Summer Travel Map

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Back on the road

September 27, 2009
Paso Robles, CA

Well, we're back on the road, and so is the Range Rover.  I picked it up in Sacramento yesterday morning, early.  Too early, it turns out.  I could have sworn that I was told that, on Saturdays, the car rental shop opens at 7:00 AM and the body shop at 7:30.  So, I was on the road at 0-dark-thirty for the one-hour drive from Napa and arrived right at 7:30 AM  - only to find out that both places opened at 9:00.  Bummer!  Oh, well; nap time.  I hung out at the Enterprise office until they opened (not a minute early, even though the desk clerk was hanging out in the back for 30 minutes), got a ride to the body shop, and was back on the road with the Range Rover by 9:30.

The body shop did a reasonably good job with the repairs.  They replaced the bumper cover, the hood, and front fenders, plus lots of trim pieces and underbody parts.  They ended up clear-coating the whole driver's side and most of the passenger's side to tackle the scratches left by the hedge.  This worked in our favor because it also fixed quite a few dings put on in our 60,000+ miles of towing it.  There are still some areas that are dinged up that weren't repaired because the hedge didn't impact them, but overall it looks pretty good.

That said, there are dangling repairs that we'll need to tackle, probably when we land in Arizona for a while in November.  The big ticket item is getting the tow bar base plate reinstalled, along with all the associated wiring for lights and the air line for the brakes.  The body shop wanted no part of this project, so I'll find a place to have it done.  Assuming the base plate isn't bent (the body shop manager did check that and it looks OK), it's all labor and incidentals so it shouldn't cost too much.  We also have to replace or repair the cover we used on the front when towing.  The company we bought it from offers free repairs, but I'm not sure if that includes accident damage.

Two new issues surfaced when I picked it up, though.  Potentially, the body shop broke the pumps for the window washers during the dismantle process, and realized it too late to get replacements on our schedule.  I think we used the washer during our drive from Oregon to Sacramento, but can't swear to it.  No matter, they're broken (there are three pumps, one each for the washers on the windshield, rear window, and headlights) and need to be replaced.  Also, the outside temperature sensor isn't working; it shows -40°F all the time.  I know that this was working when we dropped it off, since Geri radioed me from the road when the temperature hit 100°F during the drive south.  I'll try to get these items fixed at our local Land Rover Centre in Scottsdale.

So, in addition to the Range Rover being on the road, so were we.  Since the caravan ended with our final dinner last night, today was departure day for most folks.  We heard two coaches head out while we were still in bed, and a few more left while we were getting ready.  Since we had a 5-6 hour drive, we didn't have to leave too early.  I targeted 10:00 AM and we actually hit the road about a half-hour early.  It was all highway driving (not our favorite thing any more) and let's just say that the stimulus money hasn't trickled down to highway maintenance along I-680 between Vallejo and San Jose.  We stopped for lunch in Salinas and were all parked at the "Wine Country RV Resort" just after 3:00 PM.  We have a nice site near the dog run, which is good because the pet rules are definitely not dog-friendly.  The park is right next to a Firestone Winery tasting room, so we'll probably stop there for nostalgia's sake.  Firestone in Santa Ynez was the very first winery we visited circa 1979 on our first vacation out here.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Caravan Phase 3 complete

September 26, 2009
Napa, CA

As always, click on pictures to enlarge and links for more info.

We had a great time in Napa/Sonoma this week, and have concluded the caravan as of this evening. What a great time! We had a fantastic groups of folks and a neat set of activities.

Things got off to a quick start shortly after our arrival in Napa. We carpooled off to the Napa Valley Museum to get a historical perspective on the area and the relationship to wine. Although relatively small, this museum was very nicely done. After the museum, we carpooled off to the CIA. No, not Langley, but the Culinary Institute of America. We had time to shop in the kitchen store (who doesn't need new tools?) and then had a cooking demonstration. We learned how to make an interesting tomato soup, and got interesting pointers on techniques and ingredients (Did you ever hear of "manufactured cream? I hadn't.) Since the schedule called for a lasagna dinner (with fabulous bread pudding for dessert) back at the RV Park, Geri and I decided to host a little wine tasting at "happy hour". We all had a good time blind tasting five of Costco's finest. The evening was capped off with another Space Station fly-over.

Tuesday was an interesting day, with less than the usual amount of travel. We carpooled to Beringer Vineyards, where we had a very informative tour, followed by a fantastic lunch at Greystone Restaurant, back at the CIA, which is right next door to Beringer. Both are located in some of the most historic buildings in the Napa Valley. Beringer dates back to 1877 and is the valley's oldest continuously-producing winery (even during prohibition - "for medicinal purposes only"). Greystone was built in 1888, and once housed the Christian Brothers Winery. We followed this up with a nice dinner at Tra Vigne with Stan & Barbara Jones.

Wednesday was a very busy day, with three wineries and a lunch stuffed in. We started the day with a trip all the way north in Napa Valley to Calistoga, where we toured Castello di Amaroso, a real-life European castle that was hand-assembled and built around a state-of-the -art winery. It was a fascinating tour, ending with a nice tasting. It's owned by the same person as our second stop, V. Sattui Winery in St. Helena. Here, we had lunch followed by a tour and tasting. We capped the day off with a tour and tasting at The Hess Collection, where the tour focused on the owner's extensive art collection as well as the very good wines.

On Thursday, we had a complete change of pace. We headed to Sonoma and the coast. Our first stop was Muir Woods, where we had a nice walk among the Redwoods and Sequoia, even though the day started out a bit overcast and foggy. We got into the sun as we headed north to Olema and lunch at the Olema Farmhouse Restaurant. From there, we were on our own for the carpool trip back to Napa. The big treat for the day was that we were able to bring the pups with us. We traveled with Bud & Suzie Walsh, who have two beautiful Goldens. We headed for the beach in Point Reyes, and the big dogs and the small dogs all got a chance to play in the surf. They wore themselves out, we dried them off, and a good time was had by all. We finished the day with a trip back to Taylor's Automatic Refresher in St. Helena for burgers and wine (a Turley Zin, which you can't hardly find anywhere, much less at a burger joint). And the burgers were good as well!

Friday, we were back to the wineries, this time in Sonoma. We visited two wineries, and got a lesson in the business side of the wine world at the same time. Many long-term wineries started as family businesses, and succession planning is always a tricky thing when strong personalities are involved. Over time, family feuds lead to splits, and many times to corporate consolidation. These wineries had it all. Our first stop was at Viansa, started by part of the Sebastiani clan ("VIcki ANd SAm") ousted from the family business. A few years and a messy divorce later, and whoops, you're a unit of Fosters, one of the biggest drinks companies in the world. No matter - lunch and the tasting were fun. Next we were off to Sebastiani Winery in downtown Sonoma. After the family split, another feud resulted in the bulk of the business being sold off, and the continued problems made the premium wine business a good candidate for another sale, this one to the Foley Wine Group. The tour and tasting were quite informative.

Saturday was our free day, and we put it to good use. I was off to Sacramento early to pick up the Range Rover from the body shop. It's looking good, although two minor issues were identified that we'll have to address, probably when we get to AZ in a few weeks. We also did some shopping (who can resist Dean & DeLuca?), had a porcetta sandwich for lunch, and had a chance to relax a bit. We closed out the caravan with a wonderful dinner at Estate Restaurant in Sonoma (carpaccio, veal ravioli, cheese plate, and a neat Barbaresco - woo-hoo).

This was our first caravan, and we had a great time. It was a very compatible group, and everyone had a good time. We'll definitely do this again...

Monday, September 21, 2009

Caravan Phase 2 complete

September 21, 2009
Napa, CA

As always, click on a picture to enlarge it. I've put links to the blog for the caravan on each day, as well.

We relocated today to the Napa Valley Expo, right in the heart of the city of Napa, gateway to the Napa Valley. Can you tell I'm excited to be here?

Before we get into Napa, let me recap the last few days of our journey, focusing on the Sacramento area, including the surrounding counties.

We started Wednesday with a nice drive (even counting the road conditions on I-80 and the heat) from Truckee down to Sacramento. We're staying at the CalExpo RV Park, where Geri and I stopped a week ago while we dropped off the Range Rover for repairs. With a much easier site to get into, we were soon parked and hooked up. The 50 amp power circuits were getting a workout, as temperatures have soared into the upper 90s. After a briefing on the area from a representative of the tourism association, we were off in our carpools to Plymouth, CA, for a wonderful dinner at Taste, one of the top restaurants in the area. We had a great meal (I had beef and Geri had prawns, and both paired nicely with a local Sangiovese), which will be hard to top on the rest of the trip.

Thursday was devoted to a motor coach tour which took us to two wineries, plus a restored country store for lunch. Our first stop, though, was at a farm for retired alpacas, where we learned the difference between them and llamas (llamas are bigger) and got a chance to meet them up close. The first winery, Latcham, specializes in Zinfandel, and they have numerous awards to show for their efforts. The other winery was Bogle, which produces a huge amount of wine each year including a Petit Syrah that we like.

The focus of Friday's ( and part 2) activities was on Sacramento itself. This was a reminder to "stop and smell the roses" - we've been through Sacramento on I-5 and/or I-80 several times but never stopped. This was a chance to catch up on what we'd missed. We started with a walking tour of Old Sacramento (good thing it was early, given the heat) and learned about the city's history and how it served as a major transportation hub for both water and rail. As short shuttle bus ride away, we had a guided tour of the state capitol (no, we didn't see the Govinator), followed by lunch at Fat's, an "Old Sac" institution. From there, many of us toured - and enjoyed - the California State Railroad Museum (did you know then Sacramento was the western terminus of the first transcontinental railroad?) before we all headed for the Sacramento River Train sunset/dinner excursion. Even though the sun set earlier than we'd have liked, a good time was had by all.

Saturday started with a carpool ride out to Grass Valley, where we toured the Empire Mine and had a lunch of pasties (pronounced past'-ee, thank you very much, first made in the area by Cornish miners). In addition to the gold mine itself, closed for years and donated to the State for a park, we had a chance to tour the original owner's "cottage" - assuming that label can describe an 8,000 square foot English -style country house set on 13 acres with formal gardens and a reflecting pool. From the mine, we carpooled to the nearby Pilot Peak Winery, where we watched some grapes being crushed and de-stemmed and had an extremely entertaining tasting emceed by one of the owners. Since we wanted to get back to let the pups out, we had dinner with Bud and Suzie Walsh, one of the other couples on the caravan who are "dog people", near the RV Park. We went to a place called "Tex Wasabi's", owned by Guy Fieri of the Food Network, which was interesting (as in BBQ meets sushi).

Sunday was our free day and we took full advantage of the opportunity to sleep late and catch up on stuff around the coach. Today, we lined up and made the short ~60 mile trek from Sacramento to Napa. Another beautiful day for driving, and a nice surprise with the quality of the park at Napa Expo: all concrete pads and lots of grassy space between sites. We'll definitely try to stay here on our next visit.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Caravan Phase 1 complete

September 15, 2009
United Trails Campground, Hirschdale, CA

Note: As always, click on any picture to enlarge.

We began our adventure with the Monacos in Motion caravan on September 10th. We've been pretty busy, so I'm behind on the Blog (again) but will try to keep up as the remaining two phases progress. The caravan is called "Wines, Mines & More", as we'll tour California mining country, visit and learn about wine country, and have a few other side trips added in for variety.

This caravan is a little different from a lot of tours, since we're not moving our coaches frequently, or far, during the two weeks. We started near Truckee, CA, near Lake Tahoe and the Nevada border at 5,840 feet elevation. We've been positively surprised that we weren't more affected by the elevation on this trip, since we both have felt it in the past. After six nights here, we'll move (tomorrow) to the CalExpo RV Park right in Sacramento for five nights, then the Napa County Fairgrounds for six nights. Each segment of the trip has several days of touring followed by a free day for catching up.

On Day 1, we had a "meet and greet" and orientation meeting with the other eight couples on the trip followed by a wine tasting at a local retailer. After we returned to the park, we had a catered BBQ dinner. I bought some wine at the retailer (we'd visited their other shop in Sausalito a few years ago with our friends Linda and Wendell), so we had a nice Zinfandel with dinner. Since nothing is ever simple these days, the store clerk managed to lock the keys to the rental car (they only give you one key) in the trunk when he put the wine in. Fortunately a call to our roadside assistance folks got us unlocked and on our way within 35 minutes. [Reminder to self: keep them on speed-dial on the cell phone.]

Day 2 dawned bright and cool, and we carpooled into Truckee (truh-key') for a tour. We had a guide from the local historical society who showed us around the local museum (which was the jail until the 1960s) followed by a walking tour of the historic district (love the 1959 Nash Metropolitan, imported from England), ending up at the restored Truckee Hotel (love the commodes with the sink built in). After a quick lunch, we headed out to the Donner State Park and memorial, just outside town. There, we learned about the mistakes and misfortune of the Donner Party who were trapped in the snows during the winter of 1846-47. They were led astray by their guide, and by their inexperience and stubbornness. [Note to self: think twice before taking a "short-cut".] Dinner was decidedly more upbeat, with a very nice meal (with wine pairings) at Moody's Bistro in Old Truckee.

Clouds threatened on Day 3, and we actually got a few raindrops during the day, but nothing to disrupt our plans. This area gets 5 inches of rain and 9 feet of snow annually. We're fortunate to be here before winter sets in. We started the day with a pancake breakfast prepared by several of the couples on the trip with us. The next event for the day was a boat tour of Lake Tahoe, from Tahoe City on the northwest shore to Emerald Bay on the southwest. We had great seats inside the cabin (out of the breeze and sprinkles) and had a nice cruise with lunch. When we got back to the park, we had a great view of a double rainbow during "happy hour", followed by a soup and salad dinner prepared by other participants, and we polished off the leftovers from the BBQ as well.

Day 4 was a long one. We left early (8:30 is early for us) and did a circumnavigation of Lake Tahoe. We made three stops on the western shore: Pine Lodge (aka the Hellman-Ehrman Mansion), the Tallac Historic site (Baldwin, Pope, and Heller estates), and the Taylor Creek NFS Visitor's Center (ranger talk on the geology and ecosystems in place). Similar to some of the places we've visited on the east coast (like Newport, RI), this is an area where the wealthy acquired large tracts of land and built expansive (and expensive) "summer houses" where they could escape the heat. In this case, it was mostly people with mining, timber, and railroad interests from Sacramento/San Francisco. Fortunately, many of these estates were deeded to or purchased by the California State Park system in the 1960s, and have been preserved and restored. After the Taylor Creek stop, which featured an interesting glass-walled peek at the underwater environment of the creek, we finished the circle around the lake, through the Nevada side and back to California, with a stop for dinner in Kings Beach, on the northern shore.

On Day 5, we headed off to the "old west" mining town of Virginia City, in Nevada just south of Reno. It was a very nice drive through varied terrain, from the forested areas where we're staying to the high (6,200 feet elevation) desert in Nevada. We started the tour with a presentation on Samuel Clemens' time in the area, where he worked on the local newspaper and (according to one of three versions of the story) first took the name "Mark Twain". They had what appeared to be an older edition of Tom Sawyer on display, illustrated by Norman Rockwell. After a nice lunch at a local burger joint, we had time to take both the trolley and train narrated tours. We poked around a bit more before heading back to the coach for a rest before dinner (sushi - yum!) in Truckee.

Merlin and Maya Lynn enjoyed their time here as well, since they had a chance to spend four days relaxing and playing in "doggie day care" at Canine Country Pet Pals, where they had a chauffeured ride each morning and evening and spent each day playing with new friends. We were lucky to find such a good spot for them while we were out touring.

Today is a "free day", which came with a week's worth of suggested recreational activities. Like most of our traveling companions, we used the day to relax, catch up on laundry and "fix-it" items (would you believe the door handle fell off the washer - with clothes still inside?), and get ready for tomorrow's travel (105 miles - mostly downhill).

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

New Sightings

September 8, 2009
United Trails Campground, Hirschdale, CA

Yesterday was a quiet day spent mostly in the RV park.  Geri did quite a bit of laundry and made dog food.  I spent part of the day helping to tighten a neighbor's tow rig (yes, we're still very sensitized to the Range Rover's "problem"), and part of the day paying bills.  Overall, a very productive day.

Today, we made a shopping run into Reno (nearest Costco and WalMart, about 20 miles east).  No gambling.  When we got back, we made a quick trip to a local "doggy daycare" provider, since we'll need to have the pups looked after while we're out having fun over the next week or so.  We'll need to have them in day care or boarding for a couple of day in each of our locations on this caravan (here, Sacramento, Napa).

When we got back, Geri started dinner (halibut cheeks in vermouth with rice pilaf) and we spent a few minutes with the other caravan folks at "happy hour".  It was mentioned that we'd be well positioned for a fly-over from the space shuttle and space station tonight at 7:44 PM.  We finished dinner and headed out around 7:40, and were able to see the twin spacecraft streaking past from southwest to northeast just as it got dark.  What a wonderful sight!  It took several minutes for them to transit the sky; real fast-movers.

Just as the spacecraft disappeared, we heard a rustling in the brush a few yards away, and saw several deer poke their heads out.  When they saw us standing there, they turned tail and headed back into the trees.  They were still loitering there when I took the trash down to the dumpster, not going too far.  Of course, they were here before we arrived and they'll be here long after we're gone.  Unfortunately, it was already too dark for pictures.

Tomorrow, I'll give the coach a cleaning on the outside; looking forward to that...

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Off to the mountains

September 6, 2009
United Trails CG, Hirschdale, CA

Yesterday, we packed up the coach and rental in Sacramento and headed to our next destination, just outside Truckee, CA.  By early afternoon, we were nestled into our space among the pines, enjoying the cooler temperatures.  This park is the jumping off point for the two-week caravan we'll be doing, starting on the 10th.  Several other participants (including the co-leaders and "tailgunners") are already here, so we got a chance to "meet and greet" with the Irwins, Barrons, McCrays, and Hams yesterday.  We were a little concerned that we'd have a tough time getting in early on short notice given the holiday weekend but we worried needlessly as the park is nowhere near full.  In fact, it's pretty empty.  Wonder what's up with that?

In any event, we'll plan to use the next few days to do a thorough cleaning and tackle a few projects around the coach.  It'll be good to have a bit of relaxation before we pick up again with the caravan.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Now we can relax

September 4, 2009
CalExpo, Sacramento, CA

Today was an easy day.  We unloaded a few things from the Range Rover and headed for the body shop that the insurance company arranged.  They'll do some clean-up and break down today so the adjuster can deal with it on Tuesday, after the holiday.  The Enterprise guy showed up and we were off in a rental before we knew it.

Once we were able to breathe a sigh of relief that the Rover was settled (it's almost like one of the family, I suppose), we hit the ATM, the Safeway, and headed back home.  After walking the pups, we set out again. 

First, we stopped at a dog boarding/day care shop near the park to check them out.  When we're back here during the Caravan, we'll have a couple of days where day care or overnight boarding makes sense given our schedule.  We found the shop, Cha Cha's Doggie Daycare, to be something we can work with.  Basically, they've taken an older (i.e., small) residence and made it into a cage-free dog environment.  They even have a web cam so you can check up on your pets!

We then hit the local shopping area and stopped at Best Buy (needed batteries for the FRS radios and ended up with a new set for the price of two batteries) and the bookstore (Geri's tanked up on books for a week or so).  Back home, a beer and a pizza later and we're finally starting to relax. 

Tomorrow, we're heading for Truckee, near Lake Tahoe.  We'll check into the park where the caravan starts a few days early and have a chance to clean the coach, plan some meals, and chill.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Out of the frying pan...

September 3, 2009
CalExpo, Sacramento, CA

...and into - California?  Well, we only saw a few fires in the distance today, but you'd have thought we were back in Arizona when the temperature topped 105 degrees as we drove down I-5.  We made great progress, leaving Sutherlin, OR aroound 8 AM.  425 miles later, we were fighting rush hour traffic on I-80 in Sacramento, heading for the CalExpo RV Park.  Since it's State Fair time, we were lucky to get the last 50 amp space.  With temperatures like this, 50 amp service is needed to run the A/C.

Geri did a fabulous job in driving the Range Rover the whole way.  We stopped roughly every two hours.  Rest breaks, lunch, fuel, and several phone calls with the insurance claims person.  The pups were confused about why Mom wasn't in her regular seat, but the were pretty good for me.

Once we got plugged in, we looked at each other and said "no cooking tonight"!  On the web to search for restaurants - ooo, there's an Outback very close.  Eat there or take out?  Eat there; no dishes.  Off we went, had a nice meal with a doggie bag, and we're still able to call it an early night.  Tomorrow, we try to get the Rover in the shop...

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Is it "wildlife" if they hang out in the RV park?

September 2, 2009
Sutherlin, OR

We stopped for the night at the Escapees Park in Sutherlin, Oregon, as we headed south.  Since we're going to be in the Bay Area for our "Wines, Mines, and More" caravan, it made the most sense to try to have the Range Rover repaired here.  Since the central point for the caravan is Sacramento, that's our destination.  We cut across OR-22 from Hebo (forever known as "the dreaded Hebo") toward Salem, then south on OR-99W to Corvallis, then east to I-5.  After a quick stop in Coburg for fuel, we continued south to Sutherlin.  It's nice to boondock off the highway in a quiet park for a change.

We settled in and had some leftovers (Hi, Marlene) and took the pups out for their evening walk.  We saw several jack-a-lopes (actually just long-eared rabbits), and then came upon a small herd of white-tailed deer grazing right in the park.  There were six of them altogether, and they were hanging out right in the center of the park, grazing on the plants in various RV sites.  One of them started to walk toward us as we approached (Maya Lynn didn't quite know what to do, since her low growl didn't have the desired effect), and I was concerned because that's a sign of familiarity or aggression.  Have you ever seen people flogged by deer on America's Funniest Videos?  Not me, thanks.

Anyway, since the animals didn't seem to care we were there, we finished our walk and headed back to call it an early night.  It was a rough day...

Headline: "At Least Nobody Was Hurt"

September 2, 2009
Sutherlin, OR

Note: Click on any image to enlarge...

Wow, what a day.  We had a serious failure on the tow apparatus today, and all we can say is "thank goodness nobody was hurt".  We were in a small burg called Hebo, Oregon, on US-101 heading south.  The road made a 90 degree turn with one of those yellow diamond signs recommending 20 mph.  I slowed to 15 mph for margin and made the turn nicely, but immediately found a cat crossing the road so we came to a complete stop.  Out of the corner of my eye, I saw a car on the driver's side and thought "what kind of idiot is passing me here?" to myself.  As I turned to look, it was US!  The Range Rover had come loose from the back of the coach and was gliding toward a house on the other side of the road!  Everything went slow-motion on me at that point.  This can't be.  The safety cables keep the car with us.  The breakaway system applies the brakes.  But, there it is.  How can I stop it?  I can't, of course.  It narrowly missed a pole and a parked car, and comes to rest in a hedge about 8 feet from the front of somebody's house.  Holy crap!

So, we pull over and go figure out what happened and more importantly, what to do.  I call the police and they send a deputy sheriff.  The owner of the house (runs a body shop out back) and I trade info.  The tenant of the house shows up in a tow truck, ready to do some business.  I call the insurance people.  Everyone asks "Are you alright?" over and over.  Well, yes (nobody was hurt) and no (I can't believe this happened).

Once we calm down, several guys stood on the hedge to keep the branches down and I backed out.  We realize that the car has a lot of cosmetic damage but runs fine (well, fine after I take a few broken pieces of trim off and bungee up the rest).  We sit down for a minute and realize that our best move is to make a beeline for the Sacramento area, about 600 miles away, since we'll be in Truckee (60 miles east) and Napa (60 miles west) during our upcoming caravan, so any body shop will have 3+ weeks to fix things.  We hope that'll work out, and set course for I-5.  We stopped for the night at an Escapees Park about 2 hours north of the California/Oregon border, and we'll make the rest of the trek to Sacramento tomorrow.  We hope to get with an adjuster and body shop on Friday.  Not much will happen given the holiday weekend, but at least the process will be started.

What a day!  We're OK and only the hedge and car suffered damage, so we have that to be thankful for.  If you've ever been on US-101, you can imagine what might have happened if it had let loose anywhere else: windy roads could have sent it right into oncoming traffic or over a cliff into the Pacific.  Wow!