Friday, January 17, 2014

California October Trip

Albuquerque to San Francisco: Round Trip

Hualapai Mountains of Arizona, from eastbound I-40

I drove the truck & camper out to California for about two weeks in the middle of October 2013. I had previously lived in the San Francisco Bay Area for 18 years, beginning in 1979. Believe it or not, this was my first trip back since I'd moved. I visited old friends, revisited some of my old stomping grounds, and saw a few new sights. Unfortunately, much of my trip took place during the government shutdown, so I was unable to visit a number of the federal parks that I'd wanted to see.

This first post will be my narrative for the journey out to California and back with a brief outline of my activities while in the Bay Area. I will include a limited number of photos in this post that I hope will be of interest. 

Subsequent posts will primarily show photos from various destinations while in central California, and have less narrative. Planned photo posts will include the city of San Francisco; the natural areas of San Francisco Peninsula; the San Mateo County Coast including Pescadero Beach, Half Moon Bay, and the Fitzgerald Marine Reserve; the Computer History Museum; and Big Sur & Kirk Creek.

Remember, you can click on a photo to get a larger size, 
then you can view all the images one-by-one or as a slide show.

October 7, 2013

I left Albuquerque westbound on I-40. The plan was to make it to central California in two long days of driving. I wanted to stop off at the Four Wheel Camper factory for a visit and to talk to them about an issue with my LED ceiling lights; they flicker when the water pump runs. I had originally planned to go up through Utah stopping at a couple of national parks, then drive US50 through Nevada. The shutdown ended that plan, so now I would get out to the coast as quickly as I could.

I would stop the first night at a county park south of Kingman, AZ. I'd not been there before, but only seen it on the map and checked the website. It is an interesting small park high in the Hualapai Mountains among the boulders and pine trees. If you go, be advised you can camp just about anywhere in the park where you can pull off the road other than the driveways to the rental cabins. You don't need to specify a camp number on your registration, but you will need cash as they don't accept checks. Park Info.

My campsite

The deer were very friendly. I also saw a fox, but wasn't able to get a photo.

Curious Mule deer.
It was an interesting drive up to and back from the park along a well maintained, paved road.

October 8th

After driving down from the mountain, I filled my tank in Kingman and continued west on I-40.

Approaching the Colorado River, California state line
There is not a good place to photograph the river from the freeway, and as I had many miles to travel, I didn't stop.

Need a spare tire?
With some Internet research and using the excellent CalParks mobile app, I had identified a California State Recreation Area along the Merced River as a good stopping point for the night, as it was only a couple hours south of Sacramento. It was a long drive from AZ, with lots of significant hill climbs across the southern part of the state, a long traverse of the Mojave Desert, then a long ways up the San Joaquin Valley on Highway 99.

I made it to the McConnell SRA campground just as night was falling. It is not totally obvious how to get there from the freeway - the route the website lists is unmarked and I had to stop some locals to get directions. It is, though, a lovely campground in a wooded area with nice bathrooms. This tiny oasis is in the midst of giant commercial orchards. I heard owls hooting as I walked around the campground after dark, before turning in, then I heard farmhouse dogs barking in the distance and the sound of diesel engines driving irrigation pumps for most of the night at just the right frequency to be disturbing. I used my earplugs.

October 9th

I had an appointment with Terry at FWC at around noon, so had time to walk around the park before heading up the freeway to Sacramento then to Woodland.

My campsite. I was the only occupant of the park. Trees were just getting some autumn color.

Merced River at McConnell SRA where there are picnic tables and a little beach.

Immature Golden-crowned Sparrow in the bushes along the river.

I stopped at the REI in Sacramento to pick up a copy of the Benchmark Road & Recreation Atlas for California that I hadn't been able to get in New Mexico, had lunch, and proceeded to FWC in the nearby town of Woodland.

I turned over the truck and camper to the folks at FWC to have them look at the flickering lights and Terry gave me a tour of the factory floor. It was interesting to see all the campers in various stages of completion, but I didn't take any photos. I also toured their "floor models." I really liked the front dinette Fleet, but my traditional side sofa is probably more practical for me. FWC was able to observe the flickering lights, but was unable to come up with a fix on the spot. They promise to figure it out and let me know.

From the factory I headed to Berkeley where I would stay for a few days with my friend Eric.

October 10th

Eric drove us into San Francisco where we walked around Chinatown and the North Beach and Broadway areas. We then drove over to Fisherman's Wharf where we did a little more sightseeing. I was disappointed the shutdown kept us from visiting the Maritime Museum. Photos in a subsequent post.
California St., San Francisco
From there we drove along the Embarcadero, past AT&T Park and south on 3rd to get to one of my old favorite restaurants, The Old Clamhouse, on Bayshore Blvd, established in 1861. Their Clam Linguini with red sauce was the best meal I had while on my trip - even better than I remembered.

October 11th

This was a relaxing day with my friend Eric. We took in a few sights around Berkeley, but mostly just enjoyed visiting and catching up. We discovered that UC's Lawrence Hall of Science is intended for children (they refunded our not insubstantial entrance fee once we figured this out - why they wouldn't mention that to two adult men upon entering, I don't know.) Eric grew up in Berkeley, so he showed me his old neighborhood and we visited the lovely gardens at the Blake House, the former residence of the President of Cal Berkeley, and now a teaching facility for the UC Landscape Architecture and Environmental Planning department.

Blake House, Kensington (Berkeley)

October 12th

After breakfast I got back in the truck and headed over to the San Francisco Peninsula. I stopped off at the apartments where I used to live (they still look nice) and checked out the bay. I bought provisions at Safeway and headed up into the coastal hills. My goal was to stay at Memorial County Park campground among the Coastal Redwoods.

I'd forgotten that this was Columbus Day weekend and the park was loaded with families. I was able to grab one of the few remaining sites and they let me stay even though I didn't have the requisite 4 screaming kids along.

My campsite at Memorial County Park among the redwoods.

I got my site in time to take a short hike in a beautiful nearby area that afternoon. I'll show you those photos in a later post.

October 13th

After breaking camp, I stopped in the town of Pescadero at the Arcangeli Grocery & Bakery, a.k.a., Norm's Market. When I lived out here, I used to buy their artichoke & garlic sourdough bread and would gobble it down quickly. I bought a loaf and also a deli sandwich for later.

I met old and new friends from the local Audubon Society on a hill overlooking the marsh at Pescadero State Beach. It was the day of their annual Big Sit fundraiser - the idea is that folks pledge a certain amount per species of bird seen by the team while those team members remain within a circle, 17 feet in diameter. It worked out for me as many of the folks I'd wanted to visit were gathered in one place.

The Audubon "Big Sit" - participants on the hilltop 1/3 way from right & top of photo.

We had a great time. I left the serious bird counting to the others and enjoyed the view and socialization. In the early afternoon, to took off for a while to claim a campsite for the night at Butano State Park. I had phoned ahead to make sure there was space available. On the way back to the Big Sit I stopped at the Pigeon Point Lighthouse (photos in a later post.) At the end of the afternoon I helped carry the chairs and stuff back down the hill to their cars. I then headed to my campsite for the night.

October 14th

When I'd checked into Butano State Park the afternoon before, the ranger gave me a choice of two campsites, or she said I could set up in any one of the parking spaces for the walk-in tent sites. As the official campsites were surrounded by active families, I opted for a parking space camp, which was indeed the right choice. It was quiet and there were no close neighbors.

My "campsite" at Butano SP was a beautiful parking space.

After leaving the park in the morning, I took the scenic drive up the coast. I stopped in Half Moon Bay for gas and cash from the ATM. I then drove into San Francisco to spend the day with my old friend Michael.

Michael is a true native of San Francisco - he doesn't own a car, but uses the city's excellent public transit or walks to the local stores. I drove us around while we caught up. We drove through Golden Gate Park, the Presidio, Fort Mason, past the Golden Gate Bridge, Golden Gate Heights, and stopped for pictures at the Palace of Fine Arts and Land's End. We had lunch at the little cafe in the Presidio Bowling Center - exotic, ha, ha. Photos in a later post.

After dropping Michael back home I drove down the coast thinking I'd camp at Half Moon Bay State Park, but they were full up. While debating with myself on where to find camping for the night, I went to one of the restaurants I'd loved when I lived out here, Barbara's Fish Trap. It is perched at the water's edge near the harbor at Half Moon Bay. They have the most wonderful seafood at very reasonable prices, unlike those fancy places at the wharf. Tempura is their specialty and I had the Neptune Platter, a combination plate with fried rockfish, prawns, scallops and calamari with zucchini and a bowl of clam chowder. Yummy! Barbara is retired, but the place is run now by her daughter and I highly recommend it.

Barbara's Fishtrap
I reached some friends via email and they recommended the Pelican Point RV Park just at the south edge of Half Moon Bay rather than the last resort of the parking lot of the 24 hour Safeway. I pulled in there about dark and was shown a space by a very nice lady. Unfortunately, the WiFi was the poorest of anywhere on my trip and I'd had to pay $5 extra for the privilege.

October 15th

My first time staying in an actual, commercial RV Park.

Pelican Point RV Park

At least the RV Park was quiet and only a short walk down to look at the ocean. They had a nice shower room which I used before packing up.

Just a short walk from the RV Park.

I drove down the coast and spent a few hours at Pescadero State Beach, where I used to love to listen to the ocean waves crash on the rocks and watch the birds wheeling above, as I walked the beach and climbed the rocks. Photos in a later post.

From there I drove up into the coastal hills and took a nice hike at Sam McDonald County Park. Then took Skyline Drive back to the bayside where I was going to camp in the driveway of friends' house in Burlingame.

Sue and Bob were great hosts, served a nice dinner with wine and dessert. Their lovely house is not that far from CalTrain and SFO, but neither the trains nor the planes bothered me as I slept peacefully in their driveway.

October 16th

Sue had previous plans for the day, so Bob and I went down along the bayshore and spent the morning photographing shorebirds and ducks. He let me use his 500mm lens - wow, very nice!

Northern Shoveler

I had made arrangements to meet my friend Jennifer late that afternoon at the Fitzgerald Marine Reserve. That was another of the places I'd loved to visit when I lived out here, and I chose this afternoon as they had a tide low enough to visit the pools and see the interesting sea critters living in them. On the way over I stopped again at Barbara's for another helping of fried scallops! We had a great visit and saw lots of amazing tide pool critters. Those photos will be an entire post very soon.

I then drove back over the hill to Bob & Sue's driveway, bringing them wine to have with our dinner. Wish I'd thought to take photos of my urban camping spot, but it never occurred to me until I got home.

October 17th

It was about time to leave the Bay Area. Jennifer had insisted that I visit the Computer History Museum before I left the area, as she knew I was a computer geek. That visit will be another post.

I then drove down 101 and cut across to the coast near Monterrey. I didn't stop there, but continued down the spectacular coastal highway to Big Sur. My goal was the National Forest campground at Kirk Creek. The government shutdown had just ended the day before and I was hopeful the campground would be open as it was one of my favorite places to camp when I lived in the Bay Area. It is perched on a bluff above the Pacific with gorgeous views from the campsites.

I lucked out. They had opened only hours before I got there. They take reservations and many sites had been previously requested, so I didn't get the best spot, but was very happy to be there once again. I says my first ever Sea Otter there, back in the early 1980s, but didn't see one this time. I had time to walk around a bit and enjoy the evening.

Looking south from Kirk Creek campground. You can see the highway cut into the slopes.

The rest of the Big Sur and Kirk Creek photos will be brought to you in a later post.

October 18th

Here is my campsite at Kirk Creek.

Camping at Kirk Creek

In the morning I enjoyed the views and then walked down the trail to the "beach."  I'll post those photos, as I have been saying, in a later post.

After leaving Kirk Creek I continued down the coast. I stopped at an elephant seal rookery (photos later), then cut inland south of Cambria. I was then officially headed east, toward home. I was surprised to discover a little bit of condensed Texas just before crossing I-5.

Look at all those oil wells pumping away!

I had thought I'd stop again at Hualapai Mountain Park for the night, but there were just too many miles across the width of California. It looks narrow, but that is just because the state is so tall. It didn't help, either, that the traffic for miles on either side of Bakersfield was stop and go.

It became apparent around Mojave that I wouldn't get all the way to Arizona this day. In Barstow when I stopped for gas, I carefully examined my map. It looked like my best alternative would be to drive into the Mojave National Preserve where I was hopeful I could find a side road on which to stop and raise the camper roof. I memorized the exit I'd want, as I knew it would be full dark by the time I got there.

It was very dark by the time I exited and took Kelbaker Road north into the Preserve. Kelbaker is paved and within a couple miles of driving slowly I found a small dirt road that angled off to the NW. I followed this for another couple of miles then found a spot where a few other folks had pulled off. It was relatively level and I got really good use out of my camper's side down-lights as I set up camp.

What a glorious place it was there in the "wilds" of the Mojave. I admired a glittering string of diamonds that were the lights of the big rigs traveling on the Interstate in the distance. Soon an almost full moon rose. I was very happy in my camper on my little 4x4 pickup truck, having found a perfect spot to camp.

October 19th

Dawn was beautiful as it broke across the desert and I captured this image of the moon setting behind my camper in the early light before the sun was even above the horizon.

Dawn at my perfect Mojave campsite.

This is the road I drove up on the previous night in the dark.

Early morning Mojave panorama. CLICK FOR LARGER VIEW
This would be my last day on the road, the day I returned home from my journey to the west coast. I completed my drive across the desert mountains and departed California.

I crossed Arizona and it sure seemed like it took much longer on this leg than when I was headed west. Then I still had to drive halfway across New Mexico.

It was again dark by the time I crested the last rise before Albuquerque. I was greeted by the most beautiful sight, though there was no way to stop to get a photo. You will have to use your imagination, unfortunately. As I came over the hill the Sandia Mountains, which had previously been hidden, instantly appeared before me, the full moon was rising behind the mountains, and below me, stretched along the Rio Grande Valley and up into the foothills of the mountains was the city, with its lights glittering and sparkling brightly - so beautiful. My homeland was welcoming me back.

Thanks for reading, the photo posts should follow very soon.


  1. Nice report Bill. I'm looking forward to the remaining chapters. You had some great campsites, even with the shutdown...or maybe because of it.
    I was looking at some of your bird photos just the other day. Great photo of the Crissal Thrasher. He's eluded me so far but I'll look for him again on a late March trip that will cover much of Arizona...
    Mike. So. Colorado

    1. Thanks, Mike. Yeah, the Crissal eluded me for a long time. The trick is to listen for them singing in the spring, as they blend into the habitat so well.


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