Saturday, November 26, 2011

Back to Vacation: Joshua Tree National Park

From Prado we set out for Joshua Tree National Park. Again, we had to stop at a Target along the way to pick up a few more food items and some water, had lunch and free internet at Chik Fil A and then off. The roads were much less congested and the ride more pleasant. I talked with my daughter Sarah on the phone and was telling her about my initial reaction to RV-ing. Mind you, not too many people who know me thought that this was something I would really LOVE. Sarah reminded me, “Remember when we were kids and you always told us we needed to have a pleasant attitude? Where is your pleasant attitude, Mom?” LOL Our other catchphrase was always, “Look at it as another little adventure!” which she also reminded me to think about. :) She was right, of course, and my attitude had definitely improved since Days One and Two.
We ordered an RV park book before we left home so we’d mostly been choosing our stopping points from the book. There are lots of campsites in Joshua Tree so we’d decided to stay at one called Ryan because it was near a recommended hike up Ryan Mountain. However, by the time we got to Joshua Tree it was almost dark and the Ryan site was about 20 miles in. We stopped at the Visitor’s Center and the ranger advised us to go to the Jumbo Rocks site, which was not as far and had lots of campsites so we should be sure to get a spot. We took his advice and made it to Jumbo Rocks just as it was getting dark. Wow, talk about JUMBO ROCKS. These things are huge! Very cool!
According to the park’s literature, “these rocks were formed over 100 million years ago as molten liquid, heated by the continuous movement of the Earth’s crust, oozed upward and cooled while still below the surface of the overlying rock. These plutonic intrusions are a granitic rock called monzogranite. After the arrival of the arid climate of recent times, flash floods began washing away the protective ground surface. As they were exposed, the huge eroded boulders settled one on top of the other, creating the impressive rock piles we see today.”

The next morning, we got up and went on a 1 mile nature walk along the Skull Rock trail. It was neat to see all of the huge rock formations, the Joshua, yucca and juniper trees, a few cacti and various other plants. We were talking about the fact that it is probably so much more colorful and vibrant in the spring time and maybe we will come back again at that time of year someday. We kept seeing references to “wood rats” on the signs along the trail and I really wanted to see one but, alas, we did not. Rich wondered why there were virtually no lizards anywhere when he can remember seeing dozens sunning themselves on rocks when he was a kid. We did come across a cute little Gambel’s Quail family.
A colony of little rock people. We had to laugh, remembering something we'd read in Hawaii. "There are often rocks stacked on other rocks which people take to have some meaning. They do not."
After our nature walk, we had some lunch and packed up to move to the Ryan site. On the way, we went to the Keys View at 5185 feet, which looks out on the valleys, mountains and desert. You can see the San Andreas Fault from there. We also drove past a rock formation called Hall of Horrors but we could not see what was so horrific about it! Funny. And another one called Oyster Bar. We think they had some creative employees coming up with names for these sights. Another sign called the yucca an “adventurous” tree.

The Joshua Tree, yucca brevifolia, is a member of the Agave family. Park literature states: "Until recently, it was considered a giant member of the Lily family, but DNA studies led to the division of that family into 40 distinct plant families. The Joshua Tree is a monocot, in the subgroup of flowering plants that also includes grasses and orchids. It's usually found in the Mojave Desert but it is also found in the Sonoran Desert in western Arizona and mixed with pines in the San Bernadino Mountains. Years ago, the Joshua Tree was used by Native Americans for its useful properties: tough leaves were worked into baskets and sandals, flower buds and raw or roasted seeds were eaten. The local Cahuilla have long referred to the tree as “hunavat chiy’a” or “humwichawa.”"
By the mid-19th Century, Mormon immigrants made their way across the Colorado River. Legend has it that these pioneers named the tree after the Biblical figure Joshua, seeing the limbs of the tree as outstretched in supplication, guiding the travelers westward.

Ryan only has 31 campsites and looked full as we approached. Luckily, there were two spots left, but not for long. We grabbed one and some people behind us grabbed the other. Most people in this area are in tents, not RVs. It’s a popular spot for rock climbers and we got to see a few later in the day.

We thought our site would give us access to the Ryan Mountain trail but we actually had to drive a good little ways back down the road to a parking lot to get started. The trail is described as a 3 mile round trip, moderately strenuous trail leading to the summit of Ryan Mountain at 5458 feet. We figured no big deal, we can do this! We did do it and it was not that big a deal but it was pretty darned steep and strenuous. By the time we got to the top, I was wondering what I had been thinking. Haha Then came the trek back down, which was almost as difficult in a different way since it’s hard on the old knees and back and ankles to walk down a steep incline.

At the top

Ravens floating on the breeze

We did it!
Sunset at our campsite

Rock climbers!
We made a fire in our firepit on our last night and watched from a distance as climbers ascended the rocks in the dark. How crazy is that? They had strong lamps with them which allowed us to make out what they were doing but I can’t imagine trying such a thing. Unlike the yucca, guess I am just not that adventurous!

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Happy Birthday, Emery and Beck!

Taking a moment out from blogging about our trip, I wanted to say happy birthday to two of our five little sweeties! Emery Jane Williams was born 2 years ago today and her cousin Robert Beck Durham arrived 1 year ago on her first birthday. Last year we were in Dallas to happily celebrate Beck's arrival and and then were also able to have a little party for Emery's birthday when she and her mommy came to visit. It's hard to believe a whole year has gone by. Beck has a happy and laid back personality; he's walking and suddenly looking like a little boy instead of a baby. Emery is a busy girl who's talking more and more in her sweet little voice and keeping us laughing with her cute personality. (And she's had clear scans all year--hurray!) What fun for these cousins to share a birthday--I hope it will always be a bond between them. They are both very precious to us and we couldn't love them more! Happy birthday, Emery and Beck!

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Malibu, Traveling, and Visiting Friends

After spending most of the day at Venice Beach and Santa Monica, we headed for Malibu for the night. Until now, we’d stayed in state run RV parks but we’d read about a privately owned park in Malibu that sounded really nice, with a laundry room and WIFI and a cheaper fee than the state run parks. Some of the previous parks advertised WIFI but it was either hard to find or there was an extra fee so we’d been stopping in Starbucks when we wanted to check emails, etc. We pulled into the Malibu Beach RV Park and it was lovely. The people were super friendly; the sites were nice; there was a beautiful view. We ended up not being able to get WIFI from our site (which they told us might be a problem) but they had a TV room/library/general purpose room near the office and we were able to access internet with no trouble there. The first night we caught up on laundry and emails and Facebook and paid some bills, etc. We liked it so much that we decided to stay a second night.

Rich taking care of the important task of "waste dumping." I told him I would do it at least once to show that I could. :)

The view from our campsite in Malibu

The next day, we drove way out of our way searching for a Ralph’s grocery store in Malibu—very frustrating because there is virtually nowhere to turn around in an RV on the Pacific Coast Highway and we had to go almost all the way back to Santa Monica before we could pull over and turn. The streets are so narrow! I would not want to live there! Residents have to pull their cars into driveways up on hills and then back out into all the traffic on the highway when they leave. I would be a nervous wreck! Oh yeah, get this—we saw houses for rent for $21,000 a month. YES, that is 21 THOUSAND, not 21 HUNDRED. Who are these people??!! We finally found Ralph’s hidden away in a shopping center that we’d already passed going the other direction. I was wearing capri pants and sandals—it IS warm here, even though it is November, right? I was so surprised to see all of these Malibu people wearing coats and boots. Seriously! Not light jackets, winter coats! And boots! They would never make it in Unalaska, would they? So we finished our shopping and I made a stop at the Post Office and we drove back to our RV park. We had planned to take a hike but it gets dark so early that we didn’t have time any more! Rich cooked us some fabulous “Malibu Beach RV burgers” (shown above) and we did some more laundry. We are wild and crazy, are we not?

The famous Sunset Blvd.

We tried to meet up with Rich’s nephew Jeffrey while we were there but he had some things going on and we never worked it out. Would have loved to have seen him but maybe another time! While using the internet in the group room, we chatted with a retired "entertainment lawyer" who had lots of advice for us about retirement, etc. I think he probably wanted us to ask him "OH WOW, who did you represent?!" but we did not bite. At one point, he mentioned meeting Roger Ailes of Fox News Corp. and said he was a "brilliant" man. Later, we were asked about Sarah Palin and the guy was hugely relieved to find out we are not fans. He hesitantly asked our politics and when I came right out and said "left wing," he was so excited. He's decidedly liberal and was so happy to find "liberals from Alaska." He said we'd changed his whole outlook about Alaska. haha

Rich has some friends, Dain and Crystal, in Chino Hills, so we planned to see them on Tuesday. We got up fairly early and set off for Prado Regional Park near Chino Hills. Malibu kinda started changing my mind about the RV thing and I guess I was getting a little more relaxed about the driving and parking and other complications. We had to drive through part of LA and I thought I would be worried sick but Rich was doing a great job and I was not nearly as paranoid as I thought I would be. Those huge highways with 14 lanes across and lots of big trucks whizzing by do add up to a bit of worry but I guess all you can do is be careful and alert, right?!

Prado Regional Park was another really pretty place. We got settled and then Dain came to pick us up. He and Rich knew each other and worked together many years ago—he was also good friends with Rich’s brother George. Rich and Dain had seen each other a couple of years ago when they both stayed with George for some time before he passed away, but Rich had not seen Crystal in many, many years. She was at work so the other three of us hung out at their house for a couple of hours while the guys reminisced. When Crystal got home, we all went out for a great Mexican dinner, more chatting and reminiscing, and then Dain took us back to the RV for the night. It was great to meet them and hopefully it will not be too many years before we see them again
Crystal and I have lots in common. We are both short and wear the same size shoes. haha We friended each other on Facebook after our visit and found out that our birthdays are one day apart (different years). And our kids are about the same ages.

The next day, we set out for Joshua Tree National Park. Rich is doing a great job driving. He has really alleviated some of my anxiety by being super careful. :)

Guess what! RVing IS fun after all!

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Venice Beach and Santa Monica

Day Three: As noted, we were up early and decided to spend the day in the sunshine in Venice Beach. It was warm and beautiful and we had a great time walking all along the promenade taking in the sights. Lots of interesting street vendors lined the way and we browsed the shops and booths as we walked along the beach. I was cracking up about the availability of medical marijuana in various “clinics” announcing “the doctor is in!”

Rich and I walked into one “clinic” just to look around and were immediately asked if we were there to make a purchase. I said no, we were just looking and besides we didn’t have a prescription. Well, apparently, that is no problem whatsoever. For $40, you can see a doctor and walk right out with whatever you need. As you can see by the sign, just about any malady qualifies you. Hmmmm, I do believe I am suffering from CRAMPS. :) The “clinics” also had cute young women standing outside in medical coats, though you could be pretty sure they were not actually medical personnel of any kind. It was all very interesting to me and made me wonder how many people in California are driving around stoned at any given time of day.

A very cool tumbling team performed. Perhaps ironically, part of their message was anti-drug.

There are still lots of old hippie sentiments around.

These cute gals were advertising Cirque d'Soleil coming to town in January

and passing out funky eyewear.

Interesting people
Skulls for sale
Metal art

Lots of volleyball players on the beach

We ended up walking all the way to the Santa Monica Pier and back again, about 6 miles, we figured. Nice to get some exercise and lots of sun!

Parking lot hockey

Funny bouncy shoes

On this day, my RV attitude began to change, maybe because we were not cooped up in the vehicle in traffic for hours, I don't know. But suddenly I did not mind it so much and began to relax about the whizzing cars and trucks and narrow roads and lack of parking. Oh yeah, we did have a bit of a funny story in Venice Beach. We parked in a large city lot (where they charged us double for an RV--not fair!) When we returned after our long afternoon of walking, we climbed into the RV and made ourselves a sandwich. Rich looked up to see a guy PEEING on the side of the RV. I'm sure he did not think anyone was inside. Rich banged on the door and the dude finished up and moved away. Ugh!

Next stop, Malibu!

A few more photos from Cardiff and on to Dockweiler

Day Two: We were still driving in lots of traffic and I was not feeling the love for the RV adventure. I mean, really, we had just gotten started and I was already grumpy. I told Rich “I just don’t see the appeal.” Poor Rich. I know he was worried that I would not like this idea and, two days in, I was confirming it. He noted that it was probably not the best plan to have our first RV trip in southern California with all of the traffic and not much scenery. He assured me it would get better as we made our way past LA. I really was trying to be nice but seriously wondering why anyone would want to do this. It’s hard to maneuver on the streets and hard to find parking and even if there was somewhere I wanted to stop or something I wanted to see, it seemed like it was such a huge hassle to work it out that it was not even worth it. And hours and hours sitting in the RV at night, I hate to say, was not exactly big fun.

We decided to spend the night at Dockweiler RV Park near LA. It’s close to the water and right in the landing pattern for LAX. Not exactly an idyllic countryside RV park! We checked in early because it’s even more complicated to try to park and set up in the dark. Because I was being whiny about having to be stuck in the RV all night, Rich suggested we go somewhere for dinner. I had mixed feelings—yes, I would LOVE to get out but I was nervous about trying to drive around in the dark and potentially getting lost or stuck on a side street where we couldn’t get the damned vehicle maneuvered. In the end, off we went in search for a restaurant. Of course, we headed in one direction where there was nothing whatsoever—well, we saw a few places but there was no parking large enough for us to fit (which confirmed my negative feelings about the vehicle!) Then we turned off the main road to try to turn around and ended up driving some narrow residential streets, which luckily took us back to the main road without having to back up or turn around. Off in the other direction we went and finally came upon a couple of restaurants with large enough off street parking. We picked an Italian place where we seemed a bit under dressed but the waiter was super nice and we had a delicious meal. I did have to say “Now, this seems more like vacation!” haha

So we had killed a good portion of the night by driving around and having dinner, thankfully. :) After more reading and chatting, we turned in early, only to be awakened at 4:27 AM by some sort of alarm beeping. We checked the smoke detector, the carbon monoxide detector, and the propane detector but none of them seemed to be having a problem. The beeping continued so we changed the battery in the smoke detector, which did no good. We re-set the other detectors a couple of times and the beeping continued. We were pretty frustrated and were sure our neighbors were getting annoyed by then. The RV rental company provided us with a manual so we went through all the steps involved in checking everything…and the beeping continued. They have a 24 hour call-in line so we finally broke down and called. The guy answering the phone walked Rich through everything again and it was eventually noted that the propane alarm needed to be re-set (which we’d done more than once already). Whew, finally the damned beeping stopped and we crawled up into our bed but could not go back to sleep. It was after 5 AM by then so we got up at 6 and got ready to hit the road again. As you can imagine, my “RV-ing is fun!” attitude was nowhere to be found. :)

Friday, November 18, 2011

Let the RV adventure begin!

We flew out of Maui on November 10 and landed in San Diego close to 10 PM. We’d rented an RV for the next day so pricelined a hotel for the night. We usually try to get the highest star level for the cheapest price but we kept getting denied. So we reduced our bid to a 3-star hotel and got the Holiday Inn On the Bay for $70. Upon arriving at the airport, Rich called for a shuttle and was told that it would be leaving the hotel in 8 minutes. Thirty minutes later, we had seen a bunch of car rental shuttles and a few hotel shuttles but no Holiday Inn. Rich called back and was told the shuttle would be leaving in 10 minutes. LOL He said he’d called at least 30 minutes ago and was told it was leaving then. The woman insinuated that we must have missed it, though we’re not sure how we could have not seen it since we were sitting right there watching expectantly. At this point, tired and frustrated, we decided to take a cab. We walked over to the taxi stand and were assigned the next taxi in line. WELL, this cabbie was apparently having a very bad night. When we told him where we were going, he almost shouted “They have a SHUTTLE!” We agreed and briefly told him our issue. He seemed angry to even have to deal with us. Rich told him we were going to the Holiday Inn by the bay. He wanted to know the address. Rich asked, “You don’t know where it is?” He said there were lots of Holiday Inns. We said “by the bay” and he still wanted the address so Rich looked it up and told him. The driver then shouted “ON the bay, not BY the bay!” I asked “There’s one called ‘on’ the bay and another one called ‘by’ the bay?” which I totally had my doubts about. He said yes so I asked him where ‘by the bay’ was and he said “behind us.” So we are completely off on the wrong foot with this guy and he seems to hate us for some reason. J We figured it was partly because he was hoping for a good fare and this hotel was not really very far away. No big money for him for this ride. I usually try to make small talk with our cab drivers but I was actually a little scared of him. He drove like a maniac to the hotel and then just stood there while we unloaded our luggage from his trunk. At one point, Rich was getting one suitcase and I was struggling to
pull one out of the trunk with one hand because my other hand was full. The dude literally stood right next to me with a semi-sneer on his face and watched me battle with the suitcase.

It was the Marine Corps’ birthday and a bunch of young Marines and their wives/girlfriends/dates were hanging out in the hotel parking lot looking for a ride. One of them came up to our cab and asked if it was available. The guy didn’t really even respond to them. I told them, “Good luck, he’s not very friendly!” As we were walking away, they told me that he refused to take them! Wow, not sure what his problem was but he was determined to pass his bad mood along to the rest of us.

The bad karma of the night continued as we entered the hotel. There was a little bit of a line to check in and just one very slow, methodical guy working the desk. Some poor man had reserved a room online for a certain price and was quoted a different price at check in. They were going round and round with the clerk saying “it’s an estimated price online” and the guy wondering why he had to pay more, plus leave a $100 deposit because he was paying in cash, and so on. Really, the price difference was not that much and you would think that good customer service would dictate that you just allow the guy the price he had quoted on his online reservation form, but no. Finally, another clerk came to the desk and helped us check in. We had a HUGE room at the Holiday Inn, awkwardly so. There was a bunch of empty space which made me think it used to be a conference room or something. We quickly left our belongings and went back downstairs to see if we could grab something to eat at the restaurant/bar. As we approached, the waiter told us that he had just submitted the last food order for the night. We then walked over to the gift shop, hoping to buy a snack there instead. As we walked in, the young woman at the counter told us we had three minutes before she closed so we’d better hurry. “And no more room charges!” she added. As we rushed to the shelves, she revised her timeline to say, “Actually, you have a minute and a half!” None of this was said with a smile or in a joking manner. Anyway, our dinner for the night was an ice cream bar—yippee!

Before checking out, we had breakfast at the hotel (where the day shift employees were all in pleasant moods!) and saw this sailing ship across the street. We then called for a cab to come get us and take us out to Spring Valley to pick up our RV. We thought by calling in advance, we could make sure that the cab was willing to take us out that way and that it would be there on time without us having to flag one down. Well, you would think! Sitting outside the hotel waiting, Rich received a call from the cabbie asking where we were. He was “there” and didn’t see us. We were “there” and didn’t see him. Yes, of course, he had gone to a different Holiday Inn, even though Rich had given the dispatcher the address. Rich asked him if he was coming to the correct place and he started to say something like “well, by the time I get there….” at which point Rich hung up on him and we asked the doorman to flag down a cab. So much for planning ahead! This cabbie was nice and didn’t mind going out to Spring Valley. Whew.

We picked up our vehicle, had a little orientation, and hit the road. First stop, Target, to stock up on necessities. The RV folks don’t provide anything unless you want to rent stuff, which we did not. We had packed a set of sheets and pillowcases and I always carry a little blanket with me on the plane, but we needed pillows, a heavier blanket, towels (didn’t think to pack those!) and a few kitchen items. Rich brought a couple of knives and kitchen tools with him but we needed a pan. And we had to get food, of course. We spent a good while wandering the aisles of Target, which we like to do anyway, since we don’t have any such thing where we live. So by now, the day was whipping past us and we needed to get going. Okay, let me just say that I am pretty nervous riding along in the passenger seat of an RV when we take up a full lane with not much margin of error and the roads are crowded with cars flying by at top speed. The mirror next to my seat makes everything look like it’s coming straight at me. I don’t even like to look! Thankfully, Rich is on his hyper-alert mode and is managing well, even if I am a nervous nelly. We don’t go very far the first day since we didn’t even start till afternoon and it gets dark in California at 5 PM. What’s up with that?!

The first night was spent at an RV park at Cardiff by the Sea. It is right off the water and we were amazed at the large number of people surfing in November. Most had on wetsuits, but still! They are serious about their surfing! We parked our vehicle and walked several blocks across town to a restaurant for a nice dinner, stopping by Starbucks on the way back so I could get some tea. With no internet to keep me amused into the night, we read for awhile and turned in early. It made me realize how much time we waste with TV and internet at home!

The next morning we went down to the beach to watch the surfers and take some photos before taking our leave. We had to stop at Starbucks for more tea and free internet so I could check in and see what I was missing in the world of cyberspace. I really am trying to fight my internet addiction but I have to admit that I hate not knowing what's going on. :)