Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Lake Nacimiento, Artichokes, and GoWesty

Owning a Vanagon generally means travelling at a slower pace and enjoying the drive as much as the destination. We purposefully avoid major highways when we can and this portion of our trip brought us through vast areas of California farmland. One such place was Castroville which is known for it's artichoke crop and the annual Artichoke Festival, leading to it's nickname as the "Artichoke Center of the World"
Seeing all this produce also had us stopping to pick up some fresh fruits and veggies.

The next stop on our journey back home took us to beautiful Lake Nacimiento. An 18 mile long lake along the Nacimiento river and due to the many arms, it is sometimes referred to as Dragon Lake.
Although the lake is a very popular spot for watersport activities, I discovered that it has high levels of mercury due to runoff from two closed mercury mines and is the reason for it having a low fish population. Lake Nacimiento Resort had several campgrounds to choose from but only a few are first come first serve. We chose the campground closest to the water which was convenient and scenic but very busy and a little noisy. After setting up camp, Brooke promptly made a new friend.
We arrived late in the afternoon so after playing for a bit, we only had time to cook some dinner and get ready for bed.

A fun part of this Lake was that you were allowed to drive right on the beach, so of course we did (along with several Humvees!)

This campground had running water with bathrooms and showers but was very busy and sometimes noisy. There was minimal shade and all the sites were basically on dirt but if you're looking for great water activities, this is a fun place to be!

After packing everything up we decided to continue driving along the coast and made a quick stop at GoWesty. I have purchased many parts from them over the years so it was nice to see the establishment in person.

For our next camping experience we thought it would be nice to camp along the coast before we arrived home but every ocean-front campground was fully booked and it turned out to be an extra long day driving all the way back home.

Overall this was a great way to break in and test the new engine. Although it needs some further fine tuning, it ran strong and smooth. We travelled almost 1,100 miles over 7 days and averaged 16.9MPG which just makes me more excited about where our next adventure will take us!

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Big Basin Redwoods State Park

Having decided that a Portland visit wasn't in the books for us, we chose to head closer to the coast for some cooler temperatures and slowly make our way back home. Big Basin Redwoods State Park is California's oldest state park covering more than 18,000 acres and ranging from sea level to more than 2,000 feet of elevation. The biggest attraction being the awe-inspiring ancient coast redwoods, some measuring over 300 feet tall and 50 feet in circumference. It is estimated their age range is between 1,000 - 2,500 years old!

The first thing I should mention if anyone would like to stay here is to make a reservation. Being a weekday there were 5 available spots to camp but you have to put your name on a list and then you have to wait till 5pm till they are officially available. This inconvenience wasn't too much of an issue as we took the opportunity to discover some of this vast and beautiful park.

After some lunch and a few hour's exploration, we set up our site for the evening.
The temperatures were perfect for sleeping but Brooke wasn't feeling well so she got to spend the night downstairs with mom (Catherine is under there somewhere too!)
It was very refreshing to have an open schedule with this trip so we decided to spend one more day at the park to enjoy a more detailed tour of the redwoods. I woke up early to add my name to the list for another night and was able to enjoy one of the many beautiful paths.

How would you like to watch a show at this theatre?
The park offered several trails and paths but with two kids in tow, we chose the Redwood Trail which was the easiest but at the same time was beautiful and informative. If you're up for learning some interesting and amazing facts about some of the longest living organisms in the world - please read on!
The durability of coast redwoods is truly remarkable as they can survive almost all that nature can throw at them including fire! This tree is called The Chimney Tree because it has survived many fires over the years.
It is theorized that several successive fires over the years ignited the tree's heartwood creating a perfect chimney causing it to be entirely hollow from base to top. Here is a picture looking straight up.
There are many examples of these giants that had fallen over the years which provided a great place for Brooke to climb.
This grand old tree is called the Father of the Forest and is estimated to be over 1,800 years old with a height of over 250 feet and a circumference of almost 67 feet at the base.

Next up is the Mother of the Forest which was once 329 feet tall but the top broke off in a storm reducing it's height to a measly 293 feet.
 This great redwood fell in 1983 exposing it's massive root structure.
With our day of exploration complete is was time to cook our dinner and head to sleep.
These redwood trees stole the show over showing shots of our Vanagon but here is a short clip of our drive through the forest after packing up to leave.
Big Basin Redwoods State Park definitely ranks up there as one of our favourites that we would love to visit again (with reservations). Although it was sad leaving, we were excited to stop at our next episode of adventure.

Friday, July 28, 2017


We have stayed at large RV campgrounds before but try to avoid them for several reasons, one of the main reasons being higher costs. Once again, I discovered this campground (resort) using the Park Advisor app. Located in California's Central Valley along the meandering byways of the California Delta, Yogi Bear's Jellystone Park offered a great place for us to spend the next 3 days of our journey. At $75 per night, it was the most expensive campsite we have been to but the amenities and fun we all had more than made up for it. We were given a site with lots of shade which was a definite reprieve from the 100 degree temperatures.

The main reason we decided to stay 3 days was due to the beautiful water park area that we couldn't get Brooke to leave. It was a perfect and safe area for her to play and us to watch and cool off as well.
Everyone was able to enjoy the waterslide too!
Another excellent feature of this park was the opportunity to meet Yogi and friends!

Even Catherine had a good time.

Jellystone park was just as much fun as a Great Wolf Lodge but way less expensive which made it well worth the price.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Success Lake.

Our van has been out of commission for several months getting an improved new engine and transmission including other upgrades and replacements so when we finally got it back up and running we had to take it out on a journey. Even though it still required some "fine tuning", the new engine was running fairly strong and was shifting like a dream. Our original plan was to travel 200 miles per day and take 5 days to get to Portland Oregon. After two days of driving we realized that with no air conditioning combined with 100 degree heat, a toddler and a 2 month old, we wouldn't be carrying on to Portland. Here is a picture of or first fuel stop with my hot wife (literally and figuratively).
Google estimates about 3 hours to drive to Lake Success which turned out to be closer to 6 hours when you include our leisurely driving pace and stops for fuel and food. For this trip we used the Park Advisor app (highly recommended and free!) to discover this campground that is owned and operated by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. We were pleasantly surprised with the proximity and views of the lake, clean bathrooms/showers, large sites with shaded picnic tables, and it was only $20 per night.

We left home at 10am but due to the above mentioned delays, we didn't arrive till 4pm which left us with little time to enjoy this campground. Here is a shot of the beautiful sunset, Brooke's chalk art, and the lake as we left.

Overall it was a success at Lake Success and we would like to visit again when we can stay for a longer period.

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Crystal Lake 2017

One of the many things I love about our Vanagon is that it is one of the original air-cooled versions. Admittedly, it is underpowered for such a heavy vehicle but it gets us where we want to go and stays true to the original flat four boxer engine that made VW famous. The air-cooled engine was produced from 1980 - 1983½ when it was "upgraded" to a water-cooled version. While many people prefer the more modern water-cooled version, I have always preferred the look, sound, and simplicity of our little gem.

Although Vanagons are becoming rarer with each passing year, the older air-cooled versions are even more scarce and unique. When my friend Eric and his family informed me they would be camping near our home, I of course jumped at the opportunity to join up with another air-cooled beauty. Here we are just before heading up almost 6,000ft to our beautiful spot in the San Gabriel mountains.
I always believe that the drive should be just as important as the destination and the leisurely pace of our Vanagons allowed us to enjoy the beautiful views on the way up.

We truly are blessed to not only live where we do but to be able to enjoy the beauty that surrounds us. Here we are set up at our home for the evening at Crystal Lake Campground.

Brooke got to play with her friend River....and play they did!

Followed by playing in the camper - thanks Eric and Kelly for being such gracious van hosts.

We had an early dinner and a special treat of s'mores by the campfire but of course I forgot to take any pictures - rest assured it looked just like this.
I neglected to bring any warm clothes but thankfully Brooke was able to borrow a jacket and hat from her buddy River.

The night was cool, however, we were super warm with the help of our Mr. Buddy heater (windows cracked open of course) and woke up to another beautiful morning in the mountains. We visited the Crystal Lake CafĂ© across the road for some morning beverages, and yes that is snow!
Here is a shot of our group just before packing up.
We had to visit Crystal Lake prior to leaving and I was surprised to see that there really wasn't much difference from a picture I had 3 years earlier despite all our recent rainfall. The picture on the right was from 2014.
With another great trip in the books, here are a few videos of our drive back home, love that air-cooled sound!
Thanks again to Eric and family for including us in yet another great camping adventure.