Tuesday, October 21, 2014

October 15-21: Viva Las Vegas!

I probably shouldn’t even post this, what with the whole “What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas” thing, but, truth be told, we had a relaxing time and didn’t get into any trouble during our week in Sin City. J

The drive from Pahrump was short and uneventful. We made our way to NV-160 and followed it all the way, making the turn toward the Las Vegas Motorcoach Resort just before we got to I-15. We’ve stayed here before but haven’t approached from this direction. It’s always interesting to see how things have developed in and around Las Vegas, one of the fastest-growing cities in the country for years, but we didn’t even come close to getting lost. The RV park, as always, was top notch, with well-manicured sites and lots of color.

We didn’t have big plans for this visit. In the past, we’ve eaten at many high-end restaurants and seen quite a few shows, but adjusting to a retirement income has reduced our desire to spend big. It’s not cheap to stay in Vegas, of course, but we tried to avoid being extravagant.

Two things I did want to do were to visit Valley of Fire State Park and Red Rock Canyon, both red rock (duh!) formations relatively close to the city. We did the former, but will have to save the latter for another visit.

The Valley of Fire is full of interesting formations, similar to Sedona but much more accessible. It’s about an hour northeast of where we were staying, so we made a day of it, packing the pups in the Rover for the trip. I posted a series of pictures on my Facebook page here but I’m not sure everyone will be able to access that (it’s supposed to work, even for people who don’t see the need to have Facebook accounts), so I’ll post a couple here as well…

I saw faces in the rock. Scary faces...

Geri liked this table rock formation.

The rock formations are quite accessible, as you drive right through them on the park roads.

This one is called "Balancing Rock"...

Across the valley, we could see nubs of red rock starting to become visible.
In a million years, that side will probably look awesome.

Our bonus for the day was coming upon this little patch of day lilies, the only ones we saw in the park.
There must be a little spring here.

Linda and her granddaughter
One neat surprise on this visit was that our friends, Linda & Wendell, and assorted family members were in town over the weekend for a wedding (one of Wendell’s son’s). We got a chance to catch up with them out in Henderson. Chateaubriand for 12 and plenty of wine!

Palazzo Lobby
On our last night, we did splurge a bit. OK; a lot. We left the pups and headed for the Palazzo Hotel and dinner at Carnevino Italian Steakhouse. I had a Filet, Geri had Veal, we shared a wonderful Barbaresco, and it was a wonderful meal. We capped it off with a Grappa. Geri selected a licorice-flavored one. I think she enjoyed it!

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

October 11-14: Two-Stepping to Nevada

When I said we were heading east in the last post, I meant it, literally. We made two-day stops each in Lancaster, California, and Pahrump, Nevada.

On Monday, we were on our way right about on schedule, just after 10:00 AM. We took a route we’d never driven before: CA-166 east from Santa Maria all the way over to I-5, just north of the Tejon Pass. Geri didn’t care for the first half of this segment, since she’s increasingly unimpressed with winding roads. Merlin didn’t like it either, since he usually sticks his head out of his hidey-hole when we change directions. But, it wasn’t a bad road and other than some hills that are sure to take a toll on the MPG, we made it fine. It’s a lot less winding and much more open terrain than going through the redwoods in NorCal.

Once on I-5, we had a short segment going south. This segment is called “The Grapevine”, named for the nearest town I suppose, not for any particular affinity for grapes (although this area is the extreme southern end of the San Joaquin Valley, one of the more fertile areas in the country). Climbing The Grapevine involves about 2,650 feet of elevation change in a few miles, making it one of the more notable hill climbs in the western US. We kept it slow and steady, and actually managed to pass a few 18-wheelers in the process.

Shortly after we were on the other side of Tehachapi Mountains, we made the turn east once again, this time on CA-138, which took us right into Lancaster. We headed for the Antelope Valley Fairgrounds, which has a reasonable on-site RV park (we’ve stayed here before).

This was a quick, two-night stop. It could have been a one-nighter, as we were using it to break up a longer drive, but who wants to be on the road every day when you don’t have to? Besides, we got a chance to do some Costco shopping and caught up with Loretta & Desi for dinner. (Loretta used to be married to one of Geri’s nephews; we’ve known her for 30+ years.)

By Wednesday, we were ready to move on again, heading for Pahrump, Nevada. “Where is Pahrump and why on earth would you want to go there”, you say? Well, it’s about 60 miles east of Las Vegas, our next real destination. We’ve never visited Pahrump before and one of our RV groups is planning a rally there next spring, so we thought we’d check it out. Plus, one of Nevada’s few (only?) wineries is there and the Escapees (an RV organization we belong to) has a park there. Good enough for me!

So, we followed a familiar route out of Lancaster: CA-14 south to Palmdale and then CA-138 to CA-18 into Victorville. We picked up I-15 there, through Barstow to Baker. Of course, I-15 is the primary LA-to-Vegas route and we’ve driven this several times in the past, but we exited in Baker to go a different way.

Heading north on CA-127, we started seeing rock and mountain formations that reminded us of Death Valley. This makes sense, because we were skirting the southeastern side of that National Park. In Shoshone (don’t blink or you’ll miss it), we turned east once again on CA-178, which turned into NV-372 once we crossed the state line. What a difference a bunch of casino money makes in terms of road maintenance!

Anyway, NV-372 brought us right to Pahrump and we quickly found our way to the Escapees “Pair-A-Dice” RV Park. You can’t beat a $15/night full hook-up site.

On Tuesday, we did a little exploring. We scoped out the location of the spring rally that we’ll probably be going to, did a little shopping at the Smith’s grocery (have to keep getting more Kroger loyalty points for gas discounts), and found the local Elks Lodge (not open but they have several sites for RV parking as a “Plan B”).

Our last stop was the Pahrump Valley Winery. Their tastings are complimentary and you get to try seven different wines from their menu, which (surprisingly) is fairly extensive. Geri and I only had a couple of overlaps, so we got to taste most everything available. They import a lot of grapes from the Lodi and Sierra Foothills areas in California, but do also use three vineyards in Nevada, including one on the property in Pahrump. The wines weren’t half bad, and we got to spend a few minutes chatting with the owner/winemaker about the challenges of growing grapes in a relatively hot climate. We picked a Sangiovese and a Tempranillo as our purchases; both were decent wines at reasonable prices.

Tonight, we’ll get ready for travel, which isn’t too time-consuming when making a short stop. Tomorrow, we’re off to Lost Wages, I mean, Las Vegas, for a week to see what kind of mischief we can get into. Of course, that’ll never make it to the Blog…

Saturday, October 11, 2014

September 30-October 10: Finishing Up The Coast Segment

I’ll combine three stops into one post to save time and space…

We continued south on Monday, yes still on US-101 for the most part, and continued the “Elks Crawl”. We left Petaluma on US-101, caught I-580 across the Richmond Bridge then I-80 through Berkeley to I-880 from Oakland all the way to San Jose. [Somebody is singing right now.] Back on US-101, we were soon in Salinas and parked at the Lodge.

This stop was more to break up the driving day than anything else, so we didn’t have anything planned. We easily met our objectives.

On Wednesday, we motored south to San Luis Obispo for another 2-night stay. We specifically timed this stop so we could go to their Thursday Night Market, where Higuera Street is closed off for the evening. We ate first (many restaurants set up booths right outside their locations) and filled a bag with veggies before heading home.

Surprisingly, it turned hot. Before we knew it, we needed the air conditioning, and put quite a strain on the Lodge’s 30-amp electrical system. It took a couple of tricks (plugging into two 30A circuits plus using a voltage-boosting transformer) to keep us cool. Fortunately, things cooled off very quickly once the sun went down.

Friday was our next travel day, finishing up our move south along the US-101 with an 8-day stop in Santa Maria. We spent a little more time with a full-timing couple we’d met at SLO; Darrell & Judy have a similar motorhome and were heading for the Palm Springs area. We enjoyed their company for cook-your-own steak night (not as good as Eureka but still nice).

We didn’t have a lot planned for this stop, but we did catch up on laundry and shopping. I had planned a dinner at Jocko’s in Nipomo, a rustic, rough-and-tumble kind of place with excellent steaks, and we weren’t disappointed. In fact, the steaks are so large that Geri and the pups both still have leftovers in the fridge!

Of course, we also ate well on our own. Geri made a new recipe for Avocado Eggrolls which we’ll have again, and I grilled a Tri-Tip with Santa Maria Red Oak chips for smoke (Thanks, Mike Casper!). With the Tri-Tip, Geri made Mozzarella-Stuffed Arancini using the leftover Mushroom Risotto we had on hand. Another great set of meals!

So, the coastal portion of our trip south has come to an end. From here, we turn east for the next 3½ weeks as we make our way back to our “winter roost” in Arizona. Let the adventure continue!

Sunday, September 28, 2014

September 22-28: A Week In Petaluma, California

The “Elks Crawl” continues with our next stop in Petaluma, following US-101 south. We had an extremely (for us) active week with Wayne & Eva, who are traveling south a couple of days behind us. Our stays overlapped for about 5 days this time, and there’s quite a bit to do in the area.

Before they arrived, though, I had to make some plumbing work as the sink drainpipe developed a leak. I was able to make a temporary repair and it no longer drips, but I’ll have to work out a permanent fix over the winter while we’re in Arizona.

As usual with Wayne & Eva, we ate well. Somewhere in their travels, they picked up a monster Porterhouse Steak that fed all four of us for dinner, with some of Geri’s Kicked Up Asparagus and some Smashed Potatoes.

On Thursday, we made the hour-long trip to San Francisco and had dinner at Flour + Water in the Mission. Although something seemed a little off and it wasn’t as exceptional as our last visit, we made up for it with a stop at Smitten for nitrogen-produced ice cream before heading back to Petaluma.

Friday found us making a short trip over to Napa Valley. Geri found the specialty Bloody Mary Mix she likes, we had oysters at Hog Island in the Oxbow, and we made a quick (albeit expensive) stop at Hall Winery for tasting (comped) and buying.

Saturday morning found us back in San Francisco, this time to the Ferry Building for the weekly Farmer’s Market. This was the largest market we’ve seen in a long time. We scored some zucchini blossoms, a truffle and some mushrooms, some artisan olive oil and a few other goodies. After lunch, Eva found a Dim Sum place in Chinatown for lunch, and we left so full we didn’t even need dinner.

By Sunday, we needed to relax. Wayne & Eva made us a nice breakfast outside; we took advantage of the patio furniture provided by the Lodge for visiting RVers. For dinner, I made Rack of Lamb (2 racks, actually) and Mushroom Risotto with Black Truffle. The pups got to gnaw on the bones. We certainly at well over the past month!