<%@LANGUAGE="JAVASCRIPT" CODEPAGE="65001"%> Postcards Library 38
Little Log

Postcard: Caching the Coast

February 22, 2005

Those who live in Washington and Oregon will probably have to endure a summer drought this year, but right now the weather is absolutely spectacular. Tom & I have become accustomed to the kind of Northwest weather this year that demands, "come outside and play". The one afternoon when we experienced a few rainshowers, I realized just how spoiled I'd become. Where was the sun, anyway? I expected nice weather...

En route to Yakima for a weekend of "baby" sitting with our grandkids, we detoured to Anacortes, where we camped one evening at the local Indian casino. The next morning, Tom put me on the 6:15 AM ferry to San Juan Island, where I put the finishing touches on our move. I cancelled our mail forwarding service, closed our local post box, and directed the Post Office to forward our mail to Oregon. All that, and I had plenty of time to catch another ferry 3 hours later. Now we've really left the Island.

That afternoon, we stopped in Kent, just south of Seattle, at the TorkLift factory to have a SuperHitch installed. This hitch provides up to 48 inches of extension behind the truck, and out from under the overlap of the camper, and provides substantially the same towing capacity as if it were attached to the original receiver. Thus far, we'd been traveling with only the truck and camper, driving a jeep separately when needed, and we had finally made the decision that a "toad" was just what we'd been lacking. But we didn't stop with just the hitch. After we left Yakima, we planned to add a "Brake Buddy" . Now we can go into an RV park and just leave the truck/camper while we go off exploring in the little jeep. No more driving separately; we'd be just like the "big boys". And we were looking forward to our new flexibility.

We spent an enjoyable weekend with our grandkids, watching each play a basketball game. Calleigh's team, composed of girls from pre-school and kindergarten, is very new to this sport, and such intricacies as dribbling are a bit beyond most of them, but they love the game. Or is it the after-game treats that are the attraction? (One of their players has been known to leave the court, while she's supposed to be playing, to find the treat giver in the stands.) With cookies and juice in the stands, the girls don't mind a bit that their only competition is 2nd graders and, so far, they've lost every game. Ty, now in third grade, wins a great deal more, but the score of any game fades during fun of the ride home with his teammates.

We left Yakima and spent the evening at Maryhill state park on the Columbia River. Due to an almost constant wind, this is considered sailboarding Mecca, and we weren't surprised to find a stiff breeze blowing up the River when we arrived. We easily found a site off the river and away from the strongest breezes – on this Monday evening, there was not another camper in the park. (Compare that situation to the same evening in June or July, when reservations are practically mandatory!) Each site is set well apart from the other, and even when full, this park doesn't seem particularly crowded.

Weather forecasts, always something we watch carefully, showed sunny weather for the coastal areas and rain elsewhere. (We surely didn't want to venture south into California!) Back we went to Winchester Bay and the Marina RV park, 4 miles south of Reedsport. We'd enjoyed our stay there a few weeks ago, and now we could explore in our "toad". We hadn't been geocaching in quite some time, as it's hard to drive a truck and camper into some of the areas where the caches are hidden, but those same areas are a proverbial "piece of cake" for the small car.

We'd forgotten two small details. This was Presidents' Day holiday, and Winchester Bay is right in the middle of the Oregon Dunes state recreational area. But Marina RV park has two large signs prominently posted at its entrance. The sign on the left states that ATVs are not allowed. The sign on the right refines this rule to state that "operating" ATVs are not allowed, adding the warning that you could be fined $175 or evicted for driving one in the park. As a result, while the other parks were crammed with RVs towing ATV loaded trailers, or that RV known as a "toy box", where you drive your "toy" right into the back of the motor home, Marina had lots of empty spaces.

I've done a lot of writing about geocaching, the techno-sport where, using a handheld GPS and with access to the geocaching web site, we've explored a good deal of the western part of the country. (We'll do the eastern part too, as soon as our schedule allows time for travel there.) For fear of boring everyone silly, I'd decided to forego describing our gaming adventures. I've had a change of heart after finding some of the most beautiful parts of the Oregon coast the last few days.

Only a mile from the Marina RV park one can access the Dunes, either by foot or ATV. We looked up nearby caches and found on with an intriguing description. "Near a pathway around a lake, 'favored by locals' ". But where would we find a lake in the barrenness of the dunes? And how do you traverse the dunes without getting run down? Between us and the prize were dozens of ATVs, many ridden by children seemingly well below the age of 16. They roared up and down the dunes, doing "wheelies" and leaping off dune tops. Not a good place for a stroll to a lake we couldn't see.

We decided a better vantage point would be from the Umpqua Lighthouse, which towers above these dunes. The Lighthouse was easily accessed by jeep, and provided a fabulous view of the ocean – waves smashing against the rocks of the jetty which protects the entrance to the Coquille River, the town of Winchester Bay, and miles of coast in either direction. Then we saw the small lake in a grove of trees just to the east of the dunes. We hurried down to the lake and found a trail leading around it. I had fun identifying several species of ducks dabbling in the still water, (for once I had remembered my binoculars), and passed quite a few locals walking their dogs in the late afternoon sun. We'd never have found that lake without the game.

Another cache on another day led us to a different part of the Dunes. This time we could hear the roar of the ATVs, but never saw one. Tom's compass led us to the foot of a medium sized dune, and then indicated the cache was at the top. We had two choices – retrace our steps and access the dune top along the side, a relatively moderate walk, or climb straight up. The climb didn't look especially difficult, after all, if tufts of dune grass can get a foot hold in the sand, how difficult could it be for me to get a foot hold there? Answer: Extremely difficult. We used our hands, knees and feet scrambling up the dune. For each step forward, we slid a half step back. Even Missy had some trouble climbing up. But the view from the top was spectacular – a view similar to the one the first people must have seen when they climbed here. Untouched dunes and an ocean which today was clear of any boat in any direction. Looking out to the western horizon, I could see the line where the horizon meets the ocean.

From Winchester Bay we headed south to Bandon and an overnight at Bullards Beach State Park. This was our "rainy" day, although the rain was merely an occasional shower. One of our caches this afternoon took us to the South Slough National Estuarine Research Reserve, an absolutely fascinating area near the fishing town of Charleston. We entered the Reserve through the south entrance, a gravel road which wound down through uncut cedar to the slough. We noted periodic signs stating "Don't pick the brush" and, "Don't clip the cedar" – though why anyone would do either was beyond us. The Slough curls from the main Bay through a meadow and into a forest – absolutely pristine except for the narrow road. There is another, more northerly entrance, complete with paved road and Visitor Center. However, it was closed on Sundays, so we'll wait to explore that part of the Reserve on another visit, now that we know it's there.

By this time, we were only a few miles from Cape Arago, and the late afternoon sun was making an appearance. What a great time to explore the Cape and to check out Bastendorff county park. From the park's ocean overlook, we watched a sleek yacht running the breakers at the mouth of the Coos River and a huge freighter slowly making its way toward the Bay. All that view and a pretty little park, level spaces big enough for most rigs and today there was space available. Reservations would probably be needed in the summer months.

From Bandon, it's only about 80 miles to Brookings and the Driftwood RV park. We've still a few days before we are due to be anywhere, why not enjoy the weather one more day? Gone was any sign of rain; indeed, the temperature was nudging 70. One more cache to find nearby, at Cape Ferrelo, one we should have found on our last visit. Then we were here looking for grey whales, and the wind was fierce and cold. Today we were looking for a geocache and it was too warm for a sweatshirt. Seeking this cache brought us back to a beautiful promontory on a beautiful winter day.

Tomorrow we'll tackle Highway 299 to Redding. We chose not to drive it in January's chain-threatening weather, but Spring appears to have come to Northern California. The winter pussy-willows are past their prime, and trees are showing pink and white blossoms. It's about time to pick up the Grand Cherokee and head our entourage – Tom, me , Missy, truck, camper, Wrangler and Cherokee – back to Bend.

Postcard: Water & Wind

February 7, 1005

It's an easy drive from Monterey to Bakersfield, even when you decide, as we did, not to take Interstate 5. We followed Highway 101 to Paso Robles, turned east through the area vineyards, and arrived at the Orange Grove RV park, 11 miles east of Bakersfield in plenty of time to pick oranges. The management has always provided the RVers with orange "pickers" -- long poles with wire baskets attached to one end. The theory is to put the basket under the orange of your choice, wrap the stem around a wire, and pull. I'm not very good at this task, when I yank on one orange, I often get a shower of other oranges falling as well. They hit the ground hard and split wide open, making them less than attractive as a juice or eating orange. So, orange picking has become Tom's task; I hold the collecting bag.

This season, Orange Grove is also lending the campers a juicer, so if you've left yours home, or don't travel with one, you can get as much juice as you wish. Today, I filled a one quart plastic jug, and a 1/2 gallon empty Tropicana container with just the few oranges we brought back to the camper with us. And it's the best orange juice I've ever tasted.

We were headed to Borrego Springs, the small desert town 30 miles (as the crow flies) south of Palm Springs and 90 miles (also crow miles) from San Diego. Borrego Springs is completely surrounded by the Anza Borrego Desert State Park, which means it (the town), has very limited growth potential. It simply has resisted the growth trend. The people who live here, and those who visit every winter, like it that way. Borrego Springs has never lost its small town charm.

We wanted to stay in the Palm Canyon Campground, a state campground and very popular winter camping spot. 50 full hookup sites, all carved right out of the desert, and decorated with natural desert plants (no tearing out all the native plants and then replacing them with others, as we have noted in several Arizona housing developments). Several of the most sought after sites even have their "own" palm trees, and each morning you can hear the rustling of the palm fronds as those small birds and animals who shelter there begin their daily routines. At evening, similar sounds indicate the palm denizens are settling in for the night. This year, after all the rain that the desert areas have received, we expected to see the bonus of a great wildflower display.

As you enter the park, on the right you'll see the hookup section, each site asphalted to almost level, and each with tables and fire rings. On the left, is a large dry camping area, graveled sites, fire rings and palapas, roofs sheltering the picnic tables. Last season, the restroom buildings were "upgraded" in both of these areas; now each washroom building contains 4 separate toilet areas on one side of the building, and showers on the other. There's even a section where tent campers can wash their dishes.

About a mile up toward the mountains, you'll find the older dry camping areas. Here the sites are further apart, with views of the valley that are spectacular on a clear evening -- the kind of evening that is common here. Again, each site comes complete with table, fire ring and some have palapas. This is the area where we camped the first few years we came here -- before we purchased a motorhome too big to comfortably fit into these sites.

The road continues past these camping areas toward the mountains to the trailhead to Palm Canyon oasis. This is a popular day use area, cars often fill the parking area. A winding trail climbs through the desert, crosses several arroyos on small bridges, and, in about 1 1/2 miles you reach the oasis itself. Here are dozens of California palms, and a small pool of desert water. Come at the right time of day and you may see a Borrego, the rare and endangered desert bighorn sheep.

But with the increase in prices we'd noted at other state campgrounds -- $25.00 for a beautiful, but dry camp only, spot in Northern California -- what would Palm Canyon be charging? Would the increase drive away campers? Being in a small camper, we had plenty of other options. We could stay at Tamarisk Grove campground, where rigs longer than 25 feet would have difficulty navigating. We could dry camp at Pegleg Sam's, an area snuggled up in the lee of a mountain, where Sam had supposedly found gold. We decided to try Palm Canyon first.

To avoid the possibility of a crowded campground, we had deliberately chosen not to arrive on a weekend, but there may well have been available sites then too. We had a good choice of sites, there were even two "palmed" sites left. The price is now $29.00 (including $1.00 for a pet), in the hookup section, and $22.00 in the dry camping area. We also noted that the cost of reserving a place at Palm Canyon Campground has increased, but unless you plan to be there on a weekend or a holiday, chances seem you won't need one -- especially if you're flexible enough to dry camp in the surrounding desert while waiting for a space to open.

Mother Nature has been rough on southern California this year. The rains in the Santa Barbara area had created a sinkhole that had effectively stopped the Starlight Limited well north of Los Angeles, and led to discontinuing its run south of San Francisco while Amtrak waited for the track to be repaired. Those same rains had created rivers in the dry arroyos of the desert areas. On the 10th of September, on a day when not one drop of rain fell in the Borrego area, a flash flood occurred here. A rainstorm hit the mountains above Palm Canyon, sending torrents of water down the narrow chasm that had been Palm Canyon Creek. Once clear of the canyon itself, the water spread out over the desert, creating several rivers where none had been before. I overheard a park ranger mention that he had been driving in the Palm Canyon area when he heard a roaring noise and saw a 16 foot wall of water racing toward him. He didn't wait to watch, but " got out of there right away!" We went to see what he'd been talking about. Walking out into the desert, just out of view of the lower campsites, we saw what the flood had created. Lying scattered over the desert floor, were huge logs, the trunks of palms from the oasis, stacks of smaller debris, and rocks of every size tumbled everywhere. The water has largely disappeared, but it is easy to see where Palm Canyon creek became Palm Canyon river, pushing everything before it. Wherever the water went, it erased the undulations of the desert floor and dug up the vegetation. You can step from a lush bed of sand verbena into a moonscape of rocks and sticks. It was at once a tragedy and a fascinating view of the power of water and Mother Nature.

Several of the undeveloped campsites were destroyed. One particularly large palm trunk was swept into a palapa, knocking two of the support beams out, and causing the roof to collapse. Two of the sites are under sand and mud clear up to the tops of their picnic tables. I walked into the restrooms. Standing on the once concrete floors now raised by mud flow, I could now look right out over the walls. The original trail to Palm Canyon oasis lost all of its bridges and the portions of trail which wandered through small arroyos are completely gone. Now hikers are directed up a steeper alternate trail, situated on higher ground along the sides of the mountains.

The last time we were here, there had been some damage to the campground due to rainy weather, but the forest service had planned to reopen it, and the main hiking trail was unhurt. Now it seems that the Service has learned a lesson. Neither the campground nor the hiking trail will be repaired or reopened. The possibility that this will happen again is just too great.

I mentioned that some of the sites in Palm Canyon campground are more "sought after" than others. Each vehicle in the campground has a sticker in the window proclaiming its departure date. If you wish to stay longer, and your site isn't on the reservation list, you have until 9 am to renew. Therefore, even though the sticker in your car says you're leaving this day, you may not be. This creates a sense of insecurity among those who wish to take over your site. It isn't at all unusual to see cars slowly cruising by, looking at the dates on stickers. The morning we left, we saw one come slowly by, obviously checking our departure schedule. Then it stopped and a woman got out. "When are you leaving?", she asked, and , "would it be OK if I brought a lawn chair to put in your site to save it ?"

Leaving Borrego, we headed into the Palm Springs area intent on a couple of days of "lap lizarding" (spending time combining lap swimming with poolside lounging). But this was not to be. An email from Bend reported that the electrical walk through of our new house was going to occur about a week sooner than we thought. A glance at the weather forecast warned of Santa Ana winds in the southern California mountain passes, with gust to 60 MPH! An early morning start might help us through, and except for a couple of spots, when we were broadsided by strong winds, it did just that. We left early enough to spend the night in a new RV park, Kit Fox, in Patterson, south of Tracy. This park is so named because this endangered animal still exists here. I didn't see a fox, but the numerous ground squirrels kept Missy mesmerized for hours.

Next we'll head north to Bend to meet with the electrician and primary broker. Hopefully we'll know more about move in timing after this meeting. Then we've a "baby" sit with our grandkids in Yakima. (Babysitting is a misnomer, as they'll either be in school or we'll be cheering them on at basketball games.) After that, who knows?

Postcard: California Destinations

January 24, 2005

No final postscript to our Amtrak adventures, as the trip south held no surprises, either time or destination-wise. True, we were a couple of hours late, but that's par for the Amtrak course. The parking card posted in the jeep at the Davis station read 1/17, and today was 1/19, but the Davis traffic police must have thought we'd had enough adventure for one trip -- there was no parking ticket attached to the front window. The dog was waiting for us at the Redding kennel, very happy to be back with "her" family again. Nobody else at JGW RV park was using the laundromat, and I didn't have to wait for a machine. The mail was waiting at General Delivery in the Anderson Post Office, and there was nothing that couldn't be handled immediately. About 6 PM, chores completed, we looked at each other and said, "Why are we staying here? It's time for another trip." Since we're due at our townhome in Bend in a week or so, it would be a shorter one this time; we'd take our camper south and west, out to the coast at Monterey.

We started our trip by visiting one of Tom's cousins who live on Highway 1, just south of Mendocino. We left the jeep in Redding, and drove south on Interstate 5 to Williams. We picked up Highway 20 and wound through the coast range, alongside the shores of Clear Lake. We'd driven this road on our way from Ben Bow to Redding a few weeks ago, but then we'd been traveling through one of California's rainstorms. Today was sunny and warm, and brought back memories of past excursions. About 35 years ago, we vacationed here and spent our days fishing, swimming and water skiing. Today, even accessing the water would be more difficult, as the lakeshore now is lined with homes.

We turned north on Highway 101 to Willits, then turned west again on Highway 20 to the coast. This portion of the road is steep and winding, and we were glad to be driving the small rig. It turned out this would be a good practice run for some of the miles of Highway 1 that lay ahead of us.

Tom's cousin and her husband are also RVers -- and have two RV hookup "sites" on their acreage and lovely home that are right on the Mendocino coast -- so we compared notes and made plans for a rendezvous later in the season. Next morning we were off on a new road for us, that portion of 1 between Albion and Jenner. This section of road carries several of those highway warnings -- "Rigs longer than 30 feet kingpin to rear axle, not advised". RVers should heed these signs wherever they are found in California, but this road gave a new meaning to the words hairpin turn. Time after time we had to slow to 15 mph or less to negotiate the sharp turns. Also, there isn't much shoulder in several spots; I could look out the passenger window straight down several hundred feet to the ocean below. A bit disconcerting, but was a beautiful day, and we had less than 100 miles to our planned stop in Bodega Bay, so we could take our time.

And we took it too. We stopped to look at the ocean crashing on the rocks below. We stopped at most of the vista points along the way to enjoy the views of the rocky California coast. We stopped as well so Tom could take of the incredible winding road.

We stopped to let the dog walk out on the cliffs, until I got nervous she'd not have the sense to stop at the edge. We took our time until we were in danger of running out of afternoon, with still more than 30 miles to Bodega Bay. About now, I suddenly realized that it was Friday afternoon, and the Bodgea Bay campground, always popular, might be full. About now, we passed Gerstle Cove Campground in Salt Point State Park. Why not stop here? It turned out a great find; a return to campground.

Gerstle Cove sits on a cliff above the Gerstle Cove Marine Reserve. From the campground, you cannot see the water; it's about a mile down a narrow but paved road to the water's edge. The 109 campsites are divided into two sections, with 30 sites on the ocean side of Highway 1 and the remaining 70 on the eastern side. We found site #7, on the ocean side, on a bit of a rise giving us a good view of the mostly vacant campground and a peek-a-boo view of the ocean. When I went to pay for the evening, I met the ranger emptying the box. He saw which site we had chosen and remarked, "Site #7 ! That's the best one here. I've had people fight over that site".

The sites in this campground are all paved, and a larger rig could fit into many of them, but we were glad we had a camper and could choose whichever we wanted. Also, we'd had a bit of a surprise when we drove in and noticed the rate sign. $25.00 is a bit steep for a site with no hookups whatsoever, (though they did have flush toilets). I think the ranger was right when he opined that the raise was a poor idea, as it seems destined to attract far fewer visitors and likely a net decrease in revenue.

The good news associated with this price increase? We could use our receipt as admission to Fort Ross. Only 7 miles down the road, Highway 1 runs right by this historic Fort, where Russians, with the help of Alaskan natives, developed a colony in California.

Fort Ross, named to highlight its connection with Imperial Russia "Rossia", was settled in order to provide foodstuffs for the settlements in Alaska, many of which were often on the verge of starvation. It was built in 1812, in a somewhat sneaky manner, because the attention of the major nations of the world were occupied with two wars. Napoleon was invading Russia, and the U.S. was at war with Great Britain. Thus, no one was in a position to stop the building of this fort, nor the accompanying Russian presence in Spanish California. By the time the existence of the Fort was recognized, it had been completed, and so well fortified that there was no way to remove it. It remained a Russian fort until 1841, when Russia decided to abandon it and sold it to John Sutter of Gold Rush fame.

The 1906 San Francisco earthquake largely demolished the Fort, but it has since been reconstructed, and we spent an enjoyable hour walking through the museum and visitor center, then walking the grounds. We climbed the stairs in the two blockhouses, set diagonally from each other, looking out the "windows" where the cannons were set. In another building, a period kitchen not only contained kitchen implements, but also a photograph album, showing the destruction wreaked by the earthquake and the various stages of reconstruction that followed.

23 miles down the coast is Bodega Bay, a bustling tourist community with a rustic but very attractive county RV park. Doran Beach Regional Park lies on a jetty dividing Bodega Bay from Bodega Harbor, curving slightly northwestward in a lazy "C" shape. You can camp in several areas, on the harbor side in three campgrounds, Cove, Gull or Shell, each with sites set in circles to maximize space between them. Most have sand dunes behind them, covered with ice plant and dune vegetation, ending at Harbor's edge. If you want to camp on the Bay side, you drive another half mile to the Jetty campground. Here the sites are a bit closer together, the attraction being the jetty, where you can fish or toss a crab ring into the water. Today it was exceptionally windy, good for the several wet suited, hardy souls who were kite sailing. This sport seems to me to be incredibly difficult, an "extreme sport, if there ever was one. Feet set on a sailboard, arms holding a kite, these intrepid sailors were scudding this way and that across the waves, turning by means of a 90 degree jump. But we thought it too windy to be right on the beach, and opted for the somewhat more protected harbor campgrounds.

About 4 PM, when we were wondering if we'd be able to use the barbeque, or should invent something to cook in our microwave/convection oven, the wind suddenly stopped, and the evening was calm and peaceful. Next morning, the wind was back, and we were on our way south toward Monterey. We'd take Highway 1 south, past Tomales Bay and head inland to join 101 in San Rafael. Then down the east side of San Francisco Bay on Interstate 580, switch to Interstate 880, and finally rejoin Highway 101 south of San Jose. A trip of 180 miles would land us in Monterey.

It was pure chance. That and the fact that there is not one single rest stop on any of the roads we followed. About 30 miles from Monterey, we pulled off, just to get our bearings, stretch our legs, and give Missy a chance to roam in the nearby fields. There was an RV park sign here, one of the small blue signs with the outlines of a trailer on it. There was also a small sign reading Betabel RV Resort. We walked along the frontage road and looked down into a most attractive RV park, wide concrete sites with nicely trimmed bushes separating each, and grassy areas behind each row. Who needs to go all the way into Monterey? We'd do our exploring from here. That was two days ago. We found the people in the park exceptionally friendly, from the work campers behind the counter, to our next "door" neighbor, who gifted us a huge head of elephant garlic, ready for baking. Just what you'd expect when you're in this neck of the world.

Betabel is 7 miles southwest of Gilroy, the garlic capitol of the world, and 15 miles east of Castroville, the artichoke capitol of the world and only 30 miles from Monterey, with its world famous aquarium. It's also close to Moss Landing, the small town on the west edge of the Elkhorn Slough. In order to fully explore these interesting areas, we first took the camper off the truck, (a job which still takes us a bit longer than we'd like, but not as long as it takes to put it back -- but we're getting better). Off on our first loop trip. We drove north to Gilroy for garlic and diesel, and over Hecker Pass to Watsonville, then to Moss Landing. I remembered Moss Landing from our recent Amtrak trip. The train had traversed the eastern side of the Elkhorn Slough, traveling so slowly I was able to use binoculars to glimpse some of the area wildlife. At that time, I vowed to return, but had no idea I'd get back so soon.

We arrived in Moss Landing about 1 PM, thinking about lunch. (We'd already stopped for artichokes at a small produce stand, but you cannot eat an uncooked artichoke). Just by chance, we found ourselves in "downtown" Moss Landing, an area of narrow streets and fishing boats. It's also the area of Phil's Fish Market and restaurant. At Phil's, first you read the menu, then go to the counter and order. You're then given a number, you find your table and your lunch is brought to you. We both devoured walnut crusted ahi sandwiches, and I had trouble completely ignoring the fries that shared the plate. Later, when we had returned to the RV park, I learned that Phil's is well known throughout the area. After that lunch, we knew why!

Before we started back toward the park, we walked the dunes of Moss Landing State Beach, watching the surfers and wondering how they manage to avoid hitting each other. Several would be paddling out either cresting a wave or tunneling through it, when another would suddenly paddle hard and get to his feet on the crest of an incoming wave. Somehow, the incoming surfers managed to avoid the outgoing ones -- at least while I watched.

We hadn't been geocaching in quite a while, and this afternoon seemed a good opportunity. As is so often the case, the cache was located very close to an area we would have completely missed otherwise, the Moss Landing Marine Laboratories (MLML). MLML is basically a marine and coastal research laboratory, graduating students in such esoteric studies as "Monitoring the surf-zone release of fine grained sediment", or "Molecular analysis of settlement patterns of the California and Blue mussels", but for the average person there are interesting pictures, diagrams and pamphlets concerning the work that is done there. MLML is in the process of building a 1000 foot, wheelchair accessible walkway through Monterey cypress, and across a salt marsh wetland to a birding area. I look forward to walking it when it's completed.

But birding, albeit in another area, would still be on my plate today. On the way back to the park, we detoured to explore the eastern part of the Elkhorn Slough sanctuary. I had the opportunity to walk out on some of the miles of trail that follow the shores of the slough, and my binoculars got a great workout.

One more day at Betabel, and one more trip, this time to the Monterey aquarium. We bought our tickets from a very helpful young gal at the front desk, who took the time to show us the best way to see the aquarium -- all of it, and there are nearly 200 exhibits. A large part of the aquarium is devoted to children's interests, with exhibits where they can actually touch kelp, starfish, and other things they would find on the beach or in tidepools, and there were kids everywhere, many with clipboards and pages of questions they needed to answer about the aquarium. We watched fish swimming through the kelp forest, the sea turtles, tuna, sharks and barracuda, in the same tank as schools of much smaller fish. I was entranced by one exhibit of a school of anchovies, all swimming in a circle around their large aquarium home. Every so often, one or another would open his mouth as wide as possible, and an anchovy has an incredibly large mouth for such a small fish! The plaque explained that this is how anchovies catch their plankton food. Jellyfish -- there called "jellies" -- were featured in several exhibits. My experience has only been with the small white kind, or the red, foot across, don't touch sort that arrive each summer in the Puget Sound salt water. But some of these were in hues of pink and green, sometimes with spots othertimes with stripes. A large exhibit quite cleverly showed how "jellies" have served as inspiration for everything from dance to graceful glass sculptures.

This evening we'll put the camper back on the truck and head off again. Our plans have changed and we're not going to head back to Bend as soon as we thought. We'll be back to explore more of the Monterey area; after all, we've not seen the Pinnacles National Monument or other interesting areas yet. But for now, it's off to the desert. Borrego, here we come!

Postcard: The Great Amtrak Adventure: Trains and .... Buses (In three parts)

January 12, 2005

This morning, we stored the camper in Redding, boarded the dog, and headed for Davis, CA. We'd spend the night in a campus-side motel there, and catch the early morning Amtrak train. We're headed for the wide open spaces, through the cactus and mesquite, to the sun and surf. I'm looking forward to birding in an area I consider the best in the U.S. We're off to Texas. We may go to the coast; we may head for the Hill Country. Whichever it is, wherever we go, we're off on a new adventure.

Davis is one of Tom's "ol' stompin' grounds", but this was my first visit, and I found the town a charmer. It's a walkable place, with many stores, boutiques and restaurants clustered in a 10 block area. Something for everyone; Tom watched football while I went shopping. Early next morning, and quite close to right on schedule, we boarded Amtrak's Coast Starlight for Los Angeles, there to join the Sunset Limited. We'd disembark in Houston, and then decide where to go next. Those were our preliminary plans. But unknown to us at the time, the trip wasn't destined to turn out quite that way....

We arrived at the station about 30 minutes early. As we started to get our suitcases out of the car, a train pulled in. It was a bit early, but the side said "Amtrak". Could the train actually be early? We grabbed our bags and hustled toward the train. We were about halfway to the track, when the "all aboard" came, and the train pulled out. Then I saw that while the train did indeed say Amtrak, it also said Amtrak California. It was a commuter train bound for Sacramento. Glad we didn't try to jump aboard.

While we waited for our train, I picked up an Amtrak newspaper from a nearby rack. Prominently featured was an article discussing the "End of the Sunset Limited", the very train we were to meet in LA. The article stated that, since Amtrak doesn't own the lines over which their trains must travel, the freight favoring railroads, (who do own them), determine if an Amtrak train should give way to a freight train, and since this particular track is the busiest of all, delays are the most frequent here. No wonder the "last transcontinental train" is frequently late. We'd soon learn how true this was.

When we decided to take this excursion, we had promised each other we'd not get upset over Amtrak's legendary lateness. Over the years, we've traveled Amtrak enough to know that the trains are seldom on time; if they arrive within an hour or so of schedule, that's close enough to be considered punctual. Therefore, while it's a grand experience to tour the country with Amtrak, it's not the thing to do if you have any kind of schedule to keep. We not only had no schedule, we hadn't even decided exactly where we'd go, so Amtrak was perfect for us.

Our first train, the Coast Starlight, had no trouble traversing the passes in the Oregon Cascades. It had no trouble crossing the Siskyiou Mountains of Northern California. However, as we learned within 30 minutes of boarding in Davis, it was going to meet its match in the rain soaked hills of Southern California. Almost as soon as he introduced himself, our train attendant told us two things: First, our train wouldn't be going to Los Angeles. A large sinkhole had appeared under the tracks somewhere between San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara, and the train couldn't cross it. We'd terminate in SLO and be bused to Los Angeles, a distance of around 200 miles. That was OK by me. While I'd prefer a train to a bus, the idea of trying to cross a dangerous sinkhole didn't seem like a good idea. The other? All the restrooms in our particular car were out of order. They'd try to fix them in Oakland.

It was a beautiful trip south down the Sacramento and San Joaquin Valleys. Either the rains held off, or the storms had already traveled east, leaving beautiful green fields in their wake. Rivers were flowing brown and full, but staying in their banks. The train traveled slowly, however, stopping for the occasional freight train, and barely crawling at other times. At one point, the conductor announced that they wanted to cross something called the Elkhorn Slough before 2 o'clock. That was when the tide would be at its highest, and they were also expecting a "storm surge" raising the water level even higher. We made it by about 15 minutes.

Today, after all the rain, the Elkhorn Slough more closely resembled a lake than a slough. The train virtually tiptoed along the eastern side, the tracks only a few inches above the level of the water. Until the addition of recent access roads and walking trails, the only way to see the east side of the Slough was from the train, but the trails invited me to take another visit on another day. We were moving so slowly that I could use my binoculars from the train. I saw two otters, something I think was a muskrat, and hundreds of shorebirds. I could identify cormorants, dowitchers, willets, Western and California gulls.

The further south we traveled, the more threatening the weather became. The rain began -- just showers at first, then more and more steadily. We disembarked in San Luis Obispo, where there were 5 buses waiting for us, each headed for a different destination. Three buses were headed for LAX, leading me to believe that we'd be headed toward the airport, until our driver assured me that in this case it meant the railway station. While no one was particularly pleased with being bused, we knew that the trip would be shorter than if we had been able to remain on the train. We'd arrive at the station in plenty of time to connect with the Sunset Limited.

As we left on our bus, the rain began in earnest. It was getting dark, (our train at this time being about 4 hours late), and our driver had to handle sheet rain, the headlights of approaching cars, and the fact that, on our bus, only one windshield wiper worked. Thank goodness the working one was the driver's side wiper! Nontheless, he kept up a steady pace, a California pace -- about 65 to 70 MPH. At the same time, he talked on his cell phone, directing the other drivers; how far to travel on one freeway, where to turn, and how far it would be to the next turn. It was raining so hard I couldn't see the road signs and had to guess when we went through Santa Barbara, arrived in Ventura or how far it would be to the station, but it didn't seem to bother Ed.

We arrived promptly at 9 PM for the anticipated 10:30 departure of the Sunset Limited. Once there, though, we encountered another small problem. The Limited, due in at 6:40 that morning, had been an incredible 11 hours 40 minutes late! Once into the station, the train had to taken elsewhere in the yard to be cleaned before it could be turned around, the passengers could get on and it could once again head east. We were given an estimated departure time of 12:45 AM. About midnight, Amtrak employees came by and offered the waiting customers a snack. Although I didn't realize it at the time, the crackers and cheese, tortilla chips and salsa, trail mix and cookies and bottled water would come in very handy in the next few days. As it was, the Sunset Limited left Los Angeles close to 2 AM, already 3 1/2 hours late, and not destined to gain back any of that time.

Although it was late, Tom & I stayed up a while to look out at the night as we left the station. We passed one of those many gaping culverts you see in Southern California -- the ones that are supposed to hold water, the ones I had only seen bone dry until now. As we passed rivers of brown churning runoff water, water we estimated was traveling around 25 MPH, I could well appreciate the need for these culverts.

The next morning, we woke just east of Palm Springs. The storms hadn't spared the desert areas either. Ditches had become streams, and the surrounding desert was streaked with small gullies of rain run off. But the rain had stopped, and the desert was gloriously green. Patches of purple sand verbena could be seen alongside the tracks, and many of the ocotillo looked leafy and ready to put on their display of vibrant red blossoms. We passed along the eastern edge of the Salton Sea, an area we've been many times in our RV travels, and noticed that the campgrounds there had plenty of spaces; even those right on the water were largely empty. That will surely change as soon as the weather becomes more cooperative.

We kept losing time. The Sunset simply could not keep to a schedule on a track so full of freight trains. Whenever he could, the engineer put "the pedal to the metal" and the train fairly screamed along, but then we'd slow to a crawl and even stop while another train went by. 57 minutes had been allotted to cover the 60 miles between Lordsburg and Deming, NM, an area where I'd have thought the train could make up some of its lost time. Not so. We waited, stopped, a full 30 minutes while not one, but two other trains passed us. More time lost here.

We were on a double train -- two engines, two dining cars and two sets of coaches. We were simultaneously Amtrak train #2, the Sunset Limited, headed for Orlando, and Amtrak train #22, the Texas Eagle, headed for Dallas and Chicago. At the San Antonio stop, the trains would be separated and one head north while the other went east. But on this trip, that was not to be. Somewhere between Deming, NM and El Paso TX, the announcement came: the train was so late that those passengers headed to Dallas would be off-loaded in El Paso and bused to Dallas. Approximately a 600 mile bus trip. This busing was becoming way too commonplace, and was not popular news for those already snuggled in for a restful night's sleep on the train.

About now, Tom and I began to re-evaluate our decision to go to Houston. After all, there was really no reason to go all the way there -- San Antonio was just as close to the Gulf, if that's where we wanted to end up. And should the Hill Country call, it was much closer. If we went to Houston, the scheduled 11 AM arrival now looked like 7 PM or later, too late to go anywhere that evening. It seemed a better idea to get off in San Antonio, in the daylight, rent a car and head out on our own. Tom called Amtrak and found that we could get credit for that part of the journey we wouldn't be taking, and that decided it. We left the train in San Antonio, found a rental car, and by early afternoon we were off on phase two of our adventure -- one that would take us in an entirely different direction from the one we'd planned.

Postcard: The Great Amtrak Adventure: A Change of Plans

January 15, 2005

I thought we were going head for the coast, spend a couple of days, and have a leisurely drive back to San Antonio to turn in the car and reboard the Sunset Limited on its return journey west. I should have guessed that things weren't going to work out that way when Tom asked the San Antonio rental car guy about drop off charges should we decide to go to New Orleans. In retrospect, I should have realized that he knew something I did not. But, as usually happens, I was completely oblivious.

Heading south, we realized that, finally, we had found summer. On came the shorts and t-shirts, and even then we needed a bit of air conditioning. Ahh... this was more like it. We drove from San Antonio to Victoria, another town we know from our RVing travels. We've stayed a couple of times at the Lazy Longhorn RV park, and made it a base camp for exploring the surrounding coastal areas. This time, we spent the evening at the Holiday Inn, where Tom enjoyed catching up on the free wireless network. He had collected his email and was working another project when I went for a walk around the motel complex. When I returned, he had a suggestion to make. We'd forego the Texas coast and spend a couple of easy driving days en route to New Orleans, there to catch the City of New Orleans north to Chicago, and the California Zephyr back to Davis. Why the change in plans? Not only was the Sunset Limited way behind schedule, but the Coast Starlight had cancelled all its trains out of LA for the next week. The stormy weather had wreaked absolute havoc with the train tracks, there was danger of mudslides, there was that pesky sinkhole and who knows what other problems with train travel. They were busing passengers north from Los Angeles to the Oakland area. That was not an attractive alternative, and now we'd have an entirely new train adventure!

Tom had called Amtrak and arranged for our travel, changed the tickets and ordered us another roomette. Now we had two days to meander the 500 miles to New Orleans. This is where Ms Garmin, our friendly GPS, would be helpful. I was so glad Tom had suggested we bring her along, and in our little rental car, she was the boss. We had a "sort of" map of Texas, the kind you get from a rental car company, but Ms Garmin knew all the roads. We'd use her a lot in the next two days.

The warm, windy weather followed us all the way to Houston. We'd enjoyed the complimentary breakfast at the motel before we left, so it was mid-afternoon before we wanted anything to eat. Too late for lunch, but bring on those uneaten Amtrak snacks! We followed Highway 57 northeast toward Houston and turned on the Sam Houston tollway to skirt the city. We entered the tollway in the west and followed it around to the east, half way around Houston. This involved 5 toll booths, but very little traffic. As I was driving, this suited me just fine. We'd taken this tollway in our Intrigue, and found it's much easier to traverse the toll booths in the little car than in the coach. In no time at all we were off on I-10 towards Louisiana.

Only 3/4 mile into Louisiana is one of the finest tourist centers I've encountered anywhere. It has hiking trails along a bayou, picnic areas complete with barbeque grills, several restrooms and a full service visitor center. Here you can get Louisiana state maps, tourist guides to various towns and cities, and brochures covering just about everything. Want to take a pirogue out into the bayous to see alligators? Want to go birding or take a nature walk? Want the names of local restaurants featuring Cajun cooking? How about a complete listing of New Orleans Mardi Gras festivities? You name it, it's probably in this visitor center. If not, the helpful people behind the desk will get it for you.

Mardi Gras is early this year, on February 8, and the Visitor Center was already decorated in gold, green and purple, masks and beads everywhere getting visitors in a Mardi Gras mood. Mardi Gras is one of my favorite holidays; we once spent the season in the Louisiana countryside, enjoying every minute, and I look forward to returning. Maybe in the next couple of years....

We continued east, down a stretch of road with a very bad reputation -- Louisiana Interstate 10. Just ask any RVer who has driven it, and he will tell you about 1-10. It's rough and bumpy, full of potholes which make your rig bounce down the road to the rhythmic ka-thwackety sounds of tires slapping the connections between pieces of highway. We'd heard that Louisiana has been working on this road, and found that a great deal of progress has actually been made. There's still some of that old bumpy part just before Lake Charles, but after that, we were glad to find some improvements in the roadway.

We had driven most of the miles between Victoria and New Orleans when we stopped for the evening in Lafayette. We had dinner at Don's Original Seafood House. We'd both dined there before, in our "before RVing" lives, and it's just as good as we remembered. Tomorrow we'd only have to cover about 100 miles to Houma, and a scant 50 miles the next day to New Orleans. Our train didn't leave until 1:45 PM, so we'd have plenty of time. Tomorrow, we'd have a leisurely day exploring the Cajun countryside. Tomorrow we'd stop by to visit Betty.

We first met Betty Bernard a few years ago, when we visited Abbeville and stayed in Betty's RV park. It's a small "down home" type park with a special character known only to those RVers who have discovered it. We only spent a couple of days the first time we were there, but she packed our stay with fun. She knows the best restaurants for oysters and crawfish, and which waitperson to ask for. She introduced us to morning beignets with coffee at Comeaux's Cafe, and today, before driving down the road to her park, we stopped in for some of these delicious creations. The cafe had stopped serving breakfast when we came by, but Angie insisted they'd be more than happy to whip up some fresh, hot beignets for us.

On our first visit to Betty's, we spent a special morning on patrol with the Parish Deputy Sheriff, in his 20 foot aluminum boat, equipped with two 150 horse power motors. The trip took us across parts of Vermilion Bay, into some of the surrounding bayous and down the Intercoastal Waterway. On another visit, we just missed the tour of a nearby alligator farm. Betty makes her park a place you'll never want to leave, and, even without an RV this trip, we just had to stop in to say "hi". We spent a pleasant half hour hearing about the Abbeville goings-on, all about her 5 year anniversary "bash", and the various activities she'd crammed into a multi - day celebration. With our the new home construction in Bend, we cannot return this year -- but we'll be back.

Ms Garmin was becoming essential as we toured Louisiana. We wanted to visit Cypremort Point State Park, a peninsula jutting into Vermilion Bay, separating Weeks Bay from West Cote Blanche Bay. It looked like an interesting spot to explore, and if there was an RV park, a possible place to stay at some future date. We could see the park on our Louisiana map, but getting there could have been a problem; we'd been lost in the same area before, trying to find Avery Island and the Tabasco factory. This time, we plugged Ms Garmin into the power source in the car, gave her the names of nearby towns, and she took us the shortest way. No getting lost this time.

Cypremort Point has everything you could imagine water related, sailing, boating, fishing and swimming. There are 6 cabins, and various picnic tables and grills. When they put in the planned RV sites we'll be back.

There's a small vacation home community just south of the park, and we drove out to explore the area. Almost every home is on the water, many with an attached boathouse. Through the open doorways, we saw several boats sitting on lifts and just clearing the water. These places wanted more than ho-hum street addresses, and it seemed most were thoughtfully named. "Ivory Tower", "Coon's Crossing", "Ben's Den" and "Xanadu" competed with "Ya, Momma", "The Hard Way" and "Great Escape".

We spent the evening in Houma. It seems odd to explore by car those places we've explored by RV. I remember Houma being a small town with only a few RV parks. I don't remember where we stayed, but I do remember the owners recommending a nearby crawfish restaurant. That was the night that we learned that, no matter how many crawfish you consume, you still need something else to go with them. We had finished our crawfish, headed back to our rig, and found we were still hungry. An ice cream break was essential. From then on we order a salad, corn or other side dish to go with our crawfish.

Without an RV, we stayed in a Houma which seems to have grown much larger. We had in a nice motel, and a good dinner, but the small town ambiance seemed missing. Maybe it's growth, maybe it's the feeling of RVing, but I'll be glad to get back in our rig, no matter its size.

On the next leg of our journey, we'd be off to New Orleans to catch the Empire Builder to Chicago, and the California Zephyr to Denver and points west. Our trip to the sunny, warm Texas and Louisiana coasts would now include a side trip to an area where the forecast is for highs in the 'teens and lows below zero. At least that's what we thought at the time...

Postcard: The Great Amtrak Adventure: 26 Degrees Below Zero

January 17, 2005

We got to the New Orleans Amtrak station around 9:15 the next morning, ready for our next adventure. Since the San Antonio agent had been too busy to change our tickets when we arrived in that city, Tom went into the station to see if he could get this accomplished, and came right back out. There was no one in line; a perfect time to get our new tickets. I waited in the little car,-- and waited and waited. What on earth was going on? 40 minutes went by before he showed up. There had been several problems getting everything changed, but all was well now. Or was it?

We returned the car and took a shuttle back to the station. There's a separate waiting room for sleeping car passengers, and, as he settled into one of the chairs, Tom re-examined the tickets he'd recently received. The first portion showed we were going to Chicago today. Good. The second showed we were going west, through Denver and on to California, one week from tomorrow! Not good. A week layover in Chicago was not a part of our schedule. No one at Amtrak had mentioned this small detail. In fact they'd not noticed it when they exchanged the tickets.

By now, there was quite a line of passengers waiting to check in, and Tom had to wait a bit before he could talk to an agent. Blame it on the California storms, the rains in Nevada and the heavy snow in the Sierra. After two Amtrak trains had derailed, a large boulder had fallen on the tracks, and rain in the Nevada desert had washed away some of the track, all the California Zephyr trains had been cancelled -- although the notice on the board creatively called it "annulled". Oops. Now what? We didn't want to get bused from Denver either, if that was even an option.

Only one west bound route remained. Instead of going from Chicago to Denver and on to Davis on the Zephyr, we'd go even further north and take the Empire Builder from Chicago to Seattle. This route would take us across the top of the US, through such warm and balmy winter states as Minnesota, North Dakota and Montana! We'd just miss the Monday connection with the Coast Starlight in Seattle; we'd pick it up Tuesday for our return trip to California. If this schedule held, we'd get back in Davis a couple of days later than we'd originally anticipated -- but our schedule was flexible, so let's go for it!

This turn of events would really confound the APRS watchers. In addition to Ms Garmin, Tom had brought along his small portable ham radio and the Garmin eTrex Vista GPS. From the time we started our Amtrak Adventure in Davis, Tom had been using these gadgets to periodically send out "packets" -- data which includes elements showing our exact location, speed and elevation (along with other "stuff" which is beyond the ken of mere mortals). Every so often along our route, the radio has bleeped in a certain way, beaming that information out as a radio signal, which somehow gets picked up and posted on the Internet -- and linked from our website. Anyone with an Internet connection, (as well as the desire to know where we are), can find us more precisely than they or even we might want. Of course, such persons wouldn't necessarily know that we were traveling by train. One reader had emailed Tom after he saw we were in Lordsburg, New Mexico. He thought we'd been driving the truck and camper and was astounded that we could have gone from Redding,California all the way to New Mexico in such a short time ("Must be some kind of a truck!"). One of Tom's friends, living in Washington DC, was trying to figure out where we were going. We were too late for the Sugar Bowl and too early for the Super Bowl. Maybe we were heading east for a surprise visit? Our son, who knew we were on Amtrak, was still baffled when he saw one of our position reports northbound at a high rate of speed in Illinois, when he thought we would be travelling to Houston and back the same way. We'll have many more stories to share than can possibly be detailed here.

I'd never traveled on the City of New Orleans, a train with such a romantic name, and was surprised to learn that the name was inspired by the Arlo Guthrie song. According to the brochure, the train is the successor of two famous Illinois Central trains, a daytime run known as the City of New Orleans and an overnight train called the Panama Limited. When the two routes became one, Amtrak chose the Panama Limited as the surviving train's name. But when the enormous popularity of Guthrie's song called so much attention to the route, Amtrak switched the name back!

We pulled out of the station right on time at 2:10 PM, and after clearing the New Orleans city limits, followed the western shore of Lake Ponchartrain for about 50 miles. On one side of the train, the waves of this huge lake lapped at the shore; on the other all was seemingly impenetrable swamp. Tom obviously felt the same way, remarking, "If you want to take a hike in there, you'll have to go alone", but I wouldn't have walked in that swampy, vine covered, cypress laden area for anything, especially when I read that, on a sunny day, I might see alligators sunning themselves on floating logs. It was beautiful to observe from the safety of the observation car windows.

Mississippi darkness is a black velvet curtain. Peering through the window with my hands cupped around my face to keep out interior lights, I still couldn't see a thing. Nothing to see must mean time for dinner and wait for tomorrow.

Our roomette was located right next to the crew's quarters, and we could hear them talking on their radios. When the train inexplicably slowed at one point, we knew that it was because they had received orders to proceed from one point to the next at 25 MPH. Even the crew didn't understand why those orders had been given, but the train dutifully slowed. That made us about an hour late into Chicago, but our schedule had a built in time cushion of 4 hours, so we had no worries about missing our connection with the Empire Builder.

It was too cold in Chicago to wander around, especially for two travelers who had packed clothes for the weather in Texas and Louisiana, but the lounge was warm, with comfortable armchairs, and an Internet hookup. Tom could get his email and check out his APRS "tracks", not necessarily in that order. The Empire Builder departed precisely on time and headed north, up the western shore of Lake Michigan, into Wisconsin and turned west toward Seattle.

We knew it would be cold up there, but this was something else. It was even colder than the usual frigid temperatures experienced in the upper midwest. In the morning we were in North Dakota when the conductor announced the next station stop would be in a five minutes in Rugby -- where the outside temperature was minus 26 degrees without counting the wind chill factor. There was ice inside the boarding doors of our train car, and between each of the train's cars. Our train attendant came around looking at the inside of our windows, checking for ice buildup there. Having packed mostly shorts and tee shirts for the Texas Gulf Coast weather, we weren't exactly well dressed to spend much time outside at the station stops. Meals in the dining car were served on paper plates; the regular china ones were too cold to keep food warm for any reasonable time, and in any event the bitter cold had frozen the water lines to the dishwasher. The engineer was under orders to keep the train's pace no more than 65 MPH, because of the danger of splitting rails, but every so often our GPS would clock him rolling along at 75 or so, trying hard to keep the train reasonably on schedule.

But this deep freeze was coming to an end. As we went through Havre, MT, Tom used his radio to get the regional forecasts from NOAA. While it was -10 degrees there, it was +30 only 100 miles west. We'd be out of the extreme cold by breakfast.

Out of the cold, maybe, but certainly not out of the snow. There was snow on the ground all the way across Idaho. Spokane was covered in the stuff, as was the eastern Washington high desert. As we climbed into the Cascade Mountains, I couldn't see the tracks at all, and we could hear the train scrunching the snow on the tracks as we passed. A couple of times we crossed short trestles. Looking out of our windows, everything I could see was white -- except for two thin strands of wire keeping us from leaving the tracks. ( I'm sure it was safer than that, but they did look a bit inadequate for the task).

As we climbed, it first began to snow lightly. Then the snow turned to rain -- freezing rain, the kind that puts a layer of ice on top of the existing snow, the kind that kids growing up in the Pacific Northwest learn to deal with when they learn to ski. I remember ski lessons that spent half a day teaching us how not to fall in that heavy, crusty stuff. Basically, we learned that when conditions are like this, head for the lodge. This snow is great for snowmen and snowballs, but not for skiing.

The train goes through 5 tunnels on its climb into the mountains. The first 4 are short ones; the last is 7.79 miles long and traversing it takes about 15 minutes. It cuts the top off the mountain, entering and exiting about 1,000 feet below the summit. Once on the other side, we headed down to the Puget Sound area, and arrived in Seattle only about 2 hours late.

It was pouring rain in Seattle, so we settled into a hotel only a few blocks from the train station. It's been raining here, hard, for a couple of days, and flood warnings and watches are everywhere, which may influence our trip tomorow on the Coast Starlight back to Davis. This Postscard may yet be waiting for one final chapter. By the time we get back to Davis, we will have logged over 6,000 miles on Amtrak, and close to 1,000 miles by car. We've seen a great deal more of the country than we envisioned when we started out, everything from the California rains, to the Gulf coast sun, to the Midwest snow, and now again the Pacific Northwest rain. It's been a winter pictorial of the western 2/3 of this country. It's been a wonderful trip; even with all the "glitches", I'd do it again in a heartbeat.

Postcard: Driving in Tandem

January 5, 2005

It's not hard to decorate a camper for Christmas. I used a couple of small wreaths and a window shaped banner left over from our Intrigue days, and added three small Wise Men, (nutcrackers), that I found in a local Rite-Aide pharmacy. Just those few decorations made the interior of our Host camper extremely festive. We didn't have to worry about the outside, as we spent the holiday parked in front of our daughter's house, the outside of which was decorated with lights and reindeer -- we added camper flavor to her Christmas decor. Wrapping presents in a small space required special ingenuity, but by using festive bags and boxes in lieu of paper, as well as lots of ribbon, the task became much easier.

Sooner than I'd have believed possible, Christmas was over and we were off, headed south. We were driving separately, Tom in the truck and camper, me in the Jeep Wrangler, so we stopped every so often to stretch our legs, talk to each other, and decide where to go next. Our initial plan was to go to Redding, California, to JGW RV Park, where we had arranged to stay and occasionally store either the camper or car, depending on our plans. From there, we could take the Wrangler (together) north to Bend as needed to check on the townhome, or the camper (together) south to seek the sun.

Even though we were now driving a 4 WD wheel truck with camper atop, and a 4 WD Jeep, we still tried to avoid winter driving conditions as much as possible. We watched the weather forecasts, and carefully read the road reports. The seemingly neverending storms which have battered northern California the past few days have brought a good deal of that white fluffy stuff to the mountains -- great for skiers, not so good for RVers. And the road reports weren't at all consistent. One report said "chains required", while the highway cameras for the same area showed a bare and wet road. One area town reported little snow, but neighboring Mount Shasta City, right on our route, was due to get a foot of it. And anyway, wouldn't it be more fun to drive down the coast? The coast might get rain, but it doesn't snow there, does it? The coastal mountains aren't high enough to pose much of a problem, are they?

We headed back to Brookings, Oregon, a town that's quickly becoming one of our favorite stopover places. Again we checked in to Driftwood RV park. It's right across from the beach, and a bit more protected than another park right at water's edge. When we were here last, Driftwood was a prime competitor in the annual Brookings Christmas decoration contest. At that time, I guessed they'd have a good chance of winning, and when we checked in I asked the owner how the parked had fared. "Oh", he smiled, "we won. And next year that Santa in a boat pulled by dolphins that you see here out on the lawn, will actually move back and forth across it." Look out competition.

Brookings considers itself in "Oregon's banana belt". When we were here last, the weather had been almost good enough to grow bananas, and our first day back was similar. While it was cool and quite windy, the sun was out and it was so clear you'd swear you could see all the way to Asia. It seemed a great day for whale watching.

We drove out to Cape Ferelo, about 5 miles north of Brookings, reportedly an excellent vantage point to look for Gray Whales. We had come at the right time of year, as December and early January are the peak months of their coastal migration. According to the brochure, "Twenty thousand gray whales pass within three miles of the Oregon Coast twice a year, and by late December, they are seen at a rate of about 30 whales per hour". At that rate, we'd spot one, right?

It was a little more difficult than that. Gray whales are typically seen when a watcher sees the spout, a jet of water which can range from 6 to 12 feet high. On a windy day like today, with whitecaps dotting the ocean, their crests being blown by the strong offshore winds, it would have taken a real expert to distinguish between a whale spout and a cresting whitecap. But we had a great time walking some of the many trails along the Cape, looking out to sea and imagining seeing a whale.

Before we returned to our car, I noticed a small group of binocular toting whale watchers clustered around one particular car. Wandering over to see what was happening, I met a couple of local whale watching volunteers. Each day in season, between 10 am and 2 pm, volunteers staff the prime whale watching areas, giving out local information on how many whales have been spotted, where and when to look, and taking the names of the eager whale seekers. They have a local "whale count"; each volunteer notes how many whales he has spotted and its exact location. Using those statistics, somehow, someone is able to determine how many whales actually traverse the coast. I learned that the best time to see a whale is not in the afternoon on a beautiful sunny and windy day, but rather in the morning, especially when it's overcast, and the sea is flat. Next time I'll know what to look for and when to look.

Back to our little camper home in Brookings, where I took the dog for a walk along the harbor. This is not only prime time for seeing whales, but the crabbing season is in full swing. I watched as one large boat entered the harbor and pulled alongside a pier to unload its catch. Looking down into the hold of the boat from the higher vantage point of the dock, I could see what seemed like thousands of crab swimming in the water of the hold, crawling over each other and occasionally fighting among themselves. Getting these cantankerous crabs out of the hold was no problem however, a huge bucket was lowered into the hold and crabs were scooped into it. Next it would be raised and the crabs dumped into large shoreside containers, ready for transport to a crab processing plant. I remember crabbing in the San Juans, where you'd put out one or two traps and catch 10 or 12 crabs on a good day, and had to ask the crab packers how long it took to get this many. "This boat's been out 5 days", I was told. When I told the crabbers we'd lived in the San Juans islands and gone crabbing there, they couldn't help but brag. "We get more crab here", one remarked, "and I'll bet you didn't ever get them this big". (I didn't tell them that, yes indeed, we'd occasionally caught crab as big as the one he showed me).

The weather became stormy that night and wind rocked our little camper. The next morning, before heading south, we had breakfast at a small cafe just across the street. Suddenly it started to hail, small stones peppering the parking lot and collecting on the grass and bushes outside. "Look at the snow", one small boy squealed. Maybe Brookings is in the banana belt after all.

We spent the three days spanning New Year at the Mad River RV Resort in Arcata, CA, just north of Eureka. One of the many attractions, and one we had only learned about from previous exploratory visits, is fabulous stretch of beach only three miles from the park. It's just a stroll over the sand dunes to hard packed sand, bare except for some huge tree trunks which must have been tossed there during winter storms. It's basically a "locals only" beach since it's hard to find if you don't know it's there. There's only one small sign to direct you and accessing it requires driving on very narrow roads skirting farms and fields. But having found it, we spent quite a bit of time there, even when it was raining (and we had off and on showers each day).

We had planned on leaving Arcata and going over the coastal mountains to Redding on Highway 299, only 150 miles away on that route. But the rain along the coast turned to snow at higher elevations; whenever the weather cleared enough to see the mountains, we were surprised to see how much snow had accumulated. And when the local TV anchors began making jokes about how the citizens of Eureka and Arcata knew all about winter driving conditions just by driving 299, we started thinking about other options. We settled on driving south to Benbow Golf and RV Resort, staying there one night and then driving around, taking highway 20 east to Williams and returning north to Redding. A longer, but safer, route.

We were a bit disappointed to arrive at the RV Resort at Benbow at just the wrong time. It's located just a short walk from the historic Benbow Hotel, a place that both Tom and I visited as children. They have a fabulous restaurant, and I was looking forward to dinner out. But even though we could see other rigs in the park, a sign on the RV office door said the resort was closed until February. I stared at the "closed" sign until a man working inside took pity on me and opened it. The former owners had sold the park to the Benbow Hotel, and the new owners were refurbishing it at this usually slack time of year. And the Benbow Hotel had, just that day, served its last lunch. The hotel will be closed until March. Ah, well...

We were discussing where we'd go next when the same man came back out of the office and walked over to the truck. "Our computers are down", he said, "and we cannot take plastic, but if you want to pay by cash or a check, we have plenty of spaces for you. Just choose one and tell me later where you are". How nice that sounded. Now a short drive to the neighboring town, Garberville, for groceries, and back in time for dinner. No more separate driving today. I'd have to take a rain check on the dinner.

The next day we drove south to Highway 20, went east to Interstate 5 and headed north to Redding. Except for the usual wind in the Sacramento Valley it was an easy drive. As we drove north the temperatures got warmer and warmer, and by the time we reached the JGW RV park just south of Redding, the gauge on the little jeep read 57 degrees. California weather! We know it won't last, as the state is expecting another storm in just a few days, but for tonight it felt wonderful.

We'll store a vehicle, either the camper or the jeep, at JGW for the next month. That way, we'll be flexible enough to travel together in either vehicle in whichever direction we wish. Tomorrow, we'll store the camper for a couple of days, and take the little jeep north to Bend to check on the building progress. Then back to Redding and our little camper home. It's become that -- home-- in the last few weeks. From there, we'll plan our next adventure.

Postcard: In the Back of a Pickup Truck

December 16, 2004

Our Island house is gone -- sold to a couple who could hardly wait to move in. And we have left -- we've taken our last ferry as Islanders, and left for new places and new adventures. Since the house sold just a bit sooner than we had expected, and our Intrigue went to new owners in November, we'll be spending the days before our new townhome is completed in our camper. Home will be the back of a pickup truck.

The movers arrived right on schedule early on a Monday morning. There were two mid sized trucks, since a large one would not fit down our driveway, much less be able to turn around at the bottom, and 5 "movers". Meeting these guys, I immediately revised my old picture of what a "mover" should look like. These "movers" were little more than boys, one admittedly under 21. None was tall, none was burly. I could picture none carrying a piano single handed. However, they were incredibly fit.

The moving team was led by Reuben, the shortest and most energetic of the group. He raced from room to room, sticking small bits of numbered paper to each box, bed, chair or chest and marking the items off on one of his several sheets. He organized the others' duties; one would pack those items we had left for professionals, while the others would begin by removing and packing up pictures.

These folks were professional, competent and fast. Had we not left quite as many "knickknacks" for the knickknack packer to pack, they would have been through in time to catch the 1:40 ferry back to Anacortes. As it was, they easily made the 4:15 boat.

Once the pictures were packed, they began packing up the larger items and then started loading the vans. They did this on the run! Into a room, grab a chair and, once clear of the doorway, run it up the ramp into the van, give it to Reuben to stack, and run back down the ramp and into the house. They took only one short break, enjoying the view from our waterfront deck, and I overheard one of them discuss the "six-pack" rule. After the packing is over, and as the loading is going on, everyone must take something from the house each time he goes out a door. The penalty for going out empty handed? Buy each of the others a 6-pack. That's when one of the boys said he was immune from this rule. "After all," he said, "I'm not 21. But I'll buy you guys a 6 pack of coke".

Fit and fast, and unusually dedicated to fitness. They wouldn't get back to Anacortes until around 6 that evening. Then they'd unload the vans, and what was left of the evening was theirs. Reuben's choice of evening diversions always includes a work out at his health club!

The movers left, and the house suddenly seemed as if it already belonged to someone else, although the actual closing wouldn't take place for a couple of days. Tom, with one of the movers, had checked out every room to be sure it was completely empty, (though we did forget the wall phone in the kitchen), and I had thoroughly vacuumed each. The counter tops had all been cleaned, the bathrooms were in good shape, and there was no furniture to dust -- it was all in a van headed for storage. Tom took off with the truck and camper, and I had a chance to say "good-by" to the house before taking the Grand Cherokee off-island one last time. New adventures beckoned.

We spent the first night with our daughter in Yakima. Early the next morning, we were off to Bend, anxious to see what progress had been made on our townhome. . We hoped we'd be able to guess, even approximately, when various stages would be ready; when the roof would be on, when the electrician would be making his rounds, and last but certainly not least, when we could move in.

Unfortunately, it looks like our building will be completed a bit behind its projected schedule. Bend got about a foot of snow, which usually comes down as a light fluffy blanket. But the warmer-than-usual winter weather added several inches of warm rain to the mix, and the result was a sloppy mess. This mess must have made it more difficult for the men to work on the house, and our section of 4 buildings was sitting wetly in a combination of mud, water and old snow. The trusses were waiting, but today, no workers were present.

While this was disappointing, now we'll have more time for our travels. Time to test our little camper. We'll enjoy being "little" for a while, fitting into any campground on the coast or anywhere else we wish to be. Time will tell if things will look different from the back of a pickup truck.

Our Host camper is as spacious as a 10 1/2 foot camper can possibly be, but it is still a camper. Storage is decidedly limited. It's taken us about a week to figure where to put our "stuff" so that we both know where everything is. At first I'd look where I had put an item, just to find Tom had moved it. Not that it was entirely his fault -- I did the same to him. We've added shelves and hooks, packed and repacked nooks and crannies, and have our camper's contents arranged just as we want them, at least for right now.

Where should we go first? What's the weather like on the Oregon coast in winter? We took some advice from Tom's cousins who live in Mendocino, on the northern California coast. They also enjoy RVing, but they prefer to travel in the summertime. For those of us with a bit of snowbird in our veins, this was a puzzling choice. They explained that winter is when the coast gets its best weather, the summers are often foggy, but in winter they have clear, dazzling days. And that has turned out to be true for these past few days on the Oregon coast. The Willamette Valley has been fogged in from Portland to Eugene. On the coast, the sun is out and the beaches are almost empty. What could be better?

We drove from Eugene to Florence, from fog to brilliant sunshine, and headed south. We were headed to Winchester Bay, a tiny town nestled in a bend of Highway 101, a "blink and you'll miss it town". But just off the Highway, right on the Bay, is a great park, the Marina RV resort. It sits on a peninsula jutting north into the Bay, and provides protected sites on the marina, long pull through sites in the middle, and shorter, back-in sites on the western side of the park. Now the words "short" and "back-in" cause no problem for us, and we chose a back-in site right on the water. Just outside our site was a walking path which runs all around the park. Across the path was a berm of rocks stretched about 25 feet to the water. We had an unobstructed view of the waves cresting at the mouth of the harbor.

And crest they did. The Northwest was recently pummeled by the remnants of a typhoon in the western Pacific. From Seattle to Medford, the winds had been ferocious, with gusts of 75 miles per hour, knocking down trees and taking out electricity. The ocean has still to settle down. We'd noticed huge waves crashing all along the coast, and that afternoon, before snuggling into our site, we drove out to the open ocean to take a look.

Like many coastal towns, Winchester Bay is protected by two arms of a jetty, extending out into the ocean, forming a funnel. These arms are supposed to make it easier for boats to pass the breakers and enter the open ocean. Today the waves were pounding the outside of the jetty, washing over it and throwing spray high into the air. Even inside the jetty in the supposedly protected water, the waves were so huge it looked impossible to pass through them. One would crest and throw tons of spray onto another which was also cresting. The sunlit spray was impressive -- beautiful, powerful and dangerous.

As we walked along the shore, suddenly one of those waves piggy-backed onto another one and sent a rush of water far further up the sand than they had been before, forcing us to run to stay out of the water. Missy wasn't concerned and would have run right into the waves had we let her go. But we had visions of doggy rescues, and kept her on her leash.

Late that night, those waves built up and with a change in wind direction somehow managed to run down the protected water of the jetty, crashing into the rocks right at our feet. We could hear the booming sound as they broke on the rocks across from the camper. Tom got up to look and reported that the breaking waves were sending spray 30 feet into the air. In the morning, we found that, while it had been noisy, absolutely no damage had been done to the berm, the path or our landscaped site. We had been unnecessarily anxious, and felt a bit foolish. But after living for almost 17 years in a location where the tide can swing as much as 14 feet one develops a real respect for the power of the sea.

On Saturday, an appointment at the Junction City Les Schwab tire dealership to get adjustable height airbags put on the truck, meant that we'd have to limit our stay on the coast this time. We had one more day, however, and drove south to Brookings to the Driftwood RV park, another favorite.

Driftwood RV park is located across from Brookings harbor and marina. There are several restaurants, shops selling ocean oriented gifts, and a great beach for walking. The winds had quieted, and after you scramble over the logs, kelp and small branches that the storm left, it's a great beach for exploring. The owners, Roger and Loretta Thompson, have entered their park in the Brookings Christmas lights festival and competition, and have one Santa in a boat pulled by dolphins, another Santa waving at passers-by, one on the roof of their garage, and lights on all the shrubbery, driftwood figures and the office. Christmas on the coast. From the sheer number of lights they have put on their park, and the countless hours it must have taken them to accomplish this, they ought to win the competition.

It's hard to believe that Christmas is only 9 days away. We'll head back to Winchester Bay this evening, and since we now know what to expect from the waves, we'll probably stay on the bay side again. Then off to get our truck work done and back to Yakima for the holidays. Then, depending on how work is progressing on our new home, we may venture further south in our new little rig. California, here we come?

We send everyone our very best wishes for a wonderful Holiday season and a peaceful 2005.

Postcard: Boxes before Breakfast

December 5, 2004

We're leaving our Island for good. The house has been sold and its new owners are waiting to move in -- they've already moved the closing date up a week. Our movers have provided us with several dozen packing boxes, enough paper to wrap the house, and three miles of tape.

I picked up our moving supplies shortly after we returned home. We'd left the small jeep ( a 2003 Wrangler Sport) on the "mainland" side of the water, and I had visions of picking up some packing supplies and a few groceries. I hadn't figured on the ability of Northwest Moving Company to pack a car. Dave, the best car "stuffer" I've ever seen, immediately realized that he could not jam wardrobe boxes into the small car, but he more than made up for it with others. Starting with the 4.5 cubic foot size boxes and working down to the book boxes, he stuffed the small cargo space with box after box. He stacked them like open books from the seats to the rear door. Into the tiny remaining space went the paper and the tape.

I could barely fit into what space remained in the car, and the view out the rear view mirror was filled with cardboard. I adjusted the side mirrors so that I'd have as much outside view as possible and drove carefully back to the ferry and home. By the time I got there, it was late afternoon, and darkness made unloading the car an unattractive task.

Early the next morning, I took Missy for her customary "doggy walk". Our usual routine went thus: we'd start off down the street and Tom would catch up with us in the car. There are several open fields on the south end of the island where a Brittany can run free above the cliffs and chase rabbits or look for mice. (She has yet to catch either one.)

This morning, however, Tom did not appear. Missy and I got to the Cape entrance with no sign of the car. I was debating turning around and walking home, when the car finally appeared. Tom had attempted to get into the Wrangler without unloading the boxes and was unable to fit behind the wheel (I'm a lot shorter than he and the car had been packed with the seat put in the far forward position). That's how good Dave is at stuffing jeeps. I can't wait to see these guys load up our boxes!

After almost 7 months of waiting, when the house sold, the sale occurred quickly. An offer was made one day, and the next our counter was accepted. Then another, shorter wait while all the formalities were completed, and now it is time to get ready to go. How any times have we done this, how many times have we made ready to leave the house, always knowing we'll be coming back in a few weeks or months. This time the adventure will have a different ending.

When the moving representative came out to the house to assess how much "stuff" we had, how many boxes they would need, and how many men it would take to load all our things into a van, she took note of items we now no longer own. We hosted Thanksgiving for our family this year, and when they left, they packed a lot of that "stuff" with them. Tom and I now eat all our meals on the small sun room table -- the dining room table has found a new home. We watch the nightly news on a comparatively small TV -- the larger one has also vanished. I was able to consolidate several storage boxes into one, as their contents have gone to our kids' homes -- where I'm delighted they will get the use they haven't had here.

All the family had a certain sadness as they left for the last time. On the way to the ferry, our granddaughter asked why we were moving. Tom responded, "We don't have a dining room table any more". Jessica thought about that for a minute and said, "It's a lot cheaper to get a new dining room table than a new house, Grandpa".

"Oh," Tom said. " I hadn't thought of that. Why didn't you say something earlier?"

That evening, after everyone had returned to their mainland lives, we received an email from our daughter-in-law, Ellen, saying good-by to San Juan Island and inviting us for dinner the evening before Christmas Eve, another family tradition. It expresses very well the feeling we all have as Tom and I leave "our" Island for the last time.

We have lived on Cape San Juan, at the far southwestern tip of the island for close to 17 years. It's a wonderful little community, one in which you can become as involved as you wish. Become a member of the Cape Commission. Everyone's invited to join the morning walking group. "Caper" friendliness is legendary. After I casually mentioned we had sold the house, one couple invited us over for a farewell glass of wine. When we got to their house, we found about 25 Capers all there to wish us Bon Voyage. A party complete with wishes and cards. We'll miss this little community.

We found a novel way to dispose of several of the items the kids didn't want. Once a month, the town of Friday Harbor holds a large garage sale, so large that it's held in one of the buildings at the county fair grounds. We gave a hide-a-bed, a swivel chair, a laptop computer (with memory deleted), a video recorder, and a large number of items that really need to find a new home to the kids of a friend. They will sell them at the garage sale, keep a percentage of the proceeds, and donate the balance of the money to our local food bank. We like that sort of win/win outcome, and we were relieved of the burden of putting together a garage sale in the midst of a time that might best be described as the controlled chaos of preparing to move.

Day-Before-Moving and counting. We've signed our names on all the necessary dotted lines for the escrow agent, and tomorrow the movers will arrive. We're headed first to our daughter's home in Yakima, where in a couple of weeks we'll return with all our family for Christmas. Tom will drive our new truck and camper, and I'll take the Grand Cherokee loaded with items destined for the celebration. There are only a few days 'til Christmas, and between tomorrow and the 25th, we'll be busy getting everything, (banks, post office boxes, licenses for vehicles etc.) set up in Bend. It's a bittersweet feeling, leaving a place where we've lived for almost 17 years, and have enjoyed thoroughly. But it's time for new adventures.

I always enjoyed the cartoon strip, "Calvin & Hobbes", written by Bill Watterson. When he decided to retire, I watched carefully for the last installment, cut it from our Sunday paper and framed it. It states exactly how I feel about those new adventures. Calvin & Hobbes, Calvin's stuffed tiger, have wakened to find a beautiful snowfall covering everything and disguising all the old and familiar sights. Calvin takes his sled and, as always, drags Hobbes along, out to see the snow. As they slide off into the snow covered hills, Calvin notes, "It's a magical world, Hobbes ol' buddy. Let's go exploring". I feel as if we're going right along with them....

Postcard: The Last Trashbag

November 9, 2004

We're cleaning out our Country Coach for the final time. The last trashbag has been filled and thrown away. I've cleaned out the closets and the overhead storage. All the drawers have been stripped of their contents, removed, washed and replaced. Tom has tackled the outside compartments, removing hoses, electric cords and storage boxes. He's decided which of the many pounds of accumulated cleaning goods, soaps and polishes, dog food, combs and shampoos we will keep, and which are dumpster bound. This process has taken a full two days, and even then was not complete. It seemed that every time I walked through the coach, opening drawers and cabinets, I'd find one that had somehow been overlooked. I also found items long thought lost.

We started this process last January, when we received an email after we had written an article for Destinations, the Country Coach magazine, describing a weekend trip in a 42 foot Ovation. Having read the article, one reader concluded we were thinking of selling our coach, or could somehow be persuaded to do so. His email said, in part, that a year 2000, 36 foot, single slide Intrigue was exactly what he'd been looking for.

We'd not really thought of selling our coach, and had planned on taking it to two conferences, one in Kelowna, BC, and the other in Moscow, ID, the Life on Wheels conference. In addition, we'd be attending the annual Country Coach "Class Reunion", and a Guaranty rally in Newport, OR. But the purchasers didn't want to take possession of the coach until November, which seemed (at least then) to make a perfect match.

Since the coach was "practically sold", we didn't want to take it on any long trips. We wanted to keep it mostly in Oregon, to keep the mileage and wear and tear down as much as possible. For the last month we found a great solution in Mallard Creek RV and Golf Resort, a beautiful park outside of Lebanon, Oregon. They offer a very attractive monthly package, full hookups even when stored, 8 nights "free" staying in your rig, and free golf. How could you go wrong? It's warmer there than in Bend, and we had no qualms about protracted freezing temperatures. But the month flew by, and it soon came time to move the coach back to Junction City, to undergo an inspection for its new owners, and go off with them on their new adventures.

We're downsizing, at least temporarily. Until a year or so ago, we'd always had two RVs, our Country Coach and a slide-in camper on the "back" of a one ton Dodge dually. Our kids and their families enjoyed that camper too, borrowing it so often that we'd only see it when it needed service or repair. So, one Easter, we joined the family Easter egg hunt, hiding a special plastic egg. We provided the coordinates for finding this egg; making it an Easter geocache. Inside the egg, a scrap of paper proclaimed the kids to be the new owners of that truck and camper.

Off to Boise, Idaho, to Sundance Dodge, where we had a good experience with our first truck, to replace it with another Dodge dually. Now we needed a camper. After looking at several brands at various Oregon dealerships, we chose Host. Host is a new brand for us; in fact we'd not heard of it until we attended the Guaranty rally last August. It's manufactured in Bend, OR, which is where we'll be moving, and we decided to visit the factory there. We were given a personal tour by one of the owners, Dave Hogue, (the HO in Host). Host prides itself on being the "Lightest in Our Class", and a recent experience seems to bear this out. We purchased our camper from Lassen RV in Albany, OR, and were to leave it when we came home this time. As we drove in, we met a customer coming out the front door. "This must be one of the new Hosts" he said. 'It must be heavy".

I had no idea of the weight, but did know where to look. I showed him the plate, on which is listed the weight including each option you have included, and knowing us, you'll know we've added a bunch. Each unit is weighed as it goes out the door, so the weight is accurate for that individual unit. "Wow", he said, "that weighs less than my little camper".

Our new camper is 10'6", with two slides. No more back to back passing as you go in or out. No more opening one drawer and not being able to open another until the first is closed. It has great capacity, with a 60 gallon fresh water tank, a 45 gallon grey and 35 gallon black tank. For a camper, this thing is spacious. There's lots of inside storage; I was able to fit almost everything that I wanted from the coach into the camper. And flexibility is the name of Host's game. You'd expect to be able to choose your color scheme, and to decide if you wanted pillow shams, but I was also able to remake the inside. Under the three burner stove, (with protective bar so you cannot bump into the burner now and inadvertently turn it on), are, usually, three drawers. I decided a different design would work better for me. I suggested that they take the two bottom drawers and put them together into one larger one. Here I'd put my pots and pans. Talking with the cabinet makers, I found this would pose no difficulty at all. Tom wanted to add a satellite dish, solar panel, AGM batteries and dual propane tanks. No problem there, either.

Our new Host has no front window running the width of the camper. Those windows collect bugs, are the target of rocks thrown by passing vehicles, and are inconvenient, (at best), to clean. Replacing the see-through glass of that window is a mirror extending the width of the bed, from a cabinet on one side to the matching cabinet on the other. Lie there, look up, and, like Alice, you can see another world through the looking glass. Everything is upside down, and walking on the ceiling appears a distinct possibility. Like every bed in every camper, it's difficult to make, but after all the experience I've had at that task, I've become something of a pro. And there's a convenient little step to help you up and down. It's called a "child step", but is equally useful for adults to climb into and out of the bunk.

There's a lot of counter space in this 10 foot camper. Using the convenient sink insert, and closing the lid on the stove, I get even more room. I especially like the three shelf, pull out pantry, and the full length drawers located under each seat in the dinette.

Of course it's not as roomy as a 36 foot coach, but we look forward to going places where we'd not want to take a larger rig. We'll make some short trips this winter while we wait for our Bend townhouse to be finished, and we're planning a major trip to Alaska late next May. We'll take the ferry from Port Hardy to Prince Rupert, and catch another ferry north to Haines. It's more convenient and certainly less expensive to take a 22 foot camper on a ferry than a 36 foot motorhome plus tow car. Then we'll be off for an extended trip. We've been to Alaska 7 times previously, and on each trip we've learned something new about this part of the world. It's fun to sit home on a typical gray Washington winter day, and dream of new adventures in the far north in springtime, with a sun that seems never to set.

Will we get a new larger rig? We certainly plan on it. Right now, beyond selling our current coach, our home here on the Island, and moving into a new home in Bend, we have made no definite plans. (And we're not yet residents of a state with no sales tax.) But I'm sure that one day in the not too far distant future, we'll be opening some of the boxes of stored coach regalia and replacing items in a new coach. Between now and then we'll be on new adventures of a different kind!