Dottie and Harry's California Camping Trip


From October 27 to November 11, 2000, we had a wonderful adventure that took us over 5,500 miles, visiting friends, camping, and doing other interesting things. Our route took us from Houston to Santa Fe; the Grand Canyon; San Diego; from Los Angeles up Highway 1 along the coast all the way to Monterey. From there we cut over to Sacramento and Interstate 5 and drove up to Redding in Northern California. Coming back, from Sacramento we took another scenic route - US 50 through Nevada, Utah, and all the way to Pueblo in Colorado. (Gasoline prices were as high as $1.95 per gallon!)

We found this to be an ideal time of the year to travel.  No crowds! No need for reservations! We experienced breathtaking ocean views, spectacular mountain scenes, the surreal atmosphere of being in forests of ancient redwoods, the unaccustomed sight of snow (for us)  - and along the way saw thousands of acres of beautiful farmland. (Harry was originally an Indiana "farm boy" and he educated me about the various crops he recognized and told me about the farm machinery we saw in operation. Very interesting!)

Santa Fe

Grand Canyon

Southern California

Central California

Morro Bay, CA

Big Sur

Nevada, Utah, Colorado

Below is a day-by-day account. In case you don't want to read the whole thing, click on the links at the left to view the pictures. When you go to the link, I include a short narrative about where they were taken.

We drove past three serious wrecks along the way that had happened only recently, and we were grateful for a safe trip ourselves.

Beep-beep! Off we go. Come join us for the adventure...

Observation: If I'm not mistaken, Texas used to have the reputation of having some of the best highways in the nation. If that was true, it certainly isn't now. Never mind the continuous road construction; we encountered that almost everywhere. Soon after we got back into Texas, we noticed a significant deterioration in the condition and quality of the roads. They are rough, bumpy, have potholes, and are so uneven in places that it makes us think we're going to be airborne every few feet  - if we didn't have seat belts we'd be bouncing our heads on the roof of the car. (The Hardy Toll Road is a good example.) Sadly, the worst roads we found anywhere are the roads in the Houston area. We had gotten used to them to the point we hardly noticed, but we sure see the sad difference now. Did our engineers have to meet the criteria of being at the bottom in their graduating classes?

Day 1 - Friday, October 27 - We left Houston at 11:30 a.m., the van packed with camping gear and everything we'd need. Harry built a shelf system for the van that stood lengthwise from front to rear which allowed us to be very organized. Our bicycles were secured to a rear rack. Harry designed the rack, made a wood model, and then had a metal fabrication shop build it. The rack will swing out to the side, allowing us access through the rear doors of the van without having to remove the bikes first.

First on our agenda was to visit friends in Santa Fe, Joe and Erika Oliver. We headed out the Hardy Toll Road to I-45, then 287 through Ft. Worth all the way to Amarillo. At 8:00 p.m. a few miles east of Amarillo (near Clarendon, Texas) a highway patrolman was sitting in the median with radar and I got a ticket for doing 76 mph. And after I had oh-so-carefully slowed down to a crawl as I went through a small town every 20 minutes or so along the way! (This is apparently an established speed trap; when we came back through the same area at midnight on the way home, there were two highway patrolmen working it.)

Somehow we had misjudged the time it would take to reach Santa Fe; we thought it would take a lot longer than it did. After we went through Tucumcari, we stopped at a rest stop at 11:30 p.m. and snuggled up in the back of the van for some sleep. We have self-inflating ThermaRest pads for camping, and they are more comfortable than many beds I've slept on.

Day 2 - Saturday, October 28 - We arrived at Joe and Erika's 90 minutes after departing the rest stop. It was about 13-1/2 hours total from Houston to Santa Fe, and an easy drive.

We set our watches an hour earlier for Mountain Time. (But good grief! - tonight we have to move them back still another hour for the end of daylight savings time.) Joe and Erika retired to Santa Fe 10 years ago from Southern California. They built a big, beautiful Southwest-style house. We had a great time visiting - I hadn't seen them in about 15 years! - and they drove us around Santa Fe and up to the ski area. Along the way up the mountain, there was a fairly heavy snow falling. We had a lovely dinner of grilled salmon and then "entertained" Joe and Erika by showing them videos of some of our skydives. (Here are some PICTURES of this area.)

Day 3 - Sunday, October 29 - We said goodbyes at 11:00 a.m. and headed for the Grand Canyon. We arrived Flagstaff at 5:00 p.m. with still 76 miles to Grand Canyon on Highway 180. We will be camping, and we will have to set up in the dark. We see some snow on the ground as we drive.

We arrived at the campground about 6:30. The weather was cold, and our tent is the "summer" variety. Two fluorescent lanterns gave some light while we put up the tent After getting organized, we had a dinner of canned pinto beans with onions,  grits with corn and cheddar cheese, and some hot green tea. We are near the restrooms (we could choose our campsite because we are practically the only ones in the campground) but there is no heat in the restrooms, no showers, and no hot water. People are supposed to shower at a central location, $1.00 for five minutes. We had no firewood, and besides, ground fires aren't allowed - just charcoal in small barbeque pits on stands. We went to bed at 8:30. It was very cold, about 30 degrees. We put one sleeping bag on top of our TermaRest pads, then a 10-degree rated sleeping bag for cover. In spite of our "summer" tent, we stayed toasty warm - while we were under the covers anyway. But it was sure torture when I had to visit the bathroom at 4:00 a.m. - and aarrrrrgh! That cold toilet seat! It rained on and off all night. The tent leaked a little around the bottom seams, but not too bad. We heard a lot of coyotes during the night. (Pictures around Grand Canyon.)

Day 4 - Monday, October 30 - We reluctantly emerged from our warm cocoon around 8:00 a.m. The rain had stopped. We made coffee and then sat in the truck to drink it - the weather was still quite cold. Then we cooked hot oatmeal, and enjoyed that in the truck as well. After breakfast we tried driving around, but we discovered that all the "view" places have to be accessed by tour bus. It started raining again, which then turned to snow. We took a tour bus and then walked to one "view" point. We couldn't see 20 feet in front of us, which meant that we couldn't see into the canyon at all. With a forecast of 3 to 5 inches of snow today and tomorrow, we decided to get the hell out of Dodge. At that point we weren't having fun! We were cold and soaked by the time we got the tent down and everything loaded in the truck. We left Grand Canyon around 12:30 p.m.

Observation: Grand Canyon is much too structured and "touristy" for our tastes. We won't be going back, even in good weather. People who want to go beyond the rim and hike into the canyon must get a permit. I can't imagine how terrible (crowded!) it would be in the summer. The rain and cold turned out to be a blessing because we would probably have hung around there longer and then would have had less time to spend doing what we really enjoyed later.

At 2:00 p.m. we just got on I-40 East toward Flagstaff, and from there we would head to Sedona. The freeway has snow and ice. We saw a wreck that had happened just recently. The median is very wide and virtually treeless. The driver of a west-bound Suburban apparently lost control while going very fast. The Suburban had hit a lone tree in the middle of the median strip. The vehicle was on its side, and the bottom was literally bent in the middle as it wrapped around the tree. There were already a couple of patrol cars at the scene, and we soon saw ambulances and a Life Flight helicopter on their way.

Leaving Flagstaff, the road to Sedona became spectacular almost immediately, winding through the forests and mountains. Even though it was still raining, we saw plenty to oooo! and ahhh! over. Unfortunately we were unable to get any decent pictures. The town itself is absolutely charming. We would love to spend some time in the area. (We had not planned to take this particular route until Joe said, "Go to Grand Canyon, then go to Sedona and tell me which you like better." Thanks for the tip, Joe.)

After Sedona, we went through the town of Jerome - quite an interesting and quaint town that has steep winding turns all the way through. We'd love to visit here again, too, and spend some time exploring. We were on 89A trying to wind our way down to Interstate 10. We had mountain driving and beautiful scenery all the way to Congress. Around each bend was another gorgeous view. Just past Yarnell we wound down to another valley that looked like the prettiest we have seen so far. Now it has almost stopped raining. We see the setting sun over the mountains to the west. It's 6:00 p.m. and almost dark. We had intended to take 71 to Aguila (a Spanish word for "eagle"), then take 60 to I-10, about 75 miles. But where 71 crossed 93, there was a detour sign because 71 was flooded. So we took 93 to Wickenburg.

We were really tired by the time we got to Wickenburg. We stopped at the Westerner Motel. We didn't bother to inspect the room first. Yuck! At least the room was large enough to take our tent inside and spread it out to dry - we had to roll it up wet at Grand Canyon.

Day 5 - Tuesday, October 31 - We left Wickenburg at 8:30 heading west on Highway 60. This detour had added about 25 miles to the trip to reach I-10. We drove through beautiful high desert with mountains in the background. We saw one trailer park after another - hundreds of trailers on treeless lots out in the middle of nowhere. From 60 we took 95 through the Yuma Proving Ground, flat rocky ground with desert scrub all the way. As we neared Yuma, we suddenly saw widespread irrigation and agriculture. West of Yuma, still in the high desert, the terrain was no longer flat. It had lots of little hills. Then we went through an area of sand dunes.

Around Blythe, CA, past the dunes, the desert was different than what we've seen so far. There's much more vegetation, but it's scrubby stuff. No cactus. The soil looks sandy, not rocky. Each plant looks like it's sitting on a mound. Apparently the wind blows the sand up around them. The road is long and straight. About 20 miles before El Centro we started seeing lots of agriculture, mostly hay. (At El Centro, a sign says it's below sea level.)

We stopped at Old Town in San Diego. Harry was in the Marines there. It has changed and grown so much that he couldn't find a single familiar landmark except the restaurant where we had lunch. He thinks it's the same one from 30 years ago.

It was just about dark when we reached San Clemente, CA. I lived there for about 10 years when it was a quiet little beach community. I left in 1984. We had planned to spend the night there and then drive around the area the following day. But the traffic was terrible. The town felt so different that I just wanted to get out! We went on toward LA, still in horrible traffic, and stopped at Anaheim to spend the night. (I won't complain about the amount of traffic in Houston again!)

Day 6 - Wednesday, November 1 - We left the motel at 9:30. From LA we went over to Highway 1 and drove along the coast. Then we had to head inland on 101 for a while. We took a little detour a few miles off 101 to go through Solvang, an authentic Danish village. From Buelton to past Santa Maria we saw almost solid vineyards on both sides of the road. We took the Oceano exit and walked on the beach. It was windy and cold, though. I lived in Oceano from 1984 to 1985. The area has grown some but it still looked familiar. And the part along the beach didn't seem to have changed at all.

At San Luis Obispo we wandered through the somewhat-famous Madonna Inn. It is so unique (bizarre?)  that people love to gawk. (Visit the Madonna Inn online and take a tour of the rooms. Click HERE for a couple of pictures including the exterior of the Madonna Inn.)

We stopped at Morro Bay for the night. It didn't seem to have changed at all. The huge Morro Rock in the bay was as imposing as ever. It is the last in the famous chain of nine peaks that start at San Luis Obispo. It was a navigational landfall for over 300 years and appeared in the diaries of Portola, Fr. Crespi and Costanso in 1769 when they camped near the area on their way to find Monterey. (Click HERE for some great pictures around Morro Bay and HERE for some great pictures in North Central California along Highway 1 as we near Big Sur.)

Day 7 - Thursday, November 2 - We left Morro Bay and 9:30 and drove up Highway 1 again, along part of the California coast that is particularly spectacular. The road twists and turns, ever upward in altitude, on the edge of high cliffs overlooking the beautiful blue Pacific. We stopped several times to take pictures. We had planed to stop at one of the state parks in Big Sur for a few days. Limekiln was one I read about on the Internet. It was just off the road in the mountains, and it looked like any hiking would be straight up and down. We continued on. The sign at the next one advised day use only, no camping. The third one, Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park, was perfect.

Some information about Big Sur: (from the brochure)

Esselen Indians once occupied the coastal plains and woodlands from Lopez Point to Point Sur. They lived as hunters and gatherers, using the plants and animals of both land and sea. When the Spanish arrived in the late 18th century, soldiers and missionaries forced the Esselens to abandon their villages and customs and move into the missions with other Indians. Decimated by smallpox, cholera and other European diseases, the Esselens no longer existed as a separate people. Today very little is known about them.

Except for a handful of mission escapees, the rugged Santa Lucia mountain range remained uninhabited until the mid-1800's. The Spaniards called the area El Pais Grande del Sur, or "the big country of the south," and eventually just Big Sur.

In 1933 the State of California purchased 680 acres of land from John Pfeiffer, an early settler who was the first European immigrant to settle permanently in Big Sur. During the Great Depression, the Civilian Conservation Corps designed and constructed many of the fine, old rustic-style buildings that are found in today's 964-acre park.

One of the hardships for early settlers was the absence of a good road between Big Sur and the rest of Central California. Until the late 1800's and early 1900's the best overland route was little more than a rough trail along the coast that was often not passable because of landslides. The trail was eventually widened into a rough road that reduced travel time between Big Sur and Monterey from three or four days to just 11 hours. (Today the drive take about half an hour.) The route, however, was still very circuitous. Deep valleys forced the road inland, making the journey long and arduous. Finally, after 15 years and $9 million in construction costs, Highway 1 was completed in 1937.

The Santa Lucias and the Big Sur River
California's scenic mountain ranges includes the Santa Lucia Mountains. The range extends 100 miles south of Monterey and offers some of the most scenic and rugged terrain in California and in the world. At 5,682 feet above the sea, Junipero Serra Peak is the highest point in the range.

The Big Sur River, one of 50 streams that flows down the mountains and into the ocean, plays a critical role in creating this evolving landscape. This is especially true when heavy rainfall causes the river to rapidly transport tremendous volumes of soil, downed trees, branches, and other debris downstream. The relatively gentle terrain within the park causes the river to slow and deposit sediment and debris. Over hundreds of thousands of years, this process has created a gentle, relatively flat valley floor in the bottom of the canyon. These river flats, which are found throughout the Santa Lucia Mountains, are composed of rich alluvial soils that are ideal for supporting California's coast redwoods.

Climate and Vegetation - Weather along the central California coast remains cool and moist all year. Temperatures fluctuate little from season to season. Almost all of the area's 30 to 50 inches of annual rainfall occurs between October and April. Fog banks often move inland between May and October, especially along the coastal strip and in the Big Sur River Valley, providing moisture for the dense redwood forest. This "natural air conditioning" occurs as cool, moist air is drawn inland by the heat of the valleys that lie on the inland or eastern side of the Santa Lucia Range. The fog usually arrives during the evening and lasts until mid-morning.

Plant Life:
The coast redwood is the world's tallest living organism. It has survived since the Mesozoic era, when dinosaurs once roamed the world. One hundred to 150 million years ago there were forests of coast redwoods in China, across the western half of North America and into Greenland and Europe. Significant weather changes have reduced their range to a 30-mile-wide coastal strip, from just across the Oregon border, south 500 miles to California's Big Sur coast.

The tallest redwood is currently located in Montgomery Woods State Reserve near Ukiah and measures 367.5 feet tall. Exceptional individuals sometimes reach 15 to 20-feet in diameter and 2,000 years of age. The largest tree in Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park is the Colonial Tree, having a circumference of 27 feet. The oldest redwoods in the park are the 800 to 1,200-year-old trees in the Proboscis Grove.

Dense redwood groves create their own micro-climate, helping to maintain favorable conditions of temperature, moisture, and shelter.  Each tree can produce millions of tiny seeds each year (up to 120,000 per pound). However, few seeds survive and fewer still actually germinate into seedlings because the thick forest floor duff keeps the seeds from reaching nutrient-rich soil. Sprouting is the major form of reproduction. Buds on roots or burls form vigorous, fast-growing sprouts.

In the canyons and on the flats beside the river, redwoods live side by side with sycamores, black cottonwoods, big-leaf maples, alders, and willows. Ferns, clover-like redwood sorrel, and various flowering plants that bloom in the spring and summer carpet the forest floor.

Contrasting with this is the chaparral plant community that thrives on hot, dry, south-facing slopes. It is made up of shrubs such as chamise, ceanothus, buckeye, toyon, coffee berry, cascara, manzanita, and yucca. Coast live oaks, tanoaks, and California laurels fill the cooler, moister slopes and ravines.

While redwood logging occurred here during the early part of the 19th century, the main forest industry involved tanbark harvesting. The bark of the tanoak is rich in tannin, the main ingredient used by the tanneries of Santa Cruz and elsewhere for tanning leather.

Walk the park's trails and you will pass through many different plant communities, each supporting a wide diversity of animal species.

The chaparral, where vegetation is often so thick that animals can easily hide, deer, bobcats and other animals may remain unseen even when they are close by and can be heard moving through the brush. Reptiles, such as gopher snakes, alligator lizards and even mountain king snakes find homes in the chaparral. Chaparral is a good place for bird watching.

Animals are easier to see in the more open vegetation of the oak woodland. Gray squirrels and ground squirrels are visible nearly any time of day. Black-tailed deer, quail, and other forms of wildlife often wander near the park's trails. You may hear the call of a hawk, the scurrying of a mouse, or the hammering of a woodpecker. (Not mentioned in the brochure, a sign at trailheads warns that mountain lions are sometimes seen and have been known to attack without provocation.)

Many Big Sur animals are nocturnal. You may spot a gray fox or a raccoon in your headlights or the beam of your flashlight. During daylight the river is a good place to find the footprints that raccoon, deer, fox, and ringtail cats left in the soft mud the night before.

Kingfishers, dippers, crows, and many other kinds of birds live and feed along the Big Sur River, where steelhead, rainbow trout, sculpin, stickle-backs, and crawdads also call home. The river is open to fishing at certain times of the year.

We drove in to Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park and practically had our pick of campsites. (Click HERE for the first of two pages of great pictures in the State Park.) There were sites in the redwoods, in oak groves, in a meadow, and by the river. We chose one by the river that was also in the redwoods. We set up the tent. The trees were thick at our campsite and no sun got through. The ground was damp, and we needed long johns and gloves, but we were pretty comfortable. We rode our bikes around the area and saw the Colonial tree, one of the biggest redwoods in the area. Then we hiked the Nature Trail and saw the Proboscis tree, another huge redwood with a growth that looks like a nose. We have been warned that poison oak grows abundantly in the park, and yes - it is everywhere.

We returned to camp in time to fix dinner before dark. We had canned chicken with a sauce of cream of mushroom soup, corn kernels, chopped onions and celery served over rice. Darkness fell before we finished eating, and we decided to wash dishes tomorrow. We put the dirty dishes in the truck so they wouldn't attract critters. We were into the tent by 7:00 p.m. and read for a while using headlamps. We were asleep by around 8:00, with the soothing sound of the rushing river all night. We snuggled up under the warm sleeping bag and were warm and cozy.

Day 8 - Friday, November 3 - Up at 8:00 a.m. We had a breakfast of hot oatmeal. The only thing missing here is a fire. No wood gathering is allowed, and four pieces of wood at the park store cost $6.00. It wouldn't last an hour, so we didn't buy any.

Later while riding our bikes we saw a much better campsite,  #13. It is still in the redwoods but also has oaks and big leaf maples and bay laurels - and it has some clearing that allows sunlight to enter. It is closer to the river, which we can see from the campsite. (Our original site had a little rise between it and the river; we could hear it but not see it.) We went to the check-in place and asked to change. Nearby we saw some firewood that campers had left, and that gave us the idea to forage for more.  We drove around and checked the fire rings at the campsites, and we were delighted to collect enough new and partially burned wood to last us the three more nights we'd be there.

We had a great dinner of spaghetti sauce over pasta and enjoyed a roaring fire until late in the evening. We toasted marshmallows, too. The fire made the experience complete. Now we could stay warm and didn't have to go to bed so early!!

Day 9 - Saturday, November 4 - With plenty of firewood, Harry stoked up the fire this morning. It's a good thing we foraged the other campsites for wood yesterday because the camp looks pretty full today. We had bought some wonderful three-seed sourdough bread at the store. For breakfast we toasted it over the fire and spread it with peanut butter and honey. Yummmm! I sliced an apple and opened a can of cherries to eat with it.

We had a wonderful hot shower (25 cents for three minutes). It was a warm sunny day and we wore shorts for a hike to Pfeiffer Falls. We strolled along Pfeiffer-Redwood Creek through what is reported to be some of the finest redwood groves in the Big Sur region. We crossed a number of scenic bridges across the creek. At the top of the trail was a 60-foot- high waterfall.

From the base of the falls we took a path that led up steep paths through the oak woodland to Valley View overlook. The view from that vantage point included much of the Big Sur Valley, Point Sur and Andrew Molera State Park.

After returning to the lodge for more water, we then hiked the Oak Grove rail. The great beauty of Big Sur is due in part to the variety of its natural ecosystems. The Oak Grove trail exemplified this as it traveled through a number of plant communities. From deep redwood groves to open oak woodland to hot, dry chaparral, this hike made it possible to enjoy the many different faces of Big Sur.

After returning to our campsite and building a big fire before dark, we cooked a dinner of lentils with onions, carrots, and celery - plus toasted three-seed sourdough bread. Yummm! The food was ready just before dark, which came just after 5:30. After dinner we sat around the fire. I went to bed about 9:00. Harry stayed by the fire and read with his headlamp until around 10:30. It was cold. We snuggled and got warm, and I didn't get up to go "water the bushes" all night.

Day 10 - Sunday, November 5 - I walked up the restrooms at 6:30. It felt very cold. As I walked on the pavement, I saw big drops of water falling from the trees that looked like rain. But the sky was clear. It was condensation from the leaves of the trees.

By 8:15 we had had a nice fire going for about an hour. The sun had risen over the mountains and it was noticeably warmer.  We repeated the breakfast of toasted three-seed sourdough bread, then took a drive to Molera State Park, about five miles north. It is on the ocean side of the road, very different from Pfeiffer Park. There are not nearly as many redwoods, and much of the park is in a flat valley that stretches to the ocean. We took a two-hour horseback tour, $48 each. They were supposed to have knowledgeable guides and tell us about history of the area, native plants, etc.. We were at the rear, numbers 11 and 12 in a single file. We couldn't hear the guide at the front, and the one at the rear knew practically nothing. She said the guides in the summer had all the information because they were studying to be park rangers. After we had ridden to the beach, where it was cold and windy, we had only half an hour left and they put us in front. That guide was very nice and knew about quite a few of the plants and trees.

After dinner, next to another roaring fire, we read with our headlamps until after 11:00.

Day 11 - Monday, November 6 - We would be leaving the park today. It's still a little chilly but considerably warmer. We were up before 7:00 and got another good fire going. More sourdough toast for breakfast, along with bananas, grapefruit and canned cherries. We had the tent down and folded and the van all loaded by 11:30. We were going to save our showers for last. Drat! The power was off, and electricity turns on the shower when you deposit the quarter. We were grungy and dirty and really smoky smelling from the fire. So no matter what, we were going to get clean! Several of the bathrooms had a toilet and a lavatory with a hot water faucet. Never mind that the hot water ran only for about 10 seconds after the handle was pushed. We stripped and filled up coffee mugs with hot water, poured it over us, soaped and scrubbed. We also shampooed our hair, and I even shaved my legs. We were glad the weather was warmer than previous days had been.

The drive from here to Carmel was even more spectacular than what we had seen along the coast so far. After Monterey we headed inland on 101 through Gilroy, the garlic capitol of the world, and then took 152 over to I-5. During that drive we again saw acre and acre of beautiful farmland in the valleys between picturesque mountains. Just before reaching I-5 we passed San Luis Reservoir.  It is huge. The water level was down considerably from previous years. On I-5 toward Sacramento, there were miles and miles of farmland as far as the eye could see. Also miles of wide irrigation canals filled with beautiful blue water. We saw almond trees. Tomatoes. Peppers. Orange trees loaded with oranges….and lots of other trees and plants we couldn't identify.

Within an hour of Redding, we were starved and decided to stop somewhere and eat. We spotted a KFC buffet sign, and said oh-why-not. Well, we know NOT to do that again - that's not our kind of food!

We arrived in Redding about 8:30 p.m. and stayed at the first place we stopped - the Motel Orleans, about $49. Not great, but okay. We took our popcorn popper into the room (as usual) and made popcorn.

Day 12 - Tuesday, November 7 - We drove out to try to find my 20 acres out in the boonies near Lake Shasta. I hadn't visited it in at least eight years. Harry hadn't realized that by "boonies," I do mean boonies. We went a long way over a very bad dirt road, but we did find the property. Now it is completely overgrown with manzanita. Then we drove to the dam at Lake Shasta.

By the time we got back to town, it was too late to do much. Just before 5:00 we stopped at the Visitor Center in Redding and picked up discount coupons for motels. We stayed at an EconoLodge, $32.99 - cheaper and better than the motel last night. We had dinner at HomeTown Buffet. The food was great, and the deserts were to die for. After shopping for a few groceries, we went back to the room to watch the election returns.

Day 13 - Wednesday, November 8 - We left Redding today, headed for home via another scenic route through Nevada, Utah, and Colorado. We will mostly limit our driving to daylight hours so we don't miss any of the beautiful countryside. It was a nice day, just a little brisk, slightly overcast with a low haze. We have been enjoying the seasonal change and the breathtaking gold, yellow, orange, and red of the trees. We saw still more farmland south of Redding, plus rolling hills, lovely pasture land, lots of oak trees. At 75 miles north of Sacramento, we began to see rice fields and huge rice granaries.

Just before the little town of Williams, we saw a sign for "free olive tasting" at Granzella's and decided to check it out. The store was a super place in a tiny burg, packed with people. (The "free olive tasting" billboard on the freeway evidently packs them in!) It is a restaurant, deli, gift shop, etc. We bought two kinds of olives (after tasting several varieties), a couple of huge sandwiches to go, and a six-pack of Kaliber, our favorite non-alcoholic beer.

Just back on the freeway, we saw a truckload of sugar beets. Then some onion and cotton crops. Lots more graineries. A huge valley, farm fields left and right as far as the eye can see. My god, they grow everything out here! Next were grapes and some sort of trees - peach? There were mountains on either side of the valley in the distance.

Past Sacramento near Placerville, there were beautiful rolling wooded hills, mountain vistas ahead in the background; oaks, pines, and other trees that had breathtaking fall colors.

We started up in elevation. At a town called Snowline, at 4,000 ft. elevation, we started climbing fairly rapidly. Signs warned that trucks needed chains. The trees are mostly pines through here, and the deciduous trees all have gold leaves. Beautiful views with a lovely stream along the road. Shortly after Silver Fork, a little mountain village at 5,000 feet, we started to see snow beside the road. Then 6,000 feet a Strawberry/Twin Bridges. Still climbing. Soon at 7,000 feet and then the summit at 7,800 feet. Then just around the bend Lake Tahoe came into view. Descending, the mountain on our left was made of huge rocks. On our right was usually a sheer drop-off.

Going through the town of South Lake Tahoe, we drove by Harrah's gambling casino, which is right on the Nevada state line before we crossed into Utah. Instead of stopping and wasting our time gambling, we thought we'd just throw some money out the window as we drove past. (Click HERE for the first of three pages of beautiful pictures in Nevada, Utah and Colorado.)

Before long we were into terrain that was high desert with nothing spectacular to see. We thought it might be that way for many miles and we didn't think we'd miss much in the way of scenery by driving at night. We planned to make it all the way to Ely, Nevada tonight. But after dark we entered the mountains again. It had been snowing (but not sticking on the road) ever since we left Fallon. Pretty country, it looked like. Too bad it was dark. We kept ascending. As we passed through Austin, Nevada (elevation over 6,200 feet) it was windy and foggy. A sheriff's posse was waiting in ambush along the road with just their parking lights on, hoping to catch someone exceeding their 25 mph speed limit. I was driving - and as usual I was carefully obeying the speed limits of all those little towns (i.e. speed traps). As we left Austin, a spooky little town, the road had lots of sharp twists and turns and ascended sharply. Shortly after we crested the summit at 7,484 feet, snow was sticking to the ground and the road had become a little icy. We stopped around 8:30 at the next little town, Eureka, and got a room at the Ruby Hill Motel. It looked like a place where we should inspect the room before paying for it. I rang the bell on the manager's trailer and asked if I could see a room. "Hell, yes1" she replied. The room was tiny and "quaint" but warm and serviceable, and the snow was coming down hard by then. The colorful manager took no credit cards, just $30.70 in cash for the room. She said the town did a fine job with the snow plows and we shouldn't have any problem with the roads tomorrow. We got all cozy and made popcorn. Harry went to the truck to find the salt. I opened the door and was excited to see five deer practically in the motel parking lot . They ran across the highway.

Day 14 - Thursday, November 9 - We left Eureka about 8:00 Pacific Time - we weren't sure what time zone we were in. We had about two inches of snow last night. No more snow that morning but the sky was overcast. The plows were busy in town. The roads were icy and we took it easy, about 40 mph. They've put some sand on the highway. The high desert hills and mountains were very pretty covered with snow, scrub and small evergreens (cedars?) sticking up through the snow.

We descended, then ascended again. Nearing Ely, we went through Robinson Pass at 7,607 feet. Fine snowflakes had just started to fall again. Out of Ely, still on Highway 50, the terrain is snow covered but the roads are clear. In Humboldt National Forest we left the flat desert and started climbing again on twisty roads. Connors Pass was at 7,723 feet. Lots of snow covered cedar trees. As we went through Sacramento Pass (7,154 feet) at 11:00 a.m., we were starting to get an accumulation of snow on the roads.

As we crossed into Utah, 89 miles from Delta and out in the middle of nowhere, there was a casino/restaurant/truck stop right on the Nevada line. We decided that every road leaving Nevada probably has a casino at the state line. Near the state line we also crossed into the Mountain Time Zone.

As we neared Hinkley and Delta, we saw lots of farming in the area. Mostly hay, we thought. About 75 miles east of Hinkley, we got on I-70. We drove through some spectacular scenery and kept stopping to take pictures. About an hour from Grand Junction, Colorado, still in the mountains, we came around a bend and saw signs: "wreck ahead - be prepared to stop." Apparently the wreck hadn't happened too long before but we couldn't tell if it had been one vehicle or more because nothing was left. Just a bunch of fire, metal, and debris strung along for about 50 yards. Whew!

We made it to Grand Junction, Colorado before stopping for the night at a Budget Host motel. It was $41.00 and the nicest place we've stayed - and the price included a free breakfast at a nearby restaurant the next morning. We were tired and hungry. We got settled in by 7:30 and walked to a restaurant next door for a great Chinese buffet. Today had been a hard drive. We were asleep by about 10:30.

Day 14 - Friday, November 10 - We left Grand Junction at 9:30. Storm clouds were to the west with snow predicted but it was clear and sunny toward the east where we're headed. We saw apples and vineyards outside Grand Junction. From Grand Junction we took 50 through Delta, Montrose, Gunnison, and on to Pueblo. Past Montrose we began still more mountain driving. Between Gunnison and Salida we went through Monarch Pass at 1:00 p.m., 11,312 feet elevation.

At Pueblo we took I-25 to Raton, New Mexico. We figured that by the time we reached Raton, we had seen the last of the spectacular scenery for the balance of the trip. It was a little after dark when we reached Raton, and we had thought we'd spend the night there. But now that the adventure part of the trip was over and we were in striking distance of home, we just wanted to be home. We decided to keep driving until we no longer felt like it. We took 87 down to Amarillo, then 287 to Fort Worth and over to Dallas. Not long after we got on I-45 South, we saw all kinds of flashing lights in the northbound lane ahead. An 18-wheeler had overturned - tractor and trailer - and was lying on its side.

Day 15 - Saturday, November 11 - We made it home at 9:00 a.m. - 1,293 miles in 22.5 hours, averaging 57.57 mph. We had a great time and wouldn't have changed anything about the trip - except to take more pictures. 

What a wonderful trip!