Friday, July 18, 2014

July 14-18: A Quick Stop In Brookings, Oregon

Monday was another easy driving day. I never get tired of saying that. US-101 north from Eureka, a quick fuel stop in Port Orford, just over the border into Oregon, and an early arrival at the Elks Lodge in Brookings. There were several open spots, so we headed for one of the pull-thru sites and were soon all settled in.

Like a lot of the West Coast, southern Oregon can have a long but late growing season. We found lots things blooming, even if we didn’t really know what they were!



As I mentioned in a prior post, Elks are on the move this summer. We had a couple of nights where all 18 spaces in Brookings were full, and there were RVs trolling through parking lot early in the morning looking to see who was leaving.

Although our stay started out cloudy and damp, the weather cleared a bit toward the end of our visit and I was at least able to get one sunset picture. It would have been better if we were down closer to the shoreline, but the color started as I was walking the pups and all I could do was pull out my phone!



And finally, the rest of our trip is assured to be trouble free.




Years ago (decades, really), someone told me, “Always pay attention to what’s on the ground in front of you. You never know what other people will step over and never see”. So I do. There are patches of clover all throughout the lawn at the Brookings Lodge, and I spotted this four-leaf clover on one of our morning walks. It’s the third one I’ve found over the years…

Sunday, July 13, 2014

July 10-13: Eureka, California

We continued our journey northward with another easy driving day. Get on US-101 in Petaluma and get of in Eureka. Easy Peasey. It’s a slower drive than the Interstate and there are some hills to climb and descend but the scenery is beautiful, even on a cloudy and drizzle-y day.

This summer is the first time that we’ve done the “Elks Lodge Crawl” going north relatively early in the season, and we’ve been hearing stories about parking being full up and down the coast. There were only a few open spots when we arrived in Eureka, and the remaining ones filled up quickly. Elks are on the move this year!

"No Vacancy" at the Eureka Elks Lodge!
It wasn’t raining when we arrived and we still had part of a truffle burning a hole in our refrigerator’s pocket (“crisper”), so I got out the outdoor oven and we had one of our favorite meals for dinner: Rack of Lamb with Mushroom Risotto. Pan-seared and oven-finished, with a light Panko-Horseradish crust, plus shaved truffle (!), it made a nice match for one of the premium Pinot Noirs that we picked up in the Lompoc wine ghetto earlier in our trip.



We didn’t have much planned for our stop in Eureka this time, other than taking advantage of their “Cook Your Own Steak” night on Friday. We were pleasantly surprised that they have changed purveyors and now feature NY Strips. Not that the Rib-Eyes were “bad” per se, but they aren’t our favorite cut. If I can’t have a Porterhouse, give me a NY Strip, I say. We made new friends, as usual, at the pit, and enjoyed the evening. We were pleased to see a lot of younger families and even children enjoying the dinner and evening entertainment, as many Lodges are struggling to attract new members these days.

We continued to eat well on Saturday. Since I had the oven out, we made the Porchetta that (on impulse) I bought at The Fatted Calf. No matter how adept we get at cooking on the road, there are some things better done in a “real” oven, and this was one of them. It was tricky to get the large roast to cook evenly in the small oven, and there wasn’t really enough room for those nice Fingerling Potatoes that we had gotten from the last Farmer’s Market. But, it all came together nicely on the plate!


We didn’t see the sun at all on this visit, and there was plenty of drizzle and a little rain, but that’s what you get on the Pacific Coast in the early summer. The drizzle did coat everything with little droplets, though, and those can sometimes enhance a spider’s web for a photo made while the pups and I were out for a morning walk. Overall, it was a nice stop for us.


Wednesday, July 9, 2014

July 3-9: Petaluma, California

Our travel plan for the day was pretty straightforward. Get fuel. Hop on US-101 and head north. Bypass San Francisco by taking I-880 along the East Bay to Oakland (past the Oakland A’s stadium), then merge onto I-80 for a bit before taking I-580 across the Richmond Bridge, back to US-101 into Petaluma.

It worked out just as expected on a beautiful driving day. Notice that I said “expected” not “perfect”. We expected to run into some traffic on “getaway day” for the Independence Day holiday, and we did. Once we merged onto I-80, the combination of 9 lanes merging to 5 and people trying to escape San Francisco brought everything to a halt for a while. But, we expected as much (actually, I expected worse) and we were soon paying our $25 toll to cross the Bay.



After a quick wave to the inmates at San Quentin, we were back on US-101 heading north. After another slow down just past Novato in a “permanent construction zone” (it’s been like this for years), we crossed into Sonoma County and were soon parked at the Petaluma Elks Lodge.



This Lodge has done a nice job of upgrading all their sites to 50 Amp service and full hookups, although the spaces aren’t quite as level as we’d like and they are a bit narrow. On the plus side, they are one of the few Lodges that has a reservation system in place, and an online one at that, so we knew where we were parking and were all paid in advance. Before the end of the day, we were sipping a “cold one” in the lounge.

The weather was pretty nice during our stay, with some morning fog and low clouds that generally burned off quickly. We continued our relaxing ways for the most part, doing some shopping to replenish supplies and puttering around. We hade a trip to the Home Depot in Rohnert Park, about 10 miles north for some lumber to make blocks for under the front wheels; yes the sites slope that much.

Independence Day was pretty calm. Over the years, the dogs have learned to hate thunder and fireworks, so we approached the holiday with a little trepidation. The (sort of) good news for Merlin is that, as he’s gotten older, he can’t hear as well so fireworks, as long as it’s not too close, doesn’t bother him any more. Maya, on the other hand, gets frantic.



I’ve seen online where other dog owners have had success with a product called a “ThunderShirt”, which looks an awful lot like some of their sweaters and rain gear but costs twice as much. We’d picked one up before we left Arizona and, wouldn’t you know, the darn thing worked! As soon as we heard the fireworks start, we put it on her and she calmed right down. Best $39 spent so far on this trip!

On Saturday, we headed over to the Lodge for their annual “picnic”. It wasn’t exactly what we expected, since it was all indoor seating, but we enjoyed the barbecued chicken that we’d smelled cooking all morning.

On Sunday, we headed for San Francisco. We didn’t have much of a plan except to check out the shops at the Ferry Building on the Embarcadero and that was probably a good thin, since we basically spent the day there. We hit all of our favorite shops (Sur la Table for kitchen gadgets, Far West Fungi for mushrooms and a summer truffle, the Italian place for some fregola  and other over-priced imports, and the wine shop for a couple of glasses of red. We had lunch at Boccalone, an outpost of one of those TV celebrity chefs who specializes in cured meats (“Pancetta and guanciale? Yes, please”.)



Tuesday we took a trip to the local Farmer’s Market and to a new “home improvement” store, Friedman’s. A local chain, they have opened an expanded “superstore” in Petaluma that puts Home Depot and Lowe’s to shame. Of course, that are very proud of their merchandise, with prices 10-20% higher than the national chains, so you have to shop carefully. Geri was quite impressed with the “living walls” that they have constructed outside the entrance so we had to have a photo opp. Nearby workers just smiled and said “That happens a lot”.

On Wednesday, we made the trek over to Napa (the city, specifically) and the Oxbow Market. Smaller than the Ferry Building marketplace, it’s still among our favorite places to visit with several unique shops. Our timing was impeccable [pats self on back] as we arrived just as we were thinking about lunch. We went directly to the Hog Island Oyster Company counter and were soon enjoying two plates of bivalves with glasses of house bubbly. Geri had two different kinds of cooked oysters (Rockefeller and Bagna Caulda – garlic) and we shared a half-dozen on the half shell. Awesome!

Once we knew we wouldn’t collapse from hunger, we poked around the shops, looking at some of the unique things available. Exotic spices, every type and color of salt known to man, specialty teas – oh, wait. A distillery? With tasting flights? You betcha! After tasting 6 spirits and cocktails, we decided that it was time for lunch proper, so we shuffled next door to Gott’s Roadside. A little less rustic than the original in St. Helena, we still enjoyed excellent burgers and a nice bottle of Napa wine. To top it all off, we stopped in The Fatted Calf butcher shop and loaded up, strangely enough, on pork products to shoehorn into the freezer. Foodie paradise…




So, we wrapped up another great visit to wine country without actually buying and wine. Good thing we’ll probably stop back in the fall on our way south!

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

June 30-July 2: Salinas and Monterey

We slept late. We took our time getting ready for travel. We walked the pups. Yes; we lollygagged.

Evolving to a travel style that reduces the number of miles per day has definite benefits. Since we only had about 180 miles to log, Monday was an easy travel day.

Leaving Flying Flags, we cut through beautiful downtown Buellton (it’s only a couple of blocks) and hopped on US-101 heading north. We were traveling familiar territory, since we’ve been visiting this area since the late-1970s. It did feel strange to be headed north, as our past travels have generally had us coming to this area from San Francisco or thereabouts.

After some rolling hills, we cruised past Santa Maria, Nipomo (we’ll get to Jocko’s for steak next time!), and Arroyo Grande before catching another glimpse of the Pacific at Pismo Beach. From there, the highway turns back inland, and we were soon passing the little college town of San Luis Obispo and on the lookout for the vineyards that would tell us we were closing in on Paso Robles.

Continuing north and inland, we soon leveled out in the southern end of the Salinas Valley, “The Salad Bowl of the World”. Vines were still visible at times, but this area is really known for veggies. As we passed the brown NPS signs, I made a mental note to research Pinnacles National Park (“America’s Newest National Park”!) for a future stop (Spring or Fall appears best). Before we knew it, we were entering Salinas, our “home” for the next few days. We hopped off the 101 on the south end of town and were soon parked at the local Elks Lodge, overlooking the municipal golf course.

This is the third or fourth time we’ve stopped at this Lodge, and we were surprised – and pleased – to see signs of life! The Lounge was open in the afternoons and the hall was rented out for what looked to be a wedding. Excellent! We were disappointed with ourselves that we were so wrapped up in our own “stuff” that we didn’t get over for a libation, but we’ll get ‘em next time!

We didn’t actually get much done on this stop. I think we both needed a little time to decompress after the whirlwind of activities and emotions surrounding our stay in Lompoc. A little “chill out time” was definitely in order.

And, speaking of chill, the weather certainly cooperated, with lots of low clouds and fog and temperatures barely breaking the mid-60s. Like many of California’s valleys, the Salinas Valley is cooler at the north because the river flows from the south and ends near Monterey. Especially in the summer, warm air rising in the central and southern parts of the valley pulls cooler air into the valley from the Pacific like a funnel. The area around Monterey and Salinas tends to be stuck under low, thick clouds, even if it’s completely sunny 5-10 miles further inland. For those of us escaping the Arizona heat, this was quite welcome.

When we stopped here in the fall of 2012, I’d wanted to make a day trip over to Monterey, but we didn’t get around to it. This time, we actually did. It’s a short drive out CA-68 from Salinas, past Laguna Seca (motorsports and golf), and into Monterey. It was a ”gray day”, as they often are this time of year, but there were still a few tourists out and about, snapping photos.

Kayaker getting ready to launch from the public beach in Monterey

Remembering those lost...

Geri wants a water feature like this back in AZ. I'm sure the HOA will have no problem with that!

Cannery Row wasn't actually called that until after the Steinbeck novel...

There were lots of interesting flowers...

...and "grasses" growing along the beaches and pedestrian walkways.

We walked down Cannery Row, poked around in some shops, and eventually made our way to their version of “Fisherman’s Wharf” (much more true to its name than the one in San Francisco). Our destination was lunch at LouLou’s Griddle in the Middle, showing our Food Network tendencies (“As seen on Triple-D”!). We waited a minute for a table outside, only to be told they could only serve beer and wine inside. OK, we waited again for a few minutes for a table to clear.

Lunch was decent, although nothing spectacular. If we’d made a special trip just for lunch, I would have been disappointed. Since we were in Monterey anyway, it was fine. We shared a shrimp appetizer (as Akiko Katayama would say, “too oily”), Geri had Crab Cakes (“Too much salad; not enough crab”), and I had Abalone Sliders with Sweet Potato Fries (“Put that on the ‘done’ list”). Nothing was bad, just not great. Like most of the places we’ve ever tried because we saw them on TV.



Since we had some time to kill after lunch, I let Google be our guide, and it led us to a little wine shop/tasting bar a few blocks away. We were the only ones in there, so we ended up chatting with the clerk while tasting and selecting a few if-you-buy-something-from-the-shop-the-tasting-is-free bottles to take back to the coach. All in all, it was a pretty good day.

Memorializing Cannery Row characters
Now, many people know that Salinas is the birthplace of author John Steinbeck. Since I managed to get through my years of schooling without reading any of his “classics” (or at least without any lasting memory of reading them), this fact has never driven me to explore further. There are several sites that could be visited, including the National Steinbeck Center and John Steinbeck Library in Salinas and, of course, elements on Cannery Row in Monterey, but I chose to let sleeping dogs lie at this point. Someday, maybe I’ll feel the urge…

Back home, we finished our relaxing and did our preparation for tomorrow’s travel.