Friday, June 21, 2013

Castaic campground

The main idea for creating this blog was to chronicle our travels as well as the transformation of our camper. This post will carry on with that plan but with an emphasis on reviewing the latest campsite we visited. Castaic Lake is the largest state water project reservoir in Southern California and it also has a campsite. We wanted to camp near water, and at $20 per night, decided to give this one a try. At just over an hour's drive north of L.A., we were able to arrive at our destination with enough daylight left to set-up and enjoy the sunset.
Not knowing the layout of the campsite we chose a spot with a great view of the lake and near the washrooms. This turned out to be the high point of our experience and went downhill after this point. Don't let that serene lake fool you......once the sun had set is when the wind started up. By the time 3am rolled around the wind was blowing enough that our side canopy started to bounce around and we had to take it down. Which brings me to my first criticism that our section of the campsite was essentially a paved parking lot and we had no ability to secure the legs of our canopy.

With an optimistic approach to the next day we decided to explore the entire campground to see if there might be a better spot and found one with some shade under a tree including another nice view of the lake and appropriate places to secure our side awning.

Then it was off to explore Castaic park which was located on the other side of the "lake". I say "lake" because it turned out the campsite and park are actually situated on the lagoon which is simply water that is released from the much larger actual lake situated above the dam.
This again was the highpoint of the day. You might notice that the beach area is empty and this is because swimming was not allowed during the time we were there. We also discovered that the restrooms, in not only our campground but the entire park, did not have doors on any of the toilet stalls. Now I don't particularly enjoy public washrooms but having people walk in on you almost every time you try to "do your business" was more than annoying. Once we got back to our campsite the temperatures were approaching 100 degrees and the wind was picking up which continually blew a fine dust from the dry dirt we were parked on.
All things aside we did manage to enjoy an excellent Rib-Eye steak that I had been marinating for 2 days. I don't know if it's just me but I always find food cooked on a grill and eaten outdoors always tastes better.
Even though the wind was picking up as the night continued I wasn't too worried about our side canopy as we had both legs staked tight as well as tie-downs on each corner. We made it through our second day of 100 degree heat thanks to the shade from what seemed to be the only real tree in the entire campsite but it was still hot and the fridge fan was working overtime to keep our food cool.

I didn't take pictures of our neighbours but as the evening progressed, more and more sites were filled. Normally this wouldn't be a problem but the extremely close proximity of the individual sites left it quite difficult to ignore the noise. This was also the start of our least enjoyable camping night we have experienced so far. Although the campsite gates were supposed to be locked at 10pm, more and more guests were arriving until midnight and to two sites in particular that were directly across from us. "Quiet time" is supposed to begin at 10pm but it was quite a loud party until 3am which had to be loud so they could hear each other yell over what I estimate at 50mph wind gusts. We finally had to take down our side canopy after the stakes came out and were lifting off the ground from the insane wind despite our extra fastening. That pretty much sums up an unnecessarily tiring and uncomfortable camping experience at a campsite we will not be visiting again

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Our camping experiences so far in California have consisted of State parks and although they are scenic, they have been quite expensive and lacking amenities. We didn't mind paying $45 to be camping right on the beach but thought we would have to limit our camping experiences with those prices in mind. I decided to look at alternative campsites and came across Orange County's Caspers Wilderness Park which had good reviews on yelp and with a price of $20 per night we decided to give it a try...
The park is under two hours away and we managed to arrive just before sunset to setup camp. As you can see we are still very happy with our BusDepot awning to keep in the shade and protect us from the heat. We found out that my bicycle tire was flat so after a quick repair we were on our way to explore this excellent campground

The differences with this camp were night and day compared to what we have encountered in both Oregon and California. First, I was surprised to see the entrance station was manned by a park ranger until the gates were locked at 10pm which made check in very easy. It is also the only park we have been to that was regularly patrolled by Police, we counted 4 full drive-thrus by different police cars during our 2 day stay. This was on top of almost constant patrols by several other county park rangers. Some may have considered this intrusive but I simply felt safe.

With over 8000 acres, the campsite was very well maintained with many features and facilities. Above are pictures of the visitor center which included information about the surrounding area. Below are some more shots of the beautiful scenery and attractions including the first black widow spider I have seen in the wild

The Westy seems to be loving California life and ran beautifully for the entire trip. It still amazes me that the original Dometic fridge kept everything nice and cold even during the 90 degree temps. One more shot of our site to show just how large a space we had:

We now know there are camping alternatives for us to explore in the future for reasonable prices and look forward to exploring them....stay tuned for more updates shortly!
Where should I begin with today's entry??? Soo much has happened in the past month so I will begin with some "non-camping" experiences. A regrettable occurrence in the family had us making last minute plans to visit Arizona. We decided to take the VW Beetle instead of flying as the expense would be greatly reduced and overall time would not be that much more when factoring the commute time to and from airports. This was also a great time to test out our new 2.0L TDI Beetle on a 600 mile 10 hour drive. Here are some shots of the car that keeps on amazing me with it's incredible fuel efficiency. Below you can see our bike rack installed as well as the highest average fuel efficiency I have attained

As you can see I finally attained over 70MPG!!! Granted this was mainly downhill at just under 60mph and over a distance of 30 miles. Overall this TDI engine is averaging well over 600 miles per 13 gallon tank which easily surpases 45MPG and all within the Los Angeles area (city/highway combined). I do drive with fuel efficiency in mind but it baffles me that VW's EPA rating for this car is 29/41 city/highway as our real life averages are much better.
Anyway, back to our Arizona trip: We of course made the best of our situation and managed to visit the historic western city of Tombstone. Here we are doing our job at being tourists.....

We then managed to catch a gun fight show that was rated the best in Tombstone! I guess the competition was pretty poor as the acting was terrible....although I have to give them an A for effort.

We learned that this silver mining town had over 18,000 people in it's hay day with over 500 licensed saloons. Certainly a tough way of life back then as our one day visit was enough for us.
We averaged 50.5 MPG on our trip from Los Angeles to Sierra Vista with the AC on full blast to counter the 105+ degree temps also carrying 3 passengers and luggage. The drive back saw an average of 52.3MPG which I attribute to the elevation decrease. I can only imagine the power (240 ft/lbs of torque) and fuel efficiency if this amazing engine were to be swapped into our camper!