Wednesday, January 18, 2023

California's Central Coast

 Napa marked the end of the westward road for me. Although I wanted to go to San Francisco and have always wanted to go up the

Western Coast to Oregon and Washington the weather was not cooperating or encouraging. Repeated atmospheric rivers, the latest catchword from the weather channels made parts of California a flooded soggy mess, threatening lives, crops and landscapes. There was visible damage to fields and roadside cliffs that made me err on the side of caution. After two weeks in the Wine Country I turned southward and head the long way home.

Salinas was the first stop out of the rainy Napa environment. I chose it due to the song Me and Bobby McGhee, the Janis Joplin version, nod to Kris Kristofferson. Turns out that Salinas is also the home of John Steinbeck- prodigal son of Travels with Charley, Grapes of Wrath, Cannery Row, Of Mice and Men, and so many other memorable stories. It thus seemed doubly fitting that I stayed there although the haven for the evening turned out to be a Motel 6. Many of the other hotels would not accept dogs. The ground is too sodden for camping and some parks are closed due to mudslides and such. This trip has been shaped repeatedly by Gina and the weather. I wouldn't trade my traveling companion but sheesh! Salinas boasts a pleasant Main Street and many Steinbeck attractions and I am glad I went but will cross it off the bucket list.

Morro Bay was my next stop for a couple days. The first time I went there, on the way up to Napa I stepped out of the car to an air full of eucalyptus and ocean. Heavenly. This time around it did not disappoint. I got a spot in the Morro Bay State Campground with a one day reservation and had a lovely walk along the marsh boardwalk with a myriad of birds.  The sky was heavy but not daunting and we enjoyed the campground immensely. There are trails up the mountain behind the grounds and also a golf course which belongs to the park. Lots of green space and pretty scenery.

We discovered a dog beach in an adjacent town, got some work done in the van including propane refill at the UHaul (a good place to remember if you need propane). Evenings were breezy and rainy, some branches came down but we were none the worse for wear. I would say revitalized. I had downloaded some movies on my iPad so was cozy within Emma.

Continuing down the road I stopped at Pismo Beach. A wide, wild stretch of ocean beach that was chilly but not extraordinary in the winter. My destination for the evening was Ojai, which had been recommended to me. It is a welcoming little town, full of cute houses, retired hippies and lots of trees and gardens. I stayed at the Hummingbird Inn, which did take dogs and provided many walkable areas and trails. The following day dawned sunny and crisp, great weather for walking and seeing the town up close and personal. A terrific outdoor bookstore was recommended to me- Bart's Books- which could have consumed hours. I also had one of the best lattes I have ever drank/drunk from Beacon Coffee. A pleasant stay all around. And a lovely drive over the mountain via Santa Paula to my sister's ranch in Somis.


Tuesday, January 10, 2023

Napa Valley

 Landing on my feet seems to be something I have always been lucky at. Mind you, I say lucky and not

skilled. I left the Santa Ynez area to head north to see my cousin in Napa, California. On the way I stayed at a lovely campground near Gilroy called Coyote Lake on the side of Henry Coe State Park. 

Then the rains began. The atmospheric river that is playing such havoc with northern and central CA. I was going to stay a couple days but it looked as though the rain was going to hang out and what is the

point of being holed up in your van? Yes, I could have hiked but then you have wet towels, dog, clothes- well, I decided to pay my cousin an earlier visit than originally described and head to Napa. Good decision. 

Her house is very lovely, warm and dry, the dogs got along very well and it serves as a good base of roaming. We have been able to get out and about seeing the beautiful countryside, wining and dining and being lazy in the evenings, which suits me fine. The rain has been on and off which has allowed me to take Gina on some nice walks at nearby dog parks or city parks. I got to see other cousins who fed me delicious mushroom soup at their home and winery. Just being here has been restorative.

Napa is so green with all this rain, the volcanic hills are covered in a soft blanket. Many of the vineyards are standing in water which will continue to increase as the rivers of rain continue but it is a dormant period now in winter so all hope things will drain off. The water table continues to improve so this weather is a two edged sword for this area of CA. In other places the floods have been hugely destructive

and folks have been evacuated. Sadly, the luck of the draw. I am grateful to be in a house and not camping. The weather has chased me for this trip and certainly shaped my journey. 

The food has been a delight, as well as the wine. Christine, my cousin has a terrific market at the bottom of the hill which feeds out fancies, like Dungeness crab. Local restaurants raise the bar on their own menus and offer fresh and attractive plates for lunch and dinner. One place we went to was a bit over the top but also fun to eat in with chandeliers and 150 year old olive trees growing inside the restaurant. Leisurely eating is a great way to pass inclement weather!

Here are some pics of the week. I will be heading back East soon, not hurrying, heading for the Texas coast to see birds and catch some sun.

Dog walks have been in oak woods and open fields. Gina prefers the fields so she can investigate ground squirrels

Sunday, January 1, 2023

Just Pictures


Holidays in the Santa Ynez Valley


Emily rode with me on the way up to Lompoc (pronounced Lom-poke) and we had a pleasant time. Gina insisted on sitting on her lap so she could look out the window. Emily was obliging even though it made our coffee and donuts from Donut Prince a bit more challenging. The traffic gave way to rolling verdant hills, farms and vineyards. We had an impromptu stop in Santa Barbara, which I had never been to,
walked on the beach, had a nice chat and explore and headed on our way. It looks like another great town to spend time in.

We arrived at the very pastoral Airbnb ranch house that Emily had found and Gina was delighted to discover ground squirrels, goats and space to be a dog-although

we started her on a leash. Later in the week she graduated to Freedom but this spot was superlative for man, women and beasts! Andrew came up with Emily's car later in the day and was equally pleased with the surroundings. Sitting in the evening sun at the end of the day with a glass, or at the beginning of the day with coffee you could watch the birds, jackrabbits and a bobcat over the acre of vineyards. Really, we are so very very fortunate for our lives and opportunities. We had the first night to ourselves, the next day we could do our Christmas grocery shopping and settle in before Mark, Kristen and Will joined us after their long day of travel.
It was so great to see everyone after my days on the road and to all be together as a family. Too soon the gang had to depart- so early in the morning for the Easterners. Emily, Andrew and I wrapped up things at the house and they headed home while I putzed around the area, camping near  The area is abundant with vineyards and areas to explore. Mark and Kristen had several bike rides up and down the hills and we enjoyed sampling the local vineyards, bringing home some accompaniments to our dinners and cocktail hour. As well as that it is quite beautiful and a pleasure to spend an R&R time in. There is some old history here, Spanish
missions, Gold Rush overflow, and old settlements. The town of Solvang is basically an open Scandinavian mall although I would have liked some more design stores and less restaurants. That being said it was crowded with a global audience and had a festive air.  Los Alamos is an old stagecoach stop and although it doesn't have many stores, it too has tasting rooms, restaurants and a Western flavor.

Emily arranged a delicious and extravagant dinner in Los Olivos [ a town chock full of eateries and wine tasting venues] at a place called Bar Le Cote. It was great fun. We ate early and long so got home fully sated at a reasonable hour and got to see some of the Christmas lights as an after dinner bonus. Mark made an excellent driver for us and we didn't have to worry about windy roads or our own poor night vision.


Christmas Day was low key, walks, bike rides and a board game. Of course all embellished with snacks, cookies and a heartwarming dinner. It was so great to see everyone after my days on the road and to all be together as a family. Too soon the gang had to depart- so early in the morning for the Easterners. Emily, Andrew and I wrapped up things at the house and they headed home while I putzed around the area, camping near  Solvang at a place called Lake Cachuma. Not the greatest space but certainly a lovely area to continue exploring and Gina checked out every hole for squirrels.

(Note: I have been trying for an hour to get these pix put in the appropriate places in this stupid app. I am scattering them below!)

Emily enjoys being with family.