Thursday, October 31, 2013

Napa Valley on the Cheap

Neither of us had ever spent significant time in the Northern California wine country before, so Napa made a good place to stop for a few days as we migrate South to San Diego for the holidays. Now, we tend to gravitate to more frugal adventures and wine tourism tends to be fairly pricey, so we sought out some of the less expensive things to do in Napa Valley.

Halloween decoration seen on a stroll through downtown Napa.

Elaborate mosaic fountain in downtown Napa.

We stayed at Skyline Wilderness Park, probably the least expensive of the few RV parks in the valley, at $30/night. We learned from the Nealy's that the full hookup sites were very tight so we chose one of the back-in water/electric sites that are a little wider and were fortunate not to have any neighbors during our stay. We really enjoyed the miles of trails right at the park, though dog owners won't be so happy as they are not allowed on the trails.

Many of the Skyline trails take you through oak covered hillsides.

White Chanterelle on a log in the creek.

Mexican food tip: There is a small Mexican market on Imola Rd. on the way to the campground. They have excellent meat and produce as well as tacos, burritos and other typical Mexican fast food offerings. Four small tacos for $5 is probably the least expensive lunch you'll find in Napa, and tasty too!

One day we headed North for some hiking and wine tasting. Driving North through Napa Valley the smell of fermenting grapes was strong. The harvest had recently ended and wine production was in full force for the season. First we stopped at the Bale Grist Mill State Historic Park to see a water powered grist mill built in 1846.

Bale Grist Mill

Next we hiked about six miles through the Bothe-Napa Valley State Park. This lovely park preserves a second growth redwood forest; the redwoods grow from the roots of trees cut down in the 1850's.

Lush redwood forest in Bothe-Napa Valley State Park.

After all the gorgeous nature it was time for some over-the-top Napa Valley wine tourism! We'd decided to do one wine tasting during our stay and we chose one of the more extravagant properties just for the fun of it. Castello di Amorosa is a 141,000 square foot castle, the dream child of wine maker Dario Sattui.

Mr. Sattui spent 15 years visiting and studying castles in Europe and another 15 years building his dream. He made every effort and spared no expense to create a 13th century Tuscan castle that paid homage to the castles of that time. We took a tour that gave us entry to the wine caves and his collection of old wines, medieval armor and torture devices. We had a wonderful time exploring the castle and tasting the wines, but true to form we didn't buy a thing!

It's impossible to get a photo of the whole place close up, it's enormous!

There seemed to be miles of arched tunnels housing barrels of Italian-style wines.

In my last post I mentioned Rosie needed to visit the vet. During the entire four years she's been with us (we adopted her at 2.5 years old) she has had what we called a snaggle tooth. Her right canine stuck out of her mouth, very endearing actually. But that snaggle tooth turned out to be indicative of a was essentially a dead tooth and her body had begun to shed the tooth. So our stay in Napa included dental surgery at Alley Cat Small Animal Hospital.

We can highly recommend this animal hospital for their compassionate, professional care. We felt Rosie was in good hands during her long, hard day of surgery. They removed three teeth (the canine was a bear, with extensive bone damage underneath) and cleaned the rest of them. Now we have three weeks of antibiotic drops to administer twice a day (fun!) but she is doing very well.

Our sweet Rosie.

Tomorrow we are off to Santa Cruz where we'll spend a few nights at New Brighton State Beach. In fact, this will be the start of several weeks along the coast as we make our way to San Diego.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Campground Review: Green Acres RV Park, Redding, CA

Green Acres RV Park turned out to be a lovely oasis in a kind of industrial part of town. You enter through a used car dealership and immediately find yourself in a garden-like setting. Well kept grass and trees and plantings welcome you from the hot, dry industrial landscape.

Roads and sites are paved, the sites being wide enough for your slides and decent separation from your neighbor. There are 33 full hookup sites, nicely shaded. No picnic table though.

Amenities are minimal with a pool (closed during our stay), laundry (very inexpensive), horseshoes, cable TV and wifi. NO restrooms/showers. They had fast internet, though when it went down one day and Hans went to report it, he ended up staying and helped them get it back up!

There is a little road noise from the busy nearby streets and the train tracks nearby do get regular use...and the trains do blow their whistles, even in the wee hours. Other than that this is a very calm and peaceful place to stay.

At $30/night this turned out to be a nice place to stay in Redding, close to town, and the many trails in the area, but away from the freeway and hustle and bustle. 

Site #30

We never had neighbors on either side during our stay.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Redding, CA: More Trails Than We Expected!

We've spent the last few nights in Redding, CA. It's warmed up a bit into the mid 80's and we were happy to have a nice shady site at the Green Acres RV Park, a little green oasis in a rather industrial part of town.

It turns out that Redding has a large, varied trail system in place. From beautiful paved trails along the river to fun mountain bike single track in the foothills, there's something for everyone. This excellent map is available at the visitor center.

We knew we wanted to ride the Sacramento River Trail, but in a comment from Mona Liza we learned that we could easily ride to the trail from our RV park, saving ourselves a bit of hassle. This paved trail follows the river with three pedestrian bridges and multiple access points. We happened to hit it during the fall Chinook salmon migration so we saw lots of fish and fishermen; we even witnessed the fish take flying, twisting leaps into the air!

Sundial Bridge really is a sundial...but it's only accurate on the day of summer solstice.

We could see huge salmon from the bridge.

At waters edge we saw this salmon looking for the right place to spawn.
She would rest for a minute or two, then stir up the sand with her tail.

Next we hiked the Clear Creek Greenway trail...what an excellent choice this turned out to be! Lots of Chinook were making their way up this large, fast moving creek which turns into a small gorge so there were many viewpoints to watch the fish. We also discovered a cascade section and we read that some of the fish actually do make it up the cascade.

We hiked a fairly short section of the Clear Creek Greenway: from the Honeybee Trailhead to the point where the trail crosses the road, about 3.5 miles round trip. Highly recommended at this time of year!

Our first view of the creek offered dozens of Chinook doing their thing in the shallow, rocky pools.

The creek soon enters a gorge; fish viewing points are easily accessible all along the way.

Here is the top portion of the cascade section...which was at least 300 yards long overall.
There were at least 20 fish in the small pool, resting before making attempts at the rushing water.

Caught one in flight!
It was hard to imagine them making it all the way up the entire cascade,
and we never did see one make it to the next level,
but I did see a fish about halfway up the cascade section.

Tomorrow we drive to Napa for a few nights; looks like some wine tasting is in our future! Also, Miss Rosie has inflamed gums (around her snaggle tooth) so she'll be going to the vet on Monday. Fingers crossed she only needs antibiotics!

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Hanging Out in the Shadow of Mt Shasta: Weed, CA

We spent a few nights in Weed, CA, essentially in the shadow of Mt Shasta...which just happens to be one of those mountains I've long desired to explore. We definitely wanted to get up close and personal with this stunning monolith.

A view of the West side of Mt Shasta.
The oaks covering the hillsides in Northern CA are currently a lovely canvas of yellow and orange.

The Squaw/South Gate Trail was a perfect choice to see Shasta up close and personal. Located at about 7,500 feet, it's a 5.2 mile lollipop loop through meadows on the Southern flank of Mt Shasta, with views of that great mountain as well as Gray Butte and Red Butte.

Hans is taking on the characteristics of the mossy forests we've been hiking well as the Nor Cal vibe!

Mt Shasta viewed from Panther Meadow at about 7500 feet on the mountains South flank.

Hiking up a barren pass on Mt Shasta's South side.
This small meadow would be covered in flowers in the summer.

We did a short two-mile hike at Castle Lake for our second hike in the area. The water was perfectly still creating some incredible reflections:

Castle Lake

We also took a brief walk along Lake Siskiyou and were treated to more amazing reflections...this time of Mt Shasta:

Lake Siskiyou and Mt Shasta.

Weed is a quirky little town that has fun playing off the marijuana reference. We enjoyed a very good IPA at the Mt Shasta Brewery in town. We stayed at the Hi Lo Motel, Cafe & RV Park. The RV park was nothing special, just a row of spaces behind the hotel backing up to a small creek, but the cafe was wonderful. Very good American comfort food, reasonably priced with huge portions.

Just down the freeway, Mt Shasta city was our access point for our hikes and was a really cute little town. If we are in the area again we'd probably look for an RV park in this town.

Tomorrow we continue South into Redding where daytime temps are currently in the upper 80's - yikes!!!

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Campground Review: Emigrant Lake County Park, Ashland, OR

Emigrant Lake County Park lies just a few miles South of Ashland, OR, nestled in rolling hills and with enough distance from Interstate 5 that you can only hear it in the early morning hours when you run outside to catch photos of the glorious sunrise.

Roads and sites are paved, each site has a picnic table and fire pit/BBQ and decent separation from your neighbor. The 32 full hookup sites are arranged on two tiers, one tier next to the lake and the other above it with excellent views as well. All sites have wonderful, unobstructed views.

When we arrived the wind was extremely strong and the prime site (#21, best views and seclusion) was reserved for part of our stay. We chose site #25, higher up the hill with less view of the low water level and more views of trees turning colors and the rolling hills surrounding us.

Amenities include restrooms/showers, all water activities, and, in the summer, a water park. We had decent 4G Verizon signal using our booster during our stay. Rate for full hookups is $30/night.

Rosie enjoyed exploring the trails down to the long shoreline, though we had to be careful to avoid the stickery weeds that were all over the place. Dogs are allowed in the campground but not in the day use areas of the park.

The lake level is very low right now but we still saw lots of folks enjoying the water each day; including swimmers, canoes and kayaks, rowing clubs, SUP, fishing boats and even water skiers. In mid October during a five night stay there were only a handful of other rigs in the park. This is probably a very quiet park at night year round, but with the low usage right now it was incredibly peaceful during our stay. We would absolutely stay here again.

We are in site #25.

As you can see the campground is really busy...not!

Our picnic table and firepit are behind the rig.


Ashland, You've Stolen Our Hearts

Continuing South in our annual migration to San Diego for the holidays, we next stopped in Ashland, OR. Neither of us had visited Ashland before. We knew it was known as a retirement destination and for it's summer-long Shakespeare Festival, as well as Emigrant Lake being a fine place to camp. We ended up being very pleasantly surprised by this town.

We camped at Emigrant Lake, just South of town, and it lived up to its reputation as a lovely, peaceful (at this time of year) place to stay. We even took the opportunity to wash and wax the truck and the rig during our stay because the weather was so perfect after the first night (super windy when we arrived).

We discovered the excellent Grizzly Peak trail just a few miles East of town. This 5.4 mile trail climbs gently through dense forest where we were treated to a great horned owl sighting! About one third of the trail passes through a 2003 burn area which opens up the views to the West and South. This was a lovely hike and it was easy to see that it would be covered in wild flowers in the summer.

At about 5,500 feet there were still signs of the weather system that blew through the PNW about a week ago.

Gorgeous clouds topped expansive views to the West, overlooking Ashland.

We also hiked the Mount Ashland Meadows Trail, a 3.5 mile, almost level section of the Pacific Crest Trail that traverses the Southern flank of Mount Ashland. There are amazing views of Mount Shasta, about 60 miles SW, and in the summer the meadows would be filled with flowers.

Mt Shasta

Lots of haze during our stay. I  believe it was because people were burning firewood and
burning piles of brush built up over the summer. Makes for interesting mountain shots though!

Driving through town on Friday we noticed the local high school was holding their Homecoming football game that night, so we went. The Ashland Grizzlies ended up beating the Willamette Wolverines 34 -20. This turned out to be a neat way to meet some of the locals!

Local high school football fun!

Ashland is a fairly upscale tourist destination thanks to the annual Oregon Shakespeare Festival, with a cute and lively downtown including lots of art galleries and unique boutiques and eateries. Downtown is surrounded by well kept neighborhoods of beautiful Victorian and craftsman-style homes.

Lithia Park is the crown jewel of the town; this 100 acre, 100 year old park has several miles of trails that we enjoyed at this colorful time of year. In fact, the changing leaves were so beautiful that on a Saturday hordes of professional and amateur photographers were enjoying the beauty and many people were having special photo sessions in the park, especially in the Japanese Garden!

The Duck Pond provided lovely reflections.

Walking through the Japanese Garden we were enveloped in color.

We enjoyed Ashland so much we extended our stay an extra day and will definitely be back to explore this area further. In fact, Ashland has made it onto our short list of places we might like to live someday!

Today we move just 70 miles South, to Weed, CA to spend a few days in the virtual shadow of Mt. Shasta.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Campground Review: Riverpark RV Resort, Grants Pass, OR

We spent a week at the pretty Riverpark RV Resort in Grants Pass, OR. Nestled on the South bank of the Rogue River, the park is minutes from all services in Grants Pass, and a few miles North of the Applegate Valley Wine Trail.

There are 47 full hook up sites. Roads are paved, sites are concrete pads and most sites are quite close together, closer than we normally like. The redeeming factor is if you have a river back in site, like we did in site #19, the angle of the site was such that our big side window looked out upon the river, very nice!

Amenities include restrooms/showers, laundry (inexpensive), wifi, cable tv. We had decent Verizon 4G service with our booster during our stay. The previous owner was an artist and unique wood carvings are scattered throughout the property. The park is well shaded, making satellite reception iffy, cool in the warm months and cold in the cool months.

At $216 for a one week stay we enjoyed the river view and the deep quiet at night and the closeness to town. We did not like how close the neighbors were though. Rosie loved walking along the river!

Site #19, very close to the neighbors...but backs up to the river.

Sites on the left back up to the river, office on the right,
a jumble of back-in sites in the middle.

Afternoon view from our big picture window.

Morning mist on the river looking downstream.

Wonderful sculptures on the property.

Upstream view of the river. You can see a couple of RV's in the river back-in sites.
Tom Pearce Park, where we played disc golf, is directly across the river.

Monday, October 14, 2013

A Week in Grants Pass, OR

Grants Pass, OR, whose slogan is "It's the Climate!", has long been on our list to check into a little further. The city of about 35,000 people sits in a valley surrounded by tree covered hills with the Rogue River running through it, and the Illinois and Applegate Rivers nearby. Immediately South of town, the Applegate Valley Wine Trail takes off with about 20 wineries to visit.

Thanks to a tip from Mona Liza, one day we hauled our bikes over to the Depot Street Bridge to ride a portion of the Rogue River Greenway. Still in its infancy, this trail system will eventually connect Grants Pass and Ashland via about 50 miles of walk/bike paths.

We rode a section of the Greenway trail from Depot Street Bridge to Valley of the Rogue State Park, with Interstate 5 on one side and the Rogue River on the other. It was pretty but the noise of the freeway was a constant companion. Valley of the Rogue State Park has some lovely, well separated campsites for any size rig if you don't mind the sound of the freeway for a brief stay.

Depot Street Bridge

We also did some short local hikes during our stay, including: Cathedral Hills and Dollar Mountain.  Trails tend to be well shaded by madrone, manzanita, oak and mixed conifer forests.

A slice of Grants Pass valley from Dollar Mountain.

Grants Pass has a very, very good farmers market on Saturdays. Even though it's near the end of the growing season there were numerous produce stalls packed with end of summer tomatoes and peppers, plus squash and root veggies and greens galore. There was also a long row of crafters booths we did not even peruse. A very worthwhile stop if you are here on a Saturday.

Rosie checks out our farmers market haul, including sweet corn picked up at an honor farmstand.

We're staying just a few miles from the Applegate Wine Trail so it only made sense to drive the beautiful back roads one day and stop to check out at least one winery. Troon Vineyards is the most well known of the vineyards along this trail and we enjoyed a tasting and saw the last of the seasons grapes being picked.

Zinfandel grapes at Troon Vineyard.

On our last full day in town (today) we played disc golf on the wonderful course at Tom Pearce Park. This course has great variety: open meadows, shady treed sections, rocky areas, ditches and even a funky old dam that plays prominently in the course; all along the Rogue River. There were even old apple and pear trees on the course making me wonder if this was once an orchard. Oh, this is rare, they even had course maps available at the first tee!

There was a little bit of fall color in the park.

For hole 16 you actually have to throw through this old dam!

Tomorrow we move on in our slow Southward migration only about 40 miles to the Ashland area for a few days.