The rest of California

Since leaving Death Valley we’ve been hopping around like bunnies. The big reason is not that Easter is on the way, but that we needed to be outside Sacramento for some service and we were trying to dodge the cold, wet weather. So here are three stops that cover the rest of our time in central CA and our retreat back to the warmth of the desert.

Rancho Seco Recreational Area
Nights: 2

Needing a place to spend the weekend near our service location, we found Rancho Seco, a park run by the Sacramento Municipal Utility District, just a few miles away. Even though the camping rates were kinda steep ($30/night), we had water and electric so we could run our space heater during the cool nights. This area has seen so much rain this winter that many of the fields and some of the campsites were giant puddles, but we lucked into the best spot in the park. We had pastoral views of cows munching grass in the rolling hills out to the front and the lake to the back and a huge amount of space. The site was even level enough that we didn’t need to unhitch the trailer. This park seems popular for fishing (they stock the lake), renting non-motorized boats, and picnicking. The brochure said it’s a great place to learn to windsurf. For us it was a nice place to relax for the weekend.

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With the cooler weather I had to trade my flip flops for boots.
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Yep, this campground sits at the base of a retired nuclear power plant.

On Monday we were up early to pack up and deliver the trailer for service. Vinnie’s Northbay Airstream Repair recently moved to Wilton, CA and we were the sixth rig at his new site. Moving from Santa Rosa (where I grew up), I can only imagine how peaceful it must feel at this site compared to that busy city! Here, surrounded by farmland, our Airstream got new 16” wheels and tires. The tires that come with Airstreams are notorious for blow-outs and we weren’t keen on experiencing that so we’ve been planning this upgrade for a while. Vinnie turned out to be a wealth of information (we now leave our propane refrigerator on while in transit, have a bone tool for future projects and are ordering a replacement bracket so we’re prepared when our bike rack breaks). We wished we could just spend a day chatting with him and soaking up all his knowledge. He’s a great guy and went above and beyond when things didn’t go as planned with some skylight work even though it wasn’t his fault at all. Needless to say, I highly recommend his services. While he worked, we had a few hours to spend in nearby Elk Grove getting groceries and having lunch at a wonderful farm to table restaurant, Bravo’s Soup and Sandwich (Chuck loved the BBQ park sandwich). This is a nice area and I can see why Vinnie chose to move here.

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Shiny new wheels and tires!

Harris Ranch
Night: 1

Back on the road in the afternoon, we made our way down I-5 through the nut orchards and grape vineyards of southern CA and found better road conditions than we had on highway 99. Knowing we’d be setting out late in the day we planned to overnight at a place with rave reviews, Harris Ranch. Well known for their beef, they run a restaurant, hotel, gift store and gas station in the middle of nowhere. As we approached the exit, the smell of manure nearly knocked us out. This should have been our first clue, but there were very few areas to spend the night and it was getting close to dark. Pulling into the RV parking area we found it nearly full already at 5:30. Asking inside we were told there was more space to park in back of the hotel so that is where we went and settled in for the night. After eating the leftovers from lunch we settled on the couch to enjoy cheesecake from the on-site bakery and watch TV. About 9pm there was a knock on the door. It was security telling us we couldn’t park there and had to move out to the RV area. I quickly stowed the few things we had out (luckily since we were overnighting we hadn’t unhitched) and moved to the last spot available in the other parking lot with Chuck doing a fantastic job of parallel parking the trailer.

In the back it had been dark and quiet, but out here the parking lot lights shone in our windows and the buzz of freeway traffic assaulted our ears. Needless to say we did not get a good night’s sleep at all and were awake and on the road early the next morning. Heading back across the same pass we had driven just six days before on Highway 58, we got to see the rolling green hills disappear into Joshua trees and then barren desert landscape. Hmmm, maybe I miss that green.

Trona Pinnacles
Nights: 6
Wind Speed: 35+ mph

After 4 miles down a washboarded, rutted dirt road we made it. I’m not sure we would have come to Trona Pinnacles if we knew how bad the road was. It definitely put our new tires to the test and we we’re glad for the extra inch of clearance they provided. We parked in the large open lot near the vault toilet and trail to take stock. Even though I had visions of our refrigerator popping open and spewing its contents on the floor, everything had survived.

We knew there were more scenic camping spots but decided to take the bikes off to explore further before taking the trailer. I was glad we did. We found the access road even rougher that what we had just driven and bumping our way back to the open lot we knew this was the best spot for the trailer and settled in to make camp.

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Our spot looks like it’s right against the pinnacles, but there’s actually a huge sandy parking lot behind us.
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Always a bonus to have a good view from the loo!

After moving around so much (10 stops in the month of March!), it was nice to be in one spot for more than a few nights. On our first evening we climbed through the nearby pinnacles and then settled in for the best nights sleep I’ve had in a while. Even the folks here to take nighttime photos at 1am didn’t disturb me.

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We took a long bike ride around the bumpy roads to view the pinnacles. These weird outcroppings were formed at the bottom of the lake that covered this area thousands of years ago. The result of calcium and carbon interacting, they have a strange holey look, like porous bone.

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Since they appear other-worldly they have been featured in numerous movies, including Planet of the Apes and Star Trek V. In fact, one afternoon we watched a small film crew capturing a group of men in colorful bike shorts whooping and hopping around like cave men. There was also a strange green creature with long arms made from odds and ends  (kinda R2D2 like) and a girl in bright flowing attire. They stayed past dark filming their scenes using spotlights on the pinnacles.

This area is know for being windy and we got a good taste. One day the wind whipped up dust clouds obscuring the views and even a car parked nearby. We got an emergency alert not to travel because of the dust storm.

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The beginnings of the dust storm. Later it totally obscured the mountains.

Even with the wind well over the reported 35mph we were cozy inside the trailer. Thank goodness for it’s aerodynamic shape. Chuck googled it and found that people have been in 80mph winds and had no problem. Still, my eyes got big every time a huge gust rocked us around and dried brush went flying by. Needless to say we had an indoors day. Chuck had loaded a bunch of Star Trek episodes while we were in Elk Grove (thank you fast Starbucks wi-fi!) so we had an Enterprise marathon and thanks to great Verizon service could keep in touch and surf the web.

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We took several bike rides on the dirt roads hitting sandy patches where you quickly slowed and could barely pedal (now I understand those brake failure exit ramps filled with sand). Sometimes it was nearly impossible and I had to walk pushing my bike through. On one ride something went flying across the road in front of me so fast I could hardly tell what it was. It moved as fast as a hummingbird and looked like it was flying just above the ground, but I could tell it had a longer body shape. Soon I saw a few more, not quite so fast, and discovered they were some kind of desert lizard. I have never seen a lizard move so fast!

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Usually the photos we take of the places we visit do not convey the awesome views, but looking back at these photos we decided this is one of those rare places that looks better in the photos than it does up close. Even though the pinnacles weren’t quite as impressive as we thought they’d be, we were glad to be back to the warm weather and enjoyed our stay.

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