We spent one month at Catalina Spa and RV Resort in Desert Hot Springs, California. We really enjoyed this property as well as exploring the Palm Springs area. CatSpa, as it’s referred to, is a mineral hot springs resort with five different pools of varying temperatures. They’ve recently undergone some renovations including new restrooms, a new clubhouse and store, a new fitness center, a new dog park, and a new office. Many of the guests are snowbirds, retreating from the cold winters of Canada and the Northern U.S., but there are a few full time residents. While most stays are long term, we were in an area that seems to be for shorter term stays, with neighbors coming and going fairly often. All the sites are back in and some can be tight, but the staff helps direct you in to your spot, which was much appreciated. We were in site 6, which is on the smaller side of their sites, though we fit fine with our truck parked parallel in front of the trailer. We backed up to a tree line along the front of the property, which meant we had a little road noise, though not bad, but we also didn’t have neighbors behind us, which was quite nice.
Activities including live music, water volleyball, water aerobics, and food nights
There are a lot of things to do and places to explore in the Palm Springs/Desert Hot Springs area:
Palm Springs Aerial Tramway
The tramway is used to access Mt. San Jacinto State Park, which offers hiking and primitive camping, as well as some great snowshoeing during the colder months. We were lucky enough to be able to visit after a recent snowfall. If nature isn’t your thing, the ride up is still beautiful, as well as the sights. Between the Valley Station at the bottom of the tram and the Mountain Station at the top, there is a museum, theaters, nature exhibits, visitors center, gift shops, and cafes & restaurants.
Unfortunately, not long after our visit, Palm Springs experienced a once-in-a-century rain storm that washed out the road that leads to the tram. It is currently closed indefinitely.
Palm Springs Air Museum
CNN Travel rates the Palm Springs Air Museum as one of the top 14 air museums in the world. Its collection is largely aircraft from World War II, but also contains some planes from Korea and Vietnam. Sorry, I don’t know any of the details of the aircraft, but there were some beauties!
If you’re interested in planes or are a WWII history buff, then you’d probably really enjoy this museum. If you’re not, then you probably won’t. We were disappointed that the only plane, besides the cockpit pictured in the first and second pictures, that you are able to go inside is an additional $10 fee.
Palm Springs Art Museum
Located in downtown Palm Springs, the art museum is a nice little museum with an impressive collection. In addition to the artwork, there’s also a museum store, a small bistro to grab a bite to eat, two outdoor courtyards, and a theatre. If you enjoy art, I would definitely recommend a visit; I especially enjoyed the modern art wing.
Desert Adventure Red Jeep Tour
We did the San Andreas Fault Jeep Tour with Red Jeep Tours. It’s a three-hour tour on the company’s private preserve along the San Andreas Fault zone. There are six people per Jeep, and the other four in our group was a family — a grandma, mom, uncle and son. I fee like we missed out exploring a bit because the grandma had a hard time getting in and out the Jeep. The tour was just okay and I wouldn’t recommend it, but we did learn some things about the fault that we didn’t know before.
Thousand Palms Oasis Preserve
Thousand Palms Oasis is located in the Coachella Valley Preserve and has 30 miles of trails, multiple picnic areas, wildlife, oases, and if you time it right, wild flowers. There’s a parking lot, pit toilets, and a visitor center housed in a 1930s palm log cabin. We followed the McCallum Trail to McCallum Pond, which is a pretty little oasis with picnic tables. We then continued on the Moon Country Trail, which is a 4.1-loop trail that’s not too strenuous, but gave us some great views of the recent wildflower super bloom.
Vintage Trailer Show During Modernism Week
Every year, Palm Springs hosts Modernism Week which celebrates midcentury architecture and design. There are a lot of different events, ranging from home tours, to films, to lectures, to bus tours, to the Vintage Trailer Show, which is the event that piqued our interest. The show displays vintage trailers, campers, buses, and motorhomes — some restored, some original. One trailer in particular stood out to us — the 1959 Airstream Traveler that was painstakingly restored into a masterpiece:
Of course, there were also a number of other beautiful, interesting, and quaint trailers:
We really enjoyed our time in Desert Hot Springs and would definitely stay at CatSpa again. There is so much to do in the area in addition to things we’ve already done, so it’d be great to be able to explore some more!
Surf and Turf RV Park is a bare bones park located in a prime location in Del Mar, California. It consists of a large, gravel parking lot with water and electric hookups, surrounded by a wall. It’s so inconspicuous that people that have lived in the area for years have no idea it’s there. It’s surrounded by a Hilton Hotel, the Surf and Turf Tennis Club, an indoor volleyball club, mini golf, a driving range, a swim school, and the Del Mar Fairgrounds and Race Track. It’s a mile from Del Mar’s off-leash dog beach and within a few minutes drive of everything Del Mar, Solana Beach and Encinitas have to offer. There are no restrooms, no showers, no laundry and no dump station. If you’re looking for an RV resort — this isn’t it. However, it was perfect for us, and at $45/night, $230/week, and $650/month, it’s the cheapest place to stay in the San Diego area with hookups. Due to events held at the fairgrounds and race track (San Diego County Fair, horse racing season, Kabboo Music Festival), the RV park is closed to the public from mid-May to mid-September. Any stays longer than three weeks need to have a long-term application filled out.
We stayed at Newport Dunes for two weeks — the last week of November, arriving during the long Thanksgiving weekend, and the first week of December. We were originally supposed to stay at Malibu RV Resort during this time, but the Woolsey Fire, a wildfire that devestated large parts of Ventura and Los Angeles Counties, burned through Malibu the second week of November and forced the RV park to close due to damage. Newport Dunes had great reviews on Campendium, so, even though it was ridiculously expensive, we thought we’d try it.
We pulled in the Saturday of Thanksgiving weekend and the place was packed. Many of the sites are barely large enough to accommodate most RVs, so tow vehicles were parked in the street at the end of each site, making the already somewhat narrow streets even narrower. Luckily, we had reserved one of the larger beachfront sites and the street was clear of trucks and people playing cornhole, which allowed us to back in to our spot without any issues. By Monday, the RV park had really emptied out and was pretty quiet the rest of our stay. We stayed at Newport Dunes during the off season, so some amenities, like the inflatable obstacle course water park and watercraft rentals, were not available. I can only imagine how busy the resort is during the high season (and how much more expensive it is).
Most of the beachfront sites are grass with a fence at the back. On the other side of the fence is a walking path, the beach, and then the bay. However, our beachfront site was sans grass and completely sand. It would have been nice to have the grass so Max didn’t get sandy paws when we let him out before bed, but seeing as we booked our site somewhat last minute, we only had six sites to choose from and the one we chose was the best option.
We didn’t use any of the amenities during our stay except for the fitness center, which wasn’t anything amazing but was better nothing. The pool looked very nice, the laundry room was large, and when we walked through the onsite market, it seemed pretty well stocked. There’s a walking path with pedestrian bridge around the bay that made for a nice 1-mile loop to walk Max every morning and evening. There’s also a security gate that is manned 24 hours, which is definitely a nice perk.
The best thing about Newport Dunes is its location. It’s minutes from the Fashion Island mall, which, besides all of the high end stores, also has great restaurants and a movie theatre. Within 20 minutes you can be at the beach in Newport Beach, Huntington Beach, or Laguna Beach. Crystal Cove State Park is a short drive up Coast Highway. John Wayne Airport is less than a 15-minute drive and any store/service you could need is within 20 minutes. Also, Disneyland is a 30-40 minute drive. So, if you want to explore Orange County, Newport Dunes is really the perfect location.
Our stay at Newport Dunes was nice, but not necessarily because of the resort itself. We loved exploring the various beach towns and were able to spend quite a bit of time with a friend that lives in Laguna Beach. There was so much rain while we stayed there, and the wet sand was kind of a nightmare to deal with, but the biggest issue is the price. Even though we were paying winter rates, our cheapest night there was $99, with the most expensive night being $173 — and sorry Newport Dunes, you’re just not worth that much.
Today marks one year since we started living, working and traveling full time in our Airstream. One year ago feels both so incredibly distant, but also like it flew by! We have learned a lot in the last twelve months — about ourselves, about our airstream, and about what we hope to get out of this lifestyle. Here’s a look back at our first year as nomads:
We travelled 7,997 miles across 16 states:
(We spent two isolated, quiet nights in Cedar Point, IA and have nothing to show for it. Sorry, Iowa)
We visited 24 National Park Service sites:
Joshua Tree National Park
Death Valley National Park
Saguaro National Park
Petrified Forest National Park
Badlands National Park
Wind Cave National Park
Glacier National Park
Redwood National Park
Lassen Volcanic National Park
Yosemite National Park
Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument
Montezuma Castle National Monument
Casa Grande Ruins National Monument
Devils Tower National Monument
Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument
Cabrillo National Monument
Harry S. Truman National Historic Site
Minuteman Missile National Historic Site
Manzanar National Historic Site
Glen Canyon National Recreation Area
Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area
Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area
Ash Meadows National Wildlife Refuge
Mono Basin National Forest Scenic Area
…and one ghost town (Bodie, CA)…
…the world’s only corn palace (Mitchell, SD)…
…and a cheese factory (Tillamook, OR).
We drank some beer…
…and some liquor…
…and some wine!
We boondocked for the first time in Wisconsin on a family friend’s farm…
…and stayed at a Harvest Hosts for the first time in Nevada.
Travis ran a half marathon in Death Valley…
…and we learned how to play pickle ball.
We did a lot of hiking…
…and a bit of relaxing.
But most importantly, we were able to spend a lot of time with family and friends!
As you can see, it was a great year! We have a lot of amazing adventures planned for 2019, and we look forward to sharing them with you!
Our very first week as full-timers was spent in Escondido, in San Diego’s North County. We rolled back into Escondido 266 days later. We had quite literally gone full circle. Seriously, check out our travel map — we actually went in a full circle, extending as far east as Wisconsin, between our stays at Champagne Lakes RV Resort and Escondido RV Resort. We had 7500 miles, 16 states, and 50 different stops under our belt. We stayed for six weeks, which is the longest we have stayed anywhere. We were looking forward to being in familiar territory — the house we sold that allowed us to buy our truck and Airstream was literally 15 minutes away in San Marcos — and spending time with friends. We were looking forward to California burritos and the ocean and trivia at the brewery and being able to slip back into a normal routine. We were looking forward to having a temporary home base that actually felt like home. And we definitely got all of those things while staying at Escondido RV Resort!
As I try to write this review, I keep typing and deleting. On the surface, Escondido RV Resort is a great place to stay. It’s well landscaped, well maintained, and the people who run it are very nice. It’s right off I-15 and one exit north of the 78, which is the main east-west highway in North County San Diego. As we lived in North County for a bit and most of our friends live in North County, we were able to get to where we wanted to go within a decent amount of time. The trade off is that the resort is RIGHT off the 15, which means the sound of traffic is pretty audible most times of the day from most parts of the park. We were lucky with our particular spot (site 110) as it backed up to a tree line that helped buffer the traffic noise. The Wi-Fi was decent but in order to access it we needed to set up a (free) account and reconnect to it daily. They had great HD TV, but in order to use it, we needed to borrow a cable box from them to hook up in our trailer. There is very nice landscaping throughout, but it’s watered every night and the sprinklers tend to be pretty aggressive with their spray field and leave behind hard water spots on the lower half your trailer — so, obsessive trailer cleaners beware. There isn’t one blade of grass in the park, which is understandable as it’s Southern California, but leaves a little to be desired when walking a dog. There are two different dog areas, one on each level (the park is set up on two different levels). The one on the lower level is fenced in, so it’s off leash, but is quite a hike to get to if you’re staying on the upper level. The one on the upper level is small, but doable. Both have wood chips as a base. Rod McLeod Park is located right next to the RV park and is accessible through a locked gate from the upper level of the RV park. It’s a big grassy space with a playground and restrooms, and was a nice alternative for walking Max. However, due to it’s seedier side — people living in cars in the parking lot, a handful of homeless people, and quick transactions of some sort taking place — I didn’t feel comfortable walking Max by myself and would only visit the park when Travis was around. The laundry room was nice and clean and the machines used credit cards instead of coins, which is fantastic. The only issue is that the credit card machines didn’t always work. A few times I had to try multiple cards and one time, the person in the office had to run a special card through the reader in order to get the machine to work. Also while we there, someone tried to steal a bike from someone’s site. Luckily, the maintenance guy saw him and stopped him. The bike was retrieved, but the would-be thief ran off before the cops arrived. Obviously, there is potential for theft at ANY place we stay, which is why we never leave anything of value outside.
With all of that being said, none of those issues are anything that would prevent us from staying there again. But there is one thing — the AT&T signal in that area is terrible. Basically non-existent. Luckily, we also have a phone and hotspot on Verizon, so along with their Wi-Fi, we were able to work without too many issues. We just weren’t able to use our personal phones very dependably, which was pretty inconvenient.
And our very last issue with Escondido RV Resort was the price. When we first booked our stay there, if was originally for four weeks, so just shy of a month. At that point, we understood why we weren’t getting the monthly rate. But we changed our travel plans and a couple weeks before arriving, we extended our stay an additional two weeks. Six weeks. Which is more than a month. Which means we should have received the monthly rate. But we received the weekly rate. While they were very nice and gave us a nicer site — we were supposed to be on the first level, but they moved us to a larger site on the second level — I didn’t understand their explanation as to why we weren’t getting the monthly rate, and honestly, I don’t even remember what their explanation was anymore. The only benefit to paying the weekly rate versus monthly rate is that electricity was included in our rate and is not included in the monthly rate. We paid about $1900/month with the weekly rate when the actual monthly rate for the spot we reserved was $1100, so yes, we were frustrated. To add to the frustration is what I recently found on their website:
$800 if you’re in an Airstream?!? Must be nice!
I don’t want to sound like a complete Negative Nancy about Escondido RV Resort. There are some really great features too:
They make filling your propane tanks very easy. You just set your tanks at the end of your site and they’ll pick them up, fill them, and return them.
There’s a small swimming pool and spa that are nice.
They have a deal with the nearby LA Fitness where you can get a free 2-week membership.
You can have packages delivered there.
The close proximity to I-15 can’t really be beat!
Things To Do in the Area
We were pretty busy during most of our stay in Escondido, but most of that entailed hanging out with friends and visiting our favorite restaurants, stores, local sites, etc. However, here are a few things you should check out if you’re in the area:
Pretty much everyone knows about the famous San Diego Zoo, but a lot of people outside of the area have not heard about the San Diego Zoo Safari Park. While the zoo is located down in San Diego, the safari park is in Escondido, just 20 minutes from the RV park. Like the zoo, you’ll find gorillas, tigers, lions, elephants, cheetahs, rhino, giraffes, and a variety of other animals. Unlike the zoo, you’ll find the park’s rhino, giraffes, antelope, wild ass, zebra, and buffalo roaming about in a free-range exhibit called African Plains. From the tram, you’re able to see how the animals interact with those within their species as well as with animals from other species. The newest exhibit, Walkabout Australia, is home to kangaroos, wallabies, cassowaries, and other animals from the Outback. You are able to walk through the enclosure and get up close and personal, sometimes even pet, the resident wallabies.
While staying in Escondido, we went on two hikes. The first hike is kind of a San Diego bucket list hike. Anyone who’s been in San Diego long enough has heard about the hike to Potato Chip Rock. The hike begins at the Mt. Woodson Trailhead along the shores of Lake Poway in Poway, which is about a 20 minute drive from the RV park. It’s one of those hikes that you need to start early, for two reasons: 1) The sun gets blazing hot in this area year round and 2) you want to beat the crowd that makes the journey to get THE shot for Instagram. There’s a parking lot with restrooms and a place to fill water at the trailhead. It’s free to park on weekdays but there’s a $10 fee on weekends. Leashed dogs are allowed on the trail. The trail is 7.6 miles roundtrip and is rated hard on AllTrails, probably due to the 2,000 feet of elevation gain. We hit the trail at 6:30am and were in shade the entire way to the top. Once we made it to Potato Chip Rock, we ate some breakfast while we waited in a short line to get some photos. It took us about 3 hours and 15 minutes, not including down time at the top. The way down started to get hot as we were in direct sun, and we were very glad we started early. Make sure to take water and sun protection!
The second hike is the Lake Hodges Overlook Trail out of the Elfin Forest Recreational Reserve in Escondido. It’s a moderately difficult, 6.4-mile trail that’s about a 15-minute drive from the RV park. There’s a parking lot with small visitor center, water fill, and restrooms at the trailhead. Dogs are allowed. There are actually a number of different well-marked trails within the reserve that lead to various overlooks with picnic tables and shade structures.
You won’t have a difficult time finding some great craft breweries in San Diego County. One that you should definitely check out if you’re in the area is Stone Brewing World Bistro & Gardens, which is about a 10-minute drive from the RV park. Besides being a brewery, Stone offers a full menu as well as wine. The interior of the facility is nice, but the draw here is the outdoor patio and one-acre beer garden, complete with koi ponds and fire pits. It’s a beautiful property and while I don’t have any photos to post, trust me that you won’t be disappointed.
While we were in Lone Pine, or possibly when we were in Bridgeport, we decided to change our upcoming plans a bit. After Lone Pine, we were originally supposed to drive around the south end of Sequoia National Forest, up the west side, and spend a few days right outside Kings Canyon and Sequoia National Parks. We were then going to spend a night in Bakersfield and then drive to Escondido, where we had booked four weeks. But we were tired and it was going to be a lot of driving in a short amount of time, which wasn’t very appealing at the time. We scrapped the trip to Kings Canyon and Sequoia (there really should be an east entrance into the parks from Lone Pine) and booked a week at Pechanga RV Resort in Temecula. We already had plans to stay at Pechanga for three weeks later in the fall, it looked really nice, and we were familiar with the area, so it made sense to us to stay there.
Gas Station with Mini Mart, Diesel, Car Wash and Propane Fill
Fenced Dog Run
On-Property Shuttle Service
Security Patrol 24/7
Walking Distance to Casino and Restaurants
Pechanga is a resort and casino run by the Pechanga Band of Luseño Indians. The resort itself just underwent a 300 million dollar renovation, doubling its size and becoming the largest resort/casino on the West Coast. It really is beautiful and with nine restaurants, a buffet, live entertainment, clubs, lounges, retail shops, a concert venue, a golf course, and a spa — it’s more than just a casino. And if you sign up for a player’s club card, you get a 5% discount at the shops and restaurants.
During both of our stays, we stayed in one of their deluxe sites. While the deluxe site is the lowest level of their sites, it’s one of the nicest sites we’ve ever stayed in. It is a back-in site with an 18’x55′ concrete pad and nice, green grass separating you from your direct neighbor and a tall hedge separating you from the sites behind you. The other more premium sites have amenities such as pull-thrus; sites with picnic tables; sites with a gazebo, grill, and fire pit; and buddy sites, which are sites that face each other so that if you are traveling with friends, you share a large patio area. The pull-thru sites are a little longer at 67′, but otherwise all the sites are the same size as the deluxe sites. Pechanga is probably the cleanest, most well-maintained place we’ve stayed. The pool, laundry room, and restrooms were attended to every day and spotless. Actually, the entire resort/casino property was super clean.
For the most part, things are fairly quiet at Pechanga. However, the weekends can get a little rowdy, especially if it’s a long holiday weekend like we experienced (Thanksgiving). During our four weeks there, there was one incident with one of the guests of the RV park where security had to be called who then called the Pechanga Tribal Rangers, who responded very quickly and handled the situation quite efficiently. Because of the 24/7 security and prompt response from law enforcement, we felt very safe there. I’d also like to note that the Pechanga Fire Department is directly across the street from the RV resort, which is especially reassuring during fire season in Southern California.
Pechanga is part of the Passport America network, which is a discount camping club that gives you 50% off at participating parks. Each property applies it’s 50% off savings differently, and at Pechanga, it’s Sunday through Wednesday on deluxe sites only. Sunday through Thursday has a rate of $50, while Friday and Saturday are $60, unless there’s a holiday which increases the price. The whole reason we got the Passport America membership was because we knew we’d be staying at Pechanga. During our four weeks total that we stayed there, we saved $350 (14 nights at $25 instead of $50), which really made the annual membership fee of $44 worth it.
The one drawback is that guests staying at the RV resort aren’t allowed to use the main resort’s fitness center and pool, which are both sooooo nice.
While Temecula is located inland in Riverside County, it’s just north of San Diego County and east of Orange County, at about a 45-minute drive from the coast. It’s location and lower home prices have led to an increase in residents in the past few years. Because of the increasing population, there’s been a building boom when it comes to both commercial and residential properties. It seems as though most parts of Temecula are brand new and everything is beautifully maintained. While every store and/or service you could need is available, the one thing Temecula lacks is the small town, local charm you find in the beach cities of San Diego and Orange Counties — that is until you drive to Temecula’s wine country. Temecula Valley is home to about 50 wineries scattered throughout the rolling hills. You’ll also find a number of horse ranches and the opportunity for hot air balloon rides. The Temecula Valley Balloon & Wine Festival is held each June, pairing the two things the area is best known for. Whether you prefer reds or whites, you’ll find something for everybody at the various wineries — some with just tasting rooms; others with restaurants, gift shops, hotels, and spas.
As we had lived in North County San Diego for a bit, we have visited Temecula a handful of times over the years — it’s always a nice place to take people that are visiting from out of town. During our stay at Pechanga, my sister and brother-in-law were celebrating her birthday in San Diego and drove out to Temecula with some friends to spend the night. Travis was out of town on business, but I was able to join them for an afternoon of lunch and wining. We started our day with a few tastings and lunch at Wilson Creek Winery, known for their Almond Sparkling Wine, and then moved on to Akash Winery & Vineyards, then Oak Mountain Winery’s tasting room, which is known as The Cave. If you’re concerned about drinking and driving, you’re able to hire a car or book a wine tasting tour that will drive you from one place to the next.
Another part of Temecula to explore is Old Town. Old Town is the historic center of Temecula. It has an Old West vibe and offers restaurants, shops, museums, and a community theater. The area is becoming more modernized with some great, modern restaurants (1909 has great food, cocktails and beer) and new condos being built.
I didn’t take many photos of our time in Temecula because to us, it’s not a new place. That’s why it’s also a little difficult for us to give an objective review of our time at Pechanga. It’s a great RV resort and we would stay there again, but definitely for a shorter amount of time.
After Bridgeport, we continued south on the 395 to another equally interesting location — Lone Pine. Lone Pine, California is best known for the numerous Western movies and TV shows that used the unusual rock formations of the Alabama Hills and the peaks of the Eastern Sierras, including the lower 48’s highest peak — Mt. Whitney, as their backdrop. John Wayne, Gene Autry, Errol Flynn, Roy Rogers, Cary Grant, Bing Crosby, Humphrey Bogart, Clint Eastwood, Steve McQueen, and Mel Gibson all starred in Westerns shot in and around Lone Pine. As the Western era died out, the filming in Lone Pine slowed, but didn’t stop. Kevin Bacon’s Tremors, Kevin Costner’s The Postman, and Russel Crowe’s Gladiator all shot at least partially in Lone Pine. Over 400 films, 100 television shows, and countless commercials have used Lone Pine and the Alabama Hills as filming locations.
Lone Pine is also home to the Eastern Sierra Visitor Center, which is run by the US Forest Service, National Park Service, Bureau of Land Management, and Eastern Sierra Interpretive Association. The center provides visitor, wilderness, and highway information for the Eastern Sierra, including the Inyo National Forest, Death Valley National Park, Manzanar National Historic Site, Sequoia and Kings Canyon Parks wilderness, Alabama Hills & BLM Bishop Field Office public lands, and Owen Lakes and Los Angeles Department of Water and Power public lands. Panamint Springs, located on the west side of Death Valley NP, is 55 miles from Lone Pine, while Furnace Creek on the east side is 100.
There are a handful of restaurants, a small grocery store, a hospital, an airport, a golf course and numerous services, including a car and RV wash, located in Lone Pine.
We stayed at Boulder Creek RV Resort for three nights. It’s a very nice resort, with trees for shade and the largest dog run we’ve ever seen at an RV resort. It was quite hot during our stay, so we explored during the mornings before the temperature got too high, worked during the day, and spent a lot of time at the pool and hot tub in the late afternoons and evenings. They serve muffins and coffee every morning in their clubhouse, which for some reason is home to birds and baby tortoises — you’ll find the adult tortoises outside in an enclosure.
Things to Do Around Lone Pine:
As stated above, Lone Pine has been the backdrop to numerous film and television shows. The Museum of Western Film History can be found in downtown Lone Pine, just a short drive from the RV resort. The museum is a very comprehensive, very interesting collection of Western film and television memorabilia that also contains exhibits from more recent pop culture movies that also filmed in the area. There is no entrance fee, but a $5 donation is recommended (I think this helps keep their non-profit status). And leashed dogs are welcome!
Seven miles north of Lone Pine is the Manzanar National Historic Site. Manzanar was one of ten war relocation centers built during World War II to temporarily house people of Japanese ancestry following FDR signing Executive Order 9066. Between March of 1942 and November of 1945, more than 10,000 men, women, and children lived at Manzanar — most of them U.S. citizens. While almost no original structures remain, there are re-creations of barracks, a mess hall, and a latrine. The visitor center features exhibits about the camp and area history. There’s also an informative film and a pretty comprehensive bookstore and gift shop.
Manzanar is a National Park Service site and entrance is free, but we made sure to buy a couple of things in the gift shop in order to support the site, which is a very important, yet sad, part of US history. Dogs are allowed in all outdoor areas.
Manzanar was arranged in 36 blocks. Each block contained 14 barracks, a men’s latrine, a women’s latrine, a laundry room, a mess hall, an ironing room, and a recreation hall. In most blocks, up to 300 people crowded into the barracks. Everyone ate in the mess hall, washed clothes in the public laundry room, and shared latrines and showers with little privacy. The ironing room and recreation hall offered spaces for classes, shops, and churches. Over time, people personalized their barracks and most blocks evolved into distinct communities.
The Mobius Arch Loop Trailis the most hiked trail in the Alabama Hills Recreation Area, which is well known for free, dispersed camping with interesting vistas. The trail is accessible by driving Whitney Portal Road from Lone Pine and turning right on Movie Road. Obviously, Movie Road is so named because this is where many of the areas movies and television shows were filmed. The Lone Pine Chamber of Commerce has a great self-guided tour on their website that guides you to some of the more well-known filming locations. There is a parking area and signs at the Mobius Arch Trailhead to let you know you’re in the right place. The trail is only 0.6 mile long and is a nice, easy hike with beautiful views.
The roads in this area are gravel and can be quite rough at times. There are a number of small roads that branch off from the main roads, and while you can never truly get lost because Mt. Whitney is always in view and acts as a compass, it would definitely be possible to lose your way just a bit. Do some research before heading out into the Alabama Hills and know that summers are very hot and there isn’t much shade to be found.
Of course, the main attraction to the area is Mount Whitney itself. The most popular route to the top is the Mt. Whitney Trail, a 22-mile out and back trail with about 6500′ of elevation gain. It can be done in one day, but you must start early (like, really early) and it takes 12-16 hours. You can also spend a night on the trail at various camps, the most popular being Trail Camp, located at about 12,000′. This helps you acclimate to the elevation, but means you have to pack more gear; however, most hikers will leave their extra gear at camp while they complete the trail to the summit and pick it up on the way down. Permits are required any time you hike Mt. Whitney and there is a daily quota from May 1 to November 1. To find out more information about permits and summiting the highest peak in the contiguous United States, check out recreation.gov, AllTrails, and this blog post by the Hiking Guy.
Bridgeport sits at almost 6500′ of elevation along the 395, which is one of the most interesting and beautiful highways we’ve driven. The town is small, maybe 500 people, there’s no real grocery store and the few services offered include a couple gas stations, a couple hotels, an auto parts store, a couple restaurants, a post office, and a Mono County Sheriff’s office. Gas is ridiculously expensive and along the Bridgeport Reservoir where Paradise Shores is located, there was a cloud of flying bugs like we’ve never experienced before. At first glance, Bridgeport — and the surrounding area — is somewhere to pass through as you drive to some other destination, enjoying the view of the Eastern Sierras as you go. However, after spending four nights at Paradise Shores with zero signal from our AT&T phones (no worries — our Verizon phone & hotspot worked well), we felt we definitely could have spent more time there. According to Charlie and Kelli of Instagram’s SlowDownSeeMore, who were Work Campers at Paradise Shores for the season (which is April to October), the best time to visit the area is June, when the snow has melted, all of the roads are open, and the waterfalls, rivers, and lakes are at their best. We’d love to return to the area and experience some of the amazing hikes and hot springs that we missed out on on this visit.
Paradise Shores is by no means an RV resort. While it has all of the amenities you’d find at an RV resort, it offers them in a very laid back, kitschy, hippy kind of way. If it were a restaurant, the sign on the door would say, ‘No Shoes, No Shirt — No Problem.’ This is definitely not a big rig friendly place, and that seems to be by design. The owners seemed to have planned the park in a way that makes its visitors hang out outside, whether they’re chatting with neighbors or relaxing in the broken-in couches around the community fire pit; though, preferably when there are fewer bugs. The sites are snug, even for our 27, and there’s not a whole lot of privacy. Some people may be turned off by the overall size and coziness of the park, but it worked well for us. Honestly, when we weren’t eating, sleeping, and working, we were out exploring, so there was no need for a place that’s a little shinier and more manicured. Besides the lack of AT&T signal, which is obviously not Paradise Shores fault, the only other negative mark I would give it is there wasn’t a great option for walking Max. First, because it was small with no grass. Second, because it’s right on a highway, so the only place to walk outside the park is along the shoulder of the 182. And third, the owner’s dogs wander around off leash, and while they’re very good dogs, Max takes issue with off-leash dogs that approach him. We definitely will return to the area at some point, but may try staying about 30 miles further south down the 395 in Lee Vining due to its proximity to Yosemite and its cute, small mountain town vibe.
There are SO many things to do and see in the area, and we ran out of time for most of them, but here’s what kept us busy during our stay in Bridgeport:
Yosemite National Park
“It is by far the grandest of all the special temples of Nature I was ever permitted to enter.” -John Muir
Yosemite is our country’s third national park, established in 1890. The Mono Basin National Forest Scenic Area Visitor Center, managed by the US Forest Service and operated in partnership with the National Park Service and the Eastern Sierra Interpretive Association, is located in Lee Vining, about a half hour drive from Paradise Shores. The visitor center is a wealth of knowledge for how to experience the natural wonders in the area, including Yosemite. From the visitor center, it’s a 15-minute drive along the stunning Tioga Pass to the east entrance of the park. From there, it’s about another 20 minutes until you arrive in Tuolumne Meadows. All of Tioga Road is closed during winter, approximately November to May, which means you can only enter the park from the west side during that time.
We were in Bridgeport from a Saturday afternoon to a Wednesday morning and would only have Sunday to explore Yosemite, as week days = work days. Because of Max and the fact that we don’t like leaving him alone in the Airstream all day, we had to decide between staying on the east side of the park where we could go for a hike and get back home to him in a timely manner -or- bring him with and drive through the entire park, knowing we wouldn’t be able to do any hikes because dogs aren’t allowed on trails. We chose to bring him with so we could take our time driving through the park to Yosemite Valley, which is where the bulk of Yosemite’s annual five million visitors hang out. Obviously, not the ideal way to visit Yosemite, but our day trip gave us a good idea of what, where, and when for a future visit.
For those that have never been to Yosemite before, Yosemite Valley is basically a small town. There are hotels, a medical center, a museum, a visitor center, restaurants, a grocery store, a post office, and even a courthouse that handles misdemeanors that take place within the 750,000-acre park. Of course, there are also campgrounds and waterfalls and trailheads to what I’m sure are amazing hikes that we hope to experience in the future, sans dog. Yosemite is a lot like Glacier National Park, as in you CAN just drive through the park on the main road and see some great sights, but in order to really experience the park, you need to get (miles and miles) off the main road via your own two feet.
Mono Lake in Mono Basin National Forest Scenic Area
From the information received at the visitor center: “One of the oldest lakes in North America, Mono Lake is at least 760,000 years old and has had many fluctuations in size. Mono Lake has no outlet. For thousands of years, streams have carried minerals into the lake and evaporation has removed fresh water from it. As a result of this process, the salinity content is over twice that of the ocean. Because of these high salt concentrations, the lake offers a delightfully buoyant swimming experience. Although no fish can live in these alkaline waters, Mono Lake is one of the most productive lakes in the world, supporting trillions of brine shrimp, alkali flies and migratory birds.”
There is a road that encircles the lake from which you can turn off to various parking areas and trails that offer views of the tufa, as well as access to the surrounding Mono Craters, a series of rhylolitic domes. We visited South Tufa, known to have the best tufa formations. There’s a .75-mile loop trail that parallels the water’s edge for a bit, and then loops back to the parking lot through the beautiful golden sagebrush. Dogs are allowed on the trails but not in the lake.
Again, from the visitor information: “The tufa (too-fah) tower formations show what nature can do with a few basic elements. The strange spires and knobs formed when fresh water springs containing calcium bubble up through the carbonate-rich lake water. The combining of these waters forms calcium carbonate, a whitish limestone deposit that forms the basis of the tufa formations. Tufa is found in many alkaline lakes throughout the world.”
After we visited the tufa towers, we planned to drive the June Lake Loop Road based on the advice of SlowDownSeeMore. We made it as far as June Lake Brewing, which was also a recommendation from Charlie and Kelli, and the fantastic Mexican restaurant across the parking lot, Gordos. After we were done eating and drinking, we were tired and decided to head for home. Next time!
Bodie State Historic Park
Bodie State Historic Park is a 30-35 minute drive from Paradise Shores in Bridgeport. The last three miles of the road is rough and rutted, requiring a speed of 10-15 miles per hour. I would not recommend driving it with an RV of any type — we actually saw two different RV’s (one motorhome, one travel trailer) make u-turns and drive back out because of how rough it is.
Bodie is a true Wild West, gold rush ghost town, once home to 8,000 people, 30 mines, and over 60 saloons. While only about 5%, or 110, of the buildings remain from the town’s 1877-1881 boom, it’s easy to picture what life was like in this harsh climate. Bodie is at an elevation of 8,379′, which makes for hot summers and long, cold winters. The boom years were over quickly as unsuccessful mines began closing. The population dropped fast and continued to dwindle into the 1900s. Mining continued until 1942, which is also when the last residents fled. Bodie was designated a California State Park in 1962 and is now preserved in ‘arrested decay,’ which means the buildings’ roofs, windows and foundations are repaired and stabilized, not restored.
Entrance is $8 per adult and an extremely informative booklet with map is available for $2. There are restrooms, but that’s it as far as services. You may want to bring water and snacks if you plan to spend a few hours, which is definitely possible. Dogs are allowed, just not in any of the buildings.
Back in Bridgeport, there’s not a lot to see, but the beautiful courthouse, which serves Mono County, is the state’s second oldest courthouse and has been in continuous use since 1880. Around the backside of the courthouse is the old Mono County Jail. It was opened in 1883 and served Mono County until 1964. It had six cells, two washrooms, an office and a dining area. It’s very small and only takes a few minutes to explore, but it’s free, so it was worth a quick look.
Bridgeport is an interesting area that is definitely worth a stop for a few days, or a even a few weeks, though we offer these tips:
Visit in June or late September, as it was still pretty hot during the second week of September while we were there.
Fill your gas tank beforehand. Gas was $5/gallon when we were there and there was nowhere within reasonable driving distance where it was cheaper.
Hit the grocery store before heading to Bridgeport. There is a little market in town, but it’s really the only store in town and is more like a grocery/hardware/pharmacy type of store. Slim pickings, for sure. We drove down to Lee Vining where the market is also small, but much better stocked, with better choices and some actual produce.
Bring bug spray. I don’t know if it was the time of year or the fact that where we stayed was right on the reservoir, but the bugs — mosquitoes, flies, moths, and anything else that flies — were out in full force.
Staying at Hat Creek was our biggest and most costly mistake to date…
When we left the NorCal Coast city of Trinidad, we headed inland. We had booked two nights at Del Loma RV Park in Big Bar, but as we were driving, we were feeling pretty good and like we could handle a couple more hours. I called Hat Creek Hereford Ranch, which was our next destination, to see if we could add two more nights to our stay. We were able to, so we kept on driving to Hat Creek. We hadn’t paid a deposit at Del Loma, so canceling was easy and free. We should have known we were going to have an issue when we went for a stretch of almost three hours during our drive with no cell signal. When we arrived at Hat Creek, we had no signal on our AT&T phones. Before checking in, we should have checked our Verizon phone and hotspot, and tried all of our phones with our WeBoost, but we didn’t. When I checked in, the young woman at the counter mentioned that we were staying a long time – originally 7 nights, now 9. We were staying so long because we wanted to explore nearby Lassen Volcanic National Park and Burney Falls. And though we usually travel on weekends, we chose not to this particular upcoming weekend because it was Labor Day. Anyway, I made the comment we were only staying if we could get a strong enough cell signal to be able to work, seeing as we work full time. She said nothing. I paid our remaining balance and we went to our site.
After getting set up, we realized we had no cell signal with either Verizon or AT&T, and our WeBoost did nothing for us. We tried using their wifi, but that kept dropping and wasn’t even strong enough to open web pages. We were in a pickle. Seeing as it was a Sunday, we were going to stay put for the night because we didn’t need to get online for anything. After talking through our options, we decided we needed to move on the next day. There was no way we would be able to last more than a week without a cell signal. That evening, we drove up the road a bit where we noticed we had gotten a bar of signal earlier in the day when we had driven to the grocery store. We parked on the side of the road, in the darkness, and surfed the web to find a new place to stay for the remainder of the week and the holiday weekend. We found a place in Reno where we were able to cobble together two different reservations in order to cover most of the time, and then we adjusted our next reservation in Lake Tahoe to arrive a day earlier.
The next day, we explored Lassen Volcanic NP for a few hours and stopped at the tiny post office where we had had our mail sent. We headed back to Hat Creek Hereford Ranch to pack up, hitch up, check out, and hit the road. We were already fully hitched up and parked in the driveway when I went into the office to check out. The same young woman was working, along with an older woman who I assume is the owner. I told them we had to leave because there’s no signal. They seemed a little befuddled, but I explained that we work full time, and there’s just no way we could stay. The older woman asked if we had tried their wifi, and I said we had, but it was pretty slow and kept kicking us off. She explained how their wifi used to be great, but a recent wild fire caused an electric surge that basically blew up their previous setup. The internet company had replaced the equipment, but the speed wasn’t nearly as strong or fast and it would be getting fixed soon. She tried talking me in to staying a few more days, but I said that we were already hitched up and had reservations elsewhere. She then got a little defensive, saying, “Everybody knows there’s no signal here!” I explained we weren’t from the area and did not know that, but it was our fault for not doing better research. This is when I found out their refund policy, which is they don’t do refunds. If you cancel more than seven days before your reservation, they’ll refund the deposit. If you cancel within seven days of your reservation, they keep your deposit. If you’ve already checked in and paid, they refund nothing. I tried arguing that technically we hadn’t checked in yet for our original reservation, so I should get a refund minus the deposit, but it was a no go. We had nine days booked at $44 per night (plus a $5 reservation fee), for a total of $401. Yikes. She felt bad, so she did refund $100 and credited us with two free nights to use in the next two years. Seeing as we had stayed one night and were checking out late on the second day, we counted it as two nights. When subtracting the refund, the two credited nights, the two nights stayed, and the reservation fee, we ended up eating $120, or about three nights. Of course, that’s if we end up using the two nights of credit.
Lesson Learned: Do better research – on both cell signal and refund policy.
Honestly, I don’t know what happened with this one. We ALWAYS check the cell signal; both with Campendium/Google reviews and the Open Signal/Coverage apps. We totally dropped the ball. In the future, we’ll keep to weekend stays for non-signal areas.
It’s also important to note that we’ve lost money on canceling reservations before. We lost a night’s stay worth once and multiple reservation fees, but altogether it probably adds up to about $60 or $70. We do our best to avoid cancelations, but sometimes we book far in advance at national or state parks, because you have to, but then change our minds. It’s just part of the full-time lifestyle.
Hat Creek Hereford Ranch RV Park & Campground
Address: 17855 Dory Road, Hat Creek, CA 96040
Phone: (530) 335-7171
Pull-Thrus (but not really)
Restrooms with Showers
The park itself is nice and quiet. Farmland borders it, so there are happy cows and goats out your window. It’s peaceful and quaint and rustic. The layout is a little haphazard, with sites in odd locations and directions, and nothing that delineates one site from the next. Above, I mentioned that there are pull-thrus, but not really. We were able to pull into our site easy enough (after relocating the fire ring made of rocks and driving up an incline), but at the front of our site was a retaining wall. In order to drive out of our site, we had to drive at an angle down an decline. We didn’t have any neighbors, so we were able to get in and out of our site easy enough, but if we did have neighbors, neither would have been very easy. We were there for such a short amount of time that we didn’t use any of the facilities, so I can’t comment on those.
The location is pretty remote, with the small city of Burney a 22-minute drive away. That’s where you’ll find a Safeway grocery store, a Rite Aid, a post office, a few places to eat, and a few hotels. The Burney Falls Visitor Center is a 25-minute drive and the Subway Cave Lava Tubes a 20-minute drive – neither of which we had the chance to visit.
Lassen Volcanic National Park is about a 35-minute drive. If dry camping is your thing, there are plenty of places to stay outside the park (National Forest campgrounds) and within the park itself. Lassen is a mostly-unknown, little-visited National Park that has all the best stuff: Volcanoes, mountains, lakes, mud pots, sulfur springs, steam vents, waterfalls, and enough trails to satisfy every hiker from novice to expert! We’re really looking forward to a return visit to explore the park more fully like it deserves.
After spending more than four weeks on the Oregon Coast, we moved on to the California Coast. Trinidad, California is a beautiful little city with sweeping coastal views, shops, restaurants, and a population that consists mostly of vacationers.
Azalea Glen RV Park
Address: 3883 Patrick’s Point Drive, Trinidad, CA 95570
Phone: (707) 677-3068
Restrooms with Showers
Azalea Glen is a small, quiet RV Park with just 38 sites. About half are permanent residents and are clean and well kept. The owners of the park seem to be amateur horticulturists, as there are beautiful flowers throughout the property, as well as a small green house. Azalea Glen is located about 10 minutes from downtown Trinidad, right across the street from Patrick’s Point State Park, and about 15 minutes from Redwood National Park’s Kuchel Visitor Center.
Patrick’s Point State Park is home to a rocky coastline with barking sea lions and interesting tide pools. There are a number of trails that wind through the park and down to Agate Beach. Sumêg Village is a recreation of a Yurok village that is used for cultural and educational activities that preserve the heritage of several neighboring tribes: Yurok, Karuk, and Hoopa. There are three campgrounds within the park with a total of 120 sites. A day pass is $8 and there’s a nice visitor center with information and souvenirs. Patrick’s Point is shrouded in fog much of the year. During the summer, sometimes fog does not burn off for several days at a time. Clear days appear most frequently during spring and fall. Rainfall averages more than 60 inches a year — most of it falling between November and April. Temperatures are moderate much of the year, with only about a 10-degree difference in average temperatures between summer and winter. Summer highs average 62 degrees, with winter lows to 38 degrees.
Redwood National and State Parks represent a cooperative management effort of the National Park Service and the California Department of Parks and Recreation. This includes Redwood National Park, Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park, Del Norte Coast Redwoods State Park, and Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park. This was the most oddly laid out National Park we’ve been to, with each of the four parks situated along the 101 in about a 50-mile stretch. There’s really no entrance/exit, at least not in Redwood National Park. We have a National Parks Pass, so entrance is free to us, but we never saw a pay station. We assume that one is supposed to pay the entrance fee at one of the visitor centers.
The Tall Trees Trail is a 3.5-mile loop trail that is accessible by permit only. Permits are available at the Kuchel Visitor Center, are free, and are limited to 50 per day. We stopped in at 10:30 on a Wednesday morning and had no issue getting one. The trailhead, which is a 45-minute drive from the visitor center, is at the end of Tall Trees Access Road, which has a locked gate. Disclaimer: The road is rough — I’d recommend a high-clearance vehicle, although there were plenty of cars that made the trip. When you get your permit, they also give you the combination to the lock, which changes daily. This trail is not the most spectacular part of the park, but due to its remoteness and limit on visitors, it’s very quiet. We only saw about ten other parties in our time on the trail, which was about an hour and forty minutes. FYI: There’s a pit toilet at the trailhead.
I would recommend to anyone visiting the Redwoods area, whether you have a few days or only a few hours, to visit the Lady Bird Johnson Grove Trail. It’s a 1.25-mile loop that’s absolutely breathtaking. It’s also the most popular trail in the park, but Redwood doesn’t seem to get nearly as much love as other parks, so you won’t be fighting through crowds. We visited Lady Bird Trail a little after 5pm and there were only a half dozen cars in the parking lot. It was a clear day and the light was perfect!
There is a plaque that stands in Lady Bird Johnson Grove where Presidents Nixon and Johnson joined Governor Reagan in 1969 to dedicate this 300-acre grove to Lady Bird Johnson and her campaign to preserve America’s natural beauty.
We really enjoyed the time we spent in the Trinidad area. It’s a beautiful part of the country that we look forward to revisiting at some point.