I just completed another road trip, making that number 4* for the year. The route, this time, was from Chula Vista, California to Hood River, Oregon. Google says the most direct route for this trip is 1,088 miles…but we all know that’s not the way I like to travel. 😉 As such, Charlie and I turned this 18 hour drive into a five day camping trip!
I packed my car the morning of our departure, ensuring I didn’t prematurely pack something I would need before I left. Compared to last year’s ‘Road Trip Around America,’ I packed very light. (It is amazing what you learn from one road trip and can apply to the next. Apparently, packing in triplicate is not necessary!)
We started the trip shortly after 9am. I decided on my campgrounds this trip too late in the game to reserve a site for the first night. For all previous trips, I had flown by the seat of my pants and opted not to reserve campsites in advance. This only proved to be problematic twice, during the off-season. Now that summer was in full swing, I really wanted to have a known place to camp each night. I picked Pyramid Lake Los Alamos, in part, because they have 90 campsites…most of which were not reserved. I decided that if I arrived and found every campsite full, then it was not meant to be for us to stay there. To increase my odds of success, I had every intention of getting there as close to check in as possible.
Despite my schedule, I couldn’t help but drive up the coast and visit Neptune’s Net in Malibu, CA for lunch. Neptune’s Net has become a staple on my drives through Los Angeles County…a destination I plan into my trips and look forward to every time. Without fail, I ordered a crab cake burger and washed it down with an ice cold Sobe (strawberry daiquiri flavored – absolutely amazing if you only drink it once a year). Dogs aren’t allowed on the patio area according to the signs (though other patrons seemed to feel differently about that), so Charlie kept watch over the car while I ordered. We’ve made a habit of parking lot picnics when we travel and lunch at Neptune’s Net was no different. For what it’s worth, Charlie gives two paws up and a major tail wag for their french fries. 😉
Neptune’s Net was our only pitstop of the day. I continued on the drive, with the goal of obtaining a campsite ever present on my mind. With about an hour remaining before we arrived at Pyramid Lake, the route on Google Maps looked decidedly like a child had scribbled with a big blue crayon. The road was, in fact, that squiggly. And, apparently, I had nothing to worry about in regards to getting a campsite. Only one site was occupied when we arrived. I drove all the loops and picked the campsite partially shaded by a tree, one of the few trees in the whole area, and that I thought would afford some pretty sunset views. I wasn’t wrong. 😊
Charlie adjusted to tent life a lot faster this time around, walking right into our tent (named Kokomo) as soon as she was set up. He’s still quite a fan of sleeping on my sleeping bag, though. I guess some things will never change.
The fun part about a road trip is getting to choose your route along the way. Driving straight up the 5, through the center of California, in the middle of summer did not sound like fun to me. I wanted to stick to the Pacific Coast Highway, and enjoy the coastal breeze and ocean views, as much as possible. So, back down the super squiggly road we went, over to Ventura, where we would pick up the PCH. It was just shy of 0800 when we arrived on Main Street, which means parking was free and there was plenty of it! I stopped at Palermo’s for a cup of coffee. Ok, ok…two cups of coffee-ish deliciousness. I couldn’t decide if I wanted a fancy drink or black coffee, so I got both. You better believe I was feeling good after that! 😉 With one drink in hand, Charlie and I walked up Main Street and back down, enjoying the cool temps and relative emptiness of Main Street before most of the shops were open.
Before departing town, I tried my hand at finding Serra Cross Park from memory. (When I moved to Port Hueneme, California, six years ago, Serra Cross Park was one of the first places I discovered. A short drive up a windy road and you are gifted with views overlooking all of Ventura. It was my go-to way to experience the views without having to hike up a mountain. And I found it especially handy when hosting company from out of town.) I managed to find my way up again, with only a couple wrong turns. No one was there when I reached the top, though a handful of families arrived shortly after I did. The views were just as expansive as I remembered. I highly recommend this short detour if you’re ever nearby.
Next stop, Morro Bay! Morro Bay was one of the places I pitched my tent during my journey last year. I arrived shortly before sunset, but did witness the amazing colors and ocean views that sunset provided. I was eager to stop there again, even briefly, to take a break from the drive and let Charlie enjoy the beach a bit. To my surprise, it was a chilly 66 degrees when we arrived! And, the marine layer…holy cow! If you didn’t know where to look for Morro Rock, you would not have been able to see it. Check out the difference in the sunset pic and the dense cloud cover pic below…
It was a bit too cold for me to enjoy the beach, but Charlie never misses an opportunity to take a dip! I let him get wet enough to collect all the sand on the way back to the car, worrying (unnecessarily) that it would be cool at our campground that night and he’d be too cold.
Within 30 minutes of being back on the road, the temperatures rose 30+ degrees and the sky was the clearest blue you’ve ever seen! It was actually downright hot. The route to the campground wound through some naked mountains and plenty of vineyards. We arrived at Arroyo Seco Campground, where I had reserved a site, hours before sunset. Charlie did not appreciate the heat of the afternoon, though, and opted to sit in the back of the Rav4, watching while I set up the tent. It occurred to me that I didn’t need to rush to the campground when I have a site reserved. I suppose I was still operating on last fall’s schedule – when we were walk-up campers at every campground and the sun set by 5pm. I still prefer to arrive before sunset, just to get my bearings, but we could have explored a bit more on our way to Arroyo Seco. This little lesson was worth remembering for the rest of this trip and will be handy for future summer adventures.
We got up early & hit the road, eager to see one of my favorite people: Nina! We met her at a Bosnian restaurant in Santa Clara, Euro Grill, where I enjoyed a meal of ‘tiny beef sausages’ on pita bread. I have no idea what it’s called since Nina ordered for me in Serbian; but it was delicious!** I also enjoyed a Cockta beverage with my meal, which made me giggle…because I’m mature like that. 😉 It was like a caffeine free coke. The folks at Euro Grill were super nice, too…allowing Charlie to join us at a table on the patio. Though our visit was brief, it is always good to see Nina’s smiling face.
I still had about four hours of driving left on my way to our campsite for the night at Army Corps of Engineers Bushay Recreation Area, so I didn’t lollygag in Santa Clara. I did stop at a scenic overlook along the highway…took a few pictures…but I failed to take note of where I actually stopped. The internet can be a glorious thing, though. From a little Google Maps work, I can tell you I stopped at the Ralph D Percival Memorial Vista Point, off of 280, and my view was of the Crystal Springs Reservoir.
I continued through San Francisco, over the Golden Gate bridge. Once again, the marine layer was super thick. As I drove, I was in awe of how the fog was so thick I couldn’t see the top of the bridge and the cables seemed to disappear just two car lengths ahead of me. If I could have paused time (meaning traffic) to stand in the middle of the bridge and take pictures, I would have.
We arrived at Bushay Recreation Area just before sunset. Finally, we were at a campground that had trees! Located on the shores of Lake Mendocino, Bushay Recreation Area has a beautiful setting. We took a walk around the campground, enjoying the cooler temps of the evening. Back at our campsite, I noticed several ant nests. Charlie didn’t seem to notice them, which I guess is good since he repeatedly walked through their area. I double checked where I pitched our tent and it looked like we were in the clear for the night – thankfully. Charlie quickly fell asleep, positioned on his side of the tent in such a way that his little nose was only an inch or two from my cheek. It was very much a face-only-a-mother-could-love kind of moment. 😉 To say I have an 80lb lap dog is clearly an understatement.
When I woke up at Bushay Recreation Area, I found a ton of teeny, tiny little bugs on the outside of the tent. No big deal, right? They’re outside. Well, it didn’t take me long to realize those teeny, tiny bugs were also inside my tent! The fact they got in through the zipper closure should give you some idea as to how small they were. I know they were harmless, but there were so many of them! It seems the longer I’m in the wilderness, the less prissy I tend to be. (Not that many people would use prissy to describe me in the first place.) So, I didn’t freak out about the bugs. I did, however, furiously shake out every last one of those little guys from my tent before I packed it up.
My goal for the day was a trip to the beach. I found my beach just after entering the Redwood National and State Parks on the 101. I had stopped there, briefly, on my last trip through northern California…but I wanted to stop again. This time, Charlie got to take a little stroll on the beach with me. On the south end of the beach, there is a big rock formation with a little tunnel-like hole in it. From just the right angle, that tunnel-like hole looks like a heart. See! 😊
From there, I continued off the grid and on to Panther Flat Campground. Let me just say…I am in love! Panther Flat Campground is the most idyllic setting for camping. ever. (at least that I’ve experienced thus far) It is what I always envisioned camping to be, before I actually started camping that is. I’ve generally come to expect no privacy when it comes to camping at a campground and to have a clear view of my campground neighbors’ tents. My experiences at Yosemite erased any expectation of privacy or solitude in a campground setting. But the woods of Panther Flat are so dense, I couldn’t see the neighboring tents or campers from my tent area. The trees also provided a nice respite from the heat of the trip thus far. The bathrooms were super clean, there were plenty of trash cans, and ample water fountains…making this a rustic-feeling campground with the best amenities you could hope for. I also enjoyed the fact there was no cellphone reception at the campground. From where I pitched my tent, I could hear the trickle of the stream and the sounds of families and friends actually enjoying each others’ company. It was the perfect place to call home for the night.
I fell asleep around 7pm Friday night, listening to the sounds of the happy campers around me. Charlie and I had been lying in the tent, trying to beat the heat, and I was reading my book. The setting sun was shining directly into my eyes. I could have moved, but I closed them instead. I woke up again around 10pm, startled by the darkness and silence, and smiled once I had my bearings. There’s just something so wonderful about sleeping under the stars and breathing in the fresh air. Feeling an overwhelming sense of contentment, I rolled over and fell back asleep.
When I woke up Saturday morning, I felt great! I mean, I felt great the whole trip but this was another level of great…like super-duper awesome great! I was ready to hit the road for our last leg of the trip. Remembering Oregon doesn’t allow you to pump your own gas, I was planning to stop at a gas station before crossing the state line. Apparently I didn’t think that through well enough…Panther Flat campground is just a hop, skip, and a jump south of the Cali-Oregon border. We stopped at the first gas station we came to, arriving before they opened. It is a good thing it is a jobs program because requiring someone else to pump my gas definitely does not make it more convenient for me (unless it is pouring rain or there is a blizzard…but we can debate the merits of this law another time 😉). I still had to go inside to pay and picked up a cup of coffee while I was there. Since they just opened, I figured I was getting the best cup of coffee they had to offer. I was wrong. It was terrible! I continued driving until I found a legitimate source of coffee…Dutch Bros! This was my first time having a cup of Dutch Bros coffee, but after the lid said “You complete me,” I can tell you it won’t be my last.
I continued on the drive, making a bee-line for our final destination: Hood River. I don’t think a mile went by where I wasn’t in awe of the natural beauty surrounding me. Everywhere I turned, there was a bunch of trees…some more mountains…trickling waterfalls…and, then, the Columbia River! Holy smokes! Seriously, you guys, Oregon rocks! I made it into Hood River with no issue. A quick look-see around our new digs for the remainder of the summer affirmed what I already knew to be true…I am one lucky girl! I can’t wait to get out and experience the PNWonderland life.
For more pictures of our adventures, check out the album on Facebook…no account required! 😊 Though, if you have a FB account, please like my page to follow along as we explore all Oregon (and, Washington!) has to offer. Thanks!
*Depends who you ask and what you qualify as a road trip…
**The meal was called cevapi. Order it if you get a chance.