The Road to Alaska Part Three: Yukon, Mostly.

After our one-night stay at Waters Edge on Dease Lake we continued north into Yukon, where we intersected the actual Alaska Highway almost immediately after crossing the provincial border, so this felt like a trip milestone. Though I had researched this section of the route in some detail, I had not quite planned the gas correctly, and we ended up paying our highest rate by far, around $6.50/gallon after converting from liters and the US to Canada exchange rate, for a partial tank at the juntion. This was a full dollar more per gallon than we paid anywhere else on the trip, so I highly recommend planning your fill ups to avoid this, which was the only significant price gouge we encountered our entire time in Canada or Alaska.

Though we crossed into Yukon, the Alaska Highway runs along the Yukon-British Colombia border for a good ways, and dips back across a couple of times.

Fortunately, we were able to partially offset the inflated gas price with another free campsite, this time on Morely Lake. I had researched several options on iOverlander, and after skipping the first two, we turned off the highway onto a dirt road with some tight maneuvering due to trees, but it was sufficient for our sized rig to make it the half mile or so to the edge of the lake, where we found a doeze or so very informal spots that were basically wide spots along the trail. We had a beautiful spot though, directly on the lake shore and with not a single other camper in the area.

We spent a good amount of time behind pilot cars this trip!

The only downside were the enormous numbers of mosquitos and other inspects, which managed to invade our RV in the evening. It was so bad we had to get up well after dark and hunt for the source of our “bug leak,” going so far as to pull the slides in thinking we might have a bad seal. It turns out the inside engine cover between the drive and passenger seats was partially ajar, and the combination of the warm engine and the gap encouraged a steady stream of insects until we were able to secure it.

The second fox we saw as we were leaving the resort. This one had a successful morning hunting!

The next day we allowed ourselves a short leg, making a planned stop in White Horse, one of the larger Yukon cities. With only one significant leg remaining to reach the Alaska border, we also rewarded ourselves with our third multi-day stop, and at a full-service resort to boot. We selected Hot Springs Campground Resort north of town, which has a relationship with the spa-like day use hot springs next door. We paid about $38 per night for our electric only site (separate water and dump station on premises) in an attractive woodsy setting.

The nearby spa offered patrons from the campground to have in and out privileges, which worked out quite well for us considering their odd price structure: the earlier in the day you arrived, the cheaper the entry fee. This allowed us to pay the lowest amount, about $15 US for each of us if memory serves, but still use the facilities any time during the day and into the evening. The spa featured multiple lounging pools of varying temperature, relaxation rooms, and a cafe and bar. We also enjoyed our first fox sighting of the trip; apparently a family of them live on the property and are frequently spotted.

On the last day of July we departed White Horse for our last leg through Canada. We stopped for lunch in Haines Junction, a town that on a future trip will likely be a jumping off point for a side trip to Haines and Skagway in the southern pan handle of Alaska. We enjoyed a solid meal from a local Chinese restaurant inside the Kluane Park Inn before pushing on.

The road deteriorated significantly somewhere north of Destruction Bay, but we arrived at Beaver Creek’s Visitor Information Center, located just a few miles from the Alaska border. The helpful attendees got us logged into their guest Wi-Fi and advised us on a safe spot to spend the night: directly across the street at a now closed group of cabins. Apparently built by one of the cruise lines in better days, a change in the tourist travel pattern had caused a number of local businesses to close. We had plenty of room and traffic on the road was barely existent, so we enjoyed a quite night, finishing off any food items we thought might be a problem during the next day’s border crossing.

Our quite roadside site across from the visitor center.

Next up: Alaska, finally.

Our entire route so far.

The Road to Alaska Part Two: Side Trip to Prince Rupert, Some Drama, and on to Yukon

Having chosen to make the drive through Canada rather than take the ferry along the Marine Highway, we were missing the bulk of the astounding Canadian and Southern Alaskan coast, so much of which is only accessible by boat or plane. With solid travel days during our first three legs, particularly the westward turn during the third, we realized we had time for a side trip and elected to continue west on BC 16 towards Prince Rupert. This would mean a casual 170 mile detour each way, with a likely three day stay once there.

Unfortunately, we encountered two significant problems. First, we blew a tire, the driver side inside one on the rear dually axle. Our best guess is that we picked up a piece of sharp debris maneuvering around a traffic accident early in the trip. This was a true blow out: the tire energetically gave way 40 miles from Prince Rupert, taking the fender trim and part of the lining with it. After stopping and inspecting, we determined that the tire had disintegrated to the point that it was no longer hitting anything else or rubbing against the outside tire, so we chose to limp down the road at low speed, flashers on, until we reached Prudhomme Lake Provincial Park about 15 miles outside of Prince Rupert. Arriving in the late afternoon we found a nearly full park, but the camp host guided us to the last remaining site. We secured it for two days, set up camp, and after consulting with the camp hosts, made arrangements with a local tire shop to mount the spare we had purchased just before entering Canada.

I have no idea why I took this closeup of tire tread. It is obviously quite purposeful, yet it is neither the blown tire nor the replacement. It is, however, a tire, and the closest thing I have to a picture of our tire drama, so enjoy.

So everything was fine: we had a lovely spot in another beautiful lakeside campground within an easy drive of our current destination, and we had survived mostly unscathed through our apparently mandatory Canada-to-Alaska tire blowout. Unfortunately, there was more drama. Rosemarie had started feeling a bit under the weather back in New Hazelton, was deep into “bad cold” mode by the time we closed up shop our first night at Prudhome Lake, and by the next morning was down hard: bedridden, exhausted, light fever, aches, pains, and general reduction in her normal sunny disposition. I headed to the pharmacy for COVID tests (negative) and over the counter cold and flu meds, so not a lot of tourism going on that weekend.

The “C” is for control, not COVID. One of the downsides to Rosemarie being sick is that we, by which I mean she, took very few pictures of this leg of our journey, which explains why you are getting pictures of a tire and medical test: it’s all we have.

By Monday morning Rosemarie was approaching human again. We broke camp and limped into town for our appointment at Kal Tire, where they mounted and installed our used spare. It cost about $50 US and only took an hour, so we are quite grateful to the staff and mechanics at this excellent shop. Rather than return to drycamping at Prudhomme Lake, we stayed at a private RV park in town, Prince Rupert RV Campground. There we had an interesting spot in their terraced campground with power, water, and a separate dump station for about $41 US, which is pretty reasonable considering the location at a modestly touristy seaside town. We were happy to have services, but no one was feeling up to exploring, so we called this whole side trip a wash and moved on the next day, back tracking to Kitwanga to intersect BC 37, the Cassier Highway.

Along the way we stopped in Terrace to purchase a new spare tire for the RV, finding a Hercules Strong Guard, one of our preferred options, for about what you would pay in the states. We made a short drive of it that day, only 200 miles, using iOverlander to find another lovely roadside campground on the short of a small lake. The short dirt road in was a bit tight, but we had an excellent site in a small clearing that we shared with a young long-distance bicycle traveler making his way all the way up to the top of Yukon.

The next day we put in six hours making our way up to Dease Lake. We really started to notice the road conditions deteriorating, with frost heaves and related winter damage more frequent. Cell service was much less consistent as well, with long stretches of road and even towns of more than 700 people in complete dead zones. Friendly locals, who seemed rather proud to not have cell service, guided us to a local community college that had free guest Wi-Fi, which allowed us to pick our stopping point for the night. We selected Waters Edge Campground, a nice place with friendly owners and recently revamped sites for $27 US. It is all dry camping, but they do have working (if slow) Wi-Fi for the guests near their bath house. Were we less tired from a full day of driving we would probably have sought out a free site in the area, apparently there are a couple near some gravel pits just off the highway.

As you can see, we are mostly through British Colombia, and aside from the trip to Prince Rupert, mostly following our planned route.

Next up: We enter The Yukon and turn on to the official Alaska Highway.

The Road to Alaska Part One: Preparation, Route, Border, and Three Legs into British Columbia

This is it! Our first post since announcing our October Surprise: restarting the blogging beginning with our trip to Alaska. We have a lot to report, so let’s get to it.

Having spent our first winter in the Southwest vice Florida since starting our full time RV life, we believed there would be no better time to strike out for Alaska by taking advantage of our geographic position to somewhat shorten the route. We looked at several options, including loading our rig on a ferry in Washington to skip the Canada drive or flying to Alaska and renting a small camper like my dad and stepmom had done. In the end, price, availability, and our specific requirements led us to just accept the long road trip in the motorhome, there and back.

Our last site on Whidbey Island. What a view, what a spot.

During our last week on Whidbey Island at one of our favorite parks, Cliffside at the Naval Air Station, we planned a roughly 2000-mile route, mostly along the Cassier Highway through British Colombia and Yukon. Following our long standing “250 miles or 5 hours” target for travel days, we assumed eight legs, with a very loose plan for a couple of one-night layovers followed by a two or three day “destination” stop, which would work out to something short of two weeks total travel through Canada.

The roughly planned route. Let’s see how this stands up to the reality of the road.

We also made our logistical preparations: getting paperwork in order, clearing out controlled foods, oil changes on both the RV and tow vehicle, phone and credit card adjustments to avoid international fees and the like. One of our bigger concerns was tires: read accounts of RVers travelling to or in Alaska, and flat tires are an incredibly frequent reported issue, with the cost of replacement and installation often significantly higher, perhaps even twice as much, as in the lower 48. Like many motorhomes, ours did not come with a spare tire, so we decided to invest in a cheap one based on all those reports. We were lucky enough to stumble upon a highly affordable used option (not a recap) with plenty of tread remaining at a Tire Barn in Bellingham, which we loaded in the back of Loki the day before we crossed the border, hoping not to need it. Blatant foreshadowing: we needed it.

BC 97 would be our route for the first two legs.

We spent our last night in the US at the Nooksack Northwood Casino in Lynden, conveniently located just seven miles from our planned border crossing point in Sumas. The casino offers about ten RV sites with electrical hook ups for only $7 a night. The spots are extremely basic; just back in sites on the asphalt along one edge of the parking lot, but the cost and location are hard to beat, and provided us with an hour or so of entertainment in the casino as well. In the morning we made a leisurely start, crossing the border in late morning, where we experienced no difficulty: just a few basic questions about our plans, weapons, and poultry products, of which we had only the first. Almost immediately after entering Canada we stopped at a Walmart in Abbotsford to resupply before continuing north.

Cobb Lake, our second stop of the journey.

We would be taking BC Highway 97 for the first two legs of our trip, and the 250-mile drive on the first day accustomed us to Canada’s road conditions, signs, construction, and patterns. I will have a lot more to say about Canadien and Alaskan roads in future posts, so just a few quick observations for now. We had read and heard many reports about the Alaskan year consisting of two seasons: winter and construction. Though perhaps to a lesser extent in the lower provinces, the same is generally true for Canada as well. We experienced frequent construction zones of varying length and significance, though all were quite well organized so as to limit delays. Warning signs were prevalent, and where only a single lane was available, lights and pilot cars were present and efficient.

We had also heard many warnings about “frost heaves,” road damage resulting from significant precipitation and extreme cold. Though we didn’t really run into much of this during the first couple of days – due I suspect to how much construction repairs had already been completed before our arrival – we did get used to spotting the distinctive warning posts for impending rough spots.

Rosemarie keeping busy during quite moments with jewelry creation.

We packed a little too much into our first Canada travel day. The border crossing, Walmart resupply, and 250-mile run through winding hills and mountains left us quite tired, which resulted in us settling on the first RV park we looked into once in 100 Mile House, the name of an actual town in British Columbia. The helpful 1 USD to 1.3 CD exchange rate meant we paid $35 US for our full hook up spot at 100 Mile Motel and RV, which is perfectly reasonable, and the services, pull through site, and convenience of location were greatly appreciated after a long travel day.

Our pull through full hook up site at 100 Mile Motel and RV Park.

Refreshed and recharged, the next day we pushed north another 240 miles, this time using the iOverlander app and website that had served us so well in Baja, Mexico to find a fantastic free dry camping site at the provincially managed Cobb Lake Recreation Area. This first come, first serve campground features a score or so sites along a beautiful lake with plenty of green space between every spot. The road in is a bit bumpy and tight, but easily managed if you take it slow. We loved it so much we made this our first two day stop.

Fantastic spot at Cobb Lake.

On day 3 we turned westward onto BC 16 for another 240-mile run to New Hazelton, where we stopped at the Cataline Motel, which owns a handful of RV sites in the grass meadow beside the rooms. We enjoyed a pull through, full hook up site for only $15 US, and had the first bear sighting of the trip. A young black bear was foraging in the forest behind the motel and wandered into the tall grass at the edge of the meadow a couple of times. PKM spotted it first, and her laser focus on the spot alerted, though we were not fast enough to get any pictures.

PKM on the lookout for more bears behind the Cataline Motel.

So there we are: four days, three legs, and 730 miles into our trip to Alaska. Things are going so smoothly, that has to change, right? Next up: things change: a side strip, a sickness, and more.

Our first three legs are quite close to the route plan.

You may have noticed we are just a bit behind on this blog, but we have a cunning plan.

We are officially a year behind, having left off during our move southward down the Pacific Coast in October of 2021. In the intervening time we made it to San Diego, toured both coasts of the Baja Peninsula in Mexico, wintered in Arizona, attended the huge RV Rally in Quartzite, worked our way back to Washington state, drove the Cassier highway to Alaska, spent five weeks in our northernmost state, and made the journey back to the US. That is a lot of missing posts, and it has become more than a bit difficult to muster the inertia necessary to even start catching up.

One of many roadside shrines in Baja California, Mexico, along the Sea of Cortez. This one had a geocache.

While, with effort, I can live with the no doubt grave disappointment the lack of blog updates must be to our avid readers, what we really miss is the comprehensive record of our travels and the ability to refer back to them for another round of enjoyment or just to clarify some foggy detail. With no exaggeration, we used to check back through the blog at least once a week, which is perhaps more an acknowledgement of our questionable memory than a tribute to our fantastic writing and photography. As the blog becomes increasingly out of date, our ability to use it for such purposes is also lessened.

Tucson, AZ from a nearby hilltop.

My back of the envelope math suggests that the last year’s travels could warrant more than 50 posts at our normal rate, spread unevenly across these eight stretches:

  • Southern California
  • Baja, Mexico
  • Winter in Arizona
  • New Mexico to Washington
  • Road to Alaska (BC & Yukon)
  • Alaska
  • Back through Canada
  • Minnesota to Florida

Bridge over part of Patagonia Lake in Arizona.

Daunting indeed. To make this psychologically manageable, we are going to skip right to the fifth bullet and start the catch-up process with the still hopefully fresh in our minds journey to Alaska and back. After that, or perhaps even along the way, I will circle back and insert some “retro entries” to cover the missing era. While I generally prefer things told chronologically, I think this method will likely hasten the catching up process.

The amazing geological structures at Bryce National Park, Utah.

In other words: we’re back on the blog, please forgive some holes in the narrative, and we hope to fill them even as we report on our more recent journey.

Sunset at Cliffside RV Park on Whidbey Island, Washington.

Working our way down the California Coast: Petaluma and Concord

As we planned our movement south following our stay at Fort Bragg, we once again looked at our campground options in the greater San Francisco Bay area, particularly those locations close to Concord where Rosemarie’s sister Dolores and her family reside. We usually stay about 45 minutes away at Travis Air Force Base’s “FamCamp” in Fairfield. It’s fine: affordable, particularly given the pricey region, but otherwise forgettable and often with limited availability.

I love this candid picture of Rosemarie and niece Tamiry. The hair is magnifiscent.

We have explored other places, but the private resorts in the area are either quite expensive, too far away, or as we discovered after an exploratory reconnaissance run: “not suitable” (which is elitist code for “seemed pretty sketchy.”) Meanwhile, the county and state campgrounds are sporadically size-limited (tents only or 20′ max RV,) often fully booked (it turns out that fairgrounds often have fairs,) and surprisingly expensive ($40-$50 plus taxes and a reservation fee for a basic grass or gravel site at a county fairground.)

Nice, spacious, and secure site. PKM loved it, though she was a bit uncertain of the wild turkeys that occasionally wandered through.

Though vaguely aware of it from campground sites like All Stays, during our multiple past visits we have somehow overlooked a nearby military option, Petaluma Coast Guard Training Center. Admittedly, it is further from Concord, 60 miles in fact, but appears to be far less popular (and thus available) and costs the same $25 a night as Travis. For that you get electric and water connections with a dump station hidden in a different part of the base.

Tamiry and cousin Eva at the pumpkin patch.

The base feels far more “out in the middle of nowhere” than Travis, though it is quite convenient to Petaluma and wine country. Likewise, the campground is somewhat isolated in the back corner of a facility that is already rather low in population, further enhancing the sense of privacy and solitude. Deer freely roam the base; we counted 24 deer during one 1.5-mile drive from the front gate to our site.

Nice six, possibly eight-point buck and doe. One of many on the base.

While the distance from Concord is not ideal, when we visit this area Rosemarie will usually spend a few nights with Dolores, Josh and niece Tamiry, which means we only make the 120-mile trip a couple of times.

While there Rosemare joined Tamiry and various cousins on the fall pilgrimage to the pumpkin patch to select various gourds for the upcoming Halloween festivities. Rosemarie works hard to build and maintain a loving relationship with her niece, whether crafting, biking, or cooking they are like peas in a pod. Or is it peas and carrots? One of those.

The flip view of the hair picture.

Unfortunately, this visit also involved more repairs for Loki. A full rear brake job, and all the struts (probably the original 24-year-old shocks) needed replacement, and one of the front CV axle’s as well. Not gonna lie: this is getting quite tiresome, but maintenance and repairs are part of owning any vehicle out of warranty, I just wish we could have a bit of respite from them.

Dori took us to a fantastic Korean restaurant for lunch. Delicious and surprisingly affordable

Next up: we continue south along the coast, with visits to four more military campgrounds in Monterey, San Luis Obispo, Ventura, and Seal Beach.

New COVID strain just dropped. (Also note the mouse ears Rosemarie made.)

81 Months Full Time RVing: September 2021 Report

The Distance: A big travel month for us as we drove 1,890 miles from Spokane east to the Yellowstone area and then back nearly to the Pacific coast, visiting several fantastic places along the way. Total mileage for the year is 7,727.

As long as it’s not moving much, PKM is pretty relaxed around water, in this case the Salmon River in Idaho.

Incidentally, here is a fun (or tedious, depending on your nerd quotient) google maps limitation I stumbled upon while trying to make my usual monthly route picture. Google is quite good at keeping up with seasonal road closures and will automatically route you around them and will not allow you to “force” a route through them by any means I could discover. But what if you are planning a future trip, or recreating an old route, outside of those closure windows? Google has an option to set the date of your travel (via a “Leave now/Depart at/Arrive by” drop down menu) but only for a two-point solution, i.e., a starting point and a destination.

As soon as you add another point drop down menu for the trip date option goes away. I could not find a clean way around this limitation for this month’s route map other than simply breaking it into two, and even that solution took a lot more work for the first half as I forced the route through Yellowstone National Park while artificially including the stopping point along the way. You see what I go through for this blog? And the little nuggets of wisdom I pass on?

The Places: We started the month with our lengthy stay in Spokane, splitting time between the Fairchild Air Force Base Family Camp and the nearby military owned Clear Lake recreation area. From there we headed east to the Grand Tetons and Yellowstone National Parks, two places that we had visited all too briefly in 2015. We stayed at Colter Bay and Gros Ventre campgrounds like we had during our previous call, but also discovered a free national forest area campground in the process.

Some of the hot springs in Yellowstone National Park.

Working our way back west, we stopped at Craters of the Moon National Monument before returning to the Salmon River and Sawtooth Mountains in Idaho, one of our favorite destinations from 2015. From there we made a four-leg run almost all the way back to the Pacific Coast, ending with three nights at The Laughing Alpaca. We closed out the month in Northern California with a two day stay at Big Lagoon in Trinidad and four days at Glass Beach in Fort Bragg.

The Lava Flow Campground at Craters of the Moon National Monument.

During this month we spent 8 days at military campgrounds, 13 at public parks (10 national and 3 county) and 9 at private facilities. We had full hookups for 14 days, partial (electric and water) for 4, and dry camped for 12.

Sunset at Chickahominy National Recreation Area, a one night stop on our run back to the Pacific Coast.

The Money: 73% over budget. Yeah, a tough month, but that’s what happens when you have an $1,100 car repair (Loki’s fan belt assembly and a few other things) over $1,100 in gas from our nearly two thousand RV miles this month, and a nearly $250 tire for the motorhome, all with no markets at all to offset things.

Sea glass in one of the coves in Fort Bragg, aka “Glass Beach.”

The Drama & Improvements: As we mentioned in our San Juan Islands post, our Geo Tracker had a bit of a melt down when the harmonic balancer pulley dropped into the of the road while driving, and that repair along was a tough bill to swallow given how much we have already put into the vehicle. We also ended up finally replacing the tire that we had plugged back in June. Tires for our big rig seem to be a particular “thing” for us; our replacement rate seems a bit higher than normal, but then again we are on the road full time and putting in some serious miles. For those keeping track, we replaced three in 2021 (front two and left outside rear.)

PKM in the magnificent tree in our site at Big Lagoon County Park.

Back to California’s Glass Beach

After our two nights among the faerie trees at Big Lagoon County Park we continued 3 1/2 hours south to Fort Bragg. This is our third visit to the area, having first come in 2015 during our first full time RV year. The experience was so rewarding that we returned in 2017, and it will likely be on our itinerary any time we are RVing California.

The town is home of the famous Glass Beach, an unofficial name for the a series of nearby bays that collect the remnants from an historic oceanside dump with consistent particular tides and currents which return enormous amounts of old glass to shores. Fort Bragg is one of the premier sea glass sites. Despite noticeable declines year over year the glass collecting is still astounding.

The shoreline in the part of the country is just fantastic, and Fort Bragg has miles of walking and biking paths right along it.

We have previously stayed at both Mackerricher State Park and the privately owned Cleone Campground nearly next door. Though a stunning location it has become nearly impossible to secure a reservation at the state park, so we comfortably settled for Cleone, getting power, water, and an onsite convenience store at the same price we would have paid at Mackerricher. It may not have been oceanside, but our spacious site was surrounded by huge blackberry bushes, providing privacy from everyone except the horses in the pasture we backed up against.

Though a bit touristy, we enjoy the town of Fort Bragg. They have several tasty restaurants, a nice farmers market, interesting history, cool shops, a brewery, and a good assortment of quirky street art. “Artisanal” style pizza and local craft beer is always appreciated, but no visit to Fort Bragg is complete without a meal at Jenny’s Giant Burger. Though perhaps a bit gluttonous, we ate there twice in four days.

The local economy, though diversified towards as much seaside tourist activity as possible, is still significantly enhanced by the prevalence of the sea glass. In response to decades of collecting resulting in declining amounts of this tourist magnet, local government has attempted various restrictions, including a brief period where they issued citations with fines for those caught taking the glass. The premise of their legal argument was quickly shot down by the courts since California state law does not recognize old garbage as a protected resource.

The ground squirrels near the cliffs have grown pretty brave, accustomed as they are to us tourists.

In more recent years the restrictions are implied, social, and in some cases, physical. There are lots of thigh high cable runs implying you should not cross, plenty of signs warning of the danger of climging down the low cliffs, and perhaps most effective of all, they have simply not rebuilt the one set of stairs leading from the main parking lot down to a large and formerly popular bay.

The bigger and more colorful varieties may be getting sparce, but there is still a ton of sea glass to be found.

While it may not be as easy or productive as it once was, if you want sea glass in Fort Bragg you need but do a slight bit of research to pick the still excellent locations and be willing to walk down rock and dirt switchbacks to the shore, preferably at low tide. Most adults and children could handle the places we went with no problems.

Rosemarie in front of one of the freshwater rivulets running directly into the ocean. She is part way up the path here, and having no difficulty aside from her the weight of the glass in her pockets.

We also took a day trip south along the coastal highway, partly to look for the hidden beach that Ron took me too for abalone diving in 2017, but also just to explore the area. We didn’t find Ron’s secret beach, but we enjoyed exploring a couple of wonderful oceanside parks along the way. We also found one of America’s most infamous gas stations, regularly misused by media outlets when they want to talk about how high gas prices are, which is a bit like sighting the vig at Vinny’s loan shark business when talking about nationwide bank lending rates. We did not, fortunately, need to buy from there during our exploration.

Us at another beach some miles south of Fort Bragg.

Next up: Concord, Petaluma, and a little-known military campground.

Starting Down the Northern Californian Coast: Big Lagoon County Park in Trinidad

Our early departure and follow-on sprint from Idaho left us a bit ahead of schedule, leaving us a full month to work our way down the length of California before our next significant obligation. Sure, The Golden State is rather large, especially north to south, but we figured on less than 1,000 miles, or four solid legs per our driving preference. This would allow us plenty of time to linger in places that appealed, or shorten driving legs to a modest two or three hours, perhaps both.

We are back to the Pacific!

Thus, despite being well rested from our three lazy riverside days at The Laughing Alpaca we headed southwest into California and to the coastline proper, stopping after a mere two hour run near Trinadad. Sometimes when we have a “non-destination” layover in the works we will research two or three stopping points across a range of travel distances; a short, medium, and long drive campground option. In this case we took the short choice, Big Lagoon County Park.

Just look at that tree! Big Lagoon’s campground was filled with specimens like this, along with the traditional redwoods.

This is one of Humboldt County’s gems. The fairyland campground rests under huge, mist-shrouded, moss-covered trees one mile off of US-101 and directly on the protected lagoon shore. The check in was a bit confusing; like many county campgrounds they do not man an entry gate. Drive deep enough into the park, almost at the end of the paved campground road, and you find a self-pay kiosk with envelopes and a drop slot, and the congenial camp host lives near there as well.

All sites are first come first serve, dry camping, and $25 a night, $22 with a veteran discount. This probably sounds steep for an unserviced site to some of you, but along the California coast this is actually pretty cheap: Mackerricher State Park near Glass Beach is $44 and they are completely full during much of the year. We loved the feel of the place immediately, and secured two nights rather than our planned one.

One of PKM’s favorite parks we think.

Once paid, maneuvering within the campground loop is a bit tight in places; I would not want to attempt it with a rig much larger than ours, and the sites are laid out in a seemingly half hazard manner, as if gaps between major trees and other natural openings among the extensive vegetation appears to have been the primary consideration. We selected a fantastic spot with an extraordinary set of trees branching over our outside living area.

Just a magical campsite.

The bay is ideal for casual beachside strolls or easy boating. Many of the campgrounds have a semi-private path to the beach; ours was not more than 50′ from RV to sand. The Pacific, particularly in Northern California and up, is quite cold, so we limited ourselves to the shore and occasional longing glances at the boats and other watercraft.

Though we would love to get back into the nearby Redwood National and State Park campgrounds, Big Lagoon will be a top choice the next time we are in the area. Next up: Glass Beach!

From Idaho to the Southern Oregon Coast, with Alpacas!

We came down out of the Sawtooth Mountains just ahead of worsening weather, experiencing just enough light rain along the way to make us pull over and make sure that the ID-21 was a fully safe route for us. It was fine: not nearly as challenging as some of the mountain roads we have experienced, and doing so in our relatively modern motorhome is far more comfortable than in our old 1963 bus, which would have us creeping uphill at 15mph and pulling over during downhill runs to keep the air brakes pressurized.

We frequently end with a sunset picture, so let’s change things up and start with one instead.

Since our extended stay in Spokane we have visited four “destination” spots (Yellowstone, Grand Tetons, Craters of the Moon, and Salmon River) but now we had nothing but a westward sprint ahead of us until we reached the Pacific Coast. As such we had not done a lwot of research on the RV spots along the way since they would be “one nighters” with price and convenience the only real concerns.

About four hours down the road and just over the Oregon border we stopped for the night at the Malheur County Fairgrounds in Ontario. The “Desert Sage Event Center” there honored the Passport America rate, giving us power, water, and a separate dump station for $15. The place was unmanned upon our Sunday arrival and not particularly well signed: we had to drive around the property a bit to even find the designated RV Sites, and then took a separate walk about to locate the self-pay station. The quiet grassy area behind one of the main buildings, which we shared with two other RVs, the owners of which we never saw, was perfectly sufficient for our needs.

No pictures from Desert Sage, so here is a pic of your favorite RV bloggers.

The next day we continued west, this time at least with a predetermined stopping point: Chickahominy National Recreation Area. Along the way I misjudged the availability of gas, and had to turn around on US-20, a narrow road with miles of no or soft shoulder sections, and backtrack a little ways to a get just enough fuel to make sure we would make it to the next civilized area. Oops.

Our site at Chickahominy.

Chickahominy is a grassy, rolling hills region with the bare remnants of a lake which once supported boating, fishing, and other water activities. Those days are either seasonal or long gone, with the boat ramps and fishing piers leading to naught but mud and a small pond. But for a one-night RV stop it was quite nice. There are a lot of pull-through campsites spread out over several loops, with only a few of them occupied during our visit. It’s all dry camping, and other than the $8 a night fee it feels a lot like a higher end BLM campground. We took a short hike before sunset, discovering a handful of geocaches along the way, and generally enjoyed our day there.

What is left of the lake at Chickahominy.

We pushed southwest, leaving the dry lands of interior Oregon and entering the Fremont National Forest. We circled around the Klamath Lakes chain, passing just south of Crater Lake National Park, to stop at Rocky Point Resort, a lovely mixed-use facility (RV sites and cabins) on the shore of Upper Klamath Lake. Their office was closed, but after walking around the property, talking to an employee, and making a couple of phone calls we were cleared to select a full hook up, pull-through site at the Passport America rate of $26 all in.

The sites at Rocky Point. We are in one of the larger ones, but if you have a smaller rig there are some fantastic sites directly overlooking the water.

After two one-night stopovers in a row we were ready for a break from the daily RV drive, and since this lakefront property was so tranquil, we elected to stay a second night. Unfortunately, their Passport America rate is limited to a single night, which meant we would have to pay the full $52 to extend our stay. As Rosemarie has taught me, “those who do not ask, do not get” and so I negotiated, successfully convincing the manager/owner to give us a partial, 25% off PA rate. $37 is certainly more than we like to pay for a non-destination spot, but we really liked this place.

Giddy with the success of having saved eleven bucks, we treated ourselves to a meal at the on premises. restaurant. Many RV campgrounds that call themselves “resorts” are stretching the definition of that word quite a lot, and even in the better ones the onsite restaurants tend to serve pretty basic comfort food. Boy, let me tell you: this place was punching above their weight. The chef was professionally trained and was doing this job as a sort of semi-retirement gig. What I am trying to say is the food was damn good, and the ambiance was “cozy hunt lodge overlooking the lake at sunset” fantastic.

The view from the restaurant at Rocky Point Resort.

Well rested and fed we made the fourth leg of our journey to the coast. Our logistical challenge was the coming weekend, an approaching heat wave, and the proximity to the frequently expensive California coast. Our online research and a conversation with a prospective campground owner convinced us to stop short of both the coast and the California border for a stay at The Laughing Alpaca Campground and RV Park.

The park was nominally full, but the young owners went out of their way to prepare a site that had some not quite complete drainage and plumbing work going on, and after a bit of discussion, honored a partial Passport America rate despite us being a week short of their official window for this discount (see above for Rosemarie’s advice when faced with such a situation.)

The stream adjacent to The Laughing Alpaca property.

The park is beautifully maintained with quirky and charming touches throughout, our site backed up right on a crystal-clear stream suitable for swimming and sun worship, and there are alpacas on premises that you are free to feed with some wort of crab apple near the corral pens. What more could you want? We ended up staying three peaceful days.

So that was our four-leg run to the coast with stops at one national rec area and three Passport America properties, even if two of them provided only partial discounts. For those unfamiliar, Passport America partners with a few thousand campgrounds in North America to provide “50%” discounts on nightly fees. Individual parks are permitted to put in place as many limitations and caveats on that discount as they like: most have blackout dates correlating to their high season and holiday weekends and a maximum number of nights for which they will apply the discount. Many add on a “resort” fee of a $5 or so a day, or an extra fee for 50-amp power, or cash only for PA discounts, or no reservations for the PA rate, etc. If that sounds complicated, note that the PA website has an easily navigable website with maps and a page for each partner property, and on that page is a clear list of restrictions.

Our route from Idaho.

Despite all those restrictions, we use Passport America extensively every year, and derive a benefit that far exceeds the annual $40 membership fee. Will it work for you? That depends on your RV travel pattern, campground type preferences, flexibility, and willingness to do a bit of due diligence before travelling. For instance, if you are a snowbird type RVer who travels from your home to one location during the winter, you might not benefit much from Passport America except during your run south. If you have access to and strongly prefer military campgrounds, it might not work for you. Ditto for state and national parks. We prefer a variety of park types; military, public, and private, and tend to move around quite a lot. We recognize that after all the fees are paid, we probably only end up with about a 30% true discount compared to comparable non-PA properties in any given area, but it still pays for itself and then some every year. We have dropped our Good Sam and AAA memberships since PA works so much better for us. If you are interested in signing up, consider giving us a referral using our code: R-0261872 for which we will receive a few extra months added to our membership.

Another view of the stream behind The Laughing Alpaca. You can see how close the RV sites are to the water from the RV in the upper right

Next up: Northern California and “Glass Beach.”

More Idaho: Sawtooth Mountains and Salmon River

We had just completed two interesting and pleasant days at Craters of the Moon National Monument, chosen largely because it was the rough halfway point between Grand Tetons National Park and this day’s travel destination, the Salmon River in the Sawtooth Mountains of Idaho. Our stay on the moon left us a short, perhaps three-hour drive to the section of the river just northeast of Stanley. a quite small (but larger than we remembered from our visit here in 2015) town with a heavy tourist industry focus. River guides, hunting guides, fishing guides, offroad vehicle guides. Lots of guides, in other words.

Staggeringly beautiful rough shore near our site.

I don’t mean that condescendingly, because it is unusual for a town so centered on tourism to give off such an… authentic vibe, I guess. Like the town had this incredibly high concentration of local knowledge of the land. All the rest of the touristy stuff they didn’t go hard in an as much.

We came here before, in 2015 during our first full time RV year, and loved it, spending three days on the shore of the river surrounded by deer and eagles. Back then we only had the old bus, no tow vehicle with which to explore, so we really looked forward to returning. This time we did a lot more research, particularly on the campground options, which was fortunate since our first choice, where we stayed before, was closed for some reason. I could not determine if it was erosion or just manpower efficiency, i.e., closing some of these national forest areas to reduce the burden on rangers and staff as the season came to a close.

Rock pools at our nearly private river front beach.

We continued northeast into the mountains to check out several of our backup options, all drycamping national forest sites, and ended up picking a spot at Mormon Bend, another modest riverside campground. Upon arrival we accidentally pulled into a double site, though it seemed no bigger than several others. The camp host let us get away with it for one night, but we had to move to a single site the next day or pay double the $18 nightly fee.

Our spacious beautiful site at Morman Bend.

All the sites are very close to river with sort or private paths made by previous residents down to the water, resulting in nearly private little rock beaches for each rig. In mid-September there is still plenty of green on the vegetation, making each beach area, and even much of the RV site itself, nearly secluded.

An ideal hammock location.

One of the things we missed in 2015 was the many hot springs along the river. This year, equipped with Loki and plenty of online research (bolstered by additional info from locals) we set off to find and enjoy some of them. The first one we found, locally known “The Boat Box” looked a bit sketchy, like a redneck jacuzzi made from some sort of industrial container, supplied with hot spring water from an old two-inch pipe jutting out of the steep bank.

PKM on our private path to the river. She found it very convenient.

We moved on looking for others from our research, and soon found Sunbeam Hot Springs, the site of an old and now defunct bathhouse constructed by the Civil Conservation Corps in the 1930’s. During peak season in good weather it can, apparently, be quite popular, possibly since it is one of the few public hot springs in the area equipped with a changing and bathroom. Only three others where there during our visit. The river’s edge boasts a series of loosely arranged, human made, rock lined “pools” collecting hot spring water flowing out from various points along bank. Bathers can adjust the pool temperature by shifting rocks to allow in less or more cold river water. Though our day of arrival had been glorious, and warm with blue skies day all around, by late afternoon of the second day colder weather was inbound, which made the warm pools quite delicious.

That weather change became more significant through the night, depositing fresh snow on the Sawtooth Mountain ranger nearby, with more on the way. That’s more than enough of a signal for us warm weather fans, so we cut our time there short and started our long run back to the Pacific Coast: it was time to get lower, both in altitude and latitude.