffee shops doing what we needed to do on the internet.

Catching up with the internet in a cozy coffee shop in Port Alberni

Next Up: Rainy Days And Gardens: Portland, OR


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A Crossroads of Cultures: Victoria, BC

A Crossroads of Cultures: Victoria, BC

Posted by on Jan 13, 2018 in British Columbia, Canada, Gallery, Travel | 24 comments

In mid-October, we wrapped up our Vancouver Island adventure with a few days in Victoria, the capital city of British Columbia. It’s kind of like traveling to England without having to cross the Atlantic. Afternoon tea, flower-filled gardens, and horse-drawn carriages trotting along streets lined with grand Victorian architecture are reminders of Victoria’s British colonial past.

But there are other facets of Victoria that we find even more intriguing—the totems in the downtown area, for example, honoring the First Nations that were the original inhabitants here.

First Nations Totems against a backdrop of Victorian buildings in downtown Victoria

We visited Victoria about 15 years ago (pre-RVing), and our most vivid memories were of the excellent Royal British Columbia Museum. We’ve been wanting to return, and that’s where we headed first.

There’s a lot more to the museum than just the First Nations exhibits, but this was the most captivating part for us. The museum focuses not only on the past, but also the present and future of the First Nations peoples.

The Royal BC Museum

First Nations canoe filled with cedar bark containers

First Nations totems and a longhouse

The “talking masks” relate tribal legends as each mask is illuminated

Victoria is an exceptionally walkable city. Some of the most famous attractions—The Royal British Columbia Museum, the Parliament Buildings, and the Fairmont Empress Hotel—are within a couple of blocks of the Inner Harbour.

It’s also an enjoyable walk along the waterfront to Fisherman’s Wharf. If you get tired, you can catch one of the cute little water taxis back across the harbour. Or ride one just for fun.

A view of the Inner Harbour from the water

An orca topiary decorates the Inner Harbour walkway

A multi-talented street musician on the waterfront

Cute water taxis buzz around the harbour like little bumblebees

Colorful Fisherman’s Wharf, about a mile from the Inner Harbour

Catching a water taxi at Fisherman’s Wharf

Enjoying fish tacos at Red Fish Blue Fish at the Inner Harbour; there’s usually an enormous line

On another day, we joined a free hour-long tour of the ornate BC Parliament Building. Our tour guide was engaging and informative, and even taught us how to greet the Queen, which I’m sure will come in handy someday.

The grand BC Parliament Building—the blue domes are copper that has oxidized

Our tour guide explains the symbolism of British Columbia’s coat of arms

A traditional cedar canoe graces the rotunda in the Parliament Building. It was carved by the Honourable Steven L. Point, the former Lieutenant Governor as well as a former Skowkale First Nation chief, provincial court judge and treaty negotiator. (The canoe is named Shxwtitostel which means “a safe place to cross the river” in Halq’eméylem.)

“Shxwtitostel is a gift to all peoples in British Columbia as a symbol of my belief that we need to create a better understanding amongst all people that we are in the same canoe,” said the Lieutenant Governor. “No matter where you are from, we all need to paddle together.”

Traditional First Nations canoe carved by a former Lieutenant Governor

The rotunda of the Parliament Building; each quadrant represents the four industries of the time: fishing, agriculture, forestry, and mining

Learning how to behave properly when meeting the Queen

Stained glass windows in the Parliament House—science and art are given equal weight

It’s worth taking a stroll downtown at night, when the Parliament Building sparkles with thousands of lights. The buildings were first lighted for Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee in 1897, and were meant to represent jewels in the night sky.

The Parliament House twinkles at night

A scene out of Victorian England—horse and carriage passing by the Fairmont Empress Hotel

We got hooked on the tradition of afternoon tea during our weeks on Vancouver Island. It’s such a civilized thing to do, taking a break in the afternoon. We considered high tea at the famed Fairmont Empress Hotel, but changed our minds when we discovered the cost would be $75 per person. Instead, we made our way to Chinatown, where we had organic tea and a slice of flourless chocolate cake at the charming little Venus Sophia Tea Room for about $15, total.

In the tea room of the Fairmont Empress Hotel

Afternoon tea at the cozy Venus Sophia Tea room

Victoria’s Chinatown is the oldest in Canada, and the second largest. The colorful buildings and bustling streets speak to the resiliency of the culture and traditions brought to Canada by Chinese immigrants in search of gold (and later, to work on the railroads) more than 150 years ago.

The Gate of Harmonious Interest in Victoria’s Chinatown

The Chinese Public School, built in 1908 to educate Chinese students who were prohibited from attending public school in Victoria. The school still teaches Chinese language, history, and culture.

Fan Tan Alley, a narrow alley once home to opium and gambling dens. Gates at each end of the alley were locked to prevent surprise police raids.

Colorful buildings in Old Town Victoria

Victoria is famous for its gardens, and of course, Butchart Gardens tops the list. We went to several gardens, but we passed on Butchart. We were there 15 years ago, and while it’s worth a one-time visit, our taste runs more to less formal, less flower-basket filled gardens.

This time we explored the lovely gardens of Beacon Hill Park (conveniently downtown and free), the Government House Gardens (residence of the Lieutenant Governor and free), and the gardens at the Horticulture Centre of the Pacific. All different, and all definitely worth seeing.

Lovely trails in Beacon Hill Park, downtown Victoria

An orca sundial at Government House gardens

Beautiful winding pathways through perennial borders at Government House gardens

Gardens at Horticulture Centre of the Pacific

There are all kinds of demonstration gardens at the Horticulture Centre of the Pacific

Students working in the gardens at the Horticulture Centre of the Pacific

During our stay in Victoria, we also made a couple of day trips to explore nearby areas. On a crisp, early fall day we set out to see Fisgard Lighthouse and Fort Rodd Hill National Historic Park.

Fall colors on the path to Fisgard Lighthouse

The wonderfully photogenic Fisgard Lighthouse

It couldn’t have been a better day for visiting the lighthouse

Inside the lighthouse, the black and white floor pattern was painted by a light keeper to simulate marble tiles

A military searchlight camouflaged as a boathouse on the coast at Fort Rodd

Our other out-of-town excursion was a biking adventure. The bike trails in and around Victoria are wonderful repurposed rails-to-trails. There are many miles of trails—we rode about 20 miles on the Galloping Goose Trail near Sooke, some of the prettiest and least urban of the trails.

Biking the Galloping Goose Trail to the Sooke Potholes

Our few days in Victoria was the perfect ending to our five week Vancouver Island tour. Would we return to the island? Absolutely. This was one of our top RVing experiences in our four-and-a-half years of full-timing.

About the campground:

There aren’t a lot of options close to Victoria. We stayed at Fort Victoria RV Park, conveniently located just a few miles from downtown Victoria. It’s nothing fancy (although it should be for the price!) but it’s clean, quiet, and offers full-hookups and free internet. Ask for a site away from the highway—it’s much quieter.

Fort Victoria RV Park, Victoria, BC

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