Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Kings Canyon National Park and Giant Sequoia National Monument

Jan and I really enjoyed our stay at Horse Creek Corps of Engineer Campground.  Very quiet, probably because most campers want electric and water hookups.  Good walking and bicycling.

Part of the same Corps area is a day use section.  On the weekend a number of families take advantage of the Kaweah River.  Not much swimming, but with temperatures in the 80's, everyone was enjoying a little wading.  This is snow melt water after all-----still a bit chilly.

We enjoyed a nice steak cooked over the charcoal grill and accompanied by this Cotes de Tablas wine from one of our tastings in Paso Robles.

A wine modeled after the Rhone wines in France with the same grape stock imported from France.
It is a blend of Grenache,Syrah,Mouvedre, and Counoise grapes.  We certainly enjoyed it.!

Sometimes the labels make for good reading.

If you click on the pictures, remember, you can enlarge them for better viewing.

I love the vocabulary used in wine descriptions.
On the left you may note "brambly wildness"

One of the wines at Justin Winery used "pencil lead"

On our way to the north entrance of Sequoia. But first, a stop in Lemon Cove for our mail pickup. Well before you reach the center of town, you can smell the sweet fragrance of orange blossoms from the acres and acres of orange groves.

As you can see in the picture, the trees are covered with blossoms.

From Dinuba , a grocery stop, at the elevation of about 600 feet., it is a short ride up to our campground at Kings Canyon National Park. The elevation of Azalea Campground is around 6500 feet and about 24 degrees cooler.

When you look at a map, you can see that there are different areas of this Sierra Nevada park system. Some sections are National Forest, some are Kings Canyon National Park, and some are Giant Sequoia National Monument or Sequoia National Park. And more!  Can be confusing, but all beautiful country.

Our campground, Azalea, is part of the Grants Grove section on route 180 which connects right on to the Generals Highway(198) through Sequoia.

It is another mountain road at 6,500 to 8,000 feet or so elevation.  There are curves and views galore.

Keep an eye out there Eustis!!

 Good thing, Eustis!!  We had to slow down for a black bear that ran down a rock ledge on the left and then jogged across the road.
The views from the Generals Highway are spectacular, even with the haze.
And then---all of a sudden--- you realize that there are not only these really tall pine trees, but there are these huge Sequoias.  So hard to have a picture do justice, but you can see how small Jan is in front of this cluster.

Even Bruce looks a little small in front of the General Sherman tree.  This tree is the largest living thing on earth.  Isn't that something!  And it keeps growing each year. The top has stopped growing, but the tree keeps adding girth to the tune of a whole large normal 60 foot tall tree---every year.

In the area is a downed tree that has a tunnel for walking.   There used to be live trees that you could drive through, but now the park is trying to preserve the trees in their natural state. These trees like General Sherman are anywhere from 1600 to 2 or 3 thousand years old. General Sherman is estimated to be 2,200 years old.

The same tree.  These trees grow so old because they are resistant to insects, fire, drought, and other hazards.  For the same reasons the trees are slow to rot even after they have fallen. The most common cause for the death of a Sequoia is toppling over.

Sequoias are only found on the western slopes of the Sierra Nevada at 5,000 to 7,000 feet.

These are different from the Giant Redwoods that
only grow on the coast.

Sections of this forest were almost wiped out in the late 1800's by logging companies. 

Luckily, a number of people realized how long it would take to replenish this forest---thousands of years--and preservation was begun.

It sure puts a different perspective on your place in the grand scheme of things. 

This tree is the Sentinel.  It is right on the Generals Highway in front of the Forest Museum which used to be a market years ago.

This picture is of the front of that market in the 1950's.  Love all the old cars--even a 1951 or 1952 Chevrolet similar to my first car.  The Sentinel tree would be to the right of the cars.

Out the front window of Lady Blue along the Generals Highway. 

The other Sequoias grow fast and tall and then start to add width as the years add on.

Is this karma or what.  Here we thought we had been so nice , not bragging about the warm sunshine and lovely palm trees.  Well---not too much anyway.   And what happens--a light dusting forecast for snow becomes a 6 to 12inch snowstorm in the Sierras.  And --no travel allowed without chains.Not that you would want to go down those steep, winding roads in the ice. 
So, we will just hunker down and enjoy a mountain snowstorm.
It is quite nice , catching up on things, and looking out the windows.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Pismo Beach to Paso Robles to Sequoia National Park

Before moving to Paso Robles, Jan and I moved all of two miles up to Pismo Beach North State Park. Our site allows us to walk a short ways to catch the beach and the sunsets. Another short walk takes us to the Monarch Butterfly Grove attached to the park.  The prime season for the monarchs is October through February, but we had multiple monarchs every day at our site and still about fifty in the grove which is relatively small.  The grove is mostly large eucalyptus trees which provide a protective canopy for the 25,000 or so monarchs that gather over the winter.  This is the biggest wintering spot for monarchs west of the Rockies. East of the mountains, the monarchs winter in Mexico.  The grove has an interesting website with other pictures and monarch information. .  You will also see a good aerial picture of Pismo Beach.

The eucalyptus trees are not native (from Australia), but they provide a distinct scent, especially on warm days.  The monarch butterflies feed on the blossoms of other plants. The eucalyptus trees are for warmth in the winter. The canopy gives good protection from the wind and cold.  If you were wondering, like we were, the monarch caterpillars are the ones that need the milkweed for food.

Another nice thing about this campground was that we could walk to the main beach and the Pismo Pier. The waves were high this day--12 feet or more--and there were many surfers taking advantage.  Interestingly, most of the surfers were older--20's, 30's and a few older than that.  Not so many teens. A few were able to do great turns and take long rides into shore.  By the way, if there are future visits in store for some of you, you may want to remember that fishing from the pier does not require a license.

There are many roads to travel through Paso Robles wine country. Actually, there are many wine growing regions within California and many tours and travel roads in each one.  Rio Seco Winery is another one of our Harvest Hosts.  Carol, the owner, and her family were so very gracious and welcoming. They made us feel right at home and told us we were welcome to stay as long as we liked. 

The entrance gives an idea of what a comfortable vineyard this is.  Carol and her husband started this in the early 90's.  There were a handful of vineyards then in Paso Robles.  In a few years , in the mid 90's they were licensed for their first sales and have a wine "22", to indicate their number for the new winery.  Now there are more than 250 vineyards just in the  Paso Robles area.

We had waited till after the weekend to come here because Rio Seco was hosting a large party of about 250 people on Friday night as part of the Zinfandel Festival.  As you can see here, they have a small , but comfortable patio with all kinds of cooking gear from a beehive oven in back to smokers, to barbecue pits and grills.

This is a guest house on the property.  The roses in the front were beautiful.  There are patios in the front and back of the house with long views of the mountains and vineyards.

Such a pleasant perch for Lady Blue!  We tried and purchased some Cabernet Franc, Syrah, and an unfiltered Zinfandel 2006 that we enjoyed very much.   For any of you who are Harvest Host members, Jan and I strongly recommend a visit to Rio Seco.

It would take a long time to visit all the wineries and vineyards in Paso Robles, but we had some good recommendations from Scott and Rachel who had visited here before.  First up was Tablas Creek.

We looked forward to the tastings. The vineyards were quiet after the weekend and we could ask all kinds of questions about the grapes, the vineyard, the area, and , of course, the situation about the water supply.

All around the Tablas Creek patio were planters of grapes, all labeled. Our wine tasting host indicated that all of the vines in Tablas originate from France.

Some are related back to Chateauneuf-du-Pape.

They were told by French vintners that the weather here in Paso Robles was even better than the weather in France.

The road from Paso Robles to Tablas Creek and Justin wineries was worth the trip all by itself.  A narrow, winding country road that at times would be right at home in New England( if you added maybe a few stone walls).
The entrance to Justin Winery reminds us a little of a Greek or a Mediterranean look.  Again , our host for the tasting was very pleasant with a lot of information as a native of the area. They also were quite busy over the weekend. But, we were lucky.  They had an opened bottle of $100 Focus Syrah and added it to our tasting samples. The wineries were nice, we were able to do a tasting, and like here at Justin, were able to purchase a bottle--not the $100 one--and have the tasting be free and also have a labeled wine glass as a gift.
We could have stayed longer in Paso Robles.  The town itself was quite inviting.  But off we go to Sequoia National Park.  As we approach the area, what we thought were clouds on the horizon become snow capped mountains.  These peaks are part of the Sierra Nevada Mountains.
One of these peaks is Alta Peak at 11,204 feet.  Out of sight on the other side of the mountains is Mt, Whitney, almost directly east of here.  Mt. Whitney is the highest point in the lower 48 states at 14,494 feet.  Marsha and Mark climbed Mt. Whitney--a few years ago--and Jan and I are quick to be impressed just seeing these peaks.

Just ten miles from the south entrance in Three Rivers is Horse Creek Corps of Engineer Campground.  The water in the distance is Lake Kaweah which, in a better year, would be right into the park itself in the Spring.  Notice the crowd around Lady Blue?  This is dry camping , but there is water available in the park and a dump station as well.  Our senior pass allows us to enjoy this view for $10 per night.  Since we are waiting for mail to arrive, we decide to stay through the weekend.

We have researched Sequoia online, but we have some questions about the roads.  This will be a visit to the Visitors Center and a quick look around.

Jan and I are happy to have a very pleasant ranger give us all kinds of information about Sequoia and Kings Canyon parks.  Although we could drive all the way up through Sequoia, it seems best for us to head to the north entrance after this leisurely look at the first few miles and a little hike. The recommended length for RVs in this lower section of Sequoia Park is 22 feet or less.  All the views are wonderful and the water you see is from one of the branches of the Kaweah river. This is the foothills area. Giant Sequoias need 5,000 feet elevation or higher.

This panorama shot gives a little idea of the landscape in this section.  We walked down to the Buckeye Flats campground from the Hospital Rock picnic area.  The campground is not open yet and is for tenters. The river was flowing quite well even for a runoff in a low snow spring. 

This picture shows the river quite a few feet below us. From above we could tell that there were a number of pools of deep water , perhaps six feet or more. And the water was crystal clear right to the bottom.

Back at the Hospital Rock picnic area, there are signs left from the Indian village.   This large rock has many shallow to deep holes that were used with stone pestles for grinding acorns and such.

On the rock itself are pictographs from the Native American settlement.  There were a number of groups of Native Americans in the Sierras with settlements back thousands of years.

A common sign in the area.  There are also a number of signs about what to do if you meet a bear, a mountain lion, or a rattle snake. 

Luckily, one of them is " make a lot of noise".

Interesting, for the mountain lion, it included "fight back"

First, Bruce checked to see that this Tunnel Rock was well supported.   Yep!

The road surface indicates that cars used to pass under this rock at one time.

From our campsite, we can ride our bikes to the river and around the area. 

A number of fishermen are taking advantage of Lake Kaweah.

Looking back from our bike road up to our campsite. Can you see Lady Blue?
Enjoying this spot for the weekend and then up to the north entrance. That will be our first sighting of a Giant Sequoia tree.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Solvang, Los Olivos, and Pismo Beach, California

So many great places in California! Over the back route from Santa Barbara on Route 154 , a nice stop at Lake Cachuma County Park.  Quite busy on the weekend but plenty of room for everyone.

This is a utility pole in Lake Cachuma.  The holes have been drilled by birds and then they get stuffed with nuts.  Must be easier to find then digging in the dirt.

A very nice stop at Solvang( Danish for "sunny field").

The city was founded in 1911 by Danish teachers.  The Danish influence makes it a large draw for tourists from all over and local families as well.

We had a small lunch at Bit O' Denmark.  Some sampling of Danish meatballs and sausage with a sweet cabbage and pickles.

And lots and lots of Danish bakeries.  Lets see, we tried some raspberry, blueberry, and a few others , plus homemade bread.

I'm guessing this business truck was from about 1954.

You can tell the city is quite proud of its presentation to visitors.  Lots of flower beds and everything is well kept and clean.  Plenty of free parking--even for Rvs--and clean rest rooms in the center.

A different look for Easter.  How about an Easter gingerbread house?

All of the buildings are unique.  From windmills to other Scandinavian influence.

I'm guessing about a 1956 Chevy?  Slight peak on the tail fins.

A popular weekend ride is on the trolley car.

In Solvang there are many tasting rooms for the local vineyards.  Many local wines to choose from.

Another nice local town, slightly smaller.  LosOlivos is a quiet town geared towards tasting rooms and restaurants.  Recommended by Scott And Rachel, we had to try Carhartt.  Yes, the same family as the work clothes maufacturer.

We had a great conversation with the young gentleman in charge.  Learned a lot about dry farming and irrigation in the vineyards.

Yes, wines were fabulous. 

Los Olivos also had its antique vehicles.  I could not nail down the date for this truck except early 1900's.

Everything was very simple then. 

Note where the headlights are?

The container to the right of the steering wheel holds a battery? Not for a starter--how about for the headlights?

And note that the emergency brake is about where it used to be on your old stagecoach or buckwagon.

All the stores seem to be very laid back and welcoming.  Grab a sandwich and sit outside on the patio. 

Who knew????

Wine as consumable art. 

We try hard to appreciate!

On our way to try to find the sand dunes.

This road became a "No RVS" road, but we saw a lot of fields being picked.  Luckily, turning Lady Blue around was easy.

There are at least six people in this line. The tractor is pulling two wagons , heaped with boxes followed by the people, picking cauliflower and tossing them up to be packed.  Well planned, but looking very labor intensive.

This is our first stop in a while at a Harvest Host.  For about $40 per year, we belong to this organization that allows us to pick from hundreds of farms across the U.S.  We call ahead to see if there is room and then we pull in to dry camp for free and see what is happening at each farm.  The farmers are happy because it attracts more customers. Link to Harvest Hosts below.

This one is a neat little store and farm in Arroyo Grande. You can see above that we have a cozy little spot in the back to dry camp.  There is no camping charge, but we know that we will buy a few items, starting with local free range eggs. 

You can look back to see our stop last year in Socorro, New Mexico at the Towner Alpaca Farm while they were shearing. The date was April 15th, 2013

This is called Windmill Farms. 

You can click on the link for their website.

A large number of specialty foods.  I found a good jar of Huckleberry Preserve. 

There are some birds and other animals around the property.

These baby sheep were only one day old!

Besides foods and specialty items, Windmill
Farms also is a nursery. 

Again in California, some great looking roses.

My roses, the ones that lived for a short time, always had bug infested leaves.  I took pity, and stopped trying to offer them a good home.

These all look so much different.

Okay.  One more and that's it.

This has to be one of the oldest tractors in California.

Safe to say, it is not operational.

There is something about wisteria.

Thought Alison might appreciate this --a favorite flower--in the midst of your very long winter.

It is a very short drive to the shore route.  A little ways through Oceana and we are at Pismo State Beach.

A very "comfortable" campground.  Once again, we choose to dry camp in the the tenting area.  With a senior discount , the price is $23 per night instead of $40 per night for the hookups.

Lady Blue is quite happy.  It is a short walk to the beach and our site overlooks a quiet lagoon with a number of mallards and other ducks.

The weather is warm and the sand is hard and level for comfortable walking.

Some campers drive on the beach. 

This is the only beach in California where a standard highway vehicle can drive on the shore.

Lot of vehicles on the beach. 

Even a horse enjoying the surf.

There a lot of ATV rentals around, but none on the beach today.  We have a feeling this place will be quite busy on the weekend.

Looking north.  Route 1 winds around to the left.  When you see the houses looking so small, you realize these are mountains in the background and not just the Cape Cod dunes.  Nice place.