February 16, 2009

Big Sur and the Central Coast

We had an incredible trip to Big Sur and the Central California coast. Even with a forecast of rain throughout the long weekend, we headed out on Thursday, with every intention of staying until Monday. I had just purchased a Snugtop camper shell for my truck on Monday, so a little rain wasn't going to mess up our travel plans.

We left around ten in the morning, which put us at this Elephant Seal rookery just before a very cold sunset. It was an incredible sight; we saw everything from bull fights to pups nursing. Instead of watching National Geographic or Animal Planet, we were right there, just a few feet from an incredible sight (and smell).

We stopped for $20 fish and chips at a roadside place on the Coast Highway in Gorda, and then made it into the Fernwood campground in the rain and well after dark.

When the sun came up, we found that our site was spitting distance from the Big Sur River, which was flowing heavy with silt from the rain. There is a dozen sites on each side of the river, but trailers and big RVs aren't allowed over the old bridge. It was amazing to see people tent camping in six-inch deep mud and pouring rain. Most of these diehards were fly fishermen working the Steelhead in the river. There were flush toilets and very hot showers, but Sherry and I would have a hard time giving the campground much more than two tents on our rating scale of five tents (even if it was dry).

Most of the rain on our trip was at night, and we rarely needed more than a sweatshirt during the day. The muddy campground made rubber boots mandatory in camp, but otherwise Andy is modeling the trip uniform.

The town of Big Sur is filled with tie-dye shirts, dredlocks, and burned out hippies. I went over to the bar to use their WiFi to check my email. Some old flower-child saw my laptop and said, "Oh, my cats would love that little computer!"

We headed up the coast, hoping to make Monterey in decent weather. Andy normally professes to be afraid of heights, but the lure of these jagged cliffs drew him out like a true explorer.

The rugged geography, the gorgeous Monterey Cypress trees and the rough weather made for some incredible scenery. We spent three days going up and down this coastline.

If we ever make it back during the summer months, we want to take the three-hour walking tour of the Point Sur lighthouse.

The Aquarium at Monterey Bay has doubled in size since our first visit over a decade ago. We went on a fantastic back-stage tour where Andy was brave enough to sample a live worm from the feeding station (video below!). We saw their sea-water filtration facility and got in the way of an aquarist who was feeding the sharks.

This was an incredible trip, filled with wonderful experiences. Perhaps that is why I chose to give the disaster of Sunday morning its own posting rather than pollute this post. This is the first time we've taken the Caboose more than two hours from home, and while it performed fantastically, eight hours in the truck is a long haul. We will definitely have to break up the long drive to and from Zion this summer into two days.

I've put together a five minute video of our trip, including footage of Andy eating the worm. Enjoy.

February 15, 2009

Damn Big Tree

Let me start by saying that our trip to Big Sur this week was fantastic. Well, fantastic with one huge exception. This morning at 2:08 AM, this huge tree branch fell at least thirty feet, through my six-day-old camper shell, into the tail gate and truck bed, bounced into the awning (tearing and bending as it went) and came to rest on the picnic table. The impact exploded out all of the windows of the camper shell and the rear window of my truck.

Because of darkness and the storm, we couldn't leave after it happened. We tried to sleep till daybreak, which required us to try and stop our imaginations telling us that the tree litter falling on our roof during the storm was the precursor to another killer tree-bomb. Once we did break camp, it was fifty miles of driving in a cold, driving rain, before we got to a hardware store so I could cram a piece of hardboard where the rear window used to be.

I promise a full update on our trip in a day or so.

February 1, 2009

Mastodon Mine Hike

This weekend was a boy's trip, with me taking Andy and his buddies, Orlando and Kyle on a trip to Cottonwood Springs in Joshua Tree National Park. We had an absolute blast with lots of coarse language, bodily noises, root beer chugging and other rites of passage.

The Cottonwood Springs Campground is certainly a winter-only destination. There isn't enough shade for anything bigger than a desert tortoise. The bathrooms have flush toilets, but no showers. I probably wouldn't want to stay more than a night or two, and if you forget something, it is at least 50 miles back to the store - each way. The boys decided on three tents for the rating, but Sherry might slide it down to two.

The highlight of the trip was a three-mile hike to the abandoned Mastodon Mine. In this photo, we're standing over one of the vertical shafts, with our campsite in the valley below. The gold mine was worked from 1919 through 1932. On the way to the mine, we hiked past the Winona Mill, which processed the ore.

I took my new video camera with us and put together this three minute video of our adventure. If you watch closely, you can see the Salton Sea from the top of Mastodon Peak.