Summer Travel Map

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Life is good, in spite of winter's early arrival

November 28, 2010
Peoria, AZ

The pups had a great check-up at the Vet, Geri's through the next phase of her dental reconstruction (temporary bridge) and tried a new hair place, the Rover's suspension is back in action, and we had a nice Thanksgiving with friends. The past couple of weeks have flown by.

With Geri having a negative reaction to the change in meds, she's been under the weather lately. She's been a trouper, though, working through the situation and getting all the tests the Doctor ordered done. We'll head back on Tuesday to get the results. In the meantime, she's been a little constrained from walking the pups and doing things around the house. Accordingly, we haven't tried to tackle anything major (like painting the master suite, our planned project for this winter).

Speaking of winter, the weather's turned decidedly colder over the past week and a half, with temperatures running 5-10 degrees below normal. It's felt like December-January out there, and that's fine as long as this pattern breaks at some point. It's been nice and sunny, though, so we've continued to enjoy the desert.

I did tackle one issue: fixing a squeaking disc brake pad on the Rover. Once we figured out which wheel position it was (Geri drove slowly while I listened outside), it was a quick process to remove the wheel, pull off the caliper and apply "squeak relief" (actually a high-temperature synthetic lube) to the pins and backs of the pads, and put it all back together. Other than getting brake dust all over, it was a straightforward project.

We've continued to eat well, though. Working off the stock we laid into the freezer when we got back a month ago, and continuing to enjoy the wines we brought back, most evenings have been very enjoyable. I did a Pot Roast in the slow cooker last week that came out pretty tasty (and made enough for two meals), and Geri made a Shrimp Parm that was "to die for". Last night, we put another Pork Loin Roast on the rotisserie and I made a Mushroom Risotto as a side; rich but very good with a Washington Merlot we brought back. I made a Broccoli Gratin one evening and roasted some Brussels Sprouts (my new favorite vegetable after having them in Cleveland). Mmmm.

The next few weeks are looking to be pretty quiet, as we've been keeping the calendar clear since we don't know what the results of Geri's tests will be (edema is usually a symptom of something else, not a syndrome of its own). I'll update the Blog again next week...

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Blogging Hiatus?

November 16, 2010
Peoria, AZ

Well, it certainly seems that way. We've been busy over the last 10 days, just not with things of interest, I suppose. Some "highlights":

On the doctor/dentist front, we're mostly in good shape. The key piece of good news is that Geri's kidney MRI results were fine, showing only normal re-growth at the site of the tumor removal 18 months ago. And we're well on our way to getting her dental bridge reworked after things came loose over the summer, and we've both had our routine cleanings. Her ankle's another story, with the current theory leaning toward peripheral edema as opposed to gout and another series of tests in the works to sort that out. And a prescription change has her feeling under the weather until she acclimates. And the pups head for the vet tomorrow for various shots (they're not looking forward to that).

We've also been working on address changes. No, we're not moving but our mail service in South Dakota is. They've outgrown their leased space in downtown Rapid City and are moving to the 'burbs, right out near the Cabelas and the Flying J. Woo-hoo! Except for us - we have to change data, over time, literally hundreds of places. Now, many of these are online shopping sites and we can make those changes when (if) we ever order again. But, many are tied into online bill payment (change the card's address and the next month's bill might not get paid) and the few magazines we still receive in hardcopy. Add in medical insurers, pensions, Social Security/Medicare, local doctors and dentists, etc. and it's still quite a chore. While we've been stuck in the study, we scanned a few photos, handled Geri's annual IRA distribution and funding my Healthcare Savings Account, and generally did some clean-up on the filing.

I've also spent some time on "fix it" projects, batting .500. I set the over to automatically clean one night and we were awoken with a bang as one of the glass panels in the door shattered. Some quick Googling and searching the next morning brought us new glass several days later and the oven door was soon back in place. Since I couldn't tell from the online diagram which glass to order and the owner's manual was of little help, I ordered two different items and returned the other one today.

The other project was looking into the air suspension on the Rover, which threw a fault. Actually, I think it was self-inflicted since I forgot to turn off our 12 volt cooler one day and drained the battery. Once jumped, the air suspension was inoperable. I did some online research (there are Rover fans all over the world who can help sort out problems) and checked all the fuses and relays, to no avail. Today, I broke down and made an appointment at the Land Rover Centre in Scottsdale for a fix.

Otherwise, we've been eating well (as usual) with some steaks on the barbie, a pot of sauce for pasta and a couple of rotisseries (chicken - take that, Costco!, and a wonderful pork loin last night). We've also done well in attacking the "Wine Box". Some analysis has revealed that we're long in Pinot Noir, so I've been cross-referencing the inventory with vintage and bottling ratings online, and starting to work through the "drink me now" wines. It's tough work, but someone has to do it...

As I think about the Blog, I'll probably strike a balance between Facebook and Blog updates and stick with shorter missives over the winter, with things picking up again as we start to think about next summer's adventures.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Adjusting to life at a different pace

November 6, 2010
Peoria, AZ

Some people change their clocks for Daylight Savings Time twice a year. Since Arizona (most of it, anyway) doesn't observe, we choose to "spring ahead" to travel mode in April and "fall back" to life off the road in October.

And, that's just how we've spent the past week. Don't confuse "fall back" with "slow down".  We were up early on Monday so Geri could go get a blood test that was needed before her Thursday MRI (up even earlier to have her there before 7:00 AM). We'll get the results of the precautionary follow-up MRI next week. If everything remains clear with her kidney after her surgery in April of 2009, she'll be able to go to an annual schedule for further testing. (Fingers crossed).

Tuesday, we made a big shopping run, laying in enough Costco meats to carry us for weeks and filling out the pantry and refrigerator with things for the next few days. It'll be interesting to see how our shopping pattern evolves this year, as we seem to vacillate between buying in bulk and buying fresh, with very different shopping frequencies. I suspect we'll eventually find a happy medium, relying on bulk purchases to keep costs down but mixing in more fresh ingredients based on meal planning via Food Network ("Ooh; that looks good"!).

Wednesday, we were off to the first of several dentist appointments, this one to get started on a new bridge for Geri (the tooth that came loose over the summer is a goner). We'll get most of the medical/dental stuff out of the way over the next couple of weeks, as we usually do quickly upon our return in the fall. Then (hopefully), we'll be good until another round of check-ups in the spring. Even the pups will participate, as there are always shots they need, it seems.

Geri's almost caught up on the laundry, and I spent some time yesterday and today storing and organizing this year's "wine haul" in the various places we stash the juice around here. I also deployed the various yard decorations, and cleaned and filled the water feature in the back yard so we now get serenaded by the gentle splash of water in the evenings. The weather's been generally nice although the temperatures have been a little on the high side (upper-80s and maybe even a low-90) for this time of year. Things are supposed to be back toward "normal" (upper-70s) by next week.

Geri's ankle was better for a while, as elevation and ice packs seemed to help, along with the odd anti-inflammatory and lots of Black Cherry Juice. Unfortunately, yesterday she felt up to walking the pups in the morning and now she's paying the price. We'll need to get that looked at next week as well.

In between, we've been working on address changes. Moving? No, but our mail service in South Dakota is. Do you have any idea how many places have your address? It must be hundreds. Some are even linked: we have to quickly change things we have auto-billed to credit cards after the card's address is changed, or the automatic charge might not work. And we still have pensions and Social Security to do. Most online merchants can wait until the next time we order, if ever. We'll chip away at it in several sessions each week until we get it done.

Since we had such a busy week, we didn't spend a lot of time on the food and wine front. Geri made a fabulous Penne/Chicken/Peas dish with a Pancetta/mascarpone sauce that worked for two meals. I'm amazed that she can pick up on a restaurant meal (this one I had in Calistoga; she only had a taste) and create something just as good - or better. We also filled in with a store-bought rotisserie chicken that's good for two meals. Yesterday, I tried a new recipe: Butternut Squash Gnocchi with Brown Butter and Sage. Geri made her famous Pork Medallions, and dinner was reasonably good. I worked the dough too much, so the gnocchi were a little on the dense side, but the squash flavor came through nicely. It paired nicely with a 2006 California Pinot Noir from the wine box (2006 was a weak vintage, so I'm trying to clear them out first). This morning, I got a rack of Baby Backs in the over to cook low and slow all day. They'll go with fries and baked beans, and it'll be "Margarita Night", so I'm sure there will be a Facebook picture or two...

Oh, and "Happy Birthday" to my brother, Rick!

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Summer Travel Summary

October 31, 2010
Peoria, AZ

I pulled a few quick statistics from our travel log:

  • 10,685 miles traveled from April 22 to October 30 (191 days, just under 56 miles per day)
  • 1,800 gallons of fuel costing $5,627, averaging $3.12 per gallon and just under 6 MPG
  • $4,984 in campground fees for 130 nights, averaging $38.34 per night (factoring in "free" nights this drops to $26.23 per night)

The "priceless" part: we got to see more family and friends this year than ever before...

Home at last...

October 31, 2010
Peoria, AZ

Since Geri's ankle was really getting worse, we ended up cutting our visit in Santa Barbara County short by a day, and made it home on Saturday instead of the Sunday plan.

We're pretty sure this is a "gout incident", but the pain and swelling has been getting progressively worse over the past couple of days. We had planned to attend a wine tasting on Friday afternoon, but I called and was able to cancel that. And the RV Park gave us a credit for our next stay for the unused day (I thought we might have to forfeit that), so we packed up and hit the road early in the afternoon. After a quick stop in Santa Paula for fuel, we were soon wending our way along I-210 north of Los Angeles. A little bit of Friday afternoon traffic slowed us up, and we knew we wouldn't make it all the way to Phoenix. Our friends Wayne and Eva had recommended the Elks Lodge in Indio as an option, but it was getting late so we pulled out back of the Morongo Casino just east of Palm Springs for the night. we've stayed there before and once again had no issues using it for a quick overnight boondocking spot.

Up early, we were on our way just as the rain showers were trying to make their way out of the LA basin and into the desert. With a nice rainbow in the rear view and a fantastic sunrise in front of us, we were quickly back on I-10, climbing the long grade east of Indio, and rolling into Arizona. By early afternoon, we were in Phoenix and after a quick stop at the Flying J Truck Stop to top off the fuel tank for storage, we were back at our place in Peoria.

Since we had all day today to do our unloading, we knew we simply needed to deal with essentials yesterday. I turned on the gas and the water first. No problem on the former, but the water, well, no joy. It turns out that the gate valve that serves as a main was stripped in the threads. It turned fine, just wouldn't open. So, being home less than 30 minutes, I was off to Home Depot for a replacement. Of course, you have to buy a whole new valve; no parts available. Back home, I jury-rigged a tool to close the underground valve out by the meter, installed the new gate in the existing valve, and we soon had water running. At some point, I'll replace the gate valve with a ball valve for more reliable operation, but not now I also had a couple of drips where the cold water enters the hot water heater, so I tightened them up as well.

We were well-prepared for an evening arrival, having pre-planned dinner of Mexican Sheppard's Pie, so we simply moved a few things from the coach: dinner, DirecTV boxes, PCs, and "morning stuff". We soon had the TVs working and the cable Internet wasn't far behind (I'd called a few days earlier to make sure it was "on".

Today, we basically spent the day unloading the coach. After all these years, we have it pretty well figured out. Start at the front, leave cupboards open once they're dealt with, and dump all the laundry in a space where Geri can tackle it in batches over the next few days. We finished up with the refrigerator/freezer, since the house units had cooled sufficiently, and were high-fiving our completion just about 3:00 PM.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

From one "wine country" to the next

October 27, 2010
Buellton, CA

We've closed out our tour of Napa Valley and moved south to Santa Barbara County's "Wine Country" for a few days.

Last Saturday and Sunday were plagued with heavy rain. Geri joked that Napa Valley was sad to see Pat and Al go home to Connecticut. If that's the case, "sad" doesn't begin to describe it. We had almost 2" of rain, bad for us and worse for the grapes still hanging on the vines.

Needless to say, we took advantage of the rainy weather to do, well, not much. Geri did some laundry. We (I) watched some sports on TV. I pulled together a pretty good Pork Tenderloin with Pan-roasted Potatoes, and made a hearty Bolognese-style sauce that went well with Penne. We did some rearranging on the wine storage front (OK, some of that "rearranging" involved bottle recycling). I did some cleanup after we had a minor water leak due to the pulled fabric on the slide "toppers"; this is high on my list of "fix it over the winter" projects.

Things cleared up on Monday. We made a Whole Foods run and Geri went off to shop at Napa Style. We had dinner at Gott's Roadside (formerly Taylor's Automatic Refresher), the only burger joint we've run across with a nice wine list. We had a little excitement at dinner, not the culinary kind, though. As we were chatting with the couple behind us (as we often do), the wife started to choke. Initially thinking she'd gotten into something hot, we all became alarmed when her color started to change. The husband did a quick impromptu Heimlich and a recently-trained vacationing EMT provided advice. A restaurant employee called 911 and the firefighter/EMT crew arrived in short order. Fortunately, the Heimlich and some hot water dislodged the obstruction and soon everyone was calm. We hung around and chatted through a couple of bottles of Cabernet, and headed home later than we'd expected.

Yesterday was our travel day and we were up early since we didn't do our normal night-before preparations. We were on the road on schedule, though, leaving Napa right around 9:00 AM. South on Highway 29, a quick jog on CA-37 to Vallejo, I-80 to Oakland, I-880 to San Jose, and we were soon back on US-101. We made a quick stop in Salinas to drop off a package for Wayne and Eva and wrapped up the driving day a little after 3:00 PM, pulling into Flying Flags RV Resort in Buellton.

We'd just gotten set up when the check-in person from the office came over and asked us to move sites. Apparently, they've got some digging and wiring to do, and we were inadvertently parked in a site that'll be impacted. So, dish down, slides in, water-sewer-electric disconnected and we moved 125' to a different row. Hopefully, we'll be settled here for the rest of our stay. We ordered a pizza for dinner since neither of us felt like cooking, even leftovers. It married well with a nice Napa Zinfandel.

Today, we'll spend the morning going over "back home" things. I've got to call to activate the cable Internet and Geri's got to confirm various medical appointments that are set up starting at 7:30 AM Monday morning. Oof-da; back to the alarm clock! I'll update my navigation map for the last leg of this summer's "vacation", as we'll probably head directly to Phoenix from here on Saturday.

This afternoon, we'll probably head to Lompoc to visit Geri's sister. We'll spend the rest of our time here picking up "wine club" shipments that we've had held for us. It's tough work, but someone has to do it...

Friday, October 22, 2010

A fine wine tour comes to an end

October 22, 2010
Napa, CA

Whew! We had a great - and busy - week with Pat and Al, showing them around Northern California wine country on their first (but hopefully not last) trip out this way. We're pretty sure they had a good time, as well.

Click here for pictures from this past week.

We started out last Saturday night, when we headed over to the San Francisco airport around 9:00 PM to pick them up. We parked in the Cell Phone Lot and waited until they were through baggage claim, then drove the 5 minutes to the terminal to pick them up. After a quick drive through the fog ("Welcome to San Francisco"!), we were home and relaxing. Geri made some nosh and we chatted until late (much later for them).

Sunday, we got an early start and spent the day showing them some of the sights in San Francisco. We checked out some of the hills, drove down Lombard Street ("crookedest street in town"), drove over to see the Golden Gate Bridge, and did a walking tour along the Embarcadero, from the Ferry Building all the way to the Cannery. After an unplanned late lunch at a dive bar, we headed home and capped off the evening with a great selection of cheeses (Cowgirl Creamery) and a salad.

We traveled to Sonoma County on Monday, crossing the Golden Gate Bridge and heading up US-101 to Santa Rosa. We parked at the Fairgrounds, a nice, clean and quiet park (albeit with limited 50 amp coverage). Once settled in, we headed out for some tastings, checking out Chateau St. Jean and Sebastiani in the time we had available.

Tuesday was a complete change of pace. Instead of focusing on wineries, we headed south to Marin County, west to the coast, then north along Tomales Bay. We'd planned ahead and had everything we needed for an oyster lunch: beer and wine, plates and cups, multiple condiments, and of course, our oyster knife. We powered through three dozen of the freshest oysters to be found, right at the Tomales Bay Oyster Company where they're grown. We continued north on CA-1 to Jenner before turning east and following the Russian River back to Santa Rosa. We made a quick stop at the Martinelli Winery on the way (can't have a day without wine).

We moved again on Wednesday, this time the short hop over to Napa County, actually to the city of Napa where we were soon set up at the Napa Expo Fairgrounds RV Park. This is a very nice facility that we found during last year's wine country caravan. After getting set up, we headed for our first winery tour (having focused on tasting rooms so far). Since it was Pat and Al's first winery tour in Napa, we took them to the place where Geri and I had our first similar experience, probably in 1979 or 1980: Robert Mondavi Winery. They still put on a very good and informative tour, followed by a tasting. Al dug out his wallet and purchased a set of wines that don't get distributed (winery only sales). After Mondavi, we drove south on Highway 29 (the main drag in Napa Valley) and made quick stops at the Louis M. Martini and Peju Province tasting rooms, followed by dinner at a Mexican place right near the Fairgrounds.

We also had another visit with our friends, Wayne and Eva, and their Yorkie, Abby.  They were staying at the Napa Elks Lodge, and it was nice to  catch up with them and have them meet Pat and Al.  We stopped at "their place" one evening and they came over to the Napa Expo the next night.

Thursday, we headed for the "other side" of Napa Valley, driving north on the Silverado Trail. We made a tasting stop at Stag's Leap Wine Cellars, tasting and buying both the Fay and SLV bottlings (Cask 23 being out of our retirees price range), before continuing north to the little town of Calistoga. We had lunch there and made a unsuccessful stop at Chateau Montelena (too busy and too close to closing) before finishing up at Charles Krug Winery. Once on the road home, we stopped at Dean & Deluca and Whole Foods, picking up scallops and salad mix for a light dinner.

Nobody was moving quickly this morning, so we took our time getting started. We had a late lunch/early dinner at Greystone restaurant at the Culinary Institute of America (CIA) on St. Helena, followed by a little shopping at the CIA store. This is a neat place, housed in the large stone building that was home to the Christian Brothers Winery when monks still ran the place. Greystone always puts on a nice meal, and we all enjoyed different plates (Pat "won" with the Brook Trout entree), followed by dessert and sweet wine tastings.

Since Pat and Al have an early flight tomorrow, we stopped by the coach and picked up their bags and the pups, and drove them down to a San Bruno hotel, right near the airport. They'll be able to get a shuttle at 6:00 AM that'll get them to their flight on time. Although we were sad to drop them off, it was a much better strategy than getting up at 4:00 AM to make the 1.5-2 hour trek from Napa. We got home around 9:30 and are just going to chill for the rest of the evening.

Overall, it was a great week and a fine way to cap off the "year of the family visit" tour that we've been on since April...

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Valleys to rivers to the ocean

October 16, 2010
Pacifica, CA

Well, we've certainly been through some different parts of Northern California over the last few days. Here's the rundown...

We left the Rolling Hills Casino in Corning (Central Valley) on a bright and sunny Tuesday morning. Our travel day was short and pretty direct: I-5 south about 115 miles to Sacramento. Having stayed there twice last fall, we aimed the coach for the CalExpo RV Park, right along the banks of the American River. As we drove along, we could feel the temperatures rising, so we were glad we were heading for another place where we could plug in and enjoy air conditioned comfort.

Once we were set up, our friend, Jim, from back in the early Aetna days, stopped over for a nice visit. It was nice to catch up; we'd missed him last fall since we didn't have enough time on the caravan to add much in terms of extra activities.

We thought about dinner after Jim headed home, and decided that a quick trip to the local Outback might be appropriate, so I got my steak fix for the week. As I mentioned, it helps decision making if you know what's around.

We were up early on Wednesday, another sunny morning. OK, it was the pups who were up early; I wanted to sleep in. We did a walk around the RV Park, growled at a resident cat for a bit, and generally had a good time. After a quick breakfast, we unplugged, hooked up the Rover and were back on the road.

It was another short driving day, just under 110 miles. This time, we were headed for a new (i.e., we've never stayed here before) place in Pacifica, CA. We followed I-80 out of Sacramento to Oakland, then paid the modest toll to go over the Bay Bridge into San Francisco. after a quick jog onto US-101 and I-280, we were on CA-1, the Pacific Coast Highway, south of San Francisco proper. We were soon parked at the San Francisco RV Resort, in a great space overlooking the Pacific Ocean. They've designed the spaces along the bluff to have motorhomes pull in and trailers (many of which larger windows at the rear) back in. We rewarded ourselves with a relaxing afternoon: watching the surf, taking a nap, and enjoying a nice sunset.

Thursday, we just plain relaxed. Geri got a couple of loads of laundry done, but that was about it. We walked the pups around the park and down the street, seeing the "sights". I picked up our mail from the Post Office and went through that (other than our Absentee Ballots and AZ property taxes going down by 31% - wow! - nothing earth shattering), but otherwise, we just enjoyed a nice, sunny day overlooking the Pacific. For dinner, I did up a nice Pork Tenderloin with Pan-roasted Red Potatoes, which went very nicely with a Cabernet Sauvignon we'd brought from Three Rivers Winery in Walla Walla. We were treated to another nice sunset to cap off the day.

Yesterday, we got down to brass tacks. Well, we don't really have any tacks, much less brass ones, but we at least got busy. Geri started cleaning the inside and I started on the outside, getting the power washer going (yes, this RV Park allows vehicle washing) and cleaning the road grime off the Rover and then the coach. Just as I was finishing up outside, the wind shifted and we were enveloped in a gray "marine layer" of clouds. I'm not sure how long this pattern will last. The sun's right above us, peeking through every once in a while, but the fog and low clouds are hanging on. Of course, it is San Francisco, after all...

We did some of the Otto's Wieners we'd bought in Portland for dinner, with a pre-packaged serving of Geri's Famous Sauerkraut. Since we had a couple of pears left from our stop in Gold Beach, Oregon, she also whipped up a fantastic Pear-Cherry Tart. I did a quick walk to Safeway for ice cream (reminds me of when we lived in Brooklyn!) and we enjoyed the evening.

Today, we're still under the marine layer. Geri's wrapping up the laundry, I vacuumed and polished the tile and gave the mirrors a once-over. Pat and Al should be on their way from CT (we heard from Alicia that they at least made it safely to the airport in Windsor Locks), so we'll aim to pick them up at SFO tonight. We've got a nice weeks planned: tomorrow in San Francisco, Monday-Tuesday in Sonoma, and Wednesday-Friday in Napa. Woo- hoo!

And, speaking of "woo-hoo", a "Happy Birthday" to our niece Alyson on her 21st birthday!

Monday, October 11, 2010

Catching up on the last week, and then some...

October 11, 2010
Rolling Hills Casino, Corning, CA

Wow; where do I start? At the beginning, or course. I'm way behind in updating this blog, partially because we've been busy and partially due to limited Internet access. So, to recap...

We wrapped up our stay in Woodland, WA, last Tuesday morning. We headed south on I-5 and were soon at the Monaco Service Center in Coburg, Oregon. We spent time at the "old Monaco" in years past, but this was our first visit since their bankruptcy and acquisition by Navistar. We rolled in just after noon on Tuesday to check in for our Wednesday appointment. In a weird twist of fate, they actually did the work (changing one slide seal) in the afternoon while we were off visiting Northwest RV Surplus, Jerry's Hardware and Costco, and getting the pups cleaned up at PetsMart. That never happened in the old days.

Wednesday, we settled up on the bill, but decided to stay another day. We had a mobile carpet cleaner come out and do the little rug we have left, plus the couch. It looks good but, with the humidity, it's been taking longer than we'd like to dry. Not bad, though, to get everything clean inside and out, since I got the power washer out and cleaned the coach and Rover.

Thursday, we headed for the coast in the afternoon, following OR-126 to Florence and then US-101 south. We were following the route we intended to take last fall, before the accident with the Rover. The trip rapidly turned into a rainy day drive, perfect for a just-washed set of vehicles. On the other hand, if they never got dirty, it would mean we weren't enjoying our travels. We decided to spend two nights at a RV Park in Charleston, OR. We were a little put off by the "perma-rigs" (generally old junk trailers that haven't been moved in years and are unlikely to do so any time soon - with occupants to match) near the entrance, but once we were parked we were OK. This park is right on the beach, and we had a chance to let Merlin and Maya Lynn run in the sand and ocean several times.

Saturday, we were back on the road again, heading back through Coos Bay to US-101, then south. We aimed for Gold Beach, and managed to catch up with our friends Wayne and Eva on their last day there. We had a good visit with them, including lunch at a local restaurant and dinner at "their place". Other than Maya and their Yorkie, Abby, getting into a scuffle over dog food, it was a relaxing time and a good visit.  We haven't seen them since April so we caught up on travels, etc.

Yesterday, we traveled together down US-101 into California (where we had a 10-minute agricultural inspection, for gypsy moths, of all things) and landed at the Elks Lodge in Eureka. After a quick shopping excursion to the local Costco, we were ready for dinner: Rack of Lamb with Mushroom Risotto and a Baby Greens Salad. Oh, yeah; that's good.

Today, we left mid-morning after a nice breakfast at Wayne and Eva's, got fuel, and took the "scenic route" across CA-299, stopping in the Shasta-Trinity National Forest for a nice lunch, over to I-5 in Redding, and then headed south to the Rolling Hills Casino in Corning for an overnight. We'd originally planned to dry camp but the temperatures here in the valley are in the 90s so we opted to stay in their overnight RV Park and plug in to run the air conditioning. We had leftovers (still full from breakfast and lunch) and relaxed a bit, and are now chilling with some TV Life is indeed good...

Oh, yes, there are various pictures and they're downloaded from the cameras and phones but I'm too tired to process them tonight, so they'll get done over the next day or so...

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Starting the last month on the road this year

October 2, 2010
Woodland, WA

Once again, we find ourselves asking, "Where does the time go"? We've closed out September and will be back at our "winter home" at the end of this month. It seems like just yesterday that we were packing up to head out on this year's "summer adventure". This year, we started without a "master plan" and look what happened: we did fine.

We've got a busy month ahead of us, with a stop in Oregon to get a slide-out seal replaced and then a week of touring Napa/Sonoma wine country with Pat and Al. It's a good thing we've used this time in Washington to rest up!

And, that's pretty much what we've done for the past two days. Yesterday was cloudy and cool. I used the time to do a few Blog updates and to sort through the many photos we made over our two day trips. Today turned bright and sunny, and I've finished up from yesterday. Geri's under the weather with a bit of a sinus issue, so we're monitoring her rest intake, and making sure she gets better quickly.

Last night, I grilled off the first of the Hot Dogs we got from Otto's in Portland, the Frankfurters. With Geri's Famous Sauerkraut, a touch of chili and chopped onions, and a side of kicked-up baked beans, they were a good match for a bottle of the Three Rivers Malbec-Merlot that we picked up in Walla Walla. I wish Geri was feeling better; she would have enjoyed it as much as I did! Today, I'd planned to do a Rack of Lamb, but we'll defer that until Geri's feeling better.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

A coincidental journey comes to an end

September 30, 2010
Long Beach, WA/Astoria, OR

56 days and 2,769 coach miles ago, we left Père Marquette State Park near Grafton, Illinois. What we didn't realize until later and certainly didn't plan in advance was that our route was coincidentally similar to the Lewis and Clark "Corps of Discovery " expedition of 1804-1806 (well, at least the May, 1804 - November, 1805 part). Sure, we saw the "Lewis and Clark Trail" signs along the way, stayed at one of the many "Lewis and Clark State Parks" (Iowa) we passed, and even visited one of the various National Park Service exhibits (Great Falls, Montana) along the route. It wasn't until we got to our current location along the Columbia River that I started thinking, "Hey, we started near the confluence of the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers, followed (roughly) the Missouri to Montana, then the Snake to the Columbia and now we're near the Pacific". So, it became a no-brainer to make a day trip out to Astoria and touch the end of the journey that took the Corps some 18 months.

We packed a lunch and the pups and headed out early on another fine weather day. Since we're on the Washington side of the Columbia, we drove North on I-5 to Longview, then West on WA-4. We made a small detour to Long Beach for lunch, remembering that we'd stopped there during a Seattle-to-San Francisco coastal drive vacation that we took in the Fall of 1993. I commented that it was the "car vacation" (it took us 6 days to drive that portion of the Pacific Coast, primarily on US-101) that convinced me to try RV rentals. And, look at us now...

Long Beach ("World's Longest Beach" - another disputed claim for sure since it's only 40km long) has several entry points where vehicular traffic is allowed, so we parked 25 yards from the surf and had our lunch. The pups had a chance to run the beach and check out the water and all the different smells. We walked a bit along the beach, drove south a few miles then back, and generally enjoyed the sea air and sunny skies.

Leaving Long Beach, we were once again on US-101, retracing our steps from both the 1993 vacation and 2009's journey south (not wanting to think about the dreaded "Hebo Incident"). After crossing the 4.2 mile long bridge into Astoria and Oregon, we made our first stop at Fort Clatsop, where the Lewis and Clark expedition built shelter and wintered in 1805-1806. The facility is nicely done, with relatively accurate (they say) recreations of the shelter and the canoes used in their journey down the Snake and Columbia Rivers to the sea. Since it was getting toward mid-afternoon, and Geri and the pups were getting "car fatigue", we pointed the Rover toward home. I'll save Fort Stevens and Cape Disappointment (the points in Oregon and Washington that define the mouth of the Columbia) for our next visit to the area.

Looping back to Astoria, an older city that will be celebrating its bicentennial in 2011, we noticed the "Astoria Column" monument high up on a hill. At first, I thought it was a totem pole of some sort and, in a way, it is, as it's covered with a Sgraffito (similar to Bas Relief) mural depicting the basic history of the region and city. Founded by and named for John Jacob Astor as a fur trading post (and only beating the explorer David Thompson to the area by two months), Astoria was the first US settlement on the Pacific Coast in 1811. The area was under joint US-British control until 1846 when the Oregon Treaty established the 49th parallel as an international boundary.

The Astoria Column was built in 1926, funded partly by the Astor family (one of my grandfather's first employers after he - illegally - emigrated from Sweden in 1905). It was the site of the first "Community Antenna Television" (now known as CATV or "Cable TV") system in the US. Since it was a beautiful day, I made the trek up the 164 steps (puff, puff) for some additional photos. What a view!

Click here for pictures from today's adventure (use the navigation arrows to change pictures...

Heading home, we stayed on the Oregon side of the river, following US-30 east until we crossed back into Washington at Longview, since there are no other crossings until Portland to our south. Dinner was simple and delicious: a pre-packaged half of a rotisserie chicken, a split baked potato, a nice corn sauté and Geri's Killer Chicken Gravy with Mushrooms. Paired with one of our recent Walla Walla Syrah acquisitions, it was a fine way to end a great day.

Trying a new thing with an embedded slide show:

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Oooo - waterfalls!

September 29, 2010
Columbia River Gorge, Oregon

Today was a fantastic day. We had a leisurely morning and then headed out early in the afternoon, south on I-5 to I-205, then east on I-84. Not all the way to Hartford! Just a few miles to Historic US-30. Not all the way to New Jersey! This area, just about 30 miles east of downtown Portland, is home to several neat waterfalls along the southern bank of the Columbia River.

Historic US-30 follows the Sandy River and then climbs high above the Columbia River just east of the small town of Troutdale. Our first stops were at Gorge overlooks: "Portland Women's Forum" (originally called Chanticleer Point, they purchased the site and donated it to the State) and Vista House at Crown Point (built in 1916-1918 as a rest stop on the original Columbia Gorge Highway).

Next, we stopped at four different waterfalls: Latourell, Wahkeena, Horsetail, and Multnomah, capturing a few images at each one. Since there are 77 waterfalls on the Oregon side of the Gorge, we barely scratched the surface, I suppose. We enjoyed the afternoon, though, and it was fun to drag the cameras and tripod around without having to hurry.

We have a picture of Multnomah Falls, second highest year-round waterfall in the US (a disputed claim, of course) at 620 feet, in our living room in AZ that's one of the only pictures in the house that I didn't take myself. Maybe I captured a similar view; I'll know more when I actually sit down and work with the images in Photoshop to fine-tune color and contrast, and to erase all the people (it's a popular spot on a nice day).

Click here then use the navigation arrows for a few unprocessed pictures (between us, we made about 130 photos).

Back home after fighting some Portland rush hour traffic, we had a nice dinner (Geri's Awesome Butternut Squash Soup and Grilled Sandwiches) and called it an early night. Too much fresh air!

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Can you be chillin' if it gets too warm?

September 28, 2010
Woodland, WA

It's been a relaxing few days here along the Columbia River. The weather has turned unseasonably warm.  We've seen a few interesting boats go by, more than just the routine river barge traffic. We had another family visit. And, we had a chance to visit someplace we've seen on TV.

Picking up where we left off last Friday, Geri's reasonably happy with her hair (not cut exactly the way she likes but "way better than it was"). Since we hadn't planned anything for dinner, we both thought of Chinese take-out (that's what all the years we've had together causes), and stopped by the local "China Garden" for a take-out menu. Later, Geri phoned the order in and I went to pick it up. Hmmm; 6:30 on a Friday evening and the dining room is empty. Should have been a clue; the food was passable but not great. No leftovers. I found out later that the place to go is about 5 miles north, in Kalama. Oh, well.

Saturday was a beautiful day, with clearing skies and warmer temperatures. We relaxed around the Park and enjoyed the day. I made Lamb Shanks with Toasted Orzo, doing the preparation work in the morning and searing the shanks and then braising them in the crock-pot for half a day. They came out fine but the sauce wasn't something we'll make again (it called for 2:1 Port to red wine ratio in the braising liquid, and the Port just wasn't a happy addition). The Orzo was prepared similar to a Risotto and was pretty good, except that the recipe called for a splash of the braising liquid to be mixed in, and it wasn't any better there than on the lamb. I'll stick to my traditional Lamb Shank recipe next time, I think.

Sunday was a more normal weather day, with clouds and seasonable temperatures. We caught up with Geri's great-nephew, Michael again for the third time this year. This time, we got to catch up with his wife and boys (Leslie, Brendan, and Cameron) as well; they drove down from their place in Puyallup, near Tacoma, for the day. After they checked out the beach and the over-sized chess set, we went to a pizza shop in Vancouver (WA) that's known for their over-the-top pies, and were we ever surprised! The waitress looked at us funny when we ordered a "large" for Geri and I; we just assumed we'd take some home for a lunch. Well, out came the biggest pie I've ever seen, vertically speaking. The crust was relatively thin, like we prefer, but there had to be three pounds of mushroom-green pepper-sausage-pepperoni-black olive toppings on there, plus two whole thick-sliced fresh tomatoes on top. I was defeated by two slices. We had leftovers, all right!
No way could we even make a dent in this monster pizza!

Yesterday was bright and sunny again, and downright warm. No, it wasn't "Arizona hot", and it certainly wasn't "LA hot", where new all-time high temperature records were set in southern California, but upper-80s is way above average for this area. The air conditioning got exercised, to boot.  We took advantage of the nice day to get out, once again driving into Portland to check out a different neighborhood (Woodstock). We made a visit to Otto's Sausage House, "as seen on TV" (we heard about the place on a recent Triple-D episode) and loaded up. Weiners, Frankfurters, Chorizo, Linguica, bulk Italian, etc. Fortunately, a) we have enough room in the freezer and b) we have some of Geri's Famous Sauerkraut ready for reheating. Chili, Kraut, diced onions - Mmmm. We'll make our own "dirty water dogs" later in the week. That didn't stop us from enjoying the last of Geri's Famous Meatloaf for dinner, though.

Today, we had a mix of sun and clouds, and basically stayed around the Park, making ourselves productive. Geri got dog food made and did laundry. I got a rack-and-a-half of ribs on the grill to cook low and slow and did a few small projects around the coach. I realized late in the day that we didn't have any barbeque sauce on board (we finished the Dreamland!), so a quick Internet search yielded a few recipes that I was able to use as a guide to whip up something pretty good. Now, if I could just remember what I did to recreate it!

This one sailed up-river early one morning.  It's a car carrier, bringing vehicles from Asia.

Container ship, probably from China, probably Wal-Mart Christmas items...

OK; I was a little late getting the camera on this one.  It's "Turmoil", the 17th largest private yacht in the US at 209', and is owned by the family of the guy who started Lands End.  Over 14,000 gallons of fuel capacity - ouch!

Friday, September 24, 2010

A Good Hair Day

September 24, 2010
Portland, OR

Yesterday, it was cloudy and rainy all day long, just like it's supposed to be here, I suppose (although the forecast is brighter). We checked out a dog groomer (no appointments available during our stay here - must be nice to be that popular) and headed for Vancouver (Washington, not British Columbia) for shopping. After picking up a few staples at the Super-Wally, we made a heartening stop at Whole Foods. It's been a while, and we picked up a few specialty items and some Lamb Shanks that I had a hankering for after seeing them done on TV. Back home, Geri made a great version of her Killer Meatloaf, paired with Mashed Potatoes and sautéed Haricots Verts. With a nice Montes Cabernet from Chile, we had a great meal - and packed another dinner's worth away for next week.  Mmmm...

Today, it was back to Portland for Geri to get her hair done. This was long overdue, since she hadn't had it done since we were in Connecticut. She got it cut a little shorter than usual, so this should last until we're back in AZ in five weeks (can it really be then?). Now, we just have to get her a mani-pedi and get the pups groomed and we'll be all set!

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

"Power's back"...

September 22, 2010
Portland, Oregon

Today, I was up early and heading south with the coach. Wait a minute! What about staying put for a couple of weeks? Yes, well, it's true that we'll be parked in the same place, but today was the day I had scheduled to have the new inverter/charger installed. I had the work done in Portland, at one of the authorized distributors for the manufacturer. I'm still miffed that the "old" one (it's only a little over two years "old") can't be repaired. Hopefully, the new one will be more reliable and in the marketplace longer. If this one goes, I'm switching brands for sure.
New Inverter/charger - ready for installation!

Anyway, I had no problem finding the place, in an industrial park near the Portland Airport, and was right on time for a 10:00 appointment. Geri packed the pups and all the laundry we had in the Rover and stayed back at the Park. I planned for a full day's excursion, knowing what happens with these things. And I had a backup plan if there were issues: with some additional tools (always have to have the right tools), I knew I could do the installation myself, since Al and I did the warranty swap on the old one in 2008 at his place in Connecticut. Upon inspection, the lead tech announced that it should be a straight swap and take a "couple of hours". I just smiled.

Well, by 12:30 they had the old one out and the new one bolted in place (had to drill new mounting holes; wait, first let's sharpen the drill; wait, we need a cardboard template for the holes; wait, I have to take a break after each hole because it's so hard to drill at an upward angle). This was the trickiest part of the job if I'd done it myself. Lifting a 75 pound box up to the ceiling of the bay and screwing it in place isn't easy, even if the holes do line up. I was able to watch all this unfold; had nowhere else to go. I offered a suggestion here and there and held the work light on occasion; "just trying to help". "Let's grab lunch and we'll have this wrapped up in a couple of hours". I just smiled.

The next challenge, of course, was the wiring. The 120 volt circuits (2 in and 2 out) all use 12-gauge wire that has to be connected to lug terminals inside a 3" x 4" opening in the side of the box. 12-gauge Romex is pretty stiff and it was difficult to make 90° bends and get the wires into the terminals while laying in the bay and trying to see in the side of the unit mounted on the ceiling. The existing wires were pretty well bent in several directions from the old installation, so I suggested we snip and start with fresh ends. Soon, all was in place on the 120 volt side, and the 12 volt wiring wasn't anywhere near as difficult as all the connections are on the outside of the unit. By now, three more hours had passed and it was 4:00 PM. I just smiled.

The remaining work was done quickly. The firmware for the generator start and control panel modules was upgraded. Zip ties were in place to get all the wiring back in neat bundles. I backed the coach out of the shop and fired up the generator. Charging? Yes! Generator off. Inverting? Yes! I paid up and hit the road right around 4:30, just what I expected.

Back at the Park, Geri was waiting with lots of clean clothes and a recommendation from the office staff for a good Mexican restaurant. Fantastic! Who doesn't like Margarita night? She had a burrito/enchilada combination plate (what else?) and I had Pork Carnitas which were very good. We each felt that we "won" and left happy. Maybe it was the Margaritas? Nah...

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

...And lakes and rivers

September 21, 2010
Woodland, WA

Today was our travel day, the last one that we'll have for a couple of weeks since we'll be staying in Woodland, Washington, until early-October. We left the Wenatchee River County Park mid-morning after a few last photos, and headed west then south on US-97.

The County Park we stayed at has a separate section of barracks-style housing available for short-term stays by migrant workers employed during harvest season.

We didn't get a chance to try out the "fabulous" burgers - next time!

After a quick jog onto I-90 then I-82 toward Yakima, we once again turned west, this time on US-12. Around Noon, we found a nice pullout along Rimrock Lake and had a lunch break. The pups enjoyed walking along the overlook and Geri made us some great sandwiches. It's certainly great to travel with your "house".

Back on the road, we were soon at I-5 where we turned south, heading for Woodland, about 20 miles north of the Washington-Oregon border. In this area, the Columbia River (the border between WA and OR) curves to the north before turning back west to the Pacific Ocean. The RV Park we're staying at is right along the riverfront so, weather permitting (this is the Pacific Northwest after all), we should have a nice view of river traffic from time to time.

Dinner tonight was a pre-planned meal: cut-up rotisserie chicken, mashed potatoes, and another corn sauté with pancetta and onions (didn't have any mushrooms on board this time). I paired it with a bottle of the "Boom Boom" Syrah we'd picked up in Walla Walla. This was the same wine we had at the Corn Exchange in Rapid City in August, and we put a few "in stock" when we visited the tasting room last month. Excellent match...

Monday, September 20, 2010

Sun and rain...

September 20, 2010
Leavenworth, WA

Today, we had a mix of clouds and sun in the morning, so we decided to take a short ride up US-2 to the little town of Leavenworth. Leavenworth is a Bavarian-themed town, similar to the Danish-themed village of Solvang, CA, near Lompoc. Not that it was settled by German immigrants or anything; the town decided to reinvent itself specifically as a tourist stop to generate income. We figured it was worth a walkabout.

Unfortunately, the closer we got to Leavenworth, the worse the weather got. With low clouds and rain, we decided it wasn't worth schlepping around town with the pups and getting soaked. We did take a ride beyond town in the Wenatchee National Forest, and saw quite a few possible photo opps for a future visit.

Just as we came back through Leavenworth, there was a little break in the clouds and rain, and we were able to snap a few photos.  Lots of places had multi-colored flowers on display.  10 minutes later and it was raining again.

Interesting decorations in the center of town.

Some things are just over the top...

For dinner, Geri made a great little pizza in the convection oven, using fresh toppings and a store-bought dough. I dug into the "wine storage drawer" for a nice Chianti and we ate well, as always.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Raindrops and Experiments

September 19, 2010
Monitor, WA

Today was supposed to be cloudy and rainy and the day lived up to its billing. We decided to make it a "lazy Sunday", with not a lot on the agenda. It didn't rain all day, but we had one huge downpour, with a little thunder and pea-sized hail, mid-afternoon.

Interestingly enough, we both found new recipes to try, so dinner became an experiment in new ways to do "soup and a sandwich". And, it only took two trips to three different stores to get everything we needed!

I started with a Roasted Tomato Soup recipe I found online. Using the grill box as an oven, I roasted the tomatoes and garlic according to the recipe, then pureed the peeled results in the food pro. With a little cream and a drizzle of infused oil, it wasn't bad but I definitely have ideas on how to improve it (peel and seed the tomatoes before roasting, roast at a lower temperature, puree out more of the coarseness) the next time.

Geri made Grilled Cheese Sandwiches with Sharp Cheddar and Apple Slices. They were very good but perhaps not the best match for the soup. They'll be better the next time as well, with the addition of some thinly-sliced roasted pork tenderloin medallions.

To complete the mismatched experimentation with new things, I popped the cork on a Washington Merlot that wasn't the worst match possible but went better with the sandwiches than the soup. Interestingly enough, this was one of the few wines we've ever had that was better when first opened than when we finished it up a couple of hours later while watching TV. Most wines will open up with a little air; this one seemed to dissipate. Go figure...

So, all in all it was a good set of experiments, as everything didn't work perfectly but we definitely learned some things for future reference!

Saturday, September 18, 2010

"Let's go for a ride; never know what we'll find..."

September 18, 2010
Wenatchee, WA

Today, we had a mix of clouds and sun and brisk temperatures in the morning, so we decided to pack the pups in the Rover and do a little local sightseeing. Geri had checked in with our AZ neighbor, Clisby, and knew where she used to live in Wenatchee, so we sought out that area, high on a hill north of town with great views of the Columbia River Valley, first. After that, we made a clockwise loop, back through East Wenatchee with stops at Safeway and Costco (didn't realize it was time for Christmas decorations already!).

Back across the river again, we found the Post Office to mail a few things and then happened upon the local Farmers Market. It was actually a Harvest Celebration, and they had several blocks of downtown closed off. As we wandered through, we passed the farm stands, lots of kids activities, a classic car display (mostly Model As but a "T" and a Chevy and even a Franklin mixed in), and some food vendors. The last thing we spied was a set of tables pouring local wines, so we took the plunge. They were interesting but the value proposition wasn't aligned (i.e., not good enough to buy, especially at the prices they were asking), but at least we got to keep our glasses.

By then it was late in the afternoon and time to head home. Since we hadn't made a dinner plan, Geri had picked up a small piece of Salmon. I wasn't really in the mood for that but was willing to go along, but we soon decided that we didn't both need to have the fish. A quick stop at Albertsons yielded a T-bone for me and, surprisingly, a switch to King Crab Legs for her (Salmon now relegated to a lunch option). So, we poached the Salmon for future use, steamed the Crab and grilled the steak, and split a baked potato. Everyone was happy!

And, yes, we're parked right at the end of Easy Street...

Friday, September 17, 2010

Off to Wenatchee/Leavenworth

September 17, 2010
Monitor, WA
Off to Wenatchee/Leavenworth

No, we're not headed to jail (that Leavenworth is in Kansas) but rather to central Washington for a few days. We left Prosser as planned and had a nice, easy driving day. Heading north on "back roads", we soon crossed the Department of Energy Hanford Site, an interesting place even if we didn't get close enough to see anything. It's almost 600 square miles, and was the location of all the weapons-grade Plutonium in the US from World War II (Fat Man but not Little Boy) until the facility was put on "standby" in the late-1980s. Today, it's undergoing a massive clean-up involving 11,000 workers; they hope to have one section, along the Columbia River, completed by 2015.

Continuing North, we soon joined I-90. We pulled into a Scenic Overlook for a lunch break, and found the Wild Horse Monument high up on a bluff. Although a few hardy souls climbed straight up the mountain, we decided to enjoy the sculpture, and the view of the Columbia River Valley, from the parking area. The art installation of more than a dozen horse sculptures doesn't really memorialize anything in particular, just celebrates the history of the area. It makes for interesting road-side viewing.

No way was I climbing up there...
View to the south across the Columbia River.

Back on the road once again, we were soon exiting I-90 in George (George, Washington - get it?), heading north on WA-281 to Quincy, then northeast on WA-28 to East Wenatchee. After crossing the Columbia River again into Wenatchee proper on WA-285, we soon rejoined US-2 for the short leg to our destination, Wenatchee River County Park in Monitor, WA.

This is another park that we might have passed by if some research hadn't been done, as "conventional wisdom" says that a rig as large as ours won't be welcome at public parks. Well, this is clearly an exception, with about 50 spots, all paved and most at least 50' long. Full hook-ups with good 50 amp power is a little pricey at $29/night as public facilities go, but we're pretty happy with our nice spot right next to the Wenatchee River. Got a TV signal and their Wi-Fi works most of the time; what more could we ask for?

Well, we could ask for trains in the distance, I suppose. That's as opposed to tracks right on the other side of the river, about 300' away. Fortunately, there are only 4-5 trains a day and few at night, so we can tolerate it...

For dinner, Geri made some wonderful Chicken Parm, and we finished up the last of the leftover "gravy" I'd made a while ago with some Angel Hair pasta. Geri was happy to see the sauce finally gone, as she gets to make the next batch (she makes "sauce" and I make "gravy", each to our own likes).

Maya Lynn and Merlin enjoying a rawhide chew...

Thursday, September 16, 2010

"Live Long in Prosser"?

September 16, 2010
Prosser, WA

Well, that's the slogan from one local brewery, anyway. To be honest, though, after a very active stay in Walla Walla, we needed a couple of "down days" here in Prosser. Since the wine bin is overflowing, we decided to pass on more tasting room visits and just take a couple of days off. Geri did some laundry and I made a short trip to the Post Office and for some shopping, but otherwise we enjoyed the nice weather and did a bit of sitting outside at the picnic table with a book or a computer. The pups got extra walks, although they weren't quite sure how to react to the horses in the field up the road, alternatively ignoring and barking. Tomorrow, we move on...

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Bye Bye, Walla Walla

September 14, 2010
Prosser, Washington

Today was another travel day, all of 83 miles! It was a nice short drive from Walla Walla to Prosser, heading west on US-12, crossing the Snake and Columbia Rivers, and picking up I-182 and I-82 right to our destination. We arrived around noon and were quickly set up, even though we seem to be stuck right in the middle of a rally of fifth-wheel trailers. They seem nice enough, and if it doesn't bother them that we're in their midst, who am I to argue?

Even though the day started out cloudy and I felt a few raindrops while walking the pups in the 7 o'clock hour, it has turned out to be a nice day. We ran out of the clouds halfway through the day's drive and this evening has turned cloud-free and balmy. We put the chairs and dog pen out, and are enjoying wine (what else???) outside for a change. Tonight's dinner: leftover Chicken Pot Pie.  Mmmm.  Life continues to be good!

Monday, September 13, 2010

Wine Stop!

September 13, 2010
Walla Walla, Washington

On Saturday, we broke camp and headed "downhill" from Northern Idaho to Southeast Washington. Our route took us on US-2 then US-95 down to I-90, then west through Spokane. Once we were on the other side of the city, we turned south again on US-195 to WA-26, WA-127, and finally west again on US-12. We left behind the pine forests and the cloudy/rainy weather and before we knew it we were in hay and wheat country again. Rolling fields of staggered crops stretched out on both side of us. As we crossed the Snake River, we started to pick up the "Lewis and Clark Trail" signs again.

We rolled into Walla Walla in the middle of the afternoon, a pretty short driving day by our past standards, with 253 miles logged. Ah, life in the slow lane. The park we're staying at, Blue Valley RV Park, may have changed hands in the past year, as it used to be "Fairway RV Resort", probably so named because of its location next to a golf course. The Park's layout is a little odd, with two separate sections bisected by the local Humane Society's compound, but we had a nice spot with a good satellite alignment so we were happy campers.

Somewhere along the way, our meal plan (OK, "my" meal plan since Geri hates the concept) fell apart. I had us having pasta, but we had the last of the leftover Angel Hair for lunch. Pasta twice in one day? No way, José. On the other hand, why not be a little spontaneous once in a while? A little bit of quick Googling and Yelping, one fast phone call, and we were booked for a 7:15 dinner before Geri was even out of the shower. Brasserie Four, in downtown Walla Walla, serves a house favorite, Moules Frites, that Geri loves. I had Steak Frites. We were both happy, but even I admitted that she "won". With a glass of Rosé Champagne with our Terrine de Fois de Poulet (chicken livers) starter and a nice bottle of local Syrah with the entrées, we were stuffed and happy by the time we rolled home.

Sunday dawned bright and crisp, not a cloud in the sky. We actually had breakfast on the patio for a change, something we haven't done since AZ (and not much then this past winter since it was so cool). We started our local touring with a stop at the Farmer's Market downtown. It was small as these things go, and probably about 50% farm produce and 50% other "stuff" (from breads and rolls to trinkets to massages). We picked up a few things but were a little disappointed that two of the things on our list weren't available. Apparently, nobody grows salad greens around here, at least not in September. And - go figure - we couldn't get a Walla Walla onion to save our lives. A 5 pound, 10 pound, 20 pound bag? Sure. One or two loose onions? Nope. Who knew?

Next, it was on to wineries. I did a bit of research in advance, so we weren't disappointed. Not only did we need to focus on good quality, we needed to a) know that they had a tasting room, b) know that the tasting room would be open (many of the smaller producers here are by appointment only or closed to the public) and c) that the wines are affordable. I picked five wineries in total, two for Sunday and three for Monday.

Our first winery was K Vintners on the eastern side of Walla Walla. The winemaker, Charles Smith (not to be confused with Charles Shaw, of "Two Buck Chuck" fame), produces two lines. We had a bottle of his "value" label, "Boom Boom Syrah" in Rapid City and liked it, so this was a natural. We tasted five different wines and ended up with a "six pack" to go, including a couple of bottles of Boom Boom (a tremendous value at $15).

Next, we headed to Amavi, south of town. We'd never had their wines before but have read good reviews, and we weren't disappointed. Their facility is modern and only a year or two old, nestled on a rise in one of their vineyards. Another tasting; another half-case in the car. We also signed up for their "wine club", since they offer the flexibility of one shipment a year, which we can schedule in December for our convenience.

Since we still had time in the day (and the pups were safely home in the air-conditioned coach), we headed back downtown, had a sandwich from Safeway (lousy) and walked around Main Street a bit. Since it was Sunday, many of the shops were closed, but we did make one last stop at the Walla Walla Wine Works. More tasting and buying ensued and we were soon ready to call it a day. Geri made salad and I seared a piece of Yellowfin Tuna, so we had a relatively light dinner.

Today (Monday) was another beautiful day. I got some chores out of the way early while Geri slept in. A few calls later (dentist appointment for her for early-November to repair that darned loose tooth; confirm next RV Park reservations; argue with the Xantrex tech support crowd about whey they didn't call me back last week, why they can't tell me why my inverter/charger won't charge, and why they won't even try to fix it - "sorry; we can't get parts for that model anymore"; line up a new inverter/charger in Portland for next week; whew, I felt like my friend Dave, the serial caller) and I was all set. Geri was up, so let the day begin!

I picked out three wineries for today, all on the west side of town. Our first stop was at Cougar Crest Winery, the furthest out, figuring we'd work our way back. It turns out no cougars we harmed during the creation of the winery; the owners are Washington State University alumni (Go Cougars!). We had the tasting room to ourselves and managed to taste everything they were pouring. With many recent vintages getting 90-94 point ratings from the Wine Spectator and several 2005 vintage bottles discounted to make room, it was tough to choose but we managed to get by with a little over a case this time.

Next stop: Reininger Vineyards, another brand we've never tried but have read about. It being Monday, we once again had the tasting room to ourselves. This is quite nice, as you don't feel crowded or rushed, and can actually interact with the tasting room staff. They produce two labels, Reininger from the Walla Walla AVA and Helix from the Columbia Valley, further to the west. Both were good and both ended up in the Rover.

Our last stop was Three Rivers Winery. This winery is part of the Foley Wine Group, one of our favorites from the Santa Barbara County area in Southern California. We're "wine club" members at one of their brands, Lincourt. Good news for us: free tastings at all Foley properties for wine club members. There were actually a few people in the tasting room when we arrived, with several cars in the lot and one of the local "wine tour" 16-passenger shuttle busses idling outside. We were happy to see the tour guide rounding up his passengers, when a "real" bus pulled up and dumped off 40 people on a "bus tour" of the Northwest. Then things got busy! We shifted to one end of the tasting bar and talked to several people (by this time in the day we were, shall we say, "talkative") as we finished our tasting. We made our selections for purchase and headed out; the tour group was still going strong.

Back home, we walked and fed the pups and I made up some Asiago and Sun-dried Tomato Burgers (sorry; pre-made by Safeway and OK but not great) and some homemade Frites (gotta make them when you see New Potatoes in the store). We paired this with a reasonably good but somewhat oddball wine from Three Rivers, a Malbec-Merlot blend. Go figure.

Click here for more pictures from our stay in Walla Walla.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Projects and cleaning...

September 10, 2010
Naples, ID

Not much sightseeing in this area for us, I'm afraid. Yesterday was spent debugging an issue with our inverter/charger as the charging side appears to be toast, and the unit isn't passing full voltage on one leg. It was an easy bypass for that, and our solar panels will keep the batteries charged until we can get the inverter/charger repaired or replaced. We did make a quick trip into Sandpoint, about 20 miles south of here, to find an ATM (cash reserves running low) and pick up a few things. It seems like we always have a grocery list going! Must mean we eat well.

Today is cleaning day. Geri's got most of the laundry knocked off and I'm going to wash the floor and the mirrors. She's made a batch of dog food, and will soon start on tonight's dinner: her Famous Chicken Pot Pie. Woo-hoo!

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Montana: Check. On to Idaho.

September 8, 2010
Naples, Idaho

Today was another easy travel day. I'm really liking these shorter days, away from the Interstates. Today's drive took us from Hungry Horse, Montana, to Naples, Idaho, essentially along US-2 the whole way. Straight as that seems, it took 171 driving miles to cover the 108 straight-line miles, but it was all relatively smooth roadway and it's scenic country.

We made our first stop less than a mile from the start of today's drive, at the Huckleberry Patch right down the road. Geri loaded up on stuff to make pies, plus some pre-made pie and ice cream for our travels.

From there, our route brought us through Kalispell, then west and north through the Kootenai National Forest. Crossing into the northern tip of Idaho, we made a quick stop in Bonners Ferry for fuel and were quickly at our next destination: Blue Lake RV Resort. Now, I'm usually skeptical of parks with the word "resort" in their name" and, while this is certainly a nice "rustic" park with great owners, it ain't no "resort".

They do have a small vineyard (woo-hoo!) but it doesn't look like any wine will be made here any time soon.

"Wild" is right...
Not thinking we're going to be tasting the local wines...

But, we have a nice pull-thru, their free Wi-Fi works, and we have a TV signal from one of the rooftop antennas, so life is good. At least, that is, until the freight train passed by 100' away. (I knew we crossed a set of tracks on the way into the park - duh!). Hopefully, there won't be too many trains passing by...

Oops; there goes one now!