Summer Travel Map

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Happy Halloween!

October 31, 2009
Peoria, AZ

Wow, what a blur the past week has been. I can't believe it's the weekend, or the end of October for that matter. This week was pretty typical for us in terms of the "first week back". We've been getting back in the swing of life off the road.

Since we arrived home in the afternoon on Sunday, Monday was devoted to unloading the coach. We like to move a lot of stuff back to the house for a couple of reasons. First, we're trying to avoid duplication, so we have "one" of a lot of things these days. When I was still w*rking, we used to keep many things duplicated in the coach so we didn't spend a lot of time swapping things back and forth. Now that we're less time-constrained, it makes more sense to avoid the expense of duplication and spend a little extra time managing our belongings. Second, and just as important, the loading and unloading process gives us the chance to make sure we're actually carrying around things we actually need and use. It's amazing that every fall we find stuff in the coach that we've been carrying around all summer (or longer) and just never used. This process is usually a good source for things that belong on eBay or at Goodwill, typical fall/winter projects for me.

Since we did a good job at getting a head start with unloading on Sunday, Monday was an easy day. We started at the front of the coach and unloaded the inside first. After lunch, I pulled the tools and spare parts out of the bays, and by 3:00 PM she was back in storage. With the economy being weak, things seems to have stabilized for the storage business, since I was able to get exactly the same spot as last winter. At least I won't get confused about where to park. Rates went up to $68/month (from $65/month last winter), but it's still the best deal I've found in the area.

Since we knew we wouldn't want to cook after working with the coach all day, I'd booked a reservation at Buca di Beppo, a chain restaurant over by the Peoria Sports Complex. It was "Pasta Day", so their promotion involved free pasta: for every entree we got a free side plus a free pound of uncooked spaghetti to take home. And take home we did, since we had entrees of chicken parm and Chianti-braised beef and took some of both home for leftovers. Marlene would be proud.

Tuesday, we started putzing around the house but the main event was getting Geri over to the imaging center for her second follow-up MRI. Since this isn't an "open MRI" facility, she needed a "happy pill" to calm her down before the procedure. She was happy and everything went well; we were back home by 3:00 PM. We'll get the results when she sees the urologist in mid-November.

On Wednesday, I started working on the one problem we encountered with the house: both our "over the air" TV antennas are out of whack. We can get everything we need from DirecTV, of course, but it's nice to have the local channels when we're here. It's especially convenient because the evening network shows are on an hour earlier in the Mountain Time Zone, and us old folks can't stay up too late. The kitchen TV is getting some but not all channels (no Fox - figures now that the World Series is on!) and the living room/bedroom (both on the same antenna) wasn't working at all. I got a new external antenna from Radio Shack, but didn't have time to do much because we needed to head for the vet in the afternoon. Maya Lynn was due for her Bordatella vaccination. She had that and passed her exam with flying colors.

Thursday was our day to go in different directions. Geri (finally) had a chance for some "alone time", heading out to get her hair done and then some shopping. I spent the day finishing up getting one TV antenna replaced and aimed (which was quite difficult until I realized that the power supply for the in-line amplifier was bad: .15 volts instead of the specified 15). I tried every combination of direct connections and replacement cables before I finally got what I wanted. Since we're feeding two TVs and have a relatively long cable run, I have to make sure that the signal is optimized to make up for the loss in the wires. I think I've got it; now I just need to "find" Fox on the kitchen TV.

Friday was another busy day. We had to head out early (for us) just after 9:00 AM to take Merlin to the vet specialist in Scottsdale. This is where he was referred when he was so sick last fall, and we wanted to follow up with her because he developed a small (2 cm) lump on his side near where they did the liver biopsy. She did a needle biopsy and verified that it was simply a benign fatty growth (a lipoma). As long as it doesn't change or bother him, he's OK - very good news. They're running a full set of blood tests, which he hasn't had since New Jersey; we'll get those results early next week.

Since we were out in Scottsdale (about a 35 mile drive), we decided to make the most of the trip. We stopped at Sur La Table and Crate and Barrel looking for a few things (and looking at lots of things we'd like but don't need). We had lunch at Panda Express and stopped at an Italian Deli we like (every Cento product known to man and mortadella with pistachios - yum) before heading home. It was a long and productive day.

We also managed to eat well this week. We made chicken breasts, pounded and breaded with garlic rice, Geri's famous sausage and peppers with pan-fried potatoes, and finished the leftovers from Monday night. We had good wines with each, focusing on things we brought back from California with us, since we haven't had a chance to shop for "everyday wine" for home.

Today has been a day for catching up in the study, making sure bills are paid and money is moved around, and catching up on blog posts. I still need to get the patio washed down and get the waterfall going in the back yard - that's next!

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Back "home" once again

October 25, 2009
Peoria, AZ

Today's drive from Las Vegas to Peoria was mostly uneventful, unless you count when Merlin tried to eat the inspector's hand when we stopped for the checkpoint at the Hoover Dam. Until they finish construction on the bypass (scheduled for "2008"), there are checkpoints to ensure that we're not terrorists before anyone is allowed to drive across the dam, and all RVs need to be searched. I asked the three guys to step back while I came out with the dogs to have Geri hold them, but Merlin's leash was too long and one guy wouldn't take direction. Hey, he's just protecting his territory. Like most security checkpoints these days, the examination is cursory at best (open all the bay doors but don't check anything in there) with more attention being paid to my reaction than the vehicle itself. If I'd acted wrong, I'm sure a different crew would have taken things apart, but we know the drill and were on our way in less than 10 minutes.

We could have avoided the dam by taking US-95 south and taking NV-163 to Laughlin and AZ-68 to Kingman, but that would be a lot longer than the 10-minute checkpoint. We followed US-93 from the dam, through Kingman and along I-40 for a bit, down to Wickenburg. We were surprised to find that a bypass of sorts had been built to connect US-93 to US-60 without entering "downtown" Wickenberg; we haven't been out that way since early-2008. From there, it was a short drive on US-60 to the civilization of Sun City West and Surprise before we got to Peoria. We were "home" by 3:30 and tackled some of the unloading, primarily the refrigerator and freezer. All house systems checked out OK, with no heat damage over the summer and no leaks as I turned the water and gas back on.

We had a great summer "vacation". We travelled about 11,200 miles round trip and used 1,950 gallons of diesel fuel. Because of our creative traveling companions, our per-night cost for parks was $23.25, and that was because we stayed at a few "expensive" places toward the end (we were right around $19/night coming back from Alaska).

Now, we shift gears and spend a few weeks off the road...

"Tonight's Gonna Be A Good Night"...

October 25, 2009
Las Vegas, NV

After getting warmed up with the cheesesteaks, it was time for evening entertainment. The ladies were off to see the Cirque du Soleil show Zumanity at New York New York, and the guys headed to Sam Boyd Stadium at UNLV for the sold-out U2 concert. We found a place to park just before the stadium, which paid dividends in terms of easy-in/easy-out, and found our seats with little trouble: second row up at about the "fifty yard line" (of course, the stadium wasn't set up for football, but you get the idea). I'd gotten the tickets during a pre-sale (before availability to the general public) on; since U2 is my favorite group, I've been to see them on every tour since 1987.

The opening act turned out to be The Black-Eyed Peas, a pretty popular group in their own right. They opened with "Let's Get It Started", a perfect way to begin and ended their 45-minute set with "I Gotta Feeling" (the chorus is "Tonight's gonna be a good night").

U2 did their standard 2 hour+ show, opening up songs from their new album ("No Line On the Horizon") and then mixing in both new and old material for the rest of the show. Like many of the other shows I've seen, classics from early albums like "The Unforgettable Fire" and especially "The Joshua Tree" got the biggest fan reaction, with the newest material receiving a more muted response. This seems to be pretty typical, as there aren't any new break-out hit singles and the album seems to need time to grow on you (at least for me). It was similar a few years ago when "Pop" and "How to Dismantle and Atomic Bomb" came out.

It was interesting to see the varied age spread in the crowd. There were parents with kids in the 10-12 years old range down on the floor dancing around, lots of twenty-somethings, and even a few gray-hairs like me. The area we sat in (well, stood in - at a U2 concert, you're on your feet from the beginning until the lights come up after the encores) was filled with die-hard fans, not surprising since we all bought the tickets in the pre-sale. There were a couple of guys behind us who were on a three-week trek to see as many shows as possible (pretty good at $250+/ticket), and a couple that already had tickets to see them in Helsinki next year, as the tour continues. I'm pretty sure I'll hold off on buying a ticket (Geri's "retired" from U2 shows) for the next round of North American tour dates unless there's a follow-up album that will change things up.

Overall, it was an exceptionally good show, and I think Al and Mike enjoyed themselves as well. It's not "classic country" or "classic rock" like some friends enjoy, but U2's music continues to be my favorite...

Saturday was a time for breakfast in the morning, then some preparation for Sunday's travel in the afternoon. We went to "Hash House A G-Go" off the strip for the biggest plates we've ever seen. The ladies all had hash, and each one came in its own cast iron skillet - full. Leftovers? You bet! Back at the coach, I dumped and flushed, put the bike back on the Range Rover, and brought the awnings in. Geri straightened up the patio furniture and put away most of the stuff on the inside. We knew we wanted to get a relatively early start in the morning, since she didn't want to be driving after dark - and it gets dark so early! We definitely got spoiled with the "midnight sun" up in Alaska.

We had one more event to handle, though. Mike had made reservations at Lawry's for a final (for us - the Connecticut Crowd was staying in Las Vegas until Tuesday) for prime rib, so we continued our Adkins-like culinary experience with more beef. We had a great time, Al picked out perfect wines, starting with a lighter Pinot Noir and finishing with a Cabernet blend (Paraduxx from Napa Valley). We made friends with the six ladies from New Orleans celebrating a birthday at the next table and finally left when we noticed that the staff was standing around the edge of the dining room waiting for us to get the hint that they wanted to close up. Typical for us...

So, this morning we're up and at 'em, ready to head back to Arizona. As soon as I finish this, it's "dish down" and "wheels up".

Friday, October 23, 2009

Always good to catch up

October 23, 2009
Las Vegas, NV

Last night we had fun. First, it was off to dinner with Cindy and Larry. We make it a point to catch up with them each time we visit Las Vegas. Come to think of it, we seem to visit Las Vegas quite a bit in our travels, considering that we're not gamblers, although it's been a year-and-a-half since our last real stop. We don't count passing through on the way north in April, since we only stopped at the Camping World for a new tow bar.

We met for dinner at the new M Resort casino, which was very convenient for both as they live in Henderson and we were near I-15 just south of the Strip and airport. Las Vegas Boulevard continues south for quite a while (11 miles?) from where the major casino-hotel complexes are, and the M Resort is about 8 or 9 miles south, about as far as you could go for development along that line. You can tell that the place is new (I think it had just opened when we passed by in April), as some areas are still under construction or final deployment, and some of the signage was generic ("Steakhouse" or "Italian Restaurant" instead of the actual name of the eatery).

Anyway, we found our way without too much difficulty and met Cindy and Larry right on schedule. They're both doing well and looking good. We caught up for quite a while before we took the hint that the waiter really wanted us to order. The food was pretty good, too; lots of places need quite a while to get their "sea legs" and consistently put out good food, and Marinelli's is doing well.

After coffee, we said our goodbyes and headed back. Now, normally we'd be heading back home but in this case, we were going to meet the Connecticut Crowd (Pat, Al, Mike, Lynne) once they arrived. They chose the Oyster Bar at Harrah's even though they were staying at the Flamingo two hotels away, but who are we to argue. We arrived first and parked with the valet (I'd already called to see if we had a vertical clearance issue with the roof pod on the Range Rover - yes, so let the valet deal with it), and Geri was already done with her first round of oysters on the half shell by the time they arrived, along with another couple that Mike knows who happened to be in town at the same time. We hung out and finished our wine while they all motored through some seafood platters (air travel makes you hungry since they stopped serving food). Around midnight, they hit the wall due to the time difference, the waitress wanted to go home, and the party broke up. We headed home to walk the pups.

Today was a pretty calm day, as all we had planned early on was to have the Connecticut Crowd over to the coach for a late lunch/early dinner (pre-show). We made our kicked-up "Philly" Cheesesteaks. I put "Philly" in quotes because we have enough experience with the real thing to know a) you can only get the real thing at one of a handful of shops in Philadelphia (no matter what they tell you somewhere else) and b) ours aren't authentic in any way since we can't get the right bread or meat on the road. So, we do the best we can with what we have. We'd bought the meat (half of a whole beef tenderloin, trimmed and chopped up) and cheese (aged provolone and something with truffle), and prepared the sides (caramelized onions, sautéed peppers and onions, and fried mushrooms) earlier in the week.

The Connecticut Crowd arrived by cab around 3:00 PM, we fired up the grill for the griddle, and the cooking was under way as soon as we'd popped the cork on a California Pinot Noir and served a couple of vodka tonics. With the truffle cheese and a drizzle of white truffle olive oil, the sandwiches were reasonably good, even if the roll to filling ratio was a bit on the high side (you don't want the rolls too big so the meat and cheese get lost). The wines were very good as well, highlighting that California can do pretty well with Pinot Noir (Mike's a fan of Oregon Pinots, but coming around).

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Now, that's more like it

October 22, 2009
Las Vegas, NV

First, let me say that it's not like us to go out to dinner two night s in a row, much less to two steakhouses in a row. But hey, it's Vegas, baby!

Carnevino was this evening's destination. It's in the Palazzo hotel, which is a new addition to the Venetian property on The Strip and billed as the world's largest "green" building. Carnevino is an "Italian Steakhouse", which certainly combines two of our favorite culinary genres. We each decided on a three-course approach: appetizer, pasta, entree. Geri had Calamari, Bucatini and a Pork Chop Milanese. All were excellent. The sauces for the squid and pasta were spot on, and the chops were pounded thin as a scaloppini. I had a Carpaccio done with aged skirt steak, "Spago" pasta with a lamb ragu, and a Filet Mignon. The salad had fresh arugula with a lemon vinaigrette that was crisp and peppery, and the pasta sauce was much lighter than the version that I make at home. Geri and I switched pasta plate halfway through so we each got a chance to try both. To top it off, the steak had to be in my "top 5" best I've ever had. At one-third the price of the Waygu we had the night before, it was a downright bargain!

This restaurant has wine service down as well. They had three roving sommeliers covering the dining room, so accessibility and visibility was excellent. I selected a 1999 Carlo Giacosa Barbaresco, and didn't have to ask for decanting. From the table, I was able to see the wine service station clearly, and noticed that the first bottle was tested and conferred over, then discarded. The sommelier then brought over another bottle and told us that the first wasn't acceptable to him and the wine team. Before service, he seasoned the glasses and verified that the second bottle was appropriate. As someone who has (unfortunately) had to send corked wine back on occasion, I really appreciated the attention to detail and honesty.

We finished off dinner with dessert, another out of character thing for us. We shared the "pumpkin donuts", which we more like donut holes filled with a pumpkin puree and lightly fried (is there such a thing as "lightly" fried?). They were paired with a Solera-style dessert wine (the name of which I neglected to retain - d'oh) and we ended with cappuccinos.

As we were leaving, I asked to speak to a manager, simply to let him know how much we liked the food and appreciated the service. I think he was expecting a complaint, poor guy.

Today, we picked up a few more things from the grocery, made sandwiches from Geri's leftover pork from last night, and did some more prep work for Friday's pre-concert/theater snacks. Tonight, we're headed to the new M Resort south of town to have dinner with Cindy and Larry, friends we've been visiting here for several years. After that, plane schedules willing, we'll meet up with the Connecticut crowd at Harrah's Raw Bar for a nightcap once they arrive in town.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

When is good not great?

October 21, 2009
Las Vegas, NV

Last night we went to the MGM Grand on The Strip for the evening. Back in August, I'd purchased tickets to the Cirque du Soleil show Kà online. As is our custom when we go to shows like this, we made reservations for a restaurant in the same hotel to avoid travel complications.

So, we drove over to the hotel with no traffic issues and parked in the garage. I was a little worried about clearance since we have the roof pod on, but the 8' 8" sign at the entrance made us comfortable. I'd picked Craftsteak for dinner, since we've tried some of the other restaurants in the MGM Grand before and like to try new things. We decided to try their Wagyu beef steaks, the domestic version of Japan's famed Kobe Beef. While good, neither of us found it to live up to the hype, so lesson learned there. We did pair it with a very good Philip Togni Cabernet Sauvignon from the 2001 vintage - on the recommendation from the sommelier (yes, guys do ask for assistance at times).

We were stuffed (overly so, actually) as we walked across the casino to the Kà Theater, and only had a short wait before they opened for seating. Since I had ordered the tickets so far in advance and done so through the "Cirque Club", we had seats in the first row center. The show was very good, perhaps a little more focused on dance and storytelling than most of the other Cirque shows that feature acrobatics. The seats were very good as well, although some of the aerial action took place over and behind our heads; the best seats are probably about 10 rows back. The seats did have embedded speakers in the headrests, though, so that made for a very good auditory experience.

It was after midnight when we got home, but we still walked the pups before bedtime. All in all a very good evening.

Today was the day for getting up late and taking an afternoon nap. In between, we did some prep work for Friday afternoon. On Thursday night, Geri's daughter, Pat, arrives from Connecticut for a few days of vacation with her husband, Al, and their friends, Mike and Lynn. On Friday, the guys are going to the U2 concert at UNLV and the gals are going to Cirque du Soleil's Zumanity burlesque show. We'll have everyone over here for kicked-up Philly Cheesesteaks in the afternoon, coupled with a bottle or two of the California Pinot Noir we collected, I'm sure. So, we have the whole beef tenderloin (I did mention kicked-up Cheesesteaks?) trimmed up, onions are carmelized, peppers are sauteed, and mushrooms are braised. With aged provolone and truffle oil, we should have a winner.

I also finished up a task that's been on my list all summer: writing up and posting online reviews of all the various RV parks we stayed at this year. Since I rely on these reviews as part of selecting parks where we stay, it's only fair that I submit my perspective for others. Since we stayed at about 20 different parks, this took up a good bit of the day, but I'm happy it's done.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

October 20, 2009
Las Vegas, NV

Sunday was our travel day and everything went like clockwork. We tried a different route, designed to avoid most of the potential issues with Los Angeles traffic. We hit the road roughly on schedule at 7:20 AM (early but not out of bounds, as the sun was already up). Hopefully, we didn't wake too many of the neighbors as we eased out of the relatively tight spot, with about two feet to spare given the other rigs and parked cars.

Our route took us south on US-101, then east on CA-126 once we got to Ventura. This was a great 4-lane road, freeway to Santa Paula and an easy drive over to Santa Clarita. We hopped on the I-5 south for only a couple of miles then north on CA-14 toward Palmdale/Lancaster. We've been up this way several times for rallies at the Antelope Valley Fairgrounds. We cut off on the Pearblossom Highway to CA-138 to CA-18 directly east to Victorville. From there, we turned north on I-15 right into Las Vegas. We stopped for breakfast along CA-126 and for fuel and lunch (both "fuel", I suppose) in Barstow, and rolled into the Las Vegas Motorcoach Resort by mid-afternoon. Perfect.

The weather's been nice but breezy. OK, windy. Temperatures were warm to start but are supposed to be in the low-80s for most of the week. We're looking forward to that, as we've got several activities planned for the week.

Monday was a day for chores. Geri knocked out a couple of loads of laundry and we each spent some time on the phone arranging things for when we get back to AZ. Geri's got hair lined up, plus her next follow-up MRI to verify that her kidney is OK. Merlin and Maya Lynn are going to the vet. I've got city services (water - sewer - trash) restarted, and made arrangements to reactivate our high-speed internet service via Cox Cable.

I decided to do that since we had some capacity issues last year with the Verizon "air card"; there's a 5 gigabyte limit on that service and we came close to going over. Who wants to be constrained? Cable is cheaper, I can suspend the air card, and it's faster as well. With the new cable modem I picked up (thanks to a Best Buy coupon), we should have 20mbps service by the time we get home. Installation should be a snap since all the wiring is done from the service we had before.

We also did some shopping Monday afternoon, checking out a new Whole Foods right on the strip north of here (Blue Diamond), plus Wally World and Costco. Since we're eating out most nights this week, I decided to fill our dance card by booking a reservation at Carnevino, a new Mario Batali/Joe Bastianich venture in the new Palazzo Hotel for Wednesday night. is our friend. To prepare ourselves for feasting, we just had a small salad with some sautéed bay scallops for dinner.

Today was a relaxing day, as we spent most of our time at the coach. Tonight, we'll head to the MGM Grand for dinner and a show.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Wrapping up our Buellton and California Stay

October 17, 2009
Buellton, CA

As always, click on any picture to enlarge it...

Wow, the week has passed quickly! Once the rains ended, we did some shopping to make sure we have enough supplies, and managed to work in a few more wineries. Surprised?

Wednesday was still cloudy and showery after Tuesday's heavy rains, but we decided to venture out anyway in the afternoon. We headed north on US-101 to Santa Maria, where I had a coupon I needed to use at Best Buy (new cable modem for the AZ house - more on that later) and we made a supply stop at Costco. We did one of their rotisserie chickens for dinner; always good and enough for leftovers. On the way back to Buellton, the skies started to clear and by evening the starts were out. Storm over.

Thursday was a brilliant sunny day; not a cloud was to be seen. We dropped off some of the Costco loot at Geri's sister's place in Lompoc after having brunch at Ellen's, a local Danish-oriented (cuisine, not pastry) breakfast/lunch place right next to the RV park. We've been going there for years, usually once each visit. This gave us the strength for wine tasting, so after a quick stop in Solvang (Danish-themed "village") we headed for Los Olivos. After a stop at the local gourmet shop, we aimed for Lincourt Vineyards, one of the "sister wineries" to Foley, where we stopped on Monday. It was named for the owner's two daughters, so that term really applies. Geri found a neat driveway gate across the street, then we tasted; we bought; we joined their wine list. we also got a recommendation or two of other places to visit.

It was another beautiful day on Friday, although warmer. We left the air conditioning on for the pups, and headed over to Solvang to pick up wines we had already purchased from the "wine club" at D'Alfonso-Curran wines. We picked up a year's worth of wines (three paid-for shipments, plus the November release that'll be shipped out in a few weeks). Good deal. From there, we headed to one of our favorite wine routes, the "Foxen Canyon Wine Trail", which heads north from Los Olivos. We stopped at Foxen, which has built a whole new winery/tasting room near their old place, lovingly referred to as "the shack". We had a nice tasting and picked up a few more bottles for the collection there, then headed back to a relatively new winery, Tres Hermanas. This place is great: for every few bottles of wine you buy, you get to stay in their on-site RV park "out back behind the barn". Now, that's our kind of place! We headed out toward Santa Barbara for dinner, catching up with Geri's niece, Cindy, her husband, Mike, and their daughter, Jennifer, for a great dinner.

Today was another hot day. It's "never" this hot here. We headed back toward Lompoc today, stopping at Geri's sister's to say "so long" to Kathy and Lloyd for this trip, then visiting two wineries right in Lompoc's "wine ghetto". This is the name given to an industrial park of warehouse condos set on the outskirts (OK, the "in"-skirts, since it's the first place you see when you get into town), "behind the Home Depot". We had an appointment to visit Black Sheep Finds, a small husband/wife operation making some nice wines from purchased grapes (we "found" them when we bought a bottle of their "Genuine Risk" Merlot when we were on our recent caravan, in Truckee of all places). We tasted a couple of barrel samples (can't wait for the 2009 Carneros Pinot Noir) and ended up with a mixed case of Bordeaux and Rhône varietals. From there, we traveled 200 feet to our next stop, Fiddlehead, where we tasted some very nice Sauvignon Blancs and Pinot Noirs, met the winemaker, joined another wine "club", and added a few more bottles to the collection. Thank goodness this was our last winery stop!

When we got home, I did a lot of the departure activities (dumping and pumping) so we'll have a clean start tomorrow morning. We headed to dinner tonight at one of our long-time favorites, the Hitching Post ("as seen in Sideways"), where Geri had a great grilled artichoke and we both had steaks, coupled with a 2004 Hitching Post Pinot Noir. Great match! After dinner, we finished up our pre-departure activities for the night, and we're ready for an early (7:00 AM) departure tomorrow...

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Winter rains starting early

October 13, 2009
Buellton, CA

We knew that today would be a day for "rainy day projects" from the weather forecast. A large storm is moving in off the Pacific and, although we're along the southern edge of the impacted area, we're still expected to get 2"+ of rain by tomorrow. This is quite a concern on a couple of fronts. With all the fires in California this summer, a lot of areas will be susceptible to mudslides this winter. They're calling this the first of the "winter storms", even though winter is a long way off and the rainy season doesn't usually start until December-January.

The second area of concern is for the grape harvest. Rain at harvest time brings a couple of risks. First, wine grapes need to be very concentrated when they're crushed; wine grapes are smaller than blueberries, not like the big ones you see in the grocery store. Excess water absorbed after a rain can dilute the juice and make weak wines. The other worry is mold that can form on the grapes before they are harvested. While some wines benefit from some growths (some types of sweet dessert wines in particular), it can be deadly for most table wines. We'll start hearing later in the week (it's supposed to clear up by tomorrow afternoon) how the vineyards have fared in this rain.

The pups aren't fazed by the rain, so we got our foul-weather gear out and have already walked them three times. We look like reporters from the Weather Channel out in the downpours with 30 MPH winds blowing us around.

Geri's making Swedish Meatballs for dinner, with pan-roasted potatoes and sautéed carrots. I'll be digging out a nice Australian Shiraz, quite a change of pace from the California wines we've been focused on lately.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Family Visit

October 12, 2009
Lompoc, CA

Today, we visited Geri's sister, Kathy, over in Lompoc. We headed that way late in the morning and had a nice visit with Kathy and her friend, Lloyd, over lunch at a local restaurant. We stopped back at her house for a while afterward, and waited for Geri's niece, Debbie, to arrive from work. We hung out with them, and Debbie's dog Spike (an 8-pound Dachshund-like pup), catching up on things. Kathy's been having some health issues, and Debbie's working hard to provide extra in-home care as needed.

On the way back to Buellton, we made a quick stop at the Foley Estates tasting room, and added several more nice Pinot Noirs to the inventory. We've met the winemaker for Foley, Kris Curran, before, and enjoy her wines quite a bit. She makes wines with her husband under the D'Alfonso-Curran banner, and we'll stop by their tasting room in Solvang later in the week. We're on their "wine list" and have several shipments "on hold" for our pickup.

Dinner was simple: a salad with Geri's vinaigrette, olives and sautéed shrimp, which went nicely with a Chateau St. Jean Sonoma Chardonnay.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Travel day - Oceano to Buellton

October 11, 2009
Buellton, CA

Today was a simple day. Get from one RV park to another: Oceano to Buellton. Since it was only 50 miles, we did our packing up and preparation in the morning and hit the road just after the 11:00 AM check-out time. We were at our next destination, Flying Flags RV Resort (named for the street it's on, Avenue of the Flags) in Buellton a little after noon. We were prepared for a wait to check in, since past experience told us they were sticklers on the 2:00 PM arrival time, but were pleasantly surprised to see that they've loosened up quite a bit since we were here last in March of 2008. We knew that they were doing site upgrades at that time, and were please to see the results this time. They leveled and graded most of the sites, installed new grass and small poured-concrete patios, and opened up the area with the judicious removal of some trees. We were able to get parked relatively easily (being an older park with upgraded sites, it's still quite tight for maneuvering), have a clear shot for a satellite signal, and took our time getting set up. We had a nice chili for dinner that Geri had made a few days in advance, allowing it to mellow and blend a bit. Paired with a value (Bogle) Zinfandel, it made for a nice travel-day meal.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Pismo Beach visit wrap-up

October 10, 2009
Pismo Beach/Oceano, CA

We wrapped up our stay on the dunes today after a couple of days relaxing and enjoying the cool temperatures. After a series of cloud-free days, we started to get a marine layer in the mornings, and it burned off later each day. Obviously, the weather's changing. We've used the heat each morning to "take the chill off". Today, I ran the diesel-powered furnace instead of the heat pumps (just the roof air conditioners running "backward") to give it the monthly exercise.

Thursday was a relaxing day. Geri did some laundry and we booth spent some time reading. I caught up on some back issues of Arizona Highways (a fabulous magazine, by the way), and actually finished a novel. I wanted to do this because I have the new Dan Brown book, sequel to The DaVinci Code, queued up next. Two books in one summer - haven't done that in quite a few years. I used to be a big book reader but got away from it in my working years, since life was just too fast-paced. Four-plus years later, I guess I'm starting to slow down enough to read a book again.

Friday started cloudy and stayed that way until well into the afternoon. Since we're still in "wine country", I did some research and selected two wineries to visit. There are many more, of course, but our capacity (both for our consumption and storage in the coach for purchased bottles) requires a bit of restraint. Let's say we're more focused in our approach. Yeah, that's the ticket.

Anyway, we visited the two tasting rooms, starting with Domaine Alfred, a long-time (15 years, which is a long time in this area) producer in the Edna Valley. This operation was purchased by an investment group a little over a year ago, and they're in the process of changing the branding to the Chamisal name (What - Domaine Alfred doesn't have enough sizzle?). The holding company also owns Archery Summit in Oregon, one of the top producers of Pinot Noir in the Willamette Valley, so this bodes well for the California property. They still make a hodge-podge of wines but seem to be settling on varieties from Burgundy and the Rhône. We tasted Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, as well as a 100% Grenache that was excellent (but too pricey at $80) and a Grenache Blend. I know that my friend Dave, a dedicated Rhône-ofile, would have enjoyed these wine a lot. Someday, we'll get him out to the west coast for something other than skiing.  With a four-pack of various wines (Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Syrah and an odd-ball Pinot Gris - just because) secured

Our next stop was at Talley Vineyards, another established producer, in "the next valley over", Arroyo Grande. This was a much more commercial property, with a larger tasting room offering more wines for more money. As in Napa, the days of the "$5 tasting and you keep the logo glass" are over here on the Central Coast. I realized afterward that Tally actually charged us twice for the $15 "reserve" tasting (the same thing happened at Justin up in Paso Robles), so they'll be getting a complaint letter. That said, we focused on the Pinot Noir tasting and the wines were quite good. The 2007 vintage was very good for Pinots in California, so we're happy to grab some while we can.

Saturday was another relaxation day, until Geri reminded me that I'd promised to take her to a local restaurant called "Steamers of Pismo" for dinner. I made a quick reservation via OpenTable, and we were good to go. She loves steamed clams, so this was a natural. She had a half-pound as an appetizer and King Crab legs for dinner. I had a seared Ahi tuna starter and Shrimp Jambalaya. I had the Jambalaya because Geri doesn't care for it, so it's better had "out". Geri definitely "won", though, as the crab legs were very good and the shrimp we almost missing from the Jambalaya. We paired the meal with a nice split of Gloria Ferrer sparkling wine to start and a Laetitia Pinot Blanc with dinner.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

An afternoon at the beach

October 7, 2009
Morro Bay, CA

Today was a quiet day.  We relaxed a bit in the morning, cleaned out some leftovers from the fridge for an early lunch, and then took off for the beach with the pups.  We looked over a few spots in Pismo Beach but decided to head north to Morro Bay.  There are a series of relatively isolated beaches right off the PCH (Pacific Coast Highway) that are close to the road and don't involve a steep climb to/from the beach.  We grabbed the folding chairs from the back of the Range Rover and our books, and spent a few hours just enjoying the day.  There were a few other people on the beach, most of them walking or exercising dogs, but Merlin and Maya Lynn just hung out by our chairs, even off-leash.  Good dogs...

Monday, October 5, 2009

"Hearst Castle" Tour

October 5, 2009
San Simeon, CA

We've been through this area many times, but never stopped to do a tour at Hearst San Simeon State Historical Monument, commonly known as "Hearst Castle". Built beginning in 1919 and continuing through most of William Randolph Hearst's life, it's a grand place. Part of the California State Park system since the 1950s, it's a pretty popular tourist destination. The Visitor's Center shows a film and has all the requisite souvenirs and overpriced snacks, and is the starting point for the shuttle busses that take you to the top (they don't allow private vehicles in). They offer five different tours, showing different parts of the estate in varying levels of detail. We took "Tour 1", the "introductory" one, that provides an overview of both the grounds and the history of the place.

Originally part of the Hearst Ranch, a cattle operation spanning several hundred square miles (one of the largest in California), the estate was deeded to the state but the ranch itself remains private property. We didn't realize that the Hearst family still retain some access privileges, but apparently they still host parties there at times. Of course, the state will rent the place out for parties and weddings (sit down before they quote a price), so they're making the most of it.

Overall, we were glad we did the tour. Geri was a little challenged by some of the steps, but she was a real trouper and did a good job of keeping up with the tour guide, who did an excellent job (we found out later she's been doing it for 30+ years). Since we signed up for the 11:00 AM tour, we had to leave the coach at 9:30-ish (too early for us) so we watched the film on the way out instead of before the tour.

Click here for pictures...

We were back home by 4:00, just in time to take the pups for their afternoon walk. Well, we stopped at Costco for a rotisserie chicken on the way, and made a simple and easy dinner.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

50 miles and a cool front

October 4, 2009
Oceano, CA

Today was "travel day". We didn't have far to go, since we were only going from Paso Robles to Oceano, just south of Pismo Beach. We did our packing up this morning and targeted for a 10:00 departure. With no effort at all, we were on the road around 9:30. With a quick stop in Paso Robles for diesel, we were soon tooling south on US-101.

We were about halfway through the short trip when we started to run into savage crosswinds. A combination of getting closer to the ocean and having a front go through brought 35 mph winds. Since the RV park we selected is right near the dunes, we'll have the wind with us until sometime tomorrow, according to Weather Underground. It looks like a clear week, though, so we'll have a good time. We were here a couple of years ago for a few days, so we have a list of things we'd like to do this time (Geri's favorite rock shop, Hearst Castle, San Luis Obispo, Morro Bay). We may even find a winery or two...  ;-)

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Wrapping up a mini wine tour

October 3, 2009
Paso Robles, CA

We spent the past week in Paso Robles, CA, an area that we've passed through several times over the years but never stopped for a visit. It's a nice area, with a growing wine culture and reputation, so we're glad we took the time to stop here.

Early in the week, we had a chance to relax for a few days after our caravan. Geri caught up on laundry, we made a pot of sauce, I caught up on bills and ordered mail - everyday "life on the road" stuff. We did some research and found a dog park nearby and made the trip over there with the pups. I think they enjoyed the chance to exercise, but they're both kind of "clingy" right now, probably because we were away so much during the day while we were on the caravan.

On Thursday, we took a short drive on some of the back roads outside Paso Robles. We passed Lake Nacimiento and were a) surprised to find a lake in the area, that close to the coast and b) interested to see how low the lake level was. Similar to Lake Shasta, which we passed on our way from Oregon through northern California, the water level was at least 200' below the maximum. No wonder this area is so susceptible to fires. In the evening, we had a chance to catch up with our friends Wayne & Eva as they were passing through on their way back to their winter place in Indio. We had dinner (wonderful tri-tip and collard greens) with them over in Atascadero, plus had a chance to meet friends of theirs who live in the area.

Friday was a busy day. Geri had made an appointment with a local dog groomer, so we dropped the pups off just before 10:00. They were getting a little shaggy, but not bad considering that they hadn't been cut since August. As we often do while the dogs are in grooming, we stopped for brunch and had a nice meal at the Paso Robles Inn. This gave us the strength for an afternoon of wine tasting, which we focused south and west of Paso Robles. We made stops at three winery tasting rooms: Turley (wonderful Zins), Peachy Canyon (a mixed bag of odd blends and over-priced varietals), and Windward (a small Pinot-only producer). As an added bonus, Geri had time for a manicure before the pups were ready to be picked up.

Since Saturday was our last day in Paso Robles, we had to narrow down our options. With a bit of Googling around and help from the Wine Spectator's web site, we picked three wineries to visit. We actually made it to two of them, but that was plenty. Our first stop was Adelaida, a small producer mostly focused on Rhône varietals. OK, another six-bottle carrier added to the load. Then we were off to Justin Cellars, which is one of the producers who made a splash with Paso Robles wines, but seems to have struggled with quality lately. We tasted and found some we liked and others - well, not so much. With some restraint, only four more bottles were packed in the car. Now, Justin is located quite a way out in the country, and they've added a small (but hyper-expensive) inn and an award-winning restaurant to the tasting room. We decided to stay for lunch and bypass the third winery on our list, and we're glad we did. After sharing a tomato bisque, Geri had a wild mushroom torte with whipped goat cheese and I had a braised beef rib with pureed yams and wilted greens. With a bottle of their Justification (a Bordeaux-style blend made with predominantly Cabernet Franc), we had a great leisurely lunch. We'll be back...

On the way back, we were lucky enough to have some wildlife sightings. A small herd of deer surprised us right along the side of the road, and a group of wild turkey ran across in front of us. We also saw what looked like a tarantula crossing the road (Does that count as "wildlife"?).


We wrapped up the day with a salad (Geri picked up two sea scallops and two jumbo shrimp to accompany) and half a bottle of Beringer Napa Chardonnay. All in all, a great day!