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California Fun, Part 3 (the final chapter)

Our final destination in California was Joshua Tree National Park.  We camped at Indian Wells Carefree RV Resort in Indio.  It’s a beautiful RV park that offers a lot of amenities.  Snowbirds come there for the winter. Their rates were exceptionally low, $25!  That is the cheapest we stayed in California.

Since we arrived early in the day, we took a ride to Joshua Tree NP. Twentynine Palms is the closet town to one of the three entrances to Joshua Tree.  It is on the northern side of the park and does have a RV park.  We chose to stay on the southern side of the park, which meant a 45 minute drive to it’s entrance.  Most of it’s trails and sites are in the northern part of the park as well, so it meant a lot of driving for us.

We grabbed a map at the visitor center and talked with the park ranger about places to see.  He recommended a couple of good places to be around sunset. Cottonwood Springs was our first stop.  It is a little oasis you can drive to with a very short hike.  The palm trees looked weird as they had never been trimmed. They were tall with green tops and dead palm fronds hanging to the ground.

Next, we drove to Cholla Catus Garden.  It was amazing!  The area had a large concentration of Jumping Cholla cactus, also known as Teddy Bear Cholla, as far as you could see.  It looked beautiful with them all glistening in the sunlight.  I would like to have walked through the gardens, but there was another area we wanted to get to before sunset.

Skull Rock and Jumbo Rocks are across the street from each other and offer some great sunset shots.  There are trails where you can walk around and over the rocks.  At Jumbo Rocks a couple was having a pre-wedding photo shoot. What a beautiful setting for wedding pictures.  The bride had to be freezing though.  The wind was blowing and the temperature was really dropping as the sun faded.  This area has Joshua trees.  They only grow in the northern part of the park.  The Joshua tree is neither a tree or cactus.  It is in the lilly family and looks like a yucca.

We got to the park early the next day, driving to one of the north entrances to go hiking to Fortynine Palms Oasis.  It was a moderate hike three miles long with an 300′ elevation gain both ways.  The weather was great for hiking – sunny and cool.  As we climbed the ridge the landscape was dotted with barrel catcus.  John stopped me on the trail and pointed out some Bighorn Sheep.  We watched them as they crossed the trail and went up the ridge where they stopped to graze.

Upon reaching the oasis, we saw charred palm trunks caused by an out-of-control campfire.  According to the park’s information, fire can be benficial to the palms by encouraging seed developement and killing off competing plants. However, campfires are illegal.  The oasis are formed from a crack in the Earth’s crust and groundwater rises to the surface.

After our hike, we went into town for lunch and then returned to the park.  We made the ride out to Keys View.  The elevation is over five thousand feet and you can overlook miles of valley, mountains, and desert.  It was very windy and cold. Since we were in shorts and the views were hazy that day, so we did not stay long.

It was much nicer in the lower elevations.  There were still two short hikes I wanted to do, Hidden Valley and Barker Dam.  Hidden Valley is a rock-enclosed valley said to been used by cattle rustlers.  It certainly was a well hidden place for cattle, but I wondered how they managed to get water to them.

Joshua Trees abound in this part of the park.  The landscape was just thick with them and some of them were huge.

Just before sunset we hiked to Barker Dam.  It was built around 1900 to hold water for cattle and mining use.  Sometimes you can see wildlife there, but not during our visit.

We really enjoyed our visit to Joshua Tree NP.  California is a great state to explore with so much to offer.  There was only two highlights for the trip back east after leaving California.  One was a stop in Arizona at Green Valley to visit with John’s brother, Eddie and his wife Judy.  We spent five days there doing some maintenance and repairs on the RV.  While there, we also visited the Sabino Canyon Recreation Area in the Coronado National Forest.  Then our last stop was in NC to visit with my family.  It was a great ending to a wonderful trip.

 

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Just a Bump In The Road

We are westward bound to the west coast where we will spend five weeks just thirty minutes from our youngest son and his family.  His family includes his beautiful wife and two of the cutest and sweetest girls around – at least in my eyes.  I’ve been telling everyone that I was going to find out what it is really like being a grandparent, well, a grandparent who gets to see their grandchildren regularly.  Not only that, we will get to explore the San Francisco Bay Area!

We are allowing eleven days to our final destination, Half Moon Bay.  That way John won’t have to drive extremely long days and we can even spend two nights at a couple of spots.  One thing about RVing that all RVers know, you may hit bumps in the road………that is in your well laid plans.

It was a good start, traveling smoothly down the road, until we hit Memphis, TN.  John hates driving through Memphis.  There is not a great southern loop around the city and the roads are rough to say the least.  We made it to I 40 in West Memphis when a trucker was honking at us and his passenger was waving wildly at us.  At first we both wondered why he was honking at us.  We certainly couldn’t tell anything was wrong, but we knew something had to be up, so pull over on the shoulder we did.  John gets out to check things out and then returns with the words, “It’s bad.”  We had lost a wheel off our tow dolly and the dolly was dragging along the road.  Amazing that we didn’t even feel anything.  Even more amazing that it didn’t cause us to wreck or damage the car.

We don’t know how long we had been traveling that way, but surely not far.  John unloaded the car and went in search of lug nuts so he could put the spare on.  Luckily, he did not have to go far to get to an auto parts shop.  He even backtracked to see if he could locate the missing wheel with no luck.  With the spare on, we decided to camp in West Memphis in order to buy a new rim and tire.  We didn’t trust that spare for the distance we were going.  Oh, and all this happened with a light rain falling of course.

Now for the lucky part of the story, and we are very thankful that we had some luck too.  When we arrived at the campground, the bottom fell out of the sky.  Thank God it waited ’til we were off the road.

I explained our predicament while I was checking in and they gave me a business card of a tire shop very close by.   After the rain let up, John went to the shop and they said they could have a new rim and tire ready by 9:00 the next morning.  As luck had it, it was ready by 8:00 and we got back on the road by 10:00.  I’m so thankful we didn’t have to wait two or more days.

Bump number two happened in Oklahoma.  Rolling down I 40 and a beep beep starts sounding.  Now we are losing air pressure.  We just happened to be at an exit with a Loves, plus a mechanic.  If it had happened a little sooner, we would had lost all our air and the brakes would lock up, leaving us on the shoulder of the road again.  We just did make it to the parking lot.

John found a hose where a hole had rubbed in it.  Between him and the mechanic, they removed it, but of course they didn’t have a replacement part.  The mechanic located a part for it, but it required John driving a good ways to get it.  When he returned, the mechanic was busy and John replaced it himself.  The mechanic did not charge us, so it was a rather inexpensive fixed, but we lost a lot of time.  We are still on schedule though, but we did lose one of our two night stay to do something fun.

Then we hit scenic New Mexico along with it’s long grades of hills.  Now our RV does not have a big engine allowing us to go uphill at a fast rate, but the slowness we were going was bordering on ridiculousness.  I kept thinking we didn’t have this kind of trouble for these size of hills before and was wondering how the heck we would ever cross the mountains in California.

We stopped for lunch and John brought up the subject.  He had been wondering the same thing.  Something was definitely wrong and the only thing he came up with was a dirty fuel filter.  He had a new one with us, so he changed it at a truck stop.  What a difference it made!  It was just a short hang up and we were once again rolling smoothly along.

Now we are in Bakersville, CA, just one day from our final designation, and a day early!  Tomorrow, I get to see my son, Kevin, his wife, Susie, and their two daughters, Eliza and Hazel!  Yea, yea, yea!

Bugging Out in the Florida Keys

We arrived in the Florida Keys well ahead of lobster season.  Our boat is stored here in the Keys, and we were adding some features to the boat that was going to take some time.  John spent a week on the boat before putting it in the water.  All during calm weather too.  Luck was with us this year, the light and variable winds stayed until our last week in the Keys.  It made for some very hot weather, not having a breeze, so much that I purchased another fan to use outside our camper.  Now John has one blowing on him and I have one blowing on me. Outdoor air conditioning at its best.

Mini season starts on the last consecutive Wednesday and Thursday of the month. It is a two-day sport season that is only for recreational lobstering.  After the two days, the commercial lobstermen can put their traps out, but they can not pull them until the start of lobster season, which is August 6 of every year.

Back to why we arrived here two weeks before the mini season.  We like to spend a lot of time scouting out holes, to see where the lobsters are and which holes have the most lobsters.  That way, we know exactly which hole we want to be on first thing opening day.  We have so many holes marked now, there is no way we can check them all.  John came up with a system on our GPS.  He changed the color of the symbol to blue last year for our most productive holes.  We have found in the past that lobsters tend to cluster in the same holes.  Now John can quickly see on the screen of the GPS where our best holes are.  Don’t get me wrong, we certainly check the other holes in the area as well to see if they have become a favorite of the lobster.  Sure enough some of those holes were productive and some of the blue marked holes were not.  This years good holes have a red symbol.

While we were scouting we definitely noticed a decline in the population of the lobster.  So many holes were just empty, and other holes had very few legal size lobsters.  A few holes had as many 18 legal lobsters, but this is really down from years past.  We have a favorite hole where we have been able to limit out every year with four people on board and still leave legal lobsters behind.  The limit is 6 per person per day.  This year when we checked this particular hole, there was only 1 lonely lobster in it.  We checked it again the day before the season started and still no lobster.  Beats me why they were rejecting this hole, it is such a beauty.  This was not going to be a good season.

A college buddy of John’s was joining us for mini season along with his wife.  We have kept up with Mick and Cindy over the years and have taken some vacations together.  Mick is a great diver and loves the water as much as John does.  They were only in the Keys for four days.  This was Cindy’s first trip to the Keys and she absolutely fell in love with them.  I have a feeling she will be back next year. They took lobster home with them and some hog fish as well.

On opening day of mini season, we left the dock at five a.m.  Leaving this early, we are almost assured we will be the first on the hole, and we were!  It was a good thing we left early, because some boats came near by not long after we arrived. They moved on to another hole, but it was obvious we were on the one they wanted.  This was the chosen one because there were 15 keepers on it and a lot of them were big.  Now we wait for the sun to rise.

John and Mick were in the water before the sun actually appeared and had the first lobster by 6:50.  We did get 15 nice lobsters off that hole.  It took us diving four more holes to get the last 9 lobsters, but we had our limit by 8:00.

Second day of mini season was a completely different story.  We didn’t bother getting up early, since all the holes had been picked over the previous day.  In years past, we have never gotten our limit on the second day.  This year was not going to be any different.  Our friends, Mike and Pam, went out with us, making six on board.  We left the docks at 9:00.  John and I have what we believe to be a secret place and saved it for the second day for just that reason.  It is in a grassy area where there are not any holes around it in a quarter-mile radius.  Not only is it out in the middle of no where, you have to drive almost over it to even see it, meaning it is not visible from a short distance.  We found it quite by accident when we were flying by in the boat.  Sure enough, it had not been picked over. We managed to get 13 lobsters there and lots of them were big!  After that, it was really slim pickings.  Twenty more holes later, we only had four more lobsters and it was 12:30.  Time to call it a day with only 17 lobsters and have some fun. We went to The Island for cocktails and lunch.  Returning back to Jolly Roger, we cleaned the lobster and headed to the pool.  There were not many reports of anyone getting their limits that day.  Where are all the lobsters?

There is a week between mini season and regular lobster season.  John and I took a couple of days off from boating and then decided on a day of fishing in the Atlantic.  The water wasn’t too rough, but the fishing was a little slow.  We did catch some hogfish and came back with three keepers.

Now we have three days to scout for lobster before the season opens.  The good news is we were finding lobsters, only not in the numbers before mini season. We managed to find several holes with 10 or 11 keepers in them, but many holes were empty or only had a few keepers.  Our friend, Dixie, would be going out with us, and Buddy would be going with Mike and Pam, but in the same area as us.  This morning we didn’t leave ’til 5:30 and we were the first on our hole.  We only got six off this spot, so I guess some of the lobsters walked during the night. Lobsters feed during the night and may end up in a different hole.  After checking 16 more, we finally had our limit of 18 lobsters at 11:00.  The other boat had their limit by 12:00.

After opening day, we continued lobstering, sometimes with just the two of us and other times with other people on board.  We had good days where we managed to get our limit and we had bad days where we only came back with four. Everyone in the campground was struggling to find lobster.  We heard that they were slaying them down around Big Pine Key.  From the stories we heard, I guess that was where all the lobsters were this year.  After three weeks of regular season along with the two-day mini season, John and I came home with 102 lobsters. Not too bad, all in all, but it was a lot of hard work to get those.

We did more than just lobstering.  Six of us went to the Sombrero Reef to snorkel on a calm day.  It was so beautiful!  I bought a disposable water proof camera to use, but not many of the pictures turned out good.  All of us enjoyed the reef, and we went to lunch at Sunset Grill.

Did I mention all the beautiful sunsets we enjoyed?  No, well, there were many of them.  Lots of people gather every evening for the sunsets hoping to see a green flash.  If conditions are right, a green flash will appear just at the last moment the sun sets into the water.  I did not see a green flash this year.

We also shared many dinners with friends, either gathering at our place or theirs.  Also, the pool felt really nice after coming back from lobstering.

Hopefully, the lobster population will be up next year.  Maybe we would have better luck if we let this guy ride along with us.

We really enjoyed the Florida Keys, but now time to head back home and get ready for our next trip.  California, here we come!