Monthly Archives: April 2018

In the Land of Giants

IMG_3864There are some things on earth that are so magnificent that they stop you in your tracks. All you can do is gaze upon it in awestruck wonder. That’s what we felt upon seeing our first giant sequoia tree.

These trees are just massive! Reaching a height of over 25 stories, with a diameter of 25 feet or more, these are the largest single trees in the world. In fact, we saw the “Largest Tree In The World”, the General Sherman tree in the Sequoia National Park. There are taller trees, there are wider trees, but this is the largest in sheer volume.

The story of these trees is quite interesting. They require just the right conditions for optimal growth – not too wet or dry, not too cold or hot, at an altitude around 5,000 – 7,000 feet, with sufficient space around it to grow. These conditions are found in the western slopes of the Sierra Nevada Mountains. When they do have that magic combination, they grow and grow, for years and years. Hundreds and thousands of years. The oldest known was estimated to be around 3500 years old!  Whoa. The sequoia trees we wandered under were standing tall when Jesus walked the earth.

IMG_3866Unfortunately, before they were protected by a national park, many of these special trees were cut down. From the 1880’s to the 1920’s, logging was conducted in many groves. However, the wood is fibrous and brittle, and generally unsuitable for construction purposes. Due to the brittleness, the giant logs often simply shattered upon hitting the ground. Ultimately, the logging companies went out of business, leaving a sad trail of huge stumps in their wake. But by that time, public outcry caused most of the remaining groves to be preserved as protected land.

When sequoia trees sprout, they shoot up quickly to their full height of up to 275 feet. After that, they no longer grow taller, they just get wider. I resemble that. For such a tall tree, the root system is quite shallow, only 5-6 feet deep. However, the roots spread over several acres, intertwining with other trees’ roots, to help the trees stay upright. Most sequoia trees die by simply falling over. If the roots get damaged, or the soil is too wet, the massive tree can begin to lean and ultimately topple over. I guess after 3000 years, I’d be tired and fall over too.

IMG_3386Fire plays a crucial role in the sequoia life cycle. Sequoia seeds are found in small green cones sprouting from the upper branches. These green cones can wait patiently for up to 30 years for a forest fire, which dries and opens the cones to release the seeds. Fire also clears underbrush and creates bare, ashy soil that is needed for seeds to sprout. For the first years of park management, fires were viewed as “bad” and prevented/stopped. But they found preventing fires also inhibited the seeding of new, baby trees. Now they allow for controlled natural or prescribed burning in the park so that the natural reproduction cycle can continue.

IMG_3881It’s a metaphor for our life, I think. We view the “fires” in our life (troubles and trials) as bad, something to be prevented or stopped. Yet, sometimes the fires force us to clear away the extraneous underbrush choking up our life. Only then will we have the space, and fertile soil, to plant something new.

I’ll share more about the Sequoia National Park later, but I felt these incredible giant trees deserved their own post.


Campground Review: Vines RV Resort, Paso Robles, CA

IMG_3352Campground Review Summary

  • Name: Vines RV Resort
  • Dates of stay: April 8 – 22, 2018
  • Location:  88 Wellsona Road, Paso Robles, CA 93446
  • Type of campground: Private / Sun RV Resorts
  • Cost:  $50.70/night, with PA discount
  • Additional fees: None
  • Stay limit: None
  • Accepts mail / packages: yes
  • Cell reception:  good (AT&T)
  • Website:
  • Pros: Beautiful resort with great amenities, in the heart of wine country
  • Cons: moderately pricey

Full Review

This is, officially, our favorite RV resort yet. It is like staying in a hotel, except that you bring your own cottage with you! The sites are stamped concrete pads, surrounded by immaculately kept landscapinIMG_3348g.

The pool area includes two heated swimming pools plus a beautiful spa. There is a laundry facility, a work out room, several ballrooms (for guest functions) and a small general store. And the bathrooms, my goodness …. seriously it was just like a hotel bathroom, complete with chandeliers and individual shower rooms. I liked it so much, I took my showers there instead of in my own bathroom, and that’s saying something! They were absolutely the nicest RV bathrooms I have seen yet.

The resort also offers cabin rentals, making it a great place for non-RV-ers to stay on property with their RV-ing friends and family. Just sayin’. According to their website, 1 bedroom cottages (sleeps 6) start at about $155/night.

IMG_3354We had the usual full hookup site with 50 amp electrical service, water, and sewer. Cable TV hookup was provided, but there were so many over the air channels available plus our Direct TV satellite feed – we just didn’t bother. Wifi was available, but our AT&T hotspot signal worked just fine. Site length was just right to accommodate the truck in the back and motorcycle in front. We also had a small patio with a picnic table.

The gate rate for the resort is not cheap – $75/night for our pull through site. However, they accept Passport America for weekdays, which brought our overall cost to a little over $50/night. I didn’t investigate long term (monthly) stays, which may be cheaper.

We only had one glitch while here – a water main break. Although the resort is relatively new (4-ish years old), the water main on the property broke because it wasn’t installed properly.  We did receive one email about the problem – while we were out adventuring – which didn’t give us time to fill our tanks to prepare for an extended outage. The water supply went on and off unpredictably for a day or so while they worked the problem, then went out entirely (without warning) and stayed off for a couple of days. The problem was finally fixed, and we managed, but the communication could have been better. It looks like they fixed the water line properly, so there shouldn’t be a repeat problem.

Paso Robles is located in the heart of wine country, there are over 200 wineries within a few miles. Downtown Paso Robles with its dining and shopping is only about 15 minutes from the RV park.  The Pacific Ocean and Pacific Coast Highway is about 20 miles away. Hearst Castle is less than an hour away. The Vines RV resort is a great home base for exploring this area. Starting later in May, the RV resort offers planned activities and an onsite bar/lounge (open on weekends). I could definitely see it as a spot for a family gathering for a long wine country weekend.

Bottom Line: Favorite spot yet! Loaded with amenities, the price is worth it.

Paso Robles, Part 2

IMG_3362A short way up the Pacific Coast Highway from Hearst Castle, you will find literally thousands of elephant seals lying on the beach in sandy coves. The rookery area is so popular, a boardwalk viewing area was constructed to accommodate all of the elephant seal fans without disturbing the creatures. According to signage posted at the viewing area, the colony was first noted around 1995 with a few dozen breeding females. Since then, the colony has exploded to over 15,000 (estimated) members, spread out over 6 miles of coastline.

IMG_3793The elephant seal spends most of its time at sea, but returns to the shore twice per year for birthing, breeding, molting and rest. Since the males, females and juveniles do this on different timetables, there is nearly always something to see in this area.

When we visited, we saw thousands of seals piled all over each other, jostling for position like cranky puppies. We watched, fascinated, as they flipped sand over themselves to protect from the warm sun. This was molting season for females and juveniles and, for the  most part, they pretty much just lay there. We were so fascinated by it all, we went there twice.

IMG_3782Continuing up the Pacific Coast Highway from the rookery area, the road rises and the cliffs become higher and steeper. This is the verge of Big Sur, some of the most spectacular seaside scenery anywhere. Unfortunately for us, a landslide closed the road just north of the entrance to the Big Sur Park. We got the merest taste of what it could be, but will have to save it for another time.

Paso Robles is best known as an up-and-coming wine region, with over 200 wineries in the area. We couldn’t possibly make it to all, but we gave it our best effort! The Paso area climate is highly varied, with large temperature variations from day to night (40 degrees) and many microclimates scattered through the hilly area. As a result, a tremendous variety of grape types can be grown within a fairly small region. You’ll find your usual Zinfandels, Cabernets, and Syrah alongside the less usual Grenache, Mourvèdre, Sangiovese, Nebbiolo and Barbera. I tasted grape varietals I had never heard of before. Some were grown with irrigation, others used dry farming techniques. It was quite an education!

IMG_3377Tasting fees ranged from free to $40 per tasting flight ($10 seemed average), and we found red wine pricing from a moderate $18 to $100 or more. After a day of paid wine tasting, I discovered that our RV park office had a bunch of cards/flyers for free tastings! Score! I really need to check that FIRST next time!

IMG_3372A few winery standouts:  Eberle Winery offers free wine tastings (no coupon needed) as well as a free wine cave tour. They were the first in the area to apply for a mining permit to drill their own wine cave under their facility. The cave offers year-round cool temperatures naturally as well as higher humidity for their casks. The winery saved a bundle on warehouse fees and electric bills! They also have a dining area, for event rental. Very, very cool.

IMG_3816Another fun winery is Tobin James Cellars. They also offer free tastings every day (no coupon needed) and are known as the “party winery”. The pours are generous, the people friendly, and you can taste anything and everything you want! Their wines are also on the affordable end, with many less than $20.

One winery that was recommended that we didn’t go to was DAOU Vinyards. It is  situated on a hilltop with a spectacular view of the surrounding countryside. Why didn’t we go?  Well, first off, they charge $40 per tasting flight, which is pretty steep. I mean, dang, I can buy at least one bottle of wine for that! Also, their wine runs upwards of $150 or more. So, if I really love one of their wines, then what? I’m not going to pay that much, I don’t care how much I like it! On “Say Yes to the Dress”, one rule is don’t try on a wedding dress that is over budget. I’m going to extend that rule to “don’t taste a wine you can’t afford”.

Words to live by.

IMG_3364One parting note — only in California. This is an actual sign seen on a bathroom door (it was a one-seater). Now, really, wouldn’t this be more efficient?

Paso Robles was awesome!  Beautiful scenery, great wineries, and super nice people. Now, on to Sequoia National Park!


Paso Robles, Part 1

IMG_3369And now – to catch you up! After weeks in a desert environment, emerging over desert hills into green pastures was like descending into a bit of paradise. It seemed as though God had drawn a line on the Earth – one side brown, the other side a lush green. The hills were carpeted with emerald green grasses and clouds of bright wildflowers while trees stood proudly dressed in their spring green finest.

IMG_3380Living in South Florida for so many years, I had missed the season of Spring. We had two seasons, pleasant and beastly hot and humid. During our two weeks here, I saw Spring! Lilacs and fruit trees bloomed, buds sprouted from the ends of barren twigs, and green leaves uncoiled from dormant grape vines. IMG_3345We were told that we “just happened” to stay here during the loveliest time – the green hills fade to a golden brown later in the summer. I love serendipity!


IMG_3788One of the main tourist attractions near Paso Robles (about a half hour away) is the magnificent Hearst Castle. As enormous and detailed as it is, when William Randolph Hearst died, he considered it to be only half completed (even though it was under construction for 20 years!). Hearst was an avid (compulsive?) collector of antiquities and he envisioned the castle as a way to bring a little of Europe home to those who may never make it overseas. He also kept coming up with new, grander ideas for the castle – resulting in constant change orders. I suspect if he had lived to 100, he would still have been building on.

IMG_3787I have been to other grand houses – Vizcaya, the Biltmore – but I am always still staggered by the scale of the European acquisitions incorporated into the mansions. How in the world do you purchase, disassemble, ship, and reassemble entire ceilings?! And huge gates, and sculpture, and on and on. It speaks to a wealth that I can’t even imagine. It is wonderful to experience though, and I’m glad they’ve preserved it for new generations.

The castle is a California State Park. You start at the visitor’s center located just off of the Pacific Coast Highway in San Simeon and buy tour tickets there (there are several to choose from). Depending on your tour, you board buses at designated times to take you up the winding road to the hilltop castle. Once your tour is over, you can enjoy the gardens as long as you like before boarding a return bus. The visitor center offers a 40 minute film documentary “Building the Dream”, which is best viewed before the tour. The Center also has a café and additional exhibits. It takes most of the day to see everything.

We experienced two tours during our visit; the “grand rooms” tour that is recommended for the first time visitor and the “Cottages and Kitchen” tour which allowed us to see two of the three guest “cottages”, the kitchen and the wine cellar! The “cottages” were built first, so the family had somewhere to stay when they visited. As they were built, one by one, they got grander and larger. The third cottage is over 5000 square feet and a work of art in itself. It was almost overwhelming, but absolutely a must-see if in the area.

Next up – Elephant Seals, Big Sur, and wine!


Campground Review: Las Vegas RV Resort, Las Vegas, NV

IMG_3319Campground Review Summary

  • Name: Las Vegas RV Resort
  • Dates of stay: March 24 – April 7, 2018
  • Location: 3890 S. Nellis Blvd., Las Vegas, NV  89121
  • Type of campground: Private / Independent
  • Cost: $50.85/night for XL pull through FHU site
  • Additional fees: $10 key deposit, $25 RV self-wash fee
  • Stay limit: none
  • Accepts mail / packages: yes
  • Cell reception:  good
  • Website:
  • Pros: Convenient to Vegas Strip, very clean, quiet, super big site
  • Cons: moderately pricey

Full Review

This is one of our favorite parks to date. Our paved pull through site was super long and wide – it was essentially two end-to-end sites made into one huge pull through site. We paid a bit of a premium for it, but it made for tons of space for the rig, truck and motorcycle. We had the usual full hook up (water, sewer, 50 amp electric) as well as a picnic table.

The park was clean and nicely landscaped. Instead of a key pad, the office issued an actual key for the restroom and pool amenities ($10 deposit, returned in cash upon leaving). After days in the desert environment, our bus was badly in need of a bath. The park allowed self-washing it (many don’t), so long as you paid a $25 fee for the extra water usage. Jeff preferred to self-wash, rather than having it done by a service for a much heftier fee. We had several packages delivered during our stay with no problem and no $2 fee (unlike our recent Thousand Trails park package pick up fee in Arizona). The office staff and security personnel were friendly and helpful.

The park offered several bath houses, a pool, spa, clubhouse, coin laundry and pet areas. However, we spent virtually all of our time out playing in and around Vegas, so didn’t even explore the park amenities. Park wifi was offered, but we used our own AT&T hotspot which functioned well here.

The best thing about this park was its location. Only 7 miles from the Vegas Strip and downtown, and less than a mile from the nearest WalMart. Sam’s Town Casino is within walking distance, but we preferred Ellis Island Casino near the Strip for our gambling fix. Some reviewers said they thought the surrounding area was a bit dicey, but we didn’t think so.

Bottom Line: Not the most inexpensive resort, but it’s clean, spacious, quiet and convenient to Vegas attractions.

Mama said there’d be days like this …


Most of the time, our travels flow smoothly. Sometimes — not so much. In the interest of full disclosure, I thought I’d share some issues we had with our transition from Las Vegas to Paso Robles.

For those of you that may not be familiar with motorhome electrical systems, let me first explain some basics. Our bus is “all electric”, meaning that it uses regular electrical power for most of our systems, including lighting, refrigerator, convection microwave, induction cooktop, air conditioning, etc. If we are hooked up to shore power, like at a campground, then everything runs from that. If we are not hooked up (when we’re on the road or dry camping) our systems are powered by two large AGM house batteries. When the batteries get low or when our systems demand more power than the batteries can provide (for example, running the AC or the cooktop), then our 10 kilowatt Onan generator automatically starts up to make up the power difference and recharge the batteries. At least, that’s how it’s SUPPOSED to work!

Because of the distance between Las Vegas and Paso Robles, our plan was to stop overnight (dry camp) at Peggy Sue’s 50’s diner. We knew they allowed it, and it would be a convenient place to stay right off the highway. It was also extremely windy that day, and forecast to get worse (gusts up to 50 mph), making driving a high profile vehicle challenging. We got an early start, arrived at the diner, had lunch, tucked ourselves on the leeward side of the building, and relaxed. We noticed that the generator had been running for several hours without stopping, but since we needed the AC on (it was warm), we didn’t think too much about it.

Several hours later, our CO / Propane alarm started to chirp. Annoyingly. Digging into the alarm’s manual, we found that it was signaling an error condition – either a bad sensor or low voltage condition. Then, we checked our house battery voltage on the control panel and found it to be critically low, despite the generator continuously running. Something wasn’t right here. For some reason, the generator wasn’t charging up the batteries they way it should OR there was something drastically wrong with our batteries.

We scanned the manuals, searched the web for answers, and tried several things – but the battery voltage was still dropping. Researching a Plan B, I identified a KOA only a couple of miles away. It was getting late in the day, so I called the office, and fortunately they had a spot. It was electric/water only, but we really just needed an electrical hookup. We immediately drove over.

When we arrived at the KOA, we were escorted to a space that was extremely tight for our size rig, with trees on both sides and branches overhead. Jeff attempted to insert the bus, nearly hitting a large tree branch. It was just too small a space for us. Meanwhile, the battery life was ticking down. We were just a bit stressed out. After discussions with the office, we finally identified a different site,  managed to wedge ourselves in and, finally, plug in. Crisis averted.

Our batteries charged up nicely overnight, so that wasn’t the problem. While driving, the alternator charges the house batteries, so we were fine on the road as long as we didn’t have any extended stops or required air conditioning. We arrived at our destination without incident, plugged in, and continued to troubleshoot the issue.

Here’s what we found. The generator has a circuit breaker on the leg going to the house battery / inverter system. We knew that, and had flipped the breaker several times with no apparent response. What we discovered was that you have to flip the breaker on/off while the generator is running. Trying to reset the breaker while the generator was off did nothing. The manual doesn’t say anything about that, so we discovered it simply by trial and error. Since the generator was disconnected from the batteries, it was powering the AC systems, but appliances that run off the battery/inverter (like the refrigerator) continued to drain the batteries down over time. What tripped the breaker? Our working theory is that it was turned off at the shop when we had the generator serviced back in El Paso. We hadn’t dry camped since then, so never noticed the problem.

Hopefully that will solve everything. Hopefully the generator circuit breaker won’t trip again. Hopefully the house batteries weren’t damaged by almost going dead.

We’re still on a fairly steep learning curve with all of these complex systems. But for now – all’s well that ends well. Time for wine.

Vegas – It’s a wrap!

I like Las Vegas. There’s just something about its unapologetic, in-your-face, flashy hedonistic vibe that’s appealing – in measured doses. Not staying directly on the Strip made our stay much more enjoyable and relaxing.

IMG_3770A must-see in the Vegas area is the impressive Hoover Dam. Jeff and I had visited the dam many years ago during our very first trip here. It was pre-kids, so it had to have been in the late 80’s time frame. It’s changed a LOT since then. They’ve built a parking garage, new visitor center and gift shop, even a new bypass highway. The most striking change was the Lake Mead water level. We visited not long after historic high water levels and the water level was near capacity. Now the water level is more than 100 IMG_3772feet lower! It was quite dramatically different from what I remembered. The power generator room was the same though, still humming along.

So, we took the dam tour. We saw almost the whole dam thing, including the dam exhibits and dam gift shop. We took some dam photos. We watched employees just doing their dam job. OK, I’ll stop now.

IMG_3773Near the Lake Mead recreation area visitor center is the trailhead for the historic railroad trail. The wide gravel, gently ascending trail follows the route of trains that hauled supplies for the construction of Hoover Dam. Midway on the trail is a series of five tunnels. They are unusually large for rail tunnels, because of the oversize components transported through them. The trail also offers spectacular panoramic views of Lake Mead as you climb toward the tunnels. The trail is 2.2 miles (one way) to just past the last tunnel, 4-ish miles (one way) if you continue all the way to the Hoover Dam visitor center. The trail is best hiked (or biked) during cooler seasons as it can get extremely hot in summer.

IMG_3325Another fascinating stop in Vegas is the National Atomic Testing Museum. Having also been to the Oak Ridge Museum of Science and Energy not too long ago, it continued the story of nuclear weapon development that began with the Manhattan Project. The museum did a fantastic job of taking you through the timeline of the introduction of the “atomic age”, beginning of nuclear atmospheric testing, transition to underground testing, and finally, phase out of testing altogether. It was interesting to see how the concept of atomic energy infiltrated our popular culture, resulting in “atomic” named drinks, songs, toys and  even “atomic fireball” candy. (I have some in my candy jar at this very moment!). A display case also showed items such as a 1950’s era Atomic Chemistry set – just what every budding scientist needs!IMG_3323

One thing I hadn’t really thought about was just how recently nuclear weapon testing took place –  up to around 1992! It’s just not something I was overtly aware of at the time, although I must have known through news reports. Now, nuclear weapon research takes place primarily through laboratory scale experimentation and computer modeling. A significant amount of the budget goes simply toward maintaining our nuclear arsenal and keeping it stable. All in all, the museum drove home the incredible destructive power of nuclear weapons and how horrible it would be to actually use one ever again. I wish we could be rid of them all. If you do go to the museum, here’s a $4 off coupon.

So, Vegas is a wrap! One post script – on our way toward California, we stopped at Peggy Sue’s 50’s diner. An original roadside diner, it was built in 1954 with 9 counter stools and 3 booths. A California couple reopened the diner in 1987 and added on. It now has 3 large dining rooms, a pizza joint, gift shop, even diner-saurs! The ladies room had a unexpected display – it made me look twice!! The hamburgers and home made soup was fresh, home made, awesomeness. The available parking area is massive, and the management allows overnight parking, making for a great boondocking overnight stop for trucks or RVs.

Off we go – to Paso Robles!


It’s Vegas, baby!

IMG_3734Las Vegas is an endlessly glittering adult playground. It’s hard not to get sucked into the frenetic fun, not that I try very hard! I like it – for a while. Staying in an RV resort, rather than a hotel on the strip, makes for a very different Vegas experience. We can retreat to our motorhome quiet, and break the Vegas experience into smaller doses. We had a guest (Jeff’s brother) for the first few days, increasing the fun.

IMG_3738I won’t detail our visit to the Strip and environs, others have ad nauseum. We certainly spent time wandering and gawking at the enormous casinos and brightly blasting video screens. Since our stay was longer than past visits, we had the opportunity to attend several shows. The first was “Love”, Cirque du Soleil’s take on Beatles music. It was spellbinding and exciting at the same time. I liken Cirque shows to watching fireworks – eyes wide to try to catch all of the action, ooo-ing and aahhh-ing every other moment. Just fantastic! The second show was IMG_3762seeing Jewel in concert. Jeff and I are longtime fans and it was serendipity that she was playing in town during our visit. Her uniquely expressive voice still soars and her lyrics touch the soul. Another fantastic show experience. The third show was “V – the Ultimate Variety Show”. We got the tickets at one of the “Tickets 4 Tonight” half price booths, where you can get discounted same-day tickets. It wasn’t in the same league as the other shows, but the gymnasts, comics, aerialists and illusionists were talented and entertaining. Just all good fun. I miss my season tickets to the Broadway musical series at the Broward Performing Arts Center and Vegas has helped to scratch that live performance itch.

I also have been able to play some blackjack! Real blackjack tables, not that “blackjack pays 6-5” crap. I mean $5 minimum tables with 3:2 payouts, decent player rules and attentive cocktail waitresses. You’re not going to find that on the main Strip, but just a block OFF strip is a great little casino called Ellis Island. Good tables, nice dealers, and an off-menu $9.99 sirloin steak special. Other good tables can be found downtown on and near Fremont Street or at one of the locals casinos, such as the Station casinos. Gawk at the Strip, but gamble elsewhere!

Other highlights include:

  • Valley of Fire State Park:  About 90 minutes drive away, it has spectacular red  and multicolor sandstone formations, slot canyons, and ancient petroglyphs. Most of the formations are easily accessed by short hikes.IMG_3751    IMG_3745
  • Shelby American Factory tour: Carroll Shelby was a fascinating man of many IMG_3742careers – race car driver, racing team manager, and car manufacturer. His company developed such groundbreaking sports cars as the cobra and super snake. We attended the free factory tour which informed of the man’s storied history, viewed historic cars and even toured his shop which still converts vehicles into his signature models. It wasn’t really my thing, but Jeff’s mechanic brother was in car enthusiast heaven.
  • Pinball Museum:  I was with boys, so we did boy things! The “Pinball Museum” is really an arcade loaded with antique machines. Admission is free, but you can pay to play any of the machines ($0.25 and up per play). Cards posted on most  machines described their history, but that was the extent of the “museum” aspect. Jeff was delighted to find his favorite 1970’s era pinball machine – Top Car. He inserted a quarter and promptly racked up 7 free games. He’s still got it!

We still have a few more days here, enough time for more Vegas-y fun!