Snapshots : Coronado, CA : Hotel Del Coronado

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Where I’m At: Jamul, CA (In the San Diego hills)
Campground : Pio Pico Thousand Trails
Visiting : Hotel Del Coronado

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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RiverCat Journal : San Diego, CA : A Whale of a Time!

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Where I’m At: Jamul, CA (In the San Diego hills)
Campground : Pio Pico Thousand Trails

 

Travel Tip : Groupon

Whenever I’m near a large city like San Diego, I always check Groupon under “Things to Do.” I typically use it at least once in every major venue. When I saw a 4-hour whale-watching cruise for only $29, it was a no-brainer!

 

 

Oh, that’s not my boat. Mine’s a little smaller.

 

 

But not quite that small.

My cruise is a 3-story vessel with four decks, two indoor lounges, and a snack bar — reminiscent of the casino cruises I used to frequent on the east coast. Upon leaving the harbor it was clear skies and sunny. The captain informed us that the fog had lifted and it should be a fantastic day for a whale show.

 

 

FOG!

I think the captain had bad information. The horizon was started to appear rather ominous!

 

 

And, before long, we were in a mysterious new world. As the fog became more dense and the temperatures plummeted, everyone began retreating indoors in regular rotations. The volunteer whale-spotters were diligent, however, as they remained at their posts and scanned the seas for spouts.

 

 

Spout! Two O’ Clock!

The fog grew thicker. There were several dolphin and sea lion sightings. No whales. But despite the poor visibility and “gloominess” everyone seemed to be in great spirits!

And the volunteer crew never gave up. I happened to be chatting with the whale-spotter that saw it. She shouted at the captain above and pointed excitedly:

“Spout! Two O’ Clock!!!”

She was the only individual who saw it. She relayed to the captain it was a quarter-mile away. Incredibly, on blind faith, he guided the ship there. Before long, we saw spouts a couple hundred yards away! And then they seemingly moved further out. But we kept our position and we waited.

And waited.

After spotting the creatures again we moved to a better position. And we waited again. Silence. The captain then made an announcement we’d have to begin heading back to shore soon and began apologizing for the poor visibility when…

 

 

At least 6 whales made their appearance right next to the boat! What an amazing sight — they were right below me! (I nearly dropped my phone as I scrambled to get only half the scene on video).

Even despite the fog, I managed to capture a nice image of some whale-tail.

 

 

What a fun voyage. This is one I will never forget.

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Snapshots : Coronado, CA : Silver Strand State Beach

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Where I’m At: Jamul, CA (In the San Diego hills)
Campground : Pio Pico Thousand Trails
Day Trip : Silver Strand State Beach, Coronado Island, CA

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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RiverCat Journal : Pio Pico, CA : The Crossover Game

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Where I’m At: Jamul, CA (In the San Diego hills)
Campground : Pio Pico Thousand Trails

 

 

Okay, So Maybe It’s a Little Odd…

I’m a big fan of RV Park Reviews, and read them closely when I’m shopping for parks outside the Thousand Trails system. But at $3 per night, I’ll try any Thousand Trails park at least once! Pio Pico has a bad reputation, so I just made it a 4-night reservation en route to Idyllwild and Palm Springs.

Almost immediately, the park had appeal. After all, not every campground has a nice general store and a restaurant on the premises!

 

 

But here’s one of the big gripes. Pio Pico is divided into two camps — the “north” and “south” (also referred to as Crossover). The south camp offers more amenities : The large rec hall with restaurant and wifi, 2 swimming pools, general store, and some spotty cell phone coverage. Only the south camp offers full hookup. But you have to begin your stay in north camp before you can cross over…

The dreaded north camp is across the highway. It offers different recreational activities, such as a little-used pickleball court and the adult lodge with brand new pool tables…

 

 

The sites do not have sewer, which did not matter to me only staying four nights. I have to say, I’ve stayed at worse campgrounds!

 

 

But I did run into a bit of a snag. After smelling smoke for the second time going towing downhill en route to Pio Pico and having a bit of an issue with my tires “spinning unevenly” I discovered I had a caliper on permanent lockdown and a “stuck brake.” I would have to spend an entire costly day at a shopping center getting the entire front assembly replaced.

So, after the power outage windstorm day and now this — two days had gone to waste in the San Diego area. Should I consider extending this reservation and cancelling the others?

After finding a fantastic pickleball group on Coronado Island, the answer was simple:

It was time to play the Crossover Game…

 

“Sewer Social”

Coffee, cookies, and a little meet-and-greet with the other contestants! The party begins at 8:30 am where the ranger posts the available sites on the south side. Then everyone tours the park and picks the sites they like. At 9 am the ranger calls your name and you have the option of choosing your site or “deferring.”

If you defer, you are added back to the list. Later in the day, new arrivals are then added.

 

 

On my first day playing the Crossover Game, I was 15th on the list and only two sites were available.

On my second day I was ninth on the list with 4 sites available. I was after the best site in the entire park — E46. And I knew I had a chance! With a narrow squeeze between some trees, most folks would have to pass on the site due to the size of their rigs. I guessed correctly. With only E46 remaining, everyone deferred and I snatched up the beauty!

 

 

I managed to secure the best site in the entire campground! I have constant shade, only one neighbor, and plenty of room to park my tow vehicle on my corner lot.

I have many new bird friends here…woodpeckers, hummingbirds, wrens, and ravens. But it’s the large ground squirrels that are the most entertaining. There is one pair in particular their own loop trail up the hill and back down to the wash. They’ll sometimes play for 20 minutes at a time. Cheap entertainment for The Ramblin’ RiverCat.

The Crossover Game is not all bad. After all, if you plan right, you can choose your favorite site in the park and defer your way to the top of the list to secure it.

 

Good Eats and Meeting Friends

The rec hall is fabulous. I reconnected with a Palm Springs camper friend, Bob, during breakfast one day and have enjoyed some delicious food at the very reasonably priced Coyote Canyon Cafe. During the Super Bowl I ordered the appetizer sampler a finished off about 5 pounds of food. Word of advice : The pancakes are awesome, but HUGE. It’s not on the menu but one pancake is $1.50.

 

 

And how often do you find a setting like this at the swimming pool! This is the adult pool, also with a nice semi-enclosed hot tub. Other amenities in the park include a family pool, kid’s rec hall, pickleball, basketball, softball, volleyball, horseshoes, shuffleboard, pool hall, adult lodge…and on and on and on. Your really can’t find many campgrounds that offer this much. (I think the reviews are a bit harsh). So, if you’re willing the play the Crossover Game, this park has a lot to offer.

 

I don’t think I’m going to be able to tear myself away from San Diego even after my two weeks here I’m up. I’m searching for another camp for a few extra days in the area.

 

 

 

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RiverCat Journal : Descanso, CA : Oakzanita Springs

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Where I’m At: Descanso, CA (In the San Diego hills)
Campground : Oakzanita Springs Thousand Trails

 

Day One : Sand Dunes and Switchbacks

I rely heavily on my Mountain Directory West to help me avoid steep grades.  And, while the passes on Interstate 8 near San Diego are probably not the worst, the area is also known for high winds. I opted for a route that appeared to relatively easy — Route 78.

The majority of the route was a piece of cake! The world-famous Imperial Sand Dunes (also called “Glamis”) have been featured in Star Wars and several other films. It’s the largest area of it’s kind in the U.S. — 40 miles in length and 5 miles wide. It’s truly a magnificent site…

 

 

I was within 40 miles of my destination there were signs my day was about to get interesting:

“RV’s Exceeding 40 Feet Prohibited.”

“RV’s Exceeding 30 Feet Not Recommended.”

Every now and then Mountain Directory West misses one.

With 3 hours already invested there was no turning back. Instead, I would just turn. And turn, and turn, and then turn again. The sharp switchbacks, while not terribly steep, took two hours to navigate!

 

Day Two : A Major Wind Event

After a 4 days with electricity and a tough travel day, I was looking forward to enjoying the luxuries of running water and light. It was time to reorganize, regroup, and get some laundry done! But it seemed the San Diego area, particularly hill country, was preparing for a “major wind event.”

 

 

Apparently this happens 3-4 times per year. And, after seeing blips on the news, campground literature on how to prepare for one, and a few other indications I was going to get the opportunity to experience one — I came pretty darn close to getting myself ready for it!

The wind was really howling. It had already done some minor damage in the park by the time I got my towels in the washer. And, just I was about to get my backup propane tank filled, the power shut off! California takes wind and wildfires very seriously. In these hazardous conditions, the power company doesn’t wait around — they shut it down.

Thankfully, my campsite is situated on a ridge with a bit of ridge behind the tail end of my camper where the winds were coming from. And, oddly enough, I experienced very little rocking from the storm going on around me — almost like I was in the eye of a hurricane the whole time! In fact, my 20-pound wet towels never even completely dried…

 

 

Day Three : Pie Country

Even after the storm subsided there were still some small villages without power. It’s a good thing Julian was not one of them. I’d hate to miss out on this little gem. Welcome to pie country…

 

 

With maybe a dozen pie shops in this tiny mining town, this place is heaven for anyone with a sweet tooth. I opted for a warm slice of apple-boysenberry. Simply heaven.

Of course, the kiddies may prefer a cellar full of candy at the Miner’s Diner…

 

 

Day Four : Breathing Easy

I totally had other plans for Day Four. But I woke up to a wonderfully calm overcast day…

 

 

I couldn’t tear myself away. I hiked around the park, got some exercise in at the pickleball court, visited the clubhouse, and enjoyed picnics at my site. With not even a single breeze, I actually sat outside for hours reorganizing my files. It was a good day.

 

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Signposts : Julian, CA

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Where I’m At: Descanso, CA (In the San Diego hills)
Campground : Oakzanita Springs Thousand Trails

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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RiverCat Journal : Quartzsite, AZ : Just Follow the Yellow Boot Road

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Where I’m At: Quartzsite, AZ
Campground : Scaddan Wash (Free BLM)

 

Day One : I Usually Know How to Trick My Garmin…

Although my GPS is very reliable in getting me to my destination, it doesn’t always choose the most optimal route (for instance, steep grades). I sometimes have to get creative to trick my little navigator and, as a team, we generally get the job done without much difficulty.

But on this day I simply couldn’t figure out how to bypass one little obstacle — about 100,000 pedestrians at an outdoor swap meet. And I really didn’t know where I was going. After overshooting my turn into the enormous crowd in the hopes of getting rerouted, my Garmin protested by trying to send me on an alternate route — 69 miles out of the way! Touche.

I didn’t exactly have reservations anywhere. And, when I found myself at sort of a dead end road, I discovered I was at a free BLM — Scaddan Wash. I parked it.

 

 

Day Two : Just Follow the Yellow Boot Road

It can be tricky navigating the BLM’s. Being a half-mile from the entrance, you have to look for landmarks. Some of the camping groups create their own. For instance, after a few blunders trying to find my site at the end of Day One, I studied the landscape a little closer and discovered the mysterious yellow boots atop poles and nestled in the brush. But you really have to be looking for them. Eventually, after my visitors Bob and Ruby overshot the first boot, I was able to guide them through the expansive desert for a wonderful little cookout.

I grilled some burgers and dogs. I daresay, my cooking was so tasty Bob put on a few extra pounds and actually busted right through his chair!

 

 

Day Three : The Quest for Gold

Bob is 83 and I swear to you he has more energy than I do! Equally astounding is his passion for his hobby — treasure hunting. So Ruby packed our lunches, Bob loaded the metal detectors, and off we went! Bob was fearless navigating the washes in his new heavy duty 4-wheel drive.

At our first stop I managed to find one bullet and lots of white quartz…

 

 

Then we found a really fun wash a couple miles away. It was then I really got to digging — as my metal detector went off every few feet! Scrap metal and tin cans. Still fun, though!

 

 

Day Four : A Quartzsite Tradition

The Big Tent and miles of swap meets. Literally the entire town becomes one big flea market where you can find pretty much anything. I added 10 license plates to my collection and quite a few other items I’m pleased with. I spent a total of $60, a number I’m pleased with considering I hadn’t spent a penny on my lodging.

 

Another Quartzsite tradition is eating at least once at The Yacht Club. Our entire gang ordered the fish and chips and finished every last bit of it. (This time Bob did not fall through his chair). It was a perfect ending to a terrific visit.

I love meeting friends at the Q.

 

 

 

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RiverCat Journal : Las Vegas, NV : Home-Town Tourist

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Where I’m At: Las Vegas, NV
Campground : Las Vegas Thousand Trails

Work : Moose International at The Golden Nugget

 

A Changing Landscape

The landscape in Las Vegas changes rapidly. Casinos undergo constant transformations that are simply astounding. Last year one of the properties I work at did a nearly two-million dollar remodel on one of the employee cafeterias. That’s right — a million-dollar break room.

It seems at least one massive resort is demolished every year and replaced by an even larger one. Here’s a hotel on Fremont Street I’ve stayed at a few times…

 

 

The Las Vegas Club, once the sister-property of The Plaza, close it’s doors after 85 years . My memories of this casino will be the scantily-clad blackjack dealers and broken elevators. It was tacky, but you rarely had to fight the crowds there.

I always get sentimental when we lose an old landmark like this.

But I’m sure something fantastic will replace it in a couple years. After all, an entire city block is being demolished to make room for something new. (Glitter Gulch and Mermaids were among the other casualties).

 

Another Busy Pit Stop

More and more my home base is becoming but a mere pit stop. I haven’t spent any real time in Las Vegas since September, and don’t anticipate I really will before my 2-month stint this coming summer. This was just a one-week pit stop.

I worked. I played. But…

I mostly did lots and lots of errands. I suspect this will change a bit during future visits. I’ll try to plan my return-trips so that the pace is just a little less frantic. It’s time to become a Las Vegas tourist, again.

 

 

 

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RiverCat Journal : Needles, CA : Campsite #18 1/2

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Where I’m At: Needles, CA
Campground : Fender’s River Road Resort

 

America’s Main Street

I’ve always had a fascination with Americana, vintage hotel signs, and the mystique of Route 66.

 

 

So my stay along the route gets me to thinking: I’ve always dreamed about my 6-month journey starting at the source of the Mississippi, working my way down to the Gulf of Mexico. Being the great river begins in Minnesota, why not precede that journey with another adventure — I could take a few more months to make my way from California to Illinois on Route 66!

It’s almost a certainty I’m going to make this happen.

 

A Campground with Character

Fender’s River Road Resort is sort of a “tri-level” campground. The upper level offers a few RV sites and the roadside motel. The signage is classic and the theme is all Route 66…

 

 

The middle level isn’t quite riverfront, and a few of the residents stay here. Everyone, especially the staff, is very friendly and accommodating. I wish I’d saved some dirty clothes, as this is one of the better views you’ll find from the balcony of a laundromat…

 

 

The bottom level is all about the Colorado River.

 

 

I love the double-decker…

 

 

And the views aren’t half-bad, either…

 

 

Site 18 1/2

You read it correctly. It’s called site 18 1/2 because it was sort of an “afterthought.” It’s not perfectly level, you need to run your hose underneath your rig and, if you’re towing a trailer you might as well stay hitched — because you’re not going anywhere! It’s a little bit of a “misfit,” like me.

 

 

But look at this site! I have a nice big yard with no neighbor on the left — and pretty much my own personal pier directly in front of me! This one makes my top ten list as far as all time favorites.

 

 

In fact, I’ve already booked a two-nighter in February (with Passport America, I can stay up to 3 nights at 50% off). This is a perfect stopover point from Southern California or Arizona en route to Vegas and I think I’d like to work it in the mix with one of my other favorite stopovers (Cal-Nev-Ari).

 

My New Process

I’m really beginning to formulate a new planning process when I book campgrounds, now. These days, each one takes on a certain “role” based on what’s available to me. For instance, the upcoming weeks sort of look like this:

  1. Las Vegas, Nevada is a spot that I’m generally focused on work, exercise, repairs, and home improvement.
  2. Quartzsite, AZ is a place I’ll visit friends and mostly relax. I won’t generally have much of an agenda, here.
  3. I’m visiting 3 San Diego-area campgrounds that I’ve never been to, before. I suspect these will be great spots for outdoor exercise.
  4. Palm Springs, CA is definitely about pickleball and social activities.
  5. Needles, CA will be a perfect spot for reflection and brainstorming.
  6. Cherokee, NC will be mostly work.
  7. My resort in Pahrump, NV has an excellent internet station where I can get a lot done on the computer for 2 weeks…

I’m finding this process is necessary for my wonderful, yet complicated lifestyle. Productivity is still a must, but I need to continually adjust my schedule based on the resources available to me.

Constant Adaptation.

 

 

 

 

 

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RiverCat Journal : Palm Desert, CA : Thousand Palms Oasis

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Where I’m At: Palm Desert, CA
Campground : Palm Springs Thousand Trails

Visiting : Thousand Palms Oasis

 

Double-Oasis, Double-Fun

The Thousand Palms Oasis is part of the Coachilla Nature Preserve. The preserve has a few different trails with guided tours throughout the week. Although I didn’t see it this time around, the San Andreas fault also runs through the park and is said to be quite visible.

The McCallum Nature Trail starts off with a bang! This is the trailhead through the first of two wonderful oasis’s right in the middle of the desert.

 

 

You then wind your way through a little marsh on this boardwalk.

 

 

Then it’s back to desert terrain. But not for long. It’s only a 3/4 mile hike to the next oasis! This one is an alkaline pond in the midst of a small forest of massive palm trees.

 

 

 

 

 

This pond, this oasis is just…magnificent. I don’t even know what to say, really.

 

 

 

Grateful

It’s so easy to take things for granted, sometimes.

Right now I’m recovering from 3 years with a debilitating eye condition and a sick pet that led to dysfunction and total disorganization. Finally, I laid Jeepers to rest and got the treatment I needed for my own health. Things are GOOD! I have good vision, rarely suffer from dizziness and headaches, and have a lot more freedom now that I no longer need to care for a special-needs cat.

But it’s easy to forget. Now I’m in Palm Springs focusing on losing weight after a couple years of neglect when I simply couldn’t exercise. Now I’m finding my files and projects in complete disarray due to a couple years of climbing back into bed after only 20 minutes of exertion. I’m trying to get my life back in order — a monumental task, at times.

But there are moments. Moments when I’m gazing down on my pickleball courts breathing in the crisp morning air while sipping my coffee. Moments when I’m planning trips and find myself astonished at how many options I have available to me. Moments when I’m enjoying scenic wonders like this one and finding myself so grateful that I can SEE!

I’m grateful. I’m excited. I can’t wait to see what’s next…

 

 


 

 

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