Sunday, October 30, 2011
October 30, 2011
We had a great breakfast with Wayne and Eva, then hit the highway heading east (for a change). It was a beautiful, warm (low-90s) day and we had another easy drive, following I-10 to AZ-101 just west of Phoenix. We were soon parked in front of the winter abode just before 4:00 PM. The timing was pretty good, since our plan was to defer unloading most things until tomorrow. Like my friend, Dave, we have a homemade power cord with a 50 Amp plug, so I plugged the coach in to keep the air conditioners running, then started tackling the house.
Our fall start-up routine is nowhere near as complicated as preparing for departure in the spring. I call the city (water, sewer, trash) and the Internet people about a week in advance; we leave the gas service on but turned off at the meter. Basically, I have to reset the air conditioning, install new water filters and open the valve, fill the hot water heater, turn on the gas, bleed the gas lines to the stove and water heater, and light the pilot for the water heater. Within an hour (barring any mishaps), everything is ready to go, and this year there were no issues, per se. The water valve was a little sticky but nothing a 12" pipe wrench couldn't fix (last year, I had to make an emergency trip to Home Depot because the water valve wouldn't open). The toilets and drains were fine, since I've started sealing the water in with plastic wrap before we leave. The water heater pilot light takes a while to come on, but I'm used to that. We buy the water filters in bulk, so they were already waiting for me to install them. No leaks made for a pretty smooth start-up.
The only problem we had this year was that several of the smoke and carbon monoxide alarms were beeping. Actually, the real problem was that we didn't have any spare 9-volt batteries in the house! Geri made a quick trip to Home Depot (not me for a change!) while I was doing the water filters, and we soon changed them all out and Merlin was able to come out from under the bed. I thought I'd changed the batteries in the spring, but maybe not. Needless to say, "get batteries" will be added to the one-week-before-arrival to-do list for next year.
Over the past few years, we've made a tradition out of heading to a local pizza joint, Grimaldi's, for dinner on the night we arrive back, and this year was no exception. They serve the closest thing we can get to "real" New York pizza out here. After dinner, I brought in the network equipment from the coach and restarted the cable modem. Everything worked fine there as well.
All in all, an easy re-entry this year. As always, we love our travels but it feels great to be back in AZ for the winter...
Saturday, October 29, 2011
October 29, 2011
We made one last stop on this year's "grand tour", visiting with Wayne and Eva (and their friends/neighbors, Will and Diane) in Indio. We had a great time as always, collaborating on a nice dinner (Rack of Pork, something we don't have often). It would have been nice to stay a little longer, but we were anxious to get back to Arizona and they'd just arrived home a few days before. There are lots of things to do when you get back...
Friday, October 28, 2011
October 28, 2011
Cathedral City/Palm Springs, California
We left Lompoc yesterday morning, bidding the Elks adieu. We'd planned to stay at the Elks Lodge in Indio, which breaks up the 12-hour drive from Lompoc to Phoenix quite nicely, but they're hosting some sort of RV Rally and are all booked up. Since we'd planned to catch up with our Canadian friends, John and Kristine, anyway, we ended up staying a little to the west, near Palm Springs. This Outdoor Resorts park was one of the original developments, and it's a nice park. We booked a space here for two nights.
We'd made arrangements to catch up with John and Kristine today for lunch, so it was a bit of a surprise for them when we passed their site yesterday afternoon. We joined them for cocktail hour (OK, they came to pick us up in the golf cart, since parking at each site is tight), and then again for lunch today. We had a chance to catch up, as we haven't seen them "live" since May of 2009, and compare notes on coach upgrades. It was good to see them...
This afternoon, I had great plans - for a nap. Unfortunately, I just happened to look at the Rover and it was leaning to one side. What the...? Yep, a screw in the left rear tire, down to 10 PSI. I had to make a quick trip to the Post Office to pick up mail this morning and noticed that the ride was a little "loose" at highway speeds, so we must have picked it up over the past few days. I might have been able to pump it up and we might have been able to nurse it back to Phoenix, but a quick search on Google Maps revealed that there is a tire shop location of the chain we've used lately (Discount Tire/America's Tire) right next door.
I fired up the air compressor, pumped the tire back up and headed out. They confirmed that the screw was too close to the sidewall to patch, and - surprise - they had a tire of the right size (different brand) in stock. They got me right in and within 45 minutes, everything was all swapped out and, $33 poorer (I only have to pay to renew the warranty on the new tire) and I was on the way home. Not bad...
Wednesday, October 26, 2011
October 26, 2011
Lompoc is generally known for its flowers, more specifically the farms that generate the seeds. Or, for Vandenberg Air Force Base, where a lot of unmanned rocket launches happen. Or even the big federal penitentiary located there. Nowadays, it's becoming more and more known for the wines made there, specifically Pinot Noirs. Yep, we're hooked. We managed to visit several wineries and picked up all of our "wine club" packages. It'll be a nice-drinking winter...
We also stopped to see Geri's sister, Kathy, twice, at the assisted living complex. She was happy to see us, knowing we were there to see her even if she wasn't sure who we are. Geri brought a short slideshow of pictures on her iPad, and she really liked that. She even recognized Merlin from the pictures! Awesome.
We parked at the Lompoc Elks Lodge for the first time, which was super-convenient. On the other hand, we may have picked up an unwanted houseguest, as we found "evidence" of a mouse being pretty bold inside. We cleaned everything up and the dogs, being programmed in their DNA to chase vermin, were patrolling and scratching all over. If we didn't drive it/them out, we'll have to get some traps...
Saturday, October 22, 2011
October 22, 2011
One of the things we like to do when in "Wine Country" is take advantage of any special events available. One of the benefits of being in various wine clubs directly with wineries is that you get invitations to "members-only" events. We took advantage of one of these today, at Fiddlehead. They invited their top-end club members (not just "Fiddleheads" but "Stradivarius Club" - everything is somehow "fiddle" related) to a luncheon in the home vineyard. We had a fine afternoon, mingling with about 25 other wine geeks, spending some time with the owner/winemaker, learning a little more about vineyard management issues and techniques, having a great meal (from Snapper Ceviché to a Whole Smoked Pig) and tasting a series of "library wines", older vintage stock held back by the winery. overall, it was a great way to spend a nice, sunny afternoon...
Back home, we decided to sit outside for a bit as the temperatures cooled off. We'd left the air conditioning on with the generator running for the pups while we were off wining. One of the nice things about being "out back" by ourselves is that Merlin and Maya Lynn can hang with us leash-free. Fortunately, Geri spotted the largest spider we've ever seen (actually a tarantula), just walking through the campground, before Maya did. Accordingly, we all retired inside for the evening, where I bored Geri with Game 3 of the World Series for the evening's entertainment.
Friday, October 21, 2011
October 21, 2011
Santa Maria/Los Olivos, California
Today started out cloudy, almost foggy, but it was just the typical California "marine layer" that often develops along the coast. It soon burned off and we had sunshine for the most part on our short drive continuing on US-101 from Atascadero to just south of Santa Maria. Our destination today wasn't an Elks Lodge for a change! It's a winery.
We stopped at Trés Hermanas Winery four or five years ago and were intrigued with their Wine Club deal: based on how much you spend on wine, you get "free" nights in the little RV Park they've built out back of the buildings. If you're selective, the wines are reasonably good, so we signed up. Then, we never took advantage of the parking. Sure, we stopped by each spring and fall to pick up accumulated Wine Club items, but the relatively long ~10 mile drive out winding Foxen Canyon Road from Los Olivos just didn't seem to be fun with the coach. Then, last spring, we took a different route and found a road that's much easier on the coach, so we decided to try that this fall.
The RV Park is only open to Wine Club members, although I'm sure they have some various other guests (probably family members) use it from time to time. It's a nicely laid out 21-space, all pull-thru layout with water and 30-amp electric at each site. It's nice and quiet and we're here all by ourselves, surrounded by a horse corral, cattle pastures and, of course, vines. The only down side is that they didn't really execute well on the electrical service, trying to lay out 21 30-amp sites on a 100-amp circuit (that math just doesn't work) and using under-sized wiring. As soon as there's any kind of load on the circuit, the voltage drops significantly. Nominally, voltage in North America is 120 volts, +/- 10%. Our coach's electrical protection system will automatically disconnect is the voltage drops below 108 or spikes higher than 132. Here, we were able to drop the circuit below that just using the microwave; classic under-sized wiring issue. It's OK, though, since it's "free" how loudly should you complain? As long as it's relatively cool, we're fine.
Thursday, October 20, 2011
October 20, 2011
Yesterday we had more success with wine tasting, so let the whining stop! We relaxed in the morning, had an early lunch, and headed for Paso Robles. We visited Eberle Winery on the east side, made a stop at the local Wally for some supplies, and then headed for Four Vines Winery. It was pretty hard to find, since we didn't know that the Four Vines brand had been sold and the place had been renamed "Cypher". It was OK, though, as we got to taste several very nice Syrahs and Rhône blends. All in all, it was a successful day.
|Eberle Winery uses a wild boar as their logo, so there are several sculptures of them on the grounds.|
|What to do when the old truck is "retired"? Yard Art, of course...|
|Many vineyards contain devices to keep birds at bay. This one is a huge wind chime!|
We headed home via Trader Joe's again, this time a quick stop to pick up fresh basil. Sounds like something Italian? You bet: Jimmy's Famous Chicken and Brie with Farfalle. I trimmed up a couple of chicken breasts, Geri made the sauce from scratch with heirloom tomatoes, and it was excellent!
Today, we were lazy. We can't go wining every day! We puttered around the coach, Geri went shopping, and I upgraded my iPad with the latest software from Apple. The latter went mostly well, although I've got an app that's now behaving strangely, darn it.
We'd planned to go to the San Luis Obispo Farmer's Market, really more of an evening street fair from whet we've read, to catch up with our friends Wayne and Eva, but after a strong afternoon of shopping, Geri's ankles were sore and swollen so we decided to pass. We finished off the Tri-Tip and called it a night...
Wednesday, October 19, 2011
October 18, 2011
Atascadero-Templeton-Paso Robles, California
I know I'm sounding like a broken record when I say that yesterday was a nice driving day, but it was, darn it! For years, we'd rush from place to place, up early, drive all day, stop after dark. In 2009, Bob and Rod schooled me in the art of traveling in the top half of the clock: on the road at 9:00 and parked by 3:00 in the afternoon. This fall, we've taken that a step further: leave by 10:00 and stop by 2:00. I'm liking it.
In any event, we had an easy drive from Salinas to Atascadero, US-101 all the way. This is farming country, in a wide, flat valley from Gilroy (garlic) through Salinas (greens, spinach recalls notwithstanding) down to just north of Paso Robles, where the valley floor narrows, the hills begin to roll, and the vines start to reappear.
Today, I made a quick trip to Templeton to pick up mail at the Post Office. We're waiting for a new Visa card that hasn't shown up yet. In the afternoon, we decided to do some wine tasting. I looked over the various brochures available, did some Wine Spectator research, and made a couple of winery picks. As we get older and wiser (and as the various spots to store wine in the coach fill up), we get more selective. I like to seek out wines that actually do well in a given place, and producers who've gained some degree of recognition for their quality products. Too often in the past, we've tasted and even purchased wines and realized later that they weren't the best ones available in a given area. In Paso Robles, the varieties that do best are from the Rhône region in France. While predominantly Syrah, Grenache, Mourvedre, and other lesser-known grape varieties are growing in popularity. So, we were off in search of Rhône blends (sometimes referred to as "GSM", Grenache-Syrah-Mourvedre).
Unfortunately, I didn't allow enough research time to actually drill down to individual winery web sites and literature. If I had, I'd have realized that typical tasting room hours in the Paso Robles area run Thursday-Monday, maybe even Friday-Sunday. Tuesday? Not so much. So, we struck out with a couple of small, highly-rated producers. We'll save them for next time. Instead, we made a return visit to Turley Winery and tasted some nice Zinfandel. We'd stopped here last fall as well. We enjoyed the tasting, and their new tasting room, and made a few select purchases for the Wine Box.
Heading home, we made a quick stop at the local Trader Joe's to pick up some produce (and some Two Buck Chuck, since it's actually $2 in California as opposed to $3 everywhere else). Geri made a nice appetizer plate and I got out the grill to sear a Tri-Tip. It was a cheater Tri-Tip, pre-seasoned from Costco, and it was way too spicy and salty for our tastes. We won't do that again!
Sunday, October 16, 2011
October 16, 2011
Today, we were up a little later than planned, but we had an easy driving day. We were all set to travel around 10:30, and soon heading south. We cut across to I-80, then immediately exited for I-680, which we followed south all the way to San Jose (no, we weren't singing) and US-101. Continuing south, we were soon exiting in Salinas, heading for the local Elks Lodge. We were soon parked for the night. We're only here for one night as we continue south. Geri made a great "quick sauce" with linguini for dinner that went nicely with a cheap Chianti from Whole Foods (not quite 2-Buck Chuck). We'll call it an early night and then continue south to Atascadero (and Paso Robles wine country) tomorrow...
Saturday, October 15, 2011
October 15, 2011
St. Helena, California
Today was another relaxing day. We puttered around the coach, Geri did some laundry, that kind of thing. We headed out for a late lunch (or an early dinner, depending on your point-of-view) at the Greystone Restaurant at the Culinary Institute of America in nearby St. Helena. We've been here numerous times before and, as always, we had another great meal. Geri asked to be seated along the bar separating the dining room from the kitchen, so we could watch the cooking action. We began with their "Temptations" tapas small bites, then Geri had a Roasted Beet and Kohlrabi salad followed by a Seared Cod main course. I had the Sweet Corn Soup with Peeky Toe Crab and the Crispy Chicken Leg Confit. Everything was excellent, as expected. We matched the meal with a Skaggs #6 Mourvedre Blend (yes, Boz makes wine now) and we finished with their "Sweet Finale", a tapas-style dessert plate paired with a flight of three dessert wines. We ended up chatting with everyone else sitting at the bar, and everyone was interesting in our travel lifestyle. Another excellent outing!
|Greystone. Get it?|
|Dessert wine "flight"...|
|Happy, Happy, Happy!|
Friday, October 14, 2011
October 14, 2011
It's great to be back in one of our favorite wine regions, even if we'll have a short stay this time. Wednesday's drive down from Ukiah was short and uneventful, even though we took a slightly different route than last year when Pat and Al were with us. We shaved a few miles off the journey by taking CA-116 and CA-121 east from Petaluma rather than looping further south to CA-37 in Novato. Since there wasn't much traffic, it didn't matter as much that we were the slowest ones on the narrow and winding roads. And we were soon parked in the tight little RV Park at the Napa Elks Lodge.
We'd stopped at this Lodge for drinks last year with Pat and Al; Wayne and Eva were staying there while we were at Napa Expo (the local Fairgrounds). We checked in, hooked up and deployed, then stopped back at the Lounge for a brew and to add to Geri's Lodge Pin collection.
Yesterday, we relaxed in the morning and did some shopping in the afternoon. We went to the Napa Style retail store (we've ordered from them online in the past) and then Whole Foods Market (haven't seen one of them in a while!). For dinner, I tried a new recipe for Rack of Lamb that I found in the Wine Spectator magazine; it was excellent with Geri's Famous Grandma's Red Potatoes and her newly-Famous Heirloom Bell Pepper stuffed with squash, tomato and tapenade. I made some sautéed mushrooms with Truffle Salt from Napa Style and a drizzle of sage/mushroom EVOO that we found in Michigan that went well with the Moroccan spice influence on the lamb. With one of the Two Sisters Pinot Noirs we'd brought with us from AZ (surprised it lasted that long?), it was an excellent meal.
Today, we did some wine tasting. It's what you do in Napa Valley! I made reservations at Sterling, known more for the visually impressive winery than the wines. Knowing that, we weren't disappointed. The Winery is modeled after something from Greece, and the nice, sunny day showed it off nicely. We rode the tram 300' from the parking area to the winery itself and took our time doing the self-guided tour, with its multiple tasting "stations". We wrapped up with a "reserve" tasting. The wines were good but not something we needed to buy.
|Ready for the Tram ride...|
|...up we go!|
|Sterling is a very striking facility.|
|I love these tree-lined drives...|
Back down the hill, we headed back from Calistoga toward Napa on the Silverado Trail, and decided to stop at Rombauer for a tasting there. Even though they're known as a Chardonnay producer, for some reason we decided to try their Zinfandel tasting. Nice, but no sale so we moved on.
|... and sculpture at Rombauer.|
Back at the Elks Lodge, we relaxed a bit before heading over to the dining room for their version of cook-your-own-steak night. It wasn't as crowded at the one in Eureka, and they had similar rib-eyes to cook. We had another nice feed and relaxed after dinner chatting with several of the locals. Then, it was back to the coach for a nightcap and some TV. Good day...
Tuesday, October 11, 2011
October 11, 2011
We're just wrapping up a nice, albeit short, visit here in Mendocino County. We had an easy drive (I'm beginning to get the hang of these "leave by 10:00 and stop for the day by 2:00" drives) down from Eureka, in spite of some rain along the way. It was basically US-101 south all the way. We pulled into the Ukiah Elks Lodge mid-afternoon and were soon set up and paid up.
Today, the rain stopped in the morning, so we decided to pack up the pups and take a ride. Having done a little research online, I knew we wanted to head west to Booneville, then north toward the little burg of Mendocino. We didn't make it all the way, but that was just fine.
CA-253 west from Ukiah is one of those roads where large vehicles are "not advised". In fact, RVs over 40' aren't allowed at all, and we could tell why. Climbing 1,500' through switchbacks then dropping down the other side the same way, over two sets of mountains, made for an interesting drive. Fortunately, it's only 16 miles to Booneville, in the heart of the Anderson Valley. We stopped for lunch at the Redwood Drive-in (including a burger carne sola for the pups) and started our winery search from there.
We made two winery stops (recognizing that we had a long and winding drive back home) in the small town of Philo. Our first stop was at Navarro, one of the oldest operations in the Anderson Valley. After tasting and purchasing a couple of bottles, we circled back to Goldeneye, a winery I'd read about online. They are primarily a Pinot Noir producer, and part of the Duckhorn wine group from Napa Valley. We had a great tasting in a very relaxing setting. After getting a glass of Chardonnay in the Visitor's Center, we adjourned to the patio overlooking the "home" vineyard, found a nice spot under an umbrella, and were treated to a nice tasting of four different Pinots. Sitting on the patio, working at our own pace; now that's how to do a tasting right. Since they're flexible on shipping, we even signed up for their wine shipment program. It should be a good addition to our "portfolio".
|Wonderful tasting a Goldeneye|
|View from Goldeneye's tasting patio|
|Should be harvesting soon!|
Fully relaxed, we headed back over the mountains to Ukiah, stopped in the Lodge for a brew, and settled in for the night. It was a mostly cloudy and damp visit, but we enjoyed it and will stop back again.
Sunday, October 9, 2011
October 9, 2011
Eureka! We found it! The Elks Lodge in Eureka, California, that is...
Yesterday was another easy driving day, about 115 miles south on US-101. We stopped for fuel at one of the local Pacific Pride card-lock outlets and were soon parked at the Elks Lodge in Eureka, California. Since we'd stopped here overnight with our friends Wayne and Eva last fall, we knew enough to stay on US-101 through town and not have our GPS route us through a series of residential streets. When I checked in, the bartender told me about the Friday night steak dinner, so I signed up for the 6:30 PM event.
We could see things starting to perk up around 5:30, so we headed over early and found a nice spot at the "Friendly Corner" of the bar after buying our "cook your own steak" tickets. Geri asked the bartender how the process worked since it was our first time here. The response: "You brought your own steaks, right"? got Geri good; the look on her face was priceless!
At 6:30, the Dining Room opened and everyone picked out their rib-eyes and headed out to the barbeque pit for seasoning and grilling. Geri found us a table and got salads. Once the steaks were deemed "done", we got our sides and were soon joined by an interesting local couple since seating is "family style". We had a nice conversation, then Geri and I retired to the bar for a final glass of wine to cap off a nice evening.
Yesterday, we relaxed, made a Costco run (haven't seen one of those for a while!), watched a little baseball until the rain delay, and I did some Blog updates. Today, we're going to explore Eureka and the area a bit as soon as I finish this entry. Tomorrow, we continue our journey south...
Thursday, October 6, 2011
October 6, 2011
Except, this time, the surprise was on us! Here's the story:
Yesterday was an easy driving day, back to US-101 from the RV Park along the beach, then south for a few hours. We stopped for lunch at an overlook just south of Port Orford, and were soon at our destination, the Elks Lodge in Brookings, Oregon.
This being our first time here, we decided to check out the Lodge and decided to stay for dinner. The food reviews were mixed (hint, never fry your chips and fish in the same oil) and we were just getting ready to leave when we heard someone behind us say "She looks like my Grandma Honey". Huh? That's a nickname for Geri's sister, Kathy. That's when Geri's great-niece, Cheri, surprised us with a visit. She lives nearby and saw Geri's Foursquare check-in at the Elks, and decided to surprise us. Neat! We didn't even realize that she'd moved back to Oregon recently. We hung out a bit then made plans to get together again this afternoon.
Today was a "stay in your jammies until Noon day" for one of us. No matter, as we didn't have much planned. We picked up a few things at the Fred Meyer, got some gas for the Rover (getting yelled at because, once again, I forgot that I'm not qualified to pump my own gas in Oregon), and putzed around the coach. I checked the axle hub (still OK) and got out the silicone to seal up a few drips here and there, then we had a brew at the Lodge before dinner. Afterwards, Cheri came over with three of the four boys in her brood: Gabe, Levi, and Johnny. James was at a football game. We had a nice visit and even Merlin came around after a while. We'll definitely stop here again!
Tuesday, October 4, 2011
October 4, 2011
Geri loves the beach. Merlin and Maya Lynn love the beach. So, we spent the past few days at the cleverly-named Oceanside RV Park in Charleston, Oregon.
We stayed here last year and weren't too impressed with the facilities, but the ability to walk 200' and be right on a large, partially-protected Pacific Ocean beach was enough to lure us back. And, we're glad we did since the owners have at least made an attempt to clean things up a bit since last October's visit.
We had a couple of rainy days (that's what raincoats are for) and some sunny periods, plus a spell or two of strong winds, but still had a nice, relaxing time. The pups thoroughly enjoyed long walks on the beach, especially since it's usually unpopulated and they're able to go off-leash. We didn't accomplish much else, other than laundry catch-up and a Wally run, but that's just fine with us after a 1,500 mile trek from South Dakota.